Phyllis Entis

Award-winning mystery writer and food safety microbiologist

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Looking Ahead

I told myself I wouldn’t do it. I promised I would refrain. Every blogger in the universe either already has published a ‘looking back on 2016’ or ‘looking ahead to 2017’ post, or is busy composing one. Why should anyone care what I think?

There is very little I want to say about 2016. Very little I want to remember. Yes, there were a couple of milestones: I released audiobook editions of my first two novels and published a third; my husband and I welcomed a new puppy into our home (those of you who subscribe to my newsletter have seen pictures of our Shalom); and, yes, the Democrats nominated Hillary Clinton as their candidate for POTUS.

Oops. Ignore that last one. I promised myself I wouldn’t go there. Still hurts too much.

What about 2017? Well, I’ve made a couple of resolutions. Or, perhaps I should think of them as wishes?

  1. Resolved: No more wasting my time on Freecell, Jigidi, or 2048 computer games and puzzles.
  2. Resolved: No more wasting my time on CNN, FOXNews, MSNBC, etc., etc.
  3. Resolved: No more wasting my time!

What do I expect to do with all of the hours thus liberated?

  1. Take more long walks with husband and puppy.
  2. Spend more time working in the garden.
  3. Write, edit and publish at least one book in 2017 (with luck, by mid-summer).
  4. Investigate repackaging my first three books into a ‘box set’ Kindle book.
  5. Revive my food safety blog, eFoodAlert.

That last item sort of sneaked up on you, didn’t it? For five years after I retired as a food safety microbiologist – up until the time I reinvented myself as a novelist – I wrote a food safety blog in which I tracked foodborne illness outbreaks and food recalls around the world. I have a hunch the arrival in Washington of an administration that is promising to ‘reduce the regulatory burden on businesses’ will bring about diminished FDA and USDA enforcement of food safety regulations. I cannot sit on the sidelines and watch the progress of the last several years be flushed down the toilet without comment.

So, farewell to Jigidi, Freecell, 2048; farewell to compulsive reading of political diatribes on Facebook; farewell to meaningless trivia quizzes.

The FoodBugLady is poised for a comeback in 2017.

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Since becoming a mystery writer, I have been interviewed by several book bloggers. Our conversations, which comprise a series of questions and answers exchanged via email, have ranged from the inev…

Source: Conversations


The First 10,000 Words

The first 100 sales. The first 100 visitors to a blog or website. The first 100 followers on Facebook, Twitter and other social media sites. These all are milestones that authors celebrate. Passive milestones, over which an author has very little control.

There is another set of milestones in the life of a writer of a novelist – of any writer of books, for that matter. The first sentence, the first paragraph, the first completed chapter.  Each of these represents a goal to be achieved; a challenge to surmount. For me, the challenge is the first 10,000 words.

Ten thousand words. That’s roughly forty pages. Forty sheets of blank paper (or computer screen) to be filled with ideas. With words. It’s a daunting task, and one that I am now in the midst of tackling.

I have begun to write the first draft of my fourth mystery novel. I haven’t yet finalized the title, nor have I written an outline. I don’t do well with outlines. I have a general idea of the main plot and at least one secondary plot. I think I have figured out where I want the climax of the story to take place. What I don’t know is what will happen along the way. For now, I am groping my way into the story. Just writing as the characters come to life inside my head. This isn’t an efficient way of writing, or so I’m told. But it’s the way my mind works.

It takes me about 10,000 words to feel as though I have a good handle on the story. I have now put 6000-7000 words under my belt. This is no guarantee that I am on the right track; I’ve had false starts before. In fact, I’ve experienced at least one false start with each of my previous three novels. Maybe it will be different this time. Maybe I’ll just keep on piling up the word total, and arrive at the halfway point before I come up for air. But I don’t count on it. I’m more likely to decide, perhaps around the 9500-word point, that half of what I’ve written is garbage and must be discarded.

False starts are part of a writer’s life and, for me, the first 10,000 words are the hardest.



Don’t Buy My Books!

I’m serious.

I really mean it.

I don’t want you to buy my books. I don’t want to twist your arms, talk your ears off, and clutter your Twitter and Facebook feeds with unwanted ‘Buy my book’ posts.

