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Author interview — with myself!

The Open Book

Author interview — with myself!

Stephen H. Provost

I hit a milestone last month with the release of my 20th book, and on the occasion of my birthday, I decided to do interview myself about my journey as an author these past seven years.

What was your first book? The Phoenix Principle, which I later separated into two volumes as Forged in Ancient Fires and Messiah in the Making. There was so much material, I had to shrink the point size just to make it all fit in one book, so I decided to be kind to my readers’ eyes and republish it in two parts.

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How did it come about? The original idea was to create a life of Jesus that included the biblical story and as much early material as I could find outside the Bible. But there was so much information about the broader development of Western religion across a span of nearly 5,000 years, I decided to go a different route.

What happened to the life of Jesus project? I published that, too, as The Gospel of the Phoenix. It became my bestselling independently published work. I originally published it under the name Stifyn Emrys, but in 2018, I republished all seven works I had issued under that name, each with new a new cover I designed myself. Although I wrote The Phoenix Principle first, The Gospel of the Phoenix was the first book I published, in 2012.

Did you write any other similar works? The Gospel of the Phoenix corresponded (obviously) to the biblical gospels, so I decided to write a “wisdom” book paralleling the Book of Proverbs and Jesus’ parables, with a nod to Aesop’s fables. That book, The Way of the Phoenix, came out in 2013. A third book, paralleling the first five books of the Old Testament but including lore from Celtic, Egyptian, Sumerian, Norse and other traditions, was released in 2018: The Osiris Testament.  This trilogy is also available in a single volume with fewer illustrations titled The Phoenix Chronicles.

Which book took the most work? Definitely The Phoenix Principle. During my research, I acquired a substantial library of source material, including a wealth of apocryphal literature, medieval folktales and ancient historical accounts. The book runs the gamut from Sumerian to Norse mythology; from Robin Hood to King Arthur to Cinderella; from the Dead Sea Scrolls to the Egyptian Book of the Dead.

How long did it take you to write? I wasn’t keeping track, but more than five years, to be sure. No other book I’ve written has taken me more than eight months, with a couple of exceptions that were on-again, off-again projects. But I was working on this one consistently when I wasn’t at my day job as a journalist.

What’s the most surprising thing you found in researching that book? If I’m correct, Moses was actually an Egyptian pharaoh from the kingdom of Thebes who fought against the ancestors of the Hebrews. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

Have you worked with any outside publishers? Yes. Linden Publishing of Fresno has published four of my books on two of its imprints, Craven Street Books and Pace Press, with at least two more in the pipeline.

How did that come about? I lived most of my life in Fresno, California, and the surrounding area, and I worked at the local newspaper there for 14 years. After my tenure there ended, I moved out of the area and found myself homesick for the city of my youth. I decided to write a book about the history of Fresno during the Baby Boom era, when I was growing up there. Hence the name: Fresno Growing Up. At that point, I’d published seven books as Stifyn Emrys, but I knew I couldn’t do this project justice by publishing it through Amazon. I wanted to include photos, the finest-quality paper and a first-class interior design. I did some research about publishers that might be interested in such a project, and Linden was the first one I contacted. Just a couple of weeks later, they responded with a letter of interest. I was floored. I’d been told that getting a publisher on the first try was almost unheard of, especially without an agent. But I managed to pull it off.

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Have you written any fiction? Yes. My first novel was Identity Break, a dystopian young adult novel with a twist. And no, I’m not telling you what it is. I wrote a companion prequel novella called Artifice, which I included with the main book when I republished them in 2018. My contemporary fantasy novel Memortality was the first book published on Linden’s Pace Press, which also released a sequel called Paralucidity. A third installment remains a possibility.

What’s your most original idea? Memortality. It revolves around a character, named Minerva, who has a psychic gift that enables her to bring the dead back to live through the power of her an eidetic (photographic) memory. A close second is probably The Only Dragon, my origin story of the dragon myth, which features a Merlin-like wizard, Chinese fireworks and a sarcastic cat.

Have you written any short stories or poetry? Nightmare’s Eve is a collection of short stories and dark poetry in the tradition of The Twilight Zone. It includes 16 short stories and 10 poems. A bit of trivia: My cat Allie is named after a character in the first story written for that collection, Turn Left on Dover.

