Michael Frissore is not your average writer, he’s more of a comedian/writer/philosopher with a witty outlook on life. He’s published two poetry chapbooks colorfully titled Poetry is Dead and Long Blue Boomerang, and an e-book called The Thief. His latest work, the short story collection Puppet Shows, shows Michael’s dark off-kilter world. The weird interactions in these stories make you wish you could actually live out the scene in real life. He’s currently working on a novel about professional wrestling, and living in Arizona with his wife and two children.
Zouch: You have a very dark comedic spin; where did that come from?
Michael Frissore: I don’t know. There’s something about the combination of laughter and appalled holy-shitness, from Jonathan Swift’s “A Modest Proposal” back in the 18th century; to when I was eleven, just days after the Challenger blew up, and kids were saying, “What does NASA stand for? Needs Another Seven Astronauts.” I think it’s healthy to laugh at those things. Not maniacally, but with a cathartic chuckle. And I will, here and there, sprinkle my writing with this sort of humor. For example, I’ve long wanted to publish a fiction chapbook called “Message in a Bottle: The Fatty Arbuckle Story,” but it probably won’t happen.
Also, my parents hiring John Wayne Gacy for my fourth birthday party might have a little to do with it.
Z: How much of your fiction work is rooted in non-fiction, if at all?
MF: My personal favorites are based on no reality whatsoever. They’re cartoonish stories about sock puppets or a barbershop inside a whiskey bottle. I haven’t based too much of my fiction on real life unless it’s something that’s absurd about my life itself. I think that when you write fiction, people tend to read too much reality into it. Maybe that’s why so much of my fiction focuses on the insane.
Puppet Shows, my wonderful short story collection from Writers AMuse Me Publishing, contains two stories based on non-fiction, and even those are exaggerated versions of real life. There’s “Monster in the Closet,” which is self-explanatory, and “The Lookist,” which is based on my inept social skills. Those also happen to be the two stories in the book that I wrote most recently. As I get older, and I think this happens with a lot of writers, more of my work will tend to be based on non-fiction. Then, when friends and family members say, “Is this character me?” I’ll finally say screw it, “Yes. That’s you,” and they’ll never talk to me again. It’ll thin the herd. Maybe that’s what writers are doing when they write from real life, just getting rid of people.
I’m kidding, of course. And, by the way, my parents did not have Gacy perform at my birthday party. We were in Boston; he was in Chicago. The travel expenses would have been ridiculous.
Z: You became an accidental poet, correct? How did this come to pass?
MF: Poetry has been something of a contagion for me. I don’t read much of it, but when I do, I want to write it. It’s like a virus. The closest thing I can compare it to is syphilis.
I was part of an online writing community years ago called The WRIToracle. The poetry that people posted was really good, and it inspired me to write it myself. Up until then, I had been writing these 200-word fiction pieces. Poetry has since bled through here and there. A couple of years ago I went through a haiku phase. Where the hell did that come from? I don’t know. Recently I was into writing parodies of poems I read on this one online journal. It comes and goes, but I never thought I would publish two poetry collections. I mean, who am I? Jewel?
Alas, I have officially retired from poetry. It’s “official” because I contacted all of the poet laureates, including “Leaping” Lanny Poffo, and let them know I will no longer be a poet.
Z: Do you prefer poetry or prose?
You probably want more than that. I don’t normally read poetry unless it’s a dirty limerick or lyrics to a Christopher Cross song. Ron Bennington, a very funny comedian and radio host, said that there are probably more people writing poetry today than reading it. That’s likely true, and that was part of the inspiration for the title of my first collection, Poetry is Dead. There are, however, some online journals that publish really good, unboring poetry. And all of them, coincidentally, have published something of mine.
Ultimately, I love short stories, particularly humorous ones, like the work of George Saunders, or going back to Woody Allen and Donald Barthelme. I started collecting old humor books published in the 40s with things by O Henry, Twain, Lardner, Thurber, Bret Harte (not the wrestler Bret “the Hitman” Hart, who is also a great writer), Dorothy Parker, S.J. Perelman. There will always be something great to me about short, funny prose, or a collection of it.
