When I tell someone I write bizarro fiction, the response is usually, “What the fuck is bizarro fiction?”
That’s when I look deep into the person’s eyes and make an assessment. Is this person ready? Is this someone whose idea of crazy is an extra dessert at Applebee’s on date night? Or is this someone who can let go of normal, at least briefly, and step into a world where malls menstruate, where bubblegum pink centaur cowboys team up with machine gun-toting blowup dolls, and where masturbating astronaut walruses can incite tears?
So, before we go any deeper, let me ask you: Are you ready?
Literature’s Equivalent To The Cult Section At The Video Store
In the distant past, when people had to go to video stores to rent movies, the best stores had a cult section. This was always my favorite section. It was where the stores threw all the stuff that didn’t fit anywhere else: Troma films, David Lynch films, Alejandro Jodorowsky films, John Waters films. You know, the good stuff!
The first Bizarro Starter Kit – Eraserhead Press’s introduction to the genre – calls bizarro fiction “literature’s equivalent to the cult section at the video store.” This is fair, but it doesn’t actually describe what the books have in common, other than that they don’t have much in common with other genres. It neglects the fact that these books share a variety of traits, one of which is crucial to understanding what bizarro fiction is all about.
So It’s Horror, Right? Or Science Fiction?
Sometimes, when I’m trying to explain bizarro fiction, the person cuts me off. “It sounds like horror to me!” or “You mean sci-fi, right?”
Bizarro fiction frequently employs elements that have become hallmarks of other genres. In my writing, for example, I pull a lot of inspiration from horror. Monsters and cults and demons frequently pop up. While I enjoy using horrific imagery, I can’t call my writing horror because the motivation is different. Horror books are written with the intention of scaring readers. If my stuff comes with scares, it’s entirely incidental. I am less interested in scares and more interested in surprises. I want to elicit one “What the fuck?” after the next. Also, I just really like monsters and gross stuff. I don’t want to hide them in the shadows. I want them to be out in the bright light of day, doing surprising things.
Other bizarro writers tangle with elements of science fiction, western, romance and more. But they take these elements and turn them into something new.
One Surprise After The Next
Another frequent definition of bizarro is that it is weird. Sometimes, and often disparagingly, it will be written off as being weird for the sake of weird. That’s entirely inaccurate. Yeah, it’s weird. But it’s being weird for the sake of surprise.
The one trait that all bizarro books have in common is the element of surprise. Perhaps you’re thinking, but that’s a key part of all genre fiction. True, but not in the same way. Horror typically reserves a big surprise for the end. The reveal of the monster. Science fiction lays out the surprise at the start, creating a new world for the reader. There may be smaller surprises throughout, but nothing like in a bizarro book.
A good bizarro book hits you with one surprise after the next, starting with titles like Ass Goblins of Auschwitz, The Haunted Vagina or, um, Dungeons & Drag Queens (winner of the Wonderland Book Award, by the way). Bizarro books are page-turners in the truest sense, because you could not possibly predict what will happen next.
The very best bizarro books come with strong characters that give readers someone or something to root for through all the twists and turns. The combination provides a reading experience unlike any other genre.
For more insight on the bizarro fiction genre and how I became part of it, check out my article, One Punk’s Guide to Bizarro Fiction.