In the world of bizarro fiction, Kevin Donihe is somewhat of a superstar. The wiry, 40-year-old author has published more than 10 novels and twice won the nascent genre’s top annual book award.
Trying to escape writer’s block, Donihe left his home state of Tennessee several months ago for Astoria, where he has quickly settled in and begun work on two new books.
Donihe hails from Kingsport, a small city in the hills of northeastern Tennessee. By age 5, he said, it was clear he would be an author. By his mid-20s, he’d published his first novel, “Shall We Gather at the Garden?,” about a commune of circus midgets with supernatural powers who are infiltrated by the book’s protagonist.
Donihe said he was inspired by Victorian and Edwardian horror and modern and postmodern authors such as Franz Kafka and William S. Burroughs. He started out writing horror fiction, which he felt had a market he could tap into.
“But what I really wanted to write was strange, idiosyncratic stuff, that really didn’t have a niche, or didn’t have a market,” he said. “I just kind of wrote it for my own benefit, because I assumed there was no publisher for it.”
While surfing the internet, Donihe found Eraserhead Press, a Portland publisher he said wanted the fundamentally weird books nobody else did. “I was like, ‘Oh, my God; I finally found a publisher that is right for me.’”
Donihe joined the ground level of Eraserhead Press before the term bizarro fiction was coined in the mid-2000s. He described bizarro fiction as the genre of the weird, like the cult section of a throwback video store but for books. The genre appealed to him because of the total creative freedom.
“We thought it was just us for a while, but there is a true hunger for the weird,” he said of the growing genre. “People’s tastes are getting increasingly stranger over time.”
Donihe has published at least 13 books under Eraserhead Press. Two of them — “Space Walrus,” about the unrequited love of a walrus in a space station for a scientist experimenting on him; and “House of Houses,” about the intimate love between a man and his house — have won best novel at the Wonderland Book Awards, the preeminent gathering of the bizarro fiction world for the past decade.
Donihe said he wants people reading his books to form an emotional connection to things they might not otherwise bond with. He said many of his best ideas come from flashes out of his subconscious, which he immediately takes down and starts forming into stories. The system has largely worked for Donihe, who said he has been able to make a living as a full-time bizarro fiction writer for 20 years, until recently.
“I was feeling rather uninspired in my previous location,” Donihe said of Tennessee. “I hadn’t written a book in three years.”
Donihe had friends in Astoria and a publisher in Portland. He started a GoFundMe account to finance his move to Astoria, where he said the ideas started flowing. Aside from his job at Fort George Brewery, Donihe has two books in the works.
One, he said, is inspired by his apartment on the edge of Uniontown, a Victorian monstrosity he said is rumored to be one of the last operating brothels in Astoria. Another, “Daddy, Please Don’t Kill Me Again,” is about a family man trying to escape a loop of repeatedly killing his family for the entertainment of the rich. Donihe said the latter is on contract for Eraserhead Press, due by the end of the month, and could be out as soon as early next year.
With a place to live, a job at Fort George Brewery and his creative juices once again flowing freely, Donihe said Astoria already feels like home.
— Edward Stratton