Thursday, April 28, 2011

The Gutter

Last night when I got home, I noticed one of my downspouts was clogged and water was flowing over the top and into my flowerbed.  I tried ignoring it but the thought of my gutter breaking off wouldn't leave my head.  Finally, I put down The Egg Said Nothing and went out into the rain.

The yard was spongy but I placed the ladder anyway.  I cautiously climbed up on the roof and was amazed at the amount of sludge that had accumulated in the gutter since late October.  I removed a fistful of decomposing leaves from the downspout and the water rushed out in a torrent.  I started for the ladder but then, since I was already wet, went about cleaning out the other gutters.

I've come to the conclusion that the gutter guards I'm using are flimsy pieces of crap that couldn't guard a pile of cat shit against an unsuspecting shoe.  I guess I'll add gutter guards to my list of projects for tomorrow, right next to sitting around, getting a haircut, and reading.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

I really want to read this

Go the Fuck to Sleep

It's that time of year again

Yeah, it's getting to be the time of year again when I carry my camera and closeup lens with me every time I leave the house.  The honeysuckle that's infesting the wooded parts of my neighborhood is attracting numerous species of butterfly and bumblebees the size and approximate shape of Cadbury Creme Eggs.  That might be a slight exaggeration.  I took a few pictures last night but haven't had time to do anything with them yet.

May is going to be a busy month, like it is every year.  Mother's Day, Memorial Day, etc.  I'm thinking about taking the next two Fridays off.  I need to get my air conditioner looked at before it gets too hot and I've got some yardwork to do once my lawn goes from being a shallow inland sea to merely a swampy marsh.

I may have mentioned it before but I've had a rotten tree in my yard for three or four years now.  It's sheathed in an orangish-brown hairy fungus, as well as those white clamshell shaped mushrooms that grow on all dead trees.  After all the wind and rain over the weekend, guess which tree toppled over Saturday night?  Wrong!  It was the still-healthy tree right next to it.  It looked as if the roots had been rotting away despite the upper parts of the tree being in seemingly good health.  Luckily my neighbor was dying to escape the Easter preparation and we took care of it in ten minutes.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

The 13 Stigmata of Nicole Cushing (Actually just an interview)

My series of interviews with the 2010-2011 New Bizarro Authors continues with Nicole Cushing, author of How to Eat Fried Furries

How did your becoming one of the New Bizarro Authors come about?
Back in 2009 I was beginning to hang around the Bizarro Central message board and saw the posting of submission guidelines for the NBAS. I had some weird short stories that other publishers liked, but they all thought the stories were a little too weird. I started reading about the sort of fiction the Bizarros were creating, and it seemed like a good fit for this particular project, so I sent the stories to Eraserhead, collected as How To Eat Fried Furries.

Of the 2010-2011 New Bizarro writers, you're the only one with a short story collection. What are your feelings on short stories vs. novels?
I love both, but they really are two different experiences (both as a reader and a writer). The short story is engineered to deliver intensity. The novel is engineered to deliver a more lavish, complex story, sometimes told at a bit more of a recreational pace. There are some tales better told as a short story, and others better told as a novel. I think, in speculative fiction, the novel is the ideal form to tell stories set in a particularly intricate secondary world or future world. I think the short story is the ideal form for a “gut punch” sort of tale that delivers a visceral emotional effect. Neither is superior to other.

How much contact to you have with the other New Bizarro authors? I know I picture you all hanging out at the Hall of Justice like the Superfriends.

We all met at last year's BizarroCon, and there's a lot of helpful discussion between authors via the net.  I like the Superfriends comparison, though.  If I were one of the WonderTwins, then all I'd have to do is say “Shape of...a full-time author!”

Was there a book that made you reallize you wanted to be a writer?
Not one book, in particular. Growing up, I read a fair number of comic books and scary stuff written for kids – but no one book jumps out as “the one” that inspired me. But I think that, from an early age, I so enjoyed books – all books, really – that I knew I wanted to write them. I can remember wanting to be an author since first or second grade.

Who are some of your influences?
I'm probably not the best judge of my own work, but I'll venture to say that as far as literary influences go... Phillip K. Dick, Thomas Ligotti, H.P. Lovecraft, and – especially recently – Gary Braunbeck,

What's your favorite book?
That's an almost-impossible question. There are so many great ones out there that it's very difficult to choose just one, and if you ask me tomorrow I'll give you a different answer. Just for today, I'll say that it's between PKD's The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch and Ligotti's Teatro Grottesco.

Who's your favorite author?
Again, an almost-impossible question. There are so many great authors out there. So, again, I'll narrow it down between two. For short stories, my favorite author is Thomas Ligotti. At the novel length, my favorite author is Phillip K. Dick.

What's the best book you've read in the last six months?
I think I just read The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch in the past six months and that's now my favorite book. But just to avoid repetition, I'll also mention this great book, Yellow Blue Tibia by Adam Roberts

Which 1980's teen comedy is your favorite?
Ferris Bueller's Day Off. It's all about ditching school in order to get an education. If more kids followed Ferris' example, we'd have a smarter country.

If you were a professional wrestler, what would your stage name be?
The truth is writer-themed wrestling personas have been slim pickings, historically. The only one that comes to mind was “The Genius” Lanny Poffo, who in the late-80s WWF would recite a poem or two upon entering the ring. Continuing, then, on the poetry theme, I would call myself “Lady Lazarus” (after the Sylvia Plath work of the same name). I would take on all comers, male and female, and would humiliate my unconscious foes by stuffing the pages from trade paperback editions of Ariel into their mouths. My signature move would be a sleeper hold I'd call “the oven”. But my weakness would be that if opponents taunted me too much and lowered my self-esteem, I'd put “the oven” on myself and pass out.

Who was your favorite character on Scooby Doo?
I really didn't care for any of them. All of the mysteries would have been solved much sooner if Scooby had been a talking cat.

