Gentrification Porn

I done wrote an article about gentrification porn over at The Weeklings. Check it out.

Or read it here:

GENTRIFICATION PORN: NORTH BROOKLYN GROUND ZERO

SOME PEOPLE are into serial killers. Normal, harmless people who wouldn’t hurt a fly. You probably know at least one. That nerdy dude from the design department who obsesses about just what pushed Dahmer over the line from sick-but-harmless fantasy world to full-on heads in the freezer, that girl you went out with Freshman year whose Manson Family book collection went way beyond just Helter Skelter and would refer to obscure Fam members by their first names. People are obsessed by sick things sometimes. You probably know someone who reads up on the Holocaust so much that this formerly “special section on the shelf” has taken over the entire bookcase, someone who will sometimes casually quote Göring at dinner parties.

Yes, oftentimes non-dangerous people are interested in evil. For me, serial killers are far too loner science nerd to be fascinating and the Nazis were a bunch of dicks. But one truly evil aspect of mankind has always held a special place in my heart: Gentrification. And when I say “gentrification” I mean hardcore, drive out the poor people with guns drawn, cash grab every square inch of bombed-out ghetto and build an overpriced coffee shop on the bloodstained concrete gentrification. I even wrote a novel about it. Fortunately, I happen to live right at ground zero for urban “nickname Flushing Head ‘FluHo’ and the condos shall rise” gentrification of the most ruthless and cunning variety: North Brooklyn. Unlike what most people think, a good gentrification move doesn’t just involve putting in a juicery outside a project highrise and hoping for a “Juicery spotted in hot new hood” headline on Curbed NY. A proper gentrification move takes a certain cold-hearted precision and tone-deaf ambition, a blatant Viking invader mentality that elevates properly executed gentrification strategies to the level of an art form.

Fortunately, I don’t have to walk more than two blocks past my front door on Graham Avenue in Williamsburg, Brooklyn to point out some really good examples of classic, evil-genius gentrification maneuvers. When I first moved onto this block ten years ago it was a desolate stretch of urban blight, the kind of place where if you saw another person walking on the street then this was a problem. Because nobody had any reason to be walking on this street. With Williamsburg now officially more expensive to live in than most of Manhattan, the street is now lined with so many juiceries, $200 jeans clothing boutiques, and specialty desert shops that they almost seem to cancel each other out. Which is, of course, perfect for a gentrification porn addict such as myself.

Williamsburg is just the same age-old NYC progression, only this time it’s right up in my face, just another couple of blocks on an increasingly bloody trail. Mobbed-up Hell’s Kitchen begat Clinton. The tent cities of the Lower East Side begat the East Village. And now bombed-out Billyburg, Brooklyn becomes a place for tourist groups and hip hotels, even though once war-torn Bushwick just two L Train stops past mine is now so utterly hip that certain areas of Williamsburg are calling themselves “Bushwick”. It’s a truly dizzying scenario, and it makes one wonder if currently war-torn Brownsville, Brooklyn, pretty much the last remaining ghetto in NYC proper, will soon be renamed BroVille for real estate purposes.

Of course, this is absolute paradise for a gentrification pornographer. There isn’t enough room in this piece to cover even a small portion of the truly cunning and cynical gentrification highlights this neighborhood has to offer, so see below for five really great gentrification chess moves I came across on just one ten-minute stroll through “East Williamsburg” (i.e. Bushwick, but now referred to as “West Bushwick”).

dan1

This is prime gentrification right here. Complete and utter genius. This used to be a quirky little neighborhood oddity, the kind of store that makes for a great talking point and gives any locale that WTF factor that really gives you a warm feeling when you walk past it. It was a store that sold a combination of tombstones and bread. Great-smelling homemade bread. You could pop in and order a headstone for granny and grab a loaf to have with your pasta that night while you were at it. It was run by two Italian dudes with matching poodles, with ads for their self-published memoirs likeSon Of A Don and I Did My Time in the windows. Every day at five they would come out on the sidewalk to peddle what was left of that days bread batch. “Two Dollar Loaves!” could be heard ringing up and down Graham Avenue. Followed by the yelps of the poodles.

Obviously, this down-home nonsense had to go. And why waste such valuable real estate on anything less than a high end tattoo shop? This is an incredibly well executed gentrification move since it isn’t obvious. It isn’t as if they threw the bread and poodles and tombstones out into the street and put in an Apple store or something. A good gentrification move must be subtle. A perfect one will even appeal to the old heads in the neighborhood, a Trojan horse deception smiling upon them with one face while driving up rents and calling in real estate developers with the other. Like this tattoo shop, for example. The old heads in the hood don’t realize that tatz are cool now. That they’re incredibly expensive. That these tattoo artists are probably branded celebrities with their own reality shows in the works. In their day, the only people who had tattoos were hoods or navy men. This seems, to them, like an underdog establishment run by bearded shabby dudes who couldn’t get an office job due to their neck ink. It stings far less to replace their beloved bread and tombstone store with this than it would another juicery. Yet it secretly hurts them far worse than a high end cupcake shop. Far, far worse. Because what is a better talking point when walking out of your 900K one bedroom than stating, “Yea, I’m getting inked up there next week. Grant got me on the short waiting list.”

Grabbing cash and adding to the gentrification of a neighborhood without having to endure all those annoying hall type meetings and flyer protests. Props to this tat shop for doing gentrification right. Keep up the good work, dudes.

dan2

Unlike the first example which is a cunning little gentrification chess move, this one takes the exact opposite strategy: The full-tilt, in-your-face, take-no-prisoners gentrification blitzkrieg!

“Oh so you were once this kooky little dinner with cheap and delicious heart attack shakes and a clientele of retired mafia members chatting about the dog races and old prison tales? A neighborhood institution that adds a lot of flavor and heart to the block? Well fuck you and all your haggard waitresses who call everyone “hon”. We’ll just buy the building and raise the rent and your colorful little world will be tossed to the ether where it belongs. And we WILL put in an expensive juicery with drink names like “Turnt Up” and “Wellness Now”. And there is nothing, and I mean NOTHING, that you or anybody else can ever do to stop our steamroller of PROGRESS.”

Development companies as modern day Norse Vikings? Not too far off, really. And this move right here is admirable in its take-no-prisoners, rip the lungs from the chest cavity and post them high to warn the other inhabitants of this coastline that THAY ARE NEXT technique. Respect.

dan3

This one is just so simple. Somewhere, the gentrification Gods are rubbing their hands together and having a good laugh at this scenario. Oftentimes, simplicity is key when it comes to proper gentrification, and this is as simple as small number, no-calculator-needed addition. Let’s take a look.

What did this used to be?

Oh, just a well-regarded, affordable neighborhood dentist with a way cool/semi-creepy tooth logo in the window. Dude was probably there for decades, or at least the decade I spent living right across the street giggling at the tooth logo late on certain “relaxed” nights. This was the type of neighborhood dentist who would take in tooth-aching stragglers off the street and charge only what they could pay. He was rumored to be generous with the laughing gas as well. In short, this was a legendary neighborhood tooth man with a long list of old school local customers and the type of eccentric, kind charm one just doesn’t get from a dentist’s office with a shiny glass exterior and flatscreens advertising teeth whitening surgery in the waiting room.

So what does Gentrification have to say about all this?

“Um, why don’t we put in a totally hip, Instagram-ready, organic butcher shop instead?”

And I really can’t thank Gentrification enough for ticking all the needed boxes on this one. Tatted-up butchers with urban-amish beards? Check. Customers with smartphones in hand ready to snapchat the meats? Check. The People of New York for sale in stacks by the registers? Check.

The real Italian butcher shop across the street contemplating various firebombing strategies?

Check?

