Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Where Are They Now? Interview with Eric Mays

by Madeleine Swann

MS: Tell me about your NBAS book (title, subject etc).

EM: My NBAS book was likely the least bizarro of the bunch in that first round.  Naked Metamorphosis was a retelling of Shakespeare's Hamlet.  However, it was a layered affair.  It was Hamlet retold by Franz Kafka, then that version retold by Burroughs, then slightly retold in the form of a book report by a grade school George W. Bush (though, in the short length, that was not as fleshed out, only implied).  I think mine was the longest too.  I had a helluva time editing it down.

MS: Did you just send it in and hope for the best or did you contact someone first?

EM: I did not send it in unsolicited, and I didn’t contact someone per se.  This was in the old days of the Eraserhead Press website.  I remember strolling onto the website and answering a fairly lengthy questionnaire just out of curiosity.  I was elated when I received an email from Rose (O'Keefe) discussing the New Bizarro Author Series.  I had been noodling around with this Shakespeare thing for a long while – probably off and on for six years or so – and pitched it to Kevin Donihe.  There was a little hesitation at first because most authors who rewrite something that has already been written is usually just an excuse to have familiar characters get together and do stupid shit.  But through the process it became something beautiful.

MS: How did you find the process of writing it? Did the weirdness just come naturally or was it a difficult experience?

EM: Oh, writing it was easy.  I’ve always found writing to come easy, when I’m focused and in the zone.  The editing was a real bitch of a process.  As for the weird...well, that’s always been a natural thing.  I’m hesitant to use the phrase "bizarro light," but that's the best way I can summarize it.  When I write, I write things that are funny and slightly off.  Weird takes all forms and "off" has always come naturally when it comes to the real world.

MS: What is your writing process? Do you prefer a quiet room, do you listen to music, do you go for a walk first?

EM: When I write I have to have background noise.  Typically this is in the form of a television playing in the background.  One thing that I used to do (and I say used to do because I’ve not been writing recently due to a string of medical issues and such) is make a soundtrack for the book that I’m writing.  I look at my outline and plug in music that fits that outline.  It’s helped me out a great deal and I’ve even got these mixes in a CD case that I still listen to for inspiration.

MS: Were you always interested in pushing the boundaries of ‘normality’ in your writing or was it a new thing at the time?

EM: I’ve always been drawn to weird.  My weird is definitely lighter than most other forms of bizarro.  My book “Karaoke Death Squad” was a retelling of Homer’s the Odyssey, where sirens invade karaoke bars in Baltimore.  It’s a book that’s got demon babies, and karaoke as warfare, and men getting pregnant.  So it’s a little weird and that was something I wrote quickly and very naturally.  “Naked Metamorphosis” was a bit different.  At first it was just a straight retelling of Hamlet, a comedy, where Hamlet didn't die and Horatio was the protagonist.  That wasn't straight bizarro, so I added the Kafka and Burroughs flourishes and it came out nicely.

MS: Who are your writing influences?

EM: Oh where to begin!  I've always been inspired by Christopher Moore, Terry Pratchett, and James Morrow. I also love and aspire to the comedic writing of Floridians Tim Dorsey and Carl Hiaasen. Personal preference in reading has come in the form of Stephen King, Brian Keene, Joe Lansdale, and Poppy Z. Brite – all of them made me want to write and be a writer.

MS: How did being published in the NBAS affect your career?

EM: Well, it was certainly a confidence booster.  I felt stronger in my craft and more confident in making a pitch.  Shortly after “Naked Metamorphosis” I published a story in the Copeland Valley Sampler (“Nyuck, Nyuck”, which is a western featuring evil versions of the Three Stooges) and made a pitch that became “Karaoke Death Squad”.  I don't think I would have had the confidence to do all that had it not been for Eraserhead and the NBAS.  I would like to get something else put out by them in the near future.

MS: Can you tell us about any upcoming work?

EM: Sadly, there is nothing on the horizon right now.  In 2012, shortly after Karaoke Death Squad, my health took a nasty turn for the worse.  It has been an uphill struggle trying to get well.  I've been hospitalized numerous times.  I'm not making excuses...or maybe I am.  Writing has sat on the back burner while I've gotten healthy.  I've kept an ongoing journal of notes and am now ready to spin a yarn once more.  Surely with the trips in and out of the hospital, I've got something weird and lovely to tell.

MS: What advice would you give someone wanting to send their work, particularly bizarro?

EM: If bizarro is what someone wants to write I advise a trip to BizarroCon.  It's a fun time, which is reason enough to go.  However, it's a time to workshop, hear and meet other writers, really learn what bizarro is and what presses are looking for.  If you want to write bizarro, that's the ticket to learning.  The best advice I can give to any writer is to write, write, write, and don't ever stop.  Not everything is going to be golden, but the more you do it, the more you find your voice.  I speak from experience here, the worst thing you can do is take a break from it.

MS: Have you done any public readings, and what important things have you learned?

EM: This is going to sound pompous, but I'm not sure I've learned anything from readings.  Reading – performing – has always come very easy to me.  I come from a long theater and improv background, and typically when I'm writing I'm doing voices and looking at rapid fire dialogue more than exposition (this may be poor writing, but it's me).  Reading is one of my favorite things in the world.

MS: How possible is it in your opinion to make a living from writing?

EM: I think it is a very attainable thing.  Some of it comes down to what your sense of "living" is.  What are you willing to sacrifice?  I look at writers like Carlton Mellick 3, Brian Keene, S. G. Browne, Jeff Burk, etc, etc...these are writers who are churning out quality books that I want to read and making a living doing it.  However – and this is the important part – they are writing nonstop, editing nonstop, sacrificing nonstop.  It's a process and you have to work at it.  Me personally, I'm not sure I can get back there (though, I'd like to...Eraserhead, are you hearing this?) due to a, nearly, 4 year lapse.  But anything is possible and it is perfectly attainable.

MS: What are people's reactions when you describe your work?

EM: I've been lucky.  When I'm talking about my writing, I'm not mentioning weird landscapes featuring flying dildos or wolves living in eye sockets.  Again, I hate to use the phrase "bizarro light," but my work falls more into the Christopher Moore arena.  I've been fortunate enough to have fans of Chris Moore, Neil Gaiman, S.G. Browne, and Christopher Buckley sort of gravitate to my work.

MS: Was writing bizarro a conscious decision, or was it something you were already doing?

EM: I think it was something I was already doing.  I'm not sure it had a name when I was writing it, but that's part of the adventure.

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