Sunday, November 29, 2015

Where are They Now? Interview with Scott Cole

by Anthony Trevino

Scott Cole is one cool cat. I had the pleasure of meeting him at BizarroCon 2014 and he’s been an awesome friend ever since. His work makes me think of what if Brian Yuzna and Stuart Gordon made the jump from film to writing, and if you haven’t had the pleasure of reading SuperGhost yet, then get on that! It’s an excellent read that’s as scary as it is gut-bustingly funny. 

AT: So, to kick this off, I just wanted to say thanks for taking the time to do this, and was the Frizzi 2 Fulci show as awesome as I think it was?

SC: Thanks for asking me to take part!

Yeah, the Frizzi 2 Fulci thing was indeed pretty great. I’ve been a Fulci fan for so many years, and the idea that I would be able to hear the music from some of those classic films performed live is something I never really expected I’d have an opportunity to experience. The fact that they played my city as one of only 5 North American shows made it feel even more special.

I got to see Goblin twice (2 different configurations of the band) in 2013, so there was an odd sense of balance in my musical brain getting to see Fabio Frizzi now.

If the rumors about John Carpenter touring soon prove to be true, my head’s going to explode. Here, take this poncho.

AT: Oh, man, I’m so jealous. I had a similar experience when I saw Faith No More in 2010. There’s this great surreal feeling you get when something that never before seemed tangible suddenly becomes real. If Carpenter tours for Lost Themes I’m going to line up at that venue now.

How’d you end up being a part of last year’s New Bizarro Author Series?

SC: I had been wanting to submit something for a while, but really never felt comfortable writing something longer than a few thousand words. I had always just considered myself a short story writer. I figured it out eventually, though. And once I did, I started coming up with tons of longer-form ideas.

Anyway, I finished the first draft of SuperGhost just before heading to my first BizarroCon in 2013. When I was there, I sort of inadvertently pitched the book to Spike Marlowe, and a couple months later, after some revisions, I sent her my official, more formal pitch. She liked it, and we moved forward from there. Next thing I knew, I was at my second BizarroCon launching my first book and thinking of ways to promote it.

The entire NBAS experience has been a great one. Now I’m looking forward to the incoming group of books, yours included.

AT: Thanks, that’s great to hear, man. I think you knocked it out of the park with SuperGhost. For a book about a giant incorporeal Frankenstein’s monster and ice cream it’s as funny as it is horrifying.

Let’s talk a little bit about promotion. I know you’ve been hitting the pavement pretty hard in terms of spreading the word. So, looking back on last year, how was your experience promoting the book? Also, do you have any phantom gummy arms left?

SC: Thanks, man! I’m glad SuperGhost has struck a chord with as many people as it has. It was a lot of fun to write, and I’m really happy with the way it turned out.

Promoting the book has been a lot of fun, too, but also a little tricky, in that you need to find the right balance between getting the word out, but not being too spammy about it on social media. I tried a bunch of different things—some were more successful than others, and some were more exciting than others. But it was fun getting a little press, doing interviews, vending at cons, and also coming up with contests and small scale tie-in products.

I’m a fan of weird toys and cool limited edition trinkets, so I knew I had to do something along those lines for SuperGhost. One thing I did, which you mentioned, was to create limited edition SuperGhost candy. It’s actually a hard candy in the shape of a hand and arm that I had a local company produce, and then I designed a header card to make it look like something you might buy off a rack in a store. I had a few of them with me at last year’s BizarroCon, which I gave away at my reading/performance (people had to drink shots of “Super” Ghost Pepper hot sauce to win them). The rest have been doled out as prizes over the course of the past year. They’re all gone now, I’m afraid. 

I also had Killin’ Me Softly design and produce super-crazy-limited edition plush SuperGhost keychains, which turned out really cool. Those were available as prizes in the recent SuperGhost September contest.

AT: Damn, I should have taken that pepper sauce challenge. Oh, well, my stomach is weaker than rice paper anyway.

So, with all these great promotional items and the SuperGhost September contest, it looks like you had the promotional aspect on lock down. Was there anything you weren’t able to do to get the word out there, but really wanted to?

SC: Before deciding to do the candy, I originally wanted to get little glow-in-the-dark plastic phantom limb keychains made—actually, I found a number of people willing to do them for large amounts of money, and one person who could do it for a reasonable cost, but simply didn’t have time. I might have to revisit this sort of idea in the future.

I also teamed up with Little Baby’s Ice Cream for a co-promotional giveaway thing over the summer. I had hoped to convince them to do a SuperGhost flavor, but unfortunately, time and logistics were against us.

