The Write Space is a monthly Q&A series from Creative Collective covering a local writer and a North Shore space(s) s/he associates with writing. Questions? Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Give us your best writerly bio.
Phil Higgins is a nice Irish Catholic kid from the suburbs of Boston who now lives in Salem, MA. A natural performer, his starring roles in life have included baby of 7, altar boy, tap dancer, Tony in West Side Story, almost-valedictorian, acapela soloist, worrier, That Guy at the wedding, waiter, receptionist, social worker, psychotherapist, husband, and father of 2. All of these experiences have shaped Phil as a person and as a writer. Writing highlights have included long lists of his venial sins presented to his mother from ages 5 to 12, a country music song written for Meghan McCarthy in 3rd grade, an award-winning essay about his bull mastiff’s rectal tumor in 11th grade, two years of on-air credit announcements for Comedy Central, song lyrics for the now-defunct New York City punk rock band The Proxy (you haven’t heard of us; but for the record, my stage name was Johnny Wetmore, which may sound more familiar but I promise you is not), a blog about getting gay-married (Groomzilla), a doctoral dissertation, several peer-reviewed articles and book chapters on death and dying (only slightly less niche than The Proxy) and, most recently, his first gay rom-com novel: man*hattan: a fairy tale currently available at Wicked Good Books in Salem as well as online.
Tell us about a North Shore Write Space.
One of my favorite places in Salem to write or think about writing are the rocks that emerge at low tide on Waikiki Beach on Winter Island, although I don’t get out there very much any more other than to look for hermit crabs with my kids. It’s been long enough that those rocks may have since eroded and returned to the sea, but let me say here, they were some good writing rocks. Another favorite place has been my office on the third floor of our house in Salem, although that’s subsequently been taken over by our children as well. Sometimes I jot things down on my phone while I’m walking through the Salem Common on the way to pick up our…kids. Hey wait a minute. So basically I’m left with writing in my office on Front Street. It’s quiet, I can lock the door, most of my succulents are still alive, and I have free reign on my candy dish.
When I’m in North Shore, not writing, I’m …
I recently got to watch Moana for the hundred-and-thirty-fourth time. Our 3-year-old son has taken up Barbies and princess dresses, which is satisfying a 42-year itch and has proven to me that if you wish hard enough, dreams really do come true. I can also be found eating dessert and playing video games with my equally-loved, albeit more heteronormative and traditionally gender-typed 7-year-old son, who makes fatherhood more fun by having as much interest in catching a ball as I have ability to throw one. As a family, my husband and I take the kids on drives up scenic Route 127, bring them to Waikiki beach, and find excuses to go to the Willows so we can get ice cream at Hobbes. We try to get a babysitter once in a while and enjoy all of the great restaurants and whatnot in Salem. I get into Boston once or twice a year, but it makes me anxious at my age and the traffic and I can’t see Route 114 so I try not to. When I’m on my own, I like to run along the water, go to yoga, watch all the wilting shows on my Netflix cue, and sometimes just stare at a wall. I also love to walk, but one of my brothers shamed me for putting “walking” as an extracurricular interest on my first resume in 1997, so I try not to talk about it now. My other interest was thanatology, which illustrates my early struggles in reading a crowd. Recently I’m finding these interests bubbling back to the surface as a complicated toe injury has rendered me temporarily incapable of running and occasionally contemplating my mortality. I meditate. I recently started taking CBD oil because 42. I am fanatical about spending my CVS Extra Bucks because 42 but really 82. My current favorite pastime is the Sunday New York Times crossword, which is an expensive habit as I have to buy the whole paper in order to do it, but we use the rest of the paper as still-life objets d’art around our home. Also, I got a giant (like, actually giant) tattoo on my back this year, which was only fun because Jess Brown at Helheim Gallery in Salem made it that way, and which only happens to coincide with me being in the direct midpoint of my life.
What are you working on now?
I am slowly – and here I will encourage an extremely broad and generous definition of slowly – working on a second novel about the nuanced relationship between a gay adoptive father and his birthmother-to-be.
And finally –
Here is an excerpt from the current work:
“I guess I shouldn’t ask what a girl like you is doing in a joint like this,” had been the first words out of David’s mouth, his confidence emboldened by the relative anonymity of his Halloween costume.
Michael smiled, looked at the sidewalk, happy to be wearing enough face powder to hide the flush in his cheeks. He took a breath, looked the gladiator square in the eye and whispered, “I guess I’m jus—”
“A girl’s gotta make a buck somehow,” Walter chortled, popping up from the sidewalk and snaking one bare arm up the cold brick wall. He leaned closer to the gladiator and was preparing to deliver a line about the size of a man’s helmet when he noticed the gladiator staring over his shoulder.
“Don’t you know it’s rude not to look into a girl’s eyes—” he started and then, turning his head to follow the gladiator’s gaze, looked at Michael sheepishly. “He wasn’t talking to me, was he?” Walt had asked in a mock whisper, turning his face halfway back to the gladiator.
Michael held the gladiator’s stare, his eyes fluttering only briefly towards Walter and then back again.
“No…,” he stammered, a smile forming in the corner of his crimson red lips. “No, I don’t believe he was.”
Michael’s foot slid down the wall, the heel of his shoe scraping along the brick before it landed on the pavement with a dull crunch.
“I’m David,” the gladiator said. He reached up self-consciously to adjust his helmet as he introduced himself. A crevice appeared on his brow, half-inch divot running vertically just above the bridge of his nose and in perfect alignment with the cleft in his chin. Michael wasn’t sure he had ever seen anything so sexy in his entire life, and it was all he could do to keep from tracing his finger down the length of David’s face.
“Michael,” Michael offered in return, not unaware of the fact that he was dressed in heels and a wig. “Well, usually, anyways,” he laughed, smoothing his gown with his hands. “I’m not exactly sure who I am tonight.”
His eyes darted nervously back to Walter, whose face was politely frozen in a look of vague unawareness as he concentrated on a particularly fascinating piece of chewed gum on the sidewalk.