Sam Farahmand on “Standing Out From the Sameness of Everything”
By Carissa Chesanek
New School MFA alum, Sam Farahmand recently published his debut novel, Chimero in January 2020. Carissa Chesanek spoke with Sam about the structure of his book, why the beach always feels like home, and how his time in grad school helped figure out what he didn’t want to do. Purchase a copy of Chimero here.
There's a lot of fun structural aspects to your novel, such as no question marks after questions, no chapter titles (only white space), no quotation marks, etc. Can you talk about how you decided to structure it this way? What were you looking to achieve?
A question about question marks feels like the perfect place to start—and again, I really appreciate you taking the time to think on the novel—because, in my experience at least, there is always this moment when you’re working on something when you start to feel less like the writer of the thing and more like the reader. I suppose the structural aspects were as much for me to make sense of the thing at the time as they are for the reader at this time, for the moment when the reader starts to feel like the writer.
The novel isn’t necessarily stream-of-consciousness in that strictly streaming sort of sense, but I think the novel is still in essence trying to get at the experiential nature of existence—with time being much more spatial than a traditional a to b plot and that sort of thing. While it isn’t free of form, or particularly freeform, I was hoping the form it is in is freeing and might function to create some more space for a reader.
The narrator is unreliable and unnamed. Did you always know this would be the case or did it come to you after you started writing?
This is a wonderful question and a hard one to answer. I think I is already so full of possibility as it is—and, of course, in the case of the narrator, providing a lot of potential for paralysis—so the narrator is as much who the narrator is as he is who he isn’t. I don’t think I would’ve been able to address that right from the outset in another way, though maybe this also goes back to your question about the structural aspects and being in the no.
I should also say that I’m not the best with names, so it might be possible that when I started I’d been meaning to name the narrator but just forgot the narrator’s name, but either way, I think I almost always start by overwriting then working my way inward.
The topic of "a lost generation" (not to be confused with "the lost generation") was discussed in the book. Can you explain what a lost generation is in this world and how you feel it applies to society in our world today?
Lost but not least, I think, could be a way to sum up a lost generation as opposed to the lost generation. The difference between an a and a the seems to be significant to the narrator, who is trying to find the the hidden in all of the a’s—someone who, or even something that, stands out from the sameness of everything in their lives. That the characters start off by making so much of the difference between a and the reminds me of the significance placed on just a handful of letters to this generation, at least to the ones with all their degrees, and their subsequent insignificance.
There was always this notion of "going to the beach" the following day, and whether or not the narrator would actually go. What do you feel the beach really represents in this story?
Thank you for throwing in a beach ball question. Maybe it’s only because I’m a writer from Los Angeles, but going to the beach has always put things in perspective for me. The ocean always reminds me how insignificant I am, and the beach might be the only place where I feel at home. Strangely enough, when we started this interview, I was working on an essay about trying to get to the beach the last time I was in Los Angeles, so I suppose I haven’t outgrown the significance of the beach to me.
As for what the beach represents, I was thinking just the other day, with this essay I am working on, that I am closer to nothing than I am to everything but have more in common with everything than I do nothing. Maybe that’s one of those mean median things, but those seem to be the sorts of thoughts I have when I think of the beach.
I believe I read in another interview that you were working on this book during your MFA, correct? What were your desires for this book during that time? Did you expect it to be simply a thesis project or hoped to get it published?
Fortunately I’ve outgrown the hopes I had for the book when I was working on it during my MFA, but yeah, I’d always hoped it would turn into something. I don’t think I have enough of an ego to say this is all done without ego, but what I’ve learned since that time is that it already means a lot to be able to work on writing, even without thinking about anything other than the writing, and that people who work to get things published are called publishers.
What's the one best thing you feel you got out of your time at The New School?
Other than the opportunity to be interviewed to promote this novel, I met some very fine friends and faculty who, for some reason, are still incredibly kind to me and my writing. I also read a lot of work I wouldn’t have read if I hadn’t been given the time and space to do so by The New School. Higher education, in my experience, isn’t about figuring out what you want to do as much as it’s about finding out what you don’t want to do. The New School gave me the time to sort out what I wanted to do while putting me in a space to see what I didn’t want to do.
How's the writing going during this pandemic? What are some things that help inspire you now? Are they the same things that normally inspire you or something completely different?
I’m very fortunate that things are sort of the same for me as far as writing at this time, because structure has always been the most inspiring thing for me when it comes to writing—both the structure of whatever it is I’m working on and the surrounding structure that allows me to work on what I’m working on. I’ve always worked on writing in the mornings, and I still try to work on writing every morning, so I suppose as long as there are mornings, I’ll still try to work on writing.
What is different for me at this time is that I have had some more time to read, which has been good, though I’ve always been more inspired by artists who aren’t writers. But then again, I also have more time to listen to music and to watch films and think about them too. The two working artists who have probably had the most profound influence on me are the musician Lana Del Rey and the filmmaker Terrence Malick, and they’ve both had some new work within the past year. I’ve been thinking about the album Norman Fucking Rockwell! and the film A Hidden Life while working on what I’m working on. Both feel like relevant works for this time too.
Can you tell us what you're working on next?
Yeah, right now I’m working on a series of essays about a number of musicians I have admired, either from near or from afar, since moving to Nashville almost two years ago. I should say that after I finished this first novel I wrote another two novels, which more or less complete the cycle started in the first one—as much as one can complete a circle—but after that I worked on a lot of nonfiction. I might try to start working on another novel, maybe sometime this summer, but we’ll see.
Carissa Chesanek has worked as a journalist for many years, writing for publications that include The Rumpus, Food Network, The Village Voice, Miami Herald, and Zagat. She is a current MFA Creative Writing (fiction) student at The New School and a volunteer writing mentor for PEN America's prison writing program.