I don’t want you to buy my books if:

1. You are doing so just to support a fellow Indie author; or
2. Because I’m family or a friend; or
3. Because I’m a neighbor; or
4. Because you knew Quintzy from the Doodle Zoo or Quintzy’s Qorner.

BUT, if you enjoyed reading my short stories on Prompt Prose, or if you used to follow my food safety blog and are curious about my fiction writing, or if you love mysteries and want to try out a new series, this is what I would like you to do:

Check to see whether your local library carries one of my books, either in paperback or in their electronic collection. You can find Damien Dickens Mysteries at the Toronto Public Library, the Vaughan (Ontario) Public Library, the Sacramento Public Library, the Cincinnati Public Library, and the Harrison Memorial Library in my home town of Carmel-by-the-Sea. Borrow one of my books. If you enjoy it, you have my permission to buy all of them.

If your library doesn’t offer the Damien Dickens Mysteries, you can download and read the first 20% of all of my books absolutely free at Smashwords. If you like what you read and you want to find out whodunit, you have my permission to buy my books.

By now, you must be wondering how I ever plan to sell another copy of my work. It’s simple, really. I am relying on you, my prospective reader, to sell it for me. Once you have read a book, please take a few minutes to leave a short review on the bookseller’s website or on your library’s website. You can also post a review on Goodreads. Better yet, if you liked my book, please recommend it to your friends. Word-of-mouth is the best advertising in the world.

Finally, if I still haven’t convinced you NOT to buy my books, please note that the Kindle edition of THE GREEN PEARL CAPER is on sale at through to the end of this month for just US$0.99 (and for the equivalent discounted price at other Amazon e-stores).

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Who Am I? My conversation with Lauren ‘The Book Boss’ Pierre

Thank you, Lauren Pierre, for allowing me to share this Ultimate Indie Authors! interview on my Gone Writing blog.

Ultimate Indie Authors! (Lauren):
Hi everyone! Today I’m very lucky to be interviewing Phyllis Entis, author of the Damien Dickens Mystery series. Phyllis, thank you for agreeing to this interview. Before we get started, tell us a little about yourself and your background. When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?

In my first professional incarnation, I was a food safety microbiologist. After I graduated from a full-time job at the lab bench to a position behind a desk, I spent a fair bit of time reading and writing technical reports, articles for scientific journals, and other work-related material. I realized that most of the reports I had to digest were so heavy on jargon that they were essentially unreadable. When I wrote my first book – a lab manual – I made a conscious effort to avoid jargon, and to write in a style that would be more accessible to my audience. I believe that was the moment when I realized that I was a writer who happened to be a scientist, rather than a scientist whose job included writing.

Ultimate Indie Authors! (Lauren):
Wow! So do you write part-time or full-time?

My husband and I are retired, but I wouldn’t say that I am a full-time writer. My current day job is our puppy, who we adopted last February.

Ultimate Indie Authors! (Lauren):
Aw, that’s sweet. What does your production schedule look like? How long does it take for you to finish a book once it’s started?

I released my first two books in 2015 – The Green Pearl Caper in the spring, and The White Russian Caper in the fall. The third book, The Chocolate Labradoodle Caper, released in October 2016, about eleven months after the second book. The first book took about a year to write and edit. I started the White Russian while I ‘shopped’ the Green Pearl to agents. When I realized that I needed to take matters into my own hands, I released the Green Pearl on Amazon. By then, I was about ready to begin revisions to the White Russian – hence the relatively short gap between the release dates of the first two books. I didn’t start to write the Chocolate Labradoodle until after the second book was released, and put it aside for a while after three false starts. I am hoping to pick up the pace a bit on the production of book #4.

Ultimate Indie Authors! (Lauren):
Can you tell us a little bit about your book(s)? (No spoliers!)

I write a mystery series. My protagonists are a husband-and-wife team, Damien and Millie Dickens (they married between the first and second books), who are based in Atlantic City, New Jersey. The series began in 1979 and is now in the early 1980s. I like to vary the settings, and readers will find themselves traveling with Millie and Damien to Vermont, Florida and even Montreal. I’m planning a new side trip for the next book.

Ultimate Indie Authors! (Lauren):
Sounds interesting! So where do you ultimately get your information or ideas for your books?

