Frank Bittinger InterviewI did an interview with fellow vegan, paranormal fiction writer, Frank Bittinger. His answers were wonderful and inspiring. Thank you so much, Frank!
1- How would you describe your work?
My work I describe as “Strange, dark tales.” As a reader, you will find elements from several genres: humor, horror, weird fiction, mystery, etc. I like combining these different elements to create something I would read and something of which I am extremely proud. A story doesn’t have to be just one or the other; it can be many. Although, I have to admit my favorite genre of books and movies is a good ghost story! That might explain why I’m so drawn to writing them.
Several times I’ve been told by readers they find a message or a moral in my books, and that makes me smile because my intention is to write a moral fable every time. Of course, the moral or message the reader gets out of a story may be completely different than what I intended, but I believe that’s what a good story does and the message can be whatever you need to hear at that time.
I stick to “Strange, dark tales.” I think that sounds amazing!
2- When did you first know that you wanted to be a writer? And what led you to that conclusion?
I always knew. The greatest gift I ever received was being taught to read. I could escape a not so pleasant childhood into worlds where anything could happen. It was magic, a life-saver for me. And I wanted to create worlds for others to escape into and enjoy. I wanted to give the same gift of escape to others. I began very young, writing short stories for myself in elementary school. I’ve always written, and I’ve always had the dream of putting my stories out into the world for people to read.
3- What are you currently working on?
Shockingly enough, I am working on another ghost story. I can’t help it. They hold a special place in my heart for many reasons. This one is a little unlike my previous books. It is entwined with elements of an H.P. Lovecraft vein and there is a different kind of darkness there.
I’m also working on a trilogy with a vampire and a ghost and a few other beings. The characters in this series of books make me smile and laugh, I think, more than any of my others. I’m drawn to them; they make me want to create more for them.
And I have almost completed the first draft of the first book in a trilogy of cozy mysteries I want to publish under a pseudonym—to keep separate from my other work. Like a good ghost story, I totally enjoy crawling into bed and reading a good cozy mystery—especially in the winter. I devour entire series of them.
Never fear, I write constantly and at last count I have 39 manuscripts for full length books in varying degrees of completion on my computer.
4- How long have you been vegan? And what inspired you to become vegan?
I have been vegan officially for about thirteen years. Before that, I was a vegetarian who didn’t like cheese, or milk, or eggs. So I suppose in a sense I was veganish since I was a kid. I never liked the idea of a sentient being having its life taken in order for me to consume. It wasn’t necessary, not with all the different food in the world. I adore animals and I do not draw a line between what is acceptable to keep and what is acceptable to eat. We don’t have to kill to eat. And it wasn’t only the killing; it was how animals are treated. I feel the way animals are treated is humankind’s greatest shame. And in the grand scheme of the universe, in the ultimate higher balance of order, we will answer for it. I won’t have that staining my spirit.
I am a big animal lover. I’ve rescued everything from wasps and bumblebees (feeding them and keeping them warm until they can be released) to rats, hamsters, gerbils, birds and cats, a few dogs, several iguanas, fish, even a goat or two, and more over the years. It’s amazing what one person can do. Multiply that by the number of good people out there inhabiting this planet!
I don’t watch any videos or movies or such depicting the graphic nature of animal mistreatment and abuse. I can’t. It literally haunts me if I do. I can’t eat. I can’t sleep. I become physically ill as a result. It just plays endlessly in my head and I’m utterly enshrouded, consumed by it. I know it exists and I’m doing my best to help, but I will never watch any of those videos or movies. Instead, I will continue to work to create a better world for the animals.
5- Do you incorporate activism into your writing? If so, how?
I do. The main character in my first book Into the Mirror Black is a vegetarian and so are a number of the other characters. In subsequent books I think I’ve written all vegan characters and I will continue to do so. I know we are talking about books here, but as a reader I would like to have books vegans can read without having descriptions of animal-based food or clothing, etc. Where they don’t have to even worry about it popping up. I know I would love more vegan books. I would love to have a bigger vegan audience!
Each book is usually dedicated to animals who have touched my life. There is at least one animal featured, some more prominent than others, in every book. My goal is to educate in an entertaining manner rather than beating someone over the head with information. I feel people are more receptive that way.
Also, in my author’s note found at the end of some books I ask people to adopt, not to shop; to donate the change from their vehicle dashes to rescues and sanctuaries because even a small amount of change can save a life; to volunteer time to keep animals socialized in order to make them more adoptable, even a half hour a week; to spay/neuter animals, especially feral colonies; among other things.
Me doing my part may spur someone else and we can use all the help we can get.
6- Do you believe that fictional stories can have a positive impact on the world? If so, in what way?