I’ll leave that box open for them.

dan4

Just like the Germans learned to do, proper gentrification involves recognizing and outing imposters to the Cause. This right here is a terrific example of flushing out non-comrades. This used to be a thrift store, which sounds like the type of establishment that should be left to flourish in a rapidly gentrifying neighborhood full of the types of individuals who thirst for $200 vintage Poison tees and musty lumberjack attire. But the vibe of this establishment leaned too dangerously close to “real-deal second-hand clothing store” to truly fit into a proper gentrification scenario. This was not the type of place with “fashion” on its mind and waify part-time models working the registers. The store seemed to cater a little too close to…gulp…actual poor people who, like, couldn’t afford new clothes. So while allowed to exist in the early stages of the neighborhood’s gentrification, not immediately crushed in the name of progress, it was eventually outed as an imposter and immediately demolished to make way for something that is truly needed: luxury condominiums.

We won’t be needing your musty old poor people hand-me-downs anymore, thank you very much. Nice work, gentrification Gestapo. And long may you reign.

dan5

Hi, we’re a quirky warehouse space selling cool stuff. We are sorry your favorite record store had to move out of here to Greenpoint, but hey, we’re not the enemy. Just another local biz trying to make good. Oh, we look like an Urban Outfitters, you say? Nope. Not an Urban Outfitters. We’re local and quirky! Oh, so you’re wondering why we sell all the same stuff as Urban outfitters? That must just be a coincidence. Because we’re definitely a warehouse collective selling nothing but great clothes and turntables and books and records and all the things that will let your inner-hipness really shine on out. Great! So you’d like to purchase that “mock vintage” Echo & The Bunnymen tee? Let me just ring you up. Sure glad we’re not Urban outfitters, amiright? Have a nice…um, ok, so you’re wondering why your receipt says Urban Outfitters. Well, ahem, sorry no refunds. Next in line? Sir, ma’am, I’m going to have to ask you to move it along. Do we need to call…ok, we do…security we have a situation on the ground floor…

These five fine examples of expertly executed gentrification were spotted just steps from my front door, and I didn’t even get as far as the true Ground Zero of heartless urban progress: The Vice Magazine-ravaged Williamsburg waterfront. Here is to hoping that our fearless and cunning leader, Progress itself, continues to drive out this type of homey, neighborhood nonsense and line the entire world with vegan coffee shops, Urban Outfitters, and juicery after juicery after juicery.

For only then will we truly be safe.

Dead End Follies Review

Thoughtful review over at Dead End Follies. This dude really seems to get it. Props to him.

“How can anyone own a view?”

I spent years of my life trying to figure out how society turned young and beautiful people filled with dreams and hormones into our parents. Today, I am 33 and I know. The first step is finishing school: nothing will help you reassess your worth as a human being quicker than an employer chuckling at your resume while bills are stacking up. The second (and final step for most people) is buying real estate. Buying a house or a condo seems like a straightforward transaction, but it’s fucking twisted. Basically, it’s the process of having a financial institution assessing if you’re worth owning a house. Building it yourself on an abandoned plot of land wouldn’t be simpler, but it sure as hell would be healthier.

I am 33 years old and I’ve been a bona fide adult for almost a year now, so I’m naturally interested in adult problems such as the material worth of my existence. I am 33 years old and remember being a kid with hopes, dreams and truckloads of testosterone and I still to let my reality define me as a person. That’s why I gravitate towards novels like Daniel Falatko‘sCondominium. I can only praise Falatko for writing a novel in the shadow of literary giants and while it couldn’t have possibly matched the intensity of already existing iconic real estate fiction, Condominium manages to makethe common pursuits of adult age sound as hollow as they really are.

Condominium is the story of Charles and Sarah, a young archetypal New York couple, who just moved in one of Williamsburg’s Waterfront skyscrapers, one of the most sought-after pieces of real estate in the Greatest City in the World. At the very moment they complete the transaction, an invisible tension settles between the two and starts prying them apart. Sarah finds herself isolated in this tower, prey to creepy neighbors and her unstable professional situation while Charles works late every night in order to make the steep mortgage payment and spends the rest of his time anesthetizing his alienation with his work friends. So, are they moving on up or are they just getting pulled apart by the existential pressure of owning prime real estate?

Let’s discuss the two elephants in the room first: J.G Ballard and Bret Easton Ellis. They’re all over Daniel Falatko‘s Condominium. It’s damn nearly impossible to live up to Ballard’s seminal skyscraper novel High-Rise (now a movie, starring freakin’ Tom Hiddleston), but Falatko seems very aware of that problem and keeps both feet firmly into realism. Although you will find scenes of malaise and awkward neighbors who overpass their boundaries that will remind you of Ballard’s book, Daniel Falatko never crosses the line although it feels like creepy neighbor Raymond is always a step away from bringing the narrative into Ballardian territory. Same with the party scenes that owe a lot to Ellis’ legendary knack for portraying debauchery, yet his character manage to keep their decorum and sense of social responsibility, at least most of the time.

He had yet to witness their building at night, from the ground, and had to stop on the corner by a vegan cheesesteak truck to marvel at the sight. A massive rectangle of light exploding skyward. These streets he walked through to reach it, dark and muffled, the lights too dim, the buildings too drab, all of them, all of everything, sucked into oblivion by the roaring slipstream of his Tower.

I know I’m not ACTUALLY discussing Condominium a whole lot here, but I believe going over Daniel Falatko‘s influences is important because they are two violent, otherworldly novel that helped shape something that’s much closer to the contemporary reality of real estate owning and yet feels almost as alienating. I liked Condominium for a very simple reason: it exposes the fallacy of having over being. I’m not some kind of anarchist who would nationalize housing or anything, but I thought that reading about Charles, Raymond and other owners value their relationship to “units” and assess worth to one another over simply living their lives because they’re defined by their financial selves, to be absolutely terrifying.

It’s how Condominium finds success in the shadow of High-Rise: it’s nowhere near as apocalyptic, but it threatens to be on every page. Daniel Falatkoleaves a lot undefined between his characters, so that his readers can build their own nightmare scenarios. Condominium is never apocalyptic, but it’s constantly threatening. Some details about the novel bugged me, nothing major in the scope of what Falatko tried to achieve, but it created distance with the character. For example: I fail to see how recreational heroin snorters with high stress jobs and insane mortgage payments can manage to keep their lives together. Of course, I don’t live in New York, so I have no idea what the real estate scene is over there, but I thought it clashes with the inherent realism of the novel and made Charles and Sarah come off as boneheads.

It’s possible to write an engaging and original skyscraper novel in the shadow of J.G Ballard‘s High-Rise and Daniel Falatko‘s Condominium is hard evidence of that statement. My own obsession with Ballard’s work might be talking too loud here and I’m sure Condominium is even more enjoyable if you haven’t read it, but I thought Daniel Falatko did a terrific job at defining an original discourse in the shadow of such an iconic and important novel.Condominium definitely is an “adult novel” about issues you can’t truly wrap your head around unless you’ve been confronted to them. It wasn’t flawless, but few novels are. It managed to portray the ugly world we build for ourselves with unflinching resolve though.

ReinReads Review

Decent review over at ReinReads.

Check it out or read it here:

Falatko’s Condominium takes place within the time span of just one week, with sections separated by day. Charles & Sarah have just moved in their new condo & it serves as a symbol of their semi-fucked up lives. The one thing they have in common is that they feel like the condo owns them instead of the other way around. In Bret Easton Ellis form, it’s a novel about materialism, existentialism, consumerism, & every other ism, but simultaneously about absolutely nothing. But unlike Bret Easton Ellis, it didn’t really have those stand-out sentences of epiphany. There was no “people are afraid to merge” type of sentence that really hits it home hard. However, there were incredible moments of clarity. Several scenes that were so unique, but also seemed almost like non-fiction.

