Tag: The Confusion of Languages


New Chapters Ahead…

February 23rd, 2019 — 8:02am

 


(This blog originally ran in a slightly different version on the MilSpoFineArtsNetwork blog on Friday, February 22)

1.     We hear that you went to the JAIPUR LITERARY FESTIVAL in India. Was this a work trip? How did you get involved? What was it like? Give us all the details.

Oh, this was pure fun! I have a friend here in the UAE who had been to the Jaipur Lit Fest in the past and kept asking me to go with her. This being my last year in Abu Dhabi and therefore the last time I would be just a quick jaunt from India, I finally said yes. And it was tremendous. I usually attend these sorts of events as part of my job—meaning I am there to be a part of a panel, to do a book reading, or in some way promote my own writing. So it was lovely to attend as a book lover, to be in the audience instead of on stage, to soak it all up without feeling the pressure to perform or be charming. I was amazed by the thousands of attendees– standing room only! Readings were held in a palace! It was incredible to see how revered writing is in India.

I had never been to India before, so that was an entire adventure of its own—seeing tourist sites, eating great food, exploring the textiles and art, soaking up the kindness and generosity of the people.

Christine chatting with a feisty Germane Gree

My traveling companion, Christine, has the heart of a backpacker, so we did everything on a budget. As in we shared a fifteen-dollar-a-night hotel room, slept in the same full-sized bed together, used bottled water to wash our faces and brush our teeth. This made me feel like a college kid with a Euro-rail pass.

*Our great driver & tour guide, Moin (rajasthanexpert.com)

It also made me grateful for all that I have. The young man who worked at our hotel had a small futon mattress he’d roll out each night and sleep on, right there in the freezing, tiny lobby. While America certainly has its issues, a couple of days spent in India reminded me of how much I take for granted every single day.

2.     We hear that you are moving back to the states this summer. How are you preparing for this transition?

Ah, yes, the great big, bad, move. We’ve been in Abu Dhabi for almost six years. Which is the longest we have every been anywhere as a family. Which is crazy. I have two daughters, ages eleven and six. Almost all of their memories involve life in Abu Dhabi. Their tender little American roots are actually Abu Dhabi roots—friends, school, their very idea of ‘home’ is this Arabian Gulf country. Of course, we have family in the states, cousins and aunts and uncles and grandparents that my girls adore, but our day to day life is here. My youngest will randomly burst into tears and beg us to stay. So that’s stressing us all out a little.

My daughters at the Louvre, Abu Dhabi. I know they will fearlessly jump into life at our next post. It’s the momma who is having difficulty with the latest leap…

We recently learned we are headed to Tampa, Florida, which is a completely new place for us. And while I’m excited to be back in the USA myself, I’m not looking forward to starting life from scratch. The housing, schools and dentists, the grocery stores and dance studios, the meeting and making of new friends. Finding an art, or, even better, a writing community of some kind. You all know what I’m taking about. Even after all of our military moves, I have a very fixed idea of ‘home:’ for me, it’s Highland Falls, a small town in Upstate New York where I was raised and where most of my immediate family still resides. I have always wanted to get back to that home, or at least get close.

It will be comforting to be in the same time zone as my parents and siblings, but I wish I still didn’t have to board a plane to see them. I know, I know, this is our military life. Frankly, after fifteen years of it, I’m tired. But I have a few more months to start excited. “Selling” a new life to the girls will make me see the opportunities too. And the more I learn about Tampa, the more people who tell me about their own fabulous Tampa experiences, the more excited I get.

3.     Do you have a plan for continuing to write while in transition? What is it?

Ouch. I haven’t thought that far ahead. I’m always trying to find more time to write, even under the best circumstances. And my very busy husband kindly tries to give me few hours each weekend to steal away and get work done. But I’m already seeing my writing schedule deteriorate as I try to figure out the move (actually, as my husband and I try to untangle the paperwork hell of getting our three cats out of the UAE. We’re talking four veterinarian appointments just this week alone).

Abu Dhabi

Writing, fortunately, is something I have been able to take with me and do almost anywhere. So I imagine I’ll be continue jotting down notes from airplanes and gas stations, and during the never-ending vet appointments. During the move, I might not be able to do my best work; I know I’ll be distracted and time will be fragmented, but it is still work. The words will accumulate, and that’s what a writer must do, write. When I am settled and have hours and hours ahead of me, I’ll fine-tune and rewrite and transform those words into something more than ink.

