Folks, we are so pleased today to introduce to you Diana Pharaoah Francis, author of the Path series, the Crosspointe series (the most recent title, The Black Ship, is now on bookstore shelves!) and soon the Horngate Witches (Bitter Night coming in the fall!) Diana was raised on a cattle ranch in California, went away to school to earn degrees in creative writing and literature and theory, and now lives in Montana where she teaches at the University of Montana-Western. And of course, she writes great books! But let me let her do the talking!
Diana, what drew you to fantasy in the first place?
That’s a really difficult question because to me it feels like fantasy has been a part of my life since I was born. I remember reading tons and tons fairytales from all over the world from the shelves in my parents’ house. I remember reading the Madeleine L’Engle books in second grade. But I was also an avid story teller. Not so much in writing—I didn’t start writing stories down until I was in college—but I lived on a cattle ranch and I had this enormous canvas where I could act out my stories. They always involved horses of course, and frequently castles and cowboys and battles and so on. I guess I lived as much in my daydream worlds as not.
To look at this question a slightly different way, let me tell you this story. I started writing in college and took a fiction workshop course. The rules were that no genre fiction was allowed. And I did write two mainstream stories and they were awful. The problem was that the real world, the non-magical world, is a dry dry place for me creatively. I couldn’t feel connected. I think what this means is that fantasy is the most fertile realm of possibility to me. It’s where I can play and spin stories. It’s my home.
You live pretty far inland, but your Crosspointe books are set on and near the sea. How did you accomplish the research for your setting? If you travelled, where did you go? Where would you still like to visit, whether for research or not?
Once in college I rode on a ferry from Dover to Oostend. And I’ve been in a canoe. That pretty much covers my experience with boats before writing The Black Ship. I needed a whole lot more information, don’t you think? So I began by researching. I read novels (historical because I wanted to work with squareriggers). I read manuals and true accounts and histories. But there’s only so much you can do with research. I needed to see how all of this information actually worked in practice. So we went out to Seattle and took a three hour tour (cue Gilligan’s Island music) on The Lady Washington. I got to see the layout of the ship and the size of it, as well as how the sailors raised and lowered the sails, which sails they deployed when and so on. That made a huge difference to me—to see a ship in action.
I also asked a lot of questions of a patient and currently working tallship captain. He’s been sailing all over the world and offered me feedback. I also watched many many epidodes of The Deadliest Catch, just to watch a cold, difficult ocean in action.
I’d like sometime to take a longer voyage out into open waters. That would be lovely, though I’d probably spend a lot of time leaning over the rail barfing my guts out.
When you were a new, unpublished writer, did you make any crazy mistakes on your way to publication? Did anything wildly lucky happen for you? What did you do when The Call finally came?
Crazy mistakes? Not that I can recall. I suppose the wildly lucky part is getting the Call at all. Actually, Roc was the first publisher I had submitted to and they bought my books. That was pretty shocking. When the Call came (actually it was an email), I’ll be honest, I was too flabbergasted to celebrate. My husband likes to say that he was more prepared to offer condolences than congratulations and hardly knew what to say. I’d had a lot of short story rejections and just wasn’t expecting the books to be accepted so quickly. I felt exactly the same way. I was geared up for rejection. It took days for the good news to even start to sink in. In fact, I’m not sure it has yet.
You have a new urban fantasy series beginning this fall, a genre that’s different from what you’ve published up until now. How have market trends affected what you choose to write? Did your agent or editor (or both) have a direct hand in guiding you to this new world, or was it something you’d always wanted to try? What other subgenres appeal to you?
I love urban fantasy as much as I love epic fantasy. As a reader, I chew through both with hungry delight. I started writing UF maybe ten years ago with my ugly vampire story, “All Things Being Not Quite Equal.” In fact, when I started thinking about a UF novel, I originally thought to expand that. But the problem was that with so many vampire novels out, my idea wasn’t nearly as fresh and interesting as it had been. So I abandoned it for another idea. And that was Bitter Night, which I think wanders into territory that is fresh. And it was huge fun to write. In epic fantasy, I can’t use any modern terminology or jokes or what have you. So I was able to play with language in a whole different way, chortling all the while.
Interestingly, my editor at the time I started working on a UF proposal said that she thought I should stick to epic fantasy as I have a lot of strength there. But I wanted to stretch out into UF and so I persisted and my agent was very supportive. She felt strongly that I could do this and was behind the story all the way. I’m really excited to be writing both UF and epic fantasy. I think they feed each other and refresh each other and let me keep my creative juices flowing.
As for other subgenres that appeal—I love a lot of science fiction, especially space opera. I don’t see myself writing well in that area, but I do love to read it. I also like some of the paranormal romances that have strong characters and world building.
