Interviews


From the Interview with Women’s Quarterly Conversation

Question: What were the first inspirations that made you desire to become a writer? Who are your favorite writers and how did they change over time?

Katie Farris: There is a story about me as a toddler— I ran around, naked except for my diaper with a stack of picture books, hollering “Books! Books! Books!” (That’s still how I spend my Saturday nights, incidentally).

Now my two great loves are Southern Gothic and Magical Realism. And here is the all-important list, the majorest stars in my sky: Faulkner, Garcia Marquez, Flannery O’Connor, Welty, McCullers, Byatt, Carter, Borges, and Calvino.

In terms of writing, my first love is language, words themselves, strange syntaxes and sounds—it’s always difficult for me to tear myself away from tinkering with linguistic minutia long enough to create stories. On the other hand, my reading has always revolved around plot—by and large, I will take a plot-driven novel over a linguistic meditation, because they’re fun, and provocative, and absorb me completely. The book that combines entertainment with fine language is rare and welcome indeed.

Question: Can you describe your interest with the Devil and how does this personal attention immerse itself in your work?

Katie Farris: How come you never hear about anyone selling his soul to Jesus to become a better guitar player? I guess Jesus isn’t in the market. He accepts them gratis, as a sort of donation (tax-deductible?) or rather a gift.

But the Devil is buying—and moreover, he’s betting. He’s preying (I love the closeness of the words ‘preying’ and ‘praying’) on our most human weaknesses, our vanities and egos to get his souls for free. Then again, he doesn’t always succeed. One of my favorite songs is “The Devil Went Down to Georgia” in which a cocky Devil bets Johnny a golden fiddle on the outcome of a fiddling contest. In the end, Johnny wins, and taunts “Devil just come on back if you ever want to try again/ I done told you once, you son of a bitch/ I’m the best that’s ever been.” It is the danger, of course, that keeps us hanging on, and also the chance, however small, that we get away with our hides, our pride, and perhaps a little more in the bargain.

And the Devil is sexy. He’s smoke rings and martini glasses and snakeskin boots. He’s sleazy or clean-cut: he’s muscle-bound or lithe, he’s whatever gets the job done. Grace Paley once said of one of her characters, “Faith works for me.” The Devil works for me, although he’s (or rather I would say ‘It’s’) often behind the scenes. He’s selfishness, he’s cruelty, he’s fear, he’s anger—at the same time that he’s passion, pride, foolishness—he’s everything that makes a story interesting.

Every artist makes their own deal with the Devil. While I’m not at liberty to discuss the particulars of mine, I will say this: without His existence (and the existence of others like Him, His predecessors and avatars) art would not exist. Whether you’re a practitioner of the most debased and subversive kinds of art (think of the Marquise de Sade, Jean Genet, Bataille… come to think of it, the French have a great history in this regard…), or a high moralist who believes that the duty of the artist is to bring man closer to God (William Blake, etcetera), you’re revolving around the same dichotomy. Even artists who are able to escape the Western particulars of our Lucifer-Satan, having never encountered our particular religion/myths, have their own set of dark figures, however those might be manifest. The artist must allow for a balanced view—to cut out one extreme or another is to devalue both art and life.

For me, moral ambiguity is at the center of art. In my short-short story from boysgirls, “The Devil’s Face,” a girl is trying to please the Devil sexually, and it is only ultimately through a sort of compassion, an empathetic moment, a recognition of someone else’s humanity, that she is able to do so. While people could view the story as perverse or degrading, I prefer to think of it as an honest love story. As all my stories are, ultimately. They are not romantic by and large, but they at bottom motivated by love. And that, for me, may be the only moral imperative.

From the Interview with California Journal of Poetics

Question: Nabokov couldn’t help but let his passion for butterflies populate his fiction. Is there something you are obsessed with that reappears in your writing, no matter how hard you try to abandon it?

Katie Farris: The fantastic. I think it’s because I never want to write metaphors as descriptions—the comparisons are always far more interesting to me than the reality. If I write, “The boy was feeling prickly as a hedgehog that day,” I’d be much more interested in his growing spines (fantastic fiction) than I would be in the fight he would get into with his mother in a more realistic piece.

Fairy tale lends itself to reinvention because it doesn’t need to be reinvented, not really. The nature of the tale, the fact that it exists outside of real time, in some idealized past that our grandparents can relate to in much the same way that we do, transcends the temporal. The issues that fairy tales revolve around too transcend time: rights of passage like marriage or birth, dealing with difficult family, class struggle.

 

© Copyright Katie Farris