From all over. The major settings are all places where I’ve lived or that I’ve visited. Some of the characters are made up out of whole cloth; others are based on people I’ve met. One of the plot lines in the Chocolate Labradoodle draws on my experiences as a food safety microbiologist.

Ultimate Indie Authors! (Lauren):
What do you feel you bring to the table that is different from other mystery writers?

Well, my science background, for one. My family’s east-European roots, for another. And an adult life spent living in and traveling in a lot of different places.

Ultimate Indie Authors! (Lauren):
That’s great! You mentioned earlier that you self-publish (Whoohoo!). What is your publishing process like?

My initial strategy was to maximize royalty share by using Amazon’s exclusive Kindle program for ebooks. I published a paperback edition using CreateSpace. However, I found that a significant portion of my potential initial audience (i.e., friends and family) used Kobo (in Canada), or Nook readers, and were unable to access the ebook. After my second book languished on Amazon for a couple of months, I decided to change my approach. I allowed the 90-day exclusivity period to lapse for both books, and broadened my exposure by publishing on Smashwords. This allowed me to reach Nook, iBook, and Kobo users, as well as library customers (via OverDrive). I also found a narrator who was willing to work on a royalty-share basis to produce an audiobook edition for the first two books, which are available on Amazon, Audible and iTunes. I published my third book on both Amazon and Smashwords, in addition to continuing to use CreateSpace for the paperback edition. I haven’t yet initiated production of an audiobook edition of The Chocolate Labradoodle Caper.

Ultimate Indie Authors! (Lauren):
Do you believe in writers’ block? If so, how to you cope with it? If not, what’s your diagnosis/solution for lack of creativity?

I experience writer’s block from time to time, so I know that it’s real. There’s always a letdown once a book is finished, edited and published. I try to take a few weeks off – give my characters a vacation, so to speak. When I feel my fingers getting itchy, I start to kick around plot ideas with my husband during our daily walks. I also talk to myself (a lot) and to the puppy. As the ideas begin to coalesce, I feel the characters coming alive inside my head; I start to hear their conversations and feel their emotions. That’s when I know I’m ready to start writing again.

Ultimate Indie Authors! (Lauren):
What was your favorite childhood book? What is your favorite current book?

The first books I remember devouring were the Nancy Drew, Cherry Ames, and Judy Bolton series. My cousin and I used to spend summer afternoons sitting outside reading. We would each choose a book (we both owned the complete collection of Nancy Drew) and start it from the beginning. Judy and I were fast readers, and our reading sessions evolved into informal competitions as to who would finish her book first. Periodically, one of us would ask the other what page she had reached. Although we both could devour a Nancy Drew in a single session, Judy almost always finished first. These days, I still read a lot of mystery series, mostly books by Louise Penny and Jacqueline Winspear. But the book that had the greatest emotional impact on me was Still Alice, by Lisa Genova. My late father suffered from Alzheimer’s, and Still Alice helped me to better understand what he had experienced.

Ultimate Indie Authors! (Lauren):
Do you have any advice/tips for aspiring mystery writers and/or writers in general?

Read, read, and read some more. Do a heap of reading in your own preferred genre, but also sample other types of writing. As you read, think about how the author has structured the story, shaped the paragraphs, and the sentences. Think about what you like in the writing and what you find irritating. And write. It doesn’t matter whether you write flash fiction, memoir, short stories, or letters. Just write. Let the words flow and save the editing for later. If you can, find a writing group in your area. It doesn’t have to be a formal class; it can be just a group of people who want to share ideas and experiences. Start a diary or a blog and write. Find fellow writers on Facebook or at your local library, and WRITE.

Ultimate Indie Authors! (Lauren):

How can readers discover more about you and you work?

I recently set up my own website, Gone Writing. It’s still fairly spartan, but there is a Welcome page, a short bio, a page that lists my published books, and a blog. I also have an author page on Amazon (…) and on goodreads (…), and a Facebook page (…). Readers can send me a direct message via Facebook or goodreads or comment on my blog posts. I promise to respond.

Ultimate Indie Authors! (Lauren):
Is there anything else you would like to add that I haven’t included?

I am about to start on the first draft of the next book in the Damien Dickens Mysteries series. Puppy permitting, I am hoping that this one won’t take a year to complete.

UPDATE (December 2, 2016): I have begun the first draft and have the first 1200 words under my belt.