However, when you publish a collection of stories (Puppet Shows, available at writersamuseme.com and on Amazon), you learn that not everyone enjoys short prose. They want novels. If a story ends after 10 to 20 pages, readers start to panic and wonder where the characters went. So novels are in my future, if I know what’s good for me.
Z: You’ve written a few books, can you tell us more about them?
MF: I had two poetry chapbooks published: one Poetry is Dead from Coatlism Press in 2009, the second Long Blue Boomerang, from Heavy Hands Ink Press in 2011. The latter is available on Amazon and lulu.com; the former is a collector’s item. You can still get it somewhere maybe. Heck, I’ll send digital copies of both books to anyone who wants to review them somewhere. These chapbooks are poetry for people who hear that word and roll their eyes or want to punch a cat.
Two years ago the good people at Untreed Reads published an ebook of mine called The Thief, which is available on Amazon and dozens of other places for a measly 99 cents.
Then last November Writers AMuse Me published my darling short story collection, Puppet Shows.
Z: What was your favorite book so far and why?
MF: As much as I love Long Blue Boomerang and The Thief, both available on Amazon.com, Puppet Shows is special to me. All I’ve ever really wanted as a writer is to publish a collection of my stories. Whatever else happens later on will be the cherry on top of the delicious sundae that is Puppet Shows. The reviews, thus far, have been great. “A magical ride,” “Completely entertaining,” and “a deliciously twisted collection,” are just a few of the quotes that stick in my mind. There was another reviewer who said, “Buy it. Read it. Laugh a lot.” So go do that now. Zouch won’t mind.
And WAMM, my publisher, has been fantastic. A lot of the reason I’ve had as many reviews as I have is from the support system they’ve built there and the relationship between publisher and author. It’s a wonderful little family and a very talented group of writers.
Z: What was your favorite piece and why?
MF: They’re all my babies, the stories in Puppet Shows. That’s like asking the old lady who lived in a shoe who her favorite shoe child is. There are six or seven stories that I love especially and always wanted to be in this collection. I love “Dinner at Wither Port” because it was the first story I ever wrote. I love “Heckle” simply for the nasty talking monkey. “The Adventures of Root Beer Float Man” and ”Treasure of the Urinal Cake, both for the titles and the stories themselves. “The Seven Stages of Sorrow,” is another one; although, I sometimes wish I’d stuck with one of its original titles, my favorite being “The Girl in the Ultimate Warrior Jacket.” Years ago I saw a woman in a supermarket wearing an Ultimate Warrior jacket, and I just had to write about her. She’s also in a poem I wrote called “Man Wearing Zubaz,” which is in Long Blue Boomerang. She’ll never know how inspirational she was. Anyway, the story “Game Shows,” which isn’t even one of the seven, was nominated for a Pushcart Prize, which I thought would never happen with the goofy shit I write.
I’ve published a couple of other stories since Puppet Shows came out that I also love. “Flipper Hands McCreary” is at an online journal called Unlikely Stories. I’m hoping that N.C.I.S. will make that one into an episode, but we’ll see. Then “Trevor Talks” is in an anthology called “Wake the Witch.” That piece was my second talking penis story. The first one being “Nigel,” which was part of a trio of shorts called “Dicks, Nipples and Sylvia Plath.” That one’s also a favorite (See how hard it is to pick favorites?) because it was in the dirty humor issue of Monkeybicycle a few years ago alongside huge comedians, including Sarah Silverman and Patton Oswalt. David Cross wrote the introduction to the issue. It’s still bizarre to me that I was in that. I even acknowledged Eric Spitznagel in Puppet Shows. He was the guest editor of that issue, and I’m eternally grateful to him for including me.
Z: Where do you find inspiration?
MF: I find my inspiration, of course, in the loving eyes of my wife and children. And I never sit down to write without first singing to them the Chicago classic “You’re the Inspiration,” because Peter Cetera wrote it much better than I ever could.
