An interview with Bradley Sands
Bizarro fiction. The titles that raise your eyebrows when you see them on Amazon’s recommended reading list. Crazy sounding books – surely these aren’t real novels? Are they?
Turns out they are. Type Carlton Mellick III or Bradley Sands into Google. Search for Cameron Pierce or Jeremy Robert Johnson. Until fairly recently I was in the dark, maintaining nothing more than a mild curiosity about these books with the weird names. Then, early this year, I decided it was time to give a few a try.
It took weeks to stop smiling. One of these books was Rico Slade Will Fucking Kill You, by Bradley Sands. I had seen the praise the book was gathering on forums that I post on, but mainly it was the title that swayed me. I mean, Rico Slade will do what??? You have to admit, it grabs the attention. The front cover is pretty eye-catching too.
The book is hilarious. Rico is a god amongst action-heroes, or at least he thinks he is. He sports a pompadour and leopard-spots and he kicks the shit out of many people in his quest to bring down the evil Baron Mayhem. Kinda. You cannot help but giggle at action scenes that are the perfect blend of violence and immature humour. One chapter, featuring autograph hunters and a public bathroom, pretty much ruined me. It was almost too funny. Another sees Rico clinging to the top of a speeding car and is the ultimate feat of concise writing. You’ll know that one when you see it.
So yes, the book is very humorous. That isn’t all it brings to the table though. Underneath the cartoony veneer is a genuine examination of masculinity and its various nuances. Rico is a vulnerable man at his core, even if telling him so might result in him tearing your fucking throat out. There’s more here than just a cheap laugh.
Turns out Mr Sands has carved out quite a name for himself in the bizarro genre – Sorry I Ruined Your Orgy and My Heart Said No But The Camera Crew Said Yes are the titles of his earlier works and he is also the editor of the journal Bust Down The Door And Eat All The Chickens. He has a brand new book out called Please Do Not Shoot Me In The Face, and another forthcoming book, TV Snorted My Brain, can be previewed in the recent Warmed And Bound anthology released by Velvet Press.
Bradley was nice enough to let me pester him with some questions about bizarro fiction and about his recent work.
Hi, Bradley, and welcome to Solarcide. First I’d like to ask how you actually define bizarro fiction. Are you guys in some kind of secret competition to see who can write the weirdest book? Are there rules to this game?
Bizarro books are the literary versions of the types of movies that you see in a video store (or is it a DVD store?) that is cool enough to have a cult movie section. A simpler definition is any book where the primary trait is its weirdness (which is the only “rule”). But there are a lot of books like that and the term was only coined about five years ago. So basically, a book is bizarro if it’s defined by its weirdness and either its author or publisher chooses to categorize it as bizarre. And the vast majority of the books that consist of the genre are published by Eraserhead Press and its imprints (I’m published by the imprint, Lazy Fascist Press). Also, bizarre books tend to have elements fantasy, science fiction, and horror, but not always. My earlier books contained fantastical elements and so does my current prose poetry, but the majority of my current work is set in our reality, although it is an exaggerated, over the top, version of it. Also, I don’t think anyone I know is trying to “outweird” each other. Maybe some people learn about bizarro on the Internet, immediately think, “I want to try to write this!” and attempt to write something that is as weird as possible. But I don’t. I write what comes naturally to me and I believe the vast majority of the other authors who are being published by the bizarro presses are the same way.
How did you get into writing this stuff? Is humour something that has always been prevalent in your work?
I write whatever I feel like writing and the bizarro publishers who have released my books were the most appropriate publishers to send it to. It fit with the other books that they have published. I view bizarro as a “scene” consisting of like-minded authors. We interact a lot on the Internet. There is a convention devoted to bizarro every year and the fourth one just happened. Many bizarro authors live in Portland, Oregon, along with Eraserhead Press, which is the primary publisher of bizarro. Portland is also where the convention takes place. I just moved to Portland and planned it so my move would coincide with the convention.
