Why Has Bizarro Fiction Failed?


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.

33 thoughts on “Why Has Bizarro Fiction Failed?

  1. Amen. The thing is though, that the rebellious punk rock attitude is not the exclusive property of the Bizarro set; at least as not how it is loosely now defined.

    Movies like “Network,” “Repo Man,” “Blue Velvet,” and early Coen Brothers stuff had these attitudes while also becoming big financial hits.

    That’s not to say that every writer has to seek that. But, in my limited experience the guys who originally said that they disdained the traditional market in favor of the freedom available in indie self publishing invariably changed their mindsets after confronted with the reality that the average indie, self-published book sells 100 copies. I find that understandable as I think that given our druthers, most writers would like to be able do it full time.

    IDK. I think back to how horror movies were considered less when first done. They gained in stature and then the writer-hated Stephen King put them up with the best.

    In the art world, books have always lagged film, music, and painting in ideas. The difference as I see it is that the other art forms can be put over the top if only one or a few people take a liking to it; while books are dependent on the mass market. There was a time when a good NY Times review could help; but I’ve heard that is over. The other problem is that for an unknown to get accepted by the big houses it’s necessary to be okayed by a number of readers; the first couple very traditional and not that well versed.

    I think that this is where Eraserhead and others stepped in; but now they seem to be taking an overly sensitive, “correct” approach to their market turndown. This turndown is at least partly a function of the over-supplied general book market. So, it seems silly to try to change horses mid-stream when your horse is not the problem.

    But, apparently they have. Hence all the fragmentation; which would have come at some point anyway. I think that every viable genre can be traced to one person breaking through to #1 for a while. Nothing Bizarro, big or small B, has done that yet.

    Those politically correct attitudes are killers. At my age it is really odd to find that it’s perfectly fine to write “cocksucker” but not be able to say “homo.”

    Actually, I’ve written in a number of styles; and so far find that surprisingly Bizarro was the most difficult for me. I’m doing my third children’s book. I liked the quote I don’t remember who said; “If adults don’t understand it; write it for children.”

  2. Some of this censorship is coming in an insidious way; through what the largest websites would call eliminating hate speech, with “impending” legislation which would make them liable sometimes an excuse.

    It doesn’t take much to get banned from Goodreads, Facebook, Twitter, NY Times, Huffington Post, etc. In fact they might have an agreement to share the ban. I think I know. All you have to write is something like;
    1) If Obama was white he would be a candidate for worst President of all time.
    2) NATO is welfare for rich Western Europeans.
    3) Social Security is not an entitlement program. It’s paid up insurance. That’s why it ain’t tax deductible. DUH!!
    4) While hippie was drugs, sex, and rock n roll; its New Age revival was no drugs, no sex, and no rock n roll.
    5) Jon Konrath is a whiny asshole.
    6) Post as a review on GR Big Pun doing one of his platinum hits; “That Nigga Shit.”
    7) Say that either Mellick or O’Keefe, or both are something less than saints.

  3. If hate speech were really a thing, then all of the rhetoric coming from the left about white male patriarchy would be hate speech since it focuses directly on race. It’s just another way to control and command.

    • Yes, I too think it’s an excuse made “official” by the nazi neo-liberals; who are disproportionately represented in the literary world. I understand that in Western Europe some legalities are now entailed.

      I don’t advocate this except for good friends. But, back in the 90’s I was good friends with two black guys. Every once in a while I’d say something to them like; “What niggers fail to understand is ………………..” Invariably, they laughed like hell. What they had the most trouble with was being patronized; not being treated equally.

      So for me to see these “rules” in the 2010’s was truly quite surprising. And again it’s not as if these or any other objectionable words should be the norm; but in appropriate spots they can be quite funny or make a point.

      Way back when it was dangerous to say that blacks were better at basketball. We got over that for a while; but now seems to be a step back in many regards.

      I’ve been told by a few Southerners that to refer to them as rednecks is truly insulting. Yet people do it all the time and the neo-liberals aren’t making any issue of it. I’m from a working class background. I don’t particularly give a flying fuck unless someone with whom I’ve had prior difficulties says something. But, this too is OK on the neo agenda. It’s common to have read that the dumb ass blue collars voted for Trump and Brit commentators were worse though more subtle.

