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"Phil Comer, on his 'All Write by Me' blog... Definitely worth a look-see." Chuck Sambuchino, Editor, Guide to Literary Agents, Writer’s Digest Books.

Friday, December 10, 2010


Award-winning, Utah-based writer Alicia Caldwell interviewed Phil Comer for the Write-Brained Network's December, 2010 Spotlight. (original here) The Write-Brained Network is a great online community of writers, should any be looking for an online home.

Alicia Caldwell

December '10 WB Spotlight Interview by Alicia Caldwell:
This month, say hello to Georgia writer Phil Comer.
Meet Phil Comer, fellow WBer, blogger, and all around fantastic writer. Phil lives in rural Georgia with dogs, cats, chickens and spousal unit. He has led writing teams for corporations, trade associations and has in excess of one million words ghosted in worldwide corporate dossiers.

Early on, he was owner/operator of The Last Resort, a venerable folk, jazz and blues venue in Athens, Ga., characterized in the press as "a local bohemian nightspot catering to the avant-garde." A popular speaker, he writes scripts and leads cemetery and historical rambles. His hobbies include international home stays, an outlet affording power naps in 30+ countries on six continents.

Phil Comer
AC: When did you first discover you loved to write?
PC: Writing is hard. I don’t love to write; I write because I have to. Sounds schizophrenic, but I started creative writing to engage the voices in my head, to discipline their cacophony. It’s like taking dictation; I write what they say. I use a lot of dialogue---sometimes can’t type fast enough to keep up.

The end result is gratifying. But, writing is exhausting work. Writing is re-writing. Layering. Revisiting. Constant switching, left to right brain---the creative versus the analytical.

When I was a kid, my mother had a manila pocket stuck to the wall. Every Friday I had to have a new little story or poem in it. I guess Mom invented blogging.

AC: You recently started a blog (and one of your posts was given a shout-out on the Guide to Literary Agents blog. Wow!) Can you tell us about it and, besides your crazy rants, what kinds of things we can expect to see there?
PC: I don’t censor myself. I’m sure I’ll offend. I realized recently, that’s because I’ve never had kids. Parents learn early to put on the kibosh. Consequently, I’m sometimes shocking unintentionally, but never mean-spirited. I’m not obscene.

I launched the blog on Nov. 1, 2010. The shout-out in Guide To Literary Agents came on Nov. 8. Talk about instant feedback and gratification!

Ricki [Schultz] blogged about Chuck Sambuchino’s gnome book. He’s editor of Guide to Literary Agents. He used a bunch of gnome puns in his book. I started thinking in “Gnome”---gnomenclature as he and Ricki call it---and this silly gnome rap popped out. Chuck read it, liked it, and he blogged about it. Yea!

One of the first things I blogged was my Stalker Poem ["My Darling"]; it’s something I perform at open mics. It’s meant to be fun. A number of people commented how it channels insanity. Anyhow, the blog’s had several hits from a Danish psychiatry site. Not sure the connection. When I click back on their link, it’s in Danish. Can’t read a word.

[Editor's note: Click here to see a YouTube video of Phil performing it!]

BTW, the story behind Stalker Poem is, a friend was deliberating a restraining order against her former boyfriend. I started the poem to help her see his point of view. By the time I finished, I was like, “Nah. Get the restraining order.” But, that’s where art comes from.

Other writers have been incredibly helpful with the launch. I think that’s part of being a writer, sharing with and supporting others. WB’s J.M. Lacey sent a bunch of much appreciated “how to” stuff. A writer/blogger in California, whom I don’t know, sent a list of things I needed to do to make the blog look and work better. So generous, that he took the time and effort. I did them all, except stuff involving HTML. Maybe next time a 14-year-old comes over, we’ll tackle that.

 AC: It looks like you have dabbled in different kinds of writing, ranging from scientific to short fiction. What else have you dipped your toes into and which type is your favorite?
PC: My favorites are little slice of life stories. Reality morphed into fiction, such as the “Heart of Jawja” series on my blog. Those are all vignettes that happened, just bent and twisted into fiction.

Scientific and technical writing has been the bread-and-butter. In my own way, I’ve tried to force as much creativity as possible into that. There are so many layers of review, the politics of white papers and such, I sometimes throw in quirky points to see if anyone else on the team is paying attention. But good ideas come out of that sort of mischief.

