Portland author profile: Jason Rizos doesn’t hate Wal-Mart

Jason Rizos invited me up to his house in North Portland, where he writes and lives with his wife and two dogs—whippets, like small greyhounds—to talk about publishing his book Supercenter.

Rizos walked me through the process of writing and getting published, and the challenges that lie therein. He even walked me through his beer brewing process.

Supercenter is a dystopian look at the future set in a big box superstore, where G.E. Westinghouse (named by his sponsor) lives, works, buys and competes in the Siege Arena, a virtual battle arena where youth are trained for military service.

The story tackles serious societal issues. They are shown observationally, rather than attacked head-on, displaying a dystopian future that could become our current society if we don’t find something new to idolize besides consumerism and entertainment.

Rizos stressed the need for authors to write what they feel in the moment, what is important to them, and to avoid writing based purely on what others will want, or what the writer thinks is most likely to sell. He said this was a self-prescribed death to your prose.

Length was another focus that Rizos suggested not worrying about. With the varieties of publishers and ease of digital publishing, there are now fewer rules to writing what you want. He also noted that people have shorter attention spans these days.

Editing is one area where many struggle. Rizos stressed practice and to focus on each word and piece of grammar. Like a metronome, he said.

Rizos suggested sitting down and editing, only editing, not getting sidetracked with elaborating further on the story. The key is being able to detach yourself from the meanings you have already put on the words; to read it with fresh eyes.

Rizos published Supercenter through Montag Press, a print-on-demand publisher out of Oakland, California. They focus on weird, futuristic, sci-fi and fantasy books. Their slogan even feels dystopian: “Books Worth Burning.”

Montag offered Rizos an advance on sales and did a final edit on the book. Rizos urged that other authors should accept no less. With the ability to self-publish, and author services that do layout or other tasks, writers have to make their publisher work for them.

He said the beauty of print-on-demand publishing is that it allows the company to have lower overhead and take more risks on more authors, and give a larger share of profits to the authors as well.

While Montag did do some of the marketing for Supercenter, Rizos took it upon himself to do more. He used various forms of social media including Reddit, where he introduced his book to subreddits that focus on subject matter closely related to what he writes about.

He created a satire newspaper from the Supercenter world. He has a blog, a YouTube channel and has a video series called “Elements of Science Fiction,” where he critiques sci-fi movies through various lenses of literary criticism and devices.

Over-consumption is an obvious social critique in Supercenter. In Rizos’ real life he also reflects various forms of the anti-consumerism movement, one being that he brews most of the beer he drinks. Rizos said he can brew for around 10 percent of the cost of buying store bought microbrews.

As for beer, Rizos tends to move away from the ever popular IPA and usually makes more European-style beers. Now he is making 40 gallons of German-style Vienna lager at a cost of about $120. It will take four months to brew because it ferments at a lower temperature, and is not the type of beer you would normally find in Portland.

Supercenter is a literary critique of the many concerns related to the Walmartization of our society, at a time when scholarly articles and theory are beginning to focus on this idea. The effects of Walmartization include one-stop shopping, house brands and globalization. It is the effects of increasingly large corporations competing at a global level.

In the book, the store is called Buy-All, but its resemblance to Wal-Mart is undeniable.

“[I was] trying to articulate my experience of being overwhelmed by consumerism, growing up as a kid in a really suburban area, and just going into a Wal-Mart,” Rizos said.

Wal-Mart preys on people’s poverty, on people buying food and products that are not in their best interests because they can’t afford not to, according to Rizos.

I asked him if he hated Wal-Mart.

“I never say that I hate it,” he said, “but what’s to like?”