Posted by Ryder Islington, Author of Ultimate Justice, A Trey Fontaine Mystery
Below is an interview of Phil Harvey, author of Show Time, followed by a synopsis, chapter sample and author bio. An accomplished author, Mr. Harvey’s interview is quite revealing. Enjoy!
Phil Harvey is an award-winning author, philanthropist and libertarian whose stories won a prize from Antietam Review and were nominated for the Pushcart Prize. His dark fiction and controversial ideas have broadened debate on violent entertainment, relationships and sexuality. At the core of his fiction stand the motives, methods and goals of the characters. Here he talks about his latest novel Show Time and the release of three new collections: Wisdom of Fools: Stories of Extraordinary Lives, Devotional: Erotic Stories for the Sensual Mind, and Across the Water: Tales of the Human Heart.
Q: Your three new books are collections of short stories in which characters touch something important in themselves or in others.
PH: The centerpiece of my fiction is always the individual. I like to put characters in demanding physical/psychological settings that force them to respond. Frankly this saves work and imagination because some responses are fore-ordained. Other ideas come from experience. Fly fishing. Sex. Upbringing. And so on. Some ideas even spring from other books. Really, the stories run the gambit. A few end in death, one in time travel, a few in redemption.
Show Time engages with seven people and their idiosyncrasies, lust, belligerence, and desire to survive. How they are attracted to each other, how they fight with each other, how they sometimes undermine and then strengthen each other. They boil, they confer, they fight, they make love—but overall, they must survive.
For all my characters, life goes on but is changed.
Q: Tell us about Show Time. The novel challenges seven reality show contestants with the possibility of starvation or freezing to death.
PH: My book explores the use of violence and death as entertainment. We already have real-world examples like the potential fatal violence that helps fuel the popularity of car racing. We like violence. It fascinates us. That’s why it leads the news every night. My idea is that policymakers someday will, perhaps without knowing it, encourage certain kinds of violence to keep people satisfied. Presidents like wars—even though they won’t admit it. Wars unify us. We always support the troops. So deliberate steps to encourage controlled violence are not so farfetched.
Q: Your fiction is occasionally threaded with darker impulses. Why delve into the shadow side?
PH: A wise writing instructor once said, “People don’t read nice. It puts them to sleep.”
I write dark-side fiction because that’s the only kind people read. I am not especially interested in venality, violence (which I really do not like), human weakness, etc. but these are essential elements of fiction. Of course we’re all fallible, and some of my fiction reflects this theme.
In Show Time, the producer arranges for a murder to happen on the show because her entire focus in life is on her ratings. Nothing else matters. We humans can get blinkered that way and occasionally take desperate measures to keep things on track. That’s true reality. But overall, I write in this vein because it is artistically satisfying and readers demand it.
Q: In Beena’s Story an Indian woman is disfigured by acid, in Virgin Birth a surrogate mother is attacked, and Show Time explores personal and social violence. How do you address violence without becoming graphic?
PH: Writing that is too graphic turns people off. Different readers (and writers) have different limits; mine are probably about average. Some would say I’m too cautious but bodies run through and guts spilling out simply seem unnecessary and distracting. It comes down to a matter of style. A very clear case is the “cozy.” There’s always a murder but never a body.
Q: These three new books include one that has a more erotic tone yet you don’t shy from sexual activity in stories that aren’t specifically erotic. Is there a line here, too?
PH: As to sex, I think I provided the appropriate amount of detail in Show Time and, very differently, in Vishnu Schist, Swimming Hole, and Devotional. Sex scenes can be sexy, even graphic as in Devotional, but clichés must be avoided like the plague. In Charlie Stuart’s Car got a little close to that, I think. I’ll let readers decide.
Q: How do you align your dark fiction with your Huffington Post article about the world getting better?
PH: The reality is that dark impulses, especially violence, will always be there. The world is getting better in part because we are learning to curb our natural violent instincts. We sublimate by watching violent sports. Boxing. Football. NASCAR. We punish. Murderers and rapists are jailed. And so on.
Backing this up must be the rule of law. People are capable of unspeakable horrors. And that includesnice, civilized people. See the enforcers of the Holocaust. See Uganda. See North Korea. The fact that the government has a monopoly on legal violence (wars, executions, etc.) is a good thing. The great majority of citizens want violence curbed, and only a governmental entity can do that consistently.
So, yes, humans will always love violence (see video games), and in the societies that function best, violence will be sublimated. Hence my novel Show Time. Hence my short story Hunting Dora.
Q: You support the rule of law but some of your stories demonstrate abuses of power. Should readers beware authority?
