House Gods and Bizarrocon: An Interview with Andrew James Stone

AJS Author Pic

Austin James: I’ve been bummed that you’ll be missing BizaroCon 11 so I won’t be able to meet you in person. Second best thing: I get to interview you instead! First off, thanks for your time.

Andrew James Stone: I’m super bummed, too. After you experience the convention, you’ll know why!

And it’s my pleasure!

I’m very excited to check it out and meet so many cool people I’ve been hanging with online for the past year plus. Anyway, let’s get to the shit that matters: if I were to push play on your (music playing device of choice) what song would I hear?

Last song I listed to was “Splash 1” by the 13th Floor Elevators. I mostly listen to psychedelic music from the sixties, but have been getting back into punk rock again lately (mainly X-Ray Spex, The Stranglers, The Clash, The Dead Boys, and The Adverts).

Ah, so you’re on drugs. Makes sense.


Nice. Which has a bigger influence on your writing: your music or your drugs?

Music, with the exception of Xanax. Though I generally write in silence and sober. But when I write on substances, Xanax is the only one that doesn’t make the words shit. I can also listen to music while writing when on Xanax, oddly enough.

Though mushrooms and salvia have been inspirational in the past, both for their own separate projects.


Any of these things help with either The Mortuary Monster or All Hail the House Gods?

The Mortuary Monster, no. And while I came up with the idea for All Hail the House Gods during a friend’s writing exercise while sober, after it was a short story and before it became a novella I had a wild salvia trip that took place in the world of the House Gods. While it didn’t inform the plot, I did experience what life is like to be a House God.

Tell me about Monster? It seems to have done pretty well… almost 50 Amazon reviews average 4.5 stars. Not too shabby!

Thanks man! And I think it’s a fun book. The obvious inspirations are “The Addams Family” and “Corpse Bride.” But the bigger, and less obvious, inspirations are Kurt Vonnegut (all his work) and Steinbeck’s Cannery Row, which everyone should read.

The book itself is special to me because, aside from being my first book, I also wrote it at a real low point in my life (this was just after my alcoholism started to destroy my life and why I quit drinking), and writing the book, creating this sympathetic monster (sympathetic in my mind at least, and hopefully others) was a way to deal with my past and push myself forward.

And yeah, it being received so well by so many is also a huge plus. Got some great blurbs from Brian Evenson, Brian Allen Carr, and John Skipp on that one, all of which blew me away.

Yeah, those blurbs were great, all from artists I admire. And I completely understand what you were going through, as I too suffer from the inability to drink like a responsible human being. I’ve been sober for over eleven years. How is the non-drinking life serving you?

Congrats man! That’s awesome! And it has been treating me wonderfully. I’ve had occasional slip ups, but have essentially been off the booze since June 2014. My writing has improved immensely since I quit booze.

Good job—it’s definitely a struggle and I’m proud of you. Anyway, back to Monster, do you consider your first book to have been a success?

Yeah, I think it definitely has been. I mean, success is definitely relative. I’d have liked for it to have done a lot better. But for a first book from an indie bizarro horror press, it sold real well, received some amazing praise from writers I love and respect, got some overwhelmingly positive reviews in rad lit journals, and (if Amazon hadn’t deleted a number of reviews for nefarious reasons (FUCK YOU JEFF BEZOS)) would have over sixty Amazon reviews in its first eighteen months of life. But even then, it still sells relatively well nearly two years after its release and has fifty-eight (mostly positive) Amazon reviews. And more than that, without the success of TMM, All Hail the House Gods wouldn’t have done nearly as well as it is doing. TMM helped build a small following for my work, which has allowed AHTHG to increase it exponentially.

Do you consider yourself a bizarro author?

Yes, bizarro-lite. Meaning I see my work more in line with the Brian Allen Carr, Laura Lee Bahr, and Danger Slater type of bizarro writers, as opposed to CM3, Kevin L. Donihe, or Emma Johnson, the kind of bizarro writers whose work is totally batshit crazy in a beautifully wonderful way.

With that said, I’m an incredibly bad judge of where my work falls on the genre spectrum. I was extremely surprised to find out that The Mortuary Monster is primarily a weird horror book instead of a bizarro book with elements of gothic horror.

Moreover, I never set out to write a bizarro book. I just come up with an idea and try to build a world that feels realistic to the story idea I hatched.

That’s what I love about the bizarro genre, it embraces so many styles and concepts. Do you dabble in short story writing?

I used to write nothing but flash fiction and short stories (and poetry), but haven’t done any of that since spring 2015. And the short story I wrote in 2015 was a ten page version of All Hail the House Gods, which, of course, I ended up expanding into the novella.

I enjoy reading short stories, and writing them for that matter, but for the last few years, I’ve pretty much only written novellas / novels.

Tell me a little about AHTHG?

AHTHG is a short dystopian bizarro horror novella. Primarily, it explores various ways to overthrow a totalitarian government. Only the government consists of sentient House Gods that demand a daily child sacrifice (chosen through a Shirley Jackson-esque Lottery System) to keep them from declaring war on the oppressed once more. The oppressed, the humans’, only activity as children is Erotic Recreation, in which they couple (fuck) other children all day until they can conceive (think how children are taught to play in Huxley’s Brave New World). Once a couple conceives, they are wed, moved into a small tent, and are required to create one child a year to give to the government where they are entered into the House God lottery.

