Rico Slade allowed us to have this interview. If we went ahead and did it without his permission? Well, let’s just say that would involve me and Bradley having both our throats ripped out by Rico Slade, the world’s greatest action hero. Bradley Sands was kind enough to join me for an interview so we could promote his latest book.
Rico Slade Will Fucking Kill You is a book that is as laugh out loud funny as it is gripping. It follows Chip Johnson’s alternate persona, the action hero Rico Slade. Rico Slade goes across Hollywood to put an end to the evil Baron Mayhem, Baron Mayhem is the target of Rico Slade due to his real life counterpart’s connection with Chip Johnson, who is Rico’s real life persona.The psychological battle between Rico / Chip is made all the worse when Chip’s psychiatrist goes after him for unpaid debt. Cue throat ripping, lots of throat ripping.
1.) How did you get Arnold Schwarzenegger on your front cover?
My publisher and I were trying to figure out what to use for the cover art: whether he should commission an artist or if we could find something appropriate online that had already been completed considering he wouldn’t have to pay a commission. During an image search, he found the artwork with Arnold Schwarzenegger and was excited about it. I thought it was really great, but I wasn’t thrilled about the idea of using it for the cover because I didn’t want the reader to assume the book’s protagonist and Arnold were one and the same. So I wrote these opening lines for the back cover description:
“What the crap is Arnold Schwarzenegger doing on the cover of Rico Slade’s book? This is Rico Slade’s goddamn book. Rico Slade is not a body builder, an actor, or a governor. Rico Slade is an action hero.”
Anyway, eventually I realized that the art would make a really good cover and help sell the book, so I went with it. And my publisher asked for the artist’s permission and he said yes.
2.) What were your influences when writing Rico Slade?
Action movies of course, particularly The Last Action Hero (which I love), Passenger 57 in regards to the first chapter, and the Lethal Weapon series considering Chip thinks his psychologist—who is the book’s genuine antagonist rather than Chip’s imagined antagonist, Baron Mayhem—is a sidekick-like character from his movies who is similar to the character that Joe Pesci played in the Lethal Weapon series. Also, the book’s plot structure is similar to the movie, Falling Down. I can’t think of any literary influences except that Tao Lin’s writing influenced the opening chapter, but nothing beyond that. A lot of time passed between the completion of the opening chapter and when I started working on the rest of the book. The first chapter was originally a short story.
3.) What tips would you give aspiring writers, especially those who are looking to incorporate humour into their work?
Study plot structure, particularly the Hero’s Journey. Screenwriting books are a lot better for learning plot structure than fiction writing books, which are usually useless in that regard. Write as often as possible. Give your prose style and character/plot development (or content) an equal amount of time and attention.
A lot of people would disagree with me, but I believe it’s impossible to learn how to write humor. Either you have a sense of humor or you don’t. I find it very difficult to “turn off” my comedy when it’s necessary and I need to put a lot of effort into doing so. I also believe humorists are prone to suffering depression. And just in case I’m totally wrong about it being impossible to learn humor writing, there is a very good book that may help you. It’s called Stop Me If You’ve Heard This: A History and Philosophy of Jokes and it’s extremely short so you don’t have to deal with hundreds of pages of filler.
4.) Where did the idea for the book come from?
I wrote the first chapter as a story. The original title of the story was Passenger 57 because I wrote it for an online journal that publishes stories inspired by movies, TV shows, and books, and the story titles are named after the sources of inspiration. My story ended up being rejected, so I changed the title and sent it to another journal where it was accepted. The story was about an action hero-type character who foils a plane hijacking (well, sort of).
Concerning the idea for the book, I’ve gone to BizarroCon for the last three years since they started having them (it’s is a convention for authors and fans of the bizarro genre). Each time, author, Carlton Mellick III, has lead a workshop on developing a conceptual book. The workshop involves a really great exercise where you have to come up with a book title, pitch line, and back cover description. And the goal is to create a conceptual book that the workshop participants would want to buy based solely on these three things. So I came up with the concept for the conceptual book based on my short story.
Instead of being a character in a story, I thought about Rico Slade as a character in a series of action movies. And I wanted to explore the actor (Chip Johnson) who portrayed Rico Slade in the movies and write a book about how he suffers a psychological breakdown and believes he’s the character who he portrays in the movies, along with showing how an action hero would behave in the “real world.”
5.) Was it difficult to establish the different points of view betweeen Chip Johnson’s reality and the fantasy that he’s experiencing by thinking he’s Rico Slade?
