Interview on the Surreal Grotesque Podcast

Surreal GrotesqueA few weeks ago, I was lucky enough to be interviewed by Jeremy Maddux on the Surreal Grotesque podcast. It was a great experience, and I regret that it has taken me so long to post it here. As belated as it is, if you click on the image to the left the link will take you to the interview.

Among many things, we talked about people marrying inanimate objects. Here’s a link to more information on that: CLICK HERE

We also talked about the Philadelphia Experiment, which you can learn more about that business if you click to the right, RIGHT HERE

We also talked about butts, which you can learn more about HERE

 

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My Writing Process Blog Tour

So a while back the wonderful Julianne Snow asked me to participate in a blog tour for writers. We were to answer four questions and then tag three other authors at the bottom of the post. I asked Gabino Iglesias, Grant Wamack, and Mike VanKennen. I figure they’re cooler than me, so I’m putting them up front, and then I’ll answer the four questions they’re going to answer next week after that. Click on their pictures to visit their blogs.

GabinoGabino Iglesias is a writer, journalist, and book reviewer living in Austin, TX. He’s the author of Gutmouth (Eraserhead Press) and a few other things no one will ever read. His work has appeared in The New York Times, Verbicide, The Rumpus, HTMLGiant, The Magazine of Bizarro Fiction, Z Magazine, Out of the Gutter, Word Riot, Red Fez, and a other print and online venues.

 

 

WamackGrant Wamack is a writer, rapper, traditional artist, and Navy journalist. He is the author of the bizarro novella Notes from the Guts of a Hippo. He currently lives in Spain where he dances in the streets with beautiful ghosts and dodges bulls.

 

 

 

Grown-Up MikeMike VanKennen is a poet writing for friends’ kitchens who will have on multiple occasions read words to actual people. He has provided some nonsense for a Quirky Love Interest record he’s not sure will ever see the light of day. Full-time college student part-time wage slave with aspirations of pokemon mastery. He has also overcome his fear of writing about himself in the third person with the publishing of this bio.

 

 

So below are the questions these dudes above are going to answer next week on their blogs (see check in with them and follow them). Here are my responses to the questions:

1) What am I working on?

First, I’m getting read to promote my next book, Journey to Abortosphere, which is out on kindle, but hasn’t hit yet in print. It could be described as a bizarro romance tale about a man who loses his first love (a shoehorn), finds unrequited love (first with a boiler, then with a machine that warps space-time) and then finally meets the woman of his dreams. Really, it is just a story about the absurdity of existence . . . and butts. For example, some conspiracy theorists believe the Philly experiment scattered the body parts of sailors across space time. Legs, arms, sometimes souls. But never, ever are there any discussions of butts getting strewn through time. I figure it’s about time we talk about these butts. Where are these butts now? Is there some ancient hieroglyphic evidence of sailor butts in ancient Egypt, perhaps?

2) How does my work differ from others of its genre?

I guess I should return to my bizarro roots to answer this question. When working in any genre other than bizarro, my bizarro roots make me stand out. There’s always an element of the weird in my work, and that’s been the case before I even knew that what I wrote could be identified as bizarro. When I write bizarro, my work probably differs from others in the genre because it doesn’t always comfortably fit the high concept model that is really popular right now. That can be a good thing and a bad thing. I re-read a review of my first book, Uncle Sam’s Carnival of Copulating Inanimals, tonight. The reviewer described the themes as cluttered, which I can see in retrospect. There’s too much being packed in there. I think it is something all beginning authors contend with. We finally get that chance to publish, so we try to pack it all in. It takes a while to learn how to slow down and address one issue at a time.

3) Why do I write what I do?

I let my passions guide me most of the time. Something sparks my interest and I keep diving in. The book I’m revising right now started with a YouTube video clip about the history of FCC regulations. I was intrigued, so I went to the local university library and started digging anything I could up relating to this subject. I branched out and branched out until I had the idea completely formed. Then I started writing.

4) How does my writing process work?

The process I describe above isn’t usually how I work best. I often come up with an idea and then just start writing. Often, if I know the end of my book I’ll stop writing. I’m a storyteller at heart. Once the story is completed it my head, I don’t feel the urge to get it out on paper. So I tease the story along. I usually end up cutting about 1/5 to 1/4 of the work afterwards because the approach I take is a bit sloppy and a lot of cutting is necessary to make the story concise and neat. But the last book I had outlined pretty well. I’m growing more disciplined now that I’ve grown up a bit as a writer. The book I’m working on currently had a mystery element to it, so I had to outline it more carefully than I normally would outline a work. I’m pleased with the results so far.