Research on the walls of my office…

I entered 2019 with the optimistic new year’s resolution of “writing every day.”  I’m in the early stage of a new novel, still doing a great deal of research, so even if the day is completely overwhelmed by kid activities or the usual mayhem life loves to throw at us all, if I delve into research, if I rework just a couple of pages of my work-in-progress, that counts as writing, and keeps me connected to the work. Even if it just means carrying one of my research books around with me (like when I attended the mass held by Pope Francis recently in Abu Dhabi. We had to get to the stadium hours in advance and, of course, I had one of my Libbie Custer memoirs in my bag. So when I waited an hour to use the restroom? I was reading. I was working! HA! Win/win, thank you Pope Francis!)

I never go anywhere– kid dance class, to see the Pope, horseback riding– without one these books in my bag.

This habit has helped keep the work alive for me day in and day out, from that particular moment in 1800’s history so different than my own, to the sound of my character’s voices. I recommend all of you out there who are writing to do the same, as best as you can, dip into the work in some way every single day, small or large, and you will see the difference.

4.     What’s next for you?

I’m throwing myself completely into this new novel. My first book, the collection of short stories, You Know When the Men Are Gone, is set in Fort Hood Texas during the deployment of an infantry brigade, circa 2006. I started writing it while living at Fort Hood, in between my husband’s deployments, and I tried to capture the different sort of experiences military families, both deployed soldiers and milspouses at home, were having. My novel, The Confusion of Languages, is set in the U.S embassy community in Amman, Jordan, during the Arab Spring, circa 2011. I started writing Confusion when we lived in Jordan, and finished it while we were living in Abu Dhabi. So again I was inspired by the present day world around me.

But my new novel is something very different. At least for me. It’s historical fiction, set in 1879, and it examines the fall out of the Battle of the Little Big Horn. Most of us vaguely remember that General Custer and two hundred of his men met their deaths at the hands of the largest gathering of American Plains Indians ever seen. But what surprised me was the military world of the Seventh Cavalry, stationed at Fort Lincoln, in Indian Territory. The officers had been together for years, yet there were these strange and bitter factions among them. And then there are the wives, from learned and pampered families back east, suddenly thrust into drafty, ill-made housing (hmm, that’s not necessary so different from today ;), who wait for weeks for a newspaper from “the states,” who put lead shot in the hems of their skirts to keep them from flying into their faces on windy days, who don’t see fresh produce for months at a time, who face drought, grasshopper plagues, prairie fires, Native American attacks.

My office desk– Marie Kondo, stay away!

For me, most fascinating of all is Libbie Custer, George Armstrong’s widow. She was this feisty little thing who was determined to justify her husband’s military career and get to the bottom of what really happened at the Battle of the Little Big Horn. She wrote articles and memoirs, collaborated on an autobiography of her husband, even helped instigate a military tribunal with the hopes it would decide that officers under Custer had disobeyed his orders, and it was their cowardice that led to the massacre. She is one heck of a military spouse. She was also a huge supporter of the arts—she had wanted to be an artist/fashioner designer until she met her ‘boy general’ during the Civil War, she wrote both fiction and non-fiction, and spent chunks of each year living in an artist colony in Upstate NY.

In death, as in life, Libbie wanted to be seen only in the shadow of her husband. But I know there is a lot more to her. General & Mrs. Custer’s graves at West Point Cemetery, NY

I had never heard of Libbie, her tenacity and dedication (she remained unmarried until her own death fifty-seven years after Custer’s). I never would have even imagined the likes of this military tribunal, or the intrigue and back-biting of the officers in the Seventh Calvary. This paired with the injustices the United States government was meting out to the Native American populations, and the entire chapter in our nation’s history just blows me away. Not to mention it is pretty amazing material for a novel!

So while I say that this is different material for me to work with, it does match up with themes I tend to write about. I like to explore life in small, insular military communities (like Fort Hood for my first book, embassy life abroad in my second, and life on a military outpost in the 1800s for my latest). The sometimes fraught dynamic between husbands and wives, friends and enemies. So there are familiar reverberations.

