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Geneva author reimagines literary forms

Geneva, IL

Experimenting in the free-wheeling literary realms of bizarro fiction is Eckhard Gerdes of Geneva, considered an elder statesman in the genre he helps champion.

When not performing his professorial role teaching creative writing, composition or literature courses at colleges in the Chicago area, he’s at play in a genre that splits wide the traditional boundaries of language, storytelling and reality itself. His newest book is “My Landlady the Lobotomist.”

In the 100-page novella, the protagonist, tortured from unrequited love, slips in and out of alternate personas: a lonely college professor, a dragonfly courting an indifferent electric blue angelfish and Godzilla awoken from the ocean’s depths. Into this arena steps Gerdes, providing a story rich in allusions and puns that tease the reader to puzzle out the idiosyncratic connections.

Gerdes, who publishes “The Journal of Experimental Fiction,” shares his thoughts about the realm of fringe literature.

Q How do you characterize bizarro fiction?

A It’s kind of a relatively newer term. Some of the writers involved and publishers realized that there were quite a few writers working in this kind of area. What they compare it to is kind of like the cult movie section in the movie aisle — for people interested in the films of Tarantino, for example ... a slightly off-center view of the world.

Q What styles of writing does the term encompass?

A It became kind of a catchall for a lot of us who work in various different ways. Some tend more to horror fiction, which I steer away from. Some to Philip K. Dick (style) sci-fi. My background is a little more in literary fiction. At some point, we all kind of meet in this interesting area. It really opens up possibilities of fiction again. For me, so much in literary fiction is very stodgy and tends to exclude the general reader and that’s unfortunate. It’s very possible to do interesting and unusual work and still keep a sense of a general readership.

Q Are there older literary movements you identify with?

A There are connections to German Romanticism.

Q What are you working on now?

A I’ve been reading and editing ... my 12-year-old son Ulysses’ novel. It (targets) teen readers, and is a dark fantasy novel. (Gerdes’ son Ludwig plays soccer for Geneva Community High School and the Chicago Fire Juniors. His oldest son, Sterling, attends Georgia Tech.)

Q After whom is your son Ulysses named?

A The James Joyce novel.

Q What’s another of your favorite books?

A Richard Brautigan’s ‘In Watermelon Sugar.’ It’s the novel that first introduced me to fiction that was slightly off-center. I use it as a touchstone and come back to it every few years.

Q Do you see a recurrent theme in your books?

A Striving for perfection. The conflict between the inner world and the outer world and trying to balance those two. Much of my writing has been the outgrowth of a phrase from 15th century German mystic Nicholas of Cusa: ‘The inner and outer world meet at a point in infinity.’ I’m trying to find that meeting point — what that does internally to the characters and the external ramifications.

Q How did you approach your new novella?

A I’m looking into the emotional world of the protagonist. He’s self-contradictory, (with) moments of elation and great joy and love and other moments of anger and despondency. It’s been a while since I looked at great depth into the emotions of a character. It’s an interesting new direction for me. I’m very pleased (at) what it opened up for me and my writing.

Q What do you tell your son about the writing process?

A I’ve been writing novels for over 30 years, and it’s always a learning experience. I’m looking to learn more and to gain as a writer.

Q What is your next book about?

A Duty and obligation are at (its) core. Also, it’s set on Mars. I chose (the title ‘Aasvogel,’ a South African vulture, because) if anyone ever makes a list of all the bizarro fiction, this one will be at the top.

Q What’s another of your books that you recommend as an introduction to your style?
A ‘Przewalski’s Horse.’

Gerdes has twice been the recipient of the Richard Pike Bissell Creative Writing Award for excerpts from “Przewalski’s Horse.” For “Cistern Tawdry,” Gerdes was nominated for the Georgia Author of the Year Award in the Fiction Category. “The Million-Year Centipede” was selected as one of the top 10 mainstream novels of 2007 in the annual Preditors and Editors Readers Poll.

Author to give reading

What: Eckhard Gerdes of Geneva will read excerpts of his newest book, “My Landlady the Lobotomist,” published by Raw Dog Screaming Press.

When: 12:30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 25

Where: Barnes & Noble, 1 E. Jackson Blvd., Chicago

Info: Call the store at (312) 362-8792. Visit the publisher’s Web site at

In stores: Town House Books, 105 N. Second Ave., St. Charles, carries the new novel, and Kiss the Sky record store at Route 38 and Third Street in Geneva has his spoken-word compact disc that includes recordings of several sections of his works, accompanied by the avant-garde instrumentalists of Shelf Life.

An excerpt

“The brains of past tenants line the shelves of my boarding house, soaking in a mysterious elixir. I’m pretty sure something  has infected my gray matter; an epic battle between Godzilla and the divine She-Sus rages in my hypothalamus. In my pituatary gland a dragonfly woos an electric blue angelfish.’

From Eckhard Gerdes' ‘My Landlady the Lobotomist’

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