Frank Wayne Mottl is The Author of The Week

Frank enjoys writing prose and poetry. He believes that a good base in poetry significantly improves the writing of prose. His debut novel, “The Cumberland Tales”, and his second, “Mother’s Keep”, are ‘combos’ of prose and poetry. “The Cumberland Tales” was inspired by a fellow named Sam Yik. He was an elderly Chinese gentleman, mystic, gardener who my mother bought vegetables from. “Mother’s Keep”, on the other hand, was inspired by my Granny who lived in Gibsons during the depression years. 

Firstly, could you please share where you are from and what activities you enjoy in your spare time?

I currently live in Campbell River, B.C., on Vancouver Island, but my hometown is Cumberland.  Cumberland is bounded by the mountain peaks of the Beaufort Range, forests, rivers, creeks, wetlands, and lakes.   

It was a unique place to grow up in because of the close knit community, and the influx of Chinese, Japanese, Italian, and Blacks. A was a rough and tumble town during the 1960s, but has turned 180 degrees having become a community of artists and mountain bikers from all over the world, so its small town vibe has diminished.  

I’m retired, but enjoy teaching English and Math part time. Also, I maintain a sailboat (spending more time on maintenance than sailing it seems), but have had to ‘hang up my hockey skates’. I’m also a dog person, and enjoy spending time with Abby, our Bernadoddle.

Next, I’d like to delve into your journey as a writer. What prompted you to pursue writing as a career?

After I retired, I obtained a Bachelor of Arts, English Major, and at some point, in my final year, I found a passion to write poetry, and was fortunate to be taken under the tutelage of the great Canadian poet, Marilyn Dumont.   

But poetry was ingrained years before, English Literature 12, and John Keats’ “Ode on a Grecian Urn”. Previous to that, in elementary school, I used to write long, fantastical stories about space travel, so the writing germ was there all along, but only appeared after retirement. I started writing prose after having success at poetry. 

Your achievements have been celebrated, notably with the “Excellence in Poetry” award from the Poetry Institute of Canada in 2017. How has your background in poetry influenced your prose writing?

Poetry is a powerful tool in the writer’s toolbox if you want to write prose or drama. Firstly, patterns, metres, rhythms, rhymes, and the sound effects of poetry all contribute to a better sentence. As a prose writer, I want to create a musical cadence of sentences on the page.  

Secondly, consider a poem separate from prose (as an intro to a chapter for example). Aside from the prosodic aspects of poetry, a poem opens another gateway for the reader. Prose can take the hand of the reader’s imagination, but a poem can release the reader’s imagination to places even the writer cannot follow.  

Moving on to your novels, “The Cumberland Tales” and “Mother’s Keep,” I’m curious about your decision to intertwine prose and poetry within them. What inspired this unique approach?

Well, from the onset, I wanted to bring poetry to the general public. How many people read poetry? A miniscule amount compared to prose. But more importantly, the poems hint however subtly, what is coming up in the prose, and, as mentioned previously, provide another doorway for the reader to open and explore. 

My latest piece, “Cumberland Gold”, a puzzler/murder/thriller has no poems preceding each chapter; however, two of the characters within that book are poets themselves, critiquing and adding to each other’s work. I discovered that this idea was first initiated in ancient Japan during the 12th. Century.  

Furthermore, could you expand on how elements of magic realism are woven into the fabric of your storytelling in these novels?

I think ‘magic realism’ works best in drama, but I enjoy inserting extraordinary events in everyday life. The magic realist elements drew from the characters, Sam Yik, in “The Cumberland Tales” and Teach (and indeed the narrator, Louis, a ghost) in “Mother’s Keep”.

In the former, Sam Yik, a character ostracized somewhat (there is no doubt many whites thought little of Chinese in those days), so I wanted to give him power as a kind of gardener, mystic visionary, thus his unique access to different dimensions. There are instances where a character battling alcoholism in his mind meets Sam Yik, also in his mind! Another magic realist element occurs when a muscle car (Dodge Challenger) drives right through another old Chevy aided by Sam Yik’s magic, and yet another where Sam Yik, so interested by chatting with two young boys, turns back time so they aren’t late for school. Sam Yik accesses other dimensions by the use of his 12-world bracelet. 

It’s important to know that I spent a year teaching English in China, and spent time within a Buddhist temple. There is great value unknown in the west regarding eastern myths, indeed, myth dictates our modern western world, though we have forgotten their power. 

In the latter, “Mother’s Keep”, Teach, an academic who studied different myths of the world, a hunter, encounters a huge buck, so tracks it jogging and winging the creature with an arrow. He follows the trail of blood until it is seen sitting on a log in the forest, but it is now half deer and half man. So begins Teach’s learning and conflict with Christianity for he knows the value of indigenous myth. The other caveat is that the narrator in “Mother’s Keep” is a ghost trying to rescue his sister stuck in purgatory. In this way, magic realism is underlying the whole story.  

