THE BRADLEY SANDS INTERVIEW AND DRAWING COMPETITION
I've never actually met writer/editor Bradley Sands, but our paths have crossed hither and zither for various reasons. Bradley's a gentleman and a dude. And he certainly puts the hours in. When he's not pecking away at his PC and spitting out 'lil grey n pink sections of his brain onto an LCD then he's editing the legendary Bizarro/Absurdist journal Bust Down the Door and Eat all the Chickens. I wanted to say "award-winning" in that last sentence, but the truth is there's no awards for giving up yr spare time to do stuff like this except heartburn, heartache and insomnia. We should celebrate those who DO rather than those who DONT...
Soooo, it seemed like a pretty good time to do a Q&A with Bradley and let him generally ooze out into yr collective consciousness. I confess I'm extremely fascinated by how writers go about their business; I have my own M.O. but I'm intrigued how other folk approach an empty page. While I was assembling this post I held a Bradley Sands Drawing Competition in my kitchen with Kid Kid Shirt and kid Kid Kid Shirt, to complement the image above (from a detail of a larger painting by Lucas Aguirre, who also did the cover of Bradley's first published novel - more on that later).
Okay, Bradley, could you introduce yrself for people who don't know who you are n what you do...?
BS: "I write absurdist humour stuff and I'm involved in the Bizarro fiction scene. My writing has gone through a drastic change recently, so I'll describe it in two phases:
"Phase 1: I used to write an 'everything but the kitchen sink' style of surrealist fantasy. The gags and word play and absurd situations took precedence over the plot, which I mostly used to maintain the reader's attention. I think a reader needs to be very attentive to appreciate this kind of writing. I burned away hundreds of ideas per page. Anything could happen. The settings weren't governed by reality. I wanted the reader to be able to pick any random sentence in the book and be amused by it, even if they didn't know its context. I think it is almost impossible to do this without weakening the plot development.
"My novel, "It Came from Below the Belt", was written this way. It is set in a dystopian future. In my later writing, I stopped providing explanations for the unreality of my settings.
"I've written about three more books like this, but they haven't been published yet.
"Phase 2: I'm now focusing more on plot and character development. I haven't figured out how to describe this sort of writing yet besides "absurdist humour." They're a little genre-y-weird science fiction/fantasy/whatever.
"The new volume of "The Bizarro Starter Kit (Blue)" contains a novella of mine called "Cheesequake Smash-up" that I wrote this way. It's about a city-wide demolition derby between moving buildings. Winner gets a monopoly over the entire fast food industry.
"Right now, I'm working on a book called "TV Snorted My Brain". It's a sort of retelling of the King Arthur myth. With a dorky, fake anarchist, teenager playing the role of King Arthur, a TV remote control playing the role of Excalibur, and the land of television playing the role of Arthur's realm."
"I burned away hundreds of ideas per page" - did you feel (or worry) you were frittering away ideas that you could have expanded on (and now you can't)? Do you kinda ration yr ideas now?
BS: "Not really. I don't think I wasted them because it's easy for me to come up with ideas, although it's difficult to come up with hundreds of ideas per page. I don't feel like I ration ideas, but it's much easier for me now that I don't work this way anymore."
This prompts the question: do you ever get writer's block?
BS: "I used to get it a lot during phase one. Because of the whole thing about coming up with new ideas in every sentence. I don't get it very much anymore. It's because I write outlines. I didn't used to. Sometimes I get stuck while I'm working on the outline, but that doesn't last as long as when I got stuck during phase one. It would often take me an hour to compose a sentence."
Was there a point in your life - a eureka moment - when you suddenly realised "oh my god, I'm a writer!" Is it something you just drifted into, or did you always want to do that from a early age?
BS: "No, I never had a eureka moment. I've written fiction since I was very young. I think it started in first grade when my teacher would give us homework assignments to write one page stories. I liked doing those a lot. Most of my stories were about my teacher's coffee stains, which I made sentient. He almost always had coffee stains on his shirt.
"Soon after that, I spent a lot of afternoons in my father's office, where I used his computer to write a neverending story about my friends and I searching for a treasure in a haunted house (we didn't have a computer at home). I think that ended up being a couple of hundred pages long before I lost interest."
Do you have any particular strategies for writing - do you procrastinate and put it off 'til yr in the zone, or are you a sit-dn-and-get-on-with-it kinda guy? Or both? A lot of writers are pretty superstitious - I know I am - do you have any rituals (favourite pen/notepad/place to work) or techniques to get yrself where you need to be mentally....?
BS: "I try to sit down and get it done, but I often procrastinate while I'm sitting at my computer. I don't wait for inspiration, except for when I'm between projects. I don't just start typing away before I know what I'm getting myself into.
"I don't have any rituals. I wish I had a separate writing room because my bedroom makes me lazy, but I can't afford that luxury. I'm very reliant on word processors, but I'm trying to become more comfortable with using notebooks.
"Once I a bought a very expensive pen before starting a new novel, but it didn't really help.
