Hi guys! Today, I’m celebrating my school’s homecoming! Roll Red Roll! Man, it’s pretty sad that this is my senior year homecoming–and my last homecoming as a high school student. I’m going to be celebrating as I cheer on my school at tonight’s football game. Roll Red Roll! Mark Falkin is here on the blog to talk about his latest book The Late Bloomer, which releases on October 16th from California Coldblood. It sounds really chilling and intriguing, so I hope you enjoy this interview and check out Mark’s book!
About the Book
Imagine THE STAND told with the intimacy of THIRTEEN REASONS WHY.
A keening wail heralded the end of the world.
It came from everywhere. After it passed, most of the world’s population was gone—either taken by a bizarre affliction or their own hand—leaving behind a stunned and altered race controlled by a shadowy superintelligence.
Opposing this threat are the late bloomers—teens for whom puberty was delayed.
Within these pages lies the transcript of a recording made by one of those late bloomers. His name’s Kevin March. When the apocalypse hit, he was about to get kicked out of his high school marching band for smoking pot. Kevin’s bright, wise beyond his years, and he just might be meant for something big in the new world order—if he can survive it.
Going on the run to find his little brother, Kevin teams up with his biggest crush, Kodie, and his best friend, Bass. The trio strike out across Texas in search of food, shelter, and answers.
Mark Falkin, bestselling author of Contract City, returns with a young adult thriller that combines shades of Lovecraft, Salinger, and Twain, all of it told in Kevin’s unforgettable voice.
The Late Bloomer releases from California Coldblood on October 16th. Pre-order it today!
1. Why do you love writing? When did you first have a love for writing, and how was it formed?
What Bernard Malamud said: I’d be too moved to say. But to try to say: It’s a compulsion. Naively, I think maybe it’s an attempt to explain life to myself. I don’t get any real solid answers, but sometimes I feel maybe I’ve got it cornered, this explanation.
In third and fourth grade I would make these holiday themed puzzle books for my classmates. I’d create this hand drawn book and ask my Dad to run off copies at work which he dutifully did, having his secretary do it. She stapled them too. The teacher was flummoxed and thrilled at my self-aggrandizing precociousness, helping me hand them out at home room around Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, Valentine’s Day, and Easter. They were mini versions of those Highlights kids’ magazines and they uniformly contained a word search, a crossword, a maze you solved with your finger or pencil, hidden pictures, and flash fiction. Really flash—“I saw Santa in my living room on Christmas Eve and he’s sure fat alright.” The looks on my classmates’ faces trying to solve my puzzles, read my little story… oh, I was hooked then. Orwell wrote of the sheer egoism of the writer. I felt that glory in Third Grade.
Skip to high school and I found myself doodling epigrams in the margins of whatever we were doing in AP English class. These later bloomed into bad poetry. I did the bad poetry thing off and on through college and law school. In law school I thought I could do what Grisham did and write a novel my first year, that blistering 1L year. Um, no, I didn’t pull that off, but I did start a novel that I published ten years later.
2. What are your favorite books, genres, and authors? Which ones have impacted you and your writing style the most?
I can longlist some writers who combined form my lodestar: Stewart O’Nan, Daniel Woodrell, Douglas Coupland, Stephen King, Karen Russell, Barker, Palahniuk, Lethem, DFW, Ellis, Proulx, McCarthy, McGuane, William Gibson, Bradbury, Updike, Capote, Oates, TC Boyle, Sedaris. Steve Martin’s Cruel Shoes. Oh and Vonnegut, Kerouac, and the insufferable personality that is Hunter S. Thompson.
I cannot say who’s the most impactful, per se. I just know that these writers formed me.
Lately: Tommy Orange inspires me. Merritt Tierce inspires me. Emil Ferris inspires me. Billy Collins inspires me. Joan Didion inspires me. Kate Tempest inspires me.
3. What do you do when you’re not writing? Is writing a part-time or full-time job?
I’m a literary agent and erstwhile/recovering music and IP attorney. I wish writing was full-time, but then I’d miss out on my clients’, and clients-to-be, exciting new work.
4. Your upcoming YA dystopian novel The Late Bloomer chronicles one teen’s journey when a cataclysm strikes Earth, but it’s unlike any apocalypse seen in fiction. What inspired this end-of-the-world scenario? In your opinion, how does your novel stand out from other books in the apocalyptic/dystopian genre?
