Archive for August, 2009

Coming Soon from Eraserhead Press

Posted in Bizarro Books on August 31, 2009 by carltonmellick

Besides Cannibals of Candyland, Eraserhead Press will release both of these two books this month. I have read them and they are both awesome. All three books should be out within a couple of weeks.

super fetus

Slub Glub

Waves of Bizarro Writers

Posted in Bizarro Fiction on August 27, 2009 by carltonmellick

Here’s just a brief self-indulgent history of the bizarro genre, for those of you who are interested. A few months ago at a bizarro writer get-together, some of the newer bizarro writers were discussing how they were the “new wave” of bizarro fiction writers. They were recognizing how it seemed that a new group of bizarro writers seem to join the scene every few years, expanding the scene with a burst of new talent and energy. After reflecting on this, I realized that it is pretty true and thought I would blog about them.

WAVE ZERO: 1999-2003

Me
D. Harlan Wilson
Vincent Sakowski
Kevin L. Donihe
John Edward Lawson

Bizarro wasn’t labeled a genre until 2005, so this isn’t really the first official wave of bizarro writers, but there was a scene of weird fiction writers that formed in 1999, that would later become the bizarro fiction scene. It revolved around the birth of Eraserhead Press (which, back then, published only 30 page B&W photocopied chapbooks) and The Dream People webzine. Although the press published several authors of weird fiction, (including actor Wiley Wiggins, star of Waking Life and Dazed and Confused), only four of them would later become bizarro fiction authors: there was myself, D. Harlan Wilson, Vincent Sakowski, and Kevin L. Donihe. The four of us (and two others, who left the group in 2002) formed the Eraserhead Collective in 2000, which was a group of six authors who edited, published, promoted, and profited from each other’s works. My book Satan Burger came out of this collective. In 2002, Eraserhead Press and the Eraserhead Collective all kind of fell apart. Then independent publisher Rose O’Keefe came along and picked up all the pieces, buying out the press and turning it into a functioning business. Meanwhile, this scene was kind of merging with another scene called the New Absurdist group. Later, several authors from that group would help create the bizarro genre, but the first person to come from that community was author John Edward Lawson who would form Raw Dog Screaming Press in 2003. Without publishers Rose and John joining the group, this would have just been yet another failed writer collective. Writer collectives come and go all the time. It’s rare for one to last long than a couple years. Clashing egos is usually what brings them down, because writers have the biggest egos on the planet. Instead, it pushed forward, through turbulent ups and downs. Mostly because of the professionalism Rose and John brought to the table.

WAVE ONE: 2004-2006


Andre Duza
Chris Genoa
Jeremy Robert Johnson
Kevin Dole 2
Bruce Taylor
Alyssa Sturgill
Gina Ranalli
Bradley Sands
Ray Fracalossy
Vic Mudd
Steve Beard
Steve Aylett

In 2004, a third publisher comes along: Karen Townsend, who forms Afterbirth Books. They bring a lot of new writers to the group: Kevin Dole 2 and Ray Fracalossy (both from the New Absurdist scene), magic realist Bruce Taylor, Bradley Sands and Gina Ranalli (both passionate writers who I originally met through my fan message board community, back when I had one), and Vic Mudd (who might or might not exist…he’s an elusive one). Meanwhile, Rose’s Eraserhead Press brings in Andre Duza, Chris Genoa, and Jeremy Robert Johnson. In 2005, Kevin Dole 2 writes an article acknowledging the fact that this group of writers and publishers have become something of a new genre (or movement, or community, or whatever). It was something that we all realized but never really talked about. We were all writing similar stuff that nobody else was doing. The success of books by myself, Chris Genoa, and Jeremy Robert Johnson proved that there were a lot of people out there who wanted to read this kind of stuff. So the three publishers: Eraserhead Press, Raw Dog Screaming Press, and Afterbirth Books decided to join forces under the same flag and label this type of fiction Bizarro. The name was chosen basically because it’s a common (but not too common) synonym for weird. It also has that “O” at the end, making it a pretty goofy word that suggests bizarro fiction is weird, but more of a “fun” weird…not a pretentious pseudo-intellectual up-its-own-ass weird. (Of course, because we’re writers, it’s impossible to not be at least a little up our own asses…but we try)

