Meet the lovely Siobhan Fallon…

Please welcome author Siobhan Fallon…

{YOU KNOW WHEN THE MEN ARE GONE, Amy Einhorn Books/Putnam:}

 “The explosive sort of literary triumph that appears only every few years. As such, it should not be missed” New York Journal of Books
“…gripping, straight-up, no-nonsense stories” The New York Times
“…searing collection” Entertainment Weekly’s Must List
“…a terrific and terrifically illuminating book” The Washington Post
“…fascinating” O, The Oprah Magazine

Siobhan is a military spouse and writer whose husband has deployed three times to the Middle East, including two tours to Iraq out of Fort Hood. She and her family have recently moved from Amman, Jordan, to Falls Church, Virginia, where her husband remains an active duty Army officer. Her stories and essays have appeared in Publishers’ Weekly, Women’s Day, Good Housekeeping, New Letters, Salamander, among others. Siobhan is currently working on a novel and writing a monthly fiction series for Military Spouse Magazine. She earned her MFA from the New School in New York City.


Tell us about your childhood, where did you grow up? Siblings?

I come from a family of bartenders. My father was born in Ireland and came over to New York at sixteen, working his way through high school in Queens, doing a stint in the Army during Vietnam, then settling down when he married my mother. They chose to live in the small town of Highland Falls, about an hour north of New York City, because my father fell in love and purchased a bar/restaurant there, the South Gate Tavern. Part of this particular Irish pub’s charm is that it stands right outside of the front gate, or “south gate” of the United States Military Academy at West Point.  In a small town like ours, where everyone has gone to school with everyone else, the South Gate Tavern has become a large part of my family’s identity. My father and brother both work there full time, I put myself through my MFA working there, as did my sister when getting her teaching degree, even my mother spent long shifts working the bar until, literally, the day I was born (though these days my mother is a real estate agent extraordinaire). It is also the place where I met my husband, serving him a Gin & Tonic. I had never before dated a soldier or West Point cadet— their lives seemed so different, so regimented and alien somehow. Even growing up right outside the gates of West Point, I understood so little of military life. But my husband won me over with his love of writing and literature, and sheer persistence.

I credit bartending with teaching me as much about story writing as my MFA. There’s a tradition in my family of sitting around the kitchen table with hot cups of tea and sharing whatever wild happenings unfolded at the bar the night before, and we had to vie for the best hook to get our listeners’ attention, the best delivery and story arc.

There are the mundane moments to bartending—handing people their pints as they watch Army football games, refilling the hand soap in the ladies room, washing glasses until your knuckles ache from the hot water. But there are a lot of transformations as well, from the shift of a mellow after-work-crowd to the take-it-to-the-face college kids or soldiers, to the fellow in the barstool in front of you slowly changing from sober to drunk. People of course have a tendency to reveal secrets, to say and do incredible things when they have been freed by a touch of alcohol. The bartender is the observer, the person who tries to keep things easy, handing out vodka or conversation or music on the jukebox, but she is never truly part of the party, she is outside of it all, aware and ready.

Bartending taught me to examine both the small gestures and the life-changing ones, to take note of the careful beat of human emotions, to watch and listen and remember.

Tell us about your writing space, writing tools and your writing routine.

I have a lovely little office in my home, but recently, as my pregnancy continues, it’s been a lot more comfortable for me to sit on my couch in the living room, my feet up, my lap top sort of balanced on my mountainous girth. My poor office is more the repository of unpaid bills and my daughter’s many drawings (she is five and in a phase of making her own books right now, pages stapled together and lots of “I Love Mommy and Daddy” with stick figure drawings and rainbows).

I am very lucky– my daughter is in full time kindergarten, so, unlike while I was writing You Know When the Men are Gone and scrambling for nap time or random day care hours, I do have an actual writing ‘schedule’ these days. I spend a couple hours each morning answering emails, writing blogs (or doing interviews!), reading or critiquing or blurbing my friends’ manuscripts or galleys, checking out social networking sites to connect with writer friends and their latest articles/book releases, researching whatever I might be working on, etc. Then I try to shut the internet off and write for my remaining two or three hours, either working on new material or editing/rewriting. You never know when you might be inspired or are ready to tackle a new chapter, and unfortunately inspiration might decide not to hit you during your two or three hours of writing time. But I try to maintain the habit of writing, and I have found just creating the habit itself is hugely helpful. When you have your new manuscript open on your computer, staring at it with your fingers hovering over the keyboard, sometimes the spark will ignite and you’ll be off somewhere wonderful and unexpected.  If not, well, maybe you reread an earlier chapter, tightened it up, recognized a few weak spots. Either way, it’s better than losing that valuable time to Facebook.

I write on my lap top for the most part, but I always carry around a little notebook in my purse in case I think of something while I am at the grocery store, on a trip, picking up my kiddo from school. I filled up quite a few of those little notebooks when my family and I were living in Jordan. And now, sitting on my couch in Virginia, I turn to those notebooks again and again as I write about life in the Middle East in my novel-in-progress.

Has life changed since becoming a published author?

