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Author Archive: "David Francis"

And the Ravens Come

"But here a dark figure is marking the houses,
and calling the ravens, and the ravens come."
Anna Akhmatova

While working on the Russian story in Stray Dog Winter, I became fascinated by the Russian lyric poets: Boris Pasternak, Anna Akhmatova, Osip Mandelshtam, and Marina Tsvetaeva, among others. I included an Akhmatova poem as an epigram.

Why is this age worse than all the others? Perhaps
in this: it has touched the point of putrefaction,
Touched it in a rush of pain and sorrow,
But cannot make it whole.

In the west the familiar light still shines
And the spires of the cities glow in the sun.
But here a dark figure is marking the houses
and calling the ravens, and the ravens come.

This year's Melbourne Writers Festival, by chance, honored the life and poetry of Anna Akhmatova. With writers including Anya Ulinich, a young Russian-American novelist who now lives in Brooklyn; Orlando Figes from the U.K., who has a non-fiction book about the Stalin years; and Robert Dessaix, a well-known Australian writer and Russophile, I was invited ...


Gazing at My Umbilicus

"Only when you drink from the river of silence..."
—Kahlil Gibran

So you finish a novel and it's being published. A dream come true. Then why are you feeling so weirdly off-kilter? Fact is, it's strangely anxiety producing, having something so personal launched into the world, feeling oddly exposed. And you are suddenly deemed an expert — your protagonist is a painter, and so you find yourself on a panel of writers called "Art and Fiction," with a co-panelist who's a restorer of paintings and who's written a novel, of all things, about a restorer of paintings. You're not a painter, you write, but you're yakking on about The Horse's Mouth (your favorite novel from 12th grade), the artist as reprobate and compulsive, Gulley Jimson painting in fits of creative ecstasy, and then you're quoting Nietzsche:

The artist is the precondition of his work, the womb, sometimes the dung and manure on which it grows. Whoever is completely and wholly an artist is to all eternity separated from the real.

Then you lose your head and ...


Forms and Colors

"Fiction brings forth forms and colors from the lines of black letters on a white page."
Italo Calvino

Lately, I've become interested in how a reader of a literary text, as opposed to, say, the viewer of a photograph, is given to imagine what is not there; how the gaps in the text allow the reader's imagination to flourish. Readers glean mental images of a landscape (physical or emotional) from the page , not necessarily exactly as imagined by the author, but colored and informed by the words on the page. The same is true when we hear a passage being read from a novel — in both cases, we bring our own emotional landscape and experience, our own travels, or the houses we've lived in and the memories we hold, to the "mental cinema" that is projecting images before our mind's eye.

At recent readings for Stray Dog Winter, I've read from the opening scene of a train shunting into the Soviet winter of 1984, Darcy en route to visit his half-sister Fin. He views the world ...


Daisy on the Bridge

A short "returning to L.A." story...

Last week I returned to Los Angeles after promoting Stray Dog Winter at writers festivals in Australia. As I struggled in the door of my apartment, I got a call from my former neighbor, Cliff. He said he needed to see me. Cliff was depressed enough before I went away; now his medications weren't working. Reluctantly, I agreed to meet him at the Tango Grill on Santa Monica.

Cliff arrived with his old yellow Labrador, Daisy, and we sat outside amidst the carbon monoxide. Daisy was over-friendly and talked to everyone, licking strange men's pants. She looks well, I said.

She has leukemia, said Cliff, don't ya girl. She wagged her tail frantically, as if it weren't a problem. Cliff said he was driving her up to San Francisco for the weekend. She might not get up there again, he said. He gave her some bread and olive oil, which she dripped with enthusiasm all over my good G-Star jeans. Cliff said he was having a ...


From Where You Dream

Robert Olin Butler talks about "dreaming around your novel," allowing it to well up from within you, meditate on it until you see it all the way through, then write. I've never quite had that resolve — I can't resist the desire to lay out the lines of words as they appear , as Annie Dillard suggests, securing each sentence before building on it, allowing it to grow "cell to cell, bole to bough to twig to leaf; any careful word may suggest a route, may begin a strand of metaphor or event out of which much, or all, will develop." My new novel, Stray Dog Winter, unfolded from a dream, the dream was mined from a memory.

My mother had a sister called Ruth whom no one in my family spoke to. She was rumored to have ravished too many young American soldiers on leave during WWII when they were billeted on the family farm in Australia. Aunt Ruth escaped her sisters and traveled all over, ...


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