It’s an apocalyptic/postapocalyptic novel, not dystopian, and it’s not straight YA either. It’s a crossover novel. That’s not me saying that; that’s pro readers and other writers saying that, so.
Ultimately, I love the genre. What inspired me was that I wanted to write a horror novel that was unlike anything else out there and that was the scariest thing I could think of and what makes it scary isn’t just a set piece here, a set piece there, but something that holistically makes you shudder, making you feel something deeper than just simple fear but rather a resonating poignancy through the pathos. What makes this story unique is that it avoids the well-worn tropes. There are no zombies, viruses or virals, no doomsday asteroid, no aliens, no environmental cataclysm, no nuclear holocaust.
As far as direct inspiration, the three simultaneous sparks were these: There’s a line in Lord of the Flies that goes You knew, didn’t you? I’m part of you? Close, close, close! I’m the reason why it’s no go? Why things are what they are? and a little supernova exploded in my mind and I probably said behind clenched teeth in public “that’s it!” The book’s working title was No Go for a long time and was even initially pitched with that title. There’s that and there’s a certain work of fiction that I can’t disclose for spoilage reasons; the way it made, still makes, me feel . . . I approached this book at the outset from the standpoint of wanting to make the reader feel like I did reading that work. And then there’s this: a few people reading might remember these emails I used to send out during October years ago, I think 1998 through 2003. They were these epistolary little stories that came in bi-weekly installments that I called the Chronicles of Spooky Month which over the years got longer, less funny and more scary. In maybe 2012 I attempted to take a run at it again for fun and as a palette cleanser. I wrote a couple thousand words and put it away, never sending anything out. This was the impetus for The Late Bloomer. This book really is an all-grows-up, exploded version of that. Pure fun. Labor of love.
5. As a literary agent with a lot of experience in the publishing industry, what is your stance on the dystopia market as a whole? Is it “dead” and over-saturated, or is it brimming with innovative ideas?
My prior novel, Contract City, was a near-future dystopian novel centering on a young documentary filmmaker in Tulsa, Oklahoma, so I love the genre as long as the narrative and writing is fresh and makes me sit up and go wow. As an agent, I don’t see much of that right now. It’s a lot of retreads and uninspired ideas. It’s not dead, it’s just resting. A great book is a great book. The next inflection point in YA dystopian fiction is out there being written right now. Ignore the naysayers. “They” said the same thing about zombies before The Walking Dead premiered on television and zombies were supposedly dead when World War Z was released as a film. It’s a bad joke, but zombies (and vampires) don’t ever die. Ever. You can shoot ‘em in the head and stake their hearts. They come back.
6. Do you see yourself in your main character Kevin? If so, what are some personality traits or personal experiences and struggles that you share with him?
I share some feelings and opinions with Kevin but I share them with Kodie and Bass too. It’s not entirely inaccurate to say that those three may be the fictive me, the homo fictus me split into parts. But Kevin…yeah, he’s an avatar. He’s kinda my hero. Kevin’s a child of divorce, so I don’t share that with him, but I do share Kevin’s mourning for his parents as both of mine died young and long ago now.
7. Your novel comprises of audio transcripts that Kevin recorded as he journeys through this apocalyptic world. Could you describe to us your process in writing this format? What were some of the benefits and challenges that you encountered during drafting and revising?
The process in writing was no different than anything else I’ve written but because it’s so literally voice driven, I learned how to tell a story in a highly conversational and informal way. Kevin speaks to his dear reader. I speak to my dear reader. Avoiding spoilers here, so I’ll sound vague I’m sure, one stout challenge was depicting present-tense events in a way that was readable and affecting.
8. Since The Late Bloomer releases before Halloween, what are some of your favorite spooky stories (books, movies, and TV shows) that have scared you to death? What do you love most about this eerie holiday?
It publishes October 16th. The narrative begins right before Halloween.
