Our next Silent Motorist Media interview is compiled from a lengthy and strange phone conversation with Bob Freville, author of Celebrity Terrorist Sex Bomb and Battering the Stem from Bizarro Pulp Press, as well as the soon-to-be-released, extensively illustrated novel from Psychedelic Horror Press, The Network People, available for pre-order on the Psychedelic Horror Press website. I’ve tried to recapture some of the strangeness of the conversation in the brief transcript below (the full conversation clocked in at just over five hours), but I’m afraid it’s no match for the real deal.
Art’s function is to explore the things we pretend to run away from. Art is confrontation. Even for those who don’t share their art and only create for themselves, art gives voice to parts of them that cry out from inside. It’s like the call of the void. Nobody wants to admit that they’ve thought of wrapping their car around a lamppost or drive off a cliff, but it’s in there.
Bob Freville: What’s up, man? (a blurry edge in Freville’s voice indicates the ingestion of more whatever the hell I keep hearing him sip on during the interview)
Me: Hey man. How’s it going? Are you ready to do this?
Freville: Can I just start off by saying it’s a genuine pleasure to be interviewed by you? You are one of very few indie authors whose work I truly admire. It’s an oversaturated scene out there, and there are so many people who claim to love literature, but their minds are hummus and their grasp of language is that of a 5-year old immigrant or worse. Your work in Esoteric Sausage is meticulous and stays with me. No bullshit, this is a real treat.
Me: Fuck yeah man, it’s truly flattering to hear you say that. I’ve been loving Celebrity Terrorist Sex Bomb and the bits and pieces of Battering the Stem I’ve been reading in between. You really do put a lot into your books, and it’s refreshing to see. Do you research a lot when writing your books? They seem thoroughly researched.
Freville: I do, actually (cat meows loudly in background). I didn’t have to really do any research on Battering the Stem because I’d already kind of lived most of it, but the others definitely called for tons of research, particularly Celebrity Terrorist Sex Bomb. It was really cool, discovering all these things about the history of terrorism in America. I’ve also interviewed friends and shit about their prison experiences. That came in handy as research for the novella I’m currently working on.
Me: That’s awesome man! The research really paid off. It definitely does not read like a lot of the off-the-cuff type stuff I tend to come across. I’m very into it. I’m going to have to go and finish Battering the Stem when I’m done with it. In Sex Bomb, I definitely picked up on some deep criticism of western ethnocentricity, but you also play with a whole diorama of stereotypes and redeploy them in unexpected ways, like having the terrorists watch American Pie. You take a cosmopolitan or promiscuous liberty with stereotypes and put them in unexpected conversations. This, to me, is a very interesting method of critique, and I’m interested to see where you go with it.
(a cork pops and something crashes)
Me: You okay, man?
Freville (either ignoring or not hearing me): Thank you, man. It’s good to see that it comes across. The American Pie thing was a bit more overt than some of the other material, but that was sort of the intention with much of it. It’s especially true of the use of stereotypes because I wanted to kind of shine a light on the fact that we’re an inherently racist species. Even people who get along with everybody still have innate misconceptions or preconceived notions when it comes to other races, other genders, whatever. Different accents and ideas, all these things present the potential for miscommunication and misunderstanding. To be able to laugh about it seems of particular importance now when the country has been torn apart by partisanship. This book was written long before the president ran for office, but it seems oddly prescient when I look at it in retrospect. I don’t mean that to sound like I’m sucking my own farts or high on myself in any way, just to illustrate that I’m as amazed as anybody about how it reads in the age of Trump.
Me: Ha ha ha, not at all man. It does read very well over the Trump mess. But what you called our “inherent racism” sort of transcends this specific point in time. It seems to suggest that true cultural equality, wherein everyone really is blind to difference and ethnicity (and not just saying so) is something of a utopian fantasy. Do you agree with that?
