By Sam Reeve
***With today’s post I’m experimenting with inserting a gallery instead of just inserting a bunch of pictures, so I’d love to get feedback in the comments below about which you prefer!
Dutch artist Daan Botlek creates some wonderfully odd street art and murals, but also does illustrations and commissions. You can see his work around the world – earlier this year he participated in the Bukruk Street Art Festival in Bangkok, Thailand!
If you enjoy the wacky music videos of Die Antwoord, you’ll love this.
Have you liked us on Facebook?
Don’t miss out on all the latest Bizarro news and discussions!
“A terrifyingly titillating web-series”
Demon boobs is a wonderfully low-budget web-series about two demonic floating boobs named D.D. and Donovan, with a nipple pig (and other strange guests) making regular appearances too. It’s silly, weird, and unlike anything you’ve (probably) ever seen.
There’s only a vague story arc, so most of the episodes can be enjoyed on their own and at random. They’re also real short – under 3 minutes long – so these are easily digested.
Below are a few great episodes. You can find the rest here.
Episode 1 – D.D. and Donovan watch a movie and discuss a recent murder they committed.
Episode 2 – D.D. recalls a dream in which he unwillingly takes over his ex-girlfriend’s mind.
Episode 5 – The Satanic Nipple Pig mishandles getting dumped.
Episode 13 – A demonic pug has eye issues.
By Sam Reeve
Ron English is an American pop artist and culture jammer extraordinaire. English’s work has gained widespread notoriety, and his likeness even appeared on an episode of The Simpsons.
Below you’ll find examples of his street art, fine art and also the bizarre toys he creates. Visit his site Popaganda.com to see more!
By Sam Reeve
Oliver Hibert’s illustrations are at once a psychedelic throwback to the art of the 60s and a surreal look into a colourful future. Born in Seattle in 1983, he started exhibiting at a very young age. With art this hard to ignore, it’s no wonder that at the age of 18 his work was used in an MTV music video. Besides MTV, Oliver has worked with the likes of Nike, Disney, Adidas (and many more).
Visit his website here to see more work.
By Sam Reeve
When I first saw William Basso’s Halloween-themed work I thought I should save this for October, and then I decided to hell with that! It’s like when those mattress warehouses have “Christmas in July” sales, only it’s Halloween, and in April…and better.
Now, without further ado, the work of William Basso. Click here to see more.
A hole has been left in many people’s Sunday evenings with the recent season finale of The Walking Dead, so we here at Bizarro Central are sharing our favourite zombie-themed media in hopes of satiating your lust for all things undead.
Dead Set – a BBC miniseries about a the zombie apocalypse happening and what happens to people filming a reality TV show.
Crossed – a super violent and sadistic comic series created by Garth Ennis and now a rotating list of writers.
Lollipop Chainsaw – a video game were you play a zombie-killing cheerleader. Written by James Gunn (of Slither, Super, and Troma fame).
Constance Ann Fitzgerald:
Zombie Honeymoon – because I love a tragic love story littered with dead things, a few jokes, and some solid gore.
Fido – zombies = pets!
Dawn of the Dead (2004) - because really, gore FX just keep getting better! And I loved Sarah Polly.
Zombie Strippers – I really thought it was going to be terrible. It was actually fucking awesome. Plus the world’s deadliest “ping pong ball trick”.
We’re Alive – a zombie podcast the just finished its third season. It follows a group of survivors originally from LA as they fight with some seriously scary zombies (and people). High-quality podcast with good actors and sound effects. Features smart zombies and mutated ones!
Zombies and Shit – my favourite Carlton Mellick III book. “Battle Royale meets Return of the Living Dead in a post-apocalyptic action adventure.”
By Sam Reeve
Christopher Davison is an American painter and illustrator. I’ve always been a big fan of multi-media artwork, and this stuff hits the spot. Visit his site here to see more of his work.
