February 27, 2012 at 8:59 am (Uncategorized)

bizarrojones

Some folks dabble in multiple areas of interest. The risk, of course, is spreading oneself too thin. But that’s not a problem for Michael Allen Rose, author, actor, and musician. I had a chance to converse with him recently about his many artistic endeavors and past successes, including the recent publication of his first book, Party Wolves in my Skull.

1. First and foremost, can you tell us a little about your book?

Of course! Party Wolves in My Skull is about Norman Spooter, who awakens one morning to find that his eyeballs have fallen in love and are leaving him. They tear themselves out of his skull, steal his car, and take off for parts unknown. He doesn’t know what to do, so he does what most of us would – he goes back to bed, hoping it’ll all resolve itself. Unfortunately, a pack of wolves moves in overnight…

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Review: The Driver’s Guide to Hitting Pedestrians

December 31, 2011 at 1:10 pm (Bizarro, Review, Writing) (, , , )

I first discovered Andersen Prunty a few years ago at a convention where I picked up a copy of his novel Zerostrata. I was blown away by his prose style, his handling of the material, but most of all by his sublime understanding of dream logic. I became an immediate fan.

In this wonderful collection, The Driver’s Guide to Hitting Pedestrians, Prunty’s surreal narratives weave in and out of logic without ever feeling forced. That’s the gift Prunty provides us: His dream logic doesn’t ever feel random or weird just for the sake of spontaneity. No matter what happens, it feels deliberate, carefully constructed, and beautifully expressed.

The Driver’s Guide to Hitting Pedestrians features Prunty’s musings on “the twenty-three most painful things in life” including such diverse topics as “relationships,” “fate” and “pants.” Once I started reading, I devoured these stories. There wasn’t a single story among the bunch that I felt didn’t belong here, though I’d like to highlight a few of my favorites without spoiling any of the surprises:

The titular story leads the charge, and is a wonderful exercise in world building. It takes the author mere sentences to lay out a whole sociopathic society for us, the detail dripping from the wheel wells of the drivers who run down pedestrians. Great characters, a fun story and a wondrous dystopian vision.

The Balloon Man’s Secret is easily one of the best short stories I’ve read in the past year. Poignant, amusing and written in a stylized way that establishes a time and place that seem familiar yet uniquely distinct. The character of the balloon man, and the people he meets, are absolutely wonderful, and the story wraps up so perfectly.

Prunty hands out an excellent dose of body horror in Teething, as short and pointed as it is unsettling. The ending, once again, was piercing and perfect.

But these are only the smallest handful of the goodies that await in this collection. Andersen Prunty’s shortest stories have a fascinating way of showing us the finer points of a character with great brevity. The Ohio Grass Monster,  for example, reveals the inner workings of a troubled boy by simply showing us how he relates to his hobbies and his friends. What bubbles under the surface, Prunty leaves us to decide. Similarly, in stories like The Champion of Needham Avenue and Where I Go To Die, the prose is simple and alluring, even though the situations themselves are dreamlike and bizarre. The stories leave the reader with a sense of understanding and familiarity even though the place and people are unlike anything we’ve ever seen before. This is how Prunty’s dream logic operates, and it’s an amazing thing to behold. (I should also mention that The Champion of Needham Avenue might have the best opening line of any story, ever).

I highly recommend this stunning collection to anyone interested in short stories, especially those who enjoy lucid dreaming. The Driver’s Guide to Hitting Pedestrians is like a lucid dream in which just after you’ve gotten control, everything changes and shifts, and you don’t trust the characters standing next to you even if they look like someone you know. They might just be something painful in disguise.

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Review: Haunt by Laura Lee Bahr

December 27, 2011 at 3:08 pm (Bizarro, Review, Uncategorized, Writing)

I have a thing for experimental forms. From Mark Danielewski’s House of Leaves to Salvador Plascencia’s The People of Paper, nothing gets me more excited about a book than when I see strangely placed columns, random font changes and blacked out sections that contribute to the overall thematic power and weirdness of a literary work. I like to think my love of meta-fiction and the trappings thereof were fostered in my youth with the Choose Your Own Adventure Series. Those books allowed the reader to choose directions and actions at certain points of action within the narrative, which led the protagonist (ostensibly, the reader) toward either victory, or (much more frequently) their untimely demise.

