Besides, Phillips said she has to wait for inspiration, and writing comes in stretches or in bits and pieces. She did some of the research for her book during trips back to West Virginia.
"I get back once or twice a year," she said. "I still have many friends in West Virginia, and when I get invited back, I try to go."
This is not the first time the crimes in Quiet Dell have been written about. The story has been recycled in true-crime books and magazines. Killer Harry Powers inspired the Harry Powell character in Davis Grubb's novel "Night of the Hunter."
The book was later adapted into a film starring Robert Mitchum. Mitchum's portrayal is considered one of the most menacing villains in film history, iconic, but Phillips' book is only partly about Powers.
In fact, the killer appears in person only occasionally on the page. He's often spoken of, the results of his crimes are discussed and described, but the reader is told more about the terrible things he has done rather than is shown them acted out.
"It's more a book about his victims," Phillips said. "I wanted to celebrate their strengths as opposed to Powers."
"Quiet Dell" looks at the aftermath and the shock of Powers' inhumanity. Almost a century later, it mourns the loss of the innocent lives lost and the young dreams snuffed out by nothing less than pure evil.
"Quiet Dell" is also a look into America in 1930, which might seem somewhat alien.
Phillips said part of the challenge of writing a book about that period was the struggle to maintain the right tone. People were more circumspect.
"There was a certain expected civility and formality," Phillips explained. "How they related to one another is different than we do today. They didn't relate to each other with mobile devices."
She said, "Distances were different back then. You could drive three states and no one could track you, but the printed word was so important. Every little town had two newspapers and published twice a day. People really wrote letters, daily letters in some cases."
Which was still social media, just slower and more deliberate.
But the world of 1930 is also very familiar. Powers and others found victims through the social media of the time.
"We're very familiar with that now, I think," Phillips said.
Phillips hopes audiences will embrace the book and that it represents this particular piece of West Virginia history well, though she pointed out (just as Sheriff Grimm did in the book), that Harry Powers wasn't from West Virginia.
Phillips said she doesn't have immediate plans for another book. She tends to work by inspiration, and one novel to worry about at a time is probably enough. Somewhere in between her duties at Rutgers-Newark, she has to put in some time promoting her book.
Probably that will take her to major cities.
"But I'd love to get invited to West Virginia," she added.
It sounds like a good excuse to come home.
Reach Bill Lynch at ly...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5195.