However, once the protagonists’ (the couple Kurt and Katie) oldest child is selected for sacrifice, and they watch Kurt Jr. willingly walk into the mouth (front door) of a House God to die, they snap. Katie creates an underground collective to try to overthrow the House Gods with a radical revolution while Kurt tries to find good House Gods to work with to bring down the oppressive system peacefully. Consequently, AHTHG also turns into a marital drama where broken spouses do all that they can to save their family and, consequently, society. But of course, their notions of revolution are polar opposites, and they struggle to understand how the other can react to their tragedy in the way that they are.

I have probably already said more than I should about AHTHG, but this is also only the origin of all the insanity packed into this little revolutionary book, which poses plenty of moral questions without giving any easy answers.

Dude, that sounds awesome—no wonder it’s getting some pretty good reviews and such early on. I’ve got my copy… can’t wait to read it! Before I forget, you mentioned poetry. Are you a poet?

Not really a poet. I always wanted to write novels. But when I started writing at seventeen, I went to a small private art school where the teacher was a poet and had us write tons of poetry. Long story short, the second poem I had ever written, and one of the first things I had ever written, won a National Scholastic Arts and Writing Awards gold medal, which meant I flew out to NYC and was presented with the medal on stage at Carnegie Hall.

I mean, the poem was shit, but it put me on a poetry kick because I used to be a lazy writer and it takes way less time to write a shit poem than a shit novel (to write a good poem takes just as much time / work), but a first draft of a poem is quite obviously way shorter than a novel draft. Anyways, I wrote a lot a poetry until my third year of undergrad (age twenty), and haven’t written a poem since. Now I’m doing what I always wanted to do with writing, and I’ve never been happier with my work.

You realize that the second poem you wrote has more accolades than some poets ever receive, right?

I’ve never really thought about it, to be totally honest. However, the National Scholastic competition is for 6th-12th grade students, so even if not many poets will ever receive an accolade like that, and while it is certainly a wonderful award to receive, it doesn’t mean much in regards to your talent as a poet in the grand scheme of things. I’m proud and honored to have been recognized for that award when I was seventeen, but that certainly doesn’t make me a stellar poet. I’m a mediocre poet, at best, who hasn’t written a poem in five years.

Do you have any poetry online somewhere? Or short stories, for that matter?

Yes, probably over a hundred poems and pieces of flash fiction that I wrote between the ages of seventeen and twenty. Most of it I hope no one will ever read. However, I am proud of a few. The four I think I’m most proud of is a poem in Gutter Eloquence, a short story in New Dead Families, and flash fiction in Hobart and DOGZPLOT.

You may not know this, but I bullshit with writers and pretend I’m a cutting edge journalist. Ergo, I’m gonna consider these links an EXCLUSIVE SCOOP! Soon my interviews will include nudes. Cutting. Edge. Shit.

Those are the interviews I’d like to see!

Right? So we’ve talked about your poetry, short form fiction, and your books. What are you working on now?

Currently, I’m working on a sea monster novella that takes place along the Puget Sound in Seattle. That’s the main project right now, and I’ve given myself a November deadline to finish it because my wife and I are expecting twins early December. But I also have a fake war novella called The Great Air War that’s been in the back of my mind since 2016 and every now and then I either add to or subtract from it. I also have two or three other novella ideas that I’m excited to start on, but I haven’t even outlined them or written an opening sentence yet. I just have a document of notes on various novellas to write when the time for that project feels right.

Lastly, I have a psychedelic dinosaur novel called The Ultimate Dinosaur Dance-Off. It’s a lot of things, but mostly a love story between a college student and a full-grown Apatosaurus. It’s finished, I just tweak it here and there every so often as I try to find the right publisher for it.

Do they all have a dash of bizarro?

The Ultimate Dinosaur Dance-Off is probably the most bizarro thing I will ever write. The others certainly have flavors of bizarro, but are definitely on the lighter side.

But I also assume none of my books are that bizarro because I have been living in the world of the story even before I start writing them, which the process of writing them alone is a long one for me. So they are probably a bit more bizarro than I believe them to be.

Nice. Anything lined up with any publishers?

Not at the moment.

Have some pitches accepted by various publishers, but I still haven’t written the books and who knows how much longer they’ll be patient with me.

I am writing the sea monster story (Nightmare Sound) for a specific press though, but who knows if they will take it. I’m nearly halfway done with the novella right now.

As a fledgling author myself, I can’t even imagine what that’d be like: “yeah various publishers have accepted pitches but I haven’t gotten around to writing the stories yet.” Good luck with that, by the way.

Thanks man! It’s nice, for sure, but stressful because family and work keeps us busy and the window of interest from the publishers is only open so long, ya dig?

Yeah that makes sense. Part of the dream I suppose. Anyway, on to even more important things: twins you say?

Yeah, holy shit twins! A boy and a girl (both human). My wife and I are super excited. They will be our first children.

Human twins, even? Well hot dog! They gonna have cutsie twinsie names?

