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An Interview with Alex S. Johnson

by Garrett Cook

While Bizarrocentral has a lot of material about Eraserhead authors like myself, the genre is growing bigger by the day. Just as when the Ramones and The New York Dolls took the stage at CBGB’s, kids strapped on their guitars to go forth and fuck shit up, the same thing is happening nowadays with literature. As a closet socialist snugglebunny, I like to look at the genre as a whole, not just as EHP and its imprints but as something growing from many different places. Alex S. Johnson is a contributor to Imperial Youth Review, the magazine I edit alongside Chris Kelso. His stories and poem appear often on our blog and one of his pieces will appear in Issue 3 of IYR. He wrote a Jason X tie in novel. He’s been around awhile but is finally starting to manifest. So let’s hear a little about him, shall we?

AlexprofileQ: How did you first get into the Bizarro and Extreme Horror scene?

A: I ‘d always been a fan of horror, starting as many do with Stephen King, Peter Straub, Richard Matheson, Ira Levin, William Peter Blatty, and of course the classics, H.P. Lovecraft, Arthur Machen, Edgar Allen Poe, Bram Stoker, Mary Shelley. When I was growing up, in high school and then in college, I read every horror magazine and book I could find, all the Whispers collections, anthologies, the Year’s Best Horror books edited by Karl Edward Wagner (whose writing I still adore, RIP). As an undergraduate at UC Davis, I wrote a regular column for the school paper called “New Frights” where I reviewed the latest books by Ramsey Campbell, Clive Barker, et al. The first really extreme/proto-splatter book I read was Live Girls by Ray Garton. I loved the balls-out inventiveness of that novel, and the seedy setting, the erotic element, all of that. Then The Kill Riff by David J. Schow. After that it was a matter of seeking out the most extreme and disturbing work I could get my mitts on. Moving to L.A., I was like a kid in a candy store. It blew my mind that I was living in the same town as all these writers who were my heroes, that I could actually talk with them and pick their brains. For a long time they had just been names in magazines, almost mythical.

Q: What are you currently doing to make your way in the Bizarro genre? How do you feel the response is? How do you feel about your support system?

A: Interesting question. If by making my way you mean gaining exposure for my work, networking, perfecting my skills and gaining knowledge, let me back track a bit and explain why and how I landed in the Bizarro world in the first place. Before I knew such a genre existed, I spent years cultivating what I think, and still think is a pretty unique writing voice. As I said before, along the way I have bent the ear of people who were doing work that excited me, and succeeding. Poppy Z. Brite, for example, gave me some insights into her working methods, the way she culled from her obsessional interests. My favorite writers have always been those who straddled multiple genre lines and used science fiction or horror motifs s they presented themselves, instead of just narrowly following a formula or a pre-established structure. William S. Burroughs, Hunter S. Thompson, Ray Bradbury, Kathy Acker, among others, created voices that were strong and recognizable because they listened to what the story was saying to them as opposed to what the market or current fashion dictated. All my work is hybridized, a mingling of extremes, the weirder and more transgressive the better. Last year, researching markets, I stumbled on Brent Millis and Full-Metal Orgasm. I sold him two stories which he suggested were squarely in the Bizarro mold, and recommended that I look at Eraserhead as a possible market. From there, it’s been a matter of familiarizing myself with the names and works of the genre. I didn’t so much tailor my stories to the Bizarro world as use what other Bizarro writers were doing to catalyze my own imagination. Apparently it’s working. The only coherent response to my work, for me, is whether it sells. While I have a lot to learn, I’m confident now that I can write credible Bizarro fiction and sell it. It was as though I were looking for a home, a community, and I found it. Other writers have been tremendously supportive, as well as a few editors. My support system could be a lot stronger, but it’s already developed far beyond my hopes.

Q: What Bizarro authors do you look up to?

