An Interview with Fall In One Day author, Craig Terlson

Craig Terlson, author of Fall In One Day

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Back in May I reviewed Craig Terlson’s Fall in One Day. After requesting some information about a book tour, I ended up with a great interview, getting a lot of questions I had not only about Fall in One Day, but also about Mr. Terlson himself answered. I’m excited to post my first, but hopefully not my last, author interview.

TPM: What do you use to write? Pen and paper (outdated, I know, but I still enjoy it), computer? Mac or PC? Tablet?

CT: Been a Mac user for a long time – probably because of my graphic design background. I write exclusively with the program Scrivener – an amazing piece of software for novelists.

TPM: Do you have other books planned or in the making? For those of us who are avid fans, when can we expect your next YA book?

CT: Well, I’ll admit, at the beginning Fall in One Day was not planned as a YA book – but I can understand why readers see it that way. Joe’s voice is central to the novel, and he is 15.
I am working on a few different projects right now. The first one is a sequel to my crime fiction novel, Surf City Acid Drop. But I do love the teenage voice and I know I’ll be returning to that form at some point.

TPM: As an author, what do you wish your readers knew about you that maybe we don’t?

CT: This is a hard one. I guess like a lot of writers I am insecure about the work, and when someone responds to it, I am over the moon delighted… and then I go back to being insecure. I think this is a fairly common rollercoaster for creative types.

TPM: According to your Twitter bio, caffeination is a large part of your workflow, so we have a question about that…Tim Horton’s or Starbucks?

CT: I love love love coffee – but I drink a lot less than I use to. Maybe 3 cups a day max. And it has to be good. If I’m in the right mood I’ll take a dark roast Timmies, or a Triple Tall Americano from the ‘buck. My favorite though, are actually the indy coffee shops that have popped up in the last few years. I know a lot about coffee, probably too much, and I love talking about it with baristas. A highlight for me was visiting a coffee plantation in Jamaica and trying the unroasted coffee cherries right off the bush.

TPM: When writing do you prefer silence or background noise? If you like having background noise, is it music or just noise in general? What is your writing anthem? How do you stay focused during your process?

CT: Depends on what I am working on. Editing drafts, for sure it’s silence. But I really love writing first drafts to music, and the music certainly seeps into the work. The band Steely Dan was very important in Fall in One Day – something about their subversive lyrics fit so well into the narrative. At one point I had assigned a different Steely Dan song to each chapter of the novel. I wrote them all out on recipe cards and re-read the chapters with those tunes playing in the background. That probably sounds weird, but writing has much in common with music, and I think a lot about rhythm and flow in my sentences.
My writing anthem is pretty much just stick your butt in the chair and stay there. I try not to make things too precious, just follow the story, follow the characters and write. And then rewrite. Some days I am more focused than others. Coffee and music can help, especially at 6:30 AM.

TPM: When reading a book, especially one that uses real world events such as “Watergate,” I always wonder, where does this inspiration come from? How do you draw the line between the fiction you’re writing and the real world events that are moving alongside the story?

CT: Throughout writing the novel balancing fiction within a historical context was a complex dance. Watergate was significant for me in 1973 (I was just a kid, but completely fascinated by it), so it was one of the threads that began the novel. I tried hard to not let those historical pieces dominate the story – because really, it is Joe’s story. There were things I wanted written down just as they happened, but other places where I wanted to not be hindered by those real world events. I actually cut a lot of the Watergate stuff out of the novel, and what remains helps define one of the central questions for Joe: Who is telling the truth?
There is a long and fascinating history of LSD, notably the early use of it as therapy, which I also had to push to the background (and ended up cutting a lot of it). This is Joe’s world, and he is affected by these events, but if I focused too much on the history, well… then I should have just written a non-fiction essay or two.

TPM: One part of this book that really blew my mind was LSD for the treatment of alcoholism. This was new to me, and I wondered, why isn’t this more widely known? How did you research the treatments and it’s effects on the people it was used on?

CT: Don’t get me started. And by that I mean… I do have a tendency to go on about this stuff. In brief, LSD was used by a very forward thinking Psychiatrist in the 1950’s in working with mental illness, and yes, the treatment of alcoholism. It was in fact so successful (something like 80% of alcoholics after one LSD trip never drank again) that Bill W. the founder of AA became involved. After 1966 for a variety of political and cultural reasons, LSD was made illegal, and all the research stopped. The interesting thing is that the research into the use of hallucinogens in therapy has started again at places like Johns Hopkins University and other research centres. I’ll stop there – but readers should Google it.
I worked at the hospital where that testing first took place, as did my wife (a psychiatric nurse), and some friends of ours. Research was done both in interviews with nurses, and reading essays and books published during that time.

TPM: Brian’s home-life is full of things that most people hide behind closed doors. Domestic abuse, drug abuse, alcoholism, etc. – especially in the 70’s, these things weren’t really talked about. Did having to hold onto the stigma, while trying to give foreshadowing to your readers, make this difficult to write about?

CT: This is a great question, and something I was pointing to in the novel: in the 70s, there were things not being talked about. Joe begins to see how his family and community will not talk about certain things, and it frustrates him, a lot. Joe’s mom is a good example. There were cultural and societal shifts happening throughout the 70s, notably women’s roles, and their voices. Joe’s mom begins to push against these supposed norms (which were really oppression), and I think she is more successful than the women I knew at the time, like my own mother. So yes, it was difficult to write about.

