Saturday, April 30, 2011

Rico Slade will Fucking Kill You!

Rico Slade Will Fucking Kill YouRico Slade Will Fucking Kill You by Bradley Sands

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Rico Slade's arch-nemesis, Baron Mayhem, is plotting to destroy the Earth and only Rico Slade can stop him. Rico Slade embarks on an orgy of destruction to find his arch enemy. But what does all this have to do with Chip Johnson, the man who plays Rico Slade in countless movies? Can Johnson's psychologist get to him before he gets to the actor who plays Baron Mayhem?

Rico Slade Will Fucking Kill You is a hilarious tale about an actor who has snapped and thinks he's the character he's played in countless movies. Bradley Sands pokes fun at the exaggerated manliness of action movies while simultaneously crafting an action-packed story. Rico's tough guy rampage is hilarious if you've ever seen an action movie. Poor Harold Shwartzman, Rico Slade/Chip Johnson's psychiatrist, is the story's true hero. The twist of the truth of Slade's relationship with Baron Mayhem was well done.

Rico Slade Will Fucking Kill You isn't for everyone, though. If you don't think people getting their throats ripped out, women getting karate chopped in their vaginas, people getting urinated upon, and tough guy quips are amusing, this probably isn't the book for you. Otherwise, buy this book and be highly entertained or RICO SLADE WILL FUCKING KILL YOU!

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How to Eat Fried Furries

How to Eat Fried FurriesHow to Eat Fried Furries by Nicole Cushing

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

How to Eat Fried Furries reminds me of the more demented episodes of Monty Python's Flying Circus. You've got the final episode for Ferret Force Five, a cult show from 70's, where the five ferret girls take their VW into space to stop a rain of shit from the cosmic Bung hole located near the tale of the Squirrel Nebula and stop a squirrel invasion; a "where are they now" piece detailing the fates of the show's stars, pseudo-Amish furry recipes, and the whacking of Santa Claus masterminded by the Easter Bunny.

How to Eat Fried Furries is 50% awesome and 50% WTF? The writing was hilarious. The Ferret Force Five piece was easily my favorite part, though it fell apart a bit in the final chapter. A squirrel empire from space and a rain of cosmic shit was a pretty good way to end that legendary series. The recipes were funny but wore a little thin toward the end. Extra points for multiple mentions of Pabst Blue Ribbon. The Whacking of Godfather Christmas was funny but I would have preferred another Ferret Force Five story.

While this wasn't my favorite book in the New Bizarro Author series, it was definitely one of the weirder ones. I'm curious to see what Nicole Cushing can do in a novel as opposed to a collection like this. 3 out of 5 stars.

Note: Here's an interview I did with Nicole Cushing.

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Friday, April 29, 2011

Felix and the Sacred Thor

Felix and the Sacred ThorFelix and the Sacred Thor by James Steele

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In a dystopian society where unemployment is the norm, Felix wields the Sacred Thor against the forces that threaten humanity, the sentient toasters living in the chest cavities of most college graduates. Did I mention The Sacred Thor is a "marital aid" shaped like an enormous horse penis? I didn't? You'd think I would have mentioned that first...

Where do I start? Do I mention a world where many college graduates are stress management specialists, dedicated to servicing pent up animals? Do I mention the rampant elements of satire mocking the absurdity of corporate America? No, I'll mention that Felix wields a giant horse penis that levels up as he dispatches his enemies.

Felix and the Sacred Thor is quite a tale. It's part quest story, part super hero story, but it's mostly a commentary on how ridiculous corporate America has become. 19 hour work days, being sodomized by supervisors, firings for minor offenses, are any of those thing really that hard to imagine? James Steele took his frustration with working in retail and turned the knob up to 11.

While the dry humor was the main selling point for me, Steele's writing almost made me forget Felix was waving a giant horse penis around. From grease being renamed "sustenance" in the interest of political correctness to nutrition being broadcast into people's bloodstreams, his world building was quite deep for 82 pages of story.

If there is a Bizarro crown, place it on the head of James Steele immediately. 4 out of 5 stars.

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Thursday, April 28, 2011

Uncle Sam’s Carnival of Copulating Inanimals

Uncle Sam’s Carnival of Copulating InanimalsUncle Sam’s Carnival of Copulating Inanimals by Kirk Jones

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

After dying in a wood chipper accident and being reborn as a being composed of tears, Gary becomes part of Uncle Sam's traveling carnival where he's tasked with training the inanimals to copulate for the amusement of the crowd. But what is the dark secret Uncle Sam is hiding...?

Is Uncle Sam's Carnival of Copulating Inanimals the most bizarre of the New Bizarro Author Series I've read so far? Yes. Yes, it is. At first glance it looks like your average comedy: boy dies, boy gets reborn as a being of vitreous humor, boy joins carnival led by Uncle Sam and falls in love with his niece who later dies and is reincarnated as a futon. How many times have we read that tired old story?

All foolishness aside, Kirk Jones has written a commentary on the American dream, control, and conformity, and wrapped it in bizarro trappings. Or it's just a story about furniture having sex. It's fairly open to interpretation.

Any gripes? Only that the characters other than Gary and Uncle Sam didn't have a whole lot of development. That and not enough furniture sex.

For bizarro fans that like their tales to have a message, this is one to watch for. 3.5 out of 5. Now if you'll excuse me, I don't like the way my couch is looking at my chair one bit...

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ShatnerquakeShatnerquake by Jeff Burk

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A miserable William Shatner is attending ShatnerCon when Campbellians attempt to set off a Reality Bomb to erase his work from existence for the glory of almighty Bruce. The bomb malfunctions and various characters portrayed by William Shatner come to life, bent on killing Shatner, letting nothing stand in their way. Can William Shatner survive?

ShatnerQuake is awesome, no two ways about it. From William Shatner looking down on his fans to Denny Crane, Priceline Shatner, Rescue 911 Shatner, and Captain Kirk running amuck amongst rabid Star Trek fans, it's gold from start to finish. Where else can you read a line like "Oh shit! Captain Kirk has a lightsaber!"

The Campbellians, with their missing hands honoring their idol, made good villians and were excellent targets for a rampaging Captain Kirk. The Kirk-Shatner fight was excellent. Kirk coming on to a green Star Trek fan and having her not reciprocate was awesome. The ending was straight out of a Twilight Zone and very satisfying. I even loved the way Shatner's dialogue was rendered with the frequent pauses.

While it's not Shakespeare, it doesn't pretend to be. For what it is, I'm giving it 5 stars. I thought of docking it a half star because of the persistent misspelling of turbolift but even that wasn't enough to stand up against Shatnerquake's awesomeness. It's a must read for Shatner fans everywhere.

I leave you with a song, William Shatner by The Scofflaws.

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The Egg Said Nothing

The Egg Said NothingThe Egg Said Nothing by Caris O'Malley

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Until he laid the egg, Manny's life consisted of hanging around his apartment and fishing coins out of fountains. Now, he's got a girlfriend of sorts and keeps getting harassed about the egg. So what's inside?

Sometimes, you read a book and wonder how the hell it ever got published. Other times, you read a book and it's so good you want to track the author down and call him a son of a bitch. The Egg Said Nothing is of the second type.

The Egg Said Nothing is quite a ride. Born out of an unholy union beteen National Novel Writing Month and the New Bizarro Author Series, Caris O'Malley introduces the reader to Manny, a shut-in who has an important destiny. If the story had only been about the relationship between Manny and Ashley, I'd probably have given it a 5. For a first novel, Caris wrote a quirky yet beautiful relationship. A girl that smells like old books? Sign me up! The egg seemed like an afterthought once Manny met Ashely. Then the egg broke and all hell broke loose.

I hate to admit it but while I enjoyed the time travel portion of the story quite a bit, I would have preferred more of the relationshippy stuff. Once the multiple Manny's showed up, I had a feeling how things were going to go down. The ending twist was well done, straight out of a Twilight Zone episode, brutal but somehow hopeful. There isn't a lot more I can say without giving too much away.

The verdict? 4.5 out of 5. This is not one to miss. I shall look forward to Caris' future endeavors with great interest.

Side Note: Obnoxious Goodreads authors take note. Caris O'Malley happens to be a fairly prominent reviewer on Goodreads and doesn't even have an author profile. Pretty sneaky. You can find an interview I did with him here

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Tuesday, April 26, 2011


Flashfire (Parker, #19)Flashfire by Richard Stark

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Parker helps a crew on a bank job and then they take off with is money. Parker goes after them like a bloodhound, gathering money and planning to take their next heist out from under them. Only the man furnish Parker with a new identity is gunned down and the killer is coming for Parker! Can Parker get his money and avoid getting dead?

