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.

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