There’s a feeling of legitimacy when you are published. I don’t cringe when people ask me what I do anymore. Before my book came out, it was really difficult to justify finding time to write; I felt like a lousy mom because I wasn’t hosting lots of kid play-dates, I felt like a bad Army spouse because I wasn’t involved in every Army cause and fundraiser. I used to be the kind of wife that had a hot meal and a cold beer waiting for my husband when he came in weary from a long day. But now I have a very real responsibility to my writing. Now (poor husband!), I let things slide. Emptying the dishwasher can no longer come first. I can’t meet friends for lunch during the week when I am working. Not only am I writing because I love it, but now I owe it to my agent and my editor to try to put more of my work out there.

Sandra Day O’Connor has this magnificent quote that I think can ease the conscience of all working moms: “To try to fit it all in… it’s very difficult. I never took even an hour off to go get my hair done. Those are the things you give up. You only have so many hours in the day, and when you have kids, and kids in school, and you’re trying to feed the family and cook meals and be a mother and a wife and all those things, you’re going to give up a lot of things. But that’s okay. I mean, I preferred to hang on to my legal work.”

What are you writing?

I’m working on a novel, set mostly in Jordan, where my family and I recently lived for a year. It’s about a group of Americans, five in particular, who all view the Middle East in different ways. And their perceptions impact their relationships with each other. Lots of messy feelings, misunderstandings, and missed connections, which is easy enough in America, let alone in a culture so at odds with our own.

Do you have any hobbies? Do you collect anything?

My husband and I like to bring home something special from the different places we have lived (in the past twelve years, the Army has moved us eight times), and we have quite a few old maps hanging around our house, but we aren’t dedicated to any particular kind of collection.

Hobbies, hmm… not really. I love to read, but it is difficult to find the time to read for pleasure these days. I also feel like I’ve become a much more critical reader, and rarely fall in love with a novel or story collection the way that I used to. So horrible! But I do love the New Yorker Magazine. Reading the fiction, which I always do, still feels indulgent for me. So indulgent, in fact, that I only let myself read a New Yorker when I am on a treadmill, to pair work and pleasure (if I have a new New Yorker, I can walk on the treadmill forever).

What is the best advice, given to you by another writer?

Jill Ciment, author and one of my professors at the New School, where I got my MFA, was full of incredible advice. One of which was her claim that we had to write every day. Not just five days a week. She said we had to write on vacations and holidays as well. Every day. Otherwise you will lose the immediacy of your work and waste too much time trying to sink back into it. I was shocked, and I have never managed to live up to this rule. But it taught me that you have to be incredibly dedicated to your writing, that it ought to be taken as seriously as any nine to five job that may consume so much of a person’s life. And I do believe she is right about daily writing building upon each new day, creating a richer world more seamlessly. Whenever I manage to write on a weekend, it feels like a major accomplishment, and I think it helps maintain and strengthen the rest of the week’s flow of writing.

For those of you out there looking for some more solid writerly advice, I’d recommend you read just about anything by the prolific Benjamin Percy. As both an author and someone who knows his writing ps and qs, he is brilliant. He often writes for Poets and Writers Magazine, my favorite writing magazine, full of great interviews, articles, calls for submissions, etc, which I think every serious writer ought to read regularly.

Do you remember the last library book you borrowed?

I am ashamed to admit that I don’t go to the library as often as I should. As a writer, I always feel like I have to support my fellow writers, which often means buying their latest books. But we did have a membership at a wonderful English Language Library in Amman, Jordan, last year, and my husband, daughter, and I would go all the time. There’s something so wonderful and freeing about browsing library shelves where older books and newer books are all shuffled together (unlike a bookstore, which tends to carry newer books and classics). And this particular English Language Library seemed to be full of a lot of cast off books from ex-pats moving to yet another place, so it had a very eclectic mix. There’s something magical about wandering through a library, running your fingers over all the spines of hard cover books, pulling one out at random and flipping through the pages.

Do you have a favorite book to read to your daughter

Oh, do other children let their mothers choose books? I read my daughter her favorites. We recently finished the Chronicles of Narnia by C.s Lewis, which she adored, and are now making our way through all forty-three of the Magic Tree House Books by Mary Pope Osborne. When she is a little older, I’ll read her the middle reader books of my good friend Anne Ylvisaker, who writes these incredible novels about kids in the 1940s (Dear Papa, The Button Series); they have great and twisty plots, but also tell about an American life we don’t hear about anymore. I love them but there aren’t enough pictures for my kiddo at this stage in her reading life.

When your family’s military service is finished, where will you call home? City girl or country girl?

Wow, I have no idea, I can’t even imagine settling into one place after the Army has been moving us around for so long. I am loving life in Virginia, where we are at the moment, and when my husband retires from the military there may be job options for him here or in Washington DC. But my heart really belongs to New York, where most of my family still lives, so I will probably try to finagle a way to live there at some point in our lives.

Do you have any marketing tips or advice ?

Find something no one else is writing about, and write it in a way that is new.

Congratulations on the impending birth of your second child. When my children were born, the first thing I wanted was a cup of tea with caffeine. Is there something you have given up that you are looking forward too?

I have definitely been indulging in my doctor condoned amount of caffeine each day. But I have gestational diabetes, so I think what I will want most is a hot fudge sundae with cookies and cream ice cream. I hope my husband reads this and has that sundae ready for me as soon as we leave the hospital…

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Thank you so much, Siobhan for taking the time to share your story withus.



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