A:There are so many. When I think of Bizarro, I think of all the writers who sort of prepared the way. In fact, there’s elements of Bizarro in a lot of great literature. Joseph Conrad, Franz Kafka, hell, Shakespeare; then there’s the magical realists, Borges, Julio Cortazar, Manuel Puig, et al. And Terry Southern, who wrote Candy, Dr. Strangelove, Easy Rider of course and some lesser-known stories like “Worm-ball Man,” which is in the Now Dig This collection. I adore Ed Lee, Joe R. Lansdale, John Skipp who I’ve mentioned; I like your stuff, Carlton Mellick, Jordan Krall, Nikki Guerlain, Kevin Strange, I could really go on and on. There’s an embarrassment of good work out there. As far as Bizarro authors I look up to, all of the above. I’m always learning. That’s what it’s all about, I think–being open to improvement.

Q: Finally, what are your current projects? What are your future projects?

A: My current projects are Satanic Rites of the Nuns of St. Sophia, which I’m writing for Jordan Krall; it’s a no-holds-barred nunsploitation seige, which means I’m having way more fun than a middle-aged white man has a right to; then there’s From Behind, a Lovecraftian Bizarro saga I’m writing with David Anderson. After that, I plan to write an epic novel with elements of meta-narrative, post-writing, fantasy, magical realism and more, titled The Ghost Highway. That’s all I will say about that one.

Q: Can Bill Cosby be stopped? What if he gets what he wants?

A: Bill Cosby will never be stopped. His sinister plan of global domination via Jello pudding will continue until every man, woman and child on the face of the planet has been reduced to a state of stupefied, chocolatey contentment. At first he used his powers for good, but since his secret induction into the CIA in the early 60s he has become a megalomaniac. He’s out there commanding troops, and he has become insane. Obviously insane.

Thank you, Alex! Buy Alex’s chapbooks for Jordan Krall’s awesome Dynatox Ministries, read his Cosbycentric serial Pudding Spooks at Imperial Youth Review and say hi to him on Facebook and invite him to your house for pudding pops.


What We Owe Pussy Riot

by Garrett Cook

I’m gonna keep this short and sweet. I’m assuming you read up on this. If you didn’t, Google it. Today, I found out that three young women about my age and the age of many of my friends in the Bizarro Community were jailed for hooliganism and blasphemy for standing up to the Russian government.  They dared call for the removal of Vladimir Putin in a church, a church apparently dedicated to the worship of Vladimir Putin since there would be no other good reason to call speaking out against Putin an act of blasphemy. Hooliganism. Blasphemy. We Bizarros call that a Monday. We Bizarros call out any man we think is wrong. We Bizarros toss meat at the ceiling. We Bizarros write about Baby Jesus Buttplugs. We Bizarros practice Voodoo, Chaos Magic and things even weirder and more incomprehensible. We Bizarros don’t get jailed all that often. I think we oughta remember that.

Three heroes are doing two years of hard labor. Read up on it. Share their videos.  Share everything filthy, everything bold, everything wrong. Broadcast, broadcast, Bizarro Brigadiers, because there but for the grace of God or Goddess or Ego or Spaghetti Monster go we.  Share our boldest videos, read our most flamboyant books on the subway, blare Pussy Riot through your ipod if you can.  Go forth and tag the world. Three heroes were jailed today. Let’s all be heroes.


In the Name of All That is Holy, Please Don’t Be a Fucking Spaz: A Nice Guy Gets Tough on Bizarro Etiquette

Hey, friend. What’s that you got there? Well, I’ll be! It’s a Bizarro book. How did you like it? Yeah, I read that one too. It’s super good. The guy or lady who wrote that is a friend of mine. No, I don’t have their phone number. I don’t own a phone. No, I will not log on to Facebook with your phone so I can message them and ask for their phone number right here. Because that’s rude. Rude. No, I am not implying that it has a fondness for ska music, I am saying it’s impolite. Oh…you still don’t understand.

