Name: Phyllis Entis
Where are you from:
I was born and grew up in Montreal, Quebec, Canada (yes, I speak both French and English). I studied Microbiology at McGill University in Montreal and Mycology at University of Toronto. My husband (also a Montrealer) and I have been married for more than 40 years. We have no children. We lost our 13-year old Australian Labradoodle, Quintzy, to cancer one year ago. We now are the proud Momsy and Popsy of a one-year old Australian Cobberdog named Shalom.
I spent the first ~40 years of my professional life as a food safety microbiologist, working in both government and private industry. The writing bug, which had been incubating within my brain for decades, bit in earnest when I retired.
Fiona: Tell us your latest news?
I have begun working on the fourth novel in my mystery series, Damien Dickens News. Although I have no fixed deadline for completion of the manuscript, I am hoping to have the first draft finished by early spring.
Fiona: When and why did you begin writing?
My activities as a microbiologist always included a fair amount of writing: technical reports, research proposals, and a lot of management reports when I worked for the Canadian government. If you are wondering why I began to write fiction, I did so to exercise a different section of my brain. To reinvent myself, so to speak.
Fiona: When did you first consider yourself a writer?
Probably when a reader of FOOD SAFETY: OLD HABITS, NEW PERSPECTIVES commented to me that the narrative read like a James Patterson novel. Ironically, I hadn’t read any of James Patterson’s books at that time.
Fiona: What inspired you to write your first book?
My first book, a lab manual with the uninspired title of FOOD MICROBIOLOGY – THE LABORATORY, was published in 2004 by the Food Processors Institute. As you can imagine, it sold just a couple of hundred copies. My second book, FOOD SAFETY: OLD HABITS, NEW PERSPECTIVES, was a more ambitious project. It was a cross-over textbook, written in lay language but with the technical oomph of a college textbook. It was published in January 2007 by the American Society for Microbiology (ASM Press) and is still in print.
Fiona: Do you have a specific writing style?
My mysteries are set around 1980 and evoke the style of the old-time detective fiction. The first book was written entirely in the first person; the second and third switched back and forth between first and third person, as the points of view shifted between the two main characters. I keep a tight lid on foul language, and I avoid gratuitous blood and gore. Some people have told me that my style bears some similarity to Sue Grafton’s. In fact, I think that the style of my first book was influenced by Grafton’s Kinsey Millhone series. That influence has diminished as I’ve groped toward evolving my own narrative style.
Fiona: How did you come up with the title?
My novels are semi-cozy, and I wanted a theme to the titles that reflected their nature. ‘Caper’ seemed to fit the bill. Each title includes a color and alludes to an aspect of a plot element. Hence, THE GREEN PEARL CAPER, THE WHITE RUSSIAN CAPER, and THE CHOCOLATE LABRADOODLE CAPER. The third book was named in honor of our Quintzy, whose picture graces its cover, and includes a sub-plot about a dog.
Fiona: Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?
That’s a tough question. I didn’t write the books with the intent of transmitting a specific message. I simply wanted to see whether I could write a novel that people might want to read; one that would entertain without shocking. Sometimes, reading should just be FUN.
Fiona: How much of the book is realistic and are experiences based on someone you know, or events in your own life?
I have tried to be accurate in the historical settings and the geography. Otherwise, the entire plot and the characters in the first book are 100% fictional. In the second book, I introduced a character with some of the characteristics of Donald Trump (before he began his run for President). Also, a couple of the secondary characters in the second book were loosely based on people I have known. One of the major plot elements in the third book is derived from my experiences as a food safety microbiologist. Also, the Trump-like character plays a major role in the third book.
Fiona: What books have most influenced your life most? a mentor?
Most recently, I would say that STILL ALICE, by Lisa Genova, had a significant impact on me. My Dad, who died in September 2001, suffered from Alzheimer’s. Genova’s novel about a woman stricken by early onset Alzheimer’s helped me to understand in hindsight the changes that he must have experienced in his perception of the world around him.
Fiona: Are there any new authors that have grasped your interest and who is your favorite author and what is it that really strikes you about their work?
My favorite author is Louise Penny. Her work awes me: her weaving of art and poetry into her plot lines, her command of the perfect word in the perfect place, her wonderfully intricate plots, her three-dimensional characters, and her ability to just get better and better with each new book. It also helps that her stories are set in Quebec’s Eastern Townships, about an hour’s drive from my hometown of Montreal.
Fiona: Name one entity that you feel supported you outside of family members.
My local library, the Harrison Memorial Library here in Carmel-by-the-Sea, is tremendously supportive of local authors, including Indies such as myself. The library has added all three of my books to its collection (and, to my delight, all three are checked out at the moment), and hosted a panel discussion to mark the first annual Indie Author Day in October. I was invited to be one of the panelists, and we had a lively discussion about what it means to be an Indie author.
Fiona: Do you see writing as a career?
A career is something that pays for the groceries and the rent. A career demands that you sit down to do the job every day, whether you feel in the mood or not. I prefer to consider writing as a remunerative hobby, at least for now.
Fiona: If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything in your latest book?
I probably could read the book another dozen times and find some things to ‘polish’ each time.
Fiona: Do you recall how your interest in writing originated?
Again, that depends on whether you mean writing in general or specifically my dive into the world of fiction. I didn’t wake up one morning and say, “I want to be a writer.” It was evolutionary. Technical reports evolved into lab manuals. When the food safety book was published, I began a food safety blog, in part to call attention to the book. The blog evolved into an interest in writing short memoir and fiction pieces. One of the fiction pieces formed the basis for my novels’ protagonist, Damien Dickens.