Flashfire is one of the non-standard Parker books. Parker is out to steal back his money from guys who stiffed him in the first place. It feels a little like The Hunter in that regard. Parker certainly goes through the wringer in this one. Flashfire definitely showcases Parker's toughness and tenacity.

I liked Parker's relationship with Leslie Mackenzie and I really liked the interplay between Parker and the sheriff. As always, the fun came with watching Parker deal with the complications.

Any gripes? Just the same ones I have with all of the post-Butcher's Moon Parker books. For what it was, it was at least seventy pages too long. There was a lot of extraneous crap and it felt more like a Westlake book than a Richard Stark. The reason people were on Parker's trail also seemed a little weak.

While it's not my favorite Parker, it's still a worthy part of the Parker canon. An easy three stars.

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Thirteen Stigmata of Nicole Cushing

My series of interviews with the 2010-2011 New Bizarro Authors continues with Nicole Cushing, author of How to Eat Fried Furries

How did your becoming one of the New Bizarro Authors come about?
Back in 2009 I was beginning to hang around the Bizarro Central message board and saw the posting of submission guidelines for the NBAS. I had some weird short stories that other publishers liked, but they all thought the stories were a little too weird. I started reading about the sort of fiction the Bizarros were creating, and it seemed like a good fit for this particular project, so I sent the stories to Eraserhead, collected as How To Eat Fried Furries.

Of the 2010-2011 New Bizarro writers, you're the only one with a short story collection. What are your feelings on short stories vs. novels?
I love both, but they really are two different experiences (both as a reader and a writer). The short story is engineered to deliver intensity. The novel is engineered to deliver a more lavish, complex story,
sometimes told at a bit more of a recreational pace. There are some tales better told as a short story, and others better told as a novel. I think, in speculative fiction, the novel is the ideal form to tell stories
set in a particularly intricate secondary world or future world. I think the short story is the ideal form for a “gut punch” sort of tale that delivers a visceral emotional effect. Neither is superior to other.

How much contact to you have with the other New Bizarro authors? I know I picture you all hanging out at the Hall of Justice like the Superfriends.

We all met at last year's BizarroCon, and there's a lot of helpful discussion between authors via the net. I like the Superfriends comparison, though. If I were one of the WonderTwins, then all I'd have to do is say “Shape of...a full-time author!”

Was there a book that made you reallize you wanted to be a writer?
Not one book, in particular. Growing up, I read a fair number of comic books and scary stuff written for kids – but no one book jumps out as “the one” that inspired me. But I think that, from an early age, I so enjoyed books – all books, really – that I knew I wanted to write them. I can remember wanting to be an author since first or second grade.

Who are some of your influences?
I'm probably not the best judge of my own work, but I'll venture to say that as far as literary influences go... Phillip K. Dick, Thomas Ligotti, H.P. Lovecraft, and – especially recently – Gary Braunbeck,

What's your favorite book?
That's an almost-impossible question. There are so many great ones out there that it's very difficult to choose just one, and if you ask me tomorrow I'll give you a different answer. Just for today, I'll say
that it's between PKD's The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch and Ligotti's Teatro Grottesco.

Who's your favorite author?
Again, an almost-impossible question. There are so many great authors out there. So, again, I'll narrow it down between two. For short stories, my favorite author is Thomas Ligotti. At the novel length, my favorite author is Phillip K. Dick.

What's the best book you've read in the last six months?
I think I just read The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch in the past six months and that's now my favorite book. But just to avoid repetition, I'll also mention this great book, Yellow Blue Tibia by Adam Roberts

Which 1980's teen comedy is your favorite?
Ferris Bueller's Day Off. It's all about ditching school in order to get an education. If more kids followed Ferris' example, we'd have a smarter country.

If you were a professional wrestler, what would your stage name be?
The truth is writer-themed wrestling personas have been slim pickings, historically. The only one that comes to mind was “The Genius” Lanny Poffo, who in the late-80s WWF would recite a poem or two upon entering the ring. Continuing, then, on the poetry theme, I would call myself “Lady Lazarus” (after the Sylvia Plath work of the same name). I would take on all comers, male and female, and would humiliate my unconscious foes by stuffing the pages from trade paperback editions of Ariel into
their mouths. My signature move would be a sleeper hold I'd call “the oven”. But my weakness would be that if opponents taunted me too much and lowered my self-esteem, I'd put “the oven” on myself and pass out.

Who was your favorite character on Scooby Doo?
I really didn't care for any of them. All of the mysteries would have been solved much sooner if Scooby had been a talking cat.

Any words of wisdom for aspiring writers?
I'm not sure how much my advice is worth, since I'm a newer author, myself. And, of course, I can only share what's worked for me. But since you asked, here goes..

Turn off the television. Unless you plan to be a screenwriter, don't watch movies. Then, read as much fiction as you possibly can. If you plan to be a genre writer then there's a decided advantage to reading genre fiction, but the most important thing is to become well-acquainted with the topography of language. Then write fiction every day. Every day, especially at first. It might only be 250 words a day at first, and that's okay. I started writing 250-500 words a day and now I'm up to writing 1,000 or 2,000 words at a sitting – it just took a couple of years of steady practice to get to that point.

Read every day, write every day. It's one of those things that's simple, but not easy.

What's next for Nicole Cushing?
I'm about half-way through the first draft of a science fiction novel. There's humor here and there, but nothing quite so silly as Fried Furries. I'm really enjoying the process of growing and trying new things.

Monday, April 25, 2011


Comeback (Parker, #17)Comeback by Richard Stark

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

When George Liss told Parker and Mackey about the job, it sounded too good to be true; four hundred thousand dollars cash, in the hands of a televangelist. Things go south when their inside man spills his guts to a woman and she tells her no good brother. With another gang gunning for the money and George Liss wanting it all, can Parker get the money and get out alive?

Here we are, the first Parker book Richard Stark wrote after 25 Parker-less years. As usual, the caper was well planned. I almost felt sorry for Carmody and Quindero. George Liss made a pretty good foil for Parker, as did Detective Calavecci, who I'm betting will show up again. Mackey and Brenda were okay but mostly bit characters. I'm delighted to say Parker hasn't lost his form and hasn't gone soft. Going up against a guy with two guns armed with only a stubby 2 x 4 and an L bracket in a burning building proved that to me.

So why only three stars? It was good but not fantastic. While Parker didn't lose anything in the 25 years off, I thought the writing was a little more Donald Westlake than it was Richard Stark. It seemed slightly padded and lacked the punch of the earlier books. Don't get me wrong, I still thought it was good and I still enjoyed it. It was just half a step behind the earlier books. I'll definitely be re-reading it along with the others when I run out of Parker books.

Parker fans, you're going to want to read this regardless of what you hear. Just expect it to be slightly less awesome than the earlier books.

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Blue Belle

Blue Belle (Burke, #3)Blue Belle by Andrew Vachss

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

While working to collect the $50,000 bounty on the Ghost Van, a mysterious vehicle whose appearance marks the disappearance of one or more prostitutes, Burke gets entangled with a buxom stripper named Belle. Can Burke keep Belle out of harm's way as he tracks the Ghost Van? And what, if anything, does the Ghost Van have to do with Mortay, the insane karate master who's gunning for Max the Silent?

Wow. Burke bit off more than he could easily chew in this one. The relationship with Belle really complicated Burke's life of scamming and surviving by his wits. Like the other Burke books I've read, Burke and his associates were made to look like angels when compared to the big bad villain, Mortay in this case. The scariest thing about Vachss's books is that he draws the villains from his real life experiences. Chilling stuff.

It was nice to see the old supporting characters and I'm glad Vachss kept Terry around. While Burke is much the same as he was in the two previous books, his supporting cast continues to evolve. Burke's concern for Max was both believable and well done. The disgusting underbelly of New York is almost a character in the Burke series and Blue Belle is no exception. I could easily see Lawrence Block's Matthew Scudder inhabiting the same New York as Burke.

Any gripes? Yeah. The plot came together a little too neatly. It seemed like Burke took a couple really big leaps. But that problem was minuscule compared to my other problem with the book: Burke's relationship with Belle. I just didn't buy the way she was desperate for Burke to love her a minute or two after they met. The way Burke treated her was in character for him, not wanting anyone getting too close, but I didn't believe that she'd stay with him. Burke's one cold bastard, although he redeemed himself to Belle at the end.