PH: No society can exist without rules that prevent people from harming others. But the government can be a poor purveyor of justice. Where’s the justice in the War on Drugs? Where’s the justice in taking (by force) billions from hardworking taxpaying Americans and giving it to rich farmers and agricultural corporations? And on and on.
The government is necessary for some things, and I appreciate that. An army. Rule of law. Enforceable contracts. But it is not such a stretch to depict the government as complicit (behind the scenes!) in a brutal scheme to satisfy Americans’ lust for violence as in Show Time. Readers should worry, because government’s perfidy is backed by government force. The worst perpetrators of violence have been governments. Stalin. Mao. Hitler. Pol Pot. Dystopian fiction is perhaps popular because in the digital age it seems more feasible. Big brother is watching.
On the other hand, people are generally very good about making decisions for their own lives. Over two centuries or so we’ve seen that life can be pretty successful and satisfying in democratic, free market societies. That’s why messy democracy is so terribly important.
Q: What’s the takeaway for readers of your fiction?
PH: I would hope they have journeyed to a place they would not have seen without the novel or one of the stories…that they experienced it and enjoyed being there, became engrossed, and had the pleasure of a good read. I always welcome emails with serious and thoughtful questions. I invite readers of Show Time to think about the complexities of violence. Perhaps this is worth considering: “War unites us. Love divides us.”
Q: It’s interesting that some of your stories revolve around activists. Your own efforts range from philanthropy to utilizing social marketing to distribute birth control, yet some of your characters view “do-gooders” with sharp cynicism.
PH: We compassionate humans so love to think highly of ourselves that we do “good” things without using the brains god gave us. For a decade the U.S. sent huge amounts of grain to India. Result: Indian farmers couldn’t make a living, Indian agriculture stagnated, Indians were generally worse off than they would have been without our “help.”
Doing stuff that feels good instead of stuff that will acutely help is something I really abhor. Feel-good giving is self-indulgent and occasionally cruel. It’s great to feel superior to that panhandler on the corner, so give him a dollar (and assure the future of panhandling) and think how morally superior you are. Whatever you do, don’t think about how you could actually be helpful. Not emotionally satisfying!
So the cynics in my stories are right, only it’s not really cynicism. It’s clarity. It’s intellectual integrity. If you want to help people thenempower them to take control of their lives. And don’t expect gratitude. You’re doing your job; they’re doing theirs.
Q: What’s next for you?
My most promising novel is Just In Time, in which a Wall Street trader is deposited back in the Pleistocene era. The other, Indian Summer, follows a Peace Corps volunteer’s transformation fighting famine in India during the 1960s. I plan to write more short stories focused on the transformative powers of sex and alcohol.
As for myself, I will continue enjoying my married life, being a stepfather, and nurturing my very promising grandkids. And, of course, I’ll continue organizing projects that promote civil liberties through the DKT Liberty Project, work to end the War on Drugs, and debunk yahoos who ignore the reason and science behind immunization and the genetically modified crops that can relieve suffering worldwide.
Future viewing audiences have become totally desensitized to violence and entirely dependent on sensation to escape their boring workaday lives—an addiction nurtured by the media with graphic portrayals of war and crime and with so-called reality programming. Now, TV execs in pursuit of the only things they care about—higher ratings and bigger paychecks—have created the ultimate reality show: Seven people, each bearing the scars of his or her past, are deposited on an island in the middle of Lake Superior. Given some bare necessities and the promise of $400,000 each if they can endure, the three women and four men risk death by starvation or freezing as the Great Lakes winter approaches. The island is wired for sound, and flying drones provide the video feed, so everything the contestants do and say is broadcast worldwide. Their seven-month ordeal is entirely unscripted, they can’t ask for help or they forfeit the prize, and as far as the network is concerned—the fewer survivors the better.
“Show Time is erotic and chilling in its portrayal of human survival. Entertainment serves government by dishing up the ultimate reality program to sate a nation of voyeurs and ensure the continuance of our most civilized of societies. Check your calendar—the future is already here.”
—Sal Glynn, scriptwriter, and author of
The Dog Walked Down the Street
“Show Time is a gripping page-turner. Reality TV has never been more frighteningly real.”
—John Fremont, author, Sins of the Fathers
“A vision of the future that is laugh-out-loud, until we realize how much it looks like the world we live in now.”
—Frank S. Joseph, award-winning author of To Love Mercy
“A thrilling immersion in the emotional, physical, and sexual reality of characters who thought they were playing a game but find they must fight to survive.”