For example, Falatko perfectly describes that dreaded Monday feeling. The awful train crowd rush, the exhaustion. But he does it in a way that’s comical, “How many American Apparel cashiers could they possibly need? How many internships at Vice magazine?,” Charles wonders as he passes hipsters on the street. Made even more hilarious because Charles is a step away himself from being a hipster himself. How many times are you gonna think about one of your “obscure albums from the seventies?” It’s one of the many great moments that just clicks.

Another great one liner that was such a clear image in my head, I swear I’ve seen it before was, “a man with the Rangers logo tatted on the side of his face who strangely kept ordering daiquiris.” These moments are gold buried within a lot of seemingly random & unnecessary NYC cliches & references. At one point there’s so much location name dropping that the Lower East Side, Seward Park, Essex, East Broadway, Grand, & Delancey are all referenced in just three sentences.

The timing is tricky because each action is described so minutely that the reader can get pretty bored. But it serves as an overall theme that time & space are relative. Time & Space, two subjects Falatko was right to consistently evoke Burroughs in, gives the work a claustrophobic feel. Space, & its effect on a person, is at the forefront of this storyline. It got me thinking how some religions believe a person achieves true grace when their environment no longer dictates their reality. It eliminates the need to adapt because you just are. Sarah & Charles clearly suck at this because their condo pretty much fucks up their life. Either that, or the drugs make them so paranoid that they believe it’s fucking up their life. Don’t even get me started on the weird neighbor Raymond, their paranoia levels are through the roof with that guy. But is it him? Is it them? Is he just a symbol of societal pressure? Who knows! Does it matter? Does anything?

Nothing matters in the novel at least. I mean Hamlet could take a lesson from these guys on inaction. At one point the thought of actually doing something, anything, brings creepily wide smiles to their faces because their jobs & lives are that vapid & meaningless.

I had a few gripes with the writing style. I hate head jumping when it’s not done skillfully, plus every sentence had way too many commas that ramble off & return back to their subjects inelegantly. I did however love the Falatko’s ability to flawlessly include curse-words in not only the thoughts, but the dialogue without it sounding overdone or clunky. It felt right with the characters & the context.

I was a little confused how old the characters were for a while, & when I found out they’re in their late twenties I was a little surprised. They complain like children, but reference Rolling Stone, smack their forehead, & say things like “the hard youth of today.” They seemed like those kids who’re a year older than you, but think they’re in their fifties. Realistically, if this takes place in modern day NYC, then they weren’t even alive for the height of the late sixties/early seventies, so I don’t know why they’d be so pretentious about it. Unless they’re dicks, which they probably are.

Last minute things that irked me:

  1. They referenced Californication. Ugh. Awful show.
  2. The sentence “Never date someone in publishing.” Yup. My boyfriend can attest to this.
  3. It dissed NYU kids, but gave FIT cred at one point, which is so backwards to me as a student of both institutions.
  4. It missed a real opportunity for a “beast of bourbon” pun.

Last minute likes:

  1. It never actually explicitly gives detail on the drug scenes, but still manages to convey significant meaning.
  2. Made me crack up when it said all bands now are named after animals (download Frightened Rabbit though & tell me you don’t love them).
  3. Deals with expectations of life not being met & having a skewed reality as a result of it, I mean, that pretty much sums up life in a nutshell.
  4. It didn’t dive into the impact of social media & technology & blah blah blah like every other novel of this kind.
  5. The copy description does not do it justice, so it definitely surpassed my expectations.

Chicago Literati Review

Condominium gets Literati’d over at Chicago Literati.

Readers, especially those of a certain twenty-something age living and hanging out in River North–or by the time of publishing, the West Loop–will be drawn to the premise of Condominium. A young couple moves into the sleek condo of their dreams, only to find themselves quickly warped by it’s strange magnetic pull. Their tension and discord is thickened by some strange new forces, including a suspicious neighbor and the return of a few dangerous old habits.

Like many stories of the rich and not-so-famous, Condominium also plays on our desire to peek into the social stratosphere. In one particular scene when Sarah’s carelessness causes a minor housekeeping disaster, If found myself cringing with equal parts horror and delight. A pristine kitchen, outrageously expensive flooring, a pot of tar black coffee. You do the math.

There is strong voice and a lot of energy packed into these pages, and right away the characters come out swinging. We meet Sarah and Charles on the Saturday they arrive at their new condo, as she unleashes a string of insults about the movers and he has a vision of their boxed-up life going up in flames. They feel conflicted about their newfound membership in the real estate elite, which sometimes works and sometimes creates confusion for the reader.

Charles is the breadwinner by far, working in the financial district and footing the bill for this golden condo. Sarah’s editorial assistantship barely covers her bills, and an arsenal of credit cards make up the difference. They love their new place but they are also frightened by it, and the adulthood it seems to stand for. Perhaps they are in over their heads, perhaps they are just learning how to swim.

As things go when you live at such precarious heights, it only takes a few wrong moves for things to start feeling shaky. A job changes suddenly, or someone goes a little too hard for a few too many weekends in a row. New surroundings start to feel disorienting and unfamiliar, and one falls back on old rituals and crutches to stay grounded.

While the story focuses mostly on Sarah and Charles, the cast of characters includes their work friends and frenemies as well. For Sarah, Jenny, and Ryan are entertaining enough to talk to provide office refuge, but much too basic to actually be friends. Charles (and Sarah, but mostly Charles) has Andrew and Ruthie, a ne’er do well couple who snort up their fun and always bring enough to share with the class, to the dismay of their recovering pal. And of course everybody hates Raymond, the lurking neighbor who drops by to stir the pot with his perfectly manicured hands. It’s not clear at first why he’s so interested in the new residents, but when the curtain is finally drawn back, you may find yourself looking over your shoulder after your next condo board meeting.

The story begins on one Saturday, and ends on the next. While I found the tight week-long structure helpful to shape the story, it left little room for that quiet negative space that can do so much for the depth of short books. Thank goodness for the beautiful and terrifying balcony, which provided literal and metaphorical air when our characters need to get away from one another or confront something on their own time.

In his allegiance to their breakneck bohemian rhythm, at times it feels like Falatko hands the car keys over to Sarah and Charles. They live a fast paced existence–jumping back and forth from adult to child, grungy to glamorous, responsible to careless, rich to scraping by–and a the end of more than one section I felt a kind of whiplash. I would have loved to be a fly on the industrial-chic wall on a “normal” day. With only a week to spend together, we don’t really get to that point.

Without giving too much away, I was intrigued and hungry for more development once we discovered Raymond’s real purpose in the building. It was almost hard to believe Charles and Sarah could as feel threatened as they seemed, while constantly flaunting their invincibility in the face of others’ opinions. And there was something I could not quite understand behind the way they treat Raymond. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve shut down an elevator creeper or two in my day, I just think maybe I missed the inciting incident that sparked their cruel sarcasm.

A character’s choices and consequences rest on two sides of an equation, and in some subtle ways I wasn’t sure things balanced out. I don’t know exactly what it’s like to meet a creepy new neighbor while living in a $920,000 condo, or to share responsibilities with a partner who triple out earned me, or to try and do heroin only occasionally. That being said, the unprovoked outburst or the strange interaction between two people who are supposedly close enough to share this heavenly apartment had me wondering what I had missed.

Once or twice I was distracted by a few left-field comments from characters, which did nothing to develop the story or inform us about the people talking. Often a writer will provide a lens through which to view remarks that are stereotypical or racist. The author can either give some helpful clues about the age, social status or background of the characters to frame that touchy dialogue, or else they risk throwing the reader off course. I felt my attention drift from the page as I wondered about the life experience and intention behind a comment that might have meant nothing.

In creating stories I think the writer is both architect and builder. The first one is focused on the design and the feel of a place, the second one must be thinking about how the residents will actually use it. Condominium is heavy on the design, but I found myself wanting to strip away the insulation and get a better look at the bare bones. Why is Sarah so angry? What is eating at Charles? We know it’s heroin, but we don’t really know why. Apart from an internal monologue in which Sarah wonders whether or not a nursery is in their long-term plans, I didn’t really get a sense for what kept them in orbit around one another in the first place.