We’re Going to Die. Everyone Reading Our Work Will Die. And That’s OK. Write On.

All roads traveled . . .

It looks like a few more of the publishing houses I’ve had the pleasure of working with have died. I just acquired the rough equivalent of a death knell from one of my former publishers, which I’ll leave unnamed because they haven’t given up the ghost yet. Obviously it is NOT EP or NBAS. They will live on FOREVER! I also found out that Pill Hill Press is no more, which is sad because I just barely got my hands on Shane McKenzie’s Hacked-Up Holiday Massacre, which one of my stories appeared in quite some time ago. I hope it doesn’t go out of print. Shane did an awesome job on that one, and it was an honor to be included in an anthology with some of the greats in horror.

Found out a few months back that my second book, accepted last year, likely won’t be seeing the light of day any time soon. If it does under the publisher I’m currently (presumably) under contract with, there’s a chance it won’t get many sales due to author-publisher conflicts in the community I’m a part of. CLICK HERE for more info on that. This is the second time this damned book has been delayed due to folding presses. Black Sails expressed interest, then disappeared. It’s starting to become fairly common.

Of course it is time to re-evaluate my approach . . .

I’ve been thinking of carving my next novel into a fucking rock ledge somewhere, maybe an Adirondack slide or something. It should have some staying power then.

You won’t forget my bizarro cautionary tale of masturbation now, fuckers!

I think for many authors, the allure of the printed page surviving us is part of what drives us to write. Ever since I was 18, I’ve been obsessed with leaving more behind than two dates on a marbled stone with my name above it.

For a while I took solace in family. You know, at least our offspring will give a shit about the legacy we leave behind, right?

Then, when my grandfather died, I remember my father digging through a pile of trash to extract letters and pictures from our ancestors. They were discarded during auction because they had no monetary value. My dad fished them out, thankfully. Three or four generations go by and the legacy means little to most. Put all your eggs in the familial basket, you’re rolling the dice to lose. You become a footnote in your progeny’s legacy.

Friends are the same way. We can invest in others socially. We’re physiologically driven to do so. We can reinforce the importance of our peers. But when it comes right down to it, even if we outlive our peers by a decade or two, we’re all going to boil down to a pile of bones and a series of ideas we shared with others who also end up as bones. But don’t get me wrong. I still think there’s got to be something more, perhaps a selfless dedication to humanity as a whole.

Butterfly effect optimism. Some sort of pay it forward policy that can live on and make the world a better place.

There comes a point where we have to come to terms with the fact that we’re all going to end up as dust. The older I get, the more delusions start to become outweighed by reality, the more I’m reminded of Shelley’s “Ozymandias.” His kingdom turned to dust, and he was so arrogant and prideful that he never conceived of its demise. I’m not a big fan of classic poetry, but this guy hit the existential nail on the head. Pride, in all manifestations, is shortsighted at best.

I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: “Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown
And wrinkled lip and sneer of cold command
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed.
And on the pedestal these words appear:
`My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings:
Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!’
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare,
The lone and level sands stretch far away”.

I find it amusing that in mythology, we conjure up these images of the muse, the timeless Calliope who grants us inspiration. Imagine: immortal beings concerned with scriptures that last only a handful of lifetimes. Any manuscripts that live longer are perverted into tools that cause pain and suffering just as often as, if not more than, enlightenment, (e.g. The Bible). Why would immortals ascribe so much importance to things that in the grand scheme of things are so insignificant?

Even more ironic is the fact that over time these legendary characters have become mere footnotes in modern fables that are little more than compilations of past lore. Calliope is relegated to cameo appearances in “high brow” popular fiction.

I like to believe that if she existed, she would have moved on to better things by now.

“Let me double check . . . yes. It says here that I give 0 fucks about your creative endeavors. I’m too busy helping Maroon 5 make timeless hits. Lolz. Just kidding. I don’t give a fuck about them either.

