Monday, January 21, 2013

Wordcraft -- A new path to follow

Attending J. Suzanne Frank’s reading and signing of her newly-released book, Laws of Migration, was the top item on my to-do list last Friday. After all, Frank is my former writing teacher. And I knew she was teacher and mentor to many other writers through her work with Southern Methodist University’s creative writing program. What I didn’t know was just how big a fan base she has in North Texas.

The balcony section the Lincoln Park Barnes & Noble bookstore uses for most author signings was packed with listeners. 

Her new novel is the story of Elize, a woman whose lifelong disappointments have taught her not to trust human beings. Instead, she turns to birds, especially the endangered white ibis whose migration patterns she hopes to study. She hopes to head the bird refuge she’s dedicated her life to, expecting to delegate others to “do all the stuff I hated, like dealing with people.”

Instead, the refuge’s trustees pass over Elize in favor of pass her over in favor of someone she despises -- “She has a wonderful way with the public,” a trustee explains. Humiliated, Elize flees to Morocco, the breeding ground of her beloved ibises, determined to do the research that will restore her professional credibility as an ornithologist. Little does she realize, to accomplish her goal, she must learn to rely on the species she despises most -- the human one.

Frank has already published seven novels -- a time travel series under her own name and a series of mystery novel under the pseudonym Chloe Green. But Laws of Migration is her first foray into non-genre writing.

“I had to learn how to write a book that didn’t have an overlay of form,” she told her audience. “I found myself learning how to write from a character base rather than a plot base.”

Fortunately, she had plenty of experience developing fictional characters. A former journalist, Frank became involved with SMU’s continuing education program, the Writer’s Path, while writing her earlier novels. She moved on to teaching in the program, which she now directs.

For those who know her writing, the character of Elize in Laws of Migration -- a scientist journeying in search of a rare bird -- triggers images of Frank’s time travel character Chloe. Frank, however, insists Elize was written to be the opposite of Chloe. “Part of writing Elize,” she said, “is that she’s different from me and from every other character I’ve written.”

The book is also a debut for Frank in the use of in-depth multiple points of view. It’s the first of three, each following a different member of the trio introduced in the prologue.

And if Frank could be a bird, which would it be, an audience member asked. “I would totally be an ibis,” she said, the bird her character Elize seeks. “The real question is, what kind of ibis?”

Frank’s Laws of Migration is available at and
Suzanne Frank

For more about SMU’s Writer’s Path program and where it leads, see


Speaking of creative writing classes, the Dallas Writer’s Garret still has places available for its one-day intensive on short fiction and creative nonfiction this Saturday, January 26, taught by Michael Mortone and Robin Hemley. For details and registration, see


And an oops -- in January 11’s Totally Texas post, I implied Dallas’ Bookmarks library branch is open on Monday holidays. In fact, like all Dallas Public libraries, it will be closed today, January 21, in honor of the Martin Luther King, Jr., holiday.

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