Unrequited Love and Basketball Rule the Court in 'The Falconer'

Posted by Goodreads on January 15, 2019
Dana Czapnik
Dana Czapnik's debut coming-of-age novel, The Falconer, takes place on New York City's public basketball courts in 1993 as 17-year-old Lucy Adler plays the game and learns about unrequited love.

In honor of her first book, Czapnik talked to Goodreads about setting out to write the novel she always wanted to read, the books she loves, and how sports writing taught her to "craft a full, lean story quickly and excise the fat."


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Goodreads: Summarize your book for readers.

Dana Czapnik: In the macro sense, The Falconer is primarily about a young woman coming to terms with being a flawed, multi-dimensional person in a world that doesn’t much like or get ambivalence or complexity.

It’s also about a certain moment in New York right before the money took over, but was beginning to creep in. And it’s a snapshot of a small generation of American kids coming of age during a time of relative peace and prosperity, mired in their parents’ post-Vietnam, post-Watergate malaise; children of divorce and the breakdown of the nuclear family, benefiting from and grappling with the feminist and civil rights movements and generally distrustful of institutions. Oh, it’s also a bit about basketball. And art.

In the micro sense, The Falconer is the story of a girl who is in love with a boy who doesn’t love her back.

Goodreads: Tell us a little bit about yourself and how you became a writer.

DC: I discovered I loved writing about sports in college (I had a fun, snarky sports column in the college newspaper called “The Corner Kick”), and I worked as a journalist my first few years out of school before I switched to what I call “the dark side”—marketing and PR. All throughout those years, I wrote fiction in my spare time. I’d go home from work in the evenings and sit at my desk and write short stories that nobody read. I treated it like it was my double life, a dirty secret.

I began to realize that I preferred the secret life I was leading at night to the professional life I led during the day. I also thought I was a better fiction writer than I was a reporter or a corporate writer. I decided to apply for my MFA, and it was at Hunter that the personal identity meshed with the professional self. I hadn’t been in the literary world at all prior to Hunter. I didn’t know a single fiction writer or poet. While there, I saw real writers and how they worked. I began to treat fiction writing as my job, which meant I had to take it seriously and allow this private life of mine to be fully exposed.


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GR: What sparked the idea for The Falconer?

DC: Several years ago Toni Morrison tweeted, “If there's a book you want to read, but it hasn't been written yet, then you must write it.” That’s basically the story with The Falconer. I’ve spent my whole life looking for Lucy in fiction and never found her, so I just decided to write her myself.

I’ve always wanted to read a first-person narration and character study of a young woman in New York, wondering and thinking and observing. I’ve read so many wonderful novels with young men doing that, I really craved a female character who felt similarly universal and also microscopically specific.

GR: Did you find yourself influenced by any particular books or authors as you worked on your debut?

DC: Of course the most obvious one is J.D. Salinger. Lucy Adler would never exist without the Glass family or Holden Caulfield, who was the first friend I met in a book. There are many characters in literature who wouldn’t exist without him. But though there are echoes of Holden in Lucy, in many ways she is the antithesis of him. They do not share the same worldview.

Rabbit, Run by John Updike opens on a pickup basketball scene, which is one of the best action scenes I’ve ever read because the action itself tells a broader story about the character and the world he occupies. I wrote a very rough draft of the opening scene of The Falconer after reading Rabbit, Run in my 20s, though I didn’t know at the time what it was or what it was going to be. I actually tucked it away for several years. But once I began working on this novel and had a solid idea of what I wanted it to be, I always knew I’d dig out that scene and use it as the opener.

I liked the idea of opening a novel on a basketball scene, but this time the star is a young woman. I’d never read a novel about a female athlete, and I wondered what it might be like to introduce the world to a character like that—not because it’s fun to put a woman in a man’s role as some sort of parlor trick, but because so many stakes change. A woman playing pickup basketball in a public park is a woman alone in a world of men. The fact of her body changes the dynamic. Because human beings are human beings, sex is automatically introduced. Basketball is a physical game. And it’s a game without armor. There’s so much touching. Rabbit, Run sparked the idea of turning that scene on its head and placing at the center a young woman bursting with sexual heat.

I also loved reading An Attempt at Exhausting a Place in Paris by Georges Perec, which is 40 pages of Perec describing exactly what he sees sitting in cafés and on public benches in Place Saint-Sulpice over the course of three days. Most of the sentences read like this (his punctuation is arbitrary throughout):

“The pigeons are on the plaza. They all fly off at the same time.

Four children. A dog. A little ray of sun. The 96. It is two o’clock.”

