Author Interview

Interview with author of Bones of My Brother, J. Frank Dunkin!

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Two Harbors Press September 2013 On Sale: September 15, 2013 Featuring: Old Jesse; Price Hobson; John Hobson 423 pages ISBN: 1626522758 EAN: 9781626522756 Hardcover

Book Blurb

The past is past, but is it still the past when it starts to interfere with the present? A compelling family saga that explores the bond between father and son, Bones of My Brother intertwines the curiously parallel stories of John Hobson and his son, Price. As it investigates the relationship between — and the consequences of — long-kept secrets, treacherous ambition, and hard reality, Bones of My Brother tells the redemptive story of a family that isn’t all it seems.

John, a devoted husband and loving father, eked out a hardscrabble living in spite of lost dreams and a haunting past. His son Price, by contrast, made his mark on the corporate world. Though the two stories of Bones of My Brother at first seem complete in themselves, they intertwine upon Price’s discovery of the past — in the form of old letters that his father had kept under lock and key for more than half a century.  Price had never known of his father’s ambition — grand dreams that proved unattainable for a country boy from Ballard County. And though Price’s corporate success seems secure, he eventually finds his foundation crumbling beneath his feet.

Bones of My Brother delves into the complex conflicts between love and lust, ambition and contentment, dreams and reality.  This twisting family saga reminds us that sometimes the past can indelibly influence the present and has a firm grip on the future.  With an unforeseeable conclusion, Dunkin’s novel is a heartfelt narrative of the motivations and impulses that drive humanity.

J. Frank Dunkin was born and raised in Marion, AL. He earned his BFA from Auburn University and later studied creative writing at Harper College in Palatine, IL.  After an Army tour of duty in Korea, he worked for small publishers in Nashville before moving into corporate real estate where he spent 25 years negotiating leases for retail chains. In Bones of My Brother, Dunkin draws from childhood memories in small-town Alabama plus his many years of travel in the world of real estate development.  Dunkin had retired to the Gulf Coast of Alabama and was the proud father of two and grandfather of 10.  He passed away on August 29, just as his debut novel was set to go to press.

J Frank Dunkin Author Photo Interview: What inspired you to write your first book?

 

I’d lived in Nashville, Miami and Chicago most of my adult life, but whenever business took me back to the Heart of Dixie, I found myself close to my roots and old memories would come flooding back.  On one such business trip in 1988, I was having dinner alone in a seafood restaurant on the causeway just east of downtown Mobile. The restaurant was perched on pylons above Mobile Bay and there was a threatening sky behind the old Battleship, U.S.S. Alabama, lying in permanent port just a few hundred yards away.  As I watched a single gull skim the bay before climbing to a higher vantage point, I began to think of my parents.

 

As I did, I turned over the paper placemat and began to write how it might have been with them as a young couple right after the war. I took that placemat home and began working on a story of fiction based loosely on my parents – but fiction to be sure.  I worked off and on with that story for years, whenever the mood struck me and I had the time.  In retirement, I’ve dusted off all those notes and written Bones of My Brother, which takes place in a small town much like my own hometown, but also tells the stories of a father and son in two different time spans: one in the rural South and in Nashville, where I lived for eleven years, and the other in Minneapolis and Washington D. C., places I’d frequented during my years of business travel.

Other than your parents, is the book based on people you know or events in your own life?

 

It’s hard for anyone to write a short story or novel without drawing from their own experiences and from the personalities of people they’ve known and loved, or maybe even disliked.  But in order to make the story a true work of fiction, and often to make it more interesting, it’s necessary to mold your characters to the story itself.  In the end, specific personalities, for the most part, become an amalgam of different people the writer has known, and their story, though similar in some ways, is also very different.  In some cases this is also necessary with events the author has lived through but not so necessary with settings.  Readers who grew up with me will recognize a number of places, even though those places may be named differently in the story.

 

How did you come up with the title?

 

I believe part of what drives readers to continue reading a novel is not only the power, sensitivity, and momentum of the story itself, but the feeling that they’re on a treasure hunt to discover the meaning of the title.  Most readers don’t want to find that treasure until they’re nearing the end of the story. And a good title to me is one that has a primary meaning and a more significant, overarching meaning that is not revealed until the last two or three pages of the entire work.  The goal is to have the reader whisper “Aha!” not once, but twice, and the second “Aha!” would be the most satisfying.  So If I answer the question, “How did I come up with the title,” well, all the mystery would be lost, and the reader would have no “Aha!” moment to look forward to.

If you had to do it again, would you change anything in your book?

As the writing of a novel progresses, I’ve found that although some “after-the-fact” changes might be good, they would often necessitate so many other changes to the manuscript that it would be best to simply write “The End” and move on to the next project.  Writers are like painters.  They’re never really finished, always thinking of ways to improve their work.  What happens is that finally the publisher jerks it away, and you’re forced to move on. Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing?