Anyway, in 2006, with all three publishers driving the bizarro label, the first Bizarro Starter Kit came out, featuring work by most of the first wave of bizarro writers. Raw Dog also started publishing Steve Aylett at this time, bringing him into the group. Aylett has been a successful bizarro writer for a lot longer than any of us, even though he didn’t call his work bizarro. It made sense when starting something new like this to bring an established author into the genre, one who has been successful at doing the same kinds of books for years yet not affiliated with any other writing group. Steve is an amazing writer and if you haven’t read his books before, you should.

WAVE TWO: 2007-2009

Jeremy C. Shipp
Eckhard Gerdes
Andrew Goldfarb
Christian TeBordo
Mykle Hansen
Jordan Krall
Andersen Prunty
Cameron Pierce
Tony Rauch
Daniel Scott Buck
Jason Earls
Tom Bradley
Lotus Rose
Jeff Burk

In 2007/2008, there was an explosion of writers joining the scene. The new blood has injected a lot of excitement and talent into the genre. During this period, there is the launch of Bizarro Central, Bizarro Con, the Bizarro Writer’s Association, The Wonderland Book Awards, and the Magazine of Bizarro Fiction. Also, the bizarro scene in Portland has grown quite a bit and it is definitely the place to move to if you’re wanting to get involved as a writer. There has also been more and more publishers releasing bizarro fiction books. The bizarro momentum is just really picking up right now. It’s been 10 years since the scene has formed, and I feel these were just the warm-up years. We’re only just getting started.

WAVE THREE: 2010-?

It already feels like a new wave of writers is stepping forward. With the invention of the New Bizarro Author Series (which is designed to bring in new bizarro writers), the growing Portland writer scene, and the international attention bizarro’s been getting lately, it seems that this next wave might be the biggest yet. With the major publishing industry collapsing, bizarro only seems to be booming. For a writer, it really is the most exciting scene in literature right now. Maybe bizarro will become a big deal some day, maybe it won’t, but we don’t really care. We’re too busy having the time of our lives, writing exactly what we want to write, living the way we want to live, and raising our beer mugs in the air as the corporate publishing industry crumbles around us. With plans for a Bizarro Books and Brews (a Portland bookstore/brewery) in the works, as well as a Bizarro Bootcamp for new writers, there’s a lot to look forward to. So, if you want to be a bizarro writer, now is the time to get involved. Just start meeting people on the Bizarro Central message board or, better yet, attend BizarroCon this October. Or, even better still, move your ass to Portland and get involved personally.

So that is my reflection on the past ten years. A lot has been accomplished, yet this is still only the beginning. I’m excited to see what happens in the next ten years.

Short Stories vs. Novels

Posted in Writing Related on August 25, 2009 by carltonmellick

David W. Barbee writes:


Your Sideburn-ness,
I have an assload of prospective novels, and I’m coming up with more all the time. But I often struggle with short stories. In your opinion, are some writers just drawn to one or the other but not really both?

It definitely seems that there are short story writers and novel writers. Personally, I got started with writing because I wanted to write novels. I didn’t care about shorts. I didn’t even like to read them. I didn’t start writing shorts until after I already had 13.5 novels written and was trying to start getting published. Short stories are far easier to get published than novels and novels are far easier to get published when you have a lot of good story credits to your name, so I started writing shorts. They were terrible though, compared to my novels. But, as a writer, you really have to do both.

