Archive for the Writing Related Category

Article on bizarro fiction in The Guardian

Posted in Bizarro Authors, Bizarro Fiction, Writing Related on July 16, 2010 by carltonmellick

Major British newspaper, The Guardian, has this to say about bizarro fiction…

Bizarro fiction: it’s terribly good

Have you discovered the genre that can be stupid and intelligent at the same time?

Jeff Burk’s Shatnerquake is the story of William Shatner. Yes: Wiliam Shatner. All of the characters he has ever played are suddenly sucked into our world on a mission to hunt down and destroy the real William Shatner. As one Amazon reviewer insightfully states, if you have ever wondered what would happen if William Shatner came face to face with the incarnation of every character he ever played, then “this is the book for you”. It is also, undeniably, Shatnertastic.

Shatnerquake is a comparatively mild example of the Bizarro fiction genre. Bizarro fiction defines itself as the literary equivalent of the cult film section in a video store, taking inspiration from films such as Repo Man and Eraserhead. It aims to satisfy the demands of readers who are looking for weird, in the same way other readers go looking for action or romance. Starting a decade ago with the work of indie publishers Raw Dog Screaming Press, Afterbirth Books and Eraserhead Press, the genre now has over a dozen small publishers, its own convention and an increasing cult status among readers and writers who know weird when they see it.

If the history of Bizarro fiction is ever long enough to look back on, it’s likely that Carlton Mellick III will loom large over the retrospective. If Shatnerquake typifies the screwball exuberance of Bizarro fiction, then Carlton Mellick III exemplifies the intelligence and wit that lurks between its lurid covers. In a genre where crude titles are an art in themselves, Mellick is a true artist. Satan Burger, The Cannibals of Candyland, Adolf in Wonderland, War Slut, The Haunted Vagina, The Faggiest Vampire, The Baby Jesus Butt Plug, and my personal alliterative favourite, Warrior Wolf Women of the Wasteland. These are titles that fail to offend only because of their blatant offensiveness, and illustrate Bizarro’s fascination with the vulgar, smutty, distasteful and crude.

It’s a fascination that you might feel has been taken too far with Cameron Pierce’s outrageously titled Ass Goblins of Auschwitz. The book tells the story of a fantasy world where black snow falls in the shape of swastikas, and a nightmarish, fairytale version of the Auschwitz prison camp. Prisoners 999 and 1001, conjoined twin brothers, are forced to endure the sadistic tortures of the Ass Goblins and work all day constructing bicycles and sex dolls out of dead children as they plan their escape. Ass Goblins is deliberately distasteful and offensive, an exercise in identifying the boundaries of common decency and overstepping them, over and over again, and might see Cameron Pierce lynched by rampaging mobs of Daily Express readers if he ever ventures into the UK. In an era when very little remains shocking, Pierce might have actually managed to create a genuinely disturbing work of fiction, the literary equivalent of Schindler’s List rewritten by the Marquis De Sade and filmed as a Tim Burton animated feature.

For a more charming (if less fascinatingly titled) entry to Bizarro fiction try Cursed, the second novel by Jeremy C Shipp. Here you can meet Nicholas, a man who believes he has been cursed to be slapped every day. And Cicely, Nicholas’s love interest, who is convinced that the fate of the world depends on never putting the tennis ball down. Together they seek out other victims of the curse, and confront the malevolent Pete. Cursed is like an episode of Seinfeld as written by Chuck Palahniuk: a clever, funny, meaningful and dark comedy that will take you by surprise. If I was an editor looking for the first break-out hit from the Bizarro genre, Jeremy C Shipp is where I would stake my six-figure advance.

When I first stumbled across Bizarro fiction a few months ago, I wondered if there was any really decent writing in the genre, assuming from its trashy aesthetic that catchy titles might be the pinnacle of its achievements. Bizarro fiction is by turns stupid, repulsive and crude. But at its best, it is also intelligent, compelling and well-written. Any literary genre that can be both bad and good at the same time is worth watching.

Special Bizarro Issue of The Pedestal Magazine

Posted in Bizarro Fiction, Fiction, Publishing, Uncategorized, Writing Related on April 22, 2010 by carltonmellick

The masterful bizarro author D. Harlan Wilson will be editing a bizarro issue of The Pedestal Magazine. Here are the submission guidelines:

The Pedestal Magazine invites submissions for a special issue of Bizarro fiction to be edited by D. Harlan Wilson. Flash fiction between 250-1000 words will be considered. Loosely speaking, “Bizarro” is an umbrella term encompassing different kinds of weird, absurd, horrific, uncanny, and/or grotesque speculative fiction. Literary and experimental forms are strongly encouraged. Do not submit work that is simply weird for weird’s sake; also avoid toilet humor and boyish antics. We are looking for purposeful Bizarro that is dynamically written and thought-provoking. Payment for accepted stories will be $.08 per word. No reprints. Submission period will run from April 28-June 14. All submissions will be received via the submission form provided on The Pedestal Magazine website:

Submission Call for “Christmas on Crack”

Posted in Bizarro Books, Bizarro Fiction, Fiction, Publishing, Writing Related on April 15, 2010 by carltonmellick

I’m looking for stories for an upcoming bizarro Christmas-themed anthology called “Christmas on Crack.”

