A new East Falls author on his first book: a coming-of-age mashup of literary and pulp fictions with a dash of Diana Ross.
For David Jackson Ambrose, words have always been a real lifeline. Growing up, reading provided an escape from his difficult home life and the stress of being bullied at school. So did writing – he created comic books and plays for his family and friends, starring them as main characters. After undergrad at Penn (Africana Studies), David got an MFA in creative writing from Temple, and an MA in writing studies from St. Joseph’s.
“I’ve always wanted to be a novelist my entire life, “he told us, “This is all I’ve ever wanted to be.” The goal, he says, is to fully commit to his writing and support himself 100%. Until then, his regular pay check comes from his job in social work.
First things first – is his book in any way about East Falls?
Yeah, no. He only moved here last August, and he’s been working on getting published all this time. He hadn’t even been out for beers yet! When he met us at Murphy’s for this interview, that was his first time there. Regardless, locations don’t tend to play a big part in his stories. “I focus on conflict and drama,” he said, “My stories are mostly interior, and can happen in many different places.”
State of the Nation is set lightly in King of Prussia in the 1980’s. The characters act from the margins of life in unique and not-terribly-well-adjusted ways. Which one is most like him? “None of them, all of them,” he said. For David, the basic truths we all share matter most: “We want to take care of those we love. We want a decent living. We are all proud to be Americans.”
David also deals with the dark side of our society, with all three working-class teenagers being abused and exploited at almost every turn. Brief and illuminating flashbacks to the Atlanta Child Murders and the Tuskegee Experiment underscore the plight of expendable populations. The weak, the silenced, the minimized, who make easy targets and scapegoats.
“I want to be seen!” one of the teenagers tells his mother towards the end of the book, “The only time somebody notices us is when one of us turns up missing or dead. I don’t want to have to be murdered before anybody notices that I was alive.”
Throughout the novel, Nation’s three protagonists engage in some seriously high-risk behaviors, as they struggle with who they are in the callous world they’ve inherited. David describes these adult situations so vividly some readers may be shocked – the language! The drugs! The sex!
But David grew up on trashy novels like Mandingo and The Thornbirds, and he’s unapologetic about mixing pulp-y elements into his serious writing. “I try to push through assumptions that people on society’s periphery are stupid or monosyllabic,” he said. His characters speak fluidly, artfully, and without a trace of condescension for the reader. There’s a lot of action, too!
The plot moves fast and delivers a powerful punch towards the end that brings together several storylines (and kinda broke my heart). For David, his novel is a success if one reader sees themselves in its pages, and connects with his message. Certainly, it’s hard to imagine any reader coming away from this book untouched.
Since State of the Nation came out April 3rd, David’s been doing some public readings and otherwise settling into life at Dobson Mills and getting to know the neighborhood. “I love the parks, all the hills and waterways. I love the proximity to the museums,” he told us. One thing that’s taking some getting used to? How friendly we all are in the Falls!
“This is not what I’m used to!” he laughed, “People approach me to say they like my shoes. When I ask for directions, they actually walk with me to my destination. Once when I was crossing the street, some guy shouted out the window to hurry before the light changed.” Even the nicest quirks take some adjustment.
David’s still working on a book reading for The Falls, meanwhile his May 5th reading sold out at the Wooden Shoe (704 South Street). Catch his upcoming reading/raffle at the Big Blue Marble (551 Carpenter Lane) on Saturday June 16th (7 – 8:30pm).
Pick up a copy of his book locally at Narberth Bookshop, Barnes & Noble Center City, Target, and Walmart. “If you don’t see it on the shelves, I’d be very grateful if you call in to request it,” he added. He’s on Amazon too, of course, where an e-version will soon be available.
He’ll be in Great Britain this summer researching for his 2nd novel (already in progress) and will be presenting at the Great Writing UK conference this June.
MORE INFO: davidjacksonambrose.com