You’ve said in other interviews that you’re fascinated with the flawed character. How do you approach developing someone who’s seemingly broken and ruined into someone who is able to right the world’s wrongs?
I don’t think anybody is not damaged in some way—life is about gathering scars and growing and learning. A lot of heroic characters—both real and imagined—are heroic because they are flawed and they overcome those flaws in some way. They also have good qualities to temper the negative. For me, I try to look at what makes me like these characters. I wonder if there’s any possibility that they could be redeemed—if anyone could forgive what they’ve done and if so, why? It seems to me that redemption frequently comes in the form of sacrifice—of giving up something, of suffering, of selflessness. In the process, those characters frequently find friendships and connections to other people that help them stay centered in a place of selflessness.
So for instance, in The Cipher, the two main characters are very flawed. Lucy is irresponsible and hypocritical and she has to face those facts about herself and decide to make a change for herself. Marten is an odd mixture of weakness and strength. When it comes to his job, he is masterful and he’s earned the friendship and loyalty of his crew, his servants and his friends—none of whom are weak and stupid. There’s a good reason that they gave him such trust. But in his personal life, Marten is weak and he’s willing to terrible things to get out his personal trouble, and the result is a terrible betrayal. Then he has to make it right. In the end, for both Lucy and Marten, the real question is—did they pay the price of their follies and flaws? Have they recognized them? Have they changed? Do I respect them?
As I get older, I find the world and people are much grayer than they used to be. No one is really pure evil. Everyone makes choices and more choices and sometimes they end up in a dark, scary place and sometimes they don’t. But everyone has a skeleton in their closet—something they regret, that they are embarrassed about, that they wish they hadn’t done, or that they wished they had. They have a failing and those things influence the choices we make and where we end up. That we recognize the failing is the seed of redemption, I think.
Do you listen to music when you write? If you do, who are some of the artists you enjoy? If you prefer silence, are there other conditions you require when you’re working?
I do listen to music. And I frequently can’t hear it because I get so involved in the writing that I can’t hear it any more. I have a terribly eclectic music collection. I own New Age stuff like Yanni and David Arkenstone. I have movie soundtracks and musicals. I have heavy metal and hard rock—Accept, Guns N Roses, Pink Floyd, Iron Maiden. I have classical music and pop music.
I tend to listen to whatever seems to resonate with my mood as I am working on a section. So for instance, what I was listening to today was a playlist that included Dire Straits, Bonnie Tyler, Guns N Roses, Eagles, Dixie Chicks, Lenka, Blue Oyster Cult, Bon Jovi, Damien Rice, Days of the New, AC DC . . . The other day I was listening to The Phantom of the Opera and Les Miserables and Loreena Mckennit. And a couple of days ago it was Rush and the best of the Cirque de Soleil.
The conditions I need best to write is to be alone. I don’t do that well in public writing spaces and the kids want to talk to me every minute or two if they are with me. Summer vacation is coming up—I’ll be getting up well before the kids in order to write I think. I am not a morning person. This will be fun . . .
A producer has optioned the Crosspointe stories for a major Hollywood blockbuster, and he wants you to run the casting! So who will you hire for the roles?
What a fun question! If only it were true. But let me think a moment . . .
It’s an allstar cast . . . money is no object, right? Right?
These still don’t quite hit on the characters as I picture them. But close, at least in personality, if not in looks. Did I leave anyone out?
Lucy: Julia Stiles
Sarah: Kate Beckinsale or Charlize Theron
Lucy’s Mother: Sigourney Weaver
Sharpel: Cliff Simon
Marten: Kevin McKidd
Jordan: Skeet Ulrich
Edgar: Liam Neeson
Alistair: Robert Picardo (Woolsey on Stargate Atlantis)
What’s on the horizon for you?
Bitter Night, my Urban Fantasy debut, comes out in October. Right now I’m working on The Traitor King, which is the fourth in the Crosspointe books. I also plan to hit the best seller lists, sell movie options on all my books, and buy vacations houses in Belize, Costa Rica, Fiji and New Zealand. Of course, since I’m highly aware that the best laid plans don’t always go where you expect, I expect the reality will be that I will keep writing as long as people are willing to read me. Scratch that—I write whether I get paid or not. I will keep publishing as long as people keep paying me to do so, and I will keep writing regardless.
Diana Pharaoh Francis
Mad Libs, my blog: http://difrancis.livejournal.com
Now Available: The Black Ship: A Novel of Crosspointe
Now Available: The Turning Tide: A Novel of Crosspointe
Coming October 2009: Bitter Night: A Horngate Witches book
Also Available at Most Bookstores:
The Cipher, A Novel of Crosspointe
Path of Fate
Path of Honor
Path of Blood