Deep in the shadowy reaches of the Appalachian Mountains lurk secrets so terrible it was not meant that men should know them. Foul abominations lie in wait, locked away in the in-between spaces Euclid dared not contemplate, aching to return to a world which once belonged to them, and one day will be in their grasp again…
The CastIron Carousel seeks funding to stage an H.P. Lovecraft-themed marionette play entitled THE DOOM THAT CAME TO FIDDLE CREAK in Portland, Oregon in the fall of 2013. The audience will enjoy a fully realized marionette theater experience: a curtain will open revealing a magic window into a stage populated by intricately articulated marionettes animated by near-invisible strings. There will be a dazzling array of special effects that will delight and astonish the audience.
Many more details at their Kickstarter page: The Doom That Came to Fiddle Creak. You don’t have to be in Portland to get in on the fun. A $20 donation will snag you a DVD of the show and for $10 you can download it.
Although the Kickstarter has now reached its $10,000 goal, there are still stretch goals to meet. The more money the CastIron Carousel gets, the better show they can create, and the more places they can tour: Seattle, Vancouver, California, the east coast…the sky’s the limit!
By Adam Bolivar
Last year while sifting through the digital detritus of the world wide web, I happened upon this little gem:
The writer of the article speculates that the true location of H. P. Lovecraft’s haunted village of Dunwich was inspired by the area around Shutesbury, Massachusetts, which has many features in common with the ones mentioned in “The Dunwich Horror.” Being a native of Massachusetts myself (I currently reside in Portland, Oregon), I was quite familiar with the locations mentioned in the article. Indeed, I had recently visited my friend Dave in Shutesbury, and the woods behind his house struck me as so Lovecraftian, I was inspired to write a short story called “The Time Eater,” which was later published in the Lovecraft eZine. During my visit Dave had also showed me a house in nearby Leverett, where, according to the house’s owner, H. P. Lovecraft had once stayed. I pored over various biographies of the legendary weird fiction writer, but could find no mention of a stay in Leverett—although he had toured the general region in the company of his friend H. Warner Munn in the summer of 1928, just before writing “The Dunwich Horror.” Could whoever had lived in that house have been a friend of Munn’s? Could the master of tentacular horror really have stayed there back in ’28?
I wrote to Dave and showed him the article. A fellow Lovecraftian, he was as intrigued by it as I was, and soon paid a visit to the Temenos retreat in Shutesbury, the location of Mt. Mineral—the modern name for the “Horse Hill” mentioned in the article. Astonishingly, Temenos was only a stone’s throw from the house in Leverett. Upon Dave’s second visit to Temenos, he met with the caretaker, who had summoned a council meeting (I kid you not!) during which one of the old council members spoke up to say that he knew of some standing stones near Mt. Mineral, now toppled, but clearly once arranged in a circular shape! Could Mt. Mineral be the inspiration for Sentinel Hill in “The Dunwich Horror?” I was putting two and two together and it was adding up to Cthulhu. Flush with cash from a recent writing job, I wasted no time in booking a flight back east.
Upon my arrival, our first task was to track down the house’s owner and try to verify his claim that HPL had stayed there. A little gumshoeing turned up the owner’s phone number in a local white pages. We called him and left a message on his answering machine asking him to call us back. Dave had also learned another tidbit from a friend who had rented the house (the one who’d first heard the story from the owner): Lovecraft had said that Leverett reminded him of the “cold nothingness of space.” It definitely sounded like something Grandpa would say. The house itself was suitably creepy: dark and perched atop a high hill. It dated from 1790.
The big day came when I took my quest to Temenos itself, accompanied by a merry band of adventurers: Dave, his friend Steve, and our mutual friends Jay and Sue, who photographed the journey. Temenos was certainly not lacking in interesting features: we found an old Indian stone chamber built into a hill, a Buddhist shrine and a curious stone carving of some kind of god, which had mysterious origins.
At the site of the retreat itself was a water pump that dispensed the famous mineral water that gave Mt. Mineral its name—water once prized by Boston Brahmins and the New York elite, who flocked there for spa treatments in the 1800s. A local named Ephraim Pratt was said to have lived to 116 years drinking that water, with a life spanning from the colonial 17th century to an independent America in the early 19th. Could he have been the inspiration for the centuries-spanning Ephraim Waite in “The Thing on the Doorstep?” I tried the water myself; it was ghastly and tasted of sulphur. As for the stone circle, alas, we found nothing definite. There were certainly a lot of large stones around Mt. Mineral, arranged in strange formations by the glaciers that had plowed through that region 18,000 years ago. At one point I became lost in the woods and stumbled upon a secluded copse that appeared to be bounded by a series of stones. Had they been arranged deliberately? Maybe. But by whom?
