Weirdo Wednesday

Lately, I’ve been posting very short stories as statuses on Facebook. Some of them are true, some of them are not. I’ve been doing it every Wednesday, and I’m thinking I may do it here as well, in the interest of keeping them in a more permanent location.

Here are the most recent two:

For a very brief period, I lived in a small Texas town called Tyler. One night, a UFO landed somewhere in the rural outskirts. To fit in with the locals, I joined them in a pickup truck to go searching for it. We drove down dark, winding, unpaved roads, our search fruitless. At one point, the driver turned to me and said, anything happens there’s a shotgun at your feet. Indeed there was, but I’ve never fired a gun before, and all I could think about was how I kissed Jean goodbye and promised to come back, but I didn’t know if I would. What kind of movie was this? In some films, the dude with the love interest survives. In others, he’s killed for dramatic effect. What kind of movie was this. Was this the kind where aliens exist? Or was this the kind where my newly acquired redneck friends lure me into the wilderness and chop me into chili?

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I once submitted a story to a “for the love” market where they promised payment in exposure.

“I love attention!” I thought and enthusiastically awaited their response.

Three months later a helicopter landed on the roof of my house and a voice over a bullhorn said, “We’re pleased to announce that we will accept your story for publication. Are you prepared for the exposure we offer?”

“I love attention,” I thought and climbed aboard.

We flew over a desert wasteland where they handed me a canteen and threw me to the nearest dune. There I wandered, confused, scared, parched.

I drank from the canteen. Vodka.

Hours later I was drunk, hot, and lying in a pool of sweat, fully exposed to the wrath of Ra.

“I love attention,” I slurred as Ra came down from heaven, arms and eyes aflame. Then, “K-kill muh-me…”

Interview with Cult/Bizarro Author Robert Devereaux

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I’m delighted to have the awesome author Robert Devereaux on my blog this month. He’s the author of a series of very strange novels featuring Santa Claus, as well as Slaughterhouse High, Deadweight, and Walking Wounded. I first met him at World Horror in Portland where we did a panel on erotica and romance in the horror genre. I instantly found him knowledgeable and friendly; he’s also quite the novelist to boot. Check out the interview below.

LUCAS MANGUM: Your novels have appeared in what are arguably the most important horror imprints of the last 2 decades (Dell/Abyss, Leisure, Deadite). What are some of the biggest changes you’ve noticed in the genre over the years?

ROBERT DEVEREAUX I’ve fallen away from horror over the past many years. I’m grateful to have made my debut there, though I’ve been pigeonholed as a horror writer because my first published novels (not the first ones I wrote), Deadweight and Walking Wounded, clearly belong there. These days, my writerly passions take me less and less into the dark regions of the human psyche. They are in fact quite wide-ranging. I offer in evidence my Santa Claus novels which—though troubling in some passages—aren’t horror novels at all. Call them instead novels of the fantastic, if labels there must be. So in answer to your question, I’ve been paying little attention to changes in the horror genre as such and so am ill-equipped to give a useful response.

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LM: Your work, particularly the Santa novels, was ahead of its time in a lot of ways. Now with the advent of Bizarro over the last decade, has it gotten easier to place pieces that are more outside-the-box with respect to genre?

RD: It has. Mainstream publishers tend to reject books that straddle genres, because they present a problem about bookstore section placement and can therefore be a hard sell from sales reps to bookstores. Two novels I had been unable to place at Dell or Leisure found a place at Deadite Press, those being Slaughterhouse High (at one time called Ice Ghoul Daze) and Santa Claus Conquers the Homophobes. With the advent of e-book publishing and POD, I have also chosen to focus on self-publishing as well as small presses, and I expect to start releasing original works within a year or two on a regular basis, both fiction and non-fiction. I don’t plan to be pursuing agents or editors in the mainstream houses, preferring to focus on creating and polishing new works and bringing them to my readers straightaway, either through small presses or via a publishing company of my own.

LM: At the 2014 World Horror Con, you and I did a panel on Romance and Eroticism in Horror. What are some examples of this crossover between the erotic and the horrific which have been most effective? Why do you think horror and erotica can work so well together?

