A Day in the Life Presents Poet and Fiction Author, Francis W. Alexander

Terrie Leigh Relf: Thank you, Francis, for creating time to be interviewed for my series.

Francis W. Alexander: You’re welcome, Terrie. And thank you for interviewing me.

Terrie Leigh Relf: First of all, what are your writing rituals? How do you prepare your space for these activities?

Francis W. Alexander: My best time to write is in the early morning. I aim for five in the morning, which gives me plenty of time to create things. First, I do as much exercising as I can. I usually lift barbells. Then, as I write, I listen to music by Spooky Tooth, Hendrix, The Funkadelic, Procol Harum, and other groups pop, soul, or psychedelic. I have used this ritual since my days in college, and now either listen to YouTube, iTunes, or spin albums on my Crosley record player or listen to my CD’s.

When I write my horror poems and tales, I listen to spooky YouTube music such as “Tubular Bells” (The Exorcist) and “Dies Irae” (“Day of Wrath”, The Shining). When I write science fiction, I listen to YouTube videos like Twilight Zone and One Step Beyond.  Psychedelic music is also played as I write.

Terrie Leigh Relf: Within what genres do you write? What intrigues you about these?

Francis W. Alexander: I write horror, science fiction, haiku, scifaiku, Christian, and Black Studies. I am fascinated by the future possibilities that each genre holds, be they scary or promising. I am also enthralled by the beauty within each genre. For example, in haiku, many times I can feel and smell things in the poet’s moment as if I am there with them. When I think about science fiction, I am enthralled by the ideas of other dimensions and universes. I also think about the possibilities of advanced Kardashev scale civilizations, God, and the mysteries of space.

Terrie Leigh Relf: Do you have a day job? If so, how do you balance your creative and work time?

Francis W. Alexander: No, I do not have a day job. Most of my time is spent writing. In the spring, I have a job scoring papers for NCS Pearson. I am also a tutor, although I haven’t had any assignments lately.

Terrie Leigh Relf: What tips do you have for other writers?  

Francis W. Alexander: I agree with the advice of many established writers. Be persistent – and write, write, write. Read and study the publications where you want to be published.

In the animal kingdom, some animals have lots of offspring. Some of those offspring won’t survive and some will. My stories and poems are my babies. I’d like for all of them to make it, but they won’t. Yet, the more of them I write for publication, the more of them I know will get published.

Also, the more experienced one becomes, the more opportunities there are to be published. You have to see what kind of material your target magazine likes to publish, so reading the stories in that publication is also important. Plus, I am always learning techniques as I read other writer’s works.

And I urge young writer’s to be persistent. There will be some bumps and bruises on the way. You have written your best piece and it gets rejected. Keep sending it out or hold it for the future where you might learn more techniques that you can use to improve it. You might also get other ideas that you can add to the manuscript that could make it much better.

Speaking of improvement. I sometimes find myself reading one of my published works and saying to myself, “I could have done better than that!” There is always room for improvement.

Terrie Leigh Relf: What are your thoughts on the creative process in general and your creative process in particular?

Francis W. Alexander: Just like genius might be “one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration,” the same can be said for writing. The way I feel these days, it’s definitely ninety-nine percent perspiration. I find that it is not as difficult as it feels at first, once you put yourself into the process and stick to it.

I’ve read somewhere that everyone has their own universe in their minds. I’ve always believed this. An idea is like a comet entering a solar system or a meteor entering a planet’s atmosphere. The ideas and concepts come to you. And when they don’t, I think the writer is like an astronaut going to another planet to get raw materials. The materials (ideas) are right there in front of us. All the writer has to do is reach out and grab them. On another level, I believe the ideas in our universe are planets and systems containing beings having conflicts and drama. What we do is report these events featuring those beings.

Terrie Leigh Relf: Where do your ideas come from? What inspires you? Intrigues you?

Francis W. Alexander: Some ideas come from my dreams or they hit me early in the morning – making me get up and jot them down. As I mentioned above, I think of my mind as being a universe within itself where many ideas and tales are contained. I also look at the world around me and think of the possibilities for the present and future. I keep up with the latest science news and get ideas from that.