All in all, I enjoyed Blue Belle. Vachss has me hooked.

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Free Fall

Free Fall (Elvis Cole, #4)Free Fall by Robert Crais

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A woman named Jennifer Sheridan hires Elvis Cole to watch her fiancee and find out what sort of trouble he's in. Only he's in a lot more trouble than Jennifer or Elvis Cole bargained for...

Robert Crais took me for another ride on this one. I thought I had a pretty good handle on things but then Crais jerked the rug out from under me. Cole and Pike take on gang members and possibly dirty cops and wind up on the run. Crais takes on controversial issues like police brutality, cover-ups, dirty cops, and life in South Central LA and manage to weave a very engaging tale. Ray Depente is introduced and much suffering supporting cast member Lou Poitras plays a role. Cole and Pike are Cole and Pike, like always. Tension builds and builds until the violence-gasm at the end.

As I've said before, I almost dismissed Elvis Cole as a Spenser ripoff when I first read The Monkey's Raincoat but now I'm solidly behind him. He's like Spenser but without the Susan Silverman baggage and much discussed code of ethics. Joe Pike's no Hawk but you can't have everything. Free Fall is a quality crime/mystery story and a good way to spend a snowy Sunday.

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Blossom (Burke, #5)Blossom by Andrew Vachss

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Burke leaves the Big Apple behind to help a former cellmate in a small town in Indiana. Virgil, the cellmate, has a nephew that's been accused of gunning down couples at a local lovers' lane. Can Burke figure out who the real killer is before he strikes again? And what about the mysterious Blossom who's tugging at Burke's heartstrings?

This Burke book was one of my favorites so far. Burke does a lot more detective work than usual and Vachss doesn't rely on the usual supporting cast. While the Prof has a role and the Mole makes an appearance, this one is mostly Burke and some new supporting characters. Burke's method of tracking down and entrapping the killer was well done and fairly novel. We got a few more glimpses into Burke's dark past. The plot moved fairly quickly and there was no padding. Virgil and Burke helping Lloyd learn how to be a man was probably my favorite part.

Any complaints? Not really except that Burke and his world view are so bleak I feel like reading some Jim Thompson afterwords to cheer myself up. Blossom is my Burke top two and is definitely worth a read.

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The Drawing of the Three

The Drawing of the Three (The Dark Tower, Book 2)The Drawing of the Three by Stephen King

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Roland Deschain, fresh from the events of the Gunslinger, lies exhausted and poisoned on the shores of the ocean. In his delirium, he finds three doorways leading to our world and his new ka-tet. Will Roland survive long enough to bring his new ka-tet?

This is when the Dark Tower really started coming together. The first thing that happens really shocked the crap out of me. Damn lobstrosities! I had no idea what Roland was going to go through when I first opened this one.

The new characters are interesting, as are Roland's relationships with them. Eddie Dean, funnyman and heroin addict, is pretty codependent at first, while Detta/Odetta, a multiple personality in a wheelchair, really causes some havoc. Jack Mort, well... you just better read it.

The action in this one is great. The gunfight in Andolini's is one of my favorite Stephen King scenes of all time. While the Gunslinger got me interested in the Dark Tower, this one grabbed me for the long haul.

Thoughts from the April 2011 re-read:
Upon yet another re-reading, it seems really illogical that Roland let himself fall asleep so close to the ocean. The battle between Roland and Eddie and Balazar's goons remains one of my favorite gunfights in the series. Susannah is still my least favorite of the ka-tet.

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The Gunslinger

The Gunslinger (The Dark Tower, Book 1)The Gunslinger by Stephen King

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The man in black fled across the desert and the Gunslinger followed.

Roland Deschain, the last of the Gunslingers, is on a quest for the Dark Tower, a mysterious edifice that is the axle of worlds and holds all existence together. In this, the first volume, Roland pursues his nemesis across the Mohaine Desert. He follows the man in black's trail to a little town called Tull, then through more desert, encountering a boy named Jake from our world, and then into the mountains. Will Roland finally catch his arch-nemesis after years of pursuing him? And what means will he go to to achieve his goal?

When I first picked up this book, I had no idea it would shoot to the top of my favorites list. I wolfed down the first four books in three weeks, then entered an agonizing period of waiting the last three to be published. I think I've read the first four books five or six times each. The whole Dark Tower series, while on the surface a fantasy-western, is really the story of one man's obsession. In this volume, we get a hint of what Roland will do to get to the Dark Tower.

The writing is great and it warmed me up to Stephen King. Roland's world is unique. Part fantasy, part western, part post-apocalypse. While it's the first book in a series, it's quite satisfying to read on its own.

If your looking with fantasy with a different flavor, look no further.

Additional Thoughts from the April 2011 re-read:

Some of the additions in the revised edition of this book were much-needed and brought the first book into synch with the later ones. Others seemed a little ham-fisted and took away a bit of Roland's mystique.

I like the idea a certain curmudgeonly Kansan reviewer proposed that the first edition of The Gunslinger and this one are from different cycles in Roland's quest.

I think it's a testament to Stephen King's skill as a writer that even on my sixth or seventh go round, I was still hoping Roland wouldn't let Jake fall.

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Friday, April 22, 2011

Fistful of Feet

Fistful of FeetFistful of Feet by Jordan Krall

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A drifter named Calamaro drags a wooden donkey into Screwhorse, Nevada, and enters a web of trouble involving people with bizarre fetishes, an ineffective sheriff, a depraved mayor, a rich man and his goons, and a gunfighter called the Hard Candy Kid. Will anyone be left alive when Calamaro leaves town?

Jordan Krall's Fistful of Feet is the weirdest of weird westerns. There are sexually transmitted tattoos, whores that cater to any bizarre fetish a cowboy may have, a woman nursing a giant starfish, and Calamaro, the gunslinger with the burping gun. Calamaro's the typical western strong and silent lead. Except for the shoe fetish, I guess. There's a fair amount of gore and cursing but I think that's unavoidable in a book of this kind. I loved how syphlitic men were used in a zombie type of role.

Any complaints? Only that it had to end.

As outlandish as the concepts sound, Jordan Krall weaves it all together into a bizarre but coheret plot. There's some Lovecraftian subtext and homages to various westerns. The only books I can compare it to in terms of tone are the two Joe Lansdale books featuring Ned the Seal, Zepplins West and Flaming London. Fistful of Feet will appeal to fans of bizarro and weird westerns alike. 3.75

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Thursday, April 21, 2011

The Eggman - 13 Questions with Caris O'Malley

My series of interviews of the New Bizarro Authors continues with Caris O'Malley, author of The Egg Said Nothing

How did your becoming one of the New Bizarro Authors come about?

In November of 2009, I wrote a novel. It was kind of weird. I had just written it for fun and never expected to do anything with it. I wrote a book, and that was enough for me. One day, while surfing the Internet at work, I was perusing my Amazon recommendations. Those crazy bastards suggested, based on my history, that I might enjoy such titles as The Haunted Vagina, HELP! A Bear is Eating Me! , and The Baby Jesus Butt Plug.

As you might expect, I let out an audible “what the fuck?!” and investigated these odd titles. It turned out that they were all published by the same company: Eraserhead Press. I went to their website and looked around a bit. I was mightily impressed by their catalog, which featured many books that sounded interesting, funny, or just plain wrong. I decided to contact them and see if they were in the market for a book about an egg, time travel, and shovel murders. As it turns out, they were.

An Egg? Time Travel? Shovel Murders? Tell us how The Egg Said Nothing came to be.
It was National Novel Writing Month ( I had never participated before, but I was excited about it. I wanted to adhere to the rules and write a book from beginning to end, one that I had never started.

But there were complications. About two weeks before the start of the month, I became a father. It was a huge adjustment for me and resulted in a lot of lost sleep. To make matters worse, my daughter had colic and spent the majority of her time howling like something that oft howls. That first day came around and I drew a blank. I had no idea what to write about. I had my computer on, the document open, and a crying babe on my knee.

So my mind started racing. I started to panic a bit. I had entertained the thought of writing a really great novel. I’m into literary fiction, and that was what I thought I’d be writing. But I couldn’t think of dramatic dialogue and subtle characterizations. Blame it on the newness of my fatherhood, but I started thinking about eggs. Specifically, what would I do if I laid one.