You have to realize that short stories and novels are two completely different art forms. As different as drawing is to painting. If you draw (or write short stories) your whole life until you get really good and then switch to paintings (novels) your paintings are probably going to suck at first. It takes a long time develop new skills. You might even have a different painting style than you would for drawing. I know my drawing style was different from my painting style, just as my short story style was different from my novel style. You are more likely to be drawn to the form that you feel you are better at, or which one you enjoy to do more. But you shouldn’t avoid other forms just because you are better at one than the other.

Short stories are bad because they won’t really make you any money. You’re not going to become a successful writer only writing short stories. You might even feel like you’re just messing around when you write them. You might not want to waste any of your good ideas on them, which makes them not as fun to write. However, you can get your name out there quicker with short stories. You can develop a reputation and a professional list of credits. Also, and more importantly, you will learn more about the craft of writing if you write a lot of short stories. With everything you write, you learn something new about crafting a story. However, you learn about the same amount whether you are writing short stories or novels. So, you’ll learn more by writing 30 short stories in a year than writing 1-2 novels. It depends on the length of story though. If you are writing flash fiction that doesn’t really have anything to do with plot and character, you likely are only to get better at writing flash fiction. Still, people recommend you start out with short stories because you’ll develop your skills as a writer quicker and also have tons of opportunities to get the stories published. Also, you’ll learn a lot just by submitting stories all the time (especially if you get editorial feedback). Once you have perfected the short story, you can move on to writing novels. At least that’s what they say… though most people who do this end up finding it incredibly difficult to move to novels, especially if they become successful with their short stories. I think it’s better to do both at the same time, all the time.

Novels are better, of course, because more people read them. Anthologies and short story collections hardly sell at all. I think it’s because people are more used to movie-lengthed stories. There are people who really like short films and short stories, but they are pretty rare. Still, I think writers need to do both. If you are better at short stories, still write one novel or novella a year. If you prefer novels, still write 1-5 stories a year. You’ll become a better writer for it, even if you end up just throwing that stuff away.

Eventually, once you get used to it, you’ll learn that you’re not actually just a novel-person who can’t write short stories (as I used to think I was). You’re just more practiced in one art form and need to learn how to do the other (even if the material you write sucks for a while). Someone who learns how to paint before they learn how to draw is missing out on a lot of basics they could really use to improve their paintings. Someone who only draws has to know that if they want their work displayed in galleries they’ll have to start painting.

When I was an art major in college, my dad (who came from a family of artists) used to tell me that to be a successful artist you have to start out by doing a drawing a day and a painting a night. Every day. Not only because of the quantity = quality argument, but because you’ll learn more by working on both art forms. Of course, you can’t do a short story a day and a novel a night, even though that would be pretty impressive, but perhaps you can write a short story a month and a novel a season…or something like that. Or, more realistically, spend 1-3 months out of the year writing only short stories. At least one a week. Then spend the rest of the year on your novels.

PS – yes, it is possible to become successful writing only novels or only shorts, but you’re kind of handicapping yourself if you can’t do both. If you are an up-and-coming novelist who gets invited to submit a story to a big magazine that offers a ton of exposure and high pay, you’re screwed if your short stories suck. If you get a good reputation as a short story writer and a big publisher wants you to write a novel for them, you’re screwed if your novels suck. Dig?

Hope for Underground Writers

Posted in Promoting Bizarro, Writing Related on August 24, 2009 by carltonmellick

Good news for new writers. No matter how weird your books are, you can find your audience through the internet. Jeff Burk’s Shatnerquake is proof. I read this article on http://www.theinternetwizards.com

Check it out:


Shatnerquake–Proof Positive That On The Internet, You Can Sell Anything

by Bonnie Boots

At a recent seminar, Masters of Internet Marketing, one of the speakers was answering a question asked by an audience member-“How can I know if there will be a market for my book?”

One speaker had launched into a complicated explanation of market research when another speaker jumped up.

“One thing so many people fail to understand, ” he said, “is that out on the internet, there is a market for anything. In fact, until you actually get involved in internet marketing, it’s impossible to imagine just how many people are out there waiting to throw money at almost any product anyone comes up with.”