"Coffee used to be one thing that I relied on to get myself where I needed to be mentally, but I can't drink it anymore. I now have this disorder where caffeine causes me to clench my jaw when I'm sleeping and wake up with extreme head pain."
Okay, how about the strangest location/situation where you ever wrote something?
BS: "I haven't written in any strange locations or situations. My writing experiences have been very mundane. So instead, I'll tell you the strangest location where I've had sex: up a tree."
I know you worked for Weird Tales at one point...I'm very into the heritage of that magazine and the folks who wrote for it back in the 30s - Lovecraft, Smith, Howard, etc - is there still any of that vibe about the mag these days? Is that something you're into yrself - that old school Weird/Uncanny dark fantasy literature? Did you encounter anything while you worked there that linked back to those day, or is it a totally/radically different mag these days?
BS: "I haven't read Weird Tales recently, but it's probably a lot different from when I worked for them because it's under a new editorialship. I think it was pretty similar to the Weird Tales of old back when I was involved with it. There was a commitment to maintaining its heritage. The only author who we published that didn't really fit the mold was Thomas Ligotti, although his work seems like an updated version of the earlier Weird Fiction writers. He's also the only writer who we published that I really liked.
"I like a few of the early Weird Fiction writers, especially Robert W. Chambers and Lovecraft. I have to be in a certain kind of mood to enjoy Lovecraft though, or else his work seems very overwritten."
If this isn't too personal a question...I'm interested in your thoughts about how certain people are driven or compelled to write - as if it's hard-wired into them...I know you had some thoughts about hypergraphia which certainly intrigued me as it ticked a couple of boxes of my own...
BS: "Yeah, hypergraphia. A condition that gives you an overwhelming urge to write. Not sure if I have it because the people who do are very prolific, and I am a little slow. But I do feel an overwhelming urge to write. After finishing a major project, I get a sense of fulfillment that lasts for a day or so. Then the compulsion starts all over again. I feel like I'm Sisyphus. But I can cheat between projects and bring myself to a state of near satisfaction by blogging and doing writing exercises."
Are there any pieces by you up on the net that folks could check out?
BS: "Sure, "Abridged Version" is here.
And "In the Restaurant":
"The second one is kind of phase two-ish, but not really. There aren't really any true representations of that online, except for a couple of chapters of "TV Snorted My Brain", which have since been rewritten because the plot changed. (Ignore the intros):
I guess I could also post an excerpt of "Cheesequake Smash-up" on my website. There's also an excerpt of "It Came from Below the Belt" on it."
I was aware of "Cheesequake Smash-Up" thru word-of-mouth, the forum, etc, but I've not actually read it yet - it's the actual headquarters of the various major food franchaises that go to war, isn't it?
BS: "Yeah, but the main building is an office building that doesn't have anything to do with fast food. The protagonist works there and a position that he wants has just opened up, so he thinks that winning the derby will get him the promotion because his boss likes fast food. So he's 'driving' the building and trying not to get caught. He doesn't want his co-workers or boss to know that their building is being used in the competion until he wins it.
His antagonist is driving an apartment building that he hijacked to enter into the derby illegally. He wants to destroy McDonalds. All the other buildings have to do with fast food. There's a third protagonist who works at a McDonald's franchise."
Sounds brilliant! Now, this'll sound weird, I know, but I already *know* I'll prob. like the story...this is because (a) I like the *idea* of it and (b) I like the title - there's something (this is odd/hard to explain) *right* about the words in the title...so my brain has made some sort of pre-emptive, upfront decision about me liking this...this happens to me a lot; sometimes I just know I'll like a band from the sound of their name or a track-title...I know that the way they use words will prb. match my own sensibilities or aesthetic preferences.
Do you ever get that feeling - that a title or a sequence of words feels *right* to you on some odd, subconscious level...like there's like a certain symmetry or cadence in them that hits a personal-preference centre in the brain, so you know that you'll like what's coming after it on some level? I was wondering if you ever apply a process like that in your own writing - do you pick over certain sentences until they feel right to some sort of internalised personal aesthetic or achieve a balance that you like...? ie they feel *right* to your own writing 'voice'? Or are you more of a bash-it-out 'rhythmic' writer, where it's the overall meta-rhythm of the lines as they pile up on top of each other that you dig?
Actually, there seems to be a strong rhythmic pull in some of your stuff (that's just a personal observation...) - I think DHW is more rhythmic than yrself, maybe - he does this dudda-dudda-dudda: duda-dud-dudd! (repeat x 8) type thing....yours has an element of that (well, some of yr pieces do), but they're also combined with what I call logical 'shrugs' where reason suddenly gets jettsioned by a twist of the words - then more rhythm, then another shrug or a sharp absurdist curve-ball lol...it's almost like you're luring the reader into a certain reading rhythm, then letting them slide off yr shoulders or the edge of the page...
BS: "All my sentences needed to be like that during Phase One. I don't write like that anymore. The rhythm often drove the plot rather than the other way around. If I wrote about something and it didn't sound right in my head and I couldn't rewrite the sentence to satisfy me, I would come up with something else to use instead in a sentence that worked for me. So my dissatisfaction with the lack of rhythm could radically alter the plot from what I had originally intended.
