Thank you for taking the time to answer our questions, Frank. Can you tell us a little bit about your background?
I trained as an actor at Wayne State University where I received my BFA in Theatre. In the mid-90s I moved to New York, took acting classes, went to a lot of auditions, did some off-off-Broadway theatre, and non-speaking roles in films and on TV. In 2001, I decided to try playwriting as part of a theatre company I was involved with. We wrote and produced our own plays. Mine was called JOHN R (after the street in the city where I grew up in Michigan, Hazel Park), and was about two gay teens growing up in the ‘80s.
What was your first book and how long did it take to get it published?
How many books have you written thus far?
To date I’ve written two 400+ page novels: Band Fags! and the follow up, Drama Queers! (Kensington, June 2009)
Do you write full time?
I do not write full-time, but I spend at least 20 hours per week writing as I only work a part-time job.
Looking back was there something in particular that helped you to decide to become a writer? Did you choose it or did the profession choose you?
I never set out to be a writer, but I always wrote when I was a kid. In 4th grade I wrote a 10 page story, when the teacher only asked us to write 2 pages. In junior high, I wrote my first “novel” which was a rip-off of a plot I saw on the soap, Days of our Lives. I typed it on half-sheets of paper, front and back, and glued them together to look like an actual book, complete with cover art! I suppose the profession did choose me in the end since my publishing “deal” came so easily.
On a typical writing day, how would you spend your time?
First I do everything else, like checking email, Facebook, etc. I need to get this out of the way so I can focus on the chapter (or in the case of plays/screenplays, scene) that I’m tackling that day. Then I write for a while, then I print out the pages, read them, edit with a red pen, then go back and make the revisions. Then I continue. Of course, in between, I go back to email and Facebook, and drink a lot of coffee!
When it comes to plotting, do you write freely or plan everything in advance?
Studying playwriting in grad school (I have my MFA in Dramatic Writing from Carnegie Mellon), I learned the importance of outlining. I never thought I’d be an outliner (I hated when we had to in school!) But now I find it’s much easier to plot it all out first. Of course, when the writing begins, things always change.
What kind of research do you do before and during a new book?
For my first two books, so much was based on my life, I didn’t do much “research” other than looking up things on the internet, like what songs were popular and when (to use for chapter titles). For my new novel, I also used the internet because the story focuses on a bit on Kurt Cobain, and I was not a fan of Nirvana back in the day. Now I totally am!
How much of yourself and the people you know manifest into your characters? How do you approach development of your characters? Where do you draw the line?
All of the characters in the first two books are based on actual people that I know. But I don’t write “memoir” so I always change the names, and I will change details if I know that writing the truth might hurt someone. Even when I write about my “enemies,” I’m not going to be malicious or spiteful. That’s just not me. I also combine two or more people into one character, because a) too many characters makes it hard on the reader (I still have too many!) and b) it’s less limiting. What one person would never do, another might. And you need you characters to have freedom.
How long does it take for you to complete a book you would allow someone to read?
I would love to have the luxury of taking my time, but I’ve always been under a deadline. So I’m good at writing quickly. So far I haven’t spent more than a year writing a novel. This new one, I plan to have finished by August 1st, which will be a total of 10 months from the time I first began plotting it out, but only about 6 months of actual writing time. I average about a chapter per week. I have no problem letting someone read my work, but again, because I’ve always been on deadline, I don’t have the time that this requires for them to do so.
Writers often go on about writer’s block. Do you ever suffer from it, and what measures do you take to get past it?
I don’t usually feel “blocked,” but sometimes I will write something that I don’t think is working. Later, when I’m in the shower or out taking a walk, I think it over in my head and work it out. Then I go back and revise.
When someone reads one of your books for the first time, what do you hope they gain, feel or experience?
With Band Fags! and Drama Queers! I have two hopes: for people my age, I want them to enjoy the trip down Memory Lane. For younger people: I want them to experience what it was like to grow up gay during that time.
Can you share three things you’ve learned about the business of writing since your first publication?
You do not need an agent to get published. It’s all about who you know. You do not get paid based on the amount of time you put it.
