Friday, October 26, 2012

Meet Fran Friel

I met Fran Friel at KillerCon in Vegas this year. I was instantly a Fran fan. Not only is she perhaps one of the nicest people I've ever met, she's one of those individuals who instantly make you feel at home in their presence, as though you'd known them forever. We went to dinner with some other fine folks (Gene O'Neill, Gord Rollo, Danielle Day, Bob Meracle, and Bill Gagliani) and had one of the best conversations about writing that I've ever had the great fortune to take part in. I'm happy to call all of them my friends.

I attended a reading that Fran did at the convention for her short story collection, Mama's Boy. And I was blown away. Here's this super nice, super caring lady talking about dead babies falling from the sky. Yep. You read that right. Dead babies. Talk about blown away. So naturally, I had to buy the book. And Fran was kind enough to sign it personally for me. You can read my review of her book over at See Spot Read. Go ahead, you now you want to...

But for this blog, I interviewed Fran so the rest of you could get to know more about her. And you'll see by her answers what a wonderful conversationalist she is. Without further ado~

1. How long have you been taking your writing seriously?

 I know that many of us have been writing since we could hold a crayon, but when did you have that subtle mental shift that says, “I am a writer?” I’ve always known, Stacey. Dr. Seuss and Green Eggs and Ham sent me down that slippery slope at a very early age. I was writing poetry for the community newsletter when I was six. My Aunt Helen was the publisher, and her deadlines were so demanding, I wilted under the pressure and gave up writing until I was “discovered” in high school. But I’m plagued (or gifted…depends on the day) with a Gemini’s heart, so there was also art. I spent an inordinate number of hours staring at flowers and trying to draw them. Then there was my Norman Rockwell phase. I recreated his portfolio with colored pencils, and I suspect Norman is still rolling over in his grave. Hmm…I think there’s a story there, but I digress. Then there was music (I told you I’m a Gemini!). I played the Bassoon, which is a big double-reed instrument in the oboe family. It’s a fairly rare instrument, so I was fortunate to get a full scholarship to a wonderful college prep school, and also to a university conservatory. So, music took front stage for many years, and my writing stayed in the shadows. Finally, in my thirties, I started feeling the pull again, but it wasn’t until 2005 when my dear husband made the suggestion that I get serious about it, that I finally jumped in with both feet. Good husband, huh?

2. Do you write full time or do you have a day job?

Well, I’m the keeper of the castle here at Chateau Friel, and that keeps me busier than I’d like to be. I’m financier, bookkeeper, housekeeper, animal wrangler, repair woman, mechanic, gardener, personal shopper, and personal assistant to Mr. Friel (he works a minimum of 14 hours a day and when he’s not working, he’s mostly sleeping…poor guy). I retired from my private practice as a holistic therapist back in 2005 to pursue writing, but I still see clients part-time. So, I continue to pursue that magical balance between the demands of normal life and writing life. I’m not there yet, but I can smell it. It’s close.

   3. What is your writing routine like? Any special rituals you must complete to get you “in the mood?”

Being the keeper of the castle and being a Gemini makes setting a routine a challenging thing, consequently, I’m usually flying by the seat of my pants. I wish I could offer some wisdom on the subject, but my goal at this time of my life and my career is to keep writing and to maintain my love of the process. I have had the tendency to make writing a laborious chore, weighting it in my mind as something akin to doing brain surgery in a war zone combined with spreading hot tar on the roof of a sweltering city apartment building. This, as you can imagine, is not an inspiring scenario. Hence, my change of heart—I’m keeping it light, and my muse and I love it! Fortunately, when I’m not castle keeping, I have a very quiet house in which to work. When I write, I don’t listen to music (unless I’m in a public place, then the headphones come out and I crank up some ambient tunes to block out the noise!). I don’t have the television on. I like it completely quiet (I’m a little ADD, so sound is distracting to me). Writing for me is like a meditation. I’m going someplace deep and far away. I find interruptions almost painful—like being dragged up from the depths back into the glaring world of real life. Ugh.

