More Than a Mom: A Chat with Author Betsy Franco About Her Novel "NAKED"
Emily Koopman: First of all, I'm very interested in knowing what got you into writing – I understand that you dabble in a bunch of different mediums, which is very cool.
Betsy Franco: I got into writing after my first two sons were born. I was a painting major at Stanford and planned on being a visual artist, but when James and Tom were babies, I didn't have time to set up my paints. As an experiment, I transferred my creative energy to writing, knowing I had to be creative in some field, or I would go crazy.
Emily: Your character, Camille or “Cat”, as she prefers to be called, is based on Camille Claudel – what made you chose Claudel (as opposed to other artists) as the focus of your novel?
Betsy: I chose the setting of my novel first. I felt drawn to the Stanford Rodin Sculpture Garden, having been a visual art major at Stanford. When I told my poetry mentor Maria Damon where the novel was set, she asked if I knew Camille Claudel's story. Once I looked up Camille and found out she had inspired many of the sculptures in the garden and was a brilliant sculptor herself, the novel came into focus.
Emily: A few of your books, including NAKED are illustrated by your son, Tom. What is the creative process like for the both of you, and how did you decide you were going to collaborate?
Betsy: For my novel, METAMORPHOSIS, JUNIOR YEAR, I looked through my son Tom's art journals from high school, with his permission, and discovered that his drawings fit perfectly, and, in fact, informed some of the text and story. With NAKED, I commissioned him to draw sculptures by Camille Claudel and Rodin, anticipating that a publisher would want them. I asked him to do two versions of the Meditation sculpture because his original drawing wasn't quite feminine enough for me. Both were used, one for the cover and one as the first of three interior drawings! I love collaborating with Tom because he's so open-minded and creatively fearless. After he asks me questions about my vision, I leave him alone until he's ready for feedback. He's always unpredictable, which is very exciting.
Emily: I've been reading some reviews, and everyone is saying it's unlike anything they've ever read before; which is 100% true. Where did this idea come from? How long has it been in the works?
Betsy: It was very synchronistic. I picked the setting, Maria Damon suggested looking up Camille, and soon after, a Stanford student invited me to a live performance of her dance class at the garden. Scantily clad dance students picked statues and brought them to life. It was as if I was the receptacle for an idea that I was supposed to develop, because everything was falling into place. After the performance, I knew that Camille's spirit would emerge and materialize as an eighteen year old girl from a statue she had inspired in her past life.
Emily: Was it difficult to bring a [female] 19th century artist into the modern world?
<strong>Betsy:</strong> I'm an actor, as well as a writer, so I slipped into Camille's body and reacted to her situation. In fact, at times I felt as if she was communicating with me. I also researched intensely, reading books on Camille, Camille and Rodin, and the sculptures in the garden.
Emily: I love Jesse's character development. His character seems so real. I felt like I knew him personally. Is he based on a someone you know? What is the process of creating characters like for you?
Betsy: To develop and understand a character when starting a novel, I often pick a real person and take a seed of who they are. Then a completely new person grows in my story and I forget who I based the character on. My novels are never about my three sons, yet I have a feel for young men, having raised them. I also have a teenage boy inside of me and always have, though I'm not gender confused!
Emily: You've written an astounding number of books; on average, how long does it take you to write something publishable?
Betsy: With novels, it takes about four years for me to write and revise. Since I need to make a living, I develop several books at once, I write plays and screenplays, and I teach acting on film. A novel always takes twice as long as I think it will even though I'm very focused. It has to percolate and my critique group and outside editors need to help me understand what I've written about. This doesn't become clear until the end of the process.
Emily: NAKED is your debut adult novel – what helped you decide to make a transition from children's books to one aimed towards an older audience?
Betsy: I didn't consciously set out to write an adult novel. I just needed to write this book, and because Camille already lived a past life, she had a different texture than some of the characters I've been involved with before. My agent and I realized I'd written a novel for adults.
Emily: Do you have a favourite scene from your book? Or something you are specifically proud of?
Betsy: At bookstores and presentations, I love reading the scenes on pages 80-81 and pages 149-150. They move me and encapsulate the relationship between Jesse and Cat. One is when Jesse is talking about Cat studying art in Paris, not realizing she's being literal when she says she studied with Rodin. The other is a scene at a playground where they're playing on the swings and he asks her to trust him about jumping off into the sand. They're teasing each other, but the jump is metaphoric.
Emily: What would you do, if you were in Jesse's shoes? How would you handle the situation he found himself in?
Betsy: I'm brave when I'm in love, taking risks, going for it, no matter what. I don't hide my heart or protect it once I'm in love, so I would have loved Cat, as Jesse did, for her complexity, passion, and strength, even though she was a lot for him to handle and constantly set him off balance.