I am mostly inspired by people I know, the great and the not-so-great. In 2007, I was friend requested on MySpace by the singer Jessie J. So, whenever I feel down, listening to her music gets me out of my funk. I am also inspired by knowing what she had to go through to be successful. I am also inspired by authors I know such as Terrie Relf, Lenard Moore, the late August Wilson (whose theater group I quit in 1969), Linda Addison, and Marge Simon, who was one of my early inspirators in science fiction. Recently, I’ve found out that my distant cousin is author, Tannarive Due. I recently watched an episode of the Outer Limits and was surprised to see an episode written by her husband, Steven Barnes, a writer I remember from the early Yahoo writers’ groups. I am also inspired whenever someone has read something of mine and told me they wanted to be a writer like me. This happened when I was on MySpace. The lowest age for a person on MySpace was fourteen at the time, and the kid wrote me right when MySpace changed their age policies. So, I don’t know if that kid has stayed on the writing track or not. I’ve since had two gentlemen ask me to be their mentors, and that feels good and makes me want to better my craft.

That leads me to a time when I was struggling to be a writer. In the early eighties, I lived in this apartment in Detroit’s Cass Corridor. There was a kid who wanted to be a writer and told me she was going to be a greater writer than me. I had been a student through a newspaper correspondence course and gave her my materials. I have not been to Detroit in years, the building was torn down, and I often wonder if she went after her dream. So, besides the money, having readers, and possibly being an established writer, there is also the thrill of mentoring someone and seeing them become successful. Those are the things that can inspire a writer.

Anything mathematical or religious intrigues me. I am also fascinated by discoveries and other facts archeologists, such as Ticia Verveer, puts on her Twitter and Instagram pages. Actually, anything in history: science (especially astronomy), psychology, religion, mathematics, nature, genealogy, and human nature intrigues me.

Terrie Leigh Relf: What about upcoming publications? Awards and other accolades?

Francis W. Alexander: My drabble collection titled, When the Mushrooms Come, will be published by Alban Lake in February. I have stories in the Anthology of Hate, Fantasy Short Stories Anthology Series Book Two, and a poem in one of the last issues of Bloddbond. My poems are forthcoming in Scifiakuest, Illumen, and the Poet Explores the Stars Anthology. My stories will be in the Trail of Tears Anthology, Drabble Harvest #13, and Alien Dimensions. I am still feeling great after having been nominated for the 2018 Rhyslings and having an honorable mention in Drabble Harvest #12: Space Westerns.

Terrie Leigh Relf: What are you working on now?

Francis W. Alexander: I am working on some science fiction and horror stories, two book manuscripts, and some poems. I have been working on five books for years and finished three of them. The first book was a science fiction themed tale called Sons of the Stars, and it was rejected, so I’m going to work some more on it and submit it again. The Phenoms, a book about minority superheroes fighting a vampire is still being held for possible publication. I still need to do a lot of research before I finish my genealogy book titled, The Lineage, about my search for my relatives, and I need to find time to finish Strengthened, my memoir about night terrors. I have been procrastinating about my fifth book submission. It is a book of mostly published haiku and haibun that I am about to send out called I Reckon. I’ve also been holding onto my children’s book manuscript about haiku poet, Lenard D. Moore.

Terrie Leigh Relf: Where do you see yourself as a writer in five years? Ten?

Francis W. Alexander: God willing, I see myself having several books published in five to ten years.

Terrie Leigh Relf: What challenges have you faced as a writer and/or with a particular project? How did you meet them?

Francis W. Alexander: For me, writing is an ongoing challenge. I’ve always known I wanted to be a writer, but didn’t take care of business in school in my early years. I got serious when I was a college student, taking English to refresh myself and taking several literature and writing classes. Mainly, I am a math person, so sometimes I think I’m writing correctly, when the editor tells me this is wrong or that is wrong. In general, writing is a challenge. Right now, although I’m almost finished with my book manuscripts, the confidence is not there because I feel something is missing. I think I might be having problems with background, for example. I’m studying The Craft of Writing Science Fiction That Sells by Ben Bova and hope that helps. I also get tips from my Wednesday evening Writer’s Call with Terrie Relf. It’s interesting listening to the advice of editors like Relf, Tyree Campbell, and Theresa Santitoro. Other writers in the group also offer great pointers and ideas. As for meeting my challenges, I just keep plugging away at improving my writing.

Terrie Leigh Relf: Are you currently, or have you ever been, in a writing group? Your thoughts?

