I’ve been interested in Charles Phipps’ writing journey from blogger to published author for a while. He’s written hundreds of reviews for video games, novels, and conducted interviews for years on his popular blog, The United Federation of Charles.
Recently, he took time away from his busy schedule to answer my questions. Thank you for doing this interview (admittedly my first) on my blog, Charles!
How long have you been running your website? What has been your favorite post?
I’ve been running my blog for about five years now, and it’s difficult to say what my favorite post has been as it is a collection of my thoughts, reviews, and ideas. If I had to say what my most influential post would be, it’s probably my essay on “Post-Lovecraftian fiction,” which has gotten a lot of attention.
However, I actually think my favorite posts are those where I get to do interviews like this one and reviews for works which the authors themselves see. Michael Stackpole, for example, once complimented me on a review, as did David Gaider. I also loved the response I got from nearly all the authors for my review of Blackguards: Assassins, Mercenaries, and Rogues.
While overseeing his blog, Charles has written numerous books in multiple universes, participated in writing groups, and has critiqued the early manuscripts of several traditionally published authors. Believe me when I say Charles is prolific! He writes fifteen reviews in a month and averages 2000 words of new fiction a day.
His hard work has paid off! Amber Cove, a publishing company launched by successful author Jim Bernheimer (Confessions of A D-List Superhero, Prime Suspects, Dead Eye), debuted Charles’ first book The Rules of Supervillainy on June 10th.
The book features an ordinary man, Gary Karkofsky, living in an extraordinary world of super villains, heroes, and monsters. After the death of his hometown’s resident superhero, Gary receives the late champion’s magical cloak. This costume is not only magical, it is sentient with plenty of sarcastic insight, and has some handy rules of wisdom to impart—if only Gary would listen. However, Gary prefers to be rich rather than good, and embarks on a career as Merciless: The Supervillain Without MercyTM.
What specific characters inspired you in writing this book?
Honestly speaking, I think Gary Karkofsky, a.k.a Merciless, is best considered an evil Spiderman (or at least a Chaotic Neutral one if you’re a Dungeons and Dragons fan). He’s a guy inspired by his supervillain brother’s death to become one himself. The thing is, Gary is carrying a lot of guilt for his brother’s death despite the fact that it would be something his brother wouldn’t want him to do. So, he’s chosen to cope with it in an extremely unhealthy manner. There’s a bit of Bruce Wayne’s own trauma in him, too, but I think the constant wisecracks our (anti)hero engages in are much closer to Peter Parker.
Cindy Wakowski, a.k.a Red Riding Hood, is inspired by Batman: The Animated Series’ Harley Quinn, as well real-life girls I’ve met over the years. Diabloman is motivated by several DC and Marvel comics supervillains put together (Bane, Deathstroke: The Terminator, and Trigon the Terrible for example).
Really, though, the characters kind of appeared in my head fully-formed and draw from my own experiences of, “How would people react to living in a world of supervillains and superheroes? What kind of extreme personalities would be drawn to the lifestyle?”
Since publication, Supervillainy has received thirteen reviews with an overall Amazon rating of 4.6%! That is an incredible launch, Charles! What’s your secret to this early success?
I think a lot of authors just expect readers to find their books on their own and that’s not really something you can rely on in this environment. On my end, I’ve been fairly diligent about seeking out authors and reviewers who are willing to read my work ahead of time and share it with their fanbases. Advanced Reader Copies for authors and reviewers are essential.
Jim Bernheimer had his own devoted following with his D-List Supervillain series so they were willing to check out my book. There’s also the fanbase I’ve developed for the United Federation of Charles and grown through Google+, Twitter, and other social media. In the end, though, it’ll be about word of mouth buzz and people sharing what they like.
Smart business. Cultivate your fanbase, be accessible and passionate about your work, and share Advanced Reader Copies. Charles offered to let me read an advanced copy of Supervillainy, but I declined. My philosophy is simple. Support authors and artists, and they’ll make more of what I love.
Besides, the book costs less than a froufrou coffee and lasts longer.
Marriage is a strong theme in your book. These days, the tired tropes emphasize misery in matrimony, clichéd affairs, and divorce. You, however, provide a fresh perspective on committed relationships. What was your inspiration for Mandy and Gary?
All three of Gary’s major female relationships: Mandy, Cindy, and Gabrielle were drawn from my relationship with my wife primarily. They’re distinct elements, of course, but I hope real-life experience will lend them an authenticity which might otherwise be lacking. Really, when making Gary, there was a lot of controversy about Spiderman and Superman’s marriages being retconned away, and I couldn’t help think, “Marriage is an important part of many people’s lives and in many cases, THE MOST important part. Why would superheroes and supervillains be any different?”
I also felt Gary needed someone who would embody what’s best in him because, at heart, he’s a man who wants to love and be loved—which makes his quest to find that in supervillainy all the more sad.
Gary’s character developed admirably throughout the book. When tempted, and there were certainly those moments, I wondered if he would stray. Let’s just say the pages kept turning!
