Friday, October 12, 2012

Douglas Hackle: Douglas Who on the What?

BP:  What is your favorite Eddie Money song?

DH:  Eddie who? Sorry, buddy, but I don't know who you're talking about. That pop culture reference must be before my time.

Alright, I'm lying.

Shit, I don't know. But I will say that "I Think I'm in Love" has been growing on me ever since I first learned my short story of the same name was accepted for publication in the new Bizarro Press anthology. In fact I feel a tad bit guilty now about calling that song a "turd" in the story. But, hey, it is what it is.

Now that you got me thinking about it, "Take Me Home Tonight" is a pretty tight cut too.

BP:  Fun fact -- Eddie Money was a cop before he was a musician. What was Douglas Hackle before he was a writer?

DH:  I've been writing stories since I was kid, so strictly speaking, that's an unanswerable question. I think I was eight or nine years old when I wrote and illustrated my first book. Bound with staples and masking tape, it's a choose-your-own-adventure story called The Dungeon of Death. I still have it. My elementary school library actually lent it out for a while, and the book's old checkout card is still pocketed on the inside back cover.  Five or six kids actually checked the thing out.

Let's see, I've been a dishwasher/salad prep guy at an Italian restaurant, a worker bee in a shipping and receiving department at a clothing store, a landscaper, and a college student (received my B.A. in English many moons ago). Nowadays, I pay the bills by toiling Monday through Friday nine to five in a sort of Kafakaesque-Ligottian sea of cubicles where I churn out a certain manner of business copy.

BP:  I wish I still had the book I wrote in elementary school, but it was confiscated and destroyed on grounds of obscenity. I take it The Dungeon of Death wasn't quite as graphic as it sounds? Or did they simply not bother reviewing it?

DH:  Not as graphic as it sounds.  For example, one of the fifteen or so possible endings is, "Then suddenly he [a goblin] throws a spear into your stomach and you die." That's about as graphic as it gets.

BP:  On your blog, you claim to have been born with an extra finger on your left hand and an extra toe on each foot, "for a grand total of twenty-three digits." Are you just a freak of nature, or is that pretty typical of Ohioans?

DH:  Yes, I'm a freak in that respect. Polydactylism is the medical term for it. A doctor amputated those extra digits a few weeks after my birth.

Last I heard, my amputed finger is doing alright working the stand-up comedy circuit in L.A. My two amputated toes are employed as gay ice-road-trucker mimes up in Canada. They're dicks.

BP:  Do you plan to reproduce at some point in the future? Will Obamacare cover the same surgery for your polydactylite offspring?

DH:  I have a five-year-old son. Unfortunately, uninterestingly, and boringly, he was born with perfectly normal sets of ten fingers and ten toes. He wants to be Iron Man for Halloween this year, but I informed him that he is going to be "The Polydactylite Offspring That Daddy Always Wished For But Never Had" instead. Homemade Halloween costumes are always the best.

BP:  In his Devil's Dictionary, Ambrose Bierce defines the novel as "a short story padded" -- big words from a man who never wrote one. What's your excuse?

DH:  I could probably make a bunch of excuses for not writing a novel yet, but the primary reason is I have yet to experience that sort of eureka moment where my brain stumbles upon a truly enthralling, at least semi-original, book-length story idea--the kind of story idea that would compel me to write it into being at all costs. And should such a revelation never occur, and should I eventually find myself sitting alone in a retirement home one day in a soiled pair of Depends with no novel to my credit, then maybe I'll just say screw it and write a book about my two amputated toes and their misadventures as gay ice-road-trucker mimes in the arctic. Either that or write a sequel to The Dungeon of Death.

BP:  Take us through a day in the life of a gay ice-road-trucker mime.

DH:  Well, it's not all that different from a day in the life of a heterosexual ice-road-trucker mime.  First, you wake up early in the morning and don your white face paint and eyeliner. Then you drive your rig over countless, treacherous miles of frozen lakes and rivers, battling the harshest conditions on the planet to transport whatever it is you're hauling from A to B. When you reach a drop-off point, you take a break from the road to perform your mime act for the pleasure of whomever's working the remote outpost you're visiting and any Eskimos or caribou that might happen to wander by. The only difference between gay ice-road-trucker mimes their heterosexual counterparts is that during those long, lonely drives, when the gay ones engage in sexual fantasies their fantasies have to do with people of the same sex, whereas the hetero ice-road-trucker mimes fantasize about people of the opposite sex.

Didn't you know that?  Like, duh!

BP:  Heineken or Pabst Blue Ribbon?

DH:  "Heineken? Fuck that shit. Pabst! Blue! Ribbon!" - Frank Booth (as played by Dennis Hopper) in Blue Velvet.

Notwithstanding Frank Booth's status as one of my all-time favorite movie bad guys, I prefer Heineken these days. But don't get me wrong, slice--I'm all about throwin' back some PBRs on occasion. I probably drink too much beer.

BP:  Combine your favorite colloquialism for either "vagina" or "anus" with one of your favorite foods/kitchen appliances, spin it into a book title, and give us a brief plot synopsis.

DH:  Oh, jeez...

Okay, here goes.  Title:  Holy Shit, Here Come the Afro-Clams Again! I Better Hide in This Old Refrigerator!

Synopsis:  There's this big fucking geek named Francis who's completely and incurably terrified of women. But Francis also happens to be devastatingly handsome, so much so that he often finds himself being chased around town by large crowds of beautiful, lovesick, wanton women who want to rip his clothes off. One day a mob of these horny, drop-dead gorgeous ladies chases the poor guy into the local junkyard. He spots an old refrigerator, decides to hide inside it. Although Francis evades both capture and the experience of incredible porn-like supersex once again, he gets trapped in the refrigerator, suffocates, dies. The End.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Let me Show you My Cock

The following review was originally posted here.