I love writing. That’s the inspiration. I love writing humor, trying to make people laugh just from words on a page or screen, whether it actually works or it’s a glorious disaster. Whatever I’m writing, I like seeing how amusing I can be, even if I’m just amusing myself.
And Thomas Edison said that genius is only one percent inspiration, anyway. I’m far from a genius, but that’s one lousy percent. The rest, he said, is perspiration. My wife will tell you, I perspire like nobody’s business. I’m like Albert Brooks in Broadcast News. So who needs inspiration when you’ve got buckets and buckets of sweat?
Z: Have you always had a subversive sense of humor?
MF: Yes, since my teens anyway. I grew up on the stand up of Bill Hicks, Sam Kinison, Carlin and Dice; watching Monty Python and The Young Ones on MTV. I was into rap music mainly for the subversiveness and the comedy of some of it – N.W.A., Public Enemy, Ice T, Slick Rick, 2 Live Crew. The books I read for pleasure were things like A Clockwork Orange, Portnoy’s Complaint and American Psycho.
I went through a period when I would only watch hilariously subversive movies, and if I could recommend one, if you take nothing else from this interview, go get The Sinful Dwarf on DVD, starring the late, great and incomparable Torben Bille as Olaf. It is The Godfather of despicable little people films, and I still want to make a musical out of it some day.
Z: What are you working on now?
MF: I’m writing my first novel. It’s more serious than the stories in Puppet Shows, but there’s some humor in it. It’s about professional wrestling, which in itself, to many people, I know is quite humorous. I chose wrestling as a subject because, for me, along with comedians, pro wrestlers are the ultimate entertainers. I became a fan of both stand-up and wrestling at a very young age, and have always sat in awe of even an open-miker or a young kid wrestling in a high school gymnasium or Elks lodge for a few bucks. It takes courage and talent far greater than with anything else as far as I’m concerned.
I wrote a series of articles for Flak Magazine about pro wrestling a few years ago. Those are actually my favorite non-humor ones, though they’re no longer online. Weldon T. Johnson, who co-wrote Chokehold with the late wrestler Big Jim Wilson, emailed me after the piece was published to congratulate me on the “thoroughly researched and well-crafted series of articles.” That meant a lot to me because I loved Chokehold and I had quoted it in the piece.
I also had a couple of people, including the editor of Flak, suggest I make the series into a book. I entertained that idea for a couple of weeks and found it impossible for a non-fiction book, at least for me. Others have written tremendous non-fiction books on the subject. I later came up with this idea for a novel. It’s been slow going, but I’ve enjoyed writing it, and hopefully, this novel will serve as a lovely homage to wrestlers everywhere.
Z: Who have been your biggest influences – they don’t have to be writers (don’t feel pigeonholed.)
MF: Woody Allen. The Complete Prose of Woody Allen might be my favorite book ever, and “The Kugelmass Episode” my favorite short story. As old and unliterary as it makes me sound, the comedy of the Marx Brothers, W.C. Fields, Python, and Rik Mayall influenced my fiction, or at least the stories in Puppet Shows, more than any “literary” writers have, just as something like The Opie and Anthony Show did my non-fiction in lieu of a Lewis Gizzard or Erma Bombeck.
O&A have had a fairly large influence on my writing, much to the dismay of family and friends who have read my work. I’ve been listening to them at my regular jobs, often for four hours a day, for years and it just seeps in, whether I want it to or not. When I was writing for The Buzz Media, Slurve Magazine, Flak, or just what I write on my blog or the things I tweet, a lot of it is influenced by that show.
This is not to say that I’m not influenced by literary fiction writers. Chuck Palahniuk’s novels and John Kennedy Toole’s A Confederacy of Dunces are big ones for me. I think their influence shows a little in the novel I’m writing now. I’m also finding that, maybe because I’ve set this novel in Boston, I’m hearing the voices of some of my favorite Boston comedians in the dialogue – Robert Kelly, Bill Burr, Nick DiPaolo. So stand up continues to influence me just as O&A do.
By the way, another of my favorite short stories was written by a comedian: Jim Norton’s “Pumpkin: A Love Story,” which was in his book Happy Endings.