As I’ve said, you are a busy guy. Soon, your new book, Esoterrorism, through Ragnarok Publications, will be coming out.
Congratulations, by the way! It has to feel amazing having this double debut as a new author. Please, share what that’s like.
It’s an amazing feeling, truly. When I left Permuted Press, I was thinking I was doomed to scramble around for a place to print my books but was very lucky to find two new publishers in short order who gave very generous terms to me. I think both Ragnarok and Amber Cover are publishers which are more about the art than profits, but we’re having a good bit of luck with both so far.
Finding the right kind of publisher is a major part of any author’s quest because there’s plenty of them who will give you absolutely crappy terms, and you’ll never realize it because you have nothing to compare it to. I don’t mean Permuted Press, but while looking for alternatives, I found some truly awful contracts. It’s really, “Let the author beware.”
Don’t believe me? My terms with Ragnarok and Amber Cove are about FIVE TIMES as generous as other ones I’ve been offered, and they consider it just as reasonable.
That is encouraging, especially for new authors seeking traditional publication.
A couple more questions. Charles, you once said that you came up with the idea for Esoterrorism over twenty years ago. As a struggling author, I appreciate your dogged determination and am thrilled that you’ve kept at your dream. In fact, your main character went through several changes before you finally settled on Derek Hawthorne. Can you tell me more about that process?
It’s both more and less dramatic than it seems. When I was a teenager, I had the idea for a kind of brooding, snarky, tortured occult investigator who was always on the periphery of the supernatural world. You know, the kind of thing a sixteen year old would come up with. However, the character gradually got more distinct in my head as the years went on rather than less. Derek has had many names and many origins over the years: psychic, wizard, exorcist, and so on. It wasn’t until I made him a secret agent investigating the supernatural that I knew who he TRULY was.
Amusingly, he’s one of two such characters who have been with me the entire time I’ve been writing; the other being the star of my upcoming Wraith Knight books.
You give me hope! My umpteenth-year-old vision may yet make it to the page.
Before we go, can you talk a bit about your future projects?
Obviously, ESOTERRORISM is my big upcoming project and drops on July 8th. It’s the story of Derek Hawthorne, supernatural spy, and his partner Shannon O’Reilly as they struggle to deal with a missing WMD, which a mystical terrorist group is going to use to break open the fragile veil which keeps the public ignorant. Basically, James Bond meets the Dresden Files, only with even more snark.
The GAMES OF SUPERVLLAINY will be coming out in October, which is the sequel to The Rules of Supervillainy and picks up from its cliffhanger ending. It will follow Gary, Mandy, Cindy, and Diabloman as they deal with a (mini) zombie apocalypse afflicting Falconcrest City.
2016 promises to be an exceptional year as we’ll also be getting THE SECRETS OF SUPERVILLAINY and THE MASTERY OF SUPERVILLAINY. In addition, Esoterrorism’s sequel in ELDRITCH OPS. Plus, we’ll be getting the WRAITH KNIGHT and WRAITH LORD books, which are my stab at dark epic fantasy.
Busy two years!
Looking forward to those releases!
As an author, where do you see yourself in ten years?
As Gary would put it, “Fair enough.” Finally, is there anything else you’d like my dear reader to know about you?
I am mentally mesmerizing the audience to buy my books.
Ha! Nice try. I’m immune to mesmerization. Hey, is this interview almost over? I need to go buy Charles’ books on Amazon. Aw, dang it!
Thank you so much for taking time to answer my questions. I wish you many years of success on your author’s journey.
Please check out The Rules of Supervillainy on Amazon, and Esoterrorism from Ragnarok Publications, coming July 8th, 2015!
And for more spectacular Charles whimsy, check out his interview on the Zombieplooza Radio Live. Scrub forward to around 2:15 to hear Charles discuss his new books, inspirations, and upcoming projects. Got to say, dear reader, this man is quite entertaining and well spoken! I’d be a blubbering mess.
For all your zombie apocalypse cravings, tune into Zombiepalooza Radio Live! I haven’t laughed so hard in a long time. Here’s more information from their About page on YouTube:
The Zombiepalooza Radio show with host Jackie Chin and Co~Host Zombie Dead Door William brings top quality authors, publishing houses, actors, SFX creators, Musicians, Convention Owners, & other talent in both ZOMPOC & Horror. We are the LARGEST, most Innovative PODCAST ever centered around its ZOMPOC/HORROR FANS! Every Friday night from 8PM-1AM EST on the only live radio station doing it right for ZOMBIES!
Fridays just got a lot scarier! Subscribe if you dare:
This has been an amazing first interview. Thank you to author Charles Phipps, and to Zombiepalooza Radio Live for permission to link their interview with Charles’ here. Of course, thanks to my dear reader for doing what you do best!
Exceptional cover art! This has been a long time coming, Charles! Can’t wait to read this. Consider my review forthcoming. Plus, dear reader, I will interview Charles later this month. Looking forward to it!