“Seeking to Find the Place of Humanity” – An Interview with Catholic Writing Team Bil and Bon Franks
Most Recent Book: Running Over Rainbows (The Twilight of Magic 1)
Bil Franks: University of Texas, Austin, Texas.
Bon Franks: University of Southern California, Bachelor’s in English; Master’s in Comparative Literature.
Bil: Retired USAF
Bon: Active author
Bil: I think others may see me as a mild-mannered and unassuming man, whereas my wife Bon insists that I am a rapier-wit and bottomless-memory kind of wise guy. I see myself as a conservative, as a skeptic, and as a lover of cats. I love reading, reading, and reading some more. My favorite subjects are fantasy, but I am keen on military history, world history, and martial arts.
Bon: Others probably see me as a fairly witty, literary, and kind of snappish woman. I, on the other hand, see myself as a deeply caring and sensitive soul who tries to see behind the actions of others straight to the heart. The truth lies somewhere in the middle, no doubt.
List of Books Published:
Running over Rainbows
Hidden by the Rose
Children of the Dust
Where Wild Ponies Ran (in final edits, coming July 2013)
Author Website: firstname.lastname@example.org
Author Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/bilbon.franks?ref=tn_tnmn
Author Blog: http://twilightofmagic.wordpress.com
Author Twitter Account: https://twitter.com/BilBon
Favorite Quote: “I want better free service.”
Favorite Poem: The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam
Favorite Novel: Nine Princes in Amber
Favorite Movie: The Avengers (2012)
Favorite Painting: Sunflowers by van Gogh
Favorite Piece of Music: Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony
Favorite Song: “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” by Bobby McFerrin
Favorite Place to be: In front of our various computers (iMac and Macbook Air)
Favorite Meal: Burgers an’ Beans
Favorite Cocktail: None . . . we’re teetotalers
Last Book you read: Bil: Cryoburn by Lois McMaster Bujold; Bon: Points on a Curve by Diane Nelson
Last Movie you saw: Iron Man 3 (2013)
Last Trip you took: From Abilene to Austin, TX
Last non-literary feat you accomplished: Bil: Earning a black belt; Bon: Car Salesperson of the Year at a good-old-boy dealership in Abilene, Texas
CatholicFiction.net: Why do you write?
Bil and Bon Franks: We write to unleash the spirit within, the one that cries to be revealed. This may sound a bit manic, but the truth is that there are voices in us that we think the world needs to hear, but we cannot speak loudly enough. Only e-books can reach that far, that fast.
CF: What first inspired you to become a writer?
BF: You can believe this or not, as you choose. But the impetus to write came as a result of Bil looking up from a book one day and wondering aloud, “Why aren’t there any fantasies or romances written about St. Patrick? He’s way more interesting than King Arthur and Robin Hood.” So we began to brainstorm about how to make the figure of St. Patrick into a character, and a driving force, in a book. As it turned out, the venerable Patrick started an avalanche. Before we were through, ten books had been written. And there are books still within each of us.
CF: If you were a critic writing about your own books, how would you describe the defining characteristic of your writing style?
BF: The style we adopt for our young adult books is one of simplicity, yet full of wit and style. We think young readers don’t want to be talked down to, or to be spoon-fed. We assume our readers are bright and curious about history and about the world around them. We also assume they have a pretty advanced vocabulary. But we try not to write in compound-complex sentences. ‘Keep it simple!’ is our byword.
CF: Is there a favorite place you have to write? Describe your usual workspace and writing routine.
BF: For Bil, it’s a medium-point pen and a notebook, sitting on the futon/sofa with a cup of coffee and a couple of cats nearby. Writing comes in spurts, usually between political programs and after the final sports game (on Sunday). Bon prefers to write straight from her brain through her fingers to the computer keyboard. Television? What’s that? Music, aromas of food, telephone calls – none of that sinks through. She writes in a kind of manic pounding of the keys.
CF: What is your cure for writer’s block?
BF: We often brainstorm (Bon calls it arguing), and one or the other of us will jump up and look up a factoid on Wiki, or make some notes for a computer folder. Many times our “spirited discussions” will be the end of any dry spell.
CF: What is your cure for procrastination?
