Archive for July, 2009

Experimental Fiction vs Bizarro

Posted in Bizarro Fiction on July 30, 2009 by carltonmellick

I’ve heard of a few people who think bizarro fiction is just a new term for experimental fiction, but this isn’t the case at all. They are practically opposites. Basically, the difference is that bizarro fiction is weirdness of plot and experimental fiction is weirdness of style.

I have to say that I really like a lot of stuff that is labeled experimental fiction. I love Kathy Acker, William Burroughs, and pretty much everything published by FC2. But one thing that a lot of people don’t realize is that experimental fiction is actually a genre, just like horror, science-fiction, or romance. It has its limitations, its rules, its cliches, and its conventions. And its audience (though small) has expectations for what experimental fiction should be. So having a crazy writing style might not be enough for the experimental fiction fan (but then again just being weird isn’t enough for a bizarro fan).

Unfortunately, experimental fiction gets a bad rap. For starters, the term “experimental” is a bit insulting. Who wants their work to be called experimental? It’s like calling your work unready fiction or just messing around with something new fiction. When publishers reject manuscripts that are sloppily plotted, they’ll often call them “too experimental” as if experimental is a bad thing. Some people think it is all just plotless style with no substance. Some people think it’s just inaccessible masturbatory crap that’s too far up its own ass to to be of any worth to more than a handful of pseudo-intellectual college kids. I disagree with all of these statements, but I do think it should be called something besides experimental fiction (perhaps exploratory fiction or stylistic fiction). It’s for people who are really interested in new styles (just like bizarro fans read bizarro because they are interested in new ideas). Some books are worth reading for their style alone, even when the plot is pretty much nonexistent.

Before they called themselves bizarro, many of the bizarro authors had one foot in the experimental lit scene and one foot in the horror scene (and a big toe in the sci-fi/fantasy scene). So we owe a lot to the experimental scene…even though we aren’t associated anymore.

It is possible to write experimental fiction that is also bizarro fiction. That is when a book has a weird style as well as a weird plot. Some bizarro writers who can pull this off are Jeremy C. Shipp, Eckhard Gerdes, Steve Beard, and pretty much all of the bizarros published through Raw Dog Screaming Press. Some of these authors still have one foot (or a big toe) in the experimental scene, even though they are labeled bizarro. A couple of my books are on the experimental side as well (like Razor Wire Pubic Hair). However, in my opinion, bizarro works best when the unusual writing style doesn’t overwhelm the plot. Weird plots are why people read bizarro, so plot can’t take a backseat to the style.

Unfortunately, even though some experimental fiction can also be bizarro, most bizarro (especially mine) usually can’t be experimental fiction. Even if the unique style is there, if it is too quirky, too trashy, too goofy, or not literary or “serious” enough, then readers and publishers of experimental fiction aren’t going to be interested in it. Because of this, it is possible for someone to write fiction that is too experimental for the bizarro fans and too bizarro for the experimental lit fans. These authors are probably going to have a hell of a time trying to get published.

In any case, it is usually very easy to draw the line between bizarro and experimental. In addition to the plot vs. style argument, bizarro writers tend to not take themselves as seriously. Also, bizarro books tend to be a lot more fun to read (but I guess that’s just my opinion).

Wizard Magazine on Shatnerquake

Posted in Bizarro Books on July 29, 2009 by carltonmellick

“It’s bizarro fiction at it’s best as William Shatner’s appearance at ShatnerCon goes awry when a fiction bomb brings a twisted and evil version of every character the Shat has ever played to life. It’s short, sweet and has occasional grammatical errors, but getting a lightsaber-wielding Captain Kirk in the same room with “Boston Legal’s” Denny Crane is definitely worth the cover price in comedic gold.”

-Jim Gibbons
Wizard Magazine, Issue 214

Check out Jeff Burk’s Shatnerquake at amazon.com

New German Publisher of Bizarro Fiction

Posted in Publishing on July 28, 2009 by carltonmellick

Bizarro has expanded to the German language, with Black Hard Press. The first German publisher of bizarro fiction. They will be publishing German language bizarro books and hopefully developing a German bizarro fiction scene. If you are a bizarro writer living in Germany definitely check them out.

