Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Frank Sjodin talks about his space western "A Stranger in Ferrview"

JJ:     Hi Frank.

FS:    Hello Julie!

JJ:     We got to know each other because we both have stories in Twit Publishing's Summer/Fall 2011 Pulp! Anthology. Yours is called A Stranger in Ferrview. It's science fiction, a space western. How'd you come up with this idea? 

FS:    Oddly enough, I based the story on typical themes in mythology that appear all over in fiction, but especially in space operas and westerns. Star Wars, The Seven Samurai, and several westerns have themes the same as a myth - monster shows up, destroys crops, eats people, normal citizens are helpless and military doesn't help for reason A, B, or C. Hero from outside society shows up, leaves the realm of normal society, kills the monster, then wanders on his way. His is glorified by some, feared by some, and generally an outcast of society. This isn't a coming-of-age myth either, with gatekeepers, growth to adulthood and an elixir to improve society. Think Heracles and his labors. Anyways I took that theme and basically added aspects of my favorite other genres. I also love listening to old people recall tales and kids make up stories so I decided to frame it as a combination of the two.  As a kid I loved to imagine living in different places: my family stuffed in a jungle tree house, or on a space station, ice-fishing on Pluto, climbing Olympus Mons or other ridiculous scenarios. 

JJ:     I see a lot of influences in A Stranger in Ferrview from The Hobbit to Star Wars to Godzilla. I'm assuming you're a fan of all three of those I've mentioned. Tell us a little bit about how you came up for the idea of the monster in A Stranger in Ferrview. 

FS:    I'm a big Tolkien fan, and I was raised on Star Wars. I honestly can't remember ever having not seen the original Star Wars Trilogy. I also enjoy a good monster flick, particularly of the Rodan/Mothra/Godzilla era. I wanted the monster to be first off, able to fit the description of a dragon in the western sense, a la Smauge and his ilk: a giant reptile specializing in fire-breathing, flying, and terrorizing. I also wanted it to be of unclear origins, so that the people could come up with different theories about what it was as they were terrorized by it. After all, I came up with several ideas about how a space-dragon could exist: by magic, hoax, technology, alien biology, genetics or any combinations thereof. My favorite idea was a being that had some kind of supernatural ability so that I could tie it back to the myth theme. For example, the Nemean Lion had a hide that could not be pierced by any weapon. 

JJ:     I love the dragon. I also like the character of “the stranger,” a man who comes to town and promises to rid the town of the alien critter. The people even go so far as to give him their luxury rations to be rid of the thing! Tell us about "the stranger" in your story. 

FS:    You'll get a kick out of this. I got the idea for his character ages ago when I was a kid in Boy Scouts, of all places. There was a kid in my troop who, honest to God, was named Shane Gunlock. Now Shane was not a bad-ass tough-guy kid in any way, but his name reeked of space-cowboy bounty hunter. So I created this character and came up with stories about his adventures, background, et cetera, but I'll spare you the details of stuff I wrote as a kid. Basically, when I had my idea for my myth story, I thought, hmm, of all the characters in my mind's little toy box, which one best fits into a mythic space western? And so I updated Shane into "the stranger." Sticking to the childhood nostalgia of Shane Gunlock just didn't make sense, since Shane is such a western icon. Plus, he's more mysterious without a name, and referring to him as the stranger stresses his place outside society…as if it wasn't clear enough.

JJ:     You've also had a story published in Twit Publishing's Winter/Spring 2011 Pulp! Anthology, isn't that right? And the story's quite different from A Stranger in Ferrview. It's about a gnome hiding in a bucket during a council meeting of demons.

FS:    Yes, it's a fantasy humor piece titled Whatever Happened to the Dark Lord? It's set in a sword and sorcery world in which a war between good and evil has been going on for ages. The Dark Lord has the ability to return from death, and has threatened the forces of good for generations. Sound familiar? Anyway, this is the tale of a spy who witnessed the last meeting of the Dark Lord's mightiest servants, the Blacksouled Knights. There's a good mix of parody, intrigue, romantic humor, and some good ole fashioned fart jokes. 

JJ:     Where else have you been published? Can we read any of your other stories?

FS:    I did some of the writing for an online sci-fi radio serial, Our Fair City (www.ourfaircity.com) which you can listen to for free and I also do a character voice. Season One is complete and we're recording the last episode of Season Two, so it should start in September or October. Season Two involves reanimated corpses and a certain stranger who might be recognizable to all you old school horror fiction fans out there.  But my writing was only in season One. I have a few short story submissions out there now. Waiting to hear back.

JJ:     Where do you get your writing ideas? 

FS:    Mostly by first developing a character, setting, or event and forcing a plot around it, which I admit is not the most effective writing style. I have written a few pieces based on dreams or nightmares, a couple parodies, but mostly stories involving characters that I have defined and used in other writing, role-playing, acting, or other creative endeavors. 

JJ:     You mention role-playing and acting. You're a writer, but you do many other things. Tell us about a typical day in the life of Frank Sjodin.