Despite this seemingly dismal foray into the reality of writing and publishing, I can’t stop. Like many of my friends, something compels me to move forward. But I’ve reached a new stage. I’m no longer infused with the sense of self-importance that once inspired my writing. I write expecting to fall on deaf ears, so that every time my voice is heard, it propels me forward. I feel like my stories and I are comrades in battle, and I become more of a veteran of the small press scene every time I see one of my stories go out of print in an anthology no longer published. I feel like a hero in some small way when I rescue a story or novel from imminent death. I’m hoping I can do that next year with the book I was supposed to publish with Spectacular Productions.

In a fucked up way, authors all like catchers in the rye for our stories. We stand at the edge of the field, trying to save our ideas from falling over a great precipice into non-existence. Each one is a part of us. Self-preservation is our instinct, and it is wonderful that artists have transcended the need to preserve only our biological kin, that artists produce ideas, images, experiences as offspring. There’s something romantic about the futility of trying to outlive ourselves against all odds.

Introducing the blog space for Imperial Youth Review. I was invited to join the ranks of this project a while back, and watching it build momentum has been awesome. To kick things off, they’ve offered a story from the mind of Nikki Guerlain, who was just nominated for a Pushcart Prize. She also has great taste in films. Rock on, IYR. Rock on, Nikki.

Psychotic Housewives and App Hatred

Things have been moving along nicely since the summer drew to a close. I’ve finally had some time to catch up on creative writing endeavors before hunkering down and starting work on my dissertation. Additionally, some work I submitted before summer has finally hit the shelves, most notably the Death to Brothers Grimm anthology featuring my story “The Housewife and the Ascarid Nematode.” I’m proud to be included in this anthology with some excellent authors. I’m also happy to work with Omnium Gatherum. I missed a deadline for submission a few years ago by just a few days, and regretted not getting something in for their Detritus anthology. So submitting to the Brothers Grimm anthology was another chance at working with them. I’m glad I did.

In addition to this, I’ve also started working with Points in Case, a humor site that features columns, articles and blogs. This is where most of my hate-infused reviews of children’s books will appear first from now on. I’ve added my work with PIC to the sidebar, in case anyone’s interested.

Other than that, Spectacular Productions is about to release an anthology featuring some of my work. But I’ll write more about that on the release date.

Finally, my second book is almost finished. After writing 3/4 of the manuscript, I had to postpone my work so I could finish my PhD course work. Alas, that is finally complete. So while I’m digging into the first three chapters of my dissertation, I’m also writing the final sections of my second bizarro novel. I’m hoping to finish it this weekend if all goes well. There’ll be a lot of revising to follow, of course. But at least the first draft will be complete.

Thanks to everyone who continues to stop by and check out my work on bizarrojones. The two-year anniversary of this blog is fast approaching. And everyone who continues to stop by makes it worth while.

Your Writing Sucks: Elitism in Small-Press Publishing

This post has no breasts, no bulges, no deaths. What the hell am I doing here?

Like most people I keep in touch with, I grew up on a steady diet of Joe Bob Briggs. That’s probably why I romanticize the plight of B film producers like Troma. It fits in with my relatively Marxist view of the world as well. B films represent the have-nots of the film industry. By that I mean they didn’t always have the resources to make their visions a reality. What they did have, in some instances, was talent and savvy. They used that to up the ante so they could compete with the bigger film companies. And they weren’t afraid to take a few pot shots while they were at it.

After countless decades, not much has changed. I love that Lloyd Kauffman isn’t only out there making and distributing B films. He also supports others who want to do the same. I have watched him appear in countless YouTube shorts made by people just starting out in the B film industry. He’s written books on the art of filmmaking, most notably Make Your Own Damn Movie: Secrets of a Renegade Director. And why not? It’s not going to hurt him any if you make your own film. It most likely won’t hurt the B-film industry either. At worst, it’ll be another drop in the bucket that’s forgotten. At best, it’ll be a hit.

Apparently all that shit’s out the window in small-press publishing today* Every week I see more “you suck/you’re doing it wrong” articles referring to self-published authors than scathing reviews of 50 Shades of Grey. The source of this material is even more shocking than the frequency. It’s coming from my small-press counterparts, the underdogs fighting the good fight against the “big six.”

Every time I see an article or blog post of that rips on shitty self-published books, I can’t help but think about the ever-awesome Maddox, who bashes art drawn by children. It’s humorous because we all know kids aren’t the greatest artists in the world, but we never have the heart to say anything about it. Maddox parodies legitimate criticism because his cruel commentary isn’t constructive in the least, and it is humorous that Maddox pokes fun of people who dive so low to bolster their egos.

