Interview with bizarro author G. Arthur Brown

I’m pleased to feature new bizarro author Gary A. Brown on today to share about himself. His new book Kitten is part of the new bizarro author series so it’s a must read for me. I’m excited to share the interview and hope you’ll all check out Gary’s kitty cat.

Kitten

It’s the story of a pill-popping mother, an estranged father, their hapless son and his kitten, which is not a kitten.

No. It’s the story of a kitten that IS a kitten on a Steel Planet he does not understand, accompanied by oddball companions on a quest to return home, seeking revenge.

Stop! You’re both right. Kitten combines darkly personal and surreal psychodrama with zany adventure and absurd satire, adding to the mix a father-in-law who refuses to die and an ugly neighbor with fish for hands. Can Trevor enjoy the next episode of The Oversea Adventures of Pirate Piet? Does Willoughby make a fashionable hat for giant pandas? Only Kitten holds the answers.

Please tell me about yourself –

I’m 36, I’m single, and I’ve been writing seriously for about 6 years now.  I work a blue collar job to pay the bills. I have an AA degree, which I don’t use, and I never pursued further education.  I’ve played guitar and sung in various bands, and I’ve appeared in several low-budget horror spoof/homages from Dire Wit Films.  I find movies and television have been quite influential on my writing.  Horses are my least favorite farm animal and yield-sign yellow is my least favorite color. I also find it quite difficult to turn invisible.

What is something about you that no one knows? –

I’m an expert on Romantic Comedies. I watch just about every one when it comes on cable.  I recently watched This Means War, starring Reese Witherspoon, Chris Pine and Tom Hardy. It confirmed my suspicions that Tom Hardy can actually act, while Chris Pine can’t.  Hardy, who has been known to play fighters, tough guys, mercenaries and thugs really stretches himself to the limit in this one. This time he’s a CIA special agent who shoots kids in the face with a paintball gun.  And he’s in love.  You can see the love in his eyes. I bet he really fell in love with Witherspoon.  I probably would, too, if I was in a film opposite her, or even just in the same room with her.

Okay, let me start over. I’m in love with Reese Witherspoon. That’s something no one knows. But I’d rather marry Juno Temple, given the choice. (Sorry, Reese, I know we just spent all that time in the imaginary room together.)

How did you discover bizarro and what about it appealed to you? –

When first getting serious, I was mainly writing slipstream kind of material, stuff that was on the fringes of sci-fi/fantasy without any of the tropes that really strongly appeal to the core audience.  As I looked for places to market my short fiction, it quickly became apparent that without elves, dragons and wizards, I was going to have a hard time placing my material in genre mags.  I was writing more Twilight-Zoney stories, so I started seeking out other writers doing fiction that was also hard to categorize.  Googling led me to the New Weird anthology by the VanderMeers and the Bizarro Starter Kit Orange. I immediately fell in love with the short fiction of D. Harlan Wilson.  I loved how he spun these completely irreal yarns that were smart, weird and fun at the same time.  I guess Bizarro appealed to me more than any other weird genre because it was completely without pretense of being HIGH LITERATURE and it was no confined by traditional genre lines.  You can find Bizarros doing just about anything.

New Weird, on the other hand, is more significantly tied to its roots in fantasy, with sci-fi, steampunk and horror trappings added on.  It’s all secondary world fiction.  NW authors just avoid using elves and dragons and wizards, subbing in more Lovecraftian or Cronenbergian creatures in their place.  I like a lot of that writing, don’t get me wrong, but I find it limiting. Though I may one day write related novellas in a NW world.  But I swear I am never going to do a novel trilogy.

Also, I want to define my vision for Slipstream, which is a term that is sometimes used interchangeably with Interstitial Fiction, or applied to stuff which crosses from genre into mainstream (genre-lite).  I think that, as the editors argue in Feeling Very Strange: The Slipstream Anthology, Slipstream boils down to a literary effect:  cognitive dissonance. True Slipstream makes your mind try to track the story in at least two different dimensions.  For instance, the film Jacob’s Ladder can be seen as the story of a man on hallucinogens dying in Vietnam, that it is all just his mind trying to fight—and then coming to terms with—the fact that he’s dying.  But the other level makes the angels and demons real, like there must be a mystical element as well.  For one thing, Jacob sure seems to be living in a post-Vietnam-War America in his delusions. He’s hearing music that wouldn’t have been released before his year of death.  And don’t we want the ghost of Macaulay Culkin to really be leading Tim Robbins to the next life?  So, it could be that we will never know what was really going on in that story, or that different parts of the story only occurred in one dimension.And that’s fine. Because the story still works and feels complete. It’s not science OR mysticism.  It could be both (or neither).

A great current example of Slipstream in television is the show Wilfred.  I’m speaking of the American version, because it is the only version I’ve seen at this point. For the uninitiated, it’s the tale of a guy who sees his neighbor’s dog as a man in a dog suit.  And the dog drinks from glasses, does bong hits, plays guitar, uses the internet. All kinds of things a dog can’t do.  But the show makes numerous cases for us to believe that the main character is actually just crazy.  He’s just imaging the dog doing these things, when in reality the dog is simply a dog.  The insanity explanation doesn’t really account for how Wilfred does all of these impossible tasks, though.  Sometimes Wilfred provides information to Ryan that we can’t see how he would have gotten otherwise.  So, we are kept in limbo. And that’s why the show works.  We want an explanation, but we can’t possibly accept any single explanation of the events.  He can’t be a man in a dog suit, and Ryan can’t simply be crazy. So: cognitive dissonance.  It’s what I strive for in much of my writing. And it’s fully compatible with Bizarro.

