Michael Allen Rose: King of Trades

Michael Allen Rose in Hot and Heavy Productions version of "The Wall" at Stage 773 (C) 2012, Hank Pearl

Some folks dabble in multiple areas of interest. The risk, of course, is spreading oneself too thin. But that’s not a problem for Michael Allen Rose, author, actor, and musician. I had a chance to converse with him recently about his many artistic endeavors and past successes, including the recent publication of his first book, Party Wolves in my Skull.

1. First and foremost, can you tell us a little about your book?

Of course! Party Wolves in My Skull is about Norman Spooter, who awakens one morning to find that his eyeballs have fallen in love and are leaving him. They tear themselves out of his skull, steal his car, and take off for parts unknown. He doesn’t know what to do, so he does what most of us would – he goes back to bed, hoping it’ll all resolve itself. Unfortunately, a pack of wolves moves in overnight, since his skull now has a vacancy, and worst of all, they’re party wolves. They end up joining forces, and go on a wild road-trip as poor Norman tries to track down his eyeballs. A woman named Zoe joins them, and she’s on the run from her psycho ex-boyfriend who happens to be a walrus. Really, it’s a satire of road-trip stories with some really crazy characters and some fun set pieces, like the Motel Sick and a tiny cult town in the middle of North Dakota. Oh, and crazy walrus violence! It’s a sweet story though, I think, and the reviews so far have found it a very funny book, so I’m pretty happy with the way it turned out.

One of the fun things for me about writing this book was that each of the party wolves has such a distinct personality. Through them, I get to explore parts of myself as an author I might not always give voice too. That’s especially becoming apparent with the reviews I’ve been doing on www.partywolves.com where I’ve been reviewing books as the party wolves. It helps me really accentuate the positive, since I can let different books appeal to different parts of me and use that particular character to talk about an aspect of the book I’m reading. It’s also a nice way to extend the fiction into the real world a little bit, which hopefully will get more people interested in the book.

2. You work in theater as well. Can you tell us what the strangest or sexiest production you acted in was? Give us details. Juicy details! (and photos!)

Mr. Rose (far right) with the cast from Hot and Heavy Productions version of "The Wall"The Wall (C) 2012 Mandy Dempsey

I’m actually pretty proud of the work I’ve been doing with RoShamBo Theatre and also with Hot and Heavy Productions here in Chicago, because everything we do is both sexy and strange! I think my crowning achievement with RoShamBo so far may have been our production for a WBEZ (NPR) event last year themed around the history of Chicago theatre. They had a bunch of famous people come in to do a panel discussion and story share about the history of professional theatre here in the windy city. We were tasked, along with a handful of other tiny theatre companies, to create a piece illuminating some aspect of that. We chose to highlight a “brief history of nudity in Chicago theatre.” It was amazing. We took real stories of actual “naked moments” and productions featuring actors in the buff from the last 40 years and performed little blackout sketches about them. As I narrated from backstage over the mic, the cast cleverly covered themselves with strategically placed props, body paint, etc so that none of them were actually naked. Of course the twist was, at the end, they’re all lined up at the front of the stage and I’m narrating about how audiences have come to expect that they could see nudity on a Chicago stage at any time without warning. As I’m doing this, I come out from the back buck naked. The only person in the production who didn’t need to be naked. We got a pretty nice reaction from the crowd for that one. That led to us producing one of (Emmy winner) Joe Janes “50 Plays Project.” I directed a piece that involved a cast of four in this bizarre mash-up of Butoh dance, S&M bondage and absurdism regarding a possessed ATM machine. Good times. More recently I’ve been working with my friend Viva La Muerte and her Hot and Heavy Productions group. I was honored to be part of their tribute to Pink Floyd’s The Wall recently, where I got to show off my amazing back-bend and paint myself red. Sexy and strange all the way through.

