OB Paint the Town – Author Interview – Frank Nappi
How did you develop your plot and characters? This is always a most interesting question to answer. I have heard so many authors delineate the process by which they write a novel. Many of the traditional methods include outlining, character sketches, and timelines. None of this applies to me. And while I do not think this is an indictment of any sorts, I do feel a little left out. I have yet to talk to an author who does what I do. My process is far less formulaic. And it varies each time I pursue a new endeavor. Most of what I do early on begins and remains in my head. There is no paper involved. The only variable is how I actually begin. For instance, my first novel, Echoes From The Infantry, began with a very complex character who suffers from the insidious residue of WWII. He was fully developed in my mind before I ever wrote one word. The fictional framework came later on. In the first Mickey Tussler novel, it was just the opposite. I had already written a first chapter before I ever really knew exactly who my protagonist was going to be. The same is true for my latest novel, Nobody Has To Know. Things tend to evolve with me at their own pace. This is the beauty of the writing process. Stories come from so many different places and are executed in so many different ways.
Can you share a little of your current work with us? Well, as you know, Nobody Has to Know is a dark and somewhat daring psychological thriller that, tells the story of Cameron Baldridge, a popular high school teacher whose relationship with one of his students leads him down an unfortunate and self-destructive path. Stalked through text-messages, Baldridge fights for his life against a terrifying extortion plot and the forces that threaten to expose him. Nobody Has to Know is a sobering look into a world of secrets, lies, and shocking revelations, and will leave the reader wondering many things, including whether or not you can ever really know the person you love. On a more profound level, Nobody Has To Know illustrates how the landscape of our past influences our present and how, sadly, some of these more indelible moments hold us prisoner for the duration of our lives. However, what few people realize is that the ending of the original story was very different. I will not go into too much detail for obvious reasons, but I will say that initially, much of the “action” in the story was revealed to the reader at the end as “just a dream sequence.” It wasn’t until I realized that readers might feel cheated and/or duped that I decided to alter it.
Do you recall how your interest in writing originated? I am often asked “who” or “what” inspired you to write. The “who” is a tough one. I have always had this propensity to write – a love for the written word that to the best of my recollection is ineffable. I really believe it is in my DNA. Now the “what” – that’s any easy one. I always longed to write and write something substantial, like a novel. But for many years, however, I was uninspired — more specifically, I lacked a topic to explore. I did not want my first effort to be gratuitous in any way; it needed to be something poignant, something close to my heart. When I met two very special WWII veterans – Mr. Bill McGinn and Mr. Eddie Hynes — during a Veterans Speaker Program that I initiated at Oceanside High School for my classes, I was inspired like never before. The stories they told me, and our subsequent friendship, became the basis for my award winning Echoes From The Infantry. I have bee writing ever since. Thank you Bill and Eddie.
Why did you choose to write this particular book? Contrary to what many believe at first glance, the book is not about a sexual encounters between a minor and an adults. While this is one of the darker aspects of the story, the indiscretions that occur in the novel are simply vehicles through which the issues of pain and loss and damaged psyches may be explored. The book also explores the self-destructive propensity that some people have, despite leading a fairly “normal” life. It is my hope that readers will not become mired in the one facet of the story that is a little off-putting and that they will take more than just a cursory look at the story and allow themselves to delve deeper into the real issues that are examined.
How important do you think villains are in a story? Well, all characters are essential to telling a really good story. So creating these “beings” is paramount. My approach to this is most likely no different than the approach that other authors take. In any great work, one that resonates with the reader, there needs to be authenticity with regard to the characters. If a reader does not invest in the characters, the author’s message is lost. It is my experience that “real characters” think and act just as real folks would. There is nothing contrived about their existence – their words and emotional responses to situations are emblematic of those of real people. This can be accomplished in part through the use of flashbacks, which become windows into the psyches of these individuals. If a reader knows where a character has been, where he is presently becomes far more plausible. In the case of villains, I imagine that they element of credibility is even more important. We all love to hate villains, but these darker characters only speak to us if they are believable.
