◊ ◊ ◊
DJ: Hi Michael! Thanks for agreeing to do this interview!
For readers who aren’t familiar with you, could you tell us a little about yourself?
Michael Zimecki: I’m an attorney by day and a writer at night. Death Sentences was my first published novel. My novella, The History of My Final Illness, about the last five days in the life of Joseph Stalin, was previously published in Eclectica Magazine. I’ve also published articles and short fiction in Harper’s Magazine, The National Law Journal, Cold Creek Review, and Pittsburgh City Paper, among other publications. Earlier this year, I won a Golden Fedora Award for Poetry from Noir Nation, an international crime fiction journal. My award-winning poems are slated to appear in the next issue of the magazine, to be out soon. I live in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania with my wife, Susan, and a black cat named Mr. White.
DJ: What is Death Sentences about?
Michael: Death Sentences tells the story of Peter “Pop” Popovich, an unemployed 24-year-old. He’s a high school drop-out who enlists in the Marines and washes out, receiving a psych discharge. For a while, he finds work as a glazier, fitting glass into windows and doors, a strange vocation for someone so breakable, but he can’t get along with his co-workers and is soon fired. Pop, in short, is a loser. He’s also an anti-Semite, a white supremacist, a misogynist, and a gun nut. After he has a falling out with his girlfriend, Pop ends up living with his alcoholic mother. When his dog defecates on the rug in her living room, Pop’s mother calls the cops and asks them to remove her son from her residence. All hell breaks loose when police knock on the door and find Pop waiting for them with an AK-47.
DJ: What were some of your influences for Death Sentences?
Michael: Death Sentences is loosely based on an incident that occurred in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in 2009, when a gunman, convinced that the government was coming to take away his guns, engaged in a four-hour standoff with police.
DJ: Could you briefly tell us a little about your main characters? Do they have any cool quirks or habits, or any reason why readers with sympathize with them?
Michael: Pop’s not a likeable character, but I try to help readers understand what makes him tick. His upbringing is horrible. He has an absent father and his mother is absolutely wicked, a verbally abusive woman with a talent for finding her son’s metaphorical jugular vein. There isn’t anyone in Pop’s world with socially redeemable characteristics, including Pop’s grandfather, whom Pop loves, but who hates everyone.
Pop is the kind of guy my Jewish friends would call a schlimazel. A schlemiel is somebody who spills his hasenpfeffer and a schlimazel is the person he spills it on. Everyone dumps on Pop.
In addition, Pop suffers from a condition called amblyopia, commonly known as lazy eye, which makes him feel self-conscious. Despite his shortcomings, which are legion, Pop has some native intelligence and is somewhat curious about the world he lives in; unfortunately, he’s also susceptible to far-right propaganda. He reads the wrong books, listens to the wrong people, and connects all the wrong dots.
DJ: What is the world and setting of Death Sentences like?
Michael: The novel is set in the closing days of the Obama Administration, before the 2016 election, but Pop’s world is Trump Country, even though Trump doesn’t play a part in it and his name doesn’t appear in the book. It’s a world peopled by members of the white working class, people who feel they’ve lost their place to black and brown people and have been supplanted by immigrants. They feel like they’ve been elbowed out of place, and that the country doesn’t belong to them anymore. It’s a world fueled by rage and anger.
DJ: What was your favorite part about writing Death Sentences?
Michael: Getting inside the head of someone who is my political opposite, someone who perceives the world much differently than I do. I won’t call it a thrill ride, but it was an interesting place to be, as long as I didn’t have to stay there.
DJ: What do you think readers will be talking about most once they finish it?
Michael: The novel is electrifying, especially its conclusion, and I think there’s a lot to talk about. I think my novel was prophetic, that it forecast what was coming and shared a vision of the country we all live in right now, a deeply divided country that the haters have taken over.
DJ: Did you have a particular goal when you began writing Death Sentences? Was there a particular message or meaning you are hoping to get across when readers finish it? Or is there perhaps a certain theme to the story?
Michael: In the last line in the book, Peter “Pop” Popovich warns readers that he is not alone, that there are many others like him out there, who share his convictions and his rage. We’ve seen a parade of Peter Popoviches in real life — Dylann Storm Roof, Eric Frein, James Alex Fields, Jr., Ricky John Best, Samuel Woodward, and Elliot Rodger, to name just a few. My goal in writing Death Sentences was to alert readers to the dangers posed by incendiary right-wing ideology and young white men with hate in their heads and hurt in their hearts.
DJ: When I read, I love to collect quotes – whether it be because they’re funny, foodie, or have a personal meaning to me. Do you have any favorite quotes from Death Sentences that you can share with us?
