Wednesday 29th July 2015
This is a repost of a guest post I wrote for Liis Scanlon's blog. The original post is here.
As an author, I’m so unsuccessful right now that fewer than twenty readers worldwide have read my three Frank Friendship series novels. And yet from total strangers within that tiny readership, I’m getting comments that blow me away, none more so than this from Liis: “I feel like these are the best 3 books I own so far.” For books that don’t sell, what is it that people love so much? In this post, I’m going to look into that by exclusively revealing the best-kept Friendship secret: the literary origins of my books’ hero, Frank Friendship.
From Friendship enthusiasts, there is one surprisingly consistent message: “I love Frank.” Frank is obstinate, socially inept and borderline crazy. He’s also kind-hearted and faithful. His name is not an accident, and maybe I shouldn’t be so surprised he’s popular. Because Frank Friendship comes straight from my heart. He’s the spiritual son of a character who made a lasting impression on me as a reader. My readers will know that Frank’s real dad is the brutal murderer, Gus Friendship. Who, though, is Frank’s literary father?
Frank’s brain doesn’t work like yours or mine. But he’s not feeble-minded so he isn’t related to Lennie Small in Of Mice and Men, even though that short novel hit me so hard as a kid, the characters are still with me. If you haven’t read it, you need to. The hulking-but-vulnerable type wins me over every time, from Lennie and Hodor to Wreck-it Ralph and the kind of bumbling but well-meaning characters John Candy played so well. I’m such a sucker for those characters, I always want to write them and it’s no coincidence that Frank is big and strong and can’t rely on his brain.
My series isn’t a fantasy, but I used to read a ton of the stuff, so how about Sam Gamgee, the true hero of The Lord of the Rings? At fourteen, pre-Internet, I thought I was the only one who’d miss Sam more than everything else on Middle Earth. But, while Frank is a loyal friend like Sam, he’s not a Gamgee either.
In my quest to find another Lord of the Rings I found another Sam. I found the character who would become Frank Friendship’s spiritual dad.
Frank’s closest literary forebear is a character you may never have heard of. His name is Wolf and he’s not even human. Wolf is a werewolf, a supporting character in The Talisman by Stephen King and Peter Straub. It’s a flawed book, but I re-read it recently and I still love it because that character is pitch-perfect. Like Frank, Wolf isn’t book-smart, isn’t refined, isn’t brave (until he is). He’s strong yet weak, innocent and loyal. A small piece of my heart will always belong to Wolf. When working out what type of character Frank should be, Wolf and how much I loved him kept going through my head. If you haven’t read The Talisman, give it a go. You, too, may discover you can love a werewolf.
And by this time anybody who has read Screw Friendship will be saying, “Wait a minute. Is that why [SPOILER REDACTED]?”
Oh, yes. Those are a tribute to good old Wolf. Scattered through the series are other little clues. Here’s a sneaky one I doubt anybody would ever spot:
An endearing catchphrase of Wolf’s is, “Wolf! Right here and now!” When Steven Northward bumps into Frank in Pursue Friendship, he says, “Frank Friendship. I can’t believe it. Frank Friendship, right here.”
To be clear, Frank isn’t Wolf rebadged. Like Wolf, Sam and Lennie, he’s a unique creation. But he is also my attempt to do for readers what other writers did for me: to pass on a flawed and profoundly human character who can survive the leap from page to heart to become someone we love.