The Debutante Ball is thrilled to welcome debut author Siobhan Fallon for a spin around the dance floor. Siobhan’s collection of short stories, You Know When the Men Are Gone, is available right now!
Siobhan Fallon lived at Fort Hood while her husband was deployed to Iraq for two tours of duty. She earned her MFA at the New School in New York City and will be moving with her family to Amman, Jordan, in the spring of 2011.
Siobhan Fallon takes the Deb Interview!
Who is one of your favorite literary characters?
I have always been a sucker for Hamlet. I adore him, I adore his entire play. All the contradictions and indecisions, the waffling and then sudden rash acts. He is a study of man at his most impotent because he thinks too much, and yet whenever Hamlet does the opposite, whenever he acts without thinking, he is too potent– people die swiftly and unfairly. There is no middle ground, there is no compromise and no peace. He is almost too human with his abundance of flaws, and yet the audience loves him. Each time I watch or read that play, I can’t help but root for Hamlet, hoping that he will kill Claudius before all of the havoc is wreaked, hoping he will not stab Polonius through the hanging carpet, that he will not drive Ophelia to suicide, that he will not duel Laertes.
Where do you love to be?
At my father’s Irish pub, The South Gate Tavern. After hours, when the jukebox is quietly playing the remainder of the songs the last stragglers have chosen, when we have dimmed the lights, when my brother and father and I are wiping down the bar and telling stories about different things that happened within those walls a few hours ago, comparing the things each of us noticed with the things that each of us missed. We put the bar back together again, washing the glasses, righting the chairs, mopping up the spills, getting ready for the bar to open up the following day, and there is a very calming sameness to that routine, that renewal, while we recap the evening. It is always very late, maybe two or three or four in the morning, Main Street is still and dark outside. Maybe we will look out the front window and see a deer cross the street or a shooting star, and it will feel like we are the only people awake in the world. My dad’s not much of a talker, but that is when he feels the most at home, when I can get him to tell me stories about growing up in Ireland or when he came over to the US and worked in New York City as a teenager.
What is your advice for aspiring writers?
Don’t give up. Everyone in the world dreams of writing a book—writers, by nature of their ‘job’ title, actually need to write. Get it down on the page, page after page. In the end, that’s what separates us from all the talented people out there with incredible stories: the written page. The tenacity to see that book or story through from beginning to end, to edit and edit and edit until you want to just cry from the frustration of it all, and yet you have finally created something that can stand on its own.
Try to say things in a way only you can say them, and then just keep at it until someone notices. And eventually someone will notice. It’s been more than ten years since I got my MFA, and there were plenty of times I started to lose faith in my writing. But right now I know all those years of rejection were worth it to have ended up with my wonderful literary agent, Lorin Rees, and my extraordinary editor, Amy Einhorn.
What’s the strangest job you’ve ever had?
I was a bit of a drifter after graduating from college. I did a lot of temp work on the edges of publishing, trying to decide how to translate an English degree into a paycheck, while writing really bad short stories and novellas, living in a group house outside of Boston, eating lots of lentils and rice. One of my more interesting jobs was when I interned at an erotica press. The makeshift press was located in the editor’s house, and I soon learned that this rather small and plain editor, with her long, dark hair in a messy ponytail, braless and baggy clothed, no make-up or high heels, was a dominatrix, and her gentle-natured partner was her ‘slave.’ One day I was reading the slush pile (and trust me, you will never know the true meaning of “slush pile” until you have to read hundreds of werewolf, vampire, and alien erotica stories) when the UPS man came. I was the only one in the house and the editor had asked me to have the delivery brought up to her bedroom. So I led this man up to the stairs to the room, which I had never been in before, and lo and behold there was a floating bed suspended from the ceiling with chains, there were whips of all shapes and sizes on hooks on the wall, the walls were papered with black velvet and there were misshapen, melted candles of black wax on every surface. I wish I could have taken a picture of the look on the face of that big, brawny UPS man. He stared at me in my linen skirt and Birkenstocks, put that box down so quickly, and literally ran out of the house as if I was the next Jeffrey Dahmer.
Do you have a regular ‘first reader’? If so, who is it and why that person?
My husband, KC. He is my first reader, my second, third, thirtieth reader. Not only is he a good sport about it, he is amazingly insightful. Somehow he comes to the material with fresh eyes each and every time. Honestly, I think he is a better critical reader than I am, even though I have supposedly been schooled in the art of criticism with my MFA. But he reaches right inside a story and, rather than the limp comments that I make (like “awkward paragraph” or “clumsy dialogue here” scribbled in the margins) he not only pinpoints a weak scene but knows how to fix it. I had no idea he was such a great reader when I married him. It was actually with this most recent collection, and the novel I am currently working on, that this talent was revealed. He has a gift and I exploit is as much as possible. Sorry, Debs, I am not loaning him out.
Debut author Siobhan Fallon evokes a world largely passed by in literature and unfamiliar to most Americans in her arresting collection of interconnected short stories, You Know When the Men Are Gone. Fallon’s tales of life on a contemporary American military base—at once lyrical, gritty, and deeply moving—were inspired by her own experiences as an army wife living at Fort Hood, Texas. Her collection has been showered with advance praise, included in Publisher Weekly’s Spring 2011 First Fiction round-up of ten promising fiction debuts, and featured on NPR’s “Talk of the Nation.” Publishers Weekly also gave the book a starred review, noting that Fallon writes “with both grit and grace” and proclaiming “this collection certifies Fallon as an indisputable talent.”