I was privileged recently to have an interview with Phyllis Entis, a modern-day Agatha Christie, whose mystery novels I have read and reviewed. Phyllis is known for her 1980s private eye, Damien Dickens, whose adventures and relationships populate her novels, in the genre of Mystery/Husband-and-wife private investigators.
I’ll share more about Phyllis the person, after the interview, but for now, here is the gist of our session together.
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IC: Tell me, please, Phyllis, how you came to be writing about a 1980s private detective located in Atlantic City, New Jersey.
PE: Well, Damien Dickens was born during a drop-in writing workshop at the Riford Branch of the San Diego Public Library, located in La Jolla, California.
The weekly workshop had a simple format. The moderator began each session with a writing prompt, typically a sentence, a list of words, or a picture. We all wrote at top speed for twenty minutes. At the end of the timed writing period, each of us read our creations out loud to the other participants in the group.
IC: That sounds pretty intense. I can see how a workshop like that could really build up some writing chops for its regular participants. But, how did that workshop result in Damien Dickens?
PE: [laughs] I’m coming to that. For the first session of 2013, our moderator introduced something new. She arrived laden with a stack of 10 x 13 brown envelopes, which she proceeded to distribute to us. Each envelope contained a different object. As a warm-up exercise, she instructed us to reach into the envelope, feel the object inside and, without looking at the object, write a few words of description. Then she had us remove the object from the envelope and use it as our story prompt.
The object in my envelope was a string of green plastic beads, such as would be found at a New Orleans Mardi Gras event.
IC: Oh, I see where this is going! The first Damien Dickens book was The Green Pearl Caper, right? And it all started with that string of green Mardi Gras beads.
PE: In my story, the beads became an expensive rope of green pearls belonging to Sylvia Sutherland, the CEO of Sutherland Smokes. Sylvia, so the story went, was worried about her kid sister, Celine, and engaged Damien Dickens to protect her.
In my piece of flash fiction, Sylvia was the archetypical slinky dame and Damien the clichéd down-on-his-luck private eye. Fortunately for my readers, both characters evolved dramatically by the time I had completed the first draft of THE GREEN PEARL CAPER.
IC: But, also fortunately for your readers, you didn’t stop at just one book.
PE: [laughs] No, I didn’t. The first novel led to a second, THE WHITE RUSSIAN CAPER, and the second led to a third, THE CHOCOLATE LABRADOODLE CAPER. The three published novels are now united in a Kindle ebook compilation, DAMIEN DICKENS MYSTERIES: BOOKS 1, 2, & 3.
IC: And I have to tell you, I’ve read all three of the Damien Dickens mysteries, and I’m ready for more. Do you have future plans for Damien and his wife, Millie (and, of course, their Chocolate Labradoodle puppy)?
PE: The first three ‘Capers’ will be joined by a fourth Damien Dickens novel later this year.
IC: Yippee! I’ll be standing in the virtual line at my online bookstore to download the fourth ebook when it comes out. Thanks for joining us, Phyllis Entis. It’s been fun.
PE: My pleasure.
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Readers, I promised you a little background on Phyllis Entis, but before that, I want you to know that the Damien Dickens Mysteries are available on ebook, in paperback, and on audiobook. Get yours now, HERE.
Now, here’s a little bit about Phyllis herself. You already know that Phyllis Entis is the author of the Damien Dickens Mysteries series, which includes The Green Pearl Caper, The White Russian Caper and The Chocolate Labradoodle Caper.
You may not know that her debut novel, The Green Pearl Caper, was a Library Journal SELF-e Selection.
Phyllis is a free-lance writer and retired food safety microbiologist with degrees from McGill University and the University of Toronto. In 2007, ASM Press published her non-fiction book, Food Safety: Old Habits, New Perspectives.
Phyllis lives in Carmel-by-the-Sea, California with her husband and their Australian Cobberdog, Shalom. When she’s not writing, Phyllis usually can be found walking around town, browsing in the local library, or enjoying her garden.
Connect with Phyllis at any of these links: