Like most decisions made in my life, the decision to write “Bang Bang” occurred due to a night of drunken debauchery. On this particularly debauched evening, my college had a free screening of the visually terrifying Beatles musical “Across The Universe” showing on campus. Since “free” and “The Beatles” are two things that always grab my attention, a few of my friends and I snuck beer into the auditorium and got drunk while the director of the film somehow managed to make The Beatles music even more drug-addled than usual. When the film ended – and a few metallic carbonated drinks later – it occurred to me that my favorite Beatles song, “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer,” was missing its required homage. Justice had to be done.
By pure luck I was taking an elective in creative writing that semester with no real intention of writing a novel ever in my life. Up until then I had dabbled in screenplays with the intention of possibly entering the prestigious world of sitcoms. Ever the open-minded literary force, we were given a writing prompt of “how many marbles can fit in a coffin.” This grew instantly into the first scene of the novel, where the main characters fight boredom by seeing how many shovels they can fit in a coffin. Because marbles are really boring. Having to decide why they were bored, I decided that this was because nobody was dying. Thus the plot formed. A short story for class grew into a side hobby of writing a novel.
As a new writer, I was immediately blind-sided by the problem that if I wanted to write a book about a society without death, I kinda had to unkill several generations of people. This luckily presented an opportunity to enter the dystopian genre, which I felt had been swallowed by the Young Adult genre in recent years. While Young Adult has its charms, the publishing industry seems to have failed to consider that maybe not everyone who lives in dystopia is a moody 14 year old. Another problem with the setting that arose immediately was that I had only ever lived in Philadelphia, and Philadelphia is not exactly a conducive setting when writing a novel about people not dying. To fix this, I set the book in what I have come to jokingly call “Scorsesian surrealism” for short. Much like Martin Scorsese’s films, my father and grandmother had spent a lifetime regaling me with tales of a time when city life in Southwest Philadelphia involved an ethnic neighborhood for every conceivable ethnic group. According to Martin Scorsese and the stories of prior generations, Philadelphia used to basically be Disney’s EPCOT but with way more armed robbery and mob activity. This allowed me to play around with old time mafia stereotypes and create a kind of warped malt shop era dystopia that I hadn’t really ever seen done before in a novel. So to any readers who say, “There’s no Irish neighborhood in West Philadelphia,” it should be known that, as a lifelong resident, I am fully aware.
Creating the characters was easily the most enjoyable process of writing the novel. In trying to keep the focus on how a funeral home deals with death, I wanted the main characters to be embodiments of the various ways of how people deal with death. Max is the cold, emotionless, shut-down type; Bligh is the drink-away-the-sadness emotional type; Grace is the teenage death-is-cool type; and O’Rourke is the elderly death-come-take-me-now bitter type. Beyond that, their personalities were drawn from people in my actual life. Most notably, the Guido mobster stereotype seen in Vinny the Fist was written based on my experiences as a Philly kid down the Jersey shore. To emphasize the hilarious reality that men like Vinny do actually exist, let me be clear that the first draft of this novel was completed before Jersey Shore premiered on television. They’re real people and I’ve met quite a few. It’s also fun to note that the character of the tiny man who lives in a plastic scale-model home of Versailles is drawn from a real person and a real house, albeit separate in real life.
Once the novel was completed, I tried to do something which I never intended while writing it: sell it. Writing it had been a hobby, but now that it was finished I figured I’d make some money. If I had known at the beginning what selling a debut novel is like, there probably wouldn’t be a hard copy of the book in existence today. Originally I started blindly emailing agents in hopes of getting signed. More than a few were interested in working with the manuscript, but ultimately most couldn’t take the risk of signing an unpublished author. Turns out it’s particularly hard to sell a comedy so dark that it makes jokes about smashing in faces with hammers. After about 2 years of trying to sell through an agent, I decided to try the small press. After some research, I learned that small press can take a lot more risks and can put out books beyond the current, endless stream of paranormal teen erotica. And it only took 2 queries for “Bang Bang” to find its perfect home at Necro Publication and Bedlam Press. While bartending in Pittsburgh, I heard about a book release of a novel that seemed equally dark and comical to my own: Lucy Leitner’s “Working Stiffs” (side note: great read). A few emails later and “Bang Bang” was signed to the same publishing house.
So that’s the story behind the story. Jersey shore Guidos, drunken movie watching, The Beatles, old stories about Philadelphia’s golden years, and a coffin full of marbles created this story. If you want to know anything else, feel free to contact me on Twitter @bpatrickmalloy and give me a reason to procrastinate. Give it a read and treat yourself to some dark comedy. Or don’t, I’m not your mother.