Kevin Strange Interview: Art, Work Ethic, and The Culture War

Kevin Strange is one of the most divisive names in underground literature. He is outspoken, unapologetic, and (to many people’s chagrin) extremely talented. Some see this  iconoclastic, award nominated writer of dark fiction and bizarro as a thorn in the side of genre fiction. Others see him as a unlikely champion of sanity in the tumultuous era we live in.
Kevin was kind enough to take some time away from his busy schedule and answer a few questions for this first edition of Wyrd Interviews. We talk art, work ethic, ICP, and politics.

Trigger warning –  Kevin holds nothing back!

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Curtis Lawson:

Kevin, you are kind of an indie Jack of all trades. You’ve made cult films, written award nominated novels, built a podcast following, and even teach writing courses from time to time. What is your favorite outlet and what advantages to you find in going it alone?

 

Kevin Strange:

Thanks for taking the time to talk to me, brother. I’m fairly radioactive to the writing community these days. It’s good to see someone has the balls to actually associate with me publicly. Maybe the worm is starting to turn?

 To answer the first part of your question, writing fiction seems to be my favorite outlet because I’ve done more of it for longer than I’ve ever done anything else, creatively. But I just love creating. It’s addicting. It’s what I consider the most precious gift of humanity. What are we if not star-stuff created in the universe’s own image, made self-aware so that the vast, unfathomable consciousness in the outer reaches of space can experience itself?

 As for the second part of your question, I have a blast collaborating on projects like feature films and podcasts with my friends Jeremy Maddux and Travis D. But I’m very much a control freak and a perfectionist. I’m never really, truly satisfied with a project unless I’ve seen it through from the very first spark of inspiration through to the final product that I put into my fans’ hands. Only then do I feel the deepest sense of satisfaction from creating art. I liken it to building a house from scratch or running a long distance marathon. True unfiltered art is a solitary medium, I think.

CL:
You’ve built a Strangeville brand around your work. What kind of unifying themes do you put in your works? What makes Strangeville stand out in the horror and bizarro landscape.

KS:

Strangeville is a state of mind. Literally. It’s all of the contradictory voices in my head fighting for dominance distilled down and laser focused into art. In my films, the small, white-trash midwestern town of Strangeville contained all of my characters and monsters and outlandish stories. Each movie ties in with the next building a bigger and bigger B-movie universe like Lloyd Kaufman did with Troma or Marvel comics does with their characters.

With my fiction, it’s a bit more subtle. There are small connections here and there, with characters and themes arching over from one story to the next. Most of my stories take place in a fictional Illinois town next to the Mississippi river called Hopp’s Hollow. Even the stories which take place in far-flug post-apocalyptic futures have hints of Hopp’s Hollow in them.

Unlike Strangeville which exists as a cartoony parody of real life, Hopp’s Hollow is a dark and serious place full of people suffering in mental and spiritual agony. Hopp’s breeds existential nightmares and often times those nightmares are made manifest in the flesh. Strangeville and Hopp’s Hollow are I guess a kind of yin and yang of the human condition. Two aspects of the same tortured comedy of existence. Twins suns of chaos and madness.

What makes my stories stand out in the horror and bizarro landscape, I think, is a raw humanness to my characters. Each possesses fatal flaws that, while almost always ultimately spell doom for them, are often the keys to save humanity at large. They are tragic heroes, silent martyrs. Also, a lot of bizarro fiction is set in unrealistic fantasy worlds. Like children’s books for adults or Saturday morning cartoons told as prose. My fiction is far more grounded in reality with the characters, plots and monsters evolving into the outrageous, almost never just starting there. Kevin Strange fiction starts real and ends insane. 
CL:

I know you’re a juggalo. I’m fairly familiar with ICP and Psychopathic Records, and I’ve always admired what they managed to build on their own terms. I see some similarities between your DIY attitude toward business and theirs. Would it be fair to guess that you drew some inspiration on how to work as independent artist from ICP?

KS:

Absolutely. But not just ICP. I’ve always been a sucker for the gimmick. Pro wrestling, The Misfits, GWAR, ICP, all of the over-the-top theatrical shit inspires me. I’m white trash till I’m dead in the ground. Unabashedly. That’s who I am and I am proud as fuck of it, much to the chagrin of the writing world at large which can’t ever stop huffing its own farts long enough to realize how much its epic condescension and pretentiousness have become parody.

It was after reading ICP’s book “Behind The Paint” that I really found my hunger for DIY promotion. I’d already been flirting with writing screenplays and shooting little skits and parts of short films, but after reading about just how much fun and how much work ICP put into their underground, independent promotion, I had to get a taste of it myself. I’ve spent every moment of my life ever since pushing Strangeville to the people of planet Earth. I’ve won film awards, writing awards, been reviewed in the biggest horror mags like Fangoria, and traveled from coast to coast mile after mile year after year slanging my wares, shaking hands, signing autographs, taking pictures, making haters and wannabes jealous and sleeping with beautiful women.

