Some say that the Internet will destroy the written novel as we know it today. However, after hearing the story of futureproof, an argument can be made in support of the World Wide Web as a source for finding the best in new literature. Daniels believed in his novel so much (and after reading it, I can understand why he did) that he put the first fifty pages on his myspace.com page and asked for willing readers. Readers turned into quick fans and soon Daniels decided to self-publish the book. After about a year the connective power behind myspace.com led Harper Perennial to contact Daniels directly with a publishing deal and the rest is history.
With this fictional “no excuses” look into the world of Luke, a teen growing up in the early 90’s in Atlanta, futureproof takes its readers on a speeding bullet train ride that refuses to stop even after the last page has been read. Because this book resonated so much within me for so many reasons, I had to contact its author, N. Frank Daniels and ask him a few questions. Below is a look into his creative mind, his writing influences, and his intensely honest novel, futureproof.
Where exactly did you live in Philadelphia and did the experience of living in Philadelphia manifest itself anywhere in your novel, futureproof?
I was born in Philly, but only lived there as a small child, so I’d be hard-pressed to offer up any significant memories of the city itself. As far as the experience of being from there manifesting itself in my novel, there is no way I could deny that being a reality. My entire extended family on both sides is from Philly and I still have relatives who live there. All of them have that accent, and I am in Philly every so often visiting. It is a city that has a definite feel and personality, and although I never lived there as an adult I always feel at home there. Plus, I did my famed "Mexican Wrestler reading" there in October of 2006 (pic of that event can be found on my blog’s ‘about me’ page.)
For me, writing is an all out blood bath. If I start writing, I won’t stop until I have the first draft done. Explain your method of writing. What things do you need before you can start writing (for me, it’s my Yoda figurine and a Coke Zero)?
Writing is a bloodbath. The best kinds are anyway. I think, for me, that is the only kind of writing I want to read. Blood, sweat, tears kind of shit. My favorite quote about books/writing is by Kafka. It’s from one of his diaries. "I think we ought to read only the kinds of books that wound and stab us…We need the books that affect us like a disaster, that grieve us deeply, like the death of someone we loved more than ourselves, like being banished into a forest far from everyone, like s suicide. A book must be an axe for the frozen sea inside us."
I know that sounds dark, and it is (hence this style being referred to as Kafka-esque). But I think what I take from his overall point is that I want art to really emotionally fuck with me. I want to walk away from it and have it not leave me alone, on some level. As far as what I need before I start writing, a few stiff drinks is a good start. It helps me loosen up the stranglehold I normally have on my every thought and just let the writing happen.
For me, writing is like a spoiled child. What could you compare writing to?
I think the best way I could describe it is an addiction. Wherein I need to write to maintain sanity. I blame a lot of my life problems on my obsession with writing/getting published. But at the same time I know being able to write things out has saved me many times. So in a lot of ways it’s a love/hate thing.
I saw that some of your favorite authors are: Sylvia Plath, Kurt Vonnegut, Ken Kesey, Neil Gaimen, David Sedaris, and J.D. Salinger (all of which are on my list). What author or authors do you think most shaped your writing style?
I can’t say specifically who has most shaped my writing style. I know comparisons to my writing style have been made to Salinger and Irvine Welsh. But I have been into Kerouac and Bukowski and Selby and even Whitman for years. So I think when you decide to create, all those who have created before you are sort of channeled into the stuff you make.
How many drafts did your novel go through before you felt you were ready to self-publish your novel?
How many drafts? Impossible to say. I edited and re-edited this book at least a dozen times. It was my first novel, and it was trial and error all the way. When I wrote the first draft I just let myself go wild with the writing. I had no outline, didn’t know where the story was going to go. I just wrote. By the time I was finished I had a manuscript 3 times as long as the final product you can read now. And that’s the Harper Perennial version. The self-published version of the novel, which is pretty much impossible to get now, was about 15,000 words longer than the Harper version. It’s really hard to just leave a book alone, to consider it ‘done.’ After futureproof was picked up by Harper I edited it at least five more times before I finally had to give it back to them for print deadlines. As the great man said, No art is ever finished, just abandoned.
With Luke (the main character of futureproof), I always felt that he just told us his story. He never wanted us to feel sorry or bad for him. He made his own mess and knew when it came time to really clean it up. How were you able to make Luke so strong? Where did Luke’s ideals come from?
I’m glad Luke comes across so strongly as a character. I just tried to BE Luke as I was writing the book. And yes, the character is based a lot on me, so that made it easier. But it was still a difficult thing for me to fully try to capture because I had to put myself in the mindset of a person 15 years younger than I was when I was writing this.
Why is every chapter in your novel, futureproof split into months and is called a transmission?
I wanted the chapters to have months but no years indicated so that even as these characters are crashing through their lives, not giving a damn about what happens to them in the future, or even caring if the future exists, it is known to the reader that time keeps moving anyway. I called the chapters transmissions because I wanted to indicate that these chapters were more than just a ‘chapter’ in a book or a life, they were more like radio transmissions straight from the front lines of a person engaged in a war with life itself.
Why did you include pen and ink drawings in the novel?
I always wanted to have artwork mixed with my writing. My second novel, Sanctuary, will have the same sort of thing, as far as there being art/photography spread throughout. I like having this subtle interpretation given out sometimes during the narrative. It also helps to break up the sometimes-monotonous pages of black letters on white paper.
Why did you fight so hard to get this book out? What is it about the book that pushed you so far?
I pushed so hard because I felt that I had written something I myself had wanted to read, and I think I’m pretty discriminating when it comes to the kind of stuff that I find deserving of my time. Plus I knew that there were a lot of other people who wanted to read the book. I knew this because I had contacted hundreds of people who had then read the first 50 or so pages of the manuscript and were basically demanding that I publish the book so they could read the rest of it. I felt like I had tapped into something and after spending all the time writing and editing it and then trying to prove that it had a market to publishers, I found it impossible to walk away. I had just invested too much of my life and my family’s life to it.
Is writing something you have always dabbled in or do you feel like writing is a part of your DNA?