American Carnage: An interview with contributing author Rick Shingler

Welcome to Day 3 of interviews with the American Carnage crew! My review of the anthology is here. This is our last day of interviews. This final interview is with Rick Shingler, writer of the story “The Day the Earth Turned Day-Glo.” Again, please note: discussion is welcomed, but keep it respectful. I know that the anthology’s theme has the potential for controversy, so comments will be monitored.
Note: answers are unedited/uncensored/unwhathaveyou. All answers, thoughts, and opinions are from the authors.
Also note: this interview is on the long side.
First, tell us a bit about yourself. Any fun and interesting factoids?
I’ve always sort of wondered what story Alex Trebek would ask me to tell during the boring meet and greet part if I was ever on Jeopardy. Maybe I would tell one of my weird celebrity encounter stories, like clothes shopping at a flea market with stand-up comic Emo Phillips or helping Geraldo Rivera’s mom pick out a Christmas present for her son or the time I had a phone conversation with BB King and didn’t know it until after hanging up the phone. Or maybe I’d tell something about my family, like the story of how my wife and I accidentally birthed our daughter without medical assistance in the bathroom at her folks’ house. But when I really think about it, I’d probably just say something boring about growing up in Ohio or living in New Jersey. (Editor’s note: wait, what? Tell me more about this accidentally natural home birth. Is your wife secretly a super hero? Because I’ve been in labor, and yeah, there’s no way I’d do that without nerve-numbing assistance.)
Tell us a bit about your writing. Are you usually a fiction writer, or did you make an exception for this anthology?
I’ve always considered myself to be a fiction writer. I’ve written plays, comic scripts, short stories and even a novel adaptation of Shakespeare’s “Pericles”, reworked as a comic space opera. I always have a few works in progress, because I have gadfly-sized attention span stands in direct opposition to my high level of commitment to any project I undertake. The good folks at Psycho Drive-In have been gracious enough to let me ramble and grumble about TV shows and movies from time to time, but my heart is in storytelling, even if my voice has been slow to be heard. I’ve gotten so good at shrugging off form rejection letters and emails that I’m almost able to pretend that it doesn’t chip another huge hunk out of my soul every. Single. Damn. Time. When I write, my goal is to entertain myself, because I’m likely to be one of the very few who ever actually reads it. If it’s made for me and I get to read it, it’s never going to be an TOTAL waste of time, right?
Speaking of the anthology, what drew you to it? Why did you decide to submit a story?
I may be mistaken, but it seems that the idea of an anthology of stories inspired by the titles of punk songs had been discussed amongst some of the PDI contributors before the 2016 election even happened. Once we crossed that milestone, the concept felt like a mandate for all of us. Over the past couple of years, our Western society has edged closer and closer to a place that would make George Orwell say, “You can’t make this shit up”. I wanted to be one of the voices of rage calling out in the darkness and maybe even a tiny beacon of hope in this burgeoning dystopia.
And that might be corny and is almost certainly self-delusional, but what else am I gonna do?
Tell us about your story. What inspired you to write it?
Honestly, this wasn’t even the story I set out to write. I was working from a different song title and everything. My original story pitch was called “Suspect Device” after the Stiff Little Fingers’ tune. I started working on it but was really struggling to pull it together. When I get truly stuck like that, one of the techniques that sometimes works is to back away from the story, look at it on a macro scale, and try to figure out where the obstruction popped up. It’s kind of like running a mental plumber’s snake through the clogged toilet of my brain. This time that process revealed to me that one of the main characters (arguably the central character of the entire plot) was a boring, dimensionless scoop of vanilla ice cream. “Suspect Device”, it turned out, was the story that takes place only after his story happens. This would have been fine if I was writing a novel, but it was too much of a digression for a short story. With that in mind, I realized that his background story was a story of its own, and that story is the one that you find in this anthology. I hope to revisit “Suspect Device” again someday to see if I can shake it loose.
Incidentally, the technology that serves as the centerpiece of “The Day the Earth Turned Day-Glo” represents a bit of creative self-cannibalization. Once upon a time, I convinced myself that it would be a great idea to write the book for a spy thriller rock opera based entirely on Electric Light Orchestra music. It was to be a story of two estranged lovers, each a world-class spy, who discover respectively that they are working separate angles of the same case. A villainous, reclusive businessman known to the world at large as Mr. Blue Sky develops a technology which allows him to control the sun and they can only stop him by burying past differences and working together. Act one would have ended with the villain
blotting out the sun while an adoring crowd sings his praises. Act two would have opened with “Can’t Get It Out of My Head” as the world descends into chaos. There would even have even been a pas-de- deux between the two agents to “Last Train to London”. Now that this story has been published, I’ll have to figure out another hook to pitch if I ever get stuck in an elevator with Jeff Lynne.