This, I thought, was a decent idea. I’d write about this goofy idea for the sheer fun of it. It was the only way I was going to make it through that particular NaNoWriMo. But then I got into it. I really got into it. And the egg began to haunt my thoughts. Somewhere in the beginning, I was stricken with writer’s block and I perused the NaNoWriMo support forums for help. That was when I learned about a Novel Writing Month tradition: the traveling shovel of death. All that time travel bullshit kind of happened on its own. Or perhaps a future version of myself penned it after the fact. Nobody really knows.

Was there a book that made you realize you wanted to be a writer?
There have been many books that made me want to be a writer. It is the first dream I can remember harboring. To that end, I think it’s safe to say that R.L. Stine’s Goosebumps series is the primary culprit.

Who are some of your influences?
I’d say that Charles Bukowski has inspired me more than anyone else. I like his simplicity and readability. He is able to do so much in such an understated manner. On the opposite end of the spectrum, I am greatly inspired by Nicole Krauss. Her stuff is horribly convoluted, but make-you-stop-breathing beautiful. Anyone who reads The Egg will also notice that I’ve been greatly influenced by Christopher Moore and Chuck Palahniuk.

What's your favorite book?
My favorite book of all time is Maggie Cassidy by Jack Kerouac.

Who's your favorite author?
Jack Kerouac

What's the best book you've read in the last six months?
I’ve had really good luck the past six months. I read The Hunger Games for the first time (which completely blew me away). Ooh. And there was Guy N. Smith’s Night of the Crabs, which simply must be experienced. The book that most impressed me, though, was fellow NBASer Steve Lowe’s Muscle Memory. Fantastic book.

In addition to being a writer, you're a prominent reviewer on Goodreads. Has your interaction with the community changed much since The Egg Said Nothing was published?
I love GoodReads. I love, love, love it. I’ve spent a couple of years religiously reviewing every book I read. I wrote the book about a year after I became really active on the site. The GR community has been so supportive of my writing and I love them for it.

I try to keep my established identity on GR to the greatest extent possible. You may have noticed that I’m not a “GoodReads Author.” This is intentional. I want to hold on to all the aspects of GR that I love. If people want to talk to me about my book, that’s great. But I want to be their friend, too. I refuse to let GR just turn into another promotional tool. It’s too important to me.

If you were a performer in an adult movie, what would your stage name be?
Snowbear Second Avenue

Which of these George Lucas produced movies would you say is your favorite: Willow, More American Graffiti, or Howard the Duck?
I can’t believe you’re making me choose between Willow and Howard the Duck. I can’t even tell you how much I love both of those movies. Uh…..Willow, by a narrow margin.

Which of the Golden Girls would you say is the most attractive?
Sophia. Hands down.

Any words of wisdom for aspiring writers?
First and foremost, find someone, preferably another writer, to read your stuff. Make it someone who you can trust to be honest. They’ll tell you when you’re on the right track and when you need to change lanes.
Keep writing. You’ll only get better. Don’t be deterred by naysayers.
If you can, find a magic pen. Or a genie that can give you great writing abilities. Those things would probably help, too.

What's next for Caris O'Malley?
That’s the question weighing on everyone’s mind. Fuck global warming. What’s Caris gonna do now?
I wrote a book last year called Clownhunter. I might do something with that. It’s still in the editing stages. At the moment, I’m working on an as yet untitled piece of young adult fiction that is decidedly not weird in any way. I’m hoping that Eraserhead will offer me a contract as result of The Egg. You can help me with this. Buy my book. I’ll love you forever. I swear it.

Love in the Time of Dinosaurs

Love in the Time of DinosaursLove in the Time of Dinosaurs by Kirsten Alene

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The world is in the grips of a war between humans and gun-toting dinosaurs. The end of humanity is near when a nameless monk falls in love with a trachodon named Petunia. Can their love conquer all?

Aside from Jurassic Park, the Anonymous Rex series, and Dinosaur Park, there is a noticeable lack of dinosaur fiction on the bookstore shelves. Love in the Time of Dinosaurs goes one book toward fixing that.

While Love in the Time of Dinosaurs seems like a bizarro retelling of Romeo and Juliet at first glance, it's really much more like a military sf book. LITTOD shows the horror of war and the dehumanization of combatants. Like Armor, only much shorter and concise. The dinosaurs of the tale, the Jeremies, are a brutal race aside from Petunia's people, the trachodons. Honestly, the monks apart from our nameless hero are a fearsome bunch themselves. There's action aplenty, along with a healthy dose of gore. The worldbuilding is pretty well done, especially considering this is Kirsten Alene's first book. I love the cover art and would proudly sport it on a tshirt.

Any gripes? A couple. It was a little difficult to take the dinosaur threat serious when they were called Jeremies. Likewise with the half-badger Steves. Other than that, I've got no complaints. Dinolovers everywhere could find a worse use of a couple hours of reading time than to pick up Love in the Time of Dinosaurs. 3.5 out of 5.

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Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Bucket of Face

Bucket of FaceBucket of Face by Eric Hendrixson

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In a world where much of the fruit has become sentient due to a horticultural genius's experiments going out of control, fruit and humans struggle to live in harmony. When Charles witnesses a banana and apple killing each other in the doughnut shop where he works, he seizes the briefcase and the bucket of human faces they left behind and attempts to start a new life with his kiwi girlfriend Sarah. Things look as if they might be going Charles's way until a Michael Jackson-obsessed hit-tomato shoes up looking to recover the goods...

I don't really know how to start writing a review for this. Do I mention the crazy world Hendrixson has fashioned where humans and fruit attempt to live side by side? Or the hilarious pop culture references? Or the fact that Hendrixson has managed to turn a walking talking tomato into a fairly chilling antagonist? Eh, I'll wing it...

Bucket of Face is an entry in the New Bizarro Author Series and sure as hell doesn't read like a first book. Hendrixson's writing style reminds me of Christopher Moore doing noir. Like I said before, he makes talking fruit seem like believable characters. The relationship between Charles and Sarah was actually pretty believable once you disregarded the talking fruit aspect. The pop culture references were plentiful but not overdone. I caught references to the Karate Kid, National Lampoon's Vacation, and a couple others.

Uniqueness always scores points with me and Bucket of Face has uniqueness coming out of every orifice. Come on! It's got a doughnut shop worker named Anakin, a Stallone-esque Strawberry everyone calls Bear, cops that talk in high class British accents when nobody's around, and a Michael Jackson worshiping tomato! Where else are you going to find anything like this?

To sum it up, if Eric Hendrixson is this creative right out of the gate, I'm ready for his next book right now. Give him a chance if you're a fan of Christopher Moore or similar authors.

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Smoothie Criminal? What's That? - An interview with Eric Hendrixson

Eric Hendirxson, author of the hilarious Bucket of Face,  is the latest of the New Bizarro Author's I've shackled in my basement interviewed.

How did your becoming one of the New Bizarro Authors come about?
I was at a seminar at which Mrs. Sullivan, who originally published the Crown Conspiracy series, emphasized the importance of knowing your genre. I had no idea what my genre was, though I had been writing in a particular style for a long time, so I described a book I was working on and she said, “Oh, you’re bizarro.” That was sort of the end of the conversation, and I thought she was fucking with me. However, I Googled it later, and it turned out she was right.

After I’d read the first two starter kits and a few Bizarro books, I went found and signed up for the New Bizarro Author Series. My application was accepted and I sat down to create a boozy cyberpunk story about a poet looking for his muse, who possibly altered his memory before moving out of his apartment. The story was rejected, which makes a lot of sense. The whole story was so depressing that it didn’t make for a good first book. That was for the first year of the NBAS. I tried again in the second year with Bucket of Face and it got in.

What was the inspiration for the sentient fruit component of the story?
You see sentient fruit in the culture a lot, but it’s always in a fairly cartoonish way--the California Raisins, Mr. Peanut, those fruits and vegetables from old Saturday morning public service announcements—and for some reason, they’re always trying to get you to eat them, which is disturbing. Since I wanted to do something in the noir style, I thought instead of having happy fruits that want people to eat them I could have fruits with the same kinds of motivations and emotions people have, more flesh and juice. They’re still food, but from a certain perspective, we’re all food. Instead of taking something normal and making it weird, I took something weird and tried to make it normal.

