The Beauty of the Fall takes Readers on Intriguing Journey
In Rich Marcello’s new novel, The Beauty of the Fall, Dan Underlight, a divorced, workaholic technology executive, suffers lingering grief over the death of his ten-year- old son, Zack. When Dan’s longtime friend and boss fires Dan from RadioRadio, the company that he helped create, he crashes and isolates himself.
Willow, a poet and domestic violence survivor and advocate, helps Dan regain his footing. With her support, Dan ventures on a pilgrimage of sorts, visiting Fortune 500 companies to flesh out a software start-up idea.
When Dan returns home with a fully formed vision, he recruits the help of three former RadioRadio colleagues and starts Conversationworks, a company he believes will be at the vanguard of social change. Guided by Dan’s generative leadership, Conversationworks enjoys some early successes, but its existence is soon threatened on multiple fronts. Will Dan survive the ensuing corporate battles and realize the potential of his company? Or will he be defeated by his enemies and consumed by his grief?
This captivating, idea-driven novel appeals to readers who are interested in exploring a technology based solution to many of our current social problems, and to readers who are interested in father-son relationships, gender equality, and working through grief.
Rich is a poet, a songwriter and musician, a creative writing teacher, and the author of three novels, The Color of Home, The Big Wide Calm, and The Beauty of the Fall.
As anyone who has read Rich’s work can tell you, his books deal with life’s big questions: love, loss, creativity, community, aging, self-discovery. His novels are rich with characters and ideas, crafted by a natural storyteller, with the eye and the ear of a poet.
For Rich, writing and art making is about connection, or as he says, about making a difference to a least one other person in the world, something he has clearly achieved many times over, both as an artist and a teacher.
I won this in December from a Goodreads.com giveaway and if you read my monthly reading posts you know I started this book back in February. It was difficult to get into the story, but once I did it was wonderful. It reminded me of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. While I found of the technology details tedious the insight into Dan’s grief was interesting and poignant. If you are feeling philosophical about life (or want to feel so), I recommend reading this book.
Dan Underlight, a divorced, workaholic technology executive, suffers lingering grief over the death of his ten-year-old son, Zack. When Dan’s longtime friend and boss, Olivia Whitmore, fires Dan from RadioRadio, the company that he helped create, he crashes and isolates himself.
Willow, a poet and domestic violence survivor, helps Dan regain his footing. With her support, Dan ventures on a pilgrimage of sorts, visiting Fortune 500 companies to flesh out a software start-up idea. When Dan returns home with a fully formed vision, he recruits the help of three former RadioRadio colleagues and starts Conversationworks, a company he believes will be at the vanguard of social change.
Guided by Dan’s generative leadership, Conversationworks enjoys some early successes, but its existence is soon threatened on multiple fronts. Will Dan survive the ensuing corporate battles and realize the potential of his company? Or will he be defeated by his enemies and consumed by his grief?
I received an ARC copy of this book that I voluntarily review as a member of Rosie’s Book Review Team.
This beautifully written novel touches on many subjects that are important at different levels: some, like loss (be it the death of a child, a divorce, the loss of not only a job but also a life-project) can be felt (and there are heart-wrenching moments in the novel) understood and managed at a very personal level, others, like the role of communications technology (who must control it? Should it remain neutral or become involved in the big issues? Should it ally itself with governments or be creatively independent?) or domestic and gender-related violence, although no doubt having a personal component, also seem to require global solutions. This ambitious novel tries to give answers to many of these questions and it does so through a first person narrative interspersed with poetry.
The novel is narrated by Dan Underlight, whom we meet at a particularly difficult time in his life. His son died a couple of years earlier and he feels guilty about it (we learn the details quite late in the novel), he is divorced, and now, the technology company he helped to create, and by extension his business partner and the woman he’d been closer to than almost anybody else for many years, fires him. His job, the only thing that had kept him going, is taken away from him. He has no financial worries. He has a good severance pay, a huge house, two cars, but his life is empty. Through the novel, Dan, who still sees his son, has conversations with him and wants to start a project in his memory, meets many people. Most of them are enablers. He has known Willow, a woman who works helping women victims of domestic violence, and herself a survivor (although she doesn’t talk much about it, at least with Dan) for some time and eventually, their friendship turns into a romantic relationship for a while. He has also been attending therapy with Nessa, a very special therapist (as a psychiatrist I was very curious about her techniques, but working in the NHS in the UK I must admit I’d never even heard of a Buddha board) since his son’s death, and during his peculiar pilgrimage, he gets ideas, encouragement, and a few brushes with reality too.