In her debut novel Haunt, author Laura Lee Bahr explores the form of Choose Your Own Adventures but like Samuel Beckett cutting sound or lighting or actors from his plays, Bahr subverts the form by removing the element of choice. What do you do, as the hero of the story, when those vital choices are wrenched away from you and you’re forced to live each of the possibilities in a schizophrenic pastiche of probability?

There are three characters of note in Haunt, all of whom are given plenty of time to shine. Simon is the dashing (sometimes) insane (sometimes) journalist who may or may not be involved in the mysterious death of me (Sarah) the ghost haunting your (Richard’s) apartment. There’s also a couch (which is yours, but did you bring it inside? Or did you leave out in the cold? Or did you do both? Or neither?) What’s under the cushions? Who is that singing? And what happened to Sarah to make her dead? This is a rare novel that brings up far more questions than it answers, but Bahr uses tricky plotting and exciting prose style to pull you along through the mystery without question. Haunt is not a book you’re allowed to read at your own speed. It controls the action, it controls the urgency, and it controls your mind. I loved the experience of paranoia creeping in as I read this late at night (culminating in a chapter that consists of only one single line, which I will not do you the disservice of ruining here. Suffice it to say, you’ll know it when you come to it).

Haunt is sexy and playful while still fitting nicely into the land of the supernatural campfire tale. It’s evident that Bahr has a strong background in film and theatre from reading her prose, as the dialogue is tight and the character studies are extremely well drawn. The best part about that is that once these characters have been established, Bahr pulls the rug out from under the reader and traps us inside a puzzle without a solution. I believe that everyone who reads this will come away with slightly different ideas about what really happened in that apartment, and whether they did the right thing (even though they may or may not have been able to change anything at all). A strong debut and a great, fun, eerie read by a fantastic young author. Highly recommended!

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Review: Mykle Hansen’s “Cannibal’s Guide for Ethical Living” is delicious satire in the truest sense of the word.

July 28, 2011 at 1:15 pm (Bizarro, Review, Writing)

Mykle Hansen is a true master of satire, alongside the greats such as Swift and Twain. I have to say that. I’m afraid if I don’t, he’ll eat me. I might actually welcome that unfortunate occurrence however, because I’ve read his brilliant book “The Cannibal’s Guide to Ethical Living” and I have never been more convinced that there’s definitely a moral argument to be made for eating human flesh.

The book follows Louis, a disgraced world-class chef as he delivers a long and powerful monologue to his captured friend and colleague, the food critic Andre De Gustibus. Hansen’s prose flows off the page like an expertly delivered and well-acted one-man show. The authorial voice is so strong, so perfectly executed, and so hilariously unique that it’s difficult not to start reading the book aloud to yourself. This is a book that’s equally comfortable being read or performed.

The book is divided into chapters via the delivery of various dishes and courses to the poor captured Andre, as Louis tries to explain his position. As this is going on, Hansen cleverly reveals the history between these two men, and how they are inextricably linked through their love of cuisine. The clues are planted throughout the book, but the wonderful way in which the book finally reveals the full scope of the relationship between Andre and Louis is pure genius. As readers, we are also treated to a slightly more omniscient point of view than poor Andre, so we get to watch as the subtleties of his slowly crumbling life add up, and we get to experience the terror of Louis’s “business partner” Marco stalking the deck just above the pair, psychotic, deranged, dangerous and hungry for fillet of food critic.

The fictional aspects of the story aside, the book also reads as a classic argument style philosophical treatise, which is where it truly succeeds as satire. It’s easy to understand that a social debate is raging here, chopped up in the same pot as the carrots and potatoes of a rollicking great story. No heavy-handed thematic bashing here – instead Hansen willfully pulls us into a very likeable (but insane) character’s world and we’re forced to listen. As we do, we’re forced to also examine our eating habits, our place in the food chain, and most of all our socioeconomic status and how that affects who are the predators and who are the prey. Hansen also uses a number of very specific details that show a true understanding of the world and culture. The reader is given an interesting back-story for the inhabitants of the nearby island, a great number of excellent food and wine references, and of course a deep character mystery to study.

The writing is extremely strong, the plot manic and bizarre, and the characters likeable. Mykle Hansen at his best: This is grade A meat, right here. Highly recommended!

