Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Twenty Questions With Frank Be Blase

A brief bio of Frank De Blase doesn’t do him justice. For now, let just say he likes the twist in the plot and the twist of the knife. He takes delight in chaos, entropy, and the wrong turns his characters make. His stories are pure pulp noir told in a language that is alliterated, obliterated, and visceral. He’s madly in love with the femme fatale.

De Blase writes as a music critic every week for Rochester City Newspaper, contributes frequently to Crimespree Magazine, writes a monthly column for Skin & Ink Magazine, and photographs pin-up models for several men’s magazines. He likes to sing the blues.

He lives is Rochester, New York with his wife, Deborah and two cats, Rocco and Dixie. His new book is A Cougar’s Kiss, which we’re discussing today.

One Bite at a Time: Tell us about A Cougar’s Kiss.

Frank De Blase:  Frankie Valentine, the lead character in A Cougar’s Kiss has appeared in several short stories and my debut novel Pine Box for a Pin-Up and I thought it might be smart to give some background as to Frankie’s first exposure to photography, girls, and photographing girls. A Cougar’s Kiss stars Valentine as a horny teenager and as an adult who still may be a horny teenager at heart.

OBAAT: Readers love to ask where authors get their ideas and most authors reply with something along the lines of “we’re tripping over them. The trick is to find the idea that works best for me.” What made this idea worth developing, and how much development from the original germ was required?
FD: I guess I just write what I like to read. Without relying too much on formula, I tend to have the twist, the detour, the surprise already established before I begin. I also love to write dialogue and often rely on the story idea as merely a framework to hang it from. I’m not necessarily tripping over ideas, but when it’s a good one, it won’t leave me alone.

OBAAT: How long did it take to write A Cougar’s Kiss, start to finish?
FD: A year, give or take a few.

OBAAT: Where did Frankie Valentine come from? In what ways is he like, and unlike, you?
FD: I get this question all the time. Yes, the character is based loosely upon me. I’ve worked as a photographer for several men’s magazines over the years --- Swank, Leg World, Leg Show, Ultra , Retro Lovely --- and I’m a bit of a wise ass. But Valentine is darker than I care to be and he doesn’t shy away from violence. I also use Valentine’s sidekick, Mickey Miller, to vent the darker urges and borderline behavior that even Frankie doesn’t truck with. They’re like the proverbial angel of virtue and devil of temptation on my shoulder; however in this case they’re both devils vying for my attention.

OBAAT: In what time and place is A Cougar’s Kiss set and why was this time and place chosen?
FD:  My stories are almost exclusively written between V-J Day and JFK DOA Day for two reasons: first of all I love the culture, the social optimism, the flexing of sexual taboos in post-war America, it serves as a swell backdrop and undercurrent for duplicitous dealings and sinister scenes. Secondly, back then, you just needed to be a good liar. The advent of DNA technology disarms lies. And phones no longer go unanswered with everyone having a cell phone in their mitts. A Cougar’s Kiss is set in Rochester, New York because it is where I live and it’s an interesting place, it’s not too big and it’s not too small. It’s serves as sort of a character as well. I find it easier to blend in reality and real places in my fiction, it gives an added plausibility.

OBAAT: How did A Cougar’s Kiss come to be published?
FD: Down & Out Books published my first two books. Editor Eric Campbell is a righteous cat. I owe it all to my friend and mentor Charles Benoit who introduced me to Noircon’s Lou Boxer in Philadelphia who in turn introduced me to Campbell who signed me up after two phone calls.

OBAAT: What kinds of stories do you like to read? Who are your favorite authors, in or out of that area?
FD: I primarily read hard-boiled fiction. Besides the obvious classics, some of my favorite writers are Richard S. Prather, Walter Mosley, Lawrence Block, Christa Faust, and James Ellroy.

OBAAT: What made you decide to be an author?
FD: Somebody said I could make more money in writing than girlie photography and music. Seriously though, I’ve always been fascinated with wordplay and parlance and syntax. Words are my monkey bars. I love building characters simply out of the way they talk.

