Interview with Author Freeman Smith

Welcome to BookView Interview, a conversation series where BookView talks to authors.

Recently, we interviewed author Freeman Smith about his writing and his recently released book, Society, Suspicious, a roller coaster ride of cynicism and social commentary. (Read the review here.)

Freeman Smith is an American born artist and writer. He lives, travels, observes, and writes about America. He enjoys attending music festivals, local zoning hearings and vaguely – if at all – sanctioned, suburban, underground, neighbor against neighbor, MMA events with his rescue dog, Eddie VH. He’s played basketball in Rucker Park and at the Aspen Meadows Resort. He can intuit a person’s entire belief system based on their views of the NBA and confirm the competition was much better at the Ruck than at the Aspen resort. 

Twitter: @1freemansmith1


Society, Suspicious is a novel that crosses the genres of satire, commentary, humor, fiction, even poetry – all without squarely sitting in any one genre alone. Did you intend to bend genre and form to the will of the story when you first started writing, or did that happen all on its own? Can you tell us about that process?

It was my intention to structure the book this way well before I started writing it. That was the starting point for the book, more so than the topic. I am prolific in each discipline and thought it would be interesting for people to read a book told in this way which is far different than most books. I understand that people don’t read much. Most people don’t read novels or fiction of any real length. That’s not a criticism, just an observation. I do the same sometimes. I’m a dedicated reader, but there are times when my life gets in the way and it’s tough to get through a “standard” novel and I start page skimming, or I get bored. Now, with Twitter, it’s 280 characters a shot and a lot of people embrace that. It seems fair to me. I was thinking you can buy my book and read it as a series of short stories and poems or as a novel. You can read all of it or a part of it. If you have a short attention span, just read the poetry. A bit more attentive, read the short stories too, and if you’re all about attention, read the entire book. Bottom line is the book is not boring. It’s entertaining. It may be offensive. It’s satirical. It’s thoughtful, it’s different, it’s alive. The book contains a lot of facts. I added a couple of new conspiracies and a mystery in the middle. There is a lot going on if you pay attention. I’m a writer. I’m a reader. I’ve learned the rules and I’ve earned the right to break from conventional storytelling. One reviewer called it “Political satire at its best…a romp” in her critique. I’m a fan of Voltaire and Don Quixote and writers who jump all over the place and power punch power in the ribs. My book takes readers from Africa to Egypt to Mississippi to Salt Lake City, LA, DC, Scotland, Australia, Amsterdam, etc. Just buy the book and take the ride. Or go to my website and read what’s in there. The website is a decision maker. You’ll want it or not based upon it. Seriously. What I’m selling is right there. Then it’s up to you to grab your credit card or roll your eyes. Honest advertising right there. You know, I’m ready to take a beating as all writers do, but I have done the work and the homework and the practice for years and years so if you come to beat me, I at least have earned the right to pick the stick to get hit with.

Although it’s a novel-length work, Society, Suspicious is divided into short sections, almost like vignettes that coalesce into the whole story. How did you come up with that format?

Obviously, and this is no spoiler alert, Jim Morrison is a big part of the book. You’ll see when you buy it, and you will buy it. Ray Manzarek, his bandmate, once told Morrison that great art is non-linear, so I wanted to make it non-linear for that reason. The book is partly about QAnon, and I read up on it and found they use vague clues it calls “breadcrumbs” to pass along information, so I wanted to make it feel that way too. I wanted it to be unique and challenging, but the book, in my opinion, is very accessible. If you know about American culture, you’ll understand this book. As different as it is structurally, this book is user friendly. It’s not Infinite Jest. It’s not John Barth or Naked Lunch. You know, I’m not always throwing behind the back passes or throwing down tomahawk dunks. If you like art, you will like this book. You’ll get it and appreciate it. If you like great writing, you will like this book. If you’re concerned about democracy, you will like the book. If you like to laugh while reading, you will like the book. I’m very confident about those statements. If you are offended by my book, then you are on the wrong side of society and history. If you’re offended by my book, maybe you should find a different country to live in. This book is also about the insurrection on the Capitol and is told from the winner’s perspective. Democracy won and fascism lost. Trump and hard-core, live or die MAGA and all of that is toast soon. They’re done and will soon end up being cartoons. Once the journalists and others are finished with their paint by numbers stuff, there’ll be writers here in the near future trying their hand at satirizing these people. I’m on the front end of it all. Just wait, you’ll get a bunch on this subject soon using the same old tired jokes and the David Sedaris type garbage. Something easy and without much thought at all. Trust me. Some will use my book as their guide and my words will end up all over the internet and without attribution. I’ve been there in life and reckon I’ll be there again.

