Pamela Alex Difrancesco is the author of the exquisite The Devils That Have Come to Stay. Her work first came to my attention through a mutual friend of ours and holy crap, was I happy that happened. It was an incredible read and I am so honored that the author of such beautiful work agreed to be interviewed here!
Q) The Devils That Have Come to Stay is an acid western. What is it that drew you to the genre?
A) I was first drawn to the genre after seeing Jim Jarmusch’s Dead Man. Though it came out about 20 years after the most popular moment in the genre, it’s generally considered the epitome of the genre. After falling in love with that movie, I began to do more research about acid westerns for a genre fiction writing class I took at New School University. I found that many of the ’60s counterculture ideals represented in it, like anti-capitalism and anti-colonialism, were things that matched up with my own ideas and politics. So it seemed like the perfect genre for me to work in.
Q) The narrative takes place during the California Gold Rush. How did you approach research? What were some of the more intriguing things you learned about it?
A)I read a whole lot of books and websites as research for this book. I spent days in the New York Public Library. One of the more interesting things I learned about was the fluidity of gender in this period of time. Because very few women traveled westward with the ’49ers, men often ended up taking on female gender roles, names, and sometimes dress. Women who did travel westward often took on the presentation of men, which they found was the only way to have the adventures men of the time were having. You can read more about what I learned on the topic in this blog post.
Q) Your twitter bio mentions that you are a banjo enthusiast. Do you play? What got you interested in the banjo? Who is your favorite banjo player?
A) I have always loved the sound of the banjo, and have been very slowly learning how to play. A few years back, my partner and I were thrifting in Saugerties, New York, and found an old Pete Seeger book and record on how to play the banjo—that’s been my main guide to learning it. It also helps that Pete was my favorite banjo player. Once, when I was in college, I wrote him a fan letter and he sent me back a lovely postcard about building community with a picture of a banjo he had drawn on it. I still have it, and it’s even more precious to me now that he’s no longer with us.
Q) As an author highly concerned about social justice issues, how does that inform your fiction? I notice that the narrative of The Devils That Have Come to Stay represents a large intersection of groups during the historical time period and the violent clashes between those groups. How do you approach the process of writing about these painful, and necessary, topics?
A) Social justice is a huge focus in my life, from my activism to my writing. I find it impossible to separate the two, and prioritizing the voices of those who traditionally get left out is the main project in my art. One of the subjects I studied intensely as an undergrad was alternative approaches to history from a social justice perspective, so when I started doing research for this book, I naturally gravitated to those narratives. The stories of those marginalized by the violence and greed of westward expansion were paramount in my research, and came across as main themes in this book.
*side note for the blog readers: Read this brilliant interview: http://topsidepress.com/spotlight/interview-pamela-alex-difrancesco-the-devils-that-have-come-to-stay/
Q) As part of a critique group with Stoned Crow Press, what would you like to tell writers who are new to critique about the process?
A) One of the most important ideas behind critique is not your personal tastes, but what the author is trying to accomplish. That may be something completely separate from what you like or would do, but that’s not what you’re there for. Critiquing is sometimes like being a writing clairvoyant, because it’s all about getting into someone else’s head.
Q) So, The Devils That Have Come to Stay is your debut novel. Since publication, what have you experienced about the process that was a surprise?
A) I think having people I don’t personally know read and enjoy my writing is surprisingly delightful. Whenever I get a positive review on Goodreads or Amazon from someone I’ve never met, it just makes my day.
Q) What’s the next project?
A) I’ve got a couple of projects in the works! One is a recently completed collection of short stories, some of which are inspired by Oulipo and the post-modernists. Another is a second novel that’s almost complete that takes places in a dystopian future New York City where the economic divide is enormous and global warming has taken it’s toll on a great deal of the city. Then, two more books that are in very preliminary stages are a sci-fi novel about people who shift genders at will, and a YA book about two queer teenage boys who run away from their small town. I stay pretty busy.
Q) You’ve collaborated artistically with your partner Mya Adriene Byrne. Can you talk to us a little about that experience?
A) It was both a wonderful and a nerve-wracking experience. Mya and I create things very well together, but our approaches to how we create them are very different. In this particular instance, we worked on several songs based on Devils for the launch party. I am the kind of person who works and plans in small increments over long periods, and Mya does a lot of preliminary work in her head and then works in large bursts close to deadline. Finding a balance between those two methods was challenging, but ultimately worked out quite well–the songs and the event were complete successes.
Q) If inanimate objects could speak, what do you think would have the most/least interesting things to say?
A) I love this question, because I am a firm believer in the lives of inanimate objects (probably from reading The Velveteen Rabbit so many times as a child). So, I can tell you that my teddy bear would tell you stories of his time in the Bear University system learning the art of being a companion bear to humans. The Kissing Turtle who lives in my kitchen would tell you about swimming in the Pacific Ocean, and how collections of sea glass remind him of his home, and how he loves kisses on top of his little wooden head. Myrtle the Guitar would tell you the story of being rescued from the garbage on the side of the road in Queens and how much she loves having Leonard Cohen songs played on her. I guess most of the inanimate objects in my life have pretty interesting things to say.
Q) What is the one piece of writing advice that you wish you had heard when you started?
A) I wish I had known how much of a writer’s job these days is actually self-promotion. I think I became a writer because I had this romantic vision of being able to hole up in a room and bring to life these worlds inside of my head. This is definitely a part of writing, but so much being a published author involves outreach, readings, getting people interested in your work. Luckily for me, much of this can be done from the comfort of my home office, but I still dream of a world where I just write and other people do these things on my behalf.