BF: We’re not getting any younger. The usual cure is the notion, as Satchel Paige once observed, that we dare not slow down because “something may be gaining on us.”
CF: Describe in your own words what the “Catholic imagination” is – or alternative, what it means to be a “Catholic writer.”
BF: In a way, that’s a complex question, because we both learned early on, in our different environments, that “catholic” means “universal.” Bon grew up an Anglican, in a very small town in Nevada. Bil’s town near Boston was small, too, but his church was Catholic. Together, we bring our sense of morality to our writing. So to answer your question, a “Catholic imagination,” like that of Graham Greene, is one that recognizes the great moral fiber of existence, and of history, and seeks to find the place of humanity in that complex tapestry.
CF: What three writers – alive or dead – would you like to invite to dinner? Why?
BF: Bil’s choice is Dorothy Parker, because although she’s not a great writer, she’d make an endlessly entertaining guest. Bon would choose two of her favorites: Emily Dickinson and Michael Chabon. Both of those writers, in their own way, are wonderful examples of what it means to be “catholic” with a small C. Emily is deceptively simple, Michael is deceptively complex.
CF: What would you serve them – appetizer, main course, dessert and drink? Why?
BF: We’d probably serve champagne, first, until we were all pretty happy. Then whatever we served next wouldn’t matter much.
CF: What is the “best thing” about being a writer? And what do you enjoy most?
BF: Ha! The best thing about writing is the notion that whatever comes to mind, and gets put into the computer, will shortly be immortalized in the blogosphere, no matter how rambling or nonsensical. We both enjoy the reaction we get from friends and strangers alike when they read what we’ve written. We’ve opened a piece of our heart, and we enjoy their reaction to looking inside.
BF: A 15-year-old tomboy and her 60-something aunt learn that there’s little difference between a unicorn and a wild mountain pony . . . and between the two of them also.
CF: What inspired you to write this story in the first place?
BF: The story line had been established in our first book, Hidden by the Rose, a book about how a young girl escapes an implacable enemy scheming to take her ancestral land. In that first book, the girl thinks back on a trip she has just made, and what happened during that trip. The tale of that trip is a simple one: a young girl is dragged, kicking and screaming, to undergo six months of torture at the hands of an elderly aunt bent on teaching her manners and morals. Both learn to respect each other in the end. So this book is a prequel, a telling of the story behind the story, as a challenge during National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) in 2011. Note that the entire impetus for all the books was the desire to create a series of books that would introduce Father Patrick as a character and as a driving moral force. Even though he’s not in this first one, it later turns out that while this story is taking place, Patrick has been sent to the main character’s little town as priest of the Church of our Lord, and she meets him in the next book upon her return home.
CF: Did you hold onto the idea for a long time before giving it shape, or did it come together in a flash?
BF: This story almost wrote itself. We had already written the first of what we called the “Caylith novels,” as noted above; and this story was a part of her backstory. So when it came time to write 50,000 words in a month, the character and her motivations were well established, and at least an outline of the main action.
CF: All fiction comes from a mix of past influences and impressions – things we’ve lived, seen, imagined, or read. Can you talk about some of the elements that came together to shape this particular fiction?
BF: We relied, first, on Bil’s sure memory of history and his fascination with the Roman occupation of Britain. Second, by the time this story came about, Bon “was” the crotchety older woman remembering her carefree childhood, so in a sense she became both the young girl and the elderly aunt.
CF: What did you learn about yourself in writing this book?
BF: Bon learned the most – that a curmudgeonly attitude can hide a world of sensitivity; and that an impudent young person has a huge capacity for love and understanding. So in a sense, both Caylith and Marrie “are” Bon Franks the author. Two unique halves that somehow made a believable whole.
CF: What did you have to do to prepare for this book in terms of research?
BF: We did little on this book. We had to learn details, of course, about the ancient Roman province of Lindum (Lincoln in modern England). The town had a fortress on its highest hill, and inside that fortress stood a church, then called “The Church in the Bail.” That church serves as the final symbol in the book of an indomitable spirit. Other research taught us that the town of Lindum had a beautiful pool, called the Brayford Pool, in its center (formed when two rivers were diverted to allow boats to reach the city). The pool was, and is, the nesting site of tens of thousands of mute swans. And those swans come back in the third book in a humorous and surprising way to save the day. But other than looking up that area of England and learning something about its Roman origins, we did little research. The story is character-driven, after all.
