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Wednesday, October 3, 2018

SPOTLIGHT: The Late Bloomer by Mark Falkin @markfalkin @rarebirdbooks @califcoldblood

The Late Bloomer 
by Mark Falkin

Spotlighting this postapocalyptic YA adventure - see the many praises already allotted for this read, the synopsis, about the author, a Q&A and an excerpt below.

Imagine The Stand told with the intimacy of Thirteen Reasons Why.

The world experiences an abrupt and unthinkable cataclysm on the morning of October 29, 2018. Kevin March, high school band trombonist and wannabe writer playing hooky, is witness to its beginning. To stay alive, Kevin embarks on a journey that promises to change everything yet again. On his journey, he chronicles his experiences on a digital recorder. 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 protagonist in the tradition of Holden Caulfield, The Late Bloomer is both a companion piece to Lord of the Flies and a Bradburyian Halloween tale.

The Late Bloomer is harrowing, grim and poignant in the way of Cormac McCarthy’s The Road. Told in Kevin March’s singular and unforgettable voice, delivering a gripping narrative with an unsparing climax as moving as it is terrifying, The Late Bloomer defies expectations of the genre and will haunt those who read it.

Mark Falkin is the author of the novels Days of Grace and Contract City, which was nominated for the Whiting, Shirley Jackson, Alex, Morris, Edgar, PEN/Bingham, PEN/Hemingway, LA Times, Anisfield-Wolf, and Flaherty-Dunnan awards. Though he remains a card-carrying member of the Texas Bar, he is a literary agent by day and oftentimes by night. He lives with his wife and daughters in Austin, Texas. He used to vocalize in a band that rocked and rolled.


“I fell deep into the postapocalyptic and addictively complex world of The Late Bloomer and didn’t want it to end. Not only is it a wonderful, binge-able story, but the voice of the central character had me hooked from the beginning, and Kevin March became a person I cared about, thought about, even after the last page was finished.” —Dan Chaon, author of Ill Will

“Like a sharp, winding staircase that narrows as it turns, the claustrophobic world of The Late Bloomer hems the reader in page by page.” —Tal M. Klein, author of The Punch Escrow 

“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 

“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 it’s 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. 

“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.


What do you consider to be the main theme or message in The Late Bloomer?
It’s usually only after I’ve written a first draft of something in fiction do I begin to know what it means. Let me mix metaphors: you uncork the subconscious and it drives; it’s doing the thematic heavy lifting. It’s telling you something but it’s obscure for a while. Your subconscious stands outside a frosted window and scratches at it, moaning, this is what I’m saying. With The Late Bloomer, upon finishing the last words and typing The End (and then having a shot of whatever brown alcohol is immediately on hand, day or night, usually day, usually morning, a completion-of-first-draft tradition) I asked, “What the hell does this mean?” Though it will evolve and refine over time, for now I’ve come to believe that what my subconscious theme-driving taskmaster said through me the mere scrivener was: there is total terror in groupthink. When the individual cedes its autonomy to the mob, that’s when the darkness falls and the nightmares begin. Yes, it indeed takes a village to make things go, but it takes a village of individuals. The concept of the loss of the self is frightening. It’s not an uncommon theme. It’s a truth that, per Emily Dickinson’s axiom, I told slant. Related to this theme is horror vacui – fear of the void. That silence of the world Kevin battles is perhaps the loss of self to the void.

If you were an evil witch or warlock, what literary antecedents or influences would you say went into the cauldron that generated The Late Bloomer?
Toil and trouble—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 genepool sprung 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 cauldron I suppose, if I were to do a reduction sauce. The films The Blair Witch Project and The Wicker Man (1973) without question went to work on me, as did the Twilight Zone classic The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street.

What inspired you to write this story in particular?
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-grows-up, exploded version of that. Pure fun. Labor of love.
Ultimately, I love the genre. What inspired me 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 just a set piece here, a set piece there, but something that holistically makes you shudder, making you feel something deeper than just simple fear but rather a resonating poignancy through the pathos.

Why did you choose to tell it through the point of view of Kevin and not one of the book's other leads Kodie or Bass?
Kevin’s being and voice came first and only and loudest, and the structure of the narrative—a transcribed audio recording—simply forced the POV upon him exclusively.

