Welcome to the six hundred and twenty-seventh of my blog interviews with novelists, poets, short story authors, biographers, agents, publishers and more. Today’s is with non-fiction author, poet and editor Phyl Manning. A list of interviewees (blogged and scheduled) can be found here. If you like what you read, please do go and investigate further.
Morgen: Hello, Phyl. Please tell us something about yourself, where you’re based, and how you came to be a writer.
Phyl: When I was four, and during the middle depth of the Big Depression, my poem "If I Could Fly" won a children’s poetry contest run by the Omaha World Herald. I won a brand new dollar bill plus a humongous bag of Kitty Clover Potato Chips along with a bit of acclaim. My poem was published in the newspaper! And I knew then that I wanted to be a writer when I grew up.
But I didn’t actually start writing seriously and for myself until I retired following forty-five years as an educator—classroom teacher, counselor, school administrator, curriculum designer, most memorably in posts overseas.
I’m certainly not young, anymore, but I AM prolific. I also do line editing for a couple of small publishers and a good many authors planning to self-publish.
Morgen: Isn’t it a lovely feeling; doing what you’ve always wanted to do. I left school nearly thirty years ago not having a clue and it wasn’t until eight years ago that I ‘found’ writing. You write non-fiction, how do you decide what to write about?
Phyl: My problem, Morgen, goes the other way: what NOT to write about. My life has been long and varied. It includes living and working with people in such places as Saipan in the West Pacific, Thailand in Southeast Asia, and Milan in northern Italy; also of traveling to and spending time in, as examples, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Zimbabwe, Sumatra—usually, and by my choice along paths not often taken.
Morgen: I know that feeling, although my dilemma is that I have so many newspaper cuttings and notes that I wonder if I’ll do them all in my lifetime… even writing a short story a day as I’ve been doing for my 5PM Fiction slot. But I know many authors who don’t know what to write about, although for most of us it’s having time to write. What have you had published to-date?
Phyl: Actually, Morgen, I write in several genres and have published variously about six dozen articles or stories in periodicals, largely but by no means exclusively literary magazines. I have two historical novels in print: Kiti on Ice and Arctic Circles (2nd edition out last year), and one beautifully illustrated (not by me) children’s picture book, Here Is the African Jungle. The historical novels are about the Inupiat (Arctic Eskimos), the in-depth focus of my doctoral studies (ABD) in cultural anthropology.
The new book published in 2012 is Volume 1 of exotic narrative nonfiction (NN), entitled Here, There & Otherwhere. This book is first-listed as Finalist with International Book Awards, 2012. Volume 2 (of more domestic-based NN) is slated to come out early this year. I am planning on making a couple of children’s book manuscripts available to my present publisher if I am permitted to use my own illustrator.
My signature novel is nearing conclusion after some several decades of effort—a very (too?) long one written on and around the subject of domestic violence. I’m hoping to complete it before my own life finishes.
Morgen: It’s a subject that so many people, sadly, can relate too. I hope you do too. Are your books available as eBooks? Do you read eBooks or is it paper all the way?
Phyl: Available as eBooks are Vol. 1 of Here, There & Otherwhere and also the 2nd edition of Arctic Circles. No, I don’t read eBooks, although I was given a Kindle. Sorry, but I like the feel of my fingers on paper, the "thrill" of turning pages.
Morgen: <laughs> That’s OK. Most people do. I like having the choice and have the Kindle software on my computer and iPad, but as you say, holding a real book does feel good. Did you have any say in the titles / covers of your books? How important do you think they are?
Phyl: I had to "fight" to get to use "Otherwhere" in the current book title. One member of the publishing group made fun of the word and called my book "Here, There & Underwear." I laughed but stubbornly held out. My publisher wants to do a second edition of Kiti on Ice, but says the title sounds like a hot-weather aperitif, continued wanting to name it "The Shaman’s Daughter" instead—until she discovered that seven other different books with that title exist. Besides, in the Inupiat culture where this book is set, the "medicine man" is the angakok, not a "shaman." We’ll see. . . . the book IS about Kiti, and she IS on ice (in the high arctic).
The covers for each book have been totally what I wanted. For Vol. 1 of Here, There & Otherwhere, the publisher’s artist sent me (for the cover) three rows of different-colored grasses. No way! So my stepdaughter stepped up and designed it. I’m hoping she will volunteer to do a similar cover for Volume 2. The artist (friend) who did the illustrations for my picture book also did the cover for Arctic Circles to my specifications. This publisher kept the same cover for the recent 2nd edition.
