Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Ink-Quisitions with Alec Cizak


Q. Welcome to Ink-Quisitions, Alec. Your life in crime has taken you down a number of dark alleys—as a writer, an editor and a film maker. What first drew you to Pulp? And when was your first story in this genre published?
A. I’ve always been attracted to genre fiction, which is the slightly less-maligned designation for pulp. I wanted to write horror and science fiction when I was a kid. For whatever reason, I found writing hardboiled crime fiction came naturally. Probably because I wasn’t the most law-abiding citizen when I was younger. I like the language possibilities in crime fiction as well as the economic commentary the genre, when done properly, naturally makes. My very first professional publication was a piece of flash fiction called “Dr. Ziggy Kafka’s Terrible Mistake,” which appeared in a Texas publication called Altered Perceptions back in 1998.
Q. Nowadays you edit and publish Pulp Modern, a print anthology that runs twice a year. The tales in Pulp Modern range from hard-hitting crime and horror—to fantasy and science fiction. What aspects of these genres spurred you to create a publication as diverse as Pulp Modern? And how many issues have you published so far?
A. When I started Pulp Modern in 2011, there were no journals that featured all the major genres. Lots of good crime journals. Some horror, some science fiction, etc. But none that I could see that allowed readers a buffet of sorts. If you like the old pulps, chances are you like all the genres. While romance was definitely part of the classic pulps, I didn’t think it fit with the other genres, which tend to be more action oriented—not that romance doesn’t have action of its own!
The first volume of Pulp Modern had ten wildly disjointed issues. Those who witnessed the constant experiments I tried, nearly issue-to-issue, know what I’m talking about. I quit for a year and then, after communicating with Richard Krauss, editor and publisher of the outstanding The Digest Enthusiast, brought Pulp Modern back for a second volume with Richard in charge of ‘the look.’ The results have been fantastic.
Q. Folks like writer and educator Kate Laity—an associate professor at The College of St. Rose in Albany, New York—have a deep historical knowledge about crime in literature. While me, myself, and I know diddly and decided to toss our hats in the crime writing ring last year. But I imagine both the modern film industry and the Internet have contributed to significant changes in how crime, horror and noir are currently being shaped and presented.
How do you think the landscape has changed since your early endeavors in film and writing?
A. I think crime hasn’t changed all that much. Horror (films, at least), on the other hand, has gone through a major transformation since the late 60s, 70s, and early 80s. The boomer filmmakers didn’t like the end of Psycho and set out to make horror movies that didn’t talk down to the audience by explaining (or over-explaining) the horror. Today’s audience, for whatever reasons, doesn’t want any mystery in its horror product. If things aren’t overly-explained, many members of the audience will deem the film a failure. In my own attempts to write horror fiction, I’ve found a lot of editors have this same attitude. I wrote a story called “Cancers” that requires readers to put some things together on their own. No story I’ve ever written has gotten more polite, personalized rejection notices. And they all say the same thing—“We didn’t understand the end.” Well, I’ve wrestled with how much I’m going to insult my perceived readers. I refuse to make things too easy, too transparent.  If that means the story never gets printed in a journal, so be it. This trend toward over-explaining things is part, I believe, of a bigger movement toward literalism. I could theorize how this has happened: Reality television? Abridged attention spans? Social media draining the general public’s imagination? But I honestly don’t understand the shift.
Q. You teach college students. And I know from reading some of your short stories that you have a sense of humor. But you also write noir. Your latest novel, BREAKING GLASS was just released by ABC Group Documentation September 7th—and you’ve described this book as your attempt to give a “Woman from Down on the Street” a shot at redemption. You also kindly warned Facebook readers not to expect any Disney bullshit.
Despite the fact that BREAKING GLASS is not a Pixar production, you seem to have concerns that some artists might be taking dangerous ideas too far in terms of graphically explicit material. How are you addressing this philosophical issue in your own writing—and also as an editor?
A. I like dangerous ideas. Truly dangerous ideas, that is. Ideas that the average person might not want to confront. If you slather those ideas up with blood and guts, you limit the number of people you’ll expose those ideas to. I’ve long believed movies were more intelligent when the Hayes Code was in effect. This was a set of guidelines insisting direct depictions of sex and violence be avoided. Look at the film version of Double Indemnity—here is an adult film that can be showing on television with children in the room, and the children will have no idea what’s happening in the movie. The adults, meanwhile, will add up everything that isn’t shown or said.
The experience, I think, is more rewarding. I get a kick out of gratuitous sex and violence, but the older I get, the more I appreciate subtlety. I’m reminded of Tobe Hooper, who called the Motion Picture Association of America every day he was shooting Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and asked them how he could shoot one gruesome thing or another and still get a PG rating. The movie ended up being rated R, but it’s a classic example of a movie with almost no gratuitous violence that has a reputation for being extremely violent. That’s because the audience has filled in the blanks on its own. I like fiction that does the same. Any time I read a story where bone and cartilage are being described in macro-detail, I’m taken out of the story and into a medical journal. Another example along the same lines is when a writer insists on telling me the make, model, and serial number on a firearm. That’s not important to me. Story and ideas, that’s what we’re supposed to be dealing in.
