Mary Akers: Hi, Ed. Thanks for agreeing to be interviewed. I so enjoyed your story The Athlete. I was thrilled when SMU Press graciously agreed to let us reprint it in this issue. In fact, that whole collection was a delight to read. I’m embarrassed to admit it, but I’m new to your work. When I raved to several writer friends about your latest collection, Burning Man, the most common response I received was some version of “Well, duh.” It was as if I’d crashed a really happening party that everyone else had been enjoying for hours. “Hey, Mary, where’ve you been? Come on in, the writing’s FINE!” I look forward to immersing myself in more of your excellent work. What would you recommend I read next?
Ed Falco: You’re far from alone in missing this particular party. I’ve never managed to break through to a large readership with my stories, or with any of my writing for that matter. I think short story lovers know my work, and I suspect those are the friends you mention. I’m of two minds about all this. I would love to have a larger readership. It would be great to walk into a bookstore and find my books on the shelves––which is something that only rarely happens. On the other hand, I publish almost everything I write in good literary journals and with terrific university or independent presses (like Unbridled Books and SMU, publishers of my most recent couple of books), and I know from reviews, letters, emails, and the occasional prize or award, that my stories connect with lots of good readers. On most days I’m happy with where I am as a writer. On some days I wish for more.
Unbridled Books put together a nice selection of my short stories in Sabbath Night In The Church of the Piranha: New and Selected Stories, and I’d happily recommend that collection to you. And I’d recommend my last two novels from Unbridled: Saint John of the Five Boroughs, and Wolf Point. Wolf Point is a dark literary thriller that got especially good reviews, from The Sunday New York Times, where it was an Editor’s Choice selection, to Mystery Scene. For more reviews, you can go to my website (http://edfalco.us) and click on the book covers.
MA: Hey, on Amazon it says that customers who purchased Burning Man also purchased John Banville’s The Sea, Colum McCann’s Let the Great World Spin, and Paul Harding’s Tinkers, all three excellent reads and big prize winners, too. It sounds to me like your fans know exactly where your work belongs.
I love this quote from a review of your novel Saint John of the Five Boroughs: “A saga of a family ruptured and an artist discovering herself, in which far-flung elements knit together skillfully, movingly—and not a little frighteningly. As always in [the work of] Falco, the drama is dominated by its women, seen frankly yet with empathy. Early missteps all but hobble the women here, younger and older. But this winning accomplishment, a new benchmark for its author, reminds us that few things can be so beautiful as a scar.” (John Domini on Emerging Writers’ Network) What a great description. I thought the women in your collection were strong characters skillfully rendered. What is it about employing a feminine voice/point-of-view that appeals to you as a writer?
EF: In that John Domini review, I especially appreciated his noticing and mentioning that I often write about women, since I’ve heard myself tagged before as a guy’s writer. It’s true that in my short stories especially the narrators are mostly men. The reason for that should be obvious, and I think it might be strange if it were otherwise. I wouldn’t expect to pick up a Lorrie Moore collection and find a preponderance of male narrators. I have written from a woman’s viewpoint, however, especially in my novels, and I don’t find this a particularly difficult trick. To write at all one has to believe that he or she can inhabit other worlds––other characters, other circumstances, other times and places. Otherwise we’d all be limited to writing as navel-gazing.
I grew up around women (one twin and two older sisters) and have spent much of my adult life around women. I’ve been married twice, and I’ve raised a daughter. For several years I was a single parent. I’ve had ample opportunity to engage with women of every age. Seeing the world truly through another’s eyes is indeed a kind of magic trick, but it is not one that’s limited by gender. As for what appeals to me about writing from a woman’s point of view, same thing that appeals to me about all writing: the immersion into and exploration of an engaging fictional situation, the attempt to follow the characters and the situation to a moment that’s revelatory.
MA: Art is a big part of my life (my undergrad degree is in Fine Arts and I was a potter for ten years), but oddly enough I don’t draw on my art background in my writing all that often. You have written a lot about art and artists. Why is that a recurring theme for you?
EF: I’ve spent a lot of my life around art and artists. I’m close to my older brother, Frank, who is a visual artist. Frank was married to an actress. Art runs in the family, and so I feel like I know something about an artist’s life. Like all writers, I use what I know.
MA: I recently had a chance to visit the Georgia O’Keefe Museum in Sante Fe and while there I watched a film of her speaking about her life. She said that when she first saw New Mexico, she realized it was “a place where she could breathe.” Do you have such a place in your life? If so, how does that place enter your work and/or inspire you?
EF: I suspect I can write pretty much anywhere I can find space, a degree of peace, and quiet. Place doesn’t inspire me in the way that seems to have inspired Georgia O’Keefe. I live largely inside my own head, though I make an honest effort to get outside myself, to open my eyes to the world around me, to see. I have to make the effort though, otherwise I wind up right back inside my own thoughts, dreams, fantasies, concerns, etc. I love the ocean, does that count? I hope to wind up living close to the ocean one day. I feel expansive around bodies of water. I feel opened-up. When I start writing, though, I go right back inside my own head.
MA: The idea of a novel written in hypertext fascinates me. It makes the process of transferring text from writer to reader even more interactive than it already is. How did you get into this and what about the form intrigues you? Also, how do you think the recent rise of e-readers will affect the form?
