Author Interview: Francine Garson
After reading her page turning debut novel, Things, I got to interview fellow New Jerseyan, Francine Garson. I got to learn how her first book came to be, what her future in writing looks like, and even got some really sound advice from her.
Let's Find Out More About Things from Francine Garson:
How Did It Come to Be?
Lisa Hodorovych: Where did the idea for Things come from? Was it a dream? Is it based on some reality? And with Hurricane Sandy still being a pretty fresh wound for us Jerseyans, what made you want to incorporate that into your novel?
Francine Garson: In the fall of 2012, I had been writing short pieces of fiction and creative non-fiction for about four years. By that point, I had achieved a bit of publishing success, and I was having fun! Quite honestly, I hadn’t even considered the possibility of tackling a novel. I didn’t think I had a “big enough” story to sustain a reader’s interest over the course of a full-length book, nor did I want to devote that much emotional and mental energy, as well as time, to a single project.
But then, the New Jersey shore was hit with the catastrophe that was Hurricane Sandy. The boardwalk, the amusement parks, the beachfront restaurants and souvenir shops…all the places stamped in my childhood memories were wiped out…in a day. And the homes! All of a sudden, an entire local population was uprooted and made homeless. I did some volunteer work in one of the shore towns and came face to face with the devastation, loss, and grief caused by a storm that was unprecedented in the area. Homes were demolished, and in some cases, they were even physically torn in half. Piles of soaked belongings were laid out across flooded front yards. And that image, more than any other, gave rise to the novel that is THINGS. I began to think about a character who was obsessively attached to physical items, and I wondered about the possible psychological reasons for that. And then, poof! Jenny was born!
Lisa: Are the characters – Jenny, Nick, Greg – based on anybody? Did anybody inspire these characters for you?
Francine: Like Jenny, I was a college advisor. When I wrote the book, that was not the newsworthy profession that it is today! However, unlike her, I did not grow up in a military family, and I am much more of a minimalist than a hoarder. I knew that for this particular story, I wanted the main character to be inordinately attached to “things.” But rather than dream up a character based on an episode of Hoarders, my goal was to create a young woman whose obsession with the collecting of very specific artifacts was rooted in a childhood wound. And for her to evolve, she would need to learn that amassing physical objects was not the way to find a sense of rootedness, a sense of home.
In addition to Nick being Jenny’s love interest, his appearance also acts as an inciting incident. In fear of losing him and exposing what she knows to be her own obsessive behavior as well as an accidental lie in her past, Jenny digs herself deeper and deeper into a tangle of deceit. Although Nick is kind, patient, and by the way, devastatingly attractive, even he has his limits as readers of THINGS have discovered.
Greg popped into my mind after I had already envisioned the bones of the story. Although I do know some “Nosey Nellies,” he is not based on any one particular person, but I think his personality will be recognizable to readers. His function in the novel is to provide some comic relief, but more importantly, to act as a catalyst for the conflict that needs to occur between Jenny and Nick in order to move the story forward.
"Who did you see as the characters?"
Lisa: Did you envision yourself as Jenny as you wrote the book? If not, who did you see as her? What about Nick and Greg or any other character?
Francine: I didn’t envision myself as Jenny or any of the other characters. However, I did “inhabit” each of them at times. That calls for an explanation, doesn’t it?
As part of my writing process for fiction, I try to actually become my characters––to walk in their shoes, speak in their voices, and jump into their heads. In fact, my husband has caught me on a number of occasions talking out loud to characters that exist only on my laptop.
Setting (Hello, New Jersey!)
Lisa: As a fellow New Jerseyan (born and raised), it was so nice and so refreshing to see roads (like Route 18) and towns (like New Brunswick) being mentioned throughout your novel. Why place the story in our awesome state of New Jersey? Did you live in that town or near it?
Francine: THINGS had to take place in New Jersey, and Jenny had to live close to the shore. Although the story occurs in the months preceding the arrival of Hurricane Sandy, its threat is integral to the plot and to Jenny’s own character development.
I, too, am a native New Jerseyan, and I especially love the New Jersey shore. I grew up close by, and I still live within a short drive of the beach. THINGS grew out of that love, and I believe that Sea Grove (a fictitious town) is a character in its own right. I went to school in New Brunswick and am very familiar with Route 18. So, including those locales was fun for me!
I’ve been asked why I used real locations, with the exception of Sea Grove, throughout the book. I find that an interesting question, and the truth is that although I did extensive research on New Brunswick, New Hope, and specific roads, since Sea Grove is such an important part of the story, I couldn’t afford to make even the tiniest mistake. For example, if I mentioned that the boardwalk was a three step walk up from the street, that better be right!