RD: What immediately springs to mind are two ghost tales, Henry James’ novella The Turn of the Screw and Shirley Jackson’s novel The Haunting of Hill House. Both books feature repressed female characters, whose repressions cast doubt on their perception of supernatural phenomena. In the ideal, the realm of erotic connection ought to bring out the most intimate, the most tender way two or more people can relate to one another. It’s also then a realm of potential violation of the most damaging sort, setting up vast disturbances at the intimate ground of our being.

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LM: Who are some authors who inspired your earlier work? Who are some authors that continue to inspire you?

RD: For earlier works in horror, my inspirations were Stephen King, Clive Barker, and the splatterpunk authors, specifically Rex Miller, David Schow, Richard Laymon, John Skipp, and Craig Spector. But I have always loved gifted, quirky writers, so let’s add into the mix Vladimir Nabokov, Tom Robbins, John Irving, Nicholson Baker, and Terry Southern. These days, I read more non-fiction than fiction, but distinctive writing of any kind always thrills me.

LM: Do you have a favorite of all your novels?

RD: Not a favorite exactly, since all my babies come into the world as fully-limbed and perfect as I can make them. But if anyone asks which novel to begin with, I usually suggest Santa Steps Out: A Fairy Tale for Grownups, a book that takes no prisoners, speaks truth about the three nocturnal creatures we allow into our homes, and pays due homage to the Greek mythology near and dear to my heart.

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LM: What’s the best writing advice you’ve ever received?

RD: When receiving feedback, either in a workshop setting or from your editor, ponder the changes suggested, give them due weight, then make only those that truly resonate with your desires. Push back on changes you disagree with. Be sure—and this can be difficult—to separate sheer ego stubbornness from standing firm for the integrity of your narrative.

LM: What’s a fun, little-known fact about yourself you’d like readers to know?

RD: I am a trained clit stroker. I’ve been stroking clit for more than two years, thanks to a practice called Orgasmic Meditation. I trained in Boulder and now OM with a number of women who come to my home on a somewhat regular basis. Now, from the outside, this practice may strike one as odd and as most definitely sexual in nature. But in fact, while the stroker and strokee are playing with sexual energy, they are not “having sex” in the understood sense. The fifteen-minute practice is without a goal, beyond narrative, beyond the commercial model of male-female interaction. The partners focus on the point of connection, moment by moment. That alone. It becomes a life changer, and it becomes that in every relationship of any kind one enters into. Those interested can go to www.onetaste.us to watch a video and find out if there’s an OM community near them.

New Interview

Hi all,

I was interviewed by the awesome Tiffany Scandal on her blog. We discussed the forthcoming FLESH AND FIRE (forthcoming August 14th), my lifelong love of Stephen King, dinosaurs, bizarro, and horror.

Check it out on her website tiffanyscandalsucks.com

OR

If naked girls are your thing, it’s also featured on Suicide Girls blog.

Thanks for having me, Tiffany!

Interview with Bizarro Author MP Johnson

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One of the most fun books I read last year was the bizarro Sword and Sorcery epic, DUNGEONS AND DRAG QUEENS. I appear alongside the author, MP Johnson, in the Fall 2014 Issue of Blight Digest, and got to meet him at Bizarro Con this past November. I’m thrilled to have him featured on my blog this week for an interview, where we discuss the book, drag, bizarro, punk, and upcoming projects.

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LM: Tell us about your latest release, DUNGEONS AND DRAG QUEENS.

MP: It’s an epic fantasy book. Except, instead of having a boring, shirtless muscle dude wielding the sword, this book has a badass drag queen taking on dragons and other creatures. Oh, the things she has to do to keep her makeup right and tight!

LM: Based on our conversations at this past year’s Bizarro Con, I gathered that the novel had a lot of your passions in one place. What were some of your primary influences during the writing of DUNGEONS AND DRAG QUEENS?

MP: First, I love the whole sword and sorcery genre. I lean toward the gritty, blood-soaked books of Robert E. Howard, rather than the magical elf shit though.

Second, I love drag queens. I love the art of drag. I love that drag represents a subversion of the gender concepts that so many people hold dear, concepts that are complete bullshit. One aspect that’s really exciting to me is that most queens don’t come into this art with a political agenda. It’s like, “Oh hey, I’m going to make this fabulous dress and do the fiercest makeup and dance my fucking heart out and, oh yeah, I guess if I totally destroy your concept of what makes a man a man and a woman a woman that’s pretty cool too.”

