Tuesday, 7 June 2011

Interview with Anthony Francis

Anthony Francis is the author of the Dakota Frost Skindancer novels.

Frost Moon is the first in the series :
In an alternate Atlanta where vampires and werewolves prowl the night, magic is real, and tattoo magic is the strongest magic of them all, a serial killer is targeting the magically tattooed on the full moon.

Dakota Frost, best magical tattooist in the Southeast, learns from the police she may be a target ... just when she receives a lucrative commission to ink a magic tattoo for a werewolf before the next full moon.

Caught between the rough and tumble world of the werewolves, the law and order rules of the vampires, and a sexy man-in-black whose motives are in doubt, Dakota must tread carefully to survive - because she doesn't know whether her werewolf client is the tattoo killer ... or the next victim.

I read the book and totally fell in love with it so asked the author to join us for a quick interview.

Julie-Anne: Welcome to Thoughts of a Scot, thank you for doing this interview.

Anthony Francis: My pleasure! Thanks for having me.

JA: Why don’t you start off by telling us a little bit about yourself?

AF: I’m a longtime resident of the Southeast who’s moved to the Bay Area to work for Google. I spent eighteen years in Greenville, South Carolina, near where the fictional Dakota Frost grew up, and eighteen years in Atlanta, living in and enjoying the places where FROST MOON takes place. I’m a big fan of science fiction and urban fantasy, but in my day job I’m a computer scientist helping robots feel and see, so I try to weave both the fantastic and the scientific through Dakota’s universe.

JA: I loved Frost Moon and Dakota Frost, how did you come up with the idea for Dakota? Is she based on anyone you know?

AF: Dakota was a reaction against all those covers of urban fantasy novels that have an attractive scantily clad heroine on the cover – but when you turn the page you find a hardboiled detective who’s far more likely to show up in boots and jeans than she is in a little black dress and thigh-high boots. So I decided to create a heroine who needed to show a little skin in order for her magic to work – so when you see Dakota on the cover, she’s working, and not just showing off.
Parts of Dakota are based on people I know – her long leather vestcoats are mine, for example, as are her mix of skeptical/religious beliefs and her kinky sexuality. Her environmentalism comes from my wife, as do her vines and butterfly tattoos, and her Mohawk, though my wife hasn’t worn a Mohawk since high school. The rest of her draws on several other people I know, but her attitude and distinctive voice are all her own.
She does exhibit some of the tropes of urban fantasy – “the snappy tough chick” – but I wanted Dakota to be different. I didn’t want her to be an experienced paranormal investigator with combat experience when the story starts; dealing with danger and violence is new to her. And I gave her an alternative sexuality, based on my own experiences with the BDSM/leather community of Atlanta, to help raise people’s awareness.

(I love Dakota's look and her personality.  It's one of the main selling points on the series for me.)

JA: I love the idea of magical tattoos, how did you come up with it? And what would you get if they were real?

AF: Once I had the idea that Dakota’s skin would be how her magic was expressed, the idea of tattoos came naturally. The other obvious alternative was dancing, but I quickly decided to combine tattoos and dancing into a single art – the SKINDANCER of the series title. Tattoos are wonderful because there are so many kinds of art that inspire ideas for magical effects. I was also inspired by the Green Lantern Kyle Rayner, who was an artist that used the Green Lantern ring to create anything that he could imagine. Dakota’s tattooing gun isn’t as fast or convenient as a Green Lantern ring – but her imagination is just as powerful.

Oh, and I’d get a dragon tattoo like Dakota’s. Definitely.

(I think a dragon would be fun but I also like the idea of some vines.  Perhaps poisonous ones.)

JA: I read somewhere on the net that you didn’t have any tattoos, is this still true? And do you have an interest in tattoos or did you have a friend to ask about that side of things?

AF: That’s still true. I am thinking about getting a large dragon tattoo but it hasn’t happened yet. As it turns out, I not only have an interest in tattoos, but I’m also married to a beautiful woman with a large tattoo who I could ask about her experiences. Even so, I had to do a lot of research, research that is still ongoing with every book.

JA: I read that a YA series was planned following Cinnamon, is this still in the works?

AF: Most definitely yes! Cinnamon’s series will be SPELLPUNK and the first one is tentatively titled HEX CODE. I’m planning at least a trilogy.


JA: Personally, I loved Cinnamon, how soon can we expect to read it?

AF: Hopefully late next year or early 2013. It will probably be my National Novel Writing Month project for 2011.

(Can't wait for this.  Cinnamon is a great character.)

JA: How do you get into a writing “mood”? Do you make up a writing playlist or do you have any other pre-writing rituals?

