Special Guest Friday: Diana Pharaoh Francis


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


18 comments to Special Guest Friday: Diana Pharaoh Francis

  • Diana, I like your plans. 🙂 Looks like I’ll have some more books to look into. Hope you don’t mind some questions.

    1)Did you already have an agent when you submitted your first novel to Roc?

    2) What was it like going from non-published author to having deadlines on novels?

    3) I always like to hear about a writer’s process. What’s your writing routine?


  • Hi Christina!

    Answers 🙂

    I didn’t have an agent. I was submitting to agents at the same time I was submitting to publishers.

    Oh, wow. Writing Path of Fate was quick and the revisions were fun. No pressure, no deadlines. Path of Honor was another story. That was much harder. The combination of being the middle book in a trilogy and the deadlines and being aware that *people were reading me* was paralyzing. Now, deadlines are a motivating force. I can be undisciplined and so deadlines make sure I keep working.

    My writing routine of late is to write constantly. Deadline you know. Seriously, though. When I’m working the day job (I teach at a University), i tend to carve out a couple to three hours in the afternoons or evenings after my day is done, and I write on weekends. I write every day. Right now, I’m getting up around 6 am. and trying to knock out most of my day by noon. My kids are still in school, but soon they will be out for summer, and so I’m trying to find a schedule that lets me do a lot with them during the days while still getting a lot of writing done.

  • Thanks! From reading descriptions on Amazon, it seems the Crosspointe books follow different characters. So this is a series based more on setting than following the same character, or am I missing something?

  • Diana, Great Post.
    I am a new fangirl of your urban fantasy series.
    The squeal you hear in the background is me.

  • Thanks for the post, Diana! I also love taking broken characters and turning them into something more than even they thought they could be. Is there any secret to making the change believable to your readers? One thing I worry about in my current WIP is that the change will come out as contrived and phoney.

  • Christina: you know those epic disaster movies where there’s something going on but you flash to different people who gradually start to come together as events play out? That’s sort of my idea for this series. You get recurring characters–for instance, in the book I’m working on now, Keros from the first book has become a point of view character, as has Nicholas Weverton. Their stories overlap and connect, but each story in each book is really complete.

    So I guess I would say the series follows the larger events from multiple perspectives, as each character is impacted. Does that make sense?

  • Faith: Yay!!!! I’m sooooo nervous about that book. I like it, but I keep thinking, I’m easily amused. What about people who are more discerning? (you can tell I’m in Crosspointe mode, can’t you? There’s a distinctive Victorian cast to my writing right now.)

    And back at ya. I’m reading your Enclave books right now. Such AMAZING world building!

  • Mark: making the change believable. That is kind of a hard one. I think for me it’s a matter of providing some introspection to show a change of mind and feeling, but to also give sufficient reasons for that change. For instance, Marten, in The Cipher, does a bad thing. Then he says, he’ll never do anything like it again. And then he does it again. People just don’t stop doing stupid things that fast, especially if there’s some reward for doing it. So this time the consequences are much worse and he gets his proverbial wakeup call. Then I have to show him putting action to commitment. We all do New Year’s resolutions–how many follow through?

    I think that any time you can show the character struggling with the change and show why s/he does it, then you’re golden.

  • Great interview, Di. (And great questions — Faith? Misty? One of you take a bow.) I can’t wait to read the new urban fantasy. Congrats on breaking into a new subgenre. Do you find it at all difficult to jump back and forth between the UF and the Crosspointe world?

  • David: Aren’t they awesome questions? Such fun.

    I find it difficult to jump back and forth between projects period. But UF is considerably different in the speed of telling and less description. I’m actually trying to apply some of those techniquest to The Traitor King. And then too, the language is so much different in terms of diction. I have to shift mindset totally. I’m hoping in time it becomes easier.

  • Missy S

    Hi Di! I can’t wait for the Turning Tide to come out so I can complete my collection. 🙂 And I would SOOOOO watch that movie!!!

    Hi Christina! I’m a big fan of Diana’s so I can help answer your question… each book follows a different main character with it’s own story arc, but the series itself is one overall story arc. Does that make sense? What you read in the first book does effect the next, etc. I wasn’t sure what to think about it at first but it really does work well, letting you see more of the world than you would if you followed only one character.

    Her Path series does follows a few main characters through the entire trilogy. It’s wonderful. Reisel is one of my favorite fantasy characters.

  • Kevin McKidd and Skeet Ulrich? Now I’m dying to come visit the set!

    Diana said, 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.

    Girl, I like how you think! Last time we talked on the phone, my agent said, “If it’s okay with you, go ahead and write a bestseller next, okay?” *laughs* ‘Cause it’s so easy!

  • Diana,
    Did you sell the UF books based on a synopsis, or did you have some sample material to help your agent convince the publisher it was salable?

  • Hi Misty!

    Yes, just go ahead and write one. And then I want the magic key of know how 🙂

    Wouldn’t you love to be on the set of that movie? Sigh.

  • NGD:

    I went on a three chapter and synopsis package. That’s fairly typical, especially when pushing into a new side of the genre.

  • Wayne

    I need to quit visiting this site on Friday’s. Everytime I do my cart on Amazon get bigger. 🙂

    Actually have been thinking about Diana’s books for a while now and seeing her here on the site just made me cross the fence and purhase them.

  • Wayne! You’re awesome!

    Hope you enjoy.

  • Christina

    I’m not sure whether to start with Crosspointe or the other series, myself. Dilemmas.