5.     Is there anything else that you would like to share with the readers?

Yes! Thank you for reading this! Thank you for every ‘like’ or ‘click’ or ‘share’ on behalf of myself and every other military spouse artist. It’s hard for us to have community since we move so often, and therefore all of this virtual support is so very, very important for us.

You guys are the best!

(* And if you are planning a trip to Jaipur, please contact Moin at rajasthanexpert.com, he is the loveliest, most trust-worthy guide and driver you could possibly find.)

Website at: www.siobhanfallon.com

Facebook at: www.facebook.com/SiobhanFallonAuthor

Twitter at : www.twitter.com/SiobhanMFallon

Insta at: www.instagram.com/siobhanfallonwriter/

The original blog can be found here:

Catching Up with Siobhan Fallon

 

Comment » | Uncategorized

Paper(Strikes)Back!

June 4th, 2018 — 5:50am


It’s time for the PAPERBACK release, my friends!

Updated cover, new author conversation, discussion guide, and excerpt from You Know When the Men Are Gone in the back materials. Hurray!

Events are currently being updated on my website, please check them out (Bethany Books on June 22 and One More Page in Virginia on June 25!)

I have an article about a day in my Jordan life that just ran in Stars and Stripes: 3 blondes in an ancient car in an ancient land. What could go wrong?

I also have a ‘My First Time’ short essay about writing, traveling, and attempting tasks that start hard but are worth every stressed and sweaty minute, on David Abram’s esteemed Quivering Pen blog.

If you’ve missed it, I made my own book trailer (yes, I know, not exactly my lane; you can stop laughing now). Here it is on YouTube.

A friend of mine from The New School writing program wrote an outstanding review of Confusion, here’s Jude Joseph Lovell’s book blog review: https://www.judejosephlovell.com/books

And I’ll be on Army Wives Radio doing an interview LIVE on Monday, August 13, 8:30 PM Eastern time.

Sorry to throw all of this information at you at once, can you tell I am chugging directly from a liter bottle of Diet Coke as I type???

Well, folks, I’m heading stateside in a couple of weeks. Hope to see some of you there!

Thank you, thank you, thank you for loving books.

Happy reading,

Siobhan

P.S. For those of you savvy enough to be on that hip young thing called “Instagram” or maybe the young ones call it “insta,”  I have recently tried my old hand at it. You can find me at @siobhanfallonwriter There’s a give-away going on at the moment so please pop on over before it finishes up on June 7, 2018.

P.S.S. The cat and the kids really, REALLY wants you to spread the word about The Confusion of Languages

Comment » | Uncategorized

Bit of this, Bahrain of that…

February 25th, 2018 — 3:28am

(A version of this guest blog post first appeared on Military Spouse Fine Arts Network, MilSpoFan, on February 13)

In terms of current writing, I have a few different projects I’m working on. I want to write about Abu Dhabi and have an idea for a story collection but, at the moment, it’s mostly just a jumble of ideas, notes in my journals, character sketches, snippets from real life I’d like to flesh out into fiction, but not much substance with plot or timeline yet. I’ve been finding it easier to throw myself into reading up on women who have been remembered as footnotes in the history of great men.

Right now I’m researching Libby Custer, wife of the doomed General (both pictured at the very bottom of this blog because I can’t figure out how to correctly add an image into the body of the text, which goes back to my cluelessness on all things social media, sheesh). Libby followed her husband wherever the Army sent him, even during the Civil War, and continued to travel after her husband’s death, writing books about him and giving speeches all over the country in an attempt to make sure he was remembered as a hero. That sort of determination and resourcefulness is pretty inspiring. I have to do lots of “research” still. Which really means I am having a delightful time procrastinating and being a promiscuous reader, which is lovely after having been under the whip of a deadline for my novel for so very long.

You can find more concrete examples of my work in the new anthology The Kiss: Intimacies from Writers, by Norton, edited by the great poet Brian Turner. I’ve read some of the selections and they are amazing, so if you are curious please pick up a copy at your local book store.

And the paperback of The Confusion of Languages, with a new cover, will be out on June 5, 2018! I’m hoping to hit a few bookstores on the east coast when I am home in the states this summer. Please ask your local bookstore to order copies and maybe have me stop by for a reading!

THANK YOU!!!

Libby and her husband.