Freville: Absolutely! And despite the divisiveness we’ve seen in the last couple years, you can also see that larger sense of equality in the younger generation. Teenagers don’t shy away from each other because of their ethnicity or skin color the way a lot of them did when we were in school. I see black, white and Asian-American kids skateboarding together now. That was rare when I was in high school and unheard of when our parents were growing up. That’s probably the closest we’ll come to a utopia for some time, but it’s comforting to know that Sam Cooke was right when he said a change was gonna come. So yeah, while a lot of people kind of pretend to not “see color” or something like that, it’s mostly bogus for people of a certain age. The difference between us and the generation that’s coming up now is that a good number of them aren’t blind to their differences, they just don’t give a fuck. They focus on what they have in common instead of fearing the other like the rest of us. For them, it’s not, “Oh, he’s brown. He probably wants to bomb the consulate, it’s, “Oh shit! Dude’s got that new Minecraft book!”
Me: That’s definitely true. My kids don’t have the slightest trouble associating with homosexuals or black or any kids regardless of any inherent difference whatsoever. So, race is definitely something you feel positive about. What about religion? Is God going to keep fucking things up for everyone?
Freville: (here, Freville bursts into uncontrollable laughter for a moment as something distinctly glass shatters in the background) Ha ha ha! God doesn’t destroy, we destroy. The mental viruses known as organized religion and mortality destroy. We’re the only species that is aware of its imminent demise and, so, faith has become our security blanket. That’s not to say that I don’t believe in an afterlife or anything like that, it’s just to say that so-called religious people (less than people who identify as spiritual or secular) are desperate. They doubt their faith on the reg, and they overcorrect by putting it on hard. They are passionate in all the wrong ways. One look at what the Catholic Church did to the Gnostic Gospels tells us all we need to know about the religious establishment. The great irony is that we fear Islam because they challenge our own lack of faith. After all, how can you contend with a people who believe so wholeheartedly in their faith that they are ready to die in the name of what they think is Allah, or God? But so, with the book, I kind of wanted to underscore how stupid the westerner’s fear of Islam is. The reality is, The Quran was never intended to replace Christianity or besmirch it in any way. On the contrary, Muslims believe in our God, they just call him by a different name. The Quran was meant to be the final iteration of The Bible. It only clashes with Christianity because it names Muhammed as the last prophet instead of Jesus. These are things the average American have not been exposed to because it’s been suppressed, but the book goes into most of that, I hope.
Me: That’s a good point, particularly when you mention the inadequacy anxiety Christianity has in the face of Islam. Christians would be hard pressed to display the kind of true devotion members of Islam display. What Christians would say, however (and not being one, I’m playing devil’s advocate here), is that The Quran is filled with incitements to violence against the infidels, and that Islam is therefore inherently violent.
Freville: And that’s what really twisted my nuts about the Christian right’s reaction to Islam. The Bible is one of the most violent, misogynistic, preternatural and homophobic texts in human history. It makes Caligula seem like Bernie Sanders by comparison. On the contrary, the violence cited by Islamaphobes extends only to the Sword Verses which comprise a mere four pages of the Islamic faith’s book. These are the verses that extremists use to justify terror attacks, but when read with any sense of clarity, it becomes clear that the wrath of those passages are the same kind of wrath referenced in the Book of Revelations. In other words, it is a wrath reserved for God, not for misguided converts with suicide vests. It’s the same kind of wrath. Hope that all kind of makes sense. I’ve been ranting about this shit for a while ha ha ha. I became an ordained minister in the Universal Life Church back in the early 2000s for shits and giggles. I found out that there was this website that people like John Waters and Conan O’ Brien had used to become ministers and I thought it would be funny. But in the ensuing years, I really became entranced by the study of theology and different religions and anti-religions (cat meows again).
Me: Do you have a favorite religion you like to read up on?
Freville: It’s been awhile since I’ve studied any particular text, but I’m kind of in agreement with Rainn Wilson and the Baha’i faith which sees the value in texts from all faiths. Universalism recognizes that even agnostics and atheists can turn to a religious tome for lessons on life, morality, humanity and spirit. One volume that has been with me for years is The Dhammapada. It’s this great, pocket-sized book that offers these tiny, prosaic tidbits for how to live. It reminds me somewhat of the Japanese code that Forest Whitaker lived by in the Jim Jarmusch flick, Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai. I like the idea of carrying something like that with you and turning to a random page when you’re having a day. I hate it when I hear the term “beach reading” thrown around and it’s always in reference to something like Nicholas Sparks. You never hear about someone taking The Dhammapada or Crowley’s The Book of Lies to the shoreline and that’s depressing to me. I think people who would waste the beach on something like The Notebook are sad and insipid people.