Is there anything you had to cut from Bucket of Face prior to publication or something you wish you would have done a little differently?
I had a chapter on Mark Cline, the guy who built Foamhenge. For some reason, Foamhenge was very closely tied with writing this novel, though it never did show up in the book. There was a pretty long section on the history of horticulture and viticulture, focusing on the history of the phylloxera wine blight in the 1800s. There was more backstory on some of the characters. It’s good for the writer to know all about the characters’ past and extensive history of the world the characters live in, but most of that stuff had nothing to do with the story.

Was there a book that made you realize you wanted to be a writer?
I don’t think it was any particular book. I learned to read at the same time as I learned to write. Since I learned to read from books, I assumed the purpose of writing was to write books. I did a lot of writing as a kid and as an adolescent. A collection of Walt Whitman went everywhere I went for about three years while I was learning how to write poetry. I think I overdosed on Whitman. I can’t really read him anymore.

Who are some of your influences?
Anthony Burgess, Nikolai Gogol, Raymond Chandler, the Mirrorshades or Cyberpunk authors of the 80s, Hunter S. Thompson, Italo Calvino, Tom Robbins, T. S. Eliot, and Warren Murphy. For each of these authors there was a time when I just sat down and read them obsessively.

However, when I was writing this book, I was reading Bizarro, so there were parts of the book in which I recognized the style of someone I’d read creeping in.

What's your favorite book?
Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy. There’s a character in the book just called the Judge who is amazing. I also find the destruction, violence, and nihilism strangely exhilarating. I really like Lolita, but every time I read the book I’m in a bad mood for a week.

Who's your favorite author?
That changes all the time. I’m a big Anthony Burgess fan, but I’ve read all his books. I watch the Eraserhead Press catalog, since there are a lot of good writers there. I always watch for when Chuck Palahniuk, Jordan Krall, Christopher Moore, Elmore Leonard, and William Gibson have something new coming out. I am waiting impatiently for Garrett Cook to release Jimmy Plush, a story of a hard-boiled detective trapped in a teddy bear’s body.

What's the best book you've read in the last six months?
There’s Christopher Moore’s Lamb, which is about Jesus’ childhood friend, Biff. That’s the most recent book I’ve read, though, so it’s still in a honeymoon period. We’ll call it the best mainstream book I’ve read in six months.

My favorite Bizarro book of the past six months is Night of the Assholes by Kevin Donihe. We’re all familiar with mashups like Pride and Prejudice With Zombies. This is Night of the Living Dead without zombies. Instead, there are assholes, and you can’t fight them because being rude to an asshole will turn you into an asshole.

I think the best classic I’ve read in six months is The Man Who Was Thursday by Chesterton.

I read all the NBAS books in October. Uncle Sam’s Carnival of Copulating Inanimals has stuck with me because it is such a difficult book to review. Every time I think of starting, I think, “Damn. This book is smarter than I am.”

What's your favorite dirty joke of all time?
A naked blonde walks into a bar with a poodle under one arm and a two-foot salami under the other. She lays the poodle on the table. The bartender says, "I suppose you won’t be needing a drink." The naked lady says,

Which vegetable would you say is the toughest in the world?
Probably beets. I won’t even go near them. The toughest fruit would be either a prickly pear or a durian. They both have spikes, but the durian has the smell thing going for it.

How excited are you about the recently unearthed collaboration between Michael Jackson and Freddie Mercury?
Wow. That’s the first I’ve heard of it. There goes my evening.

Any words of wisdom for aspiring writers?
It's very important to find your community and your genre. I don't mean your workshop or your writing group but the people you read and the people who will get what you're writing. If it doesn't exist, you might have to build it yourself. Unless you're in that sort of community, most people you workshop with with will know neither what they are talking about nor what you're writing about and trying to publish will be an exercise in frustration. It is important to read a lot of books, both the kind of books that you want to write and books of the literary tradition. In addition to the wider literary tradition, each genre has its own literary tradition which you should become very familiar with.

What's next for Eric Hendrixson?
The main thing right now is this book. I have other books already written and another plotted out, but the important thing is to find and get to know my audience.

Gun, with Occasional Music

Gun, with Occasional MusicGun, with Occasional Music by Jonathan Lethem

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When down and out private inquisitor Conrad Metcalf's last client turns up dead, Metcalf takes up the case to find out who killed him. Can he find the killer before he runs out of karma and winds up in the deep freeze?

If Raymond Chandler and Philip K. Dick spent an evening together doing hard drugs, this would be the book that would result. Lethem weaves together the sci-fi and noir elements together so tightly that an evolved kangaroo doesn't seem out of place after his first appearance.

The world of Gun, with Occasional Music, is a bleak totalitarian version of a future California. A future where everyone carries cards noting how much karma they have. When you run out of karma, you wind up in deep freeze for a period of years. A scientist named Twostrand invented a process to create evolved bipedal animals out of ordinary ones like kittens, kangaroos and sheep. Eventually the process was tried on babies, creating the grotestque babyheads. Almost everyone is addicted to a free drug called make that's used to keep the populace under control. Interested yet?

Metcalf's case is a pretty standard one but Lethem injects it with freshness. Metcalf is the prototypical noir private eye with a self-deprecating sense of humor. More than once, he congratulates himself on his use of metaphor. Gun, with Occasional Music, reminds me of the movie Hot Fuzz in that it's both a satire of noir and also one of the better 30's style noir novels I've read in recent memory, much like Hot Fuzz was for action movies. You wouldn't think that a book featuring a gun-toting kangaroo would be a good example of noir but the proof is in the pudding.

I'd recommend Gun, with Occasional to fans of noir, bizarro, Philip K. Dick, and other strangeness.

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Tuesday, April 19, 2011

I'll never look at furniture the same way again - 12 Questions with Kirk Jones

Next up in my series of interviews featuring this years New Bizarro Authors is Kirk Jones, author of Uncle Sam's Carnival of Copulating Inanimals

How did your becoming one of the New Bizarro Authors come about?
I slipped onto the bizarro scene late one night while on one of my routine searches for weird writing online. I was on a strange/foreign film binge and wanted something strange to read. At that point I had exhausted my Loompanics library, and I just couldn’t find anything really out there in print form that matched what my local store had to offer in film form. As the story goes, I typed “weird shit” into the search engine and Carlton Mellick’s page came up. I read the description for War Slut and read about Mellick’s earlier works that he wrote before publishing. It was really inspiring. Even more amazing was the fact that when I went to approach Mellick and others like Donihe on MySpace they responded and added me as a friend. I filled out an application to become a writer for Eraserhead Press on their website, and wasn’t sure if I’d hear back. Then I acquired an e-mail saying they’d like me to send something in to NBAS.

How did Uncle Sam's Carnival of Copulating Inanimals come together? What I mean is, the three central ideas seem like they could be books on their own: furniture having sex, a man made of vitreous humor, and Uncle Sam running a carnival. What inspired you to unite the three in the boldest union since the Reese's Peanut Butter Cup?
Thank you for the compliment. The story started as a work of flash fiction about a man who died and was reborn as a pile of shit, no joke. When I thought about expanding it for NBAS, I was initially at a loss. Then I read about a man who was arrested for screwing his picnic table on his back porch and thought it’d be an interesting concept to explore. The idea of everything happening at a carnival came from a Pinocchio book I had just read.

This last part I never have imparted to anyone before: the inspiration for Uncle Sam came from a picture of Bizarro Author Bruce Taylor. I thought the top hat was awesome and thought of him helping this man made of excrement out. It wasn’t until much later that Uncle Sam grew into his own and became a darker character. Originally I intended for him to be a good guy.

Everything else just came together as I wrote. So Uncle Sam’s Carnival started off as a story inspired by some pretty basic elements, and evolved into something that reflected a lot of my ideas about identity loss, fragmentation of identity, and the cog-like role industrial workers played during the American industrial revolution. I started writing bizarre because it was as removed from my scholarly work as possible. I needed to get away from it, but damn it, it found me.

Was there a book that made you realize you wanted to be a writer?
Stephen King’s Insomnia was a big inspiration. It’s the first book I picked up and thought, “well shit, I can do this.” Then Clive Barker and Philip K. Dick came along and really inspired me, but that’s for the next question.

Who are some of your influences?
In the bizarro movement, Mellick III and Donihe are my primary influences. They were the first I read and the ones who really made me excited to write like they do. Philip K. Dick is a huge inspiration as well. I loved VALIS. I loved the myth behind the man. Clive Barker was one of the first authors I read outside of school. I read Everville first, which I really enjoyed. So Stephen King made me think, “I can do this” while Barker made me think, “I want to do this.” Finally, Philip K. Dick made me think, “this is how I’d like to do it.”

