Recently, I had the opportunity to speak with the author of Zombie Haiku: Good Poetry for Your…Brains and Vampire Haiku, Ryan Mecum. Ryan currently is working on a third book of horror/comedy poetry called Werewolf Haiku, set for release this September. He was kind enough to take some time out of his busy schedule to answer some of our questions about poetry, writing, and genre.
Paige MacGregor: Having published two books, Zombie Haiku and Vampire Haiku, it is clear that you enjoy, or at least are drawn to, writing in haiku. Can you describe for our readers how you became interested in writing in haiku and why you chose that particular style of poetry?
Ryan Mecum: I grew up thinking I liked poetry. I loved Shel Silverstein’s poetry books. In middle school, we learned about haiku and I loved it. The “good/serious” poetry taught in high school was miserable and I remember a shift where everyone started to hate poetry. I kept trying to enjoy it, but reading poetry became all about trying to solve the poem’s riddle, that once our teacher deciphered the poems for us, their “meanings” proved to us that that poetry was not worth the effort to solve.
At the University of Cincinnati, I had a few amazing poetry professors that helped me see that poetry could be fun again. Andrew Hudgins. John Drury. They taught passionately about contemporary poems that were less confusing then the “greats” we were forced to read in high school. These two teachers helped me fall back in love with poetry.
Mixing monsters and haiku together came out of writing about topics I enjoy in a poetry form I enjoy. I love that my books are finding an audience because I like to think that somewhere, one of these haiku books is landing in the hands of a 15-year-old who has wrongly been taught that poetry has to be confusing and boring.
PM: The subject matter for your books thus far — zombies and vampires — would indicate that you’re a fan of the horror genre to some extent? Is this true? What are some of your favorite works in that genre, whether films, books, comics, television, etc.?
RM: I’m a huge genre fan. Love it. This could be a very long answer, but I’ll go easy on you.
My favorite horror films are Jaws, Tremors, The Thing, The Descent, Dog Soldiers, Dawn Of The Dead, and Near Dark.
The best horror books I’ve read recently are Under The Dome by Stephen King, The Ruins by Scott Smith, The Terror by Dan Simmons, Heart-Shaped Boy by Joe Hill, The Road by Cormac McCarthy, and The Forest Of Hands And Teeth by Carrie Ryan.
Clifton Comics is a weekly Wednesday stop for me. I’m crazy into comics, so the long answer is “Everything by DC and just about everything else.” The short answer is The Walking Dead by Robert Kirkman, Scalped by Jason Aaron, and Proof by Alexander Grecian.
With television, my hearts belongs to Lost, Buffy, Friday Night Lights, and Twin Peaks.
PM: Different people write for different reasons. Aside from producing publishable works, what purpose does writing serve in your life?
RM: I’m wired with the need to create. I’ve always been working on something. In college, I turned from “a guy who wants to be a writer” into “somebody who writes.” The fact that people want to publish and read what I write is both new and humbling to me.
PM: Given the format and subject matter of your books, your writing tends to stand out among its peers in all of the various genres in which it falls. What inspires you to write books like Zombie Haiku and Vampire Haiku?
RM: I am easily inspired by the creative works of others. For example, what the current community of zombie loving creators have been able to do with the generic zombie story has been so exciting for me as a fan to enjoy. Their creativity spurs me on to write.
PM: Haiku is often laughed off as a very simple poetic form that is taught to elementary school students and then quickly forgotten. Do you find it an easy format to write in? Can you describe for our readers what your process for telling a narrative using the haiku format is like?
RM: I think in a 5/7/5-syllable structure. Some ideas are easy to capture in that pattern, and some ideas are so difficult that I still have yet to capture them in that pattern. I see a single haiku as a photograph. One image. Writing a whole narrative in haiku is tying a lot of images together to create one story. It’s not easy, but I enjoy it.
PM: Zombie Haiku was published in July 2008. Was that your first publication? How did it feel when you first saw your book on the shelf in a bookstore?
RM: Zombie Haiku was indeed my first publication. It was interesting to see it for that first time on a bookstore shelf. Sort of like a teenager running into their parents at a high school football game, there’s an odd feeling of happiness mixed with an awkward urge to not be seen near it.
PM: Can you describe for our readers what kinds of reactions you’ve received to your work?
RM: Most of my family and friends are supportive of my writing, but are not too excited to read what I’ve written. Horror poetry is a bit of a niche market. One of my favorite poets, Billy Collins, told me he keeps a copy of Zombie Haiku in his bathroom. One of my favorite zombie writers, Robert Kirkman, told me that my mixing of zombies and haiku went together like zombies and brains. Having those authors from two very different writing styles both give Zombie Haiku a thumbs up meant a lot to me. It felt like two different friends from extremely different backgrounds accidentally hanging out together and surprisingly have a wonderful time.
PM: Your next book, Werewolf Haiku, is set for release this September. Can you tell our readers about that book? What made you decide to write about werewolves this time around?
RM: Werewolf Haiku is similar to the other books as it is the story of somebody keeping a haiku journal who turns into a monster, yet continues to write poems in his journal. Hopefully you will find it both adorable and disgusting. Of the three horror haiku books, this one was the most fun to write. I decided to write from the voice of a werewolf because that idea excited me. I enjoy telling stories from the stereotypical monster’s point of view, and the daily life of an average guy who turns into a werewolf every full moon is a topic I find fun.
PM: After Werewolf Haiku is released, do you plan to continue writing books of haiku?
RM: I would love to tell more monster stories in haiku. I am currently working on a novel, but once I am finished with it, I’d love to jump back into the poetic mind of something gross.
PM: Some writers have to write out their work by hand; others have to sequester themselves away from other people in order to focus. Can you describe for our readers what your personal writing process is like?
RM: I usually write at night on my Mac, with a can or two of Mountain Dew nearby. Did that seem like product placement? I find the evening to be the best time for me to think more creatively. My writing process is as follows… “Stop surfing the Internet and Start To Write!”
PM: As you probably know, Fandomania.com is a web site devoted to all things fandom and geeky — from books to comics, television to movies, video games to crafts. What are three things that you are a fan of and why?
RM: I am a fan of Jesus. Christianity seems to have a strong negative view in contemporary pop culture, which I blame to a lot of people pushing the rules of religion verses the teachings of the man who seemed angrily against the rules of religion 2,000 years ago.
I am a fan of soda pop. I drive far away to buy soft drinks from small independent companies. If you know of a random distant gas station that has an odd local root beer, I’ll ask you to draw me a map.
I am a fan of circus freaks. The Jim Rose Circus Sideshow toured on the second stage of Lollapalooza in 1992, and their show blew my mind more than Ministry or The Red Hot Chili Peppers did over on the main stage. If anyone ever wanted to hypnotize me, just put me in front of a tattooed midget who swallows fire.
For more information on Ryan Mecum, his publications, or to read some of his random poetry, head over to the author’s official web site. You can also follow Ryan on Twitter, where he posts haiku in less than 140 characters! Ryan’s next book, Werewolf Haiku, will be released this September, but you can pre-order your copy now on Amazon.com and at Barnes & Noble.