Interrogation—Ron Earl Phillips

Who: Ron Earl Phillips

What: Publisher of  Shotgun Honey and One Eye Press, as well as a web developer and designer. He lives with his wife, daughter, and one too many cats.  He has been known to write.

Where: West Virginia

Interviewed conducted by email. Some questions and answers have been edited.

Welcome, Ron. Why don’t you start by singing us the ballad of Shotgun Honey? 

Good to be here. After Bouchercon, I wasn’t too optimistic. But what doesn’t kill you, right?

The Ballad of Shotgun Honey, a song I’ve sung a time or two. It’s got a pretty good up beat, but I digress. So, about Shotgun Honey… The start of Shotgun Honey came about in 2011 and was concocted by Kent Gowran. I was fairly new to the community, maybe a year in, and I had written a few stories. 2010 was a productive year for me. I’d been “friends” with Kent for about 5-6 six months, chatted on Twitter, and when he tweeted about starting a new flash fiction site I sent him a note asking if he needed any help.

For me, I was thinking of putting together and managing a website. That’s what I do, I’m a web guy. Next thing I know, along with Sabrina Ogden, we’re launching a site and reading submissions. Kent has a lot of cache in the community, so the site took off. Started with a lot of known members like Dan O’Shea, Al Guthrie, Ray Banks, and so many guys I admired the hell out of.

A month in we moved from Blogger to our ShotgunHoney.net, which I’ve hosted and maintained since. Kent and Sabrina were on board for first 18+ months for the first anthology, which evolved into more publishing.

Since then I’ve had the privilege to work with Kent, Sabrina, Chad Rohrbacher, Christopher Irvin, Jen Conley, Joe Meyers, Erik Arneson, and Angel Luis Colón. Outside of the contributors, these folks are the life blood of Shotgun Honey these last 4 and half years.

shotgunhoneylogoWhy 700 words? As a writer yourself, do you find it hard to craft a complete story within that word limit?

As I mentioned, Kent was the ringleader, and the standards that still stand for the flash work we publish originate with him. The whole catalyst for Shotgun Honey was borne out of Kent’s desire to replicate Muzzle Flash Fiction which existed back in 2008 for about a year, and 700 words was the hard number to adhere to.

Flash fiction is generally any fiction under 1000 words, though I’ve seen it push a little higher. And short fiction of the nature requires a tight, focused story. So why not lop 300 words off that standard? It’s a challenge, one that over 200 writers have achieved on Shotgun Honey.

The focus shouldn’t be length. Write the story. We get story after story that are clearly an attempt to confine the story to 700 words. Sometimes the story needs to breath. If that happens, don’t try to cram it into our 700 word box.

We also see a lot of stories that aren’t stories. They lack the start, middle, and end. They come off as an intro, or a scene, a part of something larger. If a writer wants to take the challenge, approach it like you would any other work regardless of length. Expect to do revisions. And if you’re working from something longer, reduce words not story.

In your mind, what has changed—for better or for worse—since Shotgun Honey first launched in 2011? 

I can’t really say much has changed since we posted our first story by Dan O’Shea. I guess authors have changed, cycled out or through, that we are seeing new names, and not seeing many that were old reliables. Sure there are a couple new venues along side Shotgun Honey that are doing flash fiction. We’ve lost a couple, too. It’s a cycle, and I imagine one day Shotgun Honey will cycle out too.

One thing that has changed for the worse, not bad worse, but I think does affects our contributors. When we first launched, we’d got lots of comments on each story. I suppose social media takes some of the commenting away, but leaving a comment with the story really gives the writer a sense of affirmation.

FederalesOne Eye Press, your novella- and anthology-focused small press, launched in 2013. What kind of fiction have you been publishing since then? What would you like to publish more of?

One Eye Press is an extension of Shotgun Honey. in fact, the first anthology was published under Shotgun Honey Books. It was a year later, after running a western fiction site called The Big Adios, and deciding to publish more works than the anthology, that I started considering something different. I wanted to focus on more than crime fiction, and was working on converting The Big Adios into a quarterly, as well as starting the horror quarterly Blight Digest. So I ruminated with Chris Irvin who helped me navigate the first few months, and who was the first to be published solo with FEDERALES, and decided on One Eye Press.

OEP, as we short-hand it, has published a series of novellas called Singles because they are short and consumable, and can be read in a single sitting by a voracious reader. OEP’s limited catalog is primarily crime thrillers, but we also had the opportunity to publish a couple westerns. I wouldn’t mind finding a good horror novella to add to the line, but both our short story quarterly’s under performed, as did the western Singles. So our focus going forward will lean more toward crime thrillers, but I’m always open to a good story. I’m the first reader you have to impress.

Knuckleball_frontcover_dress_finIn your opinion, what is the appeal of novellas? Does the mystery and crime community embrace this format more than in other genres?

