Thursday, October 30, 2014

Author Interview: David Perlmutter

"To Hell with Dante" is a collection of cynical afterlife stories, ranging from comedic genius to dark surrealism.  To help kick off this fine anthology, I'll be conducting interviews with many of the contributors.  Today I'm interviewing David Perlmutter, the prolific author who contributed the story "Fangirl, Rip, and the Devil's Daughter."  Thank you for being here, David.

MTI: Starting off, could you tell our readers a little bit about yourself?

DAVID PERLMUTTER:  -I was born in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada in 1980. I have never lived anywhere else in my life.

-My principle interest in popular culture is animation, particularly of the kind produced for television. This is the subject of my recently published first non-fiction book, “America ‘Toons In”, which is now available from McFarland and Company. Those people who have been following my fiction will know that it has also been strongly influenced by this art form.

-I also have strong affections for African American music and speculative fiction, and plan to pursue historical research in those areas as well.

-I graduated from the University of Winnipeg with a bachelor’s degree in history in 2003, and in 2010 earned a master’s degree in that discipline. Currently, I am studying in the Library/IT program at Red River College, so that I will become more professionally qualified to pursue my desired “day job” of Library Technician.

-I have published close to a hundred short stories, novellas and essays in various magazines and anthologies since 2009.

 -I was diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome as a child, and am actively involved with the community related to this disorder in Winnipeg and Manitoba.

MTI:  Now, getting down to business; what first compelled you to weave fiction, and what's your favorite type of story to write?

DP: -Mostly, it was the usual aspiring writer’s desire to tell stories better than the ones I was being told. Both aspiring and professional writers are better able to see the flaws in the narratives created by other people, and this empowers us to attempt to do better with our stories. I have been doing this privately for most of my life, and discovering that you can get paid to do it convinced me that this was something I could do as a full-time job, if possible.

-I have several different types. A great many of my characters are anthropomorphic animals, for example, which stems from me being exposed to so much of these kinds of narratives as a child and now through animation. This also inspired my interest in superhero narratives, space operas, narratives involving kids and teenagers, and especially in humor. Generally, these kinds of stories all have firm narrative expectations and ideals behind them, and, given that I have versed myself well in all of these areas, they generally come naturally to me when I try to write my own pieces.
MTI:  Tell me, if you had to pick just one author who has influenced or inspired you, who would it be?

DP: -Robert Bloch. He was much, much more than just “Psycho”, but people tend to only give him credit for that. Or for being a disciple of H.P. Lovecraft, even though he outgrew that influence quickly. I became an admirer of him through reading reissues of his old pulp fiction stories, which are all very good. He was particularly adept at juxtaposing humor and horror, which most of his contemporaries never bothered to do. You can see his influence over me that way in stories like “Fangirl.” But, above all, he was a principled man who never sold out himself or his work for a quick buck, and he managed to spend most of his working life as a professional writer in various media at a time when it was very, very hard to do that. In all these respects, he’s been a very important role model for me. 

MTI:  Your story, Fangirl, Rip, and the Devil's Daughter, appears in To Hell with Dante.  Tell us a little bit about that.  What's the general idea behind it?

DP:  -This story stems from a few of my interests and concerns. Firstly, it reflects a sort of nostalgia on my part from an older way of storytelling I encountered in reading pulp fiction and watching a lot of old Hollywood movies. Before World War II, a lot of these stories were predicated on having two guys, usually stereotypical soldier-of-fortune types, travelling the world and having adventures, chiefly using only their brains and wits to get out of difficulty, although skill with weaponry and fisticuffs was never ruled out. Sometimes they would get into the situations by accident, other times on purpose. As with my interest in animation (which draws on a lot of this narrative protocol, by the way) and humor, this was a situation I felt I could adapt to my own uses. As I have. My Jefferson Ball series, for example. Basically, the storyline boils down to: put the heroes in the scenario, bring the villain in, and then get the heroes out and the villain punished, one way or another. I can do that, and I have, many times. 

-Another is my general desire to empower marginalized people, which is much more acceptable and commonplace today than it once was. As a person with Asperger’s syndrome, for example, I am dismayed much of the time by how the disorder is portrayed, as it is often confused with Autism although it is nothing at all like it. People with Asperger’s are essentially the same as “neurotypical” people, save for the odd mental tic that is considered “eccentric”, an extreme attention to detail, and a very thorough interest in things that others do not consider very “important’ in the grand scheme of things. We should not be punished for being “different”, because sometimes being “different” helps prevent you from going along with the “program”, and exposing the “program” for being the con game it often is.

   That being said, I was often placed in the position at school of needing extra assistance and training in order to fulfill my academic obligations. In the process, I got to meet a number of peers with far worse physical and mental disabilities than my own, and to admire them for being able to persevere in spite of them.

