Monday, October 26, 2015

Where Are They Now? Interview with Tom Lucas

by Anthony Trevino 

My first interaction with Tom Lucas was through the Bizarro 101 course that Rose O’Keefe taught over at LitReactor last April, but it wasn’t until Bizarrocon 2014 that I had the chance to hang out with the guy in the real world. Tom’s a great dude with impeccable world-building skills, sense of humor that echoes Warren Ellis, and a strong love for storytelling. His work is like Douglas Adams and Issac Asimov if they had loved industrial metal and punk rock as much as they did science-fiction. He’s the author of the novel Leather to the Corinthians and the novella Pax Titanus and I was thrilled to chat with him for a while.

AT: First thing’s first. How’s your back doing?

TL: Thanks, man. It’s doing great. Getting surgery over the summer sucked major ass. Time caught up with me. Back in ’96 I fell off a roof. Kids, don’t fall off a roof.

AT: Wise words. How’d you discover Bizarro fiction and Eraserhead Press?

TL: The Interwebs. I had written and self-published my first book and I simply couldn’t categorize it. A friend of mine, suspense writer Sidney Williams, suggested I look into bizarro. I found and went from there.

AT: We took the Bizarro 101 workshop together last year over at LitReactor where you were laying down some killer stuff. Was that your first try at writing bizarro or were you a seasoned vet by then?

TL: It was really my first attempt at bizarro. I’ve been a writer in various shapes and forms over the years, but mainly in the areas of journalism and copy writing. Fiction is something fairly recent, and bizarro even more so. However, I’d like to stay with bizarro. It’s so much fun to write.

AT: I hope you stick around, man. Pax Titanus was awesome and I’m looking forward to what you do next. Speaking of Pax, how did you get into the NBAS?

TL: Ah, you know already! But for the benefit of those who don’t – in April of 2014 the fabulous Rose O’Keefe held a bizarro writing workshop on LitReactor. I was there, as were you and a few other of the class of 2015 (looks like a great year for NBAS, by the way).

I knew that this was a great chance to get my work in front of a publisher as well as a bunch of fellow writers, so I wrote my ass off. I wanted to make a good impression and I did. At the end of the month, the class was invited to pitch to Eraserhead. I pitched three novellas, each based off of the stories I wrote in the workshop. Pax got over the wall and I immediately went to work. 

AT: How has your experience promoting the novella been?

TL: It’s work, man. It’s work. I put a lot of time in knocking on digital doors, doing conventions, podcasts, interviews, and special promotions. It was on my mind nearly every day. It’s not easy selling books. Rarely is there a sense of immediacy on the part of the reader and that’s completely understandable. I’m the same way. In the last year, there were at least 15 books released that are must-reads for me. At some point, I’ll actually get to read them.

Beyond the work, what was most rewarding for me – the new friends I have made by getting Pax out there. I have made friends that I suspect will be around for a lifetime, and that’s the true wealth of life. I am a rich man for it.

AT: What advice do you have for this year’s gang of new bizarro authors?

TL: You all have something that Scott and I didn’t have. Numbers. You have a solid group of writers, books, and based on what I am seeing online, a lot of enthusiasm. I am excited for the class of 2015, and perhaps just a bit envious!

Use the size of your group to your advantage. Cross-promote, interview each other, blog, network, but most of all, share your resources and opportunities with one another. This isn’t a competition. It isn’t about who sells more books. The NBAS is an annual literary gift to the world. It’s a celebration. The NBAS is a family, and a special one at that. Now there are what, 40 of us total?

AT: Yeah, that sounds about right.

TL: And with that, there is some responsibility. Be kind, cool, and professional whenever you are out there representing. Don’t get caught up in any personal bullshit, online wars—none of that. Steer clear of any drama. I’ve seen some shit online this year. People posting personal and damaging things…just ugliness. Don’t be one of those people. Don’t be an asshole. Take care of your personal shit behind the scenes if you absolutely have to.

I want you and all the other members of the new class to know that I have your back. I am here to support you in any way possible. My door is always open and I hope you all are crazy successful this year.

Lastly, find new readers outside of the scene and promote bizarro! This is going to be an amazing year. Embrace it.

AT: Thanks, man. I think I speak for all of us when I say your backing and support means a lot. That’s one of the things about the NBAS (and the bizarro community in general) that really stands out to me. There’s no every one for themselves mentality. We’re all doing what we can to help each other out. It’s a beautiful thing.

