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An Interview with Sara Frances, author of Unplugged Voices


Sara Frances self-identifies as a photojournalist-poet with a personal storytelling mission. She is uniquely prepared and equipped to judge poetry books from both content and design aspects. Based in part on her comparative experiences judging art and photographic contests and book contests, she has formulated a new way to evaluate and award the many, diverse sub-sets of the poetry genre.

Always a writer and reader, as well as a long-time awarded professional photographer, Sara’s own hybrid style blends image and text. She cut and pasted collage books as a child, and for more than five decades has been writing, designing, and hand making photo-art books. When publication of her own works for a larger audience became a necessity, she spent over 10 years learning the complexities and conventions of the entire process from manuscript proposal to shelf-ready four-color presentation.

While learning book publication, Sara took membership with the Colorado Independent Publishers Association, and now serves as board member, home of the 30-year CIPA EVVY book awards. As a graduate of Lighthouse Writers Workshop’s Poetry Collective, she became specifically interested in poetry books. She is a poetry book judge for IBPA, CIPA, NMAZBA, and various writers’ associations. Her most recent four-color, coffee table publication, Unplugged Voices: 125 Tales of Art and Life from Northern New Mexico, the Four Corners and the West, has just won its fifth book award.

Sara holds an a MA (Comparative Literature); her professional photographic association degrees are M.Photog.Cr, EA-ASP, API. She mentors other artists in book design and publication through workshops in independent publishing, memoir, and photo diaries that are hosted by the Osher Lifelong Learning at University of Denver, Southwest Writers (“What Judges Look For” program next slated 10/24/24), Castle Rock Writers, and PPA and ASofP (both photographic associations). She designs and moderates virtual panel discussions of art and life for the acclaimed Millicent Rogers Museum in Taos, NM.

You can buy Unplugged Voices here!

Who/what made you want to write? Was there a particular person, or particular writers/works/art forms that influenced you?

With the completion of my photographic retrospective and memoir, Fragments of Spirit 60 Years: A Photographer’s Recollections of Taos Pueblo, the Region and its Arts, people came up to me, wanting to tell their stories of the marvelous land of the Four Corners. They wouldn’t stop talking. I realized there are Western stories, memoirs, experiences of great historical significance. There is something magical about the West that matters. I shortly began curating sorties from friends, friends of friends, random acquaintances. I had already spent a decade learning the complexities of image plus text publication; the new effort took me over 3,000 hours! Unplugged Voices has to date won 5 book awards and is finalist for the Benjamin Franklin award from IBPA and Colorado Humanities Book Award.

What other professions have you worked in? What’s something about you that your readers wouldn’t know?

After flirting with careers as an archaeologist, pilot, concert pianist, and diplomat, I settled on photographer after just a few months’ residence in Heidelberg, Germany, while studying for my Masters in Comparative Literature. For decades thereafter I owned my own photo studio, rising to the titles of Master Photographic Craftsman. Now retired from daily commercial work, I self-identify as a photojournalist-poet.

Tell us the story of your book’s title. Was it easy to find, or did it take forever?

I knew the words “voices,” “storytellers,” “Four Corners.” I wanted no recounts that were promotions, resumes, presentations for the experiential memoir format. Stories told by the campfire! “Unplugged” came quickly, with the long subtitle to tell readers they would find something very special in acquaintance with tales they would otherwise never know.

How did it feel when you first saw your book cover? Or when you first held your book in your hands?

I designed the cover with color of the West and its symbols in mind: the actual cross hairs of the Four Corners, the waterways of the high-dry Colorado Plateau, the magic chocolate scorpion that figures in the manuscript was a sure winner. The waterways were transformed from the red tones of the infrared satellite mapping to turquoise, the gold of Native America. Getting the shipment was perhaps a high point of life! Exactly as envisioned and designed. It’s a heavy one—the book weighs almost 6 pounds!

If your book had a soundtrack, what are some songs that would be on it?

Sounds of the Southwest are everything from cowboy ditties and trail songs to flamenco and salsa to Native American flute—we love and live it all.

What is one thing you hope readers take away from reading your book? How do you envision your perfect reader?

Memoir is real history, perhaps more important than facts and figures. Memoir is the flesh on dry bones. By keeping each experience-story in a 5-minute read, the audience gets to know a great many different people and ideas that would otherwise be lost. The Unplugged Voices Project has taken hold and now is in recruitment for the sequel volume.

What was the most rewarding/meaningful part of publishing your book?

Being of service to the memory of the West that matters has become a whole second career and even life’s work. There’s so much more to do, so many people to meet and tell their stories.

What new writing projects are you currently working on? Or, other projects that are not writing?

In addition to the Unplugged Voices Project, I am in the final stages of a full-length illustrated poetry and poetic prose coffee table book.

Are you a writer, too? Submit your manuscript to Atmosphere Press.

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Atmosphere Press is a selective hybrid publisher founded in 2015 on the principles of Honesty, Transparency, Professionalism, Kindness, and Making Your Book Awesome. Our books have won dozens of awards and sold tens of thousands of copies. If you’re interested in learning more, or seeking publication for your own work, please explore the links below.