I think author Francis Franklin might be the author of the most unique subject matter and point of view I’ve come across since I’ve started interviewing. Really. Not to mention he shares valuable insights and advice about writing. So without further ado, let’s sink our teeth into this interview–you’ll soon see what that statement is in reference to…
Welcome, Francis. How about you start things off by telling us about yourself?
I was born in England but grew up in Scotland, and have lived nearly half my life in each. My ancestry is something else again. The truth is I’ve lived most of my life inside my head, a voracious devourer of science fiction and fantasy growing up, and eventually also vampire stories, and detective fiction. And Greek mythology.
I love heroines–I also like heroes, and I like romance if it is done with subtlety, but I get very frustrated when the main character is female and she obsesses about some awesome man, or is portrayed as somehow incomplete until she finds and acknowledges her One True Love. Give me Clarice Starling, or Smilla Jasperson, or anything by Kate Elliott or Kristen Cashore.
I have also a love of stories where traditional male-female boundaries are ignored: stories where women love women or where characters are intersexual or change gender.
It’s no surprise, then, that when I did decide to write a novel, in my late twenties, it had all of these things and more. It took me three years (writing in parallel with my PhD) to write Kings of Infinite Space: The Quest for Alina Meridon, a grand epic fantasy set three thousand or so years in our future on a giant ringworld, with gods, vampires, wizards, and so much more.
(Tsk, tsk. Classic beginner’s mistake!)
It made a huge difference to my life and the way I think about myself. Before, I was just a dreamer. After, I was an author – unpublished, okay, but holding the weight of that book in my hands… gosh.
In the decade since then, I grew up, married a beautiful woman, and now we have a daughter who demands constant attention. My day job (I’m a lecturer who occasionally gets to play with trains) keeps me very busy. Finding time to read and write has become very difficult indeed.
Are you interested in other forms of artistic expression besides writing? What keeps you motivated/inspired?
I adore music. I grew up listening to classical music, but listen to a wide range of stuff these days. I played the violin in various orchestras and groups at school, and still play the piano at home a little. Otherwise I’m not very artistic. I can’t draw to save myself.
Writing is all about telling stories. I’m very introverted, and always want to think about what I’m saying. Writing allows me to express myself clearly and fluently in a way that I can’t in conversation.
I think a lot of writers can relate to and appreciate that point.
What motivates me is perversity. I get frustrated with the assumptions that people make, with the traditions that people adhere to. My writing is often self-defeating in the way that I fight against the tried-and-tested concepts. For instance, what’s interesting about ‘girl meets boy-vampire’? Why not have ‘boy meets girl-vampire who eventually abandons him for a girl’? Okay, if you wanted a traditional romance, that sucks; but it’s still a happy ending for two of the characters, and these things do happen in real life.
With Suzie and the Monsters – a fairytale of blood, sex and inhumanity… I fought against so many traditional plot lines. With 99.99% of paranormal fiction, no matter how interesting or well written, if you stop to think about it there are huge question marks all over the place that make everything feel very unreal. (For example, so many mutilated bodies that even the NSA would have difficulty suppressing public awareness of the ‘real’ world. Or vampires that live for hundreds of years doing, er, nothing really, until the story starts and suddenly they’re fascinating creatures full of worldly wisdom and possessing astonishing superpowers.) I wanted to get away from all that and focus on a single vampire who had struggled to live for hundreds of years – and to make it believable.
I really like the premise of that story. And I especially like that you considered how to make fantasy believable in a real-world situation–some might consider that the opposite of fantasy, but for the most part, the more the context of a fantasy world feels real, the better your fantastic elements work.
What forms of writing and genres do you prefer and why? What can you never see yourself writing?
I do love when there’s an idea that grips me. There’s an intense immersion when writing a novel. Your reality becomes the reality of the novel so that you’re living in two worlds. Writing a short story only does this for a day, or a few days, so it’s far less intense. Novels require a lot more research and thought because of the greater level of detail, and it can take weeks – if not months – to recover from the writing. For a long time after finishing Suzie and the Monsters I could feel the echo of Suzie’s rage and her desire to sink fangs into an exposed neck…
I write a lot of poetry these days, but it’s mostly for fun. Sometimes erotic, sometimes just mischievous. I don’t regard myself as a serious poet. I post poems on my blog, and I have also taken to tweeting haiku.
The genres where I feel most inspired to write are: vampires with a human soul; and people with unusual sexuality. I don’t think I could ever write a traditional romance, although I’d like to prove myself wrong on that one day.
I’ve read books which annoyed me to the point where I wanted to throw them across the room. As a reader, what do you think makes a good story? What’s one thing a ‘bad’ book taught you to not do in your own writing?
I dislike foreshadowing, unless it’s very subtle. I really hate foretelling, e.g.: “Had Bob known, when he stormed out, leaving his girlfriend still chained to the bed, that he would never see her again, he would not have opened the door.” One of the reasons that I like writing in first person present tense is that the future is completely uncertain. There are no guarantees, not even that the narrator will survive.
