10 Questions with The New York Times best-selling author Philip Athans (@PhilAthans)

This Author Spotlight features Phil Athans.

Philip Athans is the founding partner of Athans & Associates Creative Consulting, and the New York Times best-selling author of Annihilation and a dozen other fantasy and horror books including The Guide to Writing Fantasy & Science Fiction and the recently-released The Haunting of Dragon’s Cliff and Tales From The Fathomless Abyss.

Born in Rochester, New York he grew up in suburban Chicago, where he published the literary magazine Alternative Fiction & Poetry. His blog, Fantasy Author’s Handbook, is updated every Tuesday, and you can follow him on Twitter @PhilAthans. He makes his home in the foothills of the Washington Cascades, east of Seattle.

1. How did you get into writing?
I don’t really even remember a time when I wasn’t writing. As soon as I learned to read and write, I started making little illustrated “books” out of folded pieces of paper. Only a very few have survived, and I shared one, called (incomprehensibly) Dizes Dager, on my blog. It just always seemed that that’s what I would eventually do. I took a very short and not at all too distant detour starting in junior high when, thanks mainly to Star Wars, I became fascinated with the process of filmmaking, but even in film school my concentration was on writing.

2. What do you like best (or least) about writing?
Like most authors I know I have a true love/hate relationship with writing. There are moments when I write a sentence that seems to just appear out of the ether, and sit back and read it again and decide that I am the greatest genius ever to walk the Earth, that this is a sentence that will live on for all eternity as a monument to my greatness. Then the next sentence sends me into a desperate depression in which I’m utterly convinced that there’s no reason for me to continue to live, let alone write because I suck so much I’m actually endangering the future of human culture.

Writing is hard, and doing it for a living is damn near impossible.

But in the end, I love telling stories, creating characters and worlds. Most of my life I did it for fun, and for free. The trick is to find ways to keep the demands of having to make money from making it any less fun.

3. What is your writing process? IE do you outline? Do you stick to a daily word or page count, write 7 days a week, etc?
My process is a bit chaotic and though right now I’m experiencing a pretty bad fallow period—finding it hard to get and stay motivated to write—it’s still something I advise other authors to explore. I’ve never been one of those writers who sit down at my special writing nook and write my 1000 words before breakfast. I write when, where, and how I can, as inspiration and circumstances dictate. Sometimes I’m enormously prolific, sometimes not at all. Sometimes I have a deadline and find ways to conjure inspiration to combat the ticking clock, but yeah . . . see my answer to the previous question.

4. Who are some other writers you read and admire, regardless of whether they are commercially “successful?”
I have a good list of mentors-by-proxy, beginning with Harlan Ellison. It was his story “I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream,” which I ran across in an anthology as a young teenager, that made a kid drawn to storytelling and science fiction into someone who was absolutely committed to figuring out how to do that. Mr. Ellison set the bar very, very high for us all, and I’m maybe 1% of the way there.

I tend to go through periods where I really focus on a particular author who I idolize, reading as much of his or her work as I can get my mitts on. I someday hope to be some fraction of the writer that Iain Banks, Octavia Butler, J.G. Ballard, Haruki Murakami, Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., Edgar Rice Burroughs, and William Gibson are (or were).

5. Should the question mark in the above question be inside or outside the quotes?
In that case, you got it wrong. It should be outside the quotes.

6. What’s your stance on the Oxford Comma?
There’s that famous dedication—I wish I knew the original source: “I’d like to thank my parents, God and L. Ron Hubbard,” which I think adequately demonstrates the importance of the serial comma. It’s an absolute necessity.

7. What is your book The Guide to Writing Fantasy and Science Fiction about and how did it come to fruition?
The idea came to me from Peter Archer, who used to be my boss at TSR and Wizards of the Coast, and is now an editor at Adams Media. I was reluctant at first—did the world really need another book on how to write fantasy and science fiction? But he talked me into it, and after a couple decades as both a writer and editor of fantasy and SF I felt I had something constructive to add. I enlisted the help of some friends and colleagues like Terry Brooks, R.A. Salvatore, and Lou Anders, who lent their experience and wisdom to the book, too. It was quite a process, and I’m delighted with the result, though of course it could have been ten times as long! But then that’s where my blog, Fantasy Author’s Handbook, comes in, which I update every Tuesday.

8. What’s your current writing project?
Right now I’m working on Devils of the Endless Deep, the first full-length book in the Fathomless Abyss series. This is a new idea, a shared world collective I set up with fellow fantasists Jay Lake, Mike Resnick & Brad Torgersen, J.M. McDermott, Cat Rambo, and Mel Odom. We started with the anthology Tales From The Fathomless Abyss, which is available now both in Kindle and Nook formats, and features a story by each of us. Then we’ll each provide a full-length book as the next year or so progresses. You can read a sample of my work in progress on my blog.

The Fathomless Abyss is just what it sounds like: a bottomless pit that appears at random times and random places all over the universe, and once people, aliens, monsters, etc. fall in and the Crown closes, they’re trapped and forced to make a new life for themselves in this radical new environment. We’re having an awful lot of fun exploring it.

9. What book(s) are you currently reading?
I tend to read five books at a time—alternating as the mood strikes. I read one “primary” book, which can be anything. I read a lot of fantasy and SF, of course, but also plenty of non-fiction, mysteries, literary novels, and so on. My current primary book is Columbine by David Cullen.

I’m also working my way through one SF series (Isaac Asimov’s Robot City: Robots and Aliens) and one fantasy series (Robert Silverberg’s Majipoor Chronicles) in alternating fashion. I try to read some kind of professional/personal development book, too, which right now is Reality Hunger by David Shields. Then the fifth book is either an anthology (currently The Big Book of Adventure Stories) or a graphic novel/comic collection.

If you’re really interested, join me on GoodReads!

10. Who or what inspires your writing?
It feels like a cop-out answer to say “everything,” but that’s actually true. I think authors are always soaking up inspiration from everything they experience around them. I’ve overheard people talking on the street and lifted it almost word for word for a story or book. Even bad reality TV can give you a sense of how people talk. The news is a constant source of inspiration, though generally negative. I draw inspiration from the work of other authors, from movies and TV . . . everything.

Finally, is there anything you’d care to add? Please also include where people can read your published stories, buy your book, etc.
I would like to send out a call to action to support National Buy a Book Day. This was a spur-of-the-moment thing that came to me a couple years ago, ended up as one of my monthly columns at Grasping for the Wind, and started to gain some traction in the social media universe. Last year I established the National Buy a Book Day Foundation to support and publicize National Buy a Book Day, which is September 7th of every year. The foundation now has a board of directors, and I’m starting to work on a web site, getting our non-profit status established, and do all the complex paperwork necessary to make something like this happen.

What is National Buy a Book Day? On September 7th, go to a bookstore (in reality or online) and buy a book (in paper, or e-book form). That’s it.

If you want to find my books, I have a little Amazon page here, and plenty more links on my blog.

Thank you, Phil. You have a storied background and an impressive resume. Let us know when Devils of the Endless Deep is available.

Be sure to visit Phil's blog and purchase a copy of his book. And follow him on Twitter to stay up to date with his latest works.


  1. It's better to choose a subject matter that you know about and can write about easily. If your subject is your passion, then all the better, you will find that when you are in the zone and writing about your passion, then the inspiration will flow whenever you are immersed in your writing. Whether you are writing as a hobby or for a living, it doesn't matter. What matters is that you are happy with what you are doing. ilchi lee education


Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

Catching Up With Writer Roy Huff @realroyhuff

A Day-By-Day Documentation of the Pottermore Beta Mania!

How do YOU choose names for your characters?