I don’t think so. We’re not into giving them first names that begin with the same letter or anything like that. We have a few names picked out (especially for the girl), but we might just call the boy “Boy,” after the magical Waititi film.

Okay, not really. But we are at a loss for boy names now. We dig gender neutral names. But this is all I’ll say on the topic of names.

Congratulations are in order, good sir

Thank you very much ☺

After experiencing both male and female offspring, as well as speaking to others with similar parental obligations, here’s my sage wisdom: the girls are harder to raise, the boys are harder to keep alive.

Ha! Good things to know. I appreciate the warning / advice!

Seriously though, it’s a very cool and magical thing, having children. Changes everything. It’s hard to explain, but the days don’t even look the same afterwards.

Yeah, I bet. Can’t imagine it yet because it has yet to happen, but I am very much looking forward to it!

Can you see them move inside your wife’s belly yet? A foot kicks, you push, it pushes back?

Not yet. Should be very soon now though.

Well those of us that hang out with you on social media are looking forward to pix and whatnot.

You got it! My wife is way better at me than that, but I’m bound to be tagged.

Yep, which is yet another reason to keep a wife around…

That, and I’d probably be dead without her, no joke. I’m pretty terrible when it comes to being an adult, is what I mean.

Just look for the adultier adult, and avoid being the adultiest adult in any given situation.


Ok, so back to writerly stuff. When did you realize that you wanted to be a writer?

I think when I was fifteen. Growing up, I was crazy dyslexic. I couldn’t write an essay throughout middle school. Had never read a book until high school. But my second year of high school (I think that’s when you’re fifteen?), I discovered the wonders of Harry Potter and read the whole series within months (the timing was perfect because a month after I finished the sixth, the seventh was published). After that, I got into horror, especially Stephen King and Jack Ketchum. And then pretty much read whatever I could get my hands on. And while I wanted to write then, I knew I couldn’t, given my past inability to write a basic sixth grade essay + my dyslexia. But my mom enrolled me in a private art school when I was seventeen because she knew I wanted to write, which is where the second poem I had ever written won the award, which is when I finally gained the confidence to know I could potentially do this writing thing.

How do you overcome the dyslexia to churn out such amazing writing?

I did therapy for a couple of years probably when I was sixteen and seventeen. But by that point, I had overcome most of it just by reading voraciously since age fifteen. So reading constantly I think is a great cure for dyslexia. At least it worked for me.

Very cool… it’s encouraging that you were able to overcome that disability! But now I have to ask, what other art forms do you dabble in?

I absolutely adore art; unfortunately, I can’t draw or paint for shit. Same with music. And filmmaking. Really, what I’m saying is that I love to consume all forms of art, but the only one I produce (at all competently) is literature.

I guess I do draw for fun, but nothing I’d ever show anyone.

So what are your top six favorite movies from the last 27 years?

I’m not going to google whether all of these were made in the last twenty-seven years (spoiler: they probably were not):

1. The City of Lost Children
2. Howl’s Moving Castle
3. Sorry to Bother You
4. The Rocky Horror Picture Show
5. Pan’s Labyrinth
6. The Nightmare Before Christmas

Interesting selection, and truth be told, I wasn’t going to fact check the movie release dates. Do you find movies and the storytelling within inspirational towards your writing?

Yeah definitely. Sorry to Bother You is the most recent that comes to mind. Mostly because my politics are similar to Boots Riley’s, and I always try to infuse them into to my art as does he. But usually, I’ll write something, and someone will tell me it reminds them of x film, and I’ll be like, holy shit, that film is amazing! So I guess it goes both ways weirdly enough.

What was the most recent movie you saw in the theater?

Sorry to Bother You. Which, incidentally, I’m about to go see again in two hours with my dad and Laura Lee Bahr (I almost never go to the theaters because of money, let alone see the same one twice).

Yeah. And soon you won’t go because you have little kids. And then you’ll forget what going to the movies is like. And then you’ll rediscover how fun and expensive they are in five years or so.

Yeah, definitely! But in five years, that shit will probably cost $25 a ticket, at least.

And another $25 for a medium popcorn.

Yeah but fuck their food. Just bring in your own eats and drinks in a wind breaker or a backpack. Tell our kids the popcorn taste like shit and your potato chips are WAY better.

Haha true. Except that will be an easy three counts of felony smuggling by then.

Ehh. Most good people I know have been to jail. I’ll finally join them and give my kids something to be proud of.

Your kids already get to be proud of their father, for probably a lot of things, but (for the purposes of rounding out this interview) because you’re a great writer with growing success.

Why thanks! That is much appreciated. My wife and I are just hoping our kids enjoy to read someday. That alone would be a beautiful miracle!

I hear ya! Any other plugs or links or profound statements you wanna make before we wrap this thing up?

Oh sure. Read Rios de la Luz, Brian Allen Carr, and Laura Lee Bahr. All their books. All the time.

Awesome, thanks for the interview, sir!

My pleasure! Thanks for having me!

Austin James writes obscure and uncomfortable fiction.

Positively Squidlike

Positively Squidlike

Earl woke up one morning to find that he had become a squid. It was an unfortunate discovery.

Even so, it wasn’t nearly as unfortunate as the discovery he made shortly thereafter when writhing over to his bathroom mirror on his eight tentacles.

