Rafael Frumkin is a transgender author who is heading to Chicago for a March 8 appearance at Women & Children First in Andersonville with their latest offering Confidence.
Confidence is the story of Ezra Green, who is heading to juvenile detention with a stop at Last Chance Camp where he makes a new friend named Orson. The queer duo eventually create a startup company called Nulife, leading to many adventures while pursuing the American dream.
Frumkin is a graduate of Iowa's Writers' Workshop and the Medill School of Journalism. His first novel, The Comedown ,is currently being adapted by Regina King's Royal Ties Productions and Freddie Highmore's Alfresco Pictures. as well as Tristar Television, for a possible Starz dramatic series in the future. He also has a story collection called Bugsy planned for 2024.
Frumkin's pronouns are he/they and he lives in Carbondale, Illinois with his partner and their pets.
Windy City Times: Hi, Rafael. Are you from Chicago originally?
Rafael Frumkin: I am from the northwest suburbs of Chicago. I currently live five hours south of Chicago and teach creative writing at Southern Illinois University.
WCT: When do you find time to write?
RF: I am an assistant professor, which means I don't have tenure yet. I have flexibility, so I can jump on board to write pretty frequently. I do worry that when I get tenure they will heap on the responsibilities and I won't be able to write as much then.
WCT: Talk about the characters you created in Confidence.
RF: The two main characters are Orson and Ezra. Orson is a charismatic, Adonis-like figure. Everyone who sees him falls in love with him. He's a smooth talker and sells anything. He tells all kinds of lies and can get people to believe him. He becomes the face of the scam company they found called Nulife. Ezra is a quiet guy who falls head over heels in love with Orson when he meets him.
Ezra ends up funneling money to Orson's cult, which he founds as a part of Nulife.
WCT: Who were these characters inspired by?
RF: Orson was inspired by Dickie Greenleaf from The Talented Mr. Ripley. Ezra is a combination of a lot of things. There's an element of Nick Carraway from The Great Gatsby, where he's observing what is going on. He's an amalgam of a lot of different people and smaller in stature. He's queer with conflicting feelings for Orson, who will not allow love to manifest.
WCT: What does Nulife say about startup companies?
RF: It shows that startup companies can be gimmicky and scammy. There are some that are legitimate, but this is a Silicon Valley bubble where everyone rushes to found a startup and it is first come, first serve. The one that distinguishes itself from the rest is the one that wins.
I was thinking about startup founders like Elizabeth Holmes of Theranos and Adam Neumann of WeWork. These people can be very manipulative and be con artists. It is about conning behind the facade of a startup.
WCT: Where did the Last Chance Camp idea come from?
RF: It came from a book that I loved as a child, Louis Sachar's Holes. It has a similar juvenile camp where people who have committed petty crimes are sent. The narrator, Stanley Yelnats, steals shoes and has to go to the camp.
Last Chance Camp is a less surreal version of Holes, but it was definitely in my mind as I was writing the book.
WCT: Was there a great deal of research involved with this book?
RF: I didn't do a crazy amount of research because I am a big fan of this genre of literature with thriller and crime stories. I had read Bad Blood about Elizabeth Holmes, and had seen the HBO series The Vow about NXIVM.
Many things were churning in my head and [I] combined it all together with movies that I loved as a kid, like Paper Moon and The Sting. They were about smaller scams but they were part of my research.
WCT: You started writing Confidence during the lockdown?
RF: Yes, I started it during the latter part of 2020. I wrote it quickly and was finished in 2021.
WCT: What advice would you give to other writers?
RF: When working on your first draft don't be too hard on yourself. A lot of people try to get it perfect and that is impossible. I throw out my first draft and write the second draft from scratch. It is okay to make mistakes and not have the ideal story right away.
Novels take time and a lot of plotting, so don't criticize yourself. Just have fun and explore the world of all the characters you have created. Don't worry about the reader at the beginning.
WCT: Some authors suggest writing every day. Does that help you or create writer's block?
RF: That doesn't help me. I write in big bursts when I am inspired. There are downsides to that, but the upside is that I get a lot done in a short period of time. After that, I won't write for a while and then really miss it. It is a double-edged sword for sure.
WCT: What would you like readers to take away from Confidence?
RF: I want people to read this and get the anticapitalist message. I hope they can have fun and laugh at it also. There is dark humor in this humorous novel.
Seeing queer characters out in the world and doing their thing sends a strong message to readers. Whether people are straight or part of the LGBTQ+ community, queer folks can do things in the world that are unrelated to their queerness. Queerness is incidental to these particular characters. Normalizing queerness and queer relationships is something I wanted to do with Confidence.
WCT: You dedicate the book to Fig. Who is that?
RF: Fig is my partner.
WCT: Your past book, The Comedown, is being adapted into a drama series?
RF: Yes, both Regina King and Freddie Highmore have signed on to executive produce and direct the story for Starz. They are looking at how many episodes and what the show will look like. Fingers crossed that it comes through. You never know with Hollywood, but I am staying optimistic.
WCT: Do they consult you while they work on it or is it out of your hands?
RF: This one is out of my hands, but if I have Confidence adapted one day, I want to be more hands-on and hopefully write the screenplay. The Comeback was my first book and a whirlwind. When it was optioned, I didn't know to ask for the writer's credit.
WCT: Well, if The Comedown is a success as a series then you will have more power over that. What are you writing next?
RF: I am writing a book about a trans man who is traveling the country in a van after being kicked out of his home. This is in a near future dystopia which is inspired by Dan Chaon's Sleepwalk. The trans man ends up losing his dog, so he is trying to find out who stole his pet. This leads to corporate espionage intrigue going higher than the United States government, which is falling apart. There's more to it, but I don't want to give it away.
WCT: No spoilers! Are you reading excerpts from Confidence at your Women and Children First bookstore appearance?
RF: Yes and there will be a Q&A with Julia Fine, who is a fantastic writer and a great literary citizen. There will be a reception as well, so I hope we have a good turnout!
Meet this gifted writer at Women & Children First, 5233 North Clark Street, Wednesday, March 8, 2023, at 7 p.m. Pre-registration can be found at WomenandChildrenFirst.com . Masks and proof of vaccination are required at the event.
For more Frumkin, visit RFrumkin.com .