We are chuffed as little appleseeds to announce our new PoetsIN Ambassador, author, lovely human and friend of PoetsIN, Julie Frayn. Want to know more about her? Check out this awesome interview and take a peek at her profile on our Ambassador page.
Who are you and what is it that you do?
I am woman, hear me fucking roar! Or… mew quietly until you notice me. Or something.
I am a writer at heart, an accountant by trade, and a mother first and foremost. Even though my babies are grown adults and don’t need me. Or do they? Priority one is my family, and all else has to wait its turn.
Though I make my living at a charity – Heritage Park, the largest living history museum in Canada – I make my life at home. Home is definitely where my heart is. And where my television is (I love TV), and where my computer is. It’s where I create (and often kill off) characters and write stories, and generally just talk to myself a lot. My dog. Burney, is a great listener.
What journey led you to where you are now and to do what you do?
I wanted to be a dancer. But, even at six years old, I had the grace of a giraffe on roller skates. A keener in school, I excelled in math and language arts. I picked math for a living because I could make more money at it. That’s me, capitalist to the core (with a heaping side of socialism). But while I was building my career, I always had an artistic outlet. I sketched and created pen and ink pointillism. I sewed many of my own clothes, and even designed a few custom-fit pieces. I got derailed by life a few times. Like that one time, when I gave up eating for two years to gain a modicum of control over my life, and ended up almost killing myself. Anorexia. What a trip.
Even though I had been writing stories since I was a kid, and had dreamed of writing a book, I never thought I could. Then I had kids and all my focus shifted to them. One day, I spouted off a quick and silly poem, and they laughed. So I wrote a whole shitload of silly poetry for them. About them. They loved it. I even read some aloud to my baby girl’s elementary class. What I never did was publish them. Maybe some day I will get to that. But like many things I don’t do, I was derailed again, this time by anxiety. Usually that’s more a social thing. You know, say I’ll go out then change my mind chicken out at the last minute, hibernate at home, avoid people. Mostly people I don’t know. But anxiety also bites me in the ‘what if they don’t like it?’ department. I could write in the privacy of my basement and keep the results to myself. At least my kids loved it.
Those poems led me back to words. It took so many years to get the courage to finish the first novel. And months longer to put it out there. I hovered over that publish button for two days before finally clicking on it. I still think it was just a muscle spasm in my index finger that finally pushed me forward. Once I did, I cried. A lot. A combination of fear relief and disbelief. But it was real. And now I’ve published five novels and a few short stories with more of both to come. This…. This is life.
We’re excited that you’ve been kind enough to be a PoetsIN Ambassador. What is it about what we do that makes you support us?
Words are powerful. Spoken, written, hell we even think in words. Words are life. That you teach those of us in pain to use words to help, to heal the many people with mental health issues? That is downright fantastic. That you deliver your services to marginalized groups such as inmates in prison? Truly amazing.
What is your opinion of what PoetsIN do and their impact on those in need?
My opinion is that PoetsIN rocks so hard! People share the most wonderful things on your Facebook page. They spill their emotions out. It is cathartic for them. It helps them through the shit life throws their way. Awe-inspiring, that’s what it is.
As a PoetsIN Ambassador, how do you see yourself helping ‘the cause’?
Making my small part of the world aware of who you are and what you do. Reading and sharing your blogs and interviews. When I can, even contributing financially. Being on the other side of a massive pond makes in-person support a tad inconvenient. But the world is smaller from a digital perspective, so even though I post things while you folks are often sleeping, it’s like we are next door neighbours. And we have a shared love of the letter “U”!
You’ve experienced some ups and downs. How does that affect how you approach life and/or writing?
My approach to life is to wing it. To listen to my own needs and act accordingly. Those needs are often set aside to care for others. Like my father when he was ill with kidney disease (he died in 1995). I had two kids during the last years of his life, and we spent countless hours at his bedside. So many hours that my daughter, only three when he died, called the hospital “Grandpa’s house.”
When my mother had three heart attacks one October afternoon, it prompted me to move back to the ‘hood to be closer to her. Two-doors-down close. That worked well once she fell into Alzheimer’s deep and confusing pit a few years later. Then there was the time my sister got breast cancer, which went metastatic three years later. She died three years after that, after weeks in hospice. I wrote and published my first four novels during that time, all while taking her to treatments, and appointments, and helping renovate her house. Looking back, I can’t figure out how I fit it all in. Must have been more hours in the day three years ago. The writing ended when she entered hospital for the last time. I spent every day with her for seven weeks. I didn’t write for a year after she died. It didn’t seem to matter.
