Mick Maux will pull all the threads in order to discover the mystery he has become a part of. The Marriage of Figgalo by Dr. Philip Emma is a thrilling and twisted story that has all the perfect elements to keep you fascinated. An unexpected plot, a diversified set of characters, and an experience you won’t ever forget.
Dr. Philip Emma is a Fellow of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers and has a Ph.D. in Electrical Engineering. He just retired as Chief Scientist from IBM’s TJ Watson Research Center in Yorktown Heights, NY, where he held over 200 patents and contributed to four books on technology, as well as more than 300 papers. He has spoken on Computer Architecture at various universities and is a well-known instructor in the field. He is presently employed as an expert witness in patent disputes and is a renowned patent and claim columnist. He worked as a sous-chef in various restaurants as a teenager, and he now works in the coffee and espresso machine industries.
Where did you get the idea to write The Marriage of Figgalo?
I am writing a series of books about a man and his wife who take on unusual detective cases that the police can’t handle. The hero is an eccentric geek, and the heroin (his wife) is a pragmatic beauty. The couple (Mick and Carol) live in a nice part of Connecticut outside of New York City. While it’s a detective story, there’s no gore, no explicit sex, plenty of humor, and a husband/wife pair that works as a team. These should appeal to men and women, and are suitable for reading by anyone.
This is the third book. I want all of the books to have an unusual cast of characters. In this book, I’ve created a comedy of misunderstandings by using lots of twins and triplets. This is part of the several mysteries in this book. We have:
- Mick Maux has a doppelganger named Charlie Petrichorio. (A doppelganger looks identical, but is unrelated.) Charlie is a gangster.
- Violetta and Vespera Bosbury are heterochromiac twins. They’re identical, but they’re actually mirror-images of each other.
- Sebastian and Samael Parapagus are parapagus twins: they have two heads that share one body.
- Lawrence Figgalo, Christos Yiannopoulos, and Corn-pop are identical triplets. They were born together, but separated at birth. They grew up under very different circumstances, and they don’t know each other, although they meet in this story, and become part of the comedy.
- Pierre, Jacques, and André Cheval are identical triplets. They are in the restaurant and thuggery businesses.
How did you come up with the character of Mick Maux, as well as his name?
By profession, I’m a scientist. Mick is an agglomeration of many of the people that I’ve worked with: literal minded and logical, but sometimes lacking social graces, and saying things that while true, are better left unsaid. Sometimes he doesn’t understand that others might not like to hear what he has to say. While very bright, he’s also innocent in this way. That’s part of the comedy. “Maux” is supposed to be a French name that’s pronounced like “mouse.” So the detective is “Mickey Mouse.” This leads to many misunderstandings, and people who don’t take him seriously.
What was the most challenging part of writing this book?
Writing is a challenge, but an enjoyable one. This book has a large cast of characters, with several of them being twins and triplets. Weaving all of their stories together was a challenge, but that’s part of the fun of writing. I went through several “dead” periods in which I didn’t write. I had to sleep on the story, and let it evolve in my mind. It’s that evolution that’s always the challenge. And it’s always the reward.
How do you keep the plot so intriguing and engrossing?
That’s a hard question to answer. The simple answer is that I don’t shoot for a certain number of words per day. Frequently, I have to “sleep on” the story for a week or two to think of what might happen next.
While I’ve read that many authors “sketch” their entire book before actually writing it, I don’t work this way. My books evolve as I write them. I try to write an intriguing opening, and then I let the story evolve. I usually don’t know how the story will end until I get there.
After all, the goal of the story is to entertain. It is not (necessarily) to impart a certain set of events. So I try to insert intrigue into chapters as I write them. That’s likely why I can’t guarantee a certain number of words per day. On some days, I’ll write 2,000 or more words. But then I’ll have dead periods.
This is my process. It needn’t be yours. But don’t take as gospel the advice of people who want you to focus on a daily output. If you’re writing freelance material, then look at your output. If you’re (mostly) creating, that’s not too important. It’s like talking about the dimensions of a painting. Those are hardly the point.
There were characters who were ‘twins’. What inspired you to put that in your book?
I want each of my books to be unusual in some way. In this book, I’ve created a comedy of misunderstandings by using lots of twins and triplets. This leads to many misunderstandings between characters in the book, and that’s the basis for its intrigue, and comical interactions.
Is mystery or thriller your favorite genre?
In fiction, yes. Most of the reading that I do is non-fiction. But I developed a love of reading while I was a student in college. The reading that I did for entertainment was fiction, although I found it to be educational.
I went through a phase where I took a great interest in the Russians: Tolstoy, Chekov, and Dostoevski. And of course, I thought that Kafka was great. But this writing was mostly about deep thought and philosophy. For pure entertainment, I’ve always enjoyed mysteries, and science fiction. When I was a kid, I liked things like Edgar Rice Burroughs. While the writing itself isn’t that good, the stories that he tells are very entertaining. Mark Twain was also lots of fun.
We read for different reasons. Sometimes we want to learn things (which I why I mostly read non-fiction today), and sometimes we just want to be entertained. Edgar Rice Burroughs is entertaining. Kafka is educational. So is non-fiction (at least it should be). And sometimes we read a writer because their writing is great: it’s like enjoying fine art. Sometimes I like to savor a writer because of how he uses words, and how he structures his thought. Gabriel García Márquez is a great example.
