Friday 25 October 2019

Australian Author of Shadowmancy: Jason Franks

It's a hard thing keeping up with Jason Franks. He's a man with lots happening for him, so I was lucky to catch up with him for an interview before he was off to ComicCon to catch up with his growing audience of fans. His energy is incredible.

Jason Franks is the author of the novels Bloody Waters and Faerie Apocalypse, and the writer of the Sixsmiths graphic novels, which have been shortlisted for Aurealis, Ditmar and Ledger awards, respectively. He is based in Melbourne, Australia, but has at various times lived or worked in South Africa, the USA, Sweden and Japan!

Thanks for taking some time for me today. You're a busy man! What other writing have you done?

I’ve published two earlier novels; Bloody Waters and Faerie Apocalypse. I’m also a comics writer, probably best known in that arena for the Sixsmiths graphic novels, McBlack, and Left Hand Path. I write short stories, too, but nowadays I mostly confine those to commissions—I like them, but it’s hard enough finding time to comics and long-form prose.

What makes your writing unique compared to others in the genre?

I write across multiple genres—horror, fantasy, SF, comedy and realist fiction—which I guess doesn’t really make me unique, or even particularly unusual. But probably it’s the way that I recombine genres that makes my work a bit different. Faerie Apocalypse is a literary fantasy novel, but some readers said to me “how is this not Horror?” Well, it is horror, but it’s concerned mostly with the tropes of portal fantasy, so that’s what it says on the spine. But Faerie Apocalypse also strong SF elements, and even a bit of the Western genre, and I think that all works in context. I dislike stories that jump up and down shouting “Hey! Pastiche!”

Related to that, there’s usually a mix of humour in most of my work as well, even if you wouldn’t call most of it ‘comedy’. I guess satire is closer to the mark. A lot of my work is satirical in purpose.

Really, though, I think it’s more about the characters and plots that I choose that differentiate my work. I always look for a character who will twist the tropes into something new. I like characters who are bad; who will surprise, shock, or even betray the reader.

What’s the basic plot of your book or series? 

My new book, Shadowmancy, is about a damaged young man, Quay, who attends a magical academy from which his father, a distinguished professor, has been disgraced. His father’s legacy leads him to some very dark places.

I wanted to do a magic school that was genuinely strange, but recognizable as a dark reflection of everything that was bad about our own schooling… and also raises the stakes. These kids aren’t learning to read and write and do arithmetic; they’re learning to change reality.

Which scene from your book do you like best and why?

I like the ritual in the last chapter the best. It was one of the first things I wrote, back when this was intended only to be a short comic. I’m also quite proud of the sequence in which our characters venture into a literal mirror world.

Which is your favourite character and why?

My favourite character in Shadowmancy is Arakne, because Quay completely misjudges her so completely. She knows more about what’s going on than he does. She’s smarter and more powerful than he is. Even when she removes herself from the game, she’s still dangerous on the sidelines.

What are you working on now?

I’m pitching a new book around. I’m also about 2/3 of the way into Blackened Skies, a sequel to Bloody Waters, and Sorrow, which is the first book of a planned trilogy of contemporary fantasy novels inspired by the Ulster Cycle. I’m also just finishing up work on an SF-comedy-horror graphic novel called Gourmand Go and a short anthology of Yakuza stories.

Do you try more to be original or to deliver to readers what they want?

I seem to specialize in not giving readers what they want, probably to the detriment of my career. I think some of my newer work will be a bit more crowd-pleasing but I definitely try to be original first. If I can’t find a new spin on something I don’t see much point in writing it.

What other authors are you friends with, and how do they help you become a better writer?

Oh, heaps, I guess. I’m part of the Supernova writing group and they are great any time I want a vicious takedown of whatever nonsense I’m cooking up. In particular Jason Nahrung, Kirstyn McDermott, Pete Hickman, Aidan Doyle, Sara Endacott and Michelle Goldsmith.

Marta Salek, Emmett O’Cuana and Jason Fischer are usually my beta readers and they’re just excellent—smart and supportive and brilliant. Fisch is also my business partner now in our new weird-Al publishing venture, Argonautica Press.