How did becoming part of this years NBAS happen? –

That’s a long story.  In 2011 Kitten was just a long short story, which was basically the first part of the current novella.  I had had some early versions of it rejected by respectable publications, such as Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet, so I went to check out Eraserhead, see what their submission policies were.  And I found this page about submitting to the NBAS, which I was totally unaware of at the time, and I thought to myself, “Hmmm.  If I write a second half for Kitten, I could submit it as a novella for the NBAS.”  So, in June of 2011 I contacted Kevin L. Donihe and I sent him the first half of Kitten. I told him I would be writing a second half, which would actually focus on the kitten, who was noticeably absent from the first half, despite the story being named for him. Kevin responded by saying, “Go ahead and the send the whole thing if it’s less than 32,000 words.”  At the time I didn’t know how to take it, but it turns out that this was his way of saying he was interested.

But instead of finishing the second half of the story, I lost my hard drive that the files were on during some serious personal problems.  I didn’t manage to get back to writing for almost a year.  I had to piece together the second half from bits I had printed out and notes that I had made. But I did finish Kitten in June of 2012, emailed Kevin explaining why I hadn’t submitted it last year, and we picked up right where we left off. I think it was good that I had a chance to sit on the story and develop it further, and it probably turned out to be a better book in 2012 than it would have been in 2011.

Working with Kevin was a great experience.  But I had no idea what was going on.  It’s the first time I’ve really worked with an editor of any kind.  I didn’t receive an official acceptance until we’d already done a few revisions of the story.  It was nerve-wracking, waiting with fingers crossed. But Kevin definitely helped me polish Kitten into the best possible Kitten it could be.

What was bizarrocon like? –

Bizarro Con was possibly the greatest experience of my life.  I’m a fairly cynical person, but as soon as I arrived, that cynicism just drained right out of me.  Everyone there was awesome, and I could sense a genuine community there, unlike other scenes which are all about social climbing and using others for your own benefit.

Like I said, I’ve been in a few bands, and local music scenes are invariably negative, with everyone being two-faced.  “I loved your band.  We should do a show together.”  Translates to:  “I probably didn’t even listen to your band, I was too busy talking about how great my band is, but if you want to book a show for us, that would be great.”  That’s my previous experience of scenes.

Anyway, Bizarro Con was fun and honest.  That’s a really unique thing, I’d say. It’s so full of creative people that it made me glad to be alive.  It made me want to create.

What inspired you to write Kitten? –

It came from a few different things.  It started as a stream of consciousness piece, like most of my writing does.  I imagined an impatient mother, a needy child and a kitten that was not a kitten.  I like word play and I like paradoxes.  From there, I was inspired by a recent bad break-up to make the story about the failing relationship of two self-absorbed people.  A lot of my ideas about parenting, the media and society wound up coming out in the first half of the story.

The second half of the story was inspired by my love of the nonsensical adventure in a Wonderland-type setting.  Lewis Carroll is still one of my biggest influences. I’ve loved the Alice stories since I was kid.  The second half also gave me a chance to do some social satire and make fun of writing clichés.  The character Tamanney was actually based on something Mr. Nihil, who also did the cover art for Kitten, said to me once.  He was trying to describe the difference between the truly weird and what he calls “monkey cheese.” Monkey cheese is random crap that normal people spout when they are trying to be weird. But a character with fish for hands, who lives on a steel planet and eats wild guns, while avoiding being murdered by his neighbors, and disguising himself as a fashionable hat to hitch rides on giant pandas… that’s truly weird.  Mr. Nihil and I have very similar philosophies about weirdness.  He definitely helped to keep my inspired to finish Kitten.

What are you reading now? – 

I’m about to start The Hearing Trumpet by Leonora Carrington.  I’m also reading a short story collection called Sleep Has No Master by Jon Konrath, who I met over at the New Absurdist site back when that was still active.

Some fave authors and books? –

In Bizarro – Ray Fracalossy’s “Tales from the Vinegar Wasteland” was one of the first books associated with Bizarro that I fell in love with.  My new fave may be Kirsten Alene, but I’ve only just started to read her.  Jordan Krall is a phenomenal writer, topped only by the more brilliant moments of Cameron Pierce.  Vince Kramer’s “Gigantic Death Worm” might be the most fun I’ve ever had reading a book, and I look forward to whatever he writes in the future.

My favorite living authors are Kelly Link and Brian Evenson.  I devour everything they produce.  I particularly love that Link only does short fiction, because short stories are my favorites.  (I can think of many perfect short stories, but hardly any perfect novels.) Laura Lee Bahr’s Haunt deserves a mention, also.  American Gods by Neil Gaiman was the book that really got me to write seriously.

Most of the rest of my favorites are all dead:  Jorge Luis Borges, Franz Kafka, Donald Barthelme, Italo Calvino, Lewis Carroll, Paul Bowles, Charles Bukowski.  I love Lord Dunsany’s wild imagination, fantasy before there were any clichés. Robert W. Chamber’s The King in Yellow and Maker of Moons also had a big impact on me and I think they are the seminal works that led to horror as we now know it. When I was younger I read a lot of Ray Bradbury and Douglas Adams.

What do you have coming up next? –

I have to do a lot of promotion for Kitten.  There will be a couple fun contests this year. I’ll be working on a few short stories and novelettes, but won’t begin work on another novel until late fall, probably.   I’m also hosting Featured Flash on my blog (garthurbrown.blogspot.com), showcasing the work of other up-and-coming writers, and occasionally pieces by seasoned writers to help promote the newbies.  I’m really excited about the flood of great material that people have sent me.

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