Interview With Lillet Fernseed
By Jonathan Franzen, Daily Doofus Staff Writer

It's time again for The Inventive Vocabularian's Writing Thing, a recurring yet intermittent Daily Doofus feature where we interview some of the staff's favorite up-and-coming writers. This week I had the pleasure to be joined by Lillet Fernseed, whose fiction, non-fiction, and poetry have appeared in The New Yorker, Harper's, The Saturday Evening Post, AGNI, Nightmare Magazine, Ideomancer, Fantasy Magazine, The American Reader, The Paris Review, Granta, Tin House, the Dark, and countless others, and whose blog I Don't Even Know What The Heck Is Even Happening was #3 on the New York Times' 103 Best Blogs of 2014 list.

I sat down with Ms. Fernseed at her Brooklyn apartment.

D.D.: Welcome to the Daily Doofus.

L.F.: Thank you for interviewing me.

D.D.: Thank you for being here.

L.F.: You're welcome.

D.D.: So where are you from?

L.F.: Brooklyn.

D.D.: And when the heck were you even born?

L.F.: February 14, 1995.

D.D.: So you've been in the twenty-something club for a fortnight now. Welcome to that very club.

L.F.: I'm glad to be here. I'm surprised you're still in the club.

D.D.: Oh, thanks. So, what are you, in school, or...?

L.F.: Yes, I'm pursuing a B.A. in Modern Studies at the New York Institute. I'm a junior.

D.D.: And where in the Big Apple is that located?

L.F.: Brooklyn.

D.D.: That's dynamite. What is your favorite book?

L.F.: I have two.

D.D.: What are they?

L.F.: La Medusa by Vanessa Place and Navigating the Internet by Mark Gibbs and Richard Smith.

D.D.: What are they about?

L.F.: I try not to think in terms of questions like that. That's sort of a traditional question and I completely understand that, and I understand what I sound like when I say "Oh, it's not about what the book is about, it's about blank," because everyone has been trying to make that come across with varying degrees of success for the last like ninety years, or more. On the other hand it's pretty low-hanging fruit at this point for anyone to criticize someone writing currently for being too obtuse or not fully worshipful of "plot points" or traditional typography.

To answer your question the two books are actually in dialogue by way of the same thing: In La Medusa we have this Cageian Los Angeles that is encased in this typographical post-structuralist mechanism of almost Lissitzkian architecture, and after all what is that city other than a Baudrillardian pretend version of itself: and believe me, I know I'm not the first person to say this, and I'm not even the first person to say it while simultaneously realizing that it is such a hackneyed point, but it's still worth saying since after all what is industry in Hollywood other than expensive visual and auditory pretend? It's no more pointless to say that about Los Angeles than it is to say Milwaukee is a drunk version of itself. And true to form Place's usage of typography-as-topology demands that we constantly be reminded that what we are reading is an image, and images, whether in a city that creates pretend or in a pretend version of a city that does so, are ultimately the only way we can interact with reality.

D.D.: What about by pure thought?

L.F.: Yeah, that's sort of the--you know--the traditional "next suggestion," but all thought is based in sense impressions no matter how abstract or indirect. We can sense things long before we can think. Look it up.

D.D.: You sound like some kind of neurologist.

L.F.: Thanks. Anyway, Navigating the Internet is also in dialogue with that frame of reference. I'll be brief on the point because it doesn't take long for anybody to get that the internet is a phenomenon of pure image: pure sense impression, just like all things, but what you'll never find on the internet is an actual--you know--an actual flower. You can find images of flowers, and descriptions of flowers, and even the images and descriptions that can lead you to, one day, to an actual flower--like if you buy seeds online or something. So the internet is one step further into the realm of images, just like, in La Medusa, Los Angeles is one step further as a city of images, not only because it is embedded in a work of fiction, and that it knows it is a work of fiction, but because of the actual non-textual images weaved through the novel.

D.D.: And the image of Medusa herself, that must have been involved--the petrification, &c.

L.F.: That's true, but not at all the way you and all the book's reviewers make it out to be. I promise I totally get that Medusa turned people to stone when they looked at her, but the huge gap in that consideration is that so easily forgotten factum, that images are from all sensory experience. We only think of images as visual because that sense is our most powerful one. But a cool, invisible breeze on one side of my face, that is an image. The part of my mouth that was burned by tea, that too, the birds who sound like they're asking a question, that's--I mean, you get it. So that's part of it, but it's an unfinished thought that Medusa's image turns people into statues, that is, the thought that this fact is what informed the title is an unfinished thought.

D.D.: Yes, but statues are images of humans.

L.F.: Well, but so is a recording of someone speaking: and nobody ever turned to stone, in the canon, from the speech of Medusa or the hissing of her snakes.

D.D.: I heard you wrote a novel.

L.F.: Yeah, I'm going to turn it in as my senior thesis.

D.D.: Wow, a junior with a senior thesis! Imagine.

L.F.: I know, pretty wild.

D.D.: I was under the impression that the novel was already published though.

L.F.: No, you're thinking of The Feather Duster of the Mechanism. Slime Books published that last year and I managed to squeak a nice four figure advance out of them. (Laughs humbly).

D.D.: So what is the novel you're submitting as your thesis?

L.F.: It's called A Butterfly Without Attractive Wings Would Just Be A Horrible, Long Fly.

D.D.: And what is it ab-- that is to say, what did you write ab-- I mean, what are the kinds of things you were thinking when you were writing the novel?

L.F.: Images. Especially the composite image: I felt a very strange thought while reading the Wikipedia pages about me and about Macrothylacia in quick succession: and I'm perfectly aware that Macrothylacia is not a genus of--

D.D.: God, I wish we could keep talking, but I've reached my minimum word count. Keep up the good work.

L.F.: Thank you. Delighted.