Interview with Author Farah Rose Smith

Farah Rose Smith will be reading along with Gwendolyn Kiste at the next Night Time Logic event on April 24, 2018 at KGB Bar in NYC. Both authors will join me for a discussion of their fiction. Full details are at the link below. We hope to see you there. Recently I had the chance to speak with Farah Rose about her fiction and many upcoming projects!

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DB: Thank you for joining me as a guest at the next Night Time Logic with Gwendolyn Kiste. I’m looking forward to hearing you read your work and speaking with you both on the panel.

Your biography mentions that you are also a filmmaker and magazine editor and publisher. Could you tell me about Grimoire Pictures? How does film inform your stories and or writing process?

FRS: I started this small art film company while I was enrolled in a certificate program at The Rhode Island School of Design for video production and animation. Doing so helped guide me through my seven years in the program, essentially encapsulating the general aesthetic I was going for with my photography and video work. Everything I did was very dark, ominous, experimental.

Films were initially much more influential on my writing, though I have distinctly gravitated away from this, as I think a lot of stories now take a very cinematic approach and while there is nothing necessarily wrong with that, I tend towards wanting to preserve or make use of a more literary approach. Or just want to be different.

I think the connection that I can make between the medium of video production and story writing is that for both, I make use of experimental approaches and techniques, both of others and my own, and try to make the process of creating as much of an art as the result. I think there is a very Eva Hesse-esque element to this… the idea that the process is the art, and the result is an artifact. But how that may be perceived in the medium of fiction, I am unsure, because an audience doesn’t really see any of this. I try to approach writing as art, in the hope that it will also be experienced as art. I use a lot of aleatory strategies to start with.

DB: You are the founder of Mantid Magazine, a publication promoting women and diverse writers in weird fiction. Could you tell me about some of the best experiences you’ve had with the magazine so far and what direction you see it going in the future?

FRS: I think the best experiences over the course of the past few years are the interactions I have been able to have with women and foster between them, building both professional and personal relationships, and forging the community of storytelling that I had intended from the start. If I am to separate personal and professional accomplishments, then I think on the professional side, I can say that it has been an honor and joy to see contributors get their start with MANTID and get published elsewhere after the fact, continuing on towards their storytelling pursuits. On the personal side, I published a story of Gwendolyn’s in the first issue of MANTID called A CERTAIN KIND OF SPARK, and we have since become very close friends.

My hope is that the publication will continue on to a fourth issue, which will also be in anthology format, and that we will continue to see greater numbers of diverse writers submitting. I make a point to invite women to submit as well, and am hopeful that when the fourth edition comes around, it will be the most diverse and comprehensively weird yet. (And I would encourage women to contact me directly if they are curious about the publication and potential fourth issue).

DB: You are also an artist and musician. What kind of art do you do and what instrument do you play? How do these other disciplines affect your fiction?

FRS: For the most part, video work was the majority of my “art,” since I had great esteem for folks like Kenneth Anger, The Quay Brothers, Ladisla Starewicz, etc., and was aesthetically averse to creating anything commercial. I paint occasionally, and used to draw with pastels, but these are mediums I gravitate to and away from, depending on time and impulse (mostly because I’m not very good at either). I am a guitarist, mostly in the areas of electric blues and folk rock. I am unsure if these disciplines impact my fiction, though I approach them in the same disjointed, cumulative fashion as piecing a story together (which takes me a very long time). Music and paintings by others, however, are enormously influential in the development of my work. I experience music and visual art very intensely, so both play a pivotal role in my overall process of bringing a story to life.

DB: The narrator of your chapbook THE VISITOR is an aspiring rock star. What are the challenges in writing about music and how did you approach them?

FRS: I think the greatest challenge for me was trying not to fall back into any cliches or heavy-handed references, even though the villain was heavily inspired by Earthling-era Bowie. I came up with that story after seeing Iggy Pop play in Boston a few years ago, which was not long after Bowie’s death. The evil song in the story is essentially Break Into Your Heart off of Iggy Pop’s Post-Pop Depression album.

