by Jacqueline Till
Jennifer Blake, Neumann University Class of 1994, and Nick Moccia
spent three years writing They All Fall Down.
Alumna Jennifer Blake’s biggest challenge began as a joke. She was on her way to a concert with her best friend Nick Moccia when they drove through the area where he grew up. “Nick started talking about his family, the things he experienced and how it shaped his life. I said jokingly—full-heartedly jokingly—that we should write a book.” Before reaching the venue, they plotted the novel and created the main characters. The friends didn’t speak of the book after the concert; however, when Blake returned home she wrote and emailed Moccia the first chapter. He replied with edits inspired from his personal emotions, beginning the co-authors’ dramatic but cathartic experience.
They All Fall Down teases the border of biography and fiction by translating Moccia’s encounter with murder and suicide through the character of London Drake. Blake explained that working on the novel together strengthened her writing skills as well as their friendship. “Co-writing is the hardest thing I have ever done. Not only am I telling a very personal story that’s full of drama, insecurities and sheer rawness about somebody’s life, but I’m also helping him write and putting it together in a story that flows.”
Blake’s dream to be a writer began at an early age. “I was lucky enough to team up with someone like Nick with a story to tell. It all just kind of came together, but it’s not with a lack of work.” They All Fall Down is more than a novel; it’s a testament to the co-authors’ friendship and trust. Striving for authenticity, Moccia began recording his therapy sessions on his iPod. He recorded a total of 28 hours and allowed Blake to listen to every minute. “I can only compare it to standing in front of a class naked—inside out,” he confessed. Blake reflected, “The magnitude of that trust never escaped me. I mean every time we hit play and I sat and listened with him in front of me, I never took for granted what was happening in that space. Who does that? Who trusts another human being like that? Some of the stuff I heard was raw, deep emotion.”
The authors wrote separately then shared their work for editing. Their conflicting schedules, between Blake working full-time in public relations and Moccia touring as the lead singer of Generation Next, caused stress and exhaustion. However, the emotional demands proved to be more intense. Blake identified the revelation of the tragedy as the most difficult chapter to write. “I had heart palpitations. I had to walk away and come back, walk away and come back. When it was done I sat down, read it and cried.” Moccia’s commitment to the book’s climax induced two panic attacks and Blake met him in the emergency room. “To me, the book is us,” Moccia stated. “It is life to me.”
While the storyline is personal to Moccia, the entire writing and publication process is a testament to Blake’s capabilities. “This book is a compilation of everything I have ever learned up to this point in my life. The writing is just scratching the surface. There’s design work, editing work, PR work, marketing work, website design work. It’s every skill and talent I have— it’s my thesis.” After three laborious years, They All Fall Down was ready for publication, but the authors had to choose between pursing a traditional publishing deal and self-publishing. After learning that authors are responsible for most of the publicity, they decided to work as independent authors.
In February 2013 the co-authors created an account on Kickstarter, a website that collects financial pledges to help fund creative projects. “I told Nick that asking people for money, at this point, wasn’t about the book anymore. It’s about our relationships. They know we have a story to tell. They believe in it. They trust us that it will be worthwhile.” Within four days the co-authors exceeded their goal. The limited edition copies included an original soundtrack to the novel, written and performed by Moccia. After selling the editions funded through Kickstarter, the authors utilized CreateSpace, a company that provides self-publishing and distributing tools. Subsequently, the book is available on Amazon and Barnes & Nobles online.
“My education, my experience has given me the ability to do all of this,” Blake reflected. She was attracted to Neumann University’s personal education. At Neumann, she studied English in the honors program and interned in the public relations office. “Neumann gave me the opportunity to find out who I was and what I loved. There were some really inspirational mentors here, who, aside from my parents, always believed in my writing abilities and always pushed me.” Blake has always believed that a good writer has power. Now, after publishing her first novel, she uses her writing to inspire readers. “That was our goal: to write a story that helped Nick heal from what happened in his life and have readers finish the book feeling hopeful about their own lives.”
To purchase a copy of They All Fall Down, visit www.theyallfalldown.net.
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