Author Phil Giunta is a regular fixture at GLVWG, and will share his advice on Writing the Compelling Short Story at The Write Stuff Conference™, Saturday, March 25, 2017. GLVWG’s Dawn Sooy does the honors by asking a few questions about Phil’s life as an author.
DS – I recently saw a short story of yours (Tower Sixteen), won second place in the Rehoboth Beach Reads Short Story Contest. What was the inspiration to write this story?
Phil – I’ve always been fascinated with the WWII fire control towers (commonly known as observation towers) that were constructed along the Delaware coast. Currently, only one is open to the public near Fort Miles in Cape Henlopen State Park and every time I go there, I climb the spiral steps 75 feet to stand at the top and look out upon the park, the ocean, and the Delaware Bay. It’s a gorgeous view.
Long before Cat and Mouse Press started their annual writing contest four years ago, I knew I wanted to write a short story about those towers, but the idea just hadn’t come to me. I was usually buried in several other writing and editing projects. Then in March 2016, a friend reminded me about the writing contest and I learned that the theme for that year was Beach Nights. That’s when it hit me immediately—a ghost story! Most of my paranormal tales have a lot of heart and emotion. I wanted this story to be no different, plus it had to honor our military and those who served at Fort Miles. I know “Tower Sixteen” accomplished all of the above. How do I know this? I was told the ending brought one of the contest judges to tears. Who can ask for anything more?
DS – What age did you start writing? What was your favorite genre at that time, and why?
Phil – Funny you should ask. Recently, I had a random memory of a sci-fi short story I wrote in fifth grade called “SPACE BATTALION!” Yes, in all capital letters. Hey, I was ten.
Right around that same time, I went to a carnival somewhere that must have had a haunted house. I remember a white trailer that had a cartoon painted on one side. It was a bar and all of the patrons were movie monsters being served by a skeleton wearing a bow tie. Even at that young age, I wondered what those conversations would be like, so I went home and wrote little vignettes with crude illustrations. These things are all long gone now.
My favorite genre has always been speculative fiction, an umbrella term that covers science fiction, fantasy, and horror (including paranormal). I’m not into blood and gore horror, though. I prefer a suspenseful ghost story.
DS – I am assuming you have a family and full-time job. If so, how do you manage your time between your writing, editing, and home life?
Phil – I’m married and work full-time as an IT Infrastructure Engineer. It can be a grueling schedule to balance. My wife works longer hours than I, and I often find myself as a one-man show taking care of all things domestic, except for cooking. My wife is an amazing cook.
In addition, I’m constantly learning new technologies for my job, which means studying for certification exams on my own time.
In the “glutton for punishment” category, I created, contributed to, and still edit a speculative fiction anthology series for Firebringer Press called the Middle of Eternity series. The first two volumes were published in 2014 and 2016, respectively, and the third book is currently under way. I will be stepping down as editor after this next one is published so I can focus on my next two novels.
When I’m not using lunch hours to study for a tech exam, I’ll use that time to write. Weekends are prime time, of course, and I also set aside an hour or two on weeknights when I’m not doing chores or working out. In 2014, I shed 40 pounds and returned to weight lifting. I’m trying to maintain my new weight and combat stress from all of the above! Of course, that takes time away from writing.
I often pack my current work in progress with me on fishing trips, too. After my last cast of the day, the rods go back in the car, and I’ll grab my notebook and find a place by the water to write for a while.
DS – Your next book “Like Mother, Like Daughter” is scheduled for release next year. When Miranda finds out her daughter has the same gifts as she does, what is her reaction?
Phil –Actually, the “Daughter” is plural—“Daughters.” It’s part of the story’s twist.
I’m excited to announce that the publisher and I have set a tentative release date of October 2017. The novella is as much Miranda’s own “origin story” as it is about her daughter, Andrea, coming into her own.
Andrea is a late-bloomer. Her psychic-medium abilities manifest themselves at the age of 20 after a traumatic experience, whereas Miranda began communicating with ghosts when she was six. All of this is explored in the novella.
Miranda’s reaction is one of calm mentorship. She immediately begins to instruct Andrea on what to expect going forward and how to handle her gift. She warns Andrea to contact her if ever she finds herself overwhelmed. Needless to say, Andrea doesn’t heed her mom’s advice, and that mistake takes her down a dangerous path…
DS – “Like Mother, Like Daughter” will be in e-book format and also audio. Are there any plans to have them in book format?
Phil – Nope, just Kindle and Audible to start. It will be released by Firebringer Press, the same small press that published my novels Testing the Prisoner and By Your Side, both of which feature Miranda Lorensen.
A few years ago, Steve Wilson at Firebringer invited a few writers to submit novellas to sell as 99-cent e-books on Amazon. He had already written and published four novellas based on his award-winning SF audio drama, The Arbiter Chronicles. As it happens, I wanted to write a story about Miranda’s very first encounter with a ghost in Salem, Massachusetts at the tender age of six, which is briefly mentioned in my novels. At the same time, I also wanted to bring one of Miranda’s three children into a story as a main character. It worked out beautifully.
DS – Do you publish your work through a publisher or are you an indie-publisher? If you do both, what are the good points about using each type to publish?
Phil – All of my work thus far has been published through various small presses such as Firebringer Press, Crazy 8 Press, Cat and Mouse Press, and of course, the Greater Lehigh Valley Publishing Group. I have not yet self-published anything.