I didn’t go into the writing process with any overt influences in mind, but I think a bit of Conan slipped in, and I’ve always got Troma and John Waters on my brain, and I was listening to Sharon Needles a lot.

MP

Photo by Gabino Iglesias

LM: You’ve spent a lot of time writing and publishing short stories. Do you prefer writing longer or shorter pieces?

MP: My preference is to make sure I never get bored. That means mixing everything up. I’ll work on a longer piece. Then I’ll set it aside and work on a short story or some flash fiction.

That being said, I’m putting more of an emphasis on books lately, because it’s a bit more fulfilling on the publication side of things. Markets for my type of short stories are rare. If a story does get published, a few people will read it and then it will more or less disappear.

There are so many more markets for my books than for my short stories, so I feel like my luck with books has been better. If all goes according to plan, I’ll have three new books out this year. That’s a lot more fulfilling than short stories, because I can take those books and have release parties and sell them at readings and sell them at tables at conventions. Books give me more of an opportunity to bring my writing out into the real world.

LM: Where can we find some of those short stories?

MP: Check out the bibliography section of my website, freaktension.com. It contains a constantly updated list, which is currently 50 strong. I recommend starting with “The Songwriter’s Fingers” at Revolver, which I consider one of my best pieces, and a quick read too.

LM: As a reader, do you prefer one length over the other?

MP: I tend to go back and forth between everything. I’m trying to work more poetry into my reading routine, but that’s not going very well.

LM: What’s a favorite passage from DUNGEONS AND DRAG QUEENS you would like to share here?

MP: How about just one word: “Slopulating.”

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LM: DUNGEONS AND DRAG QUEENS was definitely one of the most fun books I read last year. I understand it’s the first of a series? When does the next entry come out?

MP: I’ve been telling people it’s the first in a series, but it’s not really. I’m going to continue to write books featuring drag queens as protagonists. Characters may pop up in multiple books, but ultimately each book will stand alone. The next drag queen book is tentatively titled Drag Queen Dino Dance-Off and is tentatively scheduled for October release from Eraserhead Press.

LM: I read somewhere that you do readings at punk shows. What’s the response been like? Do you sign books at these shows as well?

MP: Generally speaking, my MO is that I will do readings whenever and wherever. Just ask. I’ll do a reading in your bathroom if you can cram five people in there to listen to me.

I grew up in the punk scene. I’m familiar with that crowd, and to some extent, that crowd is familiar with me. The first writing that I put out to the public was in my zine, Freak Tension. It was filled with spiteful music reviews, awkward band interviews and fucked up fiction. I used to give copies away at shows and people loved it.

Anyway, I’m friends with a lot of people in bands. Once in a while, someone will ask me to read between sets at a show, and I’ll say yes. The response has been really good. I’ve been to shows where people have done poetry or political spoken word between bands, and that often sends people running to the door. But I do fucked up comedy stories about people summoning demons with vagina mouths. Punks dig it. I’m practicing my hand-eye coordination though, because someday I’m going to get a bottle thrown at me. It’s inevitable.

When I do readings at shows, I’ll usually stake out a spot at the merch table. I’ll sell a handful of books and sign them if people want. I think punks want to read more, but have trouble finding stuff that fits their aesthetics. I’m trying to get bizarro fiction into their hands.

LM: What’s a fun fact about yourself you would like readers to know?

MP: I recently beat a guy up at a bar because he tried to steal my pretzel.

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For more info, check out MP Johnson’s site: https://freaktension.wordpress.com/

Interview with Author Tiffany Scandal

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You may remember the last time Tiffany Scandal showed up here. If you don’t, go read her short story Trembling Hands right now. A lot has happened since then. Her first year as part of Eraserhead Press’ New Bizarro Author Series came to a close. She started working with the excellent Living Dead Magazine. And she wrote a new novel, called JIGSAW YOUTH, which will be released this March through the female-author press Lady Box Books.

Amid all this, she found the time to do an interview with me. Check it out.

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LM: First, tell us about your upcoming release JIGSAW YOUTH.

TS: JIGSAW YOUTH is the story of a woman told in fragments. What makes her, what breaks her, and what helps her find the strength to keep going despite constantly being expected to fail. I had initially set out to write a fun, punk rock novel about young women who don’t give a fuck, but ended up with something stronger, heavier, more powerful.

