Well, perhaps a little clarification is in order. Kevin Shamel and I have shared a room. It was at the beautiful Edgefield Manor in Portland, Oregon, and it was the second annual BizarroCon.
Kevin Shamel is as nice a guy as you’re likely to meet. He’s an adult who has been able to hold onto enough youth-like whimsy to just make your heart melt. It’s amazing, really. When I first met him he was sporting a mohawk and I instantly thought that this cat was cool.
Kevin, author of the book Rotten Little Animals, is a new bizarro author, which is appropriate since his novella is under the New Bizarro Author Series imprint from Eraserhead Press. He’s also heavily immersed in the bizarro movement (which is evidenced by his ongoing list of author links at his website www.shamelesscreations.com). And, to just round it all off, he’s one of the most creative authors I’ve met. For example, rather than just read a selection from his book, Kevin gets the audience involved and puts on a puppet show. It’s pretty rad.
Kevin’s book “Rotten Little Animals” is pretty hard to explain. It’s your typical story of a boy and the animals he keeps company with. Okay, really it’s not. It’s more complicated. It’s a far darker and funnier satire than Orwell’s “Animal Farm”, and it’s a tale that will probably piss some people off. (I understand that there’s a boy that’s been banned from the Shamel household after his mother read the book. Ain’t that some shit?) If you’ve got an open-mind, pick it up. It’s a great little read. If you don’t, don’t worry about it. Just read the interview below and at least get a glimpse of the man behind the project.
Eric Mays: You’re the author of “Rotten Little Animals”. I read it. I liked it. But, I have to say…you really know the true intentions of animals. Tell the truth, are you really an animal yourself?
Kevin Shamel: I’ve been accused of it, this is true. I love critters. I spend a lot of time paying attention to them. I grew up near the wilderness and that instilled respect for our animal brethren. Plus, if I’m at a party or gathering, or any social event with more than three people I don’t know, I’m likely to find the nearest dog or cat and pal around with it. I like having my belly scratched. Lots of days I’d rather not deal with things except napping. Yes, I’m an animal.
EM: Thanks for the clarification. People wanted to know. So, how many rotten little animals do live with?
KS: I live with a rotten little Yorkie and a really rotten cat. The cat smells bad and pees on everything, so she has to live outside now. The dog, Luke, is the brother of Itsy, one of the main antagonists in RLA. Itsy actually lived with us for a short time. That’s WHY he’s the antagonist that he is. That rotten little bastard took a shit on my pillow after I scolded him for peeing on the floor. I usually live with only good animals, I don’t know what’s with these rejects who’ve been hanging out lately. But Luke rocks.
EM: Kevin, I gotta confess that this is a real twisted tale – like “Meet the Feebles”. It’s like this book was supposed to be for kids, but more as a cautionary tale. Is this based on true events? Did a traumatic animal encounter leave you scarred?
KS: Haha! Just Itsy shitting on my pillow. But I’d already cast him in his part before that incident. When I was four my dad put me up on a drunk horse. It apparently tried to shake me for a good long time, but I held on. I don’t remember it. I love horses and actually broke one, and rode a few that people couldn’t ride, growing up. I was scared of snakes for about ten minutes once, when I put my hand on one while sitting on a rock in a creek. It took off and I calmed down and after that, snakes were cool. My parents got a couple of dogs that had to “go live on a farm” when they did things like chew my mom’s drapes or dig holes in her precious grass. That actually just made me hate people more than anything.
I’ve sat in herds of deer and elk, surprised a black bear in a huckleberry patch when he was wearing more clothes than me. I’ve played guitar to a napping moose (she ran away when a cougar’s growl stopped my sweet song short and we both got the hell out of there). I was almost killed by fire ants but it wasn’t their fault. I played with a black widow when I was two, lizards then, too. I almost got too close to some buffalo when I was fly-fishing in Yellowstone, because of the fog. Nothin’ too traumatic. I’ve always had a cat or three living in or around my house. Mostly animals and I have always gotten along fine. Seriously, I like them more than people. That’s pretty much the point of the book.
EM: When I read authors, I get a feel for who their literary influences are. I’m not sure I got that from your book, as it was truly its own entity. Who are some of your big influences?
KS: This is a rough question for me. I don’t really KNOW who influences me. I don’t really have anyone in mind when I write. I can’t tell you whose style is mine. I haven’t read many contemporary writers outside of science fiction, and it’s really hit-and-miss when it comes to the classics. I actually avoid most of them. I like Shakespeare, Voltaire, stuff from the Shelleys and some Greek tragedies. I’m likely influenced now by bizarro writers since I’ve spent the past year reading only fiction from them, but since I haven’t written anything in nine months or more, I’m not really sure what sort of influence that will have on me.
EM: I’ve had the pleasure of hearing you read from the book. Well, read isn’t the right word, is it? It’s really more acted out, isn’t that right? How did the idea to turn this into a puppet show come about?
KS: That pretty well came about because of my introduction to the bizarro scene. When I was being considered for the New Bizarro Author Series, I had the extreme luck and pleasure to attend a performance by Eraserhead and Afterbirth authors. It happened to be held in my town, right down the street from me—literally less than a block away.
I saw Cameron Pierce perform his second installment of Meat Magick, Jeff Burk do his second or third Shatnerquake performance, Carlton Mellick perform his LARPers story, and Angie Molinar (who is the cover artist for Rotten Little Animals) read from Gina Ranalli’s Sky Tongues as Gina’s proxy. I learned a few things from attending this performance:
These are my people.