I wondered how this book might read differently if I lived in New York, or were a member of this mythical creative class that somehow keeps one foot in the financial district and the other the world of the unpaid internship. I know people who make very big and very small money, people who have incredible views, and people who do drugs on the weekend. They are usually three separate people though, and it was a trip to read them all rolled up into one.

Alternating Current Review

Really good review over at Alternating Current for Condo. I feel very “privileged” to receive this type of attention.

Condominium, by Daniel Falatko, is a partly comedic and lighthearted, somewhat existential and dramatic, novel about a week in the life of a couple who move into their dream million-dollar high-rise condominium with its Brooklyn skyline view over the East River. The story alternates points of view and experience between Charles and Sarah as they navigate multiple issues with their new lifestyle, including struggles in their career, a strange new neighbor, challenging relationships with friends, and recreational drug usage.

The alternating points of view work well for this story as a way for us to learn more about the protagonists, especially things they may not share with each other or with the reader in first-person point of view. They begin with voices in common, but the more their plotlines unfold, the more they definitely develop different experiences with the condo. Giving voice to each of them also allows the story to show the difficulty for couples in developing the “us” and allows the individuals to be more complex, as well.

Life at their new dream condo is never not weird. They quickly meet a strange neighbor who seems to be observing them a little too much. His lack of boundaries makes them uncomfortable, adds mystery to the story, and drives a lot of the tension, addressing the question of just what did they get themselves into? Every time I thought the Creepy Neighbor storyline might fall into the trap of cliché, it went in an unexpected direction that gave this book its unique signature.

Although a lot of the story addresses the Money Can’t Buy Happiness idea, more is happening here.

I guess you start to think of all this luxury, assuming it will seep its way into your marrow, make your life luxurious, but really it’s a bummer to find you still don’t get enough sleep and cobwebs still form on ceilings and your face still breaks out and your man still smells up the bathroom and you still need to get super stoned just to relax for an hour on the couch and not think about anything.

If the condo doesn’t bring them happiness, it leaves the question what will the condo bring? What will bring happiness?

The adjustment to the new life puts them all out of sorts. Charles finds he is too scared of heights to enjoy his expensive balcony. Sarah has problems getting comfortable in any of the other rooms. They have contradictory emotions about the view. For Charles,

Now that he had seen a view from the highest precipice, the pinnacle, he was disappointed to find that all other views were rendered limp and detached. He now owned a better view than all of this. It had blotted out his world.

This is while Sarah

[…] thought of someone watching them from over in Manhattan, from Stuy Town with a high-powered telescope, entangled stick figures swallowed up in the massiveness of a waterfront tower. She wondered if perhaps that person would enjoy this more than she did.

They find that location change doesn’t equate to life change. This would be true regardless of whether the move were ‘moving on up’—They are the same people wherever they move.

Monday brought things crashing down, as always. It doesn’t matter if you’re heading to work from a luxury high-rise or a trailer park, you are still heading to work.

A common idea in all of this is how difficult it is for them to shed skins. Charles has an occasional drug habit he can’t quite shake. In fact, Sarah alternates between wanting him to quit and thinking it’s the thing that keeps him interesting. He has an obsession with a rockstar who died years earlier. This is similar to folks stopping their lives every April 5th to mourn the death of Kurt Cobain. (Not that there is anything wrong with that.)

During a comedic peak of the novel, at a party unlike any others, an outsider challenges them:

        “Aren’t you people in your thirties?” she hissed to him, a crossing guard scolding a proud jaywalker.
“Late twenties,” he corrected. “This is the demographic you shoot for here at Waterfront Tower(s), no? Young moneyed, edgy, hip. Ready for action on the Williamsburg frontier. Well, here it is. Sorry if you can’t handle it.”

They are on a tricky aging line. They just can’t quite shed their twenties and embrace a thirties slowdown, regardless of the troubles it gives them. It’s their driving question: When do we give up the kicking and screaming, and just go quietly? Not yet, they answer.

There are aspects of this that are lighthearted. It uses hyperbole and humor, and although the stakes may be emotionally serious for Charles and Sarah, nothing that large or permanent is happening. That’s fine. The novel is intentionally interested in smaller issues rather than larger ones, and does so with an effective touch where scope is not a positive or negative quality. One thing that it risks, however, is conjuring but mostly ignoring the specter of privilege. There are moments when the characters observe the geographical lines between rich and poor. There are some comedic situations with a food cart vendor and with a Mexican man who Sarah invites to the climactic party, but they stay on the comedic surface. Is Monday truly the same regardless of whether you are leaving a luxury high-rise or a trailer park? Although certainly never told from anything but an honest voice of its characters, it ends up making the story occasionally sound like the First World Problems meme. The characters grow from certain realities about their dream condo; they may learn the limitations of money in the pursuit of happiness, but I’m not sure they ever leave the context of their privilege. Maybe that’s a missed opportunity. Maybe that’s just a different story. If we stay in their perspective, it’s a great read.

ORIGINS Column at JMWW

Check out my ORIGINS column over at JMWW where I discuss the origins of Condominium

Or read it here:

The complete vision for Condominium came to me when sitting on the L Train one day and overhearing these two dudes with glittery high tops making fun of the banks of glittering condo towers being constructed up and down the Williamsburg waterfront. They were riffing on the bland types of people who would be populating these buildings. Stroller people. Day traders. Upper Manhattanites. The types of people who should be quarantined and regulated to an area far from DIY music venues and illegal artist spaces. My initial instinct was to agree with them, and I had been guilty of similar jive in the past, but something about their basic generalization of an entire sub-population irked me that day. It really got the wheels spinning. I mean, yes, these khaki masses flooding into those glass and steel prisons are certainly among the worst types of white people, but can you really just call for their mass execution just because they may not know who Animal Collective is? Doesn’t every individual who has ever walked this Earth have complex inner dialogues and interesting hidden angles and things that haunt them until the day they perish and beyond? Don’t forget, these people are at the top of the game. They have a lot to lose and blood on their hands. Their demons are most likely WAY more plentiful than those two kids on the train trying to remember if they had showered that afternoon and, if not, then does it even matter, maaaaaan? So can you really write the condominium owners off as bland and uninteresting as a whole?

That’s where Condominium came from. The idea was born on the L Train somewhere under all those concrete shoe bodies and the black, polluted water of the East River. The idea was to write a novel from inside the minds of the gentrifying invaders. It’s a strange concept to view these people as underdogs, but in a way they are. They are stereotyped and put down just like the rest of us. “All people are interesting,” is what Condominium is telling you. “Even the ones you don’t like.” And yes, people really, really hate these characters. At least one major agent backtracked on signing up the novel because said agent’s interns threatened to walk. This is how much they hated Charles and Sarah and the gang. As I’ve always said, the visceral reaction certain types of individuals have when confronted with these characters is a good thing. I didn’t want to sugarcoat them for those two dudes on the train. I wanted them to be the real deal. People tend to romanticize Vikings, for example, pointing out their cool mythology and putting them in the role of romanticized outlaw. But try telling that to some coastal farmer back in the day having his lungs ripped from his chest cavity after having just watched his wife and children be stomped to death. This is the type of horrified reaction people have for Charlie and Sar Bear, and all they’ve done is moved into a damn Condo.

DFalatko

Daniel Falatko

These are modern urban Vikings. Invaders. The gentrifying hoards. The death of a once great city. They are the exact people those kids on the L Train mercilessly mock but secretly fear and envy. The idea that came to me on the train was to crawl into their headspaces and what was left of their souls. I wanted to show people that multiple realms unfold within every individual’s psyche, that people who can afford a million-plus condo have an even greater number of devils to scurry from than you do. They have more pressing matters to worry about than which warehouse party to hit that night. To put it succinctly: They are more interesting than you are in most ways.