What's your favorite book?
I couldn’t choose a favorite book. So many have merit and I’m always diving head first into the next thing I read so next month I’d probably have a new favorite book. I think Don Delillo’s Mao II has remained in the top three for the past five to seven years while others cycle in and out. It takes a common theme like the fragmentation of identity in society and explores it from a modern and post-modern perspective. There’s a little bit of a Walter Benjamin influence in there, which I really enjoy. It’s also a book about writing for writers. The book always becomes relevant in a new way every time I experience something different. It is a book that grows with me. Yeah. I guess that’d be my favorite.

Who's your favorite author?
It’s really hard to pick a favorite really. I’ve read the most by Philip K. Dick, and he seems to have something for every mood I’m in. His earlier work is light and fun. His later work is thought-provoking and strange.

What's the best book you've read in the last six months?
I haven’t had much of a chance to read lately. I’m really enjoying Mr. Moon’s Nightmares. I haven’t read horror in a long time and his book was the perfect re-introduction to the genre.

I’ll tell you about some of the best books I haven’t read yet: Eric Hendrixson’s Bucket of Face, which I’ve been meaning to read for a long time. I’m also excited to check out K.I. Hope’s material really soon. I read a sample from her book Hector and really enjoyed the description.

What's your favorite movie in the Mad Max trilogy?
Never watched Mad Max. I hang my head in shame.

What's the worst job you've ever had?
The “worst” jobs I’ve ever had are also the most interesting jobs I’ve ever had. I spent a summer cleaning and replacing septic tanks with my father, which was great. You learn a lot about people from cleaning out their septic system. Plus you get bragging rights for doing one of the world’s shittiest jobs, literally. It always makes for great conversation.

What's the sexiest piece of furniture in your house?
I have a love/hate relationship with my toilet. It’s kind of like unrequited love because I put a lot of work into it scrubbing away at mineral deposits from our hard water but all it does is talk shit in return.

Any words of wisdom for aspiring writers?
Make connections. Care about your audience. These days you have to build your audience from the foundation up. This is a great opportunity because you may very well personally speak with every person who ever reads your book. It can be difficult at times as well though. I’m not a digital native, so I’m always thinking advertising will get me more exposure, or I was at least, but in my experience so far, talking with ten people online about their interests gets me more sales than promoting my book. I guess that relates to my last piece of advice: the more you remove your book from the discussion with potential fans the more likely they are to buy it. If they’ve already heard about the book and have expressed a minor interest, just get to know them as a person. That’s something Caris O’Malley shared with me, but I never realized how true it was until I experienced it for myself.

Get to know those who will review your book. The great thing about getting to know reviewers is that they’ll lend themselves to your purpose and they’ll help perpetuate the agenda you had in publishing the work. Anita Dalton and Marc Schuster both wrote reviews for my book that made me think, “that’s exactly what I hoped someone would say about my book.”

What's next for Kirk Jones?
I’ve been working on a new novel, but I don’t get much time to dedicate to it, so I’m primarily working on short stories to publish so I can promote Uncle Sam’s Carnival of Copulating Inanimals. It’s been really rewarding so far. I have two short works going up on The New Flesh in May, and I’m waiting to hear back from a few other places. I’m almost finished with a script I think may be agent worthy, but again, right now I’m focusing on selling Uncle Sam and trying to secure a book deal with Eraserhead Press. They’ve been kind enough to give me this opportunity and I don’t plan on letting them down.

Sacred Thor is a WHAT? 13 Questions with James Steele

How did your becoming one of the New Bizarro Authors come about?
I was searching for publishers taking unsolicited submissions. Eraserhead Press' website said it was open to unsolicited novels. Finally, I thought, someone who's open! Only problem was I didn't have anything to submit.

But earlier that year i had written a personal short story venting my work frustration. The whole thing was a parody of my working life, and I wondered if there was a real story behind it.

There was no stated word limit, but I guessed I should shoot for 30,000 words. Turns out I was pretty close. The limit was about 34,000. My submitted story happened to be 36,000. Good guess. (We then cut it down to 30,000, back down to the original goal.)

I expected to wait six months to hear back. 24 hours later I got an acceptance letter. That stunned me. Never had a response that quick before.

(See this post if you wanna know more about the origin of the story itself:

In terms of sheer weirdness, Felix and the Sacred Thor makes Muscle Memory look pretty conservative by comparison. Is there anything you had to take out because it was too weird?
A lot got taken out, but not because it was too weird. I knew this was an off-the-wall story and I was worried how people would react to it. Maybe people would think it was too strange, but editor Kevin L. Donihe didn't even mention that possibility. I figured if he was ok with the content, I should be, too.

Tell us a little about Mr. Hands?
It's a very tragic love story about a man and his horse. To the best of my recollection at this present point in current time, my book is in no way inspired by or based on those events or characters, and it may or may not have had an influence on the book's content or protagonist.

Was there a book that made you realize you wanted to be a writer?
I don't think so. Writing was something I more or less always did, in one form or another. I didn't get serious about it until 2001. Until then I was just sitting at my computer thinking of synopses for TV shows and episodes. Just daydreaming in text. Eventually i decided to start writing the stories instead of summaries. Tried screenplays; that didn't work. Moved on to novels and short stories for more freedom.

Who are some of your influences?
George Orwell's 1984 is a big one. World-building is a difficult skill, and I strive to create worlds as vivid as his. D. Harlan Wilson, and his method of creating organized chaos, is another. Arthur C. Clarke is another. He sucked at characters for the most part, but he excelled in breathtaking description!

What's your favorite book?
1984 is still my absolute favorite. For variety's sake, Eric Garcia's Anonymous Rex is another series I adore both for the characters and the brilliant world-building. Alice in Wonderland is also high up there. It's very rare a book will make me laugh, and that one sure did. Bakker's Raptor Red is another excellent example of world-building. That's what I like most--stories, games and movies that create new worlds.

Who's your favorite author?
I don't have one yet. Maybe i'll find one someday. The authors above are all good candidates, but I wouldn't call any of them a favorite. Not yet.

What's the best book you've read in the last six months?
The Brave Little Toaster. ( Completely charming little book, and the film version is great, too! First time in a long time I was delighted by a story.

Forget the infamous Konami code for a minute. Do you know the code to enter the edit mode on Sonic the Hedgehog for the Sega Genesis?
You mean without searching for it on the net? Actually no, I don't. I didn't do much cheating in games as a kid. I didn't want to spoil the fun or the challenge by cheating. And there was no internet back then; cheat codes weren't something you could just look up, so I barley knew they existed at the time.

If you were to get a tattoo depicting a former US President, who would it be?
I'd get William Henry Harrison. The poor man died just a month after taking office. He deserves to be remembered somehow, 'cause that's gotta be the worst thing to happen. Struggle to achieve something, then when you're finally there, you die before you can do anything. That hurts. Someone's gotta give him a break.

Which of following Kurt Russell movies is your favorite: The Thing, Escape from New York, or Big Trouble in Little China?
The Thing, hands down. That scene with the dog-thing shooting goo all over the place still haunts my dreams.

Any words of wisdom for aspiring writers?
Writing is hard. Getting someone to publish what you've written? That's even harder. Convincing people to read what you've written after it's published? That's nearly impossible. Enticing people to BUY something you've written? Ugh…

What's next for James Steele?
If elected president, I promise to write a more normal book next time. Something easier to talk about in public! Something you won't mind if your children get a hold of and take to school with them!

Monday, April 18, 2011

The Wheelman

The WheelmanThe Wheelman by Duane Swierczynski

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Mute getaway driver Patrick Lennon thought it was a routine bank job until the black van rammed them and everything went to hell. Amidst a maze of murder and double crosses, can Lennon recover the $650,000?

Wow. I'd been aware of this book for a couple years before I finally picked it up and now I'm kicking myself for waiting so long.

The Wheelman has more twists and double crosses packed within its slim 250-ish pages than any four other crime books on the racks. More twists than a snake trapped on a Moebius strip, in fact. From Lennon to the other heisters to Katie to everyone in between, nothing is as it seems. Swierczynski hits the ground running and never comes up for air. The violence is quick and frequent but not overly graphic. Just when you think you know what's going on, someone double crosses someone else and you're as in the dark as Lennon. It's just begging to be turned into a movie starring Jason Statham.

