At BizarroCon 11, I took a small workshop with legendary horror author John Skipp. With me in the class was a long-haired, barbate writer named Roland Blackburn. It wasn’t until a year later that I actually read his work and if you’ve read my review of his novella The Flesh Molder’s Love Song, you know how much I enjoyed it. From what I’ve seen, Roland has a very promising future ahead of him.
Here’s our interview. Enjoy!
ZÉ BURNS: When did you start writing?
ROLAND BLACKBURN: I did a lot of tinkering off-and-on for years; a thousand words here, a thousand words there, but I didn’t really get serious about it until 2012.
ZB: How did you discover bizarro fiction and why do you write in the genre?
RB: In an unconventional way. I was listening (still am) to The Horror Show with Brian Keene back in 2014 and he mentioned something called BizarroCon at the Edgefield Hotel. I live in Troutdale, a ten-minute walk away from it, and the idea intrigued me. So I signed up the day before and went by myself, having no real idea what it was about or really anything about it, and just got swept up in the momentum.
Bizarro itself is a pretty wide genre, and that’s one of the things I appreciate about it. There’s broad ground between Carlton Mellick III’s Tick People and Danger Slater’s Puppet Skin, but that’s the beauty of it. At the end of the day, I’m going to write what I want to write, and to stop and think Is this too crazy? shouldn’t be part of the creative process.
ZB: You’ve mentioned you’re a fan of 19th century literature. What authors and books from this period are your favorites? Have they influenced your writing?
RB: Charles Dickens is a master in any era. To think that his work was serialized still blows my mind; once those chapters were out there, that was it. Great Expectations, A Tale of Two Cities. A Christmas Carol could be the most adapted piece of fiction in the last two hundred years. There’s just no overstating his influence, even now. HG Wells is another author who basically invented an entire portion of modern culture, and Wells’s Law is something I try to incorporate in my writing today.
I’m also a big fan of the weird tradition in fiction, starting with Poe, obviously, and Machen. Bierce. Blackwood. That late 19th-early 20th period fascinates me in terms of the authors’ ability to create a sort of negative space around their respective horrors, surrounding the unnatural with just enough detail to chill the blood without ever quite tipping their hand. It’s almost a magic trick.
ZB: What is your writing process? Do you work from an outline or do you start with an idea and see where it takes you?
RB: I’m a big planner, right up to a point. Once an idea takes me, I’ll write out maybe half a dozen pages of subordinate ideas, concepts, characters, events, and central ideas. Some get really specific, and some are so vague that looking back I don’t know what I was even talking about.
Then I’ll put together a three-to-four page outline, scene-by-scene, revise it a couple of times until it seems coherent, and then let it sit before revisiting it once the next project’s over. If it still perks my interest, then I start actually writing.
There’s no substitution, though, for getting behind the keyboard and pounding out the words. I get up about an hour before everyone and try to put out five hundred to a thousand, every day. Sometimes it’s great. Sometimes it’s terrible. But the important thing is that it’s there.
ZB: What was the inspiration behind The Flesh Molder’s Love Song? How did it come together?
RB: I’ve always been a horror nerd, and Flesh Molder came out of a couple of different places: Cronenberg, Giallo films, 80’s Marvel comics, and 2009’s Repo! The Genetic Opera. I’ve always been a fan of body-horror as one of the things that truly makes me cringe, but I’ve also always enjoyed horror that didn’t shy away from its own absurdity. Below the surface, we’re all obsessed with our imperfections, and the corruptibility of flesh is, I think, a universal fear. Having a monster that could exploit this occurred to me, but then I bought into it as the protagonist.
It took a couple of incarnations before I settled on a version that I liked. Then I had the outline floating around almost a year (I’ve got a lot of them), but when Eraserhead opened itself up to submissions, I realized that it might be something they’d be interested in. Putting all of my focus on it, I pounded four drafts out in about three months, and then they picked it up.
ZB: What can we expect to see from you in the future?
RB: Shameless plug! I’ve got a full-length novel coming out at the end of the year with Bloodshot Books that’s a little more traditional horror.
The short version of it is that the lone witness to her father’s murder finds herself locked away in the county group home, with a dark force from her childhood coming for her and a hungry secret behind the institution’s walls. I’m very excited about it, and can’t wait for people to get a chance to read it.
Thank you to Roland Blackburn for his time! Check out his book:
The Flesh Molder’s Love Song, available from the New Bizarro Author Series