Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Author Interview: Jodi talks with YA Author J.S. Frankel

We are very happy to welcome J.S. Frankel to the Smoocher’s Voice blog today. Frankel’s latest novel Lindsay and the Marauders is available at Amazon.

J.S. Frankel was born in Toronto, Canada, many moons ago and managed to scrape through high school and university, earning a BA in English Literature and leaving no book unopened during his time at the University of Toronto. Shortly after graduation, he moved to Japan in order to teach English to the hapless residents of whichever city he happened to be living at the time.

In 1997, he married the charming Akiko Koike and their union produced two rather interesting children. Frankel and his family make their home in Osaka where he teaches during the day and attempts to write YA fiction at night.

Jodi:   Thank you, J.S., for taking the time to answer some questions for our readers. Tell us a little about yourself.

J.S.:    The brief bio above says it all. I was born in Toronto, Canada, but moved to Japan at the age of twenty-six. Japan intrigued me back then and it still does. I’ve been living here half my life (!) and the journey never ends. So, too, with my writing, the journey never ends and I hope it never will.

Jodi:   Why did you choose to write in the young adult genre?

J.S:     It wasn’t a conscious decision. It was just something inside me that said “tell a story”. I know it’s supposed to be ‘the’ market today and I’ve looked at the demographics, but really, it’s just the kid in me who is, in a way, retracing his youth through his novels.

Jodi:   So far you have four published young adult books? Do all of the books have an element of science fiction and romance?

J.S.:    Yes, they do, although having romance isn’t necessary. I’ve always loved science fiction, ever since I was young when writers like Ray Bradbury and Frederik Pohl captured my imagination with the stories they wrote. I like to think about the possibilities of life among the cosmos and my stories are representative of the what-if element.

Jodi:   Do you find creating the science fiction elements difficult? What type of research is necessary to write in this genre?

J.S.:    Yes and no. The biggest problem, if you want to call it that, is consistency. If you world-build, you have to be consistent with everything that goes on there. The rules must apply to everyone. Bending the rules of physics is fine as long as you give some kind of explanation and that consistency is observed. This is what older, more experienced writers have said and I took that advice to heart.

Jodi:   You have written both male/male and female/female romance into your books. Why have you chosen to explore LGTBQ themes?

J.S.:    Again, it wasn’t a conscious decision. I’m interested in writing good character-driven stories. If the MC(s) happen to be gay, that’s fine, as long as they’re well-rounded, realistic characters. I also think that in the LGBTQ area, there could be more S/F novels although there are some fine ones out there. The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula Le Guin,  the Warchild trilogy by Karin Lowachee, are just two examples, and they’re both solid entries in the S/F canon. I enjoyed reading them along with other S/F novels. To me, the orientation of the main characters is really incidental although it’s a positive portrayal and that, I feel, is a good thing for the LGBTQ community. Too many stereotypes abound and these stories are an excellent way of countering those stereotypes.

Jodi:   Lindsay and the Marauders is the first book in a series. Is this the first series you have written? Why did you choose to explore a series with these characters?

J.S.:    Yes, this is the first series I’ve written. I wanted to take the classic ‘fish out of water’ scenario and see what I could do with it. At first, LVTM was going to be a one-off, but I liked the characters and the situations so much, I continued on.

Jodi:   Why did you choose to have females as the main characters?

J.S.:    I like strong female characters. In fact, I like strong characters, period. Who wants to be wimpy? Every character I’ve ever written—even the bad guys—regardless of orientation, is strong. They’re more appealing to me and to the readers. (I hope).

Jodi:   Tell us a little about your inspiration for Lindsay and the Marauders?

J.S.:    Believe it or not, I got the idea from the movie Paul, the one with Simon Pegg and Nick Frost. In it, they were discussing their favorite author and the books he wrote…’Jenny Starpepper and the Great Brass Hen’ for example, and while the title is ridiculous—and funny—it sparked an idea, so I took it from there.

Jodi:   What was your inspiration for the marauders?

J.S.:    Pirates are never nice. They’ve been done in a lot of genres over the centuries; they have a bad rep, and they’re cheats, liars, and all-around scum. However, I didn’t want to use the word ‘pirates’ as it sounded too juvenile, so I thought of the word ‘marauders’. It’s old-fashioned, but it’s still being used, and to me, the title Lindsay Versus the Marauders just sounded right. You have ‘versus’ in a title and you just know there’s going to be conflict!

Jodi:   Are the Council Members symbolic?

J.S.:    In a sense, they represent what society thinks of the LGBTQ side of things although I didn’t want to make them too much that way. Their position regarding Jo and her relationship with Lindsay is made quite clear without going overboard. When you do that, if you preach (no matter what the subject matter is) then you run the risk of turning readers off which is something I don’t want to do.

Jodi:   How did you come up with the idea for all of the evil entities in the book?

J.S.:    Imagination, imagination, imagination. It took me a long time to get the scum right. If you’re going to do scum, do them well and make them memorable. If you just have a bad guy (or girl) who says “I’m gonna hurt you,” it doesn’t convey menace. But if you have someone erudite and well-mannered—although still a killer and all-around baddie—then his or her demise is far more satisfying.

