Francesca Biller | California, USA
“Live & celebrate all your glorious moments“
Interview | Francesca Biller | Artist / Journalist / Writer
Hi Francesca, please finish the sentence, I am . . .
. . . grateful for an unbridled sense of artistic freedom that I finally allow myself, with a newfound courage to openly express all creative pursuits without fear of what may possibly and impossibly come from it. This is a freedom without boundaries or preconceptions. I am now able to surrender myself to all artistic expressions that move and inspire me within . . . without limits or expectations.
Who or what inspired you to start writing, and why?
As a child, books were a part of my family- and I mean this in a literal, pun-intended sense. The classics were homed in our seaside nest as if they were actual living beings, which they were to me. I probably began to write and draw at the same time I began to speak, which my siblings claim is way too much. I somehow believed that when I read words along a page, that I should respond in jest, somehow as a matter of duty and respect. Why, I thought, should a printed word be deemed as any ‘less than’ a spoken word?
Just So Stories by Rudyard Kipling is one book of particular influence, and another is Grimm’s Fairy Tales, by the Brothers Grimm. At around age twelve, I fell in love with the novels of James Baldwin— Giovanni’s Room and Another Country in particular. Baldwin was an African American Gay writer who was first published during the 1950’s, a radical endeavor at the time. As a young girl of color, I found a gentle sense of solace and warmth in his work. His writing was, and still remains — a voice that is beautifully raw and chilling. For me, writing became a way of feeling alive. I could be a part of any story I read ‘in turn’ by writing my own as well, and just the way that I wanted, no censors in sight. And I suppose I may still be writing today for that same reason, as sentimental as it sounds.
What does your research journey look like?
Research for me is a never-ending journey of discovery. One is never truly done with research, unless one has sadly expired. Because, each day when one awakes (if so fortunate), one will hopefully have new questions as well as a slightly different perspective as to ideas held only the day before . . . as a truly well-lived life is best lived in a fluid state of continuity, with an ever-curious sense of wonder and awe.
What is important for you in your writing Process?
I have never thought of writing as a process. That would be akin to thinking of breathing as a process, speaking as a process, and/or living as a process. If I thought of writing in this way, I would instinctively feel inferior to the craft and its artistic reckoning, and I would thereby judge myself no longer worthy or suitable for doing so. If I am “in the act of writing”, it essentially means I have risen above any thought of ‘process at all’ , and thus involved in a fevered, near subconscious state of free-form creativity.
Is there a favorite ‘moment of the day’ that inspires you to write? And why?
It is when I hear the first sound upon waking, whether that be 3 am or 8 am. Am I listening to the sound of a sea-bound bird in flight past my window that faces West? Or perhaps there is a perfect band of silence that can only be unheard at Dawn. This is when I feel words rise within me. This is when stories are most possible to imagine. This is when my right hand finds a pencil that draws a letter, and then another.
Could you tell us more about the writing tools you use?
I still do most of my writing with Number 2 pencils and pens on paper. Any brand or make will suffice. This is how I first began to write, so it still feels most comfortable in this way. I pre-sharpen my pencils ahead of time and have them ‘on hand’ so to speak. This is what physically puts me in the mood for both drawing and writing. I also use ball point pens in both blue and black which reads best, as the ink does not easily fade as I often write for hours. I use large sketchbooks and very small ones as well, so that I may illustrate along the way. My father, Les Biller, is an artist, and sketchbooks were everywhere in my home as a child. At around three years of age, I once used a large one as a makeshift slide to go down the wooden stairs of our home. This is how common to me a sketchbook was. I like to invent my own calligraphy styles which helps to illustrate the tenor and tone of my words. Another favorite tool is a Thesaurus, something I could not live without, as any true wordsmith can understand. Older ones are best, as they include relevance about words in a historic connotation.
If you had to compare writing with any other artistic expression, What would that be ?
That would be drawing. When I draw, I am always thinking of words and captions that may accompany my illustrations. And when I write, I visualize images and even cinematic landscapes playing alongside pages. This is a natural connection for me. A third element is music. I am always hearing music in my head when I draw and write. I believe all forms of creative expression can accompany all others. One only has to open their mind to new connections, and then— anything that is thought can be anything that is formed.
You’re a Multi-Award winning author of several works, Could you tell us more about that?
When I returned to college and changed my major from Classical Art Studies to Journalism and Political Science, all that I wanted was to seek out the truth, speak the truth, and thus allow others to know it too, if they were so willing. I had no specific career goal of achievement, but rather- I believed that words mattered, and I felt a calling as such to relate stories to others.