Me: I emphatically agree. I love The Dhammapada. My particular two go-to books are the Tao Te Ching and the Book of Changes. Are there any novels you would rather see people taking to beaches as well? Say if you had to pick no more than five…
Freville (a low, unidentified, moan-like noise begins and lasts the entirety of Freville’s response): Hmm…I’d probably recommend Kurt Vonnegut’s God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater, Michel Houellebecq’s novella, Lanzarote, and his novel, Platform. Vonnegut’s book got me through at-home detox several years ago and it was such a skull fuck because it’s so uniquely written and such a refreshingly humanitarian piece of literary fiction. It kind of celebrates humanity’s flaws as much of Vonnegut’s canon does. Houellebecq is the other end of the spectrum; he embodies the despair that we feel as people who are tethered to earth despite our hatred of mankind’s superfluous idiocy and the pain we all live with knowing that our existence is finite. Lanzarote is perfect for the beach because it takes place on the beach and is the cynic’s version of light reading. Platform gives you more to chew on and really functions as a counterpoint to my book in that its ultimate message is that Islam is a hopelessly dumb religion that attracts savages and fools. The rest of the book is really apt for the beach experience because it reveals the ugliness of the tourist scene.
Me: That’s a cool list, although I haven’t read any of those. I’ll have to rectify that. You talk about Platform being the counterpoint to Sex Bomb. This sort of leads to a cliché question, but I just have to ask: was Sex Bomb inspired by any other books or writers?
Freville: I wouldn’t say it was influenced by them, really. In the case of Platform, we kind of stole the cover design. Ha ha! By that I mean I showed [designer] Dyer Wilk the jacket of the paperback of Platform I owned and told him that I want something like this where it’s a brown-skinned beauty in a bikini, only our chick will have a tattoo of a grenade on her midriff. Other than that, I can’t point to any overt influences. I can’t remember what I might have been reading around that time, but I can tell you that I wanted it to have the brutal honesty of Hunter S. Thompson’s political reporting (On the Campaign Trail ’72 and Generation of Swine, in particular) as well as the kind of satire pioneered by Aldous Huxley and the like. The book’s pace definitely owes a debt to Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas, Palahniuk’s Fight Club, and Harry Crews’ Feast of Snakes. At the same time, I don’t see those influences in the material itself. I think it’s definitely a book of its own time; it doesn’t occupy the same space that any of those books did because it can’t, it’s a piece of a very different age. By the way, what is the Book of Changes? I don’t think I’ve heard of that one. The Tao is a real head spinner.
Me: I was wondering if Palahniuk would come up. It definitely has that racy, Palahniuk edge, although your use of language isn’t so minimalist (which is a good thing, as far as I’m concerned). Yeah, man! The Book of Changes is a very old Chinese oracle consulted by tossing yarrow stalks. It can also be read as very deep “daily reflections,” although it’s based around determining appropriate actions in different situational contexts. I like it because it has a strong social dimension that doesn’t come across as strong in other… “spiritual”… contexts. And I adore The Tao for being a head spinner. I think we’re wrong to demand rationality from religious texts, and wrong, contra-wise, to read rationality into them. That’s where we get in trouble, I think.
Freville (cork pops, cat meows, and Freville fills a glass of something and drains it before responding): You said it, brother! There’s nothing rational about The Bible, but when read as metaphors, it’s a hell of a guide to the world we live in. Just as Huxley’s Brave New World predicted a society of dope-dependent drones with no sexual inhibitions and no knowledge of the arts, the Bible predicted the wave of diseases that would plague us and the barcode society we’ve allowed ourselves to become in the age of Bill Gates and Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg.
Me: So, do you get bad vibes from the technological panopticon we live in? Is the Internet a place of potential menace?
Freville: Fuck yeah it is! And it’s only getting worse thanks to the president repealing the FCC’s Internet privacy rule and companies like Facebook acquiring bogus analytics apps that front like they’re virtual private networks when they’re really just a device for sending your activity back to their parent company so it can be exploited for personal gain. At the same time, I’m hopeful for the future, perhaps naively so. Some of the stuff that people like Elon Musk are doing with AI excites me and scares the balls off me simultaneously. Believe it or not, that’s the short answer to that question. Ha ha ha!