And yes, titles and cover designs are important! I know we’re told not to judge a book by its cover, but people do it all the time. My recent Volume 1 now has a gold medallion on the cover to announce that it is a finalist for the 2012 picks of International Book Awards. That bright bit on the cover can’t hurt, either!
Morgen: Absolutely. It’s recognition of a job well done. Have you had any rejections? If so, how do you deal with them?
Phyl: Of course. That’s a part of the business. I handle them by first looking to see how the piece I submitted could be improved, doing so, and submitting it elsewhere—or by trashing it. Then I go ahead with whatever I was working on when the rejection came in.
Morgen: Do you have an agent? Do you think they’re vital to an author’s success?
Phyl: If a generous genie came up to me and asked for my Number One Wish in the whole world, I would have to say "AN AGENT!" A knowledgeable, enthusiastic, well-connected agent who loves my work is my dearest desire. But I don’t have an agent. I have inquired (spasmodically, in rare times when I’m not writing) but without success.
Yes, I think a good agent is very close to being "vital" for at least the financial success of a good writer. And therefore the agent of my dreams is also active and imaginative when it comes to promotion.
Morgen: They work on commission so it would be in their interest. What’s your favourite / least favourite aspect of your writing life? Has anything surprised you?
Phyl: My favourite aspect is the writing itself and the satisfaction of giving something one last good polish. My least favourite aspect is the promotion. I speak well in a group, can hold the attention and spark interest. What I don’t do at all well is set up situations where I get a chance to do so. I’m shy!
Morgen: I agree with you there on both counts, although editing and research are up there in least favourites. I have my first (paid) speaking gig in London in March but it’s 20 minutes (plus a Q&A, I think) about blogging so I think we’re all more comfortable talking about what we know. Are you on any forums or networking sites? If so, how valuable do you find them?
Phyl: I am active online with The New Big Writer (TNBW) where we post selected work and read members’ reviews and also read the posts of other members before posting our reviews of their work. I have met some remarkable writers through TNBW (as well as some unremarkable), made some friends and received valid suggestions. The site keeps me hopping in terms of fresh material as well as improving my work.
Morgen: Feedback is incredibly important. Writers can never have too many opinions. Of course they don’t have to agree with them all but it invariably takes a second glance to see what we’ve missed. Where can we find out about you and your writing?
Phyl: I have a web site PHYLSBOOKS presently in process of being redone, although the old one’s still up, plus you can read on Amazon the (few) reviews of my books. Also, googling my name as Phyl Manning brings up a bunch of stuff, doubtless repetitious, that I’ve never really analyzed. Plus, Morgen, there’s a bit of bio on or inside every book cover.
Morgen: Ah yes, real books. Mine are only eBooks so I have a bio on the final page so no inside cover, although I do plan paperbacks even if I just end up keeping them all. Thank you very much, Phyl.
I then invited Phyl to include a synopsis of one of her books…
Come travel with me Here, There & Otherwhere—into the aquamarine waters of the West Pacific to reach an understanding with a hoary conger eel. Watch two adult male leopards romp together in the Sri Lankan sunset. See a young African elephant deal with a threatening Nile crocodile. Thrill to the fancy of towering tautau moana as they take themselves into the sea. Waiting for a tiger, spend the night of Christmas Eve in Southern Nepal alone on a machan, an open porch high as the tip of an elephant’s trunk. Ride along, camera ready, as your plane dusts the treetops to scatter sterilized male fruit flies on tropical islands. Hold afloat an internationally-known deep sea photographer who cannot swim. Get mooned by a herd of Asian elephants. Share an orange with a Tibetan child in Kathmandu. Watch a fishing catfish. Mine has been a magic life along paths not often taken, and I wish to share some of those times exciting, frightening or funny, always interesting. Come with me…
Phyl Manning started teaching at age 16 in a rural 1-room Nebraska schoolhouse with 18 kiddies, a close "family." After she had earned her B.A. and big-city teaching experience, she dared to try overseas international schools—and loved them! She picked venues along "paths not often taken" that afforded time and experience in and near such places as Thailand, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Malaysia, Sumatra PLUS a "vacation" in Zimbabwe. Married to another teacher, their two children were raised in West Pacific islands and are now in the U.S., both grown with (also grown) children of their own.
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