I was moved most to investigate stories about people who were disenfranchised, whose stories may not have been thought of as relevant or newsworthy, historically told before, and for those who felt ‘in a sense’ voiceless— as their calls for justice and equality all too often went both unheard and unanswered.
I began reporting for newspapers as an Investigative Journalist and Columnist, and later as a Reporter for radio, which included Documentary Series Reporting and Breaking News. I received some awards as a college student, with my reporting acknowledged by the professional Journalism world. I believe I achieved this because I personally connected to each story I covered at its core, in a raw, authentic and even fearless ‘so to speak’ manner – following stories that no one else seemed to care enough, or be brave enough to write or print.
For example, one Documentary Series for which I received one of two Golden Mike Awards for ‘Best Hard News Series’ focused on the Foster Care system in Los Angeles County, for which I went undercover as a reporter. I also received the distinguished Edward R. Murrow Award for Live Investigative Reporting for Radio, as well as Best Investigative Reporting from The Society of Professional Journalists for a Magazine Cover Article called ‘History in the Making’ which covered the historic presidential race between President Obama and then-Senator Hilary Clinton.
What is your cultural background?
The integrity of this question deserves an equally integral answer. My mother was born and raised on the Big Island of Hawaii. She was born to Japanese-American parents, both of whom had to quit schooling in order to respectably toil the land, which were the rich Kona Coffee farmlands of Hawaii. She is known as Nisei, a second-generation Japanese-American. My father was born and raised in Los Angeles, specifically the infamous Fairfax district. His background is Russian- Jewish from his father, and English, Scotch, Irish and Welsh, respectively from his mother. Both of his parents were talented, creative and bold. My parents met while attending a Poetry class at The University of Hawaii, and raised myself and three siblings in Santa Monica, California and in Honolulu, Hawaii.
In terms of Identity, how would you describe yourself?
Thankfully, most of us today are allowed to answer this question with a degree of ‘freedom from oppression’, at least in theory.
For the most part, I try not to describe myself as I feel that any precise summary may limit me from future possible adventures. But if I must, a description might read this way: Francesca is a free and ever-evolving artist, who feels most alive when writing stories and verse, drawing for hours and days on end, and happiest when she can ‘both inspire and become inspired’ by any passionate and willing participants. She also happens to be a Half-Japanese, One-Quarter Jewish female who was raised by two Artists who has lived & still lives their lives to the fullest, which has included more than a few interesting parties with colorfully strange and talented people.
What aspects of your culture are most important to you?
Strength and Tenacity. Those are the words that best describe the people from all of the cultures I have gratefully inherited. Surviving as a Japanese in America, as well as a mixed Jewish kid means- and has always meant that you had to be strong, and the next day even stronger. When my parents were raised, no one ever asked them how their day was, or what they thought about the state of politics. On my mom’s side, her Japanese-American brothers fought during World War 2 in the 442nd Battalion, the most highly decorated regiment in United States History. With the reality of internment camps for the Japanese on the mainland, they volunteered to fight as proof of their allegiance as Americans. All three of her brothers were decorated heroes, and after the War, went on to rebuild communities and wonderful lives- all without boasting of their service. On my Father’s side, his father was raised in a Los Angeles Jewish Home for Boys during the 1930’s and ’40’s because his mother placed him there. Apparently, she had fled an abusive husband as was protecting my grandfather. My Great Grandfather on my Father’s side was a politician and a Publisher of newspapers in Oklahoma. Like I said: Strength and Tenacity.
How has your cultural background influenced your life and work- hobbies ? And if it did, could you give some examples?
As a child, I believe that what actually gave me courage was the fact that my parents never actually discussed our Cultural Backgrounds all that much. Rather, they shared their unique tapestries of culture through their own intellectual renditions and creative pursuits. For example, my Father was an Art Professor for UCLA and The University of Hawaii. He also showed (and still does) his paintings at his Los Angeles Studio, and in galleries all over the world- and through all of that, his expressions of cultural richness revealed themselves within and throughout his life and work. My mother was a Fashion Designer and her clothing is inspired by a mix from her Japanese-Hawaiian culture and Hollywood Films made during the 1940’s, always rich with color, and exuding a calming sense of vibrancy with a vibe of laid-back beauty. The way they lived their lives right before me in real time, have in turn, inspired me to live mine in a similar authentic manner. Everything that I do and create is born from this teaching of philosophical rendering of artistic surrender as a manner of being, as a love letter to one’s very soul- only to be recreated each day.
Currently working on?