Me: AI makes me uneasy, but I’m not sure if this fear is rational or not. I’m not familiar with Elon Musk. What’s the story there?
Freville: He’s an entrepreneur who runs Tesla and is part of OpenAI, a project for developing artificial intelligence solutions. He’s also an eccentric billionaire who insists we’re living in a simulation, so I’m not about to attest to his credibility about anything, ha ha! But the dude has put a lot of bank behind advancing the technology of tomorrow and it’s tech that has the potential to change the health care game and then some.
Me: AI in healthcare scares me in particular. At the hospital I used to work at, they installed fucking robot surgeons. I think they’re still controlled by human input, but still. I think I’ve read too much sci fi. Especially PKD.
Freville: On an unrelated note, I don’t know if you can use this for the interview, but I think it bears mentioning if it you find it relevant. You mentioned influences earlier and I’d have to say that my background reviewing porn and covering the adult industry as a journalist definitely influenced the book insofar as I was exposed to the big players in that space and found them remarkably intelligent and stunningly self-aware. Everyone has this stereotype in their mind of the girl who is drugged and beaten into sexual slavery, but I say bullshit on that. I was friends with a porn star who used to go by Lisa Lamborghini in the nineties and she was smarter than any writer I’ve ever met. I’ve hung out and shot the shit with Sarah Vandella, Sara Jay, my mother from another mother, Nina Hartley. They’re all terrific business people. These are not subservients or idiots. When I started writing Sex Bomb, I thought of them and then I thought about Hollywood and Islamic extremists and what I realized was that both A-list celebrities and terrorist converts are both slaves in a way that goes virtually unaddressed while we continue to categorize porn stars as victims. That is something I hope comes across in the book on some level. Regarding what you said earlier, I know just what you mean. (cat meows again and Freville mutters something unintelligible before continuing) Robotic surgery is something that’s still in its infancy. Back in 2011 or 2012, it almost killed one of my family members. She went in to have a nodule removed from her esophagus. The machine was called the Da Vinci System and it had just been introduced at the hospital in question. As such, she was basically a test dummy for this shit. The doctors pimped it like it was more precise than the human hand. The operation was supposed to take two hours. She ended up under anesthesia for seven hours after they nicked her insides and caused a massive leak that bled over into her lungs and led to pneumonia. So yeah, I’m with you in being more than a little hesitant about this kind of futuristic bullshit, but at the same time, I could see the utility to some of it. I’ve even got the fucker’s arm right here.
Me: I’m sorry, the what?
Freville: The fucking arm. The robot arm that holds the blades and shit.
Me: You… have the robot’s… arm? There, with you? How did you—
Freville (suddenly cold): We don’t need to discuss this further.
Me: Okay, well… awesome insight there, at any rate! Back to Sex Bomb, I was a little bewildered about how un-victimlike Priya reacts to her captivation. Is this pushing back on the victim stereotype?
Freville: Yeah, it was definitely a choice to push back on the stereotype because I didn’t think it was fair to portray her that way after all she’s been through, especially after her awakening. It’s clear throughout the book that she is being manipulated, that they intend for her to be a slave to their cause and a slave to the Hollywood machine. But the ending had to be kind of vague so that Punita-Lily Pushpa could still be Priya, her true self. I wanted an ending that felt realistic but didn’t rob her of the spirit she had earned. So, her attitude in those final pages can be read as her refusing to be a puddle because that’s what they would expect her to be and that’s not Punita-Lily. Punita-Lily is a stone with a rich mineral center.
Me: Don’t tell me too much about the ending! I haven’t finished it yet, ha ha ha! In Sex Bomb and in BTS, you play with stereotypes. Have you gotten any backlash for this? Resisting victim stereotypes, putting the reader in the shoes of terrorists, even an occasional “n” word: there seems plenty here for people to get offended by, particularly in the current political climate. Has this happened?
Freville: The backlash to the language and stereotypes has been surprisingly slim. With Battering the Stem, I remember rereading parts of it once it was in print (too late to do any further edits) and kind of cringing at some of the choices I made. The shocking part? Not one review bashing on me or the book for this or even referencing it. Ironically, one reviewer affirmed my theory that Americans are inherently racist by saying that the book was hard to read because it “made me feel so white.” Ha ha ha! I won’t be at all shocked if Sex Bomb gets tagged as an inappropriate book given the political landscape, but I think the PC movement needs to choose its battles carefully. (cat meows yet again) There’s a fucking vast ocean between a presidential candidate talking about grabbing someone’s pussy and an indie author using stereotypes and controversial language to make a point. Whether that message will land is the big question and I look forward to the answer. I have to say, anyone who reads the book and sees the stereotypes as bigotry is not reading the book that I wrote.
