Strange Fucking Stories Cover Art Revealed!

Gang I am tickled pink (get it?) to reveal the cover of our newest anthology series, STRANGE FUCKING STORIES! The cover was designed by the always game Gary McCluskey, and is based on the story RAPE C(o)UNTRY by A VERY STRANGEHOUSE CHRISTMAS contributor Billy Tea. Sean Ferrari returns as editor.

This is a masterwork of weird with stories ranging from Bizarro to Horror to everything in between. It contains stories from SHB anthology staples like John Bruni and Rich Bottles Jr., returning favorites like K.M. Tepe and MP Johnson, many newcomers,  and my novelette THE HUMANS UNDER THE BED. It will be released on January 14th!

As a special treat, we’ve got an exclusive interview with the man behind RAPE C(o)UNTRY, Billy Tea, right after the picture!

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Kevin Strange: Thanks for joining us, Billy! And thanks for writing such an amazing story in Rape C(o)untry. I knew as soon as I finished reading it that it would be our cover story. Let’s get started!

We’ve actually known each other for quite some time. Care to enlighten our readers as to our sordid past?

Billy Tea: Hmm, I don’t know if “sordid” is the right word, unless you’re referring to that one chaoti/erotic night in the Newark Greyhound bus station bathroom. But you swore you’d never tell!

It’s funny you mention how long we’ve known each other, as sporadic as our interactions have sometimes been. I was de-hoarding my house just the other day and found a printed-out conversation we’d had via MySpace (how’s that for archaic?) when you were first making a name for yourself with Hack Movies and I was but a pizza-faced high school student with dreams of microbudget b-movie anti-stardom. I believe that’s how we first started talking, me dying to make a movie of my own and finding your stuff to be the perfect insppiration. I remember seeing a short film you made called “Fight Night,” which was so cheap and stupid and absurd, I figured “Shit! If he can do it, I can too!”

For the record, “cheap” and “stupid” and “absurd” are positive words in my book, and I still think the short was pretty entertaining. Also, it’s worth mentioning that I still have not managed to will a single one of my numerous harebrained indie filmmaking projects into reality over the years.

For the record, I still have my copies of “Dream Reaper” and “Cockhammer,” and I still enjoy the hell out of both of them. I feel “Cockhammer,” especially, is a good precursor to the Bizarro fiction you’d go onto write.

Anyway, there was that whole filmmaking thing and the matter of a small collection of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles action figures I was looking to unload. I still owe you those, although, in all honesty, the box of ‘em is still sitting on my side porch, waiting for me to go through it and decide which ones are worth keeping and which ones I’m willing to part with. That box has been sitting there for years. Sorry ‘bout that.

KS: It was actually a surprise to me when I looked you up long after the end of my film days, and found out that you were already a fan of Bizarro fiction. Care to tell us how you stumbled upon our genre?

BT: I’d be lying if I said I remember the exact details, but I think it was simply a matter of aimlessly surfing Amazon.com and stumbling across some Bizarro titles purely by chance. It really isn’t that much of a surprise that I’d eventually discover the genre considering the kind of books I tended to be interested in to begin with: Splatterpunk, Weird Fiction, the works of William S. Burroughs and Franz Kafka, comic books, etc.

I do remember the first Bizarro book I ever read: Carlton Mellick III’s “Sex and Death in Television Town.” I immediately fell in love with it and started delving into both Mellick and Bizarro in general more intently. Honestly, there’s so much about the genre that appeals to me.

Speaking about the stories themselves, I love the idiosyncratic imbalance of horror, humor, fantasy and sci-fi. I like genre-bending and Bizarro doesn’t so much bend the boundaries of pre-established genres as straight-up car-bomb them to rubble. It’s almost like pop art in a way, reconfiguring low-brow elements with a high-brow sense of self-awareness, while jettisoning the idea that the only way to do that is with a pretentious, winking air of ironic detachment.

Another attractive thing about Bizarro, outside of the actual content of the genre itself, is the philosophy behind it. There’s a very strong feeling of community to Bizarro, and an atmosphere of open-armed inclusiveness. It’s so refreshing to find a literary community that is so warm and welcoming, but still has that self-reliant D.I.Y. punk attitude.

I used the word “pretentious” before in a negative way because, frankly, there’s few things I hate more than pretentiousness. Bizarro is the exact opposite of pretentiousness. It’s very blue collar and workmanlike, without sacrificing ambition. In many ways, Bizarrro is the inheritor of the quick ‘n’ dirty fiction tradition of the lurid, pulp potboilers of yesteryear. There’s something romantic to the idea of holing oneself up in a hotel room and cranking out a full-length novel over the course of the weekend, only instead of producing tales of shadowy private dicks and femme fatales, Bizarro authors are unleashing reptilian nympho samurai psychics and armies of alternate-universe William Shatners.

Going back to childhood, I’ve always been drawn to fiction that transports you to a completely new reality a la’ The Wizard of Oz, Alice in Wonderland, Little Nemo, etc. Bizarro is an extension of that, just geared more towards adults. How could I resist?

KS: Favorite Bizarro authors?

BT: Well, Carlton Mellick III obviously. That just about goes without saying. I really love the living, breathing Phillip K. Dick/Franz Kafka amalgamation that is D. Harlan Wilson, too. God, there’s so many good writers out there and it seems like I’m always discovering new ones or old ones that I somehow missed the first time around: Jordan Krall, Cameron Pierce, Kevin Donihe, Violet LeVoit, Robert Devereaux, S. T. Cartledge, Athena Villaverde, Eckhard Gerdes, Cody Goodfellow, Alex S. Johnson, Jeff Burk, Vincent Sakowski, Nicole Cushing, Andersen Prunty and Steve Aylett among them. And that’s just a mix of names plucked off the top of my head and my nearest bookshelf.