Get beyond my local circle, I really value being able to hang around with folks like Narrelle Harris, Alan Baxter, Amanda Bridgeman, Gillian Polack, Lynnette Lounsbury, and Kaaron Warren. I’m sure I’ve forgotten a dozen more people I shouldn’t have. And that’s just on the prose side of things. And then there’s all the amazing comics artists who tolerate me and my stupid projects!

Do you want each book to stand on its own, or are you trying to build a body of work with connections between each book?

Most of my work stands alone, but some of them have loose connections.  The book I am pitching now has plot elements that grow out of Faerie Apocalypse. I re-used some concepts in from there in Shadowmancy.

How do you balance making demands on the reader with taking care of the reader?

I make sure there’s enough information in the text for a reader to figure out what they need to know, but sometimes they have to work for it. I sometimes rely on characters being more interesting to watch than sympathetic and I know this polarizes my readers.

How many unpublished and half-finished books do you have?

Aside from the stuff I mentioned that I am still working on? My first novel, Phillips Head, is an unpublishable disaster. I also have about 20K of a military fantasy novel that I might come back to one day. Also, I have… many many unpublished graphic novels or comic miniseries sitting in a drawer. One called Bucket of Glass, for which I have like forty gorgeous coloured, lettered pages illustrated by Joe Pimienta. Others that have never had an artist attached; others that have had three or four.

Do you view writing as a kind of spiritual practice?

I hesitated to answer this one but… yes, I do, and in fact, this in a large part what Shadowmancy is about.

Writing is not a mechanical thing. It’s a synthetic process in which the writer weaves knowledge, beliefs, new ideas and old tropes together into a story, to be enacted by characters who are, hopefully, unique and distinctive. It’s not just imagination; it’s empathy and acting and architecture and research and work and it's also a pack of lies. There is a craft as well as an art; a suite of skills that the writer needs learn and practice endlessly. You are trying to make something out of language that will have an effect on the world; that will make people think or feel or learn or react.

It’s a compulsion for me. I don’t feel right if I stop trying to make things. I get tired, distracted, depressed. But it’s a risk, as well. And every time you start out to write something new, no matter how good you are, there is a chance that you will fail. That the book will be malformed and won’t work, or won’t sell, or won’t capture the audience you want. But you do it anyway.

Writing is an act of faith.

Quick quiz:

Favourite food: Steak.

Favourite drink: A fancy-pants single origin espresso coffee.

Silliest saying: (to my four-year-old) “No, you’re a Silly Billy Banana.” (to my four-year-old)

Best holiday spot: Oh jeez, I need a holiday. Probably Tokyo!

Favourite song at the moment: “Bastard Samurai” by High on Fire

With writing, are you a plotter or (seat-of-your) pantser? For prose, I usually pants my way to a known ending. For comics I have to plot tightly.

Star Wars or Lord of the Rings: Star Wars, even though there hasn’t been a good one since 1980.

Best superpower: Teleportation

Number one thing to do on your bucket list: a/ Book deal with a big publisher b/ not leave the world my son is going to grow up in a smoking ruin overrun with mutant cannibal cyborgs.

Book title:  Shadowmancy

Genre:  Dark fantasy/occult horror

On a mountain that does not exist, there is a school where they teach the impossible.

From his first day at the Academy, things are difficult for Quay. Though he has surrendered his name, like every other acolyte at the magical school, Quay is the son of a disgraced professor, and he finds that his father’s old enemies are already lined up against him–while the professor’s own faction is just as suspicious. Quay refuses to take a side, but as his powers grow it becomes apparent that the damaged young boy may prove a greater threat than his father ever was.

Deep in the Library of Shadows, Quay finds a way to survive his father’s treacherous legacy, but the price is high indeed.

“A strange, mysterious and compelling read told in spookily disconnected first person narrative, delivered by a likeably unlikeable main character. A subtle and dreamlike tale.” –Sam Bowring, author of the Broken Well trilogy

“What happens when the ordinary and everyday is not kind? What happens when we take the hard road and make the harsh, bad choices? Shadowmancy explores this… with relish.”

Gillian Polack, author of The Year of the Fruitcake

Illustrated by Nicholas Hunter.

Publish date: 15 October 2019

Publisher: Argonautica Press

Grab it at AMAZON

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