Just like working in various formats (short story, novella, novel) helps a writer become agile in his or her craft, working with various publishers gives a writer increased exposure and opens doors to future opportunities. You’ll never go wrong with diversification!
DS – Does writing exhaust you or energize you? Why?
Phil – Writing is always an energizing experience. It’s the rest of life that is often exhausting, not to mention exasperating.
Aside from releasing a new book or short story, there is nothing more exhilarating for me than creating new characters and worlds.
DS – What are common traps for aspiring writers?
Phil – Don’t be so eager to get published that you jump at the first chance. Do your research. If you want to go indie, know which services (such as print on demand) are legit and which are frauds. Writer Beware is a great resource for this.
As a member of the Greater Lehigh Valley Writers Group, I’ll always suggest that new writers join a local writers group if possible. You will have the chance to network with other writers, learn about writing events, possible publishing opportunities, and writing contests.
Also, as a member, you might also find a critique group or at least a few critique partners willing to read your work and provide feedback before you submit it.
Invest in a reputable editor, too, even if you need to pay someone.
Read books on craft and attend writing conferences as you can afford to do so. The Write Stuff is a perfect example and I’m proud to return as a presenter. In my session, “Writing the Compelling Short Story,” I look forward to discussing the structure of short stories and tips on how to get the most out of your limited word count. There will be audience participation!
Above all, READ! Read books both in your genre and beyond. Examine the styles used by various writers. Take note of the vocabulary and the rhythm of the words. Never stop learning from those who came before you.
DS – If you could tell your younger writing self anything, what would it be?
Phil – Well, I do believe everything happens when it’s supposed to. However, were I able to speak to my younger self, I would persuade him to start building his platform before writing that first novel. That was a mistake I made and spent about a year or two playing catch up after Testing the Prisoner was published in 2010. I started with a blog that year, joined Facebook and Twitter, then built a website about two years later. I should have acted upon these things much sooner.
DS – When you have an idea for a book, what is your next move? Why do you use this type of method?
Phil – My next move is to write out my ideas free-flowing. I often use temporary character names, some of which might end up in the story, but most are changed. Once I have the story fleshed out to my satisfaction, it’s time to write the outline, which for me is just a roadmap to get from beginning to middle to end of the story, but is never strictly followed.
Writing is an organic process. The story evolves as I write and characters often come to life and end up taking directions I didn’t originally intend. In other words, I will frequently have better ideas while I’m writing the story than I had when I outlined it. Like any journey, there is usually more than one route to reach your destination. Fiction writing is replete with exploration and experimentation.
I often include dialogue in my outlines, too, and sometimes entire scenes will just pour out of my brain. I’ll capture all of that in the outline.
DS – What kind of research do you do, and how long do you spend researching before beginning a book?
Phil – The kind of research I need to do depends on the subject matter. For my paranormal mystery novel, By Your Side, I researched quite a bit about Lancaster, PA because while I’ve been there several times, there were still facts and locations I was not familiar with. I also did a bit of research about how the Nazis plundered museums and homes for valuable artwork during WWII which became part of the book’s subplot.
Speaking of WWII, some research certainly went into my aforementioned Rehoboth Beach story, “Tower Sixteen,” in order to add authenticity to the tale about a WWII veteran and the fire control towers built to protect the Delaware Bay from German ships.
A final example would be the science fiction novel I’m currently writing. It’s an ambitious story about a young astrophysics student whose vision is to see humans seek out, and eventually colonize, an exoplanet. Through a chance encounter with a benevolent and snarky alien, she is given technology that eventually allows her vision to become reality—but at a cost almost too great to bear.
This story entails researching everything from theoretical propulsion systems for space ships to exoplanets that we’ve already discovered to potential methods for retrieving asteroids in space and much more. While some of the research was done as I was writing the outline, I find myself looking up scientific facts and theories while writing the first draft because I want my story to be as scientifically plausible as possible.
DS – Have you ever worked with a Ghost Writer? If so, did you have any problems? Why do you think about these problems?
Phil – I have never worked with or as a ghost writer. All of my work is written by me and I’ve never written work anonymously for anyone else.
Phil will conduct a seminar at the Write Stuff Conference™, Writing the Compelling Short Story, Saturday, March 25, 2017. In their submission requirements, publishers often impose a word limit for short stories. As such, writers must make every word count. In this session, Phil will present actual (and anonymous) excerpts from three or four short stories in order to illustrate common pitfalls with opening scenes, story structure, dialogue, POV characters, and more. For each example, the audience will be engaged to provide suggestions for improving the story.
Phil Giunta’s first novel, a paranormal mystery called Testing the Prisoner, was published in 2010 by Firebringer Press. His second novel in the same genre, By Your Side, was released in 2013. Phil also narrated the audio versions of both novels, available for free listening at Podiobooks.com.
Phil’s short stories appear in such anthologies as ReDeus: Divine Tales and ReDeus: Beyond Borders from Crazy 8 Press. In addition to contributing several stories, Phil served as editor on the speculative fiction anthologies Somewhere in the Middle of Eternity and Elsewhere in the Middle of Eternity for Firebringer Press. His paranormal mystery novella, Like Mother, Like Daughters, is slated for release in 2017.
In August 2016, Phil’s short story, “Tower Sixteen,” was a second place winner in the Rehoboth Beach Reads short story contest and was published in November in the anthology Beach Nights by Cat and Mouse Press.