I’ve also developed a liking for that POV and tense–it creates a sense of immediacy and, as you say, uncertainty that is not always easy to achieve with other options.
As a writer, what elements do you find are the most crucial to include in your stories? What are your strengths and weaknesses?
The one consistent theme through all my writing is female empowerment, often in conjunction with characteristics that many would criticise, such as the alpha vampire, and sex without romance.
My biggest weakness is an unwillingness to self-edit. When I wrote my first novel, I wrote mostly on paper and then copied into the computer afterwards, often making major changes as I did. These days everything is typed into the computer or iPad so it’s rare to have that obvious opportunity to do a major rewrite. Most of my editing is quite minor. I read so much advice that you should let the script sit for a while and then come back and edit with ruthless cruelty, but I haven’t learned how to do that. I believe one of the major benefits of having a professional editor is having someone who will kick your ass and force you to make changes that hurt.
What draws you to your preferred genre? What do you think makes your genre unique? And why is it so popular? (Or perhaps less popular than it could be?)
I would say that my preferred genre is female vampires. But the vampires are often a secondary element in the stories I write. I’m primarily interested in human nature and human sexuality.
It’s not popular. There’s a large market for gorgeously sexy male vampires, and there’s a niche market for lesbian vampires – but I think maybe that being a male writer of lesbian vampire fiction creates an obstacle to this.
I don’t want to imply that all my female vampires are lesbians. Some are. Some are straight. Some are other. Nor are all my vampires female. But none of them are pining over a dominant alpha male.
Can you tell us about your books? What other projects are you working on?
Recently I wrote a short story, The Slave Girl and the Vampire, which is set against a post-apocalyptic world where men have died out. It was inspired by a series of blog posts I wrote exploring the idea of a world without men. And now, for the first time in my life, I have written a sequel: Serpent in Eden. I’m usually quite scathing about unplanned or open-ended series, but it’s such a fertile premise that who knows how many more stories will grow out of it.
Why is promoting other writers important to you?
More and more in recent years I’ve found myself wandering around bookshops feeling like a starving man. Sure, there are lots of good authors out there, but when it comes to, for example, an intelligent and original story about a female vampire… well, there are shelves and shelves of paranormal romance series by the usual suspects, but… Sigh.
And it’s not just vampires and PNR, it’s science fiction and fantasy being increasingly dominated by a few well known authors. Traditional publishers seem to be terrified of originality. Independent and self-publishers are much more courageous, but how do you find the stories and writing that you hunger for?
It’s up to bloggers to review and promote for the good of the community. I know it’s slightly dangerous for me to review (sometimes negatively) others’ works in the genres I write in, but many of the books I review have few or no reviews, but I believe that any review is better than no reviews. I understand how it hurts to see your book on Amazon or Goodreads with an average rating under three stars, but there’s a whole sea of unrated, unreviewed books out there, and I feel that readers are frightened by books that have no reviews.
What do you find is the most difficult aspect of writing and how do you cope with it?
Finding time and privacy. I have so many demands on my time – from work and family and normal everyday life – that the time I spend on my writing feels self-indulgent almost. I don’t know that I’ve found a good balance, but the internal pressure to write, to express that side of me (strange as it may be), is very intense at this moment in my life.
Who are your favourite writers and why? Who/what are the biggest influences in your writing? How do they influence what your write?
I would say my favourite writers are: Kate Elliott, for the intelligence of her fantasy worlds and her love of unconventional and strong female characters; Stephen Donaldson, for utterly addictive writing and philosophical depth; Peter Hoeg, for wonderful imagination; Thomas Harris, for wonderful writing and tasteful monstrosity; Iain Banks, for a universe of infinite possibility…
There are so many influences on my writing, but the biggest by far are: J.R.R. Tolkien, of course, for the grand epic that is Lord of the Rings; Niven & Pournelle, for their Ringworld creation; Anne Rice and Nancy Collins for making vampires into heroes; and Frank Herbert, for the unmatchable masterpiece that is Dune.
I’m thrilled that you also appreciate the marvel that is Dune. It ranks as one of my all-time favourite books. Fabulous story!
What advice would you give to new writers, especially those looking to break into your genre?
Don’t write for fame and riches. Don’t write for critical praise and recognition. In fact, don’t write at all, unless there’s simply no choice – and if there isn’t any choice, do your absolute best to write well, and to write a story that means something to you.
And when at last you’ve published it and very carefully constructed a social media platform, expect to be completely ignored. But never mind. After all, that isn’t why you did any of this.
However, if you collect any readers, and if you collect any reviews, and if you make enough money to cover the cost of publishing, then consider yourself a proud success.
But never stop writing…
Most excellent–and realistic–advice.
How can readers get into contact with you?
You can also find me or my books at: http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/6520824.Francis_James_Franklin
Thank you, Francis, for sharing with us today. I hope our Readers found your experiences and thoughts as valuable and stirring as I did. Readers, I hope you will show Francis your appreciation by leaving him a message below and by checking out his sites.
Wishing you all a fantastic week!