Edited by Etienne DeForest

Genre: Bizarro fiction, short stories, anthology, zombies, satire, so that’s how FOX works

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

SummaryA collection of nine bizarro short stories with genres ranging from satire to noir and written by a varied group of authors. Each story has its own theme, but don’t worry, as required by all anthologies there is a tale about zombies. Not to mention steampunk robots, diseased monkeys, dystopic world views, talking whales, angry squirrels and everything in between.

We’re very happy that in addition to reviewing Bizarro Blursday books for Eraserhead Press, we now get submissions from Bizarro Press. Long live the bizarro revolution! This anthology, whose title seems to hint that it will be the first of many sets, is a nice introduction for the new bizarro reader. While a bizarro novella can be quite daunting to the average reader, a collection of short stories is a lot easier to digest if you’re just entering the genre.

The anthology opens in a big way with the wonderful, “In the Flesh” by John McNee. It’s set in a dystopic, post-apocalyptic world that’s populated with robots. The story itself is narrated by a private eye hired by the infamous Clockwork Joe to find his lost love. Ultimately, it’s a cautionary tale about the reliance on machinery and our treatment of the earth. We learn about Grungehaven, a city with metal and wooden women and a part of town that’s called “dammed” because a rush of water is being held back by an enormous dam. It’s also a story of love and redemption, but you’ll have to read it for yourself to see how.

Arthur Graham’s “Zeitgeist” is another stand out piece, and the most involved. You may remember I also reviewed his fantastic story, Editorial on the last Bizarro Blursday. His story revolves around a man pitching his idea for a television series to the network BOX (there is a lot of punning here). BOX, which produces shows like “American Idle”, “Blind Mate”, “The Biggest Boozer”, and “Molested Development” are representative of everything that’s wrong with our choice of entertainment. The tale is peppered with fun little digs at real life FOX, like the cudgel toting eunuchs Hannity and Colmes and the yellow skinned cartoon creatures who live and breed inside a fountain. Not to mention the network wanting to take the narrator’s pitch and change it completely into a show called “Time Ghost”.

“The Zombies of Kilimanjaro” by Jon Konrath is the aforementioned zombie tale. Despite it being set during the rise of zombies, the world isn’t much changed, just full of zombies and a military tasked to deal with them. There’s still the internet and in turn Facebook and email, plus zombies have even evolved a little and occasionally ride motorcycles. The story itself is narrated by an ex zombie guard (now infected) who regrets not writing down all his life stories when he got the chance. Very sad, but very funny at the same time- especially when you hear the theory that the CIA invented malt liquor to sterilize you. They would do that.

The final story I was incredibly drawn to was Robin Wyatt Dunn’s “I Am a Whale”, which is a flow of conscious story from the point of view of an angry whale. It’s experimental, extremely different, and unlike anything I’ve ever read- even in this genre. The whale makes outrageous claims that it eats ponies and blonde daughters, created Hermione Granger, and that Harry S. Truman’s middle name is Chewbacca. I want this whale to be real so bad you have no idea.

As with other anthologies, it’s hard to like every single story found within. I preferred about four of the nine stories (above) to remaining five, but those I did like I enjoyed more than I disliked the stories that weren’t so entertaining to me. If that makes any sense at all. I have detailed the plots of these stories below on the off-chance that they speak to you more than they did to me.

“HELP! MY ASS HAS RABIES!” (no relation to Help! A Bear is Eating Me!) by Adam Millard is set at a satirical version of McDonald’s called simply, MacReady’s. A pair of bumbling FBI agents are transporting a monkey full of a disease known as ass rabies when they stop at this fast food restaurant and the monkey breaks loose. This immediately creates people with carnivorous ass butts (that’s not repetitive, that’s just what I wrote in my notes) and chaos ensues.

In “Yappy the Happy Squirrel” by Dominic O’Reilly, the plot revolves around a squirrel mansion/sanctuary run by some extremely intelligent rodents and one lonely janitor. In England. Despite housing 2,000 squirrels, two of which are Peruvian piranha squirrels, the Happy Squirrel Sanctuary Mansion doesn’t seem to be able to hire more than one man to clean up all that poop.

Wol-vriey’s “Mouse Trap” is set in a horrifying world where physics and the laws of nature don’t seem to apply. I would call it Pinkie Pie land, but it’s much scarier. And bloodier. In this world, parcels deliver themselves with their detachable legs and wings, wind up mice infest your homes, and bookworms that you put in your brains eat up knowledge for you and help you learn. All in all some interesting concepts, but it was a tad weird, even for me.

“Regressive” by Nathan J.D.L. Rowark was the story that I was torn on. I liked the premise and the overarching plot a lot, but I found it difficult to follow the dialogue and therefore separate the characters in my mind. It follows a wonder drug known as D.K. which was created by mixing the psychotropics found in weed, plant life from Mars, and the DNA of an African bear. Since there are no plants on Mars and the African bear (Atlas) went extinct a while ago, this is set in some sort of alternate reality and details the dangers of a drug which prolongs human life.

Finally, “Night of the Walrus” by Gabino Iglesias gives us televisions that work with smell-o-vision, beer that’s flavored like cheese, a cat that only sings Frank Sinatra Christmas songs, a talking walrus named Odobie, cyborgs, and the Church of the Super Mario Bros. It’s a lot to take in and is noir themed (not my cup of tea) which landed it as one of the less enjoyable stories in the anthology.