-So this is where Morgan and Rip come from, respectively. Morgan has Asperger’s, but, with exceptional areas, she doesn’t let it bother or contain her, as I have gradually learned how to do over my life dealing with it. I drew somewhat on my own thought patterns and feelings for her, although some aspects, by necessity, had to be feminized. The same with Rip. She was named in honor of Robert Ripley, the creator of “Ripley’s Believe It Or Not”, whom I learned a great deal about reading Neal Thompson’s excellent biography of him from a couple years back. Ripley had buck teeth just like Rip (in the days before braces, though), and some other physical issues besides, but he managed to become a globe-trotting adventurer, a radio and film personality, a skilled artist, a champion handball player and a womanizing playboy. I imagine that’s how Rip sees herself, potentially, as well, especially the latter category. But there’s also, I think, a great deal of Rocky and Bullwinkle (whom I idolize!) in there as well, as there is with a lot of my series characters.

-One last thing is that we should be free to show kids acting on their own and dealing with things on their own in media directed towards them, especially in this age of helicopter parenting. If you show them that they can do things and give them good, admirable role models by which to do them from, they won’t have any problems doing it for themselves. This is what I keep in mind with my kid and teenage series characters, at all times.           

MTI:  Does your story hold any special significance, perhaps seeking to provoke some thoughts about the afterlife, or was it just a lot of fun fiction?

DP: -It’s not meant to be any sort of serious Dantean speculation on the afterlife- he already did that a long time ago. When I came up with Morgan and Rip, I needed to have them fight somebody (or, more properly, some thing), or the story would have no point. I had written an earlier story about the devil’s daughter coming to Earth, and enjoyed writing it, so I thought, why not use her again?

MTI:  Okay, on a totally unrelated note, if you could meet and talk with any one deceased person, who would it be?

DP:  -Martin Luther King, Jr. I get chills up my spine listening to him talk, which I hardly get from anyone speaking today. Plus, his political philosophy has always been very much in line with mine. I would have gotten a thrill meeting the man behind the iconic image, which, sadly, isn’t possible anymore.

MTI:  Shifting back to your writing, can you tell us a little about what you're working on right now?

DP:  -I have completed the manuscript of my first novel, “Orthicon; or, the History of a Bad Idea,” and am currently seeking a home for it. It took over ten years to finish, so I hope the waiting will not be in vain. I have also had a publisher interested in a novel with my canine series characters Sticks and Bones, provided I can deliver the manuscript by fall 2015. I continue to develop short stories at a regular pace, especially for all the speculative anthologies listed at Duotrope and Ralan. On the non-fiction side, I have been asked to contribute to an upcoming encyclopedia of animation, and am planning to write other, longer works in that field, including an encyclopedic work of my own.  

MTI:  Other than your piece appearing in To Hell with Dante, do you have any other stories being published in the near future?

DP:  -I am waiting for word from some publishers about upcoming anthology publications. Since so many of my acceptances are for “when filled” anthologies, you can never tell when that is going to be. However, I always make sure to tell my Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Tumblr followers when that happens, to keep them in the loop. 

MTI:  On a lighter note, have you watched any good tv lately?

DP:  -I haven’t had much time as of late, but I’ve PVRed a ton. I am particularly looking forward to looking at two animated shows, “Wander Over Yonder” and “The 7D”, from Disney, that I’ve already heard good things about.

MTI:  How about music?

DP: -Nothing terribly new. I have stacks of CDs at home, lined up like canned goods in a bomb shelter, and usually the music in them is decades old, because I prefer it that way. However, I will put in a good word for Monkeyjunk, a blues trio from Ottawa whose sound I very much enjoy.

MTI:  What are three of your favorite movies?  You know, the ones that never get old.

DP:  The three that leap to mind immediately are “Blazing Saddles”, “In The Heat Of The Night”, and “The Powerpuff Girls Movie.” The common thread between them is: never judge a book by its cover. The protagonists all have to deal with a lot of crap because they look different than the “white” establishment, or are able to do things “normal” people can’t do, but they more than prove their worth by the last reel. Both Mel Brooks and Craig McCracken are extremely underrated in my worldview, and need to be appreciated much more for what is being said under the surface in their stories than what’s on top. Likewise with Norman Jewison, although the fact that he’s gotten the Irving G. Thalberg Award- given only to a select few producers- says that Hollywood, at least, got what he was trying to do. (And he’s a fellow Canadian, besides!).

MTI:  Of course, writers are some of the most voracious readers these days.  Tell me, have you run across any great pieces of literature lately?

DP:  I read most every new speculative fiction anthology that comes out as soon as I can, especially at the pro level, and I am impressed at the superb level of content in the stories that is always there. I hope the editors of these things will ultimately judge me worthy of being part of the exalted company they always manage to assemble. 

MTI:  You have the attention of potential readers.  Do you have any words of wisdom to share with them, or possibly a sales pitch to encourage them to read more of your writing?