4. Pantser or Plotter?

I used to be a very careful plotter. I wasn’t comfortable writing until I knew most of the details and plot points and how I was going to get were I was go. It felt like writing with a connect-the-dots approach. Then I started to notice that I was losing the juice. By outlining with so much detail, I often felt like I’d already written the story, so the creative energy seemed somehow spent before I did the actual writing. So with my need to keep loving the process, sans the roof tarring misery, I decided to start writing blind. I’m a firm believer in the magic of the creative process, so I challenged myself to take an inspiration and just run with it. An inspiration usually comes in the form of a scene, or maybe just a snapshot of a scene—a mystery for me to solve. What is this scene about? Who is in it? What is the significance of the objects I’m seeing or the feelings this image is engendering in me? It’s kind of like stepping into the scene of a movie, or stepping onto a set where everyone is frozen in place. What’s happening? I’ll sit with those questions for a while and daydream until the answers start to get clearer. Then I just start writing—drilling down. So far this process has never failed me. The story begins to reveal itself, and I just follow along. When I get stuck, I pose a question to my psyche about whatever the problem is, then I take a break. Sometimes I take a nap, or sleep on it. Inevitably, the muse and the secret writer in my brain’s private office, they sort it out and bring me the answer. This is my version of the elves who make the shoes while the cobbler sleeps. I’ll make notes about a story when an idea hits me, but I don’t plot anymore. I may make a scene list that can be juggled into place and repositioned for continuity and arc, but for me, that’s part of the editing process. I fast draft the first draft with minimal editing, so as not to stifle the creative process, then I put on my editors hat. I’m merciless in the editing process, which is much easier to do when I take off the hat of the artsy fartsy writer—she’s much too sensitive about “killing her darlings.”

5. Have you always been a fan of the horror genre?

Not really. Like many folks, I read Stephen King and Dean Koontz before I became a writer, but my first love has always been Science Fiction. I fell into writing horror kind of by accident. I was eager to get my first publication credit, and a friend told me that the Horror Library was holding a contest. Winning included publication, so I gave it shot. To my surprise, I won. I seemed to have a bit of a knack for twisted tales (which I attribute to having older brothers—read my story, “Mashed,” and you’ll see what I mean).

6. “Fine Print” was one of my favorite stories in your collection, Mama’s Boy. The society and the idea of the dreamers was very detailed. How did you come up with the idea?

I’m so glad you enjoyed the story, Stacy. When I wrote it, I was worried that the pacing was too slow for most readers, but I made an executive decision to slow it down and follow wherever it wanted to take me. That’s how the details of the Society of Dreamers emerged. I’ve been a long-time student of The Monroe Institute, where I’ve studied the subject of expanded consciousness and things like the out-of-body experience, life after death, and near death experiences. The esoteric and the mystical have fascinated me for most of my life, so I guess the concepts just bubbled up out of my psyche. There was very little thinking and planning on the subject—the details just revealed themselves piece by piece.

7. I’ve met you in person, and you are so fantastically sweet and caring. But some of the stories in this collection, “Special Prayers,” for example are amazingly dark. How do you explain such a dichotomy between your public self and your writing self?

You’re very kind to say that, Stacy, but I’m not really sure. I did spend sixteen years in private practice as a holistic therapist, not to mention, a lot of years of training and private therapy. I’ve gone to very deep places with folks, as well as in my own personal work, so I guess you could say that I’m not afraid to plumb the depths of the human psyche. The psychology of why people do what they do, fascinates me. I believe that for the most part, we’re not born evil. We learn it as a means of survival. That doesn’t justify the darkness they inflict on others, but it sure is an intriguing subject to explore.

8. Who are some of today’s authors that you admire?

These days, I read mostly Science Fiction, and I tend toward British writers, like Peter F. Hamilton and Iain M. Banks, but I love the work of Cat Rambo, Kelly Link, and my old favorites, Jack Vance and Julian May. Some of the horror voices that I really enjoy are Gary Braunbeck, Gene O’Neill, Tom Piccirilli, John R. Little, Kealan Patrick Burke, and John Mantooth, all who write strong character driven stories with a psychological bent.

9. What is the best piece of writing advice you’ve ever received?

Well, I know you asked for the best, but I’ve gotten a couple. Hard to pick the best.

1. I took a fiction course at Gotham Writers’ Workshop with Terri Brown Davidson. She’s the angel who taught me to use the two hats writing approach of fast drafting with complete abandon, then switching hats and passing the reigns to the ruthless self-editor. It’s very freeing!

2. Stephen King’s, On Writing, changed me as a writer with his simple advice to “Tell the truth.” I’ve never forgotten that. When I get antsy about writing something that’s personally uncomfortable, but completely truth for the character, I put on my big girl pants and tell the truth, just like Master King told me.

3. A few years back I did a writers’ intensive where we did tabletop critiques with seasoned professionals. We went from one instructor’s critiquing circle to the next—kind of like running the gauntlet. One instructor, who knew my work well, literally said, “What is the sh*t? This opening is completely incomprehensible!” Tough skinned, I took my lickin’ and went on to the next instructor. He also knew my work well, and preceded to tell me that the story was the best thing I’d ever written, particularly the opening. That day, I learned that opinions are just that—opinions! I take them all with a grain of salt.