You used to play in a rock band — would you say Kevin is your literary stand-in?
I share some feelings and opinions with Kevin but I share them with Kodie and Bass too. It’s not entirely inaccurate to say that those three may be the fictive me, the homo fictus me (well, there’s a fourth, fifth, and sixth: Darla Clowes, Sara Page Christie and Ian Alexander Jasper Johns) split into parts. But Kevin…yeah, he’s an avatar. Frankly, he’s kinda my hero.

Do you consider this a “coming of age” story for Kevin?
Kevin is forced to grow up mighty fast. It’s fight or flight, so in that way, yes. His coming of age is, let’s say, accelerated.

Who do you hope reads this novel?
Absolutely everybody who likes jet black books that you can’t put down. Kevin’s story may have the outward appearance of young adult literature, but it’s no more limited to that genre than King’s It, replete as it is with questing teens, or Lord of the Flies itself. The marketing hack who lives inside me insists, “Tell ‘em it’s horror for the John Green reader! And be sure to mention Bird Box!”

What thought(s) do you want readers to come away with most after finishing The Late Bloomer?
I don’t know that it’s a discrete thought I want to leave them with but rather a feeling: haunted. And not just a haunting that’s fearsome but one that holds within it an abiding resonance that over time lingers as a heart-panging poignancy more than dread or fright. I believe horror can teach and reach deeply, maybe deepest. After all, all love stories are ghost stories.  

What makes you want to write? 
What Bernard Malamud said: I’d be too moved to say.

What got you started in writing?
In third and fourth grade I would make these holiday themed puzzle books for my classmates. I’d create this hand drawn book and ask my Dad to run off copies at work which he dutifully did, having his secretary do it. She stapled them too. The teacher was flummoxed and thrilled at my self-aggrandizing precociousness, helping me hand them out at home room around Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, Valentine’s Day, and Easter. They were mini versions of those Highlights kids’ magazines and they uniformly contained a word search, a crossword, a maze you solved with your finger or pencil, hidden pictures, and flash fiction. Really flash—“I saw Santa in my living room on Christmas Eve and he’s sure fat alright.” The looks on my classmates’ faces trying to solve my puzzles, read my little story… oh, I was hooked then. Orwell wrote of the sheer egoism of the writer. I felt that glory in Third Grade.
Skip to high school and I found myself doodling epigrams in the margins of whatever we were doing in AP English class. These later bloomed into bad poetry. I did the bad poetry thing off and on through college and law school. In law school I thought I could do what Grisham did and write a novel my first year, that blistering 1L year. Um, no, I didn’t pull that off, but I did start a novel that I published ten years later.   

What other writers have inspired your own writing?
Oh, God. All writers, even bad ones, inspire in some way. The ones I can longlist, who combined form my lodestar are Stewart O’Nan, Daniel Woodrell, Douglas Coupland, Stephen King, Karen Russell, Barker, Palahniuk, Lethem, DFW, Ellis, Proulx, McCarthy, McGuane, William Gibson, Bradbury, Updike, Capote, Oates, TC Boyle, Sedaris. Steve Martin’s Cruel Shoes.
Oh and Vonnegut, Kerouac, and the insufferable personality that is Hunter S. Thompson.
Tommy Orange inspires me. Merritt Tierce inspires me. Katherine Dunn’s Geek Love inspires me. Emil Ferris inspires me. Billy Collins inspires me. Joan Didion inspires me. Kate Tempest inspires me.
Not listed: Faulkner. Henry James.
Who is your favorite author/what is your favorite book?
As we sit here today it remains O’Nan and his book A Prayer for the Dying.

What is the easiest/hardest thing about writing?
Nothing is easy about writing. Blood from a stone, etcetera. But the hardest comes after the book is done and you try to find anybody to give a shit about it.

Do you have any plans for future installments set in the world of The Late Bloomer?
I do, but I’m working on something else right now. I’ve written two books in a row that are ostensibly YA dystopian/apocalyptic. I’m veering away from that genre but may steer back if The Late Bloomer finds a readership that demands the next.

Was any part of The Late Bloomer especially challenging to write?
I’ll restate my response to 15, adding that this book was the most fun I’ve had writing. It just came. I paced the floor and talked to myself a lot and acted out scenes in my living room—this goes without saying—but I did much less pacing this time. The ending was not hard to write per se but it was hard to emotionally contend with.