Much of the rest of the novel is taken up by Dan’s creation of a new company, based on his idea that if people could converse about important subjects and all these conversations could be combined, they would reach agreements and solve important problems. As conversations and true communication in real life amount to more than just verbal exchanges, there are technical problems to be solved, funding, etc. I found this part of the novel engaging at a different level and not having much knowledge on the subject didn’t detract from my interest, although I found it highly idealistic and utopian (not so much the technical part of it, but the faith in the capacity of people to reach consensual agreements and for those to be later enforced), and I also enjoyed the underhand dealings of the woman who had been his friend but seemed somehow to have become his enemy. (I wasn’t sure that her character came across as consistent, but due to the subjective nature of the narration, this might have more to do with Dan’s point of view than with Olivia herself).
Dan makes mistakes and does things that morally don’t fit in with the code he creates for his company, or with the ideals he tries to live by (he is human, after all) and things unravel somewhat as life has a few more surprises for him, but, without wanting to offer any spoilers, let’s say that there are many lessons he has learned along the way.
As I said before, the language is beautiful, and the poems, most of which are supposedly written by Willow, provide also breathing space and moments to stop, think and savour both the action and the writing style.
First of all, let me confess I was very taken by this novel and I couldn’t stop reading it and even debating the points with myself (I live alone, so, that was the best I could do). I was also touched by both the emotions expressed and the language used. As a sensorial reading experience, it’s wonderful.
Now, if I had to put on my analysing cap, and after reading some of the reviews on Goodreads, I thought I should try and summarise the issues some readers have with the novel.
The themes touched are important and most people will feel able to relate to some if not all of them. Regarding the characters and their lifestyle, those might be very far from the usual experience of a lot of readers. Although we have a handful of characters who are not big cheeses in technology companies, those only play a minor part in the book. The rapid expansion of the technology and how it is used in the book is a best case scenario and might give readers some pause. Personally, I could imagine how big companies could save money using such technology, but charitable organisations, schools or libraries, unless very well-funded, in the current financial times when official funding has become very meagre, would have problems being able to afford it all, and that only in theoretically rich countries. (The issue of world expansion is referred to early on in the project but they decide to limit their ambitions for the time being).
Also, the fact that issues to be discussed and championed were decided by a few enlightened individuals (although there is some debate about the matter) could raise issues of paternalism and hint at a view of the world extremely western-centred (something again hinted at in the novel). Evidently, this is a novel and not a socio-political treatise and its emphasis on changing the US laws to enforce legislation protecting equality, women’s rights and defending women against violence brings those matters the attention and focus that’s well-deserved.
For me, the novel, where everything that happens and every character that appears is there to either assist, hinder, or inspire Dan (it is a subjective narrative and one where the main character is desperately searching for meaning) works as a fable or perhaps better a parable, where the feelings and the teachings are more important than the minute details or how we get there. It is not meant to be taken as an instructions manual but it will be inspirational to many who read it.
In summary, although some readers might find it overly didactic (at times it seems to over-elaborate the point and a word to the wise…) and might miss more variety and diversity in the characters, it is a beautifully written book that will make people think and induce debate. This is not a book I’d recommend to readers that like a lot of action and complex plots, but to those who enjoy a personal journey that will ring true with many. It is a touching and engaging read to be savoured by those who enjoy books that challenge our opinions and ideas.
Thanks to the author and to Rosie, thanks to all of you for reading and remember to like, share, comment and CLICK!
Post Number:#1 by ellieonline03 » 12 Feb 2017, 03:09[Following is an official OnlineBookClub.org review of “The Beauty of the Fall” by Rich Marcello.]
4 out of 4 stars
Review by ellieonline03
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Every once in a while, we get to read books that would change how we see life. Rich Marcello brought such change in his literary fiction novel, The Beauty of the Fall. It explores ponderous issues such as overcoming grief, gender-based violence, and fighting one’s demons.
The book introduces us to the life of Daniel Underlight. After his divorce and his only son’s death (which he blamed himself for), he threw himself to work. He was in grief and he depended on his job to erase the pain. When his friend and RadioRadio co-founder, Olivia Whitmore, fired him, he thought his life was over. The only one he had to rely on was Willow. She was a poet, a women’s rights campaigner, and Dan’s closest friend. With her help, Dan found meaning in life again. He decided to visit the headquarters of the Fortune 500 companies across America. His visits and experiences helped him shape his start-up idea.
