Secrets of a Stingy Scoundrel: Interview with Phil Villarreal

Phil Villarreal, AuthorIt is my pleasure to introduce you to Phil Villarreal - one of the funniest (and most supportive) people I've met through my blog. Phil recently published his book, Secrets of a Stingy Scoundrel, after seven failed manuscripts over seven years. I admire his persistence and sense of humor. As one reviewer describes him, "Phil is a devious mastermind. He'd be the Lex Luthor of tightwads if Lex Luthor was hilarious."

Phil is a contributing editor at Consumerist and a reporter for the Arizona Daily Star. His personal blog is called Because I Told You So (Free PORN - Pretty Original Rants n' Stuff).

In this interview, Phil talks about:

  • Wanting to be fired
  • Why he will never be able to pull a fast one on his wife
  • His love of criticism (complete with protesters at his first book signing)
  • How he made his publishing dream happen after seven years of failure
  • How to use aspects of yourself that you are ashamed of to your advantage

Secrets of a Stingy Scoundrel: Interview with Phil Villarreal

Give us the 30-second elevator pitch on your book, Secrets of a Stingy Scoundrel.

ScoundrelBookIt's a parody of personal finance books, filled with terrible advice that would get you in trouble with the law and pretty much rule out any chance of you ever getting to heaven, or laid for that matter.

But it's funny and will make you laugh probably once every other page -- unless you happen to be my wife, who couldn't get past chapter 30, in which case I'd rather you not buy it because you'd be using money from our joint checking account and we have tons of free copies of it anyway, so really, that'd be wasteful spending since we're in a recession and all.

How does your wife feel about your stingy techniques? You ever pull a fast one on her?

She was adamantly opposed to me writing the book from the very beginning, and was convinced it would get me fired, and in her words, "show everyone what a bad person you are for thinking of these things." I thought about that and decided it would be a pretty good deal.

And there is no pulling fast ones on my wife. She is like the Oracle from the Matrix, seeing things before they happen, knowing what's going on in your head and bizarrely being played by a totally different actor in the sequel.

But if I could do it all over again I totally would have tried to pull the legend of the cubic zirconium heirloom on her. That's the chapter about buying a zirconium engagement ring and pretending it belonged to your grandmother. Sure, that would have meant I'd have to have lied to her every day for the past 4 1/2 years, but it would have saved me thousands of dollars and I would use that to buy a giant TV. Secrets of a Stingy Scoundrel has gotten a lot of flack (you even had your own protesters!). I don't know if I could handle the criticism. Do you secretly enjoy it?

I am disappointed that there hasn't been more criticism. Almost everyone who's reviewed it has gotten my sense of humor and said very positive things, but what does anyone remember? The protesters at my first signing. Look at Sarah Palin and Glenn Beck -- almost every sane person in the world thinks they're blithering idiots and enemies of society, but they are at the top of the bestseller lists. I want in on that action but have so far been a near-complete failure.

As far as handling criticism, I've been a movie critic since I was 22, so I have nearly a decade of experience in dealing with obsessive hate mail. It's not great for the ego but after a while it's sort of comforting and I think I'd miss it if it were gone.

Publishing a book has been a dream of yours for a long time, and I know getting this one out to the world wasn't easy. Talk to me.

It took me seven years of constant daily, hourly, minutely failure and seven manuscripts, all of which were either torn apart, laughed at (for the wrong reasons) and dismissed by anyone in the publishing world I showed them to.

Then a miracle happened -- the economy collapsed. So publishers started looking for money books, and my agent was finally able to sell one of my manuscripts to Skyhourse. My success advice is to keep trying until some devastating tragedy befalls society and allows you to take advantage of it for profit.

What advice do you have for Life After College readers about making a big dream like this happen?

As far as general life advice, I would advise never shutting down a part of yourself that you might be ashamed of, instead finding a way to use it to your advantage.

If you're a guy who thinks of inventive ways to kill people, don't be a serial killer, be a crime mystery author. (Or if you do choose to be a killer, at least be a nice one, like Dexter.) If you're too lazy to get off your couch, blog about the movies and video games you spend all your time on.

Everyone has a toolset of positive and negative traits, but they can all be beneficial somehow, some way. I must add this, though: If you're someone who thinks of irreverent, immoral, silly ways of saving money, don't write a book because then yours might be better than mine and then I'd feel bad about myself.