I published my first book in 2010; although I borrowed the title from an album by The Smashing Pumpkins, the album itself had little to no influence on the content or aesthetic of the book. It started as the title of one the short-stories in it for two reasons: it sounded nice, and it was a perfect fit for a story around twin brothers who become star-crossed lovers — it sounded so nice it became the title of the book.
Of the five stories in Siamese Dream, only two can be cataloged as fantasy, sci-fi or somewhere in the realm of speculative fiction; still, and even though the other three stories don’t have an obvious speculative or fantastic element, their twist endings were heavily influenced by the works of Edgar Allan Poe and by a mythical TV show called The Twilight Zone; from the Bostonian master, the story that immediately comes to my mind as having an enduring effect on me as a writer — and a person — is The Cask of Amontillado; as for the TV show, the kind of stories that revolved around the old cliché be careful what you wish for were the ones that stuck with me.
I started writing because I wanted to write lyrics; having learned to play to guitar and dreaming of becoming a rock star, I wanted to write songs like my music heroes, Seattle-based band Alice In Chains; later on, I switched from writing non-sensical lyrics in English to non-sensical poems in Portuguese; oddly enough, that switch was triggered by reading the Portuguese translation of William S. Burroughs’s Naked Lunch.
The poems got longer, less poetic, more narrative and character-driven, and in two shakes of a lamb’s tail, I was writing short-stories; the fact that I was voraciously reading collections of short stories by Philip K. Dick and J.G. Ballard at the time may have some sway on my conscious decision to dedicate myself to this particular form of fiction.
Siamese Dream was published through a vanity-press; the concept was reasonably unknown in Portugal, I had money to spend, and I wanted to be a writer; I’m not proud of it nor ashamed; I consider it a false start to my «career».
Since then, I’ve been publishing my books through a legitimate publisher, sales have been growing yearly, and I’ve had a couple of good reviews. I’ve also been trying to steer aspiring writers away from vanity-press publishing, but only when asked about it; with all the information and testimonials out there on the traps of vanity-presses, one can say you only fall for them if you want to.
It wasn’t a total waste of money. I learned a lot from that process: I learned that I wanted to write, rather than being a writer; the thrill came from writing, from creating worlds, not from publishing. My second book wouldn’t see the light of day until 2016; in those six years, I wrote like a maniac, I learned all that I could about the craft and even paid for literary advisory services that helped me improve my writing and my world-building skills.
The world and the influences
I noticed that something connected all my stories: a similar background. I’m not a strong believer of the adage write what you know; you can write about whatever you want, using your imagination, your empathy, researching and reading, but what you know inevitably ends up contaminating your fiction; my city, the city of Barreiro, a suburb across the river from Lisbon, made its way into my stories without permission, with its industrial landscapes, old run-down factories, clouds of smoke and a certain set of infrastructures uncommon to most Portuguese cities; Barreiro is also home of a huge number of sports teams and bands. The old workers quarters, designed by British architects, are unique in the world: after the blitzkriegs that plagued England in WW2, these remain as the only surviving examples of that kind of architecture; no wonder it was dubbed as the Portuguese Manchester in the ’80s.
Other aspects of my life seethed into my writing, namely the music I was listening to; Barreiro was a melting pot of tastes and interests, and in my teens, I was listening to post-punk — The Cure, Bauhaus, Joy Division — industrial — Ministry, Einsturzende Neubauten, Pitchshifter — hip-hop — Cypress Hill, House of Pain, Public Enemy — metal — Paradise Lost, Metallica, Slayer — and, of course, grunge — Nirvana, Soundgarden, and Alice In Chains; the local cinema club ran retrospectives on the works of Cronenberg — my favorite director — and Von Trier; and a couple of wonderful teachers lend me books like Fahrenheit 451, On Blindness, Brave New World or 1984.
All my stories are set in a city called Saint Paul, also known as the City of Industry. City of Industry was the moniker under which I started releasing electronic-industrial music back in 2006; it was meant to honor my hometown; it ended up becoming my imaginary city’s matronymic. Saint Paul is an immense metropolis, and the fact that I was born in São Paulo, one of the world’s biggest cities, is not a coincidence; you can say Saint Paul is my Arkham, my Macondo or my Yoknapatawpha County. I picture it somewhere in the Atlantic, half-way between Europe and the Americas; that gives me the privilege and the freedom of using certain elements in my fiction without being bound by my own or my country’s circumstances; for instance, Portugal was one of the first nations in the world to abolish the death penalty, yet, I’ve used it as a plot device in some of my stories.
The MacLaren Institute is a shady conglomerate, an unofficial center of Saint Paul, a bastion of science and fringe-science at the same time; it is the home for scientists, psychiatrists and technological innovations that can be used either for good or for evil; seldom this institute is the main subject or location of the stories, but there’s always mention here and there, by the narrator or a character; it will, however, become central in a book yet to be released; an event, ominously dubbed Android Apocalypse, is mentioned in several of my stories with little detail; that too will be expanded and explored in the same book.
