Vancouver author Jenn Farrell’s second story collection, The Devil You Know, explores familiar themes of sex, love, birth, and death in decidedly unfamiliar ways, uncovering seams of darkness and light in unexpected places. She’s in town tonight for a tag-team reading at the Toronto Free Gallery (1277 Bloor Street West, 7 p.m., FREE) alongside Jessica Westhead, author of Pulpy and Midge.
Torontoist spoke with Farrell about bringing her latest collection from inception to the shelves of your local bookstore.
Torontoist: Give us your one-sentence pitch for the new book.
Jenn Farrell: The Devil You Know is this season’s cheeriest read, for those who savour sex, death, and terrible decisions.
Torontoist: How long have you been working on this book?
JF: Well, my first book, Sugar Bush & Other Stories, came out in 2006, so I suppose the “official” answer is four years. But to be honest, I slacked off for a while there. I’d say it’s been over two years of sustained effort.
Torontoist: Tell us a little about the editorial process. Did anything surprise you about the process?
JF: I love the editorial process, but the big surprise was having a major falling-out with someone with whom I’d been working in an editorial capacity. Luckily, my loving husband stepped in as my “first reader.” He’s very good, but he has a strong sense of self-preservation and therefore doesn’t usually edit his wife. Brian Kaufman (my editor and the publisher of Anvil Press) and I get along famously and he really helped me refine the stories and identified the things I couldn’t figure out when a piece just wasn’t quite “there.”
Torontoist: How did it feel when the final galleys arrived at your door?
JF: At that point I was just fretting about the proofreading: was there a huge error that all of us missed? Was “public” misspelled as “pubic” somewhere? Was my name spelled correctly on the cover? Luckily, I had a terrific summer student working with me, and she caught the last few little typos (I think). Thanks, Larissa!
Torontoist: Were you tempted to make major changes to the manuscript at this late stage in the game?
JF: I don’t know any writers who are ever 100 percent satisfied with the finished product. I could always work with one more edit, one more week, one more read-through, but eventually I just let it go and get on with the next thing. That said, I’m really pleased with this book. Chuffed, even.
Torontoist: Is there anything you wish you’d done differently?
JF: Oh golly, if I start thinking about regrets, I’ll just go fetal. Sure, there are always things I might have done better, but who cares? I didn’t do them at the time, so that’s that.
Torontoist: What do you think of the cover? How involved were you with the cover process?
JF: Hot damn, how about that cover, hey? The fine folks over at Anvil Press indulge me like the spoiled brat I am, so I was very involved with the cover. The art is by Katie Pretti, a Toronto-based artist, whose work is amazing and beautiful. I got in touch with her and asked if we could use one of her pieces for the book, and she’s been unbelievably gracious about the whole thing. I’ll get to meet her in person for the first time at the launch!
Torontoist: What do you hope to achieve with this book?
JF: Um, how about the Giller? Nah, I just want people to read it and enjoy it. I write for regular folks—I don’t have a lot of high-falutin’ ideas about literature. In my work, at readings, I’m just trying to give people value for money. Sounds like I’m trying to sell a used car, doesn’t it?
Torontoist: Are you working on anything new yet?
JF: Sheesh, no pressure! Actually, I do have something that I’ve just started, but I have no idea what it’s going to become. I can’t really talk about work in progress—it seems to let all the juice out of it before I’ve even begun. It’s kind of about adoption—but that’s all you’re getting out of me.