-”In the Flesh”, “Zeitgeist”, “The Zombies of Kilimanjaro”, and “I Am a Whale”
-The strongest stories are high in humor, satire, and their messages

- “HELP! MY ASS HAS RABIES”, “Yappy the Happy Squirrel”, “Mouse Trap”, “Regressive”, and “The Night of the Walrus”
-The weaker stories were too weird or too hard to follow

Regardless of my lukewarm feelings for one half of this collection, it’s nice to see another bizarro publishing company putting out books. There used to be a lot more, but over time they’ve shut down or merely stopped existing. And with so many extremely talented writers, it’s a company that has a lot going for it. Very excited to see what they come out with next.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Dissecting my Frog (City Updike)

Frog City Updike never would’ve been without Brautigan’s Trout Fishing in America, the book that showed me just how loose I could get with form. — Arthur Graham, Big Al’s Books and Pals

One of the words I use too often in reviews is “interesting,” but I never really make it clear whether a particular word piques my interest or holds it. It’s the same with “nice,” which I also overuse; nice can have negative connotations; the last thing your wife wants to hear when she walks in wearing a new outfit is, “You look nice, Dear.” Even more confusing I would expect is when something gets referred to as “nice and interesting.” Frog City Updike–the place, not the book–sounds like a nice, interesting place. I’m not sure I’d want to live there but if I did I can see myself running across interesting things and saying, “Oh, that’s nice,” or vice versa.

Short story collections are a bugger to review. The problem usually is finding the common thread. Why does the author think that these particular stories, in this particular order, work? The ones I find I enjoy best are books like The Next Stop is Croy and other stories where the stories all revolve around a single family or Ugly to Start With where the stories are all set in a particular town and retain the same narrator.

Arthur Graham’s Frog City Updike (Amazon, 174 pages) works because all the stories bar two are set within the borders of the fictional town of Frog City Updike. As for the two exceptions, one is set in Ireland and another in Frog City Updike Heaven. Some have first person points of views, others third; there’s even a couple of letters employing a second person narrative; the protagonists vary but they all are Frog City Updike-ites and that is what binds them together; their idiosyncratic take on life. The closest comparison I can think of is the quirky American TV series Portlandia. Anyway, this collection works.

Astute readers will have noticed in the last paragraph that I mentioned that Frog City Updike was a town. This is not a typo. I’ll let the author explain:

[W]eighing in with just 7,886 yearlong residents, it would be more accurate to call the place Frog Town Updike. But, as is the case with all such misnomers, the fact of the inaccuracy is not as important as the truth of it. Whenever the place was first referred to as Frog City Updike, or whoever first referred to it that way - these questions are purely academic. For those who call it home, Frog City Updike simply is what it is. Frog City Updike is just what the town has always been called, and since the name stuck as well as it did, no one really sees much point in trying to change it on a technicality now.

The Updike connection also requires some explanation:

[T]here has never been any family, business, or public office with the name Updike listed anywhere in the local phone book. One can imagine how hard this has made it to look up the local post office, or anything else for that matter!

Okay it’s not much of an explanation. But it is a fact. However bizarre. There are frogs, just not as many as one might expect to warrant the inclusion of their existence in the name of the place.

To be perfectly honest, there are only about two hundred or so in the entire area, and most if not all of them are concentrated around the small pond at the shady heart of Frog City Updike City Park. Quite rare is it to see a frog anywhere beyond this pond or its immediate environs–at least one that hasn’t been flattened by a car or carried off and pecked apart by a bird somewhere. But the frogs of Frog City Updike–confined as they are to their pond at the centre of Frog City Updike City Park–they don’t much complain about their lot in life.

So that’s Frog City Updike. Having read no Updike I can’t say that the writing style reminded me in any way of John Updike although Wikipedia tells me that he also wrote a great deal about American small towns and probably published far more short story collections than most winners of the Pulitzer Prize have. The author bio at the back of the book says that Arthur Graham works “in a slipstream, surrealist style that has been compared to that of William S. Burroughs and Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.” but as I’ve managed to get through the last fifty-three years without reading either of them I can’t comment on any similarities to their work either. (Note to self: need to read more American writers.) Having only read the three quotes above, although not in the order in which I presented them, the author I thought about was Richard Brautigan (which shows that I have read at least one American writer) and one particular book came to mind: In Watermelon Sugar. In an old post on Arthur’s blog I was pleased to see that he’d also realised that this was the kind of book “Brautigan might’ve enjoyed if he hadn’t blown his brains out all those years ago.” Which is a very Brautigan-esque way of putting it, don’t you think?

Now having read the above, which, as I’ve said was all that I’d read when I reached that conclusion, you may or may not agree with that assessment, assuming, of course, that you’re familiar with Brautigan’s work, but as I pressed through the collection I only found more evidence to underline that initial determination. Brautigan’s naive style of writing is not something one comes across very often. Indeed the last book that reminded me of him was called Naive. Super by the Norwegian author Erlend Loe which I enjoyed immensely.

The majority of the stories in Frog City Updike could be described as flash fiction; many only last for a couple of pages and as the paragraphs are mostly short and the font is on the generous side (I was working from a PDF mind) there is certainly more white space than most short stories contain resulting in proportionately fewer words per page that one might expect. The net effect is that it is a nice book to read. This is not a thing I tend to say about most books of flash fiction where the stories jump all over the shop but since all the stores are set in Frog City Updike or involve Frog City Updike-ites you feel as if you’re getting to know the town a little at a time. It’s an interesting town. Needless to say it’s not a real town. The title came from Arthur’s wife:

My wife suggested Frog City Updike as a nonsensical title for the novella I was working on last year. Though completely inappropriate for that particular book, it was far too good a title to just throw away! Frog City Updike basically wrote itself around these three words, which is why it’s dedicated to Jayna, who provided that initial spark.