Any words of wisdom for aspiring writers?
I'm not sure how much my advice is worth, since I'm a newer author, myself. And, of course, I can only share what's worked for me. But since you asked, here goes..

Turn off the television. Unless you plan to be a screenwriter, don't watch movies. Then, read as much fiction as you possibly can. If you plan to be a genre writer then there's a decided advantage to reading genre fiction, but the most important thing is to become well-acquainted with the topography of language. Then write fiction every day. Every day, especially at first. It might only be 250 words a day at first, and that's okay. I started writing 250-500 words a day and now I'm up to writing 1,000 or 2,000 words at a sitting – it just took a couple of years of steady practice to get to that point.

Read every day, write every day. It's one of those things that's simple, but not easy.

What's next for Nicole Cushing?
I'm about half-way through the first draft of a science fiction novel. There's humor here and there, but nothing quite so silly as Fried Furries. I'm really enjoying the process of growing and trying new things.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Swampy Saturday

This morning, my alarm clock went off and I swore it was Tuesday for some reason.  After a brief moment wondering what I was going to wear to work, I came to my senses and went back to bed for a couple hours.

Here we are, on the eve of my favorite egg and rabbit-themed holiday and the whole world is a swamp.  That should make for some fun egg hunting tomorrow.  Not to mention some good dog exercise today.

I was walking Belle last night, the first time I didn't have my camera with me in weeks, and I missed some golden opportunities.  I saw a big blue dragonfly and two monarch butterflies.  Both were docile rather than flitting around.  Probably because they knew they were in no danger of losing their souls to my camera.  Damn it.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

The Eggman - 13 Questions with Caris O'Malley

My series of interviews of the New Bizarro Authors continues with Caris O'Malley, author of The Egg Said Nothing

How did your becoming one of the New Bizarro Authors come about?

In November of 2009, I wrote a novel. It was kind of weird. I had just written it for fun and never expected to do anything with it. I wrote a book, and that was enough for me. One day, while surfing the Internet at work, I was perusing my Amazon recommendations. Those crazy bastards suggested, based on my history, that I might enjoy such titles as The Haunted Vagina, HELP! A Bear is Eating Me! , and The Baby Jesus Butt Plug.

As you might expect, I let out an audible “what the fuck?!” and investigated these odd titles. It turned out that they were all published by the same company: Eraserhead Press. I went to their website and looked around a bit. I was mightily impressed by their catalog, which featured many books that sounded interesting, funny, or just plain wrong. I decided to contact them and see if they were in the market for a book about an egg, time travel, and shovel murders. As it turns out, they were.

An Egg? Time Travel? Shovel Murders? Tell us how The Egg Said Nothing came to be.
It was National Novel Writing Month ( I had never participated before, but I was excited about it. I wanted to adhere to the rules and write a book from beginning to end, one that I had never started.

But there were complications. About two weeks before the start of the month, I became a father. It was a huge adjustment for me and resulted in a lot of lost sleep. To make matters worse, my daughter had colic and spent the majority of her time howling like something that oft howls. That first day came around and I drew a blank. I had no idea what to write about. I had my computer on, the document open, and a crying babe on my knee.

So my mind started racing. I started to panic a bit. I had entertained the thought of writing a really great novel. I’m into literary fiction, and that was what I thought I’d be writing. But I couldn’t think of dramatic dialogue and subtle characterizations. Blame it on the newness of my fatherhood, but I started thinking about eggs. Specifically, what would I do if I laid one.

This, I thought, was a decent idea. I’d write about this goofy idea for the sheer fun of it. It was the only way I was going to make it through that particular NaNoWriMo. But then I got into it. I really got into it. And the egg began to haunt my thoughts. Somewhere in the beginning, I was stricken with writer’s block and I perused the NaNoWriMo support forums for help. That was when I learned about a Novel Writing Month tradition: the traveling shovel of death. All that time travel bullshit kind of happened on its own. Or perhaps a future version of myself penned it after the fact. Nobody really knows.

Was there a book that made you realize you wanted to be a writer?
There have been many books that made me want to be a writer. It is the first dream I can remember harboring. To that end, I think it’s safe to say that R.L. Stine’s Goosebumps series is the primary culprit.

Who are some of your influences?
I’d say that Charles Bukowski has inspired me more than anyone else. I like his simplicity and readability. He is able to do so much in such an understated manner. On the opposite end of the spectrum, I am greatly inspired by Nicole Krauss. Her stuff is horribly convoluted, but make-you-stop-breathing beautiful. Anyone who reads The Egg will also notice that I’ve been greatly influenced by Christopher Moore and Chuck Palahniuk.

What's your favorite book?
My favorite book of all time is Maggie Cassidy by Jack Kerouac.

Who's your favorite author?
Jack Kerouac

What's the best book you've read in the last six months?
I’ve had really good luck the past six months. I read The Hunger Games for the first time (which completely blew me away). Ooh. And there was Guy N. Smith’s Night of the Crabs, which simply must be experienced. The book that most impressed me, though, was fellow NBASer Steve Lowe’s Muscle Memory. Fantastic book.

In addition to being a writer, you're a prominent reviewer on Goodreads. Has your interaction with the community changed much since The Egg Said Nothing was published?
I love GoodReads. I love, love, love it. I’ve spent a couple of years religiously reviewing every book I read. I wrote the book about a year after I became really active on the site. The GR community has been so supportive of my writing and I love them for it.

I try to keep my established identity on GR to the greatest extent possible. You may have noticed that I’m not a “GoodReads Author.” This is intentional. I want to hold on to all the aspects of GR that I love. If people want to talk to me about my book, that’s great. But I want to be their friend, too. I refuse to let GR just turn into another promotional tool. It’s too important to me.

If you were a performer in an adult movie, what would your stage name be?
Snowbear Second Avenue

Which of these George Lucas produced movies would you say is your favorite: Willow, More American Graffiti, or Howard the Duck?
I can’t believe you’re making me choose between Willow and Howard the Duck. I can’t even tell you how much I love both of those movies. Uh…..Willow, by a narrow margin.

