His screen name comes from a Pinky and the Brain short, "Puppet Rulers", in which Brain, posing as a kiddie-show host, called himself, "The Iconoclast, an unconventional eccentric who marches to the beat of a different drummer".
|The Editor's Barnstar|
|Awarded to The Iconoclast by Wikidudeman on (talk) 06:05, 15 October 2007 (UTC)|
== The College Years ==
A graduate of Arkansas State University, he was a psychology and English major, a member of the honor society Pi Gamma Mu, and a staffer for The Herald.
On February 5, 1997, he was accused of allegedly stealing column material for a piece he wrote on the TV ratings system, and summarily was terminated from his position. Sweet has never forgiven his old bosses, whom he has lambasted viciously in his novels, stories, comics, and blog.
Sweet currently lives in the Missouri Bootheel with his family, the pastoral Southern setting which inspires his work. Many of his stories are rooted in his experiences as a columnist and a college student, his personal relationships, and his psych studies, with an emphasis on severely disturbed characters. A theme his fiction frequently visits is the loss of a parent. This is not surprising, as his father died of a heart attack on December 17, 1997. Sweet's girlfriend Ashleigh Bainks dropped out of his life a few weeks later after he told her about his dad's death, owing to him unwittingly offending her Catholic beliefs. She came back to him, but their reconciliation was short-lived, and ultimately she left for good. This breakup was responsible for instilling in him much anger and a massive sense of guilt. He wrote a fictionalized account of it in "Smitten With Her" in [1999, and has stated in a 2004 interview that losing her "made me feel like less of a man". Several of Sweet's pieces express strong anti-Catholic and anti-rich sentiment, since Ashleigh was a member of both groups; many of his critics consider this a major flaw in his otherwise sparkling and well-written prose.
Other short stories--"Eve Bade Adam Eat", "The Kestron Lenses"--are set at college publications unapologetically based on The Herald.
Many short stories have appeared over the years, often self-published by the author or in online magazines. Clark College was mentioned or was the main setting in two other pieces: a novel called Postcards of the Hanging, and Virago, another commercial failure first released by the author as an e-book, then as a free download at his website.
CAUTION: This section may contain spoilers. Do not progress lest you have read the stories or can handle major disenchantment.
Novels and Short Stories
Sweet put out a collection of fiction in 2003 which was largely made up of commercial failures, calling it Almasheol]]. The first draft of the manuscript also included a story called "I Have Heard the Mermaids Singing Each to Each", about a man who goes crazy after having a radioactive isotope implanted in his ear to treat his partial deafness, but it was cut for length. It is now considered a "lost" story, as the original was lost in a computer crash and no known copies exist. Also in the book are a poem, "In Fame, Me" and a new story written just for the anthology, "Dark Hunger".
"Beautiful Dreamer", written in summer 1999, is about a successful Atlanta advertising executive named Albert Watson (inspired by the names of the psychologist and the patient in the famous Little Albert experiment). Watson credits his success to his very vivid dreams--he bases his commercials on what he sees.
After losing his job over plagiarism charges, he murders his boss and several members of a rival firm, but does not remember doing so. He is later diagnosed with disassociative fugue; however, he is ruled to be fully in control of himself, is found guilty, and sentenced to prison.
It is often hard to separate Sweet from his characters, and this story perfectly illustrates this. Watson's writing method is very much like Sweet's; he is an avowed Freudian who has credited his inspiration to dreams. The story was obviously a thinly-disguised telling of his own life story; Sweet even employed two actual nightmares of his (the Pepsi-drinking Josef Stalin that opens the story, and one of being trapped in the back of a moving automobile. It allegorically describes his problems with The Herald through the screen of a hapless protagonist persecuted for a crime that isn't his fault and a series of villains who are cardboard caricatures of certain people in power at Arkansas State University.
The following year Sweet wrote "Eve Bade Adam Eat", which was the first of several stories set in a fictitious school in Clark, Missouri. Scottsborough, a successful lawyer in Buford, Missouri, meets a beautiful woman named Kimberly Mann, with whom he falls in love with and asks to move in with him. However, the details of her past are shadowy and full of worrisome inconsistencies. Through a series of flashback sequences we learn the story of a writer named Henry Church, fired for false plagiarism charges from a campus magazine, who harbors a deep grudge against copy editor Philip Scottsborough (modeled after the man who got Sweet fired). After some incriminating photos of a fellow lawyer running for a state government position turn up on his desk, Phil turns them in and, running on the swell of the scandal, runs for the seat himself.
It turns out, though, that the photos are faked, and that Kimberly is really Henry, following a brain transplant in France. Thirty years before Phil had filed charges against Church after a story he had submitted was similar to the plot of a television show which involved time travel. Henry blames Phil for ruining his life nearly thirty years ago and has been waiting for his chance to get revenge. Hearing the police sirens coming for him, Philip avoids persecution and a jail term by hanging himself in his closet.
Again, this very disturbing story is extremely close to Sweet's own. It also recalls--both the main narrative and the story-within-the-story--Harlan Ellison's famous dispute against James Cameron over his Terminator screenplay (which was settled fairly amicably out of court, not ruining Cameron's life or reputation at all).
