Fiction Points: Ed Falco

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Ed Falco

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.

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Fiction Points: Dan Barden

Dan Barden is a professor in the Creative Writing Program at Butler University in Indiana. His essays have appeared in Esquire, GQ, Details, and Poets and Writers, among other journals and anthologies. He is the author of the novels John Wayne: A Novel (Doubleday, 1997) and The Next Right Thing (Dial Press, 2012). The latter is a crime mystery set inside a recovery story, told by a hardboiled ex-cop for the ages. Check out the novel’s Amazon.com page for a glimpse of the rave reviews it received in all the right places, from The Atlantic to TheFix.com. He speaks to us today about the human beings who inspired it. 

Two nuns and a penguin approach you at a bar, and you tell them that you’re a writer. When they ask you what your last book was about, how do you answer?

I’d like to think I’d have a different answer for the nuns than I did for the penguin. To the nuns, I would say that I was trying to justify the ways of God to man insofar as the book — The Next Right Thing, which is a literary crime novel set among a community of AA members — is about what I find beautiful and honorable and appealing in the lives of men and women who are recovering from addiction to alcohol and drugs.

Dan Barden (© Liz Pinnick)
Dan Barden (© Liz Pinnick)

Why would God do this to these folks? Why would He vex them so much with these intractable emotional and spiritual problems? And then make them so charming and wonderful on top of all those vexing and intractable problems? To the penguin, I would say that the book is about how strangely human beings are to love each other in the strange ways that they love each other.

Points is a blog primarily for drug and alcohol historians. What do you think this audience would find most interesting about The Next Right Thing?

I hope that The Next Right Thing is a novel about the beauty of codependence, if such a thing is even possible. I guess I wasn’t kidding when I just said that thing about “justifying the ways of God to man.” It really bewilders me that I have spent so much of my life loving alcoholics and addicts.

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Fiction Points: Eleanor Henderson

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Eleanor Henderson

Eleanor Henderson is an assistant professor at Ithaca College and holds an MFA from the University of Virginia. Her short story “The Farms” was selected for inclusion in Best American Short Stories 2009 and nominated for a Pushcart Prize. Henderson’s fiction and nonfiction has appeared in journals including Ninth Letter, Salon, The New York Times, and The Wall Street Journal. Her debut novel Ten Thousand Saints, which revolves around a teen’s conversion to a straight-edge lifestyle following the drug-related death of a friend, was published to wide acclaim in 2011. The book was a finalist for the Los Angeles Times’ 2011 Art Seidenbaum Award for First Fiction and made the longlist for the 2013 IMPAC Dublin Literary AwardTen Thousand Saints was also named a New York Times Notable Book of 2011; reviewed on the cover of the New York Times Book Review; and included on lists such as Amazon’s Top 10 Debut Fiction Titles of 2011, the New York Times’ Top 10 Books of 2011, and the San Francisco Chronicle‘s Top 100 Books of 2011. Henderson previously served as a contributing editor to the magazine Poets & Writers and chair of the fiction board for The Virginia Quarterly Review.

Two nuns and a penguin approach you at a bar, and you tell them you’re a writer. When they ask you to describe Ten Thousands Saints, how do you answer?

This is exactly how it feels to describe one’s novel! I tend to say it’s about a sixteen-year-old boy coming of age in the straight edge scene in New York City in 1988.

Points is a blog primarily for drug and alcohol historians. What do you think this audience would find most interesting about Ten Thousand Saints?

The straight edge scene. One of the main reasons I wanted to write about straight edge is because I’d never encountered it in fiction before. It’s such a fascinating subculture—this group of young people who are eschewing drugs and alcohol and yet embracing a punk ethos. It’s Just Say No with an edge. Many of my main characters, who are teenagers, go even further and give up sex and meat, too. In many ways it’s a rebellion against traditional forms of rebellion.

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