CF: How does this book differ from either a) previous books you’ve written or b) other writing work you’ve accomplished?
BF: The book is mostly history. There is no romance, and there is no fantasy, in this one. It is a fanciful tale, to be sure. But the later books rely on magic and romance to further the plot, whereas this one relies on the vagaries and comedy of human nature.
CF: What was the most challenging aspect of writing this book?
BF: The challenge was one we set for ourselves. Each chapter varies between the point of view of a 15-year-old and a 60-something woman. So the hard part was to make sure the voices were unique to the character, and that the reader knows at all times who is telling the story at that point.
CF: Which characters in this book did you find most challenging to work with, and what was it like to write with them? Conversely, do you have any characters that came particularly easily to you?
BF: There are only two important characters in the book. Each presented her own challenge, and yet each one “had” to be who she was. The young one is impudent, self-indulgent, spoiled, self-centered. She is a scorner of learning, a tomboy and iconoclast by nature, a seeker after mystery and adventure. And yet…Caylith is imaginative and smart, perceptive, and a fast learner. The old one is settled into her ways as ruts in a road. She is stubborn, self-righteous, self-important, hard-headed and smart as they come. And yet…Auntie Marrie is soft-hearted, loving, sentimental and understanding. Thus two very different people are much more alike than either would ever admit. And so love has a fertile medium in which to take seed and grow.
CF: Creating a work of fiction is a spiritual journey in itself. Can you talk about your own spiritual life—realizations, doubts, crises, consolations, etc.—that came during the writing of this work?
BF: The Bon part of the Bil and Bon duo had a kind of inner journey while writing this book. The old woman’s deceased husband, Bos (“Bull”) is buried at the Church of the Bail; and in the last chapter, Marrie goes to visit his grave on the anniversary of his death. That entire last chapter had me crying as I wrote it. Writing about the memory of a loved one, the strength of the surviving spouse, the simple spray of wildflowers she placed on his grave – all of this I felt deeply while writing it. At last, Marrie reflects on the transience of earthly life and is happy to see the little flowers break apart and fly away with the wind. Although none of the characters are “religious,” this singular woman is very spiritual. She was and is a source of strength for me.
CF: Name one good habit you do have as a writer and would like to continue to cultivate.
BF: A one-track mind! Once we have an idea and begin to write, nothing can slow us down.
CF: Name one bad habit you have as a writer that you would like to break.
BF: Writing to the detriment of our health. Often, one or the other of us has to make a point of getting up and taking a walk, or fixing food, or doing something to move around. Ah, the bunions on the rear that come from being too absorbed in writing!
CF: Name one good habit you would like to have as a writer and do not have at the moment.
BF: Both of us agree that we’d like to set a specific goal for the number of words to write for the day, and stick to it no matter what.
CF: What one book by another author do you wish you had written?
BF: Watership Down by Richard Adams.
CF: What is the most discouraging aspect of being a writer?
BF: It has to be the sheer amount of promotional writing/email writing that is part and parcel of getting one’s writing known. We do not include blog writing or interviews such as this one. But we both dislike the “me me me” tone of the promo game.
CF: If given the chance, what fictional world would you like to inhabit?
BF: Bon’s favorite is the desert world of Frank Herbert’s Dune. Bil chooses Amber, the world crafted by Roger Zelazny.
CF: What one project do you daydream about accomplishing as a writer – your magnum opus?
BF: We heard a joke the other day, that magnum opus means “big penguin” [a play on the name of Opus, the penguin in the Berke Breathed comic strips Bloom County and Outland.] Our dream is to take all of the Twilight of Magic and Dawn of Ireland books –ten of ‘em – and make them available as an odyssey from youth to maturity, from magic to Christianity, from darkness to light. That was the idea behind them. But we’ve had to split the young adult books from the more mature ones, so the Big Penguin will no doubt never happen.
CF: If you could no longer work with words, what medium would you work in to create art?
Bon says, it would be Chinese calligraphy and brush painting. Bil thinks it might be a martial form such as Tai Chi, poetry in motion.