—Linda Morefield, senior review editor,
The Washington Independent Review of Books
Phil Harvey’s fiction has appeared in fifteen literary magazines, including Phantasmagoria, which nominated one of his stories for a Pushcart Prize, and Antietam Review, which named another the winner of its annual contest. Most recently his work has appeared in The MacGuffin, Natural Bridge, and the Dos Passos Review. Harvey’ nonfiction includes: Let Every Child Be Wanted, which drew praise from former President Jimmy Carter; Government Creep, which, as one reviewer noted, “proves that government has invaded virtually every nook and cranny of our lives”; and The Government vs. Erotica, which Publishers Weekly and Booklist praised, the ALA Intellectual Freedom Roundtable nominated as the year’s best book on intellectual freedom, and Media Coalition called “a frightening, enlightening story.” By day, Phil Harvey is president of DKT International, a nonprofit family planning and AIDS prevention organization. He lives with his wife, Harriet Lesser, in Maryland.
Excerpt: Show Time
THE SNOW WAS DEEP, drifting and crusting into whorled shapes under the pale sky. The thermometer nailed to the tree at the edge of the camp area read minus 11, inching down toward the minus-40 line where Fahrenheit and Celsius were equal. Ambrose had a bet with himself that it wouldn’t go that far.
He puffed his breath out, watched the faint cloud quickly disappear in the dry Lake Superior air. I’m going to do it today, he thought. I’m going to start today. The time has come.
He walked carefully to the tree where three wood saws hung, and selected the smallest, a band-type saw with an eighteen-inch blade stretched between the ends of a bowed metal tube. The teeth of the saw were deeply serrated, worn from cutting wood, hundreds of small logs and sticks that had kept them from freezing. He tested the teeth. For all the work they had performed, they remained remarkably sharp. This saw would do, this saw and his hunting knife.
He checked the leg pocket of his pants for the waterproof match container. In the same pocket there were three fire-starter pellets. No shortage of those.
As Ambrose left the clearing, Maureen and Ashai looked up. Ambrose flipped his fingers in a little wave. Ashai nodded back. Maureen looked at him for a moment and then went back to the tedious job of softening boiled lichen with her teeth. It was all they’d had to eat for five days.
Ambrose walked slowly and with great care along the trail to Rudy’s camp, the little saw hanging heavy in his hand. As he walked, his eyes darted from side to side, alert for a rabbit or a vole or perhaps even a fox, but there was no sign of edible life, only fir trees and yew bushes.
Ambrose had been hungry before. He had gone without food for three days on a camping trip in Manitoba. It had not been pleasant, but at the end of the third day they had arrived back at their truck and driven straight to an all-night diner at the intersection of Route 124 and old route 42 where their hunger was soon sated with pancakes and maple syrup.
Here, it had settled into a rhythm. When he woke in the middle of the night, and again in the morning, well before dawn, there was an empty feeling in his stomach, an urgent pull, a void. He knew the feeling would come, and he was afraid of it. Usually, it went away for a few hours during the daylight. Then it came back.
Sometimes, with the others, Ambrose drank hot water just to have some feeling in his belly, but the water didn’t make the empty feeling go away. From the dreaded gnawing, it would progress to a sense of weakness. At the really bad moments, when he sat or lay in the darkness, he could feel his strength draining from his extremities toward the center of his body, a sense that his vital parts were demanding nourishment, and his blood was pulling his energy inward like a turtle retracting its head and legs.
At those moments, Ambrose felt himself becoming weaker and, truly, when he stood up afterward he felt as though his body would not do what he asked, chop wood or walk far. At such moments there was no question of returning to the den he shared with Cecily. He sat down or lay back and hoped for that terrible draining, weakening sensation to go away.
It didn’t take long to reach the clearing on the north shore. What was left of Rudy’s shelter was barely visible under the deep snow, but it was enough to mark the shallow grave where they had left Rudy’s body two months before.
Ambrose went to work. Under a stiff, frozen tarpaulin and a few inches of frozen dirt lay a hundred pounds of frozen meat. It was time.
There was a layer of fresh powder and then a crust, but the crust was thin and Ambrose broke it with his boot heel, quickly uncovering Rudy’s grave. The blue tarp just showed through the dirt. They had dumped enough soil on top of the tarp so the foxes and raccoons wouldn’t find it interesting. With the body frozen, there would be no smell. On that, at least, they had been right. There was no sign of animal digging.