      I don’t know if I have any other point here, but to say that this is silly season for most; and an unfair trap for anyone with a public presence.

  4. I know, I know. After years of being a good soldier of bizarro, I’m suddenly just a raving maniac full of insane rambling and I hate bizarro because I’m a failure.

    I’d like to see one example of a 2016 bizarro book that’s in any way controversial. Saying that a back catalog book from 2009 still being in print proves that social justice hasn’t ripped through bizarro is silly. That’s just silly.

    And saying you make some money is also misleading. We all make some money. You nor I can name people on more than a single hand who make a living writing bizarro. The same wasn’t true even 7 years ago. There were comparatively a lot of people pulling in 2-3 grand a month off a single book.

    The bottom’s fallen out of the whole thing for a lot of different reasons. I choose to focus on social justice because it’s a huge problem in our culture as a whole, not just fiction.

    Coming here and saying I don’t have ANY point is just proving right the people who call bizarro a cult that can’t handle even the smallest criticism.

  5. I like you, too, brother. In fact I like almost everyone in bizarro. If you read my articles here you’ll see that my criticism comes from a place of concern and passion for the genre.

    The thing that concerns me the most is the outright denial that there’s a problem. Talking turds and evil dicks aren’t the problem. I’ve outlined very thoroughly what the problem is throughout my month-long rant here. I can’t communicate any more clearly what the issues are and where the issues are coming from.

    The reason I chose to communicate my concern this way is that I’ve been shouted down on social media about it for years now. Some of these things, like the Christian Hanner debacle happened in 2012 and people still act like what happened to him and to others since him are completely justified and normal behavior.

    It’s not normal behavior. It’s text book social justice and social justice is only concerned with one thing. That’s following the prime directive of the SJW narrative which only ends in censorship, fear and control.

    • I’ve been through this over and over again but suffice to say, the rational adult way of handling issues with a publisher is through private communication and patience.

      The social justice way of handling issues is to publicly call out, shame, harass, bully, witch hunt and then celebrate the wholesale banishing of an individual.

      And it hasn’t happened once. It happens over and over and over again as to become the normal function of the genre fiction community.

      Which eventually leads to Kevin Strange refusing to shut up about it when he’s been told over and over again for years that NO such issues could POSSIBLY be taking place in the sacred cow of bizarro fiction.

      I love bizarro fiction and I’ll never stop writing it. But I won’t be involved in a community that willingly allows social justice to control its authors through fear and intimidation and then outright denies that fear and intimidation are taking place.

      • Brother, those people are evil, vindictive fuckheads who reveled in Hanner’s public crucifixion. I was there. I watched it happen in real time. It was disgusting. They aren’t victims. They’re sociopaths looking for an excuse to humiliate people. And they’ve done it countless times since.

        They’re trying to do it to me right now!

      • The dude didn’t stalk or harass anyone. I don’t even think 90% of you read his damn blog. I DID read it.

        I don’t think 90% of you bothered to ask him his side of the story. I DID ask him.

        The crazy cult mob-think is gonna end. I’m not afraid of the internet witch hunters or their virtual torches and pitch forks.

        I travel all around this country and I meet a hell of a lot of people. I’ve made it my mission, if you haven’t noticed, to reform bizarro fiction and end the cult mentality so that these insane witch hunts stop once and for all.

        STALKING and HARASSMENT are CRIMES. If this guy ACTUALLY broke the LAW then there would be charges filed. There are no charges. No laws were broken. Ya’ll are insane people and you’re ruining the genre that I’ve devoted my life to.

        I’m just getting started.

      • lets be buds again when you either cut this stuff out or your arguments become stronger and rational. i assume you’re capable of the latter. take care.

  6. As you said to pursue this line of thought invites charges of various types. I suspect that they come from people who don’t know much of the industry or are sock puppets of those with an agenda.

    I’ve heard many such stories and experienced some. At first I considered the possibility that I was looking for an excuse for a severe sales dropoff. But when I kept seeing others reporting the same things, I figured there was some truth to it.

    Regarding censorship, it’s okay to satirize white males and religion; but you’re on very thin ice in satirizing blacks, women, and illegal aliens.

    These groups, like the Bizarro one, will find you even if you don’t seek them; when you start getting some sales. I don’t think they can do you much good, but maybe they rejoice in their “power” to be damaging.