I can’t help but feel like posts bashing shitty self-published endeavors are the same, void of the parody and humor of course. These articles tearing down self-published books cover every facet of the publication process, from cover art to bios. I’d like to share a few of my favorite messages directed towards the worst of today’s self-published authors:

1. Your Book Covers Suck

K. Allen Wood has a good point. The cover art featured in this post is pretty rough around the edges. The point resonates with many authors today: if you suck at making cover art, don’t do it.

2. Self Publishing Sucks, and Here’s One Shitty Author to Prove it

I enjoyed this post. It really captures the essence of shock and disbelief when we discover that there are authors out there who literally shit books out and then bubble with pride as they discuss the self-designed covers featuring grammatical errors and horrible fonts.

3. Self Publishing Sucks, Here’s 10 Reasons (that hearken back to the stone-age of print publishing) Why

Self-publishing sucks because bookstores won’t stock them? Hold on Fred Flintstone, Amazon will happily whore shitty books free of charge. And what are these “book stores” you speak of. Finally: “readers care.” That’s nice, but the truly shitty self-published authors don’t. We’ll get to that below

4. Your Self-Published Book Just Plain Sucks

See general comments below.

5. Oh, and Your Bio Probably Sucks

This is reasonably constructive, but the tone borders on non-conducive for the alleged audience.

General Assessment:

One look at most of these articles–not just the ones included here, but the ones that crop up on a weekly basis–and the purpose becomes apparent: these articles aren’t meant to teach ignorant self-published authors how to improve their craft. These articles are preaching to the choir. This is the underdog beating down the uber-underdog. But I can’t understand why. At worst, shitty self-published authors should be met with apathy. At best . . . no, they should just be met with apathy.

I’m not debating the legitimacy of self-publishing here. It can be good and bad, as we all know. But if you’re not a self-published author lamenting the state of self-publishing, or even if you are a self-published author who has a good cover artist, a good editor, a concise bio and a great back-cover pitch–and you invariably admit that all of these factors can make or break your book–who gives a shit about self-published authors with delusions of grandeur and terrible grammar?

To a degree, I think our feigned, or perhaps misguided, concern for these authors rest with a few key misassumptions:

1. Self-published authors want to publish for the same reason: to get published simply so they can say they were published. Doing so is offensive because it reduces the general clout associated with being professionally published. So somehow these authors are dragging the validity of publishing through the mud.

Truth: For discerning readers and legitimate authors, the validity of publishing is in the content. We’ve all read “A-list” and small press books that are shit. These authors are just as guilty for dragging publishing through the mud as the shitty self-published gang, except the A list authors are highly visible and the self-published authors fade into obscurity. Who cares if self-published authors brag about their self-published books? The people who matter, discerning readers and writers, know the difference between a good published book and a shitty one.

2. All authors actually give a shit about (or should give a shit about) their audience, so their shitty work is a failure:

Truth: For some, especially those who only want to be published so they can say they have been published, the contents of the book don’t mean anything. Much like the English undergrads who collect hundreds of books they will never be able to read simply to adorn a shelf with signifiers of knowledge, some authors see their book as a signification of their success. Not audience reception, not the contents of the book, not meaning, not story. Just the book itself. That’s the only validation those authors wanted. It’s pointless to try to appeal to them.

On a scale of blue to red, how much do the worst self-published authors care about your biting criticism?

3. Readers aren’t discerning enough to sort out the good from the shit, and therefore the shitty authors are taking sales from good, small-press authors because the unsuspecting readers are picking up the shitty self-published books. Or, maybe readers are discerning enough but they’d rather buy something cheap, so the “good” authors have to reduce prices to compete with shitty authors who publish at the lowest rate possible.

Truth: To a degree, the latter portion of this assumption is a reasonable concern. But people will pay more for quality work if you let them take a chance on you at a lower price, which is what most small press authors I know are doing. This is wonderfully proactive, and I hold all authors who give their digital work away for free from time to time in high regards.

Where do we go from Here?

I’m not a huge advocate of self-publishing if one is trying to become a best seller, or even a moderately successful author. But if you’re just looking to throw a few copies in a local store, donate a copy or two to your local library’s “local authors” section, have a few copies bound for family, and put the book online in hopes that a few folks will buy a copy, then go for it. If your cover is shitty and the book is riddled with errors, then I may not be able to get through it, but you’re not writing the book for me so it doesn’t matter.

