Who is this mysterious new author Branden Frankel? I came across his novel Snowfall on Mars while picking candidates for the 2016 Jalapeño Fiction Award, my attempt to find the best science fiction novels published in 2015. After reading half the novel, I decided to find out who is the person behind the pages. Aside from a brief bio on his Amazon profile, there was not much information to be found. Curiosity took over, and I emailed Branden with the request for an interview. Thanks to Branden’s extreme generosity and openness, now we know more about this wonderful new author. Without further ado, here is what we talked about.
Ellie Maloney: First of all, Branden, thank you for taking time to share your story with the WordPress community. From your short bio on Amazon, we learn that you have been involved in many professional endeavors, including legal practice and teaching. How (if any) have these experiences influenced your writing?
Branden Frankel: One of the strongest teaching tools that I’ve come across is the analogy; it helps separate the transitory subject matter of an idea from its structural essence by showing what can be discarded from the original problem without losing the important parts. I don’t necessarily use a whole lot of analogies in my writing, but attempting to ferret out the structural truths behind the particularities of my story – love, fear, happiness, desperation – helped me keep focused on what elements of the story were crucial and what was filler.
With respect to legal practice, legal writing is its own strange beast (as you well know). One particularly important, if often overlooked, part of a legal brief is a recitation of the facts germane to an argument. I got significant practice constructing a narrative that served a particular purpose. Cramming the messy facts of real life into such a mold made it relatively easy to piece together “facts” that I made up out of whole cloth.
E.M. When did you discover your passion for fiction? Is the “Snowfall on Mars” your first published novel? Are you working on something right now? If so, would you be willing to share a bit on what?
B.F. I didn’t have any creative writing experience before I started Snowfall on Mars. The book is a metaphor for a particularly difficult period in my life, and it was therapeutic for me to get it out. Now that I’ve had a taste of creative writing, I’m hooked.
I’m about halfway through a draft of my second book, tentatively titled “Ellipse.” The basic idea is that a planet with an advanced civilization gets thrown from the orbit of its sun, wandering through the blackness of space for 100,000 years and eventually becoming caught in the orbit of the Earth’s sun. Let’s just say that we have a tough time getting along with our new neighbors.
E.M. Reading “Snowfall on Mars” was a fantastic experience. How did you come up with the idea? Tell us a bit about the research process.
B.F. Oddly enough, the preliminary idea came from a lyric-writing exercise in a songwriting class I was taking. For this exercise, a time, location, weather condition, and mode of transportation are chosen, and you have to write a brief paragraph communicating each of those things to the reader without actually naming any of them, i.e. show, don’t tell. The parameters of the exercise were, respectively: noon, Mars, snow, and train.
I wrote my paragraph, and the class continued. When I got home that night, I found that the image of a train chugging across the bleak Martian landscape in a snowstorm stuck with me. I sat down and pounded out the first two chapters in a few hours, which had many of the larger themes – the destruction of Earth, the failed terraforming, etc. Then it took me another two years to finish.
Regarding research, I wish I could tell you that I visited JPL or interviewed planetary scientists for the book, but most of my research came in the form of watching space documentaries, which I can’t get enough of, and Internet searches.
E.M. At times, through the eyes of your protagonist David Adler, who, according to the book, hated Mars down to his bones, I sensed your fascination with Mars, like, for example, in your poetic description of Phobos, the Martian moon: “Consequently, Phobos is shaped something like a grossly overinflated football, frozen in time at the moment it pops, the crater serving as the point of rupture. Something about that idea – frozen destruction and chaos – seems particularly germane to the moment.” You clearly have spent a lot of time researching and thinking about Mars. Have you ever wondered about the reality of our future on Mars? Would you like to be among the settlers?
B.F. I think space travel crystallizes what’s best about humankind – our ingenuity, our curiosity, our conviction that life is about more than surviving for a certain number of years.
It pains me that we landed on the moon nearly a half-century ago, and then we gave all that up and stuck to near-Earth orbit. We should’ve colonized the moon long ago and been to Mars a dozen times already. I’m enthusiastic about the Mars One mission as well as the fact that Elon Musk, CEO of SpaceX, is talking about going to Mars. I think there will be settlements in my lifetime.
I’d go if I could come back. If I didn’t have my daughter, I’d go regardless. However, I can’t just remove myself from her life. I’d be heartbroken, and it’s not fair to her.