Dan recruited three former associates and started ConversationWorks. The company enabled real-time conversations of people in a virtual conference room. People could talk about solving substantial problems in the world. In a way, the company helped foster social change on a global scale. ConversationWorks, or CW, garnered initial successes after its launch. Yet, it also attracted enemies, with Olivia in the lead.
The Beauty of the Fall was an insightful and intellectual read. Dan’s team often talked about the possible benefits and drawbacks of their actions. Additionally, the poems in the book were heart-warming. Willow was a poet and she was the source of most of the poems in the book. Dan used those poems as inspiration and guidance when making critical decisions. The author put together an awesome set of characters.
Maggie, Charles, Zia, and Willow were the perfect set of friends for someone like Dan. They had varied perspectives when it comes to deciding what’s best for CW. They argue and voice out their concerns. In the end, they based their final decisions on the code of conduct that Dan made for the company. Plus, they never forget to listen to their employees. They were busy executives, but they care about their employees and consumers. They’re not difficult to love at all.
There are also profound lessons that readers could glean from the book. Anything I say here might spoil it for the readers. Instead, I will share my favorite line in the book: “Everything is emerging exactly as it needs to.” While Dan did not understand this at first, he learned what it meant as the story progressed.
I thoroughly enjoyed reading The Beauty of the Fall. There were no grammatical or typographical errors so it did not disrupt my reading. There was moderation in the flow of the story: there were time skips, but it was minimal. Be warned though that some form of self-harming is present in the book. It was not graphic, but some readers may find it a bit disturbing.
With all these things in consideration, I give The Beauty of the Fall 4 out of 4 stars. This is for readers who love an intellectual read with profound life lessons and a host of inspiring characters.
The Amazon Editorial page is shaping up nicely for The Beauty of the Fall. You can check it our here:
Or you can read below.
Five Star and Gold Award Winner
From the very first paragraph, Rich Marcello drew me into his book with a command of the language that I liken to a poet’s. Passages like this one, “He put his head down, tried to rekindle the wildfire he helped birth years ago, tried to daydream down a riven path.” and this one, “Don’t look down, the pinpricks have spouted and are covering the new carpet in blood.” provided me with ample proof early on that Marcello was a real deal literary composer, a master of the language, and a wordsmith with soulful depths.
But beautiful language alone can’t make a reader keep reading. Original characters with powerful character arcs and a compelling story to keep all the characters growing is fundamental. No problem there, either. From Dan to his counselor to Willow to his son, stronger characterization is front and center. I know Dan–he reminds me of the author Richard Bach. I know Willow, too, this wild child, compassionate, changer of the world woman who is always strong, always courageous even when her heart is broken. These characters kept me reading.
Then we arrive at the story. Characters and language need movement, need story, setting, pace, tension. Marcello has these covered, too. Set in New England, the vivid colors of the seasons remain clear in my brain long after I finished the book. Authors who take the time to divide their books into parts and give them names always receive a grateful nod from me. I like to know the structure of a story before I begin reading, and I like rolling back to the Table of Contents to remind myself what’s next in this journey. The Beauty of the Fall’s Table of Contents is especially brilliant; titles like “So it Spins,” “Build from the Sky Down,” “Spectacles, and Halos and Code” promised each chapter would carry its own mini-story and all the mini-stories would merge to form a powerful narrative.
Themes of forgiveness, trust, simplicity, honor, technology as healer, and non-violence echo through the pages of The Beauty of the Fall and held me captive until the end. If I had to name a gripe, it would be that the last chapter was unnecessary. The story should have ended with “The Good-bye Return,” but I can understand why, for closure’s sake, Marcello included “In the Coming.”
