Thursday, February 25, 2016

"An Act of Hope": An Interview with Francisco X. Stork

Ever since I read Marcelo in the Real World, I have admired, been inspired by, and devoured everything Francisco X. Stork writes. Creating characters and worlds with great depth and remarkable heart, Stork is able to elucidate what maters most in life. And he connects with readers in ways that not only make for engaging and powerful reading experiences, but can truly change people's lives.

He has already changed mine.

So it is with a huge amount of excitement and gratitude that I want to share an interview with Francisco X. Stork, along with a plea: please (please! please! please!) read his most recent novel The Memory of Light. I wept, exulted, and relished the chance to hear such an authentically moving and life-changing novel. It is one of those few books that I truly believe everyone needs to read, and I thank Francisco so much for writing it.

Growing up, were there any school experiences that either inspired or hurt you? 

More than experiences I think that there were certain persons who guided me and pushed me in the right direction. Many times this guidance was in the form of small gestures that turned out to be significant. I remember, for example, Mr. Halpern, my English teacher at Jesuit High School in El Paso. One day he called me to his desk when class was over and handed me three typed pages. It was a list of a hundred books or so listed in alphabetical order starting with Antigone and ending with Zorba the Greek. 

“These are the books everyone that wants to write should read,” he said. I spent that summer and most of the following year reading each book on the list. It’s how I fell in love with Borges and Cervantes and Dostoievski and Jung and many other classic books of fiction and non-fiction.

As a writer, what part of the process do you love most?

I love it when after a lot of thinking and daydreaming and doodling a character comes to life in my mind and I feel like I can be him or her and think and feel and talk the way he or she does. I think that 80 percent of the writing process happens before I actually start writing. A character needs time to grow inside of me and it is hard to wait for the character to be whole and unique enough for me into step into her shoes. I also love the first draft process when I’m not sure where the book is going and I’m not so much controlling the process as following where it takes me and discovering what I want to say in the process of saying it. During those times I am able to quiet my inner editor and simply write the book that is in me.

In THE MEMORY OF LIGHT, Vicky's journal is so raw and real and full of both despair and hope. How did you find the courage to be able to journey with Vicky in this way? How did you find the words?

It probably helped a lot that I’ve been writing in a journal almost daily since I was a teenager. My journal is a place of total self-honesty. No one will ever read what I write. I don’t even read what I write in a journal once it is written. When Vicky writes in her journal she is also in a place of total honesty. She doesn’t need to pretend that she is strong or happy when she is there. You would think that such self-honesty would be painful and it is - but the process of finding words for what you are feeling is a healing process. I found the words that Vicky used because I’ve experienced what she experiences and probably wrote down for myself some of the things that she writes. Even when the writing is full of despair, the act of writing is an act of hope. There is a hope and faith that there is someone listening to us. In many ways, whether you are overtly religious or not, writing during those times is form of prayer.

What would your advice be to a struggling high school student who is scared about speaking with others about her or his pain? 

The first thing I would say is that it’s okay to be scared. It’s normal to have this fear because you are making yourself vulnerable to another human being. I say this because you shouldn’t wait until the fear goes away to speak to someone. You should just go ahead and do it even though you are afraid. Usually, we have a gut feeling that someone will be a good person to talk to. Maybe we see in someone a kindness or an understanding, a way that a person listens to others, that makes us feel as if we could trust that person. Follow that gut feeling. You don’t have to understand why you’re feeling the way you do before you talk to someone. Just explain what you are feeling and try to communicate the thoughts that you are thinking. “I feel like crap.” or “I have these thoughts about hurting myself.” Just tell what is happening. You are not weak or a bad person for feeling and thinking this way.

Your advice to teachers?  

Be the person that a student can trust. A person in pain is on the lookout for someone who is kind and who can listen. You don’t need to be the student's therapist or even the student’s friend. You just need to let the student’s know that you care. Learn about depression and other mental illnesses and find ways to integrate a discussion of these in your classroom.  Resist as much as you can the pressure to motivate your students by fomenting competition. Let your classroom be a safe place for all. 

Thank you so much to Francisco X. Stork for sharing such depth of heart, and for so honestly walking through both despair and hope. His words remind me of Robert Frost's dictum about writing, "No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader." 

And if you are looking for a book that is not only riveting and inspiring and authentic, but also has the power to truly changes lives, please read The Memory of Light.