Bizarro Fiction: Stout Hearts and Strong Stomachs

Eden Robins writes what she had previously decided should be termed “quirkpunk” but which she would now like to change to “quirkrock,” just to spice things up. She is also co-editor of Brain Harvest and lives in Chicago, dreading the winters.

Here’s the question that nobody is asking: Exactly how much do you love doughnuts, and what are you willing to do to prove it? Enter Cameron Pierce, writer of bizarro fiction and man of steely intestines. This past weekend, Cameron descended on Portland’s Voodoo Doughnuts for a three-day writing marathon wherein he promised to eat only doughnuts for the duration, freeze his hiney off when the shop closed from 3 am to 6 am, and complete a draft of the first in a trilogy of food stories entitled Die You Doughnut Bastards. Let it be known that bizarro asks the questions that the rest of us are afraid to answer.

I was lucky enough to attend Clarion West with one of the patron saints of the bizarro genre, Carlton Mellick III, and to befriend his wife, publisher Rose O’Keefe of bizarro imprint Eraserhead Press. Bizarro likens itself to the literary version of your video store’s cult section, and indeed you’ll find stories that range from surreal to gruesome, X-rated to quirky and whimsical. Personally, I love the genre for its unapologetic excesses, its focus on good storytelling, and its ability to reflect on everyday weirdnesses by exploring them to their illogical ends. Plus, it’s just a hell of a lot of fun.

Rose O’Keefe and Eraserhead Press are also masterminds of creative and guerrilla marketing. They are passionate about what they do and are eager to bring others into the big bizarro family, and they’ve devised some of the most creative methods of doing so that I’ve seen to date. For example — making a public event out of a writer’s new book, before the thing is even written. They also brew their own beer to celebrate the release of new books and pass it out to partygoers at cons (most recently World Fantasy) to get people talking more about what they do. They know that  readers often seek out the authors they like and not just specific books, so they spend time helping authors cultivate their public identities in a way that makes them more like celebrities to their readers, thus hand-crafting an audience that wants to read their work and building up from there. Bizarro readings also can be very theatrical and entertaining — complete with costumes, props, and, sometimes, raw meat — and all promotion is done with the idea of incorporating the authors’ non-writing talents and hobbies into the mix.

At a time when everyone seems to be scrambling to find their place in the publishing world, it seems to me that the bizarro folks have got the right idea — do what you love, use what you have, and have a good time doing it. Because really, isn’t that what we all should be doing?

Is your interest piqued? Lucky you — you can download some awesome Bizarro books for free until Thanksgiving! Do note that the content of some of these books (as well as the content at the authors’ websites) may be of an X-rated and/or gruesome nature, so keep that in mind if you are under 18 or have a sensitive stomach.

VanderMeer/Finch News

Stepping in one last time this week to relay some news of interest. First off, it appears Ann and I will be on a segment for NPR’s Weekend Edition one of the next couple of Sundays. (Also look for the WaPo review of Finch this coming Saturday, and an interview with the Onion AV Club forthcoming.)

Second, Diana Gill at HarperCollins has bought The Thackery T. Lambshead Cabinet of Curiosities from us–more on that soon.

Third, because of Finch I am one of two Indiebound IndieNext authors whose books were chosen to be handsold and featured this month in indie bookstores. This is a lovely honor, and I hope you will buy the book through your favorite indie store if the spirit moves you.

Fourth, I have posted another update on the Omnivoracious blog about my tour, including links to the prior posts.

Fifth, check out booklifenow for a special What Are You Thankful For post that I hope you’ll contribute to.

Sixth, watch Paul Tremblay’s video footage of our Borders event on the Borders blog, Babel Clash.

Finally, check out my events sidebar to the right for info on my gig tonight here in New Hampshire and the one upcoming in Baltimore on November 29. Hope to see some of you there. Thus far, I’ve been humbled and flattered by the great turn-out. Thanks so much for your support. And thanks to the guest bloggers for awesome posts.

