Mike Walzman, author of The Fall to Freedom reflects on his creative process and tells us how Frank Lloyd Wright changed the way he looks at literature. Walzman’s work has been published in BCN Week, We Feel Pretty, Zine Columbia, Ra, and Feathertale.
I have two three-by-five note cards on my desk. One says, “each scene should push the story forward or reinforce the function,” and the other, “write like a dying man.” The former was something I derived from architect Louis Sullivan (Frank Lloyd Wright’s mentor) who coined the phrase, “form ever follows function.” The latter is from Hubert Selby Jr., his words have forced me to ask myself, “if I were dying, what would I care to write about? What feelings and what stories am I hiding from?”
Frank Lloyd Wright changed the way I looked at novels entirely. I had always been interested in architecture, but it wasn’t until I moved to Chicago to study creative writing that I really began to understand his process. “Form follows function,” is the idea that nature’s design of plants, animals, and even people were all formed out of function.
Theme is a by-product of a story’s function. It’s what comes out if it. My book is the story of a young man trying to get rich before his friends graduate from college. Time moves the story forward, money motivates the protagonist. These are the “functions.” I want to make the reader feel the same pressure Bix, the protagonist, feels– so I decided to implement a countdown as a literary device: this is the “form.”
I first conceived The Fall to Freedom when I was working at Borders (ah yes, Borders.) I was writing on the side for fun, without knowing what I would do with it. I realized I needed to finish college. I had two years left and I knew if I wanted to be a writer I would have to go to school for it. I lacked the years of reading most writers log in their childhood because I didn’t like it. I hated that someone I didn’t know was forcing me to imagine things the way he or she wanted them. It wasn’t until I was twenty that I realized to be a good writer I have to be a good reader. Charles Bukowski made this transition easy for me. He then lead me to John Fante whose voice in Ask the Dust inspired me to trust my own. People like Pablo Escobar, Napoleon Bonaparte and Alexander the Great fascinated me, and I wanted to somehow combine my interest in empires and drugs, with my deep love for Los Angeles.
The Fall to Freedom is so close to my own story. When I started it, I knew it would be difficult to write things that could be considered taboo, and I was afraid of what others might think of me. Most people I know are already aware of my drug addiction and how I left high school for “medical reasons,” but there is other stuff quite more intense than drugs and partying. Addiction isn’t the only semi-autobiographical element in the book. I worried that it would be hard for my friends to decipher what was fact or fiction. Fortunately or unfortunately for me, I’ve learned to cope by ignoring the consequences, as a dying man would.
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