I’m a nice guy. I do a lot of favors for a lot of people. Some of these people have returned these favors, some I never expect to. Some have punished me for my generosity and kindness. This is true with most nice people. And I’m not saying I’m a nice guy in the way Don Rickles says it. I try my damnedest to be nice to everyone, especially people trying to come into writing. There’s a good chance I may have already read your manuscript or story, given you advice on Bizarro or offered some words of encouragement even though chances are, you were only pretending to know who I was. I’m onto you, but that’s okay.

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“David Crosby looks good with his beard like that.”

Everybody needs a helping hand. Everybody needs someone in their corner. Chances are, I or some fellow Bizarro is willing to give you said hand. But in seeking this assistance, please try to take note of the social contract and the following Bizarro rules of etiquette.

Rule Number 1: Do Your Research

Before trying to become a Bizarro writer because your work has weird elements like vampires or Canadians or people smoking (tee hee) MARIJUANA, go to Bizarrocentral and look at it thoroughly. If you’re reading this article, you’ve taken one step in the right direction. If you read one Bizarro book, you are headed in the right direction. If you read ten Bizarro books, you’re doin’ fine. Always know the work.  Always know the guidelines. Always know the players. Why? Because people don’t like doing huge favors for people who don’t know who the fuck they are.
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There are some exceptions. But not many.

Rule 2: Don’t Walk Around With Your Genitals Hanging Out
Let’s say we’re at a bar. And I’m a person that you want to pick up.

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A VERY likely scenario.
Do you:
a.) Approach me and strike up a conversation with me about a subject I might be interested in, like chainsaw massacres or the blues?
b.) Try to sell me a Rolex?
c.) Wave your genitals at me and scream “STUFF THINGS IN MY HOLES!”
If you answered anything but a, you will get no smooth, cool Bizarro style lovin’. Not just from me. From anyone in the community. Do not hound publishers about your work publicly on their Facebook wall. Do not mail them mounds of unsolicited material. Do not email me your manuscript and ask me to send it to Jeff or Cameron. Keep it in your pants. Be polite and inquisitive. Do your research. See Rule 1. Then see it again and fucking do it.

Rule 3 Come unarmed and humble
Do not approach Bizarro publishers material in hand preconceptions in head expecting them to take you on and that you’ll be the one exception because your book Horatio Wackypants and the Queef Machine is 250,000 words of pure surrealist gold. This might look like a rehash of rules 1 and 2. It isn’t. The best way into Bizarro right now is through The New Bizarro Author Series and Kevin Shamel is not going to make a gigantic exception to his 20,000 word limit to accommodate your magnum opus. Approach Kevin with humility and a willingness to learn.
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And some rootbeer. And a map that leads out of the forest.

Approach Rose O’ Keefe, Cameron Pierce, Jeff Burk, Carlton Mellick and anyone else affiliated with Eraserhead with humility and a willingness to learn. If an Eraserhead author looks you right in the eyes and says “I’m sorry, this isn’t Bizarro”. Don’t ask “well, what do you know about Bizarro? Isn’t Bizarro whatever I want it to be? How hard do you think you can punch me in the-” Head back to the old drawing board. Understand that everybody gets rejected. My initial query to Eraserhead was a mishmash of PTSD and ignorance with a delightful soupcon of absolute naivete.  But I attended Bizarrocon, paid attention to my peers and read a shitload of books and now I have a contract. And so could you. But if you ain’t ready to learn, you’re ready to suck.
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Ha ha, yes, even you Mechagodzilla!


Learn Bizarro From the Pros!

If you’re here on Bizarro Central, chances are you’ve read some Bizarro in your time and, unless you’re some kind of creep, you’re here because you liked it. And if you liked it, chances are, that somewhere in your heart, it created a longing to be a Bizarro author, swinging from tree to tree in the forests of British Columbia, with your best girl by your side and you’d sing, sing, SING! Ah, to be a Bizarro author!