I must end my weird tale without a satisfying conclusion, despite so many tantalizing clues that this place provided the inspiration for Dunwich, at least in part. We never did hear back from the owner of the house in Leverett, and Dave has yet to meet the “old council member” who knows the location of the toppled stone circle. One day I may go back. Or if not me, perhaps some other intrepid dream-quester will venture into dark woods of Shutesbury, Massachusetts and discover the true location of “The Dunwich Horror.” Maybe it will be you, if you dare…
Pictures courtesy of NewmanImage.
A native of Boston, Massachusetts, Adam Bolivar has lived in New Orleans, Berkeley, and currently resides in Portland, Oregon. He is a prolific marionette playwright, and has written nine plays performed by the Scratch Brothers’ Prestodigital Phantasmagoria and the CastIron Carousel. His fictional works have appeared in Nameless Magazine, the Lovecraft eZine, and in anthologies published by Eraserhead Press and Chaosium.
By Sam Reeve
Yves Tanguy (1900-1955) was a French surrealist painter. He was born in Paris and didn’t develop an interest in painting until he was in his early 20′s, after discovering a painting by Giorgio de Chirico. He ultimately fell in with the likes of André Breton and Jacques Prévert, leading to his first solo exhibition in 1927.
He took to the lifestyle of the “starving artist” like a fish to water, which ended his first marriage sometime in the 30′s.
There was a somewhat happy ending for Yves – in 1938 he met fellow surrealist painter Kay Sage, who he followed back to America during the war and later married. The two of them grew old together on a farm in Connecticut, where they had converted an old barn into an art studio. Yves was cremated after his death in 1955, and after his wife committed suicide and was cremated in 1963, their ashes were scattered together on the coast of Brittany.
Here is a picture of Yves and Kay in their later years:
Below is a selection of his paintings. His wife’s work is certainly worth checking out as well. Enjoy!
- Articles & interviews
- Discussion topics
- Flash fiction
If you have an idea for something, we’d love to hear from you. If you’re interested in having a special weekly post, we’d be double excited to hear from you!
To submit or enquire about contributing, please contact Sam at email@example.com or Constance at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Please send all flash fiction submissions to Kirsten at email@example.com.
By Sam Reeve
Bruce Pennington is a world-renowned artist of the fantastical and strange. He was born in England in 1944. From a very young age it was clear to him that art was what he wanted to pursue, and he attended a couple different art colleges. But eventually he got tired of the type of the traditional kind of art they had him producing and studying, so he traded ‘Fine Art boredom for Commercial Art whoredom’, and began creating film posters. After a while Bruce became a freelance artist and that’s when he started doing what he’s become famous for: painting the cover art for fantasy and sci-fi novels.
During his career, Bruce’s work has appeared on the covers of more than 200 sci-fi and fantasy books, including Frank Herbert’s Dune series and works by Robert Heinlein and Ray Bradbury.
Check out his website here for a more complete list, and to see more of his work.
by Sam Reeve
Santiago Caruso is a young artist from Buenos Aires, Argentina. Most of his work is odd, dark and creepy, and has appeared on the covers of horror books and on several albums. Caruso is currently exhibiting at the Last Rites Gallery in New York, and the Museo de America in Madrid.
Thank you everyone who’s been following Writing Advice Week! Hopefully something that appeared during the week resonated with you and will help you on your written journey. Now for one last piece of advice…
By Sam Reeve
Shintaro Kago is an ero-guro manga artist. For those unfamiliar with the term, it’s basically a style that plays around with the grotesque (in the malformed, bizarre sense) and eroticism. I feel like my description may not be doing it justice, so go right ahead and click that link.
Kago, a Tokyo native, has been a major contributor in the area of scatological manga. In an interview with Vice ge admitted that though he draws a lot of messed up sexual acts, he really doesn’t have an interest in pursuing those things in real life.
I’m a much bigger fan of his satirical, brightly coloured work, but I’ve also included stuff from some of his mangas. Enjoy!
