Waves of Bizarro Writers

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

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.

3 Responses to “Waves of Bizarro Writers”

  1. Forrest Graham Says:

    Wow. Well said, Carlton. It’s amazing how much this scene has grown since I first read “Satan Burger” in 2004.

  2. Just out of curiousity, what would you consider to be the “essential” reads from each of these periods (or overall if you think that’s a better discussion)? I laregly seem to be picking up the more recent books and working my way backwards (deviating if I hit on a writer I really enjoy and picking up all their work- Gina Ranalli and Kevin Donihe are good examples), but if there are works you think are must reads I’d be interested to know what they are and why. Thanks!

  3. carltonmellick Says:

    I’m not sure about essential reads. Reading the “orange” starter kit pretty much collects ten first wave bizarro writers, and best represents that period. And the “blue” starter kit includes 10 second wave authors, and best represents the second wave. If you wanted to read the 1st four bizarro books from wave zero, read Satan Burger, Kafka Effekt, Some Things are Better Left Unlugged, and Shall we Gather at the Garden? I might create a list of 10 essential bizarro reads at some point.

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