What makes you unique as a writer? A couple of things. First, I love the language of fable and fairytale. I’ve used it, to varying degrees, in The Way of the Phoenix, The Only Dragon and Feathercap. It’s more poetic than standard narrative fiction, and it hearkens back to the days of storytellers regaling listeners with tales around the fire. It appeals to the wistful romantic in me. Second, I’ve written about a wider variety of subjects than most authors tackle. Philosophy, mythology, Americana, fantasy, spirituality., sports. I doubt many novelists who have also written about failed sports leagues, old highways, department stores and ancient history.

What’s the fastest you’ve written a book? Probably three weeks for The Way of the Phoenix and a similar amount of time for Undefeated. The latter is a series of 45 short pieces on famous and not-so-famous individuals, past and present, who overcame prejudice based on race, gender, religion, national origin and sexual orientation (among other things) to create lasting legacies. This particular title was my father’s favorite. George Takei, Jackie Robinson, Lady Gaga, Larry Doby and the woman who created Rice-a-Roni are among those featured.

Have you ever started a project and picked it up again years later? A couple. One of the stories in Nightmare’s Eve was half-finished when I rediscovered it a few years later. I have no idea where I was originally going with it, but I finished it off, and it turned out pretty well. I wrote my book about failed sports leagues, A Whole Different League, in three segments over the course of a couple of years.

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What made you decide to write about sports history? I was the sports editor at my college newspaper and a sports intern at the local paper (where I later worked full time). I wanted to do two things when I started writing: cover sports and write books. I ended up doing both. A Whole Different League brought them both together. The book is one of several for which I designed my own cover, and it’s probably the cover I’m most proud of, because I was able to incorporate historical black-and-white images with a color background in an appealing way. It was also my first independently published book in an 8-by-10 format, and the first one in which I designed the interior to include photos (previous books had included stock and public domain illustrations). The end result looked like something an established publishing house might produce, if I do say so myself. It turned out better than I could have hoped.

Speaking of publishing houses, you have your own, right? I publish my independent books on an imprint called Dragon Crown Books. I haven’t published any other authors’ works, but I wouldn’t rule out the possibility.

Which of your covers did you design? All of them except for Nightmare’s Eve, The Only Dragon and the titles released by Linden Publishing. Other than A Whole Different League, my favorites are The Osiris Testament and The Legend of Molly Bolin.

Other than sequels, does one project ever inspire another? Often, yes. My book on Highway 99 was a spinoff, of sorts, of Fresno Growing Up. After I finished revisiting my hometown, I wanted to do the same with the road that traveled through it, which had carried me back and forth from Fresno to my grandparents’ homes in Southern California numerous times during my childhood. That book, in turn, led me to write a similar book on Highway 101. The concept of preserving history through memory sparked the idea for Memortality. And my research for A Whole Different League led me to contact Molly Bolin Kazmer, the first woman to sign a contract with a professional women’s basketball league back in the 1970s. Her story was so fascinating, I thought it would make a great biography, and she wound up working closely with me to create The Legend of Molly Bolin.

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Which project has involved the most work in the shortest span of time? The Legend of Molly Bolin was pretty much my full-time occupation for two months. It was a great change of pace working with someone directly on a project (the only time I’ve done that). It was also my first biography. It was a real privilege and a whole lot of fun telling the story of someone who had accomplished so much and had such a fascinating career. Since I started my journalism career as a sportswriter, it was more than fitting.

Did journalism have an impact on any of your other titles? After I got out of the business in early 2018, I became a media critic of sorts and published a book called Media Meltdown (in the Age of Trump), which examines how the internet age created a symbiotic relationship between the media and politicians, to the detriment of both. Please Stop Saying That! is a tongue-in-cheek look at buzzwords and cliches you’re sick of hearing newscasters, sports announcers, preachers, celebrities, corporations and others use simply because they’re too lazy to think outside the box. (Yes, that’s a cliche, too, and yes, that was intentional.)

What’s your latest project? Timeless Now, which is a change of pace for me. It’s a short book that incorporates elements of philosophy, science and spirituality into an approach to life that emphasizes awareness of self and others, and living in the moment.

What’s next for you? My Highway 101 book is set for release in March 2020, and I’ll have a book on the history of American department stores and shopping centers in the 20th century.

Where can readers find your books? All my titles are available on Amazon, and the works published by Linden are available through bookstores, as well. Some of my books are also in libraries.