So if you hated Condominium, then you should track down those two dudes on the L train and have a word with them, because they are the true origin of the novel. Their heads are faded on the sides and floppy on the top. At least one will be rocking lenses-free frames. By some sort of smoke and mirrors or straight out magic their jeans will be simultaneously skin-tight and baggy. And the real giveaway will be the glittery high tops. The kind that middle school kids in the mid-00s rocked to try to look like Soldier Boy. Those two dudes are the source. I know this doesn’t quite narrow it down, considering 91% of dudes under 27 in North BK look like this, and I wouldn’t advocate just going out and swinging on random Williamsburg people, so it would be best not to bother. The true origin would be hard to track down.

Besides, they’ve probably moved to Portland by now.

Clash Magazine Interview

Check out this pretty funny interview over at Clash Magazine.

Or read it here:

Dan Falatko, the author of Condominium, and I met through our publisher, Chicago Center of Literature and Photography. We became fast friends and shared a book-signing table at AWP this year in Los Angeles. Over three days, while waiting for folks to buy our books, we had plenty of time to sit and talk, like Vladimir and Estragon in Waiting for Godot.

We discussed my dysfunctional family comedy The Misadventures of Sulliver Pong, his urban gentrification comedy Condominium, the state of publishing today, our backstories, our processes, and the lasting importance of the band Lightning Bolt.

–Leland Cheuk

DF: The main thing that delighted me when reading Pong was that this book is something that just doesn’t seem to exist anymore: A good old-fashioned romp. One that refuses to take serious matters seriously. One that takes its jokes black. One that refuses to play the victim. This type of thing really isn’t “in” anymore. Does this make you feel like an outcast in today’s publishing world?

LC: I agree that mainstream literary fiction has gone away from the comedy, and that comedies (even dark ones like Pong) tend to be devalued. Of course, there was the golden age in the sixties, seventies, and eighties with Pynchon, Tom Robbins, Bret Easton Ellis, Martin Amis, and others. I know I’m naming all white dudes, which is frowned upon. There are plenty of literary comedies written by women, but they tend to be devalued too—as chick-lit, like Bridget Jones’ Diary.

I actually think that if Pynchon or Tom Robbins were writing today, they’d be publishing with indie presses. Look at all the indie press authors here: they’re like ninety percent white guys like you between the ages of thirty-five and fifty-five. Last night, I saw a dinner photo on Facebook with a bunch of indie press authors, and there were eleven white dudes and one woman.

So there are lots of reasons to feel like an outcast in today’s publishing world. It could be your race, your gender, your sexuality, or your genre. There are lots of things that are not “in.” Ultimately, you have to do work that you think would please your idols – the authors that inspired you to write in the first place – and I think that Pong would be looked upon kindly by a writer like Martin Amis or people who like the Coen Brothers. Their fatalism and their scabrous brand of humor have always appealed to me.

Do you feel like an outcast because we’re out on an indie press?

DF: Absolutely. And not in a “jean jacket with an Iron Maiden patch, smoking cigs behind the school dumpster” kind of way. Because that was always a pretty cool disposition. Being an indie author today doesn’t feel very cool at all. It feels like you’re constantly bothering people. Read my book! Review my book! Pay attention to me please! That isn’t my trip at all. I just wasn’t made for DIY. At least not the DIY that exists today where you have to have a Twitter account. I just enjoy writing my silly little novels. Having to beast so hard for even the slightest sliver of the spotlight is making this brother go prematurely grey. So if there are any evil entertainment conglomerates out there that think they can make a dime off my next book and want to take all this nonsense off my hands, I’ll sell half my soul to the first Devil with a contract. But only half. That’s all I have left.

LC: Don’t say that too loud. The Dzanc Books booth is right across from us.

DF: Look, that guy to our left is typing out on-demand haikus on a vintage typewriter!

LC: That’s one step away from bringing your pet goat to the Bookfair. Yeah, I don’t know many authors who enjoy the self-promotional part of having a book out. To me, it’s more of a necessary part of the gig like sitting through boring conference calls in an office. I will say that the best part is actually hearing back from your readers. You don’t need to open fan letters anymore. You can just open Twitter or Facebook. And I do like that there’s a vibrant small press publishing community online that’s championing literature for literature’s sake and leaving the misery porn, the boarding school coming-of-age, and the-young-man-walking-through-a-city-pondering-the-meaning-of-life novels to the New York publishers.

DF: –laughs– At least our books are entertaining.

LC: Shhhh. Literature can’t be entertaining! Rape and murder must be just a shot away!

DF: Who doesn’t love The Stones?

LC: No one. Not even the commies in Cuba, apparently.

DF: –laughs–

LC: Why did you choose to write about urban gentrification in Condominium? You could have gone more polemical, but you didn’t, choosing to write from the perspective of a gentrifying couple that has bitten off more real estate than they can chew. Were you consciously writing away from the political?

DF: There is nothing less interesting to me than modern politics. Current events. The issues. Condominium doesn’t care at all about why gentrification is happening or what the social ramifications will be. It cares about Charles and Sarah, two members of the gentrifying horde. It cares about their relationship, their complex interior realms, their pain, and their grasps for joy.

It all started one day years ago on the L Train, listening to two dudes with fashion mullets make fun of the glistening rows of condominiums being built on the waterfront, dismissing all the day traders, trust funders, people with children (you know, the worst kinds of people) moving into these places from uncool spots like the Upper East Side as one long, drab parade of khakis and Wall Street Journals. Something about their snarky jive made me think this: Can you really just mass-dismiss an entire sub-population of human beings as bland and uninteresting just because they might not know who Lighting Bolt is? These people are on top of the food chain, after all, so whether they were born there or had to fight their way there, they still have more blood on their hands than those two slackers on the L Train. They have much, much more to lose, and their demons are far more plentiful. So in a lot of ways, these people may actually be a whole lot more interesting and complex than those of us wondering where the warehouse party was that night. That was the whole idea for Condo right there. To point out that all people are interesting. Even ones not like you. It’s a utopian novel.

LC: I don’t know who Lightning Bolt is.

DF: What’s wrong with you? You are dismissed.

LC: –laughs–

DF: Your backstory is the kind of thing that life affirming biopics are made of. You were diagnosed with potentially terminal cancer. You got the call that Pong was accepted for publication while in the hospital. Now Pong is out and doing well and so are you. With the recent Salon article telling this backstory, I was wondering this: What percentage of the people who go out and pick up a copy of the novel are expecting an inspirational tearjerker and are instead slapped in the face with a black humor romp? And do you get a thrill out of this?

LC: I always get a thrill out of defying expectations, I guess. That’s kind of the whole point of comedy. I’ve joked that everyone who has read both the essay and the novel tell me that the essay is great. But they are two very different pieces. I wrote that essay thinking that it might be the last thing I publish. I wrote the novel thinking: “I’m a genius, this is so funny and dark and bizarre!” I’m hopeful that readers can enjoy both.

Every book has a book-worthy backstory. Mine just happened to be cancer and a lifesaving stem cell transplant.

What about yours? Did the unspooling of Charles and Sarah’s relationship over real estate and their midlife ennui have personal connections to your experience?

DF: Not at all. I don’t now and most likely never will live in a condominium. My wife is not Sarah, and I’m certainly not Charles. I’d never wear a baseball cap. I don’t know anyone quite like Ruthie and Andrew, as much as I’d love to. If there’s any main character in the book that I may share some traits with, it would be Sarah. But hopefully not many since a lot of people have told me how much they despise this character and some reviews have gone so far as to dedicate entire paragraphs to pointing out the poor girl’s flaws.

I do identify hardcore with the front desk guy in their building who sleeps all day. That’s my kind of dude right there. He perfectly sums up my role as the author of this novel. The guy who is supposed to be the doorkeeper to the whole enterprise but instead just snoozes and stares blankly at the banks of live surveillance monitors, letting all sorts of degenerates in off the street. That right there is my personal connection to this work.