10. What advice would you give to new or aspiring authors?

I would recommend a couple of things:

1. Join a critique group. If you can’t find one, create one. Francis Ford Coppola’s, Virtual Studios is where I started. Only about ten to twenty percent of the advice you get in most critique groups will be of value. When multiple people tell you the same thing, then take serious notice. The rest, take under advisement.

2. Volunteer to be a slush reader for a fiction magazine, preferably one in your genre. The experience is invaluable, because you learn quickly what not to do when you see the same errors over and over. You also learn how editors choose stories. It often has nothing to do with the writing; rather it’s a personal preference, duplicate subject matter in an issue, or a story is just not right for that particular month, etc.

3. Go to writing conventions or workshops. Study your craft (particularly the Three Act Play, theme, POV, and voice) and meet people face to face. Introduce yourself and be humble. These friendships and connections can make a huge difference in your career long-term.

4. Write a lot, but let your first drafts sit for at least a couple of weeks before you do your next draft. Waiting will help you see your work with fresh eyes. Avoid rushing to submit. If your writing is good enough for publication, make sure it’s the best work you can produce at the time. Otherwise, you’ll regret it later and wish you could go back and fix all the crap you didn’t notice because you sent the story out too quickly.
5. Finally, Fast Draft with wonder and abandon. Edit fearlessly!

Thanks so much for the opportunity to talk with you and your readers. It’s been a real pleasure. Let’s do it again soon!

No. Thank you, Fran, for sharing so much with my readers. (I told you she was a sweetheart, didn't I?)

Fran's Bio:

FRAN FRIEL lives and dreams by the sea in southern New England. She’s a two-time Bram Stoker Award finalist and winner of the Black Quill Award. She writes horror, dark fantasy and science fiction, and like many “respectable” authors, she is currently working on a novel. You'll find Fran’s award winning collection, Mama’s Boy and Other Dark Tales, at and other fine book sellers.

Fran’s work has been featured in anthologies such as, Horror Library Vol. 1 (Cutting Block Press), Tiny Terrors 2 (Hadesgate/UK) and Legends of the Mountain State III (Woodland Press), as well as publications online and in print at The Horror Library, Apex Digest, Insidious Reflections, Wicked Karnival, The Lightning Journal, Lamoille Lamentations The Eldritch Gazette, and Dark Recesses Press. Fran’s limited edition debut novella, Mama's Boy, was nominated for the Bram Stoker Award (2006), as was the the follow-up collection, Mama's Boy and Other Dark Tales (2008 Stoker Finalist).

You can find Fran on FaceBook, Twitter, and at her blog.

For all you Coffin Hopper's out there, don't forget to leave a comment to win prizes. I'm offering a signed (by Gene O'Neill, Gord Rollo, Tim Marquitz, and me!) print copy of Fading Light: An Anthology of the Monstrous to one lucky winner who leaves a comment every day. For a free eBook of your choice from the AKP library of titles, one comment = one entry. Don't forget to stop by the Angelic Knight Press blog for a chance to win frame quality artwork and a free copy of Satan's Toybox: Terrifying Teddies. You should also visit the other Coffin Hop blogs here for a chance to win other great prizes.



themanicheans said...

Such a great interview. Very humbling, and very inspiring. :)

Johanna K Pitcairn for the Manicheans

A. F. Stewart said...

A wonderful interview.

Fran Friel said...

Johanna and A.F. - Thank you so much!

Fran Friel said...

"I wasn't instantly a Fran fan." -- LOL, Stacey. Must have been Freudian. And SO sorry about the bio. Gah! It's been that kind of week.

Spot said...

OMG,Fran! That's supposed to say I WAS instantly a Fran Fan!!


AJ said...

Great interview Stacey and it is great to see Fran getting some well deserved love. She's an awesome, awesome woman.

Fran Friel said...

Stacey - I had to laugh when I read that. I've done the exact same thing, and I was mortified. It was Karma for me. ;-)

Thank you so much for so generously profiling my ramblings. I'm deeply grateful for your time. I know first hand that blogging is a time consuming process.

And btw, it was love at first KillerCon sight for me, as well!

Fran Friel said...

AJ - Thank you so much! It's been too long, darlin'. Sending much love to you and yours.

Spot said...

Oh Fran, it was a labor of love. I'm glad you had so much advice to give!

And thank you to everyone who stopped by!


Anne Michaud said...

I'm now a Fran Fan, too - thanks to you:) Dead babies from the sky? I'm so there!

Happy #CoffinHop :)

Fran Friel said...

Anne - You made my day! Thank so much for stopping by and commenting.