I love brainstorming. The trick to brainstorming is not to be critical. Just let it flow and capture those ideas. The hard part comes later, the winnowing down, squeezing the toothpaste out the tube with the cap on.

My favorite part of being a writer is conferences. Learning, networking with others. I think writers should go to all the conferences they can afford. Every one I’ve ever attended, I’ve met someone crucial to my development as a writer, like WB’s leader Ricki Schultz at Southeastern Writers Association.  Did I mention, SWA is in summer, and Ricki has a fabulous collection of sandals? Some change outfits several times a day; Ricki changes shoes.

AC: What are you currently working on?
PC: My blog. Sorting through old stuff, shorter pieces that people might enjoy. I intended “All Write By Me” to be pure content with a minimalist design, little to distract from the writing.

My WIP is the second of my trilogy. Actually, I started all three parts at the same time. Ruby Cheeks was the first to finish itself. Next, I intend to complete Sapelo Queen; it takes place on a remote island off the Georgia coast, a comic ghost story.

I have another couple of novels that just didn’t work. Maybe revisit later. But I’d rather deal with new ideas than old.

AC: I heard you just started querying for the first book of the trilogy, Ruby Cheeks. How’s that going?
PC: By querying, I’ve been doing research on agents. I’ve sent out six queries for Ruby Cheeks and got two prompt rejections. Then I got distracted by my October cemetery projects. I lead Rambles and do Spirit performances. So far, November has been blogging. Need to get back to serious querying. And writing.

I queried another novel a couple of years back, one that I love. Had requests for several partials and one full. The comment on the full was, “Good company, but don’t know what to do with it.”

I decided the manuscript needed a serious rewrite, so I shelved it.

Maybe I write sucky queries. One agent responded with a personal note, “Intriguing, but I didn’t fall in love with it.” It was a freaking query letter! How do you fall in love with a single sheet of bond?

AC: Can you tell us more about your trilogy?
PC: I call it the SportsModel trilogy. The connecting character is Sport Model. He narrates two of the three, but not the Ruby Cheeks installment. In present time, Sport and Ruby are eccentric elders.

Older characters have experienced time travel. I love history, so their pasts become an excuse to flash back through mid-20th Century America.

Sport is a gay guy, Ruby very straight. Their mutual friend is flamboyant Sheldon Smoot, a spy during WWII and in occupied Japan. Subsequently, Sheldon spent the remainder of his life dressing in getas (for Ricki, those are wooden Japanese sandals) and kimono drag. He’s a hoot.

But there’s Mad Men seriousness there. It’s based on the historical fact that many Second World War and Cold War spies were gay. Due to their hidden subculture, gays and lesbians were accustomed to operating in secret in plain sight.

Sport’s bombshell in the first installment is, he had a gay lover no one would ever suspect, a major closeted figure in 20th century America. All plausible historically, and providing unique insights into a transcendent historical event. Because gays were so invisible, they sometimes were in positions to create havoc. Need I mention FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover, Sen. Joe McCarthy and his industrious minion, Roy Cohn? Sport’s paramour was bigger than any of those.

In the second installment, Sapelo Queen, Sport, a recovering alcoholic, resumes drinking after a traumatic event. In the delirium of sobering up, he inadvertently summons the ghost of Tallulah Bankhead. This all takes place on Sapelo Island off the Georgia coast. The Geechee/Gullah culture in the Lowcountry and Sea Islands is imbued with “spirits and shades,” so Sport’s summoning Tallulah becomes a contrast between old and new cultural beliefs. Tallulah is fun to write, and I hope a good read.

In Ruby Cheeks, the third of the trilogy but the first completed, Ruby abandons her son, the narrator, in childhood only to reappear forty years later as if nothing happened. His relentless quest to sort things out unleashes “Southern-fried calamity,” as they say. Of course, Sport Model, Sheldon Smoot and the pastel, old-moneyed “Easter Egg Ladies” are part of the action.

AC: What do you do when you’re not writing, blogging, or on the WB?

PC: I love reading but find writing cuts into reading time. How do other writers handle that?

I enjoy teaching, guest lecturing at local colleges, playing step-on tour guide for out-of-town coaches. I wrote the tour script for Macon, Ga. It’s used by local tour guides and Macon’s Cherry Blossom Festival. Macon has more cherry trees than anywhere else in the world. Festival is the third week in March. Hundreds of thousands show up to gawk.

Writing is an isolating life. So I enjoy spending time with friends and family. Movies, plays---the suspension of disbelief. I love observing people, eavesdropping.