I get shit daily for proudly supporting ICP and Juggalos but there would literally be no Kevin Strange without the guiding hand of Insane Clown Posse. That’s just a fact. And that will never change, no matter how many shitty stuck-up authors make fun of me for it. I thrive on their ridicule. It fuels me to work harder and win more. I NEVER get tired of winning.

CL:

Have you considered expanding out into other art forms? With a background in prose and film it would seem that comics might be something of a natural fit for you. I’d love to see a Guts graphic novel.

KS:

I have kicked around the idea of doing a comic book with my current cover artist and collaborator William Skaar. He is a professional comic book artist and the creator of the Carnigor. We desperately want to do a comic project together but it’s all about finding the right project and the right time for both of us. It will happen. Look for that Kickstarter campaign sooner than later!  
CL:
I’ve heard you talk a lot about work ethic in the arts, and how it is key to what you do. Care to elaborate on that a bit?

KS:

At some point, writers stopped writing and started hanging out on internet forums, discussion groups and social media pages. If a typical business work-load is carried by the square root of its number of employees, the “writing community” has to be ten to one. Fuck, a hundred to one. For every prolific, hard working writer busting his ass to crank out stories and books for his fans, you’ve got a hundred armchair “writers” who do well to publish 15,000 words a year. Some publish 15,000 words EVER but you’d never know it for how far their nose is stuck up the ass of the online writing community. They try to be influential and a part of every dramatic flair-up that happens online or at conventions, yet their contribution to Letters is minimal at best.

The best advice I ever got from a professional author was, if you want to make it in this business, write 150,000 words a year. If you want to make it in half that time, write 250,000 words. That’s it. That’s the key to success. Not how many facebook friends you have. Not how many times a day you post your Amazon links in writers’ groups. It’s sitting down in front of your fucking computer and writing books. All the time. As many as you can. My goal is 100 books before I die. I won’t make it, but I promise you that when I’m dead, there will be an unfinished WIP on my desktop that I was trying to crank out that last 25,000 words of before my ticket got punched. Believe that.

Pulp writers used to understand this. Writing fiction has never been a lucrative enterprise. Maybe for a small period in the 80s and early 90s. And now, for some reason, everyone treats writing like you’re always just one young adult distopian novel or paranormal romance away from retiring. When did people start treating art like lottery tickets? It’s shameful. Sit the fuck down and work for a living. If you don’t put the equivalent of a 40 hour work week into your prose, you don’t deserve to make a living at it. Period.

 CL:
Let’s switch gears for a moment. To my knowledge, you are about the loudest voice in dark fiction speaking out against cultural Marxism and SJW culture. This goes against the accepted wisdom that writers should avoid politics and has put you at odds with a lot of people in the industry. Why do you find it worth speaking out?

KS:

I’m definitely not the loudest voice. That distinction goes to the Supreme Dark Lord himself, Vox Day who spearheaded the Rabid Puppies movement in the sci-fi/fantasy community when the Hugo Awards went retarded and tried to utilize Marxist equality of outcome determinism and oppression Olympics to pick nominees for its award. But I appreciate the sentiment. I TRY to be the loudest voice, that’s for damn sure!

I love the adage that writers should avoid politics because it is FOR SURE a one-way street. Spend 5 seconds on Twitter and you see Stephen King and JK Rowling triggered and hysterical calling for Donald Trump’s resignation every single day. Writers are only supposed to avoid talking about politics if they want to talk about the WRONG type of politics, I.E. any kind of conservative politics.

There’s one female writer I won’t mention by name who I used to go to bat for any time I could. I supported her work as much as any author can support another authors work, which is to say, all the time. Then, as the 2016 election season approached and SJWs started beating the drum of cultural Marxism harder and harder inside my writing community, her feminist and social justice rhetoric hit a fever pitch until she was literally trying to start public fights with me about the merits of the all female Ghostbusters movie.

I treated her like I try to treat all SJWs: like daddy. Which is to say, I remained calm, let her throw her temper tantrums and either totally ignored her outbursts or only responded with facts and logic, never getting emotionally charged. Several weeks before the election, she DMed me to let me know that she was deleting me from her social media because of all of my MRA (Men’s Rights Association) posts. I haven’t heard the term MRA since the election, btw. But I did recently swing by this chick’s Twitter, and wouldn’t you know it? It’s all anti-Trump propaganda all the time.

