Tell Me Something I Don’t Know: The Falling (Chapter One.1)

So let’s get into this. The Falling: Chapter One.

PART I: The Letter

First off, you’ll notice I’ve not only divided the book into chapters but into parts as well. There are five parts to The Falling, and the titles of each are homages to my favorite TV series: Seinfeld. In Seinfeld, each episode had very minimalist titles (“The Voice”, “The Opposite”, “The Contest”, etc) and I’ve laid out my titles similarly. In fact, two of these coincide directly to Seinfeld episodes: Part I: The Letter and Part III: The Revenge.

Chapter One: Tom’s Restaurant – Morningside Heights

An even more obvious Seinfeld homage. Tom’s Restaurant is, of course, the stand-in for Monk’s Coffee Shop. An exterior shot of Tom’s in New York was used in the show, with the interior shots coming from a sound stage in LA. Morningside Heights is one of my absolute favorite NY neighborhoods and once I got to know my main character Tommy a bit more there was no better place to have his favorite diner be situated. In fact, the working title for The Falling was originally TOM’S. I liked it; it was short and catchy. But the more I looked at as a title it the stranger it seemed. I had never actually been in the restaurant but when a couple of my friends were headed to NY I’d asked them to snap some photos inside so I could use them as reference, which they did. Thanks Mike and LeeAnn!

2004.

My decision to set the story in 2004 came about because of a few reasons. I wanted the novel to feel timeless, and the best way to do that is to have it take place at a point in the past. I don’t know why that is exactly, but I’d heard it said somewhere before. Also, a key chapter was to take place as a flashback, back to September 11th, 2001. I realized there had been – and still are – plenty of novels cashing in on the emotional events of 9/11, and I really wanted to avoid it, but the further my story went the more I knew it had to be there. Because of the nature of The Falling’s timeline following that day October, 2004 was to be the right moment for my story to take place.

I’ve known Thomas Mueller long enough to know most everything about him, except perhaps the most important thing of all. I watched Tommy that morning as he took a bite out of the big apple.

My narrator, as mentioned in a previous post, is meant to be the great city itself: New York City. The City watches over all of its inhabitants, following their ups and downs, good moments and bad. And even though readers will not explicitly know for sure who the narrator is, there is a feeling of comfort with having The City tell the story, as opposed to a traditional 3rd-person narration. The “most important thing of all” is the twist in the novel, which doesn’t reveal itself until Chapter 25 (Tommy and his identical twin brother were accidentally mixed up as babies, so he is not actually “Tommy.” Literally losing his own identity comes as a major blow to the character later). “…as he took a bite out of the big apple” is an obvious metaphor for Tommy’s self-perceived conquering of the city.

The CKY Grocery on Amsterdam had giant, bright red Spartan apples every day of the year.

The fictitious Morningside Heights grocery store’s name comes from the name of a local grocery store I grew up down the street from. I don’t know what CKY ever stood for – and the place has since been demolished in favor of townhouses – but I had fond enough memories of walking there as a kid that I chose to use the name here.

He loved the four seasons, although autumn was easily the most anticipated. To Tommy, Central Park’s bright, almost copper hues in the fall were the epitome of orange. He loved the unique perfume of deli meats and subway steam. He loved the rain with such verve that every time it so much as drizzled, he would turn to the sky so he could feel the drops sprinkle onto his teeth. Because every raindrop that hit him had already experienced that much-envied journey from the tips of the skyscrapers all the way down to the cracked and foot-stamped sidewalks.

This was one of the very first paragraphs I wrote for The Falling. And using words like epitome and verve really helped set the tone and solidify the type of language I would use for the rest of the book. Even though this was to be my second novel I really didn’t feel like the use of language was too exciting in my first book. The Falling changed the way I write, and I still get that fuzzy feeling when I read excerpts from it. I’m proud of it and of the word choices that helped make the novel what it is. “the unique perfume of deli meats and subway steam” is one of my favorite lines from the whole book.