By Kevin Shamel
You have the best idea ever for a bizarro book. No, you have ten of them. Throw out the ones about sentient penises (okay, about any sort of penis). So, you have five best ideas ever for bizarro books. Now to the first difficult part: pitching them to an editor (who reads a space-ton of the best ideas ever, weekly).
Ultimately, the best way to go about this is to sit down with the editor and talk to him or her—not just randomly at a party or funeral, arrange a meeting or show up somewhere where the editor is willing to talk about projects (conventions, workshops, etc.). Speaking directly with a person allows you the freedom of providing asides, further explanation, answering questions, non-verbal cues and communication… you know, those subtleties of face-to-face conversation.
If you can’t physically meet—and I understand that this is usually the situation—then you’ll have to approach the editor through the magic of the internet. While being the most readily available means, it also dramatically changes the presentation of your pitch. You’ve got to get it right the first time.
If you happen to share social networks with the editor, and you’ve spent some time learning what she or he likes to read, watch, and publish—through either acquaintance or passive stalking—you can usually find an easy way to present your ideas.
What if you have no contact with this editor beforehand? What if all you have are the best ideas ever? Again, internet magic. Email him or her with your ideas. But research first. In the very least, learn the editor’s name and whether or not the person is male or female. Send a polite, personal email to the editor explaining who you are (briefly), that you have the best ideas for bizarro books ever, and attach them.
By personal, I don’t mean ask if his kids had a good day at school or tell her that those unicorns she painted on her nails last week that you saw in a photo on her friend’s Facebook feed were totally awesome. I just mean don’t address the editor with, “Dear Sir or Madam” and don’t send a starchy, perfectly constructed paragraph that you’ve obviously sent to a hundred people with your 145,000 word vampire novel attached.
I suggest utilizing the available options to you to learn whatever you can about the person with whom you hope to develop a close working relationship. If a cold query to me doesn’t at least include one of my names, I never even get to the best ideas ever. I automatically assume we’re not going to fit. Because that is the important part. No, not getting one of my names right.
Be in synch with the editor. You have to present to her or him exactly what he or she is looking for, and you have to do it in a way that shows that you’ve got your act together, even if you’re new at it all.
We all have different needs. Personally, I can’t accept a book for the New Bizarro Author Series that’s over 25,000 words, and I want to see five or ten ideas before a person even starts writing. I’d rather know a potential author (in some way) before deciding to work with them. I prefer queries to get to the point, somehow include root beer, and skip the formalities. Other editors have totally different guidelines. But if you want to be successful, you’ve got to know them. Of course editors forgive mistakes—without them we’d have no job—but if you want to garner our interest, be smart and apt.
Pay attention to the back covers of books. Those are their pitches. They’re pitching the idea of what is inside to everyone who reads it. And they work, right? So if you send an editor something that you’d find written on the back of a book that would make you have to open it… You see where I’m going.
Don’t be afraid to tell the whole story or include the weird details (in a paragraph or two). If your pitch doesn’t excite and entice, it’s going to be more difficult to assure an editor that your book will. As with everything, practice. Write out your idea as a back cover blurb and read it aloud in a race-course announcer voice until it sounds like something that would excite NASCAR fans more than a ten-car wipeout with flying flaming tires, an errant live-chicken cargo truck, and four dead bystanders. If it sounds like spreading a pack of mustard on a corndog would be more of a thrill, change it up (I don’t know, I don’t watch NASCAR, but it would include corndogs if I did).
If you can make your pitch one (gorgeous) line—think of a Hollywood pitch-session—you’ve an even better chance of selling the idea.
No matter how you approach an editor, have your ideas ready to present in a way that will make her want to read the whole book right that minute. Make the editor wish he’d thought of it first. Excitement like that will put that editor to work for you.
I see both sides of this process as both a writer and editor. Hopefully, the more I see as an editor and the more ideas I try and sell of mine, the less mistakes I make in the process. But recently, during Eraserhead Press’ Pitch-a-Palooza, I learned that just knowing what makes a good pitch doesn’t mean it makes one a pro at selling pitches. And even the best ideas ever can be completely misrepresented in a paragraph or two.