So the only time “don’t be political” applies is when you’re not pandering and virtue signaling to writing community Marxists. Otherwise, go to town!

As far as why I think it’s worth fighting cultural Marxism as a public figure? This is a culture war. You’re either part of the problem or part of the solution. And when western culture finally grabs itself by the damn dick and figures out that social justice, feminism and cultural Marxism  are cancer that is destroying the very fabric of society, I will stand proudly on the right side of history, having given zero fucks about my popularity or reputation during the peak of the culture wars. I’m a fucking patriot and soldier for truth and reason and GOD DAMN proud of it.

CL:
A while back you had a falling out with the bizarro community. Was that mainly because of your politics?

KS:

It was mainly because of THEIR politics. Specifically it was the infiltration of social justice and cultural Marxism into all online writing communities. I’ve always been at odds with ANTIFA jackoffs like Jeff Burk, but most recently the thing that really sent the SJW bizarros into orbit was when I called them out on their social media shaming of a BizarroCon attendee from the 2016 show.

 You can hear all about it on my podcast READING TO STRANGERS where I break down the entire shitshow which basically involved a kid who developed a crush on the wrong man-hatting feminist and got called out publicly by her friends for daring to speak about his crush on his own travel-blog.

 Matters escalated when famous horror author Brian Keene bravely stepped in to white-knight for said man-hater, claiming to have eye-witnessed the kid sexually harassing her at BizarroCon.

 This was just patently false, so I called him out on it. Good intentions or not, the guy has too much power and too much clout in the industry to go around lying about kids half his age at horror cons just so he can play captain save-a-ho. So that got me banned from his podcast, which I’d recently guested on. I like Brian a lot as a human and as a badass horror writer. But I hate white-knights and I hate feminists, so I stood on the side of truth and called all those motherfuckers out.

 At literally the same time this was going on, I got an anonymous email dropped into my lap that one of BizarroCon’s close friends, another author and attendee of the show had been brought up on federal charges for allegedly molesting a sleeping woman on an airplane flight. Worse, the father of the alleged victim was trying to post this information onto BizarroCon’s facebook page, but it was deleted, effectively using the convention’s social media platform to protect an alleged sexual predator.

 Look, this always gets twisted as me hating this author and having it out for him. I keep saying I like the dude and he’s always been cool with me, but when you’re using your convention platform to ban one guy for doing nothing more than talking to a girl, while deleting posts from your page to protect your friend, I gotta err on the side of truth again. How about we STOP SOCIALLY SHAMING period. Then none of this shit would happen.

 Anyway, like I said, you can listen to the whole saga on my podcast if you really want the full details. But that’s why bizarro doesn’t like me anymore. Incidentally my newest collection ALL THE TOXIC WASTE FROM MY HEART was still up for nomination for the big bizarro Wonderland award this year, so big props to them for maintaining their credibility even after I publicly roasted them for morally aggrandizing and virtue signalling only when convenient for them. 

CL:
Any pragmatic or artistic advice for creative folks who lean right of center but might be afraid to openly admit it?

KS:

Yeah quit being a coward. History does not remember pussies. This is 1984. This is a fucking Orwellian nightmare. I thank God, I thank GOD Trump won that election. Had Hilary won, the internet would not be the same place. There would already be federal hate speech laws on the books and widespread internet censorship. Even without her lead, Silicon Valley is doing everything it can to curb conservative speech. Fuck your little career. This is bigger than ALL of us and all of our petty little careers. Fifty, a hundred years from now those of us who stood strong in the face of absolute cultural insanity and the infiltration of vile Marxist scumbags will be looked at as HEROES. Be a fucking hero. Stand up and fucking fight for your culture. Every person makes a difference.

CL:
Okay, fuck cliques and politics for now. Tell me about your new book, Beetle Brain.

KS:

Well, it’s for sure one of the most fucked up things I’ve ever written. I was up on the Oregon Coast writing novels with the Godfather of bizarro fiction, Carlton Mellick last year. We were marathon writing in a tiny ocean-side cabin with no phones, internet or cable TV. I finished my book I DIED IN A BED OF ROSES a couple of days earlier than he finished his book SPIDER BUNNY (both are available now on Amazon) so I decided to start another one. BED OF ROSES is an emotionally draining fucked up love story with mutants and monsters. It required a lot of mental energy to put together the mystery that encapsulates the story, and back and forth jumping through different time periods. It was like writing a literary jigsaw puzzle.

 

So when I finished that book, I needed to write something loose and fast and fun. I chose BEELTE BRAIN because it was literally a title I came up with when I misheard the lyrics of the Mistfists song “Attitude.” I heard “Inside your feeble brain, there’s probably a whore!” as “Inside your beetle brain, there’s probably a whore!” Yes really.