Most definitely! They changed my world. They showed me there was an entire universe beyond the borders of my existence way back then. Through storytelling we can educate, we can demonstrate and change minds, to illustrate how something is wrong, how it can be righted, and we can use the power of words to be the change. Absolutely. Words are the ultimate vessel. We don’t call it “spelling” for nothing! (If you understand that, we can be friends!)
I wrote my version of A Christmas Carol, a book that helped changed and still helps change the perception of those who may be less fortunate and the ways we can help them, and called it A Christmas Canticle in the hope it would not only raise money for animals in need but would help people understand every bit of kindness toward an animal is a win, a big help. I touched on the fact some animal shelters euthanize the animals before the holiday because there isn’t anyone who wants to come in to care for them during that time and also to make room for the animals who will be turned in after the holiday season, those who have been given as gifts as well as older animals who are being replaced by these newer gifts. I wanted to demonstrate the positive way a group of “feral” cats impacted the life of the main character and also get information across that may not be known by the reading audience.
7- What would you do if you became a best-selling author? What in your life would you change? And what would stay the same?
Honestly, the first thing I would do is pay off as many of my bills as I could in order to focus more on writing and animals. I believe my big mission in this existence is to help as many animals as I possibly can. I’m driven to do it. I’ve said I’m not happy to do it because I fervently wish with all my might there wasn’t a need for anyone to do it, but I willingly do it because I know how many lives I’ve touched and saved.
What would change is I dream of moving out of town. Finding a house and open land where I can have more rescued animals who have nowhere to go and no one to love them. I will take them. That has always been my big dream.
What would stay the same is my dedication to being a force of positive change in the world. I don’t believe in complaining; I believe in doing something. I saw animals who needed homes, and I created a non-profit foundation for fundraising in order to have the financial means to spay/neuter and find homes for animals and worked with numerous rescues/sanctuaries to do so. Every one of my book signings has been linked to raising money and supplies for a charity, usually an animal charity but there have been plenty of human ones, as well. Were I to become a bestselling author I could continue in a bigger capacity to create positive change in the world and to help even more animals in need.
After a number of years, the non-profit became too much for a single person to actively handle and still remain focused on helping animals. I had to close it down, but I am still involved as much as ever with animals in need. My vet tells me repeatedly the love and care is evident because my rescued ferals usually live to be in their twenties and he says that is quite remarkable given the lack of care through the generations and everything they go through as ferals.
8- What is a fact about you that people might find surprising?
Surprisingly, for someone who has been described as boisterous, extroverted, a social being, at home I am uber quiet and calm. I’m ultimately a chilled out spirit. I like silence. I enjoy peace. No loud noises, unless one of the birds gives a shriek, but then that’s acceptable. People may not be able to reconcile the public persona with the personal, private being. They are at opposite ends of the spectrum. Only those closest to me know.
9- What character, or characters, have you written that you felt an especially deep connection with? Please explain.
Undoubtedly, the main character of my first book Into the Mirror Black, Storm Cassavettes. It was entirely unintentional. He wants to be a writer and so do I. We both love animals and we are both kind, introspective guys. People who know me have said as they read the book they heard my voice saying his words. I hadn’t realized I had put so much of myself into his character. In retrospect, I wouldn’t change a thing!
On an interesting side note, I’ve heard from readers of Into the Mirror Black they have had some fascinating things occur while they were reading the book. One reader said her cat, whom she had never heard sneeze before, seemed to suddenly sneeze each time the cat in the book, Shadow, sneezed. Another reader told me an intriguing story about a bathroom mirror that had apparently fallen off the wall one night. Only thing is, you would expect shattered fragments to be everywhere, but the mirror laid on the floor all fitted together like it was a puzzle someone had fitted together! To this day, every once in a while I get a message from a reader telling me about something that had happened while he or she was reading Into the Mirror Black. I think that is completely amazing.
10- Is there anything you have learned in the course of your career that you wish you had known when you started out? If so, what?
I’m just winging it! I had no conclusive idea how to do anything other than write a story. Marketing and all that was and still is completely foreign to me. Mostly I spread through word of mouth, which is really the best publicity!
I did learn I become emotionally involved with my characters, and I didn’t expect that at all. Over the course of writing a book, I become concerned over what will happen to them. Because even if I think I know it all, they sometimes surprise me with where they decide to go, and the storyline changes. Or if I write something I think is good and I continue on, I feel as if one is nagging at me. A “I wouldn’t do that” kind of thing; I listen and go back and change it. Or when one does something I didn’t see coming and I literally say “Why did you do that?”
Yes, I become heavily invested in my characters.
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