NOTE: Originally posted on the Zé Burns Blog (February 2020)
By Zé Burns
A while back, I wrote an article entitled “How to Grow Bizarro Fiction.” It was targeted at the grassroots—ways the average reader could help grow this wonderful genre. In response, I received amazing feedback, in particular ways that bizarro fiction could be expanded on a much larger scale. In this part two, I’ve included these as well as my own theories.
A common question I ask authors is how they discovered bizarro fiction. It is something that fascinates me, as there is no common knowledge of the genre floating around. It has to be discovered.
Looking over my old interviews, I wanted to see how these authors came into the fold. Andrew J. Stone read a review of a bizarro book. Kirk Jones found it in a web search of a similar topic. A friend recommended a bizarro short story to S.T. Cartledge, while Roland Blackburn heard about it on a podcast.
What all these have in common are external sources that unexpectedly lead into bizarro fiction. If Roland hadn’t listened to that podcast or Andrew hadn’t read that review, they may not have ended up as part of this incredible community and what a detriment that would be.
The word needs to get out. In the last article, I mentioned word-of-mouth and Amazon reviews. These are helpful, sure, but even more so, the genre needs to seep into the non-bizarro and bizarro-adjacent realms. This means more bizarro authors on podcasts, more reviews on mainstream blogs and magazines, a stronger web presence—you get the idea. We need to send out feelers in every possible direction to capture a potential audience eagerly waiting at the periphery.
If you’ve ever tried to explain what bizarro fiction is, then you know how hard it is to describe. British bizarro author Leigham Shardlow made a great point when the original article came out: “I don’t see how you can even promote a genre to a new audience when no one can agree on what it is at its core.”
This sparked a discussion between Leigham and author Danger Slater, in which they tried definition after definition, finding a fallacy in each one. Nothing perfectly described the genre.
The closest thing we have is the famous description on Bizarro Central and the well-used line “the literary equivalent of the cult section of the video store.” But neither is succinct nor comprehensive. As Leigham said, “we’ve lost an audience before we’ve even started.”
So how do we remedy this? Leigham presented two options: either a massively popular bizarro book comes out or we establish a definitive way to explain it. As much as I hope for the former, the latter seems more realistic. Years ago, a group of the original bizarro authors composed a manifesto, which has since disappeared into obscurity. As Leigham suggests, now might be a good time to pen a new one.
Douglas Hackle is a big fish in the bizarro pond, so I was excited to hear his input. This is what he had to say:
“I think the most important thing that needs to happen for bizarro fiction to grow is the emergence of new bizarro-dedicated presses—not transgressive/edgy lit. fiction presses, not ‘extreme horror’ presses, not bizarro-adjacent presses, etc.—but presses that specifically focus on publishing fiction enjoyed primarily for its weirdness and bizarreness (i.e. bizarro).”
He believes that bizarro fiction has hit a ceiling and without more publishers, it will remain there. This is a bit of a gamble—especially for the poor soul who starts a new press—because of the small market currently out there. However, it fits the adage “build it and they will come.”
Though I am new to the world of publishing, I am inclined to agree with Douglas Hackle. In the last couple years, I’ve submitted my bizarro work—and really, there are not many options. Meaning that once I’ve exhausted them, I have no other place to go.
More presses means more promotion.
This may sound silly, but enthusiasm is a contagion that can do some pretty incredible things. Though I am a latecomer to the genre, it seems that the fervor that bizarro fiction had ten years ago has gone tepid. True, there are more bizarro authors and readers, but the initial shock of it all has died down. Authors continue to push these boundaries, but I feel the genre needs a second birth. Something infectious, something that turns heads and applies the defibrillation paddles.
I don’t know what will do this. But for my part, I’m injecting my enthusiasm into anyone who will listen. And if enough of us keep doing this, that zany, inane, loveably weird genre called bizarro fiction will be born again.
Like last time, we’d love to hear how you help the genre. So if you do something, let us know on Twitter with the hashtag #growbizarro and we’ll retweet.
Zé Burns is a Seattle-based author of horror and the surreal, an avid proponent of bizarro fiction, and a lover of all things weird. He is the editor-in-chief and owner of Babou 691. You can find him on Twitter at @ZeBurns or on his site: zeburns.com.