Best Books to Get You Started in Bizarro

After a painstakingly thorough survey of the field (i.e., asking writers and fans on Facebook), the following authors and titles surfaced as some of the best contenders if you’re looking for a good introduction to the bizarro genre.

The first seven names received multiple votes, but the books mentioned may not have. Laura Lee Bahr’s Haunt was by far a standout favorite. After that, the entries are in no particular order. The parentheses indicate titles I added because I love them and could not leave them out. (Which doesn’t mean I don’t love some of the others, just that I had the honor of nominating these particular books.)

If there are any other titles or authors you think should be here, please leave your suggestions in the comments and I’ll add them. Now, without further ado, the list:

Laura Lee Bahr, Haunt

Jeremy Robert Johnson, Entropy in Bloom

Danger Slater, I Will Rot Without You; (He Digs a Hole)

Mykle Hansen, Sexbot; (HELP! A Bear is Eating Me!)

Kevin L. Donihe, House of Houses

Brian Allen Carr, Edie and the Low-Hung Hands

Carlton Mellick III, The Haunted Vagina; I Knocked Up Satan’s Daughter; Fantastic Orgy; Cannibals in Candyland; Quicksand House; Apeshit

Bradley Sands, Rico Slade Will Fucking Kill You, (Dodgeball High)

Karl Fischer, Towers

Sean M. Thompson, Hate from the Sky

Autumn Christian, Ecstatic Inferno

Garrett Cook, Time Pimp

Cameron Pierce, Ass Goblins of Auschwitz

Caris O’Malle, The Egg Said Nothing

Ed Wageman, The Panty Thief of Bridgeport

Emma Johnson, Bezerkoids

Zoltán Komor, Flamingos in the Ashtray

Jeff O’Brien, Bigboobenstein

(Andersen Prunty, Fuckness)

Tiffany Scandal

Violet LeVoit

Cody Goodfellow

Rios de la Luz

Collections

Best Bizarro Fiction of the Decade (ed. Cameron Pierce)

Any of the Bizarro Starter Kits

Collaborations

Sixty-five Stirrup Iron Road, by Brian Keene, Jack Ketchum, Edward Lee, J.F. Gonzolaz, Brian Smith, Wrath James White, Nate Southard, Ryan Harding, and Shane McKenzie

If you’re still looking for great titles to read after these, check this out. It’s my virtual bizarro bookshelf, featuring covers and favorite sentences from all kinds of books in this crazy ass genre.

Subway Underground Block Party Book Signing ~ Saturday, 20 October

Cochise County people, come hang out! I’ll have a table outside Lucy St. John’s hip and quirky Redbone Vintage on Saturday, the 20th of October. I’ll be selling signed copies of Skull Nuggets, From the Vedas to Vinyasa, and Yoga to Ease Anxiety.

Even if you already have the books or could give a shit about them, come by and chat. It’d be great to catch up with my Bisbee and Sierra Vista people!block party flier

Write What You’re Trying to Figure Out

Skull Nuggets came out while I was in a down swing. I have a box of them in my closet. I haven’t thrown the party I thought I would, the drunken revelry reading with my friends. I haven’t taken them to local bookstores. I haven’t been posting on all the bookish Facebook groups I joined for that very purpose. I haven’t done any of the things I thought and even said I would. Because of depression.

Freak Night at the Slee-Z Motel is nearly finished. Two more passes and I think it’ll be ready for the editor. But now I’m on an up swing and I know that if I start on it, I won’t be able to stop. I am forcing myself not to look at it because we are leaving tomorrow for a driving vacation centered around my niece’s wedding two big southwestern states away.

This is how it goes for me and my “treatment resistant ultra-rapid cycling bipolar II”:

Every few weeks, I consider disappearing, not existing. The depression is heavy. It changes everything. I don’t think as clearly or as quickly. There are painful gaps in my memory. Even words are slow to manifest. It’s easier not to speak. Physically I am not as strong. Psychologically nothing is worth the effort. I do not believe people who tell me they want to help, that they are there for me. Who would want to let this terrible scabby funk into their life if they didn’t have to? And who would I be if I forced it upon them?

Every few weeks, I am full of energy and ideas and appalled at how disconnected from the world I have become. I reach out to people and start projects. I think my life is worthless and wasted unless I’m producing something amazing, never before seen, and perfectly crafted. If I have an ongoing project, I work obsessively, through the night, for days and weeks. I work instead of interacting with loved ones, instead of taking care of myself physically. This single pointed focus is far more comfortable than existing with the persistent nagging unharnessed energy.

Every few weeks, I return to my baseline, where I am not down or up. From there, I assess the damage, the fallout. What promises have I made and broken? What relationships have I strained? In this state, I pick up the pieces and try to recreate a sustainable pattern. I fix my sleep schedule and buy healthy foods. I begin to get a handle on things, to become a functioning, responsible adult again.

