Author Interview: M. Bennardo

How did “The Haunted Jalopy Races” come to be?
All I remember is that the title popped into my head one day. Haunted conveyances have a long history in folklore and literature — there are ghost ships, ghost trains, and even phantom rickshaws if Rudyard Kipling is to be believed. But I wasn’t aware of any ghostly jalopies. I loved the image, and so I decided to figure out a story to go along with it

Of course, I didn’t know anything about jalopies, so I spent a long time on the Internet trying to learn as much as I could about the history of hot rodding. One of my favorite things about historical fiction is that much of the story writes itself during research. I try not to fudge dates or facts to jam in something that doesn’t belong. Instead, I use whatever is naturally at hand, even if it substantially changes the story I thought I was going to write. For instance, I didn’t know that World War II would figure in this story before I started my research.

Machine of Death seems unstoppable. How is volume two coming along?
My co-editors and I are very excited that the sequel (called This Is How You Die) will be published by Grand Central Publishing in July 2013. The book is terrific — even more diverse in terms of genre, settings, and characters than the first one. If we hadn’t found a publisher, we’d have done it all ourselves again, but having a partner means broader distribution. The only downside is how long it takes to put all that distribution machinery in place. It’s hard being patient!

There are also a few foreign editions of the first book still trickling out. In particular, we’re waiting on the Korean, Hebrew, and Croatian editions… Each new edition has been amazing and beautiful. And weird in the sense that we’re totally disconnected from the publishing and the marketing, and even from the criticism and commentary surrounding the books. Sometimes our fans in other countries will send us a review of Machine of Death in Italian or German. It’s neat that the book has a life of its own like that — but after being so involved in the English edition, it’s a completely different experience to be that removed.

Here’s a link to learn more about the books: http://www.machineofdeath.net

Tell us what your favorite Ray Bradbury story/novel is.
I love all of Ray Bradbury’s “fix-up” novels — the ones that he cobbled together out of previously published and mostly unconnected short stories. He even famously called The Martian Chronicles “a book of short stories pretending to be a novel”. But as wonderful as The Martian Chronicles and Dandelion Wine are, my favorite of the bunch is Green Shadows, White Whale — a loose (and not always factually accurate) account of the time he spent in Ireland in the 1950s, writing the screenplay for Moby-Dick with director John Huston.

Bradbury’s great strengths are his amazing ideas and his use of language. He’s not, however, well-known for creating memorable characters. But the fictionalized John Huston in Green Shadows, White Whale is utterly memorable — a sort of cross between a dictatorial taskmaster and the Cat in the Hat. It makes me wish that Ray Bradbury had immortalized more of his friends and colleagues in books before he passed on. I wonder if he wrote any stories about Ray Harryhausen…

Do you have a favorite story among your own? Why does it stand out?  
My favorite story is usually the one I’m in the middle of writing, since I’m excited and learning and I haven’t had to agonize over the ending yet. But I was very pleased that I was able to sell a story called “The Famous Fabre Fly Caper” to The Journal of Unlikely Entomology recently. It’s the story of two good tree frogs pushed too far who plot to steal a box of flies from the great French naturalist Jean-Henri Fabre.

I wrote the story with no expectation that it would ever be published (the main characters are frogs, after all), but simply because it combined my loves of history, nature, and literature with a long-standing desire to write a heist story. Fabre’s books about bugs are wonderful reading and many of them are freely available, so I also hope readers of my story will be inspired to check them out as well. (I especially recommend The Life of the Fly.)

Best book you’ve read this year?
One of the most exciting books I read this year was Vera Caspary’s Bedelia. It’s a pulp thriller from 1945 (but a very good one) about a man who marries a woman with a murky past who may or may not have murdered a string of prior husbands. Most of the well-known crime writers are men (like Dashiell Hammett and James M. Cain, to name my two favorites), and I loved getting a different perspective on the genre.

I later discovered that the Feminist Press at City University of New York is reprinting a whole series of pulp and crime novels by women. Some of the classic noir movies of the 1940s and 1950s were based on books by women — including Laura (also by Vera Caspary), Bunny Lake Is Missing, and In a Lonely Place. I always get excited when I discover publishers doing this kind of archival work with genre fiction, and I can’t wait to read more of the books in the series.

What’s coming up next for you?
Hmm. More short stories, I hope! Novels get all the glory, but I suspect that short story writers have more fun.

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