OBAAT: How do you think your life experiences have prepared you for writing crime fiction?
FD: Well, I’ve never been arrested or shot but I’ve had some dark urges. I’ve definitely been done wrong a time or two.

OBAAT: What do you like best about being a writer?
FD: The endless possibilities, the creative freedom, the groupies.

OBAAT: Who are your greatest influences? (Not necessarily writers. Filmmakers, other artists, whoever you think has had a major impact on your writing.)
FD: Film maker Russ Meyer and guitarist Link Wray. Though couched in social commentary, Russ Meyer’s name is synonymous with the Double D cup and the often violent, sexified sexpots that routinely spill out of it. He frequently filmed and photographed these top-heavy, cantilevered cuties from low angles to accentuate their dominance and celebrate — and accentuate — the gonzo, jaw-dropping busty-ness of it all. There are obvious literal references to Meyer when I describe the desired female victim, villain, or vixen. And like Meyer, I try to balance objectification and worship as both are desirable and dangerous, perfect for setting up the male character who can’t tell the difference. Link’s primal rhythms echo a femme fatale’s strut: swivelin,’ swingin,’ sexy and capable of causing a riot. His guitar is the sound of the getaway car, the five o’clock shadow on a killer’s face, it’s bullets ricocheting down the alley.

OBAAT: Do you outline or fly by the seat of you pants?
FD: Honestly it’s a precarious cocktail of the two. When I write an outline, it’s generally vague, covering the major plot points. When I dive right in it allows for more spontaneity and if I’m not careful, confusion.

OBAAT: Give us an idea of your process. Do you edit as you go? Throw anything into a first draft knowing the hard work is in the revisions? Something in between?
FD: I generally try to get the semblance of a first draft banged out. Then I begin the polishing, re-tooling, and tweaking. That’s where the real writing begins, s’far as I’m concerned.

OBAAT: Endings are hard and can make or break a book. Americans as a whole tend to like happy endings, and those are the books that tend to sell best. What do you look for in an ending?
FD: I generally don’t like happy endings. I do like endings that hint at more to come. And just because it may leave you laughing, that doesn’t necessarily make it “happy.”

OBAAT: Who is your intended audience?
FD: I suppose dark-humored, hard boiled, film noir fans like me are an obvious demographic, but I’d like to go beyond preaching to the perverted and win over new fans for my stuff and the genre as a whole.

OBAAT: If you could give a novice writer a single piece of advice, what would it be?
FD: Write every day. Enjoy the ride. Don’t try too hard.

OBAAT: Generally speaking the components of a novel are story/plot, character, setting, narrative, and tone. How would you rank these in order of their importance in your own writing, and can you add a few sentences to tell us more about how you approach each and why you rank them as you do?
FD: Narrative ---- the most important component. If you can’t tell a story in a compelling way --- your own way --- the rest are meaningless. The narrative is the writer’s voice. I make it a point to keep it conversational. I write like I talk.

Character ---- the characters share and help propel the narrative. There’s room for quirks and humor here. This is where I call upon people and incidents in my real life for added color.
Story/plot ---- what the narrative conveys. If you’ve got no story then you’ve got nothing.

Setting ---- affects how characters work with, within, and around it as silent component to the narrative. Here I try to personify and give life to the inanimate, for example “The sky cried as cars roared angrily by.”

Tone ---- the sum of all the parts if utilized correctly. And yet you can’t control tone. Every book has tone --- good or bad. This is where the magic and sweat and creativity all align.

OBAAT: If you could have written any book of the past hundred years, what would it be, and what is it about that book you admire most?
FD: Mickey Spillane’s I, The Jury… it’s what lit my spark, some 40 odd years ago.

OBAAT: Favorite activity when you’re not reading or writing.
FD: Spending time with my wife, photographing musicians and scantily clad women, eating barb-b-que.

OBAAT: What are you working on now?
FD: A yet to be titled follow up to A Cougar’s Kiss, another collection of short stories, a graphic novel of some of the aforementioned short stories, and an album of my beat-inspired poetry performed with the jazz combo Busted Valentines. It’s anyone’s guess in what order this will all get done…

Piqued your interest? Learn more about Frank here:

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