And then it starts over.

This month marks the two year anniversary of the breakdown that led to the speeding up of my cycles.

Two years of trial and error drug testing. Two years of denial and fear and hope and disappointment.

I feel relentlessly conditioned to say something positive at the end of this. To say that because I’m in the midst of a new round of psych testing, effective avenues of treatment are right around the corner. But I don’t feel that way. I don’t have that hope.

So how do I end this? Recently, my mom suggested I write a book about my experience with mental illness, and I flinched, physically tensed, at the idea. No way. The strength of my reaction surprised me, and I realize now that it was because I thought all I had to report was failure. I didn’t think I had anything worthwhile to say. I felt like I couldn’t write about the problem when I don’t have a solution. How could that help anyone?

Well, maybe it can help me. But I’m not ready to take on another book project, especially since they often aggravate my condition. So I figure I can use this forum as a place not to write about what I know, but to write about what I’m trying to figure out. Who knows, maybe it will help me. Or maybe it will help someone else.

Book Signing July 7th at The Ninth House

Come by and say hi!

I’ll be at The Ninth House metaphysical shop (236 S Scott Ave, Tucson, AZ 85701) Saturday, July 7 from 2:00 – 4:00 in the afternoon.

I’ll have copies of From the Vedas to Vinyasa and Yoga to Ease Anxiety for sale at the friends and family price of $10 and $5 respectively.

The Ninth House is a cozy little shop with super comfy couches where we can just sit around and talk. Hope to see you there!

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Black People in the History of the Sideshow

I’m working on a story in which a pair of black, conjoined twins join a modern day freak show. I was asked if I’d done my research on black people in sideshows.

I have done a crap ton of research and read about all kinds of people, from all over the world, who ended up in the sideshow business in America. But I hadn’t organized them by race.

When I searched the internet for something on the topic of black people in the history of the sideshow, nothing like an overview came up. Maybe this will help fill that gap.

What follows is a brief overview, a skimming of the surface on this topic. It is in no way meant to be presented as a complete list of black sideshow performers. Of course, a definitive examination of all of the issues involved would consume several hundred pages. It could be a thesis. It would be a very cool thesis. If you write that thesis, let me know!

____________________

The history of black people in the sideshow is complicated, not least because the history of the sideshow is itself complicated. The easiest way to come to grips with the story is by recognizing three different eras: the Victorian era, the Depression, and the Modern era.

Victorian Era

While anomalous bodies had been put on display at markets and in taverns in Europe as far back as the middle ages, it was during Victorian times that curiosity cabinets expanded into museums that featured both inanimate and animate displays. The dime museums of the northeastern United States were the forerunners of traveling sideshows, and the most important of them all was P.T. Barnum’s American Museum.

Barnum’s very first act, in 1835, before the museum or the circus or anything, in fact the act that started it all, was a black woman named Joice Heth. Blind and confined to a wheelchair, Heth claimed to be 161 years old and to have raised George Washington. She told amazingly detailed and period accurate stories, and Barnum himself claimed to believe her. She is said to have brought in $1500 a week. When she died, her autopsy revealed her to be around 79 years old.

There are several stories of the sideshow performers who lived above Barnum’s American Museum. It was a small fraternity, and from the beginning it is said the “freaks” looked out for one another. During this era, when anyone not white was treated as property by those who were white, people with interesting looks or disabilities were either bought or stolen from all over the world and brought to the States. Some of the most famous “born freaks” of this era and the next were from China, Laos, Turkey, Peru, British Guiana, and El Salvador. And while they were certainly being exploited, in that they were bringing in a whole lot more money than they were being paid, they also had power in their own right. They were the stars of the show, the real money makers for their outfits. It behooved the boss to keep them happy.

A few other big name black stars from before and around the turn of the 20th century were Millie-Christine, Nicodemus the Indescribable, Ashbury Benjamin, George and Willie Muse, and Zip the Pinhead.

Millie and Christine McCoy were conjoined twins born in 1851. Early on, before they were two, they were bought by a showman who purchased the rest of their family as well, planning to keep them together and be the girls’ manager. But then they were stolen and taken to Britain. It was four years later when their owner tracked them down. He brought their mother with him to Britain. Since there was no slavery in Britain, the girls were returned to their mother. They all came back to the U.S., where the girls were given singing lessons and developed beautiful voices. They were called the “Two-headed Nightingale.” The twins made a large amount of money, and retired to the farm where they were born, which their father had bought from their original owner. Later, a fire would destroy most of their possessions.

John Doogs was born in 1863 with truncated limbs. His right leg and left arm were hardly more than stubs, and his other limbs didn’t quite reach full size either. But he was incredibly strong and a talented acrobat. He went by the name of Nicodemus the Indescribable.

