Today, a Poetry Friday interview with a poet, who just happens to be a stop on today's Summer Blog Blast Tour. Without further ado, the interview with Ryan:
1. Your first book, ZOMBIE HAIKU, is vastly entertaining (sometimes in a funny way, sometimes in a disgusting manner, sometimes in a disgustingly funny manner). If forced under imminent threat of zombie mutilation to categorize it, would you describe it as a collection of poetry that happens to tell a story, or as a story that happens to utilize poems? Or, if you prefer, do you consider yourself first to be a novelist or a poet?
If for some truly bizarre reason a zombie mutilation forced me to categorize Zombie Haiku, which oddly enough happened about a month ago (swine flu situation, it mostly all worked out [lost a few cats]), I would say that the book is a collection of small poems that are like photographs from a terrible vacation. Although many of the photographs stand well on their own, it is best to view them in order from a photo album. Zombie Haiku is a collection of gross little poems that tell the larger story of a zombie holocaust. I hope was to share lots of intimate moments that combine to create something epic.
2. How did you come up with the idea to write ZOMBIE HAIKU?
The idea came from my wanting to write haiku in the voice of a broken and gross narrator. Zombie films have a special place in my heart, and giving a zombie a poetic (yet jarring) voice seemed like a wonderful pairing.
I love the novelty and gimmick of the 5-, 7-, 5-syllable structured haiku. Haiku has become the Las Vegas of the poetry landscape, where it is mostly cheap and clichéd. However, through that you can also find beauty that shines a bit brighter due to its limitations. A great haiku is like finding a circus freak with a wonderful singing voice. A great zombie haiku is like that, too, but the circus freak wants to eat you.
3. Which came first, the idea to write a book about zombies, the idea of telling a story through a series of haiku, or the idea of a multimedia sort of format (including photos and drawings as well as words)?
I write as a creative outlet, and in my writing folder on my computer, I kept adding poems to a word document of zombie haiku. The original intent wasn’t to tell a large story of a zombie plague, nor was it to write an entire book of them. My original idea was not to have all the haiku intertwine to tell a larger story, and that concept came later. I had hundreds of gross little zombie poems, which I then re-arranged like a puzzle to tell one story.
Lisa Kuhn, the book designer and packager, is a friend of mine. She once asked me if I would be interested in working on some highly designed books together. I looked in my writing folder, and there was my zombie haiku smiling back at me. She threw something together, and we sold a book.
The design was originally rather minimal, but as the story grew, so did the blood splatter. Lisa went through great lengths to make sure the dead spiders and maggots all made it into the book. I think she did a wonderful job, and her design on the book has even won the How Design Award.
4. I particularly enjoyed some of the early haiku in ZOMBIE HAIKU that borrow from poems written by others. For example:
The woods are lovely.
They are dark and they are deep.
How I love the woods.
How did you envision the owner of the journal at the start of the book? What age was he? Why was he keeping a haiku journal?
I didn’t give much description to the owner of the journal on purpose. I didn’t want the reader to get too attached to him because I didn’t want the reader frustrated when he died. The early haiku are playfully cheesy with hopes to paint the narrator as a dorky hopeless romantic everyman. As far as how old he was, your guess is as good as mine, but I like to picture him in his late 20’s.
5. Did you yourself keep a haiku journal as a teen?
I did indeed keep haiku journals while in college. I simply cannot not write haiku. I’ve been writing them for about 15 years now. I twitter in haiku. It’s a sickness.
6. The Fake Poet Zombie Haiku at your website cracks me up, as do some of the Neat Writers Write Zombie Haiku entries. How did you manage to score zombie haiku from writers such as Billy Collins, Michael Ian Black and Christopher Moore (to name but a few)?
I wrote them and asked. Almost every person I wrote asking for a zombie haiku sent one back my way. I was surprised and thankful. It really meant a lot to me. The zombie haiku from Billy Collins actually arrived by mail, and when I opened the letter I almost cried. I love so many of him poems, and get a poem from him written to me was something special. I met him a few months ago, and he told me he has a copy of Zombie Haiku in his bathroom. I can think of no better compliment for a book of poetry.
[KRF: I heart Billy Collins as well. (I have almost all of his books, and all of them signed as well.) But hearing your story made me love him still more. And I definitely would've cried, had I been in your shoes.]
7. Do you write other poetry as well as haiku?
I do. None are published, but I would like to change that one day. I have dozens of circus poems that I think would make a wonderful book. They're free verse and they are more adult Water For Elephants-toned.
8. What can you tell us about your forthcoming book, VAMPIRE HAIKU?
It’s similar in style and structure to Zombie Haiku, but I think it’s a much more fun story. The larger story of Zombie Haiku is a personalized account of a stereotypical zombie apocalypse scenario. Vampire Haiku is more of its own original story. Surprisingly, it’s also very American. Because vampires can live for centuries, the story takes place throughout the entirety of American history. With that changing yet constant setting as the backbone of the story, the book became a sort of twisted love letter to the USA. That being said, it is basically lots of silly haiku about a vampire drinking lots of blood from lots of necks. It comes out in August and I’m excited for people to read it. The haiku are written by a man on the Mayflower, who is turned into a vampire on the boat. The story follows him as he intertwines and causes lots of American history.
[KRF: You can read the first few pages of William Butten's haiku journal using the "Search Inside" feature at Amazon. If you do, you'll see what the pages look like at the start of the journal (I suspect additional blood and whatnot as the book progresses), as well as getting a feel for the artwork and haiku. Like these:
While loading the boat,
I notice some packed coffins.
gorgeous wife of John Carver,
drank blood from my neck.]
9. How did a nice youth minister like yourself end up writing verse novels about the undead anyhow?
Who said I was nice? Just kidding… maybe.
I question Christians who have little interest in creepy things. The Bible is almost nothing but creepy stories tied together with a string of hope. Some people point to Stephen King books, maybe Edgar Allen Poe books, but no book is more terrifying than the Bible. Plagues, demons, murder, the walking dead, a God that creates floods with the purpose of drowning most of humanity, fish that swallow people whole… the Bible had a large effect on my love for stories that creep me out.
10. What's next?
I’m currently waist deep into my first novel.
Cheese or chocolate? People is pick cheese are wrong.
Coffee or tea? Mountain Dew.
Cats or dogs? Dogs, but only if they don’t live in my house.
Favorite color? Cauliflower Green.
Favorite snack food? Green Cauliflower.
Favorite ice cream? Any that come with little gum chiclets in the mix.
Water or soda? Show me a pool filled with Mountain Dew, and I will cry.
What's in your CD player/on iTunes right now? Titus Andronicus [You can listen to some of their tunes at their MySpace]
What's the last movie you memorized lines from? In Bruges:
"I saw your midget today."
"You completely promise to jump into the canal?"
The other stops on the Summer Blog Blast Tour today:
Jenny Davidson at Chasing Ray
Rebecca Stead at Fuse Number 8
Lauren Myracle at Bildungsroman
Kristin Cashore at Hip Writer Mama
Rachel Caine at The Ya Ya Yas