Franklin Mohan is a retired physician living in Belle River, Ontario. He enjoys his retirement time with his wife of forty-nine years. He is a wanna-be golfer, traveler, photographer, woodworker and writer. Frank was born in Trinidad and moved to Canada at age sixteen, in 1963. He attended the University of Saskatchewan, taught high school Chemistry and Biology in Saskatchewan and in British Columbia, thence to Medical School, UWI, Jamaica. Even after fifty-eight years, he still identifies himself as a Trini. He enjoys learning Trini cooking—roti, dhal, curry, etc.— from his wife, a Canadian. This is his second book, the first being The Peripatetic Skylark.
Frank, thanks for taking the time to have this conversation for my readers. I’d like to talk about your writing and your book Love Has Two Moons, released in 2021.
Q. You’ve been a teacher and successful MD prior to retirement. What made you take up writing?
A. Being a professional teacher and medical practitioner, I found that a core skill towards success in both practices is effective communication. Writing for me is an exercise in sharing my ideas and thoughts with others. I have always had a penchant for storytelling and entertaining. I try to accomplish this end through developing my writing proficiency. Although a teacher in high school said, referring to me, “This boy has no academic potential,” because I was considered a dunce. My best marks were in English and Science, however, barely passing even in these disciplines. I took up writing after retirement because I found it fun painting pictures and scenes with words. I wanted my readers to “see” the character I was describing and to be part of the scene I was painting.
KP. Now that you’ve published Love Has Two Moons And Other Stories, what have you learnt from the writing and publishing process and how do you think you could possibly improve on your approach to writing?
A. Although Two Moons is my second novel, I learnt so much from my interactions with the editor, Ken Puddicombe, such that that rewriting my first, The Peripatetic Skylark, is imminent, as I am anxious to incorporate the craftmanship he has taught me which he used to guide me through making my prose more compelling. I can improve my approach to writing by being open to suggestions and criticisms from all quarters, friends, colleagues and editors.
KP. Would you say that your writing, so far, has been heavily influenced by Caribbean writers? If so, which author(s) and what books? How about other literary giants—any influence on your work?
- My favorite West Indian author is Samuel Selvon. His writings cover the gamut of idiosyncrasies of the various ethnicities making up the Caribbean diaspora. I have tried to emulate his unmatched ability in writing so simply with a flow so smooth, it draws the reader onwards, page after page.
- Arundhati Roy, to me a literary giant, impressed me with her unequal skill in composing original metaphors as seen in her “God of Small Things.” Her metaphors teach, paint and demonstrate scenes so uniquely, that I want to emulate her.
KP. Do you think that writing by Caribbean authors stand out from other authors, if so, what do you think stands out?
A. Caribbean literary giants like Selvon, Naipaul and Mittelholzer incorporated the richness of the Caribbean vernacular rendering their writings spiced with the Patois English that even a non-West Indian could cypher right off.
KP. Do you have a favourite among the stories in Love Has Two Moons? Why is that?
A. My favorite is the novella Love Has Two Moons. Although fictional, it parallels a similar story my Dad revealed to me when he turned eighty. He had made contact with a woman he was in love with in 1927, ten years after my mom’s death. She was whisked away back in 1927 when their relationship came to light and she was forced into an arranged marriage. She named her first born after my Dad. They had planned to reunite after sixty-two years. What happened at the time of the reunion is true. However, the rest of the story, all ninety-five percent of it, is purely fictional.
KP. What was the hardest scene/ story to write in the book? Why was that?
A. In O My God, I’m Black, after Byron McQueen becomes black, I struggled to see society through the eyes of a white supremist while himself a newly rendered black. McQueen being lectured to by Walter, an educated black living in the forest, I felt, had to be in the form of telling rather than showing because there was a limited time in which to cram in historical ideas appropriate for a lecture in the pointlessness of racial hatred.
KP. What is your work schedule like when you’re writing? Do you have a fixed routine, or do you wait for the muse to strike you, like many writers?
A. I have had ample time to write as a retiree. However, I like writing in the mornings after breakfast when my cortisol levels are at its diurnal high. I sit at the keyboard, turn on “Doctor’s Office music” on iTunes, at a barely perceptible volume. The serene setting appears to render me relaxed yet makes me fertile with ideas as my mind wanders within a spa of metaphors, some silly, others beckoning. I like chuckling at humorous ideas that violate my mind which I dare not put down on manuscript, only to hear my wife demanding to know: “What’s so funny?”
