Writers, musicians, painters, and film makers all bring us the human condition through their art. One might think that over time everything that could be said has been said. The number of pop songs and poems written about love, loss, anxiety, and dreams is endless. Yet everyday someone somewhere finds a new way to say what we’re all feeling. Mallory Smart’s new novel I Keep My Visions To Myself follows Stevie, a musician in LA grappling with success and identity. Over the course of a week Stevie has an existential crisis when her band, Electric Stardust, is on the verge of a life-changing decision. Plagued by past relationships, Stevie navigates life’s path with help from her community.
The vibe of the book right away reminded me of Almost Famous, Empire Records, and High Fidelity. All movies where people are trying to figure their lives out. What was the inspiration for this book and how long did it take you to write it?
All classics. Of those movies, High Fidelity is definitely my favorite even though Almost Famous is probably referenced most in this book. But that’s me already getting off topic. The inspiration for this book was my own anxiety. I’m starting to look at my writing in a different way than I did in my early 20’s. It’s a commitment now, not just an idea. And with that comes pressure. Real and imagined. I wanted to explore that feeling more so that’s how we got here. How long it took me to write this book also plays into why I wrote it. I was asked by an agent hypothetically how long it would take me to finish writing a novel. Offhandedly, I said 3 months even though that was total bullshit. Deadlines scare the hell out of me and always have. I wanted to experiment though and see how long it would actually take me to sit down and write a book. At first, I just wanted to fuck around with it and attempt to finish writing something terrible in a weekend, but this story idea hit right away so I kept writing. I thought then it would take me a week and then when that came and went, I thought two weeks but was still wrong. In the end, it took me two and a half weeks.
IKMVTM is being published by With an X, a relatively new indie press. Did you approach them with the book, or did they ask you for it? What was it like working with them?
I approached them and several other presses. When I sent it out, I wasn’t really expecting to get quick responses, but I shockingly did. I won’t name all the other presses that offered to publish, but With an X was and still is the best match for this book. I try not to approach presses based off their catalog or follower count on social media, so their “newness” didn’t really play a role in the decision. The main role in the decision was Jon Nix. He’s the editor of With an X. The work he’s done as a writer and filmmaker intrigued me. But after I was approached by Drew Buxton to write a blurb for his book from With an X, So Much Heart, I was sold and decided that With an X was definitely going to be a press I’d send it to. It feels weird to say that it was their vibe that brought me to them, but I think that’s how the best matches are made. Obviously, Jon is new at this so when it comes to “typical” book promo, there’s a bit of a learning curve. But I’ve found that I actually like that a lot. Because he’s worked in other mediums, he’s been able to bring that knowledge to the table, making this feel less like a “normal” book release and more punk AF. He’s very responsive and hands on. It’s been a very cool time working with him and obviously we aren’t done, which is another thing that separates him from some editors. He isn’t going to stop pushing or working with me once the book is released. I have other events planned. One he’ll be at. There will be a mini-trailer-like film. He’s full of all these cool ideas to make things stand out. So working with him has been very lit.
Stevie is struggling with the opportunity to become a bigger band and more famous. As an independent publisher and author how would you react to the opportunity of a major publisher book deal, or to have your book turned into a film?
The idea of that sounds amazing and I almost immediately was going to say that I’d love it. But that’s only half true. I’d love to see people consuming something that I created. If a major publisher approaches me or some streaming service wants to adapt any of my writing, I’m in. I’d have anxiety and struggle a bit like Stevie, but I would definitely go for it.
If I Keep My Visions To Myself was turned into a movie who would you cast in it?
I was just talking about this with my friend! This took a lot of debating but this is where we landed…
Stevie: Kristen Stewart
Claire: Florence Pugh
Finn: Alex Wolf
Alfie: Dominic Sessa
There are several songs that have sheet music in the book. Did you write the sheet music and have you had anyone play it?
I have had people play some of the chords and they came out decently. I’m not really a musician so I had to wing it a bit and also used an app called “sing2notes” for some of it. The last page of sheet music is my favorite and I hope people actually get that joke.
Where did the name Electric Stardust come from? It sounds like a lot of 60s/70s type bands.
It’s no secret that there is A LOT of Stevie Nicks in here. I had a few band names but decided that this would be the most fitting. Fleetwood Mac is named after Mick Fleetwood and John McVie but most people only think of Mick Fleetwood. Which is pretty fun for a band to get a large portion of its name from the drummer. One of the only bandmates I reference in this book is the drummer, Dustin Evy. I didn’t want it to be too obvious and have the band just named after him, so I used aspects of his name for it. Very similar to how dorky bandmates might do when trying to figure out what they should call themselves.
Even though you run your own publishing company why do you publish through other publishing companies?
I don’t believe in vanity publishing. Not from a judging standpoint. I just know that my books would suck if they were just left in my hands. I think you need those second pair of eyes to notice things that you don’t. And it can’t just be a friend because friends tend to placate you. It needs to be curated by someone else who has a stake in it and isn’t afraid to say if things are lacking or are self-indulgent.
The cover art reminds me of The Eagles’ Hotel California. But I heard that this was not the original cover design you wanted, what was the original design?