Which of the Golden Girls would you say is the most attractive?
Sophia. Hands down.

Any words of wisdom for aspiring writers?
First and foremost, find someone, preferably another writer, to read your stuff. Make it someone who you can trust to be honest. They’ll tell you when you’re on the right track and when you need to change lanes.
Keep writing. You’ll only get better. Don’t be deterred by naysayers.
If you can, find a magic pen. Or a genie that can give you great writing abilities. Those things would probably help, too.

What's next for Caris O'Malley?
That’s the question weighing on everyone’s mind. Fuck global warming. What’s Caris gonna do now?
I wrote a book last year called Clownhunter. I might do something with that. It’s still in the editing stages. At the moment, I’m working on an as yet untitled piece of young adult fiction that is decidedly not weird in any way. I’m hoping that Eraserhead will offer me a contract as result of The Egg. You can help me with this. Buy my book. I’ll love you forever. I swear it.

Charity (plus the New Bizarro Author Series)

It is wrong to unload crap you no longer want on a charity for a fundraiser?  Let me rephrase that: Is it wrong if I unload crap I no longer want on a charity for a fundraiser?  There's a drive for a charity book/cd/dvd sale at work and it seems like a golden opportunity to do a little spring cleaning.  Maybe I can finally get rid of that copy of Hannibal I've been trying to get John at Books Galore to give me store credit for for the past eleven years.

My goal of interviewing all seven authors in the 2010-2011 New Bizarro Author Series has passed the halfway mark with Eric Hendrixson.  I've got questions out to Nicole Cushing, a request for interview out to Caris O'Malley, and a goodreads friends request out to the elusive Kirsten Alene.  Once I've finished interviewing the seven NBAS authors, I might have to move on to others on my Goodreads friend list.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Smoothie Criminal? What's That? - An interview with Eric Hendrixson

Eric Hendirxson, author of the hilarious Bucket of Face,  is the latest of the New Bizarro Author's I've shackled in my basement interviewed.

How did your becoming one of the New Bizarro Authors come about?
I was at a seminar at which Mrs. Sullivan, who originally published the Crown Conspiracy series, emphasized the importance of knowing your genre. I had no idea what my genre was, though I had been writing in a particular style for a long time, so I described a book I was working on and she said, “Oh, you’re bizarro.” That was sort of the end of the conversation, and I thought she was fucking with me. However, I Googled it later, and it turned out she was right.

After I’d read the first two starter kits and a few Bizarro books, I went found and signed up for the New Bizarro Author Series. My application was accepted and I sat down to create a boozy cyberpunk story about a poet looking for his muse, who possibly altered his memory before moving out of his apartment. The story was rejected, which makes a lot of sense. The whole story was so depressing that it didn’t make for a good first book. That was for the first year of the NBAS. I tried again in the second year with Bucket of Face and it got in.

What was the inspiration for the sentient fruit component of the story?
You see sentient fruit in the culture a lot, but it’s always in a fairly cartoonish way--the California Raisins, Mr. Peanut, those fruits and vegetables from old Saturday morning public service announcements—and for some reason, they’re always trying to get you to eat them, which is disturbing. Since I wanted to do something in the noir style, I thought instead of having happy fruits that want people to eat them I could have fruits with the same kinds of motivations and emotions people have, more flesh and juice. They’re still food, but from a certain perspective, we’re all food. Instead of taking something normal and making it weird, I took something weird and tried to make it normal.

Is there anything you had to cut from Bucket of Face prior to publication or something you wish you would have done a little differently?
I had a chapter on Mark Cline, the guy who built Foamhenge. For some reason, Foamhenge was very closely tied with writing this novel, though it never did show up in the book. There was a pretty long section on the history of horticulture and viticulture, focusing on the history of the phylloxera wine blight in the 1800s. There was more backstory on some of the characters. It’s good for the writer to know all about the characters’ past and extensive history of the world the characters live in, but most of that stuff had nothing to do with the story.

Was there a book that made you realize you wanted to be a writer?
I don’t think it was any particular book. I learned to read at the same time as I learned to write. Since I learned to read from books, I assumed the purpose of writing was to write books. I did a lot of writing as a kid and as an adolescent. A collection of Walt Whitman went everywhere I went for about three years while I was learning how to write poetry. I think I overdosed on Whitman. I can’t really read him anymore.

Who are some of your influences?
Anthony Burgess, Nikolai Gogol, Raymond Chandler, the Mirrorshades or Cyberpunk authors of the 80s, Hunter S. Thompson, Italo Calvino, Tom Robbins, T. S. Eliot, and Warren Murphy. For each of these authors there was a time when I just sat down and read them obsessively.

However, when I was writing this book, I was reading Bizarro, so there were parts of the book in which I recognized the style of someone I’d read creeping in.

What's your favorite book?
Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy. There’s a character in the book just called the Judge who is amazing. I also find the destruction, violence, and nihilism strangely exhilarating. I really like Lolita, but every time I read the book I’m in a bad mood for a week.

Who's your favorite author?
That changes all the time. I’m a big Anthony Burgess fan, but I’ve read all his books. I watch the Eraserhead Press catalog, since there are a lot of good writers there. I always watch for when Chuck Palahniuk, Jordan Krall, Christopher Moore, Elmore Leonard, and William Gibson have something new coming out. I am waiting impatiently for Garrett Cook to release Jimmy Plush, a story of a hard-boiled detective trapped in a teddy bear’s body.

What's the best book you've read in the last six months?
There’s Christopher Moore’s Lamb, which is about Jesus’ childhood friend, Biff. That’s the most recent book I’ve read, though, so it’s still in a honeymoon period. We’ll call it the best mainstream book I’ve read in six months.