In the rhythm of his descriptions, a poetry emerges and something stranger, too. In cataloging exactly what happens as it happens, the absurdity we face in everyday life is exposed. The bus, for instance, stays on the same route and does the same thing every day. This is necessary for people who need to get to work and get home and go to the grocer's, but if you take the time to sit and watch as the same bus circles through its route all day, every day, without variation, it suddenly feels existentially dreadful. Though The Falconer isn’t as experimental in its prose, I was influenced by the idea of using observation of place to communicate something larger.

GR: Your background includes sports writing for ESPN the Magazine, the United States Tennis Association, and the Arena Football League. How did that work inform your novel?

DC: On a practical level, covering sports and writing on extremely tight deadlines teaches you how to craft a full, lean story quickly and excise the fat. You can’t kill your darlings when there are no darlings to kill. But it also often leads to relying on hack turns of phrase. One of the things I tried my hardest to do in this novel was write the basketball scenes in a way that felt nothing like anything I’d ever written or read about sports before. I’m too close to it to gauge whether I achieved that, but it’s what I set out to do. That’s the freedom of fiction; you can do whatever you want in a way you can’t with a 500-word game summary that’s due in 30 minutes.

Being a woman in sports—still very much a boys' club—has influenced my entire worldview and therefore played an essential part in writing this novel and will likely inform many other writing projects to come in ways that I can’t yet know. I will be endlessly fascinated by the relationship between men and women as power dynamics shift and cultural expectations evolve, and I was given a unique window and insight by having spent many years of my young adult life in mens' locker rooms.

Also, working in sports puts you in close proximity to a human beauty that borders on divine. In that way, sport at the elite level is its own primal art.

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GR: What are you currently reading, and what books are you recommending to your friends?

DC: I’m usually more of a fiction reader, but at the moment I happen to be reading a lot of nonfiction. I just devoured Zadie Smith’s newest essay collection, Feel Free, and took a moment to bow down to her after each essay.

I just finished All You Can Ever Know by Nicole Chung. My sister is Korean American, and we’re reading it together. For her, it feels both foreign and familiar—her adoption was very different, and she grew up in multicultural New York City with several other transracial adoptive families as close friends and relatives. But she’s also a person of color in a white family, and so there’s a language in Chung’s memoir that she knows by heart. I found it illuminating and tough.

I also just read Beastie Boys Book, which I couldn’t put down no matter how hard I tried, to the detriment of some other projects. It is so much richer and funnier and more literary than I ever would have expected. I fell in love with them all over again.

For some light fare, I’m reading Primo Levi’s last book of essays, written before he died, The Drowned and the Saved. Reading about the brutal psychology of Auschwitz feels essential to the moment we’re currently living in.

I’m also in the middle of Erin Somers’ debut novel Stay Up with Hugo Best, which will hit stores in April. It’s one of the funniest, sharpest books I’ve read in a long time. I cringe for June Bloom and all the mistakes she makes, and yet I understand her too. Somers has an incredible, caustic voice and she does not suffer fools gladly.

GR: What’s next for you? Any preview you can give readers?

DC: I very much come from the school of thought that you don’t talk about the thing you’re doing until it’s done. A long time ago, my mother told me this story about James Joyce: He had a great idea for a novel, and the boys at the local pub asked him what it was about. He sat there for hours and hours reciting the whole book. Later, he went home and found he could no longer write it. His excitement and energy for the book had already been spent on the boys in the pub. It was lost to him forever.

For the record, I have searched high and low to find out whether this story is true and have come up empty. My mother doesn’t remember telling it to me. It’s very possible she made it up or misremembered some details of the real story. Or I’ve accidentally changed it over time. Maybe it was Isaac Bashevis Singer and not James Joyce and it wasn’t a pub, it was a café. Anyway, I like it all the same.

Comments Showing 1-3 of 3 (3 new)

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message 1: by Cassandra (new)

Cassandra Clark Disappointed that it's called the Falconer and is in fact about baseball in which I have no interest whatsoever! Seems a bit of a cheat as if cashing in on H is for Hawk.


message 2: by Jonathan (new)

Jonathan Braunstein If you read the book, you'll know why it's called The Falconer. Believe it or not, there are other, older references for that term. Also, not about baseball. Or falconing.


message 3: by Charles (new)

Charles Heath Cassandra wrote: "Disappointed that it's called the Falconer and is in fact about baseball in which I have no interest whatsoever! Seems a bit of a cheat as if cashing in on H is for Hawk."

It is a shame you don't know how to read. Your comment is about baseball, with which this book has nothing to do, and likewise, we have no interest in your comment whatsover! Seems a bit of cheat as if cashing in on T is for Troll.


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