Not only was he a squid—his once well toned and carefully maintained body had regressed into something slimy and cyan colored—but he was a man-sized squid with seven anuses, each more puckered than the one before. Not wanting to guess at the evolutionary processes that had led to such a trait, Earl slithered over to his phone, trying his best to get the hang of his new tentacles.

He was surprised that he was able to breathe on dry land. He wondered if all creatures with gills actually were able to breath on land, but were too stupid to realize this and let themselves suffocate when out of the water. Perhaps they knew no existence other than a submerged one, so when taken from the water they simply gave up, assuming death was on the horizon.

He lifted the phone off his nightstand and with great difficulty managed to punch his passcode and scroll through his contacts until he found the number for his office.

“Hello and thank you for calling Don’t Be Bitter About Your Critter Pet Exchange Services. This is Jan speaking, how may I help you?”

“Hey Jan, it’s Earl. I’m calling sick today, I still have a few sick days left this quarter.”

“I’m sorry to hear that, Earl. Feel better soon.”

“Thanks, Jan.”

“Is it alright if I ask what you’re sick with? There’s been a little cold going around the office.”

“Oh, it’s nothing like that. I’ve turned into a man-sized squid with seven anuses, each more puckered than the one before.”

“Hmm, sounds rough. I don’t think that’s covered by our health insurance, so I’d talk to a doctor if I were you to make sure it doesn’t get any worse.”

“Yeah that’s good advice, thanks. Hopefully I’ll be back in tomorrow. Bye,” he said and ended the call. Then he dialed his doctor.

“Hi, Dr. Grossman. It’s Earl White,” his doctor said after usual surly receptionist had redirected him to her office.

“Hi, Earl. How are you?” asked Dr. Grossman on the other end.

“Not great, doc. I’ve turned into a man-sized squid with seven anuses, each more puckered than the one before.”

“Oh, well that’s strange. I don’t think I’ve ever seen that before.” There was a pause while Dr. Grossman seemed to consider her recommendation. Eventually she asked, “Have you tried Ritalin?”


“Well I’d give it a shot, but figuring out how you contracted this condition will probably help me give you a more accurate diagnosis. You work with all sorts of animals for your job; did you possibly encounter a man-sized squid with seven anuses, each more puckered than the one before, recently?”

Now that he thought about it, Early realized that there was a man-sized squid with seven anuses at work yesterday. The creature had given him an odd, searching stare from inside its tank that Earl had not cared for at all.

Earl ended the call without another word, dropped his phone onto the bed and hurried out the door, moving as fast as he could on his tentacles. He got some strange looks from the other passengers on the bus, but he didn’t mind. He highly doubted that any of them has seen a man-sized squid with seven anuses before, so he let it go.

Earl got out at 26th Street, took the elevator up to the office and approached the reception desk.

“Hi Jan, it’s Earl. I told you it was bad.”

Jan examined him.

“Nice try. Learning how to talk was a clever touch, I’ve never seen a squid go that far before, but you’re not Earl White.”

“Yes I am! I called in sick this morning. I told you that I had transformed into a man-sized squid with seven anuses, each more puckered than the one before, remember?”

“Yes, I do and you almost fooled me too, but if you’ll look over there, you’ll see that Mr. White happily swimming around naked in that tank for abnormally large squids. You know identity theft is a serious crime, right?”

Earl’s gaze followed the painted tip of Jan’s pointed finger and yes, there he was. Earl’s old body, marked by a series of regrettable tattoos that documented a series of regrettable nights when he was younger, swam around in the tank naked as the day he was born.

“Well that’s odd,” said Earl, scratching the back of his head with a turquoise tentacle.

“Hey, Jeff? We’ve got another loose animal,” said Jan behind him, squeezing the talk button on a walkie-talkie. “This is one is a man-sized squid with seven anuses, each more puckered than the one before. And it can talk.”

Jeff, the on-staff animal wrangler of Don’t Be Bitter About Your Critter Pet Exchange Services, appeared beside Earl, carrying a very large butterfly net.

“Come on buddy, into the tank with you. I don’t care if you can talk, you’re going to wait in that tank patiently until someone comes in to trade an unloved puppy that isn’t cute anymore.”

The net was upon Earl. He was lifted up into the air, caught in its web and carried off towards the tank.

“I need you to climb out of that tank, Earl,” said Jeff. “I’ve gotta put this man-sized squid with seven anuses in there. And put some clothes on.”

Earl’s old body climbed out of the tank, and Earl was dunked in.

Earl’s naked and wet old body approached the glass. It grinned at him smugly with a smile that, in Earl’s opinion, was positively squidlike.

-Ben Fitts

Ben Fitts Photo

Ben Fitts is a musician, writer and zinester from New York. He is the author of over a dozen published short stories and the creator of the zines The Rock N’ Roll Horror Zine, A Beginner’s Guide To Bizarro Fiction and the upcoming zine Choose Your Own Death. His story “Master Of Meats” was featured on SMM after being named one of the runner-ups in their esoteric sausage flash fiction writing contest this past May.