Part of the problem is that a lot of critics of self-publishing are still trapped in this print culture understanding of author/audience relationships. But it’s not the same as it was twenty years ago, and it will never be the same. People can cast their writing out into the world, much like a message in a bottle. It doesn’t matter who the audience is, and an audience may never be reached, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t write the letter and give it our best effort in lobbing it out there, even if our best effort isn’t as good as the next person’s, even if our bottle is just an old Styrofoam cup and there’s a miserable curmudgeon on the next rock screaming “you’re doing it wrong!”

Closing Points:

1. We’re not going to stop self-published authors, no matter how shitty they are, no matter how much we piss and moan.

2. Readers can’t even stop shitty self-published writers. The worst of self-published writers are more interested in product prestige than reception.

3. It’s obvious from the tone that most take in their condescending posts and articles that few are interested in appealing to these people anyway.

4. If you frequent sites that bash self-published authors to validate your own career as a writer, I’m sorry. I really am.

Notes

* – It’s a bit shortsighted to draw parallels between the B-film industry and self-publishing without articulating a few nuances. Amazon is the key variable that complicates the parallel. In B-film, money is still a key factor in production and distribution. Without that, filmmakers are left with few resources and YouTube as a means of distribution. But Amazon has leveled the playing field for all authors in terms of distribution.

Is Expression A Hopeless Endeavor?

The description I give could easily be interpreted as an, albeit weak, attempt to emulate in words what was done in image here. But what I'm experiencing right now is way more beautiful than this picture, which makes my description even more disappointing.

The wind drives clouds across a black canopy punctuated by stars. The breeze coming in through my living room window stings like winter, tastes like spring, and smells like summer. Trees dotting the horizon across the river are still dead, so the lights from my distant neighbors stutter inconstant through dancing branches. This is rural to the extreme, but the song that best encapsulates how I feel is called “Suburbia” by Matthew Good:

It’s not the lyrics. When I actually focus on those, this song is about something entirely different for me. But the music reminds me of all the things I describe above in a multitude of contexts. It’s a two-way phenomenon too. Sometimes I see, feel, or hear something and it reminds me of the song. Sometimes I hear the song and it reminds me of something I saw, felt, or heard in my past. “Suburbia” reminds me of the years I spent in nearby towns during the transitions between seasons. It reminds me of the subtle scent of cow shit, which you acquire an appreciation of when you come from the north country. It reminds me of the sun setting on distant bodies of water, and the fascination with nature my friends and I could afford when we were younger. It also reminds me of the nights my friends spent driving along the back roads in Gouverneur, or walking through the graveyards, picking up the plastic Virgin Mary statues that other kids our age scattered about. There was something incredibly tranquil about that.

What I’m getting at–by taking the longest route possible apparently–is that it’s weird how sounds, smells, sights, etc., accumulate connotations. It’s something we seem to just ride with. It’s part of what keeps life interesting. You throw on a CD or in today’s case an MP3, and it can take you in one hundred different directions. They say our taste buds change every time we eat something, I think the same can be said of any input we encounter. It changes our senses and perspectives.

The whole chain of thoughts also gets me thinking about how a single experience, consisting of all senses and a combination of emotions, can never be conveyed through art or any form of expression. Multimedia will never be able to emulate human experience, not in the foreseeable future anyway. Boil it down to a series of 1’s and 0’s. The code won’t mean shit to me. Every stimuli carries with it a vast array of connotations. You splice those together with other senses, emotional connotations of sensory input, the words we try to formulate to express that sensory input and emotional output . . . then the connotations of those words . . . The only equation I can come up with is that all of this = isolation. We’re completely alone in this world and all we can hope for are shallow intimations of full connection. But I think that’s the curse and blessing that drives artists forward. We’re hoping to find that perfect phrase that encapsulates a particular human experience or the perfect image that encapsulates how we feel about something. At best I think we find a means of expression that speaks to us as creators and viewers, but it likely speaks to the creator and the audience in a different way.

Worst case scenario, we continue to strive towards forging connections with others. How can that be a bad thing? Art is a win/win situation. Once you consider the inevitable element of loss and futility inherent in creation, you can begin to accept the blessing of ambiguity that expression affords us.