Giving It Away

Will Hindmarch is a freelance writer, graphic designer, and game designer. He also blogs at Gameplaywright and The Gist. Look for him at Jeff VanderMeer’s reading in Atlanta at 8pm on December 11th at Manuel’s Tavern.

haikuyearA few weeks ago, I gave away five poems drawn from a Cessna flight manual. Today, I’m giving away 105 haiku I wrote as part of my Haiku Year project. The short version: I set out to write a haiku a day for one year. I made it a little over three months. Starting on Thanksgiving, I’m going to give it a shot again, though, and as part of the preparation for that I’ve gathered together all the haiku I wrote during the last jaunt, plus a few articles about the poems, and put them into a little book, also called Haiku Year. Starting today, you can buy it for a pittance, as a POD paperback, or download a free copy of it, as a PDF ebook. Get either of those things at Lulu.

The obvious question here, of course, is can you even give poetry away on the Internet? Put another way, who gives a damn? The answers to those questions are, of course, “Yes, you can give it away,” and “Very nearly nobody.”

I made $15 in donations from those Cessna flight-manual poems. That’s $3/poem and, honestly, more than I expected to make. As I said at the time, it means that I was able to pay for a couple of beers using poems I wrote. That ain’t nothing. Truth be told, that was kind of a fun feeling. But the money isn’t quite the point. The point is to be putting work in front of people, in lots of various forms. The point is to get excited and make things. (See also Wil Wheaton’s recent post, “get excited and make things!”) The point is to get it out there.

Most of this book’s haiku were written to get me jump-started on the day’s writing. Or to get me some practice with the form. To get me looking around for a poem every day. They did that. Now that that’s done, why not put them into a handy package for people? Why not make them available for sale as a little pocket book? I’m not out anything but a little bit of time for making it. Who knows, the book might buy me a beer.

The only trouble is that if you download the thing, I have no record of that. So please drop a comment here or at this post on my home blog, letting me know that you chose to get it and, maybe, read a bit of it. I’ll come back and let you know what sort of response the thing gets. It may very well end up being an embarrassing silence, but at least we’ll know that.

so much for November, then

Guest blogger Felix Gilman is the author of the novels Thunderer and Gears of the City, and A History of the Half-Made World, coming next year from Tor.

Well OK so I have been a very bad guest blogger.  I’d like to pretend I’ve been busy doing something creative or traveling somewhere exotic or doing good works among the poor or campaigning for healthcare reform but the fact of the matter is that I bought Dragon Age and it swallowed my November whole. It seemed like a good idea at the time but in retrospect I have my doubts. My thumbs hurt.

I can’t be the only one, can I? Confess! Confess.

The Virtues of Vampires

Via Whatever, I found this piece by Matt Yglesias asking why — if vampires are thousands of years old — they don’t act old:

Across various fictions, why don’t vampires exhibit more cranky old man characteristics? I’m only 28 and already I feel myself periodically overtaken by a desire to tell the young people all about How It Was Back in the Day. I’ll bore people with tedious stories about the old Monroe Street Giant in Columbia Heights before the fancy new stores opened, or about how there used to not be all this stuff on U Street but The Kingpin was the best bar in DC. Just yesterday, I think, a colleague and I were explaining to the rest of the ThinkProgress team that if the new progressive infrastructure and its blogosphere last for a thousand years, men will stay say the Social Security privatization fight of 2005 was their finest hour. If I ever attain immortality, I fully intend to harangue the young people of the future with nonsense about Voltron and how people think of Harvey Danger as a one-hit wonder but really that whole album’s underrated and had other good songs.

That and, you know, murder people in order to feast on their blood.

I totally agree with Yglesias. This is what vampires would be like.

It’s also the only thing I like about vampires. Vampires have the potential to be soooo antithetical to their usual representation. They have the potential to be antiheroes who spoil any epic by wandering off to complain for three hours about this annoying modern lack of chariot races.

This is also the reason I enjoyed Angel on his own TV show. Every once in a while — alas, not all the time — they would show Angel as an extremely handsome, immortal, super-strong, crime-fighting crank. “What kind of bill is this?” I remember him demanding at a restaurant, though his dialogue is paraphrased here. “I remember when you could get a loaf of bread for a guinea!* Damn kids, get off my lawn!”

