An Interview With Author Joseph Falank
by Kat Mattingly
Joseph Falank’s Disconnected is a beautifully detailed study of parental and spousal love placed alongside a suspenseful page-turning plot. As an expert wordsmith, Mr. Falank evokes rich emotion in this impactful novella.
Mr. Falank masterfully covers a gauntlet of deep-rooted fears and vulnerabilities we all face, along with the mind-numbing struggles of a stress-filled life that can hinder our ability to focus on what matters most… nurturing our children and communicating with our partners. The well-penned tale is not without comic relief and infectious moments of pure joy when experiencing this family’s very human, and hugely relatable behavior while on a vacation they will never forget… or wish to repeat!
Recently, I asked Joe some questions about his latest release from Winter Goose Publishing, which I had the privilege to read before it’s upcoming debut with the public.
Question: First, why this story? What made you feel this was the next story to tell?
Answer: Originally Disconnected wasn’t the next story in my canon. Since March of 2017 I’ve been working on a novel—one I had hoped to have been published already, back in the spring of 2018—but three drafts, then a complete rewrite with four drafts of its own later and I was desperate to work on something new, something fresh—something that got me excited about writing again. Not that I wasn’t loving the novel, but I’ve been ready to move on for a while. And this story came to me all at once—beginning, middle, end, who the characters were, and what their struggles were going to be. I didn’t know if this one would be a novella or a novel when I started, but everything else was crystal clear in my head, and came out white-hot on the page and so much faster than anything else I’ve ever written. Hopefully that’s a good thing in the end.
Question: Everything about this amusingly detailed story you’ve written feels a lot like you’ve lived it, or at least the normal, everyday aspects of it. What was your inspiration for the novella?
Answer: This is where the lines of what’s real and what’s fiction begin to blur a bit. The Price family taking an “unplugged” vacation to a remote house in the Adirondacks is what my family did over Memorial Day weekend last spring. I did not have this story in mind when we traveled to the house we stayed in, but when we left, I had it all. It came to me in the middle of our overnight when I woke up and realized—with this dreadful feeling—just how vulnerable we were being out in the middle of nowhere with no cell service. If something truly terrible happened, what were we going to do? I couldn’t sleep with that question—that fear—making so much noise in my head.
Question: I am inclined to believe that you will periodically have a story bubble up and out of you every few years regarding your growing family, especially since you are so tuned-in to your children, and your lovely wife. I hope this is the case, because it’s so much fun to read your very detailed observations about ordinary behaviors of kids at certain ages. It’s equally interesting to read about the very real struggles parents face while trying to maneuver through their daily routines. I love how your humor absolutely elevates everything a notch! Do you struggle with where to use humor and where to dial it back?
Answer: In my ordinary life, I really try to pay attention to the things going on around me—when something unique, unusual, or funny pops up, I make a mental note—maybe I’ll add it to a future story. As has been the case with my previous three books, I love to infuse some nuggets of my real life because it makes the books more authentic, more personal. I try to make the stories I tell these secret little time capsules of where I was, what I was thinking, and what I was going through at the time they were written. The stories aren’t based on my life in anyway, but there are bits of information tossed in that reference beats of my life.
As for the use of humor this time around, I felt that was something, an element of myself, I really wanted to bring to the forefront and see elevated on the page. My previous three books have bits of humor, but they’re sprinkled in and kept mostly in the background of the drama. This time I really wanted to enjoy the interactions between the characters, and I feel the humor helps us understand and feel their connection. Because the story leans into some pretty dark territory, the natural humor that comes from the experiences of being a parent, from being someone who is quick-witted, and also the children—the awkward things they say or do without a filter (and it really stems out of their honesty)—would make the story more genuine, and also allow for a greater release of the mounting tension. There were a few times I dialed back the humor, preferring to use it at unexpected times, times when it felt most honest, and not wanting it to overshadow but enhance the more dramatic moments.
With each book, I think I’ll always have something to say about marriage and parenthood. The life of a married couple, and a married couple with kids, is especially unique and changes frequently, and I find that fascinating to explore through storytelling. I like to imagine scenarios for my stories that I think almost every married couple can relate in some way.