What genre are you most comfortable writing? Well, after the release of my latest novel, Nobody Has To Know, the literary world may have to come up with a new distinction just to classify what it is I have doing the last eight years. I guess to call my work eclectic would be an understatement. My first novel, Echoes From The Infantry, is an adult novel that delves into the world of a WWII veteran’s damaged psyche and subsequent family drama. That was followed up by The Legend of Mickey Tussler, described as a YA crossover novel that chronicles the exploits of a 17 year old autistic pitcher during the 1940’s. The sequel to that, Sophomore Campaign, is more of a YA story as Mickey’s journey continues and now my latest novel, Nobody Has To Know, is another adult release, but in the genre of Mystery/Thriller. Some say I am experiencing a professional identity crisis. I’d like to think of it, as others have suggested, that I am just very versatile — that I can tell many different stories that belong to different genres.
Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp? Yes, of course. The novel is many things, but on the most profound level, the story of Cameron Baldridge is a psychological study of just how debilitating tragic events from our past can be — and the role they play in our present situation. All of the characters in the novel struggle with this to different degrees but all embody this concept. A damaged psyche, one rooted in the landscape of our past, is something very daunting.
How did you come up with the title? The title is linked directly to an event that transpires fairly early in the story….cannot divulge too any more without giving too much away…
What’s your favorite place in the entire world? Anywhere near the water…I love the beach during all seasons and also enjoy the aesthetics that any body of water provides. There is something so therapeutic about sitting and watching the water..
Do you recall how your interest in writing originated? I have a vague recollection of when I began writing. I can remember writing a story when I was very young – maybe five or six years old. It was about a king who rescues a girl and makes her his queen. Not really sure where the idea came from, or even how good it was. I just remember my mom typing it for me when I was finished and that image always makes me smile. Professionally? I published my first novel with St. Martin’s Press in 2005 and have had the good fortune of publishing three more.
What dreams have been realized as a result of your writing? I have always wanted to reach people — make them consider things that perhaps that had not previously and/or feel things that they have never felt before. Authors have such a powerful gift – the ability to change a reader’s sensibility or outlook on life. I have had the good fortune of engaging in email and telephone correspondence with so many readers who have shared just how influential some of my writing has become for them. That’s a dream come true.
Do you intend to make writing a career? That would be dream number two! Yes, I would love for that to be my reality eventually. For now, however, I will continue teaching high school English full time and moonlighting as an author…
Can we expect any more books from you in the future? Yes, that is the plan. Presently, I am working on the third installment of my Mickey Tussler series. I am also involved with the creation of another thriller. I hope to have both of those completed within the next two years.
Who designed the cover? The cover was designed by my very talented assistant Sophia. She really captured the essence of the story’s most pivotal aspect with the design. I am so pleased with how it turned out.
Can you tell us about your main character? Cameron Baldridge is basically a good guy. But like so many good people, Cameron has a past that is littered with heartache — one incident in particular troubles him deeply and he is unable to extricate himself from its grip. This incident alters his psyche and impairs his decision making abilities at certain key moments in his life. Many readers want to vilify him for the things he does, but many also see the source of his life’s trajectory and feel sympathy for him. He makes one really bad decision in particular that burgeons out of control and leads to further complications.
What are you most proud of accomplishing so far in your life? I am really very proud ofeverything I have accomplished thus far — mostly because it has all been attained through hard work. I have taught high school English and Creative Writing for twenty five years. My debut novel, Echoes From The Infantry, received national attention, including MWSA’s silver medal for outstanding fiction. My follow-up novel, The Legend of Mickey Tussler, garnered rave reviews as well, including a movie adaptation of the touching story “A Mile in His Shoes” starring Dean Cain and Luke Schroder. I then went on to produce another quality novel, Sophomore Campaign, the intriguing sequel to the much heralded original story, and as I said I am presently at work on a third installment of the unique series.
What is your greatest strength as a writer? Versatility seems to be what most say. I suppose that is true.
How much of the book is realistic? Like all novels, the action that takes place in Nobody Has To Know is an amalgamation of fact and fiction. There is a very fine line between art and life, and at times, that line is blurred. It is always fun to keep readers guessing just which parts of my work are “true” and which parts are the product of my imagination.
Have you included a lot of your life experiences, even friends, in the plot? Again, at times…but a lot? No, I would not say a lot. However, certain people from my life have made appearances in my novels and of course there have been some experiences I have had that have also found their way onto the pages.
Where do you see yourself in five years? Still at my desk, in front of my keyboard, typing away…