Smoking With Patry Francis

Read the Story December 15, 2005

“.…we lost not only my baby sister, Bethie, but the beach, the whole wide ocean as well.” That line. Jeez. What did you tap into to express such a loss?

The narrator says she lost “the whole wide ocean,” referring directly to her exile from the beach. But when you isolate the line, I realize this particular ocean is wider than that. The ocean also includes the distracted, permananently ‘absent’ mother who has previously been source and center in her family’s life. But more than anything, the whole wide is childhood.

That, however, doesn’t answer your question—which I might be avoiding. Though I’ve never experienced a loss as devastating as the narrator’s, I know exactly how she felt as she rode her bike through the hot, abandoned streets of her neighborhood. How? The answer has something to do with the mystery of fiction writing, or how a writer gets possessed by a “character,” and suddenly is privy to emotions that her/she personally has never known. It’s a fascinating process, but not anything I can explain.

What a secret she holds. I can’t believe she uttered it aloud. Where did she find the courage? Or is it something else?

The narrator’s relationship with her brother is the source of her courage—and yes, I think it is courage, as well as a build up of irrepressible rage at the tragedy that has transformed her life. Yet despite everything she has lost, she has this amazing resource: one person who is so close to her that she can say anything to him. Say the worst secret of her heart—and that I sense, is not only her strength, it will be her means of survival.

That final image—of the “strange, predatory moment”—well, that just slays me it’s so good. Is that how Fate works, stalking us? How do we defend ourselves?

I suppose it is. We can take our vitamins and wear our seat belts, but Fate wins in the end. Bethie, a child strapped in a car seat in a vehicle driven by someone else when the moment accosts her, is emblematic of the ultimate failure of all our defenses.

A novel on the way? Congrats. How was The Liar’s Diary conceived?—and what can you tell us about it?

Thank you for asking! This is the first time I’ve “officially” been been given the opportunity to talk about the novel; and I love how you phrase the question.

The novel was conceived a few years ago when I became intrigued by a news story about a well-liked adolescent from a respected family who had brutally murdered a neighbor. Both his family and a string of sincere character witnesses archly rose to his defense. What fascinated me was not the crime, but how the boy, who was proven guilty, had fooled so many people, and how his family could have lived so obliviously with such a disturbed son. What kind of home was this? What kind of family?

To answer my own question, I began what I intended to be a psychological novel, writing from the mother’s point of view. However, the novel was transformed by the process: I wrote Liar’s Diary as a sort of “serial,” writing one chapter at a time, for a small group of family and friends. When they responded hungrily to the suspense elements in the story, I began to play to the crowd, adding twists and turns, and ultimately abandoning the reality-based story for a work of pure fiction. Curious things began to happen. A middle-aged femme fatale walked into the story and nearly hijacked it with her antics; the identity of the murderer changed and then changed again. There was no outline, and I had now idea how it would all come together until the end. In other words, I had an almost illegal amount of fun writing this novel!

The result, The Liar’s Diary, is a novel that aspires to be a page turner with attributes of literary fiction, such as depth of characterization and insight into the human condition.

A new year approaches (yikes!). So, what’s the best that 2005 had to offer in literature, web sites, music, movies, television, DVD, and the like? Also, any predictions for 2006? And we’d love to hear your New Year’s resolution.

I drove everyone I know insane raving about two books this year, though I’m not sure that either one of them were published in 2005: Small Island by Andrea Levy and We Need to Talk about Kevin by Lionel Shriver.

Best movie: Capote.

TV: Hardly ever watch it, but like everyone else, I was spellbound by Anderson Cooper’s coverage of Hurricane Katrina. Passion in news coverage? Genuine outrage? I didn’t know it was being done any more.

Website: I’d have to choose Readerville—a wonderful source of information and comraderie for writers and readers alike.

Predictions for 2006: Driven by the high cost of energy, people will waste less and read more. In response, writers will write fantastic inspiring books, and everyone will begin to realize that peace begins in our own hearts, and that only peace can save us.

My resolution: I must admit I’m a little bored with my own lists of resolutions, which always seem to reiterate the broken vows of the year before. But undoubtedly, I will be unable to resist the clean slate that a new year represents; and once again, will try to whip myself into a person of discipline, honor, and love with a long list of wills and won’ts.

About the Author:

Patry Francis's first novel, The Liar's Diary, will be published by Dutton in March, 2007.

About the Artist:

A native of Ohio, Marty D. Ison lives with his wife transplanted in the sands of the Gulf of Mexico. He studied fine arts at Saint Petersburg College. In addition to the visual arts, he writes poetry, short stories, and novels. See more of Ison's work here.