 

So I spent the next two days writing the most fucked up gratuitous sex and violence that I could before it was time to re-join civilization. The book is about Sue Ellen, a strung out stripper whose life is such a mess, she puts dumpster fires like Lindsay Lohan and Paris Hilton to shame. The appeal of the story for me was to write a main character whose every decision is worse than the last. I wanted to see just how fucked up I could make her life, and the lives of everyone around her. Like painting myself into a literary corner until there was no where left to go.

 The result is not only my longest novel to date, but early reviews are already calling it the best bizarro fiction book of 2017. For a throw-away blow-off novel after I wrote the real one, I’ll take it!

CL:
Some of your stuff is way out there. What inspires you write such weird, off the wall material?

KS:

A steady diet of awesome 80s movies, Saturday morning cartoons, USA Up All Night cult movies and sneaking 70s porn out of my grandpa’s closet when I was a kid, I guess. I have no idea why I’ve always been drawn to the weird. It’s just who I am. I was picked on mercilessly as a kid. But I don’t cry about being bullied. It make me strong. It gave me personality and it made me who I am today. Being the outcast, the “other” the last kid picked for the dodge-ball team? I loved it. I got to live inside my head. I grew up largely alone even though I had siblings. My grandparents raised me to fend for myself so I just watched a ton of crazy movies, unattended, and drew pictures of insane monsters and naked girls. I don’t know why some people are built with an endless well of creativity to draw from and others aren’t. All I know is, when I want to write, I just sit down and do it. What lives in my head speaks and all I have to do is listen. Simple as that.

CL:
What books and films have had the most influence on you as a storyteller?

KS:

Lloyd Kaufman and John Waters movies. Sam Raimi, early Peter Jackson. Italian horror. Roger Corman exploitation flicks. Philip K. Dick. Harlan Ellison. Richard Laymon. Robert Anton Wilson. Anton Lavey. The list goes on and on. I am inspired by the weird men who defied modern convention and paved their own artistic path, popularity and acceptance be damned.

 CL:
If budget, copyrights, etc… were not an issue, what would your dream project be? Any medium.

KS:

There are a lot of higher profile projects I’d like to tackle but most of them aren’t worth listing. I almost got to work on the KILLJOY killer clown movie series from Full Moon. I would love to write and/or co-direct one of those with my buddy John Lechago who makes them with Trent Haaga. Another project I would LOVE to write is an entry in the comic book series CROSSED. If you haven’t read it, it’s like an X rated version of The Walking Dead except instead of zombies, the planet’s population is infected with a virus that turns everyone into ultra-violent cannibalistic rapists. In fact, I like my idea for CROSSED so much, I might just tweak the details a little bit and write my idea as a novel instead.

CL:
What can we expect down the road from Strangeville?

 KS:
More of the same. Always expect me to speak the truth, regardless of its popularity, regardless of who it offends. Expect a shit load of fiction from me always. Expect me to keep running my mouth on my podcast network and always expect the unexpected from Ole Kevin Strange. Thanks for talking with me, brother. If you want to keep up with me, you can hit up my website at KevinTheStrange.com, subscribe to my newsletter Strange Sayings, or subscribe to my podcast READING TO STRANGERS on iTunes. I’m currently releasing a serialized hardcore horror novella called SHE WAS ONLY A CLOWN for free in weekly installments every Saturday on my website from now to Halloween.

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Horror Novel Reviews interview

Horror Novel Reviews conducted a new interview with me last week. The questions were excellent and it was a great time discussing horror, religion, and writing! Read it here!

black pantheons final

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Love letter to a ’58 Fury

In the past I have credited Wes Craven for sparking my love of horror, and H. P. Lovecraft for nurturing that flame.  Of course, there were countless other story tellers, and countless stories across hundreds of paperbacks, comics, and VHS tapes that helped shape what kind of fan, author, and even what kind of person I am today.

A Nightmare on Elm Street is always my go to when asked about the most influential film in my life, but recently I’ve begun to think that another horror villain, even more iconic than Freddy Krueger with his bladed glove, filthy hat, and muted Christmas color sweater, may have had a significantly deeper impact on my development. I’m not talking about Jason Voorhees, Michael Myers, or Charles Lee Ray. The character in question is not some masked stalker, but rather a drop dead gorgeous, red and white, 1958 Plymouth Fury.

Image result for christine plymouth

Just tonight, I finished reading Christine (listening to the audiobook rather) for the first time, and while I found myself enthralled by the book, and the extra dimensions it added, there was a feeling of melancholy over the one big difference between the novel and the screen adaptation. The 1983 film (which bore John Carpenter’s name as the draw, in lieu of Stephen King) had been a staple of my childhood VHS rotation, competing heavily with Dream Warriors, Monster Squad, and The Lost Boys. Every weekend I would grab a new horror movie from June’s Video Hut – Maniac cop, 976-Evil, The Gate – but still, every weekend, Christine would make it into the VCR at some point.

