Derrick Ferguson: Who is Frank Byrns?
Frank Byrns: Let's find out together!
DF: Where do you live and what do you do the keep the repo men from your door?
FB: I live in Maryland, just about halfway between Washington and Baltimore. We move frequently to keep the repo men from our door. (The first sentence of this answer won't help in that regard.) Or, alternately, I work in the exciting world of third party logistics.
DF: Tell us something about your background.
FB: I grew up in a small town in North Carolina, went to school at Wake Forest University (Go Deacs!), lived in Arizona for a bit as the husband of an itinerant grad student, then settled down in the DMV region almost fifteen years ago. I worked for a while in retail management for a series of professional sports teams, then worked almost ten years for the Smithsonian Institution.
DF: How long have you been writing?
FB: All my life, I guess? I have a whole stack of Robin Hood stories I wrote in second grade, and some GI Joe stories from third grade that are only slightly worse. But I've been writing seriously (as in occasionally for money) for the last ten years or so.
DF: What’s your philosophy of writing?
FB: I like to show and not tell, but even more importantly, I like to say and not tell. But those are the same things, you're thinking, and you might be right. I like for the characters to say things, rather than the narrator to tell things. I think one of my strongest suits as a writer is that I write pretty good dialogue, and you can reveal a lot of character through dialogue. If it's done right -- done wrong, it can be pretty terrible. So it's a balancing act, without turning into Basil Exposition. I like it when characters say one thing but mean another, and that's all pretty clear to the reader. That's the sweet spot.
I've written stories that are all dialogue, without even so much as a single dialogue tag, and I think they turned out pretty well. (And on the subject of dialogue tags: it's SAID. Always SAID. SAID, SAID, SAID. Nothing else. Let the words the character says tell you how they said them.)
I'm also not a big fan of a lot of flowery description or language. The language gets in the way of the story, and the description gets in the way of the reader's imagination. But I could read James Lee Burke describe the way a swamp smells for five pages, so I dunno. Your mileage may vary.
DF: What audience are your trying to reach with your work? Is there an audience out there for Frank Byrns?
FB: I have to hope so, right? Otherwise, why bother?
I do write a lot of stuff that lands in a weird gray area; they are superhero stories enjoyed by people who don't always like superhero stories, and at the same time, people that like traditional superhero stories may not like my stuff because of the tone and the pace and the occasional lack of action (sometimes I write thrilling stories about a conversation between two people sitting on a roof, things like that). I've tried forcing some action scenes into stories, but they feel exactly that -- forced. So I take them right back out.
I don't know -- I guess people who prefer the human side of superhuman. Something like that.
I write stories with supervillains that worry that their kids are turning out just like them. (Don't we all?) Parents who are afraid to let their superhero children out into the world alone. (Aren't we all?) Parents who still love their supervillain children, even after everything. (Don't we all?) I'm sensing a trend here....
DF: Before we get into ADONIS MORGAN: NOBODY SPECIAL, let’s talk a bit about the superhero prose genre and your place in it. The most obvious question being: why write superhero prose stories?
FB: I started writing superhero prose superhero stories a little over ten years ago, and when I did, I didn't know if there was anyone else out there doing the same thing. I naturally assumed that there were -- I'm not that original -- but I didn't know them or how to find them. Kurt Busiek's work on Marvels and Astro City was a big influence that I was reading at the time. I thought those books somehow made superheroes more real and more wondrous at the same time by making a crucial distinction: instead of showing us what it would be like it superheroes lived in our world, what would it be like if we lived in theirs? They weren't realistic, obviously, but the human emotion in the stories was real, and that really appealed to me as a reader, and eventually, as a writer.
Gradually, I stumbled across other folks doing the same thing -- Frank Fradella and Sean Taylor and Tom Waltz at iHero / Cyber Age Adventures, Matt Hiebert at Superhero Fiction, and later, Nick Ahlhelm at Metahuman Press. Then, of course, I threw my own hat in the ring by publishing A Thousand Faces: the Quarterly Journal of Superhuman Fiction. I started that in 2007, and it ran for 14 issues before I shut it down. I tried to publish the kinds of superhero stories I like to read, things a little more thoughtful and a little less actionful. Through that experience, I met a lot of other superhero writers who have also become friends: T Mike McCurley, Hg, Andrew Salmon, Josh Reynolds, Van Allen Plexico, Rob Rogers, Ian Healy -- a lot of names that will sound familiar to fans of the New Pulp movement. It's been interesting to see superhero fiction get folded under this much larger tent of late -- I'm excited to see where it goes from here.
DF: When did your love of superheroes begin? And what is it about superheroes that speak to all of us?
FB: I can't remember a time when I didn't love superheroes. I read tons of comics as a kid -- my favorite was GI Joe, but that got me into other stuff, Captain America and The Avengers, specifically. I watched Superfriends and the old Adam West Batman, all of the usual touchstones. I went away from superheroes for a while in high school through college, but got back into it with Astro City. I love that book. That, and Bendis' run on Daredevil are what got me back into comics.
I think the chance to put on a mask and be someone else for a while really appeals to a lot of people. To live outside the law -- on either side of it, really, when you get down to it -- and not have to rely on anyone else than your own awesome ability? To be able to fly? Men have dreamed about flying since the first time they saw a bird. How could that not speak to every one of us?
DF: The main drawback of superhero prose is that you don’t have an artist assisting in the storytelling. Is that a drawback for you? Or have you found a way to make that work in your favor?
