Interview - Robert Paul Weston, author of Zorgamazoo

Current Theme Song (aka what's playing on my ipod right now): Cemeteries of London by Coldplay.

Such a fun interview! I am so glad Mr. Weston agreed to do this with me (keep reading to the end, I made him write a poem about himself). ;) Now without further ado, I happily present Robert Paul Weston, author of Zorgamazoo!

[ME] 1. This is such a fun and fascinating idea. What turned this story into one of rhyme?

[RPW]Two words: folly and ignorance. I had the idea for the story but for some reason I felt I needed something to make it more challenging for me as a writer. What if I told it all in verse, I thought. (I thought this because I didn't know the first thing about rhyme or form verse). If I'd known then everything I know now, I likely never would have begun. Then, by the time I figured out it was a lot harder than I thought, I was past the point of no return. So yeah, in my case Orwell was bang on: Ignorance really is strength.

2. You started this while completing your MFA, right? What was that like? Did you show it to any of your professors? What did they think of it?

Would you believe it ended up becoming my graduate thesis? I'd gone in with a mind to study short fiction and screenwriting, but then I read bits of Zorgamazoo at a grad reading series and it garnered a rather warmer reception than whatever else I was writing at the time, so I switched.

3. How many drafts did you have to go through? Did you ever get stuck on a rhyme? How did you get unstuck?

Did I ever get stuck on a rhyme? Of course! On pretty much every one. There's maybe five lines in the whole book that came to me in a snap and with little effort. For the rest, it felt more like working through an endless string of math equations than telling a story. Whenever I really couldn't solve one of those equations, the best thing to do was take a break and restart again with a fresh mind. It's easy to get "versitized" when you're writing under strict constraints like that. More so than prose for me, taking a break with Zorgamazoo really worked. As for drafts, I believe there were 6 or 7.

4. This seems to pay a lot of homage to both Roald Dahl and Dr.Seuss (I do believe you even mention parents getting eaten by rhinos at one point). :) Were they a source of inspiration to you? Do you have a favorite of either of their works?

Don't know if I'd explicitly call them sources of inspiration, but they certainly had a strong influence on me and I read them both voraciously at different stages of childhood. I have clear favourites: Danny Champion of the World and Dr. Suess' If I Ran the Circus.

5. What is your favorite scene in the book, personally?

Ah, well. That I can't tell you because of...well, spoilers. But I will say this: Without a doubt, my favourite part to read aloud is the arrival of Dr. LeFang in chapter three.

6. What about a favorite poem?

I have two at the moment. My Belov├Ęd Compares Herself to a Pint of Stout by Paul Durcan, and Spiritual Chickens by Stephen Dobyns.

7. Of your characters, who do you relate more to - inquisitive and neglected Katrina, or the reluctant hero Morty who loves his father (and sports)? :)

Katrina is someone I was when I was quite young; an impish kid in search of adventure. Somewhere along the way, however, I grew up to be more like Morty. I think of him as a bit of a neurotic worrier. That's me in a nutshell.

8. Did you have to cut anything you didn't want to cut out, editors or otherwise?

Nope. My editors asked me only to add a few things, that's all. It was hard work, but I got it done. And I'm glad I did.

9. What is one of your favorite "unknown" books you really think more people should know about?

The Minotaur Takes a Cigarette Break by Steven Sherrill.

10. Okay, time to talk typography and illustrations. Did you have a say in either of them? Are the characters like what you imagined?

Penguin asked me what I was thinking and I gave them a few ideas. They came back with Victor and I took one look at his work and said he's our guy. Initially, I thought of Katrina as a tomboy-looking girl (pigtails, dungarees, etc), but then Victor's submitted his drawing and somehow it was perfect. Her look jives with the wealthy, absentee parents in her background, which was a passage I wrote very late in the game -- at the same time Victor was doing the illustration, in fact!

As for typography, the words moved about the page in my original manuscript, but not as dramatically as they do in the book. I wanted to imply to my publisher that, because this is verse, I was open to doing something interesting with the words. Christian Fuenfhausen, a designer at Penguin took the idea and ran with it. I had input, of course, but he did the lion's share.

11. So, what's next? Will you continue on with the tradition of writing in rhyme, or go ahead and try something new?

I am (very slowly) working on a sequel to Zorgamazoo, but it'll likely be years before I finish it. My next book (Oct, 2010) is utterly different. It's a dark fantasy for teens called Dust City and no, it will definitley not be in rhyme.

12. And last question Mr. Wordsmith. What is a four stanza, rhyming poem that bests describes you? :D

There was a young poet from Dover,
who was known as a bit of a rover.
His dimwitted rhymes didn't jive with the times,
yet he crafted them over and over.

Thank you much again! It was a delight talking with you.


beth said...

Wow. For some reason, I imagined that the typography was a part of the original submission, that it was there from the beginning. This is very interesting to read; I love learning more about the publication process.

Heather Zundel said...

Beth - he said it was a little, but Mr. Fuenfhausen seems to be the creative genius behind a lot of it. So glad he did. It was also a visual delight to read for that reason.