This was unusual for me to have such obvious elements looming over a story, as I usually try to divorce myself from the work of others as much as possible. So here I allowed myself leeway, and approached it as a way of honoring two artists that I love very much, while still maintaining the slightly-decadent, surrealist elements that I love. I was also influenced by sculpture for that one, particularly the works of Arlene Shechet and Sarah Sitkin.

DB: You have a short story coming out in the Anthology Tragedy Queens which is a collection of stories inspired by Lana Del Rey and Sylvia Plath. Which one was your story inspired by and why? What connections do you see between these artists and their work?

FRS: Plath’s poem DREAM WITH CLAM-DIGGERS had the greatest influence over this piece. I tried to stay away enough from mirroring elements so that the influence would be only a thread, or a glimmer. Seaside memories, summer melancholy, the delicate intersection of the natural world with a sublime one, children, dreams. By weaving these elements gently, I felt it would be a way of paying homage to Plath respectfully.

I have so much respect for both Sylvia Plath and Lana del Rey that I found myself trying to bridge different areas of their influence into this story. Both have a way of painting atmospheric sadness with their words. I wanted to use that as a base to explore the idea of depression and incapacitation being dismissed when girls become women, the tragedy of perceived failure as a mother, the loss of a child. These are matters that women experience and don’t necessarily see reflected realistically in fiction. I also wanted to capture Lana’s neo-Symbolist approach of elevating emotional experiences, in a way that feels transcendent, while working through some of my own memories of recovering from a particularly difficult time in my life, a stroke at 18.

DB: You’ve written and published several other short stories recently. What are some of the connections or unifying elements in your work that you see? What are some themes or topics you wish to explore or write more about?

FRS:  A fair amount of my short stories contain similar thematic threads… disintegration of identity, failure amid enormous ambition, isolation, abandonment, artistic madness, luxuriating in negativity and then somehow transcending it, inescapable memories, depression, chronic illness/disability, complications of sisterhood, the trials of the introvert.

These are things I’ve encountered in my own life, both directly and indirectly, though I don’t approach any kind of writing project with intent to include these things. They just happen, which is nice, because it allows me to write without having to integrate a million things that I would probably utilize too heavily if I intended to include them. I am all-for subtlety and gentleness when it comes to themes or “message-driven” works (which I usually avoid) because, at least for me, there is a far greater emotional impact from realism and delicate inclusion of detail rather than being hammered over the head with particular messages.

I generally write within the confines of the themes mentioned above, or a tonality that reflects sadness and isolation, though the difficulty there is getting something creative across without sounding sorry for yourself or like you’re asking for special treatment. I’ve often found that able-bodied audiences and readers will respond to my work oddly, and that was jarring initially. But there is really no right way to respond to a piece of fiction, and that’s something I’ve made peace with. Though it is my hope that readers who can relate to the things I write with that particular content will come across it and have some kind of emotional, authentic experience with it.

The stories are also connected through hidden/recurring elements, often names or items that appear and disappear, but hold some kind of comprehensive significance. Everything is connected. There is a giant universe (I will avoid the term mythos for my own sanity) that I hope people will slowly get acquainted with.

I’d like to move away from the darkest of these themes in future works, moving more towards surreal/experimental fantasy works that don’t dwell so deeply in morbid territory.  I want to explore themes that are relevant to women, with delicacy. Sisterhood and motherhood, most especially.

DB: What authors or stories have your attention at the moment? What are some of your favorite things about co-panelist Gwendolyn Kiste’s stories?

FRS: The writer I am most excited about right now is Larissa Glasser. Her novella F4 was recently released from Eraserhead Press as part of the New Bizarro Author Series (a series I would encourage everyone to check out!). I bought a chapbook of hers at the Merrimack Valley Book Festival last October and was absolutely blown away by the transgressive macabre lusciousness of her prose. Absolutely floored me, as did a reading she did at the Lovecraft Arts and Sciences store in Providence. She’s definitely a writer to keep an eye on.

I recently finished reading HAUNTED WORLDS by Jeffrey Thomas, and enjoyed that exceedingly. I also recently became enamored with Joanna C. Valente’s poetry. Her new collection SEXTING GHOSTS came out recently, and I’d encourage everyone to check that out as well.