In retrospect, I think the reason I kept going back the story of Arnie Cunningham and his possessed ride, was that, to me, it wasn’t primarily a horror movie. Sure, it had all the marks of one. A respectable body count, made up of the typical slasher movie victims. An unstoppable killing machine. Discordant music and supernatural phenomenon. But that was all periphery, because to me Christine was a love story.

Arnie Cunningham was probably the first character in fiction that I ever truly related to. I’m not sure how old I was the first time I saw the film, but I was old enough to be the least popular kid in my grade, and too young to start reinventing myself as the teenage occultist/death rocker I would become a few years later. I was always a smart kid, but I was a loser. I always put up with people’s shit, and I felt very, very alone in the world. Just like Arnie.

I still remember the surge of satisfaction, watching Arnie go from nerdy victim, to bad ass and dangerous, behind the wheel of the most beautiful vehicle I had laid on eyes on, before or since. His clothes and his hair changed. He stopped being the victim, and the object of pity. He even got the girl, over his cool, jock buddy. Christine had been like a catalyst for his chrysalis, not that I would have used those words back then, but I recognized it as such, and I yearned for the same thing.

Then came the part when Buddy Reperton and his gang, kindred spirits to the grade school townies who put me through hell, trashed Christine. In their small-souled anger they smashed, bludgeoned, and punctured this work of art that meant the world to the guy on the screen, who was so much like myself. They destroyed her, because he loved her, and because they were too stupid and petty to do anything but destroy. And then… then they literally took a shit on her.

I seethed with anger at that. The first time I watched the movie was the most intense of course, but with each subsequent viewing it still pissed me off. In their faces I could see all the shitty, mean-spirited kids from my school, and I knew in my heart that if I ever had something of such beauty in my life, they would try to take it, just as they did my dignity each and every day

As such, it should come as no surprise that wild excitement gripped my heart when Arnie’s car took to the road and hunted down the “shitters”. I know that sounds fucked up, especially coming from a kid of maybe ten years old, but remember, this is before Nerd-Chic was a thing. There were no safe spaces, and Columbine had yet to teach administrations that bullying should be taken at least a little bit more seriously. All the “ignore them” and “toughen up” speeches in the world didn’t make things better, but watching that ghostly ‘58 run those bastards down kind of did. Those dirt bags, so far as I was concerned, were getting just what they deserved, and I watched Christine dole out her cruel justice over and over and over. I found it heroic, rather than scary, to watch her speeding down the road, engulfed in flame, her high beams set forward in singular purpose.

And she did it all for him.

She did it all for him. That idea was fucking beautiful to me, and it kind of still is. Before I ever desired a woman, or crushed on a girl, or even tried to sneak a dirty magazine, I fell in love with Christine. In my mind I was Arnie, and she was doing it all for me. Because she loved me too, and god damn, I needed that. Not the way your parents love you just for existing, but the way a lover sees that special magic in your soul and says, “You are the most incredible person in this universe, and I would murder the world to see you smile”.

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Christine taught me what love is, beyond my mother and father. That moment when Arnie tells her to show him what she can do, and she trusts in him enough to reform before his eyes. How her belief in him transforms him from a door mat to a man, and his belief in her makes her immortal. The way she is willing to rip herself apart to cut down anyone who’d harm him. And yes, even her mad, wild jealousy, that I would experience later in life before time and experience tempered such things.

Sometime after the murders start, Arnie and Dennis are talking about love. Dennis thinks Arnie is talking about Leigh, but of course he means Christine. His words hold a wisdom though, and as much as I needed to believe them as a child, experience has taught me that they are indeed true.

“Let me tell you a little something about love, Dennis. It has a voracious appetite. It eats everything. Friendship. Family. It kills me how much it eats. But I’ll tell you something else. You feed it right, and it can be a beautiful thing, and that’s what we have.

You know, when someone believes in you, man, you can do anything, any fucking thing in the entire universe. And when you believe right back in that someone, then watch out world, because nobody can stop you then, nobody! Ever!”

And then of course, there is the end, when Arnie and Christine face off against Leigh and Dennis in a final confrontation. Arnie dies, impaled on dagger of pre-safety glass windshield. A voice from the radio sings “I’ll forever love you” as Arnie fades into oblivion, in the metaphorical arms of his lover. Then Christine loses her mind in sorrow and anger, and no matter how many times I had seen the film, no matter how many times I had watched her get crushed, I rooted for her to win.