Also, who are you calling middle-aged, Big L?

LC: One-third aged? Forty-percent aged? Look, thanks to wealth inequality, the life expectancy of the non-rich will start decreasing.

DF: Didn’t you just hear me say that politics are boring?

LC: –laughs– My bad.

DF: What’s your “Hey, I’m working on a novel” process, Leland? Do you write pages and pages in a fever dream or assign yourself a certain page count per day? Are you vigorous or lazy? Do you keep to your outline or toss that to the street? Do you even have an outline? Do you have a ritual for the day you finish the novel?

 LC: I try to write daily, usually one book project at a time. So, no ritual. I just move on to the next book. I’ll block off a few months to work on a novel, then a few months to work on short fiction, which builds in time for the novel manuscript to sit and age. I outline or write character subtexts when I feel lost. I approach it like a day job. Nine to five, I’ll do writing stuff, which may include churning out new prose, editing old work, answering emails related to writing, or taking a break to get the groceries. When I had a day job, I wrote in the mornings, before work, over artisanal coffee at a nearby café.

What about you? You’ve said you do one page a day. How do you even do that? What if you want to go to two pages? Do you stop?

DF: I come from a working class background. Therefore, my approach to writing a novel is very much like an assembly line. Each day, you do your shift. You punch in. You punch out. During your shift, you produce one perfect page of your novel that syncs up perfectly with the page that went before it. Just like on an assembly line when you put the car door or whatever on the frame that was made in the previous shift. If your novel is 300 pages, you can count on it being completed in 300 days. If it’s 250 pages, it will be done in 250 days. As for writing two pages on a shift? No way. That’s pretty much unheard of right there. After all, you’re only being paid for one. There’s no overtime pay in this factory. It’s just a very efficient way to go about it, and it certainly isn’t for everyone. But it has always worked for me. Just one man in the factory. A lonely assembly line.

 When can we expect Pong 2: Son of Pong or whatever your next work will be?

LC: I’m working on a novel about the brief and wondrous life of a fictive famous Chinese-American standup comic. It’s my shtick: sad, funny, American Chinese dude.

What’s the latest with One Thin Dime?

DF: OTD baby. It’s done. It’s ready. It’s more ambitious. Some of it even takes place outside of New York City. It has a real deal plot. Hell, it’s even an international crime caper. It may have a home. It may not. But it will see the light of day at some point soon, and anyone who dugCondo will get a kick out of it.

And the haterz, as they say, are still gonna’ hate.

Novel Writing: The Assembly Line Method

Check out my piece over at Steph Post’s site about my method for writing novels.

Or read it here:

Composing Novels: The Assembly Line Method

Some authors churn out entire novels in one fever dream sitting. Others take decades, falling into obsessive battles against themselves, struggling over commas and character direction and structure and other nightmarish roadblocks. Then there are the consistently reliable authors who put out one book every two years, the ones who most likely achieve a certain life balance and can actually take vacations and pay their bills on time. Unfortunately, these nine-to-five types tend to be the less interesting ones (I won’t name any names here, but check the release schedules to see for yourself), while fever dreamers like Phillip K. Dick and Chinese Democracy obsessives such as Donna Tartt put out the lasting works. It seems that the arts are just not kind to regular, stable people.

Which means they certainly aren’t kind to me.

I come from a working class background, so my approach to writing a novel has always been like I was clocking in for a shift at some sort of factory or warehouse. Each day, I punch in, do my shift, and then punch out. The shift itself has always included completing one perfect page of the novel. A perfect page that corresponds perfectly with the perfect page produced in yesterday’s shift. It’s the assembly line approach to novel writing, just like fastening the tire rods onto the frame that was completed in the previous shift. Once the page is completed to my satisfaction, I punch out and head for the bar for Miller Time or whatever it is that blue collar factory workers do when that whistle blows.

Just like in a factory, there is a design blueprint set ahead of time for the product. In my factory this would be the novel outline. Then the assembly line is put into place by a team of evil-genius engineers and it’s go time. Blow that whistle and watch the lone worker, me, limp in from the street with my thermos and time card. My own lonely assembly line.

It never fails to surprise me how much interest this gets from fellow writers. When I mention this method, at first they are incredulous. Then, when I let them know that I’m dead serious, the questions start rolling in. And they are always the same. What if you want to do two pages one day? What if you have a lot to do or have an emergency on any particular day? What if you have zero inspiration? What if the page just doesn’t come one day?

These are always the questions. And always in that order. And they always miss the point. Would you ask a factory worker standing outside the gates smoking a Newport on lunch break if he had the “inspiration” to complete his shift that day? It’s not about inspiration to that dude. It’s about doing what you gotta’ do. You’re hungover. Your wife just left you. Your mortgage is due. But you still have to complete that shift because this is what has to be done. And two pages in one day? Are you kidding me? He isn’t getting paid for extra work here. He’s getting paid to fix those tire rods onto that frame. Why would he go ahead and start affixing the doors when that isn’t what he’s getting paid to do? This would throw the whole operation into chaos. Assembly lines aren’t made to go the extra mile. They aren’t for go-getters. They are efficient, robotic processes set up to get the job done with methodical, perfect precision.

Of course, this method certainly isn’t for everybody, but it has always worked for me. The efficiency and timeliness appeal to me greatly. The original Condominium manuscript was 309 pages, which means it took 309 days to complete. My next novel, One Thin Dime, came in at a slim 279 pages, so it took 279 days to complete. I’m currently 184 pages into a brand new tome, so that’s 184 days on the lonely assembly line thus far. Someone like Donna Tartt would never be able to work in this factory. She would miss shifts. She would be a safety hazard. She would want to recall certain frames and reaffix the tire rods. She would question her work. Donna would be fired before her probationary period was over. Granted, D.T. writes much better novels than I do, but this factory is no place for dreamers.

Completing a page per day may have been tough back in the typewriter ages, but one of the lone things I enjoy about technology is that it lets you stretch out your assembly line much further than those factory walls. Have you been called away to a funeral? No worries. You can get that page done while the priest drones on utilizing the small electronic gadget of your choice. Did your place of residence burn to the ground? Just hit up a coffee shop with wi-fi, holmes. Do you have to work a nine-to-five office job? That Word file kind of looks like work, doesn’t it? Did your firstborn enter the world today? Let the kid scream for an hour and take the laptop to the basement. Aside from petty nuisances such as your death or your unconsciousness due to coma, there is truly no excuse not to get that page done. Motivation means nothing in this scenario. You do your shift. Some days it will be easier to complete your shift than others, but each shift must be completed in order to move the product toward completion on schedule. This is just how assembly lines work.

I’ve never come across any other page-per-day laborers when hobnobbing with fellow authors, but I’m sure they are out there right now with their blue uniforms, a pack of smokes rolled in the sleeves, safety goggles affixed, slaving away on their own lonely assembly lines. And I salute each and every one of them. Because for some rare artists, efficiency is key.

Shelf Stalker Review and Interview

Check out this review and interview over at Shelf Stalker.

Or read it all here:

I’m excited to announce that this post is part of a blog tour for Daniel’s book! Please see the deets on Daniel’s website (more on that at the end as well). Enjoy!

On a recent visit to NYC, I was able to see some of the Greenpoint and Williamsburg neighborhoods of Brooklyn and the signs of gentrification are everywhere. What was once a park had been bought to be the site of the next skyscraping glass box tower of (un)affordable housing. Weathered signs of protest reading “Give us back our park” were hung all along the chainlink fences, though at this point it seemed to me that people had pretty much given up on preserving the breathtaking views of Manhattan they once got from Bushwick Inlet Park. Now those once-free views will cost you. About 2 million. And everyone else can look at another ugly skyscraper.

