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Friday, June 22, 2012

Interview with author Michael Panush

Michael Panush - Author Pic
Today's visitor is a published author several times over and only JUST graduated from college. My 22 year old self is totally jealous. Michael is known for his hardboiled crime series, The Stein & Candle Detective Agency, Vol. 1: American Nightmares and the very unique pulp YA adventure, Dinosaur Jazz (Jurassic Club). He's also joining me on my blog next week to help me host the Murder Mystery Bloghop.

Congratulations on recently graduating from UC Santa Cruz! If you don't mind me asking, what was your major? Was it writing related or something more "practical"? What do you plan to do next?

Thanks! My major was very writing-related – I was in the Creative Writing Concentration of the Literature Department. I had met some wonderful writers and was lucky enough to have classmates and professors who were more than happy to read and critique my genre-heavy work. They were all very supportive and helped me improve my craft greatly. For my Senior Project, I actually used Dinosaur Jazz. A lot of the excellent changes I made to Dinosaur Jazz come from my wonderful workshop group in my Creative Writing class. Next, I’ll be working at Sacramento City Year, where I’ll be tutoring and mentoring elementary school children. After that, I’ll probably continue my education in some way.

Your books are known for their stylistic throwback to the pulpy heyday of the twenties, thirties and forties. If you could live in any time period, which one would it be and why?

That’s a tough one. Our own era has a lot of plusses, like great technology, enviable comforts, and while racism, sexism and corruption are of course major problems, they were much worse in the past. I’m pretty happy living in our era. However, if I had to pick, I think it would either be the 1920s, because I like the fashion, music and culture so much, or the Victorian Era, because I like the verbose means of talking and the insane level of manners. I wouldn’t mind living in the 1950s setting of Stein and Candle either – but mostly because of the food. I’m a big fan of steaks, burgers, hot dogs and all the outrageously unhealthy fare that filled the diets of the time. Couple that with the era’s copious smoking and drinking and it’s a recipe for health disaster –but it would still be a fun ride.

Being a modern fellow, how are you able to capture the essence of other time periods in your writing?

I actually find it easier to write fiction set in the past than in the present. Each past era has a specific culture that we can study and understand. We can try to do that for the present, but we’re most likely going to fail. When I do a story set in the past, I immerse myself in the era by listening to period literature, watching films set in or made in the era and listening to the music of the time. I study slang, the politics and attitudes of the time. For Stein and Candle, I read a lot of hardboiled literature – both contemporary works by Mickey Spillane, Raymond Chandler and more modern works like James Ellroy. Looking at those stories showed me another, more noir side of the seemingly wholesome era. I hopefully communicated the nastier elements of the Post-War Era through Stein and Candle.

I'm sure it's been tough to find time to write when you're already writing lots of college papers. How do you make the time and how have you stayed motivated?

It was often tough to find time for school and writing. But because I was a Creative Writing major, I was able to sort of ‘double-dip’ and get great feedback on my stories. However, when I wasn’t taking a Creative Writing class, I just had to rely on discipline. I would set deadlines and keep them, saying that I’ll have a story finished in this many days. I did schoolwork early, so I’d have plenty of time for editing. I’m a firm believer that it’s important to always be writing, always be practicing and always be improved. I tried to uphold that throughout my time at UC Santa Cruz.

Tell us a little bit about your publishing journey. How did you get started, and how did you get from there to where you are now?

I started writing in high school, more for enjoyment than anything else. Eventually, a friend told me about this website called Fictionpress where I could post my stories for the world to see and get reviews. I had a lot of fun writing and posting on Fictionpress and getting some reviews, as well as a few dedicated readers who enjoy almost everything I’ve created. I realized that I deeply enjoyed writing and decided to self-publish my first book, Clark Reeper Tales, for my Senior Project in high school. I published Clark Reeper Tales and had a lot of fun marketing it, doing press and readings in local bookshops and schools. I kept writing, but I figured that I wouldn’t self-publish anything else and would instead keep improving my work and submitting it to major publishers. Then, in my second year at UC Santa Cruz, I received a facebook message from Curiosity Quills. They’d ready my work on Fictionpress and wanted to publish me! I could hardly believe it. We’ve been working together ever since and they’ve been great about putting my work in some excellent packages and giving them the marketing and publicity that they need. I look forward to putting out many more books from Curiosity Quills!

Stein & Candle Detective Agency Vol 2: Cold Wars will be released on July 8th. What are some of your favorite quotes from the Stein & Candle series?

For dialogue, there are a few great lines that I feel really explain the motivations of the characters. In the story Crimson Catch, the recurring villain Joey Verona appears to menace Morton Candle again – and help bring about the end of the world. Mort tells Joey that he’s helping a creepy fishman sorcerer to destroy the world and the response is: ““You know, Morty,” Joey mused. “That sounds A-okay to me.” That calm, cold exchange, with its hint of madness, perfectly sums of Verona’s new nihilistic outlook and why he’s such a dangerous foe for Mort and Weatherby in these stories.

Another one of my favorite lines is from the end of War Stories, which is a flashback to WWII. It shows Mort and his squad protecting the young Weatherby from a ferocious Nazi commando force. They finally manage to get Weatherby back to American lines and General Patton (who gave Mort the mission) asks him if Weatherby behaved himself. Mort answers ““He never complained. If he cried, he did it when no one was watching. He was grateful, and good to the men, and we all liked him. He gave us hope. He’s the bravest person I’ve ever met, general. And one of the best.” I like this line because it shows what Mort really thinks of Weatherby – instead of the weary, somewhat annoyed way he usually treats the kid. Mort really does have a deep respect for Weatherby, and Weatherby responds by thinking about Mort like a hero.

The line that closes the other flashback story, Business Proposition, is another of my favorites. Weatherby is writing a note to his sister, Selena. He writes “You believe I am still a child and perhaps that is true. But I fear my world is no place for children, and so I will have to grow up quickly. If you see this as a tragedy, then I urge you not to cry. We have troubles enough, without stopping to lament my situation.”This lines sums up Weatherby’s outlook on himself. He’s trying to be mature and brave, when he really is little more than a kid. He tries to cloak that kind of naivety in arrogance and his knowledge, but he does occasionally let his vanguard down. He’s a sympathetic character. I think that, along with all the 1950s hardboiled style and kooky monsters and magic, is why Stein and Candle works.


Michael, thank you so much for joining me! Right now, you can buy The Stein & Candle Detective Agency, Vol 1 for $0.99 for a limited time.

Please join Michael and I next week for the Murder Mystery Bloghop. Create a suspect and then solve clues to find the killer!

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