I know it’s confusing for some writers who have submitted work to Pulp Modern recently. The guidelines say anything goes, and that’s true. There are subjects most journals consider taboo, and we don’t. However, if you’re going to write a story about, say, torture, focus on the ramifications of a world where torture exists. I don’t need six paragraphs describing a compound fracture. And yes, I’ve been guilty of this same thing in the past. Folks are free to call me a hypocrite. My only excuse is that my thinking and my approach to writing and storytelling has evolved.
Q. You’ve mentioned “taboos” and “ideas” that the average person might not want to confront. My short story, “Inside Pandora’s Box”—which was kindly published by avant-garde Red Fez, features a necrophilic psychopath. And I didn’t write the story to promote necrophilia—or to downplay the horror experienced by people whose deceased loved ones may have endured such acts. I penned this tale largely because the world is filled with people who do outrageous things most of us will never understand. Folks like Jeffrey Dahmer. When my college psychology professor announced she would be on the team of shrinks that had been approved to interview Dahmer and try to glean what made him tick my first thought was: good luck.
 Meanwhile, my favorite story by Story and Grit publisher Mark Westmoreland, entitled “Country Fucked” was turned aside a few times before the brave folks at Near to the Knuckle gave his graphic tale a home.
On the other hand, while I don’t advocate censorship, I must admit I have “my limits” as to the types and nature of the stories I write about—or that I would publish in the role of editor.
So although you embrace dangerous ideas, can you envision any subjects or types of tales you have or might turn aside? And do you consider the types of stories you sometimes write and publish as “thought experiments?” For example, are you trying to encourage people to exercise their analytical and critical thinking skills as well as their imaginations? Or do you tend to view stories containing dangerous ideas primarily as a source of entertainment? Or perhaps a bit of both?
A. I can’t think of any subject I would consider taboo. Having been raised by a wild pack of self-proclaimed intellectuals, there would have to be a deeper purpose to writing about a dangerous subject. Thus, a story about, say, child abuse, that revels only in its depiction of child abuse, wouldn’t impress me. What is the writer “saying” about this subject? That’s very important. I come from the Kubrick school of thought when it comes to what a piece of art should do. Kubrick said if a film has both form and function, meaning, it’s thought-provoking and entertaining, then the film is a success. This is very much how I approach writing. I want people who simply want entertainment to be entertained. If someone does a little thinking after finishing a piece I’ve written, even better. All that said, I’m not at all interested in a piece of fiction whose singular purpose is using suffering as a means to entertain its audience.
Q. In a similar vein what factors led you to name your blog, “No Moral Center”—I’m assuming this wasn’t an attempt on your part to promote world-wide anarchy? Especially since you have a reputation of reprimanding some of your college students each year for committing Plagiarism?
A. The name No Moral Center is a reference to the famous essay by Nietzsche, “The Madman,” from Live Dangerously, in which he suggests “God is dead”—this, of course, is the quote from this essay the average person knows and repeats without any concept of what Nietzsche was actually saying. Nietzsche says humanity has lost its moral center and, as a result, murdered God. I’m not pushing religion or anything, but I do feel there’s going to be trouble any time a society loses its moral center, whatever that moral center may be.
Q. Besides the August release of your novel BREAKING GLASS, you also have a collection of weird fiction stories called LAKE COUNTY INCIDENTS that’s expected to hit the streets in December or January. What kinds of genres, characters and topics will folks encounter in this collection? And how many stories does this book contain?
A. The stories in Lake County Incidents take place in three different northeastern Indiana towns I invented—Haggard, Lublin, and Pawpaw Grove. They’re somewhat traditional horror stories in that the horror is in the situation, as opposed to heavy reliance on blood and guts and other shock elements. I want to bring back horror that isn’t overly-explained, so the stories are focused more on the characters dealing with whatever strange element is introduced in each story. We’re living in a literalist age and it annoys the hell out of me. I like to think these stories would have been at home in the original pulps. About half of the dozen stories have been published in various independent journals. Most recently, a story called “Broke” appeared in Horror Bites and a piece of body horror called “Useful Things” will appear in the next EconoClash Review.
Q. So what’s next for you on the writing front? Are you looking to take a break after the release of two books in about a six-month period? Or are you hoping to ride this writing wave further? 
A. I’m working on the final book in the Unholy Trilogy (named after rock and roll’s unholy trio, Iggy Pop, Lou Reed, and David Bowie), which started with Down on the Street (named after a song on my favorite Stooges record, Funhouse). Breaking Glass (a song on my favorite Bowie record, Low) is the second in this series. The last book takes its titled from my favorite Velvet Underground album, Loaded (I’m keeping the actual song secret for the time being). The final book follows the adventures of Lester Banks in Florida, where he’s changed his name and watches over a massage parlor for a local gangster. I’m still working on plotting the book, so who knows when it will actually be written! In the meantime, I’m writing short stories to make sure the writing muscles don’t atrophy.

Anyone in the mood for noir can find BREAKING GLASS in a number of places including here on Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/dp/1948235242/?tag=dob-ws-20
You can also read Alec’s latest story, “The Bag Girl” for free over at Tough magazine, which is run by notable writer Rusty Barnes: http://www.toughcrime.com/2018/09/the-bag-girl-by-alec-cizak.html
Readers can also visit Alec on Facebook—or find him on his blog:



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