Sunday, March 2, 2014

Hot Rod Racing Zombies!

Michael Panush has a new book, Dead Man's Drive!  He has stopped to talk with me about this new series.
Beth: Hi Michael ,please tell us about Dead Man's Drive.

Michael: Dead Man's Drive, the first book in the Rot Rods series, is a 1950s Urban Fantasy set in sunny Southern California. It's about Roscoe, a hot rod-riding zombie who works with a bunch of supernaturally adept drivers out of a garage called Donovan Motors and keeps the town of La Cruz safe from occult threats. This story is about a ruthless businessman, Reed Strickland, wishing to move his company in La Cruz and bring the drivers down. Strickland's got hidden motives for the expansion, and Roscoe has his own mysterious past, which will all be revealed as the battle for La Cruz begins. Dead Man's Drive has got fast cars, B-movie monsters, and a lot of action – hopefully it's got some heart too, even if Roscoe's heart isn't beating.   

Beth: That sounds like fun! I love B-movie monsters -especially the Creature From the Black Lagoon maybe he'll make an appearance :)  It seems like all three - the 1950’s, hot rods, and zombies -- go hand in hand. What made you want to write a book set in that time-period?

Michael: I love using the 1950s as a setting. We have an image of the 50s as some kind of peaceful, American Golden Age – with white picket fences, happy families, and teenage romance around jukeboxes. The reality is more complex, with this dark undercurrent running under the era. That undercurrent appears in two bits of popular culture, Horror and Noir. For Horror, you had EC Comics and Cold War paranoia fueling B-movies and for Noir, you had writers like Raymond Chandler and Jim Thompson showing the darkness inherent in the American Dream. Combining 1950s Horror and 1950s Noir seemed like a natural fit. There's lots of subcultures in the 50s as well – gearhead greasers, beatniks, minority cultures like the Mexican zoot suitors – and they also didn't fit in with 1950s Suburbia. Showing that was very important in Dead man's Drive, which is ultimately a story about conformity and those who resist it.
There's something special about Post-War Southern California as well. It's a great confluence of all these crazy elements – gangsters like Jack Dragna and Mickey Cohen, Golden Age Hollywood, the LAPD, the Black Dalhia Murders, the Zoot Suit Riots, Japanese Internment, the Okie Migration from the Great Depression  -- that it seems like a kind of ultimate setting. I'm a big James Ellroy fan as well, so I'm sure that's part of it too. 

Beth: That's awesome.  It's great that you write what you love.  How many books have you written?

Michael: Counting Dead Man's Drive, I've written eight books. Three of them form the Stein and Candle Detective Agency series, which also mixes up Horror and Noir, two are the Jurassic Club series, which is about an island full of dinosaurs in the Twenties and Thirties, and two are the El Mosaico series, about a Frankenstein's Monster-like bounty hunter in the Old West.

Beth: Who inspired/helped you the most?

Michael: Definitely my parents. I've been writing since Freshman Year in high school and my parents have always been supportive. They've worked as editors, critics, publicists, advisers, and done tons of other things for me. Without their help, I probably wouldn't be writing.
Beth: What are your five favorite books and why?

Michael: Ah, jeez, that's a tough one. I'd say that my top five (in no particular order) are the following: LA Confidential by James Ellroy for completely sucking me into a crazy mystery and capturing the nastiness of Post-War LA, Perdido Street Station by China Mieville for showing that you can write a great, imaginative fantasy story and still be socially conscious, Foucault's Pendulum by Umberto Eco for showing me how much you can play with history, When the Women Come Out to Dance by Elmore Leonard (a short story collection, actually) for having some amazing crime stories that also reveal some deeper, darker truths about America, and Red Harvest by Dashiell Hammett for letting me see the true corruption of the past.

Beth: What a list!  What are you working on right now?

Michael: I'm getting ready for the fourth book in the Rot Rods series (books two and three are already done), and I'm working on a new series about robots, while also writing some prequels to the El Mosaico series, which are about Vikings and pirates. I'm a pretty busy writer and like bouncing between several different projects.

Beth: What were some of the obstacles you encountered while writing your book and how did you overcome them?

Michael:  Just finding time to write is a big one! Thankfully, I'm disciplined enough that I can always find time. Still, there's been a lot of times when I get home and I'm tired, and I don't want to sit down and finish a story or a summary – but I make schedules for myself and I keep my deadlines.
Beth:  I hear ya! Finding time is a big obstacle for me too. Last question if you had to give a one-hour lecture to a hundred 13 year-olds….what would be the topic of your lecture? Why?

Michael: Look, you're speaking to a guy who worked as a teacher's aide in a middle school and was in charge of creating lessons for the Creative Writing class. I can handle thirteen-year-olds. A hundred of them is a little tough, though. Would I have help? Anyway, making a bunch of kids sit around for an hour while you give some speech is a recipe for failure. Keep your lessons short is my motto – like fifteen minutes at most. I'd probably have a variation of the most successful activity I did last year. The students worked in teams to create fictional characters for a fighting tournament. After they created their characters, they engaged in debates in front of the class, with everyone voting to decide the winner. Eventually, we had a champion. Thirteen-year-olds like working with their friends and they like competition, so this was great at having them think creatively, and use debate skills. I'd probably do something like that.

Interesting answer. I ask that question to everyone I interview because I like to see what words of wisdom authors and artist want to share with the impressionable. I pick thirteen because I believe that is the no-bullshit age! Thanks for stopping by Michael it was a pleasure meeting you and I look forward to reading Dead Man's Drive!

Dead Man's Drive Blurb:
La Cruz looks like an average Southern California small town in the 1950s Post-War Boom, but it has some dark secrets - and its guardians. They are the supernaturally adept drivers of Donovan Motors, including former Okie bank robber Wooster Stokes, Zoot Suiter and part time shaman Angel Rey, college girl and burgeoning sorceress Betty Bright and --their latest member -- an amnesiac zombie known only as Roscoe. The drivers stand between La Cruz and chaos with only their wits and some fast hot rods to help them hold back the darkness. But an onslaught of demonic attacks heralds a new danger. Reed Strickland, a ruthless tycoon with unholy assistance, seems intent on making La Cruz his. Only Roscoe and the drivers can stop him. But Strickland's allies stir painful memories in Roscoe and even an undead gearhead is no match for his own past. Roscoe will need to overcome his memories, stand with his friends and keep his motor as the battle for La Cruz begins in a tale of white hot vehicular action, arcane Noir and Hollywood horror that reveals the rotten heart of California's Golden Age.

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