For Frog City Updike…whenever I felt like working I would imagine this nondescript town, theoretically in rural America somewhere - a place that served as a sort of microcosm for the larger world, along with all of the people, places, and things in it. From there, I would cast about for interesting characters and situations, transporting them to this rather amorphous locale and infusing them with my own observations and experiences. In so doing, I found it easy to incorporate a wide variety of unpublished material I’d been sitting on for a while, stuff that likely never would’ve seen the light of day if I hadn’t taken such an essentially open approach. – The Indie Spotlight

I can see the total sense in this because a number of the stories don’t work especially well on their own but gain strength from being incorporated in a group like this.

A number of the stories in Frog City Updike come from a group whose connection to Frog City Updike is tenuous to say the least. The first, entitled “Hitler’s Bad Day” begins as follows:

Hello. My name is Arthur Graham. If you’re reading my book, Frog City Updike, then you can call me Frog City Updike Arthur Graham.

Incidentally, how are you liking my little book so far? I hope you are liking it well!

If you like this book, then you may like this other thing I wrote–a short story entitled “Hitler’s Bad Day.”

By Arthur Graham

A short man paced aimlessly around the small underground room, stopping here and there to straighten a wall hanging or rearrange the items on a table. Each time he passed the ornamental mirror above the fireplace, which he did with some frequency, he paused for a moment to examine his moustache and frown at it. The barber had cut it too short, he thought.

Hitler was having a bad day.

The others are “TV and the Internet,” “Nice Description,” “And So It Came to Be” and the longest story in the collection, “No One Drinks Tea Anymore” which, if I’d read any books by Tom Robbins I might say reminded me of Tom Robbins in that the protagonist in the story is a teacup. (Note to self: add Tom Robbins to the list of American authors you need to get round to.) None of the other stories in the book involve sentient inanimate objects although to be fair to the teacup she does not remain immobile and indeed makes her big bid for freedom juiced up on nicotine of all things towards the end of the story. There is a talking frog and a chatty Loch Ness Monster in the story which is set in Ireland although he does explain what the Loch Ness Monster isn’t doing in his native Scotland. For me, though, the standout story was the one about the teacup. I suspect its length was the reason. It has time to develop the characters. An extract:

Teacup wasn’t dumb. She was fairly smart as far as inanimate objects went, but her knowledge of current fashion trends was sadly lacking. In any event, she was used to having her suggestions ignored.

What she did know about the world outside the diner was largely limited to what people around her let slip. Other objects were rarely much help at filling in the gaps because each had their own geographic blinders. For example, in the kitchen, Whisk had no idea what a chicken was. He could tell you every minute detail about an individual chicken egg, but for all he knew they grew on vines.

The problem was actually quite simple: Most of them simply lacked any general context in which to place their very specific knowledge. That’s what happens when you spend the majority of your time stuck in a sink, in a drawer, or in a cupboard. These days Teacup was spending more and more of her time in the cupboard.

No one drinks tea anymore, she would often lament.

There is some attempt at continuity and characters from one story do reappear in another, especially Frog City Updike Arthur Graham. Frog City Updike Sheila and Tony appear in “The Jean Jacket”, “On Your Side,” “It Was Just that Kind of Vacation” (for me the weakest story in the book as it’s set in Ireland and having written a book set in Ireland and also not being Irish–Arthur hails from the north woods of Michigan; I hail from Glasgow city centre–I know just how hard it is to get those telltale details right), “A Scene From Frog City Updike Tony’s Deathbed” and the last story, “Heaven,” in which everyone has a cameo and I nearly missed her because her name is spelled “Shelia.” (Considering Arthur pays his bills editing medical textbooks for a small publishing company in Salt Lake City, tsk, tsk.)

Some of the stories have a surreal edge to them. In “Making Relationships Work” the unnamed narrator is sitting in Frog City Updike Public Library when he sees a “young hip couple” come in:

I could tell they were young due to their solid, slender physiques, smooth skin, and overall lively demeanor. They were hip obviously because they were dressed in the latest fashions of the time, which at that time consisted of an all-black winter ensemble accentuated by bright pastel accessories. As for how I could tell they were a couple, well, there were two of them present.

But the next time he notices them they’ve mysteriously aged and their relationship also seems to have, well, depreciated. And they smell:

I tried to pretend that I hadn’t been thinking intently about their personal lives, which was easy now that I noticed their combined effluvium of French fry grease, cigarette smoke, and mildewed undergarments.

No explanation is forthcoming but the narrator notices the book the woman is carrying: MAKING RELATIONSHIPS WORK and he proceeds to mull over in his mind what he might learn from this pair. He realises that the experience has taught him valuable lessons:

1) It takes more than the latest styles to make a person hip,
2) it takes more than hipness to make a person young, and
3) it takes more than two persons present to make a couple.

Others stories have a profound simplicity. In “Bruised Bananas and Broken Bones” we learn what has happened to reduce Frog City Updike Dr. Robertson from being a successful and wealthy medical practitioner to having to spend his nights under a Frog City Updike bridge “with nothing but a sleeping bag, a rucksack, and a small wooden crate he’d turned upside down to use as a table.” But rather than being a tale of failure the story ends on a surprising positive note:

It had given the former Mrs. Robertson great pleasure to see her former husband left penniless, but what she didn’t know was how well an old hobo doctor could live in exchange for giving free medical advice and setting the occasional broken bone.