Eraserhead Press will tell you that’s the gospel truth.

Eraserhead Press is an independent publisher specializing in what they term “bizarro genre literature.” Their latest release is “Shatnerquake” by Jeff Burke.

In Burke’s novel, actor and spokesperson William Shatner is attending the first ShatnerCon, an event devoted entirely to him, when a failed terrorist attack rips the fabric of time and space. The result is that all the characters ever played by Shatner are sucked into our own world. They have one mission-to hunt down and destroy the real William Shatner.

Meanwhile, over at Qurik Books, “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies” by Seth Grahame-Smith has just rolled off the presses.

It’s described as an “expanded” version of the classic Jane Austin novel–expanded with scenes of brain-gobbling zombie mayhem in-between the flirtations of feisty Elizabeth Bennet and haughty Mr. Darcy.

Before 2000, when the internet really began to boil as an avenue for buying and selling, books like this were only published by authors that could afford to make Xerox copies of their manuscripts and share them with friends. There was simply no way to fund printing and find a market for them.

Today, with the internet, it’s possible to find a market for virtually anything. And I stress the word “virtual.”

In virtual space, people are not restricted by the border of the town or even country they live in.

They don’t have to shop at their neighborhood stores.

They don’t have to socialize with only their next-door neighbors.

And thanks to simulated communities like Second Life, they don’t have to be only one person or live only one lifestyle.

In this new, expanded idea of real life, where people can do and be anything, you can also make and sell anything.

I don’t take issue with the basic advice of good business practice–learn where your target market is and make things they will want to buy. Just keep in mind that there are an unlimited number of target markets. Yes, some markets are larger than others. But don’t let the high visibility of those larger markets fool you into thinking that’s all there is.

In cyberspace, all borders and boundaries are erased and people are free to explore whatever ideas and interests they have. In that vast, virtually connected world, there is a market for anything you can imagine.

If you doubt that, go to Amazon and get a copy of Shatnerquake.

Although this article doesn’t mention how to promote your books, it should be a sign of hope and encouragement. Just because the big publishers are collapsing doesn’t mean you can’t be a successful writer. You just have to focus on niche marketing and work with smaller publishers (like Eraserhead Press) who understand niche marketing.

However, I have to comment that I disagree that Shatnerquake and P&P&Z are proof that you can sell anything on the internet. They prove that books with crazy premises do really well these days, when before they never would have been given the light of day. But there are still tons of books that don’t sell no matter how much they are promoted, usually because their premises seem too derivative or boring. My advice: don’t be derivative and boring. Write books with crazy premises that appeal to niche audiences. And, most of all, have fun with what you’re writing. That should be your number one focus.

Praise for Shatnerquake

Posted in Bizarro Books on August 20, 2009 by carltonmellick

Here’s what people have been saying about bizarro writer Jeff Burk’s book Shatnerquake.

“It’s like Lloyd Kaufman and Sam Rami’s mutant offspring wrote a book.”
– Wil Wheaton, Star Trek: the Next Generation’s Wesley Crusher

“…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

“If you’ve ever sat tripping on acid surrounded by a hundred tv’s playing various William Shatner programming all at once, you might not need to read Shatnerquake. But if you have not, then there is no excuse for you to miss this absurdly hilarious meta-satire of celebrity, identity, and completism.”
– Whitney Streed, Stand-Up Comedian

“Talk about off the wall!”
– Edward Lee, author of The Bighead and Flesh Gothic

“Yeah, it doesn’t make a lot of sense, and it’s really quite silly.”
– The Phillyist

“This is surreal and weird and funny, and it’s also super violent, in the same food-coloring-plus-corn-syrup-equals-fake-blood sort of way as Evil Dead 2 or Bad Taste.”
– THE PORTLAND MERCURY’S BLOGTOWN

“It’s like Die Hard, but instead of Bruce Willis fighting terrorists it’s William Shatner fighting other versions of himself… In other words, it’s fucking awesome!”
– CARLTON MELLICK III, author of Satan Burger

On another note, those of you who liked my co-written book “Ocean of Lard” might be interested to know that Jeff Burk is continuing the Choose Your Own Mindfuck Fest series with his next book: Super Giant Monster Time. There will likely be more books coming out in this series in the future, thanks to Jeff. This should come as good news to those of you who like choose your own adventures for adults.