 

It’s that moment when you sit down in the morning with a cup of coffee to re-read the wonderful section you wrote the previous night only to discover that it is not so wonderful after all; that you’re staring at a piece of prose that breaks a dozen rules of good writing.  But still it’s comforting to realize that you can repair the damage, for if you did not understand the rules of good writing, you would never have noticed your mistakes at all. Who is your favorite author and what really strikes you about their work?

 

Had Harper Lee published a portfolio of works instead of just one novel, I’m sure she would rate number one, but as she did not, I’ll say Ernest Hemingway and Herman Melville for vastly different reasons.  Melville had a love affair with words, and so do I.  Maybe I caught that disease from him.  Hemingway began as a journalist and working for newspapers in Toronto and Kansas City, he learned how to be economical with words.

 

My first drafts tend to be word heavy in the Victorian style of Melville, which by today’s standards seems more than a little pompous.  Then I try to look at what I’ve written with an eye toward economy as Hemingway did.  Those two are the yin and yang of my writing, and I find that if I listen to both of them in equal measure, my work eventually turns out to be acceptable. What was the hardest part of writing your book?

Oh, I suppose that would be editing for clarity and flow. Hemingway said that he wrote the last page of A Farewell to Arms thirty-seven times and that getting the words right was the most difficult part of writing.  Well, I would definitely agree with that.  Of course I would – who am I to take issue with the master?

But seriously, it’s important for a story to not only ring true on every page, but the balance and pace of dialogue versus narrative passages is important.  Stick with one for too long and the reader will become bored.  And most sentences can be stated numerous ways without changing the meaning. But each sentence follows another, and it’s important to vary sentence structure and sentence length in order to keep it interesting.

To me, this is one of the most difficult aspects of writing – to realize for instance, during the editing process, that you’ve used the same pronoun eight times in a single paragraph.  It’s not the changing of the pronouns and sentence structure that is so hard, but resisting the urge to change the actual content that is so difficult.  This is something I hope to get right someday; Hemingway was never quite sure he’d managed it either. Did you learn anything from writing your book and what was it?

I learned for the first time what it means to truly love your work.  My business career was quite stressful.  It required me to be away from my family a lot, and it seemingly required me to wear an uncomfortable persona, or at least that’s how I perceived it at the time.  Writing is precisely the opposite for me.  I’ve often sat at my computer for hours on end without ever thinking of food.  The stress I undergo when writing is unnoticed until the phone rings, and I find that my voice is almost gone – that I can barely squeak out a “hello” to the person on the other end.  But it’s a rewarding sort of stress.  It makes me feel that I’m actually accomplishing something worthwhile.

  Do you see writing as a career?

I think of a career as a lifetime endeavor.  Since I’m retired, I’m not sure I can fit writing into that definition, but hopefully, I will be writing for the remaining days, months or years allotted me.

  Who designed your book cover?

My publisher has an excellent design staff, but my degree is in Visual Design, so I chose to design the cover myself.

 

 What are your current projects?

I’m working on a new novel, tentatively titled Inheriting Harvey Doubt; compiling a selection of short stories, which hopefully will be published next year, and also expanding one of those stories into a novella.  But the all-consuming project of the moment is, of course, promoting Bones of My Brother.

 

 

 

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Denise Alicea
the authorDenise Alicea
This blog was created by Denise in September 2008 to blog about writing, book reviews, and technology. Slowly, but surely this blog expanded to what it has become now, a central for book reviews of all kinds interviews, contests, and of course promotional venue for authors, etc

2 Comments

  • Thanks so much for publishing the interview of J Frank Dunkin about his novel “Bones of My Brother.” Would you please note for your readers that the author passed away unexpectedly on August 29 and that the release of his novel has been delayed? It is not yet available, but will be soon.

  • J. Frank Dunkin was a writing colleague of mine on HubPages, and I enjoyed his wonderful facility with language in the short stories he published there. We admired each other’s short fiction and exchanged emails several times, so I feel we got to know each other and become friends as well. I considered him a terrific writer and enjoyed his short stories tremendously. I suppose you might say I was one of his early enthusiastic fans. With the publication of BONES OF MY BROTHER, the number of his fans will surely grow into legions.

    I am saddened by his sudden death, especially since it occurred before he could enjoy the fruits of his writing labors after the publication of his book. Still, it was evident to me when reading this interview with Frank that his true delight was experienced in the writing. I’m so glad he knew the satisfaction of completing the book, even designing the cover and knowing it would be published.

    I hope his heirs or the executor of his work (if he appointed one) will gather all of his short stories and publish them in a collection. Not one word of his writing should be lost to posterity. The man was talented.

    You did well, Frank….
    Jaye

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