Cover for “Warrior Wolf Women of the Wasteland”

Posted in Bizarro Books on July 27, 2009 by carltonmellick

The book isn’t coming out until later in the year, but here’s a look at the cover. What do you think?

Slayer

I consider this book my werewolf book, only it has a different werewolf mythology. Instead of temporarily turning into wolves on the full moon, these werewolves turn slightly but permanently more wolf-like every time they have sex. Set 100 years after the apocalypse, this book is like Road Warrior with werewolf girls.

Luck Favors the Bold

Posted in Writing Related on July 24, 2009 by carltonmellick

I’m staying on the marathon-writing topic this weekend. Chris Benton just commented on a previous post and it made me think.

He said:

“Your championing of marathon writing and your theory of betting bacon is refreshing. One must remember that the so-called giants of literature were marathon writers. Dostoyevsky wrote his great novels in monthly installments to pay off his gambling debts. Sometimes, certain specie of desperation smuggles quality into the quantity as well.”

The part I want to focus on is: certain specie of desperation smuggles quality into the quantity as well.

This is true, but it made me wonder how desperation can bring quality into the work. Then I started thinking about poker and the saying “Luck favors the bold.”

In poker, strangely enough, luck does tend to favor the bold. When you play it safe, you just don’t seem to get lucky. You might win some hands when you know it is a sure thing, after calculating all the odds in your head, but you never seem to get lucky very often. When you play poker boldly, things become magical. Sometimes you’ll have a crap hand, but happen to play it with the confidence that you’re going to get lucky…and then it happens: luck strikes. The more skill and confidence you have the more likely it will strike.

It’s the same with marathon writing. If you put yourself up in a hotel for three days to write 100 pages with the confidence that you’re going to write something of quality, then (like with poker) magic tends to happen. For some inexplicable reason you will strike brilliance* here and there….the kind of brilliance that normally would have taken you months of planning and brainstorming to equal (which isn’t as satisfying or magical). The more skilled you are as a writer, (especially once plotting and characterization are second nature to you) the more likely this is going to happen. But even if you aren’t that skilled, it’s still worth approaching this way. By writing boldly and forcing yourself to accomplish a lot of work in short periods of time, you will be gaining skills and grow confidence in your abilities. The more confidence you have, the bolder you become, and the bolder you are the more likely you will get lucky and strike brilliance.

I’d also like to mention something that Stephen Graham Jones commented on my Quality vs. Quantity rant. He said that by focusing on writing a lot of stories and books you’re more likely to get lucky with one of them and stumble onto something brilliant.

So, my advice is: be bold. Focus on bold ideas for your books, write them using bold methods (such as marathoning), and be bold about getting published (like, if you’re interested in being a bizarro writer, move to Portland and get involved in the bizarro scene where you will probably interact with bizarro editors, writers, and publishers on a weekly basis). If you want to be a full-time writer then don’t give yourself a safety net. Quit that day job, or at least get an easy part time job where you can spend most of your time writing, and then make it happen. Just live boldly and (for some reason that I don’t quite understand) you will get lucky. It’s just the way things work in this universe.

* By the way, when I say brilliance I’m not talking about earth-shattering genius or anything. I’m just talking about writing something that really shines. Something that you’re so happy with that you’re surprised you were the one who wrote it.

Imagination is a Muscle

Posted in Writing Related on July 23, 2009 by carltonmellick

I’ve been saying this for years, but recently I’ve heard Neil Gaiman say it:

“The imagination is a muscle. If it is not exercised, it atrophies.” The more you use your imagination, the stronger your imagination becomes.

If you are a writer, especially a bizarro writer where strange imaginative ideas are the most important aspect of your work, make sure to daydream as much as possible. Daydreaming is the best way you can exercise your imagination. Do it as much as you can, in little spurts all day long. I’m sure most bizarro writers already daydream a lot. That’s probably why you started writing in the first place. But as you get older and become absorbed by the real world, your imagination is likely to suffer or you might feel like you’re running out of worthwhile ideas. Just take some time out every day to daydream. It might seem immature and a waste of time to other people, but it will actually exercise your brain and help you to become a better writer.