This is what Condominium is about, and while it may be easy to get up on your soapbox against gentrification, what about the people who are living inside those glass boxes? Aren’t they people too, much as we want to hate them? How might they be similar to us? How might they be different?

The book spans the first week that Sarah and Charles move in one of those swanky new high rises in NYC. At first, they seem put together and ready for such a commitment: Charles recently got a raise so he’s doing well at work and Sarah is in control when faced with decisions about the condo. But these two are not at all who they appear to be on the surface. And neither is their condo. At its bare bones, this is a story of a girl and a guy who buy a fancy, new place only to find that it can’t solve all their problems and it won’t make them become grown-ups. But underneath, there is a lot to unpack in this book!

Sarah and Charles don’t really fit in with the “gentrified” lot. Though they can’t admit it, they are both still very much stuck in the mindset of their late teens–early 20s and don’t seem to want to move into adulthood. They aren’t ready to take on real responsibility at their jobs or in their personal lives, and are not really aware of how their actions (or lack thereof) might affect the other people around them. They are both just floating through life, and the consequences are about to start piling up on them—it’s not going to be pretty.

I was also really intrigued by the condo itself as a character throughout the book. It couldn’t be less homey. Besides the fact that it is all stainless steel, glass, and architecture—more like a slick office space or fancy hotel room than a house—it seems to haunt Sarah and Charles and they don’t even want to spend any time in this place they are spending exorbitant amounts of money to own. To get a bit theoretical on you, it reminded me of Freud’s concept of ‘unheimlich’—that which is home and familiar, and yet strange and unfamiliar at the same time. The uncanny is something that we are drawn to and repulsed by at the same time. The condo symbolizes everything that Sarah and Charles fear about the world, the people around them, but especially about themselves. But I’ll let you unpack the rest on your own.

Condominium is a satirical look at a real problem that’s facing Brooklyn right now. Through it’s satire, it still manages to create true-to-life characters—this isn’t some American Psycho caricature of life in New York. Falatko manages to invent an interesting world with real depth, and that’s not something that can be said of all books these days.

And now, I’m proud to present an interview with author Daniel Falatko!

Daniel Falatko is a graduate of the MFA in Writing program at Vermont College of Fine Arts. Originally from Pennsylvania, he lives and works in New York City. Condominium, published by CCLaP, is his first novel. His next novel, One Thin Dime, has been signed by the same publisher and is expected to release in early 2017. He holds an MFA in Writing from Vermont College of Fine Arts. He lives and works in New York City.

SHELF STALKER: First, a few easy warm-up questions: What are you currently reading?

DANIEL FALATKO: Jean-Paul Sartre’s The Age of Reason and a huge biography of Aleister Crowley. The thing is so thick I have to read it laid out flat on a table. It hurts my arms to hold it. It isn’t light reading. Literally.

SS: Can you choose three favorite authors? Why those authors?

DF: Louis-Ferdinand Céline: Because he stared into the void and found it amusing.
J.K. Huysmans:  Because he created his own reality and lived in it with dignity.
Marquis de Sade: Because every word he ever composed was delivered with sheer, wayward glee.

SS: If you could pick one book to read again for the first time, what would it be, and why?

DF: The Secret History by Donna Tartt. This bothers me every day, actually. The first time I read it I was thinking I didn’t like it for the first 50 or 60 pages. By the time I realized this was one of the greatest novels ever, I was already halfway through it. It’s like sleeping through the first 30 minutes of Raiders of the Lost Ark or something. Wait, why is Harrison Ford in a pit of snakes right now? And why is it awesome? I’ve read it probably 50 times since then, but yes I’d love to go back and read it for the first time without being such a prick about the first half.

SS: And just to round it off: If you had a superpower, what would it be?

DF: I would make it so that James Taylor never went bald. Have you ever seen Two-Lane Blacktop? It’s this experimental hippie film from 1971 where James Taylor and some other guy drive around in a car for hours without talking. His hair is absolutely amazing in that film. His eventual baldness is such a tragedy. I’d fix that if I could.

SS: Now we’ll get down to the book!
The book follows Charles, the financial analyst, and Sarah, the (perpetual) editorial assistant, separately through their own crises, capturing their own very different circumstances and perspectives—I was really impressed by that. How did you go about creating those characters and keeping their voices and stories distinct? And can you tell me more about what sparked the idea for this book?

DF: The whole concept for the novel came to me when standing on the subway one day listening to two kids with fashion-mullets complaining about all the new condo towers being built along the north Brooklyn waterfront. They were jiving about how lame the people moving into these things are. People from the Upper East Side. Finance people. People with children. You know, horrible kinds of people. And it got me thinking. Yes, these individuals moving into these glass boxes on the water may be, on the surface, bastions of basicness, but can you really just write people off because of that? Just because they don’t know who Crystal Castles are? These people might wear cargo shorts or whatever, but I’d be willing to bet they have complex inner dialogues and interesting hidden angles and that they’re haunted by things both tangible and intangible. A lot of them might even be pretty dark of soul. People who have fought their way to the top, or even those who were born there, most likely have a lot of blood on their hands. They have a lot more demons to outrun than a couple of dudes on the subway with custom Chuck Taylors, wondering which loft party to hit that night. You can’t just write these people off in general as bland and uninteresting.

So that’s where the concept came from. Right there on the L Train. That’s why I don’t listen to music on the subway. Inspiration breeds there. And the inspiration was to write a novel from inside the minds of the gentrifying invaders. To not be like those two kids. To accept that all people are interesting. Even the ones not like you.

As for Sarah and Charles, I wanted to portray what I thought would be a typical couple moving into what, at the time, would have been a $900,000 1-bedroom condominium at the Northside Piers condominiums on Kent Avenue. I never understood how anyone can write about a couple from just one perspective. You have to get into both minds. Both viewpoints. Both interior worlds. They both had to tell this story. That’s where the switching viewpoints came in. Doing it all from Sarah’s head or all from Charles’ head would have doomed the book. Although they exist together in one world, the world of Sarah and Charles the couple, they both have to go out into different worlds each day alone, forge their own way, think their own thoughts, skip through their own dimensions. Writing from the Sarah POV was definitely a lot easier. I can identify with her much more than Charles. Writing from Charles’ white baseball capped head was a bit tricky at certain parts, mainly because I don’t know too many individuals like him and had to feel my way in the dark a lot. Dudes are tough. I don’t understand them, for the most part. He’s so insular and guarded. But he had to be, because that’s what those types of dudes are like on the surface. In the end, I think I succeeded with Sarah a lot better than with Charlie. Charlie Boy is still a bit of a mystery to me. Perhaps I’ll bring him back sometime. Try to do him more justice.

A lot of people really hate these characters, which I take as a good thing. They aren’t sugar-coated for mass consumption. These people are the real deal. The invaders. The gentrifying hoards. The death of New York City. They are everything those two kids on the L Train fear and despise. But I wanted to get into their heads and show people that complex inner worlds exist within each of us, that these individuals have devils to fight off just like you do, probably even more than you do, and that their fight is in many ways more fascinating than yours. Some readers have picked up on this. Every now and again I get someone coming at me on Goodreads or somewhere like, “Will Sarah marry me?” I don’t know, man. I’ll pass her your regards.

The end goal for the novel was utopian in a lot of ways. I wanted to promote understanding between the two groups. Harmony. And in a strange way, this harmony has actually happened now. The two worlds have become one, and nobody has died or spontaneously combusted over the new Whole Foods on Bedford Avenue. It’s nothing to do with the book, mind you, but harmony does ring true over the North Brooklyn streets in 2016. And that is because the gentrifiers pushed everyone else out and turned the whole neighborhood into one big overpriced juicery. On with progress!

SS: The condo symbolizes power and is supposed to be home, but throughout the book it becomes more and more alien and foreboding, closing in on them as though they don’t belong really there. Could you talk about what it is that makes an apartment or condo different from a house? Or, I guess, why this book could only be set in a condo?