How did you decide on the title “Society, Suspicious”?

We live in a suspicious society. We always have been suspicious of one another. I put the comma in the title for hesitancy, right? Society, Suspicious…In my book I discuss how Cain kills Abel on the third page of the Bible after struggling with jealousy, anger, and a bunch of other shit. We’re suspicious by nature. With technology, we know more about the world and each other than we ever have and yet we’re more suspicious and skeptical of one another.

The poem Society, Suspicious comes early in the book. The theme of the poem is that people have their faces in their phones all day and they know all about someone by reading the palm of their own hand. The consumption of bad information leads to false assumptions. The wrong discussion, the wrong conclusion. We’re not politically divided, we’re people divided. We’ve always hated each other. Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, TikTok just make hating a quicker proposition.

I’ve heard people talk about being obsessed with conspiracies, you know, getting on the internet and going down every rabbit hole like it’s a hobby or a club or something. They’re serious about it. People who live their lives through lies are at a serious disadvantage, man, it’s like trying to swim up a waterfall. People should be removing baggage and dumping desirous behaviour, but instead people like that are just bellying on up to the bullshit buffet. Be sure to save room for dessert! They’re filling their minds with slop and expect to persuade others with their narcissist-fueled intellect.

The people who tried to overthrow our government were cult bait just waiting for the messenger to idolize and follow his every order. Like I say in the book: If you want to live as a free man, celebrate yourself; if you want to live as a slave, worship a stranger.

What was the most difficult thing about writing this book?

Every honest Buddhist monk or any once-a-week YMCA meditator says this: meditating is easy, the sitting is hell. The writing was easy for me, the sitting was hell. You must sit to meditate, and you must sit to write. I don’t like to sit for long. I would prefer to be on a bike or in a gym or hammering nails than sitting at a desk. That was the biggest struggle, and in fact, the sitting has always been my struggle with writing. I have degrees in creative writing and film and even then, the sitting was the most difficult thing for me and being alone for long periods of time with just my thoughts can be brutal. It’s selfish and self-defeating oftentimes. And, of course, there is the internet and tv and all kinds of distractions. It’s hard. Then getting someone to publish your work is a full-time job. The big publishers “love it” and it sits for ten months. Most of the big publishers only give you a shot if you’re a Kardashian type or you summit Everest wearing shower thongs and a thong or you buy 100,000 copies of your own book.

I’m a huge music fan, a fan of everything, I mean everything except Billy Joel. I own thousands of albums and I listen carefully to music and how musicians layer and structure their music and I try to emulate the process of musicians. When I was putting my chapters together, I listened to a lot of albums concentrating on the order of the songs and it was the coolest part of writing this book. Instead of just passively listening to the music as I had before, I really focused and learned again that our world is chock full of amazing artists.

Over editing was a problem as well. That was like having a temporary paralysis. Half the time I would spend an hour or so just staring at the same sentence. I have a friend who continues to edit his novel and it’s already been published. I’m not that messed up. He needs help.

This novel takes an in-depth look at the theory and function of conspiracy theorists. What kind of research did you do to accurately portray the practices and consequences of conspiracy theorizing and cult-like behavior?

