How do you define “bizarro” fiction?
I define bizarro as something which defies logic, resists reasoning and thumbs its nose at mainstream rules, limitations and mores, particularly those of the mainstream. It’s a genre for people who worship the weird and revel in the gritty and grotesque. I was first turned on to bizarro when I decided to randomly click on an Amazon ad and ordered a copy of Kevin L. Donihe’s “Grape City.” The book brilliantly satirizes our consumer-driven drone-worker society in such a great way and it was also so inspiring to see that this young guy was able to write such an indictment of the inane world we live in and get it published. There are a lot of great practitioners of bizarro; off the top of my dome, I can tell you that Cameron Pierce, Carlton Mellick III, Alex S. Johnson, Shane Cartledge, G Arthur Brown and Zolton Komar offer bastions of bizarro. But it was Kevin L. Donihe who really got me because “Grape City” is such a dope book, to say nothing of his other masterworks (“Night of the Assholes” and whatnot).
Although I have written some straight bizarro stuff for Bizarro Central and Box of Bizarro, I don’t really consider myself a strictly bizarro author. I feel like a lot of the more recent bizarro avoids the literary to such an extent that they lose sight of the importance of having strong plot and characters. It becomes all about upping the ante instead of telling a coherent or valuable or substantial story.
This is why I love the new banner of Bizarro Pulp Press—New Edge Fiction. It more accurately represents what I am trying to do with my work. In my longer form work, I endeavor to straddle the blade and be nakedly honest. I want to crush the balls and inflame the souls of my readers.
Battering the Stem is seemingly concentrated on the struggles of a diverse community; how has your own experience influenced the development of your novel?
I write what I know or what I see and with Battering the Stem I think I’ve done both. I worked as a tool salesman in Brooklyn for almost six years and I had stops along Utica for all those years. East New York, Canarsie, Flatbush, I went all over the place, and the characters in this book are definitely emblematic of the people I met or the people I knew. All the colorful language, all the characteristic eccentricities, some of the fucked up stories from their lives, a lot of that found its way into the book.
I like to think of the book as a sort-of bizarre mash-up between Spike Lee’s “Do The Right Thing,” the Thomas Berger novel “Neighbors,” and the 90’s Bill Paxton movie “The Vagrant.” A big problem for me about my time working in Brooklyn was the comments I’d get from acquaintances. They’d say things like, “You keep your windows down? I mean, I know it’s summer, but you know how much violence goes on in broad day in BK?” And it pissed me off, a) because it’s a horrible stereotype and b) because it’s not an unfounded stereotype. What people don’t realize about Brooklyn is the great divide which exists between blacks and Jews. Most people wouldn’t have the balls to just come out and say it, but I’m gonna be real: The Jewish mafia is a thing and it’s all over. Shomrim. Look it up. And the other misconception is that Brooklyn is a dangerous place for a white person to be which is largely false. The problem facing these communities is among different ethnicities, not different colors. Black on black violence is a real conundrum in this city and it’s not just because of poverty or gangs, it’s also because of racism among different nationalities. The Jamaicans hate on the Haitians, the Haitians hate on the Nigerians, etc. So I definitely wanted to explore the ugly truth as well as the beautiful diversity in these melting pot communities.
Battering the Stem provides a lot of context for discussions regarding race and poverty. How does Battering the Stem approach critical social issues?
It approaches it with gritted teeth and curled fists and goes for the balls and the jugular. I don’t mince words and I’m not afraid of being un-P.C. This is a book about a real place and real, plausible people. I hope the narrative leaves people thinking about what they know about the world and about themselves. A big theme in the book is hypocrisy and double standards. Humans are quick to judgment. What I do here is shred every character of their facade and make their secrets nude and what we end up with is a message that’s hard for most people to confront—we’re all fucked up and we’ve all fucked up. There is no redemption without contrition. Unfortunately for the characters they don’t have time to ponder or process this since they have a sociopath up their ass for the duration. [Laughs]
How did you get involved in the film industry?