E.M. What was the inspiration behind Oksana’s character? “Beautiful, self-obsessed Oksana… [M]ost women on Mars who are intent on avoiding rape or murder must align themselves with men. Some do it in a forthright manner. Others, Oksana foremost among them, play on men’s desires, vanities, and insecurities. Having been one of Oksana’s many meal tickets, I am of an opinion that she is, at best, delaying her inevitable murder with her chosen survival methodology. At worst, she is hastening it…I loved Oksana once. I loved her truly, and, later on, when I found out who she really was – lying, cheating, manipulative – I loved with an unseemly, reproachful desperation… I should’ve known better the moment I saw her… Oksana was resting against the wall next to the door, smoking a cigarette, with one foot pulled up behind her. We locked eyes as I walked by, and stared at one another for so long that I started to get a little uncomfortable. There were no smiles, just that transmission of sexual desire across the distance, like a power line running from my genitals, through my ocular cavities and taking the same route to in reverse her nether regions.” On the backdrop of his love interest, we find out a lot about David Adler, what kind of a person he is, namely, a reliable, decent person, far from a ‘lost cause’, even if the whole world goes apocalypse on him. And yet, I couldn’t help but ponder, why this femme fatale jumps from the pages with a strikingly realistic quality. From the perspective of this character’s creator, is Oksana a bad person or is she a victim of circumstances?
B.F. Oh, jeez. I don’t know how much I want to say on this point. Oksana is modeled after my ex-wife, with some considerable changes. You write what you know, I guess. I won’t reveal where her story line goes except to say that I wouldn’t describe her either as a villain or a victim. Adler’s basic motivation is a desire to make peace with his circumstances, including his relationship with Oksana, whatever form it takes. Oksana has her mode of survival, and Adler has his. It’s not really up to him to judge her. All in all, I think Oksana is a positive, albeit complicated, character.
E.M. The novel is extremely vivid. You paint cinematic quality expositions coupled with a close first-person narrative in present tense. This provides the reader with an immersed reading experience. As a writer, how immersed are you in this story? How real is the universe of your creation for you? Do you feel appreciation for food and luxuries of daily life after writing about these intense scenes of hardships of a dystopian post-apocalyptic world?
B.F. I think of the process of writing this novel as “climbing up into my head.” Dystopian Mars was, for me, an interesting place to visit, and, as I was writing it, I was very much immersed in it. Although it may seem like hell to the reader – and I’m sure living it would be hell – for me, it was almost like a cozy, low-lit lounge that I could sit in and people watch. Is that crazy? I feel like that sounds a little crazy.
As a detached observer, I didn’t feel the deprivation of my characters so much as watch it, and I watched it on a full stomach. It’s real for me, but not my own experience.
E.M. Should we expect a sequel? If so, when?
B.F. There’s room for a sequel. The book I’m writing now is a different story, but I’d like to write a sequel. I currently have no idea what that would look like, and I can’t imagine it’d be out before the middle of 2017.
E.M. Why did you choose the self-publishing route? How is this experience working for you so far? Do you find it difficult to wear all these extra hats, that the self-publishing authors have to wear? Any tips for the aspiring and established self-publishing authors?
B.F. Haha, the self-publishing route chose me. I submitted my manuscript to agents, and I got a few bites, but nobody took it. So I published it myself.
How was it? I had no idea what I was doing to begin with, and I stumbled through all the mechanical parts – formatting for print and Kindle, designing a cover, getting it onto Amazon and other outlets. I didn’t love it, but I know how to do it now.
As far as marketing it, I’ve never been much of a social media hound or a blogger, and those are things you’re supposed to focus on when you publish. (I also have a job and a kid to take care of, which crowd those things out.) To be honest, I just don’t really do that stuff. I’m probably failing to reach a number of people that I would otherwise, but it’s a lot of elbow grease.
Snowfall on Mars has gotten a little traction, which is great, and I’m hoping that will provide a platform for future books. Nothing sells a book better than another book the reader already bought and enjoyed. I hope that, as I churn out books, people will get to know my work.
E.M. According to your bio, your daughter is the center of your real universe. How do you balance your paycheck-generating work, creative writing, and your family life?
B.F. I’m blessed to have a job that pays the bills and is (mostly) flexible, and I share custody of my daughter 50-50 with her mother, so half the time I’m kid-free. When I have her, the writing waits.
Branden Frankel is one of those who wanders and is, at least sometimes, lost. From philosophy, to music production, the practice of law, teaching, and raising a kid, he has dipped a figurative toe into many a metaphorical body of water. At 34, after divorce and a career change, Branden began writing fiction, finding his second passion — fatherhood being the first. He lives in Los Angeles, CA with his daughter, Lilah, and Steve, their shockingly aggressive betta fish. – Amazon.com
Thanks for reading the interview. Please share it on your media outlets. Branden appreciates it a lot. Definitely check out his novel “Snowfall on Mars” and don’t forget to write a review on Amazon and Goodreads.
Read the Jalapeño Fiction Award Review of the Snowfall on Mars – my 5 cents on the matter.
Interview by Ellie Maloney
May 14, 2016