Farah Rose Smith: Of One Pure Will
Header image by Lucy La Riot
Farah Rose Smith is the author of multiple works, including Anonyma and Eviscerator. Her latest is a rerelease of a once limited edition collection, One Pure Will, out from Trepidatio Publishing on September 10th.
I first found Farah on social media and I was immediately drawn to her intense, dream-like voice and the strange interior of her fictional worlds. Everything she writes drips with cosmic darkness and eldritch sensibilities. Today I’m interviewing her to find out her more about her work, her artistic life, and her opinion on werewolves and vampires.
You have a dream-like and lyrical style that reminds me a lot of Lovecraft, Charlotte Gilman Perkins, and perhaps, a little bit of Sheridan Lefanu. Can you tell us some more about your influences and how you developed your style?
I’m a fan of the writers you mention, particularly Lovecraft. I grew up in Rhode Island, so his name was something you’d hear often in school. I loved his writing style more so than his ideas, and seemed to gravitate to the 19th century supernatural fiction “style” of writing horror, even if I wasn’t that well-read when I started out.
Gilman’s The Yellow Wallpaper was influential, as I think it is for a lot of women writing horror, particularly because I went through my childhood and teens being told my chronic illness was “all in my head” by doctors, which was eventually proven to be untrue. And my lived experience assured me that, indeed, one’s way to healing is not solitary confinement. Another story along the lines of this is "The Little Room" by Madeline Yale Wynn, which also addresses ideas of the need for feminine refuge and acknowledgement of personal experience from family. I didn’t read Carmilla until last year, to be blisteringly honest, and ultimately it stirred up what I consider to be some deep, somber feelings about my own unexplored biromantic orientation. I can say that no line in fiction has ever haunted me as much as the line towards the end… “It was troubled by revenants, sir;” But I digress.
Bruno Schulz is a big influence for me, that type of almost-indefinable and lyrically-rich fabulism. Nabokov was also a huge influence in my earlier writing years, though I don’t know if it necessarily materializes in a recognizable way in these stories. Most of the stories in this collection were written between 2014 and 2019. I have since been exposed to more writers in my studies, and I also consider Andrei Bely and Clarice Lispector to be significant influences, even if I am not quite executing fiction on that narrative level yet.
My style developed in a messy way, mostly materializing from my need to use experimental writing techniques as launching points for sentences. I developed my own type of hybrid cut-up method that went into the writing of at least half of the stories in Of One Pure Will. I have since mostly abandoned the technique due to how daunting it was, which may explain why I consider myself to be in a different personal era of writing.
Can you point to any personal experiences you had that drew you to writing these kinds of works?
There is a strange, dream-like temporality, and often temporal confusion in my work that I honestly think is a result of PTSD from all of my negative medical experiences. As though the characters are eternally in the present, ruminating on the past, and afraid of the future. There are some stories with very particular life influences. "The Land of Other" congeals the experience of recovering from a stroke I had when I was 18, and two miscarriages in my twenties. "Ivisou" taps into a lot of the negative energy I held after failed friendships. "A Delirium of Mothers", one of the newer works that wasn’t in the original Egaeus Press release, is actually based on a true story of a haunting in Rehoboth, Massachusetts that I read in the book The New England Ghost Files by the late Charles Turek Robinson. As I get older and move into a second phase of writing, I’m moving farther away from personal narratives. I don’t take kindly to the assumption that when women write in first person it’s automatically autobiographical. Sometimes, maybe. Most of the time, even if it is, it is a highly distilled version of the truth.
Other than that, my first exposure to horror and science fiction was from my dad, who loved genre films and is a big fan of H.G. Wells and Jules Verne.
Your latest collection of short stories, Of One Pure Will, is soon to be released from Trepidatio Publishing. Is there anything you want people to know about this book?
The book was originally released from Egaeus Press as a collector’s edition in the Summer of 2019. This version contains five new stories that act as a bridge to my most current work, with a shift in style and content. I’m proud of the stories at different levels. I don’t necessarily think they represent my most current voice, but for me, they serve as an almost-archive of my prior vision as a burgeoning writer. Readers should be warned that the stories are complex and at times opaque, but there are through-lines within all of them that are best found through slow reading. I once wrote in an essay about Russian Symbolist writer Andrei Bely that he “filled his prose with philosophical thought and symbolic imaginings, creating difficult compositions that require slow, meticulous reading and attention to be fully grasped.” I think that applies to my writing as well, and in particular, the contents of this collection.
