Gary Phillips

Affiliate Faculty, Fiction
MFA in Creative Writing


BA in Graphic Design, California State University Los Angeles

Born and raised in South Central Los Angeles, Gary Phillips (Fiction) draws on his experiences ranging from community organizer, state director of a political action committee, to delivering dog cages in writing his tales of chicanery and malfeasance. He was editor and contributor to the bestselling Orange County Noir collection, has a short story in the Heroin Chronicles, and was also editor and contributor to the anthology, Scoundrels: Tales of Greed, Murder and Financial Crimes. Edgar nominated Kathleen George in her review of the collection on wrote, in part, “They feature smart talk and the kind of witty alienation that marks characters in the tradition of Elmore Leonard.” And Publishers Weekly said of Phillips’ novel Warlord of Willow Ridge, “…[his] thriller mixes streetwise grit with wry reflections on personal survival strategies in present-day recession-era America.” The book was picked by KCET’s Departures as one of the best of 2012. He is the immediate past president of the Mystery Writers of America, Southern California chapter.

Teaching Statement:

My advice on getting from the dreaded first page to the last?  What’s the ad tagline…Just Do It?  It’s a cliché but it’s true.  Even if you think what you’re writing is dreck, that it isn’t the story you have in your mind, you’ve got no choice but to get the words down.  You have to have something to work with in front of you.  My goal then as a mentor is to help the student write the story they want to write.  Particularly as I write mostly in the mystery and crime genre (but am open to working with all sorts of material), how is the dialogue illuminating character without being expository and balancing that with advancing the plot; balancing the narrative segments; the pacing, the highs and lows of the story and so on.

I’m not much on books about writing but of the few on my shelf I always recommend Bill Johnson’s A Story is a Promise.  This is a wonderful book about the art of storytelling and breaks down the various components.  Bill also maintains a blogPlots and Characters: A Screenwriter on Screenwriting by my late buddy Millard Kaufman is another book I recommend.  You don’t have to have an interest in penning screenplays to get something from Millard’s book on the construction of these fundamental elements of story.  Millard, a WWII vet, was nominated for an Oscar for his screenplays for Bad Day at Black Rock and Take the High Ground.  He also wrote and directed this cool B prison movie, Convicts Four, that included where a crazed Sammy Davis Jr. manically kills some bed bugs in his cell – a scene that says something about the character and the setting.

Additionally, Elmore Leonard’s 10 Rules of Writing.  I believe you can download the rules but I think it’s nice to have a bound edition – my wife gave me an illustrated one for a birthday from William Morrow.   You might not agree with all of Mr. Leonard’s rules, but they are informative, and he has published his share of books and short stories over the decades.

Danger A-Go-Go
The Rinse
Treacherous: Grifters, Ruffians and Killers
Monkology: 15 Stories from the World of Private Eye Ivan Monk
Warlord of Willow Ridge
The Underbelly
Freedom’s Fight
South Central Rhapsody
High Rollers
Midnight Mover
Monkology: 13 Stories from the World of Private Eye Ivan Monk
Shot Callerz
The Perpetrators
Shooter’s Point
High Hand
Only the Wicked
The Jook
Bad Night Is Falling
Perdition, U.S.A.
Violent Spring