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Forsyth Harmon Books In Order

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Publication Order of Standalone Novels

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The Art of the Affair: An Illustrated History of Love, Sex, and Artistic Influence (With: Catherine Lacey) (2017)Description / Buy at Amazon

Forsyth Harmon
Forsyth Harmon received her MFA from Columbia University. Her work has been featured in The Awl, Tin House, The Believer, and Virginia Quarterly Review.

She has collaborated with writers such as Hermione Hoby, Leslie Jamison, Alexander Chee, and Sanae Lemoine, and has illustrated books for Catherine Lacey (The Art of the Affair) and Melissa Febos (Girlhood).

As a kid, she read a lot of series books, like The Babysitters’ Club. She also enjoyed Christopher Pike mysteries, particularly the covers. Since she is an illustrator, she thinks about the book as an art object. There is just something about three slim black cloth-over-board books, each of which being named for a different woman, which resonates to her, as the first third of her life has been defined so much by the intense yet episodic relationships she’s had with women.

Her story “Justine” had been inside of her from the very start, however at first, she was better able to pull the images out, sort of vomiting up the mess of illustrations: renderings of things and people that felt integral to the world of her narrator. It was a sort of visual first draft, or like a mood board.

After this initial purge, she moved back and forth from drawing and writing. This was an emotional process for her, as the story is autofictive, and Forsyth was grieving the loss of one of her friends.

The spot and full-page illustrations show up where needed. Forsyth wanted them to tell a story of their own, because Ali is so repressed. These images stand in for certain emotions she is unable to express. They are in black-and-white, typically at close-range, since Ali doesn’t have too much perspective to speak of. Forsyth attempted making them do the work of emotions for Ali, especially during the image sequences. Like the loose-leaf crumpling, the cassette unraveling, and a make-up compact opening up.

The actual writing process tends to rile her up, as it uncovers things that she may have otherwise just left alone. At the same time, drawing is something much more mellow. It isn’t a cerebral thing. Instead it allows her to just settle down and be able to process whatever she might have kicked up during the writing.

During college, she made a lot of zines. In some of the initial drafts of her novel, she was doing full on watercolor illustrations, however returned to the black-and-white look. A bit of it was about minimalism that was in line with the text, yet part of it was a return back to her Xerox black-and-white printouts. Forsyth has kept some of those old zines, and when she looks back at them, she sees that “Justine” was a continuation of that old one. In the same way that she revisited select experiences of her life at that point in time, she revisited those zines, too.

After her visual first draft, she started working on the narrative for the novel, bringing words together with her full-color images. She was in the MFA program at this time, and she struggled with doubt, particularly after her final thesis conference, where she was told by a prominent novelist to just drop the images and write a traditional novel.

She followed this advice and then rewrote the novel without any of the images, something that didn’t exactly work. Frustrated, she went back to her original illustrated version. The time away from this version was quite helpful. Now she also had stronger skills that she could tackle her original intention. She moved on toward a more minimal and consistent aesthetic, and she also re-drew everything in black-and-white.

Forsyth found that her original intention was the right one, she just didn’t have enough skill and confidence to execute it. She only had to practice. She didn’t need to actually change her project.

Forsyth’s debut novel, called “Justine”, was released in the year 2021. Her work is from the young adult fiction genre.

“Justine” is the first stand alone novel and was released in the year 2021. Summer of 1999, in Long Island, New York. Ali (who is restless, lonely, and bored) never thought her life would change nearly as dramatically as it did that day she walked into the local Stop & Shop. However she has never before met anybody quite like Justine, who is the cashier of the store. Justine is so thin and tall that she looks almost two-dimensional, and there is a stunning mischief in her wide smile. Ali admits that Justine’s smile lit her up and left her exposed at the same time. Justine is the light that shone on Ali with a dark shadow cast. Ali only wanted to stand there forever in the relief of this contrast.

Ali applies to get a job right then and there, securing a place for herself in Justine’s glittering vicinity. While Justine begins taking Ali under her wing, she learns how to shoplift, how to best bag the groceries, who to admire, what foods she should eat (and avoid eating), and who she is able to become out of her cold home, where her inattentive grandma barely notices the changes occurring in her. Ali grows increasingly fixated on Justine, reshaping herself in Ali’s new idol’s image. It leads to a series of events which spiral from superficial and on to seismic.

Forsyth delivers a tragically transparent, merciless, and bittersweet debut. This is an unflinching and intimate portrait of American girlhood on the edge of adulthood, one where obsession hastens heartbreak. This book features exacting and nervy illustrations and some effortless prose, with all of the mystery and clarity of some black opal. It is a razor sharp portrayal of the ways the world is able to bend a body to its breaking point. Readers enjoyed their time inside of Ali’s mind, and found themselves being obsessed with each of the characters.

Even though this is a short novel, it still packs an emotional punch, and is filled with imagery sure to transport you to the experiences of a chaotic, and at times, confused young girl that lives during the nineties.

Book Series In Order » Authors » Forsyth Harmon

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