I went out and made movies, by any means necessary. I wanted to make films since I was a kid, so when I was twenty one a friend and I went out and made one. We pooled what little cash we had together and I got a plane ticket to Ohio and we started shooting this long short avant-garde flick I’d written called “Of Bitches & Hounds,” a story about an unhinged chick who buys this white dude off a black slave trader and takes him home and keeps him as a “pet.”
We ran out of money halfway through until, one fateful night, I was staggering around drunk in the rain and found this little deli that had left its back door open. I’m ashamed to admit it now, but I robbed the register and we had the cash to finish what we’d begun. But this should be a lesson in karma akin to the narrative of BTS—after we shot it on stolen money, it took us more than three years to get it edited together because a no-nothing music video editor took it on and held it hostage for a year.
I’ve worked on other stuff with my trusty editor James Neyman, a filmmaker in his own right whose movies “The Slasher,” “Irish Car Bomb” and “On The North Coast” I’ve starred in. I’ve done some screenwriting touch-ups for him as well, but mostly the work just consists of me going batshit as underdog characters—a fat, belligerent office worker, a wanna-be gangsta pimp and an embittered detective. They’re cute little B-movies, some of them with incredible production value given the virtually non-existent budgets. You can check them out through WLFK Productions or on Amazon.
Has your experience with film played a role in your creative process with Battering the Stem?
No doubt, yeah, the experience of screenwriting and visualizing certainly has an effect on the way I write anything. I write visually and with an ear for dialogue. I also like to keep it short and sweet. With the exception of works by Harry Crews or Joe Lansdale or, say, “Of Human Bondage,” I don’t believe in long-winded books. I hate Stephen King’s novels for this reason, to say nothing of your average paperback novelist. I like to get in there, tell the reader what needs to be said and zip out of there like I’m robbing their deli.
Everyone is going to want to know how you met the Soskia sisters…
I reviewed a screener of their first movie, “Dead Hooker in a Trunk,” and I was so taken with how much awesome shit they were able to get on the screen with no money but no shortage of creativity and passion. They loved my review so much that they praised my praise [Laughs] and we just stayed in touch and kept talking shop over the years. Eventually I wrote a short story collection, which I’ve since abandoned, and I asked them to read it and tell me what they thought of it. That’s why you see that “Praise for Bob Freville” on Battering the Stem’s jacket because that’s what they think of my writing. They’re the coolest chicks in the world and I really hope they get to make their vision of “Deadpool 2” a reality.
Does music influence your creative process?
I’d say it plays a crazy instrumental role in my writing process. I recently wrote a first draft of a script for an actor friend to star in and the entire project hinged upon these old public domain blues songs. Every project has its own soundtrack and, more often than not, that soundtrack is dropped right into the narrative as it plays out.
In the case of Battering the Stem, you’ll see the allusions to Howlin’ Wolf and his song “Evil.” That song was almost the singular impetus for me to write this in the first place. I heard that song after many years and it just clicked, I saw Edgerin coming to life in my imagination and that song being his theme.
All my projects have a few artists in common, ones that I almost always spin when I’m working—Tindersticks, The Killer & The Star, Crosses, The Doors, Buffalo Springfield, The Yardbirds, satanstompingcaterpillars, Marilyn Manson, Howlin’ Wolf, Ledbelly, Leonard Cohen and deftones.
What are you reading these days?
I haven’t been reading much, to tell you the truth. I’m stone broke, living in a house with family members who are on a fixed income. My days mostly consist of hustling, selling old records, turning in beer cans and praying for a windfall. The last books I read or, rather, re-read were “The Gospel Singer” by Harry Crews and “Sex in the Hood 2.” I’m trying to start Capote’s “In Cold Blood.”
What does the future hold for Bob Freville?
Hopefully some money or a decent day gig. Hopefully another finished book. Hopefully a blowjob. Hopefully there’s a future at all.
Bob Freville is a writer and filmmaker from New York. His work has been published by Bizarro Central, Creem Magazine, Box of Bizarro, Akashic Books and many others. His debut film, “Of Bitches & Hounds,” is a cult favorite on Berkeley TV and his follow-up, “Hemo,” is available from Troma. Freville lives in a crummy apartment overlooking a crumbling Babylon. This is his first book.
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