    Bottom line, the thing is to write something which the buying public takes to; and then laugh while the little shits kiss your ass. I really think that most of the recent sales declines have more to do with the condition of the industry, than the bullshit from a number of never was’s and never will be’s.

    Keep going.

    • Bingo, sir. You hit the nail on the head. There is absolutely systemic cultural censorship going on but the social justice gate keepers of the genre will turn around and say OF COURSE YOU CAN’T TALK ABOUT THOSE THINGS! THAT MAKES YOU AN ASSHOLE! A RACIST! A BIGOT! A XENOPHOBE!

      And yet they have no problem publishing books disparaging white males, Christianity, right wing political groups, etc. and they don’t think twice about it.

      This is art. This is literature. There should be no limitations, no restrictions no boundaries that we don’t smash through.

      Freedom of expression is freedom of expression. Anything less is censorship.

      • Yes, yes. Sometimes it takes a while, but I’m convinced that eventually the truth will prevail. What other use are artists? Pretty pictures over the sofa?

  7. In truth this is “art” for some of us. Writing can also be a craft or a redundant banality. Publishing is a business. Despite their occasional pretensions, they are no different from Whattaburger at the core. That’s not a criticism; it’s just how things work out at the grass roots level in the current system.

    Artists are therefore perennial outsiders. If, like the neo-liberal tired norm of current Bizarro, it attempts to adapt to “economic realities” they simultaneously become the equivalent of Whattaburger and what they originally disdained; no more no less.

    So, on a personal level the question is does an artist want to be associated with that which he no longer fully agrees. The answer is personal, probably changing from day to day, yadda yadda on the ensuing particulars, and ultimately a reflection upon whether or not everyone is born an artist.

    Ummnnn. WTF? Back to earth. I’m writing about talking dogs and hope it makes a couple of bucks.

    • My goal is to steer the genre back in the right direction by calling out everything that’s brought us down this track of political correctness.

      I do not believe this change has helped the genre at large financially. If it had, then I’d REALLY be seen as an idiot for crying out the way I have.

      But I think literature needs its bratty teenager to question everything and bizarro serves that function, or at least it did back when it made people some money.

      • Yes, the money cannot be seperated from the audience reach, though most people see the two as opposites.

        If you have something worthwhile saying, it makes sense that the maximum number hear it.

        Regarding the money formerly in Bizarro; I seriously have my doubts. How many writers try to sell rookie writers something based on claims that they sold hundreds of thousands themselves. More true is the woman with two NYT top tens in the last three years and a book income for the period of $30,000.

        Unless you personally had the experience, I’d put the “success” claim on the “to be corroborated” pile.

        IDK. My reaction to Bizarro is mine. I know about five people who have spent their lives reading books. Not one of them has ever heard of Bizarro. That could be good for the genre or it could be bad. My reaction was that after seeing four or five I liked; I said; “OK. Got the idea,” no reason to go further in its current form. Sort of like a flash in the pan.

        That is not to say that I couldn’t be drawn back with something “experimental” by Wilson; but it is to say that I’ll reject out of hand anything like an exploding face at the Dairy Queen.

        Some people have told me that they are in Bizarro only because there is no other game in town.

  8. Yeah; all due and all that. For whatever it’s worth I think that opening presidential speech was very well written. However, I do note that you take this as a communal mission rather than an individual one. No argument. I think a value judgement. I kind of locked into the individualism of “Wooden Ships” a long time ago.

    But that bratty teenager, unafraid to speak up, full well knowing that he’s going to be raked over the coals for it, is as much a hero as any rock star has yet imagined.

    That’s one of the reasons I like DFW. He could have done well or even financially better by just using his talents for writing and humor. Though he was quite all right, the bulk of his financial success came after the suicide. But no; he pushed it PERFECTLY; like no one else could. By being technically beyond criticism, he got high level reviews like; “Like it or not David Foster Wallace is a force with us to stay.” I might add “as long as he chose.”

    How the fuck can anyone outdo “Infinite Jest?” They’ve tried copying it; but can’t even do that. So, the next generation has to come up with an update.

    Good fucking luck.

  9. Small time writers are the worst group in the world in dealing with criticism. It’s kind of funny to me, as if they ever get big they’ll get loads of it.

