Andrew H. Armacost quietly stepped away from his two young children for our early phone interview. The Navy veteran and Hoosier by choice was spending the morning at home with his family — a concept that runs rampant through his newest book The Bohemian Guide to Monogamy. His short fiction follows one narrator in a coffee shop telling a series of seemingly unrelated stories about starting off a new family.
"That is the bedrock of the narrative — a youngish couple who is coming to terms with adulthood and also coming to terms with the challenges of being in a cross-cultural marriage," says Armacost. "And grafted onto that is a series of stories that harken back to that period of unfettered freedom."
The loss of personal freedom that comes with having children was something that dominated Armacost's thoughts and writing for a while.
"Part of [The Bohemian Guide to Monogamy] is an obsession with form and narrative," says Armacost." I think the second piece of it is really exploring that intersection between the first phase of adulthood — which is learning to take care of yourself — and sacrifice in order to take care of others."
The book follows the struggles of conventional family values through an unconventional format. Armacost calls it "experimenting how the written word looks, appears on the page and how that influences the reader."
Much of the main character's narrative reflects Armacost's own: being in a cross-cultural marriage, traveling and being far from where he considers home — in his case Indiana. Armacost was born in California but spent most of his life as a Hoosier. He is an IU grad and much of his new book takes place in Indiana.
The short fiction falls into the genre of "bizarro," something Armacost compares to the cult section of a video store.
"[It's] post modernism brought forward, and post modernism that doesn't take itself nearly as seriously as proper literary movements," laughs Armacost.
We decided to chat with him about being a trailblazer in the genre.
NUVO: How has using the genre of bizarro influenced you as a person?
Andrew Armacost: I'm not sure that bizarro has so much influenced me as allowed me an outlet. It's also comforting for most folks to find out they're not alone. I think that's part of what books are all about, speaking to you in what Doris Lessing called a "small personal voice." When I discovered bizarro about ten years ago, I thought...someone will publish and market something this far from the mainstream? And people will read it? I thought I was alone, more or less, but I wasn't.
NUVO: Has it impacted your connection to your family in any way?
Armacost: My writing life and family life are essentially separate. The only challenge is mediating between the two. Every minute with family is a minute not writing or reading, while every minute writing is a minute not spent with family. It's a tough balance and, as a result, I probably don't sleep as much as I should.
NUVO: Where do you see the genre going in the future?
Armacost: I'm not sure that I can envision some sort of tipping point where bizarro writing suddenly becomes completely mainstream but I do think it will enjoy a slow positive accretion of readers...people who are bored with the status quo, the sort of bland products that typical risk-averse publishers turnout because they need to protect their significant investments.
There will probably be a tendency toward some splintering...a few hyphenated terms, like "literary-bizarro" or "bizarro horror," and so on. Whatever aggregates will tend to divide, eventually. But I also think bizarro will continue to grow and even see more screen time, here and there. John Dies at the End (2012), directed by Don Coscarelli, was based on a fantastic book by David Wong, and it was the first big contemporary commercial bizarro film that I know of. Probably not the last.
NUVO: Do you feel that this genre and style of writing is a way to deal with your own lack of freedom (that comes from having children and having to let go of the freedom of your youth)?
Armacost: Writing in general, like reading, can offer a catharsis. And admittedly, I've settled into a very conventional life with very conventional goals and concerns. So yes, having a chance to think and express something completely unconventional is a huge release. But I think that's natural. If you're living a chaotic life, it seems rational to seek more order. If your life has an abundance of order, you might tend to seek out chaos, now and again. Writing is my vice and, compared to the options, I think my wife is pretty happy with that.