The Interview: Bookbag Talks To Francis Bennett

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The Interview: Bookbag Talks To Francis Bennett

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Summary: We loved The Crabber Stories- a book of coming-of-age short stories set on Long Island in the nineteen-fifties - and we had plenty to talk about when Francis Bennett popped in to see us.
Date: 22 May 2012
Interviewer: Sue Magee
Reviewed by Sue Magee

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We loved The Crabber Stories- a book of coming-of-age short stories set on Long Island in the nineteen-fifties - and we had plenty to talk about when Francis Bennett popped in to see us.

  • Bookbag: When you close your eyes and imagine your readers, who do you see?

Francis Bennett: This is a thought provoking question, I must say. When I was writing The Crabber Stories I believe I was imagining young people like the Crabber himself. I structured each tale as a complete short story because I believed that modern students would feel more comfortable reading fiction in short form given the amount of electronic media they are accustomed to. Attention spans are short and information is transmitted quickly in this modern electronic era. Middle school and High School students no longer tackle War and Peace or even Gone with the Wind. I was hoping The Pearls, for example, might more easily engage them. Since publishing The Crabber Stories, however, I have discovered that my readers turn out to be Baby Boomers, women, teachers, mothers, and working men in their forties. I have also had a wonderful response from middle school students who seem to identify with The Crabber's angst and adventuresome spirit.

  • BB: I loved Crabber. How much of you is there in him?

FB: I am the Crabber. It took me thirty-five years to begin to understand what was significant in my youth. I experience the same feelings as the Crabber even now as I approach 70 years of age. I am still surprised, elated, disappointed, confused, curious and looking for love in everyone I meet.

  • BB: You've said that the location of the stories is fictional but it does seem very real. Is it loosely-based on any particular place? Does it relate back to your childhood?

FB: The location of the stories is Bay Shore, L.I., New York, the town where I grew up. The fictional disclaimer at the beginning of the book is there as a matter of form since I fictionalized a very real place. All of the characters are based on actual people who populated my boyhood but I portrayed them with some literary license. I loved them all. I remain grateful to them for all they did for me simply because of who they were.

  • BB: I too grew up in the nineteen-fifties and it did seem that children had a lot more freedom then. Do you think this is true? Do you have good memories of your own childhood?

FB: As you can see in the book, I have wonderful memories of my childhood. My parents had just lived through the depression and World War II. They were determined to build a normal, respectable life for themselves and their family. From that psychic place they didn't fear small dangers or expect life to unfold without trauma so they weren't nearly as protective of us as we became of our children. For example, the picture of me on the front of the book is the only picture that survived from my childhood. Back then no one seemed interested in taking pictures of dirty faced boys who were up to no good. Today, that attitude would be considered downright neglect.

  • BB: I loved the story of the tramp who came to the wake and said that it was respect rather than money which was important to him. Is money important to you?

FB: Money is necessary. I do not assign value with money or to money but I need trading chips to take care of myself and my wife. It's currency, you see. It enables life to flow past me allowing me to participate at whatever level I enjoy. I assign value to peace, love, freedom and health.

  • BB: What inspired you to write The Crabber Stories? How long did it take you?

FB: When I was 45 years old I returned to my home town to marry my second wife, Laurie, in Back from Spain. I spent a year rambling around the town I grew up in organizing my new life with Jo Ann (her real name). It turned out to be an experience I recommend. In living color and on every street corner I remembered who I really was. It was the most comforting experience I ever had and I still revel in the feelings to this day. I really was and still am The Crabber. I simply had to tell the story.

  • BB: Where and how do you write? With or without music? What do you enjoy about it and what would you rather not do at all?

FB: I write on my ranch in Wickenburg, Arizona. It is a powerfully beautiful place out on the high Sonoran desert where you can see all the way to the horizon. I start early and write for three hours in the morning then take a mid-day break for exercise, nourishment and siesta. Around three I go back to the computer and write till five. Since I e-publish, I have treated myself to all the latest computer equipment that makes the work of writing much easier. Every day I take great pleasure in trying to discover and tell the truth. It is not work for me. It is what I like to do and I'm fortunate that others will pay me to make the effort. I also love my tools…the style and structure of the English language. I received a classical education back in the fifties that gave me an appreciation for the beauty of a well- constructed sentence, the perfect word, an elegant paragraph and the purpose of correct syntax and musical punctuation. Sounds old fashioned, I know, but writing is about using language to communicate effectively. It is fun for me to use the tools correctly. I can't think of anything I would rather not do at all as you put it. I prefer to be outdoors and so having to stay put to write I find a little trying, but I enjoy writing so much that I forget that I'm indoors most of the time.

  • BB: What are you reading at the moment? What's your best book of all time?

FB: I am reading Boleto by Alyson Hagy. This is a novel about the modern American West where I live. I enjoy Hagy's intense personal style and deep observations that she dashes off on nearly every page. I have recently completed a study of advanced horsemanship techniques so Boleto deals with my current interests in a unique and engaging way.

My best book of all time is Nine Short Stories by J.D. Salinger. No other author can create complex characters and make you care about them as quickly and cleverly as J.D. Salinger. I believe all great literature is character driven.

  • BB: You've got one wish. What's it to be?

FB: That my wife Jo Ann and I would remain healthy until we die in our sleep together.

  • BB: What's next for Francis Bennett?

FB: I am hard at work on my next book, The Secrets of a Horse Whisperer Revealed. For the last twenty-two years I have been studying the behavior of horses and how certain people seem to communicate with them in ways that we don't really understand. This book is a memoir of my journey into the world of horse whispering. It describes the people that I met along the way and reveals the secrets they taught me. I believe I'll have it ready for your review in the fall.

  • BB: We're looking forward to reading that, Frank and we hope that your wish comes true - but not for a long time.

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