That’s all bizarro novelist Eric Hendrixson needs to sell to keep his writing career going. The Arlington author released his book Bucket of Facelast October as part of a deal with Eraserhead Press, a small publishing house based in Portland, Ore.
The novel, revolving around a doughnut shop worker who “finds he is the target of a seasoned hit-tomato” after stealing a briefcase full of money in a shootout between two members of D.C.’s fruit mafia—-a banana and an apple—-is part of Eraserhead Press’ “New Bizarro Author Series.”
“This is the author’s first published book,” writes Kevin L. Donihe, Eraserhead’s editor in Bucket of Face‘s introduction. “We’re testing the waters to see if this author can find a readership…The success of this author is in your hands. If enough copies of this book aren’t sold within a year, there will be no future books from the author published by Eraserhead Press.”
Hendrixson says he has to sell 200 books by this November. As of April, he’s halfway there.
Bizarro, for the uninitiated, is one of literature’s lesser-known genres. Bizzaro Central, a website devoted to such things, describes the style as a “category of fiction dedicated to the weird, crazy, cult side of storytelling that has become a staple in the film industry…but has been largely ignored in the literary world, until now.”
Or, as Eraserhead Press’ Rose O’Keefe puts it: “Basically, if an audience enjoys a book or film primarily because of its weirdness, then it is bizarro. Weirdness might not be the work’s only appealing quality, but it is the major one.”
Hendrixson admits that the genre’s marquee works, such as David Agranoff‘s Punkupine of the Apocalypse (included in Bizzaro Central’s “Bizarro Starter Kit“), don’t get a lot of mainstream coverage. “You don’t see these things reviewed in The New York Times or anything like that,” he says.
Still, Bizarro does have its followers. Hendrixson singles out Carlton Mellick III as an author who’s making a living off the style. “He’s been doing this for quite some time,” Hendrixson says. “He sells a lot of books to a particular fan base…he considers himself a sort of cult author.”
Mellick, whose two upcoming books (according to his website) are titled Sea of the Patchwork Cats and The Morbidly Obese Ninja, describes his work as “trashy squishy child-like novels set in surreal fantasy versions of consumer America, with an emphasis on nightmarish absurdities, punk perversions, and social satire.”
Hendrixson, however, says his work is mostly a “Bizarro noir novel.” “I always get stuck trying to explain it because so many bizarre things happen,” he says.
Hendrixson says the original idea for D.C.’s fruit mafia (created when a police officer spills a vial of silver pollen) came while listening to the Steve Martin record Let’s Get Real Small—-specifically the line where Martin says “these two fruits walk in…”
“I had been listening to that CD and I think that joke was bouncing around in my mind,” Hendrixson says. The living fruits showed up in a story Hendrixson was writing for an author’s group, and his peers encouraged him to follow up on the idea.
Hendrixson, a court reporter, has previously published poetry, though he says he’s worked on novels before. He hadn’t planned to make his living off the writing. “It’s just something you do,” he says.
The idea for Roma, the “hit-tomato” pursuing the main character in Bucket of Face, was just a logical extension of the fruit mafia idea. “It just seemed to make sense to make him a tomato since tomatoes are not always considered fruit,” Hendrixson says. “He would overcompensate for that by being excessively violent.”
Eraserhead liked the premise, and tapped Hendrixson for the New Bizarro Author Series.
Hendrixson says if he makes his 200 sales, he’s already got another novel bouncing around in his head.
It’s a revenge story told with a traveling carnival. There won’t be any talking fruit, but the novel will start when a carnival worker gives birth to a child “made completely out of cotton candy.”
“As you can imagine, this presents some difficulties in that young child’s life,” Hendrixson says.