The anthology is about a Dystopian world (with or without aliens). Do you think that we’re closer to an apocalypse or a Dystopian society now than we have been in the past? Or are we already on our way there, without even realizing it?
I am typing this answer on the day after the collective members of the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists moved the famed Doomsday Clock to 11:58, the closest it’s been to midnight since the 50s. I don’t think anyone can conscionably deny the current instability of our world. We are teetering on a brink like a school bus hanging off of a bridge in a Superman cartoon. I sincerely hope we all have the sense to hold our breath and lean back in our seats before the bus goes over the side. Because, let’s face it, Superman isn’t coming and we have to figure this shit out for ourselves. The thing that keeps me up at night is how many people seem all too eager to make a run for the front of the bus just because tipping it over the edge would be different than what we’ve done in the past. I honestly don’t get it.
Things have gotten a little…heated in recent times, especially when it comes to politics. Have you gotten any pushback or criticism because of the anthology’s theme?
Not yet. Granted, it’s only been out a couple of weeks. I’ve posted links to it on my social media pages, but have (so far) only seen support from known members of the so-called resistance. It’s been crickets from those friends and family who somehow maintain their support of what passes for the GOP these days. I would welcome a little pushback, just so long as the person pushing can convince me that they have read the book. Any knee-jerk criticism without investing the time to read is just lazy and/or stupid, and I don’t have the time to bother responding to laziness and/or stupidity. There’s way too much of that, and it’s really at both ends of the political spectrum. Reducing complex policy and human rights issues to t-shirt
slogans and bumper stickers and protest signs (and Twitter posts) is dangerously reductive, but we’ve been doing it for most of my lifetime. All anyone seems to want is to “score points” on those who disagree with them using mean tweets, one-dimensional memes, and talking points. Sure, everyone wants to feel secure their beliefs, and that’s how the biased media outlets like Fox News and MSNBC thrive. It’s like being a cozy cocoon when everyone agrees with you, and we all need that sometimes. But we can all benefit from time outside of our comfort zones.
I keep thinking of how our current social media culture was presaged for me in an old comic book letters page. It was in an issue of one of Garth Ennis’ comics. I think it was Preacher, but I’m not going to go digging through back issues to find it. Some rando wrote to tell Ennis what a hack he was and how shitty his writing was and endless invective diatribe… Ennis responded to this guy in true Irishman fashion, inviting him to come to a con and say these things to his face. He pointed out how easy it is to sit in the safety of anonymity, stare at a blank sheet of paper or blank screen and pour out hatred, but when an opportunity to express these thoughts face to face came, he was confident that the letter writer would shuffle his feet and mutter unintelligibly. Sometimes I fear we have gone too far the rabbit hole of internet anonymity to ever be capable of meaningful discourse.
When you think about the future, is Future Earth a scary or an optimistic place? Or have we, perhaps, already wiped ourselves out and this is a moot point?
It’s always a little scary. The unknown always is. It would be a lie to say it hasn’t gotten a hell of a lot grimmer over the past twelve months. There’s always been a pendulum swinging back and forth. We go through a period of conservatism for a while, then it swings back to progressivism. When the progress reaches a critical point, our culture goes into a state of shock and swings back to the right until people begin to realize how utterly joyless and boring a conservative society is. The past couple of years, what with Brexit and now this nonsense here in the states, I fear that the pendulum has broken loose from its moorings and threatens to crush us all. All that said, I tend to be one that seeks the good in everyone and
every situation. I see more people finding their political and artistic voices. I see more people engaged in true political debate than ever before. I hope it can drive people to turn away from empty sloganeering and start seeking elusive philosophical truths again. There’s an old saw about the things that don’t kill us making us stronger. I think the jury is still out on whether this bullshit will kill our republic, but can you imagine how much stronger and united we will be if we can find some way to knit the fracture our childish, vainglorious, chaos-loving president is so hell-bent on widening?
Since ICoS is all about survival, do you think you’d be more likely to survive an alien invasion or a zombie apocalypse?
I don’t think I’d do so great in a zombie apocalypse. I really don’t like canned food enough for survival to feel worthwhile. Probably the alien invasion. I’d try to hitch a ride off-planet. I love to travel. Explore new places, sip exotic cocktails… (Editor’s note: I like the way you think. Assuming the aliens don’t eat or enslave me or feed me to their pets, I’d probably hitch a ride, too.)
What’s your favorite apocalyptic scenario?