TPM: As an American, I (probably naively), have never considered that the whole world was watching the “Watergate” scandal on television. I felt like Brian’s dad, while interested in the outcome, didn’t have a lot invested in the scandal. Was his father’s views on the scandal inspired by anyone in particular?

CT: Watergate was a watershed moment, and it doesn’t surprise me that it is still being talked about now within the current political climate. In 1973, the world was watching… I was watching from the small city I grew up in. It was not the first time politicians had lied, maybe not even the first time they got caught – but the first time it was broadcast across the medium of television… into millions of homes.
(I think you might mean Joe’s dad here) I don’t think Joe’s dad had a lot invested, maybe because he was caught up in adult world where often the truth is hidden. He might have delighted a bit in those smooth talkers in the U.S. getting what they deserved, but oddly it kindled his own interest in politics – which is why he runs for office himself. Brian’s dad… well, Watergate was just one more sign that the world is full of subversion, lies, and evil.

Note: I did in fact mean Joe’s dad, not Brian’s, he caught it, but when I was drafting and editing my questions, I didn’t.

TPM: A large part of this book is about Joe’s search for Brian. The clues left along the way seem like a long shot, but Joe figures it out. Why did you decide to add in the clues? Why didn’t the police seem concerned that Brian and his dad had just disappeared?

CT: Agreed, they were long shots. I plead writerly innocence here. But I guess I thought of what were Brian and Joe’s secret world, and how they saw and knew things that adults didn’t. Brian is probably a genius, certainly with a photographic memory, and growing up with his family, he was not a normal kid. I wanted to push the story in a way that sent Joe on his own quest to try to rescue his friend. The clues that he discovers are ones that he and Brian would understand. I thought a lot about the police involvement – I think they did care. But they weren’t about to tell other people, certainly not kids, what they were thinking. Once again, the truth was hidden from Joe, and he had to work hard to find out how things really were.

TPM:There are so many deep characters in your book. Joe himself changes quite a bit throughout the book, almost like a coming-of-age tale without the “I’m a man now” moment. Where did the inspiration for the characters come from?

CT: I resisted the “coming-of-age” label on this novel, but again, I understand the comparison. The answer lies in how I edit and push the work. When I revise, I am always asking myself two main questions? Why? and Is this true?
The “why” has to do with why would a character do or say that, or why is this in the story? And the true part is searching for those real moments where fiction has something to teach us about ourselves. This long, and fairly hard journey, made me understand more and more about these characters. I am really glad that they came off as deep in that way. The inspiration for some of them came from actual people, and my growing up where and when I did. But all the characters went through what I call the filter of fiction – so they became themselves.

TPM: It’s been over a month since my review went live, and a bit longer than that since I read the book, yet I find myself thinking about it often. Was this something you intended, a book to make your readers think about the characters long after the book ended, or just a happy coincidence?

CT: One of the things I think all writers hope for is a sense of resonance in their stories. I am delighted that you felt this. It’s not really something you can work at or create, but it’s wonderful when it happens. I guess I say that these characters have been in my head for about 10 years, so I am glad that they can live in other people’s minds too.

TPM: I’m going to try not to spoil anything with this one, but I have to ask about the fate of Brian’s dad. Was the end of his storyline planned from the beginning, or did it develop throughout the story’s growth?

CT: I’m really not much of an outliner (or what writers call: plotters). I am way more of a pantser (as in “seat of the pants”.) I don’t think I knew what was going to happen to Brian’s dad until the first time I wrote that chapter. But I had been writing a long time before that, so I just needed to watch really closely and pay attention to what might happen. The scene you mention happens on the top of a Junior High roof, and I spent a long time “up there” writing what happened. It’s a strange and gratifying experience to just listen to your characters and write down what they say and do.

TPM: Do you think we’ll ever get another glimpse at Joe, Brian, and Karl? Maybe all grown up? It doesn’t have to be a sequel, maybe they could even just have a cameo in a future book. I would like to know that despite everything, they turned out okay.

CT: At this point I feel the answer would be no. But also, you never know. I like the cameo idea. For me they continue to exist and live their lives (in that land of fiction). It seems logical that at some point I will want to pop in and see how they are doing.

TPM: Were there any parts that were edited from the book that you wish could have stayed, like a director’s cut? If so, what part do you wish you could have added anyway?

CT: It was hard, as mentioned before, to cut a lot of the history of Watergate and LSD. I’m glad I left the parts that I did in – in fact there are few parts in the book that are direct transcripts from interviews – and I know ultimately I made the right choice in cutting what I did. Maybe some day I’ll finally write those essays.

My Final Thoughts For my first interview, I don’t think I could have had a more receptive author, in Mr. Terlson. His overall candor not only answered the questions I had about Fall In One day, but has encouraged me to reach out to other authors as well. Once I was done fangirl-ing and set my mind to asking questions I had about Fall In One day, it was easy to set my mind to. I hope that I asked questions you may have had too.. If you haven’t yet, be sure to check out Fall In One Day and get to know Mr. Terlson through his writing and characters.

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