Does the title of a book you’re writing come to you as you’re writing it, or does it come before you even begin the first sentence?
I need to at least have a title in mind as it informs the entire story. Though, with the new novel I’m writing, I started with one title and have since changed it. I began with Lost in the ’90s and am now working with Tender Age in Bloom. (Ultimately, the publisher and sales force will decide, so you can’t worry too much about it.)
What is the most frequently asked Frank question?
Are your eyes really that blue or are you wearing colored contacts?
What are you working on now?
A true Y/A (young adult) novel. My first two books feature teen characters, but the intended audience is adults.
What was the best piece of advice you’ve received with respect to the art of writing? How did you implement it into your work?
Years ago when I first started writing plays, a fellow playwright told me, “You don’t just think and type, and then you’re done.” Meaning: the first thing you write down isn’t the final result. You have to write and revise, and revise and revise. Which is why I always write first, then print it out, read it, and revise.
When it comes to promotion, what lengths have you gone to in order to increase reader-awareness of your work?
My publicist pretty much takes care of submitting review copies, but I have no qualms about reaching out to people myself. I conduct interviews like this one, I guest blog, I use Facebook to search for fellow Band Fags and Drama Queers who I can tell about the books.
What pros and cons surround the e-publishing industry, and how do you envision the future of e-publishing?
I think it’s great because the books are easily accessed (and cost less — I also get a larger royalty, I believe!) but I, personally, like to be able to hold a book in my hand when I’m reading, and be able to flip back and forth based on where I remember the specific place I’m wanting to reference is.
What kind of books do you like to read?
I like short books (which is odd, since the ones I’ve written are rather long!) I like “children’s” books, like Judy Blume and Harry Potter. I enjoy “literary fiction” like Michael Cunningham, but I hate it when I have to re-read a paragraph two or three times to comprehend it.
If you weren’t a writer what would you be?
I still enjoy performing, but I hate the audition process. If someone wants to hire me to be in a play or movie, I’ll do it.
I recently read your novels, Band Fags! & Drama Queers! Where did you get the idea for those stories?
Band Fags! came from my teen years, and Drama Queers! came out of that. The second book is almost entirely fiction. I basically just thought about what the character of Brad Dayton would do, based on stories my best friend had told me about what he did when he was a teen.
When it comes to the covers of your books, what do you like or dislike about them?
I chose the image for the cover of Band Fags! But in the original design, the sash on the band uniform was pink. I thought this was more fitting to the theme. But it was changed to red, which, after seeing it, I think works fine. For the second, I didn’t have any input. I envisioned something on a stage (curtains, a spot light), and had no idea where the idea for a kid wearing a bear’s head came from. But then a friend pointed out, “He’s trying to hide his homosexuality behind a mask” and I thought, that works!
Aside from writing, what else do you enjoy doing?
I watch a lot of TV and I work out at the gym. I enjoy going to the theatre (when I can afford to buy a ticket!) and spending time with my partner, Craig. Sleeping is also a favorite pastime!
New writers are always trying to glean advice from those with more experience. What suggestions do you have for new writers?
Again, it’s all about who you know. I’m terrible at “networking,” but I believe that people want to help other people if they know (and like) them. So not only must you be a good writer, you have to get out and meet people. And when one door closes, you have to make another one open. I recently received my first “rejection” for a novel (from my own editor!), but then I realized that I didn’t really want to write that novel anyway. At least not right now. You have to write what you want to write, when you want to write it. Unless you’re being paid a huge sum of money, then you’ll find a way to make it work.
What future projects do you have in the works?
In addition to the Y/A novel which I’m hoping to have published in the spring of 2012, I’m also adapting both Band Fags! and Drama Queers! as a television series. I’ve spent the past 8 months or so developing the characters and plot ideas, and I’ve recently written the outline for the pilot. In fact, once I finish this interview, I will start writing the actual script! I also have a full-length play called Another Day on Willow St or Blue Tuesday (I haven’t decided yet) that I’m finishing up, and hope to soon have produced.
Can you please tell us where we can find you and your books on the Internet?
I have three websites, and both of my books are available on amazon.