Y’know, they’re not formally a part of the genre, but I consider a lot of the work of comic writers Grant Morrison and Warren Ellis to fit the Bizarro mold. They both had a huge influence on me growing up and paved the way for the introduction of Bizarro into my own literary diet.

KS: What made you decide to try your hand at writing bizarro fiction?

BT: Arrogance and an insatiable lust for power.

Actually, I’ve just always loved writing. If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a thousand times: I can’t fix a car and I can’t build a house, but I can write. It’s all I’ve ever been good at. I love words, and I love telling stories, inventing worlds, creating characters. Blame it on growing up a lonely, weird kid and reading lots of R.L. Stine and, later, H.P. Lovecraft.

When I was a wee lad, I had this crazy idea in my head that someday I’d grow up and be a novelist. This crazy idea stuck with me up until high school, when I briefly had the equally crazy idea of going to a liberal arts college to major in creative writing. Then I decided I’d try to get a degree that would be more likely to promise a steady income someday.

I don’t think I ever quite found such a thing, ultimately falling into the realm of journalism. An industry in flux, in many ways dying. Do I know how to pick ‘em or what?

Anyway, when I put my fantasies of New York Times Best Seller status on the shelf, I inadvertently put my ambitions to write fiction of any sort away as well. I became so focused on my non-fiction writing that I didn’t write much in the way of fiction for more than four years. When I graduated college, it finally struck me how much I missed writing fiction. I figured I’d give it another go; not as an attempt to get rich or anything, not even to make a career out of it, just to do it because I love doing it.

As for why I figured I’d take a stab at Bizarro, well, I don’t know. I discovered Bizarro during that four-year period when I wasn’t writing any fiction of my own, and it definitely left a mark on the creative part of my brain. When I decided to pick up the pen again, it just made sense.

One of the reasons, I’d allowed my creative writing muscles atrophy in the first place, I think, may have been because I never really found a place in the literary world that quite aligned with my own worldviews. I’m a weird guy who’s always been into weird things. I like surrealism. I like old cartoons. I like Kids in the Hall sketches and Troma movies and sideshow freaks and fetish porn. In Bizarro, I found a place where those influences could run rampant.

KS: Where did you come up with the idea for Rape C(o)untry?

BT: Rape C(o)untry came from a few different places. A lot of the story’s elements had been homeless fragments rolling around in my head for a while. That’s how it is for me, a lot of times. I come up with a character or a scenario or a theme that I want to explore, and I write it down, and it just ends up being this lonely little disembodied image until I come up with one or two other ideas that seem to make good connectors and they all come together like a puzzle. The idea of Scream, the town inhabited by sentient sex dolls, had been in the back of my mind for a while (as an aside, the name of the town is a reference to the famous Munch painting, which is what inspired the idea in the first place). Much later on, the idea of a centaur gunslinger entered my brain too. It just seemed to perfect. He’s a cowboy and a horse, all in one!

When things started to bubble was when I first began toying with the idea of trying my hand at writing some Bizarro. My mind immediately went back to my own first experience with the genre, “Sex and Death in Television Town.” That book is a western, or at least has a western setting, so I thought doing a Bizarro western of my own would be an appropriate homage for the story that instilled in me a love of Bizarro to begin with.

From there, I started thinking about the themes of western stories. I haven’t read a lot of western books but I’ve seen plenty of western movies. I’m a big fan of Sam Peckinpah and the two Sergios, Leone and Corbucci, all of whom made movies very much about violence and masculinity and the relationship between the two. Since my own heteroflexible, pacifist anarchist worldviews are probably quite a bit different than theirs, I thought it’d be cool to cram the divergent viewpoints into a meatgrinder and see what came out the other end. I wanted to turn the western on its head, pervert it and, in doing so, pervert the iconography that goes along with it.

At the risk of violating my own anti-pretentiousness pet peeve, for me, Rape C(o)untry is a dark satire of gender relations, one that skewers symbols of outdated macho posturing and condemns the mentality that goes along with that as destructive both outwardly and internally. That’s just the meaning it has for me, though. I don’t want that subtext to bog down the story for anyone. First and foremost, I just wanted to tell a fun, gritty, nasty, surreal little adventure story. The thing I love about art of all kinds is the way it can mean different things to different people. I’m interesting in seeing what other people get out of Rape C(o)untry when they read it.

KS: Do you have any plans to write longer works of Bizarro fiction?

BT: Definitely. I have a couple dozen scraps of paper scattered around my bedroom with snatches of Bizarro novel ideas scribbled down on ‘em. The fun I had writing Rape C(o)untry and Kafka’s Run (from the A Very Strangehouse Christmas anthology) has really reignited my love for creative writing.

So, yeah, I’m hoping to write a full-fledged Bizarro novel in 2014. Of course, I’ve got some more ideas for short stories rattlin’ ‘round my brainpan too, and I’m also working on some stories of a more traditional horror bent.

Right now, the main thing eating up my time is a kinda-sorta secret meta-fictional horror serial thingamajig I’m experimenting with. Ultimately, the main thing that’s going to be an obstacle for me is just figuring out what ideas to focus on first. I’m so happy to feel the creative spark again, I’m like an overexcited dog spazzing out to car alarms going off in the distance.

KS: Thank you for your time, Billy! I think I speak for everyone (especially after they read your pieces in the SHB anthologies) when I say I can’t wait to see what you come up with next!

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One Response to Strange Fucking Stories Cover Art Revealed!

  1. Shadow Girl says:

    Looking forward to it!
    Great cover, as usual!!