Author’s Corner: Michael Panush

Two sons of Capitol staffers have just self-published “Clark Reeper Tales,” an adventure novel combining the Western and science fiction genres. We caught up with writer Michael Panush, the son of David Panush, a consultant to Senate Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, in between classes at City College. His illustrator, Jake Delany, is the son of Robert Delany of the Assembly Sergeant’s Office. The pair will host a book signing this Sunday, March 15, at 2 p.m. at the Avid Reader on 1600 Broadway.

Tell me a bit about the book. How did you get the idea to combine Westerns and science fiction?
The book chronicles the adventures of Clark Reeper, an old west bounty hunter, and his 10-year old adopted son Charles as they battle gargantuan insects, demonic fiends, creatures from other worlds and worse. In their travels, they encounter an odd assortment of historical figures, including Wild Bill Hickok, Wyatt Earp, Billy the Kid, P.T. Barnum, Thomas Edison, Marie Laveau (the “Voodoo Queen” of New Orleans), and even Richard Nixon (as president, not as a zombie).   

The idea for writing the book came when a friend showed me a zombie comic book. In it, there was a character wearing a cowboy hat. As I read it, my friend hummed the famous theme from Sergio Leone’s movie “The Good, The Bad and The Ugly.” Why stop at zombies, I asked?’ There are plenty of other supernatural and sci-fi clichés, demons, aliens, Voodoo, robots, giant bugs, and more that would be perfectly at home in an Old West setting. And so “Clark Reeper Tales” was born.

How did you first get interested in writing?
When I was little, I would just walk around the schoolyard with a stick in my hand telling stories to myself. It must have looked pretty weird to everyone around. When I was 9, I joined the Sacramento Storyteller’s Guild, learned to tell stories to groups, and went on to win their Liar’s Night Contest for a story that explained how I lost my homework. It was true, really. Later a story I wrote about school cafeteria food that goes bad (and attacks the students) which allowed me to become a finalist in the National Youth Storytelling Olympics. Now, instead of telling my stories, I’m writing them down.  

Tell me about some of your publications and awards.
I’ve been published by numerous Ezines including Alien Skin, Tiny Globule, Demonic Tome, Defenestration, Aphelion, Horror Bound, Demon Minds, Fantastic Horror, Fickle Muses and the Fantasy Gazetteer. My most popular series is the saga of Culpug the Cavelord, the adventures of a primeval warrior in a fantastic prehistoric world. My story “Puck Out of Luck”mixes the world of Cold War Espionage with fairies and other creatures of myth. Another series follows Captain Sullivan Dice, a roguish pirate captain who encounters Lovecraftian horrors, time portals in the Bermuda Triangle, and more during his adventures upon the high seas.

How did you and Jake first meet?
We were in Cub Scouts together, and have been friends ever since. At Kennedy High School, all the students doodle during class, but Jake’s drawings were the best. I’m a big fan of his work. For our high school senior project, we decided to do the book, and Jake agreed to illustrate it. His ability to render both old west guns and rotting zombies in great detail made him the perfect choice for illustrating the book. His pictures make Clark Reeper come alive. Amazingly, this is Jake’s first illustration work. Lately, he’s turned his talents to create artwork for his band, Flower Violence, in which he plays bass and does back-up vocals.

I noticed you guys used Booksurge. Tell me about that process.
Booksurge is a self-publishing program. After getting in touch with them, I prepared a manuscript which I then sent in through email, along with all the picture files. That was the easy part. I begged and borrowed the money to cover the printing costs, which is one reason why I’m really hoping lots and lots of people come to my book signing at Avid Reader this Sunday.

What are your goals as a writer?
My goal is to write pulp, something that’s entertaining, exciting, and full of action. If it ain’t got zombies, ninjas, or dinosaurs, it ain’t worth reading. At the same time, I do try to add some history about real people and events. In “Clark Reeper Tales,” I deal with very serious topics like the Indian Genocide, the plight of the lower class during the Gilded Age, the oppression of the Mexican people that led to the Mexican Revolution, the advancement of technology leading to the “War of Currents” between Tesla and Edison, woman’s rights, and issues of race and justice in Reconstruction Era-South. But hey, the first chapter of “Clark Reeper Tales” involves zombies and a robot.

What are your influences?
Texan author Joe R. Landsdale is probably the most famous writer of the Weird Western, and I hope Clark Reeper’s world reflects his gritty imagery of his haunted west, though perhaps a little less depraved. Robert E. Howard, a pulp writer of the 1930s, created some of the greatest adventure stories of all time, such as Conan the Barbarian. Modern westerns, from the recent re-launch of DC’s comic character Jonah Hex and the amazing recent HBO series “Deadwood,” have shaped my modern perception of the old West, just as much as the classic first western – Owen Wister’s “The Virginian.” Everything from John Wayne to Clint Eastwood works its way into the Clark Reeper formula, but the biggest influence comes from the brilliant and exciting works of art, the Spaghetti Westerns. Anyone who is familiar with these movies will recognize quite a few nods to the classics, including an infamous coffin taken directly from Sergio Corbucci’s “Django.”      

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