DISCIPLE continues...

Friday, February 28, 2014

DEAD MAN'S DRIVE by Michael Panush

Michael has been reviewing Disciple (I just sent him the ARC for Part IV) so I was glad to offer him a gust post here! His retro-urban-fantasy zombie tale is perfect for another historical world-building interview!

Why did you decide to set your zombie story in the 1950s?  
The 1950s and Horror Stories are a peanut-butter and chocolate sort of pairing. Horror movies started getting big in the 1930s, with the Universal Monsters, but they continued growing in the 50s. Plus, you had EC Horror Comics (and the accompanying moral panic that destroyed them), Atomic Sci-Fi Monster movies, and Cold War paranoia. All of this nasty paranoid stuff, appearing in Drive-In Theatres and Comic Books, kinds of contrasts with the sanitized, clean, and wholesome view of the 50s that we have now – white picket fences, Leave It to Beaver and so on. I feel that Horror Punk bands like The Misfits and The Cramps rely on that juxtaposition, mixing up 50s Kitsch and Monster Movie Cheese to create an interesting paring. That's really what I was trying to do with this story.

But Rot Rods isn't just a series about zombies – crime plays a big role as well, and I think the 1950s was a special time for crime writing. This was the era where Raymond Chandler, Mickey Spillane, Jim Thompson and others truly created Hardboiled Noir fiction. The story is set in Southern California, which I think is an important place for crime fiction. There are so many sleazy elements that a writer can incorporate when you're dealing with that place and time – the Zoot Suit Riots, WWII and Japanese Internment, Howard Hughes, LA gangsters like Jack Dragna and Mickey Cohen, the Black Dahlia Murder, Golden Age Hollywood – that can really enrich a story. James Ellroy covered a lot of that in his LA Quartet, which was a major influence for me. I really hope that Dead Man's Drive and the other Rot Rods novels can help capture the feel of this sleazy, unique time and place.

What were your main research sources for getting the setting and technology right?
I did lots of research of Wikipedia, looking for details about different models of cars and watched a lot of period movies. Reading a lot of James Ellroy books seriously helped. I even found a list of Hot Rod slang words online. Unfortunately, most of them were so weird that I couldn't put them in without confusing the reader. I used 'badge bandits' which was slang for cops and seems pretty self-evident. But I'm mostly going after 1950s Southern California as it appears in the imagination of the popular culture, not as it really is. Watching movies and reading crime fiction seemed to be the way to go with that.

Also, I have a lot of family in LA and I visited it a lot. I'm living there right now, actually. I don't know if that really helps, though, as LA is completely different now from what it used to be. But my grandparents live in this kind of quiet, suburban area apart from LA itself, and that's sort of inspiration for the fictional town of La Cruz, where the story takes place.

What's one fun detail that you especially liked getting into your story?
I had a lot of fun with Roscoe, my main zombie character, eating. Roscoe doesn't eat like living people. Instead, he gobbles down food to regenerate his body after it gets damaged – something that happens a lot. I enjoyed thinking of the delicious/sort of nasty grub that he's always devouring – a lot of high-carb Fifties food that was popular then but isn't so big now. I remember telling one of my co-workers that my book is about a zombie that rides a hot rod and is always eating chili dogs. That was pretty fun.

What sort of zombies did you decide to use -- traditional voodoo, virus-infected, some other type? 
Roscoe's not a mindless, shambling, flesh-hungry zombie like in a Romero movie. He's an intelligent guy who just happens to be dead. He doesn't need to go the bathroom, and he can't sweat or cry, but he can still sort of feel pain, and he can do a decent job of running. When the story starts, he doesn't know who he was in life or how he died – and that mystery fuels part of the story. He discovers the truth, and it involves magic and a curse. The villain, the industrialist Reed Strickland, also uses tons of mindless zombies as his henchmen and goons. These are just mindlessly animated corpses. Roscoe has a bit of a crisis of conscience when he sees the mindless zombies and imagines that's what he could have been.

And what's up next for you?  
Next up from Curiosity Quills is El Mosaico, Volume 3: Hellfire. My El Mosaico series is about Clayton Cane, an Old West bounty hunter who was stitched together from the body parts of Civil War soldiers by a mad Confederate scientist. In the first two volumes, he travels the west as a bounty hunter in a series of short stories. Hellfire is a novel, where he settles down and becomes the sheriff of the eponymous Texas town of Hellfire. It's good stuff and I hope you check it out when it's released!

Dead Man's Drive on sale at

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