The Beauty of the Fall will appeal to readers who love a compelling, well-written story with elements of literary fiction, technology fiction, and romantic fiction. Marcello doesn’t write the type of literary fiction that prizes language over story. He writes the type that uses beautifully soulful language to real unique characters living compelling bittersweet lives. – The Hungry Monster Book Review
Ten-year-old Zackery Underlight is dead. His father Dan however, is just learning to live again. There is a certain haunting lyricism to this remarkable book about a father coming to grips with the death of his only son – a death he feels he caused. There’s also a tortured search for self-renewal and forgiveness that extends far beyond the natural grieving of a parent for his child . . . These carefully paced reveals of a deeply conflicted character – coupled with a fascinating glimpse into how high-tech start-ups are born – make this one of the year’s best works of literary fiction . . . Its rich depth, satisfying substance, and willingness to examine key social issues such as global warming and battered women, force the reader to confront the truly inconvenient truths all around us while remaining invested in the story’s key players . . . This is a rare read, and one to be savored, especially now, when seeking respite from the current worries of an uncertain national – and international – future. It’s good tonic for the soul; a restorative tale of perseverance against all odds . . . Five-plus stars to Beauty of the Fall. From start to finish, it never disappoints. – Don Sloan, The Midwest Book Review
That kind of spectacular writing, interspersed with actual poetry, business vignettes drawn from life, and development of a deeply flawed, complex, and charismatic main character made this one of the best books I’ve read this year. For anyone with a technology background, The Beauty of the Fall is a must read. For everyone else, it’s a present right now, even as fall’s beauty heads to winter. – Barb Taub for Rosie’s Book Review Team
The level of detail Marcello puts into the descriptions of the business and its establishment is astounding, hinting at countless hours of research to get it right. Even better, for a topic that could very easily be dull, he manages to keep it engaging throughout. It’s not just the technical stuff that Marcello can turn into something great, his dialogue is, for the most part, realistic and engaging, and he often treats the reader to beautiful imagery and a great turn of phrase.
The Suits are black, genderless, and fill the elevator. As they slowly unload, walk toward my office, they scan everything– the flash-frozen employees watching their entrance, the desks filled with proprietary info, the cappuccino maker that would never make its way into one of their government offices. Maggie, who is standing next to me, who I insisted attend this meeting despite her strong objections, turns ashen, and a fidget subjugates her hand.
There’s plenty more to the book than just the new business — and how it plans to change the world. The reader is thrown into Dan’s life as he struggles to find and keep a meaningful relationship, as he fails to cope with his son’s death and as he looks for answers in all the wrong places. – Striking13.com
In an Oyster Shell – This was an emotionally raw, well-poised, literary fiction that was unique with a fullness that is richly fulfilling.
The Pearls –The narrative was raw, poignant and provocative. This was a primarily character-driven story. With well-developed characters, that worked in favor to the story.
The main character was flawed and compromised a lot in the story. Yet, he had a moral backbone that exceeded every questionable choice he made. The author put the character through some detrimental circumstances that were intense. The character understandably broke but always rebounded with a resiliency that kept the reader turning page after page.
Realistic contemporary components with pop culture references were interlaced with well-composed believable fiction. It gives the reader a wide point of reference that makes the prose pleasingly palatable. -Writingpearls.com
”Few novels are as intelligent and relevant as The Beauty of the Fall. Almost none is as eloquent, compelling, heartbreaking, and ultimately, uplifting.” –Mark Spencer, Faulkner Award winner and author of Ghostwalking
”Rich Marcello’s The Beauty of the Fall takes the reader on two intriguing journeys: the exciting coffee-fueled rise of a high-tech start-up and the emotional near-collapse of the man behind the revolutionary company, his personal journey through grief and healing.” –Jessamyn Hope, author of Safekeeping
”Rich Marcello’s third novel, The Beauty of the Fall, intermixes poetry and prose fluidly throughout the manuscript, and in fact, incorporates poetry as one of its major themes. As a practicing poet, I was swept away by the lyrical language, the characters, and the unexpected twists and turns in the plot. Overall, a great and inspiring read!” –Rebecca Givens Rolland, author of The Wreck of Birds
Rich Marcello, author of “The Beauty of the Fall”, has invited you to get to know him a little bit better. Find out a bit about him as he answers just a few questions, and make sure to follow him on social media!
Have there been any authors who have influenced your work? If so, who?
I love the work of Milan Kundera, Don Delillo, Alice Walker, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, and Adam Haslett, to name a few.
Out of all the characters you’ve written, who is your favorite? Why?
Dan Underlight, in The Beauty of the Fall, is my favorite because he’s so complex. As a writer, I’m trying to go deeper and deeper into the soul of each of my characters, and so I focus a lot of my effort on their inner lives. In TBOTF, I spent most of my time on Dan. I wrote him over and over until I understood his grief at some deep non-verbal level. That’s when he came into focus.
Are there any types of scenes you find more difficult to write? Which ones and why.
When I started writing, it was more difficult for me to write female characters well, especially when the scene was from their POV. But I’ve spent a lot of time working to improve my craft in that area, and now, I’m really proud of the female characters in my novels. I’m particularly fond of Willow in TBOTF and Paige Plant in The Big Wide Calm.