  10. The stalking and harassing are commonplace events. They are recorded all over “complaints about Goodreads” sites. No doubt some of them are making excuses for failed books, but no doubt some are relating real experiences. What Bradley is saying is a justification for mob rule. The group leaders say something true or not and the lazy and/or subservient minions follow suit.

    I can truthfully say that I’ve been carpet bombed and harassed with e-mails sent by what I think is a sock puppet of a GR writer-librarian. I kept copies and can reproduce them if necessary. Worse, my friend got death threats.For complaining about this I was deleted from GR. I’m not making a big deal over that, as I believe the value to a writer of GR is minimal; at best $2 per hour work. But, it’s absolutely absurd to say that these harassments and black listings don’t happen.

    Kevin is fighting the good fight as most just get disgusted and walk away. Eraserhead is a private business. If they don’t want to deal with Kevin, that’s their call. But they and their flunkies have no right whatsoever to publicly ruin his reputation. Fuck man; can I make it any more simple?

    It’s an old story now “enhanced” by IT mixed with people’s tendency to believe everything they read. Hear Nobel Bob Dylen ca. 1965.

    “While some on principles baptized
    To strict party platforms ties
    Social clubs in drag disguise
    Outsiders they can freely criticize
    Tell nothing except who to idolize
    And then say God Bless him.

    While one who sings with his tongue on fire
    Gargles in the rat race choir
    Bent out of shape from society’s pliers
    Cares not to come up any higher
    But rather get you down in the hole
    That he’s in.”

    Same old shit.

    • The difference is I never needed bizarro. I already had a platform and a voice. I chose to identify with this genre because it most closely represents my own personal goals for my fiction.

      I never drank the cool-aid and have no intention of EVER being quiet about it again.

      The harder I’m pushed the louder I’ll get. The best course of action for the Social Justice Bizarros is to leave me the fuck alone and deal with the fact that one of their own is also their loudest critic.

      That’s life. That’s adulthood. The cult has been exposed and I’ll never stop exposing it until the genre itself rises above it and flourishes as what it was always intended to be.

      Bizarro will NEVER be a legitimate genre as long as its controlled by 5 people in Portland Oregon.

      • Yes, yes my enormously respected pal. It sounds like they picked the wrong person to fuck with.

        My shit’s not Bizarro related; it’s the writer cliques. I might be of some help when the criticisms and questioning get general; but that’s all.

        You said; “One of their own is their loudest critic.” That’s what scares the fuck out of them.

        Go get em.

  11. Hey, up on this old guy? Kind of a personal hero. From Wiki with one line added.

    Thomas Becket (/ˈbɛkɪt/; also known as Saint Thomas of Canterbury, Thomas of London,[1] and later Thomas à Becket;[note 1] 21 December c. 1119 (or 1120) – 29 December 1170) was Archbishop of Canterbury from 1162 until his murder in 1170. His appointment to that position by Henry II was intended by Henry to install his friend and trusted advisor to a position in control of Henry’s primary adversary. What surprised everybody including Thomas was that he “got religion” and became an adversary of his lifelong friend, the King; who in tears had him killed. He is venerated as a saint and martyr by both the Catholic Church and the Anglican Communion. He engaged in conflict with Henry II, King of England over the rights and privileges of the Church and was murdered by followers of the king in Canterbury Cathedral. Soon after his death, he was canonised by Pope Alexander III.

    I know that I can be seen as grandiose; but when I see the classical stories playing out as if no one knew them in 2016, I get carried away.

    To be plain, the inference is that they’ll be able to kill you; but they’ll embrace you in death by dealing with the specific event as they alone can now describe it; rather than the simplicity of the universal truth past and present.

    How’s that for pessimism?

  12. Hey, Merry Christmas.

    It’s sad when the old gang breaks up. I know. But, it always does. Been looking at some recent Bizarro; and some is out and out traditional; stuff Eraserhead would have rejected after a page back when they were really outsiders.

    The stuff some pretentious idiots write about it not being a valid genre just demonstrates their own limitations. There is no doubt that it is a fucking genre; and it used to be a new one to the literary world. Now all sorts of games are playing out; though no one will admit it.