FS:    I’m mainly an actor, and a lot of my work is performing for children. I haven't worked a regular day job since I was in college, and I kind of do whatever artistic work I can find, which is mostly acting. Right now, since it's summer, my primary income comes from street performances and birthday parties as a clown. I also do a bit of film, some voice-over stuff. I build puppets, build sets, write, and occasionally get a week or so of temp work doing oddball stuff like holding ropes for guys who wash skyscraper windows or greeting French doctors at O'Hare Airport. I guess my typical day is get up, eat, search for audition postings, check email, read webcomics, then suit up and clown for the lunch hour, come home and eat, relax for a bit and either go to rehearsal for whatever show I'm doing, or go perform. Or if I'm not in a show, clown the evening. 

JJ:     You're a clown??  Frank, I have to admit, I think clowns are creepy.

FS:    What? No way! I walk four blocks to the square where I perform, and every kid on the block knows me and my puppets by name. It helps that I don't wear makeup, or at least when I do it's just a drawn on mustache. 

JJ:     That doesn’t really change my idea of clowns, but that’s good that you’re not scaring the kids in your neighborhood. J

I posted a link to Axel Crow. That's a great horror short film. You're not a clown in this film, you're a creepy masked villain. Can you tell us a bit the film? How did you become involved? And you're pretty good with twirling a knife. Did that take practice?

FS:    That was a super fun short to film. We did it all in one night. Juan, who plays the cop, had arranged for us to use the laundromat all night. Michael, the director, got us a bunch of snacks and pop, and we shot from like 7 or 8 PM until I think 3 or 4 AM. I don't get a chance to play a villain very often, but I have done a bit of mask work in theatre. It was fun to do a unique role that was defined so much by physicality, which is in fact similar character creation techniques used by clown and mask experts.  On the street I juggle tools like hammers, wrenches, and sometimes even hatchets, so the knife trick was just an extension of those skills. 

JJ:     You’re a hatchet-twirling clown??!! (Julie emits a silent scream).

Do you have any other upcoming or past acting projects we can see? 

FS:    I just finished a fun short with I Love That Show Productions. The film is called Game Freak.

And if you liked Axel Crow, Michael Ramova just finished shooting a short about zombies during the Viet Nam War, in which I play not just a soldier, but several zombies, some as puppets. The film, 8mm Nam will be done in Sept but it's going to a competition so I'm not sure when it will be up on YT. 

And...my clown troupe runs a You Tube channel.

JJ:     Have you written any horror/scifi stories about clowns?
FS:    What? No! It may be fashionable to fear clowns, but I as a clown, I don't want to support people (especially kids) being afraid of me!
JJ:    The clown wouldn’t necessarily have to be the villain, Frank. But, I'll admit I wouldn't mind reading a horror story about clowns, because they're scary. 

FS:    Maybe clown with lots of makeup that get in-your-face, but not classic comedian clowns, Shakespearean servants, or silent film masters like Chaplin or Keaton!

JJ:     Ok, Frank. I’ll stop teasing you about being a clown. Your story A Stranger in Ferrview is amazing and you're a super talented guy. I hope you let me know when those other stories you've submitted are published. I'd love to read them!

        Thank you so much for being my guest!

For a chance to win a copy of Twit Publishing's Summer/Fall 2011 Pulp! Anthology (version for Kindle or Nook), all you need to do is post a comment...your name will then be thrown into a hat, clown style. One winner will be selected on Friday, September 2, 2011.  :)

***The winner is Craig Garrett!***


Anonymous said...

Great interview. I loved the Axel Crow short and I'll have to read Stranger in Ferrview.

Craig said...

What an excellent interview. I appreciate especially how Frank wears his influences on his sleeves (movies, acting, even role-playing). Looking forward to reading his stuff.

Anonymous said...

That was me, Axel Howerton, BTW Julie. No idea why this damnable machine overlord won't take my sign-in.

Anonymous said...

Now I see it deleted my comment altogether, which was something like... "Excellent interview, JJ. Nice to see an author with such a firm grasp of mythology and its inherent influence on his work."

Charlie said...

Wonderful interview. Really indepth. It's wonderful to learn so much about you! Thanks.
C.K. Volnek

Max said...

This was a pretty amusing interview. I loved how you kept focusing on that clown bit--made me laugh. Nice!

KMKelly said...

Fun interview you two! I enjoyed last issue of PULP enough to read it twice!


Lauri said...

Funny and interesting. I enjoyed the interview and the clips. Look forward to seeing more of his work. It's inspriing to learn of people who are able to support themselves through their creative endeavors.

Victoria said...

I enjoyed the interview Julie and the Axel Crow short film. I'm interested in reading The Stranger in Fairview and Whatever Happened to the Dark Lord.

Tamara said...

Great interview, Julie! I'd like to read A Stranger in Ferrview. I enjoyed hearing how he came up with the story and loved that name Shane Gunlock. Made me laugh hearing the two of you talk about clowns...:-)

Shane Gunlock said...

Never would have imagined my name would have made such a mark. I do remember the nickname. Shane Gunlock super galactic gunslinger, now I get how it started.