Amy M. Vaughn, bizarro author and friend of the blog, describes Douglas Hackle as “the best bizarro absurdist in the business.” He is the author of two short novels and two collections and was nominated for the Wonderland Award.
I discovered Hackle’s work in the Red volume of The Bizarro Starter Kit and soon encountered him on Twitter. When my first How To Grow Bizarro post came out, he offered his sagely opinion, which I included in Part Two. In that article, I described him a “big fish in the bizarro pond” to which he assured me that he was only “terror algae.”
Here’s our interview. I hope you enjoy!
ZÉ BURNS: When did you start writing?
DOUGLAS HACKLE: First or second grade. I think I wrote, illustrated, and stapled together at least several “books” before I was ten, most of them fantasy- and space-themed “choose your own adventure” stories full of monsters.
ZB: Who are your influences?
DH: Barker, Beckett, Borges, Brautigan, Carroll, Coetzee, Gaiman, Kafka, King, Ligotti, Link, Little, Lovecraft, Melville, McCarthy, O’Connor, Poe, Seuss, and Silverstein, to name a few writers. Miscellaneous other influences include David Lynch, Hayao Miyazaki, Sam Raimi, Takashi Miike, John Carpenter, Crispin Glover, Pee-wee Herman, Tim and Eric, Salvador Dalí, Joan Cornellà, Chucky, Chuck E. Cheese, and Chuck Norris.
ZB: How would you describe your writing style?
DH: I suppose absurdist is as good a term as any. For most of my stuff, you could also add “horror comedy” to that designation. So maybe neo-absurdist horror comedy? Works for me. But I suppose that phrase by itself doesn’t tell you much.
There’s a certain inhumanity to my writing, and by that I mean an intentional disregard for the usual human concerns that continually crop up in the works of most other writers on the planet—including many writers of weird/bizarre fiction—things like human connection, love, morality, ethics, justice, politics, redemption, perseverance, exploration of the darker aspects of humanity, the search for meaning/truth in the universe, etc. That disregard, I believe, opens up novel, engaging, entirely unpredictable narrative possibilities that are not attainable in more conventional/“human” modes of writing. And that’s not to say that such human concerns/themes are entirely absent from my writing, only that they generally take a far back seat to the absurd play of the narrative.
I’ve also described my writing on other occasions as being “recklessly silly,” and I think that’s still an accurate statement. Outright, unapologetic silliness—as an artistic tone or style—enjoys considerable more acceptance in the TV/film realm than in the world of prose fiction. In fact, for many adult readers out there, including those who seek out “weird” fiction, silly is a bad word. In book reviews, the term “silly” is almost never used as a compliment. For me, silly is not a bad word; I wholeheartedly embrace silliness, along with its close cousin, nonsense. I also increasingly find the act of making sense to be overdone and overrated.
And that’s okay. Because luckily for the readers of the world, there exists an overwhelmingly vast and constantly growing catalogue of books written by authors who went (and will go) to great pains to achieve acceptable levels of verisimilitude; plausibility of narrative; continuity of plot, setting, and character; believability of character motivation, etc.—in a word, books that make sense and generally avoid silly-level absurdity at all costs. In other words, the world doesn’t need me to write those kinds of sense-making books crafted with humanity and “heart,” etc. Other cats have that covered well enough. KnowwhatI’msayin’, my tiny little son?
ZB: How did Terror Mannequin come together? What inspired it?
DH: I began writing TERROR MANNEQUIN after being invited to submit to a Halloween-themed short story anthology. I’ve always struggled with writing prompts and predetermined writing themes, even very general ones. When someone says “write about this,” my mind immediately goes blank, and I start sweating profusely and biting my fingernails. So I racked my brain for about two months before I came up with a “Halloween idea” I liked. As it turned out, I came up with two such ideas. One was simply a fanciful image of trick-or-treaters riding canoes and kayaks on a stream to visit a fictionalized version of Frank Lloyd Wright’s famous Fallingwater home, which is built partly over a natural waterfall. The other idea was to have a situation where the custom of trick-or-treating gets inverted—where certain trick-or-treaters must walk door-to-door on Halloween night to hand out candy instead of receive it. So I began writing what I’d hoped would be a story of about 4,000 words that would include both ideas. The story quickly outgrew that target length, and TERROR MANNEQUIN the short novel came to be.
ZB: You’ve mentioned that you “write honestly.” What does that mean to you personally?
DH: To me, writing honestly means to trust my imagination—i.e., to trust the story my imagination serves up during the act of writing and to remain faithful to my overall artistic vision. That trust involves, for example, not sanitizing things to suit someone else’s sense of propriety or aesthetics. It also involves not shying away from writing passages that are, for whatever reason or reasons, difficult for me to write, or passages that, from a traditional narrative perspective, have absolutely no business being written by anyone, anywhere, EVER!
An example of the latter: At the end of a chapter in my first novel, The Hottest Gay Man Ever Killed in a Shark Attack, you’ll find the following sentence: “Though completely irrelevant to the story, seventeen minutes and thirty-two seconds later, every instance of the word ‘the’ that appeared in this chapter transmogrified into a tiny, blue, pineapple-headed bat that flew away to France to start a brand new life even though they all hated France (except for French fries, guillotines, and that place in France where the naked ladies dance.)”
Now, the second after my fingers typed that sentence, I could’ve very easily thought to myself, C’mon now, mang. You have to draw the line somewhere. No, seriously, dude—no good could possibly come out of keeping that sentence. Delete that shizz, ya JOKER!!!
But I didn’t. Because doing so would’ve been dishonest. All of that is to say that I’m an advocate of the old adage “write for yourself first”—or, as Joe Lansdale put it recently, “write like everyone you know is dead.”
ZB: What can we expect to see from you in the future?
DH: I recently started writing another short story after being invited to contribute to another anthology. Yet again, the story got away from me—big time. (Imagine me saying that with the same deadpan grittiness as Ash Williams when he says, “It came back—big time,” at the start of Army of Darkness.) Anyhow, as a result, I’m now nearly 25,000 words into my third novel, Zoltergeist the Poltergeist. I have no idea when I’ll finish it or when (or how) I’ll publish it, but it’s in the offing at least. I also hope to release a third short story collection in the near future, maybe at the end of this year or early next year, assuming the world hasn’t ended by then.
Thank you, Douglas Hackle, for your time!
Check out TERROR MANNEQUIN here.
Check out his collection Is Winona Ryder Still with the Dude from Soul Asylum? and Other LURID Tales of TERROR and DOOM!!! here.
Stay safe and sane in these crazy times!