A new young doctor now taken over the practice but he still hadn’t taken down the sign that reads “Frog City Updike Dr. Robertson’s Family Clinic.”

Whenever the young doctor finally takes down his old sign, Dr. Robertson decides, he will reclaim it from the Frog City Updike municipal dump and set it up beneath his bridge.

None of the stories are especially heavy. Not even the one about Hitler. In fact the political correctness of writing stories about someone like Hitler is addressed in a later story:

I am not nor have I ever been a Nazi sympathizer, Hitler lover, or Holocaust denier/apologist. I’ll tell you a few other things that I’m not: 1) Simple-minded to the point where I am unable to conceptualize on multiple levels. After all, it is not hard to imagine Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. tossing a paper cup out the window of a moving vehicle, or Mahatma Gandhi verbally abusing his wife, so why is it so hard to imagine Adolph Hitler doing anything other than incinerating Jews, gypsies, blacks, homosexuals and intellectuals? 2) Ignorant to the point where I equate the mere reference of a word/name with the wholehearted support of everything associated with it, and 3) Sensitive to the point where I allow my ignorance in these basic matters to upset me to such a degree that I feel compelled to write asinine letters to anyone who will read them and possibly respond.

We have a grandmother and granddaughter exchanging letters, there’s a woman who can’t sleep for her husband snoring, an overly-forthright drama coach, a boxer who becomes a legend because of his glass jaw, a group of gypsies who seem to pass around the same kid while they beg for money, there’s some debate about why bunnies don’t lay eggs (personally I’ve never understood what either eggs or rabbits have to do with Easter) and there’s even a story where you can decide what happens next; remember those?

All in all it adds up to a rather charming read. As Arthur puts it himself:

It won’t keep your children or grandchildren nearly as riveted as the average Disney film, but you could probably read it aloud to them without overly censoring the material. It retains a lot of the same quirks that made its predecessor such a mixed bag, but it’s executed with virtually no sex, violence, or dark, demented broodings to speak of. Very whimsical in both structure and tone.  Big Al’s Books and Pals

I have nothing to add.

You can read a lengthy extract from the book here.

Jim Murdoch, author of Milligan and Murphy (2011)

***The preceding article was reposted from Dactyl Review***

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Cassie-la of Bibliomantics on Editorial

The following review was originally posted here.

Editorial by Arthur Graham. Genre: Bizarro fiction, apocalypse, satire, experimental, David Lynch in prose

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
SummaryA cyclical tale about nature, life, and the world, told in constantly flowing narrative shifts. Set throughout time, from the beginning of humanity to a world ravaged by global cooling and into the distant future where the human race has evolved into something wholly different.Editorial is nothing and everything, told from every perspective in 1st, 2nd, and 3rd person with every conceivable narrator. It is the only book like it you will ever read.
This is the first time I have ever read a book that I considered to be a complete mind fuck. David Lynch in prose. No clear genre. I finished not exactly sure what I had read or what I was meant to learn when I reached the last page. Like the ouroboros on its cover, the narrative was cyclical with a similar story being written and retold in a constantly shifting narrative. When I finished I felt like I had read a book within a book within a book. Is it the Inception of books? Almost.
The initial story opens with our nameless narrator, recently having become an orphan and forced to live with his horrid aunt and uncle after his parents died in a horrific car accident that he inexplicably survived. He spends his days eating, reading, and masturbating until one day he is ejected from their home and wanders through the desert. At which point he sheds his skin and turns into a snake. What what what?
What follows is a series of narrators, from the orphan boy to a traveling salesman, an editor who is writing a similar story about the orphan boy but set in the future, someone who is hired by the possible orphan boy to write his life story which becomes the content of this book (who may or may not be the editor), all of whom write in leather bound black books, the list goes on and on. As if the changing narrators wasn’t enough, the point of view also changes from 1st to 3rd person and occasionally in 2nd. There’s even some breaking of the 4th wall/glorious meta-fiction when Graham writes, “My editor is telling me…” Is it still called the 4th wall in literature, or would it be breaking the 3rd page?
A great deal of the novel is set in the year 2483, with the first female president, who is essentially the best president of all time in the public eye. Girl power! She has cut carbon emissions, unemployment, crime rates, prison overcrowding, and has legalized weed and used the extra tax money earned off it to fund universal healthcare. I’d definitely do that last bit if I were president, it would probably get us out of our economic slump.
However, the lowered carbon emissions somehow results in a worldwide global cooling, with the increased frozen water dropping sea levels thousands of feet, turning beaches into giant cliffs and revealing the long lost city of Atlantis. As we are told, “Predictably, this turn of events resulted in much jubilation and declarations of ‘told ya so’ amongst those whose forefathers had somehow managed to remain skeptical of global warming, even as dead polar bears floated through their backyards on the flooded banks of the Mississippi.” Hysterical satire like this pervades the pages, and makes the glimpse into the future even more ridiculous. Not to mention the dolphin rape and the government created Ark Force One.
Even farther into the future, all the books are stricken with a disease which makes them come to life with an appetite for human flesh. Literally, killer books. There is a hierarchy in the book food chain with hardcovers at the very top. Obviously. The narrator recalls a time when some people, “Couldn’t be troubled at all to pick up a book in earlier times (at least one that wasn’t about vampires, celebrities, or chicken soup)”. Oh humanity, you are such easy fodder, you and your hatred for the written word and the delicious smell of a new book. Although I wouldn’t attempt to smell a ravenous book from the future.
Throughout the narrative shifts it becomes increasingly apparent that we are dealing with an untrustworthy narrator, one who allows others to write his history as they see fit, who alters his own history, and who even claims to be immortal. Or an immortal snake. Whichever way you read it. Speaking of, the snake is a constant them throughout the text, from the one on the cover, the snake eating itself (AKA the ouroboros), references to slithering, people devouring one another whole, and plenty of biblical references. As expected, there is even a retelling of Adam and Eve which plays into the rest of the story here and there.
One of the things I love about Graham’s writing is the way in which he plays with vocabulary. For once I actually needed to use my Kindle to look up words, and that’s just fine by me. From vittles/victuals, which means food or provisions to onanistic oeuvre, a kenning for a collection of masturbatory materials, and even podiatric parts in place of feet, it quickly became apparent that Graham is one smart fellow. No awkward out of place thesaurus use here, just bold, intelligent prose.
Editorial is incredibly ambitious, with multiple narratives, retellings, connective elements, interweaving timelines, and a plot that reads like a moebius strip. However, this is also its downfall for some, and certain readers might be thrown off by the confusing plot and immense scope. Regardless of these tiny qualms, the novella is incredibly well written and Graham has a pitch perfect sense of humor. It’s my first foray into a Bizarro Press selection and will not be my last.
-Well written, full of thought provoking content-Like nothing I’ve ever read before-Great and exciting vocabulary that had me putting my Kindle dictionary to use
-Extreme sense of humor and satire throughout
-Experimental nature makes it confusing at times
I have often heard it said that bizarro fiction is, “The literary equivalent of a David Lynch”, but I can honestly say this is the most Lynchian prose I have ever read, and not just because it reminds me of Lost Highway. It’s probably the desert, and the idea of time as cyclical. Or the fact that the nameless narrator is now and will always be Bill Pullman in my mind.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Interview with Adam Millard