What if all of the Hemsworth brothers were really just the same Hemsworth from alternate timelines, and those timelines are folding over each other like a schoolgirl’s hair braid? We are all living on borrowed time, awaiting the Great Hair-Tie when all the Hemsworths merge into one giant Voltron-like Hemsworth Overlord. The survivors of this coalesced timeline will bend in service or die in existential obscurity, flaking away like spiritual dandruff to float forever across the cosmos. Whatever the case, if it all ends up with my wife, my kids, and me safely barricaded inside of an impressively well-stocked library/liquor store/cookie bakery, it should be cool. (Editor’s note: sweet baby Groot, somebody please turn this into a movie.)
Is there anything else you’d like to tell us about yourself or your writing?
The real secret of my writing is that I have the great good fortune of sharing a bed (and a life) with an English major who is lovingly unkind in her criticism of my work. Mary keeps me tremendously honest, and has, on untold occasions, provided the filter that spared the world at large from the more idiotic bits of rattletrap bouncing inside my skull. She’s always the sounding board for my brainstorming sessions and the first person to lay eyes on anything I produce. It’s the finest support system any writer could ever hope to have.
As I look ahead, it looks like this year might be sort of a big one. I’ll be writing a new superhero comic called Empire City for up-and- coming indy publisher Empire Comics Lab with my artist buddy (and fellow Psycho Drive-In contributor) Dave Hearn. I’m putting together a pitch for my contribution to the upcoming sequel to last year’s horror crime anthology “Noirlanthotep” from PDI Press. I am redoubling my efforts to find an ending for a coming-of-age-in-the-era-of-Pac-Man novel that’s been boiling on the back plate for several months, and I hope to finish a draft of it by the end of the year. I’m hoping to find time to continue work on a period crime saga centering around a character named Nick Domino. One Domino novella is complete, and I hope to follow it with a short story before digging into the next novella so that I can package all three stories together as the first volume of three, totaling nine stories in all. But that’s a long-term plan. And as if all that’s not enough, there’s a politically-charged stage play and a screenplay adaptation of a Trevanian novel vying for my creative attention. Back here in reality, my current
column at Psycho Drive-In is called “Everybody Dies”, and is a monthly look at films based on Shakespeare’s Tragedies.

American Carnage: An interview with contributing author Dan Lee

Welcome back to Day 2 of interviews with the American Carnage crew! My review is here. My next interview is with author Dan Lee, who wrote the story “None but the Brave.” Again, please note: discussion is welcomed, but keep it respectful. I know that the anthology’s theme has the potential for controversy, so comments will be monitored.
Note: answers are unedited/uncensored/unwhathaveyou. All answers, thoughts, and opinions are from the authors.
First, tell us a bit about yourself. Any fun and interesting factoids?
I’m a freelance writer specializing in horror entertainment and horror culture. I’m also one of the organizers of the Nashville Zombie Walk.
Tell us a bit about your writing. Are you usually a fiction writer, or did you make an exception for this anthology?
I’ve always considered myself more of a fiction writer but I’m happy to go wherever I can get a byline. I love telling bizarre, unusual stories. Being a part of an anthology is always a lot of fun.
Speaking of the anthology, what drew you to it? Why did you decide to submit a story?
The premise behind it is amazing. Well, I’m a bit biased but blending punk rock (and heavy metal) music with dystopian stories set in a not too far off version of America is a chance to entertain and deliver a message.
Tell us about your story. What inspired you to write it?
My story, None but the Brave, is pretty much classic dystopian sci-fi with a psychedelic interlude in the middle. I was reading a lot of Phillip K. Dick and listening to a lot of GWAR at the time and the two influences sort of blended together to tell a story about a government owned sociopath who rapes the subconscious thoughts of the dead to hunt down threats to an equally invasive government. It’s the only story in the collection titled and themed from heavy metal.
The anthology is about a Dystopian world (with or without aliens). Do you think that we’re closer to an apocalypse or a Dystopian society now than we have been in the past? Or are we already on our way there, without even realizing it?
We’re close, no doubt, but I think we’ve been teetering on the edge of Armageddon for decades. As for a dystopia, we’re steadily integrating into one. We give up a little more freedom and a little more privacy with every smart device and social media post we put our names to.
Things have gotten a little…heated in recent times, especially when it comes to politics. Have you gotten any pushback or criticism because of the anthology’s theme?
Personally? No, I haven’t taken any criticism or complaints. I know within a day of PDI advertising on social media, however, we had someone get mighty butt hurt over the cover art alone.
When you think about the future, is Future Earth a scary or an optimistic place? Or have we, perhaps, already wiped ourselves out and this is a moot point?
