Way Beyond Bizarre: The Genius of Carlton Mellick III
If Austin was half as weird as it claims to be, there’d be a Carlton Mellick III statue at Town Lake, right next to Stevie Ray Vaughn. Mellick is a mad genius who constantly concocts the kind of literature that’s pregnant with weirdness, social critique, adventure, kinky sex and horror. A true virtuoso of the bizarre, Mellick currently stands as one of the top figures of the bizarro fiction movement. His work is a grimy, surreal thumb in the eye of mainstream literature and one book is enough to hook you and make sure you never return to the same bland, formulaic stuff you were reading before.
Shunned by mainstream libraries and corporate bookstores due to his violent, sexy, hyperactive imagination, razor-sharp witticism and unrelenting critique of corporate America, Mellick has proven that you can be a successful author on the fringe. With titles like "The Baby Jesus Butt Plug," "War Slut," "Razor Wire Pubic Hair," "The Cannibals of Candyland," cult favorite "Satan Burger" and "The Haunted Vagina," Mellick has created a considerable body of work to go along with his sizeable fan base. So, how did it all begin?
“Growing up I was reading Kurt Vonnegut, Kathe Koja, the surreal prose poems of Russell Edson, and the crazy splatterpunk novels of Skipp & Spector,” said Mellick, “But I wasn’t quite as inspired by fiction as much as I was in cult films like those from David Lynch, Terry Gilliam, Lloyd Kaufman, and John Waters. Those weird/cult movies that I loved I tried to find in the literary world but it didn’t seem to exist. Anywhere. At all."
Mellick decided to write books for his own amusement - sometimes during math class.
"By the time I was 18, I had written twelve novels. All of them were terrible, of course, but the point was just to entertain myself. I had no idea that I would make a career of it only five years later. It came as a very pleasant surprise. You don’t know how great of a feeling it is to be 23 and making a living as a writer. It takes most people half a lifetime to get to that point,” he said.
The fact that he was able to make a living as a writer becomes even more poignant when we think about the fact that his books can’t be found at regular bookstores, a fact that seems not to bother Mellick.
“Bookstores are going out of business so I don’t mind too much that my books aren’t on their shelves,” shared the author, “And even if most people were still shopping at brick and mortar stores I would not tone down my titles. If I had to use a safe, boring title I wouldn’t even bother writing the book at all. Subtle titles like “The Wind” make me want to shoot myself in the face. Luckily, amazon.com and independent bookstores exist. They’ll stock whatever I write. And those are the places my audience shops, anyway.”
Through the use of the Web, his own page and amazon.com, Mellick has managed to make a living and build a strong, receptive audience for his work. Furthermore, he did it as a pioneering author of a burgeoning, edgy literary movement that at times even defies definition and has no counterpart in the mainstream world.
“Bizarro is just weird fiction,” explained Mellick, “It is literature’s equivalent of cult movies. Outside of being completely out there, the fiction often tends to be campy, pulpy, absurd, and just a lot of fun to read. I can’t really compare it to any other writers outside of bizarro because bizarro fiction is one of a kind. The only thing I could probably compare it to in the fiction world would be children’s books. 'The Little Prince,' 'Alice in Wonderland,' 'Where the Wild Things Are,' 'James and the Giant Peach,' the 'Cat in the Hat'… those are closer to bizarro fiction than any other books out there. Of course, most bizarro fiction isn’t for kids at all. Books like 'The Haunted Vagina,' 'Ass Goblins of Auschwitz,' and 'Rampaging Fuckers of Everything on the Crazy Shitting Planet of the Vomit Atmosphere' might have fun fantastical plots with child-like narratives but they are far from kid’s books.”
As a way to fight the asininity of mainstream bookstores and the book business in general, Mellick and a few other bizarro writers have set up Eraserhead Press. The result of this endeavor is a bunch of satisfied writers and readers.
“Eraserhead Press is the leading bizarro fiction press. It is a team of five people who run the press 24/7 with no weekends or evenings off. But it is such an awesome job and everyone involved actually love working all day every day on this thing. I’m one of the people on this team, mostly doing cover design. I also help guide new bizarro fiction writers with their writing careers. The press is taking publishing in a new direction which has been proven more successful than taking the more traditional approach. Some of the authors we work with are making more money than they would through big corporate publishers. It has to do with paying higher royalties, focusing more on a niche audience, and giving the books crazy covers/titles that big publishers would be too afraid to ever go with. The readers are happier, the writers are happier, the press is doing great, and the only people losing are the big companies.”
With Eraserhead Press, the bizarro movement actually does something in order to battle the practices of corporate American that they so despise. Mellick, besides being wildly entertaining, funnier than almost anything out there and outrageously original, writes books that contain a good dose of social critique. Nevertheless, the author steers clear of moralizing prose.
“There’s nothing I hate more than preachy writing. If I have a message I’m trying to get across the last thing I’m going to do is bog a story down for its sake. I’m not the kind of writer who is 'serious' for the sake of being serious. If it’s not going to be fun and entertaining, why bother? Nobody’s going to read it. So I sneak my social critique in when I can, as long as it doesn’t come off as forced. I think the big problem with a lot of young writers these days is that they want to be taken seriously so bad that they spend too much time trying to force messages into their work rather than focusing on telling a good, entertaining story. If you want to really affect your readers you have to get over yourself first.”
Although he doesn’t take himself seriously, Mellick is all business when it comes to writing. “I only write in one way, and that’s marathon-style,” shared the author, “I come up with a title or concept, then I check into a hotel room and I don’t check out until the book is done. I write about 30 pages a day while marathon-writing. I’m all for the trial-by-deadline attitude of the pulp writers from decades ago. I edit while I write. The reason I marathon-write is because it’s the only way to really get into a zone where I completely forget where I am and become totally submerged in the story. I’m sure you’ve been to a movie where you were so engaged you forgot you’re in a movie theater. That happens to me while marathon-writing. The book isn’t any good unless this happens to me. I never outline my work before writing, but while I’m writing I usually create a dozen new outlines in my head every time I start a chapter. If I don’t have a hundred different endings in mind while writing I would probably lose interest in the project and move on to other things.”
Mellick will bring his unbridled passion to Austin this spring for the World Horror Convention April 28-May 1. The horror convention brings such names as Joe Hill, Brian Keene and Joe R. Lansdale.
"Bizarro fiction writers and publishers also go to these things. It’s a good way for new writers to break into the scene,” Mellick said.
So, what’s next in Mellick’s restless publishing agenda? “My next book is 'The Morbidly Obese Ninja,' which is kind of like an anime put into words. It is about a world of ninjas hired by corporations to steal company secrets. The titular character is incredibly overweight, but he can still kick a lot of ass. Later in the year I’m doing 'Seven Cyborgs,' which is a bizarro take on Seven Samurai. It is set in outer space.”
Alright, now go buy a Carlton Mellick III book and see what this author and the bizarro movement are all about. Love it or hate it, I guarantee you won’t be able to remain unresponsive to it.