What, if anything, did you learn during the process of writing, rewriting, and editing this novel?
So much, as with any novel, that it’s hard to convey. One specific thing I can say is that with this, because it’s so literally voice driven, I learned how to tell a story in a highly conversational and informal way. Kevin speaks to his dear reader. I speak to my dear reader. 

How long did you work on The Late Bloomer?
I don’t know how to measure that but the period during which it was written spanned from 2012-2015, not including revisions after the publisher acquired it.

What advice would you give to aspiring writers?
There’s no muse, guys and gals. Just set a word count goal and sit down and write not what you know but what you must know, what you’ve got to know. Yes, every day, until it hurts and then write through that until it sings. There’s a funky physical high that comes with writing. I lose time and feel an aesthetic bliss. Maybe it’s endorphins? Whatever it is, I’m a junky for it.
Write on those days you don’t feel like it. When you’ve got a cold, when you’re stressed about your day job, when your personal life is FUBAR, when you’re really hungover and just don’t wanna and you petulantly stamp your feet expressing same. Do that so many times that you can’t even begin to count how many and then you’re starting to become a writer, whether the IRS recognizes you as such or not. You are.




1     Please, God, don’t let her die.1




5      So, prologue.2

6      Mr. E, you’d like that I’m trying to do this. Instead of videoing everything
7     and narrating over it. I couldn’t have done that anyway. There was no time
8     to be a reflective documentarian. Now that I’ve got some time, maybe I can
9     process all this and tell you what happened.
10          In fact, doing it this way is how I process it.
11          I know you’d prefer this to, well… you were such a supporter of my writing,
12     a mentor. And so telling this with the intention of writing it down instead of
13     filming it…I know you hated the world of screens we’d come to live in. I tend
14     to agree with you now, though at first I thought you were being a crabby old
15     teacher who didn’t get it and stubbornly didn’t want to. Referred to yourself as
16     a Luddite. I had to look it up.

1          But it’s me who gets it now. I was getting it then, the way you saw things,
2     which wasn’t negative at all. I got that you were trying to show me that
3     through storytelling I could show readers that the world is a beautiful place,
4     that life is a beautiful thing, even when we’re scared and we don’t understand
5     what life is and who we are and why we live and what happens after we die.
6     “Don’t let anybody tell you they know, because they don’t,” you’d said. When I
7     repeated this at the dinner table to my stepdad, Martin, he said, “Sounds like
8     your typical liberal school teacher who can’t hack it in the real world so  he
9     teaches, warping minds with his embitterment.” Pretty poetic for an asshole
10     like Martin, I have to say. I remember offering him a brittle smile when he said
11     that, nodding my head, and muttering to myself, “Embitterment, hmmm.”
12          And what you said about stories. I really get that now, too. You’d said
13     they weren’t just about filling time, entertainment. Not that that’s wrong, a
14     story can be both meaningful and entertaining, you’d said, should be both
15     for it to resonate. You told me that stories connect us, make us understand
16     ourselves and each other a little better. That stories make the world a better
17     place because they are empathy engines.
18          I like that. Empathy engine. Vroom vroom.
19          It’s a noble cause, storytelling, you’d said. Noble work.
20          So, here I go with being noble.
21          This is for you Mr. English, probably for you more than anyone, except
22     that it’s really for you, dear reader.3

23     Okay, so, even more prologue. Of the housekeeping ilk.
24          I’m using a little handheld digital micro voice recorder4 to talk this book
25     into being. I took it when we broke into RadioShack. The box5 it came in said
26     Capture Your Stories with that circled R trademark thing next to it. So, that’s
27     what I’m doing: capturing my story. I’ll shape it later, if I make it.
28          I hate that I even have to say that. If I make it. God. I want to unplug that
29     part of my self. Got to keep my spirits up. I know that part of me is the least

