“Dream Logic Makes Sense”: An Interview with Ashley M Farmer
Seemingly before Farm Town became The Farmacist, you wrote this: “Mostly the Farm Town project became a place—both outside and inside this new city—for me to revel in and better understand nostalgia and ambition and technology.” Did your perception of nostalgia change at all when you revisited Farm Town and revised and put parts of it into The Farmacist?
I think nostalgia really drove this project in particular because I was a newbie in L.A. and homesick for more rural places in which I’d lived before (and where my family still lives–so I was missing them, too). Both the process of playing the silly game and also writing about more familiar, comforting landscapes became a means for coping with job hunting, insane freeways, and the pressure I felt to get my life started in a new place. Someone recently told me that Southern California is like a rock tumbler–that it tumbles you around for a while, but then it polishes you up–and it was early in that somewhat painful tumbling process when I wrote these pieces.
In terms of revising, yes, the nostalgia changed because I edited The Farmacist once I’d moved back to Kentucky. So I was home again, and California was far away and slowly becoming a memory of sun and concrete. So, my longing had abated. My affection for the game changed too: I’d quit playing it so long ago that, once I was revising, I’d have to occasionally check back in just to remember what the little farm, the cherry trees, and the sheep looked like.
How much do you think nostalgia influences your writing overall?
As for nostalgia influencing my work in general: I think that’s largely true. Part of it, for me, is the fact that a little distance in terms of time (and, in the case of The Farmacist, place) naturally brings me to a new understanding. I have greater clarity about my relationship to a person or particular moment when I’m looking back on it. It also does something interesting in terms of imagery: I have a terrible memory for street names and birthdates, but I can remember the smell of these weird, white trees that grew on the side of my childhood home and the songs that were playing when I sat on the 405 in Southern California one particular summer.
At one time, I had this nuts (and I’ll fully admit that the way I conceived it was a mix of exhaustion and grad school induced delusions of grandeur and procrastination) idea I would write a contemporary version of Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino, but it would just be about the cities I’ve built and purposefully destroyed in different iterations of Sim City. Like there are a few pages of this. But I’ve talked myself out of this every time I start getting really into the idea. Can you talk more about why you chose Farm Town, a game that feels of our time and for people of a certain age, decidely time-fillery, for ekphrasis? How did you stay confident enough in it to make such an interesting book?
Your idea sounds like a killer project. I’d like to read this book!
In terms of choosing Farm Town (a game much less interesting than Sim City!) as a subject to write about, it really happened by accident with just a few poems. I left the game aspect out of those pieces and simply tried to write about the landscape as though it were a real place. But I felt just a tiny bit of momentum and fun energy in the pieces, so I kind of latched on to see where it could take me. I wasn’t actually confident that it could become a full-fledged project–it objectively sounded like a bad idea–but I had some encouragement from my husband (writer Ryan Ridge) to take it as far as I could go. Plus, I was still getting a charge from the process, just kind of tinkering and having fun while doing it. When you create enough of something–haikus, drawings, who knows?–I think things naturally start to accumulate. So that was my lesson with this project: for better or for worse, take something as far as you can just to see if it accrues and to let the experiment happen.
One of my favorite stories in The Farmacist is “Big Sea Coast.” It’s so rooted in images that made me read it multiple times in a row: “I once drove into the sunset until it swallowed its tail,” and “the sex-smelling blossoms in the side yard, the radio crashes, the guns your siblings buried in couches, in snow.” What advice would you give to writers still learning how to ground their work in imagery?
Thank you for the kind words on that piece. You know, I personally derive imagery-related inspiration from a variety of places–dreams, movies, old photos, song lyrics, even scents I remember from being a kid–and sometimes those things kind of intuitively link up on the page in order to conjure a specific feeling and moment. I trust (and hope!) that the reader will feel an intuitive connection between something like a “radio crash” and the image of a gun buried in the snow. I’m hopeful that dream logic makes sense to a lot of us.
So I suppose I would encourage the imagery-inclined to trust in their first impulse to mash together the most compelling, potent images in order to evoke a feeling or suggest part of a narrative–even if there doesn’t seem to be a logical connection between them. Let them sit next to one another and see what happens, see if they make any sparks. Also, look at your family’s old photo albums. And maybe try to remember your dreams each morning…
As an editor for Juked, you must see a lot of trends. What are stories you wish you saw a little more of? What are some you need a break from?
This is an excellent and difficult question. I can’t say there are stories I need a break from–not any particular subject matter or type–but I get excited by original voices, by people who experiment with and break from traditional forms, and by underrepresented perspectives. My personal tastes lean toward the experimental, strange, and language-driven–and I can’t help but love stories that reflect the diversity of women’s experiences. But what I love about Juked is that our editorial crew is spread out geographically, comes from different backgrounds, and has very different aesthetic preferences. This keeps me really open to and appreciative of a variety of work.
Also, a p.s. to this question: we’d love to see more creative nonfiction! Please send it our way.
About the Reader:
Ashley Farmer is the author of The Women (Civil Coping Mechanisms, 2016), The Farmacist (Jellyfish Highway Press, 2015), Beside Myself (PANK/Tiny Hardcore Press, 2014), and the chapbook Farm Town (Rust Belt Bindery, 2012). A former editor for publications like Atomica Magazine, Salt Hill Journal, and others, she currently serves as an editor for Juked. Ashley resides in Louisville, Kentucky, with her husband, Ryan Ridge.
About the Interviewer:
Megan Giddings was a former executive editor at SmokeLong Quarterly and a winner of the Kathy Fish Fellowship. Her chapbooks, Arcade Seventeen (TAR) and The Most Dangerous Game (The Lettered Streets Press) will be released Fall 2016. She has been anthologized in Best of the Net 2014 and in Best Small Fictions 2016. Her stories are forthcoming or have been recently published in Arts & Letters, Passages North, The Offing, Pleiades, and Black Warrior Review. You can learn more about her at www.megangiddings.com.