Many have said that some people are just natural born writers. They say these people have a certain spark that they were born with that just can’t be taught in schools. I disagree. I think that spark is just the writer’s imagination, which has been built up from years of daydreaming. If you are lacking in creativity all you have to do is daydream more and your imagination will build. Maybe even try playing with toys again. That’s what Ray Bradbury did.

Of course, another way is to just write a lot. Writing forces you to imagine and the more you write the more you will strengthen your imagination. Still, it’s good to train it as much as possible before putting into action, especially if you don’t write every single day.

Day 2 Pep Talk

Posted in Writing Related on July 23, 2009 by carltonmellick

I’ve been talking a lot about marathon writing. The one a lot of bizarro writers try, that I highly recommend, is the 3 day writing marathon. That is where you write a 100 page book in just three days. It can be more or less than 100 pages, but you do have to make it to the end.

Today I received this comment from Bradley Sands:

“I’m doing a three day tomorrow. Last time I tried, I woke up on the second day without any motivation to go on and I didn’t. You should give me a day 2 pep talk.”

So that’s what I want to talk about: the second day slump. If you lose interest in your marathon book on the second day it might have to do with a dislike of what you have written on the first day. You might not have prepared yourself mentally. Perhaps you didn’t even know what the book was going to be about yet. In order to avoid this, I recommend preparing yourself before you start the marathon. Come up with a bunch of ideas. Know exactly what you are going to write about. Most importantly, build up your excitement and confidence on this project. When you lose confidence you will slow down.

However, these things happen no matter how well you prepare yourself. The most important thing to do is convince yourself that you have to finish this no matter what. You have no other option. If normal discipline doesn’t work for you, I recommend putting money on the line. Bet a friend $100 you will finish your book in three days. If you don’t want to lose $100 you will finish it no matter what. Or you can spend $100 on a cheap motel…if you don’t want your money to go to waste you will finish your book in three days no matter what. Don’t worry if the book is crap. Finishing it is most important. It’s better to write a piece of crap in three days than not to have written anything during those three days. If you waste three days, big deal. At least you gained some writing experience.

A big thing to know is that if you finish your three-day book, even if it sucks, you will get a huge satisfying feeling of accomplishment. It might even inspire you to start a new project right away…one that might be much better. If you quit halfway through you will feel pathetic and depressed. You might even get discouraged from writing for a while. So make sure to finish it even if that sense of accomplishment is your only reward.

Here is some more advice that I find useful:

1) Focus on hour-to-hour goals. Try to write at least 500-1,000 words an hour. Watch your clock and watch your word count. Meet that goal even if you have to write some garbage. Try to keep your fingers on the keys typing nonstop for as long as you can (without writing stream of consciousness, because you probably won’t learn anything that way).

2) If you get stuck on something, feel free to skip ahead.

3) Focus more on plotting and characterization and less on the language. One sentence can take an hour if you obsess over it. Leave the poetics for the second draft.

4) When you need to take a break or are done for the day, always stop in the middle of a paragraph where you already know how it ends. This way you will know exactly what you need to write when you get going again. You will instantly get back into the swing of writing. Never stop at the end of a chapter or a section that you’re stuck on.

5) Eat, sleep, breathe, dream your book. Don’t watch TV or have a phone conversation, even if you are on a break. While you’re having lunch, taking a shower, or on a cigarette break, these are the best times to think about your book and brainstorm what will happen next in the story. You want to go to sleep thinking about your book, then dream about the book, then wake up the next day excited to get back into it.

It’s going to be hard, but you can do it. Just write. As long as you sit in front of a computer for three days straight without any distractions and keep typing you will finish it. If it’s not any good throw it away and then try again.

I hope this helps, Bradley… And if it doesn’t help you I hope it helps somebody else.

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