Jodi:   Both Lindsay and Jonephra have struggles with coming out despite the fact that they live in different worlds. What is the message you are imparting with that concept?

J.S.:    Simply put, no matter where you live, you’ll face discrimination. As we can see in society today, discrimination is in every country regardless of race, religion or creed, and it cuts across all social, ethnic, and economic barriers.

Jodi:   Both Lindsay and Jonephra are independent young women who are on the cusp of adulthood. Why did you choose to make them older when the target audience for young adult books is usually middle to high school students?

J.S.:    I wanted to show the first pangs of love along with the idea of coming out and doing something about it. As well, when you’re dealing with romance, there is the element of physical sex (although it doesn’t have to come to that) and depicting underage participants, while it does happen, of course, is considered a no-no. Also, I just wanted to write about slightly more mature characters.

Jodi:   Tell us a little about the planet Carinna and your inspiration for the conditions on the planet?

J.S.:    If you want inspiration, look no further than our own ozone depletion and the rise of antibiotic-resistant strains of some infections/diseases. The air pollution problem in China is a life-threatening one in some cases, and there are other examples of how we’re ruining our environment. I just took it to a sci-fi conclusion. I still have hopes for Earth, though.

Jodi:   What was your inspiration for Twisted?

J.S.:    Jenna Talackova, the transgendered Ms. Universe contestant, was my main inspiration. When I saw a picture of her for the first time, I had no idea she was transgendered. I just thought she was totally gorgeous and I still do.  But I wondered what it would be like to be in a different body. Gender dysphoria is a very real psychological problem, one that is largely misunderstood by the general public. I wanted to address that in Twisted.

I’d also add that gender switching is nothing new. It goes way back to ancient Egyptian times and beyond. I wanted to do a ‘twist’ (sorry) on the traditional way of writing that particular kind of novel.

Jodi:   In Twisted, you explore the topic of transgender as the main male character is transformed into the body of a female warrior once he is inside the video game. Why did you choose to explore this topic in the book?

J.S.:    As I said above, gender switching is nothing new. I wanted to see how a male heteronormative character would react being in a female form without resorting to stereotypes.

Jodi:   What type of research did you need to do for Twisted and Lindsay and the Marauders?

J.S.:    For Twisted, a lot of it takes place in Medieval England, circa 1430. I needed to do research on how the people dressed, what they ate, the hairstyles…everything. Here, I relied on my sister’s knowledge—she’s been a member of SCA (Society for Creative Anachronism) for years and helped me quite a bit with some of the terminology—as well as using my Google-fu to help me find out what other things I needed to know.

With LVTM, imagination came to my rescue. I just ran the idea of a lesbian protagonist through the proper channels. I did not want to do a stereotype of any character. That simply doesn’t make for a good story.

Jodi:   There is some violence in both books, although the violence is more prominent in Lindsay and the Marauders. Did you feel those battle scenes were important to the plot and character development?

J.S.:    Yes, I did. Trial by fire is a common theme in novels. I wanted Lindsay to grow as a person, go from a shy and sort of nerdy young lady to someone who could deal with the physical difficulties of life as well as the psychological ones. And the old adage of “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” does hold sway in this situation.

Also, when you’re dealing with cutthroats, they’re not going to play fair or be nice. To quote a line from an old Star Trek show, you have to match their evil. And I did.

Jodi:   What is your next project?

J.S.:    Right now, I’ve just finished the final novel in the Lindsay/Jo trilogy (Lindsay, Jo and the Well of Nevermore) and I hope it will be accepted. I’m also working on a YA novel featuring a transgendered character and while it’s almost done, I want to go over it and make it right. The tentative title is Picture (Im) perfect. I’ll see how that goes.

I’d like to add a sincere “Thank You” for allowing me this interview. It was a great experience writing the Lindsay/Jo series, and I hope it will be well received by not only the LGBTQ community, but by the entire book-loving community as well.

Lindsay versus the Marauders
Shy Lindsay Fleming has just summoned up all her courage and come out. All she's ever wanted is to be accepted for herself, but though her best friend, Myra, is okay with her sexual orientation, many of her high school friends are not. Her parents don't understand at all, leaving Lindsay angry and confused. During the Christmas season, Lindsay attends a meeting for the "newly out," but she leaves when that turns into a disaster. On her way home, she saves a young woman from being mugged - by four red-skinned aliens!

The woman, Jonephra ("Call me Jo") is a resident of the planet Carinna, located in another dimension. The red-skinned men, known as "Marauders," are a mean, ruthless bunch who stole jewels that power Jo's home world, and she's on a mission to get them back. Turkel leads the band of heartless pirates, and they'll kill anyone who gets in the way of their looting and pillaging. Lindsay is reluctant to get involved, but she agrees to help Jo, who she is attracted to. Jo is tall and self-confident, and Lindsay thinks Jo might like her, but she feels so shy and awkward. Will she be able to shed her shyness and gain enough confidence to win Jo's heart? Even more risky: will Lindsay survive the dangerous Marauders, find the jewels and return them before Jo's planet runs out of reserve power?

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