Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Interview with Philip Becnel (Freedom City)

What inspired you to write Freedom City?

I took a sabbatical in 2017 from the private detective firm I manage to write a book. It was historical fiction set in 14th Flanders, with sieges, swordfights, disease, famine, lots of death, among other unpleasantness—all narrated by a dead knight stuck in purgatory.  It was only after I’d written that book that I drew the connection between the tortured narrator and myself. I spend the better part of that year fuming about Donald Trump’s presidency, and it showed in my writing. I decided that novel that was too dark for mainstream consumption, so I tucked it away—almost a year’s worth of work—and started a new book.

Once I identified the source of my angst, I discovered there was actually a lot to laugh about all the scandals that had so enraged me before. I resigned to write a novel that would capture that. Trump and his ilk are villains of comic book proportions, and by looking at things through that lens I began to feel better. I needed only invent heroes who might stand up to the villains. I was inspired in part by The Monkey Wrench Gang, a campy novel from the 1970’s about a band of saboteurs defending the environment against over-development.

Ultimately, the dark fantasies that plagued me through the past year took on a farcical theme, and I was able to channel my emotions into a humorous and hopeful story, one without any gratuitous bloodshed.

How long did it take you to write your book?

I started Freedom City around September 2017, at the time demoralized from having “wasted” so much energy on the historical novel. By the time I wrote the first three chapters, I knew—I just knew—that I was writing something special. Since the book is set in the present, I was extremely concerned that some major event, like impeachment or a war, would punch a hole in my plot, so I extended my sabbatical and spent the next three months writing twelve-hours days until I was finished.

How long have you been publishing your work?

I published two nonfiction books related to my investigations job: Introduction to Conducting Private Investigations and Principles of Investigative Documentation. Both have been very successful, given their niches. I published the first one in 2009. I’ve also published a myriad of articles in various legal and popular journals, the most noteworthy being Time Magazine.

I’ve wanted to be a writer since I was twenty. I saved up money from my job as a motorcycle mechanic in college and bought a computer and a plane ticket to Morocco with the goal of writing an acclaimed novel. Then I read The Sheltering Sky by Paul Bowles and realized I lacked the life experience to write anything truly great. Now that I’ve worked as a private investigator in Washington, D.C. for nearly twenty years, I’ve returned to my dream of writing professionally.

What does your writing environment look like? 

There’s a sword on my desk and a shield on the wall. Pinned to the shield is a photo of Emiliano Zapata Salazar, a leading figure in the Mexican Revolution. Artwork abounds. I also dabble in oil and watercolor.

Do you have any routines to help you write?

I was able to write Freedom City so quickly because I mapped out ahead of time what each chapter would look like. Except for the first few chapters, I refused to allow myself to edit anything until the whole thing was down in a first draft. I realize this is common wisdom for many writers, but if I’m not disciplined I tend to get hung up making edits ad nauseum without advancing the story. I start each morning with a clear goal, consume copious amounts of coffee, and I write until my brain turns to mush. Then I drink, sleep, and repeat.   

About the Author

I was born in San Francisco and raised in Cotati, California, but I spent my formative years in New Orleans and then Northern Virginia. I now live in Washington, D.C., where I've been a private detective for almost twenty years.

FREEDOM CITY, an anti-Trump satire about resistance to American fascism, is my debut novel, but some years ago I published two nonfiction books about investigating: Introduction to Conducting Private Investigations and Principles of Investigative Documentation. I've also published articles in a variety of legal and popular journals, including Time Magazine.

On Amazon
On B&N

Excerpt (First paragraph)

Despite the odium and widespread condemnation of Donald J. Trump, 45th President of the United States of America, he passed with all the fanfare of a fart in a mesh sack. Medical examiners said it was a thrombotic stroke, likely exacerbated by obesity and high blood pressure. Some said cocaine and opioids had been found in his system, but these reports were never confirmed. Trump was dead, and now it was time to start glossing over his dismal legacy and perpetuating his vision, posthumously, for Making America Great Again…

1 comment: