10 Questions for Zachary Frank
- By Catherine Fox
"I came back warm from a long winter run to find my daughter on the couch, feet raised, arm wrapped in a wet towel, a glass of chocolate milk on the end table where her father’s ashes used to be."—from “Dark Smoke Rose,” Volume 60, Issue 3 (Fall 2019)
Tell us about one of the first pieces you wrote.
I’ll let it speak for itself (and for how I ugly I found the world in the third grade):
The Stunningly Ugly Witch and the Repulsive Pheasant
One day on Halloween night a stunningly ugly witch flew on a broomstick to a graveyard. She put out a bubbling cauldron and said “itchky-potcky.” A repulsive pheasant burst out and the witch said “go get the trick-or-treaters candy.” The pheasant who was woozy from the blast did not know what to do so he sat on a gravestone. “Go get them you yokel” screamed the witch. So, he flew to get some trick-or-treaters. He was pretty stupid so it took an hour to find one. But he found the most hideous one. She was on her way to her hundredth house because every house would not give candy to someone that ugly. She could not be named she was that ugly. She was walking by a sewer when out popped the repulsive pheasant he was so scared by her face that he. . .
(I guess I thought pheasant was another word for turkey.)
What writer(s) or works have influenced the way you write now?
The influences I notice most in my work include Arundhati Roy, Denis Johnson, and George Saunders. Most recently, I’ve been inspired by Camille Bordas, the way she lingers with a detail, giving it space to open. My favorite detail from her is in the story “Most Die Young” when the narrator holds a dog as it’s euthanized: “I felt her getting heavier almost instantly, and her body seemed to shrink in my arms, compacting the way that my winter clothes did when I vacuum-sealed them for storage each spring.”
What other professions have you worked in?
I’ve only worked as an educator or at education nonprofits, because I’m a masochist. Right now, I’m involved in both areas, teaching a Writing for Health Professionals course and working part-time in development at an adult education and literacy nonprofit.
One summer, I worked on a Christmas tree farm.
What inspired you to write this piece?
This story was adapted from an early chapter of a book-in-progress inspired in part by different degrees of experience with addiction and recovery, and by questions about the role and limitations of community in influencing individual behavior. Though this story directly portrays substance use, my intention with the book is to focus on recovery.
As I continue to research and read personal narratives, I’m inspired to write about addiction in the most empathetic way possible. Not to stigmatize people with substance use disorder but to interrogate the many factors—social, cultural, and economic—that lead to addiction and inhibit treatment.
Is there a city or place, real or imagined, that influences your writing?
I’m always returning to the two months I spent in Lubec, Maine, during the summer of 2012, when I worked on a blueberry farm and lived with two others in a cabin on the ocean without electricity, running water, or reception. That degree of removal—from home, family, friends, and the world at large—provided a privileged distance from which to look back. This story and the book it’s from are set in that region, which has been at the center of the overdose epidemic in Maine.
Is there any specific music that aids you through the writing or editing process?
For the book I’m working on:
- Carrie & Lowell by Sufjan Stevens
- Sprained Ankle by Julien Baker
- Are We There by Sharon Van Etten
- Put Your Back N 2 It by Perfume Genius
- Young Man in America by Anais Mitchell
- Ágætis byrjun by Sigur Rós
- "Dlp 1.1" from The Disintegration Loops by William Basinski
Do you have any rituals or traditions that you do in order to write?
I think I’m pretty easygoing compared to other writers I know. I just like a hot cup of coffee when I write, preferably black and exactly 162°F, and other people working around me, and lotsof sound in the room, as long as it’s unintelligible, and notebooks without lines, and the option to stand and write, and a rectangle for a writing surface (I’ll tolerate a square but will not tolerate a circle).
Who typically gets the first read of your work?
Dana, my wife. As a psychiatric mental health nurse, now studying to be a nurse practitioner, she works with people with substance use disorder, so she’s been particularly helpful with this book when it comes to symptoms and treatment options available in a community hospital setting.
If you could work in another art form what would it be?
In thinking of the things writing doesn’t provide to most writers, it’d be nice to also work in an art form that’s more physical, active, interactive, and that doesn’t require much precision. And maybe one where revision isn’t an option. What does that leave me with? Blue Man Group?
What are you reading right now?
For a book club, The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison. For writing research, The Autobiography of Eleanor Roosevelt. In small pockets of free time, I’m making my way through the stories in Friday Black by Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah and Homesick for Another World by Ottessa Moshfegh.
ZACHARY FRANK is a recent graduate of the MFA for Poets and Writers at UMass Amherst, and has just completed a move to Baltimore. He was a 2019 fellow at the I-Park International Artists-in-Residence Program in East Haddam, CT. This is his first published story.