Upon first contact with Gina Ranalli, it was instantly clear that we were kindred spirits. Gina is a prolific writer with a punk rocker's soul and an activist's heart. She's a vegan, a feminist, and a wiseass rebel who has written books known as "Bizarro," sold over 100 paintings, raised hell in punk bands, and just loves her 1977 Fender Strat. Gina's latest novella is Mother Puncher and the lead character, well, punches mothers. Specifically, he punches mothers just after they give birth...ostensibly to teach them a lesson. Ranalli's brilliant dystopian vision never strays too far from what passes for reality today-and that's where Mother Puncher delivers the knockout blow (sorry, couldn't resist). She holds up a mirror to a clueless culture on a collision course with oblivion.
Here is my e-mail conversation with Gina Ranalli:
MZ: Noam Chomsky once said: "It is quite possible-overwhelmingly probable, one might guess-that we will always learn more about human life and human personality from novels than from scientific psychology." What can Mother Puncher teach us about "human life and human personality"?
GR: I think Mother Puncher draws a very clear portrait and points out, very blatantly, how as a species we tend to look to our leaders and just blindly swallow whatever it is they happen to be feeding us that day. Human beings are very "monkey see, monkey do" regardless of how preposterous something might be. People are taught from a very early age not to think for themselves. We're told what to buy, what to eat, who to vote for, who to hate, who to love, which God we need to believe in. It's never ending and it's both sad and scary that so few people pause and say, "Hold up a second. I think FILL IN THE BLANK is untrue or unfair or that's not what I believe." The book takes all that blind following to the next level. But it also shows the "rebels" in the society, who disregard the laws, but they do so basically at the expense of the rest of the world. There just are no easy answers.
MZ: Your protagonist, Ed Means, is a Mother Puncher...and he spends an awful lot of time trying to justify and rationalize how he makes a living, where he lives, and how he lives. For me, his "banality" echoed Hannah Arendt's writings on Adolph Eichmann. She discussed a "new type of criminal," who "commits his crimes under circumstances that make it well-nigh impossible for him to know or to feel that he is doing wrong." How did the character of Ed Means come to be?
GR: Ed really wasn't a hard character to come up with. We all know people like him. And I do think that at his core, he's an okay guy, in a bizarre kind of way. He thinks, probably rightly so, that there are hundreds of other guys that would take his job in a heartbeat, simply because they'd enjoy popping a woman in the face and knowing that there would be no repercussions for those actions. Hell, they would be paid to do it. He considers his job unsavory, but necessary. He doesn't enjoy having to do it but realizes that these people are better off in his hands, so to speak, instead of in the hands of a militant misogynist, for example. So, in his mind, he's actually protecting them.
MZ: Ah yes, lesser evilism. A very familiar concept in an election year. I imagine you will take some heat for the title Mother Puncher and the fact that it's literal. Do you think it's easier for a woman to create such a concept? What I mean is that you won't have to deal with the accusations of sexism and can focus more on the social realities you touch on in the book (e.g. class, patriarchy, reproductive rights, etc.)?
GR: Yeah, I figured I'd take heat for the title and the book itself. I haven't heard anything too bad yet, but I won't be surprised when/if it happens. It might be easier for a woman to "get away with it." But maybe not. It could just as easily go the other way and in fact I just assumed it would be feminists and women in general who'd be calling for my head on a stick. But, who knows. I recently wrote a short story told from the perspective of a child molester and the editor told me that a bunch of his initial readers were not only unsure of whether to publish it, but also went as far as to say, "If this had been written by a man, we'd never touch it." So, I think the whole issue of gender is a roll of the dice when it comes to what readers will accept. Or maybe they don't care at all. We'll just have to wait and see."
MZ: Gender issues notwithstanding, your writing is usually described as "Bizarro." Can you explain?
GR: Sure thing. Bizarro is, for lack of a better term, the genre of fiction that I currently write in. It's weird, it's surreal, it's bizarre. It's distorted, absurd and twisted. It's David Lynch on paper. There are no boundries, really. For a better, more complete definition of exactly what bizarro is, I would highly recommend checking out the website BizarroCentral.com. It answers every question anyone could have about the genre, in addition to a catalog of bizarro books, articles, author bios and an active forum where you can chat with the authors and other fans. It's the best jumping off spot for anyone interested in checking out bizarro as a whole.
MZ: Where can you be found on the Web?
A: I can be found on the web in several places. I have a MySpace page (www.myspace.com/ginaranalli ), an online journal at http://invertedvertigo.blogspot.com/ and of course anyone can check me out and chat with me at www.bizarrocentral.com . I always love meeting readers, other vegans/vegetarians, and kindred spirits. Mickey Z. is the author of the recently released Bizarro novel, CPR for Dummies (http://www.rawdogscreaming.com/cpr.html), and can be found on the Web at http://www.mickeyz.net.