And on the fabulism/magical realism front, everyone should pick up a copy of I STOLE YOU: STORIES FROM THE FAE & MAKARA by Kristen Ringman. She also read at the LASC recently and I predict her work will have a strong impact on the genre.

Gwendolyn’s stories are powerful in numerous ways. Her style is specific and recognizable because there is a lyrical balance between that which is seen and that which is felt. And there is enormous authenticity and weight to the emotion woven into the narratives. I also appreciate that so much of it is unabashedly female.

I first spoke with Gwendolyn after she was recommended to me as a writer for the first issue of MANTID by my friend and colleague, Sean Thompson. I published A CERTAIN KIND OF SPARK in that issue, which struck me in the very first lines because it contained a sentiment, or perspective, that my mother had always spoken of in comparison to her sister, and I knew that I was dealing with a writer who had profound insights into the experiences of women, and an incredibly artful hand at conveying these things in fiction in a weird, magical context. The first pages of the story SOMETHING BORROWED, SOMETHING BLUE from her collection had me crying profusely. Gwendolyn writes real life. The supernatural and magical are there, but it is that connection to reality that makes those wondrous elements really sing. And that is the best word for it, perhaps! Gwendolyn’s writing sings.

DB: You’ve also written novella length work. How, if at all did that format come into play in the creation of EVISCERATOR and THE ALMANAC of DUST? Can you tell us about some of the weird fiction elements in these novellas?

FRS: I don’t really approach these longer stories any differently than shorter works, which is probably why it is rare for me to work long-form. My process is so meticulous and involves incredible labor on even one sentence at a time, which becomes a burden when trying to approach the completely different animals that are novelettes and novellas.

EVISCERATOR was woven together from three different short stories, which was an unusual approach that I don’t believe I’ll use again. The main characters have undergone these barbaric cosmic surgeries so I found some artful resonance in the idea of taking several different pieces and trying to make them work, just like the characters were trying to make their lives work with whatever scrambled elements they could grasp onto, including their mutilated bodies. The weird elements are fairly scarce since it more properly fits into Bizarro territory, but the villain is a cosmic entity that shows up in other forms in previous works of mine, so I think that may be interesting for readers to witness and analyze in a weird context. I think I am most uncertain about EVISCERATOR, so I am very much looking forward to hearing what people think about it when it is released from Eraserhead Press in July.

As for THE ALMANAC OF DUST, this was a story that had been haunting me for years and years. I sometimes allow a single idea to fester for a very long time, with the knowledge that there will be a correct time to write it, and I can say that in this case, that was a wise decision. I am particularly proud of that piece, because it was the first time I set out to execute something very specific and did exactly that, rather than allowing myself to stray. The “weird” in that is all about atmosphere. I was highly inspired by Alfred Kubin and Bruno Schulz for that particular story.

DB: How does weird fiction differ from other genres in your opinion and experience? Where are some of the areas of overlap and where do you find weird fiction transcends and becomes something else?

FRS:   There are many arguments about what the definition of weird fiction truly is, but for me, though weird fiction has a very particular atmosphere, the unusual elements can unfold in an enormous variety of ways. I do not immediately associate it with cosmic horror as some often do. I think my perspective on it is best illustrated through mentioning works I consider to be at the zenith of “weird.” I personally maintain that the seminal weird novel is THE OTHER SIDE by Alfred Kubin, and the most profound weird collection is COLD TALES by Virgilio Piñera. These authors encapsulate the genre at its most artful and intelligent, though are perhaps not appreciated or examined as often as Lovecraft and his contemporaries.

I am most attracted to the moments when weird fiction overlaps with Surrealism, Decadence, Symbolism, and the Middle European and Latin American Fantastic. Having said that, I am hesitant to use the term “transcends” to describe deviations from weird fiction, but only because I think it undermines how wonderful weird fiction can be by itself. There really is so much overlap that the idea of continuously categorizing works into genres and subgenres becomes tedious. Ultimately these categories are to guide a reader, and shouldn’t haunt a creator too much. I try not to let them haunt me. I have enough things haunting me already!

DB: Thank you for these answers! I’m looking forward to hearing and learning more at the event!

http://www.facebook.com/events/207534209988969

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