John Edward Lawson is founding editor of Raw Dog Screaming Press
(www.rawdogscreaming.com) and their imprint Two Backed Books. He spent four years as editor
of The Dream People online literary journal and has edited several print anthologies including
SICK: AN ANTHOLOGY OF ILLNESS and TEMPTING DISASTER. His own work has won the
2001 Fiction International Emerging Writers Competition and been nominated for the Bram Stoker Award, the Rhysling Award, the Dwarf Stars Award, and the Pushcart Prize.
During the 1990’s he kicked around in the D.C. industrial-electro-goth scene in the band Dead Letter Office and owned Rack and Ruin Studio.
Currently he is a full-time member of the Bizarro literary community, functioning as an editor and author of poetry, nonfiction, and stories. His collection DISCOURAGING AT BEST has just been released. Forthcoming projects include the novels SIN CONDUCTOR and RAGE: INTERNAL DEMONS and the screenplay SPIN, co-written with Robbie Ribspreader, which is currently in preproduction. He has also recently become literary director for the alt-culture site Vivianviva.com.
John lives with his family in the
Stephen M. Wilson: There are a lot of literary/art terms like Dadaism, Absurdist, Surrealism, Avant-garde, Slipstream, Fluxus, Magic Realism, The New Weird, etc.—define Bizarro and what sets it apart from any of these.
John Edward Lawson: At first glance it seems that bizarro is largely defined by its lack of rules and broad range of influences, which just leaves one even more confused. In some ways it shares a lot with the Panic Movement of the 1960s, although it isn’t so nothing/dada-oriented. They both share a lot of the same roots – drawing on the reality bending of surrealism and the bizarre interactions found in aburdism. And in a lot of ways it’s comparable to the New Weird, or Magic Realism, or Slipstream – bizarro often has an unusual take on genre fiction, with a strong literary bent. And like Avant-garde and Postmodernism there’s a lot of experimenting with form, although if you take the form experiments out of the first two genres you end up with regular literature, whereas bizarro stays bizarro.
Ultimately, though, I think bizarro is the logical response to technological evolution. Its true roots are in the 1800s, when inventions began to shape the world more quickly than our minds could assimilate them – instead of a new development every generation there was something new all the time. It’s said that society takes a minimum of twenty years to comprehend the capabilities presented by a new technology, but we’re in a place where the capabilities of computer technology double every eighteen months. The world holds no more secrets for us, but paradoxically things in the human sphere feel new and unrecognizable and very much out of our control, and anything is possible. This is the foundation of bizarro – be it the more humorous stuff, or the darker material I usually publish. Whether the opening circumstance operates in the parameters of science fiction, fantasy, horror, or straight literary, it will quickly spiral into unexpected territory for which the protagonist, and humanity in general, is ill-prepared.
Stephen M. Wilson: Name some pre-Bizarro artists in any medium that you would consider Bizarro before their time.
John Edward Lawson: There are a number who work(ed) in the manner I described above, without restricting their material to the guidelines of established genre, concerned with shifting realities. These would be authors like William S. Burroughs and Franz Kafka, who paved the way for us, or Steve Aylett and Eckhard Gerdes, who have both bee publishing for decades but have joined up with us young bizarro upstarts. In music there’s obviously the psychedelic stuff of the 1960s, Kraut Rock like Can, and the insanity of Chrome. I mentioned the Panic movement earlier…a member of that was renegade filmmaking Alejandro Jodoworsky who created the classics El Topo, Holy Mountain, and Santa Sangre. David Lynch, Goddard, Shinya Tsukamoto, the list goes on and on. Frankly, I think bizarro is something that’s been going on a lot longer than anybody admits or realizes, just in much more isolation. The advent of the internet has allowed bizarro artists to band together and lend bizarro as a whole momentum, as opposed to just the individuals.
Stephen M. Wilson: Film director John Waters also hails from
John Edward Lawson:
Stephen M. Wilson: What non-RDSP books are on your nightstand at the moment?
John Edward Lawson: Other than the 40-something manuscripts I’ve looked at this year, I’ve been reading a lot of Eric Miles Williamson, the Dwarf Stars anthology, Grape City, The Haunted Vagina, It Came From Below the Belt, Victorian Etiquette, and How to Draw Kung Fu Comics. Speaking of which, I’ve been revisiting the work of Wing Shing Ma and Tony Wong, the top two people in
Stephen M. Wilson: What’s your take on religion?
