Saturday, August 28, 2010

Philip Chen Interview

1: What is the most productive time of the day for you to write? 

I find that early morning is my best time to write these days.  I am not a professional writer and distractions are easily had.  That said, when I do write, I find that words will flow naturally as though my characters were in a conversation with me.  When I do get into a session of writing that is often all that I can think about.  This is a trait that annoys those around me.  Consequently during the early morning hours, when the house is quiet, and the only sounds are the ones playing on my head phone, turns out to be a great time for writing.

2: Do you start your projects writing with paper and pen or is it all on the computer?

I usually think a lot about particular situations that my characters will be placed into.  Then I just write directly on the computer.  The advantage, of course, is the delete button.  I started writing in 1990 on a Compaq Aero that I was carrying for business.  I will resort to paper to do things like diagramming the story to make sure that I haven't developed time or logic gaps.

3: What do you draw inspiration from?

My novel, Falling Star, came about after I had a series of vivid dreams in 1990 about apocalyptic events in America.  In these dreams, I was witness to terrible destruction by gangs of what looked like ordinary Americans wreaking havoc against our institutions.  These so-called citizens were actually agents of a foreign power who hid in the open for decades using adopted persona.  They lived mundane lives under ordered to strike.  As I started writing, the story developed and certain characters started coming forward with their stories.

One of them, Mike, started out as the central character, but others soon gained strength and Mike over time became one of several principal characters.  I write about events and places familiar to me.  For example, I worked as an ocean research engineer helping in the development of deep submergence systems when I first graduated with a Master of Science degree from Stanford University.  The deep ocean then became the venue for much of this story.

I drew upon my personal struggles in our society and my love for the University of Virginia to give my character Mike a persona.  This was fortuitous, as you will learn on reading Falling Star, as Mike's personal struggles became the key to the solving this mystery.

One of my favorite characters in Falling Star is Mildred, a sweet Norwegian grandmother who harbors a deep, dark secret and who is especially adept at her chosen art.  I am married to a Norwegian-American though I doubt that my wife has the same proclivities as Mildred; at least I hope not.

4: Do you set goals for yourself when you sit down to write such as word count?

No.  As a consequence there are long stretches of no output, but I am constantly thinking about the story line as in the sequel to Falling Star.  When I do start to write, I cannot put it down easily.  It is as though I am engaged in a conversation with my characters and it would be impolite to break off midstream.

5: Are you a published or a self published author and how do you come up with your cover art?

As I am fond of saying: "I endured the slings and arrows of outrageous rejection from righteous agents and publishers for many years".  I tried to get people interested for years in Falling Star, but received nothing but form letters and the occasional polite rejection note.  I guess they all thought my premise that spies could actually live for decades in the open in America and do things like marry, have families, grow hydrangeas, hold down ordinary jobs, assume the identities of dead people, and even be financial consultants was too ridiculous and fanciful to be real.  After all, things like that just don't happen in America.

When the news stories about Russian agents hiding amongst us in the open broke this year, I decided to get this story out and chanced on Kindle as a way to do it.  Just to establish my credentials in this regard, I first wroteFalling Star in 1990-1991 and copyrighted it with the Library of Congress in, I think, 1993.  In addition, I have been posting excerpts of Falling Star on the online site Scribd since May 2009 (  I want to publish the novel now just in case any more of the things I write about actually come to pass in the future.

When I published on Amazon, it was recommended that I have a cover.  Being concerned about copyright, I searched for personal photos and other art that I could use and put one together.  I regularly post on a community message board in my town and when I posted my cover image, it was roundly dismissed as amateurish.  Then one of the moderators of Maplewood Online, David Ross, a corporate logo designer, posted his version of what he thought the cover should look like; in an instant I knew that David had captured the essence of Falling Star.

6: What drives you to choose the career of being a writer?

I had this story that needed to get out.  Writing has always been an avocation because things such as eating, housing, educating children, and the like seemed to demand a far greater portion of my daily pursuit.  Now that I have been forcibly retired, I can devote more of my time to this nascent career (can I say nascent to describe something that I have doing for twenty years?).  I am very pleased by the reviews that I have received in such a short time on Amazon.

7: Do you own an ebook reading device?

I do not.  I installed a Kindle reader on my computer.  If I can stabilize my retirement income, I would love to have one.

8: Who are some of your favorite authors and What are you reading now?

My favorite author is Ernest Hemingway.  I also enjoy William Faulkner, J.D. Salinger, and Tom Clancy (early books).  My personal favorite reading tends more toward factual writing and I particularly like John McPhee's books about various places and things.  I enjoy humorists mostly and am an avid reader of cartoon books.  I started cartooning in 2007 when I was ordered by my cardiologist to sit quietly over a weekend because he thought I might pop a pipe (turned out to not be the case).  My cartoons can be found on my community message board, Soundings: Puget Sound Speaks, at

I recently finished reading W.E.B. Griffin's Special Ops: A Brotherhood of War.  Robin Hathaway, the noted mystery author, told me that she thought my writing style was very similar to his and recommended that I read some of his books.  She left a very nice review of Falling Star on Amazon.

9: What do you think of book trailers and do you have any plans to have any?

I was advised by a friend who consults in social media that I should use YouTube as a way to advertise my book.  I went onto a music composing site to write some music for what was essentially a PowerPoint presentation despite the fact that I am probably tone-deaf.  Two of the members of the JamStudio forum took one look at my clumsy video and volunteered to rewrite it.  They produced a professional looking book trailer and gave me rights to use it.  The result is available at  The trailer was produced by Glenn Albert and the music is by Wyatt Lamoureux.

10: How did you come up with the title of your latest book?

It just came to me.  It was probably a result of the mysterious objects buried deep in the ocean and how they got there and the fact that following the breakup of the Soviet Union our nation started worrying about things like asteroids named Nemesis coming out of nowhere to destroy our planet.

11: What are you working on now that you can talk about?

I am resurrecting my sequel to Falling Star.  In this sequel Mike is now back in the secret agency on a full time basis and must deal with the consequences that arose in Falling Star.  I also have a story about growing up as a Chinese American in Washington, D.C., during the fifties and sixties called, Home to the Middle Kingdom.  The first draft of that book is finished, but it needs a lot of work.  And if I say it needs a lot of work; it needs a lot of work.

I have a Facebook page at!/group.php?gid=106695884228&ref=ts

I am in the process of developing a blog at

I spend a lot of my time on my community message board, 
Soundings: Puget Sound Speaks at

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