Siobhan Fallon is the author of the collection of interconnected stories, You Know When
the Men Are Gone, Amy Einhorn Books/Penguin. Her stories and essays have appeared in
Publishers’ Weekly, Women’s Day, Good Housekeeping, New Letters, Salamander, among
others, and she is currently writing a monthly fiction series for Military Spouse Magazine. She
earned her MFA from the New School in New York City.
with Siobhan Fallon
How long did it take you to write all the stories in your collection?
to finish, the collection took me about three years. I started
writing it in 2007, when I was living in Fort Hood and my husband had
just gotten home from an Iraq deployment and was starting to train up
took me about two years to get the stories down. I’d begin a story
and before finishing another idea would seize my mind, and I’d
start writing it, so I’d usually be balancing two or three stories
in different stages of completion (fortunately I generally get at
least a sketch of an entire story down before I get flooded with a
new one). Then I spent another year of constant editing and
rewriting, even continuing to rewrite some of the stories after they
were published in literary magazines. At that point my literary agent
told me to stop. He said, "It is what it is," which was not at
all comforting, but I knew I would continue to be critical and change
things forever if he didn’t rein me in.
have a collection in mind when you were writing them?
I had written a few stories and started to see the similarities among
them, I thought to myself, “Oh boy, I might have a collection
here.” I started to go back into the stories and view them as a
non-military reader might, fleshing out the details about life on a
base that had surprised me when I first became an Army spouse, like
how most soldiers run their physical training at the same time each
day, which inevitably closes down the main streets or reduces cars to
inching behind all the slow pokes in the back of the running herd. I
tried to view military life the way an outsider would and see it
fresh all over again.
you choose which stories to include and in what order?
These particular stories are all loosely connected. Some take place at
Fort Hood, Texas and some in Iraq, but all of them deal with a
battalion of soldiers and their families during a year-long deployment.
And frankly, they are all the stories I wrote while I was living at
Fort Hood. I was sort of living, breathing, writing Army life at that
The order of the stories did change a bit because there is
some time overlap in a few of them, so getting them in order
chronologically isn’t really possible, but the title story that opens
it, You Know When the Men Are Gone, and the one that ends it, Gold Star,
have always been the "bookends" of the collection. Those are the two I
am the most emotionally attached to and I feel like they anchor the
does the word "story"
mean to you?
that keeps a reader or listener rooted in place, eagerly wanting to
know what will happen next, from a crackpot tale told over drinks at
a bar to a stream of consciousness novel. There is an allusive magic
involved—people talk and talk and talk, but there are moments when
everyone stops and really listen.
And people write and write, but there are certain elements that
really grab a reader and keep them turning the pages. It takes a lot
of bad deliveries and reams of paper to get that alchemy right, but
when you hear or read the one that absolutely holds your attention,
well, that’s a story at its best. Those are the ones that linger in
the mind and are retold, reread.
Do you have a reader in mind when you write stories?
wasn’t actually aware of aiming my stories at anyone when I started
writing them. I had been writing short stories for awhile, sending
them off to literary magazines, occasionally having a story win a
contest, but mostly I was collecting rejection letters. I certainly
wasn’t publishing enough, or generating enough interest in my work,
to have an "audience" in mind in the beginning. Even now, after
having a book published and sort of having an idea of who reads me, I
don’t really think of an audience as I write, I just try to craft
the best story I can—with an emphasis on a strong voice, a slightly
off-kilter method for telling the tale, and something that will grab
the reader from its opening and hold them there until the final
anything you'd like to ask someone who has read your collection, anything at all?
In the beginning, when the collection first came out, I was curious
about how readers viewed some of my more ambiguous endings. I always
like to hear what readers think happened to particular characters,
what became of Natalya and her twins, say, or Nick and Trish. And I
always hope that a reader’s continuation of the story line is
similar to mine, and if it’s not, well, that’s kind of exciting
for me to see a different path. But by now I’ve gotten a lot of
feedback via reviews and random reader emails, and most of them have
been good, but trust me, I’ve gotten some angry emails from people
who think I haven’t portrayed the Army in the best light. So I’m
a little timid now when I get an unknown email in my inbox from a
reader telling me what they think of my stories!
TSR: How does
it feel knowing that people are buying your book?
this a trick question? It feels AWESOME!!! Like almost every writer,
you just struggle on and on in total and demoralizing obscurity for
so long that you start to think that these years of your life have
been a waste of time, brain power, printer paper, and ink. But when
you finally see that book,
well, all your words and dreams suddenly have a physical embodiment,
have their own flesh, are out in the world affecting readers. I will
never tire of looking at the cover of my book, seeing its spine on
a shelf. It is a beautiful thing.
What are you working on now?
am currently living in Amman, Jordan, near the American Embassy. And
while it is a very different world than the spouse community of Fort
Hood, Texas, most of the embassy folk do have a particular way of
living in a foreign country, sort of one foot in Jordan, one in the
United States, that I find fascinating. So I’ve been writing about
American embassy life in Jordan, but this story and the characters
are more tightly connected than they are in You
Know When the Men Are Gone,
so I’m not sure yet if this will be another story collection or a
the three most recent short story collections you've read?
three? Well, I was just at the Cork International Short Story
Festival in September, so I have been reading the collections of many
of the fine writers I met there, including Edna O’Brien’s Saints
and Sinners and
Valerie Trueblood’s Marry
or Burn, which
are both incredible. Right now I am in the middle of Flannery
Good Man is Hard to Find.
I was given a first edition copy by the wonderful librarians at the
Winnetka Public Library in Winnetka, Illinois. I’ve always been a
Flan O’Connor fan but it’s been awhile since I read A
from start to finish, thinking about the order of the stories and her
craft as a writer. It is a magnificent collection, and no wonder
O’Connor is one of America’s literary treasures.