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Review: The Egg Said Nothing by Caris O’Malley

January 30, 2011 at 8:04 pm (Bizarro, Review, Writing)

What would you do if you woke up one morning with an egg planted neatly between your legs? That’s the central question of Caris O’Malley’s debut novel: The Egg Said Nothing. The book’s egg-laying everyman is Manny, and we as an audience get to enjoy watching him deal with the aftermath of a night he cannot remember, but the book goes beyond simple storytelling and into a psychological meta-fictional space. Because Manny is such an identifiable character, a real everyman for our generation, I found myself drawn into his mind and wondering what I would do in a similar situation. As the book progresses into unfamiliar and uncomfortable territory, complete with time-shifting strangers and violent (and hilarious) action sequences, the reader is forced to confront the dwindling options and strange reality along with the protagonist. This is the triumph of O’Malley’s novel: The prose style and the character’s narration are perfectly crafted to fit into a space not quite in, but next to, our own reality. We know Manny. We are Manny. And we too, might someday have a terrible shovel-related incident.

It is difficult to write about The Egg Said Nothing without giving away the clever twists that O’Malley has devised for poor Manny to suffer through. The author understands how to use the hubris of a main character against himself, and we watch as Manny makes all the wrong choices out of paranoia and selfishness, but we also understand that he has few other options. Every choice he makes opens a new door and closes off several others. Let me say simply that Caris O’Malley’s use of time-travel and/or alternate time-streams is extremely well done. Too often in time and space skewing fiction, the physics loom over the narrative and make for a less engaging story, but not here. In the middle of the book, the clever reader will start to see how time and space are twisting in the world of this book, long before poor Manny does, which makes watching him screw up his life even further a painful and cathartic experience. Manny is juggling a new love interest (the delightful Ashley), shadowy murderers in his hallway and a million reasons to lock every one of his nine or so locks at night. The wonderful thing is, all this is not confusing for the reader, just for Manny, and we have masterful writing to thank for that.

The Egg Said Nothing is highly recommended, both for O’Malley’s sense of humor and for his ability to take a well-worn trope (the mechanics of time) and make them fresh and new again by introducing a simple set of rules and running with them. The ending of this book was predictable only in that there are clues woven throughout the book for mystery-lovers and the like to pick up on, but when it comes barreling in, it’s still a shocking and powerful trip. This is the kind of book that elicits a wonderful emotional response, somewhere between a laugh, a twitch and a shudder, and that is the highest compliment I can give. Not to be missed!

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Review: Steve Lowe’s Muscle Memory

December 10, 2010 at 8:13 pm (Bizarro, Review, Writing)

It’s always a risky proposition: to take a well known trope (especially one that peaked in the films of the 80’s) and try to find a new way to spin it. In Muscle Memory, Steve Lowe takes his cue from movies like Freaky Friday and Like Father, Like Son, presenting a tale of bodies switched and swapped all over a small community. Using some clever writing however, Lowe transcends the typical structure of those stories and takes it to a whole new level of absurd and hilarious wonder.

Billy wakes one morning to the dog meowing at him, next to his own body (which happens to be dead) and inside the body of his wife. Soon, his best friend Tucker (who now inhabits the body of his own wife, Julia) and other friends and neighbors (including one poor fellow who’s now stuck inside a sheep, leading to some hilarious accusations about his personal life) set out to solve the problem.

A number of theories are put forward in the story, including everything from government conspiracies to alien interventions. In lesser hands, this might become nothing more than a farce, but Lowe creates depth for his characters. They are developed indeed, from the way they talk to the way they think and act. Steve Lowe has obviously spent some time around small town America, because he nails the little mannerisms, casual sexism and low speed drawl of the community, leading to a realistic and funny bunch of people. The protagonist, Billy, is especially interesting, with his everyman charm and his laid-back street smarts, it’s easy to find yourself hoping that he’ll make it through the chaos okay.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the ending. Without spoiling anything, I have to commend Mr. Lowe on writing a bizarro book with a truly poignant and literary final moment. It feels like an earned ending, and is surprisingly powerful in the midst of a really silly sequence of events that lead the reader to it.  It’s fun to watch the madness unfold, and it never feels like Muscle Memory is piling on weirdness just “to be weird.” Everything moves the plot forward nicely up that final, “nailed it” moment.

This book is part of the New Bizarro Author Series, which exists to promote new authors of the weird. I would highly recommend Muscle Memory to anyone looking for a fun, quick and comfortable read. It’s a short book, which is unfortunate, as it seems like Lowe could have mined this setting and these characters for even more fun, but the bottom line is: This is good, solid writing from an author I know we’ll be seeing more of in the coming years. Buy it now so you can say “I bought his first book before everyone knew he was cool.” You won’t regret it!