Despite watching that tape over and over until some voracious, dying VCR chewed it up, I somehow never read the book, until now, nearly thirty years later, and I’m glad I waited. In King’s novel, things are different. It is an excellent read, but the feeling is just not the same. LaBey, Christine’s former owner, is the driving force behind the car, and behind Arnie’s transformation. If there is any love story, it’s a trailer trash romance between the unsympathetic Roland LaBey and his sexy Plymouth fury, who manipulate and use Arnie for their own means. In the book, Arnie dies like he lived, a loser manipulated and bullied by those around him. It’s a scarier tale, and a hell of a lot darker, but for once, I like the happier ending, if you can call it that.

Christine was, and still is my Cinderella, my Beauty and The Beast, my Tristan Und Isolde. It was my first glimpse at passion and to this day, I can’t think of anything more romantic than Johnny Ace singing “Pledging My Love” as Christine’s headlights illuminate Arnie’s dead body. It’s no wonder I married a woman of the same name.

I started this whole rant talking about my biggest influences being Craven and Lovecraft, which is true. My work, and my world view, borrow heavily from Lovecraft’s cosmic nihilism. And sure the Springwood Slasher may have haunted the dreams of my youth, and sparked my love of horror.  But Christine… Well, you never forget your first love.

Image result for arnie death christine

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Free on Kindle, 06/08/17

Free today on Kindle, 6/8/17
It’s a Bad, Bad, Bad, Bad World

bad-world-cover-kindle

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Flash Fiction Friday! Nix World

Nick leveled his gun on the banalampry’s cyclopean eye. He cocked the hammer and prayed to a god whom he was pretty sure had no pull in this madhouse world.
Our father who art in heaven, grant me some of that Knight’s Templar , warrior monk shit.
Click
The banalampry found amusement in his failed attack. Its laugh was  the clicking of cicadas.
If Nick had wielded a weapon of the real world the disappointing click would have been replaced with a satisfying bang, blam, or pop. But here in Nixworld weapons didn’t have names like Luger, Colt, or Glock. In Nixworld the tools of war had names unique unto themselves- Mind-Gnasher, Faun’s-Bane, Rusty Thomas. Along with these names came egos and personalities. Some weapons even had aspirations beyond their intended purpose. Nick’s revolver, Bob Ross,  was one such weapon.
“We’re in a tough spot here, Bob. Need you to spit out some lead.”
“I tire of painting in red, Nick”, the pistol replied.
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Wyrd Bookshelf

Expanding upon the idea of my Wyrd Horror readings, I’ve put together a new YouTube program called Wyrd Bookshelf.  In this first installment author James Chambers, comic artist Rick Marcks, and myself discuss the Image Comics hit, Wytches!

 

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Interview with Audible Narrator, Fred Wolinsky

bad-world-audio-book

Curtis: Hi Fred, you just finished up narrating and producing the audio book for my novel, It’s A Bad, Bad, Bad, Bad World. Can you tell us a bit about your experience on the project? 

Fred: I always start a new project by reading the entire book, studying the characters and the style, and marking the script with color codes for different voices, as well as other performance notes. I approach it like a theater director — casting (creating a unique voice and personality for each character), figuring out pacing and story arc, finding the emotional core, and planning the style. This book had some unique challenges which made it especially fun to work on.

The genre doesn’t fit one defined category. I tried to perform it in a way that would present its unique mixture of gritty thriller, graphic horror, pulp fantasy, and tongue-in-cheek humor all at the same time.

But the characters were what made this book especially fun for me to narrate. Each one was evil, corrupt, and despicable, yet they all had some redeeming quality. They were bad because they themselves were victims. As an actor, it is important to find the heart in each character you portray, no matter how evil that character may be, and find what motivates them, so that the audience (or reader) will be able to connect with each character. Your writing gave me all the tools that I needed. You skillfully wove a backstory into each character to give us insight into why they behaved the way they did.

If there is one thing that gives my narration a signature, it would be my skill with accents and character voices. I try to create a uniquely identifiable voice for each major character so that the listener will know who is speaking, even without the dialog tags. I use a combination of pitch, tone, cadence, personality, accent, and dialect. I have done dozens of different accents in my numerous prior narration projects, but I had never done a Rhodesian accent before. This accent had to be different from the more common British dialects (Cockney, Cornwall, Australian), but still definitely a British derivative. I listened to various clips on YouTube and studied the special qualities of that accent. While there is no way for a non-native doing a quick study to create a truly genuine accent, the goal for a narrator is just to capture the flavor and style of that accent to give the impression. I focused on a few specific vowel sounds, the pacing, the oral posture, and the cadence, and finally got into the flow to make him sound natural.