Ambrose pushed the soil back with his gloved hands, standing from time to time to kick at a heavy frozen clod with his boots, then working again on his knees until the blue tarp over Rudy’s body was uncovered. He tugged at the corners of the tarp near where he knew Rudy’s head would be. It took some more kicking and digging until the corners came free. Then he pulled the tarp back slowly, one corner, then the other. There was Rudy. Frozen solid. His once-dark face was nearly white, ashen. One hand stuck off awkwardly to the side, the head turned back in the direction of the main camp.
Ambrose slid his hunting knife carefully out of its sheath and slowly, fearfully, began cutting the back of Rudy’s parka pants.
“Do you think they’ll do it?” Janice McNeely said. She was staring at the #12 monitor.
Jimmy Asaki looked up. “Yes,” he said. “They’re starving.”
“They’ve uncovered him. Look.”
“If they do it, do you think Bud will air it?”
“Maybe they’ll keep it away from the open mikes.”
“I don’t think they care about that anymore. I don’t think they care what reaches the open lines. They’re fighting for their lives.”
About the Author: Phil Harvey
Phil Harvey’s fiction has appeared in over a dozen literary magazines including Phantasmagoria, The MacGuffin, Natural Bridge, and the Dos Passos Review.His short story Roberta’s River was nominated for a Pushcart Prize, and Bait and Switch won an award from Antietam Review. The author’s latest releases, three collections of short stories, examine the important moments when people touch something at their own core or at the core of their relationships with others. Currently he is working on more stories about the transformative capacities of alcohol and sex.
Show Time, his first novel, was hailed by the Washington Independent Review of Books as “a psychological thriller that takes reality shows, and in fact much of our popular culture, into a realm of true horror…a thinking reader’s thriller and a thoroughly entertaining read.”Other novelsinclude Just In Time,in which a Wall Street commodities trader is deposited back in the Pleistocene era. Indian Summer follows the transformation of a Peace Corps volunteer during the Eastern India famine in 1967.
Harvey’sbook Let Every Child Be Wanted: How Social Marketing is Revolutionizing Contraceptive Use Around the World drew praise from former President Jimmy Carter.Government Creep: What the Government is Doing That You Don’t Know About, saidACLU President Nadine Strossen, “will give you the creeps about the increasingly invasive role of government in every aspect of our lives–our homes, our workplaces and even our bodies and minds.”
The author’s efforts to enhance the quality of life for others expand far beyond fiction. He and co-author Lisa Conyers interviewed 150 welfare recipients for the book The Human Cost of Welfare.The authors believe the system is broken, and proof is found in the anecdotes shared from people with direct experience of its flaws. This detailed review offers solutions based on common sense and a deep understanding of how humans value themselves and their lives.
As the president of Adam & Eve, one of the world’s leading suppliers of sex toys, adult films and condoms, Harvey is a warrior for libertarian values. The Government vs. Erotica, the true story of the federal government’s attack on his company, drew praise from Publishers Weekly and Booklist.The narrative of his long fight for the freedom to distribute “obscene” materials—meaning condoms—by mail spurred the ALA Intellectual Freedom Roundtable to nominate the work as the year’s best book on intellectual freedom. The Media Coalition called it “a frightening, enlightening story.”
Harvey is currently writing Welfare for the Rich, an exploration of how the government subsidizes the wealthy at the expense of ordinary taxpayers. Some of the worst offenses are found in the vast sums paid to thriving agribusinesses and wealthy farmers. “Needy” companies like Boeing are given subsidies while oil companies receive tax breaks. Solar panel companies are given government loans and General Motors gets bailed out. Wealthy taxpayers, meanwhile, are allowed to deduct mortgage interest on their palatial second homes.
The Huffington Post, Forbes and other publications have published his contrarian articles and essays. These shorter pieces detail the issues about which he is most passionate: libertarian causes like civil liberties, ending the war on drugs, and reproductive health. He has appeared on CNN’s “Business Unusual” and was the subject of a Canadian Broadcasting Corporation special.
Harvey is the chairman of DKT International, a Washington, D.C.-based charity that implements family planning and HIV/AIDS prevention programs in eighteen countries across Africa, Asia and Latin America. As a philanthropist, he provided funds to Oregon State’s initiative to legalize marijuana. The DKT Liberty Project, which Harvey founded,works to end the injustices perpetuated by the War on Drugs and to raise awareness of freedom of speech issues. Harvey is also on the board of the National Coalition Against Censorship.
Phil Harvey lives with his wife, Harriet Lesser, in Cabin John, Maryland.He is stepfather and grandfather to several very promising kids. He welcomes emailsfrom readers who have serious and thoughtful questionsabout any of his stories, novels or books.