What I’ve learned thus far is that presenting a pitch is sometimes more difficult than writing a book, but mastering the skill is as important as constructing a fabulous story. Even if the book is already written the whole thing is about selling the idea of it. And that just isn’t easy.
I wish the best of luck to all of us endeavoring to convince people (from editors to the general public, not just family and those we blackmail) to read the weird shit that comes from our heads. I hope we all succeed. World domination begins with damned-good pitches.
Kevin Shamel is the author of Rotten Little Animals and Island of the Super People. When not writing, Kevin works as an editor for Erasherhead Press, ushering in the next generation of Bizarro authors for the New Bizarro Author Series. He is obsessed with Bigfoot.
By Patrick Wensink
Like always, we had nothing. We asked for a word of inspiration.
“Mark Twain,” an audience member called out.
My partner, Emily, and I were standing onstage with our heads completely empty. I hadn’t thought about Twain since high school and I doubt she had either.
There was a beat of silence. You could hear a guy clear his throat. Someone’s ice shuffled in their glass. That nervous quiet weighed a ton.
Emily and I were doing an improv show with our troupe. We had to entertain a roomful of people with only “Mark Twain”. The crowd expected us to build a whole story with realistic characters and a believable setting and a compelling plot. Plus, we were supposed to make them laugh.
We had absolutely nothing in the tank, but we weren’t panicked. We prepared for this cold start and, frankly, we kind of savored it. We trusted ourselves and knew the best material comes from a blank slate.
“Mark Twain…Mark Twain…Mark Twain,” I said in an accent I’d never used before. I started with nothing, but that quickly changed. This unfamiliar accent sounded like a guy in prison to me. Ah ha! I thought. “The prison library sucks. All they have is copies of Tom Sawyer.”
“Yeah, Sanchez,” she said. “That book’s horrible. You can’t hide a spoon inside of it or nothing.”
“Don’t sweat it, Carl,” I said. “I’ll just swing by your cell when I tunnel out.”
With three quick lines we had the foundation of a story. From there, we built a 10-minute skit about inmates. Sanchez wanted out of the big house. Carl, surprisingly, just wanted to eat Sanchez. The audience got what it came for, laughs included. Two minutes before the scene, Emily and I had never thought about cannibalism or jail breaks. But we knew a few simple improv rules and trusted our instincts to build momentum.
After the applause, standing to the side of the stage, I realized something that never occurred to me before: This is just like starting a novel from scratch.
Whether you are standing on a stage with nothing to say or staring at a page with nothing to write, it’s not unnatural to look for the nearest third-rail to kiss. You are talented. You are smart. You are creative. So it should be easy, right? But mental obstacles can block a story from ever beginning; sink a book after 50 quality pages; or sputter a novel several drafts deep.
But it doesn’t have to.
Improv theater performers tame this unknown anxiety to create lasting stories right before our eyes. Anyone who’s ever watched an episode of Who’s Line is it, Anyway? or seen famed troupes like The Second City or Upright Citizen’s Brigade probably wonder how they do it.
Are they good bullshitters?
Are they lying and have these skits rehearsed?
Are they just lucky?
The answer is “no”. The skills improvisers use to knock an audience out are the same ones writers can use to spark their creative fire and torch a reader’s eyebrows. Ace improvisers like Tina Fey, Drew Carey and Amy Poehler know a few simple structural rules and have the courage to make something positive from their screw-ups. And they never look back until the curtain falls.
I’ve been an improviser for four years, working with Louisville, KY’s legendary Project Improv. I’ve been a writer for much longer and have just seen my fourth book published. Before my prison escape/cannibalism epiphany, nobody ever told me how closely related improv skills and fiction writing skills are. It’s shocking how well the two pair together.
The biggest rule of a great improv scene is establishing CROW(character, relationship, objective and the where) and establishing it quickly. Usually, we get all the pieces within the first three lines of a scene. CROW builds a strong dramatic platform where anything can happen and you can create a story without worrying about getting stuck. In the above story, Emily and I automatically followed this rule, even though we had no clue what would happen. This attitude keeps fiction writing just as fresh as a stage show.
CROW represents the four principle characteristics a good story must establish.
