When author Reuben Dendinger contacted me about his debut novel The Rude Adventures of Trenchfoot, I leapt at the chance of being able to review what he described as a raw, dark, weird fantasy story, weaved with magic, peril, strangeness and satire. A week or so later, I had my hands on a copy and, buzzing with intrigue after reading the following blurb, sank straight in.
Born at the precipice of a dying age, and prophesied to be its executioner. A rogue and a lunatic with his name writ in the course of falling comets. Hounded by the law, haunted by madness, he rides North to fulfill his anti-myth. Will he reach the Equator before the Hibernox, before all the Earth descends into hell? Maybe he will. Maybe he won’t. And maybe it makes no difference at all.
The cover art work of Trenchfoot, though mysterious and utterly unique, had a vibe about which I felt familiar with, the kind of vibe I get when examining the artwork of underground black metal projects.
Trenchfoot was a fast paced read with rarely a dull moment. I surged through the pages, following Trenchfoot on his perilous journey, with his troop of eccentric comrades, across a strange, dark, decaying earth, where the collapse of civilization was imminent. Dendinger’s descriptions of Trenchfoot’s world were nothing but lavish, and worked extremely well to indulge all of my senses.
The land buckled into rollicking hillocks. Waterfalls gushed from iron wounds in the rocky hillside, abandoned mineshafts howled in the rainy sun, and the rain came pounding down like crystal shattering on the boughs of one thousand elms and oaks.
At moments I felt like I had been dropped into the midst of a Hobbit dinner scene (never a bad thing)…
There was hot spiced tea, thick milk, fresh bread with butter, diverse cheeses, smoked trout, sausages, quail eggs, plums, pears, olives, eel pie, blackberries, roast pigeon and blueberry sauce.
The following passage is taken from my favourite part of the book, where Trenchfoot and his troop encounter the Zhizhi, a tribe of humanoid mountain goats.
Trenchfoot’s eyes gradually adjusted so that he finally got a good look at this Zhizhi. Simply put, she appeared to be a humanoid mountain goat. Her head was snouted as a goat, with a beard and stout black horns. The rest of her body was covered in shaggy white wool. She wore nothing but a simple brocade skirt which was decorated with reds, yellows, and greens in intricate geometric patterns. She had two breasts like a human, and her hands, though covered with hair, were as five-fingered human hands with all subsequent dexterity. Her feet, though, were plainly the cloven hooves of a beast.
I encountered heterosexual and homosexual eroticism, shapeshifting and madness aplenty. The diversity in themes was welcomed and I found myself being continually surprised by what the next new page brought to me. Dendinger’s writing was gently beautiful at moments…
Upon many more cups of wine, Cass and Trenchfoot’s secret desire for one another became manifest, and they lay together that night in Cass’s bed. The sobriety of the morning, however, forced them to recognise the doomed nature of their amour, and they went about the day with the misty tenderness of lovers who know they soon must part.
…devilishly dark at others.
Thexeded, buckled over with laughter, suddenly sprang into the air with a mad grin. His dagger flashed and then it was imbedded to the hilt in Poumond’s eye There was an explosion of movement. The Duke of Codeurs screamed. Poumond stood perfectly still, in shock, blood and cerebral fluids pouring down his face.
Blood and entrails spilled nosily onto the obsidian floor. Thaxeded and Trenchfoot charged forward, hacking at terrified flesh like butchers at autumn pigs.
By the second half of the book, it felt as though Dendinger had fully settled into his position as a storyteller. The developments felt stronger, the dialogue more fluid. and memorable moments appeared more frequently, including the following passage.
The earth cannot be mapped because the earth is always changing. Even now we transform it with these hoof prints.
If sci-fi, fantasy, heavy metal or just awesomely weird literature is your thing, I would recommend putting The Rude Adventure of Trenchfoot at the top of your ‘books to buy list’ post haste.
Your debut novel The Rude Adventures of Trenchfoot is a witty, dark, fantastical ride. What inspired this work and how long was it from the idea’s conception to you actually holding a printed copy in your hands?
In December of 2011 I decided to start writing a novel, having no idea what it would be about. I was going to just sit down every morning and write whatever came to me, totally unadulterated. I’ve always been interested in stream-of-consciousness and automatic writing, and I thought it would be a great way to practice my technique. So anyway, I sat down one day and wrote the title, having no clue what it meant, then starting writing the first chapter. By August of 2012 it was finished, but then it would be another two years of editing, working with the designer to make the cover art, and preparing the Kickstarter campaign before I was finally able to print the book this past fall.
Writing a novel is a huge endeavour for any writer to take on. How did you find the experience? Did you maintain a schedule while writing the book? What kept you going when things got tough? Did you have a plan made out for every chapter?
I tried my best to have fun, to not think about the final product, but to just write. I tried to work on it every day, although this was not always possible because I was in college. Of course, I sometimes got bogged down as a result of overthinking the plot, which was a big mess in the first draft, because it involves this mythology and backstory which I was making up as I went along. I just had to silence that part of my mind and just write as freely as possible. In the end I think it was worth it, because I was able to clean up the plot in the revision process, while still maintaining (I hope) that sense of energy and spontaneity that came with the free writing technique.
