Reading N. Frank Daniels’ first novel futureproof left me shaking and stunned, as though I’d just collided head-first with solid concrete. Thinly-veiled references to places I encountered during my adolescence in Marietta, GA are juxtaposed with Daniels’ intriguing, infuriating narrator slowly growing up and failing, time and again, to be in the right place at the right time to advance himself in his life, all adding up to a story that (yes I’m going to say it) serves as my generation’s Catcher In The Rye-namely, a hyper-focused narrative on the all-important meaninglessness of what happens during our teenage years.
Despite the rampant and blatant language, drug use and (at times violent) sex within futureproof, I’d recommend it as a high-end young adult novel for a teenager looking for a book that holds more truth about their world and speaks to their experiences or those of their peers, or if they genuinely need a book that won’t talk down to them. That said? This is a violent, at-times-hard-to-read, incredibly powerful and emotional experience. It’s a wild and worthwhile ride…straight into the pavement.
Frank was kind enough to take some time out of his hectic schedule and life to answer a few questions (admittedly written when I was still deliriously book-drunk over having just finished futureproof, adrenaline pounding my veins as a result-read the book, you’ll see what I mean) for Baby Got Books.
Baby Got Books interview with N. Frank Daniels, author of futureproof
Baby Got Books:I was first pointed towards futureproof as a result of it being compared to one of my favorite authors of all time, Bret Easton Ellis. In the book, though, I see less of Ellis and more of what Catcher In The Rye would be if it still had the ability to speak to modern adolescent experience. What books would you point to that you first read that really, really moved you?
N. Frank Daniels: I’ve always been surprised that more people haven’t made the connection between the style I employed in futureproof and that of Catcher. That book was hugely influential on me, and was, aside from Whitman’s Leaves of Grass, probably the book that impacted me the most in high school. Also Wilson Rawls’ Where the Red Fern Grows. That book still destroys me. The last time I read it was a few years ago when I read it aloud to my son. Still breaks me up. In fifth grade as an assignment we were to write a letter to a favorite author. I chose Wilson Rawls. He never responded. I never blamed it on him though. I always figured the publishers in all of their infinite wisdom found something lacking in my 10 yr. old writing ability.
BGB:Where did you grow up, and how much do you feel the events of your childhood influenced futureproof?
NFD: Well, as Luke does in futureproof, I grew up in the Atlanta suburbs. Prior to that I lived in bumfuck south-central PA. I always like saying ‘south-central PA’ because despite the fact that I did grow up close to Harrisburg, which is geographically south-central PA, somehow when you say ‘south-central’ it evokes grit. Thank you Tupac (who isnt even from Cali), Eazy E, and Snoop. Yeah, south-central Pennsylvania is more Amish and northern rednecks than it is anything else. Also a giant hub for Richard Petty fans. So it wasn’t much of a change when my parents moved us down to Atlanta. Except without the Amish. They stay up North, but for some inexplicable reason decided at some point to migrate west to Ohio.
BGB urely on a personal level, I have to tell you I was immediately hooked, from the level of “I can completely relate”, when I read about the school that you in the book call Peckerbrook. I know the school you’re talking about-as a high school theater kid in Marietta we did many a one-act competition there-and I always had the same thoughts about the juxtaposition between the theatrical side and the rest of the school. Nicely written.
NFD:Well, Russ, this isnt really a question, but I feel I need to respond anyway. First, thanks for the compliment. Second, if you went to Marietta H.S., and were there at the same time I was attending ‘Peckerbrook’, then you will also relate to how much we hated you bastards, with Eric Zeier at QB on the football team, with his unbelievable numbers and his goddam 10,000 touchdowns a season. But, just like the Amish, he ended up in Ohio, and the Cleveland Browns destroyed his NFL possibilities. And believe it or not I took no solace in that. It just felt like he was yet another casualty of the Atlanta bad luck I’d grown accustomed to by that point.
BGB:The character of Luke-I’ve talked to some people who’ve read the book who feel that Luke’s hell-bent on self-destruction. My read on him is that he’s simply exposing a side of modern teenage angst that too often gets either ignored or glossed over. What’s your take on your character’s desire to end himself in any way possible?
NFD:You know, this is an impossible question to answer honestly. I don’t know what to say on this. I mean, I wrote the book, the book is admittedly semi-autobiographical, and I am somehow supposed to analyze whether or not the main character is suicidal in small increments or just a symbol of modern, completely fucked-up teen angst?–I guess I think it’s both. Because as teen angst has been allowed to progress over the decades since we haven’t been forced to work in factories at the age of eight, we have been given more time to realize what a shitty hand we’ve been dealt. And if that doesn’t make you suicidal nothing will. I also think that Luke wants to live and can’t figure out how to do that in a positive way because he’s never been given a positive role model in that arena. So it becomes live in this fucked up way or die in that fucked up way. In the end, remember, he only chooses life because his son is born and had no choice in the matter. So Luke really only ends up continuing to live for THAT life, that innocence that has yet to be corrupted.
