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JOAN FRANK’S BOOKS

“All the News I Need” — a novel: Published by the University of Massachusetts Press in March 2017. 2016 Juniper Prize for Fiction.

“Because You Have to: A Writing Life” — essays: Published by the University of Notre Dame Press in fall 2012. Silver Award, ForeWord Review Book of the Year, 2013

“Make It Stay” — a novel: Published by The Permanent Press in Spring 2012. Dana Portfolio Award for Novel in Progress in 2008

“In Envy Country” — stories: Published by University of Notre Dame Press in 2010. 2010 Richard Sullivan Prize in Short Fiction; 2010 Gold ForeWord Book of the Year Award; Finalist, 2011 California Book Award.

“The Great Far Away” — a novel: Published by the Permanent Press in 2007. Finalist, 2008 Northern California Book Award in Fiction.

“Miss Kansas City” — a novel: Published by University of Michigan Press in 2006. 2006 Michigan Literary Fiction award; Finalist, 2007 Northern California Book Award.

“Boys Keep Being Born” — stories: Published by University of Missouri Press in 2001. Finalist, 2002 Bay Area Book Reviewers Award; Finalist, 2002 Paterson Fiction Award.

“Despite Women Need to Talk to You” — essays: Published by Conari Press in 1994.

www.joanfrank.org

Author Joan Frank of Santa Rosa spent the first half of her life gathering material for the second half of her life.

Until she was nearly 40, she lived in exotic locales like Africa and Hawaii and worked in journalism in search of authentic, real-life experience. Then she slid quietly into a late-blooming career as a literary fiction writer.

But for the past few decades, Frank, 57, has made up for lost time by producing four novels, two short story collections and two books of essays that have garnered an impressive array of 43 grants, honors and awards, including the Juniper Prize for Fiction for her latest novel, “All the News I Need” (University of Massachusetts Press, 2017).

“I really started publishing at age 40,” said Frank, the daughter of two native New Yorkers, an English professor father and an artistic mother, who moved to Phoenix before she was born. “But a lot of my friends say I have more books out than anyone they know.”

The new novel, like much of her fiction, focuses on the interior lives of its two main characters: the acerbic Fran, a lonely widow living in Wine Country; and the erudite Ollie, a painfully shy gay man living in San Francisco. Wielding her polished prose and deep insight into loss and mortality, Frank trails these unlikely friends as they embark on a life-changing trip to Paris, which allows them to arrive back home with new eyes.

Reviewer Bob Wake of Coffee Spew called the book “a deep dive into the heart of friendship, of memory and regret, of aging and loss. ... Joan Frank has gifted us with two unforgettable characters in a novel filled to bursting with hard truths and shimmering beauty.”

The book draws inspiration from Frank’s own tragedies — she lost her mother at age 11 and her younger sister in 2014 — and limns the author’s deep passion for travel and music as well as her clear-eyed inquisition of the undignified realities of aging.

“It’s an homage to all of my peers who have lived this long with me, and also, a kind of victory lap,” she said. “The book is trying to come up with a proposal of ways to inhabit what time we have left here.”

As the icing on the éclair this year, the California State Library in Sacramento recognized Frank as an important California writer, purchasing all of her papers and the posthumous copyrights to her books in order to create the Joan Frank Collection. That honor has left the under-the-radar author, who has never been published by a major house, both exhilarated and validated.

“It means my work will live on for generations, protected and preserved,” she said. “It may be better than fame and fortune ... may be.”

In addition to writing fiction, Frank regularly reviews books for the San Francisco Chronicle, has been shopping around an unpublished collection of four novellas and is working on a new essay collection about place and travel.

Since 1996, she has lived in Santa Rosa with her husband, Bob Duxbury, a British-born playwright.

We caught up with Frank in a local coffee shop, where her chic, red glasses and black sheath blouse made her appear more like a transplanted New Yorker than ever, while her natural warmth and open spirit revealed her Western roots.

WHAT: Sonoma-Marin Fair Concert Lineup

WHERE: Sonoma-Marin Fairgrounds, 175 Fairgrounds Drive.

WHEN: Wednesday, June 21, 8 p.m. – Tower of Power; Thursday, June 22, 8 p.m., Jana Kramer; Friday, June 23, 8 p.m., ASIA featuring John Payne; Saturday, June 24, 8 p.m., John Michael Montgomery; Sunday, June 25, 3 p.m. to 7 p.m., Fiesta Latina 2017, with Brisas del Mar, Banda Toro, and Los Ángeles Negros.

COST: All concerts are free with fair admission (Pre-Fair online $10-$15, at the gate $12-$18).

INFO: www.sonoma-marinfair.org

Q: How did you come up with the title of your new book, “All the News I Need”?

A: It came from a Paul Simon song, “The Only Living Boy in New York.” That song is dropped in at the end of the book. I originally wanted the title to be “You’ve Got the Same Pants to Get Happy With.” Everyone hated the title — editors, friends and family. And I was crushed. Bob and I went for a walk around Spring Lake ... and he came up with this, and I loved it.

People often criticize things as old news. My knee’s gone out. I need glasses. There’s a slogan about aging: when it happens to you, it’s news. Also, the world is in such a disastrous state right now that you can only concentrate on a tiny corner of news at one time. I have reasonable health. I have people who love me. And that’s all I need.