Ashbury Benjamin performed around 1879. He had vitiligo and was billed a black boy turning white. It appears he did not stay with show business for long.

George and Willie Muse were albino African-American brothers. Stolen from their mother in 1899, they were labeled many different things: cannibals, sheep-headed, and aliens from Mars among them. Eventually, they were reunited with their mother, after great perseverance on her part. Now free, they rejoined the sideshow circuit and made a decent living at it.

William Henry Johnson, who may have been microencephalic, played the role of Zip the Pinhead for 40 years at various different sideshows and did quite well for himself. He started his performing life as P.T. Barnum’s “What is It?” in 1860. On his deathbed he is reported to have said to his sister, “Well, we fooled ’em for a long time.”

The Depression

The next era in the American Sideshow is dominated by the Dust Bowl and the Depression. This is the era of traveling carnivals scraping out a living on the road. Again, “freaks” were the sideshow’s main attraction. Times were tough and several sideshow performers were sold into their professions, regardless of color. But the firsthand accounts that came from under the canvas roofs of the ten-in-ones paint a picture of mutual admiration and tolerance, if not support, between people with anomalous bodies, no matter what they looked like. In fact, it is often regarded by those who experienced it as one of the most accepting places anyone could ever want to be. George and Willie Muse and Zip the Pinhead were among those who hit the road.

Modern Era

The next era sees the diminution of the traveling sideshow, and Coney Island emerging as a last bastion for freaks and working acts alike. A few of the more famous black performers from the middle of the 20th century follow.

Otis Jordan, a.k.a. Frog Boy, was born in 1925 and immediately his bones began to ossify. He learned to roll and light a cigarette with only his lips and turned it into his act as The Human Cigarette Factory. He performed with sideshows from 1963 to 1990, when he passed away. He was a strong supporter of sideshows when people were trying to get them closed down. It was the only job he’d ever had that allowed him to support himself. “I can’t understand it,” he said of a woman working to end sideshows, “How can she say I’m being taken advantage of? Hell, what does she want for me – to be on welfare?”

Willie Ingram, called Popeye, was born around 1932. He could thrust his eyes an inch out of their sockets. He toured with sideshows throughout the country and appeared in the 70s movie The Freakmaker.

Currently, there has been something of a freak show revival. In the 1990s it was the Jim Rose Circus and more recently Todd Ray’s Venice Beach Freakshow, about which AMC did a reality series a couple years back. Two black performers who appeared in it are George Bell and The Creature (a.k.a. Markus Boykin).

George Bell, born in 1974, is the tallest man in the U.S. at 7’8” tall. He has appeared on the TV show Freakshow and with Todd Ray’s Venice Beach Freakshow.

Markus Boykin, born around 1989, is one of the most heavily pierced and tattooed men alive. He calls himself The Creature and has performed with Todd Ray’s Venice Beach Freakshow.

The future of black people in the sideshow is dependent on the future of the sideshow itself, which is something that is enormously complicated. Let’s just say that, while I recognize the debate against training people to treat anyone as “other,” in my opinion, as long as everybody has agency, as long as people with anomalous bodies have a choice about what they want to do, if so-called “normal” folks want to give them their money, I don’t see the problem with that.

The Wedding

Crimson streamers hang like lengths of small intestines. Long tables wear white shrouds and centerpieces of red roses, fresh hearts left jagged around the edges. The bride smiles baring rows of sharp, wet teeth.

She used to be my sister. Now she’s some new breed of monster. “Vampire” is too good for her. She leaves her prey alive, but hollowed out. She offers nothing in return.

The chairs are full of zombies who never died, stabbing at their bloody prime rib, their beaten cordon bleu. The ones who say anything speak in inanities, recorded messages: “Beautiful ceremony,” even though the officiate had to hold her nose in disgust. “Lovely couple,” when the groom’s liver-spotted skin could slide off his bones at any moment.

Six seats down from the she-devil—after her row of clones: the maid of honor and bridesmaids with their hooker-painted faces, their pushed-up tits, and their spike-heeled shoes; half way down the table, enough distance to not be in the radius, the splatter pattern of gore that spews out of the witch, the demon, the bride—way down there sits our mom.

She is pristine. Her dress is tailored and tasteful. Her hair is perfect. She is the impeccable image of the mother-of-the-bride. But her eyes are weary and red with grief. Her lips downturned, pulled at the corners by a heavy wet woolen sense of failure.

She feels it, like I do. We are at the funeral of our family.

Edvard_Munch_-_Vampire_(1895)_-_Google_Art_Project

Vampire, Edvard Munch (1895)

Date Night

She knew what they were thinking, whether they said it out loud or not. She shut them out. She planned. Which supermarket, which park. Where would she let love take her that night?