As I mentioned above, only two of the stories in Siamese Dream have supernatural elements. The one that shares the name with the book deals with a brother and a sister — twins —, destined to love each other for all eternity through an unexplained process of self-replication, closely tied to the cyclical apparition of a comet, always doomed for the tragedy due to the incestuous nature of the relationship. From time to time, I get tempted to write a prequel to this story, making them the victims of a witch’s spell or a discarded alien attempt to create a sort of Adam and Eve. The concept of the story — the end mirroring the beginning — is a concept devised by Jorge Luís Borges in his circular stories; the story is always happening, it has no discernible opening or ending, it just goes on forever, like an ouroboros; the narrative was influenced by the many readings of a book by Thomas Mann: The Holy Sinner — which in turn was based on the epic medieval verse Gregorious.
The other story, O Anjo Exterminador — The Exterminating Angel, in English —, tells the tale of a woman who happens to own and run a fencing academy; she is sexually assaulted by four men in a dimly-lit parking lot and becomes a sword-wielding avenger; not only she gets revenge, she dispenses justice to a drug dealing pimp along the way. In the end, it is not clear if she survived the final confrontation with one of her assailants; it became clearer in the rewrite I undertook, which resulted in the publication of The Exterminating Angel, in English, through Amazon.
As for the other stories, although there are no elements of speculative fiction per se in them, all three have twist endings reminiscent of many episodes of The Twilight Zone. In Allegra, the protagonist is a young woman that speaks to God and goes around healing people; I based this story on the very public and drug-fueled meltdown of a Hollywood actress claiming she was a woman named Celesta, hailing from another Earth hidden from view behind the Sun; interwoven with Allegra’s wanderings is her encounter with a werewolf that explains to her that he’s a psychiatric patient looked in an institute; it’s easy to guess what Allegra comes to realize in the end; the epigraph that opens the narrative is a quote from Philip K. Dick, an author that explored deeply the blur between what’s real and what’s not.
The story O Homem-Cesto — The Basket-Man, in English —, had two main sources of inspiration: the book Officer Factory, by Hans Hellmut Kirst, which dealt with the horrors of war, and mostly the movie Johnny Got His Gun, written and directed by Dalton Trumbo, based on his novel; I watched it when I was very young; later, I wrongly remembered it as a The Twilight Zone episode; I rediscovered it through Metallica’s video for the track One. The twist in my story is that the young lieutenant is not aware of the extent of his injuries until the very end.
Nadja is about a photographer that has been institutionalized and is trying to get on with her life; like Allegra, there is an element of unreality, in the sense that the line between reality and hallucination is very thin; however, at one point in the story, the protagonist photographs the interior of an old factory, the floor cluttered with classical music records, still inside the sleeves, featuring Beethoven, Brahms, and many others on the covers; that image, an old factory cluttered with records, is not a figment of my imagination: there was such a factory near my home; my friends and I used to go there and take the records out of the sleeves and hurl them across space until they shattered in a thousand pieces against the walls. The main inspiration behind this story is the song All Mine, by Portishead; the more I listened to it, the clearer the images — visions, one might say —, became; it started with the image of a woman, a femme fatale, wielding a knife until it evolved into a tale of obsession and murder; the final twist is the revelation of the true object of her stalking.
Siamese Dream, The Basket-Man and Nadja were later reworked to become part of the Saint Paul lore; elements such as the name of the city, the MacLaren Institute and an ongoing overseas war in Jalal-Abad were added, and the stories were published along with others in my latest book, O Invisível, a Sua Sombra e o Seu Reflexo — The Invisible, its Shadow and its Reflection, in English. O Anjo Exterminador — The Exterminating Angel — was expanded with the addition of a prologue and an epilogue during the rewrites and became a stand-alone novella; it was translated to English and published through Amazon; the Portuguese version — the original version, that is —, is going to be published soon through Coolbooks, featuring illustrations by Sérgio Aranha, an artist from Barreiro, like myself. As for Allegra, she might get a new lease in life in the future.
Speaking of the future, on my following books — four, as of now —, I delve deeper into Saint Paul’s lore; a few stories deal with the city’s future, right before and after the aforementioned Android Apocalypse, but most are set in what is called hypertime, in this case, in a long-stretching ’90s; some of them are straight-forward sci-fi, others have elements of horror, and others play on the macabre or fall into the category of a thriller or detective stories; connecting them all, there’s a writer — Tony Dornbusch —, a newspaper, a couple of magazines, bars, restaurants, an electronic/industrial/ambient soundtrack — spanning four albums, all of them released by Enough Records Netlabel and available in most music platforms — and, of course, the MacLaren Institute; there are unborn killers, vampires, space travels, psychics, UFO’s, strange illnesses, demonic possessions, killing machines and lots of ironic and twisted endings.
By Antonio Bizarro
António Bizarro is a short stories author and musician born in 1978, in São Paulo, Brazil, and lives in Barreiro, Portugal. In 2016, he published ‘O Longo Caminho de Regresso’ (The Long Way Back), through Coolbooks. Published two new books in 2017, again through Coolbooks: ‘O Motor do Caos e da Destruição’ (The Engine of Chaos and Destruction), and ‘O Desejo e Outros Demónios’ (Desire and Other Demons). In 2018, released two electronic music albums through Enough Records Netlabel: ‘City of Industry: Slow Gun’ and ‘City of Industry: Cruel Devices’. In 2019, published the book ‘O Invisível, a sua Sombra e o seu Reflexo’ (The Invisible, its Shadow and its Reflection), and released the albums ‘The Dark Room’ and ‘City of Industry: Cellar Door’. He provides the vocals and the guitar in the rock band IMDK. Has a gray cat called Sombra (Shadow). ‘The Exterminating Angel’ (2019), is his first book in English.