It’s terrifying and wonderful all at the same time. We’re always risking disaster and extinction but we keep exploring and growing even faster than we can threaten our own existence.
Since ICoS is all about survival, do you think you’d be more likely to survive an alien invasion or a zombie apocalypse?
I’m going with zombie apocalypse. I just have to find the right place to hole up and wait it out. From the moment of reanimation the dead are a finite resource. Every step they take breaks down rotting muscles and flesh. Add weather and time and it’s all about playing the waiting game.
What’s your favorite apocalyptic scenario?
Really the opening stages of any apocalyptic scenario. I love the suspense; the thrill of the escape as civilization comes crashing down at the hands of the elements, disease, or any other earth shattering disaster. That’s the exciting part of any apocalypse, really; the exodus. Everything after that is just camping and Mad Max cosplay.
Is there anything else you’d like to tell us about yourself or your writing?
I’m always looking for new challenges and new work. I’d love to write some graphic novels about monsters and strange, transdimensional creatures invading reality. Something with a paycheck would be nice too, you know, if anyone’s hiring.

American Carnage: An interview with contributing author Mike Burr

Welcome to Day 2 of interviews with the American Carnage crew! My review is here. The first interview, with contributor, editor, and anthology mastermind Paul Brian McCoy, is here. Our first interview today is with Mike Burr, author of the story “Where Eagles Dare.” Again, please note: discussion is welcomed, but keep it respectful. I know that the anthology’s theme has the potential for controversy, so comments will be monitored.
Note: This interview, like the others, is fairly long.
Also note: answers are unedited/uncensored/unwhathaveyou. All answers, thoughts, and opinions are from the authors.
First, tell us a bit about yourself. Any fun and interesting factoids?
I seem to have the incredible knack for being in the right place at the right time. This has helped me meet my lovely and intelligent wife, attain both of my dream jobs (teaching high school and working at a comic book store), and seize the opportunity to do everything from hunt alligators and walk the Appalachian trail. On two separate occasions in two separate states, Mariachi bands I have encountered on runs played the Rocky theme for me. I also recently saw a raccoon crawl into a sewer grate and then stare at me like the clown from It. I was a little shaken up.
Tell us a bit about your writing. Are you usually a fiction writer, or did you make an exception for this anthology?
I started out writing fiction, but I got really tired of being rejected. I answered an ad on Craig’s List for music writing and ended up doing nearly a hundred interviews over the span of a few years. I scaled that back when my first child was born, but I always have the itch to write. Thankfully, venues like Psycho Drive-In and Tropics of Meta have given me the opportunity to put together some pieces.
Speaking of the anthology, what drew you to it? Why did you decide to submit a story?
I am always drawn to McCoy’s projects. We went to college together, and he was the older, cooler guy in the program. I have always admired his taste in literature and his work, so I want to try an knock his socks off.
Tell us about your story. What inspired you to write it?
I have oscillated between angry and depressed since the election. Trump’s election revolted me on every level, from the votes of my own family to the racism and religious hypocrisy that was has been activated and enabled by the his administration. On another level, I have been disappointed by the quality of discourse from liberals. It seems that hating Trump is enough right now; there seems to be little mention of actually doing something productive on a community level or coming up with a political agenda that actually offers help to those people who need it most. This country used to talk about ending poverty; now men like Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell are empowered to enforce poverty on future generations.
The anthology is about a Dystopian world (with or without aliens). Do you think that we’re closer to an apocalypse or a Dystopian society now than we have been in the past? Or are we already on our way there, without even realizing it?
There is always a chance of slipping into an apocalypse type situation; think about what happened in Puerto Rico this year. Even more insidious, however, is the slow creep of technology in our society. We are constantly connected to a screen. I think this leads to a lack of empathy and cooperation that is needed to maintain a society. On the other hand, a little box that plays movies, games and music while also revealing your pinpoint location at all times is a pretty genius way to keep people in line.
Things have gotten a little…heated in recent times, especially when it comes to politics. Have you gotten any pushback or criticism because of the anthology’s theme?
I started out writing my story in hopes of making people on both sides of the aisle angry, so I will gladly accept any criticism. The goal is to be hated enough to incite a mass book burning.
When you think about the future, is Future Earth a scary or an optimistic place? Or have we, perhaps, already wiped ourselves out and this is a moot point?
I am an eternal optimist. For all the awful things we have done to the Earth, there are still beautiful places. No matter how corrupt and petty our leaders can be, there is a basic human impulse to help other people. I thought we were headed in the right direction when we elected Obama. Hopefully we’ll get back to that place again.
