Betsy Franco is an award-winning author with over eighty books, including a young adult novel, picture books, and poetry collections, such as A Curious Collection of Cats, which received the Lee Bennett Hopkins Honor Award. She also writes screenplays, sketch comedies, and funnyordie videos. The four anthologies of teen writing she compiled, including Falling Hard, 100 Love Poems by teens, were honored by the American Library Association. She particularly loves to show people how wise teenagers can be, and how sassy, beautiful, and creative math can be.
Her latest book of fiction is Metamorphosis, Junior Year, a young adult novel; her first play, based on the novel, premiered in northern California in 2011. Metamorphosis is illustrated by her son Tom Franco and read on audio book by her sons James Franco and Dave Franco—James also produced a documentary of the making of the play. Betsy is an actor on TV (General Hospital) and in film (The Broken Tower), and is a member of Studio-33 Actor’s Collective and a sketch-comedy troupe called Suburban Squirrel. She is currently writing her first screenplay, based on a novel set at Stanford and polishing the sequel to Metamorphosis—The Art of Love. Betsy’s greatest inspiration is her three sons, who are fearless in their creativity. For more info, visit her website.
Let the conversation begin!
What initially drew you to writing?
When I couldn’t set up my oil paints because of my two young sons, James and Tom, I transferred my creative energy to writing. For writing, I only needed a pencil and paper. I had been an art major at Stanford and envisioned being a visual artist, but the energy transfer worked.
What was your favorite book to write?
METAMORPHOSIS, JUNIOR YEAR, is way up there with DAZZLING DISPLAY OF DOGS. Writing about the myths, in poetry and prose, in the voice of a teenage boy, was a dream. I’m most comfortable writing as a boy. Go figure. And dogs are just dang fun. I interviewed my neighbors and family about their dogs, remembered my childhood dogs, and stopped dog owners on the sidewalk.
Who is your favorite author?
Carson McCullers, Miranda July, and Toni Morrison. They have so much compassion for their quirky characters. Actually, I wouldn’t use “quirky” for Toni Morrison’s characters, but I think you get the point.
Where do you get your ideas?
I visit an elementary school around the corner every day, and have done this since my sons went there. I’m the constantly-visiting author. I also speak at high schools and ask the students questions and have them write answers to open-ended questions. Also, just listening to the teens who have roles in my play of METAMORPHOSIS as they talk with each other, and with me, has sparked lots of ideas. I even chaperoned a high school dance once. Actually, I get lots of ideas just walking around town. I always jot down weird, out-of-place things, tidbits from conversations of children and teens, contemporary topics teens are dealing with that I wasn’t aware of, instances of math in nature, etc.
Tell us about the book you’re working on.
The book I’m working on is a YA novel called NAKED. I’m writing a screenplay of it at the same time. It takes place at Stanford and includes a bit of magical realism. The novel and screenplay are informing each other.
What advice would you give young writers?
It takes bullheaded stubbornness and hard work to be a writer. Learn how to take rejection and you can do anything. Every generation has writers (and other types of artists). Why not you?
What is the most valuable advice you’ve ever received?
My dad used to say if things were close to what I wanted, that was good enough. Things didn’t have to be perfect. Also, my sons show me by example how to be fearless in my creativity.
When are you the most productive?
When I first wake up, I don’t jump out of bed right away, as I used to. Some creative part of me is full of ideas. Morning is energetically the best time for me.
Are your characters completely fictional? Or do you base them off real people?
I sometimes get a seed from a real person, but by the time I’m done with the novel, I can hardly remember who it was. Or I’ll invent a character and then put a seed of a real person into that character.
What book was the easiest to write? Hardest?
BIRDSONGS didn’t take many revisions, but it took me ten years to figure it out in my head.
Hardest? Hmmm. The sequel to METAMORPHOSIS is taking quite a while but I’m almost there. I had to keep narrowing the focus, and each draft required a full revision. It’s called THE ART OF LOVE. I love my character Ovid, so I don’t mind hanging out with him. NAKED has taken longer than I expected, but I love writing it as well. I had to change from third to first person, I had to change the protagonist from the girl to the boy, I had to change to dual voices, and on and on.
What is the best writing advice you’ve ever received?
My screenwriting teacher at Stanford Continuing Ed, Adam Tobin, told us: When you’re revising a trouble spot, think of 10 ways to revise the scene you’re working on. It shoots you into creative mode instead of into revision mode.
I’d love to return to Florence where I lived in a villa for the Stanford-in-Italy overseas program years ago. I can see the statue of Michelangelo’s David and the sculptures surrounding him in my mind’s eye.