What would you say the most rewarding part of being an author is?
The most rewarding part of being an author is when a reader writes me or tells me that one of my novels or characters resonated in some way that made a positive difference in her life. My hope is that my novels, in some small way, connect folks more to themselves and the world, and so, when it happens, it truly is rewarding.
What advice do you have for authors just starting out in their journey?
To write your first draft of each scene quickly so you fully capture the intended emotion. After that, edit over and over again until the scene is fully realized. In my fiction class, I like to tell students to rewrite a scene five times before they workshop it. That seems to work pretty well.
Do you have a writing ritual? If so, please explain.
I write seven days a week first thing in the morning for about five hours. I’m a big believer in going from one kind of dream time ( sleeping) to another ( writing fiction). I seem to do my best work this way.
Was being an author something you always wanted to do?
I’ve been writing all of my adult life, but only full-time for the last six years. In college, I had a chance to be mentored by a novelist in residence, but I was broke and needed to make money for a time. So when I graduated, I did. Throughout those years, I kept writing––mostly songs and poetry––but I always knew I would come back to writing novels. Hopefully, I’ll get ten or so of them out into the world before I’m done.
If you could have a conversation with any one person, alive or dead, who would it be and why?
I’ll pick two. I’d love to talk with John Lennon about music and the current state of the world, and I’d like to talk with Dalai Lama about love and kindness.
Would you care to provide an excerpt from one of your books as a sample of your work?
Read more at this link: https://sandraely770.wordpress.com/2016/12/21/445/
Ten-year-old Zackery Underlight is dead. His father Dan, however, is just learning to live again.
There is a certain haunting lyricism to this remarkable book about a father coming to grips with the death of his only son — a death he feels he caused. There’s also a tortured search for self-renewal and forgiveness that extends far beyond the natural grieving of a parent for his child.
Other recent losses for Dan include a failed marriage and the sudden evaporation of his high-powered, high-tech job — the one that consumed so much of the time he now feels he should have spent with Zack.
On the one hand, he feels keenly the unfocused anger and seeming senselessness of his situation. But, on the other, he feels the need to harness and channel his rage and guilt into something constructive and therapeutic.
So, improbably, he begins an offbeat pilgrimage across America, covering twelve thousand miles, thirty-two states — and 234 Fortune 500 companies. His goal: to construct a Lilliputian pyramid of small stones on the campus of every corporate giant across the nation.
If this sounds strange, it somehow makes perfect sense in the context of this masterfully written book. Dan is searching for something intangible as he pursues his odd quest. At one point prior to beginning, he ponders to himself:
“How can I extract meaning from the universe when loss and betrayal have corroded and burnt my cherished memories? How can I reconstitute after being charred and dissolved?”
It’s a fair question about the vagaries of the cosmos, and, as he brings his odyssey to an abrupt halt just off I-5 in California — the result of being robbed by a hitchhiker — he decides to turn his energy in a new direction: the startup of his own tiny technology firm.
ConversationWorks, or “CW,” takes off like a bullet shot into cyberspace. It’s a brand-new social media app that places far-flung parties in a series of virtual conference rooms to find solutions to weighty problems facing the world.
At least that’s the idealistic objective. Here’s Dan’s overarching vision of the singular, groundbreaking concept:
“ConversationWorks is a local problem-solving network with global scale. It’s software that allows small group conversation to scale all the way from coffeehouses, to towns, to cities, to the world, with the primary goal of collectively working on problems that matter to its users.”
It is, effectively, a technology platform where “conversations are active and focused on solving problems instead of socializing.”
So, imagine Twitter without the interaction-limiting, forced brevity; Facebook without the memes and cute kittens. Instead, there is substantive dialogue and meaningful social change through consensus and aggregated resolve.
The software and revolutionary VR hardware that make it work, however, are quickly subverted by early adopters to far less noble notions — such as ordinary business teleconferencing, family-to-family interactions, virtual blind dates, and even pornography (which the team quickly bans).
And through it all — the eager market acceptance, the explosive worldwide growth — Dan is still filled with relational angst.
He parts ways with gentle Willow, his first companion since he and his wife split up. He clings desperately to his core development team at CW. And he increasingly has extended conversations with his dead son — full-blown, holographic encounters in which a now-teen-aged Zack gives his father sage advice on his day-to-day decisions.
And there are other, darker rituals into which Dan drifts, seeking solace in a self-imposed purgatory amidst universal acclaim for his world-changing creation.