    It’s easy to be hypocritical. I like less than 20% of what I’ve seen; but that’s also true for any other genre. Mellick gets a lot of crap. I suspect he expected it. No big thing. There are people who do and more people who criticize. I admit to seeing some of his stuff and not being impressed. Being little me, I figured that made no difference to one who was there early on. But yesterday I saw one of his early one-pagers and I can’t get the thing out of my head. It was so moving.

    IDK. Corrections? Adjustments? A departure from the DFW nail it to the Franzen later years whine and equivocation? But, you know that for most of us to read of things which :live” up someone’s ass is not all that easy to take.

    Hey; the lights are still on all over the place. They never forget that Christmas means so much.

    • Merry Christmas, Ed! Glad you asked what we can do to change the current trajectory. I’ve got an article going live tomorrow morning with a few ideas for how to spark reader interest in the genre again as well as ways to end the social media witch hunting and harassment of authors accused of wrongthink and wrongspeak.

      Can’t wait to hear your thoughts!

  13. Sands’ reference to Suglia as an analogy to Strange is just so stupid it doesn’t merit the tiny respect of any response. It is merely a personal confession of not understanding English, or more likely the party line bullshit that flunky Sands was required to say by one of his superiors. I guess it’s tough when you can’t break three figures a month.

    Without the long ass story I had a Bizarro guy once tell me that he said what he did because “he was required to.”

    Sounds stupid. To me too. All this shit over chump change. I mean it might be enticing if Don Corleone made somebody an offer they couldn’t refuse; but really ……………………………

  14. Ed, I swear we’re in some kind of a Vulcan mind meld or something. I’ve written a detailed critique of Dr. Suglia’s piece that will be published on Friday. There are some interesting things in his criticism as he seems to get the cultish community exactly right, and the genre itself completely wrong. Tune in Friday for that article!

    • Weird, right? Nice weird though. It’s actually hard to believe that the things we say are so controversial. it’s right in front of your face. I guess some eyes are permanently closed.

      Yes, I think Suglia caught the in-breeding aspect. But, he showed a complete lack of understanding, in a sickeningly pretentious manner, of the talent level of some Bizarro writers. I’m not kidding and I’m not saying it in a braggy way, but I’ve competently written in various styles without much trouble. I didn’t expect it at all, but I gained a lot more respect for Bizarro talent, when I found it difficult to do. It looks easy but it’s not; at least for me.

      Suglia is a jerk. I had some fun refuting some of the crap he says and he deleted it. In one section he said that DFW was illiterate and couldn’t write at all. I happen to be a fan, but I know a few people who say he’s thick and over-long. OK. But a bad, illiterate writer? Come on.

      I think I detected that he doesn’t understand metaphor at all.

      Look forward to it. Hope it’s a real rip.

  15. I’m going to say this now as someone who has bought easily 96% of the Bizarro fiction that has come down the pike the last five years. I have earned the right to say that most Bizarro authors do not take their fiction books as far as they could. The stories are often condensed, incomplete. And there are far too many anthropomorphic animals for my tastes. I don’t have a problem with talking animals, but it’s a gimmick that’s become a bit too familiar to this reader. Again, I have earned the right to say this through my very willing patronage of this enterprise both on my podcast and with my hard earned money. I have read Bizarro fiction from every kind of author, the academic ones, the progenitors who first formed the thing, the poseurs who are just mimicking what they think the genre is and regurgitating it back to readers, the funny ones, the depressing ones, the resilient ones, the experimental ones. I think, going forward, the books could stand to be a bit longer and more in depth. More nuance, more character background, more ambiguity. Less Point A to Point B.

  16. And yes, I’m aware that I never finished my own book, before anyone brings up my own shortcomings. I don’t blame anyone for that but myself. But that doesn’t mean that Strange and myself can’t comment on the direction it appears to be going in. In fact, it should be encouraged. Hasn’t any Romero fan ever felt the exhilaration of debating with another Romero fan whether the protagonist of Night of the Living Dead was shot because of racism or because the sheriff legitimately thought he was a zombie? Don’t Danzig fans get a kick out of telling other Danzig fans why they prefer Samhain over Misfits or vice versa?

  17. And by the way, pussies, you stomp and snort and sob and when you dry your eyes, Donald Trump will still be your president. Acceptance is the next step in the grieving process. And I don’t even like the bastard.

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