Then my daughter was diagnosed with leukemia last November, just a month after I published Pocketful of Bones. That’s when life stopped. Nothing else mattered. Not writing, not working. Sometimes I could barely breathe. The latest WIP went dormant 40K words in and I’ve yet to pick it up again. I want to. I will. Just not today.
My daughter is in remission and is back to work and back to living her best life. We aren’t over it. Won’t ever be. But we will – I will – find my way back to some new normal that includes writing.
Has your writing style evolved over time?
I’ve become braver. The stories, darker. But with a touch of humour, a few helpings of profanity, and a smattering of sex. Because that’s life, right? When I started writing novels, I worried about what people would think. If they would assume I was writing about myself instead of some character I made up in my head. But even with my first novel, I just set aside that worry and went for it. I got one scene about the first time a boy shoots heroin so right that someone I know (who had firsthand experience) asked me with a raised eyebrow if I had done it myself. Nope. But I am a kickass researcher, just like my mother before me (though I have the wonders of the internets, and she just had a library card and the tenacity of a bloodhound)…
“Write like no one is reading” is my credo. If I love it, then I’m happy. And apparently, I love it dark.
Your books capture subjects and scenes that polarise people. Do you find ‘writing dark’ helps you ‘purge’?
I don’t usually write when I’m in a negative headspace. But I can say that envisioning certain individuals that I know well, while describing how deliciously blood drips from a dismembered limb once the corpse has rested for a while, or writing about stabbing a manipulative and controlling husband in the leg, can bring catharsis. Hm, did I say too much?
In Mazie Baby, the subject of physical and mental abuse is pivotal to the plot. What would you say to anyone suffering from that?
I know that sounds callous and simplistic. And it’s easier said than done. But do it. Get out. And get help. You are worth more than you know.
In Goody One Shoe, the protagonist is a one-legged vigilante (awesome!). Come on, how did she manifest?
There was a Facebook thread between a bunch of authors who took part one Friday in 2 minutes. Go! on author JD Mader’s blog, Unemployed Imagination. The “rules” are that you write for 2 minutes. No editing, no worrying about perfection. Then you post it and wait for feedback, and read and give feedback on others’ posts. On that thread, the issue of LSD came up and I mentioned that I didn’t do drugs. That in school I was a chicken shit, and too much of a goody two shoes. But now, I’m just a goody one shoe. Another author commented that Goody One Shoe was the title of my next book. I thought, damn…. It so is! I used a piece I had written for JD’s blog, applied a lot of what-iffing, and went from there. Billie (not including the one leg, her tragic backstory, or, you know, the whole vigilante thing) has a lot of the old me in her.
Many of us within this group have experienced times where creativity has helped us overcome times of pain. Describe the first time you realised the true of power of a creative outlet.
I’m not sure I remember that moment, but I also forget what I had for breakfast. I don’t write with a plan to overcome pain, but writing brings me joy. Drawing brought me joy. Even sewing did. That feeling of accomplishment that, apparently, my brain craves. When I am in pain, what helps me most is humour. I wrote a short blog series I called “Adventures in Alzheimer’s” to get out my frustration, anger, and sadness at the changes my mother was going through. All from a funny angle. Because if I wasn’t able to laugh about it, I would have lost my damn mind right along with her.
What is your current favourite book and why?
The one thing I don’t do enough of is read. I have a TBR pile filled with indie books from authors I love. So the most current read that I love to bits is the whole Trager family series by Laurie Boris. I fell in love with Charlie Trager. But he’s gay. And, you know, fictional. Laurie’s fills her stories with lovely, interesting, real characters, and true emotions with life-like dialogue. Love them all.
Thank you for being our ambassador and spreading the word about PoetsIN. We wish you lived here (or we lived there) so we could do more with you. What do you love most about Canada?
I love our unique brand of politeness. How we apologize for everything (including telling the wall we’re sorry if we bump into it). I love the wide open spaces (even though I prefer to remain safely cooped up in my house). I love that we have a high rate of atheism, gay marriage is legal (and so is pot!), and we don’t turn immigrants away at the border. I mean, where else can you hang with a bunch of hosers, get a double-double for a toonie, sit on the chesterfield in your tuque and finish off a two-four on May-long? Us Canucks, such keeners. We really give’r, eh?
What’s next for Julie?
I will finish book number six. I will. I promise. In fact, as soon as I’m finished this interview, I’m going to go read the 40K words I have and do some Nano camping in July. That’s the summer version of National Novel Writing Month, where you set your own goals and get the much needed push you need. I think I’ll try for 30,000 words. If I can manage just under 1000 words a day, then Doc Morningside will be well on her way to a completed first draft.