AF: I used to do mix tapes for writing, which I still do from time to time – sequences of music which represent parts of a story, inspiring me to think about plot developments. But the more I write the less I need them. I believe one of the most important things a writer can do is to learn to write when they’re NOT in the mood – some of the best writing I’ve done has been when I’ve been staring at white page saying to myself “I’ve got nothing.” If the muse doesn’t show up, start without her.
Easier said than done, of course. One of the most important techniques I use is an appointment with a time limit. I’m a member of the Writing Group at Mission City Coffee, which meets every Tuesday (except the first Tuesday) come hell or high water. At the Group, we write for 20 minutes, everyone reads what they wrote, and then we do it again. On a good night we get 3 sessions – an hour of writing broken into 20 minute chunks. That ticking clock motivates you to write, because if you don’t use the time, it will be gone. Over time, you learn this as a skill.
The other thing I use is National Novel Writing Month – an annual challenge to write 50,000 words of a new novel in the month of November. It’s quite a challenge, but a doable challenge, and I’ve participated 5 times. FROST MOON was my 2007 entry, BLOOD ROCK my 2008, LIQUID FIRE my 2009, and THE CLOCKWORK TIME MACHINE was my 2010. It gets easier every year, and sometimes I even end up far ahead of the 50,000.

JA: What’s your favourite genre to read?

AF: Physics textbooks. Seriously, I read superhero comics, alternative comics, urban fantasy, paranormal young adult fiction, steampunk, hard core science fiction, fluffy space opera, and whatever else I can get my hands on. My favourite urban fantasy author is Patricia Briggs, followed closely by Laurell Hamilton. My favourite science fiction author is Larry Niven, followed by Isaac Asimov and C. J. Cherryh.

JA: When did you start writing and what pushed you to do it?

AF: I started writing when I was ten. I was inspired by Isaac Asimov to write science fiction and Disney movies to write things that were fun. I wrote short stories and had elaborate plans for my writing, even writing a whole novel during college and getting a short story published in graduate school, but life kept getting in the way.
Then one day I woke up and realized I had stopped going to science fiction conventions and hadn’t submitted a story in years. I went back to Dragon*Con, attended Ann Crispin’s writing workshop. I participated in National Novel Writing Month and started writing stories again. Finally it was the Writing Group, then meeting at Barnes and Noble at Steven’s Creek, that broke the logjam. Write every week, until the end.

JA: What author or authors do you look up to?

AF: I really like Ayn Rand’s writing style, her ability to plot, and most especially her ability to clearly explain how she writes and plots. I admire Isaac Asimov’s immense command of knowledge and Larry Niven’s imagination. I enjoy Patricia Briggs’ realistic characters and Laurell Hamilton’s action and slightly kinky sexuality. And my favourite “new to me” author is Scott Westerfeld, whose LEVIATHAN and BEHEMOTH exhibit an immense command of story structure.

JA: Do you like to read while you’re writing or would you rather just focus on your own book?

AF: I love reading – I follow Stephen Barnes dictum that you should read ten times as much as you write – but I try to avoid reading in the precise genre that I’m writing in, at least until I get two thirds of a way through a book and know how it ends. For example, I didn’t pick up LEVIATHAN until I was absolutely convinced it wouldn’t interfere with my writing of THE CLOCKWORK TIME MACHINE, and I stopped reading Jim Butcher’s FOOL MOON about a paragraph in because I didn’t want it to pollute my work on BLOOD ROCK – oh hey, I guess I can read that now.

JA: What book are you reading just now? And would you recommend it?

AF: I just finished BEHEMOTH by Scott Westerfeld and I heartily recommend it. As the protagonist might say, barking spiders, what a good tale.

JA: Do you have much say in your cover art?

AF: Very little – the team at Bell Bridge Books are experts at knowing how to put together books and they do the cover art. They run them by me, and sometimes tweak them, but I let them do what they know best.
I do draw the frontispieces of my books, however. The team at Bell Bridge gives me feedback and I’m responsive to it, but I come from a comics background and I want to include a piece of art in every book.

JA: Finally, can you tell us a little about Blood Rock?

AF: BLOOD ROCK is set a few months after the events of FROST MOON. It begins with Dakota and Cinnamon school shopping, but they’re quickly pulled into an investigation of some nasty magical graffiti that attacked their mutual friend, the vampire Revenance. The graffiti attacks spread over the whole city, but Dakota’s attempts to help end up alienating the human, vampire and werewolf factions she’s trying to help. Dakota’s learned to fight, but now things have become trickier: she’s at war with tough, tricky magic in a terrible political climate, and needs to learn to rely on herself AND to learn to pick the right allies. I really enjoyed writing BLOOD ROCK and I hope you all have fun reading it!

(Another thing I can't wait for.)

JA: Thank you for taking the time to answer my questions, I’m sure you’re busy with your authorly duties so I appreciate it a lot.

AF: My pleasure! It’s not always easy writing when you have a day job, but, hey, in my day job I get to work on robots, so I can’t really complain!
All the best!

Can't wait to read more about Dakota. And on a different note, below is the model I had in my head when I was reading Frost Moon. Her name is Rachael Huntington and she's also an amazing tattoo artist.


  1. I want a magical tattoo, too: a mermaid that bites!

    Mr. Francis and I have so much in common (namely favorite authors) that I just have to get this book, now.

    Thanks for the great interview, Julie-Anne :)

  2. What a fascinating man. I loved the premise of his story-the magical tatoos, the whole interview, and he's sexy to boot!
    Thanks for sharing this with us Julie. I found it fantastic to read and you asked so many great questions. Enjoyed it very much! :)

  3. I have a lot of tattoos but none of them are magical! Lol! Great interview!