Since ICoS is all about survival, do you think you’d be more likely to survive an alien invasion or a zombie apocalypse?
Always go with the zombies. There is a limited range of what they are going to be able to do, given their status as formerly living organisms. The technology required for interstellar travel is generations more advanced than we can even comprehend at this point. Imagine the weaponry.
What’s your favorite apocalyptic scenario?
Charlton Heston in Omega Man.
Is there anything else you’d like to tell us about yourself or your writing?
The most important thing about writing is to write and then put it out there. I am always terrified to send in a piece, but in it’s better than leaving it in a desk drawer.

American Carnage: An interview with editor and contributor Paul Brian McCoy

Over the next few days, I’ll be posting interviews with the contributors to the American Carnage anthology (my review is here). All five writers agreed to be interviewed, which I’m super excited about. Please note: discussion is welcomed, but keep it respectful. I’ll be monitoring the comments.
Note: The interviews are fairly long.
Also note: answers are unedited/uncensored/unwhathaveyou. My comments are (sometimes) interspersed, but other than that, all answers, thoughts, and opinions are from the authors.
I’m starting the interview series with my interview with Paul Brian McCoy, the mastermind of the anthology, and the author of the final story. He’s also the editor-in-chief of both Psycho Drive-In and PDI Press.
Ready? Here we go!
First, tell us a bit about yourself. Any fun and interesting factoids?
My name is Paul Brian McCoy and I’ve been writing fiction off and on since I was in high school and realized it was easier to write stories than to draw them. Up until then, I’d wanted to draw comics. After getting my Masters in English and going ABD for a Doctorate, I started writing reviews for Comics Bulletin. That eventually evolved into editing their TV/Movies section, which eventually evolved into launching my own site, Psycho Drive-In as CB’s sister site. This is where I connected (and in some cases, re-connected) with all the Psychos involved in AMERICAN CARNAGE: TALES OF TRUMPIAN DYSTOPIA and our previous short story anthology NOIRLATHOTEP: TALES OF LOVECRAFTIAN CRIME.
Tell us more about Psycho Drive-In and PDI Press.
Psycho Drive-In basically is like Belial from BASKET CASE, the monstrous creature that I carry around with me everywhere, that lashes out at movies, TV, and other things that cross me! But in the end, Psycho Drive-In is just looking for love and acceptance in the freak community. (Editor’s note: we love you! I think ICoS and Psycho Drive-In could be great friends.)
We broke off from Comics Bulletin mainly because there was just too much writing going on. We had people reviewing TV shows and movies on a regular basis, while the comics side of the site was also cranking out continuous great stuff, so nothing was staying on the front page very long. It was like cooking in a galley kitchen; meals get made and they’re delicious, but everybody keeps bumping elbows during the cooking process and there’s just not enough room to breathe. Since Comics Bulletin wasn’t called TV and Movie Bulletin, the then-Owner/Editor-in-Chief, Jason Sacks, and I built a new site and ported over nearly all the old coverage, so we wouldn’t be stepping on each other’s toes any more.
We launched on Valentine’s Day, 2014 and started out covering just about anything and everything, but after a couple of years of no real audience growth we decided to switch our focus to mostly horror with a side of sci-fi (and hints of other genre coverage, like Shakespearean adaptations, Film Noir, and Superheroes). In the past year or so we’ve also shifted away from publishing a lot of TV coverage, since there’s just so much of that on the web. So we haven’t been posting as much, but we’ve really started building an audience, nearly doubling our traffic this year over last.
The biggest reason for this is that our writers are some of the best you can find on the internet. The contributors to AMERICAN CARNAGE all have done amazing work for Psycho Drive-In. Dan Lee has a great little column called Beautiful Creatures, about practical effects in horror films. John E. Meredith has two ongoings, Popcorn Cinema and The Flesh is Weak, that are sometimes heartbreakingly beautiful and sometimes hilariously vulgar explorations of film and life. Rick Shingler is currently checking out some overlooked gems of Shakespearean adaptation in Everybody Dies: Shakespeare on Film, and the ever-eclectic Mike Burr touches on a little bit of everything when he gets the chance.
And that’s just the guys included in AMERICAN CARNAGE! We have a ton of other writers who are so much better than they have any right to be.