Since Richard Stark's Parker first hit the scene with The Hunter, many homages and imitators have sprung up. While The Wheelman is clearly inspired to some degree by Parker, it surpasses its lesser siblings and joins luminaries like Dan Simmons' Joe Kurtz novels. It is not to be missed by crime fans.

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Gateway to Bizarro: 13 Questions with Steve Lowe

I've been a little obsessed with the Bizarro genre as of late and Steve Lowe, author of Muscle Memory and Wolves Dressed as Men, agreed to answer some questions for my blog.

How did your becoming one of the New Bizarro Authors come about?

I had written this strange little book called Muscle Memory, a short novella that I didn’t really know what to do with. I was searching for publishers that accepted stories of that length, and also those that publish weird fiction. I eventually stumbled across Eraserhead Press and the New Bizarro Author Series and decided to submit. That was my first exposure to bizarro fiction, so it was a bit of an accident in a way.

Which of the body-swapping comedies (not involving Kirk Cameron) is your favorite?
I suppose it would be Vice Versa, starring ‘Wonder-Years-era’ Fred Savage and ‘My-Career-Peaked-With-Beverly-Hills-Cop’ Judge Reinhold. But really, I love them all in a nostalgic sort of way, since most of them came out in the late 1980s, right around the time I was entering my teen years.

How does that compare with your experience of getting Wolves Dressed as Men published?
Wolves was rejected a couple times before I found Eternal Press. I sent it to a couple horror publishers, but it wasn’t quite “horror” enough for most of them. The small element of romance in the book appealed to Eternal, which actually puts out more romance than other genres. Aside from the cover art being done for me on Wolves, both publishers are fairly similar. Since they’re small, independent presses, the marketing and promotion of the book has been all up to me and I’ve tried to use promote them together in a lot of ways.

Was there a book that made you realize you wanted to be a writer?
Not really, because I’ve always wanted to be a writer, going back to when I was a kid. But the books that got me back into writing fiction about three years ago was Cormac McCarthy’s “The Road and Chuck Palahniuk’s “Fight Club”. Those two lit a fire under me to try fiction again after writing nothing but sports for my local newspaper for the previous seven years.

Who are some of your influences?
The aforementioned McCarthy and Palahniuk are big ones. I love McCarthy’s stark style and Palahniuk’s sharp wit and humor.

What's your favorite book?
The two I mentioned, plus No Country For Old Men ranks up there as well. The first book I really loved was probably Of Mice and Men. Steinbeck blew me away when I first read him in high school, and still does.

Who's your favorite author?
McCarthy, Palahniuk, Steinbeck, Christopher Moore is pretty good. Cameron Pierce writes some pretty amazing short stories and fellow NBASer Caris O’Malley has an excellent new book in the works called Clownhunter.

What's the best book you've read in the last six months?
Let’s see, last six months… Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi was pretty darn good, and I made sure I read True Grit before I see the movie (which I still haven’t), and that was excellent. True Grit is probably the best one in the last six months.

What's your favorite werewolf movie?
When I was a kid, it was Silver Bullet, but these days, I’m not sure. The Wolfman remake with Benicio Del Toro wasn’t half bad, though I know some people hated it. I thought it was solid, and actually had a couple frightening moments. I’ll go with that one.

If you were an ice cream flavor, which flavor would you be?
Blueberry Onion. That way, no one would want to eat me, and I could live forever.

Which of the Planet of the Apes movies is your favorite?
To be perfectly honest, the next Planet of the Apes movie I see in its entirety will be my first, so I can’t give a solid answer here. I will say the trailer for the new one coming out soon does look pretty badass.

Any words of wisdom for aspiring writers?
Try to write every day, even if it’s a blog, a journal entry, a review, whatever. And if you can’t write, you’d better be reading instead. Those are the two things that I strive to do: write every day, and read every day. The best way to learn is by doing, and by seeing what others are doing.

What's next for Steve Lowe?
Hopefully, more books from Eraserhead Press. I wrote an odd novella that is currently titled “The Duke’s Tumor” last year. It may or may not see the light of day. I also finished the first draft of a decidedly non-bizarro thriller last month called “The Do-Over Man”. I’m pretty confident both of them will find a home eventually, but the main goal now is to reach my sales target for Muscle Memory and see what happens after that.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Pilot Light

Pilot LightPilot Light by William Ashbless

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Where do I start?

Pilot Light is purported to be a story by William Ashbless, the fictitious poet invented by James Blaylock and Tim Powers. As near as I can tell, it's the story about a pilot that's been rebuilt by aliens. From what I gather, it's more the story of the manuscript left behind by Ashbless and cleaned up by Powers and Blaylock. The forward, afterward, and footnotes tell a much more coherent story than the actual text. Sturgeon? Onion? I have no idea what was actually going on with the main text.

On the plus side, the footnotes by Ashbless were hilarious and the Gahan Wilson art was top notch, especially of the Sturgeon.

I feel like I should have more to say but the book's only 68 small pages long. I'd hate to have paid 20 bucks for it. If you're a Powers and Blaylock fan who appreciates post-modern lit, this would be one to pick up. Other than that, you're on your own.

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The God Engines

The God EnginesThe God Engines by John Scalzi

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

"It was time to whip the god." Thus begins The God Engines by John Scalzi.

Captain Tephe is ordered to humanity's homeworld, Bishop's Call, and tasked to bring the faith of Our Lord to a faithless world. But will his own fate be tested?

That's about as much summary as I can give without giving away too much of the plot. The universe John Scalzi creates in The God Engines is like no others. Humanity travels the stars in ships powered by imprisoned and tortured gods, ruled by the one god that conquered them all. While on the surface a space opera with some Lovecraftian overtones, The God Engines is really an exploration of faith.

Captain Tephe is a conflicted character, the perfect lead in a story like this. His relationship with the ship's rook was well done, as was his interactions with the other crew members, especially the priest and the first mate. I hate to admit it but I was really surprised at what happened Cthicx and the shit storm that resulted.

As I said before, the society presented in The God Engines is a pretty novel one and presents a lot of interesting ideas. I'd be very interested to read more stories set in this universe. The God Engines gets one of the easiest fives I've ever awarded. Once again, I'm convinced The Scalz can do no wrong.

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The Golden Transcendence

The Golden Transcendence (Golden Age, #3)The Golden Transcendence by John C. Wright

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

On the eve of the Transcendence, Phaethon takes the Phoenix Exultant into the very heart of the sun to confront his enemy, the Nothing Sophotech, agent of the Silent Oecumene. Can he stop the Nothing before the Nothing launches a sneak attack during the Golden Transcendence? And does he want to?

Wow. I was hoping Wright could wrap up The Golden Age saga in a satisfactory fashion and he did. I can't say much about the plot without giving too much away. I will say that Atkins proved to be even more capable than originally intended and I was delighted when he mentioned his childhood on Mars and Uncle Kassad. Phaethon's reunion with Helion was well done and his relationship with Daphne was my favorite part of the book. Actually, that's not completely true. This volume had more humor than the previous two. I particularly liked when Diomedes was asking Helion questions about human reproduction on pages 192-193. "I wonder if Phaethon would mind if I helped him."

Now that the Golden Age saga has come to a close, I'd say it's like a retelling of Roger Zelanzy's First Chronicle of Amber, in a Vancian space opera setting, with a healthy dose of humor reminiscent of Michael Moorcock's Dancers at the End of Time. It's quite a read if you can survive being thrown into the deep end of the pool while wearing cement shoes in regard to all the concepts introduced early on. It's a sf epic that should not be missed.

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Saturday, April 16, 2011

10 Quick Questions with David Rachels

Remember the other day when I mentioned Verse Noir by David Rachels?  I sent him a list of questions and he graciously answered them.  Without further ado...

1. Verse Noir reads like a labor of love from someone with deep appreciation for noir and poetry. What made you put pen to paper?
My day job is English professor at a military college, and part of my combat duty is attending a fair number of poetry readings.  I’m generally suspicious of free verse, and when I hear someone read a free-verse poem, it often sounds to me like the opening paragraph of a short story masquerading as poetry.  This got me to thinking about poetry from the opposite direction:  As I was reading noir novels, I started looking for bits of text that seemed poetic enough to stand alone as poems.  I started posting these at my blog Pulp Poem of the Week (which later morphed into my blog Noirboiled Notes).  After doing this for a while, I decided that I could write better pulp poems myself from scratch, and over the course of a year I wrote about 400 of them.  I put my favorites in Verse Noir.

2. Which noir writer would you say had the most poetic writing style?
Looking for “pulp poems” to put on my blog, I’ve had the easiest time finding them in Raymond Chandler.