I’ve attempted to write literary fiction stories a few times and found it a difficult task (and I still couldn’t “turn off” my humor). On that note, like bizarro, my humor also comes naturally and I’ve always written it. If I try to be funny, I fail. If I don’t try, I succeed. I have this theory that humor writing cannot not be learned and it’s sort of inborn, but I might be completely wrong. Overall, I think I write it because I’m a cruel person and enjoy taking power over things that I would otherwise be powerless against. I like to make fun of people, places, and things if they deserve it. I’m going to cut-and-paste an unedited response that I wrote on Facebook when someone asked a question about shock value. I am doing this because I am extremely lazy and what I wrote has a great deal to do with my philosophy of humor:
“I find making a conscious effort to shock people very silly and juvenile. Perhaps my writing is sometimes shocking, but I write it because I find it entertaining/interesting/humorous. And then there’s the ‘humor in tragedy’ factor. The world is so fucked up that if I were a ‘serious guy’ I would probably end up being committed to a mental hospital. I just wouldn’t be able to deal with all the horrifying shit if it wasn’t for using humor to get by day-to-day. And I think ‘humor in tragedy’ is where all the ‘shock value’ aspects of my writing comes from and other people are the same way unless they’re ‘serious guys’ who are writing ‘shock value’ stuff. In which case, I don’t know how the hell they deal with all the horrifying shit in the world and the horrifying stuff they write about. Maybe drug and/or alcohol use? Or maybe they’re completely psychotic? This is also why I have a theory that the best comedians and humor writers also suffer from severe depression.”
It seems to me like bizarro is growing in popularity and there’s an increasing number of authors publishing in this area. Is that something you’ve noticed?
Yes, definitely on both counts. Media coverage is also increasing about the genre, but perhaps not as quickly as new bizarro authors keep popping up.
So, Rico Slade. How did this character come about? The finished product is certainly memorable but when did this dude tear out his first throat?
There’s this online literary journal called Titular Journal that publishes stories that use the titles of books, movies, and TV shows. And the stories they publish are supposed to…well…I’ll just cut-and-paste some of what their website says: “Each story aims to reconstruct concepts instilled by its existing title by exploring and provoking the implicit disparities between the two. This is also a meditation on the semantic implications of each title.”
So I created Rico Slade while I was writing a story to submit for them. It was called “Passenger 57.” The throat ripping thing was inspired by Patrick Swayze’s role in the movie, Road House, and the first throat that he rips out belongs to an old lady who is sitting next to him on the plane in the story, but she’s cool with it. And so Titular Journal rejected my story, I changed the title to “Action Hero Defeats Terrorists,” and I submitted it to a different online journal, who published it. And that story is the first chapter, although I made some changes to the version that went into the book.
Am I correct in my deduction that this book was as much an examination of masculinity and its vulnerabilities as it was an exercise in fucking killing people? I mean, Mr Slade has issues, right?
Somewhat. But I was more concerned with the disparity between fictional characters and the actors who play them (which is also similar to the fiction writer/character relationship). So in the case of the novella, the actor who portrays Rico Slade in his movies is completely antithetical to the character that he portrays. Rico is a violent, patriotic, homophobic tough guy. The actor who portrays him is his complete opposite. So Rico hates the genuine version of himself, even though he is unaware that he exists.
I should probably back up here to mention that the story involves the actor having a psychological breakdown. After that happens, he believes he IS Rico Slade and that the actor’s ex-boyfriend is his archnemesis, and he must journey to his hideout to prevent him from destroying the Earth.
It’s also a commentary on the prevalence of violence in entertainment. I was talking to my mother during dinner one night and she was like, “Why are your books so violent?” And I told her that Hollywood action movies are much more violent than my books (although I suppose less crass at times). Many of the most popular movies of the last few decades are filled with violence, and I’m satirizing that in my book. The title is more honest and “in your face.” It tells the reader what they should expect while the bland titles of action films give no indication as far as what the viewer has gotten themselves into. Also, there’s such a huge gap between violence as entertainment and actual violence. People don’t find “real” violence entertaining with the exception of violence in sports. The majority of news stories on TV and in the newspaper involve violence. And most people are horrified by violent current events. So why are violent movies so entertaining? Perhaps it is because people have violent urges that they resist because they don’t want to get arrested (or perhaps even hurt other people in general), so they live vicariously through the movies.
Was it difficult to publish a book with the title, Rico Slade Will Fucking Kill You? How about marketing, any problems there?