Like Cameron Pierce

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or Famous Author Mykle Hansen

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or Mechagodzilla

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(Bizarro novel forthcoming)

But wait…your fancy Marxist hug factory university doesn’t have a Bizarro program, which must feel like when you first realized six months ago that you probably can’t be Spiderman when you grow up. If only there was someone who could help you – someone dark and mysterious, but friendly and approachable who knows the Bizarro scene and has written Bizarro books and gotten nominated for a Wonderland Award and won the Ultimate Bizarro Showdown. I know someone who can help you. It’s me. Garrett Cook. Author of Archelon Ranch and Jimmy Plush, Teddy Bear Detective. I run a Bizarro writing workshop. And it’s cheap. Real cheap. And it get results. Real results. Several of my students had their first stories published while participating in my workshop. One finished a novella. It’s been a good online Bizarro writing workshop. But how could I make it better?

Maybe Bradley Sands could help. He wrote Sorry I Ruined Your Orgy, It Came from Below the Belt and Rico Slade Will Fucking Kill You, edited Bust Down the Door and Eat All the Chickens and is world renowned for his knowledge of the genre. Maybe we should team up. Like we did. We teamed up. And we’re going to rock this town, rock it inside out. With Bizarro knowledge. Which we will impart to you. For a small fee of course. 30 bucks for a month of Bizarro instruction with two Bizarro authors, both of which have appeared in a Bizarro Starter Kit isn’t bad at all. Especially when the workshop is endorsed by this man:

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NBAS editor Kevin Shamel, the Cerberus of our wacky literary underworld, editor of the NBAS approves of this workshop like he approves of forests and recent photographs. He had this to say:

“Garrett Cook’s workshop has already helped writers produce books that have gotten my attention for the New Bizarro Author Series–throwing Bradley Sands into the mix can only bring better bizarro into being.”

So go HERE, read some testimonials from former students, find out a little more and find out how to sign up. Start living the dream. Admissions close April 1st. Workshop starts April 15th. It costs 30 dollars.


Naked Noir: A Review and Reflection on Laura Lee Bahr’s Haunt and Bizarro Noir

by Garrett Cook

When you put a trenchcoat and fedora on a character, it does something to who they are. They’re a detective, they’re a gangster, they’re a loner. These trappings change your perceptions of a person, of what they do and what they’ll get into. It’s a shortcut, maybe a shallow visual cue. I poke fun at this and examine this at the same time in my book Jimmy Plush, Teddy Bear Detective, a book that’s about whether we are what we look like or what body we’re in or what clothes we wear or even, in the case of fictional characters, which ones they’re dressed in. Sometimes that’s the only indication of a genre we have. A lot of the time genre itself is just a costume we slap on a piece of fiction.

Laura Lee Bahr’s Haunt is a Bizarro novel and a noir underneath its clothes, but something really interesting is going on, something you don’t see that often in crime fiction. While Haunt features a private dick, a femme fatale and a man obsessed who must confront his dark side, she doesn’t use these as a veneer. It’s noir whose trappings are what they are, whose strangeness is unabashedly what it is, pervading the architecture of the book and the voice of its narrators. It’s surreal, it’s transgressive and its more strange than it is anything else, but its strangeness and its noir-ness become one in ways you seldom see.

This is a traitorous whore of a book, a femme fatale that puts Barbara Stanwyck, Bette Davis and Joan Bennett to shame. It switches protagonists. It switches storylines. It’s not just the basic vicissitudes of plot or the revelation of facts. It outright turns on you. It’s turned on its author it seems. Bahr has blended fiction and lying. You are, like the book’s heroes part of its intrigues and the author might well be too. Noir is about shadows and identity schemes and broken confidences and people facing up to their dark sides. This is Bizarro noir that isn’t wearing a trench coat or anything at all.