Z: What is your writing process?
MF: I suppose it would behoove me to have a process. I’ve long tried to be disciplined enough to have a “process,” but things get in the way: parenthood, work, Twitter. That damn Twitter. I should be writing, but instead I’m tweeting a few more #DepressingSitcoms like “My Three Miscarriages” and “Head of the Journalist.”
Every May I go to this weekend writers’ workshop in Tucson, and I always leave inspired and ready to wake up every morning at 4:30 and write for an hour or two before work. It rarely ends up happening. That might be why my writing is so bat shit insane. There’s no process. There’s no structure. It’s just madness.
Z: When is the moment that you are most excited about writing? Is it a fresh page on a notebook, a rumbling in your belly? What is it? What does it feel like?
MF: The page isn’t fresh. It’s empty and blank. And the rumbling is always hunger, and I eat until I’m too tired to write anything. I guess the most exciting thing is when I get an idea, but then it’s like, shit. This idea won’t just appear on the page. I have to write it now.
And now, with writing a novel, it’s never-ending, like that NAMBLA movie with the flying dog. Instead of a 50-word poem, or a 3,000-word story, I have to keep going. How do people do this? But it’s fun. All of it is fun. What does it feel like? I’m no good at describing feelings. That’s why I write humor.
Z: If you were to impart advice to other writers and poets, what would you…
MF: Well, have a process, for one. And read. Read a lot. Read books like they’re going out of style. And write. Write your crap and then edit it a lot to make it less crappy. And if you’re one of those writers who writes and is afraid to show anyone or submit what you’ve written because of the inevitable rejection, stop it. Find places to submit to. Most of them will reject you, but most places accept less than five percent of what they read. And don’t send back angry emails when you get rejected, because that makes you look like an asshole, and editors talk to each other.
Rejection is inevitable, and not a bad thing. I got a rejection letter seven years ago that I still remember because it simply said, “Pulling things from people’s asses is not our forte. We’ll pass.” I loved that, and I replied to them, “Best rejection ever!” This journal no longer exists, and maybe if they yanked things from keysters every now and then they’d still be in business. That story was called “Treasure of the Urinal Cake,” and it was later accepted by a U.K. journal called Kerouac’s Dog Magazine. That was after me cutting the word count of the story in half, leaving the ass tugging bit in, of course. That’s another thing: editing. Edit like a son of a bitch. They say in writing you have to be willing to kill your baby, and they don’t mean in a Casey Anthony/Susan Smith/Andrea Yates kind of way. I took out half that story, which I worked just as hard on as the rest of it, and it will never see the light of day.
I had another rejection in which the editor read three of my stories and sent me his comments within the text, and somewhere amid the third story, he had typed “ANOTHER AIDS JOKE!?!?” I guess I had written an AIDS joke in each of the three stories I submitted. There’s that dark comic spin we started with. But all three of those stories were later accepted elsewhere, AIDS jokes intact. And three of the four stories I’ve mentioned are in Puppet Shows.
Here’s one more rejection story. When I was submitting my short piece “The Thief,” I received a rejection from some online journal. The editor said he absolutely did not like the ending. It was forced and whatever else he said. I sent it to Untreed Reads and they were blown away by the ending. They loved it. So this short story ended up an ebook, now in italics as The Thief, sold on Amazon. I’ve only made a few bucks from it so far, but it’s a few dollars more than if that other editor had taken it.
The moral is you never know how people are going to react to what you write. Some will like it, others won’t. The more published I get the more writers I meet who are afraid to have anyone see their work, and I used to be like that. It was my wife Amy who convinced me eight or so years ago to start submitting my stories. Now I have a short story collection out there being reviewed. Puppet Shows has received a couple of not-so-good reviews, but to each his own. I don’t begrudge reviewers not getting my humor. I’m just happy they reviewed it.
Z: What is Michael Frissore’s quote?
MF: I at one time was using something. It’s not so much a quote as it is an epitaph. “A writer akin to Whitman. Charles Whitman.”