CommuterLit: When did you first know you were going to be a writer?
Frank T. Sikora: In high school I got better grades in art than in English. So, I ended up majoring in fine arts with a minor in visual communications. I never stopped reading, though. In my late 30s, I started writing, but I knew I had a great deal of work to make up. I made a commitment to improve my grammar skills by taking online courses. I jumped back into the classics. I made it my job to write and read every day, not just when I felt like it, but every day.
CL: Many of your stories include a speculative fiction element, why?
FTS: As a kid, I loved the great speculative fiction writers of the 1940s and ’50s — Heinlein, Asimov, and Bradbury. In college, I discovered Harlan Ellison and the New Wave writers of the ’60s. I am not that old, it’s just that I am always 10 to 20 years behind the latest movement. Speculative fiction (SF) allows writers to place their characters in the world of the known and the unknown. How does an unusual set of stimuli affect the character? What will the character learn about his environment and himself? On a basic level, how will the character survive — not so much physically, but emotionally? My wife says I am cruel to my characters. I don’t place them in great physical danger, but I give them a whole lot of emotional grief. Speculative fiction also allows me to play with many ideas within an emotional journey.
CL: What themes do you find yourself tackling over and over again in your writing and why?
FTS: Two themes are quite common in my fiction: loss and endurance. How one reacts to loss has always fascinated me. Given how I always place my characters in uncomfortable or just plain awful circumstances, it would be easy for my characters to just give up or slip into self-destructive behaviour. That’s not interesting to me. I don’t give my characters an easy out. I want them to survive. I want them to be clever and inventive. I also want them to be empathetic. I never want them to lose their humanity or their humour. I have been told I never write a happy ending, but I disagree. Given their circumstances, my characters find the happiest solution or best solution possible. Perhaps this is an extension of my point of view or philosophy. I am a hopeful pessimist.
CL: What book(s) are you currently reading?
FTS: I am reading the current “Prey” novel by John Sandford, Silken Prey. I like police procedurals. I enjoy fiction where the bad guy’s moral imperatives are at best fluid and influenced solely by personal want. I am reading Leviathans of Jupiter, a science fiction novel by Ben Bova. Bova’s novels are a compelling mixture of grand scientific ideas and human curiosity. I am also reading a compilation of Ray Bradbury’s short stories. His stories are elegant and humane. This August, I am looking forward to Dan Simmons’ new novel, The Abominable, and every summer I reread his great novel Hyperion, which is speculative fiction as its literary best.