Let's Find Out More About Francine Garson:
Her Writing Career
Lisa: When did you first realize your love for writing and that you wanted to pursue it as a career?
Francine: I won my first writing contest at the age of ten with an essay entitled “What Thrift Means to Me.” Although I’m no longer an expert on that particular subject, I guess budgeting my weekly allowance was enough to make me an authority back then. When my young friends were asked what they wanted to be when they grew up, they would say “a ballerina, a teacher, a nurse” (No little girl back then in my small, semi-rural town would ever say or even think that she could be a doctor). I would always say “I want to be an author or a judge.” (I’m not sure where the judge part came from.)
But putting my writing dreams aside, I went to college, graduate school, and pursued a career in college administration. But I NEVER stopped reading, and reading, and reading some more. Then, ten years ago, I began to write seriously. And surprising even myself, a number of my short pieces (both fiction and non) were published and even won awards. But today, I realize that those first few years of serious writing as well as a lifetime of insatiable reading were...preparation…the preparation that I needed to do in order to write THINGS. For me, this book is the beginning of the next phase of my journey. I’ve already completed a second novel and have jotted down some preliminary ideas for a third.
So, as I learned as a ten-year-old, words (especially when combined with a little imagination) have power. And for those of us who love the craft of writing and are willing to work hard at it, they can bring lots of…THINGS.
Her Writing Process
Lisa: What is your writing process? Are you like me where you write your stories out first before typing them up (a.k.a. “old school”)? Or do you go straight for the laptop?
Francine: I go straight for the laptop! But I always keep a notebook with me for stray thoughts, random bits of dialogue, and out-of-the-box ideas that often find a way into my digital work-in-progress.
Lisa: Out of all the genres you can write, why did you write a drama with some romance and comedy mixed in?
Francine: “A drama with some romance and comedy mixed in” …I like your description! I wasn’t really thinking about genre, but I knew that THINGS would take place at the New Jersey shore in the months leading up to Hurricane Sandy, and the character of Jenny popped into my head almost fully formed. From there, the story just unfolded.
Finding Her Publisher
Lisa: How did you find Ant Colony Press?
Francine: Actually, Ant Colony Press found me! I had tweeted a short pitch for THINGS on PitMad, a quarterly event on Twitter, and ACP’s editor requested the first three chapters and then the full manuscript. I signed a contract with them in February, and THINGS was released in September. That quick turnaround was just one of the advantages of working with a small press.
Lisa: What advice would you give to an aspiring writer, like me?
Francine: There’s so much writing advice out there, and some of it is contradictory.
Outline vs. Don’t outline
Edit as you go vs. Just get the words on the page and revise later
Aim for a daily word count vs. Commit to a specific number of writing hours per day
The list goes on. But over the years, I’ve learned that writing advice is not a universal one-size-fits-all garment that we can all slip into like some sort of magic cloak. Probably the only advice that I believe is absolutely crucial comes from Stephen King:
“If you don't have time to read, you don't have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that."
Lisa: What is next for author Francine Garson? Is there another novel in the works? Maybe a sequel to Things?
Francine: Next up for me is my forthcoming novel, which I hope will be released later this fall, entitled FOLLOW THE LEADER. Like THINGS, I’d consider it upmarket (the cross between literary and commercial) fiction. But it is a very different sort of book.
FOLLOW THE LEADER deals with the consequences of a fateful mistake in judgment that might (or might not) have repercussions two generations later, the dangerous power of a long-kept secret, and questions of nature vs. nurture. Think DEFENDING JACOB by William Landay meets DARE ME by Megan Abbott. It poses an ethical dilemma which I hope will have readers asking themselves “What would I have done?”
As for a sequel to THINGS…hmm…maybe…
Interesting Fact About Francine Garson
Lisa: May I have at least one interesting factoid about yourself that no one knows? (For example: You’re a comic book enthusiast; you believe you were a witch in a past life; you have a plethora of tattoos you are hiding; etcetera.)
Francine: I grew up on a chicken farm. And I hate eggs!
Thank you again, Ms. Garson for taking the time to answer my questions! It was an absolute honor and it is truly appreciated!
If you would like to learn more about Ms. Garson, her books, and where you can purchase them, please check out her website, https://www.francinegarson.com/.
Remember, I did not get paid to write the review on Things nor am I getting paid to interview Ms. Garson. I am just a fellow writer and fan showcasing the work of a great author. If you have any questions or would like to be featured on my blog, please don't hesitate to contact me.
The photo featured in this post were given to me by Francine Garson for that very purpose.
**This post was originally published on September 6, 2019**