BGB:The book’s graphic depiction of the circle of abuse of/by and addiction to drugs hit me really, really hard. I literally put the book down shaking and stunned. Were any points of futureproof more difficult emotionally to get down and then go back and edit/tighten up than others?
NFD:So strange to get this question now, as I was asked something very similar in an interview conducted by Frank Reiss of Atlanta’s A Capella Books on a GPB radio interview that aired this past Sunday. I can speak more freely here though, since I couldn’t cuss on public radio. Yeah, writing parts of this book fucked me up big time. There are parts of this novel that I still have trouble reading because they trigger a despair in me that is bottomless. I remember my wife telling me that I needed to walk away from writing it because it was so obviously traumatizing me. She would have to hold me at night for hours sometimes. When you are really tapping demons like this it is really hard to reconcile your stable life with the chaotic life being depicted. My wife has since left me and there are still nights when I don’t know how I am going to make it through. This book is in many ways a testament to everything that has ever haunted me, and its repercussions still reverberate through my life now. Even answering this question now is traumatizing because it forces me to acknowledge everything that I try to force myself to ignore on a daily basis. Is there a fucking therapist in the house? Please tell my wife I am dead on the inside…or do therapists not do that?
BGB:In the back of futureproof, you thank “the futureproof 500.” For those who don’t know, your book has a really interesting story about how it came to be a Harper-Perennial paperback. I’m sure you’re sick of talking about it, but would you care to summarize, briefly, how it came to catch the attention of a major publisher?
NFD:You’re right, I am sick of telling this story, Russ. More than anything because I only recently realized that the ‘story’ behind futureproof‘s being published was the main reason why HarperCollins decided to pursue me to publish this book. They saw this story–me wrecking my entire life in order to get my lauded novel ‘traditionally’ published–as a good way to sell it in the market. I guess this was what was decided on as what would be my book’s gimmick. Look back on any of my blogs prior to August of ’07 and you can see how disillusioned I am with Big Publishing, in that they couldn’t see how futureproof would speak to many readers. I only realized a few weeks ago that their main interest was in the immediately exploitable angle of my having gone from self-published wunderkind to mainstream published phenom. These people could give a shit about the real emotion and craft behind the book. They want to make the fast buck and get out. Which is fine, I guess. But it makes me angrier and even more disillusioned, and makes me question motives and true intentions even more. But maybe I was born to fill that place. I just want to meet one motherfucker embedded in the mainstream publishing industry who is what (s)he says (s)he is.
BGB:you submitted a brief piece for one of the most interesting collections I saw last year, Santi-The Lives of Modern Saints. Talk about how you came to be involved in that collection and how your piece in that came to be
NFD:I became involved with that anthology in much the same way that I got my book deal with Harper–I was approached by the people behind the scenes. Unlike my deal with Harper, I don’t have a bad taste left in my mouth, in gratuitous need of a sorbet to get that taste out of my mouth. Luca Dipierro, the editor of Santi, read a self-published copy of futureproof, and asked me if I’d be interested in both contributing a story as well as co-editing the anthology with him. I jumped at the chance. I will always jump at the chance to do something outside of mainstream publishing like that. Unfortunately the shitty economy has closed the doors (for now) on Black Arrow Press (Santi’s publisher), but I would still recommend that anthology to anyone, and not just because I am its co-editor. That anthology of stories is still one of the tightest, most-well-written anthologies I have ever come across. When I saw the roster of writers Luca had secured for that collection I immediately signed on. It was a win-win situation. I still wish I had the resources open to me to make that collection more well-known. Please link it to Amazon or whatever when you publish this.
BGB:What are you reading AND listening to right now?
NFD:I am currently severely limited in my reading, as I am couch-hopping like a shell-shocked kangaroo and am therefore very limited in how many books I can carry with me. But I was in L.A. last week for the final reading of my book tour and while out there I met with Henry Baum, of Self Publishing Review (selfpublishingreview.com). He gave me his recently re-released THE GOLDEN CALF, which I find to be just stellar writing. I’d recommend it to anybody. I would also be reading Jerry Stahl’s PAINKILLERS if he had offered to give me a copy (I read with him at my L.A. Book Soup reading). But he didn’t. So I’m not. I was disappointed by that at first, then realized it was probably a blessing as it would have made my duffel bag another pound heavier and my back is breaking as it is.
Music-wise I’m not as limited, what with downloadable tunes. I’m currently obsessing over old pre-Postal Service Death Cab for Cutie. And Fleet Foxes, who I fear have seen their zenith come and go, because really, how far can bluegrass go, outside of the odd Oh Brother, Where Art Thou soundtrack?