I’m the luckiest guy, and have the most wonderful husband in the world, Rob. He usually comes out as “Duck” in my stories. He’s a kayak fanatic, “Duck in Water.” Georgia’s got good rivers and swamps.
AC: Who inspires you (besides the fabulous Ricki)?

Ricki Schultz
PC: Ricki, of course! I am in total awe and admiration of what she is accomplishing. Her dedication to fellow writers, wow. Kudos, kudos, kudos. But, isn’t a kudo some sort of critter on the Serengeti?

[Editor's note: OMG, you guys are too too sweet!!!]

Of dead inspirations, Flannery O’Connor. Her fiction, her essays on writing, her reflections on life. A pious Catholic, she delved into that fine intersection between devotional belief and absurdity. She’s a kindred spirit on life’s Ouija board.

When I moved to Chicago, someone said, “What I love about Flannery is her imagination.” That came as a shock. My response was, “I just figured she knew my family.”

I was fortunate to be born into a rural but lush corner of the South. Within 30 miles of my front porch rocker came the likes of Flannery O’Conner; Alice Walker; Joel Chandler Harris (Uncle Remus); John Oliver Killins (Harlem Renaissance writer); 19th century poet Sidney Lanier; singers Trisha Yearwood, Little Richard, Otis Redding, Lena Horne, the Allman Brothers Band, two-thirds of R.E.M. and a whole slew coming along, country singer Jason Aldean. A phrase often heard these parts is, “There’s something in the water.”

Personal muses? At least four: Peepers, Cappy, Betty and the recently departed Nelle.

Peepers on Editing
Peepers is our porch dove. She stays close while I’m writing. Either on my shoulder, or a crook in the lamp. She watches letters appear on the screen, like endless seeds. When the screen saver comes on, she jumps on the keyboard or pecks the mouse, as if saying, “Get back to work.”

Cappy Hall Rearick is a humorist, columnist, editor and former president of Southeastern Writers Association. I took her week-long humor class several years back; she’s now a soul mate. She taught me ins and outs of “writing funny.” She released my inner snark. When I’m in a bind, I ask myself, “What would Cappy say?” She edited my entire novel. What a friend. What a doll.

Cappy Hall Rearick
Betty Wells Anderson is a great unpublished mystery novelist in Gay, Georgia. Yes, that’s the name of the place. She knows novel structure inside and out. She sliced and diced Ruby Cheeks and guided my putting it back together, several times. She never holds back on what does and doesn’t work. Good critiquers and beta readers are priceless treasures. We need those outside eyes.

The late Nelle McFather was a great inspiration and encouragement, another past president of Southeastern Writers. She published more than a dozen, for lack of a better genre, “Near Romance” novels. Not long before she died, she called: “Phil, need your help. I’ve completely run out of euphemisms for penis.” We brainstormed, talked it out. Then she up and died. (People in the South don’t just “die.” They “up and die.”)

AC: On your blog, you mentioned you’ve won some contests. What kinds of contests and what kinds of prizes?
PC: I’ve been a technical writer to date. Creative writing was my secret. I’m coming out of the closet. I’m honored to have my creative writing recognized. This year I got two seconds at Sandhills, a prestigious, decades-old conference in Georgia at Augusta State University.

I’ve only received two firsts, from Southeastern Writers Association (go here) and Sandhills Writers Conference (go here).

Aim for Number One. And whatever you hit, call that your target.
Shoot for the Moon

Alicia Caldwell interview with Phil Comer  (back to top)

Candice Dyer interview with Phil Comer  (go)

Interview reposted by permission. Photos provided by the subjects. Photo of "Peepers" by Phil Comer. "Shoot for the Moon" photo by Megan O'Neill, used by permission. Irvi Lider's Hebrew fight club video linked to the title. Unless stated otherwise, photos and links outside this website are not property of the author.


  1. Thanks for the shout-out, Phil. Love this interview! So glad to have you as part of the WB! :)

  2. Ricki, thanks for all you do. You are an inspiration to so many! The Write-Brained Network keeps getting better and better.

  3. It was so fun getting to know you better. Thanks for letting me expose you :)

  4. Same here and thank you, Alicia. No one exposes me better!

  5. Excellent exposure! Enjoyed the flash.

  6. Thanks, Bobbie! I'm honored and humbled that THE Book Doctor read it! All best.