My favorite Bizarro book of the past six months is Night of the Assholes by Kevin Donihe. We’re all familiar with mashups like Pride and Prejudice With Zombies. This is Night of the Living Dead without zombies. Instead, there are assholes, and you can’t fight them because being rude to an asshole will turn you into an asshole.

I think the best classic I’ve read in six months is The Man Who Was Thursday by Chesterton.

I read all the NBAS books in October. Uncle Sam’s Carnival of Copulating Inanimals has stuck with me because it is such a difficult book to review. Every time I think of starting, I think, “Damn. This book is smarter than I am.”

What's your favorite dirty joke of all time?
A naked blonde walks into a bar with a poodle under one arm and a two-foot salami under the other. She lays the poodle on the table. The bartender says, "I suppose you won’t be needing a drink." The naked lady says,

Which vegetable would you say is the toughest in the world?
Probably beets. I won’t even go near them. The toughest fruit would be either a prickly pear or a durian. They both have spikes, but the durian has the smell thing going for it.

How excited are you about the recently unearthed collaboration between Michael Jackson and Freddie Mercury?
Wow. That’s the first I’ve heard of it. There goes my evening.

Any words of wisdom for aspiring writers?
It's very important to find your community and your genre. I don't mean your workshop or your writing group but the people you read and the people who will get what you're writing. If it doesn't exist, you might have to build it yourself. Unless you're in that sort of community, most people you workshop with with will know neither what they are talking about nor what you're writing about and trying to publish will be an exercise in frustration. It is important to read a lot of books, both the kind of books that you want to write and books of the literary tradition. In addition to the wider literary tradition, each genre has its own literary tradition which you should become very familiar with.

What's next for Eric Hendrixson?
The main thing right now is this book. I have other books already written and another plotted out, but the important thing is to find and get to know my audience.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

It feels a hell of a lot later than Tuesday

Man, I've been earning my money this week.  We implemented something Monday morning and I've been trying to figure out what's wrong with it ever since.  It's nerve wracking sifting through 6000 or so lines of code trying to find the one that's causing the record lock.  I think I found it this afternoon but it's going to be a pain in the ass trying to recreate the error so I can prove I fixed it.

On the plus side, I've been enjoying this Bizarro interview series I've found myself on.  I'm getting a little more comfortable with it and I think they keep getting better.  I figure if even one reader of my blog buys their book, it helps. Selling 200 copies of a book in one year may not seem like much if you're Stephen King but it's a hell of a rough ride when nobody knows who you are.

I'm hoping to launch Dangerous Dan Goes to the Movies as a regular feature one of these days.  I've got Zardoz and The Villain on deck.  Now I just have to find time to watch them.

Let's hope this impending storm isn't as bad as they say it's going to be.  Maybe I'll pack an emergency bag with clothes, my external hard drive, and some books, just to be safe.

I'll never look at furniture the same way again - 12 Questions with Kirk Jones

Next up in my series of interviews featuring this years New Bizarro Authors is Kirk Jones, author of Uncle Sam's Carnival of Copulating Inanimals

How did your becoming one of the New Bizarro Authors come about?
I slipped onto the bizarro scene late one night while on one of my routine searches for weird writing online. I was on a strange/foreign film binge and wanted something strange to read. At that point I had exhausted my Loompanics library, and I just couldn’t find anything really out there in print form that matched what my local store had to offer in film form. As the story goes, I typed “weird shit” into the search engine and Carlton Mellick’s page came up. I read the description for War Slut and read about Mellick’s earlier works that he wrote before publishing. It was really inspiring. Even more amazing was the fact that when I went to approach Mellick and others like Donihe on MySpace they responded and added me as a friend. I filled out an application to become a writer for Eraserhead Press on their website, and wasn’t sure if I’d hear back. Then I acquired an e-mail saying they’d like me to send something in to NBAS.

How did Uncle Sam's Carnival of Copulating Inanimals come together? What I mean is, the three central ideas seem like they could be books on their own: furniture having sex, a man made of vitreous humor, and Uncle Sam running a carnival. What inspired you to unite the three in the boldest union since the Reese's Peanut Butter Cup?
Thank you for the compliment. The story started as a work of flash fiction about a man who died and was reborn as a pile of shit, no joke. When I thought about expanding it for NBAS, I was initially at a loss. Then I read about a man who was arrested for screwing his picnic table on his back porch and thought it’d be an interesting concept to explore. The idea of everything happening at a carnival came from a Pinocchio book I had just read.

This last part I never have imparted to anyone before: the inspiration for Uncle Sam came from a picture of Bizarro Author Bruce Taylor. I thought the top hat was awesome and thought of him helping this man made of excrement out. It wasn’t until much later that Uncle Sam grew into his own and became a darker character. Originally I intended for him to be a good guy.

Everything else just came together as I wrote. So Uncle Sam’s Carnival started off as a story inspired by some pretty basic elements, and evolved into something that reflected a lot of my ideas about identity loss, fragmentation of identity, and the cog-like role industrial workers played during the American industrial revolution. I started writing bizarre because it was as removed from my scholarly work as possible. I needed to get away from it, but damn it, it found me.

Was there a book that made you realize you wanted to be a writer?
Stephen King’s Insomnia was a big inspiration. It’s the first book I picked up and thought, “well shit, I can do this.” Then Clive Barker and Philip K. Dick came along and really inspired me, but that’s for the next question.

Who are some of your influences?
In the bizarro movement, Mellick III and Donihe are my primary influences. They were the first I read and the ones who really made me excited to write like they do. Philip K. Dick is a huge inspiration as well. I loved VALIS. I loved the myth behind the man. Clive Barker was one of the first authors I read outside of school. I read Everville first, which I really enjoyed. So Stephen King made me think, “I can do this” while Barker made me think, “I want to do this.” Finally, Philip K. Dick made me think, “this is how I’d like to do it.”