A New Voice in Bizarro Land: An Interview with Christopher Rigel

I picked up Christopher Rigel’s debut novella, Oval Orifice, almost entirely by chance. I knew Chris from college and was delighted to discover he had written a book. He had always been one of the sharp students in my literature courses, and I was certain his work would be worth a glance. When I discovered that Oval Orifice was, not only pure bizarro fiction, but extremely well written, high quality bizarro fiction, I was shocked, thrilled, and chomping at the bit to help introduce him to the kind of readers who would certainly appreciate Rigel’s wild blend of rollicking humor, satirical nastiness, and incisive intelligence. To bizarro fiction fans everywhere, Oval Orifice is for you. Stop by his Amazon page, follow him on Twitter, friend him on Facebook, and, above all, help me give Rigel a bizarro welcome to our strange corner of the literary universe.

-Justin A. Burnett

“I began by asking how fiction should function–what its role should be–in an increasingly post-truth society. Strict literary realism seemed a daunting task, especially when stacked against the absurdities of real life… I realized fiction would probably have to be WAY over the fucking top to compete.”

-Christopher Rigel

Justin A. Burnett: I read your novella, Oval Orifice, and was absolutely delighted with the precision of your writing and the truly laugh-out-loud humor. I can’t seem to find anything else by you on Amazon, however. Is Oval Orifice your first book?

Christopher Rigel: Thank you for that. I’m certainly glad the jokes have translated at least decently well out of my head. And you’re correct: Oval Orifice is my first and currently only work of fiction for sale. If you search Amazon for Christopher Rigel, however, you’ll likely find a couple psychedelic pop songs I released a few years back.

Burnett: Awesome. So you do music as well? What do I need to imagine when you say psychedelic pop: something closer to Flaming Lips or Syd Barrett?

Rigel: Yeah, I do music and poetry and some visual art… no sense in arguing with the muse, you know? And yes, at the time those songs were recorded, I was listening to a ton of the Lips.

Burnett: I completely understand that. I dabble in the three myself. I don’t think any artist could possibly be “too diverse,” despite the industry-standard shove towards specialization implicit in the emphasis on “branding.” Before we get back to Oval Orifice, how would you describe your visual art?

Rigel: I like to combine text and images to create sardonic anti-memes that can hang on someone’s wall.

Burnett: They certainly sound interesting; I’m trying to think of another artist who, as I recall, combined text and image ironically, but I’m coming up short. The mention of memes sort of brings us back to Oval Orifice in that it seems critical of the media culture surrounding both sides of the current political divide in the US. Do you want to give readers a brief summary or plug for Oval Orifice before we discuss it more directly?

Editor’s Note: For further criticism of media culture, memes, and the duality of political views engendered by the “viral” phenomenon, see “Reading in the Age of Trump: the Danger of Low-Hanging Fruit on SMM.

Rigel: Yeah, the fringes of the main narrative look at our sociopolitical left/right divide, particularly in media portrayal and subsequent audience interpretation. While I myself am certainly left-leaning, I hope that I at least somewhat skewer both sides.

Burnett: You do so much more than that, I feel, but I’ll return to that point. First off, it’s not a conventional narrative at all. This site generally promotes what I loosely call “the literary weird.” Horror, experimental, and bizarro fiction is frequently featured, and your book falls beautifully in with some of the best of bizarro fiction. Did you set out to write a “bizarro” book?

Rigel: It is sort of serendipitous that Oval Orifice fits into this bizarro literature category. I did not begin the project with that label in mind, nor was I fully cognizant of its existence, I’m afraid. Ultimately, though, how else could one address honestly the recent (and still roiling) wave(s) of American strangeness?

I began by asking how fiction should function–what its role should be–in an increasingly post-truth society. Strict literary realism seemed a daunting task, especially when stacked against the absurdities of real life. I mean, FFS, there was an NSA whistle-blower named Reality Winner; readers, I suspect, would roll their eyes at such a name in fiction.

And, of course, there was *sigh* fake news, the prevalence of which further sowed public distrust and political discord and… whatever… we all know this already. My point is that I realized fiction would probably have to be WAY over the fucking top to compete.

Burnett: That’s a very good response. I agree that addressing an overtly absurd reality requires even more absurd fiction. There’s also the FART Act and children in cages; as reality increasingly leans towards the bizarre, fiction has to shout louder than normal to get its point across, I think. Did any particular political event “spark” the writing process? If not, what made you decide to write Oval Orifice?

Rigel: OMG, the FART Act! I’m so glad that happened after I released my story. I would have otherwise probably admitted defeat.

The main narrative began with my knee-jerk reaction to then-candidate Trump: “Fuck this guy.” And once I interpreted my reaction literally, well… there you have it.

The specifics then derived from the uncanny resemblance of Trump to a comic book villain, whom craft into the fictional Daniel J. Trounce. And isn’t a common comic book trope the dichotomy of hero and villain? It at least seemed accurate enough, so I tried to develop a superhero in direct contrast to President Trounce.