3. What was the first noir novel you read?
My introduction to the noirboiled world came somewhere around the 8th grade when I saw Mickey Spillane on Tomorrow with Tom Snyder.  Spillane described his novel Vengeance Is Mine in such a way that made me want to read it as much as I’ve ever wanted to read anything in my life.

4. Favorite noir novel?
Today, it’s Out by Natsuo Kirino.

5. Favorite Lawrence Block novel?
I imagine I’ll read the Matthew Scudder novels eventually, but I’m partial to stand-alones.  Of the Block stand-alones I’ve read, the one that comes to mind is Grifter’s Game, the first novel put out by Hard Case Crime.  It’s a good one.

6. Favorite Donald Westlake novel?
I supposed that Parker is the exception proving the rule of my preference for stand-alones.  I’m working my way through the series in order, but I’m trying not to do it too quickly.  It makes me sad just thinking about reading the last one.  I’ve read the first eleven thus far, and my favorite of these is the fifth, The Score.

7. Spenser or Elvis Cole?
My reading skews heavily to pre-1960, so Spenser wins this one by default.  Twenty years ago, I listened to a bunch of Spenser novels on tape during long car trips (and enjoyed them fairly consistently), but I have never read an Elvis Cole novel.

8. Favorite novel in the Hard Case Crime series?
No contest here:  A Touch of Death by Charles Williams.  I love it, my mother loves it, my wife loves it, my sons love it, my students love it. . . .

9. What good books have you read in the past six months?
Two books come first to mind:  I liked Dave Zeltersman’s new one, Outsourced, quite a lot, and I got to read an advance copy of a (not noir) short story collection by Kurt Jose Ayau called The Brick Murder: A Tragedy and Other Stories, which was pretty great.

10. What’s next for David Rachels?
I just spent a week in Wyoming doing research for a book I’m editing.  It’s title (at the moment) is Gulf Coast Noir: Selected Stories of Gil Brewer, 1951-1959.  I hope to have it in the hands of a publisher by the end of this summer.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Muscle Memory

Muscle MemoryMuscle Memory by Steve Lowe

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

What would you do if you woke up in your wife's body and saw your own body dead and poisoned on the bed? That's the problem facing Billy Gillespie one morning. Can Billy figure out what the hell happened and get back into his own body?

In this entry in the New Bizarro Author Series, Steve Lowe crafts a tale that asks the question "What Would Kirk Cameron Do?" When (most of) an entire town gets the old switcheroo pulled on it, chaos ensues and Steve Lowe is the one directing the chaos. Guys, imagine waking up and having to breast feed. That pretty much sums up the bulk of the book; coping with an unfamiliar body. Beyond that, you've got a cat in a dog's body, a man in a sheep's body, and government agents named Agent Tim and Agent Joey. Funny stuff.

I love that Steve Lowe worked in references to the body swapping comedies of the 80's. It was a really nice touch. The humor was better than I was hoping for. It was a little short but thems the breaks with the NBS.

With Muscle Memory, Steve Lowe enters the hallowed club of Goodreads Authors Who Aren't Assholes. Not only is he a funny guy in the Get the New Bizarro Authors a Book Deal Group, he's also pretty generous. How many authors do you know that would offer you a free copy of an earlier book when purchasing one of theirs? Being a whore for free books, I jumped at the chance and wasn't disappointed.

If 18 Again is a 1 and Like Father, Like Son is a 10, this book is a solid 8, right up there with Bodyswap, the episode of Red Dwarf where Lister and Rimmer switch bodies. Go out and buy it today. Steve would do it for you if your book was part of the New Bizarro Author Series.

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The Phoenix Exultant

The Phoenix Exultant (Golden Age, #2)The Phoenix Exultant by John C. Wright

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Exiled from everything he knows, Phaethon goes to Ceylon and joins up with a band of exiles. His goal: regain his ship, the Phoenix Exultant, and find those responsible for his predicament. That is, unless, the Silent Ones find him first...

The Phoenix Exultant picks up where The Golden Age left off and kicks things into high gear. Not only is it shorter than The Golden Age, it's a lot easier to follow since Wright established all of the concepts and many of the characters in the first book. Phaethon's primitive conditions on Death Row further facilitate easier reading. When the tech level isn't much higher than our current one, not much thinking is required.

Phaethon's exile from the Oecumene was well done. How many books have you read that feature a man having to take a million flight maintenance staircase down from an orbital settlement rather than taking advantage of a space elevator. Poor Phaethon! Phaethon starts at the nadir of his adult life and has to kick and scratch his way past many obstacles just to get to being poor. Ironjoy and the other Afloats were quite interesting. Phaethon's pomposity contributed quite a few laughs to the book.

The relationship between Phaethon and Daphne is thrust to the forefront in this volume and is hilarious, even more than Rhadamanthus taking the form of a flying penguin in the first book. Daphne nearly eclipsed Phaethon as my favorite character. Atikins was fleshed out quite a bit and seems to be quite a bad ass now, as he should be, being the sole member of the Oecumene's army.

I'd say the Phoenix Exultant surpasses the Golden Age and is quite a read. Bring on the Golden Transcendance!

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Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Essential Marvel Team-Up, Vol. 1

Essential Marvel Team-Up, Vol. 1 (Marvel Essentials)Essential Marvel Team-Up, Vol. 1 by Roy Thomas

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

As I said in my review for the DC Comics Presents collection, my favorite comics as a kid were the team up ones. Marvel Team Up seems to hold up a lot better than its contemporaries. In the days before there were crossovers in every other issue, this was the place to see Spider-Man interact with the rest of the Marvel universe on a regular basis.

As unfathomable as it may sound to today's comic fans, back in 1972, Spider-Man was only in one comic a month. Marvel Team Up was the test to see if Spider-Man could support more than one book. Did it work? Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man was launched during this book's run and Marvel Team-Up was eventually canceled so they could put out Web of Spiderman, a third monthly. While things have changed a lot since MTU ended its run in 1985, last I check, Spider-man was coming out every three weeks.

Back to business at hand. The thing that stands out most in my mind about this collection of early Marvel Team Ups was the friendship between Spider-Man and the Human Torch. While it existed before this volume, this is where I believe it was cemented. Spidey and the Torch team up four times in the first twenty five issues. Not only that, Marvel apparently had enough confidence in the Human Torch as a solo character at one point to have him be the lead character six times in MTU's run.

Aside from the Torch, Spidey teamed with a host of guests, like the X-Men before they were popular, The Vision, Captain Marvel, the Thing, Thor, The Cat, Iron Man, Werewolf by Night, Namor, Captain America, Ghost Rider, the list goes on and on. Some of the stories felt like they were just an excuse for Spidey to interact with other heroes but others hold up fairly well for pre-1980's stories. At the Essentials price, it's a lot of super hero action.

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Showcase Presents - DC Comics Presents

Showcase Presents: DC Comics Presents - Superman Team-Ups Vol. 1Showcase Presents: DC Comics Presents - Superman Team-Ups Vol. 1 by Len Wein

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Back when I was around eight years old, my favorite comics in the world were the team up books; Marvel Team-Up, Marvel Two-In-One, World's Finest Comics, The Brave and the Bold, etc. One team-up book stood head and shoulders above the rest: DC Comics Presents.

Every month, Superman teamed up with a different guest star. The Flash, Green Lantern, Adam Strange, even He-Man and Santa Claus eventually made appearances. It was pure comics gold for a kid.

For it's time, DC Comics Presents was loaded with great artists. Jose Garcia Lopez, Rich Buckler, Ross Andru, Jim Starlin and Curt Swan all had penciling duty in the first 26 issues. The writers weren't bad either. You had Steve Englehart, Len Wein, and Marv Wolfman, among others.

The first comic I remember owning was an issue of DC Comics Presents where Superman teamed up with Robin so the series has nostalgic value galore for me.

As for the stories themselves? Well, my eight year old self was much easier to entertain, I guess. If you come in expecting today's kind of stories, you'll be disappointed. However, if you're looking for some superhero fun from the days before Watchmen, you'll be entertained. Come on! You've got Superman teaming with The Flash, Adam Strange, The Metal Men, Aquaman, Green Lantern, Red Tornado, Swamp Thing, Wonder Woman, The Atom, Captain Comet, Firstorm, Mr. Miracle, Black Lightning, hell, even Sgt. Rock. The list goes on and on. Superman met a lot other superheroes on a regular basis back in the day...

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