Ed Falco teaches literature and writing at Virginia Tech and most recently authored The Family Corleone (2012), a prequel to The Godfather. His previous novels include St. John of the Five Boroughs (2009), Wolf Point (2005), the hypertext work A Dream with Demons (1997), and Winter in Florida (1990). His 2011 short-story collection Burning Man made it on the longlist for the Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award, the collection Acid (1996) secured him Notre Dame’s Richard Sullivan Prize, and he won the Virginia Quarterly Review‘s 1986 Emily Clark Balch Prize for the titular story from his debut, Plato at Scratch Daniel’s & Other Stories (1990); another collection, Sabbath Night in the Church of the Piranha (2005), combines previously-published stories with new writings. Falco’s fiction has earned him a Pushcart Prize, a 2008 NEA Fellowship, the Mishima Prize for Innovative Fiction from The St. Andrews Review, and a Dakin Fellowship from the Sewanee Writers’ Conference. As a playwright, Falco is the recipient of the Hampden-Sydney Playwright Award for Home Delivery (1992), a Virginia Commission for the Arts Fellowship, and the Governor’s Award for the Screenplay from the Virginia Festival of American Film. His work as a poet includes the prose-poem chapbook Concert in the Park of Culture (1985) and the hypertext poetry collection Sea Island (1996). An early innovator in the field, Falco edits The New River, an online journal of digital writing.
Two nuns and a penguin approach you at a bar, and you tell them you’re a writer. When they ask you what you write about, how do you answer?
I explain to the nuns that I went to Catholic Sunday School as a child, where I had dramatically impressed upon me the guilt and fear so essential to being a writer. For instance, I vividly remember a nun in a black habit looming over me, asking me to imagine the pain I’d feel if I held my hand over a flame, and then to imagine that pain unending, for eternity, with no hope of release, ever. So, I learned to live with the fear of hell. I’d explain this to the nuns, and then turn to the penguin and ask her what she thought of terrifying a child in that manner. I imagine the penguin being sympathetic. Maybe patting my back with a flipper. I’d buy her a beer. Then I’d talk a bit about the moral anguish I felt as I child because I couldn’t really imagine loving God more than I loved my mother–which is what the Sunday-school nuns insisted I must do to be a good Catholic. So, welcome guilt. The bar nuns at this point might ask me if I got anything good out of Sunday school, and I’d answer that, sure, I got lots of material I’d use throughout my life as a writer. All that guilt, all that fear–it found release in my writing. In fact, I’ve spent much of my writing life thinking about the tension between sin and piety. (I’d use these terms for the nuns, though really I’d be thinking freedom or abandon and domesticity and restrain, or the classical terms Dionysian and Apollonian). I’d explain further that a lot of my writing is about exploring the consequences of my characters’ choices, which is my writerly way of exploring human behavior, and perhaps that exploration of individual choices with unique consequences is a direct rejection of the dogma of religion. By this time I’m pretty sure the nuns would have left, and I’d hang out and get a little buzzed with the penguin.