*My utter lack of knowledge about pre-Euro English money is here revealed.

Getting it ‘out there’.

Hi all. Jeff very kindly invited me to drop by as a guest blogger while he was away on his signing tour – hope it’s going great Jeff! My name is Liam Sharp and I’m primarily known as a comic book artist from the UK. My first novel, God Killers, launched in Easter this year and is on it’s second edition.
I was at a fantastic little comic convention in Leeds at the weekend called Thought Bubble, and a question came up about getting writing ‘out there’ on the one panel I was involved with. What came out of that – and always does when this question arises – is that not only is it pertinent to writers and artists, (and most likely musicians too,) but that there is also no clear answer. In the creative world there are so many factors it’s hard to know where to even start!
In my experience most creative people are by nature extremely conflicted and dual. We are prone to self-doubt, and yet have enough self-belief to keep going. We’re generally good at spending hours and even days of our lives hidden away from the world, and yet we are required to emerge into the light, blinking and fearful, to sell ourselves, and our wares, to the jaded populace. We’re sensitive, introspective and introverted, but we have to learn to be thick-skinned and – to one extent or another – extrovert if we are to ever get noticed.
Nobody is going to do it for us!
Someone asked me how their sensitive, self-doubting, talented artist friend could get his work seen. The truth is he can’t, not without putting himself and his work ‘out there’. And ‘out there’ he’ll face the varied and often painful setbacks – the propensity for opinion to masquerade as harsh truth. (It’s easy to believe the views of others and discard our own, and strangely it’s often the less talented who are gifted with delusional notions of greatness with respect to their actual ability!) There have been long years when I lost faith in my own work, as though it were somehow marred by something ugly I couldn’t quite grasp. You can easily lose your way in that mind-set. You remain in a mental trench, pacing up and down, afraid to look out over the rim to see what’s ‘out there’.
Psychological aspects and pressures aside, the true defining factor about creativity as a way of life is encapsulated in actions. That is to say, if you want to write you have to write! You want to draw? Draw! It’s tenacity, will, the fact that you do it, and will always do it, regardless, for it’s own sake, and for the inherent rewards such actions offer.
Fiscal reward has to be a possible end product, not an initial goal.
What surprises a lot of people is that even as a respected veteran in any creative field nothing is guaranteed. We still have to pitch and can suffer long periods without work – it is, to use the old cliché, a feast or famine lifestyle for the majority. One year I had so many pitches passed over that, in a bleak moment, I added up the potential years of work those pitches represented had they all been picked up – The sum amounted to thirty-eight years. Even established pros have to remain tenacious!
To this day I have many projects that may or may not amount to anything. Some of these are almost as old as I am. And it’s about the love of creativity itself – the sudden bursts of inspiration, or the long slow dawning of an idea – this is the magic of what we do, and the source from which we derive our deepest pleasure. This is what makes an artist, a writer, a singer, musician, poet or performer – the muse that fuels us.
Inspiration is a drug, and we’re addicted to it.
Chase those moments then, and don’t give up. Know it may never resolve itself, but do it anyway – and don’t be too hard on yourselves either! Enjoy it. And get it ‘out there’.
Very best of luck,

Where in the world is Carmen Sa –

I’ve been a bad guest-blogger, but I have an excuse: I spent the last two weeks travelling, first to and from Bangkok on the night train, then by what we in the business call a “jet”, to Singapore. I got home and it was Friday, and I was very happy it was Friday, and had plans to go out for drinks until I realised it was actually Thursday. And when you can’t tell the days of the week apart, alcohol might not be the best answer.

But it was fun. I picked up about 30 books to read, and got to hang out for a few hours on Saturday with a group of Singaporean SF writers (I’ll try to blog about that later on). I also ate too much – not a surprise. The key to Bangkok, btw, is very simple: you don’t eat one, or two, big meals in the day, but rather snack – continously, as it were.