3. You’re also a musician as well. Are you still active?

For a while I had to put Flood Damage (my industrial band) on hiatus, but it’s back with a vengeance. It’s finally coming together in the way that I dreamed when I was a sixteen year old kid in my parents’ basement. Last summer was our first show in years, and with the new incarnation, and it involved fire, sparks shooting from a woman’s crotch, zombie abortions, strippers peeling skin off, and the summoning of a tiny Cthulhu, among other things. I always wanted to be synonymous with blood, fire and titties. It’s finally happening. We’re planning a big show in April (4/20) here in Chicago in conjunction with Hot and Heavy, doing a burlesque tribute to industrial rock. It’s going to be one hell of a show.

Michael Allen Rose even delivers for the pervs who find my page each day by searching for bulge shots!

4. Can you give us a brief explanation of how you made your way from musician to head of RoShamBo Theater?

I guess all the things I do kind of cross-pollinate. I never claim to be particularly good at any one thing that I do, but I do a lot of things, and sometimes I get lucky and wonderful people come along who support my vision. RoShamBo, Flood Damage, and my writing are all just different arms of what I like to do trying to “make art happen.” I’m just happy that there are people surrounding my life who are talented and generous to help me make all these things work.

5. You’re a Chicago native, correct? What’s the strangest place you love to frequent in the windy city? (you’re under no obligation to answer if you have stalkers).

I grew up in the frozen wastes of North Dakota (at least the summers are nice). I moved to Chicago in 2007, after finishing my playwriting MFA in southern Illinois. I moved here because of the amazing art scenes, the awesome people and the best food in America. We combine world class restaurants and urban diversity with the Midwest love of eating. There’s no other place like it.

There are lots of places I regularly hang out. Actually, I’m looking for stalkers, particularly attractive women, so I might as well divulge. I spend a lot of time at Knockbox Café over in Humbolt Park. It’s a great little coffee shop with some super cool owners, and they’re also letting us use their space to host the Bizarro Hour on March 1st, featuring myself along with the amazing Mykle Hansen, Garrett Cook and Andersen Prunty. Hell of a lineup. Oh! And the Pop Tarts are hosting! They’re the most famous British pop duo since… the last one!

6. Who were some of your biggest inspirations when you were growing up? (music, writing, drama, film, etc.)

Music has always been a huge part of my life, and many of the artists I most admire are multi-threat artists, like I’ve always tried to be. I’m a huge fan of Jim Thirlwell (Foetus) who I think is one of the greatest composers in the last century, bar none. He’s literally able to go from an industrial rock god to a symphony conductor to a big band nut to a dark and disturbing score creator in the scope of a single album. He’s also been releasing music since I was born, which is pretty amazing. There are tons of others of course… Tod Ashley of Firewater, Trent Reznor of nine inch nails, Johnny Cash… people who have really done it all in a variety of arenas.

I’ve also developed a healthy interest in philosophy, of the armchair variety. Jean Paul Sartre is amazing. Samuel Beckett is one of my favorite playwrights ever. I love the existentialists in general, because it really is a fundamental humanist view. The choices we make are what matters.  Not some uncaring, chaotic universe, but how we define ourselves as humans and move forward, choosing to act, making our own destiny. It’s really an optimistic philosophy, but a lot of people miss that I think because they get caught up in the “uncaring Godless universe” thing. I feel like that gives us our power back, as well as making us take responsibility for our actions, which is always a good thing.

7. What are the benefits of each art form you participate in? Why do you engage in multiple forms of expression? There must be benefits to each.

Like I mentioned earlier, I think everything feeds everything else. I’m a better director because I know how to write a play. I’m a better actor because I’m thinking about how a director might want me to act. I write better fiction because I’m used to writing dialogue. It goes on. Not saying that I’m amazing at any of those things, but I think being a jack-of-all-trades, while it may not ever get you to the top of any one field or art, is the way to go. You don’t limit yourself by choosing form before idea that way. If I have inspiration for something, maybe it’ll be a song, maybe it’ll be a short story, you know? Again, most of the people I admire are those folks who delve into whatever form strikes them for a given project.

