Originally hailing from the suburbs of St. Louis, author Jason Rizos became disillusioned with the corporate world after stints as a technology sales representative, a call center lackey, and a peddler of diet pills. He moved west to Portland, Oregon, where he resides with his wife and two dogs and teaches writing and literature at Portland Community College.
His short story, “We Love You Fluffy the Hamster,” was selected as a Fulton Prize finalist by the Adirondack Review, and his horror/science-fiction has been published by Snow Monkey, Fourth River, Resident Aliens, and produced in audio by Pseudopod podcast. In 2013, he published The Frugal Homebrewer’s Companion, A Hardware and Technique Guide: What to Buy and How to Build World-Class Beers at Home, and his first novel, Supercenter, was recently released by Montag Press. A social satire about a future hyper-materialistic consumer world where children are raised within sealed retail megastores and groomed as soldiers via video game training, Supercenter tells the story of G.E. Westinghouse, a man who discovers that there may be more to the world than the violent, capitalistic world he’s always known.
Learn more about Rizos and Supercenter at www.supercenternation.com.
I grew up in a poor, rural neighborhood surrounded by a great deal of affluence. But before that arrived, we had cornfields and wilderness in three cardinal directions. I escaped to the forest every single day—snake bites, poison ivy, and even Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, was the norm. So it was a kid’s paradise. When I turned 14, all of this was bulldozed, approximately 300 acres, but what felt like the entire planet. This culminated in a feckless attempt to protect a 500 year old Oak, which remained after the McMansions were erected all around, just long enough to be butchered in their shadow, and that experience was like Armageddon to my childhood. Seeing all that forest reduced to mud, the natural creek obliterated, and sterile subdivisions erected in their place, which still serve as the geographical foundation of my dreams on a nightly basis. And in no time the entire community, even beyond our backyard, all of Ballwin and Chesterfield, turned into utter Suburbia—this, twisted, metastasizing, cartoonish nightmare of “country living.” Sprawling, congested, commercialized, transient, and devoid of culture. I don’t mean to sound so vitriolic, but it really is that bad, and it has devastating psychological consequences for those who grow up in it, which I was fortunate enough to not endure as a kid, only as a teenager. Those subsequent teenage years were spent absconding from one patch of forest to another, just looking for some solitude, some privacy, before the police eventually arrived to issue trespassing tickets and Minor in Possession of Alcohol tickets. In high school, imagination, wonder, expression, and creativity were contraband. So yes, I am mature enough today to see that much of my expression, and much of my world view about environmentalism and politics, is a product of this microcosm of my youth. I’m like a modern day Freddy Krueger.
When did you start to become disenchanted with corporate work? Was there a particular moment when you thought to yourself, “This isn’t what I want to be doing with my life”?
Though it is all I ever wanted to do since the 6th grade, writing fiction, or calling myself a writer had always been accompanied by great deal of shame, for its sheer starry-eyed impracticality. At age 23, I took a corporate desk job, mostly because I was desperate to know how “the other half lived,” as in, those outside of creative or artistic circles, which I found so flawed by its own insularity and academic navel-gazing. I wanted to interact with these people and see their hopes and dreams and ambitions, what motivated and inspired them. So I kind of went into it knowing it wouldn’t last, that it wasn’t what I wanted to be doing with my life, aside from gaining practical experience.
However, this was not a legitimate experiment, because absent all the energy and study I had placed in writing, I was essentially a worthless, rudderless schmuck. I do not say this lightly—think about it, by joining the corporate order, I was confessing that I learned nothing, did nothing in college, but at the same time, this was precisely the value that corporate America placed upon my Bachelor of Arts in Literature. I had zero skills, zero training, so I found myself on a sales/customer service track within a corporate hierarchy, astride drunken fraternity deadbeats and lunkhead jocks who truly did nothing with their college experience. The problem was not that I was skill-less, it was that I wasn’t ambition-less, as my colleagues were. I was producing nothing of value, being reimbursed to the tune of $24,000 a year, which is a lot for doing nothing, don’t get me wrong, but I couldn’t stomach the idea of just passing the time.
And then it was September 11, 2001, that revealed life was too short and this sham had now run its course. Lots of amazing observations came of those experiences, and I regret nothing. You’ll be reading about this experience in my next novel, currently titled Asset Recall, which highlights just how over traditional labor we are as an advanced, technological society, but how in denial we are about it, and how much we preserve a corporate caste system for the sake of wealth distribution.
What made you decide to write Supercenter?
