Freeman Smith is an American artist and writer. His new book, Society, Suspicious, is available through Atmosphere Press everywhere books are sold and is getting some terrific reviews. Check out his website freemansmith.com for more details.
You can buy Society, Suspicious here.
Are you a writer, too? Submit your manuscript to Atmosphere Press.
Tell us the story of your book’s title. Was it easy to find, or did it take forever?
I had no struggle with the title of my book. I just picked the words “society” and “suspicious” because that’s who we are. A suspicious society. We’ve always been suspicious of each other, and recent American and world events have left us even more suspicious of one another. I used the comma to show that although we are suspicious, there is that hesitancy, that urge, to embrace others fully or partially without suspicion. With FOX News and all those types whipping up fake paranoia amongst its tribe, the suspicion on that side is out of control. As the American gun and conspiracy gang’s collective mental illnesses and fear continue to pullulate, we’ll see even more acts of idiotic violence. Their new rage is to shoot young children on their porches through their front doors, claiming it falls under some stand-your-ground statute. I didn’t see that coming. (Then we get the shooter’s background information and we’re like, “I should have seen that coming.”) But then again, people terrified of life who get information from nimrods like Tucker Carlson are incapable of living in a civilized society.
I do apologize if this interview is lengthy, but I did learn something ten years ago that I think is important. I entered a major magazine’s 75th-anniversary flash fiction contest. The rules were to write a story of exactly seventy-five words to commemorate the magazine’s 75-year existence. My story was elaborate: drug dealers, medical marijuana cards, Stephen Hawking, Afghanistan war veterans, the P90X exercise system, etc. It was a great story. I didn’t win or place in the event, but I did get a letter from the editor who loved the story and wanted to publish it. Apparently, the submission form allowed writers a 2,000-character limit to introduce themselves and their stories and provide a bio. I simply wrote: “Attached is my story.” She said I might have won had I written more about myself with my submission, you know, to “let us know a bit about who you are as a person.” In the future, she wrote, please make sure you give as much effort to the introduction as you do to your story. I first thought, what great advice. Five minutes later I thought that was really messed up. They had a writing contest judged almost entirely on the writing that wasn’t going to be judged. I remember sitting there staring into space when I came to that realization. I remember it like it was yesterday. I remember saying nearly out loud (so I guess I was just thinking it), “Man…that really sucks for me.”
Who/what made you want to write? Was there a particular person, or particular writers/works/art forms that influenced you?
I will say this about my book: If I could step outside my body and enter your body, the first thing I would do is buy ten copies of my book. That’s the obvious thing. The second thing I would do is ask myself, “What the f*** just happened?” And if I’ve had this skill all this time, why didn’t I know until now? And will I ever be able to enter someone else’s body again? And can I enter anyone’s body? Those are the various things people with superpowers think of when coming to grips with their superpowerness.
I wasn’t influenced by any writer, but by people I’ve had to work with over the years. The book began this way: I was working at a ridiculous law firm with an immigration lawyer who felt the need to make disgusting racist comments. All-out, cut no corners, check every box, 1855 racism. It was some unimaginable stuff. Can’t make it up. I heard things I never thought about thinking I would ever even have to think about. Think about that… I told the managing partner, who did nothing, so I quit and started writing an elaborate, negative Glassdoor review. Then the Insurrection happened, and the novel became clear to me. I bagged the review and started writing the book. I’ve been exposed to narcissists my entire life and have witnessed the destruction they inflict so I wanted to write a book about that specific mental illness without writing a self-indulgent, memoir-like thing that nobody would care about including, and especially, me. It started to become clear that the insurrectionists and the cultists and the QAnon folks are all raging narcissists in one way or another. You don’t have to be a star, baby, to be a narcissist. The people who attempted to overthrow the government did the most narcissistic thing ever. They tried to win an election through pure brute force and violence when all other manipulations, lies, and gaslit arguments were exhausted.
My book is political only in the sense that you are either for or against democracy. If you want to save democracy, read my book. If you’re interested in cults, read my book. If you’re interested in conspiracies, read my book. If you like to laugh, read my book. I just jumped straight to the absurdity phase of the Insurrection and MAGA and QAnon and cults because that’s where it will end up anyway. I have no patience for those writers and journalists who are still trying to find the answers and the causes and all of that. We have the answers, we know the causes. Quit trying to be clever or cute or relevant or interesting or whatever. Studies have been done. The research results are in. No more excuses, no more coddling. My life as an American is too valuable to me to have it taken away by a group of morons and traitor politicians who can’t even wipe their own noses. My book is all you need to move on from those people. You will see these people as complete cartoons and will never again bother reading or listening to someone trying to make an excuse for their behavior.