I guess the short answer is, I don’t know how else to do it. I can’t focus long enough to stick with any one particular thing! Thankfully, there are people in my life who help me hone in on one thing at a time. And it seems like right now, I’m lucky enough to have people noticing and enjoying what I’m doing, which is a huge blessing for any artist.

8. How do you balance your various roles as an artist?

Very carefully.

9. This year the NBAS crew had their books in electronic format from the start. With the previous crews this was not the case. We were required to sell 200 print copies. Have the stipulations changed at all since the electronic book was added to the equation?

They have. Thanks to you guys being all successful and awesome, they made it a bit harder for us and raised the number by another hundred. Every sale matters! It’s been fun though, and it’s nice because all of us are promoting each other as well as our own books, which I think will pay off in the long run. It’s a great crop of crazy authors this year, and we hope to follow the trail that you guys have been blazing these past two years.

Michael Allen Rose (center right) with the NBAS 2012 gang

10. what are your plans for the future, in terms of your artistic endeavors?

I’m going to keep trying to spin all these plates at once, hoping none of them shatter!

11. Finally, what’s with the bathrobe?

So my first year at BizarroCon, I was meeting everyone and hanging out, and I had just come back from the amazing salt-water spa at Edgefield. As you might have noticed from the pictures, I’m not that self-conscious about my body, so I was just standing there outside in a bathrobe. People found that amusing, especially since I didn’t think anything of it until they mentioned it. So, Rose O’ Keefe (editor in chief of eraserhead press and Bizarro queen) was kind enough to give me a reading slot. I asked people if they were coming, and without fail, almost everyone asked “Are you going to wear the robe?” So I kind of had to. So it became a joke, and I wore it most of the weekend. There’s actually a character in Jordan Krall’s “Valley of the Apocalypse Donkeys” based on a situation involving the robe and a donkey-headed woman. It was a thing. So the next year (my 2nd) I didn’t want to be “the robe guy” but people kept asking, so I integrated it into my bizarro showdown performance, doing a short story about a guy in a robe, the climax being that I disrobed… and had another robe underneath! So this past year, I had to at least reference it. It’s one of those things where, you don’t always get to choose your persona, sometimes it just happens and something resonates with people. It’s fun. It’s comfortable.

ADDITIONAL INFORMATION

Learn more about RoShamBo Theater HERE

Stop by the fan page for Mr. Rose’s band, Flood Damage: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Flood-Damage/10704896687

Party Wolves in my Skull is available on Amazon in paperback and Kindle formats. Click on the image below for more information:

Negotiating Multiple Roles in Publishing: Interview with Caris O’Malley

Here's the bulge shot for all my vert-viewers.

Caris O’Malley entered the world of small press publishing last year, with the release of his book The Egg Said Nothing, published by Eraserhead Press imprint, NBAS. As the first leprechaun to be published by EP, Caris has encountered a plethora of interesting reactions to his appearance on the scene. But more difficult than negotiating his identity as author/leprechaun, negotiating his roles as prominent reviewer on Goodreads (cycles through various rankings in the top 50 out of countless reviewers in the community. He’s one of the best, and if you check out his reviews you’ll see why)  and published author have resulted in a few interesting scenarios.

Reviewing books, particularly the books of those in your circle in the small press world, remains a complicated issue for authors. Brutal honesty can hurt feelings and, worst case scenario, cut ties with fellow authors. At the same time, being generous to fellow authors can ruin one’s reputation as a reviewer. Out of all the friends I’ve made this year, no one had more at stake in this scenario than Caris, whose status as a high-ranking reviewer for Goodreads put him in a hot spot as a new author in the small press world. Did I mention he’s also a librarian with a taste for high-brow literature?

I had the opportunity to send him a series of predictable and dry questions and endlessly grill him for response, all for the express purpose of posting a bulge shot of Lucky (top left). Here is the result:

1. How long have you been reviewing books?

I’ve been actively reviewing books for about three years. In that time, I’ve reviewed every book I’ve read. Prior to that, I just wrote about the ones that struck me as notable- in either a good or bad way. I find that the process allows me to engage with the work in a way that reading alone doesn’t allow.

