|E. R. Frank||An Interview with E. R. Frank, February 2006|
Dear anyone who cared about Cameron,
I was the driver of the "other" car.
The police and my mother and father and plenty of people are saying that I didn't kill her. But I know I did. That's what her parents must believe. And my brother, Jack. He always sees what's true. I want to tell him how sorry I am about the accident. I want to say a lot of things to him and to everybody. Like how Cameron was smart and beautiful and kind in a way that isn't all that common in high school. Like how much Jack loved her and how sometimes I can hear him crying through the wall at night. I want to say how bad everything can get.
In one split second.
Upside down and shattered.
Just like that.
ETC: Your latest novel, Wrecked, is about a teenage girl, Anna, who is driving during an auto accident that kills her brother's girlfriend. How did that idea come to you?
Frank: When I was in high school, there were a number of fatal car accidents in my community. A few were unusually gruesome, and in some of them, by coincidence, passengers from different cars knew one another. Though I never knew the victims well, I was still pretty disturbed. I guess I often end up writing about things that disturb me.
ETC: We thought it was interesting that Wrecked is not a book about drunk driving or even a cautionary tale. In fact, the accident is only one aspect of the novel.
Frank: That's true. To me, the real story involves how the relationships within Anna's family change after this tragedy, particularly the relationship between Anna and her brother.
ETC: Are there many novels out there about siblings?
Frank: I'm not aware of it as a topic in more recent YA novels. But I can think of so many books which involve siblings: remember those classics for middle grade readers? The Great Brain series by Tom Fitzgerald and The Noel Streatfeild series. Then there's Austen's sisters in Pride and Prejudice, Holden and Phoebe, and so much from Salinger. Franny and Neely in A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Jem and Scout in To Kill a Mockingbird. Whether or not siblings are the focus, I'm always interested in the dynamics of those characters. It's such a unique relationship. And definitely central to Wrecked.
ETC: Your first two books are about young people as well. And is it true that those novels may also be of particular interest for at-risk kids?
Frank: I think so. Life is Funny takes place over the course of seven years. It follows eleven different young people of diverse backgrounds in Brooklyn. It's pretty gritty, and so is America. That one is about a multiracial fifteen year old boy. He's a kid who has been fiercely loved, only to be abandoned, lost, neglected, and abused.
ETC: Those both sound pretty intense.
Frank: Yeah. They are. But I do have a sense of humor. And so do my characters, in spite of their difficult circumstances.
ETC: So where does the intensity and seriousness come from?
Frank: Along with being a writer, I'm also a psychotherapist. Now I'm in private practice, but I've worked with adults and kids involved in all the systems: welfare, child welfare, criminal justice. The work is humbling and inspiring. I mentioned before that I often write about what disturbs me, and I guess I should add that I also write from that which moves me.
ETC: What's the greatest compliment you've ever received as an author?
Frank: It comes in the form of a question. "Where does America live now? How are those kids in Brooklyn doing? What school does Anna go to?" When people think my fiction is non- fiction, I've done my job. It means I've conveyed some sort of truth.
ETC: We hear that not everybody is comfortable with some of those truths. In a few places your books have almost been banned. What's that like?
Frank: On the one hand, it's exciting to be linked in that small way to so many authors of such incredible brilliance. To have anything in common at all -with Joyce, Chaucer, Whitman, Twain, Angelou, Judy Blume-- is a thrill. And to be, even in such a tiny sense, part of a crowd that asks readers to challenge their own ideas, assumptions, experiences, and comfort levels is an honor. That said, when one of my titles (or any title) is challenged, I do get frustrated. Readers enjoy books that reflect both their own daily experience and also the daily experience of those different from themselves. While it's unfortunate, real experience does include upsetting language and even more upsetting human behavior. Kids appreciate escape and exploration in their reading as much as they appreciate validation. Maybe a fourteen year old who has lived a stable life in the suburbs would be drawn to Life is Funny. Maybe another teen who's been sexually abused could benefit from reading America.
ETC: Rosie O'Donnell may think so, right? Hasn't she been interested in making a movie of America?
Frank: A few years ago she optioned it and had me on her show just before it went off the air. She's been a huge fan of America. I'm not sure if Rosie is still planning on pursuing it as a film, but it was fun when she was considering it.
ETC: Do you generally like movies made from books?
Frank: That's a tricky question because when I love a book, it's difficult for me to exchange what's in my imagination for what's in the imagination of a film director. On the other hand, To Kill A Mockingbird is a great film, and I must admit I thoroughly enjoy the Harry Potter movies, too.
ETC: You've written screenplays, yourself, right?
Frank: I have. In fact I initially wrote my third novel, Friction, as a screenplay.
ETC: Another intense book, right?
Frank: Yeah. It's a pretty heavy one for older middle grade readers. It's about a twelve year old girl in a progressive school with a beloved male teacher. This twelve year old has to figure out what to think, feel, and do when a new girl arrives and begins to spread rumors that the male teacher is being sexually inappropriate.
ETC: That sounds really interesting. Will it ever make the big screen?
Frank: As of this moment, nobody's optioned it. I don't mind, though. I don't write books with the intention of them becoming films. I did write several feature-length scripts, years ago, but they went nowhere. And I just completed a proposal for a TV series and a pilot to match. I don't know what will happen with that.
ETC: What are the differences between writing novels and scripts?
Frank: Script-writing seems to be more of a team process. With books, you can write a character's internal experience as elaborately as you want to, if you do that well. On the other hand, scripts involve far more observable action. With all of it, the old adage, "show; don't tell" applies. But that rule is a million times more applicable in script-writing.
ETC: So what's next from E.R. Frank?
Frank: I've got three ideas in the hopper. I figure I have to pick one soon and get started.
ETC: Are they YA ideas?
Frank: One is; two are not.
ETC: Will you tell us more?
Frank: It's not that I won't. It's that I can't. It's hard for me to articulate what I'm working on until I'm about halfway through a rough draft. Weird, but true.
ETC: How long does it take for the first half of a rough draft?
Frank: Anywhere from four to seven months.
ETC: How about if we call you back in five?
Frank: That sounds great.