I recently read the novel Punk Rock Ghost Story, published by Deadite Press, and I immediately knew that I had to interview author David Agranoff. Here we talk about said novel, PRGS, and his love for punk music.
Tells us a bit about yourself.
“I am a weirdo like everybody else. I grew up in Indiana, which is in the Midwest of the states. I was a hardcore kid, grew-up in the punk and hardcore scene. From that I got into militant Animal rights activism, but I was always a horror and Science Fiction nerd the whole time. So I always had a love for reading horror and Science Fiction. When I was a teenager my heroes were Clive Barker and John Carpenter.”
What made you want to be a writer?
“Well a few things. I was always a reader and before I could even write them myself I was telling Science Fiction stories my mother would type up on her typewriter. Wish I still had those! I was a Mother’s boy all the way but she passed away when I was twelve. I think my love of horror started there. I needed to explore the darker side of my thoughts and feelings. I discovered a local horror host – Sammy Terry – who dressed like a goofy ghoul and showed horror movies on TV. I was hooked. He was followed by Black Belt theatre so I would tape these amazing double features that were Hammer Horror movies and Shaw Brothers Kung-Fu movies. This influenced my novel Hunting the Moon Tribe which is a hybrid tribute with Chinese Vampires. I am super proud of that novel.
It was also reading Stephen King’s The Raft which was a light-bulb moment for me. I figured out how he did it. How he built the terror, suspense and never lost sight of the story. I actually taught that story in a class for the Horrible Imaginings film fest here in San Diego. The Body Polotic by Clive Barker was also a huge early influence that taught me that concepts can’t be too weird if well thought out and how to make a political point about the real world through fantasy.
Today John Shirley is probably my biggest influence and my favorite author. I am also a huge fan of F. Paul Wilson, Robert McCammon, and Sarah Pinborough.”
How do you write? Do you do it daily, on a weekend, etc?
“Whenever I can find a moment, I work full time as a Teacher’s Aid in a school for kids with special needs. I always write on weekends, but I have started a wake up at 4am program before leaving for work at 7am. This is new for writing the current novel in progress.”
Does anything else influence your writing?
“I am always reading – that is a huge influence – but I love movies and right now I love long form story telling on TV. I have a rotation of TV shows I watch. Some of my favorites at the moment include Sense8, Fringe, Millennium, Battlestar Galactica, Breaking Bad, Better Call Saul, and Terriers. I love Shane Black. Anything he writes. I love his dialogue. Tarantino. I love Wuxia Kung-Fu fantasy movies. I think all those things influence my writing. “
Punk rock and horror are a big part of who I am, do you think punk and horror are similar?
“It is outside of mainstream culture so of course they are similar. Punk, hardcore and Death Metal are all important to me as music I enjoy but these are scenes I grew-up in. There is a sense of community and Us Versus Them attitude that is similar in both. I wanted to tell horror fiction stories set in the punk realm because it was the world I grew-up in. Certainly John Shirley who was a pioneer in the Portland punk scene was the same in the genre community. His introduction to my short story collection Amazing Punk Stories is one of the proudest moments of my life. I mean John’s novel Wetbones is my favorite horror novel of all time.”
Your novel, Punk Rock Ghost Story, is about a haunted van, and set in the world of hardcore punk, where did you get the idea from for the book?
“The ghost story is a fantastic way to explore the difference between eras. I was thinking about how different the modern punk world was compared to the early days in the early 80’s. I mean the post Nirvana/Green Day punk rock was very different to the early days of American hardcore. I started to think what could bridge those times. Time travel or a ghost story and ghost story seemed clear to me. I have explored the idea of a haunted punkhouse but the idea of the van kept coming back to me. I mean I feel the energy of the shows that happen in classic venues or basements never really die. The ghost of past shows still haunted venues. The idea that the spirit or the energy of punk being trapped inside a tour van. It just made a weird kind of sense to me.”
You mention some great bands in the novel (Zero Boys, Black Flag, Negative Approach, Circle Jerks, Bad Brains, Bad Religion, and even Propagandhi and Beastie Boys), what are your favourite punk bands; How did you get into the punk scene; and do you get to many shows?
“I don’t go to many shows, I sometimes go to see fellow old farts like Agnostic Front and Slapshot when they hit the road. As for favorite punk bands, I am a dork for early Bad Brains, Dead Kennedys, Circle Jerks and I am from Indiana so gotta rep Zero Boys. I actually listen to more Death Metal these days Morbid Angel, Celtic Frost and At The Gates are favorites. I am Vegan straight edge and have been for 25 years so hardcore 90’s Vegan mosh is my favorite Race Traitor, Day of Suffering and Earth Crisis. But of course when I wrote Boot Boys of the Wolf Reich I listened to a ton of Oi! ha-ha.”
PRGS is set in the now and flashes back to the early 80’s. How do you think the scene has changed in that time?
“That was the major theme of the novel. 80’s it was new, and not at all accepted by the mainstream. People didn’t like or accept people being different. You had jocks and rednecks who wanted to beat you up and bully you just for being different. These days these frat guys are at Red Hot Chili Peppers and Green Day shows. That is the biggest difference. Hot topic in the malls, I mean we had to scrap and claw to find music, punk kids today can google anything. Just booking a tour, or finding music without the internet I don’t think kids today have a clue what it was like. Certainly this was a major theme of the novel. I mean it is a horror novel, and it should operate just as a scary story but for those interested in the deeper theme that is the thing I was exploring.”
With PRGS you originally wrote it way back in 2007 yet it didn’t come out until 2016. How did this happen?
“There were several reasons the version in 2007 was not ready. I wrote it in 33 days. I had this idea that I wanted to write it like I was on tour. Like a tour journal. Sounds neat but the final product was not worth reading. I wanted to spend time building the “legacy” of the band in the novel, the F*ckers. So I thought a few years seeding the history of this band in subtle ways was something that should happen over time. Also I wanted this to be the third and final book in a thematic trilogy of Punk books, with Boot Boys of the Wolf Reich and Amazing Punk Stories. This is something my editors at Deadite/Eraserhead, Jeff Burk, Rose O’Keefe and I have been planning for since 2010 really. I mean Jeff and I talked about the marketing campaign and the “Documentary” 6 years before we ended up doing it, kinda crazy when you think about it. Once Amazing Punk Stories was out I knew Punk Rock Ghost Story was next and I also knew the old draft was not nearly as good as my current work. So I drew out the old draft pulled out the outline I worked from in 2007 and started from scratch. I copied the three quotes that open the novel and started over never looking at the old draft. It was 20,000 words longer, ha-ha.”
Do you have anything new planned in the near future?
“I am working on several projects right now. A solo horror novel is in the first draft stage and it is the most savage thing I have ever written. I have a TV pilot I am developing with Anthony Trevino a super genius young writer who has a novella out called King Space Void. This project is called Nightmare City and will likely be turned into a novel series that we will co-write. Anthony and I are also in a series of Anthologies called the San Diego Horror Professionals. Six local authors edited by Ryan C. Thomas. We have two volumes out it also includes Bryan Killian, Robert Essig and Chad Stroup. They are really good.
The next published novel will be Flesh Trade Co-written with Portland science fiction author Edward Morris. It is an epic noir space opera and will be put out by Grand Mal Press. Think of it as Taken meets Philip K. Dick.
Thanks for the interview. I hope people will check out my work, I’m an indie author who values every purchase. If you can afford to get my work, I would love if people request my books at their library. Mosh!”