John Edward Lawson: Religion is like anything else, it’s subject to the naturally occurring insanity in animals. An animal has only it’s five senses to inform its thought process, and as those senses are housed in each individual animal’s body each thinks they’re terribly important—they seem to be the center of the universe, and rational thought goes out the window. Typically wants/needs based on “self-as-important” shape the implementation of belief systems in individuals, and they end up being as freakish in their approach to spirituality as they are in their approach to everything else. For me the discussion of religion can’t really get past the discussion of organics, because it’s our nature as living beings that shapes the final message/result of any potential glimpse into the divine. Sorry, I could rant forever on this issue. My take on religion personally is that adherence to any school of thought or moral code, I guess you’d call this philosophy, could be interpreted as religion since it governs how you go about living your life. It all depends on how many supernatural happenings you include in your world view. I consider myself pretty religious, but not in the populist sense of the word.
Stephen M. Wilson: In your mind what is most likely God, aliens or ghosts?
John Edward Lawson: Aliens and/or ghosts. Aliens, because it’s statistically impossible that there isn’t any other life out there; it’s equally improbable that it exists in a format, place, or time we’d be able to detect. Ghosts would be fairly nontraditional in my mind, because energy isn’t destroyed, it continues on. Of course, the energy contained in your body would be spread out by decomposition/your body feeding various organisms. Not too likely you’d be a sentient being at that stage, more like a broken record reenacting past actions. Or, maybe problems with time account for ghosts/hauntings…I’ve never believed time is as linear/sturdy as we like to think.
Stephen M. Wilson: You’re a stay at home dad. Does that afford you more time or less to devote to writing than if you worked a traditional 9-5 job?
John Edward Lawson: It depends. As commonly noted, children develop in phases of indeterminate duration. There have been times when I was completely unable to write—my son went through some illness early on and was unable to sleep unless somebody was holding him (usually me). Other times I could do plenty. Right now he’s too large, inquisitive, and dexterous to allow for any writing or typing when he’s awake, but he’s taking longer naps. One thing I’ve done for years, which has especially paid off as a parent, is waking around 4 a.m. to get in some undisturbed work before anybody else is up. I stopped working full time in 1998 to pursue a career in music (I’m a certified audio engineer), then later shifted to work as an author/editor. Back when I did work outside the house it was so mind-numbing I spent the whole time concocting stories to keep my mind active, so it wasn’t too different really.
Stephen M. Wilson: Boxers, briefs, or …?
John Edward Lawson: Au naturale. No garment is so fun to unzip as the birthday suit, nor is it ever so fun to play seamstress as with that form-fitting garment. It also has the dubious distinction of being the only edible outfit. I do have a soft spot for boxers—the dogs, that is. Nothing beats those slobbery jowls.
Stephen M. Wilson: Why poetry?
John Edward Lawson: Because it was a discovery for me. I was ignorant of contemporary poetry until I took over editorship of The Dream People online literary journal. When I found out people were still creating poetry, and it wasn’t the standard stuff they teach you about in elementary school, it was incredibly energizing and allowed my creative impulses to fire off into unexplored territory. Writing poetry is the single most important exercise for anyone who wants to be an author. It forces you to maximize usage of every single word, and allows you to look at words and structure in a different light than simply working in fiction/nonfiction.
Stephen M. Wilson: Got any new poetry collections coming out anytime soon?
John Edward Lawson: Nothing with an official release date. I’ve been slowly working on a concept-based art book/epic poem. The working title is The Red Wallpaper, after The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman. It’s a pseudo documentary that sort of takes the logic in my creating book-as-DVD novels a step further, in that it attempts to create a visual environment for the words, more like the reader is stepping into stills from the film as opposed to just having the standard reading experience. In the meantime, I’ve been building up a variety of poems, both published and unpublished, that might serve for another Troublesome Amputee-style release, blending genres and styles in a single volume.
Stephen M. Wilson: You’ve got great hair. What kind of shampoo do you use?
John Edward Lawson: Haha! A lot of people assume I get perms or use an extensive array of styling products or something, but the state of my hair is a mere matter of genetics. My heritage is West African, French, English, Scottish, Welsh, and American Native—Lenni Lenape, Pamunkey, etc. So it’s a bit of genetic improvisation. But I digress…the answer is that I use Nisim, a product developed to slow/stop hair loss. I was having some serious thinning/receding before that! Can’t recommend it enough. If I lose this hair nobody will recognize me at conventions anymore…
Stephen M. Wilson: Where can one get some good grub in
John Edward Lawson: For the best immediate selection you should stop at the
Stephen M. Wilson: Thanks for the interview and allowing me my little weirdness.
John Edward Lawson: The pleasure is mine; your weirdness is full of flavor. It's nice to know Doorways is open to so many varieties of darkness.