Readings don’t have to be boring.
I love Bizarro.
After that I went to Crypticon and saw Mykle Hansen hilariously control a crowd with bear facts and Angie in a bear suit, ripping his guts out.
When RLA was being published, I knew that I’d have to come up with some sort of performance so that I could truly hang with these amazing weirdos. There’s a puppet show scene in my book and I somehow came upon the idea to act that out. But since it involves lots of drugs and being inside a whale, I figured that wouldn’t work.
I chose a different scene, and realized that I’d need more actors than myself. That’s when I came upon the twist in the show. Making the audience act it out turns them into participants AND puppets. So my show is a reading, two puppet shows, and an experiment in audience participation. Oh, and it’s fun. Totally bizarro.
EM: Is a natural seque to Broadway in the future for “Rotten Little Animals” (ala Avenue Q)?
KS: I seriously doubt it and absolutely hope so, now.
EM: If RLA were a documentary, would you feel an obligation to have Morgan Freeman narrate the thing?
KS: I might feel obligated, but I’d shove that aside and go with Bobcat Goldthwait.
EM: While reading this book, there were some truly appalling moments. I remember numerous times laughing hard and then taking a step back and realizing that I shouldn’t be laughing. Quentin Tarantino excels at this…that uncomfortable feeling. Does this come natural to you, Kevin?
KS: It does. I cracked myself up and shocked myself sometimes when I’d write those things down. Writing is like that for me sometimes. As I’m writing it, I think, “Holy shit, did I just think that?!” If I weren’t so secure in the fact that everyone is as whacked as me, I’d scare myself sometimes.
EM: What are some of your favorite twisted animal flicks? And, how far “in-depth” did your research run for this book?
KS: Here’s something: I had never heard of Meet the Feebles before people started comparing my book to it. I still haven’t seen any of it.
I love The Secret of NIMH. They were my heroes when I was a kid. Animal Farm definitely came to mind when I wrote parts with Stinkin’ Rat or Filthy Pig, but they weren’t really influences on the story.
I wanted animals to be like people, only so that people would see them more as equals. But I specifically gave them some of the worst attributes of that equality. (And kept them real by doing things like paying mind to their lack of sphincters and need to poop every ten or fifteen minutes.)
I had to learn some rat facts that I was lacking. Julio in the story is a real rat. I learned about his habits from my friend Breezy. He died a month before the book came out, so I dedicated it in part to him. I had to figure out the differences between Blue and Stellar’s Jays and decide which animals are best suited to drive a van or a bus. But mostly my research was just paying attention.
EM: SPOILER ALERT. I know there are casualties in RLA. Are we ever going to revisit these characters again? Is there a back story that we’re not getting that needs to be explored? A prequel perhaps?
KS: I have ideas about both a prequel and a sequel. I actually ended it the way I did just for that. Kevin Donihe, the editor, was expecting a completely different ending when he first read it, based on what I’d pitched him. He told me the ending made him smile.
But yeah, there’s a few things left undone on purpose. Those animals have history. And Luke has some stories to be told. Not to mention the squirrels, crows, and raccoons that hang-out around here. And Fonzie the parrot...
EM: I’ve heard rumors (and seen pictures) of “Chuck Norris Beard”. When you were neck deep in this competition – Beardzarrocon – there were allegations that you may be part animal. Are you sure you’re not hiding anything?
KS: Garrett Cook is a werewolf!
Speaking of Beardzarrocon, I also just want to add that I learned today that Bradley Sands has been secretly growing a beard all along. And it’s threatening to overtake the Reverend Rage’s in strength. I am serious. Chuck Norris Beard is angrily suggesting we reenter the race to win the “Looks Most Like Chuck Norris Beard” category.
EM: You’ve got two kids, a wife, you’re active in the Pacific Northwest community. How does writing a book and promoting it factor in? Do you have any advice for aspiring writers who just think they can’t write ‘cause there’s no time?
KS: I like Jeff Burk and Angie Molinar’s early morning mumbles from just about every early morning I’ve ever spent with either of them and someone has complained about the two hours of sleep they got the night before: “Sleep is for the weak and well-rested.”
I spend a lot of time getting very little sleep. I also totally slack on housework. Those are the key things. Spend your time wisely. Does your floor need sweeping? Yes. Does your book need promoting? Yes. Which is really more important to you? My typical day is busy as hell. Make your day like that and you’ll win.
EM: What’s up next for you, Kevin?
KS: It’s to sell the remaining books I need to sell on Amazon. THAT is what I’m concentrating on. Then I’ll write more books! I’ve got plenty waiting to be written. Hopefully I’ll be attending Bizarro Bootcamp at the end of May. I’m sure there will be more about that as the time approaches. Right now I should probably take a shower.
Kevin Shamel is a great guy. He's a wonderful writer, and I'm anxiously looking forward to something new from him. His flash fiction appears at http://www.everydayfiction.com/ and is worth a looksee. If you're interested (and you should be), visit his website at http://www.shamelesscreations.com/ and learn about his new promotion. I'll just say this: it involves coloring books. C'mon, do you need more than that?
Next week, we were eagerly awaiting the Anne Rice interview. Unfortunately we'll wait a little longer. I cannot go into the details, but if you'd care to email me, I'll be more than happy to share. It is coming; it's been done; I'm just working on some details. HOWEVER, we have an outstanding interview with Mary Roach, author of "Stiff", "Spook", and "Bonk". It'll be in two parts, and you're not going to want to miss it. We talk zombies, Javier Bardem, and penis cameras. No joke.