Written by J.L. Caban
The renowned ‘city of brotherly love,’ Philadelphia, is well known for many things. Once upon a time, over two hundred and thirty years ago, it proudly stood as the capital of the United States; it is also where the famous Liberty Bell – the iconic symbol of America’s independence from King George’s British Empire in 1776 – can be espied; in sports, the mighty Phillies, Eagles, and Flyers teams make this metropolis their humble abode (not to mention the place where this journalist’s fraternity, Kappa Alpha Psi, established its headquarters); and, adding to this impressive list of fun facts, Ms. Frances Metzman, author of a couple of best selling novels (‘The Hungry Heart Stories’ and ‘The Cha-Cha Babes of Pelican Way’), as well as co-author, along with Joy E. Stocke, of a gripping work entitled, ‘Ugly Cookies,’ calls this storied location her home.
What is most impressive about this amazing writer, as if being a best selling novelist isn’t enough, is that she is also an instructor of a creative writing/memoir course at Temple University, sharing her prodigious skills with anyone fortunate enough to enroll in her class. But wait… there’s more! Ms. Metzman also possesses a plethora of accolades, some of which include being an Amazon Best Seller, a Tampa Journal’s 1st Prize Winner, a Writer’s Journal Prizewinner, in addition to quite a few other distinguished laurels. Frances Metzman, or simply ‘Fran,’ as she would undoubtedly have you call her, is holder to both a Bachelor’s Degree from Moore College of Art and Master’s Degree from the University of Pennsylvania, having solidified herself as an extraordinary novelist, penning stories that, invariably, have her fans falling off the proverbial edge of their seats. Even though, as much as the lot of us would have her do nothing but lock herself away with her quilt pen and stationary, the key to said lock securely safeguarded in the clutches of her greatest fans, Fran does have a life outside of her own literature, which shall soon be revealed. I recently had the great opportunity to sit down with this fascinating best selling author for a Q & A session, which I shall now present to my Ravers out there.
Q: As a young adult, what books/authors first captured your attention? Did these writers have an influence on your work?
A: I must say that the first book I ever read, in grade one, left the most important impression on me as a city kid living in a working-class neighborhood: Dick and Jane. I saw the USA suburban model of family life for the first time. Dad wears a suit and kisses his apron-wearing wife and children good day as he heads off to work carrying his attache case. Mother sweetly urges children to hurry off to school and gives them all a kiss and a lunch pail. Wow, what a shocker. That first look at another life was like a punch to the stomach.
Books that most impressed me as a young adult were: To Kill a Mockingbird, Catcher in the Rye, The Grapes of Wrath, Of Mice and Men, Lord of the Flies and Moby Dick. Not to mention Forever Amber, but hidden from parents.
Q: At what point did you realize you wanted to become an author? Was there a sudden epiphany or did the desire find itself manifesting over time? Paint a picture of this journey, if you would.
A: Since freshman year in college, I wanted to be a writer, but didn’t think I had the talent even though I got A’s in writing classes. I did go on to major in sculpture and practiced for a number of years. Then, forty years ago, the overwhelming urge to write came to the fore. I started going to conferences, writing classes, and when I felt it wasn’t enough, bought books and taught myself. From that point on, I swore by writing structure.
Q: Character development is an essential component of a novelist. How do you develop your characters? What is the process?
A: I draw a resume of main character/s and secondary main characters, going beyond what is considered a work resume. I want to know where my characters grew up and where they live now. Who were their parents/custodians and what type of upbringing did they posses. Was there trauma, or did they mostly enjoy a good childhood; socio-economics, personality, habits, likes/dislikes, traits, flaws, good qualities, skills. Then I draw out my character, but don’t use all that is written. But I know them well.
Q: You’ve been writing for quite some time and have penned amazing stories. In a proverbial nutshell, tell us a bit about all of these captivating works.
A: I write a lot about relationships and not necessarily romantic, although it is often included. I have spent my life trying to understand people and what motivates them. I know a good bit about white-collar crime as I have known many people who have committed it. I’m talking about professionals and business people who make a good living and don’t need to be thieves. Yet, they do it many times, and often when caught, they face the loss of career, family and enter a life that is dishonored.
Q: When writing, what do you find most challenging? How do you overcome and work through these challenges?