Q: Can you talk a little about your creative process?

A: The books I write are like a bird’s nest. I draw from childhood memories and busted relationships ... and I’ve stolen madly from everyone. All of it takes on the aura of a numismatic talisman. You’re in a holy state when you’re making it.

I start out with a line I carry around with me. For this book, it was “He thinks of chihuahuas when he sees a certain kind of man.” That’s the first line of the story. Who is speaking? What is this person like? Like a periscope, the picture opens. He’s a Giacometti-like figure of a man, tall and thin. That’s Ollie ... And then one thing leads to the next, and the bird’s nest is underway. It’s like pulling thread out of a ball of yarn.

Q: How do you get in the zone when you sit down to write?

A: I read what I’ve got and make myself very quiet and look at the bigger picture. My own DNA is flooding into these people, and I’m stealing freely, and it opens out and deepens the deeper I get. Sometimes I feel like I’m holding a divining rod.

You wish for it, but while you’re in it, you don’t dare talk about it. I’ve learned not to thrash or struggle. I just fool around with it and sooner or later, I find a way forward.

Q: Your sentences seem like polished stones, each one crafted so meticulously. How do you get that fine sheen?

A: I love languages, and it’s a gift genetically. I was accused of gushing as a kid. And I still gush, but I go over everything, hundreds of times. My job is to clean it up and cut it down.

Q: Was this novel an homage to anyone in particular?

A: It’s a work of affection and gratitude for having lived this long, and an elegy for the dead, not the least of whom was my younger sister, Andrea. She died in 2014 at 62. It’s also an homage to my peers who have lived this long ... Art (with a capital A) can go a long way to make what time we have left meaningful. It can save us, but we have to allow it to.

Q: You often write about the power of music. Why does this art form speak to you?

A: Music has played such a passionate role in my life. It has a radiant energy that predicts, translates and interprets one’s experience. It gives a whole new dimension to the word “playlist.” Suddenly, it’s not just people’s favorite songs ... you feel as though music takes you to an edge that is almost any question you’ve ever asked.

Other arts are like that ... but to me, music is the most powerful drug of all. It goes right into the veins, and tears are coming before you know what’s happened. It’s the most mysterious thing of all, but it’s very hard to write about.

Q: Your books focus on your characters’ interior lives. Why?

A. Many people live to respond. I’m an introvert. I like to try to make sense of how things happen. When I’m formulating a response, I’m as happy as a fish in water. I’m doing underwater acrobatics. Relating externally is a poor second to that.

Most of my books are interior, cerebral, infused with memory and very quiet. I write the kind of book I like to read. I love Rachel Cusk’s “Transit.” She’s just a mindblower, and Robert Seethaler’s “A Whole Life” and William Maxwell’s “So Long, See You Tomorrow,” which is driven by a memory of a childhood tragedy. It’s the same trope as Samuel Beckett’s life is unbearable. “I can’t go on. I’ll go on.”

Q: You also experienced a childhood tragedy. When did your mother die?

A: She was 44, and I was 11, but I can only be thankful that writing swooped in to save me, and that was a great joy.

Q: You review books for the San Francisco Chronicle. What is that like?

A: It’s like being assigned to eat chocolate cake. I can articulate what makes a work memorable and beautiful while I’m encouraging people to read.

Q: You are working on essays about place and travel. What draws you to those topics?

A. I have this theory that if you get a group of people together, the subject of conversation will eventually devolve to place. Where are you from? Why are you there? Place seems to be linked to identity, your past and future. Who we are and who we want to be.

Bob and I travel to Europe a great deal. I’ve written about Florence and France, I’ve written about my Arizona childhood and the difference between the West and the East (coasts). I’ve got several essays out there already in literary reviews ... The book will be called “In Case of Firenze and Other Travel Essays.”

Q: You recently moderated a panel of young, debut novelists for the Bay Area Book Festival. What role does place play in their work?

A: The Irish writer Colin Barrett said he didn’t lock into the right way to tell his stories until he had his place. Place is the ballgame. I’ve been lucky to have sexy places suggest their stories to me ... Hawaii, San Francisco and absolutely Santa Rosa, as well as Healdsburg and Sonoma. In my new collection of novellas, place is very much there. One of the novellas is set in Bodega Head.

Q: The California State Library in Sacramento purchased all of your papers and posthumous copyrights to your books this year. What does that mean to you?

A: We came to Sacramento when I was 11, after my mother died, and I went to school there and went on to study at UC Davis. So it seems right. They will own the copyrights and have all my letters, emails and manuscripts, and I couldn’t be happier. I already sent them nine cartons.

What means the most is that all my works will live on. Scholars can start there, if they want to research me. I can’t tell you how relieved I am. Our lives are so short, and it’s everything I could want. My late sister and my dad would be bursting with pride. It’s a true valediction, although I’ll write until my last breath.

Q: What advice would you give young writers?

A: Make yourself strong so that you can believe in yourself and push on. No one else is going to do that for you. Inside, you can be tapioca. But outside, be strong.

Staff writer Diane Peterson can be reached at 707-521-5287 or diane.peterson@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @dianepete56.

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