Annie's Book Stop of Worcester

The little bookstore that's bigger on the inside

Francesca_Forrest_Pen_PalJoining  us today on the Annie’s Book Stop of Worcester blog is Francesca Forrest, author of Pen Pal and one of our Women of Myth and Legend who’ll be holding a panel on Sunday, March 23 from 2-4PM.

Thank you so much for joining us, Francesca! Can you please tell us briefly a little about yourself and your writing? How would you like us to introduce you?

From childhood, my heart’s always been in faraway places and other worlds. I used to have a long walk to school, and I treasured that time, because I could use it to tell myself stories. I still do that: work through scenes and story ideas on walks. As an adult, I’ve come to notice that there’s magic all around—not just in the sorts of locations I imagined it was restricted to, as a kid, but everywhere. I like to write all kinds of stories, but they all have to have some flavor of magic in them, because there’s so much magic  all around us.

What was the inspiration for Pen Pal? What were the steps you took to bring it from initial inspiration to the finished book? What kind of research went into writing this book?  What is your favorite research story? What cool facts and findings didn’t make it into the book, but you loved discovering?

The research for this book changed my whole life—the way I live today, and what I do with my time, is different because of Pen Pal. The first incarnation of the story was just as an exchange of letters that I ran on Livejournal. When I decided to revise and expand it, I got very serious about the two main locations in the story, the floating community of Mermaid’s Hands, off the US Gulf Coast, and the suspended prison temple known as the Lotus on the Ruby Lake, in the fictional Southeast Asian nation of W—. I loved discovering how, whatever element of my story I researched, I could find analogues in real life that were even more startling. For instance, there were the Manila Men of San Malo, Louisiana, a community of Filipino escapees from Spanish galleons who lived hidden from mainstream America for more than 130 years, or the story of story of Grandfather Maridjan, a spiritual guardian of a volcano in Indonesia, who died attending the volcano—very much a spiritual brother for one of my characters, Kaya. I love that people now send me stories about volcanoes, or messages in bottles, or floating villages, because of Pen Pal.

What is your favorite part of being a writer?  Of the whole writing and publishing process?  What do you think has been your greatest lesson in the journey thus far?

I like everything involved with translating the stories in my head into something that other people can read. There’s a song by Leonard Cohen, “A Bunch of Lonesome Heroes,” that has the line, “Let me tell you my story,” and that’s always what I feel: that I’m begging the world to let me tell it my story. But more specifically than that, it’s impossible to choose a favorite part—whether it’s developing the story in my head, or putting the words on paper, or revising them and moving them around, cutting things and adding them—all of that I love. 

I guess my biggest lesson has come from publishing. Because I published Pen Pal myself—and therefore have to spread the word about it myself—I’ve had to reach out to people literally all over the world. This has reinforced for me the truth that to accomplish anything worthwhile, you have to be prepared to work very, very hard. At the same time, it’s given me a sense of awe at the gorgeous serendipities that can happen. The fact that both things are true—that it’s a hard road that requires steely perseverance, but that also can contain bright moments of delight—has been a valuable lesson.

What is/are your passions when you’re not writing? How do you make time for your non-writing hobbies/things youFrancesca photo love?

I make time by completely neglecting housework. You wouldn’t believe the state of our house. Other passions! Well, I love walking places with my camera. I love being in woods and wild places, but also in border-places, like behind strip-mall stores, or alongside highways, or on railroad tracks. I like to take pictures of the things I see there. I’ve always liked doing things like picking berries or mushrooms—I like knowing what plants are edible, and I like gathering them and preparing them. This past fall I made a cake out of acorn flour, and for several years I tapped maple trees and made maple syrup. I also do GED tutoring in a regional jail, which is an exhausting, wonderful, moving experience.

Where can people find your work? (Besides ABSW ;)–though they should totally check here first!)

Pen Pal exists both as an ebook and as a paperback. The ebook is only available through Amazon, but the paperback is available through either Amazon or Barnes & Noble OR through independent booksellers. I’d love to think that people would buy the book through you!


How can we follow your work, share your awesomeness, or otherwise stalk you in a totally non-creepy way?

I have lots of online faces. The oldest, and my favorite, is Livejournal: There I share thoughts on all sorts of things, and I also sometimes post story snippets or poetry. I also have a Tumblr (, which I use mainly for reblogging interesting images. (Incidentally, I’ve also created a Tumblr solely for images that tie in, in my mind, with Pen Pal—that’s pen-pal-picture.tumblr com) I also have Twitter, but I’m very boring on it! It’s @morinotsuma.

One thought on “Author Spotlight: Francesca Forrest and PEN PAL

  1. Redhead says:

    I just finished Pen Pal last week, what a fantastic book!

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