A: I love that first draft. Then I enter an excruciating world of editing – decisions of what to keep and what to lose. It is hard for me until I reach a palatable level and then fixing is no longer a nightmare.
Q: Just when things appear to be all sunshine and rainbows – when there seems to be a fluid, river-like flow of words sliding from one’s pen to the paper – an author may find themselves running head first into a proverbial brick wall, suddenly having lost the ability to write even one single word. When experiencing the dreaded “writer’s block,” what are some things you do to help find your way back on the path?
A: For some reason I don’t experience much writer’s block once I’ve entered the story. It’s getting started, running all the elements through my head that is so challenging. I once heard that writer’s block might be a fear of revealing oneself. I believe that is true.
Q: Many people wish to have their dream of becoming a published author realized; but, sadly, ofttimes succumb to a compulsion to ball up the paper, subsequently tossing it into the trash (or, as is more apropos nowadays, depressing the delete button and powering down their laptops)… What advice would you give young, unpublished writers who may be experiencing the doldrums, as it were?
A: I have seen many starting writers who read lots of books and think they can write just as well. They are passionate about their pursuit. Love in becoming a good writer is not enough. I tell students they must study the basics of writing. That includes many, many elements and how they interact such as dialogue, plot, characterization, inner thoughts, setting and so forth. Each genre requires different approaches, but with essentially the same basic structure. This is where many writers run into a block. It is not easy to understand how to use this knowledge… to have all the elements for the genre you are writing to interact, but it is imperative to do so. Without this foundation one can just muddle along or never get their book written. Knowing the basics of writing pushes you through when the going gets tough, as it always will.
Q: As much as your fans would love to have you do nothing but write, it’s essential to escape and clear one’s mind. What are some things you do, outside of pen to paper, to reset?
A: It is important to keep writing even though I slow down when I’ve taken a break from my project. It might be keeping up with emails or doing a bit of research. It will be a lot less than my home routine, but here I am in Maine, on vacation, answering your questions. The tiny bits of writing keeps the creative juices flowing. But in the interim, I play a tad of tennis, go to museums, gardens, places of interest, eat well, hike, and stream movies during the day. At home I’ll cook in the evening when I almost always stop working.
Q: Your fans, without question, want to know what you’re working on next… What can we look forward to in terms of any future books?
A: The novel, CHA-CHA BABES DANCE WITH THE DEVIL, is still in the editing stage – and deciding on a cover. It is the second novel in a series of three. The first was, THE CHA-CHA BABES OF PELICAN WAY. They are about baby boomer women who always get mired in dangerous situations they must extricate themselves from. The situations are usually dire. I am starting a rough draft of the third sequel.
Bonus Question: If you could sit down to coffee or tea and crumpets with anyone in the world (living or passed on), who would it be and why?
A: Eleanor Roosevelt because of her intellect and wisdom. Her life wasn’t an easy one, despite her becoming the First Lady. She seemed so intelligent and liberal – perhaps more than her husband. I’d also like to chat with Joyce Carol Oats about her mental process for book concepts. She is amazing on how she conceives ideas and then draws characters so well. I’d also like to invite Doris Lessing, Virginia Woolf, Margaret Atwood, all for the same reasons. But I’d also like to know their personal lives and opinions. I have a great deal of respect for these women. Ian McEwan stands out among the male writers, and I find him to be quite an amazing writer. His research is acute, highly realistic and incisive. It melds well with his characters.
Thank you, Fran Metzman, for sitting down with us at Raver Magazine… it was an absolute pleasure and I wish you all the best! We – as I am sure I speak for the entirety of your adoring fans – all look forward to reading your future works, especially ‘The Cha-Cha Babes Dance with the Devil,’ coming out very soon!
The author of this piece, J.L. Caban, is a Puerto Rican-American writer who was born and raised in the Bronx, NY. His works include ‘Moving On,’ ‘Butterflies in Production,’ and, coming soon, ‘Sapphires in the Rubble;’ all available through Barnes & Noble, Amazon, and Target. – Barnes & Noble – Moving On – Butterflies in Production – Instagram – YouTube – Target – Web – Raver Interview (Elif) – Raver Interview (Hendry A. Gonzalez)