These carefully paced reveals of a deeply conflicted character — coupled with a fascinating glimpse into how high-tech start-ups are born — make this one of the year’s best works of literary fiction.
Its rich depth, satisfying substance, and willingness to examine key social issues such as global warming and battered women, force the reader to confront the truly inconvenient truths all around us while remaining invested in the story’s key players.
Indeed, the book strikes a beautiful balance between detailed, fact-filled exposition and the need to drive the central storyline forward — often with compellingly evocative prose and poetry:
“Against my cheek, her shawl smells like freshly woven wool on a cold fall day and feels like a refuge after too many unkind nights.”
And, this, upon hearing of Zack’s death:
“Ghosts pass through me like dry ice, drain whatever life energy exists.”
And, finally, this, after a boardroom showdown with Dan’s former boss:
“Olivia smiles as if the blood is already on her teeth.”
So much good imagery en route to a satisfying conclusion.
This is a rare read, and one to be savored, especially now, when seeking respite from the current worries of an uncertain national — and international — future. It’s good tonic for the soul; a restorative tale of perseverance against tall odds.
Five-plus stars to Beauty of the Fall. From start to finish, it never disappoints.
Newly-released by Langdon Street Press, Rich Marcello’s new novel will take you take you on a life-changing spiritual journey. The Beauty of the Fall tackles emotionally transformative topics, explores father-son relationships, and working through grief. It explores social issues such as climate change, domestic violence, equality for women, and examines the internal struggle of corporate and political America against the people. The Beauty of the Fall suggests that in order to progress, we must communicate with each other and look at technology based solutions to many of our current social problems.
As anyone who has read Rich’s work can tell you, his books deal with life’s big questions including love. The Beauty of the Fall is the third of three novels Rich has written about different kinds of love.
[“Writing and creating art is about connection, about making a difference to a least one other person in the world.” – Rich Marcello.]
“The first novel, The Color of Home, published in 2013, is about romantic love. It follows the lives of a man and woman over six years as they figure out what it means to be in a generative, loving relationship,” Rich tells Breakaway Daily. “The second one, The Big Wide Calm, published in 2014, is about a young woman, Paige Plant, who is mentored on her way to making her first album. That one’s about platonic love. The Beauty of the Fall is about love in a wider sense, about love in community. But it’s also about fathers and sons, overcoming grief, social issues, and how folks might connect with each other with kindness and compassion in a difficult world,” Rich explains. “All of these topics were of great interest to me when I started the book three years ago, and they are even more relevant today.”
[Rich’s novels are rich with characters and ideas, crafted by a natural storyteller, with the eye and the ear of a poet.]
The Beauty of the Fall follows Dan Underlight, a divorced, workaholic technology executive, who suffers lingering grief over the death of his ten-year-old son, Zack. When Dan’s longtime friend and boss fires Dan from RadioRadio, the company that he helped create, he crashes and isolates himself. From the beginning of The Beauty of the Fall, it’s clear that Dan Underlight is in a downward spiral. Dan’s “fall” is something that he doesn’t seem to mind very much, however, because it is able to gain him insight. The book suggests that for some people falling is about getting back up, and for others, it’s completely breaking that allows them to be the person they want to become. Willow, a poet and domestic violence survivor and advocate, helps Dan regain his footing. With her support, Dan ventures on a pilgrimage of sorts, visiting Fortune 500 companies to flesh out a software start-up idea. When Dan returns home with a fully formed vision, he recruits the help of three former RadioRadio colleagues and starts Conversationworks, a company he believes will be at the vanguard of social change. Guided by Dan’s generative leadership, Conversationworks enjoys some early successes, but its existence is soon threatened on multiple fronts. Will Dan survive the ensuing corporate battles and realize the potential of his company? Or will he be defeated by his enemies and consumed by his grief?
[Rich Marcello is a poet, musician, a creative writing teacher, and the author of three novels.]
Breakaway Daily in-depth interview with author Rich Marcello.
BREAKAWAY DAILY: It’s a pleasure to speak with you again Rich. We last got to have a conversation back in 2014 about your novel The Big Wide Calm, about a girl trying to make it in the music business. This time around your novel focuses on technology instead of music. Yet it still contains themes of love and loss. What was one of your main goals while writing The Beauty of the Fall?