Fiona: Can you share a little of your current work with us?
It’s still pretty early. I’m only some 5,000 words into the first draft. At the end of the third book (released in October), I hinted at what might be in store next for Damien and his wife and partner, Millie. The plot of the current WIP takes up their story three years after the end of the third book. The story begins (as they all do) in Atlantic City; however, much of the action will take place elsewhere, including in Vermont.
Fiona: Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing?
Yes. I have a great deal of difficulty blocking out distractions from social media, especially Facebook. I don’t pay for advertising. As a result, I feel compelled to maintain a Facebook presence and dialogue with others more frequently than I would like. I also find myself checking my sales rankings on Amazon and elsewhere far too often for my own good. I sit down every day with good intentions that rapidly go astray.
Fiona: Do you have to travel much concerning your book(s)?
My husband and I have traveled extensively in the past, and also have lived in many different cities. I have been able to draw on those experiences for most of the locales in my novels.
Fiona: Who designed the covers?
I design my own covers. I have a trove of photographs, some from my late mother’s collections, others that my husband took. I choose a relevant photograph as the backdrop for the cover and engineer the rest of the cover as necessary, using images that I find on the Internet.
Fiona: What was the hardest part of writing your book?
The first 10,000 words. For the third book, I wrote and discarded two false starts, each one three or four chapters long, before the story began to feel right.
Fiona: Did you learn anything from writing your book and what was it?
I’ve always loved to read. Trying to write a full-length novel taught me how hard it is to write a book that works.
Fiona: If any of your books was made into a film who would you like to play the lead
I rarely go to movies. Most of the films my husband and I watch are older (thank you, Turner Classic Movies). I see a 40-something Harrison Ford in the role of Damien Dickens, and a 30-something Melanie Griffith as his partner, Millie. I picture them as they were in the film, Working Girl.
Fiona: Do you have any advice for other writers?
First of all, learn some basic grammar, syntax, and punctuation rules. These things count. Nothing kicks me out of a story faster than sloppy writing. Find a few willing beta-readers who will offer constructive criticism. You are not looking for ego-strokers (although it’s always nice to have one of those in the group). You want people who will help to make your work better. Also, find a writing buddy – someone with whom you can exchange ideas and commiserate when the writing (or the marketing) isn’t going well.
Most importantly, write. Practice doesn’t make perfect, but it does make for improvements, especially if you read and write with a critical eye.
Fiona: Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers?
Yes. I want to say,’Thank you for your support, your encouraging feedback, and for buying my books.’
Fiona: What book are you reading now?
STRONG POISON by Dorothy L. Sayers.
Fiona: Do you remember the first book you read?
Not offhand, but it was probably a Nancy Drew book. I think I owned the complete set.
Fiona: What makes you laugh/cry?
I cry at happy endings and sad endings, at weddings and at funerals. These days, most of the laughter is triggered by our puppy’s antics.
Fiona: Is there one person pass or present you would meet and why?
It would be heavenly to sit down with Louise Penny and talk about writing as we sip café-au-lait in Olivier’s Bistro in the fictional village of Three Pines.
Fiona: What do you want written on your head stone and why ?
My mind is a blank. Wait. No, that’s not what I want written on my headstone. I truly am drawing a blank. I have never given that any thought and have no idea what I would want engraved in stone above my head. I shall leave that to my survivors to determine.
Fiona: Other than writing do you have any hobbies ?
I enjoy gardening, although I don’t do as much of it as I used to. These days, I bake a lot (bread, bagels, cookies, cake) and spend a fair bit of time working with the puppy (who had her front legs draped over my right forearm just now as I was trying to type).
Fiona: What TV shows/films do you enjoy watching?
I enjoy classic romance movies, romantic comedies, cozy detective movies (The Thin Man series), and movies with witty or intelligent dialogue and a strong plot (Casablanca). I avoid gratuitous blood and gore, dysfunctional family stories, and movies that are simply a series of explosions and car chases. I abhor movies that attempt to shock or ‘entertain’ through the use of foul language in every sentence.
Fiona: Favorite foods / Colors/ Music
Foods? Anything chocolate! I enjoy music from the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s. Also, operas by Verdi and Puccini, and symphonies and concerti by the great composers (Mozart, Beethoven, Brahms, etc.
Fiona: If you were not a writer what else would you like to have done?
Curl up with a good book. I don’t have as much time to read as I used to.
Fiona: Do you have a blog/website? If so what is it?
I recently built my first website, Gone Writing. You can find it at phyllisentis.wordpress.com. I also have a blogsite, Prompt Prose (promptprose.blogspot.com), where I have posted my very short stories and memoir pieces.
Amazon authors page UK https://www.amazon.co.uk/Phyllis-Entis/e/B001JRZM1K/ref=dp_byline_cont_ebooks_1
THE WHITE RUSSIAN CAPER: https://www.amazon.co.uk/White-Russian-Caper-Dickens-Mysteries/dp/B01JQC8GLM?tag=geolinker-21&SubscriptionId=AKIAI3FTSIOZQ7GOWL4Q&linkCode=xm2&camp=2025&creative=165953&creativeASIN=B01JQC8GLM
THE CHOCOLATE LABRADOODLE CAPER: https://www.amazon.co.uk/CHOCOLATE-LABRADOODLE-CAPER-Dickens-Mysteries-ebook/dp/B01LYFJBB3/ref=asap_bc?ie=UTF8