IMAGINING A WILDER SELFMELISSA FALCON FIELD PENS AN INCENDIARY DEBUT NOVEL
IN HER DEBUT NOVEL, MADISON’S OWN Melissa Falcon Field offers a fast paced read about a suburban wife and mother heading off the rails. It’s like a life preserver for people whose lives have grown too busy for novels. Within a few pages, they’ll be latched on and heading back to literary shore, where intelligent fiction for pleasure can be readily gobbled. “What Burns Away” was written by a lonely mom in flux about a lonely mom in flux, but it’s juicy for anyone who’s ever felt the what-ifs calling. And, by God, it’s got pyromania. trough the novel’s protagonist,Claire, Falcon Field wanted to capture the concept of a mom who still had a dangerous side and a solid sense of her past self. What better way to get her into a heap of trouble than through Facebook, the mother of old-flame stoking?
“THERE’S SO MUCH OF THAT GIRL, THAT WILDNESS, STILL IN YOU AFTER MOTHERHOOD,” FALCON FIELD SAYS. “I WANTED AN ANTAGONIST WHO COULD REALLY IGNITE IT.”
Enter the long-lost boyfriend, whose kisses smack of coffee and cigarettes. No, that’s not the breath most grown women want to wake up to. It’s just the taste a lonely mom locked in new-baby tedium might desperately remember from high school hooky in a pickup truck.
Like her protagonist, Falcon Field moved to Madison midwinter from the Eastern Seaboard with a new baby and a husband working long hospital shifts. She quickly discovered the elixir called Facebook. Realizing how much time she and other new moms spend there, Falcon Field decided to revive an old character she’d thinly written then boxed up years earlier. Her new reality would help her imagine a stronger story. “What Burns Away” was the result.
Falcon Field penned the novel from places familiar to anyone living in Madison, like Picnic Point, the hockey rink in Shorewood Hills and the window by the fireplace inside Sequoya Library, “Their delicious details appear throughout the novel, which is set primarily in the city.
“The story is about reinvention of self but going about it all wrong,” Falcon Field says. “I basically tried to imagine what a more unhinged version of myself would look like.”
If the idea of a lonely suburban mom reconnecting with an old flame via Facebook sounds pedestrian, never fear. “The old flame is hardly the most interesting one in the plot. Falcon Field, a former teacher at an inner-city school, also drew on her curiosity about a top performing student who was arrested in her class one year for setting buildings ablaze around Boston, “The girl was just 14 years old. In doing pyromania research for the novel, Falcon Field performed all manner of experiments in her Shorewood Hills backyard. Yes, she made her own flame thrower. Yes, she accidentally set her chicken coop hay on fire, “There was a black hole in her lawn for a spell, too.
“The thing is, it really was thrilling,” Falcon Field says. “It helped me empathize with Claire. And there’s something about writing first person, where you really do take on the character.”
Falcon Field is currently halfway through writing her second book, a novel that forever binds three strangers through a series of accidents. It features a fictional med-flight pilot traveling to Maine from Madison. She will also be a storyteller at Madison’s staging of the “Listen to Your Mother” show in May.
“The gift I got in moving here was an amazing writing community,” she says.
“I’m in a writer’s group with six women. I also teach at the Madison Writers’ Studio. I have more support in my writing life here than I’ve ever had anywhere else.”