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Franetta McMillian's debut work, Love at the Time of Unraveling is Challenging Sci-Fi

Field Recordings welcomes Mid-Atlantic author, Franetta McMillian to the internet wilds. I have had the pleasure of reviewing her debut novel for the Broadkill Review, a bi-monthly pdf literary journal out of Milton, DE. I'll post my review of the novel when the print and email version are available, but I will say that her debut work is fascinating. The novel, a collection of connected tales in an America ravaged by toxins, social poisons, and a caste system, is worth the read. McMillian's subject matter goes beyond the usual sci-fi entertainment. She's an author with something to say and a format to say it in. Links to McMillian's work is peppered throughout, including some poetry.

Indie Author Spotlight:

Name: Franetta McMillian

Pen Names: Marta West, Bloody Mary's Cool Sister, Nezzra O' Possum

Most recent title published: Love in the Time of Unraveling

Where do you write?

Between my day job and family obligations (I'm one of the caregivers for my father) I rarely get any quiet time, so I do a lot of writing on the run. For prose I write on my Kindle, then use the computer to do a final draft. For poetry I start in longhand, then transfer to computer.

What are your rituals with regards to writing (ex: Must have tea, a cat on the lap, etc.)

The only thing I absolutely must have is silence -- or at least a decent wall of white noise that cancels out distractions. (I've done some of my best writing while sitting under the hair dryer). Many of the writers I know tend to be visual people, while I primarily hear my stories. Everything is music. So I can't have a lot of extraneous noise when I write. It's like trying to listen to several radios at once.

Describe your writing process:

Nothing mysterious. I do a rough outline, then fill in the holes.

What do you when you begin to revise? What's the first thing you do during that process?

I read my work aloud either to myself or to a willing friend. (Grown-ups still like a good bedtime story.) I also have the computer read my work to me. I had a writing teacher back in high school who told us that many people can't read faster than they speak -- they hear your words in their heads -- so you should strive to make your words sound engaging.

When revising, how many drafts do you go through before you feel comfortable with the final product?

It depends on the piece. Some things arrive almost fully formed; others you may have to rework a few times before you get what you want.

Where does your inspiration come from (music, film, other books)?

It depends...Love…. was inspired by many things, the most prominent of which was the Deepwater Horizon oil spill as well as the aftermath of Katrina. I was also recovering from a lengthy illness around that time, so that's in there, too. And I was reading Empire of Illusion by Chris Hedges (that's where Love's epigraph is from). It produced the most fabulous nightmares. The music for the voodoo ceremony in "The Prophecy of Mother M" was inspired by Elements of Light, a CD by The Bell Laboratory and Pantha du Prince. So inspiration comes from several sources.

Sometimes my muse is not a particular thing per se, but a creative challenge I give myself. A while ago I released Reveries of the Solitary Walker, a CD of spoken word. Most spoken word is based on rap's cadence, which I like, but my speaking voice doesn't lend itself to that type of performance. Why can't there be more spoken word like Laurie Anderson? I wondered. That's when my inner voice said, Maybe it's time for you to make some...

Explain how your local and regional environment influences your writing, your process, and your product (in other words, how does your reality intersect with the worlds that you create?):

My daily reality is fairly mundane. I make up worlds to entertain myself. Sure beats playing video games.

W/r/t to your latest book, your connected stories are engrossing, and hint at a world that could be explored in a big fat novel. Do you see yourself returning to this world? Which characters would you like to re-explore?

Love... is the first book of a series, which looks like it will be three books long. I don't really want to give too much away, but in the next installment, Mother M's prophecy starts to be fulfilled -- but not in the way everyone thought that it would. Almost everyone from Love... returns -- and there are some who are quickly mentioned in Love... (like Allison’s sister Etta) who will get fleshed out. The world of the Crescent and beyond is going to be a difficult world to leave.

Voodoo, Catholicism, bio engineering, a deflated economy, a toxic wasteland, these are heavy handed ideas or concepts that mingled very naturally together in your novel, discuss how it all connects for you in your mind:

My characters spoke, and I followed...

I realize Love... is a topical work and could have gotten very preachy. But I didn't want to merely write a novel of ideas. That would have made the book insufferable. I began with my character's voices and let them tell their stories in all their shades of gray.