AG: You are the founder/owner of Crowded Quarantine Publications. Based on the name, I would imagine that everyone there is quite sick.

AM: Yeah, we're all pretty sick all of the time. I don't know how we manage to get anything done. We have good medicine, and try not to infect the rest of the population by not biting, bleeding on, or having sex with them. I run a tight ship, making sure that everyone is tucked up in their solitary-confinement units by nine at night. It's worked so far. Though medicine is becoming more expensive, thanks to the British government, so I'm not sure how much longer I can keep it contained.

AG: Is a nation's probability of experiencing a zombie epidemic proportional to its rejection of universal healthcare? Will world governments provide access to the vaccine, or will they cynically withhold it as a means of population control?

AM: I believe that we are only months, if not days, away from experiencing the Zompocalypse. The warning signs are all there: mass coronal ejections, governmental disharmony, Snookie and Kim Kardashian. Anyone can see we are all doomed. And when it happens, the government will snipe Stephen Hawking from whatever he's up to - probably playing a nice game of chess or something, against himself - and have him tied in a basement until a vaccine is created. Then, Hawking will take a bullet to the back of the head, the President, the PM and their cronies will all get vaccines, and sell the rest to the wealthy. The poor will succumb to the infection, the rich will live on massive boats built by the second-coming of Noah, and that will be that.

AG: Many of your books reference the word "dead" in their titles -- Dead WestDead CellsDead Frost... CQP recently published an anthology entitled Wake Up Dead. I take it you're a bit of a necrophiliac?

AM: I used to be. Then I got dumped by a pretty nasty bitch of a zombie, and decided to try something new. It's amazing how much more responsive a living woman is in comparison to a dead one. I'm not so self-conscious now. It can be a bit embarrassing being unable to bring a body to climax. Thankfully I met my wife - though she wasn't my wife when I met her - and I'm much happier now.

AG: Tell us about your experience at the 2012 Cardiff Comic Expo. You served as a panelist back in February?

AM: Cardiff was a fantastic weekend. The amount of fans that turned up specifically for my books was overwhelming. And the panel was so much fun. It was "Horror Is Dead", and we tried for an hour not so slate the Twilight Phenomenon. It was tough. It was an honour appearing on a panel with Robin Furth (Stephen King's researcher) and Wayne Simmons (Fellow horror hack). It was the first panel I've done, and I will be trying to recreate the magic at the upcoming Bristol Comic Expo, where we will be doing another panel, this time with Wayne Simmons, Scot Stanford (The Darker Side Of Oz) and Ryan Brown (Berserker Studios). 

AG: Aside from the current YA craze, zombie fiction seems to be one of the most popular genres around today. How do you explain this mainstream appeal when, only a decade ago, zombies were still much more of a niche thing?

AM: It appears to have come from nowhere. I think it might be a counter-attack on the copious amounts of sparkly-vampire bullshit currently doing the rounds. I've been made aware of several upcoming publications/movies, though, where it's just fine to fall in love with a zombie, and have - in the words of Bill Clinton - "sexual relations" with them. Romance has no place in mainstream horror, as far as I'm concerned. How would Mills and Boon fans like it if suddenly the heroine bit off a man's cock? I expect there would be uproar. Zombies should not be capable of love, and having sex with one would infect the rest of the population in a relatively short amount of time. So, yeah, I think it's something of a rebellion that the genre is doing so well. Everyone loves a bit of gore. I bet Mary Whitehouse loved The Evil Dead, really, and was just trying to get on TV.

AG: Give us an example of a genre-bender that has actually worked, or one that you think would work.