FB: Nope -- not a drawback to me at all. You have to approach it like writing any other story. You're not writing a comic book without pictures, you're writing a story about superheroes. Comic books are not a genre, they're a medium, but the two (superheroes and comics) are so endlessly conflated, it's very hard to separate. A great mystery story wouldn't work better as a comic book; some probably would, but some work better as movies, too.
Here's what I mean: I looooooooove the movie Unbreakable. I still claim it to be the best superhero movie ever made. But I think it would be hard to tell that story in a comic format. But certain kinds of superhero stories only really work as comics. I can't imagine a Grant Morrison comic as a novel. Those DC novels they produced in the past few years -- Infinity Crisis, 52, etc. -- adapting their big event comics? I didn't think they were very good.
When I was working with Pro Se Press on the cover design for Nobody Special, it was really hard for me. I don't think about the Adonis stories visually at all. I had names for some of the bad guys -- had to call them something -- but costumes? Nothing. I barely know what Adonis looks like, and I've been writing these stories off and on for ten years. Some of them I don't even know what their powers are. I know that's a weird way to approach a superhero story, but that's how I'm wired, I guess.
DF: Tell us about ADONIS MORGAN: NOBODY SPECIAL.
FB: Nobody Special is a collection of five stories featuring the guy who has turned out to be my most popular character, Adonis Morgan. He's a guy who used to be a superhero, but to use his own phrase, "it didn't take." Something happened a few years ago that caused him to hang up the cape and mask and the whole bit -- but just exactly what happened is up in the air. (Either I don't know or I ain't saying, your mileage may vary.) But at any rate, he just can't quite shake his past.
So five stories, one set in each of the past five years. There's "Hollywood Ending", the first Adonis story I wrote over ten years ago (it's a reprint, but it's sort of the origin story, so I thought I should include it here), with Adonis working in LA as a movie stuntman and actor. The second one, "Red Carpet Blues", picks up about a year later, and he's working as a limo driver. The third, "April Fools", excerpts the Adonis segments from a mosaic novella I wrote a few years back called "Friday". Adonis is driving a cab in this one, as he is in the fourth story, "Walking After Midnight", set a year or so later. The fifth and final story in this book, "A Foregone Conclusion", is one I'm very proud of, and might be my favorite of anything I've ever written. In this one, Adonis gets hired on as part of a protection detail for a political candidate's wife.
Adonis is a guy who says he's done playing the hero, who says he just wants to keep his head down and out of the way, who says he just wants to be left alone. But somehow, he just can't stop himself from doing the right thing. Someone once described him as an extraordinary man trying to live an ordinary life, and I really like that. Kinda the opposite of most of us, I guess.
He's a guy who doesn't talk much, and when pressed, favors cryptic non-answers. Which can prove difficult for me from time to time, since as I mentioned, I really like to reveal character through dialogue. I try to reveal his character through the avoidance of dialogue, I guess? It can be tricky, but I think it works.
"Walking After Midnight", the fourth story in the book, has a POV that shifts through several characters, none of whom are Adonis. He's just this figure, lurking in the edge of their lives. He gets a little dialogue with some of them, but the story's not about him. But at the same time, it's all about him.
I tried something a little different in "A Foregone Conclusion" -- it's a first person narrative, told from Adonis' point of view. I was a bit worried it would be a bit jarring coming along after the other four third person narratives, but I think it works.
DF: What was the inspiration for the character of Adonis Morgan?
FB: He sort of emerged fully formed from this stew of ideas and influences swirling around in my head for years. I've always liked the idea of people who peaked early in life, and things would never be that good again, but still have to play out the string, so to speak. I also like playing with the idea that just because you were born to do something (call it destiny, genetics, whatever you'd like) doesn't mean you want to or have to or are even any good at it. What if you don't want to be whatever it is that the universe demands you become?
So if you are super strong and super fast and bulletproof, does that necessarily mean you're a superhero? And even if you've got all those things, what if you try it and you're no good at it? Or you hate it? And if you have enough of a moral compass that you don't become a supervillain, what then?
DF: Will we be seeing more of Adonis Morgan?
FB: I'm sure. I don't do a lot of recurring characters in my stories; the main character from one story may float through the margins of another story, but there are only a few I've returned to over the years. I never planned to go back to Adonis after "Hollywood Ending"; that one ends in a pretty dark place for him. The last line of the story is "Now what?" and I liked that. But the question demanded to be answered, I guess.
I wrote another one a year or so later called "Barflies" (not included in Nobody Special but available online in a few places) that was originally supposed to be about a bar where metahumans hung out in their off hours. There are a few blink and you'll miss them cameos in there from other stories, and at some point, I needed a cabbie. And the first thought in my head was that that is the now what? for Adonis. One of my writerly friends, T. Mike McCurley (read Firedrake, it's great!!!) emailed me after reading and said that it was good to see Adonis again after "Hollywood Ending", and that he had been afraid Adonis had been lost forever. That really stuck with me, and I thought that maybe I was on to something. Before long, he started popping up in other story ideas.
I've got an Adonis novel I've been working on off and on for a while (he's driving a cab in a small North Carolina beach town as a massive hurricane bears down on the island); I've got a couple of other stories percolating in various stages.
You'll see him again soon, I'm sure.
DF: What’s a typical Day In The Life of Frank Byrns like?
FB: Working the pay job, coaching sports after school with the kids, homework / dinner / bed, maybe say hi to my wife before I try and steal some time to write before I fall asleep? Lather, rinse, repeat. Exciting stuff, I know....
Derrick Ferguson: Anything else we should know?
Frank Byrns: God help anyone who's read this far, so I'll just wrap it with the news that Adonis Morgan: Nobody Special is available in print and ebook format at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Smashwords, and wherever fine books are sold! Ask for it by name!