She waited until 9 p.m., always 9 p.m., when it wasn’t odd for lovers to nestle together in the dark corners of public places. At 9 p.m. she would go to the store, her decision almost always made well ahead of time, often there when she woke up in the morning, always the fodder of her day-long daydreams, of her escape from hearing what people thought, not just of her size but of her willpower and intelligence: thinking she must be lazy and slovenly and slow; calling her a waste of space, a burden, a monster; feeling their pity, “Oh, you poor thing,” “Who could love that?” Or, more rarely, feeling their relief: “Thank God I’m not that big.” Always underneath, “Why doesn’t she just stop eating?”

But no one would keep her from her first love. They could, however, shame her into dark places where she tore up her insides, wore down her teeth. Exchanging life for love.

Pastries treated her best. (Better than any human.) The sugar and fat combining in her mouth, melting into silk, igniting feel-good reactions in her brain. With that first bite, her shoulders relaxed, her eyes fluttered closed, and for that moment, for that bite, the world went away. She was alone with her love.

She’d eat the whole of it: the pie, the cake, the box of eclairs, whatever it was that night. She’d eat slowly, (no reason to rush when no one can see you,) easing each morsel past her lips. Masticating each bite with her tongue and teeth, letting it become a warm, sweet liquid before swallowing. Letting it take time. The longer it lasted, the greater her gratification.

When the box was empty, her insides stretched and her face flushed with shame, it was time for the final rite, the passionate (angry) make up sex. She’d done it so many times she didn’t need the toothbrush for before anymore, just for after, after she found a garbage can or a sewer drain or some other place away from the light where she could bring her love back up. Kiss it goodnight.

Date over, she would head home, to bed, to sleep, to wake with tomorrow’s daydream already in mind.

How Writing is Different Than Jizzing onto a Piece of Paper

If someone jizzed on a piece of paper and gave it to you, you probably wouldn’t respond with, “Fuck yeah man, that’s awesome!”

Now, let’s say someone had jizzed carefully into a juice carton which he had, at great peril to himself, rescued from Donald Trump Jr.’s recycle bin. And he (I’m assuming it’s a guy here, because of all the jizz) splooged into it not just once but one thousand and forty-seven times. And every spurt was from wanking only to images of Tilda Swinton.

And let’s say he took that jizz and carefully divided it, and colored each pool of spunk with all-vegetable inks he made himself from raspberries and tea and avocados he grew in his backyard. He let the jizz cool just to the point of manipulation, and he molded a time-travel-perfect miniature sculpture of the Hanging Gardens of Babylon in a Tupperware bin.

And let’s say he created a time lapse film of this diorama as it populated with an entirely new array of living organisms. And he recorded all the characteristics of these new species, all their habits and agonies, as they grew self-conscious and discovered sex and death and art. And then the sadistic bastard, after his years of investment, took the Tupperware container outside, into the sunshine, and let the whole world melt. Then he carefully poured what remained onto a piece of paper and gave it to you.

There. That is how writing is different than jizzing onto a piece of paper.

Abstract_spermatozoon,_moving

Abstract Spermatozoon, by Sérgio Valle Duarte CC BY 3.0 (commons.wikimedia.org)

 

The Protector (Drabble)

She grabbed him by the balls. She pulled and twisted. Then, she let go. He doubled over, hands to crotch. She kicked him toward the door.

“Get out.”

He stumbled, hitting his shins on the coffee table. She kicked him again, her heavy boots connecting, repeatedly.

When the door was locked behind him, she turned toward the girl on the couch.

“Are you all right?”

“I’m so sorry,” the girl said between sobs. “God, I feel so dumb.”

“It’s okay sweetheart,” she said, sitting down close to her daughter. “Lesson learned.”

Thigh Gap for Sale

It’s finally, officially out ~ the origin story of Erika Pleasures! If Thigh Gap were a movie, it’s tagline would be: All she wants to do is dance, but she keeps having to fight her way 2to freedom!

My first foray into fiction is a dark comedy that isn’t for everyone. In fact, I’ve tried to ward off the faint of heart with this description ~

Trigger Warning! If you’ve ever been married to a wildly over-controlling lawyer twice your age, after your parents kidnapped you from a cult, and then become a pole dancing super hero, this book may not be for you. Otherwise, by all means, enjoy!

But don’t take just my word for it. Here’s what some of the reviews on Amazon have to say:

~ “I don’t know if this was silly, or dark, or disturbing, or what exactly, but it was definitely a fun read that took me away from having a lot on my mind and carried me to some sort of weird places… and I enjoyed going.” Luna

~ “This quick read is light and engaging. Positive story of empowerment that doesn’t take itself too seriously. Go on, treat yourself!” William D. Floyd

~ “once you start, you can’t put this book down!”  Gretchen

~ “Smart, fun, humorous and a little violent with a healthy dose of girl power!” Bewley

So dig in to that Thigh Gap and enjoy!