RICH: In The Beauty of the Fall (TBOTF), I set out to write about what it means to love in a wider sense of the word, to love in in community, and to do so even when the main character, Dan Underlight, has a lot of loss in his personal life. I was also interested in showing technology in a positive light, in this case as a way to bring people together to work on big problems. So much of what happens these days results in polarization between folks with good intentions. In TBOTF, I was interested in developing characters who strived to reduce polarization by valuing diversity and finding common ground.
BREAKAWAY DAILY: What was one of your main goals when you wrote The Big Wide Calm?
RICH: With The Big Wide Calm, one of the things I set out to do was write a female protagonist well. With Paige Plant, TBWC’s protagonist, I was able to give her a unique voice that carried through the story, and I love the way she turned out. I’m a firm believer that if you are going to be a writer that you need to write men and women equally as well, regardless of your gender, so I’m thankful Paige came to me when she did. In TBWC, I also wanted to show a deep, intimate, and loving relationship that was platonic instead of romantic, and I think by casting Paige alongside John Bustin, I achieved that goal as well.
BREAKAWAY DAILY:When people are looking for a new author to read in this genre, they want to connect with someone who has been through the ringer and made a rebound. The way you talk about loss in The Beauty of the Fall, it feels like it comes from a very personal place. Fiction writers tend to draw on personal experience to write their characters, and you write it too well to not have life experience in it. Can you share a little bit about that, and tell us about how you’ve grown in some way like your main character, Dan Underlight?
RICH: One of the main themes of the book is dealing with grief. As you point out, Dan goes through three losses early in the story, and, in a way, the whole story is about overcoming the loss of his son. By serving a broader goal––the formation and growth of his company, Conversationworks––he takes a few difficult steps toward healing. But he also takes a few steps backward. I guess it’s fair to say Dan learns how to generate love in a broad community even though he’s not sure he deserves love himself.
So I would say to your readers, the best way to manage grief is to go through it, and the best way to go through it is to serve a higher goal. And, I would also say, the hardest part of going through a great loss is to accept that you deserve to love again. While Dan and I are different in many ways, I have had a lot of loss in my life, and over a long period of time, I’ve fully grieved and learned what it means to surrender to life instead of constantly resisting it. When I finally did surrender, I was able to move on and fully love again.
BREAKAWAY DAILY: While The Beauty of the Fall is certainly Dan’s story, I could argue that Willow is as central to the story as Dan is. In a way, it’s also her story. What can you tell us about Willow?
RICH: Dan really loves Willow, and I think without her influence throughout the story, and her passion for helping women, Converstationworks wouldn’t have been the company it turned out to be.
I spent the last year on the board of the Bridges Center for sexual and domestic violence, and Willow is professionally based on Dawn Reams who runs the Bridges Center. Dawn helped me a great deal as I was shaping the novel, and in particular, she focused on the domestic violence passages in the book to ensure they were authentic and unflinching. That’s why I am going to give Bridges 25K in profits from the book.
[If you are interesting in helping raise 25K to support Bridges: Domestic & Sexual Violence Support, please click here.]
BREAKAWAY DAILY:Chakra mists and Buddha boards are often mentioned in The Beauty of the Fall. In the acknowledgments, you thank someone for their help with these that were therapy techniques you discussed in the book during Dan’s therapy sessions. What are your thoughts on the chakra mists and Buddha boards? What is your experience with those?
RICH: One of the things I wanted to do with TBOTF was to write authentic and colorful therapy sessions because therapy is one of the most generative ways to go through grief. One of my colleagues is an incredibly talented therapist, and she was kind enough to consult on TBOTF. All of the therapy sessions, including the ones with chakra mists and Buddha boards, are things we talked about or things I experienced first hand in working with her. I’m really proud of those scenes because I truly do believe they are authentic and colorful. With that said, much of the credit goes to Amy.
BREAKAWAY DAILY: “What would the world be like if connections to something larger, something meaningful, happened all of the time?” This is the question Dan thinks in the book, and is the central question of the entire novel. I now want to propose this question to you Rich.
RICH: I think the world has largely lost its way and we are no longer collectively working to solve our most difficult problems. This is, in part, because we’ve splintered into intransigent factions who not only refuse to see larger meaning but often actively work to subvert it. If you look at the examples presented in the book––climate change, domestic violence, and equality for women––it’s clear we have a lot of work to do.
So, in a Conversationsworks based world, folks would connect to anything larger that they felt passionate about and that needed to fundamentally change. Imagine people working every day on millions of different problems, all for the common good. If we ever achieved such a lofty goal, we would have a true democracy for the people.
[Poetry by Rich Marcello.]