Question: Have you thought about whether or not it will be difficult to have certain aspects of your life pretty much out there for everyone to see, considering how everyone knows your family is the exact ages of this family in the story? Even though we can never be sure what is true and what is your imagination, everyone who knows you, or reads about you, will be wondering what is made up and what isn’t. (Other than the obvious.)
Answer: I know the challenge will always exist for readers (especially those that know me even from a distance) to separate the author from the story being told. I can’t tell you how many times a reader has mentioned a place or an event from a previous story that they’ve recognized as something pulled out of my life, no matter how insignificant. The problem then comes in the assumption that nearly everything else in the story is based in truth. I know I didn’t help matters this time around by using a setting my family and I really visited with characters who nearly mirror us. But, in the end, it’s fiction. I made it up. It’s fiction that was inspired by some reality, but still fiction. There’s only so much of my own life I am willing to put into a book. If I put it out there, I’m comfortable with you knowing about it. My own life, though, isn’t nearly as exciting as my characters’, and I’m perfectly OK with that.
I do anticipate readers of this story (who know me) wondering if my wife and I were going through similar marital stresses as the Prices. The answer is no (whether readers believe it or not is up to them). The truth is that my protagonists were going through those issues because having a family without any kind of internal struggle wouldn’t be relatable and wouldn’t be interesting to follow along on this adventure, especially when everything in their world goes to hell. We spend a long time getting to know the Prices before trouble happens. If they’re perfect then we don’t care about them, in which then I ask: why invest the time to read about them? If they’re flawed from the start, then we recognize them as being like us and we’re more apt to care and root for them and hope they can reconcile. The title really says it all—the Prices are disconnected not just in terms of their electronic devices but also each other.
Question: When do you find time to write— do you prefer early morning, late at night— do you need a quiet place and lots of coffee—- or vodka?
Answer: Writing time is a little harder to come by right now (February 2020…the ass crack of winter). I love to write in the mornings, but only weekend mornings are doable (and with two kiddos, it’s hard not to take full advantage of sleeping in when it happens). If I’m feeling up to it, I’ll write during my son’s nap, or when my wife goes to the grocery store. Probably the most consistent writing time is certain evenings of the week when my wife is doing some of her own work. I do have a desk in the office, but I usually set myself up at the dining room table, pop in some earbuds, and listen to a full soundtrack (I’m particularly into the scores for the films Glass, The Village, and A Monster Calls) while I write. The most productive period for me is summertime when I have off with the kids.
When I write I usually have a Coke (the new Cinnamon Coke is amazing) or a glass of iced tea. Sometimes I’ll have an iced coffee—depends on when I’m writing.
Question: Tell me about this novel you’ve been penning for awhile- will you be finishing it soon? Do you have some ideas brewing for other novels? Will it encompass your attention to detail and your lovely humor?
Answer: For the past couple of years I’ve been working on a novel called Renewal(it’s gone through a few title changes, but this one’s stuck). The story is about a man who is estranged from his family but gets an urgent message about his father’s failing health and a plea from his brother to return home. This man, his name is Malcolm, is reluctant, but ultimately makes the trip back to his hometown and the house he grew up in. Malcolm’s father is in the end stages of Alzheimer’s so making amends is difficult because Malcolm never knows what his father will remember, and he doesn’t know what behaviors or moods to expect. The novel is really about a son growing up and taking the place of his father as a caregiver to the person who raised him. It’s about accepting responsibilities, accepting mistakes, and moving on.
Currently I’m doing some light edits on a pass through the manuscript because I haven’t looked at it in a while. My original plan was to have it out in 2018 but that didn’t happen. I became frustrated and unsatisfied with the (then third draft of the) manuscript, so I scrapped it, rewrote it from scratch, and planned to farm it out to agents, but I’m at the point where I don’t know if I can hold onto it for another two years while submitting. I need to let this one go and move on. I love the story, think it’s some of my best work so far, but I am becoming impatient with it and want others to love it too. I feel the longer I hold onto this story, the more I’ll continue to tinker with it (because I’m a notorious tinkerer). My hope is to turn the manuscript over to Winter Goose in the next few months and finally get it into the hands of readers who have been hearing me blabber on and on about it all these years.