I read everything I could about cults, and I focused primarily on QAnon and the MAGA crowd. The psychology is almost always the same regarding cults and worship movements. It’s not a complicated process. Most people who are involved with QAnon and MAGA are narcissists. They believe they are smarter than you, cleverer than you, more enlightened than you, better than you. Conspiracy theorists in general are narcissists. It’s their way to gain power and control of the narrative. The smartest guy in the room type. If you’re the smartest man in the room, as they say, you’re in the wrong room. My advice is to stay in the room for a bit, talk some smack and walk away, maybe fart first, but you get the gist, conspiracy theorists care nothing about the damage they leave behind, same with cult leaders. They sell the bullshit, demand full devotion, and then dump you the moment it suits them. Typical narcissism. I just summarized the DSM-III version in sixteen words. We throw the term narcissist out there a lot as a society and it’s a serious thing. You can be obese, stupid, and toothless and be as narcissistic as, say, those with NFL Quarterback Prince(ss?) Syndrome (NQPS). They’re taught to yell “Hut! Hut!” and spend the rest of their life not ever shutting up. Pay attention. Fight conspiracies, with conspiracies!

What was an early experience where you learned that stories have the power to comment on the real world?

Nothing tells the truth as accurately as fiction does. That’s a fact, in my opinion (ha, ha). You’re putting a soul on the problem or a soul to the solution or whatever it may be, it’s always soulful. You can tell a simple story, but souls are what it’s about. Souls are at stake. Stories are persuasive. They come to you, not at you. It’s not the pretend certainty of a textbook. Instead, stories and fiction tell the truth of the doubts, the truth of the faith, and the truth of the effort. My favorite phrase: Great faith. Great doubt. Great effort. It’s the Buddhist phrase for the three elements necessary for training. It’s life wrapped up nice and true, I’m thinking. Fiction’s the beauty of someone finding beauty in the middle of pure ugly or exposing ugly. It’s the telling of life not from 30,000 feet but right at street level. It’s the voice of the people. Better than reading The Times in any city or listening to the guy with the microphone describing an event with journalistic precision.

What are your favorite books? Did any of your favorite books or authors inspire the writing of Society, Suspicious?

I don’t have a favorite book. I am a fan of almost everything. I have rules for art and art criticism and they’re easy to commit to memory:

Rule 1: If it looks, reads, or sounds good, it is good.

Rule 2: Always refer to Rule 1.

As for criticism? Love everything first and some a bit less, and the rest simply forget.

Truth told; I am a big Irvine Welsh fan. You know, Trainspotting. I like all of his books. That guy is always swinging for the fence and his batting average is like .993. I’m a huge Flannery O’Connor fan. She was magical and cool and brave and funny and an out-of-control artist. I love Tom Wolfe’s American chronicles and ground-breaking style. Thomas McGuane is my writing hero. I think he is one of the finest writers in America. That guy is an artist and a rancher and a liver of life and so go get his books after buying mine. I love the pure heart and soul and guts and pain and small victories of both Bukowski and his characters, which are one and the same. The Beat poets, you know, Ginsberg, Kerouac, Lew Welch. Welch was Huey Lewis’s stepdad and I use one of his poems in the book. “Those who have nothing to live for, invent something to die for and they want the rest of us to die for it too.” That is a very close approximation to the poem, and I thought it described the MAGA phenomenon perfectly. The anti-science crowd, QAnon. The “we’re all going to die someday anyway” crowd. Hocking diseased phlegm at you, taking you down with them, because at the end of the day, their last day, there is Jesus and heaven and mama and papa and Spot and grampa and grammy and Uncle Joe. You get the picture.

I still have my Norton anthologies from college and still read portions on occasion. Those books are like four pounds on the thinnest of paper and the binding is still intact after all these years. They’re 67,000 pages at least. Those Norton people aren’t fucking around. I used to buy literature by the pound before Twitter ruined everything. If you get my book in hardback, it’s like 2.1 pounds. That’s the big leagues right there, a two pounder. I’m crossing that one off the bucket list. I was ultimately going for a four pounder. A record in these here parts. One day I’m starting a cult and we will weigh our books on chains like fish on a dock. Like a “fishing community” instead of a “booking community.” We’ll wear multi-colored robes, and I will give sermons and be the leader and have as many wives as I want. Sorry, blacked out. Man, I did the research on cults. Art does that to a person when you immerse yourself.

