Literaturschock: Could you tell your German fans something about yourself? (family, hobbies and so on)

Fran Dorf: As a teenager, I always wrote-poems and short stories, and about fifty pages of a novel. It didn't even occur to me to pursue writing fiction professionally, since making a living as a writer is at best a long shot. I started out studying psychology in college, which is one of my main interests, but switched to study communications (journalism), thinking I'd be able to find a job with that background, since I wasn't yet mature enough to go to graduate school and also had to make a living. I worked in business for a while, then married. After I had my daughter, I went back to school to study psychology. I received a master's degree in psychology when I was around thirty five. I began writing again at that time, and writing quickly overtook everything else, especially when I began to receive positive reactions to my work.

I've been married for almost twenty five years and my daughter is a college senior, studying psychology. In l994 I lost a second child, the experience of which eventually inspired the writing of "Saving Elijah." My husband is in business. In my spare time, I mostly read--an eclectic mix, "literary" novels, family dramas, historical novels, and well written thrillers. I believe all well written novels are filled with "suspense," even if the suspense doesn't have anything to do with death and dismemberment. I generally don't read mysteries (I don't consider my own novels mysteries), or most "commercial" fiction, in which I find characters that are too flat to hold my interest for long. I also read non-fiction books, particularly when I'm researching my own work, and my reading interests include psychology, religion, and history. I love music, particularly folk, "sixties" music (the music I grew up with), and now I listen mostly to jazz.

I do some charity work for an America organization that promotes tolerance between people of different backgrounds and religions, and also for a local rehabilitation hospital. I have a chocolate brown Labrador Retriever named Molly, who thinks she owns my house. I ski (badly) and play the piano (only a little better). I try to exercise every day, usually in the gym, but sometimes I play tennis.

Literaturschock: On your Website you mention "Writing is a process, not an event." Would you tell us something about writing? What is the most difficult part of it?

Fran Dorf: Keeping at it for the long haul is the most difficult part. What I mean by "writing is a process…" is that often beginning writers keep their eye on finishing the book and publishing, when it is the process of writing that must enthrall the writer, learning as much as you can about a particular character, getting as deeply into the world as possible--writing, rewriting, and rewriting again. My books always go through at least seven or eight drafts.

I believe writers write because they need to write, because they love to write, because they thrive on writing. It's too difficult a profession to do it for any reason that comes from outside of oneself, such as the promise of fame and fortune, a promise unlikely to be fulfilled. The truth is it's difficult from beginning to end. It requires a certain kind of personality, a person willing to sit alone in a room all day, day after day. You have to be totally self-reliant, self disciplined, self motivated. No one can really teach you to write; you have to find your way like a blind man in the dark. Then, there's the competitive nature of the market place, the difficulties of a publishing industry that gets less and less hospitable to all but the most successful authors, an industry and people who who don't really understand writers and treat their books according to a strict "bottom line," as if they were selling tuna fish or something. Then you have to deal with public reaction; it can be sort of like laying your heart on a platter for anyone to rip apart. I find one of the most difficult things is dealing with reactions of people who know me in my regular life, which range from genuine interest in a process most people don't have a clue about, to fawning, to downright hostility.(Yes! Hostility.) On the other hand, when I'm really in the writing "zone," as I call it, there's nothing like it, nothing comes close. The act of creation is amazing and heady.

Literaturschock: What was the one event in your life that told you "I'm going to be a writer?"

Fran Dorf: I'm afraid there wasn't one. When I was studying for my masters in psychology, I sat down one day and took up a "hobby" I hadn't thought of doing since high school. I thought. Gee, this is interesting. Every day I did it, it became more interesting. Eventually I realized it was the most interesting thing I'd ever done, the only thing I'd ever tried that completely enthralled me. Later it overtook everything else. I think I like it so much because it involves so many aspects of the personality that other professions don't begin to tap. Which is why no one can really "teach" you to write. Among the requirements are a lifetime of reading, a certain way of observing the world, ability to look at what's underneath the surface, honesty, both with self and others, language skills, and psychological astuteness.

Literaturschock: What did you feel when "Flight" was published?

Fran Dorf: It was a long time ago now, and I don't actually remember. I'm sure I was thrilled to be published again, but to tell the truth, I didn't have much time because shortly my personal crisis and tragedy overtook everything else, including my interest in writing, for a very long time.

Literaturschock: Are you in close contact with your fans?

Fran Dorf: I get letters, both to my personal email address, and a few on my website. I'm thrilled to hear when I've moved people, provided illumination, or given readers a worthwhile or interesting experience.

Literaturschock: Do you want to continue writing thrillers? Or do you plan to write about something else?

Fran Dorf: I don't actually consider my books, particularly the last one, Saving Elijah, to be thrillers, although A Reasonable Madness is closer to a thriller than the others. Saving Elijah doesn't fit at all in a category or genre, even though some might mistake it for a ghost story. The reader who approaches it as a thriller and can't open his or her mind to its possibilities will not understand the story.

