Cigerets, Guns, and Beer

Cigerets, Guns, and Beer - Phillip T. Stephens

I don't like seeing characters get in over their heads. Not only does it cause me way too much anxiety (also the reason I can't play video games), but I dislike it when something I'm doing for fun becomes painful. However, with books and movies, that doesn't necessarily mean that I refuse to read them or refuse to enjoy them. It's just that it so rarely happens. 

What surprised me the most about Cigerets, Guns, and Beer is that the main character, Dodd, is not a particularly likable character. While he's not outright creepy, troublesome, or even a "bad" guy, he just doesn't give you that much to work with as far as positive character traits go. That being said, I was still completely on his side, mostly because I prayed that he knew what he was doing. 

There are so many twists and turns and secrets to be revealed in the pages of this book that I think it's miraculous the author managed to keep it all straight! It's an incredibly well thought out and well put together plot and, quite frankly, I'd love to see this made into a movie. It's a highly enjoyable book that I can safely recommend to anyone who isn't looking for a faultless main character. 


Some Bio Information

Phillip T. Stephens is a Baptist Preacher’s Kid, and, as any one who knows Baptists knows, Baptists split over any new interpretation of any old idea. As a result, Stephens suffers from multipolar disorder, a condition that can only be cured by writing fiction. Apparently creating all those characters serves as group therapy, and killing them, especially the parental characters, provides catharsis and breakthrough.

Thanks to therapy through fiction Stephens has been able to build a relatively normal—although neither medication or even fantasy free—life and now resides  in Austin, Texas with his wife Carol and the cats they foster through austinsiameserescue.org


Q&A

1. What inspired you to write this book?

I was joking with a friend about Texas gas stations in the seventies. They had oil barrels filled with ice and six packs next to the fuel tanks. I said all they needed was guns and they would have made a fortune. That joke turned into the book. The story about a guy whose family was set up for robbing a bank in the forties had been kicking around for years, but I never felt the need to do anything with it until that gag came along.

2. Can you tell us a little bit about your writing process?

I just write. I believe you can’t fix what isn’t on paper, so I start writing even if it’s crap. I can always edit, or even toss it later. I need distraction, so I usually have music or an old movie or TV show running to keep my brain disorganized. The cats like to bat at the iPad and I write in 20 minute stretches over a three or four hour period. Occasionally I get in the zone and tune every thing out, but it’s rare. Had I been born ten years later I would have been diagnosed ADD and probably with a social learning disability as well, so I’m glad I missed that window.

3. What is your honest opinion of Dodd?

Dodd would never make it in corporate society. Jessica Wren, who wrote Ice, called him a picaresque hero, and he probably is. I can’t imagine him staying in one place long. He learned to play all the angles, but he was taught by the best. He’s a bit of a user, but, in his defense, he’s been used all his life. He and Rhonda have to teach each other to learn independence and supportiveness, but that won’t happen easily. 

He might stick around if they can get their act together but they have a lot of personal baggage to overcome. 

4. Describe the perfect writing environment. 

There isn’t one, and if you expect to find one, you’ll never make it as a writer. The key is to adapt to the environment you have, or find the closest environment that works for you. Not everyone has the luxury of writing at a coffee shop. I learned how to get ahead on all my projects at work so I could use the boss’ time. That doesn’t work at every job though. When I taught at-risk kids for a non-profit, the more successful I was, the more projects they found for me to do. Since I was also teaching college classes in the evening,  it was hell on writing, but their management style, which was to make people miserable and tell them they should be grateful to the cause,  became the inspiration for Lucifer in Raising Hell.

5. How would you describe your writing style?

It changes from book-to-book depending on the needs of the story. In Raising Hell I went for a more elaborate style with lots of references and arcane jokes to challenge readers. In Cigerets, I went for pared down prose and a faced-paced narrative. I did pay attention to my writing teachers, so I try to avoid superfluous words and passages. I try to keep my character’s dialogue consistent with their personalities. I try to focus on first person or straight 3rd person pov, rather than omniscient or swapped pov, and my narrative persona usually has a wry awareness of the people around him or her.

I depart from this a little in my next book, Seeing Jesus, about a young girl who sees a homeless man no one else sees. The narrator is omniscient in the older storytelling vein of books from my childhood because the heroine Sara is too young to develop the distance or irony she needs to make those comments. The narrator is needed to make them for her. But the narrator still restricts the story to Sara’s pov.

6. What would you like your readers to take away from your work?

There’s not a lot to take away from Cigerets. I call it wry noir, and that’s essentially what it is. A western suspense novel with a cutting edge, but it isn’t Crime and Punishment. If readers have fun, so be it. Raising Hell, on the other hand was definitely a social and political satire, taking aim directly at workplace politics. It also challenges the belief that you can legislate morality with punishment, a premise that never worked with me.

7. What’s your ultimate writing goal?

To write books worth reading. That will be determined by several things. When I return in several years and see if they still hold up to my standards, then I feel I succeeded. If readers discover them, then the proof is more empirical. On the other hand, reader discovery depends more on my marketing skills—which I am still learning to master— as much if not more than my writing ability. 

And there’s the double-edged sword all writers face. We don’t want to market, we want to write. When the publishing houses decided to saddle us with that responsibility they really did the readers a disservice and created a market in which writers have to focus on what publishers should be doing. This means the best writers spend less time writing and revising, and the market is flooded with writers who slipped through the gate when they needed someone to weed them out entirely or edit them and help them learn to write better.