Columnist, novelist, blogger, talented penner of prose in many forms, Phyllis Humby is a member of several professional associations including Crime Writers of Canada.
Always welcoming and ever-affirming of other writers, she is the heart of the Lambton Writers’ Association of which she is founder.
I’m delighted that Phyllis has graciously taken time from her busy schedule to be my first Writers Networking interviewee.
P: From day to day interaction with friends, strangers, animals… Seriously, most of my ideas come out of the blue. This often happens just as I’m about to begin housecleaning and I have to drop everything and start writing… So strange.
G: What motivated you to organize Lambton Writers’ Association?
P: In 2013 I was a Fringe Reader at the Eden Mills Writers’ Festival. During a social gathering, the room was packed with writers engrossed in conversation. Clustered in groups of 2 or 3 or 4, some were sitting cross-legged on the floor, perched on the edge of chairs, crowded onto a sofa, while others communed elbow-to-elbow. Everyone caught up in passionate conversation. It was a huge honour for me to be there and I was ultra aware of everything and everyone around me. The synergy in the room was surreal! It was an extraordinary experience. Peggy Fletcher said it. ‘Family and friends will be bored with dangling participles but you’ll always have the ear of a writer.’
The Lambton Writers’ Association is a venue for passionate writers to mingle and network. An opportunity to talk about dangling participles…
G: When did you first know you were a writer?
P: One definition of a writer is a person who writes books, stories, or articles as a job or regular occupation. I guess since I write a monthly magazine column I can say I’m a writer. The fact that I occupy much of my time writing stories and books qualifies me as a writer. Yet, it’s my reverent respect for writers that makes me feel unworthy to apply that label to myself.
I’ve been an incorrigible daydreamer for as long as I remember. Maybe longer than that. Inner dialogue, circumstance, and characters entertained me from the time I was a child. Even my dreams were feature length! It was years before I began recording my imaginings. And several more years before I confided to anyone that I wrote stories. One may argue that the fact that I can’t stop writing is the final determinant that I am a writer.
G: How do your previous work and/or life experiences influence your writing?
P: Everything I’ve seen, heard, tasted, smelled, or touched influences my writing. My life experiences (I can remember incidents at age 2 )are a resource and stimulus for my writing. I worked with the public for most of my life and that is a writer’s bonanza. I love people and years of people watching have undoubtedly affected my ability to create realistic—sometimes sinister—characters. I’m open-minded and imaginative enabling me to absorb things that I haven’t personally experienced. And ‘fortunately’, (only from a writer’s perspective) I ‘feel’ other people’s pain and joy. The emotions can be overwhelming at times but I’m sure come into play subconsciously when I’m working on a story.
G: What are the genres in which you write? Do you have a preferred one?
P: I made the decision to write genre in the desperate hope that it would be easier to break into a specialized market. Crime is on the rise—popularity-wise—and since it was always a favourite read, I tried writing it. Yes!! It’s exciting and very challenging. And don’t be surprised to see a bit of the paranormal or fantastical in my stories. Why not, it’s fiction. Crime writing still involves a good deal of research, which I enjoy. I’m a stickler when it comes to detail. I also love writing stories set in the 30s and 40s. I’m comfortable in that era. An old soul, perhaps…
G: Do you have a particular setting for your writing?
P: I’ve tried writing in every room of the house. I have a bright cheery office on the main floor but I had to give it up to my husband. Not because he wanted it. Because I was too easily distracted by nature and the adorable wildlife outside my window. A crime story would suddenly become whimsical with mice scampering through the leaves or bunnies munching on burning bush shrubs. Cardinals, with their little toenails—do they have toenails?—clinging to the window screen. I’d find myself daydreaming instead of writing. Now I work in the downstairs storage room. No windows. And a nearly two –inch- thick door. It’s okay. No, really. I have a huge cluttered desk, bookcase, and boxes of files. I share the room with bins of Christmas decorations, three miniature trees, and some dusty workout equipment. And a trunk. Oh, and a crafts table for my granddaughters that is usually filled with my junk. No prob. I like this arrangement.
G: What kinds of books do you read?
P: It would be easier to share which kinds of books I don’t read. I tend to avoid light frivolous reads. Romance isn’t high on my list. Not as a reading preference, that is. I love character-driven books—especially a great series, crime/suspense, historical… I love the books that take me forever to read because the writing is so incredible that I keep re-reading paragraphs as I go along (deep sigh). I like credible stories with grit.
G: Do you wish to share anything about your personal life?
P: For nearly twenty years I was proprietor of a small-town retail lingerie business. I’m finishing up the manuscript of my experiences—sad, hilarious, frightening—and hope to submit it to a publisher within the next short while.
G: Have you participated in writing contests?
P: I have, but I’m very selective. First of all, I prefer writing novels to short stories. But I have experienced some success with my contest submissions. Eden Mills Writers’ Festival selected a humorous story, Delusional Date. Whiskey Nights, a psychological suspense, placed second in the YMM National Short Story contest. A mystery story, Reflections of Miss Sally, took first place at the Bloody Words Mystery Conference in Toronto for Crime Writers of Canada.
G: What works have you published to date?
P: I’ve been fortunate to have numerous short stories, book reviews, and newspaper and magazine articles published in journals and anthologies in Canada, the U.S. and the UK.
G: What are your thoughts on traditional vs indie publishing?
P: Oh boy. First off, I believe that anyone who is serious enough about his or her writing to go the full measure and have it published is a deserving author. Maybe it’s a matter of low confidence but I prefer to be told by a traditional publisher or agent that I’m worthy of ink on a page. The publishing trade is overwhelmed with wannabees and I’m one of those who keep sending queries in the hope that the timing is right. Timing and circumstance are keys to being ‘discovered’. I’m blessed to have some of my short stories on the market and will be ecstatic the day I receive word that one of my novels is being accepted by a traditional publisher.
G: Anything else you wish to elaborate on?
P: When I first began submitting my work, the rejections were hard to handle. Maybe not the first or third or tenth, but eventually I began questioning why I was trying to market my work at all.
Writer friends are a lifeline. A special camaraderie that can’t be duplicated. They taught me that writing and publishing is about the journey. Not just the destination. From that moment, my attitude changed. I’ve made numerous acquaintances of incredibly talented people, attended inspiring events, and rejoiced in the success of colleagues. I’m enjoying every aspect of this wonderful and rewarding journey. And all that is to savour along the way. If I travel no further than I am now, I am not disappointed. I’m in awe of the people I’ve met, thankful of occasions we’ve shared, and gratified by the passion-filled experience. Oh, what a magical journey.