PDI Press grew out of two things: the fact that most of our writers are frustrated authors as well as being talented critics, and the fact that it costs money to host the website with little-to- no ad revenue. The name NOIRLATHOTEP is a Lovecraftian pun that I couldn’t believe nobody had used yet, so last year, I asked if anyone would be interested in contributing a Lovecraftian-themed short crime story to a fund-raising anthology, and everybody perked up. I had already e-published some old columns in book format and they brought in a few bucks each month, but nothing serious, so I knew we could probably at least make ten or fifteen dollars every couple of months to help my suffering finances. Little did I know that NOIRLATHOTEP: TALES OF LOVECRAFTIAN CRIME would be more popular than anything else I’d tried selling.
It’s still not a best-seller, but it’s paying our cyber-rent. Which is partly why I figured that even if we don’t make any money on the admittedly controversial AMERIAN CARNAGE, we’d still be doing okay. And now we have a publication track record that should be of benefit when we launch our Kickstarter for NOIRLATHOTEP 2: SUBTITLE YET TO BE DETERMINED, later this Spring. It’s damn time these folks got paid for their hard work.
At the moment we hope to publish at least two more short story anthologies this year, with maybe a collection or two of critical essays sprinkled here and there, since the non-fiction writers on the site want to get in on the act, too. Everyone wants to see their name on Amazon.
Tell us a bit about your writing. Are you usually a fiction writer, or did you make an exception for this anthology?
I had always considered myself a fiction writer (and self-loathing poet), but after grad school I just didn’t write any fiction. Instead I tried to apply the critical theory that I’d learned to writing comics, TV, and film criticism. But in 2011, I self-published my first novel, THE UNRAVELING: DAMAGED INCORPORATED, BOOK ONE, followed shortly by a collection of short stories made up of my Master’s Thesis project, called COFFEE, SEX, & CREATION.
Since then, though, I hadn’t really done any creative writing. I’d tried to get a number of projects started, both solo and with others, but everything always fell apart. It wasn’t until our second year at Psycho Drive-In that I was able to hook up with a group of writers who all had a passion for weird fiction and no professional outlet. A group of talented amateurs, if you will. Their enthusiasm helped get me motivated to start writing again, and we put together a collection of Lovecraftian crime stories that has turned out to be pretty popular for what is essentially a self-published book of stories by writers nobody’s ever heard of before. My own writing is generally about weirdness and normal people getting sucked into bizarre situations. I have a strange mix of classic and trashy influences, from Salman Rushdie to Philip K. Dick, with a lot of sci-fi TV mixed in along with a healthy dose of John Waters and Troma films.
Speaking of the anthology, what drew you to it? Why did you decide to submit a story?
When President Trump made reference to “American Carnage” in his inauguration speech, I knew we had to do something with it. It’s such a powerful phrase, both in the fact that it’s so out of touch with reality and that it conjures up such vivid images. It immediately makes me think of Death Wish 3 or Invasion USA in terms of pure cheesy, 80s exploitation film ideologies. So I pitched the idea to our crew and since we’re mostly a bunch of left-leaning creative types, there was a lot of excitement.
For an added twist, I thought why not make every story’s title a title to a classic punk song (and in one case, a GWAR song). I wanted to use those songs as spiritual and creative inspiration without actually doing adaptations. The titles were springboards for what everybody put together.
Tell us about your story. What inspired you to write it?
I had originally intended to write something Queercore, but the idea I originally had (a trans reimagining of ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST, with a dose of I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE and Neo-Nazis) just wouldn’t come together on the page. Then, I started getting the other stories in and realized that they were much better than I’d expected. So much so, that I thought we might need something more off the deep end to really round out the collection. I mean, John’s story, “What Kind of Monster Are You?” was closest to my
original vision for the collection, but even it is just so damn good that once the craziness starts, there’s still a veneer of quality that avoids going full Troma.
So, since I had characters in my novel who could enter into dreams, I thought, what could be trashier than diving into Trump’s subconscious mind? After that realization, my story practically wrote itself. It’s easily the weakest story in the group from a literary standpoint, but it’s also the most likely to get its author put on a watch list.
Basically, “Big Takeover” is inspired by the Bad Brains song, and involves Damaged, Incorporated – the dream aliases of a group of fringe-science defenders of reality who originated in my novel THE UNRAVELING. We have two psychics who don’t get along, and their boss, a brain in a jar – with back-up from a benevolent AI – who receive a warning from Kennedy’s Brain that something is wrong with the current President’s brain. It could be brainwashing, it could be possession, it could be a stroke. But in order to find out what’s going on, and decide whether it’s a threat to national – and international –
security, they adopt their alter-ego fiction suits and dive into Trump’s unconscious mind. It’s gross. It’s repulsive. It’s, as the characters put it, “Mucky as fuck” in there, but ultimately I thought it was fun.
My mantra when coming to every scene was what would Lloyd Kaufman (founder of Troma Films) do? I think he’d be proud.
