He has been called “The Most Heard Voice” on National Public Radio (NPR). Listeners across the country have heard him dozens of times a day as the man who says “Support for NPR comes from NPR member stations and . . . ,” announcing the funding credits after every national news and information program. And now Communication Professor Frank Tavares — who says he has been writing his entire professional life — has published a book of short stories, The Man Who Built Boxes, a collection that showcases his unique storytelling abilities with 12 stories about a remarkable cast of complex, quirky characters. He has also been doing a series of interviews with NPR member radio stations around the country as his 30-plus-year gig with NPR comes to a close and his writing career simultaneously takes off.
Tavares says he started writing fiction seriously in the 1990s and has several unpublished novels. About a dozen years ago, he started writing short stories. “I like to be working on more than one thing at a time,” he says. He started publishing some of his stories in journals, and at one point a friend suggested he pull his stories together into a collection and publish them as a book. “I thought, ‘how hard can this be?’” says Tavares, adding he had no idea how complex the process of publishing a book would be. Deciding which stories to keep in the book, which to take out, and in what order they would run were just a few of the many steps he had to work through with his publisher. His book also includes part of the next novel he is working on.
He is drawn to the short story genre, Tavares says, not only because it doesn’t take as long to write a short story as it does a novel, but also because the writer has to have fully fleshed-out characters in a short span of pages and has to give each story a satisfying arc. It’s a challenge he enjoys. “You can leave the reader with the feeling that they want to know more,” Tavares says. “You don’t have to answer every single question.”
Tavares says one of his favorites aspects of writing fiction is exploring characters. “You let them take you where they’re going to go. I love that. When I’m working on something and a character suddenly does something I didn’t really see coming, it’s very exciting.”
Although he has been writing fiction in bits and pieces all his life, Tavares says when he first started thinking of writing a novel he thought he would do it when he had time. Then he came to realize that was just an excuse. “I don’t believe in the idea of a muse,” Tavares says. He quotes the prolific Connecticut poet, the late Leo Connellan, as saying to him once: “Writers write.” “This is my mantra,” Tavares says. “There is no secret to it – the bottom line is you sit down and you just do it.” He writes in the early mornings, and says, “Some days I might only get a sentence or a couple of pages, but I am writing. And eventually I have something I can go back to and work on.”
As for the connection between his work as a professor of communication and his writing, Tavares says, “words have power. The better you know how to use words, the more powerful you are.” He sees a connection between, for example, writing fiction, a letter for an academic journal or a project for a course. “They are all the same, because they all involve writing,” he says. “Words are powerful.”