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I don’t know where I am anymore…

September 23, 2010 at 8:03 am (Personal)

I feel the need to write, like I used to write, with the sharpened edge of a tortured artist, too pretentious for his own good, too introspective to care.

This will be one of those entries. If you are the kind of person who can’t handle raw honesty and who makes fun of people who use big words and let words flow out of them when they’re feeling emotional: fuck you. Get off my blog. I didn’t ask you to read it. You’re reading it because you want to.

I heard the most beautiful, saddest thing this morning. The band Cursive has a song called “What Have I Done?” If you haven’t listened to it and you’re in your 20’s – 30’s, go find it right now, listen to the lyrics, sit there in shock at how it perfectly sums everything up and come back here and hug me.

The prolonged adolescence of this generation is an enormous social problem. Twenty years ago, by this age most of us would be married with careers and families. Today, 30 year olds finish college and move out of their parents’ house after having a big party to celebrate their super-sweet-30th.

I’m writing. I’m writing a lot. That’s good. Now if I can do something with it, make it matter in a bigger way, get other people to read it, feel like I’ve reached the culmination of something, anything – so much the merrier.

How do you measure success?

I’m producing theatre. I have friends who I don’t see as often as I want to. I write novels. I go to conventions. I have nine letters behind my job title, in sets of three, signifying certifications that make me more valuable to the industry.

What have I done?

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Review: Pickled Apocalypse of Pancake Island

September 8, 2010 at 9:45 pm (Bizarro, Review, Writing)

A review of Pickled Apocalypse of Pancake Island by Cameron Pierce

It takes a special sort of writer to craft a fairy tale that works for adults. In Pickled Apocalypse of Pancake Island, Pierce has woven a finely crafted fairy tale that works on several different levels at once, making it a delight to read no matter what level of depth you’re looking for.

The story revolves around a pickle, Gaston Glew, who comes from a planet where happiness is entirely unknown. There are no birthdays, only “sad days,” and suicides are not only common, but expected. Gaston decides to act, breaking the existential cycle of malaise that binds him by building a rocket and taking off for parts unknown, driven by the motto of his favorite TV character Captain Pickle who advises everyone to “unchain yourself from this briny fate, oh pickled prisoner.” In doing so, he ends up on pancake island, a joyous place of constant celebration. It is here when the philosophical underpinnings of Pierce’s story begin to shape the narrative: can something that knows nothing but misery and horror survive in a place where happiness is omnipresent? Can it survive him?

The book is incredibly fun to read, and Pierce’s simple prose belies his ability to talk about deep matters. On the surface, this is simply a fun fairy tale, with a romantic subplot straight out of Romeo and Juliet and a lot of fun imagery. If you feel like diving into the meat, however, there’s a lot happening here that’s worth thinking about. Is the Cuddlywumpus symbolic, or is he just awesome? Does Fanny Fod (the most beautiful pancake in the world) lactate maple beer because it’s weird and unsettling, or because she’s an integral part of the world Pierce has created? Sure, Cameron Pierce can shock (he proved that with his previous book Ass Goblins of Auschwitz) but he can also rip open the underbelly of the human condition using very simply and elegant storytelling techniques.

The characters are fun, the plot and setting are a joy, and much to my surprise, the ending is quite beautiful in a way, and certainly earned. Occasionally, things enter the plot and almost immediately disappear without much exploration (like the history of the races appearing in the book, for example), but this is a minor quibble. Instead of raising dramatic plot questions, those things become added set pieces, and help the reader see the world that Pierce is trying to create. You don’t have to be interested in food to love this book, and it’s a quick and delightful read. Perfect for those new to the bizarro genre, lovers of adult fairy tales, or anyone just looking for a great commuter book. You won’t regret the sweet, sweet taste of Cameron’s maple syrup.

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An Open Letter to the Grinch…

June 23, 2010 at 11:38 am (Art, Bizarro, Parody, Writing)

An Open Letter to the Grinch,

Dear Mr. Grinch,

Greetings, I hope this letter finds you well. Your activities have come to my attention through a variety of sources. I read your biography (by a “Doctor” Seuss, who I have reason to believe was not licensed to practice medicine at all) and also seen the film based on your holiday performance project. I hope you pardon my intrusion, but as someone with a performance background, I thought perhaps you might be open to some constructive criticism re: your stealing Christmas.