The biggest challenge, however, is when characters with different accents are in dialogue with each other, which happens in numerous scenes in this book. To perform an accent, I have to get my mind and vocal apparatus focused in a certain way. Switching back and forth in rapid succession often leads to bleeding and blending of one accent onto the other. That is where I had to stop and start frequently in my recording, doing several takes, and then edit it together to sound like it is one continuous conversation. Thank goodness for editing software!

Curtis: In my opinion the strength of Bad World is with the wild cast of characters. Did you have a favorite amongst them, or did you find yourself rooting for any over the others? 

Fred: As I said, the characters were what made this book the most fun for me. There were definitely some characters that I rooted for over others, but I don’t want to give away any spoilers. I would say that my favorite character was The Rhodesian. His passion, pragmatism, humor, and even dare I say his heart made him the most special for me.

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 Curtis: You are an Audible Approved narrator. What exactly does that mean? 

Fred: Audible Approved is a status that Audible grants to narrators who have passed a rigid quality review by the Audible production staff. As defined by Audible, “Audible Approved producers are the best audiobook producers in the business. Most have narrated and/or produced 25 audiobooks that are available on Audible.com and have a verifiable record of achievement in the audiobook industry.”

After a narrator has established enough of a track record, he or she can apply for this status. Their work is then carefully reviewed by the Audible production team to determine if they qualify. Once this status is granted, their future work continues to be monitored to make sure it remains up to the standards. Like other Audible Approved narrators, I am very diligent about Quality Control – making sure that the reading is accurate, the sound is clean with no background noise,  and the mastered recording has consistent sound levels. I also make sure it sounds like one continuous read, even though in actuality there are many retakes and edits.

I am honored to be included in this category.

Curtis: With so many narration projects do you have much time to read for fun? If so what are some of your favorite recent reads? 

Fred: I have a very diverse life. Audiobook narration is just one of many things that I do. I also freelance as a nationally certified sign language interpreter, teach speech and theater as an adjunct instructor at the local community college, direct and choreograph local theater productions, and even do some book editing and proofreading.

My available time to read for fun is sporadic. When I do, the genres that I lean toward are mysteries, theater autobiographies, fantasy, and any book with quirky characters and a unique sense of humor. Recently, I enjoyed reading the Jana Lane Mystery series by Joe Cosentino. It follows the adventures of ex-child star Jana Lane, who uses the skills she learned in the movies to help her solve murder mysteries. The author has a great sense of humor, knows the show business industry inside out, and creates a cast of wonderful idiosyncratic characters in each book. The fifth book in the series, “Rag Doll,” just came out a few months ago. The first book is “Paper Doll.”

Curtis: How about your favorite book of all time? 

Fred: That is a difficult decision, since there are so many books that are my favorites in different categories. If I had to select one overall favorite, I think it would be the “Tales of the City” series by Armistead Maupin – especially the first three books in the series.

Curtis: Your background is in theatre and puppetry. How much overlap is there between that and narration? Are there challenges unique to audio book narration? 

 Fred: There is a great deal of overlap. As I mentioned, I approach each book as a director approaches a play. I also create each character as an actor would, finding their motivation, creating their back story, and working from their emotional core. I even treat the narrator as a character. When I worked as a puppeteer, I created many character voices and learned how to have each character perform in dialogue with each other in a live situation (no opportunity for retakes and edits). This gave me many of the skills I use in narration.

After working for several other puppet companies, I created my own successful puppet theatre company (Pegasus Productions), which I ran for 10 years, sending out several troupes to tour the US, as well as creating and performing puppets for industrial films and TV commercials. I created soundtracks for each show, which gave me the recording and editing experience that is vital in recording and producing audiobooks.

There are also some unique challenges that makes audiobook narration different. The audio must stand on its own and present the story without the support of any visual performance. The narrator character takes the place of the visual performance, bringing the scene and the action to life. That voice and personality is different in each book and often provides my greatest challenge.

Curtis: A while back I wrote a horror retelling of Pinocchio  (Pinocchio & The Black Pantheon). Do you have any creepy puppet stories, or am I hoping for too much?  

 Fred: Unlike in horror fiction, in real life, puppets only come alive when a skilled puppeteer manipulates them. However, there are times when the puppet’s mechanisms malfunction. In those instances, they start moving out of control and create unintended creepy effects. The funniest story was when I was doing a marionette show of some fairy tale (I don’t remember which one). I was manipulating the prince character, and suddenly his head detached from his body. With no body to anchor it, the head was floating freely in the air. Every time the puppet moved, the head would lag behind, and then swing in front. I hope the kids in the audience weren’t too freaked out.

Curtis: What are some other books you’ve narrated that you think my readers might enjoy? 

