Exclusive Interview: “People’s Park” Author David Agranoff


Back before everyone had the Internet in their pocket, some kids used to hang out, listen to music, and skate or die.

It is in this before time that we find David Agranoff’s new horror novel, People’s Park (paperback, Kindle), a story that — as he says in the following email interview — has a lot of connections to his real life in that long lost era.

David Agranoff People's Park

To start, what is People’s Park about, and when and where is it set?

People’s Park is set in my hometown of Bloomington Indiana. It might seem the set up for something autobiographical, but it is not that, though Justin, the main character, and I share some things in common. My mother died when I was 12 years old, similar to Justin losing his father.

People’s Park is a novel about a park in this college town where freaks, punks, and hippies hung out. The park is like a magnet for the weirdos, it is like a home away from home.

Justin is young, and he is new to all this, and he begins to suspect there is evil forces swirling around the park. The only person who appears to see it is a man named Electric Fred, who listens to static on his headphones, and has written wild conspiracy theories in his notebooks. Justin and his friends begin to suspect Fred might be on to the truth.

Where did you get the idea for People’s Park? What inspired it?

The park is a real place, I hung out there when I was a young punk rock skateboarder. It is in a weird spot for a park, right in the center strip of town, with store fronts everywhere. I spent years sitting in that spot and never questioned why there was a park in the spot.

Years later, I was reading a book called Dissent In The Heartland [by Mary Ann Wynkoop]. It was a history of late-’60s anti-war activism in the midwest. The book included the history of People’s Park. In 1969 there was a storefront in the spot. A group of radical black power student activists opened a store they called “The Black Market.” Over Christmas break in 1969 the Klan bombed and burned the store down.

In an effort to counter the hate of the event, activists took over the spot and demanded the city make the spot a park. Thus it became People’s Park. It was always strange to me that this place that I saw as a positive hang-out was created in violence and hate.

The first spark of the idea [for this book] was Electric Fred, he was a real person. The Fred in the novel is different, fictionalized, but the real life guy was popular with punks in my hometown. On surface, Fred was challenged, and it would have been easy to dismiss him as crazy, but I started to imagine a story about the hate unleashed by the park and Fred being the only one who saw what was happening.

I was thinking about this idea and mentioned it to my wife and I knew Fred had been a regular in the coffee shop she worked at back in the day. She shocked me by telling me that Fred had gifted her two of his notebooks. I read them and much of the novel formed in my mind. It wasn’t for a many years before I actually sat down to write it.

You kind of just answered this, but is there a reason why it’s set in 1989 as opposed to 1999 or 2019 or, conversely, 1959?

Oh yeah, I wanted to write a love letter to the places where freaks and weirdos gathered before the Internet. It would often be a parking lot, a park, or somewhere random. You are too young to have your own home, so your find these spots.

In Bloomington, we had People’s Park; in Indianapolis they had a parking lot next to a florist in Broad Ripple; in Chicago, a Dunkin Donuts parking lot they called Punkin Donuts. I featured Punkin Donuts in my first punk rock coming of age novel Boot Boys Of The Wolf Reich. I wanted to write a story about these spaces. They don’t exist anymore because young kids live on their phones, or social media.

I have written about the difference of punk rock before and after Nirvana / the Internet before. My novel Punk Rock Ghost Story is about that theme. Punk rock in the ’80s was different, jocks and rednecks didn’t think your music was cool, they felt threatened by the whole thing. We were constantly being threatened with violence. You could be skating down the street, some redneck would yell “Skate Or Die.” And next thing you know your getting jumped.

People’s Park was a sanctuary. I wanted to write story where they people in that park were fighting together against those evil forces, and imagined a supernatural drive to that anger and hate that we often had directed at us.

And I assume that’s also why you set it in Bloomington, Indiana as opposed to a bigger city or more of a suburban town…

Well, Bloomington is my hometown, so no different than Stephen King writing about Maine. I have set stories in and around Bloomington. Punk Rock Ghost Story starts there, but People’s Park is a novel about Bloomington. I wrote it before I wrote The Last Night To Kill Nazis, which is clearly set in Europe, the next novel, Not Alone, is a very global science fiction novel. So I am not stuck in Bloomington.

That said, I sat at the bagel shop across from the park to write the first ten pages. I think it will be my final statement on Bloomington.

The press materials call People’s Park a, “…true ’80s coming-of-age bizarro horror novel that reads like Stranger Things with punk rock, skateboards, and a dose of mind-bending sci-fi.” I assume, since it’s in the press materials, that you don’t disagree with that. But are there any other genres at work in this story?

I’m proud of how weird this novel is. It crosses many genres. There is lots of misdirection, and I am proud of how the novel has impacted readers who have no connection to Bloomington. Though I think B-town folks will have extra fun.