First off: green fur? Come on, Grinch, they’ll see you coming a mile away… at least dye yourself black. I understand the metaphorical connotations of the color choice: green, envy, etc. But ultimately, it’s undermining the entire project.

The Santa Suit? Again: huge red flag. While I agree that it makes your actions timely, it also limits you to a very specific time period and outside of that, you’re just going to alienate your audience and make yourself that much easier a target for hassling from “the man.”

Also, there’s a narrator talking about you while you walk around doing your thing… did you know that? You might have to take him out. He sings songs about you, catchy little tunes espousing the negative traits of your personality. I’m rather surprised you haven’t been made aware of this character assassination and sued him for libel. If you need the advice of a good lawyer, I might be able to recommend one.

Now then, regarding the actual chain of events comprising your holiday larceny project “Stealing Christmas” (is that trademarked? copyrighted? You may want to do some research on branding). Let me say first that I truly appreciate your grasp of deconstruction. Your reverse Santa routine was sheer genius. I do however, question your commitment to the delivery of your message, as you obviously allow the emotional state of the audience to affect your performance. Much like Maplethorpe, or Annie Sprinkle, you intend to shock and subvert the dominant paradigm, however on the occasion of your performance, when a child asked you why you were doing what you did, you were unwilling (or unable) to explain your methodology and aesthetic.

Perhaps one solution would be to target an audience more in touch with your style. I understand that you live on a 3000 foot mountain just north of Whoville, so a local audience is easy and safe for you to utilize for previews, but as this was a one-time performance, I would urge you to look into small theatres in larger cities: New York, Chicago, Portland for example. The fact that your biography is a bestseller certainly gives you the name recognition.

I believe you need a clear mission statement. Your current artistic statement: “To stop Christmas from coming” is a bit stale. Let me suggest a few possibilities:

1. To spread awareness that by experiencing the lights, glitter and rich foods leading up to the big day when a magical stack of free gifts are awarded, children quickly adapt to the artificial thrill of acquiring shiny but usually unnecessary things.

2. To express the pagan origins of the yule holiday by subverting the status quo and denying the Juedo-Christian tradition of gift-giving and merriment, showing the emotional resonance of such materialistic celebrations to be hollow.

3. To steal shit from whos.

It is my sincere hope that you take these critical notes as they are intended – from one performance artist to another as a friend. Please feel free to ask for clarification on any of my points. I would love to assist you in future endeavors. Currently, I am working with a cat who expresses himself through haberdashery, but I do have openings available if you’re looking for life coaching and feedback.

Yours,
Michael-I-Am

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Us vs. Them: Round 1

December 30, 2009 at 8:27 am (Music, Work) (, , , )

The music floats into my office through the open door. I keep it open because I don’t want to seem unapproachable. She’s singing along to it, the receptionist in the rolly-chair. It’s praise music. I fire up my last.fm account, randomize it to play my library and hit play. This battle will be epic.

ROUND 1

Hers: “Praise him. PRAAAAAISE him! He is RISEN!”

Mine: “I got an F and a C, and I got a K too, and the only thing that’s missing is a bitch like U…”

Hers: “Hallelujah, he is risen!”

Mine: “You wanted perfect? I got your perfect, now I’m too perfect for someone like you. What’s my name? What’s my name? Ha ha, ha ha. Hold the S, because I am an ‘ain’t.'”

ANALYSIS:

Jesus rose up early in round 1 and was roundly praised by the crowd for his magical dance moves and fancy footwork. The crowd was excited to see him back for another fight.

Marilyn Manson comes in to represent the other corner, and boy is he mad. He comes out swinging with some trash talk, and calls out his opponent using some somewhat shaky wordplay.

Jesus lands a right cross, rising once again. His hovering certainly throws his opponents off. It looks like it’s time for the Hallelujah! He’s setting up for his finishing move! And…

No, Manson counters with the “too perfect.” Manson is now officially too perfect for Jesus, despite all the rising that’s going on in the ring. Christ can’t touch his pasty goblin ass! And…

It’s over! Evil wins Round 1! And they are celebrating. Look at that showboating: “What’s my name? What’s my name?” How about “Poor sportsmanship!?” We’ll be back after the break for round 2.

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