The potential appeal of the novella is the brevity. The competition for eyeballs is great, and one thing that has dwindled in our fast-food internet age is the consumer’s attention span. There are so many things in a consumer’s day-to-day shouting for attention. They’ve grown accustomed to immediate satisfaction. The art of reading has been somewhat lost, and I think the novella can help readers daunted by 400+ page novels and learn to imagine again. An obstacle I’ve observed is the consumer price point. With OEP Singles, I try to keep the price as low as possible, but there are readers who believe $2.99 for a digital novella is too much. We’ve not only stole the consumer’s ability to focus, but also appreciate the value of what they are consuming.

As for embracing, I can’t say for certain what other genres are doing. The westerns didn’t sell, and the crime novella’s have been up or down. Looking at the success of the novella case by case can make you feel a bit bi-polar, but I see this as a marathon and we are just in the first leg of the race. Novellas have the potential to be more consumable, and maybe that takes one little guy pushing and pushing, or one of the big guys to realize that novellas are an untapped resource. When novellas hit its stride, I hope OEP is there keeping pace with some great stories, whether they’re crime or other genres.

Fury BlackyOEP has published some great fiction including KNUCKLEBALL by Tom Pitts, and THE FURY OF BLACKY JAGUAR by Angel Luis Colon—among others. What appealed to you about those books and the others that you have selected to publish? 

I believe that each novella I’ve had the privilege to publish is great. As I said, I’m the first reader that has to be impressed. If I like it, then you can bet I’m ready to roll the dice. Or pull the trigger, I guess. Mixing metaphors, a fun hobby. The thing that impresses me is a story that engages me quickly and doesn’t let go until the end. Each of the books, save for Mike Miner’s HURT HAWKS (it’s nearly novel length), were initially read in one sitting. Each was dramatically different. A couple, like Christopher Irvin’s FEDERALES, sat on my Kindle for months for fear that I wouldn’t like it. Nothing worse than telling a friend their story just didn’t do it for you. Luckily, I didn’t have to say that to Chris, or Tom Pitts, or Angel Luis Colón. There were a couple I did pass on, and I know that struggle isn’t going to go away when friends submit in the future.

I will admit the title THE FURY OF BLACKY JAGUAR practically sold me alone. Of course, when I read the novella it was a totally different story than I was expecting. It was better.

goldfinches-sayles-cover-template-5x8-cWhat are OEP’s publishing plans for 2016?

Stay the course, and push a little more. I am looking to double the amount of Singles in 2016.

We’re starting out strong in January with GOLDFINCHES by Ryan Sayles. That is the story of a man whose family is abducted during a car jacking, the lengths he will go to rescue them, and the affect it has on his faith and family. Following up in February is TEXAS, HOLD YOUR QUEENS by Marie S. Crosswell, which is about a pair of detectives balancing their work and personal lives, and the case that will either bring them closer together or tear them apart. Closing out the first quarter, William E. Wallace pitched me a criminal hunting a criminal story that is reminiscent of Stark/Westlake called FACE VALUE. I enjoyed the character and writing, and asked it there were anymore Eddie Pax stories? If we are graced with time, I am hoping for a follow-up from William.Face Value Wallace

There are several candidates to fill out the 2016 Singles catalog, I just need to pull the trigger.

Aside from the Singles line, I am hoping to finalize a deal to re-publish and continue a novella series. If that works out, we’ll see those reissued throughout the year and culminating with a new release.

The BOTH BARRELS anthology has concluded with volume 3. Instead of the short story anthology, I will be compiling a BEST OF SHOTGUN HONEY to celebrate 5 years of flash fiction. These stories will be chosen 10 from each year and nominated by past and present editors.

As a writer yourself, you have published short stories with some impressive publications. Given the how busy you are with Shotgun Honey and OEP, how do you still find time to write? What are you currently working on?

We’ll use the term writer loosely. The short answer is I don’t. Aside from publishing with OEP and maintaining Shotgun Honey, I work full-time as a web developer and programmer, meaning everything else is relegated to evenings and weekends. I also have a family, home, and all the regular things other full-time writers have. I’m envious of the folks who carve out the time, push themselves, and manage to balance the chaos to whatever extent they do. I know, I’m a fragile flower.

rsz_screen_shot_2015-11-15_at_63750_am

I do make the valiant attempt. I have several drafts of short stories I wrote for anthologies whose deadlines have come and gone. So I’ll finish them, or most of them, to alleviate some shame. I’m hoping one will be good enough for Thuglit. I’d like to be published by Todd once.

I also have a novella, or at least I think it’s a novella length story, that I plodded through a partial draft when I was feeling ambitions this last summer. It’s a crime/horror blender about a blackout drunk night and the consequences called HAIR OF THE DOG.

Find Ron Earl Phillips: WebsiteTwitter,  Shotgun Honey, One Eye Press

Previous Interrogations:

S.W. Lauden’s debut novel, BAD CITIZEN CORPORATION, is available now from Rare Bird Books. His novella, CROSSWISE, will be published by Down & Out Books in 2016.

3 Comments

  1. Great interview. Lots of pride in Ron from here in Colorado.

  2. Glad you enjoyed it. Ron’s an interesting guy and he does a lot of great work for the Indie crime community.

  3. Hell yeah. Loved this interview. As a fan of Shotgun Honey and OEP it was nice to see that the Man In Charge is a cool MF’er.

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