Monday, March 1, 2010

Chewing the Q's with Kirk Farber, Author of Postcards From a Dead Girl

We're very proud of Wisconsin's own. That's why I'm so excited to be welcoming back Kirk Farber on his homecoming tour for his first novel, Postcards from a Dead Girl.

The book was acquired by friend-to-booksellers Carl Lennertz of HarperCollins. We booksellers will pretty much do anything Carl tells us to, as he's right so often. He's been a huge advocate of many sleepers, most recently The Pig Did It.

Postcards from a Dead Girl is about Sid, a travel agent with problems, many problems. (Perhaps one of them would be that he is a travel agent, or more specifically, a telemarketer that sells tours to unsuspecting callers. One of his problems is that his ex-girlfriend keeps writing notes to him from far-off places. Another is that the swimming pool that he's decided to excavate himself is harder to accomplish in reality than it might appear. Oh, and Sid is sick, very sick, with too many maladies to even catalog. Funny that is doctor sister is often a bit late returning his calls.

It's a quirky-poignant story with an absurd cast of characters. And it's the kind of book that leaves you with many questions. You can come to any of the four (yes, four) Milwaukee-area events (come to mine, come to mine) and get the answers, but I've cut to the chase and asked Mr. Farber some of them here.

Goldin Question #1: Where did the title come from? #2 Where did you get the idea for the story?

Farber: Concerning the title, the answer to that is mixed up with your #2 question. The impetus for the story came from a song by a Nashville band (The Bees, now called The Silver Seas.). I played drums in the Milwaukee band, Spill, back in the early 2000’s, and we played a music festival in Nashville where we saw this band. Their song “Letters from the Dead” is about a guy who finds postcards in his room from a past relationship, and he doesn’t know what to do with them, so he refers to them as letters from the dead. So my “what if” question kept popping up while listening, and I thought, what if instead of finding old postcards, they were actually being sent to you, and from someone you weren’t sure was alive or dead--or that the reader wasn’t sure was alive or dead.

2. You grew up in Oconomowoc, right? Did you commute to Redbird Studio for the classes/sessions or did you live closer to MKE for a while. If so, any interesting anecdotes that either
a. Affected your writing?
b. Influenced your decision to become a write
c. Actually crept into your novel

I did grow up in Oconomowoc. But I went to school at UWM, and continued to live in either Milwaukee or Wauwatosa after graduating, up until we moved to Colorado about 3 years ago.

Redbird Studio definitely affected my writing. Before joining. I had shared stories at school or with a friend or two, but hadn’t taken any real risks in getting feedback. Once I began attending Redbird, I suddenly had a whole community of other writers, feedback every other week, encouragement, and networking options. It was like a quantum leap for me. I completed Postcards there, did several revisions, and got help with short stories and query letters as well. Judy Bridges also introduced me to an off-shoot critique group that concentrated specifically on novels, led by Milwaukee author Elaine Bergstrom. I attended several of Elaine’s sessions as well, and got great advice on long fiction.

As far as what influenced my decision to become a writer, I’ve always loved telling stories and reading them. As a drummer, I’m often hearing rhythms and must tap them out, much to the chagrin of those around me. As a writer, I’m often hearing the narrative voice of a character and feel compelled to write it all down, which is much quieter, so I do that more often.

Milwaukee does creep into the novel in spots--there is an outdoor scene where Sid is trying to do yoga overlooking a huge lake, which was directly inspired by the hill on North Ave overlooking Lake Michigan, near where I used to live. And there's a scene that takes place in an old movie palace, which is essentially The Oriental. Also, Sid’s job temporarily working for the USPS is based on my short stint loading trucks at the UPS hub near the airport.

3. Did you any reserach for Sid's travels?
a. Talk to actual travel agent
b. Visited some exotic places Sid went
c. Non-exotic? (car repair shop)
d. Point and click.

For travel research, I had been to several places like New York, New Jersey, and the U.K. But for more exotic places like Barcelona, I used the internet for photos and descriptions. Because Sid tends to focus on odd elements of his whereabouts anyway, I just wanted to find a few key details, like some of the architecture, or that dogs roam the city. The rest was just imagined how I thought Sid might see (or not see) Europe.

4. I'm going to cut to the chase and not ask you, Which character is you in the book?" You'll say, "All of them", and I'll say, "Oh, how interesting. Tell me what part of each or any of these characters is you?"
a. Natalie
b. Gerald the post office guy
c. Steve the boss
d. Zoe
e. Candyce the annoying girlfriend
f. Zero the dog
g. The other Girlfriend

Well, yes, I definitely used the different parts of my personality to fill out these characters, with the exception of Steve the Boss. He’s essentially based on a guy I met at a job interview in Brookfield back when I was looking for summer work in between school semesters. The job was to sell chicken, fish, and beef out of a refrigerated truck, and the pay was really great for a college student. I waited for an hour in this tiny waiting room with three other kids, and finally this guy came out and was just way too overzealous. “So let me ask you this, before we even do the interview. Are you ready to sell chicken and fish? Are you!?” He was like a football coach, pacing back and forth. “You gotta get out there and sell! Twelve hour days!” Suddenly, the pay didn’t seem so great after all.

5. A quote promoting your book compared you to Chuck Palahniuk. Very impressive, but I think that needs an explanation--I don't see people fainting after they read passages from Postcards from a Dead Girl. He is one of those writers who hopes to shock and horrify. What emotions do you most want to generate in your readers?

The quote comparing me to Chuck Palahniuk was really flattering because he’s one of my favorite authors. Fight Club really got me excited about writing. But I think the quote was referring to his storytelling style and not his content. Like you said, he really is more shocking, while I gravitate more towards humor amidst sad or lonely circumstances. I wanted Postcards to be hopeful at the end.

6. Any interesting directions the writing of the book went that had to be cut or edited out?

At one point, I had Zero as a talking dog. He just talked, and Sid seemed okay with that. But we ultimately took that out so Sid didn’t seem too deranged. As a scene it was fun, but didn’t work in the book as a whole.

(Editor's Note: Do you want a talking dog novel? Read Pete Nelson's I Thought You Were Dead, the #1 Indie Next Pick for April 2010, by the way. I sort of wished they were touring together--lyrical angsty guy novels. Sort of literary emo. But Kirk's event is March 10th and Pete's is April 20th. Stay tuned for more details.)

So this should give you a feeling about Kirk's book. It's a paperback original, so the price is right. I love the Edward Gorey meets Lemony Snicket jacket design. And Redbird is cosponsoring our event, with Judy Bridges giving the introduction. Here are all the Kirk Farber events:

10976 N. Port Washington Road (just south of Mequon Road)

Our Event at Boswell
If our address isn't somewhere on this blog, please yell at me.

Redbird Studio
Kirk appears on a panel with six writers.
3195 South Superior Street, $10

Books and Company
1039 Summit Avenue

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