Now, People’s Park is your tenth novel. Are there any writers, or stories, that were a big influence on People’s Park but not on anything else you’ve written?

It’s the first novel I wrote after I started doing the Philip K. Dick podcast “Dickheads.” That research really influenced the ending of this novel. I can’t say which novel of P.K.D.’s influenced it, because that is a major spoiler, but let’s say one of the novels Dick wrote in the 1950s was inspiration. People’s Park goes in a very different place, but I owe Phil for opening my mind to something. That was a big hint.

John Brunner is another of my favorite sci-fi writers, but I love ol’ 20th century science fiction. Catherine Lucille Moore, Leigh Brackett, Barry Malzberg are all writers I would shout-out. Modern authors Stephen Graham Jones, Josh Malerman, and Lavie Tidhar are authors I am digging now.

What about such non-literary influences as movies, TV shows, or games? Was People’s Park influenced by any of those things? Like maybe Stranger Things or the Stranger Things of the 1980s, The Goonies?

The Stranger Things is funny [because] the brothers who make that show were not kids in the ’80s or from Indiana. That comparison was actually made to me by one of my early readers.

Yeah, I am a film nerd, and watch plenty of TV. If this was influenced by Twilight Zone or Outer Limits if anything. I mean it all gets in the mix.

And what about your dogs, Barney and Iris? How did they influence People’s Park?

We just lost Iris a few weeks ago and we are very heartbroken about. It is hard to talk about still.

Barney is my boy and sleeps under my desk when I am writing. I am not sure they influenced writing this book, but I couldn’t do it without them.

Now, along with People’s Park you had another novel, The Last Night To Kill Nazis, come out a few months ago. What is Last Night about, and when and where is it set?

The Last Night To Kill Nazis is a novel set on the last night of WW II, after Hitler shot himself and before the surrender was official. My buddy Ivan Zoric and I were chatting online after a Portland Trailblazers game (that’s our team); we were talking about a vampire movie and he said “any movie could be better if you add a vampire.” I laughed and started thinking about WWII mission movies: Guns Of Navarone, Where Eagles Dare, stuff like that. I always wanted to write one of those. So I thought what if I added a vampire and the title popped in my heart. The first draft was done two and half months later. I wrote like my hair was on fire. My science fiction novel Goddamn Killing Machines is also a tribute to that genre but set in 24th century. Writing Last Night actually set in WW II was super fun, I researched the heck out of it and all the history is accurate, except the vampire of course.

The Last Night To Kill Nazis sounds like it’s much pulpy-er than People’s Park, but still a horror novel. Is that a safe assessment?

I wanted people to think that for sure. I wanted people to get Last Night for the vampire killing Nazis and find a deeper novel than they may have expected. Before I announced the title I referred to it as a holocaust revenge novel. Vampires in this mythology have the same skill as Dracula for getting into the minds of their victims. Exploiting the psychic trauma of committing the crimes of the holocaust is a huge part of the novel. I feel the novel balances the fun action with deeper meaning.

So, did you write People’s Park and The Last Night To Kill Nazis either at or around the same time? I ask because I’m curious how they may have influenced each other.

I wrote People’s Park first but wanted to time the release with the solar eclipse happening this year in Bloomington. The Last Night To Kill Nazis was more influenced by working on screenplays with a few different collaborators, none of which ended up produced. So it goes. My friend Anthony Trevino and I co-wrote a novel called Nightmare City around the time I wrote People’s Park. It had more of an influence if anything.

Nightmare City, by the way, we pitch as “The Wire if Clive Barker and P.K.D. were on the writing staff.” Urban horror, sci-fi, and crime. Very proud of that one.

Going back People’s Park, earlier I asked if it had been influenced by any movies, TV shows, or games. But to flip things around, do you think People’s Park could be adapted into as a movie, show, or game?

It is short, so I think it would make a better movie. I think The Last Night To Kill Nazis is a no-brainer movie, I am fine with People’s Park living as a novel. Nightmare City we wrote a TV show first. The novel is based on the first two episode scripts we wrote. I wish that book would sell better, because we wrote episode three and four, and we would love to continue that story episode three is a banger. Anthony and I wrote a script for a science fiction action movie called Battle At The Tower of God we might turn into a novel soon.

So, if someone wanted to adapt People’s Park into a movie, who would you want them to cast as Electric Fred and the other main characters?

Oh, Paul Giamatti [The Holdovers] as Electric Fred no doubt. Beyond that we would have to find young actors.

David Agranoff People's Park

Finally, if someone enjoys People’s Park, which of your other books would you recommend they check out next and why that?

My short story collection Amazing Punk Stories is of course a good choice, and Punk Rock Ghost Story has similar themes.



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