I wanted to speak my mind about our cultural obsession with materialism and consumerism, and found that the trajectory we are on as a culture, unsustainable as it obviously is, will, after meeting with some kind of catastrophe exerting pressure upon this system, result in certain pockets of hyper-denial, where profound, even absurd, efforts are made in order to preserve the system. That resulted in Supercenter—a completely shuttered big-box retail store in denial of the civil war and collapse raging all around it, lying to its citizens about the glory and honor of its ideology. This is, in a nutshell, present-day American culture, as far as I see it.
Who are your biggest creative inspirations?
Hands-down, David Foster Wallace. I love wry, snarky humor and verbose language. I also find that everything South Park does is absolute gold, and as an adolescent I internalized so much of The Simpsons that I relate events from the show to just about everything that happens to me. It’s all about satire, and I exalt the comedic style of Monty Python and the pseudo-documentaries Waiting for Guffman and Spinal Tap as the highest order of hilarity humanly possible.
For you, what distinguishes great writing from mediocre writing?
Some sense of the actual world. I mean, aside from pandering, which is truly terrible art, playing toward a market. But aside from that, poor writing has no ambition to change or shed light on the world, it is trivial, superfluous, propaganda, or simply wrong. Poor writing doesn’t cause us to change our minds about our own humanity, or our own society and political systems. And that’s not a limitation of genre. Fantasy, Romance, Splatterpunk, you name it, no genre is limited in what it can say about the real world. So it really is that simple, it’s not about language or innovation or ideas, just about changing people’s minds about the world they inhabit.
How did you get into homebrewing, and what do you enjoy most about the process?
Saving money on beer! It’s really that simple. I’m flabbergasted by $9 and $10 price tags on six-packs of beer I can make at home for less than a buck. The predictable, mathematical and non-creative process is enormously soothing. It’s so nice to simply know what needs to be done and to do it and to get the expected result in the end, which is the diametrical opposite of writing, where you have no idea what to write, how to write it, or what its going to end up looking like.
What are your top three Portland-area beers (aside from your own)?
The next-generation of Pale Ales are just now starting to emerge, which is extremely low-bitter beers, with extremely aromatic, exotic hops that showcase a variety of citrus flavors, all of this result of recent efforts to cross-breed and develop new strains of hop (such as Mosaic, Citra, Pallisade, Simcoe). We have a Hood River brewery called pFreim that combines this with Belgain and pseudo-Belgian yeast (again, new strains), such as one from Wyeast called Forbidden Fruit. They make a single-hopped Rakau hop beer that is stunning. Deschutes Brewery makes Fresh Squeezed Ale that also stands as a testament to this new generation of Pale Ales. Essentially, it is a tropical fruit flavor borne entirely from hops and yeast, no actual fruit. Third, I’d say the guys at Breakside Brewery have taken up the mantle of true Belgian style Farmhouse and Saison and have not disappointed with any of their beers.
What do the St. Louis Blues need to do this upcoming season to improve on last season’s first round playoff exit?
The wheels absolutely came off of what was otherwise a cup contender in the last month of the regular season; it was like watching a train wreck in slow motion. Good for the General Manager Doug Armstrong for not nuking the team in the offseason. The Blues simply have not had the amazing draft picks that the Blackhawks and Kings had enjoyed by circling the bottom of the league for a decade. So, my answer is nothing except pray that goaltender Jake Allen is the second coming of Patrick Roy.
What’s the best video game you’ve played recently?
Underrail. Throwback/retro isometric turn-based RPG, an indie title, and absolutely immersive in its story and atmosphere. Great challenge, and nice integration of “psionic” abilities. Unfortunately, I’m usually disappointed by most new games, and when one generates a ton of hype, I’ll play it and think, “really?”
You’re elected King of the World. What’s the first thing you do to make life on earth better for all?
Every problem is a population problem. I would extend birth control to those that seek it, and begin the process of undoing the ideological damage caused by Western religions, beginning with the notion that the Earth is mankind’s to consume with abandon. Hey, it was a great ideology 2,000 years ago, and I’m not talking about all the ideas of Western religion, just the ones that endorse war, tribalism, and slavery.
What are you working on next?
Now that I’m putting Asset Recall to bed and shopping it out to publishers, I’m turning my attention to a wildly imaginative middle-reader adventure along the lines of a Roald Dahl, if I could ever so much as hold a candle to Dahl. When I was in college as an undergrad I really enjoyed writing stories about much-too-serious and much-too-erudite children taking charge of their narrow, simple, insular worlds and turning them into something diabolical and intense in a comedic and lighthearted way. There’s that South Park influence, right?