  Kevin. I don’t know. He’s the one just trying to survive. To tell it the way things
2     are. The reason…why things are what they are. Heh.
3          I’d sit and write it properly, this book, a narrative non-fiction they’ll call it,
4     because even though it’s got a novelish, fictiony feel to it, it’s all true. Or maybe
5     it’s a memoir. A memwah. That’s what it is.
6          Whatever. Point is, I can’t just sit and write it all down because if I don’t
7     keep moving…well, I don’t know what they’d do. But she’s waiting for me, so I
8     can’t stop. And doing this keeps me company. This and Maggie here. Isn’t that
9     right, girl?
10          I mean, I always wanted to be a writer. Here’s my chance. Maybe my only
11     and last, but.
12          In case I don’t get too far along doing this, I have to say that although I’ve
13     got my reasons for going down there, I can’t say I feel like I’m truly going to
14     save them. But maybe I can help them. It’s all a big fat maybe, as it has been
15     from day one. They seem to think differently. Kodie says they do, at least. But
16     I don’t know. We’re just too different now. There’s something, what? pernicious
17     about them. Sure, because of what they did, but mostly it’s in the way they
18     move, the way they flock...
19          If I repeat myself or if this sounds clunky sometimes, just know that this
20     is raw raw raw. I’m going to really write this someday. I need to ‘capture my
21     story’ now because I don’t know about tomorrow. Tomorrow is so far-seeming.
22     After all that’s happened, it would be foolish to say you’re going to know what
23     happens next.
24          But I think this book will be important because I think I may be the only
25     one left. It certainly feels that way. Unless she really is there waiting for me like
26     she says she is.

27     Oh, duh—got off track there. Let me get this out of the way. Okay, I’m
28     Kevin Gabriel March and I live in Austin, Texas. I’m not sure what day it
29     is, the day I start this recording, November something, but all this started
30     the morning of October 29, 2018. I’m a, I was, a high school junior and I’m
31     seventeen years old. Birthday’s December 24. Always hated that timing. We
32     get the gift-shaft, we who are born so close to Christmas. You just don’t get
33     celebrated. You get overlooked.

1     Dreams and visions swirl. They’re heavy and seem important. Not just
2     my brain firing, my mind reacting to conscious life. So many feelings, sights
3     and sounds, but this one’s been a repeater—a beach; a big sound of something
4     rubbing up against an object in the water, a wooden pier, maybe; nightfall
5     and fires in a row, dancing silhouettes; in midmorning light, a blurry presence
6     perched on the sea’s horizon.

7     They can do the jobs of armies. Odd thing is, they don’t seem to act at
8     the behest of a leader. They move as quicksilver, like one organism, a massive
9     flock of birds abruptly lifting into the air, undulating, twisting, graying the
10     sky; or like a school of fish winding and turning all shiny in shafts of light
11     knifing down through the water. A content and contiguous group, a single
12     entity moving and working and living en masse, seeming to move toward a
13     moment. Moving inexorably toward it.
14          As am I.
15          Right now, I don’t watch them. Now I move. It’s just dawn, best time to move.
16          Yesterday morning, from atop of the W Hotel, I saw them through my
17     $1,000 binoculars. Per usual, they were out in the open, a beige wintering
18     Texas field beyond the floodplain south of the city. I wonder now if they are
19     the ones following me. No, I don’t think they do it that way. They don’t need to
20     follow me. I think they relay the message ever-forward: here he comes.
21          It  was predawn, just when the rim of sky  in Austin  went that  violet
22     crown attributed by O. Henry, (Does this matter, Mr.  English, the color at
23     dawn? Sometimes I just want to describe the beauty and the horror because
24     that’s  what life is. Guess that’s  why you said I’d  make a better poet than a
25     novelist. I remember asking, “Can I tell them what happens next but with
26     lyrical writing?” You smiled so big and your eyes shined.) I saw their bellies,
27     all of them together in total synchronization, of course, swelling and deflating
28     rapidly though they’re asleep. Maybe they’re having bad dreams in that deep
29     REM sleep?
30          But what would they dream about?
31          Anyway. Enough of this. Let’s start from the beginning.
32          Okay. Deep breath. Here goes...