Everything was perfect in the city, and as long as things remained the way he wanted them to, Tommy would continue to love the city forever.

This line is very obviously the crux of the story. It’s clear that things are bound to change, but could Tommy possibly ever fall out of love with his city?

Finding the letter in the mailbox was another reason for me setting the story in 2004. We still received letters from people in 2004! It almost seems too ancient a concept now. But having Tommy simply open up an email from Patrick rather than a letter felt too lifeless; less dramatic.

“You guys are not going to believe this,” Tommy said as he removed his coat and scarf. He sat down next to Kate and across from Jesse, placing the still not-quite-yet-brown apple core onto Kate’s empty plate. She hated that about him, how he’d walk into the coffee shop everyday as though he owned the place.
“Not now Tommy,” Kate interrupted. “Jess was just about to spill the details of his date last night.”
Jesse struggled, but managed his best ear-to-ear smile. Still, Jesse’s fake smiles were far more beautiful than most of the city’s genuine ones.

Immediately we are introduced to the three main characters: Tommy, Kate and Jesse. And I waste no time in having the readers really get to know them at their most basic. In three quick paragraphs we get a lot of information: Tommy is controlling and always assumes whatever thoughts are on his mind trumps whatever his friends might be discussing; Kate is brash, quick to voice her opinion and never afraid to tell someone to shut up; Jesse is a bit more socially awkward, but there’s no doubt he has a big heart and has a hard time disguising his feelings.

“Dinner?” [Kate] asked, with one of her infamous one-word questions. Kate didn’t like to waste words, unless of course it was to tell someone how disappointed she was in them.

The one-word question was intended to be something that resurfaced in varying forms throughout the book. As it happened, I probably only used it a couple more times. Partly due to me finding the right situation for it hard to nail down; Kate simply had too much to say most of time. She’s a chatty one. Still, I think it’s still an interesting character trait and the line above about not wasting words was too perfect to remove. It’s true that writers do find it exceptionally hard to cut their favorite lines sometimes.

Jesse sprinkled two packets of sugar into his steaming drink. He focused on the granules as they plopped in one by one. It was almost as though he was attempting to count each single glittering speck. The tiniest droplet of coffee arced from the cup to the letter on the tabletop. Observant as ever, Tommy was the only one who noticed. He rubbed the globule off with the back of his hand.

Coffee plays a big part in the book too; if you’re going to have a bunch of scenes with characters sitting around chatting what better prop to include than a cup of coffee? Movie directors do it all the time. You’ll see coffee pop up within scenes in The Falling many more times throughout. I wanted to note here just how observant Tommy is. He’s aware of everything and is always taking everything in. It’s part of what makes him a writer, and – as the main character in the book – it makes him the perfect character for the reader to live vicariously through.

The shadow from a crowd of people outside spread across the tabletop. “Hey!” Tommy banged on the window to get their attention. “Fuck off already!” He cursed seemingly at random, but there was nothing arbitrary or illogical about it to Tommy. He did it all the time….On the other side of that glass were a million faces Tommy did not want watching him slurping coffee and stuffing breakfast sausages into his mouth. He banged his fist on the window again. The crowd scuttled away like startled spiders.

This was an idea that I always found amusing: if you have a famous location that lures throngs of photo-snapping tourists on a daily basis, how does that make its regular visitors feel? There was a story earlier this year about the “Goonies House” in Astoria, Oregon. This was the house used in the cult 80’s classic. So many fans (a thousand a day, the owners claimed) came by and would generally leave such a mess behind that the owners eventually just shut down public access to their home. It’s probably similar to Tom’s Restaurant in New York, with so many Seinfeld fans wanting to have their picture taken in front. Probably even standing by the windows where regular customers sit. Maybe even every day. Naturally, Tommy would find this extremely annoying and I think I turned it into a pretty funny character moment, one that could repeat itself in later chapters.

This takes us to about page ten. Stay tuned for the next part.

