Interview with Matthew Francis

When you're not writing, how do you spend your time?
In my day job, I work as an editor for a book publisher so when I'm not working on my own writing, I'm working with authors on theirs -- developing their book proposals and manuscripts and helping them realize their dreams of getting published. But I also have a lot of outside interests, including travel, food/wine, literature, art, music, dance, theatre, fashion, watching European football (Arsenal and Real Madrid are my teams), playing tennis, horseback riding, and current affairs. I like to stay as well-rounded as I possibly can. The world is a fascinating place. I want to enjoy it.
How do you discover the ebooks you read?
Gotta be honest...I'm actually much more of a print book kinda guy. Call me a traditionalist. But I (obviously) appreciate the power and convenience of e-books. The e-book platform gives authors an excellent opportunity to get their work read and enjoyed by a truly international audience in ways that didn't exist ten or even five years ago. Smashwords is a great e-book venue.
Do you remember the first story you ever wrote?
I don't remember the exact first story I wrote, but I do remember working on a short story assignment with my mom and dad on a Sunday afternoon at our dining room table when I was probably in first or second grade. I had to write a story for my reading class and I remember writing something about mice and cheese. It had to be illustrated -- and I'm not an artist -- and I remember my Mom doing the illustrations in colored pencil. I'm sure I or my parents still have it somewhere. I've always been a writer. It's always been a passion of mine. I don't remember there ever being a time when I wasn't putting stories and characters and ideas down on paper.
What is your writing process?
Because "Dangerous Machinations" is a collaborative venture, my writing process here is slightly different than what it might be if I was working on this piece just on my own. But basically, my brother and I talk through plot and characters and block out a rough framework for where we want the action in each part to lead. He provides me "notes" and I write to those notes, adding my own embellishments and flourishes as the spirit moves me. I try to put down around 1000 words in each dedicated writing session. And I try to do this at least 4-5 days a week, usually at home right after work with a glass of wine (or two) or, on weekends, at a favorite cafe or coffee bar. I then email my brother that day's installment and we discuss and go from there. I used to write everything longhand and then key it all in on my laptop, but now it's just me and the MacBook Air with no intermediary.
Do you remember the first story you ever read, and the impact it had on you?
This is a tough question. I grew up surrounded by literature. My parents are both avid readers and they instilled this love of literature in me from a very early age. I think though, now that I really think about it, of all the stories my parents read to me when I was little, the two that stand out most are "The Velveteen Rabbit" and "Goodnight Moon." I can't really attest to the impact those stories had on me since I wasn't much older than a baby, but I'm sure they contributed to my love of words and stories. I also really liked Dr. Seuss.
How do you approach cover design?
A good friend of mine and a very talented young designer (and a colleague at the publishing house where I work) named Kaitlyn Bitner designed the cover for Dangerous Machinations. She read the original manuscript and then she and I discussed the characters, the story, the locations, etc., and then she went away and worked her magic. She created five very different covers and we kind of whittled it down from there. The lips though were always my favorite. They are so emblematic of Part One, especially in regard to the character Ashleigh's 'Ash by Ashleigh' lipstick line. Kaitlyn's design is sexy and a little sassy and utilizes a running motif throughout the book that really represents the look, style, and narrative feel I'm going for here. Dangerous Machinations Part One is fun trash. I'm not aspiring for great literature here but something that's hopefully a page-turner with characters and plots that are a little outrageous, a little risqué, and a lot of fun. Kaitlyn's cover design represents this aesthetic perfectly.
What are your five favorite books, and why?
In no particular order:

1. Jude the Obscure by Thomas Hardy -- I was in my mid-twenties when I read this and was, at the time, undergoing a period of major change in my life. No character has so utterly affected me in the way that Jude did. I related to him in a way that I've never related to another character. It's been years since I've read what I consider Hardy's masterpiece. I wonder how it would affect me now and whether it would have such a profound affect.

2. Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh -- I can't quite put my finger on what it is about this novel that moves me so. After Jude the Obscure, Sebastian Flyte is my favorite character in all literature. I've always had an affinity for the tragic, and for me, Sebastian epitomizes this aesthetic. I was born and raised a Catholic so perhaps the questions the novel raises about Catholicism and morality struck a chord. Waugh, though, is such an elegant writer and his observations about society are so spot on that even if i didn't love Sebastian Flyte so much, I'd still love the novel.

3. Atonement by Ian McEwan -- the last paragraph. Enough said.

4 & 5. The Winds of War and War & Remembrance by Herman Wouk -- sweeping historical fiction at its finest. Most of what I know about World War Two and the Holocaust was originally gleaned from Wouk's epic. Sweeping yet profoundly intimate, the intertwining lives and loves of the Henry and Jastrow families are still as unforgettable as they were more than forty years ago when the story was first told. Iconic.
What do you read for pleasure?
I mix it up between mostly literary fiction and historical non-fiction. I recently finished Evan Osnos' National Book Award-winning social history of modern China and I just finished reading "50 Shades of Grey" in anticipation of the movie. I'm currently reading "The extraordinary journey of the fakir who got trapped in an Ikea wardrobe" by French novelist Romain Puertolas.
What is your e-reading device of choice?
If I read an e-book, it's usually on a Kindle.
What book marketing techniques have been most effective for you?
Social media, especially Twitter and Facebook. I post excerpts and give status updates on how the writing is progressing. In addition to my own personal accounts, I have linked Twitter and Facebook pages devoted solely to the book.
Describe your desk
I don't have a desk per se. If I'm at home, I usually write sitting up to the island in my kitchen. Otherwise, a table in a cafe with a cup of coffee or tea does the trick.
Where did you grow up, and how did this influence your writing?
I was born and raised in the U.S., but my mom is English and I am a dual U.S./UK citizen, so I feel I really have the best of both worlds. I grew up in the suburbs of Chicago and went to school here in the Midwest, though I don't really think of myself as a Midwesterner. I lived in New York for three years studying acting after college and I've spent a lot of time in London and in the English countryside where my parents have a home. I've traveled rather extensively and given the strong European influence I had growing up, I feel most at home in England and big cosmopolitan cities like London, New York, and Paris. I also love Los Angeles and have a growing appreciation for Washington D.C.

Part One of Dangerous Machinations is set in Beverly Hills and I think represents (by intent) a rather jaded caricature of the L.A. lifestyle seen very much through the lens of characters who aspire to be Real Housewives of Beverly Hills. The characters of Lady, Ashleigh, and Naomi are so over-the-top but they are so much fun to write because really there are no limits to their narcissism and outrageousness, so the imagination can run wild.

In contrast, Part Two (which will publish as an e-book next month) is very different. The characters are English public-schooled aristocrats so even as they find themselves in some pretty crazy situations, Guy and Chloe Templeton operate with greater restraint and decorum. And while I love these characters, they require a different sensibility in the writing.

It will be interesting to see how things turn out in Parts Three and Four when both sets of characters finally begin to merge.
Published 2015-02-16.
Smashwords Interviews are created by the profiled author, publisher or reader.