03 January 2007

Author Answers with Patry Francis

Wait just a month and you'll know why the name Patry Francis seems familiar. Her debut novel, The Liar's Diary, comes out in February.

For more about Francis, check out her blog or find her at Killer Year.

WN: What's "The Liar's Diary" about ... what kind of reader should make it point to pick it up?

FRANCIS: Like a lot of novels that deal with a violent crime, The Liar’s Diary began with a story from the headlines that I just couldn’t forget. An adolescent universally considered a "good boy" from a "good family" had committed a particularly gruesome murder. The writer in me wanted to know who this family was beneath the veneer of respectability. How--and why--had they ignored the signs of trouble?
Once I began to write, my novel had no connection to the case from the newspaper. But the questions remained the same. As did the ingredients for disaster: a perfect family that’s not so flawless when you scrape the surface, a deeply troubled adolescent who puts on a cheerful face to the world, and a beautiful, charismatic woman who becomes the object of the family’s obsession.
A reviewer has said that the novel would appeal to readers of Jodi Piccoult, Sue Miller, and Alice Hoffman. Since I'm fans of all three of those authors, I was thrilled by the comparison.

WN: You're a part of Killer Year; how has that group helped you? What's been fun/exciting/encouraging about being part of that group?

FRANCIS: Killer Year has connected me with an amazing and diverse group of novelists--all of whom have something unique to contribute. I learn something new from this group literally every day. But most importantly, we have discovered that we can do things as a team which we could never do as individuals.

WN: What's next for you as a writer?

FRANCIS: I'm just finishing up a new novel which I'm really excited about. I've also been working on a collection of linked short stories about the character who has haunted me more than any I've ever created.
And if that's not enough to keep me busy, I have a non-fiction project
in mind which I hope would inspire a lot of people.

WN: What kind of research do you do for your writing?

FRANCIS: When I'm actually writing, I'm totally focused on the plot and characters and I don't allow anything to interfere with the flow of the story. If I'm not sure of a legal or medical fact, for example, I make it up. It's during subsequent drafts that I question any possible inaccuracies. Then I go out and question others! People have proven to be remarkably open and helpful.

WN: What's the best part of being a writer to you? What's the most challenging part of writing for you?

FRANCIS: Truly, there are so many "best parts": getting ideas, the thrill of beginning a new story, meeting an incredible character with whom you will spend many months as you plumb their secrets. I also love when everything you weren't sure would come together, miraculously DOES, and the satisfaction of typing The End on the final page.
I love the "good news days" when my agent begins the conversation by saying have something exciting to tell you..." Even better is calling friends and family to share the excitement--and the champagne!
Then there's the lifestyle: the independence, the camaraderie with other writers I've met on line, getting to work in my pajamas, with a nice cup of tea at my elbow while my favorite music plays in the background and my dogs lay at my feet...nothing beats that."
Of course, there are "bad news days" as well, days when something you'd hoped to place is rejected, or a reviewer doesn't understand what you were trying to do. Those are the challenges all writers face, but on balance, the "best parts" make them feel pretty insignificant.

WN: What is the best/most influential book you have ever read and why did it inspire you?

FRANCIS: I am a manic reader who devours all kinds of novels--literary novels, suspense novels, classics, and crime fiction or noir--which is probably why my novel is something of a hybrid. But to choose a single novel that influenced me above all the others is close to impossible.
One book that I've read over and over ever since I bought it at a second hand shop almost twenty years ago is "Man's Search for Meaning" by Viktor Frankl. While in a concentration camp, the author decided that no matter how dire the circumstances became, he would not allow anyone to take away his inner freedom and dignity. I've never failed to be inspired by this little masterpiece, no matter how many times I've read it.

WN: What is your favorite word and why?

FRANCIS: I guess I'd have to choose "luminous". Not because it's really my favorite, but because when I was editing the manuscript of my novel, it was the one that appeared so frequently, it made me wince.
In fact, my novel was so infused with excesses of luminosity that I vowed I wouldn't use the word for at least a year!

WN: What piece of advice helped you out the most as a writer?

FRANCIS: Love your work and give yourself to it entirely. We're not here to live in fear; we're here to give. Whether you're talking about writing or life, the message is the same.

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