Over the years there have been a number of novels which have left me wondering what the hell I just read. They usually warrant a second read-through, like a slow-motion recap of a bullet’s trajectory. A CLOCKWORK ORANGE and FEAR AND LOATHING IN LAS VEGAS come to mind. So do the works of Phillip K. Dick.
I can now add another book to the mantle: BROKEN BULBS, by Eddie Wright. He’s a member of the Backword Books collective and, according to his bio, he’s a New Jersey native who digs “cult stuff and rock ‘n roll.” He apparently has an affinity for a certain brand of tortilla chips (Santitas, $2 a bag). Oh, and he was also included in a list of the top 20 sexiest writers of all time.
When I finished Eddie’s book, I had to think on it. So I did. And then I re-read it. Thought about it some more. Don’t get me wrong–I liked it. I wouldn’t be writing this feature if I didn’t. What bothered me was that I didn’t understand why I liked it. Was it the characters? Was it the author’s experimental approach? Was it the philosophical undertones, or the metaphorical addiction to inspiration?
In retrospect, I have to say it’s a bit of all these things, but I’m getting ahead of myself. You probably want to know what this book’s about. From the jacket copy:
Frank Fisher is nothing. He wants to be something. When a mysterious young woman named Bonnie offers assistance by injecting seeds of inspiration directly into his brain, Frank finds himself involved in a twisting mystery full of addiction, desperation and self-discovery. Broken Bulbs, a novella by Eddie Wright, tells the story of the lengths one young man will go in the pursuit of “somethingness.”
Frank’s in a real bad way at the start of this book, and his back story is told through short vignettes written in screenplay form, a nice, weird break from the usual format. He’s addicted to a drug, a chemical form of inspiration, and Bonnie, the pseudo-femme fatale of the novel, is his enabler. I say femme fatale loosely here. She is Frank’s enabler, yes, but also his love interest and, in some ways, his salvation. Something Eddie does in this book is create an incredible, believable chemistry between the two. Bonnie is, at times, antagonistic; other times, she is caring, loving. Frank is down and out, neglecting himself in pursuit of more inspiration, and Bonnie, out of a sick, voyeuristic duty (or is it love?), gives him what he needs. And when Frank’s alight with his fix, he’s the Frank we want to see. He’s confident, vibrant, alive–he pursues the screenplay he’s been struggling to write. Bonnie is there to urge him forward, a muse who reassures him that he is not nothing. It’s a messed up relationship for two messed up people, and it really put me in mind of Tyler and Marla from FIGHT CLUB. The characters of Bonnie and Frank are alive, inherently flawed, and perfect for one another. They traverse a landscape of short, choppy sentences and broken structure, complementing Frank’s drug-addled mindset.
The word “nothing” gets tossed around a lot in the novel. As you’ve read, it’s on the back of the book: “Frank Fisher is nothing. He wants to be something.” I found Frank’s resistance to his inherent nihilism quite endearing. Here’s a man who acknowledges that he is unremarkable – and strives to become something more. It’s a poisonous effort, having to rely on chemicals to reach his creative zenith, but it also creates a sort of sick empathy for him as a character. He wants so badly to define himself that he resorts to a drug in order to achieve it. It’s a modern approach to an existentialist mindset–a man, accepting his inherent nothingness, strives to achieve something more than himself, and in doing so, define who he truly is.
Maybe I read too much into it, and maybe it wasn’t the author’s intention, but I found these undertones to be powerful, and I recommend the book based on this merit. BROKEN BULBS is weird, trippy, a fever dream of fiction, and its author is one to watch.
Now I’m going to turn this over to Eddie, and subject him to the requisite interrogation:
TK: Well, Eddie, would you tell us a bit about yourself? Perhaps something that isn’t in your bio?
EW: My name is Edward Joseph Wright Jr. I was born in 1980. My favorite musician is Tom Waits. My favorite movie is Fargo. I hate boats. I can’t follow fantasy stories. I don’t own a car. I drink too much coffee. 30 Rock always makes me happy. I recently fulfilled a lifelong dream of going in a dunk tank.
TK: Task: You’ve been injected with the drug from your book. Describe what happens next. You have 200 words. Go.
EW: Stream shit on Netflix.
TK: Pardon the clichéd question, but I feel it’s a pertinent one to ask: Why do you write?
EW: I love storytelling. I love digging into the characters. I love arranging words. I love going back and reading something that wasn’t there until I put it there. I love when I can’t remember writing what I wrote. It’s surprising and exciting.
TK: I really liked your usage of screenplay formatting as a way to introduce a bit of Frank’s background. Was this your first foray into screenwriting?