DP:  I cannot really offer words of wisdom, as I am merely a fallible human being. However, I will encourage readers to seek out anything I have written. And not at all simply for the financial benefits that may possibly accrue to me. I don’t write purely for that reason in any form or fashion, for that is simply crass. What I want readers (and especially editors) to view me as is the same way that I view Robert Bloch: as a reliable, trustworthy source of knowledge and/or entertainment whose is always willing and able to give them exactly what they want, and to never disappoint them in any single way.  

Of course, readers love free samples, so let's give them a taste.  Here are the first few paragraphs of your story, as featured in To Hell with Dante:

            They seemed, to the outside viewer’s eyes, to simply be two otherwise normal fourteen year old girls who appeared oddly mismatched, given the great disparity in their physical appearances and sizes. The only thing they really had in common was the fact that they were wearing the same kind of T-shirts, corduroys, and flip-flops favored by most of their peers during summer—which was what season it happened to be at that moment. An outsider might further assume that, given the fact that the smaller one of the pair was falling behind her larger friend like a puppy struggling to keep up with its mother, that their personal relationship was similarly distorted.
            Nothing could be further from the truth. They had been close friends almost from their natal days, and had evolved a close, almost sisterly bond that had endured, in spite of the brickbats that life had thrown them. For both of them, those brickbats were many.
            The taller of the pair, Morgan Robertson, possessed a spindly, gangly form and a height of over six feet, which would have aided her immensely had she been athletically inclined. In terms of her bodily appearance, she was what was known vulgarly among her male peers as a “hottie.” Her head was crowned by a mop of luxurious red hair with a chestnut accent, which she always kept in a precise 1920s style bob to avoid it getting in her face. That face featured electric blue eyes, a snub nose, a cupid’s-bow mouth, and red full lips, which was good for getting boys to notice her—which, given her extreme level of personal shyness, was disconcerting to her. She was “average” only in her breast size. Such objects were not of Jayne Mansfield proportions, but just large enough, along with her face, to prevent her from being mistaken for a boy. Which is how she preferred it.
            However, Morgan was not part of the high school social spectrum you might assume was the case. This was because of two factors. She was challenged with Asperger’s syndrome, which resulted in her frequently thinking and acting “weird” in the eyes of most of her classmates. She would have uncomfortable bouts of rage and/or sadness at inopportune moments, which made her dangerously unpredictable. Whether attributable to her being an “Aspie,” a girl, or both, these extreme displays meant that Morgan spent more than her fair share of time alone, as is the sad fate of most people with this condition.
            Morgan found solace, as many Aspies do, in immersing herself in something to the point of full blown obsession. This particular thing was science fiction and its fantasy and horror brethren, not just the literature but the films and TV shows as well. She obsessed herself to the extent that she became convinced that everything depicted in these works was conceivably real, from the characters to the imaginary worlds in which they existed. Of course, this had expected drawbacks. More than once, anyone she tried to make conversation with about her favorite things would angrily get up and walk away, especially if they were a fellow girl. The particularly insensitive ones of that species went so far as to spread ugly rumors about her sexuality, so that none of their male counterparts would even come close to dating her.
            It was in these, the ugliest moments of her life, and other extracurricular moments, that Morgan found comfort in the company of her best friend, who was even more of a target for the mean girls and bullies than Morgan herself was. For good reason.
            Roberta Ripley, known to her best friend simply as “Rip,” was the polar opposite of her friend physically. Where Morgan was blessed with both beauty and brains, Rip possessed only brains to aid her in life. The rest of her was less prepossessing. Born premature, she was weakened by an uncorrected club foot, which required her to get around on a cane on a full-time basis. Her facial features included a harelip, horrifically crooked teeth no braces could fix, misshapen, multi-jointed arms and legs, a bulbous nose, two differently colored eyes, and a squat but emaciated torso. With the addition of a braying, nearly masculine voice, she was a vision of clock-stopping homeliness. However, Rip made up for her physical shortcomings by being resourceful and intelligent in her words and deeds. In spite of their obvious physical differences, she and Morgan hit it off from kindergarten on, in part because Rip possessed an appetite for speculative media rivaling Morgan’s, and a similar “true believer” faith in the idea that it could be “true.” The relationship between them further developed in elementary and middle school, when Rip defended Morgan verbally against the social fallout caused by Morgan’s Asperger-derived displays of temper and anguish, and Morgan, in turn, used her size and physical strength to defend Rip physically from bullies.
            This “info dump” is necessary, despite being somewhat long winded, in order that you, the reader, may understand the circumstances of this narrative. For Morgan and Rip’s faith in the realistic existence of the supernatural forces of the universe—and each other—would prove to be the one thing able to save the Earth from destruction by the forces of Hell itself.

MTI:  Thank you, David, for that insightful interview.  Those who want to read the rest of his story, and 20 other cynical afterlife tales, can pick up To Hell with Dante.

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