No, not at all. My publisher embraces titles like this. I’m not sure if there were any problems with marketing. The experience wasn’t any different from my earlier books. Although perhaps certain publications didn’t review it or mention it because of the title. Regarding Amazon reviews, although it was fine to list the name of the book on the site, it doesn’t allow reviews that actually include the book’s name in its uncensored form. So whenever someone mentioned to me that they intended to write a review on Amazon, I reminded them to censor the title.
I’ve read that your new book, Please Do Not Shoot Me In The Face, is a little dig at short story collections that pose as novels. What about these books narks you so much? Presumably your book adopts the very form you are mocking – is this like a Batman thing? Becoming fear in order to fight fear?
I have nothing against the books themselves. I don’t like the manipulative practices of publishers when they trick the consumer into believing that a short story collection is a novel. And they do this because short story collections sell like shit compared to novels (and I have had a first-hand experience with this). Although my book is a novella collection rather than a story collection and I don’t really have any idea as far as whether or not novella collections sell less than novels, but I would assume so.
So basically, my editor wanted to put out a book that collected a few novellas of mine that he liked. And I wanted to do something unique with it considering novella collections are fairly common in the bizarro fiction genre. So I wrote “myself” into the book starting with an author’s note, plus interludes between each novella, and then ending with an epilogue. And the author’s note begins with me trying to convince the reader that the book is actually a novel even though the three novellas that it collects have absolutely nothing to do with each other. And then the protagonist from the first novella, who is a boy detective, shows up to argue against me, but I hire him to discover the themes that three novellas have in common so I can classify the book as a novel rather than a collection. I also interact with the other major characters from the other novellas during interludes and the epilogue.
Another project on the horizon is TV Snorted My Brain. Judging by the preview chapter in Warmed And Bound it’s going to be every bit as funny as Rico. What’s the low-down? What topics are at the core this time round?
It’s a modern-day retelling of the King Arthur myth with a dorky teenage protagonist named Artie who thinks he’s an anarchist but knows absolutely nothing about anarchy playing the role of King Arthur. Most of the novel is set in “TV Land.” Excalibur is a remote control. The protagonist’s uncle—who married his mother after his father’s death—is a professional wrestler in a really minor wrestling circuit, where he plays a “heel” (which is professional wrestling’s term for a “bad guy”). He is also a douchebag in real life and he usurps Artie’s throne. And even though Artie possesses Excalibur, he does not have the strength to fight against his uncle, primarily because he has no idea how to operate the remote control (it came with an instruction manual, but it was written in invisible ink), so he pushes random buttons and random shit happens. But random shit happening isn’t enough to defeat his uncle, so he needs to read the instruction manual for Excalibur. And of course, Jesus’s blood is the only thing that will make its invisible ink readable. So he goes on a quest throughout TV Land in an attempt to find the Holy Grail (which contains the blood), meeting people during his travels that end up accompanying him on his quest and become Knights of the Anarchy Symbol-Shaped Table. So there is a lot of satire about television, which I watch entirely too much of (although I poke fun at the kinds of shows that I don’t like rather than the ones that I do because I’m a giant hypocrite). Also, I guess unlike the majority of my resist fiction, this book could be categorized under the fantasy genre.
When will this book see a release? Any other plans up your sleeve?
LegumeMan Books will be publishing TV Snorted My Brain next year, although I have no idea when. I also wrote an absurdist children’s novel in the vein of Alice in Wonderland, which I’m going to try to sell to one of the big NYC presses rather than go through a small press like usual. It is called The Ocean of Awesome. Expect that to be released sometime within the next ten years.
Also, my final issue as the editor-in-chief of the literary journal, Bust Down the Door and Eat All the Chickens (#10), just came out as well. You can find it here at the moment. My “second-in-command” is taking over my role and keeping the journal alive while I will continue to work on it on an advisory capacity (I’ve demoted myself to the title of the “contributing editor).
Many thanks Bradley, and all the best with your upcoming adventures. I look forward to reading the new stuff.
Thank you for the interview. Be wary of cats, particularly if they attempt to claw through your chest so they can devour your heart (or if they’re stockpiling nuclear weapons).
You can find Bradley online at his website, bradleysands.com, where there are links to short stories and the full low-down on each of his print publications.