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LM: What was your process like writing it? How was it different from writing THERE’S NO HAPPY ENDING?

TS: Terrible. (kidding!) When I pitched the concept to Constance, I was confident that I would be able to whip up a workable draft in a couple of weeks. Man, I couldn’t have been more wrong about anything ever. Even though I had a decent outline and the entire book mapped out in my head, once those first two chapters were typed out, I had to take a break because I was so emotionally exhausted. Now, I’m not meaning to imply that I wrote another bleak book. I mean, parts of them are to a certain degree, but I wrote a book that could very well be someone’s story. Life isn’t always laughter and roses. Writing about the uglier parts of existence can really fuck you up. If I’m not feeling the heartache, anger, frustration, or happiness that my characters are feeling, chances are, whoever reads the book isn’t going to either.

There were moments where I felt the same exhaustion with THERE’S NO HAPPY ENDING, but I had also managed, I think, to majorly desensitize myself because of all the research I had done on plagues and rotting processes. So by the time I got to the emotionally heavy hitting spots, I was already like, “killing off a likeable character? Ha. Whatever. I just spent two hours studying photographs of people infected with the bubonic plague.”

LM: How did you decide on Lady Box for a market?

TS: Oh, man. I don’t even know where to start.

First off, Constance Ann Fitzgerald is super ace. I’ve been a huge fan of hers since reading Trashland A Go-Go and meeting her at a Bizarro Con a few years back. It’s been nice to talk with someone who shares so many interests.

Now, two Bizarro Cons ago, she invited me to contribute to a project she wanted to put together. She was collecting chapbooks/zines from strong-voiced women and putting them together for a limited edition box set. The original Ladybox. The invitation was very flattering, and it was a total honor to have some of my work alongside powerhouses like Violet LeVoit, Rios de la Luz, Laura Lee Bahr, Spike Marlowe, Rae Alexandra, and, of course, Constance. It was a fun project, and Constance did such an amazing job spearheading the whole thing. So that was my glimpse into what it would be like working with her.

Because Ladybox was so well received, it became apparent that this project needed to go beyond a limited edition box set. Ladybox needed to be a press. A venue for female-identified writers to have their work be part of a catalogue that includes some of the fiercest voices in contemporary literature. And who better to run this than Constance herself. Thus, Ladybox Books was born.

Now this is where I might get super long-winded.

Before Ladybox Books was officially announced, there was a lot of bad press making the rounds about indie lit not being female-friendly. Allegations about rape and abuse and coercion. People who were told that they could be published if they _______. It was awful. And there’s also a massive disparity between pitches subbed by men and women. Having had conversations with people who publish books, I’d hear numbers like one to every twenty, and that’s just in the small press world. Ladybox Books will hopefully bridge and band-aid a lot of that. I see it as a movement that will help give female-identified writers a voice and venue to be heard. It’s not for women, it’s BY women. And shit like this gets me excited. So it seemed natural to want to be a part of this

LM: Do you have a favorite passage from JIGSAW YOUTH that you would like to share here?

TS: Here’s a short excerpt from the first chapter:

We went to three different strip clubs. Throughout the night, Hope seemed more and more distant. She drank so much she could barely stand. The cigarette breaks with her friend got longer. I felt foolish, and I chose to ignore it.

We were there with a group of friends. Each time Hope and Los Angeles got up, the others would shoot me a glance. I don’t know if they actually looked sad, or if I just saw them that way. I looked away at the stage. Fake blonde. Fake tits. Fake face. The dancer flirted with the audience. I imagined her smiling that same forced smile, perfect teeth, carving “I hate everything” into my skull.

 When they came back, Hope and Los Angeles were giggling and holding hands. I tried to focus on another conversation in the group. They sat, leaning into each other. Los Angeles whispered in her ear. Cold blue eyes locking on mine. Los Angeles mouthed the word “ugly.” Then they stopped whispering, and she told Hope I was fat and unattractive, and that she needed to ditch the zero. I was watching them, now. Hope finally looked at me and laughed, resting her head on Los Angeles’ shoulder. Hand on her thigh. Hope cracked a shit-faced smile.

I imagined carving “I hate everything” into their skulls. Like a mantra or a curse.

