The Farmacist (Jellyfish Highway Press, 2015)
What are some of your favorite novellas? Or what are some novellas that have influenced your writing?
I’m influenced and excited by hybrid forms, so I often return to works that are difficult to categorize and are maybe loosely considered novellas. There are also several prose poem/flash fiction collections I’m drawn to that, to me, do the work of a novella. My favorite novella of all is Richard Brautigan’s Trout Fishing in America.
What might these favorite or influential novellas suggest about you and your writing?
I think my work often straddles the line between poetry and prose. As for Brautigan’s influence: on one level, his narratives feel loosely threaded, almost casual. But I think the seemingly-relaxed structure actually generates tension and surprise. Readers wonder what’s missing and why. We feel the friction between two disparate settings. My work is nothing like Brautigan’s (I wish!) but I think I’ve been influenced by what those “loose” connections can do.
What’s your novella about?
I wrote The Farmacist as a response to the Facebook game, Farm Town. I found myself living in Southern California, which felt overwhelming in both beautiful and difficult ways. It also felt like the opposite of a neatly controlled, so-easy-it’s-charming way of navigating life on a silly, imaginary farm. There are no freeways in Farm Town. It was also a refuge: the game is almost meditative in its simplicity and it spoke to the part of me that had grown up near farms or with plenty of space around me. And it’s a meritocracy: you spend time working and you earn coins. In Southern California (or maybe anywhere now, for most people)? Not so much. So the book is about both life in the game and life outside it and the disparities between the two.
How did you decide on the length and title of your novella? What were some of its earlier titles?
Part of The Farmacist was originally a chapbook of prose poems called Farm Town, which Meredith Lynn and Blake Kimzey at Rust Belt Bindery created. (They make one-of-a-kind artist books and Meredith generously included hand-colored prints of her photographs in Farm Town). However, I always felt like the book had a true beginning and ending, just the way a game does, so I kept writing. Finishing the book coincided with my leaving California for Kentucky.
To what degree did you collaborate on the cover image and design of your novella?
Justin Daugherty and Matt Fogarty, the heroes of Jellyfish Highway Press, created it. They cared about my feedback, but I didn’t have much except jumping up and down about it. I think that indie lit is lucky to have such stellar designers (like these two!) and it’s amazing when someone can capture the way your book feels to you and visually communicate it to others.
What are you working on now?
I’m writing a novel about a woman-run silver mine in rural Nevada.
What is your writing practice or process?
I’ve learned that I work best when I focus on one project at a time, so I’ll edit an almost-finished project while the next one percolates. I spend a lot of time envisioning something new before I get it down: I drive around with it, think about it while I listen to music or do the dishes, collect images that feel relevant, consider the major beats I want to hit. By the time I dedicate myself to writing it, I’ve hopefully closed the door on the project that precedes it and also gotten psyched about the next world I’m about to live inside for a while.
Do you have a favorite prompt or revision technique? What is it?
During revision, my focus is usually on sound and image, so I read aloud and feel for wonky spots or where to crank up language or where a picture can be made more vivid. It’s a messy, less-than-methodical process, but I enjoy it. Then I hand it off to the writer Ryan Ridge (whom I’m married to) and see what he has to say about things.
When did you discover the ending of your novella?
Maybe it’s because I didn’t want to move on from the project, but I actually had an excess of endings. I thought, is this section final enough? Should I add more? If I keep going, will it feel “more final”? So that was something I had to tackle during the editing process: find the right moment for the reader to close the book and walk away.
How does the novella allow you to do things you wouldn’t normally do in a full-length book? Why does it allow you to do it? Is it because the novella is more under the radar? Or is it because of its format? Its length?
For me, working on a project of this length allowed me to focus on language and rhythm in a way I couldn’t have in a longer project. I feel like this book sustains a kind of fever pitch that wouldn’t work if it went on and on. There’s also a lot of distillation in this project, both in terms of narrative and at the sentence level. A novella allows you (me!) to get away with some things one doesn’t typically find in a poetry collection or novel or other traditional form.
What do you think the connection is between image and language, and how might this connection be seen in your writing?
As a reader, I’m satisfied with almost those two things exclusively. I can feel wholly engaged in just the edge of a world or the threads of a story when language and image are working in tandem. And I feel like percussive, muscular prose can make an image electric. In my mind, language serves the images and the images can tell a story. I’m not entirely sure how this might be seen in my writing, but I know that it often informs how I’m thinking, how I’m hearing what’s on the page, and how I’m revising.
If your novella wasn’t a novella — if it was in some other form — what would it be?
A stranger’s polaroid album.
Ashley Farmer is the author of The Farmacist (forthcoming this fall from Jellyfish Highway Press), as well as Beside Myself (Tiny Hardcore Press, 2012) and The Women (forthcoming 2016 from Civil Coping Mechanisms). Her work can be found in places like The Progressive, Flaunt Magazine, Santa Monica Review, and Gigantic. An editor for Juked, she lives and works in Louisville, KY.