I had an English teacher in high school who told me you could write about anything, no matter how heavy-handed or divisive as long as you told a compelling story. So I trusted my characters to reveal the world in which they were living without having a pre-formed agenda one way or another. I was willing to let them change my mind.

Do you see hope in the future?

It depends. Do I believe humankind will keep muddling along for a while? Yes, we are incredibly adaptive and resilient. But how well will we live? The answer to that is up for grabs. Some days I'm more optimistic than others.

Who is your favorite character from Love...? Why?

I like them all (or they wouldn't have made the cut) but if I had to choose, I'd say it's between Magdalene Ocantu ("Mother M") and Lillian Ruby. I like Magdalene because she's an Amazon hacker priest who speaks five languages and plays a mean piano. My idea of superwoman. What's not to love? I like Lillian Ruby because he's going to be a very interesting character to untangle. Is it possible to be as wealthy as he is and still remain a good man? I'm sure he's wondering that too.

Which character do you see yourself in?

Morian Watts, the ghost charmer in Destination Hill. Like her I've survived a serious illness and it has changed me in ways I still don't fully understand. I can't hear voices from the graveyard, but the experience has made me at once more humble and fearless. When you've had a taste of your own frailty, you waste less time.

You have to invite three authors to dinner, who are they? Why?

I would be scared to invite a bunch of my favorite writers to dinner because I've discovered so many of us are much taller in print. A writer and his/her work are two different things. But that said...Oh my. Only three?

Let's see...

Walter Mosley...because I've read almost everything he's written and it's all interesting. That doesn't mean he's always entirely successful, but he's always worth finishing.

Nikki Giovanni and Walt Whitman...because they yanked me out of my tediously obscure T. S. Eliot/ Ezra Pound phase.

Naomi Klein and Amy Goodman...because they are fearless women who say what they mean.

Oh pooh! That's five isn't it?

Favorite title (you wish you had come up with):

When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom'd by Walt Whitman. A teacher read this poem out loud in high school and it still makes me jealous.

Line you wish you wrote: There are so many...

Book you did not read in high school but now have read and have an appreciation for: And why:

I was supposed to read Atlas Shrugged during the summer of my sophomore year in high school, but as soon as I eyed its 1000-plus pages, I decided not to ruin my vacation with it and went with the Cliff Notes instead.

So I didn't read Atlas Shrugged until a few years ago. I don't agree with Rand's philosophy, but I did have a chance to see why it continues to seduce people. It's good to read stuff that you know is going to make you angry every once in a while. Parts of Atlas are very well-written, especially when you remember that English wasn't Rand's first language.

But the book still contains what I consider to be the second most hateful passage in American letters.

Favorite words:

Too many to list.

Least favorite words:

It's not the words themselves, but the usage of them. Like "status" used as a verb. You hear that a lot in business speak and it really grates on me. Another business quirk is using the word "opportunity" when what you mean is "problem" or "challenge". I realize the power of positive thinking, but that's just wrong. Finally there's the word "partner" to describe someone's spouse or significant other, especially in the case of a same-sex relationship. I understand the sentiment, but "partner" is such a clunky sounding word and it gets confusing when used in a more professional context. Like when journalist Glenn Greenwald's partner was recently detained in the UK, I wasn't sure what people meant. Did authorities detain his research assistant or what?

Advice you would like to pass on to other writers:

Start. Later you might have to tear up what you've written and start over, but you won't have anything to work with if you don't sit down and begin.

What you would discuss with your pet if your pet could talk:

I haven't had a pet for a long time, and when I did, I had tropical fish. They're rather vain and don't listen to anything you tell them.

One more question: what does your haz suit look like? Describe it for the readers.

It depends on who's wearing it and how much it costs. The ones that fit over your clothes resemble a biohazard suit, except the headgear is not as large. If you have the body for it (as well as the funds) you can wear one of the stand-alone ones which fit like a unitard with close-fitting, but flexible headgear. On the back of the neckband there is a small box which contains controls that regulate temperature and air filtration as well as any other fancy bells and whistles you may have ordered. If you live Outside, your gear is the first thing people see and is your single largest investment besides food and rent, so they can get very flamboyant. Outsiders have tricked out suits like people today have tricked out cars.

Got to ask: how do you see this book, a novel or short story collection?

As a novel, the first movement in a grand symphony.


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