Literaturschock: You read fantasy and science fiction in your teenage years. Do you still like such novels? (I LOVE Fantasy).

Fran Dorf: Yes, I do, although not as much. I tend to like books where characterization is the author's top priority, and science fiction books often hinge on technology rather than real people. There are some that don't: some of Ray Bradbury's work, and the Dune series come to mind. I've read some fantasy, such as Terry Brooks and Tolkien. Lately I've been enjoying historical fiction. I always love novels where some "magic" happens, something beyond the ordinary, be it metaphysical, parapsychological, or religious.

Literaturschock: Do you have any special methods to plan a new book (which)? How does your normal working day look like?

Fran Dorf: I exercise, then sit down at my desk. If I'm having difficulty, I'll do some writing exercises to get started, or write or read poetry. I don't go into planning and writing a book with either characters or a plot in mind. Some writers outline. I never do. I feel that if you outline, it's limiting to your characters, who must be allowed to come to full fruition and move in directions you may not have thought of. I tend to think of a theme or even a single scene. I write scene by scene. I figure out which characters in a scene interest me, then pursue them. I never know the end until I'm nearly there. Sometimes I will have written a whole draft without an ending before I begin to actually suspect the end. I like to think that if I'm dying to know know what happens to my characters, so will my readers be.

Literaturschock: How much of your own experiences do you share with your characters?

Fran Dorf: I assume you mean readers. All fiction is to some extent based on the experience of the writer, anything heard, seen, imagined, experienced, invented or dreamed. Each of my books evolved in a different way. A Reasonable Madness came out of my experience in grad school in psychology. Flight evolved out of my own experiences in the sixties and a newspaper article I happened to read about a child surviving a fall from a sixth floor window. Saving Elijah was inspired by a personal tragedy. But even with Saving Elijah, because fiction is what it is, you can never assume that anything you read in a novel the author actually experienced. Rather, the author might start out with a fragment of an actual experience, but once he or she "fictionalizes" it, puts it through the "cooking" process (so to speak), the event on paper may bear no resemblance at all to the original experience or be put in such a different context that its meaning is completely different.

Literaturschock: "A Reasonable Madness" is a successful mixture of insanity, erotic and horror. What inspired you to write such scenes?

Fran Dorf: Reasonable Madness came out of my experience in grad school in psychology, where I posited the question, What would make a psychiatrist violate the most basic ethical rules of his profession? I began that one with a scene that occurs in the middle of the book, in which the psychiatrist confesses to a colleague his transgression, then I worked backward from there, then forward again. (All of my novels undergo numerous drafts). I write scenes that seem to come naturally out of my evolving character and plot, whether they're erotic, frightening, funny, moving or horrible. I try not to censor myself. What I write, I write in service of the fiction, because they seem to make sense for the story and move it forward.

Literaturschock: What are your current projects? Can you give us a little sneak preview of the next books?

Fran Dorf: I'm working on book in which three characters, each of them traumatized in different ways, intersect and have a profound effect on each other. It's part historical and involves a possible murder, a painting, and the search for a diary written in l918.

Literaturschock: What is a question you are never asked that you wish people would ask you?

Fran Dorf: I guess I wish more of the people I know in my life would understand how hard I work, and how seriously I take this work.

Literaturschock:Do you have a favorite writer or book? You mentioned something about special reading experiences? Would you tell us something about that?

Fran Dorf: I was referring to the special reading experiences that hooked me on reading, and thus, I guess, on writing. Some of those were A Wrinkle in Time, Catcher in the Rye, Gone With the Wind, Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights, Anna Karenina, Dune. While I sometimes like books that simply entertain or offer escape, what I'm always looking for is another special reading experience. These books offer a glimpse into the wonder of life, help the reader understand life, rather than simply be entertained or titillated. These books create a whole world of unique and completely believable characters and experiences that don't seem manipulated because of plot. These reading experiences illuminate life rather than provide escape. I strive to do that in my work, particularly since "Saving Elijah."

Literaturschock: I'm once again impressed by your Website and your opinion: "I'm interested in many things, but I think it's the writer's obligation to enthrall me somehow." Do you know a book, whose success you cannot explain yourself? (Which?)

Fran Dorf: I'm not sure what you mean by this question. I can tell you that one of my absolute favorite books is Perfume, by a German author named Patrick Suskind. I love this book despite the fact that it violates all the rules commonly taught by modern teachers of writing. For example, there are pages and pages of description (much like books written in previous centuries), and very little dialogue. But Perfume is wonderful, interesting, fascinating, and brilliant.

Literaturschock: Thank you so much, Fran! I really appreciate your taking the time to let me interview you.

Fran Dorf: Any other questions, write back. Thanks!

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