What's your favorite book?
I couldn’t choose a favorite book. So many have merit and I’m always diving head first into the next thing I read so next month I’d probably have a new favorite book. I think Don Delillo’s Mao II has remained in the top three for the past five to seven years while others cycle in and out. It takes a common theme like the fragmentation of identity in society and explores it from a modern and post-modern perspective. There’s a little bit of a Walter Benjamin influence in there, which I really enjoy. It’s also a book about writing for writers. The book always becomes relevant in a new way every time I experience something different. It is a book that grows with me. Yeah. I guess that’d be my favorite.

Who's your favorite author?
It’s really hard to pick a favorite really. I’ve read the most by Philip K. Dick, and he seems to have something for every mood I’m in. His earlier work is light and fun. His later work is thought-provoking and strange.

What's the best book you've read in the last six months?
I haven’t had much of a chance to read lately. I’m really enjoying Mr. Moon’s Nightmares. I haven’t read horror in a long time and his book was the perfect re-introduction to the genre.

I’ll tell you about some of the best books I haven’t read yet: Eric Hendrixson’s Bucket of Face, which I’ve been meaning to read for a long time. I’m also excited to check out K.I. Hope’s material really soon. I read a sample from her book Hector and really enjoyed the description.

What's your favorite movie in the Mad Max trilogy?
Never watched Mad Max. I hang my head in shame.

What's the worst job you've ever had?
The “worst” jobs I’ve ever had are also the most interesting jobs I’ve ever had. I spent a summer cleaning and replacing septic tanks with my father, which was great. You learn a lot about people from cleaning out their septic system. Plus you get bragging rights for doing one of the world’s shittiest jobs, literally. It always makes for great conversation.

What's the sexiest piece of furniture in your house?
I have a love/hate relationship with my toilet. It’s kind of like unrequited love because I put a lot of work into it scrubbing away at mineral deposits from our hard water but all it does is talk shit in return.

Any words of wisdom for aspiring writers?
Make connections. Care about your audience. These days you have to build your audience from the foundation up. This is a great opportunity because you may very well personally speak with every person who ever reads your book. It can be difficult at times as well though. I’m not a digital native, so I’m always thinking advertising will get me more exposure, or I was at least, but in my experience so far, talking with ten people online about their interests gets me more sales than promoting my book. I guess that relates to my last piece of advice: the more you remove your book from the discussion with potential fans the more likely they are to buy it. If they’ve already heard about the book and have expressed a minor interest, just get to know them as a person. That’s something Caris O’Malley shared with me, but I never realized how true it was until I experienced it for myself.

Get to know those who will review your book. The great thing about getting to know reviewers is that they’ll lend themselves to your purpose and they’ll help perpetuate the agenda you had in publishing the work. Anita Dalton and Marc Schuster both wrote reviews for my book that made me think, “that’s exactly what I hoped someone would say about my book.”

What's next for Kirk Jones?
I’ve been working on a new novel, but I don’t get much time to dedicate to it, so I’m primarily working on short stories to publish so I can promote Uncle Sam’s Carnival of Copulating Inanimals. It’s been really rewarding so far. I have two short works going up on The New Flesh in May, and I’m waiting to hear back from a few other places. I’m almost finished with a script I think may be agent worthy, but again, right now I’m focusing on selling Uncle Sam and trying to secure a book deal with Eraserhead Press. They’ve been kind enough to give me this opportunity and I don’t plan on letting them down.

Sacred Thor is a WHAT? 13 Questions with James Steele

 My Bizarro Odyssey continues with this interview with James Steele, author of Felix and the Sacred Thor.

How did your becoming one of the New Bizarro Authors come about?
I was searching for publishers taking unsolicited submissions. Eraserhead Press' website said it was open to unsolicited novels. Finally, I thought, someone who's open! Only problem was I didn't have anything to submit.

But earlier that year i had written a personal short story venting my work frustration. The whole thing was a parody of my working life, and I wondered if there was a real story behind it.

There was no stated word limit, but I guessed I should shoot for 30,000 words. Turns out I was pretty close. The limit was about 34,000. My submitted story happened to be 36,000. Good guess. (We then cut it down to 30,000, back down to the original goal.)

I expected to wait six months to hear back. 24 hours later I got an acceptance letter. That stunned me. Never had a response that quick before.

(See this post if you wanna know more about the origin of the story itself:

In terms of sheer weirdness, Felix and the Sacred Thor makes Muscle Memory look pretty conservative by comparison. Is there anything you had to take out because it was too weird?
A lot got taken out, but not because it was too weird. I knew this was an off-the-wall story and I was worried how people would react to it. Maybe people would think it was too strange, but editor Kevin L. Donihe didn't even mention that possibility. I figured if he was ok with the content, I should be, too.

Tell us a little about Mr. Hands?
It's a very tragic love story about a man and his horse. To the best of my recollection at this present point in current time, my book is in no way inspired by or based on those events or characters, and it may or may not have had an influence on the book's content or protagonist.

Was there a book that made you realize you wanted to be a writer?
I don't think so. Writing was something I more or less always did, in one form or another. I didn't get serious about it until 2001. Until then I was just sitting at my computer thinking of synopses for TV shows and episodes. Just daydreaming in text. Eventually i decided to start writing the stories instead of summaries. Tried screenplays; that didn't work. Moved on to novels and short stories for more freedom.

Who are some of your influences?
George Orwell's 1984 is a big one. World-building is a difficult skill, and I strive to create worlds as vivid as his. D. Harlan Wilson, and his method of creating organized chaos, is another. Arthur C. Clarke is another. He sucked at characters for the most part, but he excelled in breathtaking description!

What's your favorite book?
1984 is still my absolute favorite. For variety's sake, Eric Garcia's Anonymous Rex is another series I adore both for the characters and the brilliant world-building. Alice in Wonderland is also high up there. It's very rare a book will make me laugh, and that one sure did. Bakker's Raptor Red is another excellent example of world-building. That's what I like most--stories, games and movies that create new worlds.