Burnett: I cant remember who said it–it was probably someone’s Tweet or something–but someone pointed out the irony that a culture obsessed with superheroes can’t recognize a real supervillain when faced with one. Despite the apparent dichotomy of good and evil, however, you paint a pretty even-handed picture, as we’ve already mentioned. Even though it’s imbedded in a huge, hilarious portrayal, there even seems to be a tinge of sympathy for Trump. In the book, it’s pointed out several times that a man that fucked up must be hurting somehow. The truly comic aspect of Oval Orifice is that your Trounce is more human than Trump. Is this tiny bit of sympathy real for you in any way?

Rigel: Trounce is more human than Trump… that’s probably the nicest thing anyone’s said about this story so far. Thank you for that. To answer your question: No way, man. I have zero sympathy for that heartless monster. The sympathetic light in which I attempt to cast my version of him perhaps sugarcoats his vileness to an almost palatable level, but its actually another attack. I suspect that someone like Trump would be insulted by the idea that someone felt sorry for him. Or I hope so, at least.

Burnett: I absolutely agree. He seems to have no use for pity, given the fact that he vocally advertises his own perfection. Another impressive aspect of Oval Orifice is that it doesn’t read like a debut release. You came out swinging with a highly developed voice, a strong command of grammar, and a lyrical precision that I simply don’t see much in new writers. How did you develop your “chops” outside of writing poetry?

Rigel: That’s very kind of you to say. Thank you. Outside of writing poetry? I don’t know, man. I can’t really separate myself from it. My background consists mostly of songwriting and competitive/slam poetry. I approach prose with the same sort of performance mindset. If there’s a command of grammar, I must have some pretty great English teachers to thank.

Burnett: What about influences? I sense some David Foster Wallace in your writing. Are there others who have helped shape your style and vision?

Rigel: Yeah, DFW for sure. I’ve also recently taken a shine to Pynchon and DeLillo. My earlier influences include Vonnegut, Bill Burroughs, Hunter S. Thompson, and probably a little from Palahniuk. And, I mean, that list of names feels like such a cliché, but whatever.

Burnett: The fact that they could be called a cliché is a testimony to their greatness. I’ve recently warmed back up to Pynchon myself. What have you read by him so far?

Rigel: That’s a valid point. I’ve only read three Pynchon works so far. I started with Gravity’s Rainbow… earned my merit badge for that one. Then I read The Crying of Lot 49… hilarious, btw. But Bleeding Edge, his most recent, wins it for me. He captures the energy of very specific and perhaps nearly forgotten moment in America between the dot-com bubble and 9/11.

Burnett: I loved The Crying of Lot 49 and his Slow Learner collection. I’ve recently tried (again) Gravity’s Rainbow, but had to put it aside for other obligatory reading. I have to say, while it was an easier go for me now than it was, say, five years ago, it was still a pretty rough first hundred pages. I have to ask: does it get any better?

Rigel: I think it does, yes. I can’t claim to have fully absorbed it after one reading, or that it necessitated the hype, but I found a lot of the ideas presented to be quite worthwhile… mathematically tracing the arc of human destiny between pinpoints of love and war… I mean, maybe I misread it, but whatever… still pretty rad.

Burnett: That’s good to know, and the mathematical arc sounds spot on, given what I’ve read on it. I’ll have to give it another try soon, although I may read Bleeding Edge first. It’s been sitting in my Kindle for a while, but I haven’t touched it. Let’s get back to your work. Are you going to write another book? Please say yes.

Rigel: Oh, most definitely, yes. I have notes started for a few other ideas, but so far nothing has captured and demanded my attention with the same urgency that Oval Orifice did. But yeah, someday for sure.

Burnett: Awesome. That’s truly good to hear. Are you planning to self publish again or try the traditional submission route?

Rigel: I guess it depends on the finished product. If it turns into another bizarro piece, I’ll certainly let you know.

Burnett: Awesome, man. I’ll definitely be looking forward to it!

©2018 Silent Motorist Media

The Last Drug Trial on Earth Cover Reveal

Today, we’re revealing the cover of our first-ever Silent Motorist Media book publication, The Last Drug Trial on Earth, by Justin A. Burnett. Yes, we’re moving slowly into the realm of book publications. We have a few more surprise releases in store for you, including a hitherto unannounced anthology that we’re certain you’ll enjoy, but more on that later (or sooner, if you happen to be a subscriber on Patreon).

The Last Drug Trial on Earth is tentatively scheduled to release on October 1st. We’re considering this release our “pilot” before we move on to accept novel-length submissions from the public. If all goes well, you can expect to see regular book releases.

The Last Drug Trial on Earth is a sci-fi, dystopian, satirical, bizarre mashup. It’s an alien invasion novel, but we’re certain it’s unlike any alien invasion novel you’ve ever read. Buckle in, don’t make eye contact with the squirrels, ignore the voices in your head, and confront THE REAL (whatever that is). Stay tuned for pre-order information.

Unlikeable Characters: An Interview With Jessica McHugh

I recently had the pleasure of interviewing yet another accomplished, talent writer: Jessica McHugh. No additional introduction is needed, so let’s jump right in!

-Austin James

Jessica McHugh Pic2

“I never realized how quickly children want to put visually unappealing things into their mouths.” -Jessica McHugh

Austin James: So, I’ll start off with a generic question that might make you wonder why you agreed to this interview: what drives you to create through writing?