The woman on stage stopped dancing. She stared at me, through me, past me. I became deaf to the sound. Everyone stopped talking, as if frozen in place. Shades of red, smoke filling the room. I walked to the stage and reached into my pocket and held out a ten-dollar bill for the lady. She crouched and took it, knees cracking. Face inches from mine. She had heavy bags of disappointment under her eyes that looked like they lived several hard lives. Lines of her face obscured by the lights of the club. I told her she was pretty. She touched my cheek and mouthed Thank You.

 When I turned around, I saw Hope kissing Los Angeles. Everyone in our group just watching them blankly. I turned to the neon red EXIT sign and walked under it, hands in my pockets, not looking back.

LM: From all the pieces I’ve read from you, I can see you have a very diverse skill set. What are some of your influences?

TS: Oh, all over the place. RL Stine is the author that really got me reading when I was very young and served as my gateway into horror fiction. By junior high, I was reading the likes of Stephen King, Edgar Allen Poe, HP Lovecraft, and Richard Matheson. In college, I really got into magical surrealism and feminist literature. My favorite authors to go back to these days are Jorge Luis Borges, Gabriel Garcia-Marquez, Sylvia Plath, Amy Hempel, Michelle Tea, Roberto Bolano, Thomas Pynchon. And lately, I find myself reading a lot of Violet Levoit, Brain Allen Carr, Sam Pink, Brian K. Vaughn, Jeremy Robert Johnson, and Cody Goodfellow. I’m also super obsessed with practically everything that Juliet Escoria is putting out.

LM: Where can we find some of your short stories?

TS: The Magazine of Bizarro Fiction issue eight, Strange Sex 2 Anthology, Wishful Thinking Anthology. This may be expanding in the very near future. I’ve also had non-fiction published in The Magazine of Bizarro Fiction, BizarroCentral.com, Living Dead Magazine. There’s also stuff posted on blogs. Like (cough) yours (cough).

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LM: You recently finished up your year as part of the New Bizarro Author Series. What was that experience like?

TS: Great. I learned a lot through this experience. The main thing being that selling books is fucking hard. I remember thinking that selling a few hundred copies could be a piece of cake. If I could get thousands of strangers to vote for a photoset on Suicide Girls, surely, I could get a few hundred to buy a $10 book. Nope! Hahaha. My first month, I sold almost a third of my projected sales for the year. If I had a couple more months like that, I would be set. But then that drop off happened, and it got progressively harder to hit double-digit sales. Never gave up on trying though.

The Bizarro community has been the warmest group of creative persons I’ve ever encountered. And I feel so fortunate that not just my NBAS brothers and sisters were tremendous support systems, but also other authors, editors, and publishers. I came in as a fan and have never felt so welcomed by a community in my life. I would highly recommend/encourage any new author to try it out.

LM: Last year I went to World Horror Con and Bizarro Con and saw a lot of the same crew. Some of that was likely due to the fact that both were based in Portland, but I also think there’s a lot of crossover between both communities. Do you agree?

TS: Absolutely. I feel, in general, that a lot of bizarro fans are also horror fans. And when you’ve got authors like John Skipp, Robert Devereaux, Brian Keene, and Shane McKenzie (just to name a few) who regularly attend, and sometimes teach workshops at, Bizarro Con, the crossover seems almost seamless. I attended my first World Horror Con because of some of the people I met through Bizarro Con.

LM: What’s a fun fact about yourself that you think readers would like to know.

TS: Believe it or not, I actually used to be a social worker. For seven years, I provided counseling and case management services to at-risk youth/young adults. I’ve worked in residential facilities, drop-in centers, therapeutic schools. I’ve seen my fair amount of horror with these jobs. I was almost stabbed with a syringe; I’ve physically broken up fights, witnessed hostage situations and had to negotiate for people’s safety, and basically had local law enforcement on speed dial. I was also a certified drug and alcohol counselor, and worked with people who were actively struggling with addiction. The job was intense, but I loved it. Had a supervisor not stumbled across my Suicide Girls profile and deemed my involvement with that site inappropriate for the agency, I’d probably still be a social worker and not a writer. So I guess her browsing at naked ladies on the internet was kind of a blessing. Because I fucking love to write.

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Thanks for the interview, Tiffany!

Readers, find out more at http://tiffanyscandalsucks.com/