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Each week Lone Star Literary profiles a newsmaker in Texas books and letters, including authors, booksellers, publishers.
Kay Ellington has worked in management for a variety of media companies, including Gannett, Cox Communications, Knight-Ridder, and the New York Times Regional Group, from Texas to New York to California to the Southeast and back again to Texas. She is the coauthor, with Barbara Brannon, of the Texas novels The Paragraph Ranch and A Wedding at the Paragraph Ranch.
There’s something about October with its longer shadows and shorter days, chilling winds and rustling leaves that evokes an undercurrent of things going bump in the night — sometimes during the day, as well. Fittingly in the month of All Hallows’ Eve, we feature the author of The Late Bloomer, a new post-apolcalyptic horror novel which takes place on October 29 in Texas. So pull up your bowl of candy corn and meet Austin author and literary agent Mark Falkin, and see what suspense his new book has in store for you.
LONE STAR LITERARY LIFE: Tell us about The Late Bloomer, Mark — what’s the novel about?
MARK FALKIN: An ordinary young man in extraordinary circumstances: the world experiences an abrupt and unthinkable cataclysm on the morning of October 29, 2018. Austinite Kevin March, high school band trombonist and want-to-be writer playing early morning hooky, is witness to its beginning, though he isn’t as shocked by it as he thinks he should be or wishes he could be — these dreams he’s been having; this story that he wrote; his little brother’s night terrors and sleepwalking.
Surprised or not, Kevin now not only finds himself pitted against forces these changes have wrought in order to survive, but soon discovers that he may have a crucial role in this new world, one that he is reluctant to play. To stay alive, Kevin embarks on a journey that promises to change everything yet again. On his journey, into a digital recorder he chronicles his experiences at the end of his world. This book is a transcript of that recording. Depicting an unspeakable apocalypse unlike any seen in fiction — there are no zombies, viruses or virals, no doomsday asteroid, no aliens, no environmental cataclysm, no nuclear holocaust—with a Holden Caulfieldesque protagonist at his world’s end, The Late Bloomer is both a companion piece to Lord of the Flies and a Bradburyian Halloween tale.
What inspired you to write this book?
Inspiration is a voodoo best not dissected. But I think it’s fair to say that the three simultaneous sparks were these: There’s a line in Lord of the Flies that goes You knew, didn’t you? I’m part of you? Close, close, close! I’m the reason why it’s no go? Why things are what they are? and a little supernova exploded in my mind and I probably said behind clenched teeth in public, “That’s it!”
The book’s working title was No Go for a long time and was even initially pitched with that title. There’s that and there’s a certain work of fiction that I can’t disclose for spoilage reasons; the way it made, still makes, me feel . . . I approached this book at the outset from the standpoint of wanting to make the reader feel like I did reading that work.
And then there’s this: a few people reading might remember these emails I used to send out during October years ago, I think 1998 through 2003. They were these epistolary little stories that came in bi-weekly installments that I called the Chronicles of Spooky Month which over the years got longer, less funny and more scary. In maybe 2012 I attempted to take a run at it again for fun and as a palette cleanser. I wrote a couple thousand words and put it away, never sending anything out. This was the impetus for The Late Bloomer. This book really is an all-grown-up, exploded version of that. Pure fun. Labor of love.
Literary antecedents and influences in the crucible that generated The Late Bloomer: Lord of the Flies, Barker’s story “In the Hills, the Cities,” and Shirley Jackson. Lovecraft, whose writing is so fussy and stilted (yet something about that aspect makes it all the more terrifying), the deep cosmic/existential horror he fathoms is there for sure. Other characteristics common to this gene pool sprang from the fey codes lying in wait on the dark side of the helix exist in I Am Legend, The Stand, Arthur Machen’s The Great God Pan. McCarthy’s The Road is there in the crucible, I suppose, if I were to do a reduction sauce. The films The Blair Witch Project, The Wicker Man (1973), Invasion of the Body Snatchers, and Donnie Darko without question went to work on me, as did the Twilight Zone classic The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street.
The Late Bloomer has been described as a coming of age book. You grew up in Oklahoma; how would you describe your own coming of age?
I was born, whelped and raised in Tulsa, so I came of age there in the embrace of a “normal,” stable, loving family, but I grew up as a human being in law school in Norman, Oklahoma, in Dallas, even the early Austin days. What made me grow up how I have was experiencing my folks’ deaths at young ages and dealing with that.
What brought you to Texas?
I went to SMU, met my Houstonian wife there, decided to stay. We did Dallas for a few but eventually settled in Austin, where we’ve been for sixteen years now.
You are an author, attorney, and agent. How do you juggle all three roles?
As one does flaming, rusty chainsaws: with care. I’m missing some appendages and have been very badly burned. What makes it happen are the patience and support of my family, coffee, exercise, turning the pettifogging down to a drip, the agenting turned up to a geyser — in that order of importance.