DF: That’s an interesting question. I would venture to say that this can absolutely happen in a house. Houses can be incredibly alien and foreboding to their owners. The concept that Condo fights against is the concept of ownership. Period. How can any one individual stake a claim on any one space? What makes that space yours other than some thin paperwork and even thinner money? And what happens once it is yours? Do you fill it with nice things and then just wait around to die?

But yes, this particular book just had to be set at Northside Piers. In a 660-square foot condominium. The kind that now go for over a million. Because this takes that whole concept and puts it under a very intense microscope. New York City real estate has long existed on an entirely separate tangent from the rest of the country, a fascinating shadow realm where a single square foot can cost thousands while families in Ohio starve in houses where square-footage means nothing, houses 30-times the size of a million-dollar Brooklyn 1-bedroom with no closet space. This is a realm where the mere presence of a washer/dryer within a unit signifies unfathomable wealth and luxury, where a semi-obstructed view of a jumble of mismatched buildings can turn a tiny space lacking an eat-in kitchen into a pinnacle many thousands strive, fight, and in some cases die, to reach.

So the core concept of Condominium is this: What happens to a person, or in this case a couple, once this pinnacle has been reached? What happens when 660-square-feet of gleaming hardwood and ultra-modern appliances and intricate bathroom tile and a sweeping skyline view suddenly owns you? What happens when the world outside falls away, paling in comparison to the radiance you now wake up in each morning? Can the people walking past you on the street sense the magnificence of your basin-design bathroom sink? And if they can’t, don’t you want to shout it at them? Will the crushing weight of ownership cause you, as it causes our girl Sarah, to fall to your knees on that gleaming hardwood and scream until the non-functional beam starts shaking? Or would you, as happens to Mr. Charles, become so afraid of the coveted balcony that you resort to office flirtations and heroin, anything to avoid the new home you obsessed over for so long? By the end of the first week, would you and your fiancé find yourselves staked out on opposite ends of your trashed new unit, romantically at odds and hiding from your building’s intrusive and potentially evil Community Board?

It’s home ownership, as a whole, that the book questions. The NYC angle just amps it up to 11 because the real estate scene is so insane here. But yea, it can happen in your houses too. We’ll leave that to someone else to write though. I don’t have the chops for suburbia.

SS: I’m potentially revealing my lack of musical knowledge here, but is Skags Kassidy a stand-in for someone in specific?

DF: Skags was originally supposed to be Shannon Hoon of Blind Melon. Because Kurt Cobain would have been way too obvious. But the more I looked into Shannon Hoon, the more I liked him and respected him as an artist. May he rest in peace. Plus, he didn’t die in August, which would have thrown off the whole timeline of the book. So Skags is a stand in for Charles’ teenage self, for that whole horrific grunge movement some of us were unlucky enough to have endured and many have never been able to escape from. But I didn’t want to disrespect any dead grunge musicians by generalizing them and making fun of them. Sorry, Skags.

SS: I saw the balcony as Charles’ white whale, and the condo itself as Sarah’s. Any thoughts on that? Or white whales in general? What does it take to overcome them?

DF: Oh man, those two have SO MANY white whales. Charles is basically afraid of everything. He has so many obstacles to conquer each day he walks this Earth it isn’t even funny. There’s his job, which haunts him because he probably wonders why he makes so much money doing a job that takes so little thought. There’s Abrielle, who he desires and fears with equal intensity. There’s the group of cool temps he’s caught up on. There’s Benji the elevator man, who is a major obstacle in his day-to-day existence for sure. There’s Sarah herself, who really is a mystery to him in a lot of ways. There’s the wooden voodoo head. The Community Board. Ruthie. Andrew. White whales thrashing about everywhere for the poor guy. And he longs to conquer all of them. But he fixates on the balcony, you’re right. Perhaps he sees the balcony as a culmination of all of these things. But this is something that is tangible. This is something he thinks he can beat. And if he beats this one thing, then maybe he can conquer them all.

Sarah is a little more laid back about life. More apathetic. But there are some huge white whales in her sea. Her lack of professional progress is one. Her general apathy. She knows she lacks in substance, but she doesn’t quite know what to do about it. She just smokes more pot and puts on another Stones record. Charles is something she wishes to conquer, but she doesn’t quite know how to go about doing that either. The condo itself is a white whale that really sneaks up on her. She doesn’t expect this one. She’s on calm seas and then suddenly BLAM. Unlike Charles, who is apprehensive about the condo from the very start, Sarah really thinks this is the answer. She really thinks she’s on easy street now. And this is probably why she loses it more than Charles in the end. She wasn’t prepared to feel trapped in this new luxury.

So yes, there are many, many white whales for these two to conquer. In the end, though, they are both white whales. To each other. And they need to conquer each other in order to survive.

SS: Charles and Sarah seem to be stuck in the lackadaisical mindset of their early 20s, while at the same time attempting to move forward, following some sort of prescribed path of upward mobility. Do you think this represents some truth about what is happening to people of their age group right now?

DF: Oh, absolutely. The demands placed on the kids these days are insane. I work with people that are 22 and already worried about 401Ks. 22, man. The only things I was worried about at 22 were where the party was that night and how to scrounge up five bucks to get in. There just isn’t any slack these days. Nobody cuts them a break. It’s a real shame. I think it was Gram Parsons who once said, ‘What the world needs is more love. And more slack.” I’m with you, Gram. I’m with you. Set the children free. Or at least give them a year in Europe or something to take Molly and write a novel.

SS: Were there parts of the manuscript that got cut from the final book? I always wonder about what ends up on the cutting room floor. And maybe you can talk a little about your writing process as well.

DF: There were parts that were cut, sure. And I don’t mourn the loss of any of them. Long conversations between various characters about organic farms in deepest Queens. A strange side plot about the electricity in the condo building (yes, the electrical sockets were whispering strange messages to the residents). All sorts of really terrible things that rightly hit the cutting room floor. But there’s one thing that had to be changed which, in my opinion, really hurt the book. The band we never meet that plays a major role in the plot, Alligator Uprising, was originally The Strokes. And Ruthie’s secret boyfriend in the band was Albert Hammond Jr. of the Strokes. I was immediately informed by anyone in the industry who read the novel that this would have to be changed. “The Strokes have lawyers. They will sue for libel.” Personally, I bet the Strokes are a good bunch of dudes and would a) probably have never found out about the book and b) If they did, they would most likely have a sense of humor about it. And c) Being sued by The Strokes would be great publicity. Anyway, the book was a lot funnier when Alligator Uprising was The Strokes. So that was a tough blow.

My writing process. I’m a working class, blue collar kind of writer. When I’m working on a novel, I look at it as working a job. Each day, I do my shift. Punch in. Punch out. Different writers have different capacities for how much they can compose in one day and still remain coherent. For me, I can do one page. I’m not a spree writer. I don’t write in a fever dream. Just one page. But I really hold myself to that. Every single day. One perfect page. Not just some chicken scratch. No rough ideas. A perfectly executed page that perfectly follows the perfect page I did yesterday. It isn’t always easy, but it must be done. However many pages the original Condominium manuscript was (honestly, I forget how much that was) then that is how many days it took to write it. This method isn’t for everyone, just like working in a factory isn’t for everyone, but it absolutely works for me.

PS: I don’t actually work in a factory. I just treat novels like assembly lines.

SS: I know you are currently working on another novel, One Thin Dime. Anything you can tell us about that?

DF: OTD is a killer. Essentially, anyone who is a fan of Condo will flip over OTD. It has all the elements of the debut (NYC culture satire, cartoonish decadence, razor dialogue, slapstick slacker characters) but is far more ambitions in its scope and execution. As a matter of fact, it is an international crime caper. It’s done. Who knows when it will be published. But the Dime is finished. And this will be the last novel I write that takes place in New York City. Haters rejoice.