A Collection of my Poetry, with a biopic colorful cover I have painted. The Book is called: ‘An Unchosen Girl’ and will be published with Zorba Press, by Publisher Michael Pastore. The poems have been written throughout my lifetime, beginning as a teen, through tumultuous times as an adult, and right through the present moment that I am writing this. Some poetry is heartbreaking, some vividly shocking, and some with only enlightenment and hope in their sight. I am also painting stand-alone works which illustrate various poems throughout the book, which I plan to exhibit.
Each illustration tells the story of a character as well, which I plan to turn into animation. As I am Half-Japanese, I was introduced to the culture of animation since I was a very young child, and I have created storyboards and illustrations throughout. When I was 12, I traveled to Japan after I was scouted & chosen as a model for television commercials, and I was able to experience Japan first-hand, and after that- I felt even more of a connection to the world of Anime which only thrives more today.
What music are you listening to at the moment?
That depends upon the moment. At this “very moment”, I am listening to anything played by the Master Cellist Yo Yo Ma. When he plays the cello and I close my eyes, I feel as if I am being transported to another sphere, another universe. And both the words I want to write and the drawing I yearn to draw, appear to seamlessly flow with each note he embraces and shares.
In other moments, I am a lover of the Blues and of Rock and Roll. I also love to sing and once played in a Rock and Roll band as a teen in Hawaii. I love Aretha Franklin, Etta James & Billie Holiday. And I love to rock out to The Rolling Stones, Guns & Roses, Van Halen & Peter Frampton. Other favorites are Joni Mitchell, Bob Dylan, Ry Cooder & Crosby, Stills & Nash for lyrics. I grew up with Ry Cooder as a family friend of my parents, and I was highly influenced by his guitar playing and songs he would casually play at various gatherings.
If you can imagine you are living in 2072, 50 years from now, How would you look back on — and describe the year 2022?
I would say that it was a year filled with new and unforeseen chances for renewal and growth. This was a year when too many people we knew passed away, when violence took its ugly vitriol to the streets and to sacred places of education, worship and governance, when leaders made lying a sport, and when children were too scared to go back to school for fear of being gunned down. But it was also a year when many of us began to feel grateful- and for some, this may have occurred truly for ‘perhaps’ the very first time. We began to treasure very small moments and learn that the smaller ones had the biggest momentum, and that they were the real treasures after all. Some of us learned to have quiet and intimate conversations, to slowly walk two blocks both up and down with a friend, to help others worse off than ourselves, and to begin to realize that we really are ‘all in this together’, no matter how cliche that seems. Hey, they are cliches, after all, for a reason.
What is connecting people?
Shared pain. I believe that for the very first time in more than a generation, that many people are realizing that no one experiences life without some suffering, and that this can help to connect us with one another- at least on a primal level, at first. Though pain often comes humility and understanding, and then hopefully, a range of compassion that can be acted on for our fellow beings. True, many bastardize their experience of pain by afflicting an even greater pain on others, but I believe there is a shared connection that is deep and lasting— when pain is experienced with one another. One who knows personal tragedy knows this to be true. This is something I know to be true. In the eyes of strangers, an acknowledgement of understanding can be gleaned, and a connection of sorrow can be turned into one for joy.
Message to the world.
Look around. Not just at the people you know or even think you know- look at the other ones. Look in the eyes of people who don’t look like you, who don’t talk like you, who don’t sound like you, who don’t worship like you, who don’t love like you. And pay attention. Are you open? Are you warm? Are you forgiving? Everyone alive wants the same thing, and that’s to be free. We all want to be free enough to live our lives without getting beaten down, and the freedom for wide open forums without fear of retribution or censorship.
So, to my great big, impossibly beautifully diverse world- appreciate yourself and everything both right around and ‘not’ around you. Appreciate what an unbelievable miracle you are, and how this very moment in time as you are reading this- this may have been envisioned and planned a billion or more Universe’s ago. So just go for it. Rock it. Live and celebrate all of your glorious moments, and allow others to do the same.
Where can people find you?
For Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, I have public forums and engaging platforms for my work with links under my name —— Francesca Biller
Venue for Upcoming Book: Zorba Press —- ZorbaPress.com
Published Essays and Stories: The Elephant Journal —- Elephantjournal.com
Essays about Japanese Heritage: Discover Nikkei, for The Japanese American National Museum, DiscoverNikei.org
Essays, Op Eds and Articles on Politics, Jewish and Japanese Culture: Google—— Francesca Biller
Published: The Huffington Post, The Times Herald, The Jewish Journal of Los Angeles, The Jewish News Weekly of San Francisco, Be’chol Lashon, My Jewish Learnin , The Japanese American National Museum, The Elephant Journal, USA on Race, Book: Jewish Community of Solano County, The Syndicated News,
Thank you for your time & energy
The Blend Within | Connected by Similarities