CHARACTER—Who is in this scene? So many bad improv scenes struggle because we don’t know who this story is about. While, yes, great short stories and novels usually unravel a little more slowly than the first three lines of the book, but just stick with me here.
Give characters a quick personality trait or a job or a role. Even if it’s not what you aimed to write about, force it in there. This sounds counterintuitive, but you might be surprised with the results. And, hey, if you don’t like it edit it later. A good improviser moves forward and doesn’t look back. You will, too, when you start writing like an improviser.
For example: Maybe your character is perpetually nervous, maybe he’s aconstruction worker, maybe he’s just an asshole. You have an infinite amount of choices, but each one builds a unique person.
Also,most improv scenes start off with only two characters on stage. Your fiction will be the same. Feel free to toss that caveat in the trash when we’re done and have all your stories begin in the middle of a GE board meeting. But for now, it’s one-on-one.
RELATIONSHIP—An audience will lose interest just watching two dudes talking, even if what they are saying is interesting. A relationship instantly raises the stakes and begins building up that precious momentum. Establish a relationship between your characters immediately. Make it Priority #1.
Just like with character traits, jump into the pool and never even plug your nose. You don’t have to be sure what kind of relationship your story needs (Relationship examples: Lawyer/attorney; father/daughter; coworkers) just apply one and stick with it. Establishing relationships will draw you and, eventually the reader, further into this world.
As a rule of thumb, it helps the creative wheels to turn if these characters already know one other. Familiarity means you can drop them into the middle of a conversation or a plot and they don’t need to waste time introducing themselves like a dinner party. Familiar people are good. Strangers are bad. Period.
NOTE:If you already have a relationship idea for a story, feel free to apply it. However, don’t fight yourself if you feel that relationship changing. That’s a gift from your subconscious to your conscious mind. Sign for that package and take it!
OBJECTIVE—Okay,you have created two simple characters with a relationship. Awesome. That’s like packing a PVC pipe full of nuts and bolts and gunpowder. In other words, your scene now has the potential for a lot of interesting stuff to happen. Light the wick on your literary pipebomb with one swift line of dialogue: establish each character’s objective.
Kurt Vonnegut must have been an improviser at heart, because he said, in his Eight Rules for Writing:
“Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water.”
To want something is to have an objective. Wanting something is probably our most basic emotion. It instantly makes your characters more human and more enjoyable to write. A character wanting something she does not have shoves a plot into motion instantly. Instant momentum!
Your characters can want a glass of water. Your characters can, like my example, want to escape from prison. Your characters can simply want a hug. Want a divorce. Want a million dollars. Want to get rid of an adoring fan.Anything, large or small.
Even better is to have your two characters wanting different things. Conflicting things.He wants to get married while she wants to commit suicide, for example.
Hitting your objective early in a story gives it the momentum to roll for hundreds of pages if need be.Review any stalled story you have previously written and if it’s sitting there idling at page 50 or 100, it’s probably because your character has what they want or never wanted anything to begin with. Provide your story with a momentum-filled shove in the back by giving them a new need or want. The story will soon be roaring again.
Read practically any detective novel and you’ll see this rule being worked to perfection. A gumshoe hunts for a clue, finds the clue, but then realizes it’s only the tip of the iceberg and needs a more complex clue.
WHERE—Where are these interesting people who have such compelling objectives? It’s a simple question, but it gets overlooked all the time. When your characters deliver a quick nod to their location it paints the entire scene in vivid color. That moment locks the scene in a reader’s imagination and greases the skids for the story to develop at will.
Emily and I didn’t need to go into excruciating detail about the smell of the prison or its frigid temperature or how cramped the library was. We simply agreed it was “a prison library” and let the audience’s imagination do the heavy lifting.
Obviously, there’s room for adding depth to a location later in your work. For this lesson we’re just working through the first flickering seconds of a written story like it was an improv scene.
Here’s the easy part for improvisers and the hard part for fiction writers: set your location with dialogue. Sure, a narrator can say the spaceship cockpit was “lined with chrome and flashing lights.” That’ll work. But if you have a character talk about the setting, you also get a shade of their personality in the process.
In my improv example, Sanchez said “This prison library sucks”. Bingo. We were in jail and he was not happy about it. There’s a lot more richness than if a narrator simply told us.
