Tuesday Shorts interviews N. Frank Daniels

Recent Nashville transplant N. Frank Daniels, who calls Atlanta home, is one of those lucky few self-publishing success stories. Most self- published authors can dream of "making it," but realistically, most won't. It's possible Daniels had a feeling he would, though - and if not a feeling, a sense of determination. The copyright page of his self-published version of futurproof identifies it as the "P.O.D. edition." Which implies there will, someday, be a different edition.

He was right.

Futureproof, released in bookstores January 27, was first published in 2006 as a P.O.D. book through Lulu.com.

Daniels, who had spent almost two years trying to find a publisher for his book, was about to give up the search when he received a call from Harper Perennial, a division of HarperCollins.

"I had literally not a month earlier given up on getting futureproof published," Daniels says. "Sept. 20, 2007 - a day I'll never forget. It was like all that work had finally paid off, and in the most unexpected way."

Daniels explains how they found out about futureproof:

"My book was reviewed by PODdy Mouth, then the most influential POD reviewer on the Web, and it just so happened that two weeks later Entertainment Weekly did a small piece on PODdy Mouth and highlighted her last five book reviews," Daniels says. "'Futureproof' was one of them."

[The others making up the top three on the list were (1) Henry Baum's North of Sunset and (3) Susanne Severeid's The Death of Milly Mahoney.]

Of course, Daniels is more than a self-published writer-turned Published Author. He would have to be, or his success would be relatively short. There are a lot of one-hit wonders in the book world (none to be named here), but the reviews of Daniels' work and his plans for his writing future indicate he'll be around for a while.

In the following interview, Daniels discusses futureproof, the transition from self-published to published, and his future plans.

TS: What kinds of things were you writing before you started work on futureproof?

N. Frank Daniels: I wrote about everything, really. I saw myself as a sort of social commentator. A lot of what I wrote was specifically for my college newspaper--more column-type stuff than actual news. Also short stories, poetry, etc. Writing has always been something I have used to get my head clear and in order to navigate my way through life without going completely batshit insane.

TS: Where can people find some of your short stories?

NFD: I have never published a short-story and have never attempted to publish one. I have around three that I've considered sending out but is just so much work to get one story published that I figured I would wait until after I published a novel (my main goal in getting published) before I took the time to pursue having a short story in print.

TS: Why did you write Futureproof? That is, was it something you felt you could do well, or was it something you felt you needed to do?

NFD: I wrote FP because it was a story that needed to be told. I wanted to kind of chart the fall of someone who had never really risen in the first place. I guess that’s the case in most stories involving drugs, but there was just something undeniably heart-wrenching about a kid who has nothing really, and then makes all sorts of decisions that leave him with even less. The book is really just about being loved and how terrible it is to not feel loved at all.

TS: Your book also touches on some other topics, such as classicism and racism, as well as the human tendency to cast judgment. The Rocky Horror Picture Show scenes were particularly revealing of the differences in people, but at the same time, the sameness of all of us. What comment, if any, would you make about human nature and the way it affects a person's sense of his or her place in the world?

NFD: I think that any person that really takes time for serious introspection can see that we are, to a one, all alone most of the time. When you do realize this, I think it makes it harder to define where your place is in the world. People are defined most by their jobs and their income and their standing in the social strata. So when you feel like "no one understands" and that you are all alone in the world, to find a few other people who feel the same things--it somehow makes it easier to be alone, even if you essentially remain alone. "Well, at least all of these people are alone too", you know?

TS: I understand you're also working on a memoir—will you be writing more fiction, too, and if you are, do you already have a story in mind?

NFD: I'll always write fiction. I already have a third novel in the preliminary stages. It will be the last chapter in the story of Luke from futureproof and involves porn, lie detectors and the complete absence of love.

TS: How does the experience of writing as an author with an agent and publisher differ, if at all, from the experience of writing as someone who had neither?

NFD: The only difference between writing when you have an agent and/or publisher is that you know that at least a few people are going to read your work. I don't feel any need to compromise anything I write for anyone, but I also know that it is pretty much a given that eventually I am going to have to compromise to some degree with what the final product is. Just part of the game. And honestly, I like having these guys question some of what I write because it ends up just being another part of the writing and editing process. It can only help make the books better. You just have to have an eye and an ear for what truly makes the book as good as it can be and let that be the guide more than ego or pride or any of that.

TS: Many people who want the book publishing dream fantasize about what it would be like to have an agent and publisher. How does the reality of it compare to what you imagined?

NFD: The reality of having an agent and having a book published is everything you can probably imagine. It's nice. We strive our whole lives for that kind of final acceptance and when it happens you have to be thankful. I most definitely am. I've gotten a really good agent and editor. I really hope for great things in the future.

TS: Self-publishers enjoy the freedom of having the opportunity to choose their own book covers and tend to muse over the covers they believe they would have if they were to find an actual publisher. Did you have any say in the cover that was chosen for your book?

(original cover)

(new cover)

NFD: I can only speak for Harper Perennial, but I'll tell you that with them I was always given a choice. We went through seven or eight fully designed covers before we settled on the final cover. They asked me if I had any ideas, I told them what they were and we messed around with possibilities until we were all happy. I like the new cover better than the one I chose for the self-published version of the book.

TS: Your past blog posts--back when you were struggling to find a publisher--more than hinted at your dissatisfaction with the publishing industry and its reluctance to publish a certain kind of fiction, opting instead for fiction that is easily marketable and more commercial. Have your thoughts about publishers changed now that you've been given access to the "other side"?

NFD: If I said my thoughts about publishing changed I'd be a total fucking hypocrite. No, its still business as usual. I guess the difference now is that I see that it isn't some kind of thing only focused on publishing. Its everywhere.

Being an artist and trying to break through in any field is soul-crushing. There are millions of people trying to be represented in the market place and there are only so many markets. A best-selling album these days has to sell far fewer copies to be considered 'best-selling' because everything is so cut up and spread around the different demographics. There really isn't a single popular culture reference point any more. So in one way that's good because a lot more people can get a piece of the pie. That piece will just be far smaller than it was before. So that being the case, I'm sure you can see where my frustration originated. With there being such small pieces of the market share, only the stuff that these large entertainment conglomerates deem as appealing to the largest number of people is going to get through.

Luckily for me I found the perfect publisher in Harper Perennial. There's a story that was published in The New York Observer about Harper Perennial publisher Carrie Kania and how she has made Perennial into a "clubhouse for losers" that only publishes "the most literate schlemiels." Doesn't sound very flattering (and this was supposed to be a puff piece!), but it is what it is. Ms. Kania has made a niche for herself and for writers of a certain kind of fiction. They have the complete Bukowski back catalog as well as other outsider writers such as Sylvia Plath and Aldous Huxley.

In this way I could not be happier with the position I am in with my writing career. Harper Perennial is a fucking awesome imprint and as far as I'm concerned is the new trend in how publishing can actually work if there is someone like Carrie to really nourish it and the authors she finds to represent it well into the future.

Thanks for taking the time, Frank. Best of success to you in your writing - and general - future.

- Kristen

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