KP. What period of your life do you think has influenced your writing most of all—child, teenager, young adult, adult? Can you expand and tell us more…?
A. I let slip previously that I was a dunce even up to my final year in high school. That was when a teacher in Quebec interviewed my guardian and me, indicating, “This boy has no academic potential.” He was right, based on my school performance thus far. My parents in Trinidad, as an expedient move versus an act of surrender, took me out of Grade Ten in Trinidad and sent me to live with my brother in Canada, hoping that the “boy would do better.” Inexplicably, I passed the Quebec final Provincial exams with an A+, a mark foreign to my academic record. My brother, through contacts at the University of Saskatchewan, got me in and the Registrar threatened me with the proviso, “Send the boy up, (from Montreal) and if he fails just one course, out he goes.” I matured quite rapidly that year and succeeded academically, ending up teaching Chemistry to grade twelves in Saskatchewan and B.C. This newly found maturity spawned my want for writing. After four years of teaching, I successfully gained entrance to medical school.
KP. Deep down, is there a wish that you should have started writing much earlier? If so, why didn’t you?
- See previous entry.
KP. What kind of research did you do for Love Has Two Moons and how much time did it take? What were your sources, typically?
- I mentioned previously that my father’s revelation about a love affair he had had in 1927 was the basis of the story of which almost all was fictionalized in the book. I needed to learn about Chinese families in Trinidad, their goals, home life and their philosophies regarding child raring, education, marriage, love and career options. I interviewed two friends of Chinese heritage of the Trinidadian diaspora in Canada and their descriptions paralleled that of the interviews by Christiane Amanpour on her CNN programme.
KP. How did you arrive at the names for your characters in the book? Was there a science behind this or are names chosen randomly? Is there a connection between names and characters?
A. I chose names randomly, but non-the-less familiar to me through friends and family. I should point out that the persons whose names I chose, have no baring to the characters I described.
KP. We all need heroes. Tell us about some of the protagonists in your books. Is there real-life inspiration behind them? How about the villains? Any inspiration?
- The protagonist in Love has Two Moons, was fashioned after my father. How his reuniting with his love from 1927 at the Miami Airport, was a true depiction, even though the rest of the book was fictionalized. I used his story to illustrate that “First love” can tattoo one’s mind, an indelible mark, carried to the grave.
- The Villain in Bonobo the Beater, the dreaded Dean of Discipline, was a real person; but again, the details depicted in the story are purely fiction.
- The evolution of the plot for The Visit was an amalgamation of separate incidents I was privy to over the last sixty years. I put them together to make a single story. Many years ago, I heard of a black suitor being chased out of his fiancée’s home by an irate white father, at gun point. In another case, across the country, a mother paid a prospective Asian daughter-in-law to leave Canada and call off the marriage with her son. In another case, a white man, a story I was privy to, who despised his neighbor purely because of his skin colour, was the recipient of a transplant from that hated neighbour, having exhausted all other donors’ compatibility testing, saving the Whiteman’s life.
KP. What was the most difficult part of YOUR artistic process in completing the cycle for the stories in Love Has Two Moons?
A. While my mind rests at night, just before falling asleep, I rehash the plot and timeline of my story, and artistic changes come to me. The environmental stimuli that take away from focusing is eliminated at bedtime. The difficulty of bringing together diverse ideas is enhanced by daytime distractions.
KP. Do you find the process of writing exhausting or energizing? How do you cope with the physical demands of the profession?
A. If the writing becomes a chore, I quit for the day and resume, re-energized the next day. This seems to work for me.
KP. Is your approach to writing one that encompasses a formula that might meet your reader’s expectation, or do you write to suit yourself?
A. Initially I write to suit myself, but on review and editing, I am cognizant of what the reader would expect. This is reflected in the re-writing of which there are many in a given manuscript.
KP. If you could do it all over again, would you take up writing at a much earlier age? Why?
