Monday, June 20, 2016

The Beard is Back!: 10 more questions with Eric Hendrixson

It's been a while but Eric Hendixson has joined the illustrious two-timers club.  He's been busy since his last visit.

What's been going on since Bucket of Face?
I wrote Giving the Finger for the Bizarro Starter Kit Red and Drunk Driving Champion, as well as another novel that is in editing stages right now. In the middle of that, I switched jobs and moved to Chicago, which has improved my pizza, pierogi, and hot dog situation but ruined my winter situation. I took Krav Maga classes, visited the House on the Rock, and read an obscene short story at the AWP in Minnesota. I've also been editing flash fiction for Bizarro Central.

What possessed you to write a drunken version of Cannonball Run or It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World?
What surprised me was that nobody else had already written this novel. When I came up with the idea, it had that sort of “of course” feel to it. I've always liked road trips and road trip stories, and this was a way of making a racing story more interesting.

My first experience with drunk driving was a cross-country trip. When I was eight or nine and my family was moving back to the United States, my father had to drop our van off at the Navy port at Rota, Spain. On the way back to the Air Force base at Torrejon, we drove the new chaplain's car, which had just been shipped in. He had an older car that had bench seats, and between me and my father, there was a huge ice chest. When I reached in for a soda, my father had forgotten to buy any. It was all beer. From Rota to Torrejon is a seven-hour drive. That's a lot of beer, but we made it home without creating an international incident. It was a very wholesome experience: a father and son taking a trip in the priest's car, only we were drinking beer all the way. At the time, this did not seem unusual. What really stood out in my mind about the trip was that the Navy base had a Baskin-Robbins. I'd never had someone ask me what flavor of ice cream I wanted before. It was amazing. When I got home, the story I told everyone was about ice cream, not beer. That trip might have something to with where the idea came from.

Ever have a GPS take you through unsavory areas?
I have an innate distrust of GPS units. I don't like their voices, and voice really matters to me, so I try not to rely on them. However, I once had to go to the Prince George's County jail in Maryland. I've never been good at navigating Maryland. The whole state seems upside-down and poorly thought out. This morning, I was covering for a coworker who'd called in sick, so I was already running late. I hate being late for things, so I was already nervous when my GPS took me to the corner of Marlboro Pike and Marlboro Pike. That's where the adventure began. The GPS had me turn off Marlboro Pike onto Marlboro Pike. This other Marlboro Pike was an older road, faded, broken, and wooded, but I figured the jail might be in the middle of nowhere, like prisons and nuclear power plants. The grass got really high, and the road kept getting worse. There were shacks and abandoned trailers by the side of the road. Faint banjo music played in the distance. It turns out that Marlboro Pike intersects with Marlboro Pike about five times, and the GPS had me going from the modern road to the old road pretty much at random. So I was trying to get to an unsavory place, but the unit kept leading me to the wrong unsavory places. When I finally made it to jail, I was late for the meeting and the guards didn't want to let me in. I was probably the only person in PG County that morning trying this hard to get into jail.

What did you drink for research purposes while writing Drunk Driving Champion?
I dedicated the book to Mothers Against Drunk Driving and Evan Williams, since the book would have been impossible without either of them.

Did you learn anything while writing Drunk Driving Champion?
I learned a few stylistic things. When you write a race story, it has to read fast, and I found ways to do that. It was all about distillation. I've visited a few breweries and distilleries, and the first stage of making whiskey is like making beer—bad beer but essentially beer. The distillation process is both the difference between good writing and bad writing and the difference between beer and whiskey. I found as I rewrote the story, it kept getting shorter even though I was adding more story. In the later stage of editing Drunk Driving Champion, I did a pass in which I added a new chapter and still finished with fewer words than I started with. I considered that a victory, since I had distilled more of the water out and produced a higher proof of story.