EW: I’ve been writing screenplays for a long time. My friends and I have made MANY false starts on both films and web series. So I’ve written scripts but they’ve never really amounted to anything. Broken Bulbs started as a screenplay. It was called both Fisher’s Fishing and Inspirational Toothpaste. Screenwriting is sad. It’s never finished until it’s a completed movie. That’s why Frank writes a screenplay in Broken Bulbs, it’s kind of a hopeless artform. Screenwriting is depressing. It’s just kind of a dead end road unless you’ve got the means to see it through to the end.
TK: What inspired the premise of BROKEN BULBS?
EW: Inspiration inspired Broken Bulbs. I thought of an idea in the shower and got all pumped and jazzed and all that, but eventually the crash comes, ya know? The misery. Once that initial spark is gone, it’s over. And I realized, it’s seriously a high. It’s a drug. It’s addictive. So I made up a chemical form of inspiration. I made the muse the dealer. And that was that.
TK: Were the philosophical undertones intentional (e.g. Frank’s nihilistic views of himself)? If so, would you care to elaborate?
EW: The writings of J. Krishnamurti inspired a lot of the philosophical stuff in the book. The idea of interpretation being more important to understanding than actually understanding is something I think about a lot, as well as the concept of learning to let go as opposed to forcing yourself and molding yourself into what you think happiness is. My interests also tend to veer more into absurdist territories too. Creativity, particularly writing, for me can feel very similar to Sisyphus rolling that boulder up that hill over and over again.
TK: I spotted a lot of influences in the book—Thompson, Dick, and Palahniuk, to name a few. Am I close with these observations? Who influenced your erratic style?
EW: Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas ( I assume you mean Hunter S. Thompson…unless you mean Jim Thompson…I don’t know…well…whatever…I like him too) and A Scanner Darkly are huge influences. I like writing that can be absorbed. You can fly through quickly and not realize what you’re taking from it. Palahniuk isn’t really an influence at all. I liked Lullabye, but that’s about it. All his stuff’s the same. I wouldn’t say I have a singular stylistic influence. The subject matter and the characters influenced the style. I think it’s important for the feeling to grow from the characters and situations. I want readers to feel like Frank. I want them to live in his head. If this thing was written differently, I think I would’ve missed my mark. Feeling is always number one for me. I don’t care about much else.
TK: Let’s switch gears for a moment. What’s your experience been like with publishing independently?
EW: It’s tough but it’s what I did. I never considered anything else. This is how I understand things. You create something and you put it out. I didn’t want to wait through the submission process. I finished the thing and I designed it and I released it. It’s cool to go through the whole process from empty screen to printed book and know that it was all you (with the help of a few of course). It’s a lot of work but its fun work.
TK: I noticed you have a large amount of reviews on Goodreads, Amazon, etc. What’s your secret? How do you promote such an experimental book?
EW: I don’t know. I just got on Goodreads and made some friends on there and people gave it a shot. I recommended it and made connections and people read it and wrote reviews and were very kind and it’s awesome. I’ve noticed that a lot of the folks who seem to dig Broken Bulbs are creative types like other writers and artists. They must see something in it. Making connections with other writers has been great and a big help. Like getting involved with Backword Books. I’ve learned a lot about both marketing and writing.
TK: Can we expect to see more from Frank and Bonnie?
EW: You will see Frank and Bonnie in comic book form at some point in 2011. Initially, Broken Bulbs will be adapted and then, hopefully, the stories will continue.
There will also be more Frank and Bonnie in prose. These guys aren’t done with me yet. I think there’s a lot left to do with them. There’s another book coming very soon. It’s a tough one and I’m all over the place with it. But that’s where I like to work. I like to get into it and get dirty. I feel simultaneously awful and wonderful about it.
TK: What’s this about a YA series you’re working on? Care to tell us about it?
EW: There’s not a whole lot I can say about it yet, but it’s a change of pace for me. It’s about a young blogger who investigates some strange stuff in his very strange town. It’s going to be very cool and very fun and I’m incredibly excited about it. It’s going to feel like a Joe Dante movie, but written by me.
TK: Why should others read your work?
EW: I think the characters are cool. I think Bonnie’s great and I think Frank is pretty relatable. I think Broken Bulbs is a fun read. It’s challenging but in the long run, it’s just a good time. I think it’s pretty funny and I think the love story works. One of the things I’m most proud of are the characters. I truly love creating character-y characters and think Frank and Bonnie and Dusty and all those guys are pretty character-y.
Bonus: Do you agree with your placement among the twenty sexiest writers of all time? Be honest.
EW: I would agree if I was number 15. I’m sexier than Hemingway.
Many thanks to Eddie for agreeing to be the subject of this feature, and for taking the time to respond to my questions.
Until next time,