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Conversation with Author Siobhan Fallon,
YOU KNOW WHEN THE MEN ARE GONE


Rising literary star Siobhan Fallon appeared at a reading/signing this week at my one of my favorite nearby indie bookstores, Capitola Book Cafe.

The reading area was packed. Fallon read in a clear, steady voice from her debut book, "You Know When the Men Are Gone," a stunning new collection of linked short stories about life, love, marriage and families on a military base.

Fallon lived in Fort Hood, Texas, from '06 to '09, writing while she was pregnant and her husband was twice deployed to Iraq.

She has written a set of personal, tender, illuminating stories that transcend politics and transport the reader into a world few of us have experienced. The book was published Jan. 20 and has received rave reviews.

After the reading, she chatted easily with the audience, answering questions (condensed here) and offering insights.

Q. What's the origin of your first name, and how is it correctly pronounced?

A. "It's 'Sha-vahn.' It's Gaelic, the feminine of 'Sean.' "

Q. Did your Fort Hood neighbors know you were writing stories based on them?

A. "They kind of knew. They knew I was writing something. They didn't quite know it was Fort Hood." The book tour, which just kicked off, took her there recently. "I was really nervous," she laughs. "But they were amazing. ... They were very respectful, at least to my face."

Q. Tell us how the book came about.

A. "I was pregnant when I was writing, about a story a month. I was feeling very creative, very fertile, I guess you'd say. They were coming so easily. I had four sketches. I should say first that one had been published in Salamander, a magazine in Boston, great magazine. So an agent saw it and called and said, "I want to see whatever you've got." So I showed him the sketches, and he said, "Work on these." I did and sent them back. He read them one night and called the next morning, saying, "We are going to sign a contract." And I guess he had sent them to (editor/publisher) Amy Einhorn, and she liked them. I'm embarrassed to say I hadn't heard of her. ... It was blind luck, really."

Q. You're very public right now, and your husband must be in a security-conscious position. Does that pose any problems?

A. "Well, that's the joy of fiction, isn't it?" Big smile. "No, I wouldn't talk about anything operational." Conversations with the commander left her comfortable that he thought everything was OK, "so, you know, we're going with that."

Q. How does your husband feel about the book?

A. "He's been super. He has been my first reader all along. He was deployed throughout the time I was writing. I'd email him and he'd write back. He'd say things like, 'No way would they say that,' the men, I mean. He had lots of stories from there. ... Every time he came back, lots of stories. It helped me."

Q. How did you meet your husband?

A. Laughing, "My father had an Irish bar, and I was bartending. I was in an MFA program. He was at West Point. I ignored him because I had a stereotyped view about soldiers.  But he was very persistent."

Q. Is there something concerned citizens could be doing for soldiers?

A. "Do I think civilians can do more? My husband is amazed at the generosity of civilians and the goodness of civilian hearts. The military is grateful for all of them.

"I guess I would hope people would be more appreciative of the ... not exactly hardships, but just be aware of the day-to-day life of military lives.

"When you say 'Thanks for your service,' to soldiers in airports and places, that's nice. People feel embarrassed to say it sometimes, I think, but it means so much to the soldier you say it to."

Q. During your husband's deployment, did you reconsider what you'd be willing to do to keep your family together, or to keep your family away from danger?

A. "Yes, in fact, my daughter and I are moving to Jordan with him so we can be together."

Q. What about your safety?

A. "Well, Jordan is right between Iraq and Israel. I trust he wouldn't bring us over there if he didn't think it was safe.  We've all learned it can be dangerous in what you think is the safest place in the world."

Q. Were you ever nervous about the women in Iraq, and maybe the danger to your marriage, or of course danger to your husband?

A. "Oh, when you have a soldier deployed over there, you have every crazy fear in the world."

Q. What's next?

A. "I'm working on an unrelated military novel about a soldier and a wife, set in a barracks."

Click here to read much more about this very talented author.

You Know When the Men Are Gone

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