Other than that, there was certainly some press I hoped to get that just didn’t pan out, and some scheduling things that didn’t work out. But for the most part, I did what I could and had fun doing it.

AT: If the keychains ever do work out, I’ll take five! All things considered, I think you’ve done an amazing job getting the word out there, man. Kudos.

What words of wisdom would you like to pass on to this year’s NBASers?

SC: Think big. Be cool. Promote who you are as much as, if not more than, the books you’re trying to sell. Work together. Support and promote each other. Use the fact there are 9 of you and  the fact that you’re spread across several different continents to your advantage. Know that there will be times of doubt and frustration, and be prepared to push through them. Have fun.

AT: One more question and I think we can wrap it up. It’s a bit generic, but since I loved SuperGhost, I wanted to ask what do you have in store for us next?

SC: At the moment I’ve got a few different things in the works, but I generally don’t like to reveal too much about works-in-progress until they’re essentially finished. That said, if you like weird horror and grindhouse movies and 80s sci-fi/action stuff, you’ll probably like what I’m cooking up for the future.

AT: Totally understand. I’m sold based on that short teaser alone. All right, Scott. Thanks again for taking the time to do this!

SC: No problem. Thanks so much for asking me to take part. And best of luck to you and the rest of the New Bizarro Authors. 

Friday, November 20, 2015

Benjamin: A Review

Benjamin – Pedro Proenca

I was always going to love this book. I love existential crises adventure books – ask Garrett, he knows. So, it was with baited breath and an open heart that I sat down with this book. And Pedro delivered – oh, boy did he deliver.

Benjamin is a balloon who, along with his headless teenaged side-kick, witness green men loot the bookshop he is being held, sort of, hostage in by Karen (a woman who thinks Benjamin is her long dead husband), and that's just the opened salvo in this wonderful adventure. Soon, Benjamin is called on by the Janitor to undertake a quest for the very soul of the mall, against the unknowable Monster.

I find existential books to be about the most fundamental things which make us human. And what could be more human than a sentient balloon and his headless best friend? Well, practically anything, but in Pedro's capable hands it works. Existential quest books are a search for meaning. Who are we? Why are we? What are we supposed to be doing? What the hell is “good”? Or, as Pedro puts it, shouldn't there be more than this?

It owes a little nod to A Lightbulb's Lament by Grant Wamack, but that doesn't lessen anything Pedro has done here. And remember folks, he's done all this in a second language.

From it's benign beginnings at the front of the mall, to its cataclysmic climax beyond the realms of reality the whole thing was everything I hoped it would be when I stymied up my hard earned cash to buy it. I can honestly say, I enjoyed every minute of it.

Pedro, bem feito. Ele foi delicioso, bonito e surpreedente!
(I hope I got that last bit right)

Chris Meekings

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Arachnophile: A Review

Arachnophile – Betty Rocksteady

Oh, Betty, Betty – what did you do, Betty?

Often, when you open a NBSA book, you're taking a risk. Does the author know what they're doing? Can they finish the story properly? Are all the good things they do at the beginning going to peter out into an unsatisfying ending? In short, is the writer in control? Betty Rocksteady is in control.

From her subtle use of language, to her poise of character development, Betty is always in control. The story is great – I immediately loved the idea of riffing on “Guess Who's Coming To Dinner” and all the choices Betty makes are great. Even the switch in gears for her ending.

Her soft and loving descriptions of the spider's embrace are particularly impressive. Her prose is warm and velvety and just....oooh so scrummy. It was a real delight to read.

There's a load of depth and subtly to her world, it feels lived in and real, yet at the same time utterly strange and bizarre. People's houses are infested with insects and the furniture is sentient in some indefinable way, and of course, spiders are considered a class of citizen – even if they are a lower class. They're alien, but through her imagination, Betty manages to bring out the emotions of our arachnid friends. We see their art. Hear their music. We feel their pain when they're in pain, yet we don't entirely trust them – they are after all spiders.

Like all my favourite bits of bizarro. Betty is talking about other things when she talks about spiders. For spiders read outsiders. The “others”, and their strange cultures, rituals, and ways of speech. This book feels oddly poignant as our various governments face the current refugee crises around the world. Wherever we are, we're going to have to get used to other cultures interacting with our own – getting up close and personal. There are lessons to be learned from this novella.

It was a joy to spend a few hours kicking it with Betty and her spiders. I highly recommend it.

What did you do? You made me care about a spider, Betty, that's what you did.


