Those of you who have been reading this blog for any length of time have probably heard me mention Zorgamazoo once or twice. Possibly more than twice, because I'm crazy about this book. (You can read my full review here, complete with a short summary and a few excerpts.) The author, Robert Paul Weston, graciously agreed to a short interview this week!
If you haven't read the book and are too lazy to click over to the review, Zorgamazoo is a kids' fantasy novel written entirely in verse that was released last October. And without further ado, my friends, the interview.
FF: How long did it take you to write Zorgamazoo?
RPW: It took me about three years, but not full time. I was also working and going to graduate school.
FF: What was your goal for the book? Why did you write it?
RPW: To be honest, once I began my goal was simply to complete it, to challenge myself and see if it was possible. And as for why I wrote it...I suppose because I had a story to tell. The idea came to me like all ideas, which is to say mysteriously and without warning. At the time -- several years ago now -- I didn't consider myself a children's writer, so initially the story didn't appeal to me. But I'd speculated about a novel in verse from time-to-time and I thought, what if I told this particular story in rhyme? Would that make it more appealing to me? The answer turned out to be a resounding yes.
FF: Are there any specific books or other media that you feel influence your writing in general or Zorgamazoo in particular?
RPW: In fact, there are many. First, the obvious influences -- Roald Dahl and Dr. Suess -- but they're sort of ubiquitous in nearly every English-speaking childhood. In a way, we're all influenced by those two in one way or another. I was also a fan of Edward Lear's nonsense poetry as a child (and astute readers will pick up on the homage I paid him in chapter 14).
I also looked to modern examples of epic verse as inspirational examples of what was possible; notably Vikram Seth's novel The Golden Gate, which is written entirely in Pushkin sonnets, and The Wild Party by Joseph March. Merely knowing pieces like these existed helped sustain my momentum while writing Zorgamazoo.
Music was also an inspiration, as I've always been a fan of lyrics. I think songwriters are the unsung heroes (pun intended) of contemporary form poetry. Of course, when I say "contemporary," I'm including the lyricists of Tin Pan Alley and writers of the Great American Songbook. I even took inspiration from musical theatre -- W.S. Gilbert, for instance, whose topsy-turvy songs are composed with an almost despotic adherence to a given metre.
FF: What do you read for fun?
RPW: I'm a slow, methodical but dedicated reader, and there are few things I love more than getting lost in a book. I tend not to read much children's literature, however, but since producing some of it myself, I've made an effort to bone up, and I've discovered some incredible gems I would have overlooked otherwise. I adore David Almond, for instance -- Skellig is pure genius. My favourite books from recent memory are Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro, Drinking Coffee Elsewhere by ZZ Packer and The Minotaur Takes a Cigarette Break by Steven Sherrill.
FF: Do you have a particular writing process? Story first and then rhyme, vice versa, or something completely different? What's your favorite part?
RPW: The story always comes first. I've unfortunately scrapped a lot of writing that wasn't well planned. But while the overall story of Zorgamazoo didn't deviate much from the beginning, there are certainly individual scenes that were altered because I fell in love with a particular couplet. Characters turning right instead of left, maybe, because "heft" and "bereft" wouldn't cut it.My favourite part? Hm...it comes near the end and it'd be a spoiler if I told. But I can say that my favourite part to read aloud is the second half of chapter 3, when Dr. LeFang stalks onstage for the first time.
FF: What's the best part about having a published novel? How about the worst?
RPW: Let's start with the worst. That's when your editor tells you to murder your darlings, meaning to cut out some part of the book you adore, and then has the audacity to ask you to go ahead and grow yourself some new darlings. The feeling goes south from there when you realize she's absolutely correct. The best part, however, comes afterwards. That's when you get a message from a kid who tells you he's never finished reading a single book in his whole life, until now...and you believe him because he's misspelled every word in the email.
FF: Would you ever accept an offer for a movie adaptation of Zorgamazoo?
RPW: Uh, yes please. Are you offering?
FF: I think Zorgamazoo is fantastic as a stand-alone novel, but how would you feel about a sequel?
RPW: The schedule for my next two novels is a little too tight for producing another work of long form verse, so those next two will be in prose. However, I would love to have the opportunity to revisit Katrina and Morty in the future. So the short answer is yes, I'd like to do a sequel, but you'll have to give me some time.
FF: The Author page on zorgamazoo.com says your next novel is called Grimm City. What can you tell us about it?
RPW: In many ways, Grimm City is the antithesis of Zorgamazoo. Whereas the latter is humorous and whimsical, Grimm City is rather dark, features more sophisticated themes and it aimed at an older YA audience. It's a literary thriller set in a mysterious, isolated city populated with skewed versions of fairy tale characters; and as I mentioned, it's a prose novel -- no rhyming here. At the same time, however, certain similarities have emerged: First, I hope it will stand (as I hope Zorgamazoo stands) as a different kind of fantasy novel, and second, also like Zorgamazoo, it has at its heart a strong but strained father-son relationship.
FF: Thanks for giving us your time! Is there anything else you'd like to add?
RPW: Only that I'd like to thank readers who have sent me their comments, appreciation and words of encouragement. Writing can be a lonely pursuit at times, so it helps tremendously to know someone out there is reading your book and enjoying it. So thank you. I wasn't kidding with that earlier question -- hearing from readers is truly the best part.
You can visit zorgamazoo.com for more info about the book, news, all that lovely stuff, or visit Rob himself at his blog, Way of the West. You can buy the hardcover here. (I already went and bought it after originally reading a second-hand ARC, and it's lovely. Perfect size, perfect type... seriously. Buy the thing.)
Rob, thanks again, and Grimm City sounds fantastic! Keep up the good work!