AM: I think From Dusk Till Dawn worked so well. The first hour are trademark Tarantino - wisecracking gangsters and witty banter - and then BOOM! Stripper vampires everywhere. When I first watched that movie, I thought I'd died and gone to heaven. It was just perfect, and remains one of my favourite movies of all time. Not the sequels, though. Piss-poor.

AG: I recently read your "HELP! MY ASS HAS RABIES!" in Tall Tales with Short Cocks, the upcoming anthology from Bizarro Press. Would it be fair to describe it as "Dead Alive meets X-Files at McDonald's"? Or are such comparisons unwarranted?

AM: That's a very good description. When I started to write it, I knew that it had to be over-the-top and ridiculous. Those films were a heavy influence on me as a kid. Dead Alive, Evil Dead, Sorority Babes in the Slimeball Bowl-O-Rama; I love good, wholesome films like that. Setting the story in a fast-food restaurant was something I knew had to be done. Everyone is familiar with the surroundings, and can relate to them. They may have to suspend belief, however, with the rest of the story, as it could be described as "a little far-fetched." I had a lot of fun writing "Help! My Ass Has Rabies!" and hope that people enjoy it.

AG: I generally find it harder to suspend my disbelief when watching/reading mainstream news. Aren't stories written without corporate sponsorship easier to swallow, fictional or otherwise?

AM: I agree. We have a newspaper here called The Daily Sport, and it only has one page of sport in it. The rest is photographs of the female form in all its splendour, and stories that even I would struggle to come up with. I find those stories - Elvis found hiding in a hole in a Chester garden, El-Chupacabra is actually Bill Gates in a costume - a lot easier to believe than our national newspapers' stories. I don't believe half of the shit that's apparently true, such is the state of our country and its current affairs. If someone had told me a few years ago that we would be in this mess, I would have laughed, asked for a large order of whatever they were smoking, and yet here we are, struggling to put petrol in the car, being charged air-tax and given fart-penalties. It's craziness.

AG: Who would win in a fist fight between Margaret Thatcher (circa 1980) and Hilary Clinton (circa 2001)? 

AM: Thatcher. Without a doubt. If Denis Thatcher had pulled that shit on Margaret she'd have been wearing his balls for earrings for months after. I think, even now, Clinton wouldn't stand much of a chance. Thatcher was called The Iron Lady for a reason, and that reason is this: She is actually constructed from scrap-iron, and was built in Chuck Norris's garage as a little side-project.

AG: Thanks for taking the time to talk with us, Adam. Anything else you'd care to mention?

AM: Thanks for having me, and Tall Tales With Short Cocks is out now from Bizarro Press.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Arthur Graham on Horror Sleaze Trash