What I’m looking for: very weird children’s Christmas stories for adults. I’m especially looking for fucked up versions of classic Christmas stories like Frosty the Snowman, Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer, Twas the Night Before Christmas, a Christmas Carol, etc, but something completely original would also be welcome. I want these stories to be funny, imaginative, surreal, trashy, clever, and not at all appropriate for children. Think of Tim Burton’s Nightmare Before Christmas meets Lloyd Kaufman’s Poultrygeist. The weirder the better, the trashier the better, the funnier the better. Surprise me.

Note: I would prefer if the stories were told in a narrative style similar to that of a children’s story. Think of The Faggiest Vampire meets Sausagey Santa. That’s the kind of thing I want to see, but better. But a good story is a good story no matter what style it’s written in.

Length: I’d like stories that are 3,000-12,000 words long.

How to submit: I actually don’t want you to write anything until after you contact me. Pitch me an idea for your story first. That way if I’m not interested then you don’t have to go through the trouble of writing it. I am only going to respond to story ideas that interest me, so if you never hear back from me it probably means that I think your story ideas are completely lame and you shouldn’t have even bothered to try. Well, either that or other pitches better caught my attention.

Send an idea (or three) for a bizarro Christmas story you’d like to write for me to:

Deadline: I will be taking pitches until May 15th 2010 or sooner if I find enough ideas that I like.

If You Want to Write, You Have to Attend

Posted in Bizarro Events, Writing Related on September 8, 2009 by carltonmellick

With BizarroCon coming up in October, I’ve been thinking a lot about how crucial attending conventions is for writers, whether they’re new or established. If you decide you want to be a writer, you start by just writing for fun, then you improve your skills, then you try to get some work published, then you join an online writing community for support and comradery, then you start attending conventions. If you are at all serious about being a writer, you have to attend conventions. Perhaps you thought writers lived solitary lives? They don’t. Writers live very social lives. You’re not going to get anywhere if you just sit at home all day. You have to go out and interact with editors, publishers, and especially other writers. All the time. Conventions are where everything happens in the publishing industry. You want to be a part of that.

This is why you should be attending conventions (especially BizarroCon):

1) Publishing deals. Most publishing deals aren’t done through the submission process, they are done over beers. Almost every publisher who’s ever asked me to write them a book, happened at a bar at a convention. This is because: a) publishers recognize and make friends with authors who attend conventions regularly, b) publishers feel out writers at conventions and see if they’ve got the right drive and character for the job…like any business deal, you want to get to know the person you’re about to do business with, and c) publishers know that serious writers attend conventions. At BizarroCon, so many new projects and book deals came out of the convention that it was hard to count.

2) Meeting your heroes.
At conventions, you don’t just get the chance to buddy up with some of your favorite writers, but share crazy experiences with them. You might just find yourself in a hotel room late at night getting whipped by a dominatrix with Neil Gaiman and Jack Ketchum. (This actually happened to me, though only I was getting whipped by the dominatrix, they just watched and laughed.) At small conventions, like bizarrocon, you’ll pretty much be best friends with many of the writers by the time you leave.

3) Support your genre.
If you are part of a genre or writing community you want to make sure that it thrives. One way to do this is to attend conventions. Nothing reinvigorates a writing community better than having a well-attended convention, with as many major players in the genre as possible. If you are an established writer you especially owe it to your genre to attend these events. Nothing depresses a writing community more than a convention where most of the major players are absent. If you are a bizarro fiction writer or want to be a bizarro writer, attending BizarroCon at least every other year (if not every single year) is a must. If attendance is too low at BizarroCon then it sends out signals to the community that there is a loss of interest in bizarro fiction. If it is well-attended it inspires everyone involved to take action, write more books, publish more books, promote the genre more, create more bizarro events, etc. Perhaps you don’t write in a specific genre, but you probably fit in somewhere. Even literary fiction is a genre.

4) Education. Conventions are a good way to learn tips on improving your writing skills, developing self-promotion skills, and how to make a living as a writer. You can learn these things by attending panels, joining workshops, or just striking up conversations with those who are experienced in these matters.

5) Making friends. The friendships you build by attending conventions regularly always pay off. They might recommend you to publishers or magazine editors. They might give you tips on how to succeed. They might become fans of your work and promote you to their readers. They might give you advice on anything from getting health insurance as a writer to which publishers you should avoid. These friendships can, at times, make your career. You can never have too many friends as a writer. Although you shouldn’t make friends just to help your career. If you did, then you wouldn’t exactly be friends.

Other things to keep in mind:

1) You can’t just go to conventions and expect them to do anything for you. You have to put yourself out there, socialize, make friends, have a good time, and get the most out of it you possibly can.

2) Attending conventions might be expensive, but they are important. Necessary. You just have to save money for them, even if you have very little money to save. I know several unemployed people who make it to cons across the country every year. I know of people who risk losing their jobs by going to cons when they don’t have any vacation time available, but they still go.

3) You’ll never regret attending a con, but you’ll always regret missing one. Don’t let excuses get in your way. Just go. You’d be surprised how everything seems to work out in the end, even if you don’t have vacation time left and it’s the busiest time of year at your day job and could really use the money to pay off debts and don’t know anyone at the con and will have to miss your wife’s birthday and have a deathly fear of flying and can’t really afford food once you get there and can hardly move because of a freshly broken leg. Just go. If you have enough money in your bank to afford a plane ticket and a convention pass (or have a way to earn that much money by selling plasma or your dvd collection) just buy them. Things will work themselves out later.

For more information on conventions, from a bizarro writer’s perspective, check out Jeff Burk’s blog entry: A New Writer’s Guide to Conventions

If you write or want to write bizarro fiction, you should attend BizarroCon in October. Go to:

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

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.

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.