Why Has Bizarro Fiction Failed?

whybizarrofailed

One of the first arrows flung at me when I spoke out about the gross censorship affecting small press genre fiction was that I’m perceived by my peers to be a commercial failure, and thus am reacting negatively toward my community because of sour grapes.

This could not be further from the truth. It’s not truthful because the entire premise of the accusation rests on the idea that ANYONE writing small press fiction is a commercial success. Because outside of a handful of writers who gained their success through mass market publishing, then later shifted to the small press, NO ONE is making money.

Then why bother writing it at all?

Commercial success is not what small press genre fiction writers are after, they will tell you. They’re writing for the purity of the art, they will tell you. So why were they so quick to paint me as a commercial failure when that’s not even a stated goal of the art form?

Because they don’t want people telling you what I’ve been telling you all month. Bizarro fiction (and extreme horror) have been co-opted by social justice, neutered, and put out to pasture to die.

If we hope to save these genres that I love, we must first identify what got them to this point to begin with. So, with all of that said, why has bizarro fiction failed us?

This is why:

If the function of bizarro is to act as the literary equivalent of the midnight movie, or the cult section of the video store, then it stands to reason that a primary component of that will be offensiveness.

Midnight movies became what they became because the John Waters, the Lloyd Kaufman, the Jodorowsky, the Ken Russells, they had an edge and a bite to them that acted as a cinematic step behind the curtain at the freak show circus tent.

Bizarro had that edge in spades when it rose in popularity in the late aughts. I think what killed its momentum was two fold.

First, the cult filmmakers, as they made these movies, were universally panned by critics and by the movie-going audience at large. That is by definition what a cult movie is. A commercial failure which gains an audience through other means over time.

In much the same way, when the first really popular bizarro books were hitting with a cult audience, the authors themselves were the victims of very harsh criticisms about not only their writing style, but about their ability to write prose in general. And as we all know, writers have the biggest and most fragile egos of all the creative artists. Criticism is a hard pill to swallow, especially when you think you’re a great artist intentionally creating low-brow art.

So bizarro was abandoned as it gained notoriety by the very authors who helped create its momentum. Those authors can be found today writing trout fishing anthologies and other high-brow literary books. You can see the overcompensation in their later works as they shifted focus toward gaining respect from the literary communities who to this day snub bizarro as juvenile garbage.

The other problem—the problem that affects me most greatly as I don’t give a single fuck what critics or the literary elite think of me—is the slow politically correct corruption of the genre that has authors afraid to be controversial, edgy or in any way disrupt the social justice narrative that’s found its way into bizarro (and every other fiction genre.)

There are plenty of authors willing to fill the vacuum left by the writers who ejected from bizarro in favor of critical accolades, but bizarro is no longer friendly toward real outsider perspectives. It’s been watered down to talking animals and household objects and really little else. There are few masters of the genre left who toil in bizarro exclusively or even competently.

The self-appointed genre policemen attack early and often on social media to make sure that the social justice narrative is understood and followed. If you expect to ever be published by one of the few bizarro small presses, it doesn’t take long to see which subjects are off limits and which perspectives are unwanted before you ever even type up a manuscript that you intend to submit. The social rules are well written. You don’t need a rejection letter to know what not to write about.

Unfortunately, the renegade, punk rock attitude that got bizarro to where it was at its height is non-existent in today’s social climate and that is why I think it is failing to provide most authors with even a modicum of success.

If we hope to get bizarro and extreme horror back to a point of viability, back to a larger readership and back to even minimal commercial success, we MUST reject the notion that social justice has in any way helped our community.

We must fire our self appointed genre policemen and we must not be afraid to confront the new social norms from an antagonistic stance without fear of social persecution from the so-called gate keepers. Even if that means self-publishing our work and totally abandoning the community in favor of individual success as authors in the science fiction and fantasy communities have done in recent years.

Being signed to a particular small press or attending a particular industry convention does not make you a bizarro or an extreme horror writer. Your renegade attitude and fuck the system mentality is.

If we hope to succeed, we have to summon up our inner John Waters and Lloyd Kaufman and not be afraid to get offensive again.

What Happens To Kevin Strange Now?

whatsnext

So what happens now?

I’ve been on a month-long assault on political correctness and public shaming inside the horror and bizarro fiction genres. For my troubles, I’m being publicly shamed across social media and small press publisher blogs. Close friends are asking me, “are you ok? What happens now?”

I’m 100% fine. I anticipated everything that’s happening to me publicly because it’s happened dozens of times before. There would have been no need for Kevin Strange to speak out if there wasn’t a dire problem within the internet writing communities. Everything that’s happening to me on social media right now proves that I’m right.

What happens next?

What happens next is I finish writing all the books for 2017. I’m anticipating a banner year for new releases. Six brand new horror and bizarro books is my goal. We’ll see if I get there. I’ll be doing conventions again, as well. My first show is Horror Hound Cincinnati in March 2017 with many more dates to follow.

What won’t happen in 2017? If I’m right about the self-censorship running rampant through genre fiction, then my newest bizarro fiction short story collection ALL THE TOXIC WASTE FROM MY HEART won’t appear on the preliminary ballot for the Wonderland award for excellence in bizarro fiction next June or July when the ballot becomes public even though I’ve had books listed on the ballot as far back as 2012. Even though I’m the only author to ever be nominated twice in the same category in the same year.

I won’t be on the ballot not because I’ve done anything WRONG but because I’ve been critical of the genre, which is the first rule you do not break in internet writing groups. You do not bite the hand that feeds, even when your criticisms hope to IMPROVE the artistic freedoms of the authors writing in the genre in question.

If I do make it onto the ballot, I’ll be surprised. Many other authors who have spoken out against the practices of the genre fiction police have been blacklisted for far less than my month-long diatribe against the self-appointed gate keepers of our beloved bizarro fiction.

If I do make it onto the ballot, I suspect that it will be precisely BECAUSE of this public prediction that I’ll be silenced and censored for trying to save the genre from social justice and cultural Marxism.

I doubt I’ll be asked back onto the popular bizarro podcasts to discuss my point of view and the points of view of MANY authors too scared to speak out about the problems facing our community even though I’ve been a guest on these programs multiple times in the past. Once you’re marked as a bad apple, you’re a bad apple for life.

What I’d LIKE to happen now? I’d like to be invited to Bizarrocon 2017 to talk about the danger of genre censorship, of letting so-called gate keeper editors at influential small press publishing houses bully and harass authors online for expressing political and social opinions that differ from the powers that be.

I’d like an hour on the podcasts to state my case and show other writers that they have nothing to fear from being black listed by internet writing communities. They can still write books. The self-publishing world is thriving and many authors have cut ties with not only legacy publishers but the small press as well. There is life (and much more likelihood of success) outside of facebook writer groups.

I’d like to have a sit down with the BWA and discuss measures that can be taken when an author or publisher becomes the victim of public shaming and witch hunting inside of our community. After all, what exactly is the point of having these associations if not to help our authors find success and protect them from harassment from within the community?

We dive on our women like live grenades at the slightest hint of a SINGLE WHITE MALE approaching them for conversation. Can we not provide the same type of help when we see an author witch hunted online?

In other words, I’d like my voice, or the voice of someone like me, to be heard and understood by those who have the real power to create REAL change, positive change within our community so that all voices are free to express themselves without fear of prejudice or harassment for not bending to the social will of the few very vocal social justice warriors at the top of the bizarro food chain.

But that probably won’t happen. I’ll probably just be silenced like everyone else before me.