Marquita Griffin: What was frustrating about the writing process?
Dr. Herb Phelan: There have been times [when Dana Isaacson] recommended I do something that is tough. For instance, for my second novel, the first chapter was one of the most enjoyable things I’ve ever written. I loved that chapter. Then when I sent the first three chapters to Dana, he said it actually worked better by making chapter two into the new start of the book and scrapping the old chapter one. Getting rid of chapter one was like drowning kittens. But, when I looked at it with fresh eyes I saw what he meant, and he was right.
MG: Are you focused on a particular genre, or just being a storyteller in general?
HP: I’ve always liked suspense and mystery, so that’s what the first two novels plus my short fiction have all been in. When people would ask me what kind of fiction I wrote, for the longest time I would always jokingly answer, “Bigfoot erotica.” I stopped saying that, though, because come to find Bigfoot erotica is actually a thing. I just love the idea that there are people who’re out there making a buck writing that stuff. That’s capitalism at its finest. And as far as the audience for it— well, the heart wants what the heart wants.
MG: Would you like to share (tease) a bit about the second book’s plot?
HP: Sure. It’s set in west Texas in the town of Amoret, a fictionalized version of Alpine. The protagonist is a small-town doctor in his eighties who is recounting to a reporter the story of an event in 1982 when the husband of one of the town’s prominent families disappears one night. It’s a traditional mystery, and it’s been an absolute joy to write. That’s the beauty of writing about a world with which I’m so familiar, there are times when it feels so effortless I feel almost like I’m transcribing.
MG: After the completion of your second book, what else do you have planned?
HP: I’d like to keep up a pace of a novel a year if possible. If this goes like I’m hoping, it has the potential to be a nice side gig for once I decide to retire from surgery, whenever that may be. For now, it just means continuing to tell stories. If you think this sounds like it would be fun, you’re right.
MG: And some of your short fiction is already available on your website, right?
HP: Yes, I’ve written some short fiction that’s been well-received. “Sisters” spent some time as an Amazon #1 Best Seller in the 15-minute fiction category. The ending of that story may be the best thing I’ve ever written. The nugget of that story’s origin came about when my best friend and I were hitch-hiking in a remote part of Vancouver Island in the summer of 2019.
Then a couple of months ago, I was coming home from the hospital and saw a priest standing on the sidewalk in front of one of my neighbor’s houses, pacing back and forth talking on a cell phone. An NOPD cruiser was parked nearby, and the cop was leaning against the cruiser’s hood looking bored while he watched the priest. Amy and I live just off of St. Charles avenue and the trolley line, and even in a neighborhood as colorful as that one that’s a sight you don’t see every day. Try as I might, I just couldn’t get that image out of my head. I never found out what actually happened, but in one frenetic burst of activity over a weekend, I wrote the short story, “Mister B.’s Goodbye.” You can download both of those if you go to my website at arthurherbertwriter.com.