Apart from all that (and also a rather surreal evening this Saturday involving a midget hunchback tuk-tuk driver, which I won’t go into), I’m still on the crusade to, you know, get people interested in international SF. It’s not that I want to be the guy who bangs on and on about it, but…

Someone should.

We started off rather nicely with an editorial over at the World SF News Blog: Where is the World in the World Fantasy Awards? Surprisingly positive responses (at least by e-mail) and who knows, maybe one day we’ll get a WFA that actually deserves the name? A great award in all other respects, but the name is a little misleading…

We’ve got a lot lined up at the WSNB – so many people are pitching in with articles and links and opinions – just today we have an incredibly in-depth look at science fiction in Portugal, for instance, and we’ve also began to compile lists of original stories published this year by international writers – summing up places like Strange Horizons, Clarkesworld and with many more to come. There are more stories than you might think!

Also today, Strange Horizons have published the first in a two-part article by Jordan-based journalist Nicholas Seeley which, rather than just review the Apex Book of World SF (my anthology of international fiction), goes very deep into the themes and concerns of the authors, talking to many of them – including Han Song from China, Aliette de Bodard from France, and the great Zoran Živković – and painting a truly fascinating picture of what’s happening out there. It blew me away, and I can’t wait for part two!

So there you have it – quite a lot for a Monday morning! Of course, for me, the sun is already setting here in Laos, where the “cold season” has finally arrived – all two months of it! But for all of you on the other side of the world Monday is just beginning. Don’t feel bad – we can’t all live in the future, after all…

Lavie Tidhar is the author of linked-story collection HebrewPunk (2007), novellas An Occupation of Angels (2005), Cloud Permutations (2009) and Gorel & The Pot-Bellied God (2010) and, with Nir Yaniv, of The Tel Aviv Dossier (2009). He’s lived on three continents and one island-nation, and currently lives in South East Asia. His first novel, The Bookman, will be published by HarperCollins’ new Angry Robot imprint in 2010, and will be followed by two more. He lives in the future.

Harlequin Horizons Links

Guest Blogger Charles Tan blogs at Bibliophile Stalker, The World SF News Blog, and SF Signal.

Last week’s controversy revolves around Harlequin’s new imprint (previously known as Harlequin Horizons), which utilizes a vanity-publishing model. As someone who compiles links for both my blog and SF Signal, here are some links on the subject matter:

Feeling Awesome About Comics and Beyonce: A Few Rantings with Pete Toms

S.J. Chambers is an articles editor for Strange Horizons.  Not only has her work appeared in that fine forum, but also, Fantasy, Bookslut, and The Baltimore Sun’s Read Street Blog.  She is also currently working with Jeff as his Master Archivist for The Steampunk Bible. You can find out more about S.J. at

Palfs a self-portrait by Pete Toms


Pete Toms is a rare tour-de-force that I would have never met if it wasn’t for the Internet and Aleks Sennwald, who is also his partner in crime over at Mystic Milk.  Stationed in New Jersey, he creates wonderful illustrations and comics that cull together pop cultural references and bits of existential longing into interesting narrative and surreal pieces that are not only fun to look at but fun to deconstruct.  His work has appeared in various publications, including Arthur Magazine, The Portland Mercury, and Bejeezus.   He is also a very accomplished musician under the handle Go Down, Matthew, and probably one of the funniest men I have had the pleasure to meet and spar with.

Pete Toms: Ha. Let’s do the interview in Latin. Semper Livejournal.

S.J. Chambers: I’m feeling more Space Ghost-ish. “Welcome to Vanderworld. Are you getting enough oxygen? Were the squid nice to you?”  I guess that means we’re starting.  Well, if I can recall, when I first met you on Livejournal you were writing more music than drawing and writing comics. One, am I right about that, and two, did music lead you to drawing, or are they not at all related in your creative process?

Pete: I was actually always doing about the same amount of all of them (also dancing and woodworking). I was, however, essentially internet/computer illiterate, so getting comics and drawings online took me like 2 years to Google how to do it.

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