Haunt is a book that doesn’t require a lot of violence, a lot of detective work, gangsters or grit. The violence occurs at the emotional and narrative level. It hurts the brain and it hurts the heart of the protagonist and the reader alike who have become one. I’m reminded of Frank Zappa’s statement “I don’t  do drugs. I am drugs.” It’s made of hurt and enigmas. Which is an impressive feat to say the least.

Bizarro noir is already a fine tradition. It comes out of a fine cinematic tradition, films like Mark Damon’s The Seventh Victim, David Lynch’s Blue Velvet  and Alex Proyas’ Dark City. Jordan Krall’s books alone are enough to validate the subgenre, but others came before it and more will come after it.  Haunt fits in with these films and with this tradition and reminds us why the two go together. Bizarro and noir are both at some level about reality being unreliable. They  both involve emotions and ideas becoming realities and changing
the physics of one’s universe. Naked, proud, honest weird noir Haunt reveals these connections and uses them the best they can be used.

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Garrett Cook is the author of Jimmy Plush, Teddy Bear Detective and Archelon Ranch

Laura Lee Bahr’s HAUNT is available on amazon now!


Sonnets Five Dollars

by Garrett Cook
This is Francesco Petrarca. Also known as Petrarch. He has little to do with Bizarro, other than that Bizarro is the sexiest literary genre and he was one of the progenitors of sexy.  Petrarch invented the Petrarchan sonnet, one of the best forms for the expression of love, and even sometimes looooove.

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Wouldn’t it be great if you could hire Petrarch to write your special someone a love sonnet for five dollars? Well, you can’t. Petrarch is dead and Troy Chambers gave me an 18 dollar reanimation estimate, which, frankly, is highway robbery.  You’d be screwed, if, for example, Valentine’s Day was coming up and you wanted to express your love and admiration for Carlton Mellick and Bizarro fiction. Like this.

In  boring books we stumble through the dark

In literature of cancerous cliché

Where all the novelty has gone away

So how then would a novelist embark

To write of Shatner or to write of shark

When all around no balls are on display?

How rotten the state of literature today!

If only there were some strange patriarch!

But there’s a giant man with sideburns made of steel

An advocate of literature perverse,

Making sure that books aren’t dull or dumb or worse

And that your brain dies not just rot as a dusty old relic.

He’s a  publisher the size of Richard Kiel,

Hooray for Bizarro and for Carlton Mellick!

But wait…I did. It might not be as good as Petrarch would do, but it was serviceable.   I have mad sonnet skills that you can exploit this Valentine’s Day, for the low low price of five dollars a sonnet. Give me the name of your loved one or whoever you want to dedicate the sonnet to (Shatner, Aquaman, Rico Slade, Terry Silver…the list goes on) and two things they’re interested in or aspects of their personality (like if they’re a werewolf or if they have a sandwich for a head) and I will send you a one of a kind sonnet by noon Valentine’s Day for you to use as you see fit. I’m not here to judge. Order HERE and include your loved one’s name and two things you want included in the sonnet. It might be just what you need for a happy and sensual Valentine’s Day.


Garrett Cook, author of Jimmy Plush, Teddy Bear Detective offering an October Weird Fiction Workshop

by Garrett Cook

I will be teaching an online Weird Fiction workshop all through the month of October. It will give me a chance to share what I’ve learned from reading submissions for Bust Down the Door and Eat All the Chickens and Evil Nerd Empire, from editing Bizarro manuscripts and from writing horror and Bizarro fiction with aspiring Bizarro authors or just anyone looking to sharpen their skills. The workshop starts October 1st and costs only $20 for a month of writing exercises and critiques. If you’re interested in having a happy and productive Halloween season and learning a bit more about all things weird, you should sign up.

FOR MORE INFO OR TO ENROLL SIGN UP HERE

Garrett Cook is the author of the Murderland books ArchelonRanch and Jimmy Plush, Teddy Bear Detective as well as an editor for several Bizarro Publications.

 


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