BREAKAWAY DAILY: I want to discuss one of your characters, Jack the millennial. You talk about what he’d do as king for a day (main character’s concept question). He says he’d set up free healthcare, let everyone work doing what they love, etc. Then at around page 140, he jacks (pun intended) the main character for his car, cash, and phone. I could smell the metaphor. Would I be correct in that assumption? Is Jack meant to be a metaphor for the realities of today’s millennial?
RICH: I think it’s fair to say that I wrote Jack as a character who is similar to many other folks his age, both in terms of his idealism and his inability to find his footing in traditional ways. Most millennials would not make the explicit choice he made in the book, but I thought it would be interesting to show his idealism and his cynicism in the same scene, and you are correct, my hope was that it would resonate with millennials.
BREAKAWAY DAILY: Although the tone for the majority of the book is non-political, the book reflects the political climate and is rife with political burnout. Can you speak a bit about that, and the Detroit water crisis that is also mentioned.
RICH: You are right, the tone of the book is largely non-political. With that said, given the magnitude of what Dan was trying to accomplish with Conversationworks, I thought I needed to show a couple of difficult use cases, and the cases I chose are political. As I mentioned earlier, the main examples in the book are climate change, domestic violence, and equality for women, but I did include a bit on Detriot’s water crisis. When I first heard the water story, I couldn’t believe it was true. How could Americans deny their citizens water? But it turned out to be completely true, and it also turned out to fit well into Dan’s search for meaning at the start of the book. That’s why I decided to include it.
[Front and back cover of The Beauty of the Fall.]
BREAKAWAY DAILY: What are your thoughts on the recent election and its outcome?
RICH: On the election, I’ve been mostly thinking about it from the perspective of kindness and compassion. What’s the kindest and most compassionate way of understanding what happened? I’m not sure I’ve figured it all out yet, but I have settled on a few points.
First, if Conversationsworks existed for this election, I’m not sure if it would have changed the result. Maybe. I am sure it would have positively changed the way citizens interacted and would have provided a place where those citizens could respectfully come together and discuss issues without fear of fake news or fake information. That’s one of the central tenets of Conversationsworks ––accurate and honest information is used in conversation to help folks who are on the opposite ends of the spectrum on an issue take a step closer.
Second, the election did surface a group of Americans who didn’t feel seen or heard. Anytime a society stops seeing a whole group of its people, it’s a major failure of that society. America failed to see many of its people these last thirty years as globalization, population growth, and mechanization (think robots) eliminated many good paying jobs in this country. With that said, unfortunately, the surfacing was accomplished through divisive, hateful, racist, misogynist, and xenophobic rhetoric which has now, rightfully, alienated over fifty percent of the American population. Worse, it’s made many of those same folks fear for their rights. It’s the first time in the modern history of America that hate has won out in a major election. Others like Barry Goldwater and Geroge Wallace ran on hate, but thankfully they lost. And so America has taken a giant step backward in terms of kindness and compassion, at least for now. That’s incredibly sad, but also an opportunity to learn and grow, if we collectively flip it around.
Third, and this is an issue much wider than America, and one that I spent some time on in The Beauty of the Fall. Many scientists, poets, novelists, and philosophers believe, as I do, that we are at a very dangerous point in history. Some of these folks think we have one hundred years left until billions of people die from climate change. The time to act is now, and the Paris Climate Accord was just a starting point. Unfortunately, with this election, America seems to be moving away from what 97% of the world’s scientists believe, namely that climate change is an existential threat. This simple fact should be enough to mobilize folks around America and the world to pressure the US into accepting the mainstream scientific view.
I’ll say one more thing about the election. I always wanted to live in the sixties, and I believe, as a result of the election, we’ve entered a phase of activism and protest that will dwarf the work done in that decade. Sometimes the world needs an event like the recent election to wake up a sleeping giant. I am hopeful, despite all of our problems, that we will come together in the coming years. I’m also hopeful that someday someone will build something like Conversationworks, and when they do, it will change the world for the better.
BREAKAWAY DAILY: What are you working on next?
RICH: I’m working on my fourth novel, The Latecomers, which is about aging in a world that in many ways devalues age. It’s about how a few folks try to build a community that values age and wisdom. I’m one-hundred-and-forty pages into that novel and hope to have it out in a couple of years.
The Beauty of the Fall is packed with so much more to discover. Read and savor The Beauty of the Fall. It will change you life. Available from Amazon & Barnes and Noble.
For more information on Rich Marcello visit his official website at RichMarcello.com