Michael Phillips on Fiction and E-Books
Last week, in one of those surprising coincidences that seem to happen more often than they should, Michael Phillips emailed me. Phillips had read and enjoyed my novel Veniss Underground and was looking for an e-version of City of Saints & Madmen. Oddly enough, I'd just learned about Phillips because of a piece about him that appeared on Showtime's This American Life. Despite having a physical condition that has effectively paralyzed him, Phillips reads a lot of books, using e-books and audio books to overcome the problem of, for example, turning pages. Among other things, I wondered what someone's perspective on e-books would be if they had to use them to enjoy good fiction. Phillips was kind enough to agree to an interview via email to talk about books, fiction, and his favorite authors. (BTW--although an e-book of City of Saints exists, it requires Windows XP to view it, so my editor at Bantam is working on getting Phillips a PDF instead.)
Amazon.com: Can you give me an idea of your general reading tastes? Do you read fiction and nonfiction? What kinds, etc?
Michael Phillips: I really prefer fiction. Stark reality is everywhere, when I read I like to go somewhere else, somewhere far away. I mostly like darker fiction, I don't read to go somewhere "better" than the world around us. If anything, I read to see something far worse. I love fabulism, magic realism, darker works of fantasy, and I read classics because so much modem fiction alludes to classics.
Amazon.com: What really energizes and thrills you in the fiction you enjoy? Why is it important to you?
Michael Phillips: I love reading about bizarre worlds and strange characters that are far outside of my own experience, yet are still relatable in some way. Chuck Palahniuk writes characters like that, disturbed, fairly psychotic people, people I'd never meet. Yet, his characters are me in some way or another. Where do I fit in to our crazy world? Why are "things" so important to us? One of his characters likes to walk the halls of mausoleums hoping to hear a scratching on the coffins, any signs of life, because that would at least mean that there is SOMETHING more after we die. It's good to know that authors wonder and write about the same obscure things that I do, and that other people enjoy reading about them. (My [own]fiction is a work in progress. I attempt fabulism, and fantasy, but I find that I'm much better at writing non-fiction. I'm working on a book of essays that I hope to publish, kind of a personal memoir.)
Amazon.com: What are some of your favorite authors, and why?
Michael Phillips: K.J. Bishop: Her book, The Etched City, is absolutely gorgeous. The world she created is so vibrant and strange, her characters so conflicted and real. Nobody in that book is all good, or all evil. Life isn't black or white, but shades of grey. I enjoy that very much. Jonathan Carroll: He creates worlds that are instantly familiar, but get very bizarre, very fast. Dogs talk, people's dreams become real, it's all so outlandish, yet he writes with such confidence that the reader buys it completely. George R.R. Martin: His Song of Ice and Fire series is amazing. Each book is thick and heavy enough to kill a man, yet they're never stale or dull. Like my other favorite authors, he's also spectacular at writing grey characters. Chuck Palahniuk: Palahniuk has an amazing knack for creating complete lunatic, low-life characters who are still likable and relatable. At least, I find them relatable. He paints a society so dark that one can't help but appreciate the beauty that we do have. Cormac McCarthy: His prose are a work of art. I read The Road in about a day, I just couldn't put it down.
Amazon.com: You must be a kind of expert on electronic books by now. Do you have a preference?
Michael Phillips: Well, I think the most important thing about e-books is that they not be limited to a single platform. They shouldn't be Kindle exclusive, or PC only. People have different reasons for needing different platforms. For example, I have a physical disability, I can pretty much only use my thumb. Paper books and handheld devices are absolutely useless to me. The Kindle's fabulous, but to many people it's just a paperweight. I need books available on my computer, particularly the Mac. Palm e-books and e-books in PDF format are great because they're readable on Macs, Windows PCs and a great many handheld devices.
Amazon.com: Are there any books you can't get in e-book form? Which ones are on the top of your wish list?
Michael Phillips: Too many. Michael Cisco, for instance, is a brilliant writer, but none of his stuff is available. I'd love to read Stephen R. Donaldson, but he's not available either. Even the Harry Potter series isn't available. Sometimes audio books fill in the gaps, but they're not always available either, or they're abridged. Also, hearing an audio book just isn't the same as reading the written word. Words and paragraphs paint their own pictures, written text has a certain beauty.
Amazon.com: And, finally, how much time do you spend reading fiction?
Michael Phillips: Oh, I'm not big on sleep, so I read a good three hours a night, and a good two during the day.