The fun part about “Hotel California” is that it’s about the same hotel that I based Hotel Xavier off of: Cecil Hotel. And the hotel chapter is named after lyrics in that song. Cover art is always a weird process that takes compromise and such when working with a publisher and not putting it out yourself. Which is something I had to remind myself a lot during the process. Being a publisher and writer causes me to sometimes overstep in that arena. I was and still am obsessed with the WPA style for this. I felt like it fit the vibe of the novel more. There’s a sense of space in WPA that really resonates with the mood that Stevie is in throughout the novel. It’s also so bold and eye-catching. As I look around my apartment right now, I’m noticing that at least 75% of the art on my walls are WPA style. But eventually Tori Huynh came up with this cover and I think it fits the novel in a more literal kind of way that highlights a pretty pivotal chapter in the book. She incorporated an art deco vibe that I loved and the colors she used fit the mood just as much as WPA probably would have.
In your novel each chapter title comes from song lyrics. Why do you title your chapters rather than just give them a number?
I didn’t give my chapters numbers in my last novel either. For that one, it’s because I saw each chapter as a short story in a collection until Nate Perkins from Trident showed it really was just one novel. I kept the chapter names there but fleshed things out so it flowed more like one novel. This time around, I just did the same thing even though I knew it was going to be a novel, not a collection. While writing it, I did note how funny it was that I finally was writing the kind of novel that I would typically feature on my podcast: Textual Healing. It was the perfect blend of both literature and music. I naturally began thinking what kind of questions I’d be asking myself if I was being interviewed on my own podcast. And the most obvious one is: What were you listening to while writing this? The answer is that I was bouncing between a playlist that someone else made on Spotify called “night drive 🌙” and songs that were popping in my head before I’d write a chapter. I decided that I’d title each chapter after the song that I had been listening to most while writing it. Not wanting to be too obvious, I eventually just took my favorite lyrics from those songs and those became the title instead. My thought was that since this is a book that’s a geekfest about music, music geeks would totally dig that hidden tidbit. Several people have gotten close to matching each chapter to their correlating song, but no one has gotten all of them yet. So here are the chapter names and the songs they belong to:
- Don’t do anything at all: White Rabbit by Jefferson Airplane
- Your opiate is the air that you breathe: Radio Ethiopia by Patti Smith
- Above all the lights: Hollywood Nights by Bob Seger
- I laid up for hours in a daze: Hollywood Forever Cemetery Sings by Father John Misty
- Strange, you never knew: Fade Into You by Mazzy Star
- Mirror in the sky: Landslide by Fleetwood Mac
- Anyone who’s had a dream: Sweet Jane by Cowboy Junkies
- The secrets I do not know: Innocent and Vain by Nico
- This city desert makes you feel so cold: Baker Street by Gerry Lafferty
- I had to stop for the night: Hotel California by Eagles
- Inside you the time moves: The Ghost in You by The Psychedelic Furs
- We’ve seen how strange things can get at night: Pacific Coast Highway by Kavinsky
- I’ll just sit tight, in the shadows of the night: Telephone Line by ELO
At one point Claire and Stevie are talking about having trouble writing songs and poetry. What are your writing habits like? How do you Handle writers block?
I recently learned that I can’t write in my house. I go away to write, and it makes things much easier. Even the last few short stories of mine were written in Egypt and Austria. I wrote this book in an A-frame cabin in rural Indiana. Honestly, as long as I’m out of my daily environment, I’m good. But if I do want to jolt my brain, I use The Most Dangerous Writing App.
Stevie seems introverted. She doesn’t want the Uber driver to chat with her, she doesn’t like it when strangers recognize her in public, and she is cautious with whom she opens up to. How much of Stevie would you say is autobiographical?
I definitely identify with those attributes, but there is little else in this novel that can seem autobiographical or autofiction. Like most writers, I use bits of my own personality and experiences to form a narrative, but the majority of this novel came from my imagination. I will note that I do like to get sushi and go to late night movies though. That’s probably the closest to something that’s actually happened to me as it comes. It’s fairly common for most people to match the main character with the writer. A fun fact is that people who know me say that I’m more like Claire lol.
Stevie is struggling with wanting to go on tour. How much do you enjoy doing book tours and are you doing one for this book?
I hate it. I hate readings. I hate the process of setting them up. I hate the anxiety that builds the closer you get to doing them. It’s just not something that comes naturally to me. BUT I am doing quite a few readings and might do a mini tour because I am so psyched to share this novel. Excitement is outweighing the fear currently. I’ve become more comfortable with the idea of being uncomfortable, but I am and will be anxious the entire time. Apparently, I tend to not look anxious though. So that’s a plus.
Are you currently working on any other projects?
Yep. Nothing I’m announcing yet. But it’s the reason why I was talking with the agent.
What is your all-time Top 5 records?
This is in no legit order and was hard to narrow down, but this is what I settled on:
- The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars by David Bowie
- Bridge Over Troubled Water by Simon & Garfunkel
- Rumours by Fleetwood Mac
- Love Ire & Song by Frank Turner
- Kimono My House by Sparks
Mallory Smart is a Chicago-based writer and Editor-in-Chief of Maudlin House. She is the host of the literary/music podcast Textual Healing and cohost of the horror movie podcast That Horrorcast. Her latest book, I Keep My Visions To Myself, is coming out from With an X Books. Find her on Twitter: @malsmart,
Benjamin Scott is a Midwest writer and interviewer. Find him on Twitter: @BenjaminZScott