1     To be truthful, when I first heard the sounds, I was lighting a bowl of pot.

2          Most of the western hemisphere lay gripped by predawn sleep, and
3     there I was, sitting cross-legged on a boulder at Mount Bonnell, overlooking
4     Lake Austin. Yeah, that’s me there in your mind’s eye, the silhouette of a
5     young man holding a blue finger of flame in the dark.
6          The bowl blooming orange, that’s when it happened. Holding the smoke
7     in my lungs, I hear this…sound.
8          Sure, I’d be thinking it, too, if I were you: the guy’s a burnout, he’s
9     hearing stuff. Yeah.
10          But if you’re reading this, the very fact that you’re reading this, you
11     know exactly what I’m talking about and so you know a couple of hits of
12     low-impact smoke had no role to play in what I was hearing at dawn of that
13     morning, the morning of the day of. So let’s move on.
14          But just so you know, no, I am not a pothead, a burnout. Not being
15     defensive, but I’m not. In fact, I was still new to the whole smoking-pot
16     thing. Sure, when you’re waking and baking alone at an urban overlook,
17     you’ve moved out of novice territory, but still.
18          Really what I was on that morning was a heartbroken and stressed-
19     out trombonist.
20          So, I keep holding it in. I stifle a cough, feel my face go red, ropey veins
21     popping out on my neck. I’m listening, lungs full of smoke, eyes toggling.
22          At first, I thought they were testing the tornado sirens. The sounds
23     started with this low shuddering boom, then came a wailing siren. A
24     bomb blast followed immediately by sirens? Something over at the military
25     installation, Camp Mabry? They do battle reenactments over there. But at
26     dawn? Couldn’t be. No storm, no bomb, no war games. Had to be a test. But
27     why at the stroke of dawn, waking up the city? Can’t be.
28          Within seconds, the sound became so loud that I coughed out the
29     smoke and stood up on the boulder. Smoke wisped above my head. I faced
30     west, looking out over Lake Austin. What was called Lake Austin was really
31     the dammed up Lower Colorado River. Moving south beyond Lady Bird
32     Lake, the river flowed southeast through LaGrange, Bay City, to the Gulf of
33     Mexico, dumping into the Matagorda Bay between Corpus and Galveston.
34     The sound came from the downriver direction, my left. And the sound now,

1     though constant and siren-like, was the deep and mournful tone of what I
2     thought were the sounds made by whales. Whales in extremis.
3          Whale sounds. In Austin, Texas.
4          More than whale sounds. Otherworldly sounds; countless whales not
5     just moaning and sighing and singing, but crying out.
6          Screaming.

7     I heard a distant tinny crash. To the upriver right, on the Pennybaker
8     Bridge, this big rust-colored double arc, there are flames. So far away that
9     it looks like an orange wink between two dots. The dots were cars and the
10     fire bloomed. Had to be a big wreck to create a fire I could see from miles
11     away. The sounds waned then fell off as quickly as they had come. The arc
12     of first light was just up in the east, soon to be a red ball hanging next to
13     the University of Texas clock tower like a counterpoint. Muscles in my
14     shoulders relaxed from being hunched against the sound. I looked at the
15     pipe in my hand, incredulous. What am I smoking, my God?

16          I closed my eyes and shook my head with vigor to clear it. Surely, I was

17     hearing and seeing things.
18          Kept my eyes closed for a beat, another.
19          A hawk cried down in the valley. I felt the breeze on my cheeks. I heard
20     the whelming hum of a waking city. With your eyes closed you can really
21     hear it all. The metallic clacks and low roar of a city all around you.
22          I opened my eyes. Down on the bridge there was a line of smoke rising
23     to the sky and in the distance I heard emergency sirens. Car and home
24     alarms everywhere.
25          Now something caught my eye to my left. It looked like a ripple coming
26     up the river.
27          Slowly fetching upriver, maybe five feet high, stretched entirely across
28     in an even line. Weird because the Colorado is dammed in several places
29     between here and Matagorda, including the big one right down there, the
30     Tom Miller Dam. I’d kayaked around Red Bud Isle often with Martin and
31     Johnny. Tom Miller is pretty high, maybe one hundred feet.
32          Coming. Close, close, close.
33          Trying to beat it, I jumped down from the boulder and ran up the rutted
34     stone trail to the limestone overlook and watched it come. Riding, gliding on

1     top of it was a large, pointed shadow. I glanced up to see what kind of cloud
2     made that shape, moved that fast. Nothing in the sky but dawn’s blue.
3          The wave rolled past. It lapped up onto the straight-edged shorelines.
4     The water swept over jutting docks, leapt up and collapsed onto the golf-
5     green yards, the water’s-edge swimming pools, the driveways and outlooks
6     where cocktail parties were had.
7          It just rolled by—so quiet. The shore got wet, the docks rose and fell,
8     nothing broke, no noise.
9          On it went toward the bridge with the line of smoke fingering the sky
10     like calligraphy.

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