Who's your favorite author?
I don't have one yet. Maybe i'll find one someday. The authors above are all good candidates, but I wouldn't call any of them a favorite. Not yet.

What's the best book you've read in the last six months?
The Brave Little Toaster. ( Completely charming little book, and the film version is great, too! First time in a long time I was delighted by a story.

Forget the infamous Konami code for a minute. Do you know the code to enter the edit mode on Sonic the Hedgehog for the Sega Genesis?
You mean without searching for it on the net? Actually no, I don't. I didn't do much cheating in games as a kid. I didn't want to spoil the fun or the challenge by cheating. And there was no internet back then; cheat codes weren't something you could just look up, so I barley knew they existed at the time.

If you were to get a tattoo depicting a former US President, who would it be?
I'd get William Henry Harrison. The poor man died just a month after taking office. He deserves to be remembered somehow, 'cause that's gotta be the worst thing to happen. Struggle to achieve something, then when you're finally there, you die before you can do anything. That hurts. Someone's gotta give him a break.

Which of following Kurt Russell movies is your favorite: The Thing, Escape from New York, or Big Trouble in Little China?
The Thing, hands down. That scene with the dog-thing shooting goo all over the place still haunts my dreams.

Any words of wisdom for aspiring writers?
Writing is hard. Getting someone to publish what you've written? That's even harder. Convincing people to read what you've written after it's published? That's nearly impossible. Enticing people to BUY something you've written? Ugh…

What's next for James Steele?
If elected president, I promise to write a more normal book next time. Something easier to talk about in public! Something you won't mind if your children get a hold of and take to school with them!

Monday, April 18, 2011

Gateway to Bizarro: 13 Questions with Steve Lowe

I've been a little obsessed with the Bizarro genre as of late and Steve Lowe, author of Muscle Memory and Wolves Dressed as Men, agreed to answer some questions for my blog.

How did your becoming one of the New Bizarro Authors come about?

I had written this strange little book called Muscle Memory, a short novella that I didn’t really know what to do with. I was searching for publishers that accepted stories of that length, and also those that publish weird fiction. I eventually stumbled across Eraserhead Press and the New Bizarro Author Series and decided to submit. That was my first exposure to bizarro fiction, so it was a bit of an accident in a way.

Which of the body-swapping comedies (not involving Kirk Cameron) is your favorite?
I suppose it would be Vice Versa, starring ‘Wonder-Years-era’ Fred Savage and ‘My-Career-Peaked-With-Beverly-Hills-Cop’ Judge Reinhold. But really, I love them all in a nostalgic sort of way, since most of them came out in the late 1980s, right around the time I was entering my teen years.

How does that compare with your experience of getting Wolves Dressed as Men published?
Wolves was rejected a couple times before I found Eternal Press. I sent it to a couple horror publishers, but it wasn’t quite “horror” enough for most of them. The small element of romance in the book appealed to Eternal, which actually puts out more romance than other genres. Aside from the cover art being done for me on Wolves, both publishers are fairly similar. Since they’re small, independent presses, the marketing and promotion of the book has been all up to me and I’ve tried to use promote them together in a lot of ways.

Was there a book that made you realize you wanted to be a writer?
Not really, because I’ve always wanted to be a writer, going back to when I was a kid. But the books that got me back into writing fiction about three years ago was Cormac McCarthy’s “The Road and Chuck Palahniuk’s “Fight Club”. Those two lit a fire under me to try fiction again after writing nothing but sports for my local newspaper for the previous seven years.

Who are some of your influences?
The aforementioned McCarthy and Palahniuk are big ones. I love McCarthy’s stark style and Palahniuk’s sharp wit and humor.

What's your favorite book?
The two I mentioned, plus No Country For Old Men ranks up there as well. The first book I really loved was probably Of Mice and Men. Steinbeck blew me away when I first read him in high school, and still does.

Who's your favorite author?
McCarthy, Palahniuk, Steinbeck, Christopher Moore is pretty good. Cameron Pierce writes some pretty amazing short stories and fellow NBASer Caris O’Malley has an excellent new book in the works called Clownhunter.

What's the best book you've read in the last six months?
Let’s see, last six months… Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi was pretty darn good, and I made sure I read True Grit before I see the movie (which I still haven’t), and that was excellent. True Grit is probably the best one in the last six months.

What's your favorite werewolf movie?
When I was a kid, it was Silver Bullet, but these days, I’m not sure. The Wolfman remake with Benicio Del Toro wasn’t half bad, though I know some people hated it. I thought it was solid, and actually had a couple frightening moments. I’ll go with that one.

If you were an ice cream flavor, which flavor would you be?
Blueberry Onion. That way, no one would want to eat me, and I could live forever.

Which of the Planet of the Apes movies is your favorite?
To be perfectly honest, the next Planet of the Apes movie I see in its entirety will be my first, so I can’t give a solid answer here. I will say the trailer for the new one coming out soon does look pretty badass.

Any words of wisdom for aspiring writers?
Try to write every day, even if it’s a blog, a journal entry, a review, whatever. And if you can’t write, you’d better be reading instead. Those are the two things that I strive to do: write every day, and read every day. The best way to learn is by doing, and by seeing what others are doing.

What's next for Steve Lowe?
Hopefully, more books from Eraserhead Press. I wrote an odd novella that is currently titled “The Duke’s Tumor” last year. It may or may not see the light of day. I also finished the first draft of a decidedly non-bizarro thriller last month called “The Do-Over Man”. I’m pretty confident both of them will find a home eventually, but the main goal now is to reach my sales target for Muscle Memory and see what happens after that.

Monday is for the dogs

Last night, we went to Carrie's aunt's house to see her cousin from Baltimore and I got home at the wee hour of 10. 4:30 comes early when you can't get to sleep because of all the dessert you consumed so I was a little out of sorts this morning when I was leaving for work. I was backing out of the driveway when I saw Belle sitting in the doorway.

