I first met Jason Rizos through his beer at BizarroCon 11 where he has the challenging task each year of pairing his brews with bizarro novels. But his talents extend past beer, he is the author of Supercenter and Prom Night on the River of Death (see my review here).
I got the opportunity to sit down and ask him some questions. Here are his loquacious answers.
ZÉ BURNS: When did you start writing?
JASON RIZOS: In 6th grade, the Personal Computer first arrived in the classroom, IBM. 1987. There wasn’t anything to do on it but play Carmen San Diego, but we were apportioned time with it, so I made up a game for the word processor. I’d weave my friends into this narrative where they’d be constantly running from one place to another and hunted by this killer named “the Killer” and I’d have them murdered in increasingly creative and horrifying ways. The other kids were thrilled to be written about with more kids requesting they be added all the time. Funny, I would imagine parents today and all this hand-wringing over the murder and violence, but it was just a creative expression I was aping from Friday the 13th and Nightmare on Elm Street, whose plots mirrored that which I was writing. I do remember the title: “Endless Death.” Perhaps we are just as drawn to watching/reading as we are to writing about horror—to free ourselves from fear. Because I was scared as shit of Jason and Freddy Kruger.
ZB: Who are your influences?
JR: Vonnegut, Stephen King. But during college it was DF Wallace’s Girl with the Curious Hair and Miller’s Tropic of Cancer. But shit was firing off. We had Mystery Science Theater, Mr. Show, Kids in the Hall, Ren and Stimpy, The Simpsons, and Liquid Television. The film Waiting for Guffman stands as a huge influence over me, there is nothing better than straight satire like that, and it’s also Human Nature in conflict with the world of Entertainment, which I want to address later.
ZB: How did you discover bizarro fiction and why do you write in this genre?
JR: Cameron Pierce appeared on a podcast I was listening to back in 2009. I was new to Portland and making beer as a homebrewer in earnest and thought to myself, “good for you guys being writers, I know how hard that is, heck, I’m bringing you free beer. You can’t say no.” And Rose O’Keefe invited me to Bizarrocon where she already had a tradition of homebrewing beer pairs with books. Brilliant! Over the subsequent Bizarrocons I would end up doing book-beer pairings and as I was slowly finding my own voice as an author. I’ve found the community phenomenally supportive and unfairly victimized by cancel culture of late.
ZB: Prom Night on the River of Death has kidnapping, aliens, and cheerleader pirates. How did this story come together? What inspired you?
JR: The moral panic of Stranger Danger in the 90’s. My high school girlfriend’s mother would drive her minivan 500 feet through their suburb to a school bus stop to pick up her little sister rather than have the kid walk because kidnapping. Like with Supercenter before it, I find I’m most creative and productive when I have this polemical subtext. Supercenter, was a big fuck you to the corporate conglomerates and those people with blind, incurious devotion to their own cultural destruction. I found Prom Night very satisfying because pirates, aliens, juggalos—these accouterments of make-believe are embroidered in the imaginations of everyone, so why not let them spill over—strong, salt-of-the-earth realistic characters soberly dealing with very obnoxious circumstances bred out of make-believe. So you have all the Stranger Danger media-driven paranoia, but manifesting in a broken society that has abandoned its blue-collar labor base and forced them to participate in a humiliating economy of child abduction and quasi-religious grift. That’s my approximation of America, traditional, noble trades devalued or destroyed and we just tell people, that’s okay, rip each other off. Lie, steal, cheat. Join a company that degrades you and humanity itself. Find someone who embodies the worst example of all these traits and make him your President.
ZB: Many reviewers have had difficulty with the age discrepancy in the romance between the characters Chester and Leigh. What is your response to that?
JR: Chester bringing honesty and integrity to kidnapping is a joke, but again, that’s what is asked of us in a post-capitalist society, endure the immoral parts or bring balance on your own terms when asked to participate in an ignoble enterprise. Chester and his ilk are Human Nature in conflict with Capitalism. He is ever tumbling toward some kind of deeper human connection despite his circumstances. This could never be achieved through ordinary kidnapping, but that dynamic is askew when he kidnaps Leigh. The fundamental fact that she is an adult overcomes Chester’s pledge, due to his overwhelming desire to make that human connection, and, well, she is also an adult free to make her own choices. Because Prom Night on the River of Death is also a story about storytelling, about urban myth, about the legacy of folklore, collective fear and anxiety. Why wouldn’t the collective unconscious of society burble up paranoid fears of Stranger Danger when we have monoliths such as Disney churning out however many decades of stories with subtextual sexualization of characters meant to be identified with by children? Name a more universally memorable moment in children’s storytelling than Prince Charming issuing a non-consensual kiss to an unconscious girl. What kind of a psychological tapestry are we weaving in our imaginative fictional worlds when we tell stories like this? I wanted Leigh to be completely in control of her choices, and I am happy with where this led, narratively. I start the second page off with Buddy Holly crooning “I’m gonna tell you how it’s gonna be. You’re gonna give your love to me” and a near date rape scene that is an uninspired cliché of countless horror movies. So yeah, I signal early on in the novel that there’s something wrong with rape culture and set out to subvert tropes like the Damsel in Distress and the Mary Sue.
ZB: What can we expect to see from you in the future?
JR: I’m working on a middle-reader children’s book about kids solving problems and outsmarting adults. If a cynical treatise on Capitalism underpins my finished work, then I want to do whatever the word is for the opposite of that, with elements of the bizarre and surreal.
Thank you to Jason Rizos for his time! Check out these awesome books:
Prom Night on the River of Death, available from Rooster Republic Books
Supercenter, available from Montag Press