Chris Meekings

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Pixiegate Madoka: A Review

Pixiegate Madoka – Michael Sean LeSueur

This is a brave novella, as brave as Japanese porn. Wait, let me explain that. Japanese porn doesn't deal in shame. It just doesn't exist. You have fantasies about tentacles – good for you, second shelf. You like cartoon characters – excellent, try the whole third floor. Foot fetish – no problem. Into facials – brilliant, but you'll have to be more specific we cater to a lot of different tastes here. Michael's Pixiegate Madoka is the bizarro equivalent. It's brave and uncompromising with no sense of shame or even a hint that you (the reader) won't be into the same things. Everyone's got a perversion – why be embarrassed?

The basic plot is a coming of age tale about Julian Argento. He's a nerdy, masturbating teen boy – interested in Jennifer Lawrence's boobs and getting his end away, in any way possible.

And so, we move onto a Japanese magic school where our hero is placed an a crack “kitchen appliances” squad. All the while, his psycho sister is plotting a evil scheme to kill Julian.

This is a fun and quick read. The action zips along at a fair lick, but I did find some of the Japanese slang a bit confusing. The character's are a bit light, but to be honest I was having so much fun with them that it hardly mattered.

When a new character is introduced Michael proceeds to marks their arrival like a video game – bold, CAPSLOCK, underscored and their signature move underneath! This is a great feature, and nearly always kept me giggling as I read along.

So if you like anime, manga, Japanese culture, video games, and, you know, just plain old cool stuff – check out Michael Sean LeSueur's Pixiegate Madoka! It's fast! It's colourful! And, it's perverted! What more can you ask for?

Chris Meekings

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

New Bizarro Author History and Why It Matters

by Karl Fischer

To date, the New Bizarro Author Series has published forty four writers. Let that sink in a moment. That's forty four novellas from little-known and unpublished voices, all in addition to the mainline authors and imprints. There isn't even a theme, it's all original high concept material. NBAS books have tackled seedy animal filmmakers, gender swapping murder plots, dinosaurs with guns, wolf-spitting bears, planets devoted to anilingus, gangsters reincarnated as babies, intergalactic pit fights, and so much more. There are love stories and anti-love stories and grindhouse and noir and John Waters references and flavors of science fiction so bizarre the Sad Puppies wouldn't know how to whine about them.

We of the 2015-2016 NBAS hope to interview every single past member, not just because the veterans can offer us valuable insights, but because the series has become an institution, one with a substantial, growing body of work behind its name. There's a history here and we want to learn about it. In just three more years, the NBAS will be a decade old, and as the bizarro genre continues to expand, people will have questions about these titles. If they're at all like us, they'll want to know where the new authors have come from, where they've gone to, and how the intersection between them and this series has affected their careers. We will not rest until the last New Bizarro Author has either spilled their guts or threatened us with a restraining order.

In case you've missed out, here's a list of all the interviews we've done so far:


We will probably change up the format as things progress. As you can see in Tamara's interview with Betty Rocksteady, the use of watercolor paintings has served as an innovative substitution for standard Q and A dialogue. There's no telling what we might or might not do next.

Rock 'n' Roll Head Case: A Review

Rock 'n' Roll Head Case by Lee Widener

I'm going to make a confession at the beginning of this review – I totally underestimated this book. It wasn't in my top 5 of must reads. The idea seemed a little wild, a little disjointed – just not my style of bizarro. Dear reader, I was wrong. Dead wrong. I should know better by now, that all bizarro is my kind of bizarro.

Lee Widener's Rock 'n' Roll Head Case is a fun smashing together of a crazed road trip movie and deeply disturbing LSD flashbacks. It's something that Quentin Tarantino would dream up - if he were deranged, well more deranged than he currently is. Or more accurately, it's like a Hunter S. Thompson freak out.

Our hero Chaino Durante, is a two bit loser, who finds the severed head of Alice Cooper and ends up with it stuck on his right hand, forming a weapon. Chaino then uses this weapon to rob his place of work, runs from the cops, and endures hijinks and calamity while listening to the advise of Alice Cooper. On the surface, it's a simple road movie. We've all seen them. True Romance, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, you know the drill.

But, scratch a little closer, dear reader, and you'll find that that is only a veneer. There's a beating heart below. There's a philosophical standpoint that Lee wants you to acknowledge. It's wisdom boiled down from the 60's flower children and brought to you via a sequence of dreamlike vignettes.

Some readers may struggle with this, some may crave for a more coherent story, Lee's response: “Life doesn't make sense, better get used to that!”