In the dedication of Drunk Driving Champion, you mentioned people not wanting you to write this book.  Care to elaborate?
I've worked a table at the Printer's Row festival for the past two years with some other Midwest bizarro writers. One of our favorite things is meeting new people who see the book covers, read the descriptions, and immediately get it. Those people were already bizarro fans. They just didn't know the genre existed yet. It's a great experience.

But our real favorite thing is seeing the people who look at our books and walk away clutching their pearls or holding their purses tighter. This year, we actually had a woman sneer at us in disgust. She looked like a cat that can't quite smell something. I got a little bit of that from people when I was writing the book. For the most part, those people weren't my audience anyway. This genre is not for everybody. It's oftentimes a love it or hate it situation.

Most bizarro fiction is pretty transgressive to begin with. In Bucket of Face, I have organ harvesting, a man having sex with a kiwi fruit, and a tomato cutting open a woman's chest so he can fist her ribcage and shoot her heart out from the inside. In Giving the Finger, I have a child whose body parts are used to repair a dike. However, a few people who were fine with that just noped out at the idea of drunk driving. It wouldn't really be bizarro if it was the kind of story everyone agrees on. Squeamishness is the basis of a lot of comedy. It's usually very specific, and we all have different things that can set us off. It's fun to see where different people draw the line.

Do you ever plan to revisit the world of Bucket of Face?
That story is grounded in the geography of the DC area, and a lot has changed since I lived there. If I ever moved back to DC, I might, but a lot of what I'm writing these days is based in Chicago. The two cities have very different personalities. I do plan on revisiting the bizarro noir style, but that story will take place in Chicago.

What is the best car movie of the 1970s and 80s?
I watched a lot of car movies while writing the novel. I started with the 1965 classic The Great Race, which has the patently absurd premise of an auto race from New York to Paris. You don't need a GPS to tell you the problem. This led to Wacky Racers cartoons, which took a lot from that movie.

My favorites of the 1970s were both made in 1971: the original Vanishing Point and Two Lane Blacktop, which may have inspired the actual Cannonball Runs. Back in the 70s, people just didn't care whether or not their movies made sense, and a lot goes unexplained. You finish watching the movies, and you're really not sure what just happened or what it meant. I borrowed a scene from Vanishing Point, where the Soviet sleeper agents, high on amphetamines, face a police roadblock made of bulldozers. Drunk Driving Champion was like the opposite of Two Lane Blacktop, a race away from DC instead of toward it. Of course, Deathrace 2000 was a huge influence.

Thanks to TV and movies from the 80s, I grew up thinking car chases would play a much larger role in my life than they have so far. Gumball Rally and Cannonball Run are very similar movies, but Cannonball Run has the edge. The Smokey and the Bandit movies have the problem of Burt Reynolds. The guy is too charming, so it comes off as a romantic comedy instead of a car movie.

I would give honorable mentions to Chitty-Chitty-Bang-Bang, Mad Max, Christine, and Deathproof, but they're off topic.

What are you reading these days?
In the month, I've been reading a lot of Jim Thomson, an anthology called Chicago Noir, another edited by Chuck Palahniuk called Burning Tongues, Punkland, a comic book series called C.O.W.L., Texas Chainsaw Mantis, and an anthology of 20th Century noir. I also like to browse the Chicago Municipal Code when I don't have a book with me. Laws, what they tell you not to do, tell you a lot about society. For example, it's illegal in this city to dye birds artificial colors and give them away as gifts or prizes. That tells us that at one time, this was a big enough problem in Chicago that some legislator said, “I've had it with all the pink ducks in this city.” I like to think that, at one time, there were hordes of men guy wandering through Chicago distributing colorized waterfowl and shouting, “You win a duck, you win a duck, and you win a duck!”

What's are you writing next?
I want to go back to the bizarro noir style for for a detective story set in the South Side. I've also started a fairy tale set in Appalachia. Right now, though, I'm editing my first Chicago novel, which will either be called Precious Blood of the Lamb or All Our Future Thursdays. It's about the meatpacking industry, Last Thursdayism, tacos, and sheeple—not metaphorical sheep/people but people who turn into sheep and go on a rampage.

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