HST: I don’t really know where to begin with ‘Editorial’, a book that is equal parts genius and insanity, a fatal blend of futuristic highbrow and mundane gutter witterings. How have readers unfamiliar with Bizarro fiction responded to the book?
The overall response has ranged from “I don’t get it…” to “I think I get it!” with very little middle ground between. Familiarity with bizarro fiction (or the lack thereof) probably isn’t all that relevant, although I do suspect that fans of bizarro fiction may be better prepared to accept some of the book’s wilder claims….
I almost hesitate to call Editorial a “true” bizarro book, and I’m sure there are others who’d agree. It’s definitely a very bizarre novella (published by Bizarro Press, for fuck’s sake), so I won’t act as if the label doesn’t apply. It’s just that, from what I’ve gathered, a large portion of bizarro fiction seems to be more focused on traditional narrative (character, plot, etc.) than my own writing.
While my flavor of bizarro might taste a little “arty” in comparison, this isn’t to say that it’s superior in any way. It definitely sacrifices some laughs and thrills for the sake of more cerebral stuff, and its lack of linearity definitely makes for a more challenging read, which isn’t always fun. Come to think of it, Editorial probably isn’t a very fun book at all, unless of course your idea of fun is being mentally molested by an experiment in postmodern literary fiction. Maybe instead of “bizarro” we could call it “pomosexual” instead?
HST: Speaking of Bizarro fiction, you’re playing in a cult field. Is it nice to operate in a literary genre seemingly without any restrictions?
While there aren’t many restrictions in terms of subject matter, most readers still expect at least some kind of storyline. Still, bizarro stories tend to be really fucking weird, and purposeful weirdness seems more appropriate to the genre than random, unconnected weirdness. In this sense, Editorial just barely makes the grade, because it’s very light on plot (as you know) while also quite absurd at points.
Anyway, that’s just my theoretical understanding of it. But yes, with some of the weird shit I write, it’s nice to know that I at least have something I can call it, which others might recognize.
HST: ‘Editorial’ is an uncomfortable journey for the reader, was there any point where you thought to yourself – this is a bit too much?
Did my book make you uncomfortable? I wonder why…. Let’s see, there’s the incest, blasphemy, bestiality, dolphin rape, anti-Americanism, general misanthropy, transsexual biker bears… I could go on, but I don’t want to give away too much of the plot.
Admittedly, there are some scenes that go for shock value, but these are clearly not the focus of the book, and most of them work to reinforce some thematic element or another. Frankly, including this stuff was all I could do to keep readers from falling asleep!
HST: Snakes feature prominently in the book, shedding skin, leaving trails, copulating, even eating themselves. What fascinates you most about these reptiles?
The cover about says it all. Ouroboros represents infinity — this constant running around in circles we’re pleased to call “progress”. Clearly that’s a sham, and Ouroboros proves it by eating his own tail forever and ever. People worry about this “2012″ cataclysm we’re supposedly due for, but what they forget is that the world is constantly ending, while also constantly being reborn. As we go about trying to make sense of all this, the act of writing/editing (fiction, history, etc.) becomes an integral part of that cycle — one of the reasons why Editorial moves in the spirals that it does.
HST: There is an obvious Kurt Vonnegut influence evident in ‘Editorial’. I think about the first time I read Slaughterhouse-Five. Given that it was the first Vonnegut book that I read, I expected Billy Pilgrim to remain within a Second World War timeframe; instead he becomes unstuck in time, a prisoner on the planet Tralfamadore. This reminded me a lot of time unraveling within ‘Editorial’, where we travel forward and backwards thousands of years. You’ve dedicated the book to Vonnegut, how did you first encounter his work?
I was a relative latecomer to Vonnegut, actually, having never read any of his books until I was already at university. I think the first book of his I ever read was Timequake, which prompted me to check out some of his earlier stuff (Breakfast of Champions, etc.) as well. Slaughterhouse-Five is one that I still haven’t gotten round to, actually.
Galapagos is probably my all-time favorite book of his, which I put right up there with Cat’s Cradle. The evolutionary and apocalyptic themes inEditorial were probably most inspired by these two novels, but I think you’re right that his work in general has had a noticeable influence on my own.
HST: The characters in ‘Editorial’ are nigh on impossible to connect or identify with. Were they deliberately written this way, to further underline what is ultimately lost in time?
I don’t think I deliberately wrote the characters that way, but as the book progressed and I discovered what it was I actually wanted to write about, I simply realized that it wasn’t them. In one review of the first edition, somebody said that there “wasn’t enough emotional investment in the characters.” This seemed a bit unfair to me, because as far as I could tell, there were never any actual characters to invest in. It’s just not that kind of book, and I was hoping this would be clear from the outset.
It just goes to show how a reader’s expectations influence their reading experience. If you’re the type of humorless, by-the-book twat who’s incapable of getting into any story that isn’t wrapped up nice and neat with a bow on top, then I’m sorry but I probably can’t help you!
That said, I think it’s understandable why readers have such a hard time abandoning their expectations. I can accept bad reviews just as readily as good reviews, because both work in tandem to attract/repel the right/wrong kind of readers in the future. It’s the 3 star reviews you have to wonder about….
HST: References to masturbation are fairly frequent. Is writing the ultimate act of self-pleasure?
If you gave me a box of pens and a box of tissues, then locked me in a room with nothing else but skin mags and blank notebooks, I’d be lying if I told you that I’d run out of ink before tissues. Still, the nice thing about writing is that you actually get to share it with other people when you’re done, which usually doesn’t go over so well with spent bodily fluids. Ideally, though, you don’t want readers walking away from your book with the suspicion that they just spent three hours of their lives watching you masturbate.
HST: Do you foresee a woman becoming US President within your lifetime?
Unfortunately, if a woman ever does become President, she will have much more in common with the rich white men preceding her in office than most American women — just as our current president has much more in common with his privileged predecessors than most African-American men. It may sound cynical to say, but nothing in the entire history of the human species would suggest a more probable outcome.
HST: ‘Editorial’ was initially self-published, then later published by Bizarro Press. How did the original version differ to this one?
The first edition was just brimming with all sorts of amateur garbage. I think I may have tried to be a little too clever, which predictably resulted in the opposite effect. The BP edition essentially does away with most of the red herrings, pointless asides, and other shit that was previously bogging it down. Nowadays, when readers rate it poorly, it’s more often with the excuse of “not my cup of tea” than “this is absolute rubbish!”
HST: Let’s speak about your experiences as an editor. Your first editing job didn’t exactly bring home the bacon. In another interview you stated that you had to return to working manual labour jobs. Tell us about this time?
There are times when I’m sitting in my cubicle, longing for the days when I had a more physically active, outdoor job. This usually only lasts for the second or two it takes to recall what it was really like digging ditches and filling sandbags for nine hours a day. Then I lean back in my ergonomically designed desk chair, surf the Internet for a spell, and start thinking about where I’d like to go hiking/biking after work.
HST: I was walking down the Street last week and witnessed a young fellow drop his Kindle on the pavement. Smash. It was ruined. My friend had his iPod nicked late last year, a whole collection of music gone. Are you a gadget guy? Do you keep up with the Joneses? Do you worship the almighty Steve Jobs? Do you keep your gizmos wrapped in cotton wool?
I’ve never even owned an iPod. I do most of my writing on an iMac computer these days, but that’s really just because the cost of ink ribbons is so prohibitively expensive. As for Steve Jobs, I imagine that he has a special place in Hell, Chinese sweatshop workers slowly roasting him on a spit while they wait for Bill Gates to join the party.
I probably flirted with the idea of getting a Kindle at one point, but then I realized that all the electricity they burn is probably worse for the environment than harvesting trees for paper. Until they start producing solar-powered Kindles, your carbon footprint will only continue to grow with each YA paranormal romance download….
HST: How much is a pint in your neck of the woods? In England a pint of beer costs nearly a fiver in some drinking establishments, which works out roughly to eight dollars.
Alcohol is a bit overpriced in the state of Utah as well, mostly on account of the heavy taxes levied by our Mormon lawmakers. The way I figure, it’s just the church’s way of getting us nonbelievers to pay our tithing!
I’ve yet to encounter an $8 pint, but I’d say they run between $2.50 for piss and $5-6 for decent quality ale?
HST: To end somewhat randomly, I was listening to an interview with Clint Hill on the Opie and Anthony show yesterday and they talked about the JFK assassination. Who do you reckon shot JFK?
The Illuminati-Anunnaki-Military-Industrial-Complex. Fuck, I don’t know…. Let’s forget it and go grab a pint instead.