Brainstorming Ideas

Posted in Writing Related on August 18, 2009 by carltonmellick

Over at Bizarro Central, people are talking about how they get their ideas for stories. So I am posting my answer here. I usually get my ideas using a variety of methods, but the one I use the most is a variation of the Ray Bradbury method.

Ray Bradbury’s method for coming up with stories works great, in my opinion. He would write down dozens of words (usually nouns) onto a sheet of paper. He would pull them out of books by flipping through pages and pointing randomly at words. They were words like Skeleton, Scythe, Crowd, Maiden, Wind, Lake, Coffin, etc. Then he would pick a word from the list and think of it as the title of a story. He would try to come up with the most interesting and imaginative plot he could based on that title. So, the Skeleton was about a man who learns one day that his skeleton has awareness and is rebelling against its body. The Crowd was about a mysterious crowd that always shows up at every car crash. Basically, he used a word as a trigger for his imagination.

I do the same thing, but I combine multiple words. I create a list just as Bradbury did. Then I make random combinations of 2, 3 or 4 words. Then I have a list of combinations and if any of them seem like they would make good titles and trigger my imagination in any way I will write a book or story based on them. These books I based on random word combinations: Satan Burger, Electric Jesus Corpse, Razor Wire Pubic Hair, Haunted Vagina, Menstruating Mall, Steel Breakfast Era, Teeth and Tongue Landscape, Ocean of Lard, the Egg Man, War Slut, and the upcoming book: Handsome Squirm.

After I have a title, I think of the most interesting story that could go with that title. Sometimes the title gets straight to the point. Satan Burger is about a fast food place owned by Satan. Haunted Vagina is about a haunted vagina (well, sorta). Ocean of Lard is about pirates on an ocean made of lard. But some of them, like Steel Breakfast Era, really don’t make much sense as titles. However, the words Steel Breakfast Era triggered something in my imagination that gave me the idea for the book. Porno in August is another title that did this. When I randomly combined the words Porno and August together, I came up with the Porno in August short story. For some reason, the word August reminds me of the ocean, so it made me think of a Porno that was being filmed in the middle of the ocean. That’s where the story begins.

Whenever I get stuck while writing a story, I will do this word combination brainstorm exercise and sometimes it will give me an idea for where the plot will go. Perhaps I will combine words to create an object that a character will use such as a glass chainsaw or hyperspace panties. A lot of my chapter titles come from word combinations, especially in Satan Burger and Sausagey Santa, and then I have the chapter based around that title.

That’s just a method I use to trigger my own imagination. There are other ways. Tons of other ways.

Shatner of the Mount

Posted in Random Shit on August 17, 2009 by carltonmellick

William Shatner is back with a new song about the mountain from Star Trek 5. If you like the Shatner this is hilarious.

Speaking of Shatner, I highly recommend the book Shatnerquake by Jeff Burk, which is about William Shatner battling other William Shatners. It’s a must-read for anyone who loves the Shatner.

Weird Characters vs. the Everyman

Posted in Writing Related on August 12, 2009 by carltonmellick

Eli Hicks asks the question:

“What makes bizarro “bizarro” is the plot, right? But how do you know how normal or how strange to make your protagonists? In all your work that I’ve read, I’ve always found the “heroes” quite relatable…”

In mainstream fiction, the main character is usually the “everyman” (AKA the most normal human being on the planet, one who is relatable to pretty much everyone). In bizarro, the hero doesn’t have to be completely bat shit weird, but shouldn’t be the everyman. To bizarro readers, the everyman is boring. Who wants to read a story about the kind of people we live next to already and have no interest in getting to know?