All right, just one last question before we're ejected out of the air lock: Got any more awesome non-fiction tales for the Ultimate Bizarro Showdown this year?

TL: I do. It’s called Navajo Death Race and it’s as dark as last year’s was funny. The Bizarro Showdown roster is filled with talented, capable performers. I do not think of myself as a performer. I can’t match them and it’s a competition. And, unless I’m just talking, I have a tendency to get nervous when I’m on stage. So last year, my strategy was simple—just talk, tell a story.

I got through it and they even created an award for me! The Creative Non-Fiction Award, which was a collapsing stage knife. A spectacular result. I never intended to be the “Non-Fiction” guy, but clearly when it comes to the Showdown, it’s where I need to be. I have no idea how many showdowns I will appear at, but if you see me there, count on it being a real, bizarro story from my life.

AT: That makes me so happy! I don’t have the stones to get up there yet, which now means I owe Michael Allen Rose a lot of booze, but I’ll get there someday.

Thank you so much for taking the time to do this!

TL: It was my pleasure. I appreciate the opportunity. You have a book out and for the next year, you will be given attention from many. So for your first move to be talking to an out-going NBAS author…very classy. A true gentleman you are. May your book delight a ton of readers and I hope it flies off the shelf.

AT: If it doesn’t then all these monkey paws were for naught.

TL: Wouldn’t it be great if we became a part of the next wave of Eraserhead Press flagship authors? How cool would that be? The coolest.

AT: That would be a level of face-melting awesomeness.

TL: The next fountain I see, I will flip it a silver dollar with a wish on our behalf.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Where Are They Now? Interview with David W. Barbee

by Karl Fischer

I first met David W. Barbee in the wee hours of Friday morning during the third annual Bizarrocon (my first attendance). Being a newly-minted 21-year-old in the midst of several dozen creative professionals, I did the only sensible thing and got so piss-stinking drunk at the previous night’s opening ceremonies that I threw up in a urinal and passed out at 10 o’clock sharp.

While wandering the misty grounds of the hotel and feeling sorry for myself, I chanced upon David and his wife, Sonya. They had also gone to bed at 10pm because they flew 3000 miles west from Georgia. We struck up a conversation, and before you knew it, a friendship was born. Since then, the Barbees have been some of my closest Bizarro chums, and I’ve looked up to David as an example of small press success. Known for his humorous, madcap writing style, often flavored with self-deprecating, Southern charm, he is the author of The Night’s Neon Fangs, Thunderpussy, and A Town Called Suckhole. But it all began with his NBAS novella, Carnageland.

KF: David, let’s start with something easy. How effing cute is your baby daughter? Seriously, isn't she just a little patootie?

DWB: The cuteness of my baby daughter is currently under review. I'm not authorized to say anything more, but I also can't hide the obvious. This is "planet killer" level cuteness we're dealing with. Bullets bounce off of it, steel melts, and mountains quake. This kid's adorableness could swallow the sun if we're not careful, so let's all start worshiping her as a living god in the hopes that she has humanity's best interests at heart. Patootie shall be her god-name, in fact.

KF: Since Carnageland was the beginning of your writing career, tell me how you discovered Eraserhead Press and bizarro fiction in general.

DWB: I discovered bizarro fiction by wandering around looking for books that couldn't be found by wandering around my local Barnes and Noble. All of their descriptions and covers were strikingly weird, even if they weren't my kind of weird. I bought a few to start with. I think they were Satan Burger, The Baby Jesus Butt Plug, and Suicide Girls in the Afterlife. I was hooked from there. I didn't know a lot about the contemporary literary world at the time, but I knew that bizarro was the most interesting thing going on.

KF: How did you get roped into the NBAS?

DWB: I heard about the NBAS through the old Bizarro Central forums, where I used to hang out. I was self-publishing a few things at the time, but really, I was just a fan at that point. I already had an idea for a story I was going to publish myself, so I pitched it for the NBAS. They liked it, but said I had to take my other self-published books out of print. I think I surprised them when I said I'd gladly do that just to get my foot in their door. I remember Rose or Carlton saying that, in their experience, self-published authors would have never done that. To me it was an easy choice and a step upward. A tiny alien book from EHP is better than two big clumsy novels where I was all on my own and kicking the written word in its groin.

KF: Given the current state of self-publishing (where self-published authors seem to have carved a bigger niche for themselves) do you think you would have made the same choice today?