Ideas are something I have aplenty. I keep legal pads on a shelf on my desk that are littered with notes and outlines for future novels. Right now there are four pads filled out with complete plots and character arcs and bios. I’m leaning towards two of the ideas to write a first draft of later this spring and over the summer. The first is a story about a retired superhero dealing with a heavy loss and entering therapy (that one’s called Guardian), and the second is a coming-of-age YA about a girl facing her last summer of freedom before going off to college (that one’s titled Among the Lights and Sounds of the Carousel). Time will tell which one I side with once Renewalis finished.
Question: I’m also wondering—— who are your favorite authors? What are the most impactful books you’ve read in the last couple years and what was it that resonated with you? I know I’m influenced by the authors I admire and certain books I’ve read because of specific things that matter to me when reading or writing a novel.
Answer: My favorite authors are Stephen King, Paul Tremblay, Patrick Ness, Angie Thomas, and Laurie Halse Anderson. Their books are Day One purchases for me. Ness’s A Monster Callsis my absolute favorite book (the film version is just as heartbreaking and fantastic). The last couple of years I’ve been expanding my reading tastes and have come across some incredible novels—An American Marriage (Tayari Jones), The Music Shop(Rachel Joyce), The Wonder of All Things(Jason Mott), and The Whisper Man(Alex North), to name a few. What resonated with me through each of the books I mentioned is the authors know how to tell a good, clean story—nothing too complicated. They also know how to instill doubt in the readers that maybe things aren’t going to end the way we would like them to. Their characters feel real and relatable, their anguish and longing feels like our own. Tremblay, King, and North are masters at creating unease and suspense. They know how to reveal just enough and not too much. I, too, am influenced by authors I admire, and can only hope to be as effective a writer as they are. Reading them—and any other book I fall in love with—inspires me to get right back to work on my own.
Question: Finally, who have your mentors been along the way?
Answer: This is a tough one. To be perfectly honest…I’m not sure I’ve ever had a mentor (certainly no one I’ve ever intentionally spent time with for that purpose). In terms of being a storyteller, I’ve learned from the authors I’ve read, and followed my instincts—telling the kind of stories I want to tell. Stories that thrill me, move me, and make me wonder. Would I love for a writer to take me under their wing and fill me up with more knowledge? Absolutely! But I’m also not the type to seek someone out.
When I was in high school and college there were a few teachers and professors who gave me confidence in my writing and encouraged me—some who told me, “go, get published”—and I think of them often when I doubt myself. But none of them ever took me under their wing.
As a person, though…I’d say I’ve had two mentors.
For ten years I performed in a comedy improv group called “The Puzzled Players” and a lifelong friend I made in that group is a man named John Carey. Outside of our shows and weekly workshops, John and I would spend hours and hours just talking about life—our dreams, our hopes, our experiences. Now that I’m doing the family thing, and John’s involved in some film and television projects, our paths don’t cross as often, but when they do, we pick right back up where we left off. I think if anyone was ever a mentor to me as I came into my own and figured things out, John would be it. He’s supported me in every venture I’ve undertaken.
The other would be my wife. She really is the voice of my conscience. I’ve watched her follow a dream and accomplish it. I’ve seen her strength, persistence, passion, and her bravery and her vulnerability. I was right there beside her both times our kiddos were born and witnessed all she had to endure. I was there when she went back to school to earn her administrative degree. I’ve watched her deal with incredibly difficult decisions on almost a daily basis. How she handles herself so professionally, how loving and caring she is with our children and her students, how she balances everything between the vast spectrum of life and work with unshakable effort, how she manages her staff through any number of difficulties they’re experiencing…I am always in awe and impressed. I look to my wife for approval and advice because I admire the person she is and what she’s made of herself. She’s the only one I care about disappointing. The place she has gotten herself to is the level I am striving for myself.