For bizarro writers, I recommend making your characters as interesting and abnormal as possible. They can be quirky, eccentric, surreal, or freakish. Some writers don’t like to write about weird characters because they think it will make them unrelatable to the reader. However, I disagree with this. I believe that it’s possible for the reader to relate to any kind of character. It’s like the old saying: “Even Hitler loved his dog.” So you can even relate to Hitler, if you love dogs. And if you can relate to Hitler, you can relate to any character. Even a girl who has tentacles for hair and a cockroach-sucking fetish. There are problems, passions, and emotions that she has that anyone can relate to. So it doesn’t matter how weird you make a character, you can still make people feel for them.

Of course, as in your case, if your reader happens to be as weird as the character then it will be even easier to relate to that character.

But I do want to also say that the character doesn’t have to be weird for a story to be bizarro. Only the plot has to be weird. You can put the everyman in a bizarro world. Still, I think it’s more interesting to focus on unusual characters. Of course, another thing I’d like to point out is that I don’t actually believe that the everyman exists. I don’t think anybody is “normal.” Everyone is strange in one way or another. Some people hide their weirdness, some people flaunt it, and some people can’t control it. Mainstream writers tend to focus on what is normal and relatable about their characters, but bizarro writers should focus more on what is weird and unique about their characters. It doesn’t matter if your bizarro books has is a suburban middle-class family man as the main character, because even a suburban middle-class family man has a strange side that is worth exploring.

Sexuality

Posted in Writing Related on August 10, 2009 by carltonmellick

Jeremy Pellington writes:

“i would like to know what sexuality means to your work. reading some of your books, i’ve noticed that sexuality is a common theme, sometimes leering towards discomfort. i know that you are a bizarro writer, and it may be possible that you’ve thrown these things in for a bizarre attitude.”

Sexuality is usually important to my stories. I probably wouldn’t say that the sexuality has any meaning, but I often use sex as a way to create conflict, build character, or add strangeness. Sometimes it’s even there for the sake of world-building. Almost every one of my books has an unusual sex scene that is there for a reason. In Ugly Heaven, people have sex by cutting open their bellies and pressing these squid-like organs together, which is important for world-building because it illustrates how people are able to have sex in Heaven even though they no longer have human sex organs. In Cybernetrix, there is a sex scene in the Tron world, which is important because it creates conflict when the character goes back to the real world with an electronic STD. In the Egg Man, there is a lot of uncomfortable sex between a man with a heightened sense of smell and a woman who purposely never bathes in order to torture him. This creates conflict and builds on the woman’s sadistic nature. In Apeshit… well, I don’t even want to get into the sex scenes in Apeshit, but let’s just say they reveal the ugly sides of some of the characters.

So the sex in my books have a reason for being there. Kurt Vonnegut said that every single sentence you write should do one of two things: build character or move the plot forward. Sex scenes shouldn’t be any different.

I also try to make the sex scenes as imaginative as possible, because imaginative sex is something I feel is lacking in most books. And, as they say, if you want to read about something that other people aren’t writing about then that is the thing you should be writing about.

I also use sexuality to explore gender roles in my books. I often give conventional masculine personality traits to the female characters and conventional feminine personality traits to the male characters, so the sexuality of the female characters tends to be more aggressive, lewd, and predatory, while the male characters tend to be more innocent, emotional, and tender. Of course, this is nothing new (not just in fiction, but in reality) but in my opinion it makes the characters more interesting and more fun to write about.

I’m not saying the sexuality is completely without meaning. Razor Wire Pubic Hair, for example, is one big exploration into the meaning of sex. But for the most part, it is usually there to build the characters.

Kevin L. Donihe on Metal Crypt

Posted in Bizarro Authors on August 8, 2009 by carltonmellick

One of my favorite bizarro writers, Kevin L. Donihe, was interviewed on the Metal Crypt radio show.  

Have a listen:

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