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Interview: Peter David on “Bronsky’s Dates with Death”

– Tell us a bit about the story.
The protagonist is an elderly gentleman named Bronsky (probably Jewish, although he didn’t say for sure) who is not only utterly prepared for death, but he keeps talking about how prepared he is for it.  He so cavalier about it, in fact, that it tends to drive his loved ones nuts.  As it turns out, his candor is also driving Death nuts, and Death has to convince Bronsky to knock it the hell off because otherwise Bad Things Will Happen.  And Bronsky, who naturally doesn’t want Bad Things to Happen, endeavors to knock it the hell off…and fails spectacularly.  It’s about fatherly love, acceptance of what you can and cannot change, and why famous people always seem to die in threes.
– What is the genesis of this story – it’s inspiration, or what prompted you to write it?
It actually had its roots in a conversation I had with Harlan Ellison.  I called Harlan one day and said, “How are you doing?”  He said, “I’m dying.”  Naturally I reacted with great alarm and concern.  Was he having a heart attack?  Kidney failure?  What was wrong?  Well, it turned out that nothing in particular was wrong. Yes, he was enduring a variety of ailments that aging inflicts on one, but there was no one thing in particular that was sending him off into the void.  Nevertheless he kept saying he was dying.  And he sounded quite accepting of it.  And I said, “You know, I wish you wouldn’t sound so casual and comfortable about your dying.”  His response was, “Yeah, everybody tells me that.”  Then later on, I called up my father just to chat and HE started talking about dying.  And that just triggered something in my mind.
– Most authors say their stories are personal.  If that’s true for you, in what way is “Bronsky’s Dates with Death” personal?
Bronsky is really a combination of Harlan, my Dad, and me.  I took little pieces of all of us and mashed them all together and came up with Bronsky and his personal life and his family.  Of most particular resonance to me is Bronsky’s relationship with his daughter, up to and including his recollection of lying on his bed when his daughter was an infant, and how both of them were dozing and she nearly slid off his chest.  He recounts how he immediately snapped awake and caught her.  That was me and my youngest daughter (now eight.)  Bronsky’s daughter has traits of all my daughters in her.  So she’s probably what makes the story so personal to me.
– It’s both a funny story and a touching story.  Which aspect of it came to you first: the humorous or the emotional?
I suppose the tone is set by the narrative style which, appropriately, I cribbed slightly from “Repent, Harlequin.”  The tone is tongue in cheek, but the emotional aspects of it are so tied up in it that I really feel it’s organic to the story.  The humor sets up the emotion, but human interaction is frequently funny, so it flows right back out of it.
– What are you working on now?
I’m working on a novel about two damned souls falling in love.  It’s called “Hope in Hell.”  It’s a tale of damnation, redemption, and Harry Truman.  I’m about 30,000 words into it and it’s coming along nicely.  Don’t have a publisher yet; in fact, I may wind up not using one.

– Anything else you’d like to add?
Well, I’d like to explain my previous comment about not using a publisher.  My current endeavor is being part of an authorial collective called “,” in which five other novelists and I are putting out our own novels via Amazon and e as both eBooks and trade paperbacks.  We’ve just come out with our first offering, “The Camelot Papers,” written by yours truly.  It’s a revisionist history of Arthur and Company, told first person through the eyes of a young female slave and written like a political potboiler.  It’s really a liberating feeling, to be able to write whatever I want and know that I’ll be able to get the books to the readers no matter what.  I highly recommend people check it out.

“Bronsky’s Dates with Death” appears in the July/August 2011 issue.


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