Jessica McHugh: Art has always been very important to me, but I didn’t always know writing would be my creative outlet. When I was younger, I tried all sorts of artistic expression to nail down what allowed me to convey my emotions best, and writing was the one that (1) allowed me to let go and truly become absorbed by creation, and (2) I enjoyed enough that I didn’t mind working to become better. Both have lasted to this day.

James: Wow, that’s a great explanation. As an interviewer I sometimes think about how I would answer my own questions – I’m jealous of this answer. You mentioned trying “all sorts of artistic expression” … care to talk about some of the other things you’ve dabbled in?

McHugh: My parents were pretty cool about allowing me to explore different types of art, and we already had a bunch of art kits since I’m the youngest of three, so it was pretty easy for my parents to find something to occupy me for a few hours. I love drawing and painting, but I wasn’t very good at it. I played with fashion design for a few years. I spent a significant portion of my adolescence dancing and singing, and I basically lived in the theater during High School. Anyone who follows me on social media knows I still sing and dance to this day, but it’s solely for joy whereas writing is for joy, release, entertainment, education, and (I hope) connection.

James: I have indeed seen you post a couple FB videos where you sing and dance and frolic and such—looks like fun! So, when did you first start to realize you were getting “good” as a writer?

McHugh: It was probably during my fifth novel, Song of Eidolons. I hadn’t quite found my voice yet, but writing that story made me believe that I truly had a kind of magic other people didn’t. Many of my stories felt somewhat derivative at that point, but Song of Eidolons could only have been written by me. It was the first time I was 100% satisfied with the world and characters I created and with my progression as an author. It is unfortunately out of print and needs to be updated before I’m able to submit it for possible publication again, but it’s always in the back of my mind.

James: It’s crazy to me as a relevantly new author to hear “my fifth novel”… haha. I hope that Eidolons comes back to life in the future, hopefully with a big “homecoming” party. Other than Eidolons, which of your piece(s) are you most proud of?

Green Kangeroos Coverart

McHugh: I’m extremely proud of The Green Kangaroos, which I wrote during my first year of NaNoWriMo and was published the following year by Perpetual Motion Machine Publishing. I feel like my voice truly shines in that story, maybe because it was so personal. It’s also where I discovered just how much I enjoy writing unlikable characters. To be frank, I think it’s because most real people would be considered unlikable characters if you lived in their heads for more than a day. But I loved playing the part of Perry Samson. Addiction and depression have been knotted up in my life for a long time now, so writing that story felt somewhat therapeutic. I’d been wanting to tackle the middle child/addiction story for a while at that point, and I’m glad something like NaNoWriMo exists because it forced me to get it out.

I’m also really proud of my first ever short story collection, The Maiden Voyage & Other Departures. It explores my weird alternate history beepunk world, starting with a story on the Titanic. It really pushed me to my limits and forced me to stretch my creativity. It wasn’t quite as fun to create as The Green Kangaroos, but I learned a lot about myself and my writing during the process.

James: You’ve got quite a library of published works. It’s an honor to be speaking with you (by the way). Who all have you published with? Have you ever self-published?

McHugh: Thank you! I’ve worked with several small presses over the last ten years, some of which have folded and others that have flourished. Post Mortem Press was the first one I worked with that became a real family to me. That publishing house has three of my works and likely another by the end of the year. Then there’s Perpetual Motion Machine Publishing, whom I’ve worked with on two novels and a few short stories, and Unnerving Magazine who I also work with on short stories, including my first collection. Raw Dog Screaming Press released my latest novel and since I’ve known those folks almost as long as Post Mortem Press, I’m jazzed to be a part of their amazing family now.

I self-published one book: a humorous illustrated collection called Virtuoso at Masturbation & Other McHughmorous Musings, and while it wasn’t a bad experience exactly, I prefer the working relationship I build and nurture with my publishers.

James: I know this can be a touchy subject, one that most of us can absolutely relate to (especially those of us that must CREATE in order to stay alive), but I really like how you phrased “addiction and depression have been knotted up in my life for a long time now, so writing that story felt somewhat therapeutic.” Are you comfortable expanding in that a little bit?

McHugh: Absolutely. My brother is a recovering heroin addict, as well as the middle child, so I’d be remiss not to acknowledge how much he inspired the character of Perry Samson in The Green Kangaroos. And I had my own struggles with self-medicating with alcohol during periods of depression in my 20s. I didn’t know I was experiencing depression, however. I didn’t realize how bad it was getting until I start to see my various relationships crumbling around me. Again, I would remiss not to acknowledge how much that version of me inspired the character of Rebecca Malone in The Train Derails in Boston.

It took me a long time to realize I’d been experiencing symptoms of depression and anxiety pretty much my entire life, and I think the unwillingness to see those symptoms is apparent in the characters and relationships I built in both of those novels. At the time I wrote both, I still was not on medication, nor did I think I’d ever need to be.

I couldn’t be happier that I finally woke up to my problems and that I’m able to get treatment. I believe a lot of addictions begin because people don’t have access to adequate mental health treatment.

James: Do you think you’d be an unlikable character if we were in your head for more than a day? (Also, so you don’t have to ask, any of my friends will tell you that I’m an unlikable character after spending twenty minutes with me).