Cody

For some reason lately, maybe it’s the planetary alignment or because people just want to talk to me, I’ve had a few queries about the dedication in my first novel, Molt. Inquiring minds have wondered of its origins, the who’s and the why’s.

For Cody

In Memory of Cody. And if you’re now wondering too, here’s the answer.

When I was in the 12th Grade, there was a new student at my high school. After a brief conversation in the hall one day we quickly became very close friends. And it was at a time when new friends were difficult to come across and very much appreciated. He and his two brothers were social animals, which was definitely unfamiliar territory to me, but I was seen as a welcome addition at their house parties and other gatherings. Though most everyone there would be drinking and/or smoking as typical teenagers did in these settings, I didn’t. It simply was never in my character; I had no interest, and no one ever felt the need to pressure me on the matter.

During these gatherings, my friend’s father would generally always be present. Not acting as some sort of adult supervision. Quite simply, he just lived there. That was his home. His name was Cody and he was a quiet man, certainly not unapproachable or unfriendly, he just liked his space. He would sit on his favorite chair oftentimes playing solitaire on a tiny card table. Drinking whiskey and smoking. I liked to sit with him sometimes; the both of us not really talking as much as watching. I liked his company, and I enjoyed the idea that he liked mine as well. I don’t think I ever knew what he did for a living, but that never mattered much at all. He liked to talk about his four sons (the oldest of which I’d never met) and their many moves along the way to where they’d currently landed.

It was within one of these moments that we got to talking and I learned how he was – and had been for quite some time – writing a book. My mind was blown. I’d never known anyone with the ambition to write an actual book. At the time I think I assumed there were only like a hundred people who have ever written a book. Ever. Obviously I’d never really thought about it much before then, but I assumed only really incredibly special people would ever consider doing so. But this was just a hobby for him. He was attempting to write a book about his family history; family trees and lineage and stuff like that. To be honest, I never really learned much more about it, but I always made an effort to ask him how the book was coming every time I saw him.

Let’s jump ahead to many years later. Cody and his sons had all gone their separate ways, as families inevitably do. I didn’t even talk to my friend much at all anymore though I thought about him often and fondly recalled the few years we grew up together. Cody was certainly a part of those memories too. On a whim of creativity I began to write a screenplay. And then another. And another. I soon hit the proverbial writer’s block and needed a jump start. I entered a 3-Day Novel Writing contest where I wrote a 65-page novella. From there I wanted to challenge myself further so I began work on a full-length novel. And all along the way I continued to remember Cody and how I always thought writing a book was an impossible task only to be taken upon by very prolific individuals. But this quiet man was not going to stop at anything to write about his family history. And now I’d done it too. It took a few years, a few battles with confidence, a few rewrites and a few lapses of judgement but I was slowly finishing the edits on my first full-length novel.

As it happened, this old friend of mine was getting married and he contacted me and invited me down to California for the wedding. Of course I knew that his father would be there and I was so excited and surging with energy at the thought of telling Cody what I’d been up all these last few years and what I was on the verge of finishing. I knew as I was nearing the end of my novel that I wanted nothing more than to thank Cody for sparking something from somewhere within myself. I knew he’d be proud of me. And then I saw him. And I told him. And it was an awesome feeling. I’m ashamed to admit it but I’m pretty sure this was the highlight of the trip, more so than the actual wedding. His approval was extremely meaningful to me. I promised to get a copy of the book to him as soon as it was done.

I don’t think it was any more than three weeks later that my friend called me to tell me Cody had died in a motorcycle accident. DIED. It was horrible and devastating and I still get choked up thinking about the very last time I saw him, more than five years ago. The book was done very soon after. Molt was finished. And there was no question that I would be dedicating it to Cody.

I can’t believe sometimes how lucky I was to have seen him so soon before he died. I wish I could have sent that copy of Molt to him that I’d promised. But life’s roads take unexpected turns and its streets intersect more often than we think they will. Horrible things will happen and happy coincidences will occur. To me, Cody will always represent both and I’m very proud to have his name in my book.

Thanks again Cody.