2 comments » | Uncategorized

New cover for paperback release!

January 30th, 2018 — 3:26am

I’m very excited to reveal the new cover for PAPERBACK…

drum roll please….

Paperback release is JUNE 5, 2018!

The paperback is available for pre-order through all your trusty booksellers, from Amazon to B&N to your favorite indie book shop. Speaking of those book shops, it’d be wonderful if you could contact your local store and ask them to stock the paperback of The Confusion of Languages. And if that store of yours seems like the cozy type that hosts authors and fun reader events, please suggest that they get in touch with Putnam and see if I can do a reading there this summer. Paperback releases are usually much more low-key than hardcover releases, but, hey, it’s worth a try, and I love an excuse talk books…

For future events, or if you are just curious about where I have been lately, please take a look here.

Thank you!

2 comments » | Uncategorized

Valerie Trueblood’s Criminals

May 17th, 2017 — 11:41am

I love to read. But the older I get the more critical I am of words on the page, and the more willing I am to put a book down unfinished, in a way that my younger self, that (pre-childrearing) self, who thought she had endless time ahead, would never have dared do. Now I find myself impatient with other people’s words unless, well, the writing is amazing. Occasionally I come across a book that clutches me by the core and demands that not only must I read from beginning to end TWICE, but I must tell every other person who loves words to read it too. And the book that most recently possessed me so thoroughly was Valerie Trueblood’s Criminals.

No one writes like Trueblood. Her books (I have read her three story collections, as well as her novel) are not ‘easy’ reads. The tales are intense, complicated, sprawling, multi-layered. There are mentions of Frost and Whitman. There are times when I begin a story and feel as if I’m blinking at disparate puzzle pieces, but slowly, expertly, Trueblood gently guides those pieces together and the image/epiphany that snaps together is worth every ounce of close reading I had to do get there.

My favorite story in Criminals is “Skylab.” In thirty pages, Trueblood manages to do everything I tried to do in my three hundred page novel, The Confusion of Languages. It’s the story of Amy, a newlywed nurse who falls in love with a much older, married doctor. The two flee America together, leaving damaged families behind, and land in Malaysia, where everything, from stray dogs to bumble bees to random cans of hairspray, are not what they seem. Amy, suddenly unmoored from a capable life that gave her meaning, feels an unfathomable, Shakespearean guilt, and their love, which had seemed so vital and epic in the hospital where they had met and hatched their escape, is suddenly no match for the misery the affair has set into motion. And all along a satellite, the doomed Skylab, careens off course just as surely as Amy does, the trajectory marred and flawed, now dangerously flailing, falling, and the best possible outcome is that no one will be killed by its plummet.

Criminals is full of stories about unexpected passions, of people trying to do the right thing and failing again and again, of heart break and insecurity, of flaws and attempts at redemption. In other words, it’s about every person you’ve ever known. When I read Valerie Trueblood, I want to write better, wiser, more resonate fiction. And in some strange way but beautiful way, when I read Valerie Trueblood, I also want to be a better, wiser, more resonate human being.


In typical Siobhan-smitten fashion, I chose Valerie Trueblood’s Criminals for our most recent embassy book club, hosted at my home (I didn’t think to take the photo above until most of the book club had already left, darn it!). The night was fantastic, my husband, KC, who’s a sharp reader, said it was the best book club discussion we’d ever had. It also gave us a great opportunity to email a few questions to Trueblood, who was so lovely to provide these indepth replies:

1. Would you mind giving us a little biographical information? Did you ever live abroad, especially in a Muslim majority country, similar to Amy’s time in Malaysia in Skylab? And the details in Astride are so amazingly specific (the typewriter tape!), did you intern at the Pentagon in the sixties? If so, how did those experiences inform your stories, and if not, how did you research and develop such settings and details?

My father grew up in a farm family, but became a geographer with an Asian specialty (Burma) and taught for several years at the University of Rangoon. There he met my mother, a Yorkshire missionary’s daughter who was teaching zoology. She was known thereabouts for her beauty and their story was the first romance I heard and loved. They left Burma when WWII began, and he went to work for Army intelligence in D.C., commuting fifty miles from our rural home in Virginia. I was one of their four children, and had the long happy childhood people say does not produce writers.

