I have written and published all my life, non-fiction and poetry, and this book is my first attempt at a novel. It took eight years to research and write.
People are often curious about where ideas for books come from, and I remember this one clearly. I was driving west on the tortuous highway in the Green Mountains of Jalisco, Mexico, between LaYerbabuena nestled high up in the crags and Puerto Vallarta far down, just about straight down, at sea-level on the Pacific coast. It’s legendary, this road. It has the ghosts of the dead, including a packed-full school bus a few years back that lost its footing on a switchback and plunged into the rocky abyss. You’d best not be caught there in a summer rainstorm when the air fills with flying rocks from pebble-sized to boulders, washing down and bumping each other into the air like billiard balls. The road drops thousands of feet over 60 miles, and most precipitously over about ten miles of terrifying hairpin turns. There are no guard rails, there are no shoulders.
I was going from my LaYerbabuena mountain rental to the regular Saturday morning meeting of the Puerto Vallarta writers’ group. A song was playing on the excellent fm radio station of the Autonomous University of Guadalajara, a techno with one refrain, in English, chanted hypnotically over the melody, ‘When Will We Fall Down?’ Matched the setting! I had been wondering myself!
As I wound my way down through the mountains, I considered various situations that might use those words. I could picture one vividly. There was a young woman. She was standing in a space colony, the standard Mike Combs rendition (google it), big toroidal doughnut structure so huge inside it looks like a world, and she was looking out an observation window (I’d just seen a sketch of it on the old Combs’ website) filled with the bright blue Earth below, with her hand on a child’s shoulder. Her little brother, I imagined. He was looking up at her and asking those words sadly but bravely, as only a child can, with heartbreaking resignation: “When will we fall down?” That’s how bad things were, out there in space, to him. He was sure they would fall down, everything else falling apart as it was.
I wrote a short story about it when I got home that afternoon, which grew into this novel. For the novel’s plot, I used a trick a successful non-fiction writer from Tampa taught me about finding your writer’s ‘voice,’ and searched through the net for pictures of faces I liked, and I cut them out and hung them from a clothes line I’d strung over my desk, and then, instead of talking straight to them as I wrote (which was the advice about finding your ‘voice’), instead I sat and stared at them and thought about what that person, with that smile, that body, that set of the head on the shoulders, that expression, might do or say or think, and little by little I was able to use the pictures to build a basic plot. Modern times supplied the rest. You don’t have to make anything up for horror now. It’s all around. We are selling the parts of babies, the hearts, the lungs, the brains, like you sell used cars, just as Bob Dylan prophesied. Some of the little hearts beat still, on the table where they’ve been harvested. We are eating the seed corn. It makes for fiction that is unendurably exciting.
As far as the ‘About Me‘ part goes (if that’s what you were looking for in About), that’s a true story. I’ve had a good, hard life, I haven’t always done the right thing, or been on the right side, but my teachers, Notre Dame and Precious Blood sisters, made sure I loved Christ and loved the poor as Christ does, and so I’ve always been all-in the game, and that’s the best advice for wanna-be writers and would-be saints.