2. How long have you been working in the library system?

I’ve been working in libraries for about eleven years. I started out as a Page (book-shelving grunt work) and eventually got my Master’s in Library Science and became a fully-credentialed librarian.

3. Was The Egg Said Nothing the first work of fiction you had published? If not, could you tell us a little about your first acceptance for fiction?

The Egg Said Nothing is my first published work. Right around the time I finished with high school, I gave up on any hope of becoming a published author. It no longer seemed realistic, though it had been my dream since I was a small child. It was too fucking hard. After a couple of years in college, I got involved in a writing group and started to write for the sheer enjoyment of it, but never thought any of my work was any good. As such, I never submitted anything for publication. The Egg was the first thing I wrote that, in my opinion, had any commercial appeal.

4. Stephen King once ranked his roles in life, saying he was a father first, a husband second and a writer third. I think I have the order down on that, anyway. How would you rank the three roles above (reviewer, librarian, author). Or, would you say you avoid prioritizing altogether?

That would be really hard to do, since the three are so interconnected. Being a librarian, I am constantly surrounded by books. Being a reviewer allows me to engage with those books and influences my writing. Reading is my biggest source of inspiration. It’s like having a memorable conversation with a room full of brilliant friends. But if I wasn’t a writer, would any of that be so memorable? Would I be drawn to books to such a strong degree? I don’t know. I think I’d be completely lost without all three of those roles.

That said, if you made me choose, I think that being a librarian would find its way at the top. I’ve been trained to evaluate books; it’s my job. It only beats out writing because I have to spend a hell of a lot more time doing it.

Pictured: Caris O'Malley (actual size)

5. Have you asked local libraries to offer your book or other bizarro books to the public?

I have many times, but it’s never been too successful. There are three significant reasons why. Most of the bizarro publishers out there use Lightning Source for printing. It has obvious benefits of being economical and listing all of its printings in the Ingram catalog. Ingram, however, is primarily used by bookstores for ordering. Libraries have the ability to use it, but typically don’t. They do with another jobber called Baker and Taylor. Many libraries won’t order something if it’s not in the B&T catalog, which immediately puts most bizarro titles out of the running. I’d say that accounts for 90% of the bizarro requests that go unfilled at libraries. Secondly, libraries have to spend their money wisely. With the downturn in the economy, most libraries have had their materials budgets decimated. Because of this, every book purchased has to count. To select the best titles possible, library selectors use professional publications (Publisher’s Weekly, Library Journal, etc.) for recommendations. If your book isn’t in one or (typically) more of those publications (and bizarro titles tend not to be), librarians won’t be able to justify the risk in purchasing. Filling out the trifecta of disadvantage is the nature of bizarro fiction and, more importantly, the titles. Librarians are among the biggest censors of materials. If the book you’re requesting has “fuck” or “butt plug” in the title, there’s a good chance that it’s not going to be purchased. Sad but true.

6. Are there any bizarro books you’d avoid recommending for library distribution due to the extreme content?

Me? No. I believe in open access for all. It is not my place to tell people what they should be reading. People are intelligent enough to judge content on their own.

7. How has being a published author influenced your role as a reviewer?

I’m definitely more sensitive about what I write. I know that, especially in the case of indie authors, a bad review from me can hurt sales. That idea makes me feel kind of icky. Because of this, I tend to be very forgiving to the missteps of my small press peers. I’m not convinced that’s the best policy, but it’s what I’m comfortable with at this point in time.

8. You recently ran into a circumstance in which you were asked to alter and/or remove a review because it was not favorable. How did you respond?

In response to this particular request, I replied that I wouldn’t remove the review. I explained my position and that was that. To that individual’s credit, there was no further argument. S/he respected my position and I appreciate that. Because I tend to be so forgiving to indie authors, I was offended by being questioned on that single critical review. It made me reevaluate my stance on the issue and, probably, made me a bit more realistic. Books should stand on their own merit, I think. People can choose to be really, really nice in their reviews, but they shouldn’t feel any obligation to. When you write something for public consumption, you’re putting your ego on the line. You’ve got to be prepared to take a few hits if you’re ever going to get better.