Real-life individuals such as Sam Yik and your Granny seem to have left a significant imprint on your work. How have these personal connections influenced the narratives of your novels?

From a singular image “The Cumberland Tales” grew to be a novel of some 50K words. That image was of Sam Yik, and my mother running out to buy a big head of lettuce from him. You see, he was an excellent gardener, so used to trundle around town pushing his wooden cart selling vegetables to the white families who lived in the ‘new houses’. Of course, in the book, Sam Yik grew to be much more than a gardener. While “The Cumberland Tales” has many characters, some real, some fictional, the mystical power I gave Sam Yik functions as a way to pull the reader deeper into believing the unbelievable.  

“Mother’s Keep”, on the other hand, was inspired by my Granny. A WW2 war bride from Coventry, England married a Canadian soldier. They settled on ten acres of land in Gibsons, B.C., during the Great Depression. Their romance was extraordinary, and I won’t tell too much here, but suffice to say that her love of the natural forest she lived in, with few amenities, proved to be a wonderful life that inspired my whole family. Like “The Cumberland Tales” from a single character, grew a book. 

Reflecting on your upbringing around your Granny’s forest home, could you share how this environment has shaped your writing? 

Nostalgia is a powerful influence for all writers. My early years, visiting Granny in her humble forest home, Dad driving down the long lane as bramble scraped the side of our car, the spring fed natural wells in the forest for drinking water, the brook running in front of her little home, the gorgeous white roses and lillies that grew wild and free, like Granny, could not be silenced. I had to write about this wonderful woman. So, I now look for aspects of ‘good, love, and family’ in all my writing, for Granny lives within me.  

Your novels appear to blur the lines between reality and fiction, drawing heavily from your own experiences. How do you strike a balance between the two in your storytelling?

Well, a poem precedes each chapter in both “The Cumberland Tales” and “Mother’s Keep”. More than prose, readers interpret a poem differently, and this is the value of a poem as opposed to prose. Prose presents questions, forcing the reader to find answers, but poetry presents ethereal thoughts within the reader that aren’t questions, rather they are fragmented pointers that force the reader to examine and re-examine the meaning of the poem, and how it relates to the prose. Do not ask: What is this poem saying, rather ask, how does this poem give me this feeling?

In addition, the characterization in both books (the mystic gardener Sam Yik and the ghost narrator Louis) suspend the belief system of the reader, thus allowing him/her to willingly leave reality and enter the blurred world between real and imagination.    

One striking narrative choice in “Mother’s Keep” is the ghostly narration by the lone brother. What prompted this decision, and how does it reinforce the overarching theme of forgiveness?

A ghost narrator gives the writer a different kind of freedom because a ghost can go where a person cannot, and vice-versa. But there is a commonality between ghost and person, love and guilt. What more powerful sense of need, on the one hand to rescue one you love from purgatory, to release her to the freedom of heaven and wash away the guilt she feels, and on the other hand, to free yourself too, for we must forgive ourselves to go on, otherwise, we are tormented until freed. Louis frees his sister from purgatory. What better gift can he give to one he loves like a sister? We can never be free if our minds and souls are filled with guilt. To free another from the rack of guilt is the supreme gift.  

Transitioning to the creative process, what were some of the challenges you faced in crafting novels that blend genres and employ multiple narrative styles?

The creative process is not filled with rules. What is defined as art is always up for debate. Why would an artist bind him or herself in by being afraid of breaking rules? Often, the most astonishing and powerful language, in terms of imagery and feeling, comes from the unconscious, and is beyond the five senses with which we interpret the world.  

When I write I don’t regard genre. Like a person who can’t swim, I go to the deep end, my toes just touching bottom, and try and stay there because that’s where the best creativity thrives.

 “The Cumberland Tales” and “Mother’s Keep” are closest to fantasy, yet are not because of the heavy influence of ‘magic realism’. They oscillate from reality to the fantastical. The transition point from one to the other may be a single word, or perhaps inherent within a character’s mind. The power lies within that turn from real to unreal.  

The challenge is to connect words, ideas, and language that at first glimpse may seem dissimilar, yet still connected. The danger is breaking the extended metaphor. Like an elastic band, pull it too far, and it will break. 

Finally, considering the journey readers embark on when they experience your novels, what emotions or insights do you hope they will glean, and what overarching message do you aim to convey through your storytelling?

In terms of emotions, I want readers to see, in their ‘mind’s eye’, an image that pulls at them, an image that fills them and becomes unforgettable, whether good or bad, to see the squished fledgling of a tiny bird, to see the flames licking on a cave wall, to see the boy desperately trying to plant food in a war torn field as shells burst around him, and to see, above all, that we all share a common humanity that pre-dates our little life spans. 

Find out more about Frank at

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