SHOT #1- First, share a bit about Michael Panush, the author and the man.
MP- I’ve been writing creatively since my Freshman year in High School. It’s always been a passion for me. Stories, the elements of storytelling, and inspirations for writing are always dancing around somewhere in my head. Currently, I work as an educator, which is one of the greatest sources of inspiration around. For instance, during my school’s recent ski-trip, a tubing mishap sent me flying into the air and rolling down a hill. As I bounced my way down the snowy hill, I had one thought: this is what it’s like to go crashing down a hill. How can I fit this into a story?
Besides writing, my other creative endeavor is role-playing games. It’s very similar to writing, except you can’t control the characters, and you never quite know what they’re going to do. It’s an experience I’d recommend to all authors. You can find me playing the urban fantasy game Urban Shadows at https://www.time2tabletop.com/ every Tuesday night.
SHOT #2- Your latest work is the first in the VICTORIA’S APE series. Tell us a bit about APE’S HONOR.
MP- The Victoria’s Ape series tells the story of Cooper Grey, a gorilla who went through Dynamic Darwinism—a scientific process that can give animals the powers of intelligence and speech. He was adopted by a British nobleman, and ended up inheriting the title. Now, he’s Lord Cooper Grey, Queen Victoria’s trusted agent in the world of animal affairs. In Ape’s Honor, Cooper is tasked with stopping a brutal thief and serial killer known as the Wraith, who is gathering Dynamic components for some bizarre experiment—and harbors a deep connection to Cooper’s own past. It’s a story of Victorian mystery and intrigue, combining drawing room politics and back-alley brawls, with lots of animal action.
SHOT #3- This is a fascinating concept, blending Darwinism into a fictional science fiction sort of story. Where did the inspiration for this come from?
MP- I believe the initial inspiration was when I was writing a very bad retro sci-fi story about a robot detective that—hopefully—will never see the light of day. I wanted the hardboiled American robot detective to have a British Sherlock Holmes-esque counterpart, and decided to go with an uplifted gorilla. Gorillas and robots are the perfect contrast, right? A bit later, I was struck with the urge of doing a story set in Victorian England, and the concept of an intelligent, refined, and utterly polite gorilla came back. But then I considered something else: if the technology existed to uplift one gorilla, why wouldn’t it be used on other animals? That would lead to a Victorian England where people rubbed elbows with the scales, feathers, and fur of countless intelligent beasts—and judging by the way a lot of people were treated in Victorian England, most of these animals would not have the same privilege as the pampered Cooper.
SHOT #4- With the book being set in the 19th century, what threads/themes did you weave into APE’S HONOR that may make it relevant to a 21st Century audience?
MP- I believe it was Alan Moore, writing about his phenomenal, classic Jack the Ripper graphic novel From Hell, who suggested that most of the major issues of the present—industrialization, imperialism, the power of the press, urban sprawl—really rose to prominence in the Victorian Era. For the Victoria’s Ape series, I wanted to take a harder look at the Victorian Age and show that modern audiences often forget about the injustice that characterized that time, in favor of the ‘top hats and cogs are cool’ utopianism of Steampunk or the ‘nobility are noble’ of period pieces like Downton Abbey—and I’ve certainly been guilty of those sins myself.
The reality is that, for the poor, for minorities, for colonized peoples, the Victorian Era was one of oppression and struggle. Lord Cooper is caught between those worlds. He’s a British nobleman, with all the wealth and snobbery that contains, but he’s also an outsider—his species makes him an oddity. This gives him a unique perspective, and in Ape’s Honor, he learns to embrace it.
SHOT #5- Will we see more of Cooper and his contemporaries, both simian and human in the future?
MP- Absolutely! There are going to be four more books in the Victoria’s Ape series which will deal with Cooper traveling the world, venturing into Wild West-era America, dealing with spiritualism and the occult, and finally finding his place in the tumultuous years after World War One. Additionally, I’ve written a spin-off series about a hardboiled gorilla PI in 50s Los Angeles named Joey Bananas that looks at the Dynamically Darwinian world from a whole other angle. If you’re a fan of Great Apes, like I am, you’ll have a lot to look forward to.
Michael is available for interviews for websites, newsletters, podcasts, etc about VICTORIA’S APE: APE’S HONOR and his other work. Email firstname.lastname@example.org to set up an interview or to obtain a copy of his current novel for review purposes.