Francis W. Alexander: Yes. In 1981, I was briefly in the African-American writing group headed by Rob Penney in Pittsburgh in the early eighties. Unknown to me, Penney and Wilson had founded the Pittsburgh theater group I had quit. I was also in an online haibun writers group and two Yahoo writers groups (one for scifaiku and one for African-American writers). I have also had some creative writing classes. I think it’s good to mingle with people, see their views, and fish for ideas. Plus, it’s good that others can see what is wrong with your writing that you cannot see. I’m too much of a loner and benefit from the social contact.

Terrie Leigh Relf: I’m sure this feature’s readers would love to hear about your networking, marketing, and promotional experiences – including tips!

Francis W. Alexander: My networking experience started back in the 80’s with Marge Simon and Janet Fox. Marge was the editor of Star*Line and Janet (RIP) was editor of Scavenger’s Newsletter. They gave me lots of encouragement and offered markets for me to send my work.

Thanks to the Internet, I now have Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook. I fondly remember when I first got on MySpace, thanks to the urging of my writer niece, Lorrie Irby Jackson, and supervisor Melanie Lamanna. When I finally decided to get on the site, I got upset that some stranger asked to friend me. It didn’t take long for me to discover that being on MySpace was a good way to get readers. I was further inspired after friending aspiring singers such as Jessie J and Nadina, and editors like James Baker of Pro Mart (now Alban Lake) and J Erwine of Nomadic Delirium Press, and seeing them striving for success. The young fan who sent me a message also reinforced my belief in social networking as a marketing tool.

I get lots of promoters who offer their services. I specifically like Joey Pinkney and Faydra Deon.  Pinkney is always promoting somebody’s book on Twitter. I also like how Marge, Rhonda Parrish, Tyree, J Alan Erwine, Alban Lake, and you do what you can to promote writers. I like social networking because the more friends you get, the higher the probability of getting a publisher and agent as a friend. It’s also where potential fans and readers can be found. So, I recommend that any new writer make social networking a part of his or her writing life. You don’t have to live on it, like many people do, but it is important if you want to get your name out there.

Terrie Leigh Relf: Since you’re a fiction writer, who are your favorite characters? How did they come into being, and what do you love – or loathe – about them? 

Francis W. Alexander: I had a story called “The He-Man Superheroes Club” published in two publications. The characters were myself and my friends. I liked the characters because, although they had supernatural powers, they were human with all the human weaknesses. I also remember that although I had some abilities they didn’t have, they also had some that I didn’t. I usually have women characters who are angelic in nature.

One of my characters is taken from a girl I had a crush on in grade school named Jenny. She was a great singer and once taught our sixth grade music class. Thinking about her, I’ve put a character in my Phenoms manuscript named Siren, who can sing all your troubles away.

Terrie Leigh Relf: Since you’re a poet, what forms do you love?

Francis W. Alexander: I think one of my weaknesses as a poet is not knowing forms that well. I mostly like haiku and haibun because as I said before, I can feel the images of the poem. I love how my friend Lenard D. Moore performs his haiku and poems with rhythm and style. I still love the poems “Annabell Lee” and “The Raven” by Poe. I have not mastered how to rhyme, but I like that form as well. I guess I can say that the ballade is another favorite form, though I’m not that knowledgeable about it.

Terrie Leigh Relf: Anything else you’d like to add that I haven’t asked? 

Francis W. Alexander: Yes, I just want to add that many times, it seems like other things can get in the way of one’s writing, such as sickness. It is also true that no matter the situation and how bad the person might feel, when the writer plunges into writing, they get so carried away that nothing can seem to get in the way of their creativity. I also want to add that I have a huge library, and besides the book by Bova, some of my other favorite writing books are the Prentice-Hall Handbook for Writers, edited by Leggett, Mead, and Charvat, On Being A Writer, edited by Bill Strickland, The Haiku Handbook by William J. Higginson with Penny Harter, and Science Fiction: What It’s All About by Sam J. Lundwall.

Thank you very much, Terrie, for interviewing me.

Terrie Leigh Relf: Thank you so much for creating the time, Francis! 

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BIO:  Francis Wesley Alexander is  a prostate cancer survivor. At present, the effects of high blood pressure and sugar diabetes are slowing him down, but he still gets enjoyment out of caring for his one kitten and four cats, surfing the Internet, eating, exercising, and writing, writing, writing.Currently, his work can be found in Fantasy Short Stories Book Two, Bloodbond, Martian Wave, Disturbed, Anatomy of Hate Anthology, and Illumen.  

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