9. You have had run ins with many authors as a reviewer. How have your relationships with fellow authors changed since your first novella was published?

I’m a lot less intimidated by them than I used to be. Which is good. I really like engaging with authors now. As a reviewer, there’s always this nagging apprehension associated with an author seeing a review you wrote of his/her book. Especially a bad one. It’s impossible to know who can take it and who can’t. I’ve been really lucky in that regard. I’ve given bad reviews to books and have chatted with the authors afterward. It’s cool. Taking the time to write an engaging review (which, really, isn’t hard) seems to be appreciated by pretty much every author. Even if you didn’t like the book, it says something that you took the time to figure out why instead of just riding that gut reaction. Because of reviews, I’ve gotten to talk with New York Times bestsellers, small press legends, and mass market romance writers among others. Hell, just today I was contacted by a guy who wrote a really fucking old pulp sci-fi book that I reviewed. That was super cool. People like to have their efforts recognized and, at its heart, that’s what reviewing is all about.

10. Assuming you do either of the things I am about to mention, which makes you feel worse: writing a negative review for a beginning author, or writing a kind review to avoid causing rifts/hurting feelings? (assuming you do either of those things).

I do both of those things and both make me feel like shit. It is awful to have to tell a new author that you didn’t like this thing s/he spent so much time on. That sucks. But, hopefully, my well-considered criticisms will help make that person a better writer. I know that’s what I try to do when faced with negative reviews of my own work. That second thing, though? That makes me feel like a fraud. And I’ve done it a lot. It’s so much easier to inflate a review because it helps you to avoid the altercation and, more importantly, not be responsible for any negative impact on someone’s career. A lot of small press authors really are trying to survive on their writing, something I don’t have to worry about. That sucks really bad. When I take that easier road, though, and do the nice thing for the author of the not-so-good book, it reflects poorly on me as a reviewer. Don’t get me wrong, every book has its audience. But you put your credibility on the line when you inflate reviews for friends. It’s just so goddamned hard not to.

11. Many authors have different methods for negotiating their dual roles as authors/reviewers. Mykle Hansen avoids giving star ratings for books written by people he knows and Carlton Mellick III generally avoids writing reviews, and has a well thought out philosophy on why he does so. Have you contemplated employing similar methods?

Carlton’s philosophy on reviewing is really smart and kind of excludes him from this discussion. As I understand it, he believes that a reviewer loses credibility once s/he becomes a published author. And, in many ways, I agree with him. When someone sees, for example, the authors on a press always reviewing books on that same press, it starts to get pretty obvious what’s happening. We all look to help one another, but our credibility is shit at that point. Carlton doesn’t review because he doesn’t feel a small press author should be evaluating his friends’ work.

Mykle’s philosophy, though, is more to the point where this conversation is concerned. His refusal to assign a star count stems directly from peer insecurity. Will this person get mad because I gave him fewer stars than I gave her? I think Mykle’s decision makes a lot of sense and it’s definitely a way to go. I, personally, am reluctant to do that because a star rating is important. On Goodreads or Amazon, it’s the first thing a potential reader sees. Five stars can really help a book sell, both on a per-customer basis and working the Amazon recommendation algorithm. So I really like assigning a lot of stars to good books. If I were to stop giving ratings to the books I didn’t like so much, it would still be very obvious that I didn’t like them. And that is a problem. It’s a really rusty, double-edged sword. Covered in AIDS.

Closing:

There are only a few days left before the NBAS team finds out whether or not they have made the cut. Do us a favor and check out the 2010 series on Amazon. “Like” our books, join our fan pages, buy a copy of one of our books. To see O’Malley’s first work, click here.

Have a question for Caris? Want to make an observation about how you or others you know negotiate their dual or triple roles as author/whatever else they’re up to? Drop us a line in the comments section and we’ll sustain the discourse.