C.T. Phipps is a lifelong student of horror, science fiction, and fantasy. An avid tabletop gamer, he discovered this passion led him to write and turned him into a lifelong geek. He is a regular reviewer at The United Federation of Charles and the author of Agent G, Cthulhu Armageddon, The Red Room series, Lucifer’s Star, Straight Outta Fangton, and The Supervillainy Saga.
DZA: You’ve dabbled in almost every speculative fiction genre: horror, urban fantasy, post-apocalyptic, cyberpunk, superhero, etc. Is there any genre that’s your favorite?
C. T. Phipps: I love coloring outside the lines and it's been one of the keys to my success, I think. If you throw enough darts at the wall then you're bound to hit the bullseye eventually. You're also likely to develop a fanbase who is willing to follow you round from multiple fandoms.
If I had to say what my favorite genre is, though, I'd probably say humor. No matter which universe I play in, I tend to have a lot of fun making fun of their conventions as well as history. I may not be the Mel Brooks or Terry Pratchett of genre fiction but I do consistently tell a funny yarn. Yes, even my horror novels are funny (See Straight Outta Fangton, Cthulhu Armageddon). I once referred to Cthulhu Armageddon as my “serious” novel and David Niall Wilson (my publisher) said, “It’s one of the funniest novels I’ve ever read.”
What have been some of the greatest inspirations for your work, and why?
I have to say the biggest influence to my writing is Joss Whedon, but also Terry Pratchett, Stephen King (his On Writing is something every aspiring writer should check out), George Lucas, H.P. Lovecraft, and plenty of comic book creators. Really, my influences are expansive and myriad like all writers.
I think the best influences on my writing are closer to home, though. The first was Jim Bernheimer, indie author of Confessions of a D-List Supervillain, who advocated that I try to write the kind of books I wanted to read versus what I felt would succeed. The second was David Niall Wilson; he introduced me to a lot of tricks that raised the quality of my books considerably. He also showed me how to reach a much larger audience. I credit him with helping turn me from someone dabbling in writing to a writer.
Much of your work is indie-published, and all of them digital and audio. Why did you choose to go this route instead of traditional publishing?
The market is not what it was twenty years ago and the entire way we interact with books has changed. Amazon and other online booksellers mean that the "shelf life" for books no longer has a set limit as long as you're able to keep it in the public consciousness. Books that went out of print decades ago can stay "in print" on Kindle and in warehouses forever. This has been a big boon to independents, self-published authors, and small presses. Audiobooks have also gone from a joke about "something blind people read" to the preferred method of reading for large chunks of the reading audience.
Given the difficulties of making a living as a writer at the best of times, seriously don't quit your day job. Even awesome heroes of mine like Tracy Hickman have struggled to make ends meet. Still, independent publishing is a big chance to take control of your literary financial destiny. I especially got good results working with Crossroad Press. I feel audiobooks, especially, reach an entirely different audience from traditional publishing.
A lot of your books are collaborative, working with one or more authors on the same story. What are some of the challenges and benefits of working with another author, and how did you choose who to work with?
My experience with co-authors has been mostly positive, but the two I primarily work with--Michael Suttkus and Frank Martin--are both seasoned professionals who have done a great job balancing the workload with me. The trick is to be very clear about what you're going to do and carefully planning each chapter ahead of time. Usually, I alternate with them on the writing while also brainstorming the concepts. If you’re not clear about matters then you can easily run into differences in style, characterization, plot, and ideas.
One of the biggest issues I’ve also run into is that it can be very easy to prioritize your own work over collaborations, and that’s unfair to everyone involved. Don’t do that if you decide to collaborate on a book.
Let’s talk about your Supervillainy Saga. Most writers, when working in a superhero world, obviously choose a hero or anti-hero as their protagonist. But your main character decides to be a supervillain. How did that happen?
I felt like I was competing against the past hundred years or so of superhero storytelling. Despite doing this in novel form, I was still competing against the well-trodden storytelling history of comic book history. Instead, I looked for a new angle to explore the superhero-supervillain dichotomy, and it occurred to me that the origin of a supervillain might be an interesting one. I also liked the idea that Gary had a very romantic and idealized idea of what being an superpowered outlaw was in his world--an idea I gradually peeled back. Also, I think having a character gain great powers and deciding to abuse them for his own gain is something that automatically puts the audience in a somewhat sillier mood, which is great for a comedy like the Supervillainy Saga is.
I’ve also discovered that I prefer writing antiheroes to straight up good guy characters. Agent G, Cthulhu Armageddon, Lucifer’s Star, and Wraith Knight all star protagonists who lean on the gray side of morality at best. I think it’s a great idea to use characters with extreme emotions and backstories to press the limit of what the audience is comfortable with. I think a lot of us are perfectly willing to go along with heroes who are not lily white and may even do the wrong thing when push comes to shove.
You’ve done some editing, too, including the Blackest Spells anthology. What are some of the challenges of editing versus writing? Which do you enjoy more?
Editing is my personal bugbear when writing as it's the least creative part of the creative process. However, every author needs to be able to do their own editing if they want to succeed in this business. As much as I advise every author to get a second, third, and fourth pair of eyes for their work--it is something that is fundamentally necessary. But editing anthologies is a different sort of beast. Maybe even fun. I love gathering together people's stories and choosing which ones to publish in things like the Blackest Knights and Blackest Spells books.
Of all of your books, which has been the most fun to write?
That's a very tough call, as all of my books are fun to write in different ways. If I had to choose I'd have to say The Rules of Supervillainy, I was a Teenage Weredeer, and my upcoming Psycho Killers in Love were my three favorites.
The Rules of Supervillainy because it's a zany deconstruction of superhero tropes ranging from the Marvel Cinematic Universe to the so-called Dark Age of Comics. I was a Teenage Weredeer because it's a work that lets me talk about rural America, coming of age drama, and being a misfit in a small community that hits close to home. Psycho Killers in Love just because I'm a huge fan of 80s slashers and I enjoyed deconstructing horror tropes as much as I did superheroes.
What can we expect in the future from you?
As stated, I have an upcoming book called Psycho Killers in Love which is a loving homage to 80s slashers and horror movies in general. It's the story of the son of an immortal murderer who feels the same compulsion to kill, except he's decided to use it on other slashers because why not. He runs into a lovely Final Girl survivor of another killer's murder spree, now out for revenge. Such a fun pairing.
I'll also be releasing The Horror of Supervillainy, which is the last of my "crossover" books for The Supervillainy Saga. Gary Karkofsky has decided to become a superhero and he's terrible at it. However, he gets the chance to prove himself by investigating the kidnapping of a prominent politician's daughter that takes him into a region full of cults, summer camps, mad swamp monsters, and more. It's an homage to 70s horror comics, meaning I'm in a bit of a mood.
Finally, there's A Nightmare on Elk Street that is the third and final Bright Falls Mystery book. Jane Doe the Weredeer is invited to provide security on a movie set when the Boogeyman starts menacing her dreams. Is it just a lone monster or is she the center of a plot to take out Bright Falls, Michigan's only protection?
A huge thank you to C. T. Phipps for taking the time to come to my blog! You can find him on his website here.
The first Dragons, Zombies and Aliens blog was started in 2015. Somewhere between college coursework, paying rent with door-to-door sales, and keeping up with my sorority sisters, I wrote reviews, rants and commentaries on books, TV shows, and movies. Now, this blog has moved, improved, and the sky's the limit!