The anthology is about a Dystopian world (with or without aliens). Do you think that we’re closer to an apocalypse or a Dystopian society now than we have been in the past? Or are we already on our way there, without even realizing it?
I think all Dystopian Fiction is really about the contemporary society in which it’s created, so in a way, we’ve always been living in a Dystopian world whether we realize it or not. Life is difficult and freedom is more of a state-of-mind than an actual reality for the vast majority of people on the planet. There aren’t zombies or aliens, but the US has a president with reading comprehension issues, an inability to feel empathy, and little-to-no practical knowledge about anything going on in the world.
He also has tiny hands and a micro-penis.
In the US, we have the illusion of freedom, but we have also had a dramatic militarization of the police, a war on people of color that’s been going on for a couple of centuries, and now neo-Nazis feel safe creeping out of the woodwork and claiming that their toxic ideology is as intellectually valid – or moreso – than those who oppose them. Then we have the Left is saying that Nazis should be engaged in the “marketplace of ideas” despite the fact that their ideas are pure hate and the advocation of genocide. I mean, asserting that Anti-Fascists are the real fascists is straight out of 1984.
There’s been a disconnect with reality and the real fascism has already gotten a foothold, marching lockstep with the 1%. Things look bleak.
Things have gotten a little…heated in recent times, especially when it comes to politics. Have you gotten any pushback or criticism because of the anthology’s theme?
Honestly, we’re so small that we’re not even a blip on anyone’s radar. We’ve had one or two Instagram followers get offended, but not even in a very hostile way. We have had promotional opportunities turned down from a few Facebook sci-fi and horror pages, which is perfectly understandable. Just sharing the Amazon link for AMERICAN CARNAGE violates a lot of pages “No Politics” rule, so what can you do?
I’m super-excited that you offered to review the book and are taking the time to talk with us about it! (Editor’s note: I admit, I was drawn to the anthology because of the theme. I’m glad I read it, because I really enjoyed it. I’m super excited that the contributors agreed to an interview!)
When you think about the future, is Future Earth a scary or an optimistic place? Or have we, perhaps, already wiped ourselves out and this is a moot point?
I think it’s always going to be a combination of the two. Even in the face of the worst that humanity has to offer, there’s always a reaction. There’s always the urge to create alongside the urge to destroy. There’s always love and heroism to counter hate and cowardice. Somebody’s always going to raise their fist or fly the black flag to oppose oppression. It’s always going to be a struggle. It’s always going to be a fight. That’s the way it’s always been.
Of course, if we do wipe ourselves out, it’ll probably be for the best.
Since ICoS is all about survival, do you think you’d be more likely to survive an alien invasion or a zombie apocalypse?
An alien invasion, for sure. With an alien invasion, there’s a definite goal in mind. It may be difficult, or nearly impossible, but aliens will have a purpose for being here, which means there will always be a resistance and the potential for victory and survival.
With a zombie apocalypse, there’s no end in sight. Zombies represent the inevitability of death (among other things, depending on one’s perspective) and nobody escapes death.
What’s your favorite apocalyptic scenario?
Having just said the zombie apocalypse is one where I’d most surely not survive, I have to say my favorite fictional apocalyptic scenario is… the zombie apocalypse. I think that it is the most existential exploration of meaning and value available in any apocalyptic scenario. Confronting the notion that death is inevitable and there’s no escape, only the biding of time until the end, is one of the most vivid and disturbing ideas that the human mind can engage with.
The central thematic tenets of zombie fiction, no matter how poorly it is pulled off in low-budget film or cheap novels, is the psychological impact of death and loss. Even when zombie fiction ignores real psychology and concentrates on splatter and gore, that is also a valid way of addressing death and loss. Mourning with a chainsaw. Raging against the wave of inevitability with pure escapism. Of course, the best zombie fiction does it all: Night of the Living Dead, Dead Alive, Shawn of the Dead… these films really understand both the surface and the subtextual impact of their storytelling.
Is there anything else you’d like to tell us about yourself or your writing?
Just to let everybody know that there is more Psycho Drive-In madness on the way! We’re getting the plans in place for a Kickstarter to finance NOIRLATHOTEP 2 and are hoping to get a collection of R-Rated Space Opera stories (tentatively titled STARSHIP BALLERS) in print later this year. With any luck I’ll also have the second DAMAGED INCORPORATED novel finished this year and maybe an indie comic adaptation, too!