EF: I’ve always been interested in writing that isn’t linear, that jumps around, that works by association rather than the straightforward progress of logic and linear design. I was influenced early on by Rimbaud, by the surrealists, by Gertrude Stein, by the craziness of Dada. So when I discovered Eastgate Systems’ hypertext authoring system, Storyspace––a software program that allowed writers to construct literary mazes the reader navigated by the near magical technology of the link, I jumped at the chance to experiment with it. This, keep in mind, was back before everyone owned a personal computer, a period of time in which only a few people had heard rumors of something called the World Wide Web. In 1997, Eastgate published A Dream with Demons, a 350 page novel I wrote in which every chapter is linked to a collection of linked notes by the purported author of the novel, Preston Morris. The novel tells a straightforward story, which the notes interrogate, question, and undermine. If more than 25 people have actually read the whole thing, I’d be shocked. My favorite hypertext piece (of mine) is “Charmin’ Cleary,” which is still available via Eastgate’s Reading Room.
Technology, as is it want to do, changed rapidly. In short order it was possible to link not just text, but /images and sound, video and animation. I started calling the genre hypermedia rather than hypertext, and I wrote a number of pieces that are still available on the web, including Self-Portrait as Child w/ Father and Circa 1967 – 1968
Lately, Flash animation dominates what is now called Electronic Lit or New Media Writing. I’ve only written one piece in Flash (Chemical Landscapes, Digital Tales) and I haven’t written a new piece of electronic lit in several years now, though I continue to edit The New River, an online journal I founded in 1996, making it the first and the oldest journal devoted exclusively to new media writing.
It’s been evident for a long time to anyone who has thought about the issue that reading would eventually make the transition from the page to the screen. It’s inevitable. The economics of book production are solidly 19th Century and have long-been doomed. Up until recently, however, I thought the transition would be further off in the future than now appears to be the case. The iPad appears to be an attractive device for reading on screen. Between the iPad, the iPhone (and most other smart phones), the Kindle and the Nook, there are already large numbers of people reading on screen. Eventually, when writers grow up composing on computers, with their multi-media capabilities, and reading on devices capable of rendering multiple media, I expect new forms of literary-visual art will emerge. These new possibilities are, in fact, what the online journal The New River is designed to explore.
Having said all that, I remain a hard-core book lover. I prefer hardcovers to paperbacks and paperbacks to e-readers. I doubt that will change for me and for millions more like me. We like curling up in a favorite chair with a beautiful book in hand. A press like Unbridled, for example, produces books that invite you to settle down and fall into a good read. E-readers on the other hand tempt you with fifty other things you might do other than read.
In the near future, my best guess is that books will become more expensive, and still those of us who can afford to buy them will do so. The rest of us will read on screen, as the price of a read becomes less expensive. What all this will mean for writers in terms of economics and income remains unclear.
MA: That’s fascinating, Ed. Thanks for the links. I look forward to checking these out. And I’m especially intrigued by the idea of physical books becoming more expensive objects as e-readers increase. In my twenties, I worked as a bookbinder in Colonial Williamsburg and in the 18th century, books were incredibly labor-intensive objects to produce. First paper had to be made from pulverized rags, cured for months, the type was all hand-set, backwards and upside-down, piece-by-tiny-piece, one sheet at a time was hand-pressed, each folio was folded by hand, the folios were then sewn onto a loom, then the cardboard covers were attached, the pages trimmed, the spine glued (with horsehide glue) and hammered into round, the leather shaved down and shaped (the paste cooked from flour and water), and finally the end pages were pasted down. Consequently, in the 18th century, the simplest of books cost as much as a week’s wages. Can you imagine being a book lover back then–with no public libraries? It’s a big part of why Thomas Jefferson went broke. But I can just imagine how much more we would cherish our books if we paid a comparable amount for them today. Books! The new/old luxury item.
Speaking of books, congratulations on being selected to write The Godfather prequel. That is such exciting news! Have you been a longtime fan of the Godfather movies? Have you read the two sequels? What did you do for research?
EF: Thanks. Writing The Family Corleone, a prequel to The Godfather saga, was a great pleasure. Yes, I have been a longtime fan of both movies, and I had read Puzo’s novel many years ago and enjoyed it. For research, I reread the novel and one of the sequels, by Mark Winegardner, The Godfather Returns. I also reread Doctorow’s Billy Bathgate and World’s Fair, and William Kennedy’s Albany trio, as well as several other books of fiction and nonfiction that touched on the era of the depression and subject of crime. I watched the movies again, read the newspapers from the time, and watched video and audio clips from the thirties online.
By the time I started writing, I was thinking of The Godfather as American mythology. The characters, after their various incarnations in multiple movies, books, and a video game, have moved into the realm of mythical figures. Once I started thinking of the story as mythology, it was easy to see myself as an interpreter of the myth, someone taking the established outlines of characters and events and manipulating them to my own ends. This is not unlike the way poets and writers for centuries used Greek and Roman mythology.
In addition to the larger outlines of the story from the books and movies, I also had the general outline of a story developed from pages extracted from Puzo’s screenplays for the Godfather III and IV (unproduced) to guide me. Starting with characters and an outline made the process of writing the novel much easier, and left me free to concentrate on other elements of the story. All in all, I had fun with it. It was an engaging fictional problem. How do you write a good book that fits into a well-known saga, with universally known characters, a book that can stand on its own and still be of a piece with the other books and movies? I hope I solved those problems, but I’ll have to wait and see what others have to say about that. I think a lot of people will be surprised by The Family Corleone. If I’m right, it’s going to be fun to see the responses the book garners.
And maybe I’ll finally get that larger readership I’ve been looking for.
MA: I sincerely hope so, Ed. I believe you are a true writer’s writer, and it’s always gratifying when someone devoted to the craft gains a wider audience. Hey, I can promise you at least one sale.