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Phillip Frey lists some favourite books...

READERSVOICE.COM: Did you draw up a blueprint of the plot of Dangerous Times, with all the characters, and their story about why they wanted the drug money, and how they’d interact, and the various problems they’d have to solve, and the deeper and deeper risky events they got into? Or did you just wing it with the main characters John Kirk and the psycho Frank Moore, then add supporting characters as they were needed?

PHILLIP FREY: Guess you could say I’m a “winger.” I have never liked doing outlines. For me, they eliminate the unexpected, the unpredictable. I may believe I know where the story is going, but then the characters have a way of pushing me into a different direction, which always seems to be the way to go. As for the John Kirk and Frank Moore characters, before I began the book, I wrote about them, their character traits, history, what they look like, what they wear, etc. The other characters appeared as needed. I would sketch them out, too, or at least do a lot of thinking about their traits, etc.

RV: Did you ever run out of story, and how do you keep a story going and interesting for that length?

PF: The first draft was way overwritten, with chapters that I later eliminated. I had written them because I thought I would be writing a novella if I didn’t have them. But the good thing about having written them was that I learned more about the characters and their circumstances. In other words, overwriting is a necessity. Then comes the paring down to the essence.

RV: What are some of your favourite books of all time, fiction or non-fiction?

PF: Oh, boy. Let me start with Knut Hamsun’s Hunger. A good start because it was published in 1890. It’s about an unemployed young writer. It may have been the first book to be written sparsely, succinctly, sticking to the story without going on about things. I should add that it is quite an entertaining read. By the way, the book influenced the writing styles of Fitzgerald and Hemingway, as they themselves had said.

As for other favorite books:
The Dwarf, by Par Lagerkvist. The evil in the dwarf’s nature is in ours, too.
The Big Sleep, along with the other four Raymond Chandler novels.
Lost Stories. 21 short stories by Dashiell Hammett. Up until now, these stories had never been republished after they had appeared in magazines during the 1920s and 1930s. Most of the stories come with a short bio of what Dashiell Hammett was going through at the time he had written them.
The Killer Inside Me, by Jim Thompson.
– All of the Ross MacDonald books with Lew Archer as the detective.
Miss Lonelyhearts & The Day of the Locust, by Nathanael West, both in one book under that title, both stories a devastating look at the human condition.
Candide, by Voltaire. An enjoyable romp.
The Overcoat and Other Tales of Good and Evil, by Nicolai Gogol. One of my favorite stories in this book is “The Nose.”
The Four Million and other Stories, by O. Henry. Very entertaining.
– The King James Version of the Bible. Not for religious reasons. First of all, there are no Latin based words in this book. That’s because the Church of England had separated from the Roman Catholic Church. It’s just an interesting fact, that has nothing to do with why I like the book. The reason I like the book is because the most powerful statements are clear, simple, concise, using mostly single vowel words with practically no adverbs. It’s a lesson for writers of my ilk. The simpler it is, the clearer it is.

If you would like to see more of what I have read: https://www.goodreads.com/review/list/8800365.

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– copyright Simon Sandall