Thursday, June 21, 2012

Michael Panush Interview: Dinosaur Jazz

I know you have been waiting all week long to welcome Michael. Without anymore fanfare, here it is! You are going to love his answers! It's quite a long interview, but I think you will agree reading through was worth it! Please leave a comment if you enjoyed this interview or have any questions for Michael.

1. Why did you decide to become a YA author?
I really want to create works that can be enjoyed an audience of any age. I think that’s a goal I have with all of my stories. There is this great, deeply personal connection that kids have with stories, and it’s amazing to be a part of that. When I started writing, in my Freshman year at high school, I was working as a teacher’s aid at my temple. I started working with children in the third grade and I would bring over some of my early stories and give them to the kids to read. Looking back, I realize that my early stories were largely terrible. But they still had elements of excitement, action, adventure and mystery that hooked many of the third graders and their enjoyment of my work definitely inspired me to keep writing. I was amazed by the sheer fact that something I created could bring about this kind of joy and excitement. Some of my students from that third grad religious school class have followed my career ever since. They’re in high school right now and when I hear that they’re reading and enjoying my books, it still brings a smile to my face.  I hope they enjoy Dinosaur Jazz!

2. Where do you come up with your amazing ideas?
I’m always looking for inspiration. Whenever I’m reading a book, or an article or in class, I try to imagine how I can skew what I’m reading and play with it, or add in some fantastic element that will create a meaningful story. For Dinosaur Jazz, I took a lot of these great historical characters and made fictional counterparts for them on the prehistoric lost world of Acheron Island. For instance, the villain is Lord Ruthven Ironside, a British soldier who fought in World War One, then battled the Bolsheviks in Russia and finally ended up as an insane warlord in Mongolia. He’s based on a historical figure, Baron Roman Ungern Von Sternberg: who went from being a Cossack war criminal to the mad Kahn of Mongolia. Like a lot of historical stories, it seems almost impossible for someone to make up something that crazy. There are similar historical nods in Dinosaur Jazz, all wrapped up in the cloak of fiction and dinosaurs.

3. Tell us a little bit about yourself.
Well, I’m 22-years-old and just about to graduate from UC Santa Cruz. I live in Sacramento and that’s where I started my writing career. I self-published my first book, Clark Reeper Tales, in 2009. I had some success selling the book and doing readings, but I always assumed that I’d just keep writing, sending out submissions and eventually be picked up by another publisher. But then, just about a year ago, Curiosity Quills contacted me after reading my work on Fictionpress. They wanted to publish my work and I readily agreed. We’ve been working together ever since. After the Stein and Candle Detective Agency, Vol. 1: American Nightmares, Dinosaur Jazz will be our second book. And Stein and Candle Detective Agency, Vol. 2: Cold Wars will be coming out too.

4. What is your favorite movie, and why?
Miller’s Crossing, without question. It’s just full of this great, 1920s Dashiell Hammett style and effortlessly captures the corruption and criminal atmosphere of the era. The dialogue in Miller’s Crossing is so perfect, with just the right amount of Jazz Age slang. I still smile at the very thought of ‘What’s the rumpus?’ and can quote lines from it by heart. The cast is great, the action’s great, and the story’s labyrinthine and brilliant. The scene where Albert Finney machine guns a bunch of gangsters to ‘Danny Boy’ is incredible. I was wary of being as hardboiled as Miller’s Crossing when I was writing Dinosaur Jazz, but it was definitely an influence.

5. Do you plan to write more books? Have you ever thought about writing in a different genre? Which one?
I’m always writing something new and Curiosity Quills and I have a great many more projects planned. Stein and Candle is a mix of the hardboiled detective noir with the supernatural and there will be three volumes of those stories. Another work we’re planning on is El Mosaico, which is a Western with occult elements about a gunslinger that is like Frankenstein’s Monster. I’m writing my own stories too – including a baroque fantasy and a 60s Spy-Fi story. I love mixing with different genres and I don’t imagine ever stopping.

6. Who is your favorite character in Dinosaur Jazz? Was he/she hard to create?
I think that my favorite character is probably Clara Washington Embers. She starts out as a wealthy American woman with Bohemian interests and a love of dinosaur-hunting. As the book goes on, she becomes wrapped up in the violence that surrounds Sir Edwin Crowe, the main character. By the end, she decides to use her strength and skills to help the oppressed peoples of the world. In later books, she joins the Comintern, helps start a union on Acheron Island for Ape Man workers and later leads a guerilla resistance against the invading Japanese in WWII. It wasn’t exactly had to create Clara, but she is difficult to write. She has to be clever and cool, with a kind of hipness she tries to project, but also a fierce underlying idealism. I definitely think she’s a rewarding character to write and I hope my readers enjoy her adventures as much as I do.

7. What do you do when you have writers block?
I don’t usually have too much writer’s block, as I create a summary of the story beforehand and usually follow it – occasionally making some changes on the page if something isn’t working. When I have trouble coming up with a good line or a plot point, I’ll normally browse the internet for a while or take a quick break. When I come back, I’ll think it over again and come up with a solution.
8. What kind of car do your drive? (just having some silly questions:)
I’ve really just been a college student for the past four years. I take the bus. Not fancy, but I’ve got an ipod with plenty of podcasts on various subjects, so it’s not so bad.

9. Do you write solely on the computer or do you keep an old fashioned notebook handy?
My handwriting is awful. The letters are all too curly and look alike. Even I have trouble reading it. I learned to type at an early age and never looked back. So pretty much everything I write is done on a laptop. Occasionally, I’ll scribble notes for myself on pieces of paper – but that’s only a placeholder until I can put it in a computer.

10. What was your greatest challenge in writing Dinosaur Jazz?
I’d say it was dealing with the main character’s emotional changes. Sir Edwin Crowe starts out in a very weak place, where he has problems with his career, his memories of his time as a soldier in WWI, tradition and modernization, his father’s legacy and his role on Acheron Island. Through the adventure, he learns to find his own courage and strength and take a new role in protecting Acheron Island. Getting that transformation and change down, in a convincing manner, was difficult to do. I certainly hope I succeeded. 

I believe you did, Michael. Thanks so much for taking time out of your busy schedule to visit with us here at Ink in the Book!


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