DWB: I don't think I would have continued self-publishing even when that wave hit. For me, the right choice was to get with other weirdos who had the same goals and learn as much as possible from them. I mean, this isn't a team sport and in many ways an author is on his/her own, but I really like being part of the bizarro community. Seeing all these different writers doing their thing has been invaluable to my own growth and development. Handling the author business entirely alone (which was how I was doing it, at least) is great for megalomaniacs, but my ego was quickly bulldozed by all the stuff I didn't know. I'm now hitting my stride, and I owe it to the support of a strong community.

KF: How did the writing and editing of Carnageland go?

DWB: Holy crap. Writing the story wasn't so bad. I had it planned out because Carnageland was just the first leg of a trilogy featuring Invader 898. First he invades a fairy tale world where he learns to indulge in all the bad things he's always been told were forbidden. By the second part we'd get to see him as a junkie hopped up on sex and drugs, still managing to get away with it. In the third book he would've been found out and forced to try to escape ultimate punishment. We only told the first part because of the word limit. That's why Carnageland feels kind of short and rushed. During the editing process, Kevin Donihe basically whipped me pillar to post. We did six or seven proofreads, fixing up the prose and smoothing it out. That manuscript needed A LOT of work and Donihe really helped me realize that I needed to evaluate my writing and push myself harder, which I'm always trying to do now. I consider Kevin Donihe to be one of bizarro's best and I'm honored that he's still my editor, still telling me what he thinks about something I wrote. Basically I love that dude.

KF: Do you think you'll ever get the chance to tell the rest of Invader 898's story?

DWB: I think this is the first time I've spoken about it publicly, so I should definitely say that I'd be happy to finish that tale if someone wanted to publish it. The titles to the other parts are Snufftoons and Horrorgasm.

KF: Tell me about how your year went as far as promoting Carnageland and building an audience. What was the response like? What were some of your favorite moments? Did you have to eat a live possum in order to prove yourself?

DWB: No possums were harmed. I spared their lives so the gods would grant me luck. When Carnageland came out I was still a total novice at promoting. I tried sending a lot if review requests that came off really spammy. I worked with some other authors, making artwork or mini comics about 898. I did a ton of giveaways. That stuff was fun and I try to do it still. I sold a few copies of Carnageland at Free Comic Book Day at my local comic shop, including one to a young boy who might not have realized there was an alien penis on the cover. I'm kind of proud of that. I don't use that shop anymore, though. The owner's kind of a tool.

KF: Being the first wave of an untraditional publishing model, did you feel like an experiment? Or like history in the making?

DWB: I was an experiment all the way. Carlton Mellick poked me with a stick while I ran around corners trying to find the cheese. All I found was a pasty, sideburned hulk, waiting there with his stick. But I liked it. Maybe that makes me some kind of weird pervert but I think it also shows that bizarro is where I belong. I want to see us take over the world. So I'm a pervert with ambition, I guess.

KF: I won't name names, but I'd say you're in good company. What was the end result of your time as a lab rat for a small, up-and-coming press?

DWB: Well, it helped me work my way into the bizarro scene, where I've made a ton of friends and allies, which, along with achieving my dream of being an author, is pretty great. One little alien story led to the weird, epic things I'm writing now. Carnageland isn't my favorite, but it was pivotal to my career.

KF: Any advice you'd like to pass along to the newest of the new bizarro authors?

DWB: My advice is to work together! My group worked together, but only a little. Giving tips here and there. But I think more could be done, and on a far bigger scale than what we did. I think this blog idea of yours, and chronicling the NBAS, is a perfect example.

KF: How do you think the NBAS has evolved and where would you like to see it go?

DWB: I think the series has made gigantic leaps and strides with every year that passes. I always say that Carnageland is one of the weaker NBAS books in the whole catalog. And that's not to be self-deprecating. It's because so many great novellas came after. Some of them have been rereleased as standalone books by Eraserhead. I think it'd be cool as fuck if one day EHP released a collection of some of our favorite NBAS stories, like Bucket of Face and Gutmouth and a bunch of others.

KF: That would be cool as fuck. And tell me, David, are you living your bliss?

DWB: I assume that living my bliss would mean riding my bliss. My bliss is a tiger that can run on clouds. Which would be awesome if my bliss hadn't run away when I was a child. It would've been cool if he'd stayed. He had stripes that leaked blue ice cream.

KF: It's like the World of Warcraft, only you can taste it

DWB: I always figured WoW would taste like Chinese food.

KF: Let’s not kid ourselves. WoW would taste like Mountain Dew and Cool Ranch Doritos.