How would you compare The Late Bloomer and your previous book, Contract City?
Though The Late Bloomer is told through a realistic lens (through a keyhole, as my publisher first described it), it is apocalyptic horror with supernatural elements and in that way is escapist literature. Contract City is near-future dystopian but maybe more frightening because it’s recognizable realism — not so speculative, not so escapist — and it could happen (is happening?!). Both books focus on this: given a certain context, if the right pressure is applied, the horrors we humans visit upon ourselves are the greatest of all horrors. Our nature is scrutinized in both. Our natural proclivity toward apathy and groupthink.
I just love the genre. I believe horror can teach and reach deeply, maybe deepest. After all, all love stories are ghost stories. What inspired me to write The Late Bloomer was that I wanted to write a horror novel that was unlike anything else out there and that was the scariest thing I could think of; and what makes it scary isn’t a set piece here, a set piece there, but something that holistically makes you shudder, making you feel something deeper than simple fear but rather a resonating poignancy through the pathos.
Are there other Texas horror authors you admire?
I must admit to not knowing many I’ve read off the top of my head, but for sure Joe R. Landsdale.
What’s on your nightstand these days to be read?
I recently read in a flourish There There by Tommy Orange which is remarkable and deserving of any hype. I just reread Chaon’s Ill Will. A masterpiece of literary horror, so says me. On the teetering nightstand: The Witches, Salem 1692 by Stacy Schiff, Machen’s The Great God Pan and Other Horror Stories (reading those others; Pan I’m well-acquainted with), Crash by J.G. Ballard, King’s The Outsider.
Last question. How will the Falkin family celebrate Halloween?
Our leafy mid-century Austin street has an earnest Saturday Evening Post vibe on Halloween night that we never miss. My wife and I will be tagging in and out, taking youngest trick-or-treating. When tagged out, I will be at home base Dad-spazzing with the appropriate multimedia, jerry-rigged lighting and strobes, local beer foaming over the lip of a plastic pumpkin cup, and a fog machine, all in vain effort to keep things hale, light, and jovial, refusing to acknowledge what lurks in moonshadow, resisting the rooted feeling that something wicked this way comes . . .
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“Like a sharp, winding staircase that narrows as it turns, the claustrophobic world of The Late Bloomer edges the reader in page by page.” ―Tal M. Klein, author of The Punch Escrow
“An apocalyptic coming-of-age tale the likes of which you’ve never seen, Mark Falkin’s The Late Bloomer channels the heart of Ray Bradbury, the sensibilities of Rod Serling, and the grim despair of Cormac McCarthy, all wrapped up in Falkin's unshakable, inimitable style. Both beautiful and horrific, this is a young adult novel that even the most case-hardened fans of speculative fiction will find riveting and deeply moving. Highly recommended.” ―Ronald Malfi, author of Bone White and Little Girls
“If you’re a fan of dull, weary storytelling with characters you’ve seen a million times doing the things you’ve seen them do a million times until you pass out from boredom, then this isn’t the book for you. If, on the other hand, you’re into roller coasters, laughter, fear, surprise, and characters who keep going against all odds, then The Late Bloomer will suck you down its twisted literary throat through its very last word.” ―Jason Neulander, producer, director and creator of The Intergalactic Nemesis
“With pitch-perfect prose, Falkin has penned an irresistible and audacious coming-of-age novel that plumbs the depths of adolescence and global cataclysm in equal, page-turning measure. I predict The Late Bloomer will take its place on the post-apocalyptic bestseller list, next to Station Eleven and The Stand.” ―Will Clarke, author of The Neon Palm of Madame Melançon and Lord Vishnu’s Love Handles.
“Harrowing, unsettling and exquisitely written, The Late Bloomer is part War of the Worlds, part Twilight Zone and part Shirley Jackson. It is an unforgettable unforgiving vision of the end of the world, of those who attempt to survive and those who wish to stop them. The images conjured here will haunt you long after putting it down. Good luck, dear reader.” ―Louisa Luna, author of Two Girls Down
“An apocalyptic tale unlike any other, The Late Bloomer is smartly written; with shades of Stephen King meeting Cormac McCarthy, a blistering pace and lyrical prose, it demands to be consumed. Falkin's take on the end of the world is intriguing, beautiful and tragic―a must-read.”
―Kristen Zimmer, Amazon #1 bestselling author of The Gravity Between Us
“Imagine nature itself seething with Holden Caulfield's rage at adult phoniness. Now imagine what happens when a decimated humanity inherits the planet. With The Late Bloomer, Mark Falkin combines an authentic portrait of twenty-first-century adolescence with a terrifying, and unsettlingly plausible, vision of the end of humanity as we know it.” ―Christian TeBordo, author of Toughlahoma and director of the MFA Program and assistant professor of English at Roosevelt University
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