"Virago", written around Y2K, is the story of Jason Powell and Pamela Traff, two private detectives in the town of Clark who are investigating a series of strange deaths in the fictional Roosevelt, Missouri. Several women have died of mysterious power surges in their homes, and have been sent taunting messages on their computers by a person calling himself "Nemesis". Powell believes it is a revenge scheme, but other than their sex, the same last name and the m.o., they have nothing in common. When a disturbed individual with the word "Virago" carved into his stomach confronts one of the potential victims and claims she is the girl who branded him years before in college, it's a race against time to save the young woman's life.
This story, set several years after "Eve Bade Adam Eat", features an appearance by one of the officers who discovered Scottsborough's dead body.
The Kestron Lenses (2001)
"The Kestron Lenses", another story that drew inspiration from Sweet's newspaper days, dealt with a writer at a fictitious college newspaper in Biloxi, Missouri who, due to his poor eyesight, requires glasses. Xavier Harold Stafford (the name is a pun on "ex-Herald staffer", a reference to the author himself) purchases a cheap pair from a man who sells them out of his garage on the mainland. However, the glass in them is possessed by ancient Chinese demons, and they grant the ability to see the future...provided the glass is anointed with a victim's blood. Every time Harry murders someone, the blood shows him a story, and he writes it and turns it in. Pretty soon he loses control...and to make it worse, Shadrach Hutch, the Champagne Island Dispatch's copy editor, has traced the killings to him and is blackmailing Stafford for a piece of his newfound success.
The story seems to be a caution about the perils of overambition and a parable about the journalist's willingness to do whatever it takes to get ahead, even murder. It is also notable that the copy editor is the only staffer cast in a negative light whose illicit behavior is not caused or assisted by supernatural objects; it isn't uncommon for the person holding this post, in Sweet's stories, to be drawn as immoral, conniving or insane.
One of the stories in Belch Dimension Comics, "Family Ties" (#24), was also set at Fulkes University, suggesting a tenebrous connection between Sweet's "literary" and "comic" worlds. Also, the villain in the piece, Rasputin, first appeared in "Beautiful Dreamer", and Watson is sent to the same prison where Malice Jiggs, a criminal who was sent to the electric chair, was executed in BDC #29.
Postcards of the Hanging (2003)
Postcards of the Hanging--which takes its name from the first line in Bob Dylan's "Desolation Row", one of the author's favorite songs--is the story of a teenage girl in the small town of Lemora, Missouri, and takes place mainly during the last autumn before she leaves home to attend school. Following a fight with her mom and storming out of the house, Jessy Gorving meets up with a boy from the nearby town of Canaan, 12-year-old Peter Knowles. The book deals with the two's growing but brief friendship agaist the turbulent background of the late eighties, encompassing a supernatural journey of self-discovery and the Vonnegutian device of non-linear chronology, or "time-skipping" to show periods later in the childrens' life; with them successful--him an author, she a school counselor-- and both in happy relationships.
Tiresias is a stark novel about a disturbed stalker who shows up at a home outside Alamo, Tennessee armed with a pistol. Antonio Mitcheson demands to see a young woman named Delilah Charles, whom he has been calling and writing letters to for months. When Samuel Perkins tells him again that he has no daughter, Mitcheson shoots both him and his son Hamilton, an off-duty cop, then flees. Sam's surviving son uses Antonio's own letters to Delilah to try and track her down... but doing so dredges up a lot of his own painful memories and puts him through a period of mind-bending stress. Of the book Sweet says,
Yeah, a lot of people are going to see similarities between this and "Virago"--a nut, a gun, and a girl. I mean, yeah, they're similar, they come from the same place, but, really, they're very different. "Virago" is just naked rage screaming off the paper. Tiresias is more mature, polished, almost lyrical in the way it's set out. Yet it's dirty, it's nasty, it's violent, it's repugnant, it's cheap, and it's satisfying. It doesn't just close the door on a relationship, it slams the bugger hard enough to rattle the jamb, crack the plaster, and knock a couple of knickknacks off the whatnot shelf.
The book was published in September 2007 by indie publisher Ramble House--almost exactly four years after Postcards, its predecessor, though the two were written nearly back-to-back.
Sweet's poem "When-One-and-Twenty (The Ballad of Aggie H.)" appeared in the Famous Poets On the Wings of Pegasus collection in 2002. The piece, dedicated to the copy editor who accused him of plagiarizing his TV ratings column, is an allegorical take on the incident and its aftermath. The Latin motto nemo me impune lacessit (no one hurts me without consequence) follows as a cryptic warning to this and all future enemies.
So far this is the only poem Sweet has published as a stand-alone work. A second poem, "In Fame, Me", appears in Almasheol.
== What Next, Sir?==
Sweet told an interviewer shortly after Postcards was released that he was currently hard at work on a new novel. According to Sweet, the book will be set at Clark College and will deal with the travails of a female journalist who works for The Explorer, their campus paper. He gives the title as A Breath Like Mustard Gas and Roses and admits the piece is largely autobiographical.
On a 2013 update to his TV Tropes page Sweet listed an upcoming release for a book called The Face of Burgess Goldstein. Not much is known about it except that it seems to be a partial rewrite of an earlier novel called "The House on Chaburt Road", the only draft of which was lost in a computer crash.
== The Belch Dimension Comics ==
The Belch Dimension is a web-distributed comic book that Sweet has been writing and drawing since high school, though it has only been actively distributed since April 2005. The series stars an eponymous-named hero, Jonathan Sweet, who wears a bright yellow cape, thick red-framed glasses, and a yellow baseball cap decorated with brightly-colored buttons, and his eccentric, eclectic band of friends.