No, it wasn’t difficult. But maybe it became easier when I rewrote all of Chip’s reality-based scenes to make them less Rico Slade-esque. I tried to make what Chip thought he was doing (as Rico Slade) in his fantasy and what he was actually doing in reality antithetical to one another. The reality-based scenes in the book are over the top, but they were even more over the top in the first draft. Originally, Chip’s actions were violent and he killed many people. While in his fantasy, Rico Slade’s actions were even more violent, over the top, and he killed many more people. But one of my early readers said the book would be better if Chip’s actions in his fantasy and his reality were completely different from one another. The book suffered because the reality was over the top while the fantasy was even more over the top. So I was told that the book could be improved if I enlarged the gap between the fantasy and the reality, so I did a rewrite and changed it so most of Chip’s behavior was silly rather than violent.
6.) The work is often classified as bizarro fiction, is this a title you embrace or do you see the work as a stand-alone piece regardless of genre?
I embrace the genre but I also believe it works as a stand-alone book. The primary criteria regarding whether or not a book is considered bizarro fiction is whether or not it is weird. And Rico Slade is weird. But most bizarro (but not all) books have elements of speculative fiction or fantastical elements and this book doesn’t really have any of that. Although the majority of book’s scenes occur within the fantasy life of the protagonist, most bizarro books contain fantastical elements that are supposed to be occurring in reality.
7.) With Rico Slade’s mentality of a can-do everything action hero, was it difficult of establishing the boundaries of where he could go and what he could do?
Well, considering I switched back and forth between reality and Chip’s fantasy life, Rico Slade didn’t have any boundaries in the fantasy. He does many unrealistic things, but nearly all of his actions would be appropriate for an over the top parody of an action movie. It was not difficult for me to establish the boundaries.
8.) How was the journey to becoming a published author?
I read Carlton Mellick III’s Satan Burger. It was extremely creative and packed with bizarre ideas. I am the same way as far as having tons of ideas and I had always assumed it would be impossible to write a novel because of it. So I thought, If this guy can write a novel, I can write a novel. Then I wrote It Came from Below the Belt. It’s a pretty short novel at around 45,000 words, but it either took me six months or a year to write (I can’t remember). I’m also an extremely slow writer. When it was ready to be sent out to publishers, I sent it to Afterbirth Books, who was a new publisher that had recently released one of Carlton’s books (Eraserhead Press, who is Carlton’s primary publisher, wasn’t accepting submissions at the time). And then Afterbirth accepted the book the day after I submitted it. But last year, they went out of business, so the novel went out of print.
9.) What is your next book about?
My next book through Lazy Fascist Press is called Please Do Not Shoot Me in the Face. It’s a collection of three novellas. If all goes according to plan, the actual title of the book will bePlease Do Not Shoot Me in the Face: A Novel . It will make fun of the books that pretend to be novels when they are actually short story collections, which is sometimes happens because novels sell a lot better than collections. The book’s back cover description will make it extremely clear that the book is not a novel. There will be an interlude before and after each novella. And the interludes will be half-assed attempts to “turn” the book into a novel (of course, the half-assness will be intentional). I still need to write those.
The first novella in the collection is “Cheesequake Smash-up,” which originally appeared in the second “blue” volume of The Bizarro Starter Kit. It involves a city-wide demolition derby with levitating buildings instead of cars. The competition is between fast food franchises and the winner gets total supremacy over the fast food industry.
The second novella is “Apocalypse Ninja.” Originally it was an attempt to exploit the Pirates versus Ninjas meme, but it didn’t work out because the novella ended up being too short to be released as its own book. The story concerns a conflict between the worst ninja ever and the worst crew of pirates ever. The pirates kill the Apocalypse Ninja’s clan and he is the only survivor. The clan’s purpose in life was to cause the end the world. After they die, the ninjas briefly come back to life to make Apocalypse Ninja promise to finish their work. In order to end the world, he needs to “bring about the second cumming of Christ.” Apocalypse Ninja is extremely homophobic. (This is definitely the stupidest thing I’ve ever written, but it’s a lot of fun.) Jesus’s perfectly preserved corpse is an exhibit in a carnival sideshow. Apocalypse Ninja needs to find the carnival. And the worst pirates ever try to stop him.
The third novella is “Frankie Nougat and the Case of the Missing Heart.” It’s written as if it were a children’s book, but it’s for adults. It’s a parody of the boy detective books that I read when I was young. Frankie Nougat is a junior detective and he tries to catch the person who stole his parents’ heart. Not their actual hearts, but a heart that they kept in their “love chest.” And because of the theft, they are getting a divorce. So Frankie tries to solve the crime in an attempt to keep his parents together.
10. If Rico Slade was ever adapted to the screen, who could you see playing the world’s greatest fiction (action?) star?
Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. He was great in Southland Tales, plus he’s already starred in a bunch of action movies.