In the spirit of making the best of things in our current moment, the Final Thursday Reading Series will continue online this month. On Thursday, March 26, this page (www.finalthursdaypress.com) will feature a video reading by Andrew Farkas (who originally was scheduled to come to Cedar Falls). And since it wouldn’t be FTRS without the open mic, you are invited to contribute a video of you reading under five (5) minutes of your own creative work. It would be easiest if people just put their own videos on YouTube or some other service and sent a link that can be posted on this page. Send links to firstname.lastname@example.org by Wednesday, March 25 to ensure that they will be posted. If you have questions or trouble getting a video online, send email to that address as well, and we will try to figure something out.
Before all of the recent developments, FTRS conducted an interview with Farkas about his work, and the text of that interview appears below.
Andrew Farkas is the author of the novel The Big Red Herring, which Publisher Weekly says, “leaves narrative convention lying dizzy on the floor ... readers will enjoy this humorous, high-energy romp.” Farkas is also the author of the short story collections, Sunsphere and Self-Titled Debut. He is a fiction editor for The Rupture and an Assistant Professor of English at Washburn University.
What inspired The Big Red Herring?
ANDREW FARKAS: I originally wrote a short story called "Vayss uf Makink You Tock" in 2001. It was about a character who didn't know what he wanted to do with his life, and one day the Gestapo showed up and began interrogating him. They refused to tell him what they were interrogating him about, though. And their questions really didn't make sense. After writing a draft, I set the story aside and didn't come back to it for a couple years. I did this a few times before I finally figured it should be a novel (since every new idea I had kept making the story bigger). I wanted to keep the Gestapo, so I decided The Big Red Herring would be an alternate history novel (since the Gestapo are around in the 21st century). I also decided it would be a mystery of sorts. Originally, the mystery was, "Why are the Gestapo here?" But for a novel, I needed a bit more. So I added the murder mystery aspect (though, of course, the Gestapo are more interested in things other than the murder). Ultimately, though, the novel was inspired by the (failed) short story, which was likely inspired by my fear that I was never going to figure out what I was going to do with my life. That's not at all what the novel is about, but it appears to be the original inspiration. Maybe I answered the question: I'm going to write this book is what I'm going to do with my life.
What was the process of writing The Big Red Herring like? How, if at all, was it different from writing short fiction?
AF: I tend to juggle quite a few different elements at one time even in my short fiction. For the novel, I was able to juggle even more elements. I learned with a previous abandoned novel, however, that I couldn't just keep throwing stuff up in the air. I say that because I quit the abandoned novel after writing over 100 pages and realizing that it was probably going to be about 2000 pages long, if I ever finished it. With The Big Red Herring, then, I learned to structure my writing so I could actually complete the book. I never had that trouble with short fiction because, unconsciously, I just always seemed to know how many elements to include. So even though Red Herring isn't a traditional novel, I figured out how to include just enough plot so the reader could be pulled along by it, and I could be reined in by it.
As for the process, I tend to pace a lot while I'm writing. So, I would pace around, pretending to pitch baseball games, reading The Journal of the American Cocktail or The Gentleman's Companion: Around the World with Jigger, Beaker, and Flask, then writing writing writing. When I would finally get to a place where I could show my work to someone, I'd send what I'd written to my friend, Lewis Moyse (who I dedicated the novel to), and normally just before he'd head off to Vegas, he'd write me some awesome feedback. Then, after I had a complete first draft of the novel, I used Lewis' feedback and my own ideas and research to continue on. At the end of each complete draft, I'd go to Kinko's at about 2:00am, have them drill holes into the manuscript, buy a binder, and then set that draft aside until I was ready to read it with a mind toward the next draft.
What kind of research did you do, and how long did you spend researching before beginning the book? Did anything surprise you?
AF: Because I knew that I didn't want to write a traditional murder mystery, I read a lot of the books listed on the Postmodern Murder Mystery website. I also read quite a lot about conspiracy theories and about conspiracist thinking. One thing that surprised me was the fact that it's pretty common amongst people who believe in conspiracy theories to believe in multiple theories that very obviously contradict each other. You'd think that they'd get rid of one or both, but somehow, folks who think like this, don't see it as a problem. I also did research on the Singapore Sling, other cocktails, and tiki bars, since all of those things play into the novel. My problem, especially early in the going, is that all I want to do is research. I have a bad habit of going down the rabbit hole of just about any topic because I can say, "This is research, so it's important." What it really is, at a certain point, is procrastination. I have trouble in the early stages of writing because I hate looking at blank pages/blank screens. What I have to force myself to do, then, is just keep writing what amount to lousy drafts while I'm researching. That way, when I finally know what I need to know, I won't turn and see that blankness gaping, yawning in my direction.
What writers and/or books have inspired you?
AF: The four most important books for The Big Red Herring are Karen Hellekson's The Alternate History, Flann O'Brien's At Swim-Two-Birds, Philip K. Dick's The Man in the High Castle, and Thomas Pynchon's Gravity's Rainbow.
If you could go back in time and tell your pre-author self anything, what would it be?
AF: This is a tough question because I've been writing since I was in eighth grade. But I suppose I'd say that you, Andy Farkas, should get over thinking that first drafts, someday, will be easy. That said, the thrill of finishing a story or a novel is more than worth the pain of the beginning.
Why is humor so important to your work?
AF: Well, I tend to write about rather dark subject matter and I do so in a somewhat nontraditional mode. But I find that people can handle anything if they're laughing. Plus, I think there is a dearth of absurdist humor out there right now. There's lots of awkward humor (which is not for me), there's lots of lowest common denominator humor, but I find absurdist humor to be conspicuously absent. I hope to change that.
—Interview conducted by Alyssa Minch