The print run of Trenchfoot was funded through Kickstarter. Was this your first time using the crowd funding project? Did you find the endeavour straight forward, or did you run into any troubles along the way? What advice would you give to an author wanting to raise money to print a book?
It was indeed my first time using Kickstarter. While it was relatively straightforward, its easy to get overly optimistic about how much money you can realistically raise. We were lucky enough to get selected as a “Staff Pick,” and a lot of the pre-orders came from total strangers who just found the page on Kickstarter. In the end, though, the majority of the pre-orders came from friends and family, and that’s what anyone using Kickstarter should keep in mind. Unless you’re selling a portable microwave with an iPhone charger inside it, or whatever, your Kickstarter campaign is probably not going to go viral and you’re really going to have to rely on your own social circle. Also, its important to plan all the details meticulously before launching the campaign – that is the only reason we succeeded.
You have some extremely intriguing characters in your novel. What was it like for you, as a writer, to see these characters come alive? Were they in your head long before you wrote the book?
I had not conceived of the characters as such beforehand, they really just appeared in the text as I was writing. For this reason I can only assume they were in my head long before, plotting their escape, though I was not conscious of them.
What inspired you to explore the subjects of androgyny and homosexuality in your book?
The story is about the disintegration of civilization, or perhaps even the whole universe. Our reality is structured into pairs of opposites, and one of these is male/female. The breakdown of the gender binary is something we are experiencing currently in Western society, and it also occurs in Trenchfoot in a certain way. As for homosexuality, it is also there as a result of a general breakdown in sexual boundaries and inhibitions. The book I think is basically amoral, and I did not try to make a moral argument about these things one way or another. And again, all of this is a reflection looking back, as I did not consciously plan those themes while writing the story; they developed on their own.
What would you consider to be pros and cons of being a self-published author?
The pros are that I did not have to wait for a publisher to pick up the book, and that I was in complete control of its production. There are so many writers out there, especially in fantasy and science fiction, that it is extremely difficult to get noticed by big publishers, who in any case would probably not want to take a risk on something like Trenchfoot, which is pretty outre, I think. Small publishers abound, but after extensive research none of them seemed appropriate. This is why I created my own label – Magic Sword Press. I think the publisher should not just be a money-making enterprise, it must be its own work of art, with its own aesthetic and mystique. Record labels tend to be much better at cultivating this than publishers.
Anyway, the cons of self-publishing are many. There is a stigma surrounding it, and it lumps me in with a whole vast sea of self-published authors, many of whom, lets be honest, are not any good. Many novel prizes, as well as reviewers, will not look at self-published novels, so getting publicity has been much more difficult. But in the long run I’m hoping it will pay off.
When you were growing up, what were you reading? Would you say that your childhood had a influence on the dark and fantasy based subjects that you are interested in writing about today?
Like everyone else my age I loved Harry Potter as a child, but I also read Edgar Allen Poe, Stephen King, and abridged versions of classic Victorian fantasy like the Picture of Dorian Gray, and stuff by Robert Louis Stevenson and Jules Verne. When I got a little older, like middle school and into high school, I started listening to metal and reading HP Lovecraft, Clark Ashton Smith, and later on Robert E. Howard’s Conan stories. Metal music, fantasy literature, and fantasy video games like Morrowind made me who I am, and all that stuff is in all my writing. When I was very young I also read Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, which I never thought about while writing Trenchfoot, but in retrospect I can see was a huge influence. Also Alejandro Jodorowsky’s films El Topo and The Holy Mountain, which I watched after graduating high school, completely changed the way I looked at writing, art, and life generally.
What did you read, watch and listen to while you were writing Trenchfoot? Did you ever find it difficult to sink into the work of someone else after working on your own material?
I don’t remember what I was reading or what films I watched during that time, although I can remember some of the music. During that period I always listened to music while writing. It was a lot of Skullflower, Sunn O))), Earth, Teeth of Lions Rule the Divine, Absu, The Master Musicians of Bukkake, Emperor, Alcest, as well as a lot of other stuff that I can’t remember. A band called Pallbearer released their first album while I was in the middle of writing Trenchfoot and I listened to that a lot – it is incredible.
I think writing has actually made me more sensitive to literature and films. After working on your own stuff, and really delving into the world of the human imagination, I think you become more open to the experience of literature.
Is writing your full-time occupation and have you always been attracted to working with the written word? What do you produce aside from fiction?
Currently I am a student, and I will probably stay in school for a couple more years to get a master’s degree in literature or history. So in a sense yes, reading and writing are my full time occupation for the moment. I have wanted to be a writer since I was a kid.
I write some poetry, and some day I want to make films, although that is probably not going to happen any time soon.
What are you working on now? Are you able to reveal any clues as to what we can expect to see from you next?
I have been working on a novel about the future of America which will hopefully be ready for the light of day within the next year. And as for Trenchfoot – I do not think his adventure is over just yet.
You can buy a copy of Trenchfoot here.