You can find me on Facebook at /paul.b.mccoy, on Twitter at @PBMcCoy, and Instagram at @paulbrianmccoy. Be sure to follow Psycho Drive-In on FB at /psychodrivein, on Twitter at @psychodrivein, and Instagram at @psychodrivein. And of course, hit us up at http://psychodrivein.com for the best reviews and commentary on the internet about genre film and television.

Anthology Review: American Carnage

american carnage cover
American Carnage: Tales of Trumpian Dystopia
Editors: Paul Brian McCoy and Jennifer King
Publisher: PDI Press
Format: Kindle (paperback available)
Full disclosure: I’m friends with one of the editors who worked on this project, and I learned about the book through her. I received the book as a gift from my friend (not the publisher), but opinions are my own. I am not being compensated for this review.
Note: the underlying theme of this book has the potential to become controversial. Please be respectful when commenting on the review and any future interviews with the authors and/or editors.
Another note: because of the topic, this book is quite likely going to be a love it or hate it book. Be forewarned!
Warning: possible spoilers. I try not to include spoilers, but I’m going to put this here anyway.
Okay, now to the actual review. (Ha!)
American Carnage: Tales of Trumpian Dystopia is a short story anthology from indie publisher PDI Press. (PDI Press is the publishing arm of website Psycho Drive-In.) My understanding of the anthology is that it was developed with a sort of punk rock dystopian theme, centered around an apocalypse brought about by the current US administration. (Let’s face it, anything apocalyptic is bound to catch my attention — the musical part just made it more interesting.)
Five stories are included in the collection; there are a couple of longer stories, but the other three are fairly short. It’s a super fun read, though; it’s been an interesting “what if?” exercise. (Okay, so some of it is less likely than others, but I guess anything’s possible. Or something.)
The five included stories are: What Kind of Monster Are You?; The Day the Earth Turned Day-Glo; None But the Brave; Where Eagles Dare; and Big Takeover. The stories are all quite different in tone; some are more serious than others. The writing in all of the stories was solid, and they all follow the same basic theme. It was really interesting to see how each writer interpreted the anthology’s theme and premise — I can honestly say that no two stories are anywhere near alike.
The opening story, What Kind of Monster Are You?, is the longest, but it’s also the most fun (and, um, the goriest). For me, this one captured the musical part of the anthology’s theme the most — it also has its own soundtrack since the main character listens to a quite a bit of music throughout the story. It’s got an alien invasion of evil space octopi who regrow tentacles like a president-faced Hydra. It was very…splatter-y. And absolutely bananapants bonkers, but in a totally fun way. The best part of this story is the dialogue: the writer used actual presidential quotes for the Trump-alien’s dialogue, and it is hysterical in the context of the story. It was also a brilliant idea to use actual, existing quotes. After all, why reinvent the wheel?
My favorite story, though, is the much “quieter” When the Earth Turned Day-Glo. This story is set in the near future, after the current administration has ended. Humans have colonized the moon (well, sort of), and have found a way to profit from the sun. I can’t even put my finger on why I enjoyed this story more than the others — maybe because it has a touch of realism to it? (Call me cynical, but I could totally see someone profiting from the sun by making people pay for sunlight.) Whatever it is, the story’s quiet thoughtfulness won me over completely. It’s the second story in the book and follows the alien octopi invasion story, so it had a really tough act to follow because that first story is just so much fun (in my opinion, anyway). But I really liked it.
The other two middle stories, None But the Brave and Where Eagles Dare, were well-written, but I didn’t quite connect with them as much. Regardless, they were still good stories and they presented two completely differing views of a Trumpian dystopia. In None But the Brave, special agents are able to extract thoughts from the dead (but only those who commit crimes against the state) and see their last moments. In Where Eagles Dare, a man pretends to be the sheriff and interrogates another man who dislikes the president — until the real sheriff shows up. (I can actually see these stories becoming reality in some way, which is alarming. But… it may just mean that I’m more cynical than I thought. Heh.)
The last story, Big Takeover, seems to be part of a larger universe, so I was a bit lost in terms of the worldbuilding. The world itself was interesting, though, and to me it was a little bit Matrix and a little bit Inception. (There was also a demon. Demons are fun in stories. Um, but not in real-life.) I might have to go track down some of the author’s other work, because the story’s universe is intriguing.
Overall, I loved this. It’s a collection of super fun stories written by a group of good writers. And I actually enjoyed each story (which isn’t always the case for anthologies). Yes, it may be a bit controversial because of the anthology’s theme, but it was really fun to read. I’d recommend it to anyone who enjoys dystopian anthologies (especially ones rooted in punk rock), but with the caveat that they should probably also be mindful of the underlying theme.
Keep an eye out for interviews with the anthology’s contributors over the next few days!