Phil Bowie is a lifelong freelancer with 300 articles and short stories published in magazines including The Saturday Evening Post, Reader’s Digest, Harper’s, Yankee, Troika, Heartland USA, Make, AOPA Pilot, Southern Boating, and many other travel, aviation, and boating publications.
GUNS, his debut novel in the John Hardin series, earned honorable mention at the London Book Festival. He also has a collection of short stories out. Dagger and other tales includes a number of previously-published yarns such as “The Cat from Hell,” an award-winner begun by Stephen King.
Phil is a light-plane pilot, Coast Guard-licensed boat captain, motorcycle rider, inventor, fiddler, and voracious reader of everything.
The site includes reviews, a photo gallery, and easy direct-buy links to all of Phil’s books.
Phil Bowie’s new novel, DEATHSMAN, is number four in a taut suspense series. The first three books, GUNS, DIAMONDBACK, and KLLRS, have been endorsed by top international bestsellers Lee Child, Ridley Pearson, and Stephen Coonts. The new tale finds pilot John Hardin (a WITSEC identity) and Cherokee girlfriend Kitty Birdsong pitted against a crime lord who sells generic illegal drugs, and a shadowy hit man named after professional executioners of centuries past, the deathsmen.
Like all of Phil’s novels, this one takes place mostly in the misty folds of the Great Smoky Mountains.
(1) Where did you get the idea for your most recent book?
I wanted the background to be about illegal drugs because they’re such a huge problem across the country. But I wanted a fresh slant.
Prior to 2012, people were freely selling analogs of illegal drugs through convenience stores, disguised as bath salts or aroma products and labeled not for consumption to avoid FDA scrutiny. Actually, analogs are smokeable chemical concoctions that push the same brain buttons as illegal drugs. They were, up to quite recently, perfectly legal because the specific chemistry was not DEA-listed. Think of them as street generics. Laws have been passed, but that’s only driven the analogs underground and pushed up prices. So this became the novel’s background.
I like to paint such backgrounds for my stories. With my debut, GUNS, it was the world trade in light weaponry, which fuels so many conflicts, often with the sanctions of major governments. The backdrop for DIAMONDBACK was a lost Cherokee gold mine, based on true history. KLLRS involved a psychological study of the approach-avoidance conflict, a study I took part in as a test subject many years ago when I was skydiving.
You have to take care with background agendas, though. The stories can never get preachy or stridently angry or too complex because that will put off readers. I just like to honestly lay out some well-researched anchor or framework issue as a back story and let readers form their own opinions while I hope the up-front story entertains them.
(2) How do you get inspired to write?
My mother was an excellent newspaper reporter back when reporting was supposed to be scrupulously objective and unbiased. She interviewed Boris Karloff (Frankenstein’s monster on the movie screen, but a mild-mannered gentleman in person) and Eleanor Roosevelt, a lady she much admired. She told me real and imaginary stories, and instilled in me a love of and respect for language, for its beauty and power. She ignited my early inspiration.
I can also remember from childhood how I loved to get absolutely lost in my wide-roaming imagination for hours. Pretending a picnic table overturned in my back yard was a sailing ship on the open ocean. Imagining how it would feel to fly from a mountain top near my home out over the valley. Creating a community in my sand box. Voraciously reading stacks of comic books—Superman and Superwoman, Prince Valiant, Popeye. Playing cops and robbers with my friends, armed with cap pistols. Making up characters and stories.
I’ve never quite grown up. I still like to get lost in my imagination. Now I do it through writing.
(3) What are you currently working on?
I want to set the next novel in Africa because the people and their many dire, entrenched problems intrigue me. But I’m uneasy because I’ve never been there, so it will take a lot of research before I’ll feel confident setting a believable novel there.
It’s a big departure for me because I like to write as much as possible from personal experience for verisimilitude. My series protagonist is a pilot, loves old western movies, rides a motorcycle, and likes to work with his hands. That’s pretty much me. His girlfriend is part Cherokee. My Naomi (editor, incisive critic, soul mate, number-one supporter) is also part Cherokee, and I admire the Indian cultures. I grew up in the Berkshires of Massachusetts so I love the similar Great Smokies of North Carolina, where my stories are mostly set.
And I’m always working on a short story or a magazine article.
(4) What’s your advice for aspiring writers?
Read Elements of Style by Strunk and White. It’s a skinny little book but the finest on how to use language accurately and well. Keep it by your computer. Follow its dictates. Also read On Writing by Stephen King.
Read widely in the genre you want to write. But simply reading lots of good books won’t teach you the basics, because top writers have fleshed out their stories cleverly, making it look easy. Which it most assuredly is not. Choose a few novels by top bestsellers you admire and take them apart. That is, read them through, then go back and read them again, taking notes on characters, scenes, pacing, twists. Strip them down until you expose their bare bones, and you’ll begin to understand how it’s done.
Shun adverbs and don’t overuse adjectives. Don’t use clichés; write from your own careful observations of people and settings. Be clear. Be accurate.
Get stubborn. Never give up. You’ll only lose when you quit. Shrug off rejection, which every writer experiences. Value honest advice from critics to improve your writing but ignore those one-star losers who roam the Net, often anonymously, and who’ll try to drag you down out of sheer meanness.
Above all, write.
(5) What’s the best thing about being a writer?
There’s something attractive, magical, enviable, even admirable about the word freelancer. About setting out to accomplish a major feat like writing a hundred-thousand-word novel simply relying on the wonderful powers stored within your own mind.
Of course it’s also fulfilling to reach people. I keep a file of notes and e-mails from readers who’ve enjoyed my work.
An example: “This is the first fan letter I have ever written in over twenty years of reading . . . your books have taken me back to what I miss the most, the outdoors and all its splendor, what it means to be alive . . . your writing stays with me as I step up the physiotherapy intensity . . . I thank you sincerely.” That came from a man in Birmingham, England, confined to a wheelchair because of an auto accident. It’s taped to the wall behind my computer.
(6) How do you deal with writer’s block?
I’ll take a walk. I can start out on a three-mile jaunt mulling over some vexing plot problem, say, or casting about for a new short story idea, and quite often by the time I get back I’ll have at least the glimmer of an answer. I think it’s because walking lets me focus without distractions and it helps oxygenate my brain.