Jessica McHugh Pic1

McHugh: I’m not sure it would take an entire day to reach that conclusion. It’s like Wackyland from Tiny Toons in there.

James: Which is not important: Quentin Tarantino’s cinematic menu or Van Gough’s pallet?

McHugh: Both are very important, but personally…ehhh…Van Gogh has been less influential. I don’t know who I’d be if not for Tarantino’s True Romance script.

James: (writes “you’re so cool” on a napkin…) What does a typical day look like in your life, currently?

McHugh: Summer looks really different than the rest of the year because it’s the busy season for most of my part-time jobs. But on an average weekday, I start out my day with coffee, news, emails, and spending as much time with my husband as I can before he leaves for work. Once I’m alone, I either jump straight into writing and editing or I do my Just Dance workout. I plug away at various projects until it’s time to leave for my creative writing workshops, and after those, I typically come home and do some more writing if my brain isn’t mush. I used to attack projects much harder in the evening, but I’ve cooled off in recent years with mush-brain becoming more frequent. Oh, and if I teach workshops in the morning, there tends to be a bar visit in there somewhere. I really enjoy writing at happy hours.

James: You teach creative writing workshops?

McHugh: I work for a nonprofit called Writopia Lab that runs workshops for kids 8-18.

James: Dude, that’s so cool.

McHugh: It’s a lot of fun! I also teach after school science labs occasionally!

James: Got any cool stories to tell from teaching children creative writing skills?

McHugh: Nothing specific comes to mind, but it’s always wonderful seeing kids venture into genres they’ve never written before. Writopia Lab encourages exploration and frowns on censorship, so there’s a lot more opportunity for young writers to experiment in a safe, judgement-free environment.

James: Any cool stories from the science workshops? Blow up anything good?

McHugh: It’s just really crazy teaching those. I never realized how quickly children want to put visually unappealing things into their mouths.

James: It’s the most basic of instincts, at least, according to my children.

McHugh: It’s a good thing I’m not a parent. I definitely don’t have the patience for that eternal full-time job.

James: I think the goal is to keep your offspring alive without punching them. That’s what I do.

McHugh: A noble goal indeed!

James: What are you working on now, any projects or books you want to talk about?

McHugh: I’m currently working on the sequel to Rabbits in the Garden, which I’ve admittedly been editing off and on for quite a while. I’ve been writing, submitting, and releasing short stories almost exclusively for over a year now, so I’m really excited to be focusing on a novel again. I did just have a novel released last month though! Raw Dog Screaming Press published my Nightly Owl, Fatal Raven, a dystopian fantasy about a vigilante facing off against a corrupt government.

Also, Carrion Blue 555 recently released a flash fiction anthology, in which I and the other authors have fifty-five 55-word stories.

Nightly Owl Coverart

James: Oh, sweet! Was it a challenge to write a compelling 55-word story?

McHugh: Oh absolutely! But so much fun! 14 of them chronicle my stages of grief over four months, because I started the project a few days after my cat/best friend died.

James: Sorry to hear about your loss. As a fellow cat person, I understand. It’s fun when you can put constraints in a story specifically to force creative generation. And I’m glad you had that outlet to exercise your mourning

McHugh: Thank you. He was a cool dude. I truly loved being part of that project. And needed it.

James: So now you’ve got to tell us a crazy cat story!

McHugh: Oh man, Tyler would legitimately play hide-and-seek with me. We’d take turns and try to scare each other. It was hilarious. And my husband was pretty stunned the first time he witnessed it.

James: Haha, that’s so cool. So back to writerly stuff: being that this interview is going to push you farther into super-stardom (right?), which of your works would you recommend to first time readers?

McHugh: The Green Kangaroos. It has everything: horror, humor, love, science fiction, action, people who sells chunks of their flesh for drugs… what else could you want? Or if you want some a liiiittle less gory, Rabbits in the Garden.

James: What are your favorite current TV shows?

McHugh: I love Black Mirror on Netflix, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel on Amazon, and Game of Thrones on HBO. I’ve also been a loyal fan of America’s Next Top Model for yeeeeears.

James: Why do you think Black Mirror chose that specific S1:E1 as its series premiere?

McHugh: Because it dances that fine line between humor, morbid curiosity, and psychological horror. We can easily picture ourselves in a world where something like that could happen, so it makes a great intro to a series where horror seems all too real.

James: I know a few people who never watched beyond that point until I insisted. I kinda like the “fuck it” edge of starting off such an iconic series in that fashion.

McHugh: I agree. It’s pretty up front about what kind of show it is.

James: Do you have any upcoming readings or anything along those lines we can look forward to?

McHugh: I have a Patreon page with work in progress stories from a forthcoming collection, singing vids, and more.

James: Very cool. Any questions, comments, concerns, shameless plugs you wanna drop before we wrap up this interview?

McHugh: To all my reader friendos out there, please support small presses and indie authors, especially those who boost women in horror, LGBT writers, and POCs in every genre ever. There are so many rad voices out there now, and if can be a tiny speck in your diverse catalog of authors, that’s good enough for me.

Please hit me up on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram.

And thanks so much for the interview, Austin!

James: Awesome, thank you! This was fun!
Austin James writes obscure and uncomfortable fiction.