Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Writing life is the only life for Silver Spring author

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J. Adam Fenster⁄The Gazette
Dorothy Phaire of Silver Spring, who recently published “Murder and the Masquerade,“ also teaches at the University of the District of Columbia.
Author Dorothy Phaire has a lightning fast response when asked how long she has wanted to be a writer.

‘‘Always, always, always,” says the Silver Spring resident.

Phaire remembers sitting happily in her room for hours during her childhood. She would read, draw and cut paper dolls and make up stories about them while her siblings rode bikes and played ball outside. She loved the time in her room so much, she says, that when she got in trouble, her parents would punish her by making her go outside.

‘‘I guess I’m like the odd child in the family,” she says with a laugh.

Her professional life has followed suit. Phaire pursues several avenues of the written language. She has penned, produced and staged two plays, and has written a collection of poetry. She also teaches in the English Department at the University of the District of Columbia.

Recently, Phaire published ‘‘Murder and the Masquerade,” her second novel. It is the story of a professional woman trapped in her life and marriage who finds herself in the middle of a love triangle tainted with murder. The main character Renee is a psychologist whose patient is the prime suspect in a murder investigation. But Renee’s lover is investigating the killing. She must decide between maintaining sacred patient confidentiality and helping her man solve the case.

The book has a few subplots, too, and deals extensively with social issues and self-realization. Two of the main characters in the book aren’t revealing their true identities, Phaire explains. In a way, she says, they are wearing emotional masks, which is why she chose the metaphor of ‘‘masquerade” for the title.

Phaire loves reading books that are part-thriller, part-romance, citing the example of her favorite authors Nora Roberts, Mary Higgins Clark and James Patterson.

‘‘I like the suspense of the combination [of genres],” she says. It was a natural choice for her, then, to write in the same vein.

Phaire is proudest of being able to take her readers on a journey that gives them an escape from their everyday lives. Her writing, unlike many other works, she bemoans, does not leave the writer feeling depressed.

‘‘There are trials and tribulations, there are terrible things that happen to these characters, but it ends with a message of hope,” she says.

Coming out as a writer and finding a way to pursue her true passion has been a long journey for Phaire.

‘‘It just took me a good 10 years to really see myself as a writer,” she says.

Phaire says she hopped on the seductive ‘‘money train” for a while and worked in technology for IBM, but eventually realized that to feel fulfilled, her path would have to change.

She is working on a sequel to ‘‘Murder and the Masquerade” as well as on the first draft of a historical novel set during World War II.

By writing both fiction and plays, Phaire finds balance.

‘‘With a novel, you’re really by yourself,” she says of the lonely days spent tapping away at a keyboard.

Although she is comfortable in solitude, she also starts to miss the human interaction that theater allows. That’s when she turns her attention to playwriting.

Phaire says her biggest challenge as a writer has been dealing with editors and publishers. In days past, big publishing companies would focus on the quality of the work they published and would groom writers to become excellent artists.

‘‘It’s now more about the bottom line,” she says.

Publishing companies are hesitant to take on the risk of introducing new writers, she says. In the industry, there is also ‘‘a lot of power in the hands of a few people,” she observes.

Phaire is enthusiastic about publishing on demand, a form of self-publishing she believes is the future of the business. It allows writers to develop an audience without having to shell out excessive amounts of money to print a set amount of copies the writers themselves must then worry about selling.

Publishing your own book is like investing in a business, and the Internet is becoming the most effective way to market a product quickly and easily, Phaire says.

‘‘We have to educate ourselves about the business end of it,” Phaire says.

Self-publishing no longer carries the same stigma it once did, she says, adding that the only remaining stigma is putting your name on a piece of unpolished work.

‘‘Murder and the Masquerade” is an entirely rewritten and revised version of her 2001 novel ‘‘Almost Out of Love.” In the Author’s Note at the beginning of ‘‘Murder and the Masquerade,” Phaire writes that she sought out professional editing and worked on her own revision because she has a responsibility to her readers to provide the best possible story.

What keeps Phaire motivated through all the rewrites and challenges is the same thing that drives her to write in the first place.

‘‘What keeps me going is the alternative,” she says. The alternative, she explains, is a life without writing.

‘‘Murder and the Masquerade” is available online at, and at the University of the District of Columbia Bookstore, 4200 Connecticut Ave., NW, Washington, D.C.