So, strap yourselves in, my precious little ones, let old uncle Lee tell you a story. It's a story of failure and redemption, of violence and peace, of the truth behind the facade of this dimension we live in. It's the story of Alice Cooper's fucking head!

Monday, November 16, 2015

Where Are They Now? Interview With Tamara Romero

by Betty Rocksteady

I'm a really new writer and extra new on the bizarro scene. Unlike a lot of the other authors this year, I didn't personally know any of the previous NBAS authors. Despite that, when talk of doing interviews started, I immediately thought of Tamara Romero. Her Fingers was released as part of the 2012-2013 New Bizarro Author Series, and it is an absolutely haunting story that weaves folklore, witchcraft, and strange dreams together in a drug-soaked stew. It's darkly magical and resonates with me in a lot of ways. I'm really happy to have gotten to know Tamara a little bit.

Who was the first writer who made you fall in love with reading?
Enid Blyton. Especially her boarding school stories such as Malory Towers.

What unusual things influence your writing?
Heathenism, 80s and 90s flicks, gender studies, far travels, bizarro fiction, witchcraft, David Bowie, all kind of phobias (my own and others’), contemporary art, New Wave science fiction and space opera, Hollywood’s studio system, Japan, the NASA, Sigmund Freud and the Middle Ages. 

What happened in the latest dream you remember?
I’ve recently cut a bad habit: watching spooky documentaries on Youtube before bedtime. The last dream I can remember is myself looking at Youtube, watching an endless video of a car being washed in a car tunnel washer from the driver’s perspective. That lasted the whole night.

How did you get hooked up with NBAS?
I thought it was amazing that a publisher was actually dedicating an imprint to brand new authors. That’s bold! I had read some of the 2001 books and they happened to be great, so I pitched my story with no serious expectations. That was in May and the book was published in November, so I had to work pretty fast. Also, this just sounded like the perfect excuse to visit Portland!

What was your experience like writing Her Fingers and working with the Eraserhead editors?
The book was already written in Spanish, which is my first language, so I re-wrote the story in English chapter by chapter. It took me around a month and a half. My editor, Kevin Shamel, was incredibly supportive and helpful. I sent him the two initial chapters and then he said: Ok, just go on and send me the full book. In the end there were the typical back and forth emails with corrections and small details, but it was all pretty smooth. Kevin did a great job.

What was your favorite part about your year with the NBAS?
The beginning of my year was just unbeatable: being at Bizarro Con and meeting so many great people is as cool as holding your first book in your hands for the first time. If anyone is hesitant about going to Bizarro Con, I must say it really pays off. I definitely want to go back, unfortunately travelling overseas in November is not always possible for me. Online chats and sharing experiences with fellow NBAs authors was also rad. I’d say that the key thing I learned that year is that you must keep on writing no matter what. That’s more important than any self-promotion. I’ve been writing and publishing mostly in Spanish since then. 

How did working with the New Bizarro Author Series influence what you worked on since?
I’ve learned a lot from the Bizarro community in regards to independent publishing, DIY possibilities and my own approach to writing. I pay more attention now at high concept and I understand how important is finishing what I start and start working right away on other project. I learned not to look back, not to be focused on self-promotion but on producing worthy stories, and the most important thing: enjoying the writing process. Writing doesn’t make any sense for me if I’m not having fun.

I'd love to hear about what you're working on now, whether it be writing or something else.
I’m currently working on short stories. My goal is writing a short story in a single day each time I start a new one.  I also have three drafts of novellas written this year, I need to get back to them and make them readable. 

I drew a tarot card for you. It was the Knight of Pentacles reversed. Pentacles usually represent the physical world and material things. This reversed card has to do with boredom and routine. It seems to indicate that you are in some kind of a slump and feeling frustrated, ready for something to break you out of routine. Does this resonate or am I a charlatan?
I had to take a little break two weeks ago because I was so overworked and bored! I moved to a small coastal town and came back fully recovered. It seems that –like Beyonce- I need to spend some time next to big amounts of water to function properly. So your tarot skills seem quite accurate to me. Congratulations!

I have a few abstract pictures here I would like you to use like a Rorschach test. What do you see? Tell me a story about it. 

A rainbow tree in the middle of the desert. It’s fed by color. No need of water.

A true washing machine mess. Those flying clothes you bought are starting their own whirlwind.

Blue water. Suddenly water is blue all around. It’s not transparent anymore. So this means everything will be blue soon: our clothes and our skin.