What do you hope readers will take away from this story?

Sadly, conspiracies can work.

I want people to understand that those who participated in the coup to overturn our democracy need to be held accountable for their actions, both in a court of law and in the court of public opinion. Trump and the coup planners need to be in prison. There’s no doubt about it. The low-level foot soldiers are doing their time and they need to be jailed. No more mollycoddling these people. They’re adults and have the same set of facts as the rest of us. If they hold these idiotic, false beliefs between the walls of their own homes, so be it. But when they entered the Capitol based on lies trying to force fascism on real Americans, it’s high time they do the long time. As I wrote in the book: “Y’all funny when you a tweet/But Y’all took it to the street/And too, our pity, too.” I have no sympathy for the insurrectionists. And to the “experts” who make excuses and overindulge these alleged “cult victims” you’re flat out getting played. These folks are manipulative narcissists and seasoned liars. They won’t get better and they’ll either continue down the fascist path or find another way to mess up people’s lives or both. That’s a guarantee because this is who these people are. They like it when others suffer. That is the motive, that is the point. The unemployable, big brother, bully types. Same with Trump. Lock his fat ass up. We all saw the leadup to the insurrection and we all know he is responsible. Trump wanted to overthrow democracy by lying, by committing crimes, and finally through brute force. Right out of the right-wing coup playbook. 1-2-3. Fascism by numbers. I’ve heard political “experts” say putting a former president in prison will make us a Banana Republic. Absurd. Not putting Trump in prison makes us a Banana Republic, or worse. Trump is a Third-World dictator wannabe. He lost. His people lost. Their ideas will never win so they had to resort to violence. Think about that. You know what happened that day because you saw it. Don’t let the sympathizers spin you. They’re wrong. There is no excusing their behavior or thinking.

Democracy and freedom are America’s true currency. Donald Trump, MAGA, QAnon, and the like wanted to end democracy and the United States of America. These are dangerous, damaged people who aren’t going to get better. They’re full-blown and long gone. These MAGA politicians and Supreme Court flunkeys are reintroducing culture wars they lost years ago but are patriot proud to turn back the clock and remove freedoms that were hard earned and decisively decided. Their version of freedom and liberty is selfish and brainless. Let’s ban books, institute censorship, rewrite history, reinstitute pain, have a national religion, and create a fairy tale America. Let’s lie to our constituents about elections. Let’s tell people our elections are fraudulent. That’s Soviet speak. That’s Russian thought and a road to misery. We’ve seen the MAGA/QAnon/Insurrectionists team photo and anyone wanting to join that squad must be madly and obsessively in love with Kyle Rittenhouse and Roseanne Barr and Mike Lindell and Marjorie Taylor Green and Boebert and the like. That’s their team, that’s their roster. They’re Ringling Brothers circus freaks and clinically deranged, uneducated bumpkin hicks. That’s not a criticism of these people, it’s the plain truth, it’s a fact. It’s not a matter for debate any longer.

What’s next for you?

I have some ideas and stories and another novel if Atmosphere Press wants to publish them. I had a perfect experience working with Atmosphere and want to do it again at some point. Thanks to Atmosphere, my book is available everywhere in the world. I’ve seen my book advertised in Colombia, Brazil, Denmark, Spain, New Zealand, Germany, Australia among other locations. I think I’m headed for big things over in Denmark probably some red-carpet stuff. They seem to like me there. Atmosphere put it out there and now I’m going to spend my time pushing Society, Suspicious. I believe in this book. It’s artistically unique, smart, and funny. Read my website and decide if this book is for you. All the information you need is right there.


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