I thought "My dog is so loyal that she watches me leave in the morning." As I backed down the driveway, I started thinking. "Did I take her out this morning? I think I did. Did I?" I tried to summon the memory of taking her out but it wouldn't come. I shut off the car, went back inside, and leashed my dog. She seemed very excited, almost frantic. Like she really needed to go to the bathroom, one might say.

As we walked across the road, flashes of insight started hitting like lightning. I had taken her out earlier! The reason she was excited was that she thought she was going with me! Damn it! After a quick walk around the yard, I put her back inside and resumed the voyage to work.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Ten Quick Questions with David Rachels

Remember the other day when I mentioned Verse Noir by David Rachels?  I sent him a list of questions and he graciously answered them.  Without further ado...

1. Verse Noir reads like a labor of love from someone with deep appreciation for noir and poetry. What made you put pen to paper?
My day job is English professor at a military college, and part of my combat duty is attending a fair number of poetry readings.  I’m generally suspicious of free verse, and when I hear someone read a free-verse poem, it often sounds to me like the opening paragraph of a short story masquerading as poetry.  This got me to thinking about poetry from the opposite direction:  As I was reading noir novels, I started looking for bits of text that seemed poetic enough to stand alone as poems.  I started posting these at my blog Pulp Poem of the Week (which later morphed into my blog Noirboiled Notes).  After doing this for a while, I decided that I could write better pulp poems myself from scratch, and over the course of a year I wrote about 400 of them.  I put my favorites in Verse Noir.

2. Which noir writer would you say had the most poetic writing style?
Looking for “pulp poems” to put on my blog, I’ve had the easiest time finding them in Raymond Chandler.

3. What was the first noir novel you read?
My introduction to the noirboiled world came somewhere around the 8th grade when I saw Mickey Spillane on Tomorrow with Tom Snyder.  Spillane described his novel Vengeance Is Mine in such a way that made me want to read it as much as I’ve ever wanted to read anything in my life.

4. Favorite noir novel?
Today, it’s Out by Natsuo Kirino.

5. Favorite Lawrence Block novel?
I imagine I’ll read the Matthew Scudder novels eventually, but I’m partial to stand-alones.  Of the Block stand-alones I’ve read, the one that comes to mind is Grifter’s Game, the first novel put out by Hard Case Crime.  It’s a good one.

6. Favorite Donald Westlake novel?
I supposed that Parker is the exception proving the rule of my preference for stand-alones.  I’m working my way through the series in order, but I’m trying not to do it too quickly.  It makes me sad just thinking about reading the last one.  I’ve read the first eleven thus far, and my favorite of these is the fifth, The Score.

7. Spenser or Elvis Cole?
My reading skews heavily to pre-1960, so Spenser wins this one by default.  Twenty years ago, I listened to a bunch of Spenser novels on tape during long car trips (and enjoyed them fairly consistently), but I have never read an Elvis Cole novel.

8. Favorite novel in the Hard Case Crime series?
No contest here:  A Touch of Death by Charles Williams.  I love it, my mother loves it, my wife loves it, my sons love it, my students love it. . . .

9. What good books have you read in the past six months?
Two books come first to mind:  I liked Dave Zeltersman’s new one, Outsourced, quite a lot, and I got to read an advance copy of a (not noir) short story collection by Kurt Jose Ayau called The Brick Murder: A Tragedy and Other Stories, which was pretty great.

10. What’s next for David Rachels?
I just spent a week in Wyoming doing research for a book I’m editing.  It’s title (at the moment) is Gulf Coast Noir: Selected Stories of Gil Brewer, 1951-1959.  I hope to have it in the hands of a publisher by the end of this summer.


As I prepare to eat toast for breakfast, I'm reminded, as I have been every time I've eaten toast in the past fourteen years or so, of this Dr. Ring-Ding tune.  Watch as Ring-Ding kicks into high gear around 2:45.  Wow, he's lost about sixty pounds since those days.

The song always takes me back.  The year was 1997 and I was fresh out of my first stint in college with the whole world just waiting to lie down and give me whatever I wanted.  Or so I thought.  I never would have guessed a German reggae singer would still be one of my favorite musicians fourteen years later.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Favorite (Dirty) Joke of All Time

Last chance to avoid possibly being offended...

Two guys are standing in a parking lot, smoking cigarrettes.
The first guy says "How are things at home?"
The second says "I'm worried about my teenage daughter."
The first says "Why?  Is she sexually active?"
The second says "No.  She just lies there like her mother."

Tired Tuesday

I swear I feel sluggish every week until about Thursday.  It gets harder to recover from weekends and late nights as I get older.

You may remember a few days ago when I mentioned getting a review copy of David Rachels' Verse Noir.  Well, last night I read it in its entirety and posted reviews for it on Amazon, Goodreads, and Dangerous Dan's Book Blog.  Noir poetry is a pretty original concept if you ask me.  Anyway, I've shot David a list of questions and hope to post the results shortly after he answers them.  Isn't technology great?

I took a couple more lizard pictures yesterday evening but haven't had a chance to do anything with them yet.  It's hard getting close with a dog strapped to your wrist.

Joe and I were going to go mushroom hunting at lunch today but it looks like he called in.  Drat!  I guess I'll have to read during lunch...

Monday, April 11, 2011

Yeah, I'm a sucker (and also something about meatloaf)

Remember the other day when I resolved to cut back on acquiring books?  Neither did I, apparently.

As some of you know, Subterranean Press frequently offers expensive limited edition hardcovers of popular and/or hard to find books.  The new prices are a tad expensive and once they sell out, the prices will quickly run you a kidney and half a liver.  Over the weekend, I got an email from them about a special offer.  It seems they found a metric shit ton of returned or dinged hardcovers and were offering a special grab bag.  Eleven hardcovers for fifty bucks.  Visions of John Scalzi's The God Engines and You're Not Fooling Anyone When You Take Your Laptop to a Coffee Shop danced through my head, along with the ghosts of ultra-rare Joe Lansdales danced through my head.  Yep, I plunked down my 50 bucks and now wait to see if the Rare Book Gods choose to smile on me or urinate in my upturned face.