Not every improv scene is a winner. Not every book goes on to become The Sun Also Rises. But chances are, when things go wrong on the page, or worse, when things go boring it’s because CROW was not established.
Setting CROW in stone is the first improv rule we’ll master with our fiction.
When you have this down cold, you’ll never feel creatively directionless at the keyboard. Even better, you’ll be able to keep these rules in mind when you’re editing a story that somehow failed.
Quickly weaving CROW into your story will help you become a lean, mean story-generating machine. You’ll never get hung up again.
Patrick Wensink is the bestselling author of Broken Piano for President (2012, Lazy Fascist Press) and three other books. His essays have appeared in the New York Times, Huffington Post and many less-reputable sources.
He has been a longtime improviser and teaches workshops on the relationship between improv and fiction at Litreactor.com. He lives in Louisville, KY.
by Jeff Burk
Well, maybe I should say “I hate the traditional idea of readings.” The concept of a writer standing before a silent audience reading from a book or manuscript fills me with dread only equitable to high school math – “how the hell am I going to stay awake for this?”
When writers have public appearances they frequently choose to read from something they already have had published or will be published.
by J. David Osborne
I don’t think it’s wrong to want to set your novel in a different country, at a different time. It does, however, carry with it some very specific responsibilities. On a deep level, I think that you owe it to the people you’re writing about to get it at least sort of right. Ghosts are pretty spooky and you don’t want to have a bunch of pissed off spirits haunting you because you’re lazy. On a more present note, you owe it to your readers to not sound like a 21st century American (or Canadian, or whatever) telling people what things might have been like at a certain point in time. People are investing their time with you because they think you are going to fuck their brains but good, and no one wants a limp-dick fiddle fucker poking around the sweet spots.
The best way to write historical fiction is to read. A lot. It’s not good to take extensive notes or anything. You don’t want to sound like a history paper. I live in present day Oklahoma, but I could probably tell you very little about the facts on the ground as they pertain to Oklahoma politics or whatever (which says a lot about me). What I can tell you about modern Oklahoma is what it’s like to go to a grocery store and have Mr. Truck Nuts hollering about Nobama this and that whilst buying eight bags of Fritos and a box of frozen corn dogs. I can tell you what it’s like to go fishing and what it’s like to walk outside every day not knowing if you’re going to need SPF 500 or a ski mask. And I get all of this information by living in it.
So, you need to live in the world that you plan on writing about. The best books for this aren’t the dry historical accounts of things, which are only really good for discovering historical events that you might want to place characters inside of, but rather the oral histories, the books that tell you what it was like to live at that time, in that place, from the mouths of those who lived it. I got lucky with By the Time We Leave Here, We’ll Be Friends. Gulag by Anne Applebaum reads like a novel. The details that she put into her book, the spoken parts from the prisoners, all of it not only helped me to establish a setting and the things that go on inside said setting, but what the prisoners were actually feeling when they were stuck there.
The other books had nothing to do with gulags per se, but were more designed to help me hear the voice of the prisoners. Pushkin’s Children by Tatyana Tolstaya is an excellent collection of short stories full of the inner monologues of Russian people. Different cultures think differently, obviously. Reading these stories helped me to hear that voice, and internalize it, and forget it. I was writing with a sort-of “Russian persona.” If you read my second novel, Low Down Death Right Easy, the reason it feels so different is because two different people wrote it.
The “facts” aren’t really important; there are a metric fuck-ton of books out there already, written by stuffy folks with big libraries and lots of time, that intricately chronicle the straight-up “facts” (whatever those are) of certain places and times. What you want to do, being a fiction writer, is immerse yourself in the people of the time, make it so their voice is the voice in your head.
It’ll feel authentic, because to the best of your ability, it is.
J David Osborne lives in Norman, OK with his wife and dog. His work has appeared in WARMED AND BOUND, JOHN SKIPP’S DEMONS, and several other online and print publications. He is the winner of the 2010 Wonderland Award for Best Novel for BY THE TIME WE LEAVE HERE, WE’LL BE FRIENDS. His newest novel is the pitch black Oklahoma noir LOW DOWN DEATH RIGHT EASY.