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.