In other news, I've acquired a taste for meatloaf in my old age.  The food, not the musician with his songs that are ten minutes too long.  Anyway, Joe had some particularly aromatic meatloaf the other day and gave me a small morsel.  It was delicious.  I asked for the recipe and he replied that he'd have to ask his wife.  She emailed back a short time later saying, and I quote, "I'll take it to the grave."

Ouch.  That's a pretty harsh reaction to asking for a recipe.  Then again, Joe's been asking for her grandma's Swiss Steak recipe for six years and has only gotten a marginal coleslaw recipe for his troubles.  This morning, Joe showed up at my cube fairly early and asked what I brought for lunch.  I said "Nothing" since I hate assembling things for lunch, like the fajitas I have in the fridge at home.  He told me I had a lunch waiting in the lower right drawer of the fridge in the galley.

The meatloaf was superb.  It was a mix of ordinary ground beef, ground pork, and veal, along with onions and some ingredients I was unable to identify as I wolfed it down.  I suppose I could have taken my time and savored it but it was too good.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Fungi Found!

This morning, I took Belle over to my parents' for her weekly exercise and my weekly notification to my parents that I'm not yet deceased.  After a quick breakfast of biscuits and gravy, my dad and I jumped on the gator and headed into the woods to hunt the elusive morel mushroom.

Rather than tout the morel's tasty virtues, I'll merely say that the little bastards are delicious when pan fried in an egg batter.

The hunt did not start well.  I'd say for the first 33% of the expedition, we merely stumbled around the woods, acquired ticks, and sweated.  Is it really going to hit 90 today?  Wasn't it snowing two weeks ago?  I did manage to take an interesting frog picture so the first part of he expedition wasn't a total loss.

I was thinking about abandoning the hunt and taking pictures of insects instead, like the bee that kept landing on my arm, when my dad finally found one.  I promptly stomped through the woods to where he was standing and found another.  Then we returned to the tedium for ten minutes before finding two more.

"How many do we have to find before Mom will cook them?" I asked.
"A lot more than this," Dad said.  "Let's try another spot."

At the next spot, the hunt followed a similar pattern.  Dad would find one, I would find one nearby, and then ten more minutes of tedium until the cycle repeated.  We agreed that another shower would benefit the woods and their fungal bounty.

With eight morels in our bag, we decided to try one more spot.  The hunting was much easier in this undisclosed location.  We found twenty in less than twenty minutes and decided to hang it up.  We had enough to justify cooking.

They were delicious!

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Fighting Atrophy

I think I'm suffering from the writing form of muscular atrophy.  I wrote the first five hundred words of a story I conceived last night and it felt like five thousand.  It's coming along though.  I went with mutants and a DNA rewriting virus rather than zombies since I plan on using more SF concepts and I find some aspects of an ongoing zombie apocalypse illogical.  Now I just have to find the time to write the rest of it, along with my crime story and the one about the Dyson Sphere and the wormhole train.  And all the others.

Last night, I was getting ready for bed when a charitable organization that shall remain nameless called me twice.  Twice, after 8:30!  I'm of the school of thought that you shouldn't call anyone after 8 PM.  Unless they have kids, then the cutoff is 7.  The second time, I told the caller "You know it's after 8:30, right?  What time is it at your house?"  He hung up.

If tonight's as conducive to photography as last night was, I'm going to try to get more pictures of those lizards, as well as the buzzards I keep seeing flying over the neighborhood.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Note to self: Stop being such a whore for free books!

Ladies and gents, I have a problem.  When it comes to free books, I just can't seem to keep my figurative pants on.  In the last few days, I have done the following:
  • Entered a contest to win four Ross MacDonald books
  • Entered four ARC giveaways on Goodreads
  • Bought Muscle Memory by Steve Lowe so I could get a signed free copy of his other book
  • Requested a review copy of Verse Noir by David Rachels.
Yes, as long as my promiscuity for the page continues, my to-read pile will continue to grow.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Sunny Morning

Today has been gorgeous and there's still around five hours of daylight left.  I hauled Belle over to my parents' house this morning, getting some good buzzard pictures on the drive over.  After a quick breakfast, Belle and I took to the woods.  I followed the creek for about half a mile, then went up one of the dry creek beds that feed into it when it rains.  I took a couple pictures of fossils too large to carry back and uncovered a salamander, one of the elusive animals I've been wanting to photograph for a while but haven't run across.

Belle and I eventually emerged from the woods after reaching the top of hill that spawned the dry creek bed and followed a farm road back to the vicinity of my parents'.  After a few minutes of reading The Drawing of the Three, Belle subtly signaled that she wanted to go back outside by scratching the shit out of my leg.  I was able to get a few more good pictures, including a spider, frogs, and the second salamander of the day, this one of a completely different species.  Photos are forthcoming.

I'm contemplating taking a quick cat nap before I head to Farmington to meet Carrie.  I'm hoping there is BBQ in my future...

Friday, April 1, 2011

The Gunslinger - Why Stephen King is better than you think

I'm nineteen pages away from finishing up The Gunslinger for the sixth or seventh time, savoring every word in what may be my favorite book of all time.  \

Anyway, as I follow Roland's quest to catch up with the man in black, I'm noticing Stephen King's writing a lot more than I did on my previous readings, probably because I've written close to half a million words since the last time I set foot on the road to the Tower.

King's use of imagery is at the same time both evocative and effortless.  Never did I have the thought "Speed this shit up!  Enough with the metaphors!"  The pacing is impecable.  The thing I want to mention most of all is the emotion that King crams into every sentence.  The suspense keeps growing and even though this is far from my first time to the dance, I caught myself hoping against hope that Roland would find a way to both save Jake and catch up with the man in black. 

I think I'm going to enjoy this re-read of The Dark Tower immensely.