I can honestly say I always wanted to write stories. I didn’t even want to; I was more or less at the mercy of the scenes populating my mind, and hijacking it in grade school once I got there. I would sneak off to tell them or act them out aloud when I thought I was alone—a family joke, as it wasn’t easy to be alone in a family that size. We had no TV (my English mother thought it was an American notion and would go away), but stories were everywhere in that part of the South, in all the talk in stores, in the sermons, coming over the P.A. system in high school, in visits from the doctor and the milkman, the vet and the occasional drifter coming down the B&O railroad tracks needing food. Everybody had stories. And there was the glorious radio with its serials and soaps—X minus 1, Helen Trent, Sergeant Preston, The Shadow.

Do I write anything resembling these things? No. But I do hear the voices of Virginia always, and I remember the stories, the gentle ones told to instruct us but more particularly those of disaster—barns afire, ordeals of weather & crops, rogue animals who jumped gates or trampled their owners, murders, revenges taken, children sledding into cars. I’m sure they deepened my interest in how people cope with what happens rather than how they cause what happens.

I attended the county high school with a superb Latin teacher, Mrs. Lillian Bridges, who made me love the Aeneid and go off to college planning to major in Classics. At Brown I fell under the spell of the avant-garde novelist John Hawkes. Writing classes were a rarity then, and his was an ordeal by fire for the provincial I was. Why he encouraged me I don’t know. Then John Berryman had a year there as visiting professor, and his blazing mind was a guide for my own stumbles into language.

I did intern in the Pentagon; I did live with my husband in Malaysia when he taught at the Universiti Malaya. My circumstances weren’t those of the characters in my stories, and never have been, although no one can write fiction scrubbed of what’s been seen, known, experienced and felt in her/his own life.

2. There is a feeling of Hemingway in your stories – the prose and especially the dialogue is very lean and makes the reader work. Do you have a deliberate process that you use to cut and trim your stories or do you write the stories as they generally appear on the page?

I’m chuckling at the mention of Hemingway, though the Nick Adams stories meant a lot to me, and the novels were what we read in American lit classes back then along with Fitzgerald and the newcomer Flannery O’Connor. The leanness in my stories is probably due to cutting rather than to luck with a draft or not having drafts at all. I have them and they go on changing for years. That can be good or bad!

I do love dialogue, what people really say, and I hurry to get it written down when I hear it. The country voice in particular is music to me, from any region of the U.S., and it will well up in my own speech I’m told. Like many writers I’m an awful eavesdropper. I love the things people say in cafes and gas stations and at my son’s gigs in dive bars, but also what they say—we say—when we are at the extremes of emotion in our yards and kitchens and bedrooms, or when we’re hopeless and trying to find a truthful answer or an extenuating lie.

3. Most of these stories seem to be from the point of view of women. Not to say that they paint men in a bad light, since it’s the women who often stir up the trouble, but we have less insight into the male mind. Did you deliberately try to write stories from the female point of view?
You’re right that I more often write in the voice of or from the perspective of a female character, but I do have quite a number of stories (not all yet published) from the point of view of a male, and I find that no matter what the difficulties are, my female characters are usually very sympathetic to the male. I think the human predicament is just that, and even as a feminist I would not want to weigh the sufferings of one sex against those of the other. In CRIMINALS, the stories “His Rank,” “You Would Be Good” and “The War Poem” take place in the sore hearts of men.

In every other story in that book (I think, I hope) the problems of the males, including the young boy as well as the bodyguard in “Sleepover,” are close to the center of the story and bring out a fierce, if frustrated, tenderness in the female protagonist. In “Astride,” the Ukrainian Orlenko isn’t just a foil for the maturing process of two American girls, but the source and victim of the story’s action. In “Skylab” the young woman endures and externalizes all the pain of her husband’s acts and choices as well as her own. But that’s just how I see it; I’m sure there are other interpretations, and I’d love to hear them. It will be enlightening and helpful to me to hear how readers react to this question and to these characters!

Cork International Short Story Festival, 2011. Patrick Cotter, poet & festival organizer, Valerie Trueblood, and me, clearly thrilled to meet one of America's finest short story writers

(For more on Cork International Short Story festival, see my blog from September 2011: http://siobhanfallon.com/blog/?m=201109)

3 comments » | Uncategorized

Back to top