A. I do not think I had the maturity and motivation for writing during my teenage years. Leaving home at age sixteen and being trust into independent living in a foreign country, a different perspective of life soon overtook me, forcing upon me a certain will to be productive where I appeared to have morphed into a mature adult at age eighteen. I became interested in writing after my first degree, at age twenty-one.
KP. Do you ever consider writing under a pseudonym? If so, why? If not, why not?
A. Even at age seventy-four, I consider myself a novice writer. My focus is on learning from established writers both modern and classic. I enjoy interesting metaphors I see in the writings of Arundhati Roy and Christopher Hitchens. My name is quite short and easy to pronounce. I don’t believe I have written anything that can arouse the ire of those who know me. But I do worry that the Canadian missionaries to Trinidad, could take offense to some of the claims I have made in my first book, The Peripatetic Skylark.
KP. What would be your top five books that have influenced your life? Your Writing?
A. Samuel Selvon’s The Lonely Londoners, Arundhati Roy’s The God of Small Things, Mittelholzer’s My Bones and my Flute, Hitchens’ God is not Great, How Religion Poisons Everything, Dawkins’ The God Delusion.
KP. Have you been on any literary pilgrimages? If so, which and what did you gain from that pilgrimage?
A. Once, at seventeen, before I left my smart-aleck, immature, dunce self behind, I went on a literary retreat which I felt was boring. I announced at breakfast the next morning, “Anyone for Tennyson?” It was a joke I had read somewhere. No one laughed.
KP. Have you ever read a book that made you cry? If so, which?
A. Actually, after I re read the first writing of The Visit in my Love Has Two Moons collection, although it was a story I made up, I felt a lump in my throat and a crackle in my voice when Mr. Kaminski interacted with little Laura the first time they met. I believe that emotion was stirred because I am a recent grandfather to a five-year old and a fifteen-month-old. Grand parents go Ga-Ga over their grandchildren.
KP. Most of your stories so far feature a male protagonist. Do you plan on writing from a female perspective? If so, what do you think would be the most difficult hurdle to overcome in creating characters of the opposite sex?
A. I plan to write a non-fiction novel on screening for depression. As a male physician, experience has taught me how to empathize with femaleness. I plan to describe the female and male psyche in the scenarios of the book. I am sure there are going to be nuances unique to femaleness I may not capture, but then, one doesn’t have to be a female to be a good Obstetrician and Gynecologist.
KP. What do you think are the most common traps that up-coming writers encounter, and how could/should they overcome them?
- Long-windedness where a single sentence or two would suffice has been my neck’s yoke.
- It was difficult, as a novice, not to make the manuscript about me and paint the protagonist as someone unique. I have remedied this fault in the re-writes, but the temptation is always there.
KP. Is writing cathartic in any way for you? If so, how and why?
A. My writing isn’t necessarily “cathartic” but as in woodworking, I want to entertain and create something uniquely pretty, something to be enjoyed by others.
KP. To what extent do you think you were emotionally invested in the characters in your novella Love Has Two Moons and the other short stories?
A. Certainly, in Bonobo the Beater, I have, like others growing up in the English educational system in the Caribbean, experienced corporal punishment which was the zeitgeist at the time. It had a considerably negative impact on my ability to learn. I could feel the actual jolt of the lash that Charlie received from Bonobo as I wrote it.
KP. Is there a central theme—a common message, perhaps—in your writing?
A. The stories’ central theme is based on racial attitudes affecting peoples of Caribbean origin in settings in Canada and in the West Indies. The common thread amongst the stories is that prejudice is fed by ignorance of the races of each others’ humanness, and that when the characters become intimately familiar with one another, they realize that differences among tribes are but superficial, paving the way for mutual respect and acceptance.
KP. What’s your next project?
A. I plan to write a nonfiction novel about a unique physical sign which in less than three seconds, can screen for depressive symptoms. This would be of interest to everybody including the lay public, all medical specialties, educators and the military. Over sixty percent of patients walking into a family physician’s office, have depressive symptoms to some extent (not a diagnosis of depression, mind you), and are functional at work and play, but these physical symptoms in many cases contribute to their complaint, which if treated, solves the problem.
KP. What is your preferred method to have readers get in touch with or follow you (i.e., website, personal blog, Facebook page, Goodreads, etc.) and link(s)?
FACEBOOK: Frank Mohan