As an author of adult and young-adult fiction, Joseph Falank has had many of his stories featured in magazines and online publications. He has written and directed over twenty independent films and is a performing member and manager of The Puzzled Players Comedy Improv Theater. Since 2002 he has worked with children, young adults, and special needs kids in a classroom setting from pre-K through grade twelve. Joseph lives with his wife in his hometown of Binghamton, New York.
I recently read his latest release due out this October, An Unexpected Visit, which is a short book (also known as a novella) and is focused on an intense situation from the perspective of a middle-aged boy. Noah and his father are the only characters in the story, aside from a short appearance by the mother at the beginning and end of the weekend spent with his dad, who has been estranged from Noah and his mom for the last two years.
We find out early on in the story that Noah’s father has military and war related emotional issues from whatever special-forces unit he was (and perhaps still is) involved with. We do find out what has traumatized Noah’s father, and this is the catalyst for what, over the course of the weekend, nearly traumatizes Noah as well.
The story is captivating from the first paragraph and continues at a ‘hold your breath’ pace throughout the book. Mr. Falank does an extraordinary job of putting us into the hearts and minds of these two characters (as told through Noah’s perspective) and thus causing us to care deeply about the outcome of this ‘unexpected visit.’
It is excellent writing that exposes all of the emotional intricacies of a father and son torn apart for the last couple years through circumstances out of their control. The story unfolds glimpses of those years prior, which had been spent as a family, and the current realities of the present weekend in which they each try to find a pathway back to one another – despite the gapping wounds in their relationship, and in themselves.
Joseph shows us all of this through riveting description and action as seen by the eyes of Noah, rather than simply ‘telling’ us this fascinating tale as a narrator. An Unexpected Visit triggers many thoughts that continue to evolve long after the last page is read.
A peek into this father-son weekend is sure to open a window to better understanding of the complex relationships experienced by all of us. Ultimately we can, as a unified group of Falank fans, agree that his writing elevates the average read into something much more meaningful.
I asked Joseph a few questions about his story, which seemed so real to me in its rich detail that I had to wonder if it was not really fiction, but a situation he himself had lived through.
Why did you go this route of having a stand-alone novella grouped with micro stories relating to your last book (The Painted Lady) instead of perhaps grouping three novellas together? You obviously enjoy the reflective drama that sucks a reader in and then leaves them with a lot to think about when the story ends.
When I got the idea for this story, I saw a boy (Noah) trapped in his bed, in the dark, in the middle of the night, in a house out in the middle of nowhere with only his father. The boy couldn’t do anything but cower under the covers, forced to listen to the endless wailing of his dad, who was experiencing some kind of night terror.
In developing Noah’s arc, I decided I wanted to stay with him for the duration – from the beginning of the story to its end – to maintain tension, and not add in relief in the form of subplots to deviate from the main story, which is the broken relationship between the two.
That choice made me realize the story would be much shorter than my first two novels (Seeing and The Painted Lady) and I was actually excited about that – to do something different. I adore novellas as a form of fiction, read a number of them in the lead-in to writing Visit to better hone my skills and understand the pacing. I’m thankful to be with a publisher (Winter Goose) who isn’t afraid to take chances on releasing novellas as stand-alone books.
The only thing keeping me from putting three novellas under one cover is that they’ll undoubtedly be compared to each other – readers will pick their favorites, deciding which one doesn’t belong, etc. It was out of my own guilt that I even added the “micro” stories that follow Visit; and that’s not to say I don’t think those stories are good (because I like them very much) but I want readers to feel that they get their money’s worth when they purchase a book of mine. It’s not a quality versus quantity issue, but if I can give more, I will. Still, the novella is the star of the show, hence why it’s not considered a collection – the “micro” stories are just Bonus Material.
When I originally set out with writing, my early manuscripts were in the flavor of The Twilight Zone, where a troubled person found themselves in the midst of a supernatural experience whereby they were forced to acknowledge something about themselves and change. In forcing myself to dig deeper, I became more interested in the character-study and how a family can be affected rather than put focus on the supernatural element. An Unexpected Visit is just a boy and his father, and hopefully a whole lot of tension, but nothing paranormal – that’s a first for me.
Is this a true story or is that too personal to ask? If it is true, might there be a memoir in your future? You seem to have a lot of interesting stories, which actually happened to you. I still remember the teacher that was encouraging about your writing, and then became critical about a piece you’d written. That had caused you a lot of self-doubt until realizing your potential as a wordsmith was not hers to make or break.
When it comes to the actual plot of my stories, I don’t draw from real life. I do, though, like to include touches of real experiences to make the books more personal to me and immortalize those stories. For example, in Visit, the story of Noah being born – as told by his father – is actually the story of my daughter’s birth. In The Painted Lady, Miles’ proposal to his then girlfriend on a windswept beach in the midst of a blizzard mirrored my own proposal. Seeing had Jake become aware of a huge revelation in the presence of a butterfly, and butterflies had also caused a huge revelation in my own life.
I don’t think I’ve experienced enough yet in my thirty-three years to do a memoir, nor do I feel I’ve earned it. To me, memoir carries a weight of recognition. I feel they’re best suited for ex-presidents, soldiers, big time musicians, authors nearing the end of their careers, journalists, people who’ve made it to the top of their respective mountains and come back down the other side, ready to tell us all about it. I’m just getting started and have a long way to go, but I do hope to one day find myself in a position to tell my story. Till then I’ll just keep fitting pieces in each new book.
If the teacher who criticized me very early on taught me anything it’s that there will always be someone who doesn’t like your work – always at least one. It’s not their cup of tea. And that’s OK. I’ve learned to deal with that, knowing it’s inevitable with everything I write. That’s why I write for me, and my wife. If I write something and one or both of us don’t care for it, then I revise until I can solve the issue. If someone else doesn’t like it, well, I can’t know what he or she liked to begin with, so I don’t take it personally.
What do you want your audience to know about upcoming projects?
Much as I’ve struggled with the decision, ultimately, for my own sake, I won’t be publishing a book in 2017. I’ve done one book a year for the last three years, and while I’ve had a very (very) productive summer, I really do want to take time for myself, my family, and enjoy the accomplishment that I’ve had three books published (!!!). I want to work pushing what I have done rather than just concern myself with the next book and rush anything. Taking a year off from being on the publishing calendar will be a recharging of the batteries.
I will mention that there’re already two novels and another novella in the works for the years following – one of those novels is vastly different from anything I’ve done before, the other novel is a return to YA, and the novella is probably the saddest story I’ve ever written. Just have to stay tuned for more on those.