We’re seeing what’s going on. We have a portion of society willing to vote for and worship pure fascist scum because they are fascist scum. Too many people and organizations are out there trying to “understand” and “evaluate” what is happening. Really? Knock it off. We saw what happened, we saw what was done, and most of us understood in minutes. These people are violent, violent criminals and aren’t going to stop. They will not stop. The politicians on both sides knew this psychotic voting bloc existed but they didn’t court them because they knew they’d be owned by that vile group of people. Trump went out and recruited these people because the GOP’s idea of how things should go is being widely rejected and mocked across the world. The GOP has won just one national election in thirty years. Of course Trump would round up these people. They’re getting their asses kicked. I predict a lot at the end of the book and a lot of what I wrote is playing itself out. The blueprint of what is happening is not hard to read. They want to destroy democracy. They want to do away with freedom and rights and personal choice. They are slaves. Willing, ignorant slaves.
What other professions have you worked in? What’s something about you that your readers wouldn’t know?
I went to film school and have a creative writing degree as well. I’ve lived in different places, worked in various jobs, and had a few careers. I’ve owned a couple of businesses in the past. I was an investigator at a district attorney’s office. I co-founded and co-owned a literary magazine devoted entirely to short stories and poetry. I telemarketed Time-Life books in LA alongside some of the seediest people in the City of Angels. One woman came into work for a week hooked up to an IV drip; one dude carried a sword and dressed up in costumes. I framed houses with people from all over the world who couldn’t speak a word of English. We all just smiled and laughed with each other, pounding away not knowing who was saying what to who. I have been researching, writing, and working in law firms for the last several years. I’ve worked on everything from simple easement cases to federal racketeering cases.
If your book had a soundtrack, what are some songs that would be on it?
My book comes with a soundtrack. Music is a big part of the book. Look at my website. There is a section listing the music and musicians who appear in the book. I love music. My wife and I have 4,000 vinyl albums and we’re not collectors; we’re just devoted to music and to art. My wife and I listen to and discuss music all the time. We own everything from opera to Kendrick Lamar, Abba to Zeppelin, classic rock, hip-hop, rap, you name it. Music is, in my opinion, the highest art form and I’m always all in. Every writer should listen to music all the time.
If I had to assign a soundtrack, though, I’d recommend something like this: listen to Side B of Primus’ The Desaturating Seven while reading the Sanders/Spicer story. I guarantee you that if you read my Antifa story, you will never again listen to Kenny Loggins’ Footloose without laughing your ass off…you’ll understand if you read the book. Also, and this is interesting to me, I have listened to everything, and I use My Morning Jacket’s Waterfall album at the end of one story to help cure a couple of characters who have gone off reality’s reservation so to speak. There is something incredible about that album. It is one-of-a-kind cool. It’s a great listen. Full disclosure, though, I did buy a Baja hoodie on the band’s website. Fuller disclosure: it’s a great product and they threw some awesome postcards in, too.
Using Journey in the book was done after a lot of thought. Would Morrison like that band? I doubt it, but you cannot go a day without hearing Don’t Stop Believing on the radio. You just can’t. It’s not just here in the States. It’s a worldwide thing. I heard a Muzak version in a Cairo, Egypt hotel elevator. My wife and I heard it playing over and over one night in a Reykjavik disco during the summer solstice a few years back. We were high on 5-Hour energy shots, life, and constant daylight just sitting in our hotel room listening to that song thumping away while simultaneously watching an episode of Kojak. That was so cool. I had to use Journey.
How was working with Atmosphere Press? What would you tell other writers who want to publish?
The most difficult was Kyle McCord.* He is a taskmaster like no other. He would call me up at all hours, day and night, demanding “…pages of brilliance instead of the **** you keep sending my way. I showed it to some five-year-olds and they all called you a ‘booger-eating moron.’ One kid even gave you the finger and they’re still studying Seuss and Charlotte’s Web. C’mon, pull it together. Good God, man, have some pride.” He used words like “drivel.” He said sleep deprivation was one of his motivational tools. He started coming to my house at all hours, looking in my windows making certain I was writing and not watching TV…
*Obviously, I’m kidding. Kyle McCord was the only reason this book got published, for good or ill. He’s the editor writers dream of having. He understood everything about the book right away. His advice was always 100% correct and he’s incredibly kind and easy to talk to. He would say things like, “This section reminds me a bit of that Ginsberg poem…take a look at that poem and see if it’s helpful…” And there were a couple of stories that he didn’t like. He was kind when he told me that and was also right. Kyle was spot-on about everything. He was brutally honest when that was needed and kind and supportive in his critique. He’s an incredible writer with a Ph.D. in literature and a college professor. I think my book is good. I wanted Kyle McCord to read my book and tell me yes or no. Not anyone else. I wanted my book read by an expert and Kyle McCord is an expert. His students are lucky. He’s a cool, cool person.
If Atmosphere Press wants to acquire your manuscript, do it. It will be the best decision you make as a writer. Working with Atmosphere was the best business decision I have ever made. I have never worked with a more professional and passionate group of people in my life.
You can buy Society, Suspicious here.
Are you a writer, too? Submit your manuscript to Atmosphere Press.