Me: I’m sorry, is your cat in heat or something? Ha ha ha!
Freville: Well, no, technically no. I’ve actually got the first transgender cat. She used to be my neighbor’s cat. They called her Eddie, but her balls are cute as a button.
Me: Ha ha ha! Seriously, man?
Freville (not laughing): Yeah. Seriously.
Me: Well, that’s pretty awesome, I think. Um… I was just gonna say that I was surprised at the lack of controversy surrounding Battering the Stem reviews myself on Amazon. The problem with PC politics now is that it’s all about trigger words and no one pays attention to context. That’s the only reason I think Sex Bomb could cause a stir. And I agree about picking battles carefully. Do you believe that things can be said in the name of art that can’t in everyday conversation? Is there a divide there?
Freville: Definitely. Art’s function is to explore the things we pretend to run away from. Art is confrontation. Even for those who don’t share their art and only create for themselves, art gives voice to parts of them that cry out from inside. It’s like the call of the void. Nobody wants to admit that they’ve thought of wrapping their car around a lamppost or drive off a cliff, but it’s in there. Art is a release valve that lets us ejaculate the stuff we don’t want to be honest about. The divide is one of denial, a clusterfuck of papier-mâché people who can’t admit their vulnerabilities and true feelings.
Me: That’s an awesome description of art. I like it. I don’t believe that art is supposed to be pretty. Cool man. So let’s talk about The Network People, which is coming out with Psychedelic Horror Press. I was surprised to discover you had another release so closely following Sex Bomb. What’s the story with that one?
Freville: The Network People is a triptych of short stories that are unified by a cabal of people pulling the strings behind the scenes and one very enigmatic man who calls himself Stan A. (Freville pauses for a moment. Middle-eastern music begins to play. A female voice wails over an oud and violin for the remainder of this interview segment) It’s a dark, fucked up little collection that’s probably bloodier and weirder than anything else I’ve written. It’s kind of a coincidence that it’s coming out so close to the release of Sex Bomb because it’s been with the publisher for about a year. For those who dug Battering the Stem, it should be a real treat because it works on the same sense of dread, but it ratchets up the tension and transgression. I think it’s gonna blow some minds and torment some others.
Me: Cool man. Well I’ve definitely been into BTS, even though I’m finishing Sex Bomb first. I have very odd reading habits. I start, stop, and read multiple books like crazy, although lately I’ve just been writing. What made you decide to go to Psychedelic Horror Press with Network instead of Bizarro Pulp, which seems to be your home base?
Freville: I believe I submitted to them before BTS came out, forgot all about it and then received this email from them after it came out. I had submitted this one long short story, “The Network People,” and the publisher liked it so much that he asked if I had any other stories I’d want to go along with it. So, I sent him “We Buy Souls” which is super-short and serves as a bit of an intro to the world of the rest of the book, and “Sex Toy,” a Stan A short story that had appeared in Deadman’s Tome. I chose to reprint that one because it felt of a piece with the other two. Psychedelic Horror Press differs from BPP in that they fully illustrate the entire book, so each short story has corresponding drawings.
Me: I noticed that they advertised it as featuring 50 full page illustrations! That’s fantastic! Have you seen a proof copy?
Freville: I have! It looks incredible! I was initially concerned that it was going to read like a graphic novel, but it’s not that. I’d say the drawings work in a similar fashion to Ralph Steadman’s work in Fear & Loathing.
Me: You’ve got Sex Bomb, The Network People and a secret project I promised not to mention in the interview. What’s next for Bob Freville? What can fans expect to see from you next?
Freville: You can’t expect anything; if I or you were able to anticipate what my next move was, the result would be some boring shit show. I prefer to surprise myself and everyone else. I can tell you that it will likely involve porn stars, cryptocurrencies and Big Pharma, but that’s just raw speculation. I don’t even know where I am right now.