I listed some authors above. Clive Barker’s Books of Blood, especially Pig Blood Blues and In the Hills, the Cities, curdle the blood and excite the literary senses. Lovecraft’s short story Pickman’s Model I try to read every year. I tend to revisit Shirley Jackson’s stories, Ambrose Bierce’s The Damned Thing, Edward Gorey’s The Gashlycrumb Tinies, Bradbury’s The October Country. Dan Chaon’s novel Ill Will has its tenterhooks in my psyche, as does House of Leaves by Mark Danielewski. Thumbing Dracula usually happens as Halloween approaches. I love the scene where the old man remarks on the listing ship casting about on the horizon—“see she’s knocking about in the queerest way.” And I do love horror films. My ex-neighbor and I have a long-running annual Halloween film festival going (from Fritz Lang to Lynch to Polanski). I don’t bother with the patently stupid ones, and I don’t need to explain which ones those are. Some perennial favorites: Jaws, Alien, Ju-on, American Werewolf in London, Psycho, The Blair Witch Project, Halloween (’78), The Shining, Night of the Living Dead (’68), The Birds.
What I love about the holiday is the whole inexpressible autumnal thing—the entire season which crescendos on Halloween and mellows on Thanksgiving. There’s a romance and excitement to the season that’s inarticulable. Halloween has so many ancient antecedents and reasons for being. The celebration of the life represented in the new harvest; the mocking middle finger given to Death and the deathly winter it will bring.
9. Are you a plotter or a pantser? Did you ever surprise yourself as you drafted and revised your book?
I’m a pantser who creates a rolling, informal outline as I get further into a book. I’ve always known how my books end—even if vaguely, aesthetically only sometimes—but I’m always surprised at how I got there. That discovery is the whole point.
10. How has your career as a literary agent influenced you as an author? What are some of the most important lessons about the writing and publishing process that you’ve learned from working as an agent?
Being an agent has forced me to see how tired and dull your story and the way you’re executing it can be. The agent in me slaps me around a little and says, hey, that really sucks and nobody is going to want to read that and nobody is going to want to publish that. The writer in me oftentimes tells the agent to shut up, leave me alone, go have a power lunch with somebody important, go make some calls, go read the trades, and let me think.
I’ve learned too much to say here but I will say that the agent in me sees and understands in a way everyday readers cannot just how impossibly unlikely it is to get published at all. It’s so much work to write a novel and it’s also so extremely competitive out there. It’s an old saw but one that bears repeating—you really do have to love writing for the sake of it because to do so assuming anything other than obscurity is folly.
I’ve learned that books can sell in a few days and I’ve learned that it may take a year. If I believe in a book, and I don’t take on ones I don’t believe in, I just keep plugging until I get a yes. It’s heartbreaking when nothing pans out.
11. What could we expect from you in the future? Are there any secrets you would like to share?
I plan on writing more books, fiction for now. I want to work on some more short stories and perhaps some pieces for magazines. I’m working on something now that’s more of an adult literary novel—fair to say it’s a dramedy—which has the impetus of a personal mystery.
12. Before you go, would you like to share any advice you have to any aspiring authors or writers?
There’s no muse, guys and gals. Just set a word count goal and sit down and write not what you know but what you must know, what you’ve got to know. Yes, every day, until it hurts and then write through that until it sings. There’s a funky physical high that comes with writing. I lose time and feel an aesthetic bliss. Maybe it’s endorphins? Whatever it is, I’m a junky for it. Write on those days you don’t feel like it. When you’ve got a cold, when you’re stressed about your day job, when your personal life is FUBAR, when you’re really hungover and just don’t wanna and you petulantly stamp your feet expressing same. Do that so many times that you can’t even begin to count how many and then you’re starting to become a writer, whether the IRS recognizes you as such or not. You are.
Thank you so much, Mark, for coming onto the blog! It’s so great having you!
About the Author
Mark Falkin is the author of the novels Days of Grace and Contract City, which was nominated for the Whiting, Shirley Jackson, Alex, Morris, Edgar, PEN/Bingham, PEN/Hemingway, LA Times, Anisfield-Wolf, and Flaherty-Dunnan awards. Though he remains a card-carrying member of the Texas Bar, he is a literary agent by day and oftentimes by night. He lives with his wife and daughters in Austin, Texas.
“It is only when we truly know and understand that we have a limited time on Earth and that we have no way of knowing when our time is up that we will begin to live each day to the fullest, as if it were the only one we had.” — Elisabeth Kubler-Ross
Leave a comment below or follow me on one of my social media pages to chat!