"Right now, I find myself rewriting sentences because they seem out of character. I'll write one and think, "So-and-so wouldn't say something like that." TV Snorted My Brain is the first book where I find myself writing from the point-of-view a character that is a lot different than me. He thinks in a way that is different from my usual writing style. I feel like I'm an actor."
As an editor, what do you look for in other people's work? Do you have a certain vibe or aesthetic you're drawn to? Do you like people who write similar to yourself or to yr own aesthetic - or is it a bit more random and scattershot than that?
BS: "I liked it when people wrote similar to me during phase one. Because it takes a hell of a lot of time and effort to do well. I also like it when there are no similarities between our writing.
"I like stories that are fun to read. A playful use of language. I have a preference for unreal stories, but it doesn't always have to be like that.
"I feel like there's two main templates for writing styles and I don't like either of them: literary fiction and genre fiction. And the majority of the stories that I receive in those two genres feel like they're written by the same two people.
"The literary fiction writer's prose seems constipated. I imagine they are constipated. They have been sitting on the toilet for the last five hours, typing away at a laptop. Occasionally, they raise their arms to proclaim, "I am a writer." They speak in an upper class British accent. They are not really concerned with plot. They are more concerned with style. They are also concerned with feeling relief in a world without laxatives.
"The genre writer's style is loose, but not loose like stream-of-consciousness writing. They don't focus on the writing style. The style is dull and mundane. All their focus goes to the plot. They are on the toilet. They have diarrhoea.
"What the fuck am I talking about!?
"I think I prefer the literary fiction writer to the genre writer. I groan whenever I see a genre fiction submission. But Bust is more genre than literary, although I don't think I'd classify us as lying somewhere between the two. We're off the map.
"I like it when literary and genre fiction writers escape from their boxes. But if they escape, I guess they aren't literary and genre fiction writers anymore.
"Oh, and my tastes have gone away from the morbid recently. I don't want to read/publish stories that make me depressed. I like light and fluffy. And black humor beats everything."
Who's floating yr boat right now - in terms of up n coming writers or people who have fallen under radar? You've mentioned Mike Young a few times...I checked out some of his stuff a few weeks ago and I think he's pretty good - he's def. got something unique going on...
BS: "Mike is good. I like Mike. I published a great short of his in the last issue (#7), which is online. He lives near me. I mention him on my blog sometimes because I actually get to see him in person and he also has a blog. He edits Noo Journal. We're co-editing an e-anthology together called "Dragons with Cancer".
"I like Mo Ali a lot even though I haven't read anything new from him in a long time. I think you are familiar with his work."
Yep! And I like it.
BS: "My new favorite up-and-comer is Sam Pink. I am bad at describing people, so I will quote a writer named Blake Butler: "Sam Pink is like Russell Edson with much bigger balls and a tendency to aim at the throat rather than the spleen." Sam has a story in the next issue of Bust Down the Door and Eat All the Chickens. Sam wrote a chapbook that I really liked called "Yum Yum I Can't Wait to Die" It contains one long poem. Sam writes a blog here.
"Blake Butler also has a story in the next issue of Bust. It is a GREAT story. Blake Butler is a space worm who is devouring the lit.mag universe.
Are you happy to be labelled a Bizarro author - I know some people that have been lumped in with Bizarro aren't happy to be genre-tagged....tho Bizarro is a pretty wide umbrella for lots of different writing styles...
BS: "Yes, because I like the whole "if you like this Bizarro book, you will probably like this [other] Bizarro book" thing. I'm not fond of genre classifications, but Bizarro is what I like to read the most these days. It describes my literary tastes. It's what I like to publish in Bust. Also, Bizarro comes with a built-in audience. It might be small, but a lot of people are being exposed to my work who wouldn't have ever known about it otherwise."
Anything else we've forgotten to mention?
BS: "The next issue of Bust Down the Door and Eat All the Chickens should be out next month (Sept '08). Here's a list of contributors: Sam Pink, Blake Butler, D. Harlan Wilson, Rhys Hughes, Ofelia Hunt, Cameron Pierce, Matthew Simmons, Darby Larson, Aaron Sitze, and Adam Breckenridge."
Cool. A stellar Bust Down... line-up: Sam and Blake's names I've been noticing on yr blog and I've been quietly checking them out. Rhys is a fellow Brit who's pretty well known to me for a whole bunch of reasons....he used to do small press stuff in the UK when I used to write a few bits n pieces back in the early/mid-90s.....DHW and Cameron - yay! But the other folk aren't known to me...yet!
BS: "DHW is a permanent fixture. Ofelia Hunt is really good. She has an ebook here.
"That site is good. I also really like Daniel Spink's ebook and Tao Lin's "Today The Sky is Blue and White with Bright Blue Spots and a Small Pale Moon and I Will Destroy Our Relationship Today."
"The other people are new to me too. A couple of them are Blake's blogger friends. This will be Adam Breckenridge's first published story."