The original edition came out during a really awful time in my life. I lost my best friend to a heart attack, I lost my job, I lost friends, I almost lost my mind. I wouldn’t wish those circumstances to surround anyone’s first collection. So I am looking at this not only as a second chance in terms of it having a wider release, but also a second chance for me to just enjoy having a collection out, sharing it with people, and being able to feel like a writer again.
In your novella Anonyma, I found the antagonist particularly striking, his villainy oppressive and all-encompassing. Can you tell us more about how you write your characters?
That villain, Nicholas Bezalel, was largely a personification of my inner and most toxic voice of self-loathing. I wrote the novella over a span of about six years, through all of which I was struggling with severe and untreated mental illness. There were also elements of a not-so-wonderful man I dated in my early twenties, and some of the staged moments, in terms of aesthetics, were inspired by the stage and costuming of queer performance artist Michael Matou. If I am recalling correctly, there were also sections based upon my journal entries. It was an extremely slow piece to develop that went through many darling-killings, including a police procedural angle in which an investigator is after Bezalel and his daughter ends up being murdered in a very horrific but artistic way. I scrapped that.
I don’t think about character development much. In fact, I don’t know how I come up with characters. Often they are inspired by the merged experience of listening to music while looking at abstract fashion photography or dark, surreal paintings. The villain in "The Visitor" is just based on David Bowie in the “I’m Afraid of Americans” era. "As Unbreakable as the World" was something I wrote after reading Kafka’s letters to his girlfriend Milena, so there is probably something of my imaginings of him in that protagonist. My characters may seem underdeveloped to some, and I think that is largely because I often look at stories as paintings rather than strictly works of language.
Most people know you as a writer, but you’re a multi-faceted artist who is also a designer and a dancer. How did you come to be drawn to dance, and can you draw any parallels to your writing? Do you have anything to say about creative expression as it regards to life as a whole?
I first wanted to dance when I saw my cousin taking ballet lessons as a little girl, but my mom wouldn’t let me. I’m still not sure why. I danced alone at home to Janet Jackson videos, joined the junior high dance team, and was bullied more than I could handle, so I quit after a year. I didn’t dance again until 24, when I took a bellydance class and fell completely in love with it. I was drawn to dance through what is probably an unusual way. My husband’s former partner was a beautiful professional bellydancer, and learning about her, I realized I was seeing part of what I felt was missing from myself. I’m so in love with the dance, the cultures it emerges from, the people I’ve met and studied with from all over the world. It’s a really magical practice that embodies some of the aspects I originally hoped the horror writing community would, but sadly didn’t for me.
As for creative expression in life overall, I think some people just have art in them, and it’s going to come out no matter what tool you put in their hands, or medium they choose to dabble in. When I was little, a relative of mine told me to choose one thing and get really good at it, but I could never choose. So sometimes being a creative person means being a jack of all trades and master of none, but having a monopoly on joy, novelty, risk. I’d love to write, dance, paint on the level of the masters and sometimes wonder about why I couldn’t choose, but I think at the point of becoming a professional, one's achievement is really only an artifact of practice. So enjoying the process of creation is everything for me.
Who are some of your favorite writers? Would you like to go to dinner with any of them, or do you think they’d behave badly and you’d rather admire them from a distance?
Andrei Bely, but he had a reputation for taking offense at inane things, feeling betrayed, and starting drama. At dinner, he would be the one yelling. Clarice Lispector would be there, quietly self-possessed and chain smoking. Walter Moers would be drawing sketches on napkins, and Lovecraft would be chastising the waiter. I think I prefer to admire them from a place of peace. And I’m strangely lucky enough to be married to one of my favorite writers, and we have dinner together almost every night. Not many people can say that.
Very serious question: Vampires or werewolves? And which make better friends?
Neither? I’m going to make a stand for Mummies, since I detest vampires, werewolves, and zombies altogether. Vampires are terrible friends who drain your energy and make you feel ugly. Werewolves are too hairy. I have a peculiar aversion to hair that I am only admitting publicly now! Not to mention I had a phobia of werewolves growing up after I watched a werewolf movie at far too young an age with my dad and had nightmares about them for decades. I have a significant disgust reaction to zombies that makes it very difficult to read or watch movies about them. In a charming but reductive sense, Mummies are… just mad at people who woke them up and disrespected them. I think many of us can relate to that.
Where can people get your new book when it’s released, and where around the Internet can they follow you?
Of One Pure Will is coming out on September 10th, 2021. You can purchase it directly from Trepidatio Publishing.
One last question. Well, not really a question. I’m outside your door right now. Can you let me in? I’m so cold…
Give me ten minutes. I have to put on my human face.
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