This week, I’m delighted to host an interview with the delightful and talented Frank Butterfield, author of the Nick Williams mystery series and the Golden Gate love stories series, along with many other books.
Who is Frank Butterfield? Give us your bio
I was born and raised in Lubbock, Texas, but have lived all over the US. I went to the University of Texas in Austin mainly to learn Portuguese and, after three semesters, dropped out and never looked back. I started off working in the hospitality industry, from one of the best hotels in Manhattan to a bed-and-breakfast in Provincetown. After a while, I realized I could learn how to code, got a job working as a US government contractor, and ended up managing very large contracts. Finally, I knew I needed to work for myself. I started off as a kind of spiritual life coach (something I still do) and then decided to try my hand at writing. Although I’ve done a lot of travelling as a child with my family and as an adult (I’ve been to every state in the lower 48), I now stay close to home in Daytona Beach, Florida.
As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
I first wanted to be a teacher. Then a minister.
When did you know you wanted to write, and when did you discover that you were good at it?
I knew I wanted to write when I was 9 years old and tried to write a short story. In school, I hated writing because I hated how formulaic it was and, for whatever reason, decided I couldn’t write even though I had the desire to do so. Then, in 2016, when I was 49, I figured out a way to write that worked for me and it’s been going gangbusters ever since!
What was your first published work? Tell us a little about it.
I self-published The Unexpected Heiress on June 1, 2016. It’s a short mystery novel which introduces the two main characters around whom I’m building an extensive universe. Their names are Nick Williams and Carter Jones.
They’re a couple, living together in a bungalow in 1953 San Francisco. Things kick off when Nick’s sister is murdered. The story is fast and doesn’t linger (two things I like in my writing). I had no idea what I was getting myself into when I first started, but I’m in love with everything Nick and Carter have brought into my life. I’m wrapping up my 67th title as I write this and expect a lot more to come.
Why did you choose your particular time period to set your stories in?
I’ve always been fascinated by the middle part of the twentieth century. I sometimes think I was born about 40 years late. I’ve also always been fascinated by the lives of LGBTQ folks during the time before Stonewall.
What kind of research do you do, describe the balance between research and writing?
For each historical fiction title, I start off with the newspapers and magazines published on or around the first day the story begins. I always find tidbits of things to add in to give the backgrounds of the stories some colour. If I’m going to include a historical figure in the story, I try to find a video of them speaking and moving around so I get some insight into how they would express themselves. In most cases, that’s easy enough to do.
Once I have a sense of who is involved and what they might do, I turn the stable of characters I’ve already established loose on them. In my latest short story, Nick and Carter (who are wealthy and donate a lot of money to the Democratic Party) make one of their multiple futile attempts to meet John Kennedy. That had one bad run-in with his brother, Robert, during the time of the McCarthy hearings, about 8 years before. In this short story, neither John nor Robert appear but I did include the man who was governor of Michigan at the time (Labor Day of 1960). He turned out to be quite a character and was a lot of fun to write about.
For the most part, research gets the writing ball rolling. Then, as I’m writing, I do verify bits and pieces as I go along. Since I have access to a lot of newspapers, I can do things like find out what radio or TV program was on at a particular time on a particular day. I try to include as many little things like that as I can. I want the reader to smell the cigarette smoke that’s everywhere, hear the scratchy sound of a record player, and feel the tightness of leather shoes that are still new and how slick they can be on a rainy sidewalk. That sort of thing.
Give us 5 tag words to describe your current series
I work on three series at the same time. My current book is in my contemporary series. Five tag words for the series: Football, Megachurch, Coming Out, Billionaires, Ghosts
Tell us about your current book? And when can we expect to see it?
My current title is This Thing Called Love. It’s book 7 in The Romantical Adventures of Whit & Eddie. It’s set during the first week of September of this year (2020) so there’s lots of masks and social distancing and testing. It starts off with Whit & Eddie moving to San Antonio for the football season (they own a fictional NFL team). Eddie’s mother, who lives in nearby Austin, decides to escape her self-imposed isolation and just shows up at their new house. At the same time, Whit’s mother drops a bombshell on her megachurch congregation and that leads to all sorts of twists and turns.
Are your characters based on anyone from real life?
