CONTRIBUTOR SPOTLIGHT: INTERVIEW WITH CARSON FAUST
Rappahannock Review Fiction Editors: One of the elements of “Serves Him Right” that we found particularly engaging is the piece’s construction as a recipe book. How did you cook up the recipes? How much research went in to formulating them?
Carson Faust: This is going to sound very Hannibal Lecter, but humans are animals. Humans are meat. The first title of this story was “Longpig,” which is just a term for cannibalized human flesh. I liked how phallic that title sounded, but ultimately I changed the title so it was in conversation with one pieces that inspired it, which I’ll go into later. But not only are people meat, the way we name things is weird. “Adam’s apple” is the example I start with in the story, but there are plenty of foods named after body parts too. “Ladyfingers” is another example in English. When a person is being objectified, they’re “treated like a piece of meat.” A German word for “garlic clove” translates to “garlic toe.” The inspiration for the wordplay was already in our languages, I just played with it.
I had to do research to make sure I got the weight right for the “offal.” I watch and read enough horror and crime drama that I know teeth are always the troublemakers for murderers. Getting into Carol’s headspace was more difficult than the hard research end of it. How could I make her brutal and sympathetic? How could I make sure that the pain beneath all that humor and violence seems real?
RR: We’re interested in the way the story resists closure. Can you discuss your approach to structure and how you developed the ending?
CF: I began with the end on purpose. That way I wouldn’t be able to put the end at the end. One of my favorite things about hybrid structure is that it forces you to abandon traditional pacing. The release of information is off, or at least unexpected in some way. The entire plot is essentially in that first line. The “what” and “who” are dealt with, so everything in the middle of the piece needed to color in the “why” and “how.”
As for the end, I needed Carol to change. In the beginning, she presented as a woman who had accepted that she might go to prison. By the end, she’s hardened considerably. She’s cutting ties with Jack’s family, she’s sat through several meals where her best friend is eating Jack’s corpse. Carol herself has eaten plenty of Jack. So, yes, she’s hardened, but I wanted to make sure Carol didn’t come off as a monster. That’s why I wanted to end with a section in second-person. Carol isn’t capable of attempting to frame her best friend for the murder of her husband. She needs that distance, that slight dissociation. It’s nothing personal, she’s just following instructions.
RR: Are there any specific works, genres, or people that inspired this story’s formation?
CF: The inspiration of this story, in the form it’s in, came in parts. About two years ago, I was reading an interview that Stephen Graham Jones gave for Uncanny Magazine. When asked about form, he said: “My favorite stories are stories that don’t look like stories. A ransom note. A recipe… I’m always looking for ways to smuggle story in.” Jones is a Native writer as well, and he operates within and around genre. He’s especially good at horror—which was my first love—and I think form, in this case, is needed to imbue some necessary humor and balance.
I try to read as much poetry as I do prose. I sat with this desire to make a horror story in recipe form for a while before stumbling on a recording of Megan Falley reading her poem “Adam’s Apple Pie: A Recipe.” The title my story is actually a direct reference to the final line of her poem. Her piece full of metaphors. It’s full of horror and humor. It’s a play on the cliche: revenge is a dish best served cold, but it reinvigorated the concept for me. After hearing her, this story really clicked. I wanted to take metaphor and make it real. Yes, I wanted it to be a recipe, but it also needed to be instructions for carrying out a murder. I wanted the recipe to contain anger, sadness, regret, and memory.
RR: What do you find is the hardest part of the writing process, and how do you get through it?
CF: The act of writing, to me, is not the most difficult part. Revision is where the difficulty starts. One specific example is that I write a lot of women. I think it’s because, as a gay man, I’m more comfortable with and accustomed to inhabiting a more feminine lens. That being said, I still bring my internalized misogyny to the page. There’s no way for me to not do that because I’ve lived with male privilege all my life.
This issue isn’t so much a thing I get through. Rather, it’s a thing that I must be helped through. I have amazing women as my mentors. Diana Joseph and Gwen Nell Westerman are two of them. They are both blunt and kind. They have taught me how to spot the patriarchy, the misogyny, and revise it out. They’re still teaching me. I’m still learning. And I always will be.
RR: What is the most recent thing you have read that has stuck with you?
CF: Joshua Whitehead’s novel Johnny Appleseed hits me where I live. I’m a queer, indigenous writer, so it is hugely impactful and important to me that there is a novel that centers around a queer, indigenous character that was written by a queer, indigenous writer. Authenticity of perspective, voice, and craft are vitally important to writing, to story.
One of the most profound threads in the novel is the way the protagonist, Johnny Appleseed, is expected to perform his Native-ness. Johnny is, among other things, a Two-Spirit and a cybersex worker and is therefore expected to embody all of the things his customers and onlookers anticipate. Whitehead’s novel got me thinking about a lot of things: Which forms of otherness are expected to be repressed? Which forms are expected to be performed?
Carson Faust’s work in Issue 6.2: