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Author Scott Phillips Discusses 'That Left Turn At Albuquerque'

March 10, 2010 Scott Phillips
Evie Hemphill | St. Louis Public Radio

Scott Phillips may be the most acclaimed novelist living in St. Louis today. Best known as the author of “The Ice Harvest,” he’s won the California Book Award and been a finalist for the Edgar Award and the Hammett Prize. 

His ninth book, “That Left Turn at Albuquerque,” finds Phillips in familiar territory, with a crime caper, a cast of amoral characters and plenty of dark humor. On Tuesday’s St. Louis on the Air, he discussed his “deep-seated” interest in crime, his reasons for moving to St. Louis and how his book’s reference to the Loop Trolley has given it special local resonance.

Phillips acknowledged that good guys are hard to come by in his new book, though he said that making everyone bad was never his intent. 

“As I was writing it, I thought Paula was a pretty sympathetic character,” he said. “People have disagreed with me.” 

Listen to the full conversation here:

A native of Wichita, Kansas, Phillips lived in Paris and Los Angeles before settling in St. Louis. He explained that it was Bruce Willis who initially caused him to leave L.A. for St. Louis.

“In the movies, you don’t get paid the real money until they start shooting,” Phillips said. “They call it ‘first day of principal.’” When Willis dropped out of the film adaptation of “The Ice Harvest” just one week before shooting began, Phillips and his wife found themselves scrambling. 

“We were living in a condo, and the condo fees had gone up and up and up, to the point it was as expensive as our mortgage,” he recalled. “And it was just killing us. And I said, ‘You know, we’ve got to get out of L.A. And she said, ‘How about St. Louis?’” 

Phillips’ wife had previously lived in St. Louis, and “she always thought it would be a good place to raise a kid,” he explained. 

Their daughter was 4 at the time. And St. Louis did, in fact, prove a great place to raise a kid. And as for writing? “You can write anyplace,” he said. 

As for the now-defunct Loop Trolley, Phillips gave it a cameo in “That Left Turn at Albuquerque” — a scene he selected for his recent reading at Meshuggah Cafe in the Delmar Loop, a spot the trolley once trundled past. 

“When I read the part about the Loop Trolley, I said, ‘This is now officially a historical novel,'” he quipped.

St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is hosted by Sarah Fenske and produced by Alex Heuer, Emily Woodbury, Evie Hemphill, Lara Hamdan and Joshua Phelps. The engineer is Aaron Doerr, and production assistance is provided by Charlie McDonald.

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Sarah Fenske served as host of St. Louis on the Air from July 2019 until June 2022. Before that, she spent twenty years in newspapers, working as a reporter, columnist and editor in Cleveland, Houston, Phoenix, Los Angeles and St. Louis.