All of the primary and secondary characters in my historical fiction novels are created out of whole cloth with a couple of exceptions: actress Rosalind Russell and her husband, Freddie Brisson, are recurring secondary characters. Their son is still alive so, in the scenes where someone politely asks about him, he’s always at camp or at a friend’s house.
In my contemporary series, I’m Eddie, the narrator. Our timelines diverge in 2014, but all of his past is my past. My mother is Eddie’s mother along with the rest of my family. I blur certain random things but all of them know I’m doing this. In many ways, this series is my mostly true memoir. Whit’s experience in the NFL is based on that of Tim Tebow, an actual football player. Whit looks like a beefier version of Rob Gronkowski, another actual football player. His personality, however, is very much distinct from either man.
Do you have a favourite character? Or maybe one that sometimes drives you crazy?
I have many favourite characters. Nick is at the top of my list. Carter and Whit and Ronnie (Daytona Beach historical series and contemporary series) are all tied for second.
There are two characters I really don’t like.
One is Carter’s ex, an engineer by the name of Henry. As he gets older, Henry gets more and more impatient with the changing world around him. For example, when we get to the 70s, he really doesn’t get why Stonewall and gay rights are such a big deal. His husband, Robert, is a saint!
The other character I don’t like is Nick’s second lover, Jeffery. He’s very much into how things look and can’t make up his mind if he’s gay or straight. He ends up getting married and having a daughter. Nick is about the only person in the world who really loves him.
How many hours a day do you write?
It really depends. I write when I want to write. I’m not good at adhering to schedules. On average, I probably write around 4 hours a day. But some days I can be at my laptop for 8 to 10 hours, easily.
How do you relax and unwind?
I go to the beach and walk or jump in the water. I don’t live right on the beach, but it’s only a 7-minute drive away.
If you could go anywhere in the world tomorrow, where would you go? And would you take anyone with you?
I would go to the island of Kauai, one of the Hawaiian Islands. I’ve written about it and know lots of people who’ve lived there. But I’ve never been. For my first time, I’d probably go by myself…
Who would you invite to your dream dinner party?
Dorothy L. Sayers (but not Agatha Christie since I’d want to dish about Dame Agatha with Miss Sayers).
George Washington Carver and his lover, Austin Wingate Curtis, Jr. I hesitate to invite them because I’d just want to listen to Dr. Carver talk and talk which would probably be boring for him. He was such a fascinating man and truly a wonderful human being.
One of my ancestors: Ferdinand Flake, who was a newspaper publisher in Galveston, Texas, before, during, and after the American Civil War. He was against Texas seceding and got in trouble for that but survived, nonetheless. I suspect he was a real hoot.
Marsha P. Johnson. She may or may not have been at Stonewall. I always wish I’d met her when she was alive. I’ve heard her speak and she’s a real firecracker.
Barbara Gittings. She was a lesbian activist and one of my favourite people. She and Miss Sayers would probably go to town and have a lot to talk about.
Describe where you are sitting right now
I’m in my living/dining room sitting at my dining table which is also my desk. My view is of my sweet little neighbourhood south of downtown Daytona Beach. There are palm trees (which the woodpeckers love) and cypress all covered in Spanish moss. It’s a lovely spot.
Who is your favourite author and how has their writing influenced you?
I don’t have just one: Dorothy L. Sayers, J.R.R. Tolkien, James A. Michener, Armistead Maupin, E.M. Forster, Andrew Holleran. The first four taught me about story structure, writing epics, and detailing personal vignettes to give plenty of feel and colour for times and places far away. The latter two taught me how to move into the souls of gay men, in particular, to reveal them. I can hear Nick telling me those are some ridiculous and high-falutin words right there…
Leave us with some words of wisdom, either your own or borrowed from someone else…
Write what you want to read.
Check out Frank’s latest book, ‘This Thing Called Love’.
As I read more about Frank, I realised what we have in common: historical stories, world-building, research methods, and even the glasses and a beard. I particularly like his closing quote, ‘Write what you want to read’ as that’s exactly what I do.
Now all that’s left to do is thank Frank for taking the time to answer the questions, and click on over to his website to look up some of those 67 Nick and Carter stories. I’ve got some catching up to do!