Interview with Ryan Mecum author of Zombie Haiku

Why don’t you start us off by telling readers a little bit about the book–it’s called Zombie Haiku, but tell us more.

Like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the whole joke and concept is in the title.  Zombie Haiku is simply about a zombie who writes haiku.  However, like Buffy, the goal was to elevate the writing to be actually better than the concept.  Although completely unrealistic in the average zombie pop culture universe, I liked the idea of a zombie poet who kept a haiku journal of his journey.  The short poems are strung together to loosely tell the bigger story of a man who turns from a human haiku writer into a zombie haiku writer, and he documents his transformation in small poems following the 5-7-5 syllable structure.  

What was the genesis of the book–what was the inspiration for it, or what prompted you to write it?

I love poetry and I love zombies.  In school, I always felt like poems were confusing riddles that students had to figure out and solve.  I want my poems to entertain the kids who think they hate poetry. 

What are the haiku like–what are some of the subjects you write about?

I’m a visual person.  One thing that has always drawn me to haiku is how they can feel like photographs, capturing one specific image or idea.  Zombie Haiku is essentially 350 different images of the slow decay and carnage of your average walking dead.  I tried to take the more stereotypical zombie clichés, but then tried writing about them from different angles then the norm.   

Why haiku and not, say, villanelles?

The idea of writing haiku that fit the exact 5-7-5 syllable structure is a novelty that most all American poets have thrown away, but I thought attempting to stick to the syllable rules would add to the playfulness of a zombie who writes poems. 

Do you have an innate sense of syllables, or do you just count them off on your fingers like I do?

My fingers were hard at work during the writing of Zombie Haiku, which isn’t always a full proof plan.  A review of the book recently pointed out the fact that "chocolate" was a three syllable word, where my fingers seemed to catch only two.  I awkwardly justify this by telling myself that zombie poets would most likely be a bit sloppy.  

The book is very artistically designed–how much of that process were you involved with? Did you create any of the artwork (photography, etc.) yourself?

My friend and book packager Lisa Kuhn did all the design work.  She quickly understood the concept of "bloody zombie journal", and ran with it.  I took all the photographs, most of whom are good friends or family who allowed me to cover them with fake blood and makeup and then photograph them looking their worst.  Photoshop also came in handy for my friends who just weren’t quite ugly enough.

Most authors say all their stories are personal.  If that’s true for you, in what way was this book personal to you?

The actual story is personal only because of my love for both poetry and the zombie genre.  The photographs are a bit more personal to me due to the involvement of my friends and family.

What kind of research did you have to do for the book?

Due to my zombie film and zombie fiction addiction, the research was already well received by the time the first haiku was written.

What is the appeal of zombie fiction? Why do so many writers–or you yourself–write about zombies? Why do readers and film viewers love it so much?

Post-apocalyptic fiction is believable, horrifying, and fascinating. From Stephen King’s The Stand to Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, the idea of life after the world crushing event is one that most humans all genuinely fear, yet is somehow relatable. However, with zombie fiction, adding the living dead into the apocalypse makes the setup just unrealistic enough where it setting can be more unrealistic and therefore more enjoyable. Plus, zombies being slow, dead versions of humans is often used as a broken mirror on society, which can be fun for a writer to play with. However, I think the basic appeal comes from the mix of action, horror, and dark humor. Every zombie story is basically the same, but with different characters dealing with zombies in different settings. I think our culture is going through a bit of zombie backlash right now due to the overflow of all things zombie.  However, I think this is due to the fact that so many great zombie stories have been made over the years.  Since Romero made Night of the Living Dead, the popularity of zombies has been a slow but gradual growth, which kept gaining and gaining momentum over the past 30 years. The goal in creating fun new zombie stories is to give this now generic concept an original a fun twist.  This can be seen lately in film with Shaun of the Dead, Fido, and Black Sheep.

What are some of your favorite examples of zombie fiction, and what makes them your favorites?

The big three for me is Monster Island, by David Wellington, World War Z, by Max Brooks, and The Walking Dead, by Robert Kirkman.   Monster Island took the basic zombie scenario to Manhattan, but twisted it with a zombie that could think and a group of wonderfully original protagonists.  The magic of World War Z is that Brooks took every zombie scenario that had not yet been written about and he wrote about it, closing the door for all future straight to DVD zombie plots.  The Walking Dead, which is not a novel but an ongoing comic book series, is special because it is the first zombie story to never end.  With most zombie stories ending with the zombies finally eating the final human character, or with the human character escaping a certain situation but not ending the plague, The Walking Dead promises to keep the horror unfolding.  

Any new work of ours just out or forthcoming you’d like to mention, or anything else you’d like to add?

I have in mind a monster haiku trilogy, with Zombie Haiku being book one of three.  If all goes well, Sasquatch Haiku will be following shortly.

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To learn more about Ryan Mecum, and Zombie Haiku, visit his MySpace page.