Pop on himself:
“He was in the fifth grade when he learned he was different from the other kids. . . . He learned this when he was out searching for night crawlers on the bank of a creek with his friend, Kenny. Kenny went around a bush to take a pee, and came back to find Pop holding the head of a frog on a stick. Jesus, Petey, Kenny said. Pop took the head off the stick and threw it into the creek, and he and Kenny never talked about it again, but from that point on, they both knew Pop was strange.”
Pop on his grandfather:
“Granny Popovich called him Sugar. There was quite some irony in this because Grandpa Popovich was anything but sweet.”
“Liver spots dotted the back of Sugar’s hand like speckles on the tail fin of a fish.”
Pop on Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood:
“Like all the famous pairs of men in American literature — Huck and Jim, Natty Bumppo and Chimgachgook, Ishmael and Queequeg, Nick and Gatsby, Tonto and the Lone Ranger — Perry Smith and Richard Hickock were locked in a subconsciously homoerotic relationship, a pair of men seeking to flee for the primal wilderness rather than remain in the domesticating world of women, but ending up in dystopian Kansas instead.”
Pop on motivation:
“For an American like Pop, the most dominant emotion was hate’s cousin — revenge.”
“The first thing Pop did when he got to Florida was to stop at Juno Beach and watch the waves roll in. He was there at daybreak, watching the sun rise from the sea like Poseidon’s crown, streamers of gold and yellow breaking through the clouds.”
“The sound of a flapping window shade. Memories flickering like film through a projector. Fireflies in a glass jar. Goldfish in a bowl.”
“[I]f I had it to do all over again, I wouldn’t have shot that cop.”
“The blood on these pages is yours, too.”
DJ: Now that Death Sentences is released, what is next for you?
Michael: I have drafts of two crime novels in the drawer, than I need to pull out and edit. I’m also thinking about the next one. The contours of the next one aren’t clear to me yet, but I think I’d like to write about victims — not perpetrators — of a mass shooting and what it is like for survivors in the aftermath. The kind of story that desperately needs to be told, and doesn’t get told very often, if at all.
DJ: Where can readers find out more about you?
Amazon Author Page: https://www.amazon.com/Michael-Zimecki/e/B00KAZL7AC
DJ: Before we go, what is that one thing you’d like readers to know about Death Sentences that we haven’t talked about yet?
Michael: The opening paragraph contains an allusion to Jean Genet’s debut novel, Our Lady of the Flowers.
DJ: Thank you so much for taking time out of your day to answer my questions!
◊ ◊ ◊
*** Death Sentences is published by Crime Wave Press and is available TODAY!!! ***
Buy the Book:
◊ ◊ ◊
Death Sentences – A Personal Account of Mass Murder
Peter “Pop” Popovich is a 24-year-old unemployed glazier, anti-Semite and white supremacist who is pushed over the edge by his chaotic mother, his unresponsive lover, an uncaring stepfather and a right-wing hate machine that tells him liberals want to take away his guns and his liberty. While he waits to be executed for his crimes, “Pop” squibs sentences, whole paragraphs, a novel about life on Death Row in which he reprises the life that landed him there
Death Sentences is loosely based on an incident in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in April 2009, when a lone gunman, convinced that the government was coming to take away his guns, had a four-hour standoff with police.
This explosive novel, reminiscent of the works of Ed Bunker and Charles Bukowski, is a hellish story from the American underclass, its disenfranchised characters long abandoned by government and society and prone to constant failure and excessive violence. Gripping, personal, cruel and hilarious in turn, Death Sentences gets right under your skin.
About the Author:
I write fiction, nonfiction and plays while continuing to work as an attorney. Born in inner-city Detroit, I did turns as a steelworker, advertising copywriter, medical editor and teacher before practicing law.
My work has appeared in Harper’s Magazine, The National Law Journal, College English, and The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, among other publications.
My novel, Death Sentences, was published by Crime Wave Press , a Hong Kong based fiction imprint. The novel is based on an incident in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in April 2009, when a lone gunman, convinced that the government was coming to take away his guns, had a four-hour standoff with police. Death Sentences is available through Amazon.
My novella, The History of My Final Illness, about the last five days in the life of Joseph Stalin, was published in Eclectica Magazine. A play, Negative Velocity, is a past winner of the New Playwright’s Contest of the Fremont Center Theatre, located in South Pasadena, California.
I live in Pittsburgh with my wife, Susan, and a black cat named Walter White who prefers to be called “Mister.” I enjoy traveling, swing jazz, fedoras and hard-boiled fiction.