 Fred: The book that I have narrated that I think would most closely align with the tastes of people who enjoy It’s a Bad, Bad, Bad, Bad World would be:

  • London Warriors by Paul Rudd, a dystopian thriller, with a cast of bad-ass characters, action, adventure, surprise twists and turns, and even some deep philosophical concepts. This was my most challenging book as far as character accents, including standard British, lower class London (varying degrees of “Cockney”), Cornwall, Irish, Scottish, standard American, Black urban American, Texas, Japanese, German, and Portuguese.

They might also enjoy:

  • A Song After Dark by Grant Palmquist, a dark coming-of-age thriller
  • Insanity Tales by Stacey Longo, David Daniel, Vlad V., Ursula Wong, and Dale T. Phillips, an anthology of short stories of murder, mayhem and madness
  • Insanity Tales II by Stacey Longo, David Daniel, Vlad V., Rob Smales, Ursula Wong, and Dale T. Phillips, another anthology of short stories of the macabre
  • Halls of Horror by Dale T. Phillips, a collection of short stories of horror, either internal or external

Curtis: Any advice for writers looking to make the jump to audio or for would be narrators? 

Fred: For writers: ACX.com is a great platform for matching up writers/rights holders with narrators/producers. They have wonderful tutorials and support. It is important to find the right narrator for your project. Every book has a different personality and different requirements. Each narrator has different skills and specialties. While one narrator may do a masterful job on one kind of book, he or she may be totally wrong for another book. Would your book be better served with a male or female narrator? Do you want a narrator who can do strong character voices and accents, one who has a rich velvety narration, or one who has great comic timing? Think about what other qualities would best serve your book. Give the narrator any guidance you think might be needed as far as character traits and accents, pronunciations, or any stylistic needs of the book. Finally, once the book is completed, put special effort into marketing your audiobook. You can use many of the same techniques you use to market your print and e-book, but there are also audiobook specific outlets.

For narrators: It is important to have some training or experience in either acting or public speaking. You also need to have some knowledge and practice in recording and editing the spoken word. Do some research and self-study, or attend some classes at the local community college or adult learning center. Listen to other audiobooks, make some practice recordings of books and determine what genres you best fit. Know your strengths and weaknesses. Audacity is a great totally free editing software. While it doesn’t have all the bells and whistles of the expensive platforms, it has more than what you need to get started in the field. In fact, still use Audacity as my basic recording and editing software. It is vital to get a good microphone and interface, have quality headphones, and a well-dampened acoustic space to record. You don’t need to spend a fortune, but you do have to make some initial investment in quality equipment. ACX.com has wonderful tutorials to help you put together your editing studio and guide you through the basic recording, editing, mastering, and quality control process.

Curtis: Thanks for taking the time to answer these questions. Please take this opportunity to shamelessly promote any upcoming projects you have. 

Fred: So far, I have completed 74 book projects. Right now, I am busy with a live theatre project, but am keeping my eye out for my next exciting audiobook project. I do have a few series that I have been working on that I anticipate continuing with future books when they are ready: The Doorways Saga by Tim O’Rourke, The Island of Fog series by Keith Robinson, and The Tales of Gaspar by Brian Michaud. You can find out more about my activities, hear some samples of my other books, and see my full list of credits on my website at http://www.FredWolinsky.weebly.com

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Wyrd Reading in Salem 1/12/17

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Flash Fiction Friday!

I’m trying a new thing here. It’s called Flash Fiction Fridays. Each week I’ll be posting a piece of short fiction for your reading pleasure. If you are a creative type feel free to leave your own flash fiction in the comments and link to your sites!

The Vampire Murders
by Curtis M. Lawson

Issac watched the beast through his sights. Its eyes were black holes, their gravity pulling the light and life from anything they gazed upon. Its fangs poked out from ebony lips in a mockery of a human smile. Razor blade nails jutted from each extended digit.

The vampire stood outside of the club, surrounded by posers and sinners. It pretended to smoke, letting the white ghosts of scorched tobacco drift from its mouth, but Issac knew it did not breathe.

From the fire escape he took his shot, catching the creature in the face. The projectile exploded on impact, releasing a cloud of garlic. The vampire fell back, hissing and screaming.

The monster’s human consorts scattered like so many roaches. Knowing the window was short, Issac ditched his gun and jumped down from his steel perch. The hunter landed on the monster and the two tumbled onto the filthy cobblestone.

Issac released a thin cable from his belt and wrapped it around his enemy’s throat. With swift, powerful motions he sawed at the beast’s neck until its head was no longer attached. Holding the severed head aloft, he waited for the monster to crumble to ash.

But it didn’t.

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Reading from It’s A Bad, Bad, Bad, Bad World

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