When Stephen King was new, I read all of his books. He writes with a unique style, although I found a few things in his books that were persistent and disturbing. I haven’t read his latest works, but he has a non-fiction book named “On Writing” that contains lots of insights. He’s a very successful professional.
I’ve always liked detective stories. I grew up on Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler. I enjoyed the way that Chandler used an understated form of humor. His style appealed to me. Both had “tough guys” against “tough guys.” Fine. That’s a narrow audience, but they made some good movies out of a few of their books.
I especially like understated humor. I’ve mentioned Raymond Chandler and Mark Twain. There’s also the British author, P. G. Wodehouse. I loved all of their books.
Like music, writing styles evolve. Each generation writes a little differently than its predecessor. And computers have changed writing quite a bit. There are many tools that can help an author track changes and ensure consistency. And changes are very easy to make. When I look at some of the documents written in longhand by America’s founders, I find it amazing that they were able to write contiguous thoughts without having to pen-over what they were writing. Also, computers have enabled millions of people to write. This wasn’t true back when people used typewriters, or even pens.
Over the generations, many writers set new standards. Certainly, Ernest Hemmingway stands out here. His style was both simple and erudite. That’s hard to do. George Orwell was able to articulate some fairly deep thought using simple stories and simple language. That’s hard to do. His books are easy for children to read.
Two modern authors that I especially like are Lawrence Block and Janet Evanovich. They are largely responsible for the way that I approach writing. Both write detective fiction that uses men and women, there’s no gore, and the language is basically clean. That’s the model that I follow with my writing. I’m aiming for a broad audience, and I enjoy humor. Right now, I’m writing about a husband and wife team. The husband is a geeky scientist with a strange view of the world, and his wife is gorgeous and pragmatic. When they work together, they exemplify a synergy that’s hard to beat.
I’ve also enjoyed lots of poetry. There are many poets worth reading. From Rudyard Kipling (for his British expression), T. S. Elliot, Robert Frost, Leonard Cohen, Lord Byron, and of course, William Shakespeare. There are many more. Poems take a long time to read, and they require lots of thought.
Professionally, I was a scientist. So I’ve read many books in different mathematical disciplines, books about electronics, computers, and physics. The writing done here does not have “entertainment” as its main goal. The goal is clear disposition. Writing clearly means avoiding colorful language, and it means always using the same words to mean the same thing. While it can seem overly dry to people who aren’t technical, it’s meant to stimulate a different part of the brain.
Somehow, I made it through college without ever taking an English course. I sometimes think that this is why I’ve always loved reading. I never worried about how Freud fit into anything that I was reading. I mostly just enjoyed it. And professionally, I’ve done lots of technical writing.
The story happened in the USA, but it was noticeable that there are a lot of French names and words included in the story. Can you explain the reason why?
The French themes happened by accident. In Chapter 1, Mick has been doped by someone, and wakes up on the floor of the living room in a lavish house with the owner lying on the couch dead. The last thing he remembered was stopping for a drink in a nice place in Brooklyn. He was simply going to go through his notes before going home, and they doped him. Why?
Because of its location, I’d chosen a known place that’s close to the highway. It has a nice restaurant upstairs, and a fancy bar downstairs. It has a French name and menu. I decided to change the name of the place to something that’s very close to the original name. By then, I was onto a “French” theme.
Who is your favorite author? What do you like most about him/her?
I’ve no particular favorite. I like many authors, and all for different reasons. The author that I’ve recently enjoyed the most is Lawrence Block. He writes detective stories with comical characters in them. Lots of the dialogue, as well as many of the situations are outright funny. It’s not “difficult” reading. It’s entertainment.
Block also has a way of wrapping up all of the loose-ends at the end of his stories. There are many little details that occur during a story, most of which I ignore as not being “essential.” But in the end, he usually ties all of those little things together. I don’t know how he does it.
By writing, I’ve learned – in a funny way – that we’re all people, and that we’re all different. The first time that I tried to write a book, I started trying to write it “like Block would write it.” I soon discovered that I’m not Block; I’m me.
My advice to writers is to “write yourself.” What I mean by that is to use your language, your ways of thinking, and your methods of exposition. Don’t try to copy other people. You are not those people. Even if you could copy one of them, why would we read you book instead of theirs? Write yourself.
Do you experience writer’s block? How do you deal with it?
All the time. People shouldn’t be discouraged by writer’s block. All the time I see people talking about how many “words per day” they write. I’m on my fifth book, and I’ve decided that this is irrelevant. IF you are doing freelance writing, then it matters. But if you’re doing creating writing, that isn’t done in “words per day.” Sometimes I need to sleep on ideas and mull them over for a week or more before getting the insights needed to proceed. Don’t worry about “writer’s block.” Just write.
Are you planning on releasing a new book? Can you share something about it?
I have a fourth book coming out in a few weeks about the Wuhan Virus. While it’s based on the very real virus that we’ve all been living through, it’s meant to be a comedy. It heavily satirizes some well-known political figures today. People who become infected become vampires. Mick and Carol have to find a cure!
I’m currently working on a fifth book that involves magic and mystery. It has seven modern witches who see a murder happening in the future, and who ask Mick and Carol for their help in preventing it. Other essential characters are three professional men, all very smart, all with red hair, and all of whom become professional wrestlers to supplement their incomes. And they all have romances. And there are four characters of different ages, but all with the same name: Santa Videl. (Do those names look like anagrams?) Some evil is about to happen. Will the witches figure it out, and can Mick and Carol prevent it?
This book is available on Amazon.
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