I've been getting a lot of questions lately in various forms of communication. Emails. Snail mails. Facebook messages. Twitter mentions. Formspring questions. Instagram comments. Notes in bottles. Air-dropped leaflets. Encoded cat meows. And many--most--of them are asking the same exact questions. I love talking to readers, but I'm a person who craves novelty and newness, and repeating myself--verbally or artistically--is a painful bending of my nature. Every time I hear myself saying the same words I've said before to answer the same question I've answered before, a few thousand neurons die and return as hideous slimy zombie neurons that shamble around in my brain making me irritable and misanthropic.
So, in order to streamline this process for everyone and prevent me from becoming a frowny old crank in my early thirties, I've decided what you need is a good, vigorous FAQ. So, out of the many questions my existence seems to generate, here are the most common, with accompanying answers fine tuned for MAXIMUM HELPFULNESS.
Q: Why is your blog called Burning Building?
A: This blog has been around for centuries* and has gone through many repurposings. I originally created it to promote an art show I was doing which was called Burning Building, and the name just stuck. The closest I have to an explanation is this odd little outburst from the art show page.
Q: How did you come up with the idea for Warm Bodies / what was your inspiration?
A: When information and experiences love each other very much, they touch each other in a special way and then your brain gets pregnant and an idea pops out. And that's where ideas come from. To put it another way, the idea began as a simple thought: what would happen if I jumped inside the POV of a zombie and just started writing? What would a zombie think about when it's just wandering around, waiting? What would life look like through the eyes of a dead person? So I wrote the 7-page short story, "I Am a Zombie Filled With Love." Later, I realized this concept was richer than I initially thought so I decided to expanded it into a novel, and in doing so, I began to notice many surprising parallels to my own life at that time. I was a depressed and apathetic cynic looking for purpose and identity after spending my whole life immersed in a conservative religious culture that discouraged having any purpose or identity outside of itself. The desire to understand what it means to be a human being rather than a mindless pawn of God, and to meaningfully engage with a world I'd spent my life dismissing became the story of a zombie trying to rediscover life. So, oddly enough, the book is autobiographical.
Q: How much involvement did you have with the movie?
A: I was consulted throughout the process. While writing the script, the director Jonathan Levine would call me whenever he had a question about the story or wanted advice on translating a particular element to the screen. I read two drafts of the script and gave editorial feedback. It wasn't exactly a collaboration, but Summit and Jonathan seemed genuinely interested in what I thought, and many of my suggestions seem to have impacted the film. In the end, it's their movie; it's my story filtered through their vision (and the various demands of the cinematic medium, the film industry, marketing plans, budget, etc) but I feel they were respectful toward me and the story, when they really didn't have to be, since the book wasn't at all well-known at that time.
Q: What do you think of the movie?
A: I like the movie a lot. It's not perfect, of course, and as with all adaptations, there are omissions and departures from the book, but that's the nature of transplanting a story from its native medium to a drastically different one. The tone is lighter and more comedic--R's voiceover in particular is different, more "awkward teenager" than "zombie philosopher"--but it's not at all the crass spoof it could have been. I think it has genuine heart and personality and even retains a few of the themes and ideas I was going for in the book. I look at adaptations like cover songs. It's one artist taking another's material and reinterpreting it in a different style for a different audience. The original is not altered by the cover version. My book remains its own entity with its own separate personality and continuity, and I'm incredibly happy that the movie has resonated with people enough to draw them into the book's world.
Q: Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?
A: Not much, I'm afraid. My road to publication was very atypical and not reproducible, so I don't have any "secrets" to share. I can only advise in broad platitudes and generalities. Prioritize your writing. You can't have everything at once. If you really want to be a writer, be willing to sacrifice some other things in your life--including your financial comfort, social life, and even other creative interests. (I quit painting and sidelined music in order to give writing the necessary focus, and never even considered pursuing a "legitimate career.") Writing a novel should be an all-consuming passion, not an idle hobby you do in your spare time. It seems like every other person I talk to "is writing a novel" but I have literally not met one single person outside of industry events who "has written a novel." I think most people think of writing as a romantic dalliance that is fun to think about and impressive to talk about, but not a tangible reality that can actually be accomplished. Stop talking about it and do it. Don't waste that coal of desire on idle chatter, passing it around the room for everyone to admire. It will go out. Keep it hidden inside where it can burn and drive you and don't stop blowing on it until you've finished something. You'll have plenty of time to talk about "being a writer" when you actually are one.
Q: Who are your influences?
A: I jump around a lot and rarely read more than one or two books by the same author. There are just too many new voices out there to discover. So I prefer to cite individual books rather than whole authors. A few that were significant in the development of my writing are: "The Road," "Slaughterhouse Five," "Something Happened," "A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius," "Everything Matters," "The Children's Hospital," "On the Road," "The Catcher in the Rye," "Life After God," "Never Let Me Go," "The Dark Tower (series)" "The Time Traveler's Wife," "Crime and Punishment," "House of Leaves," and all the movies written by Charlie Kaufman.
But having just listed my influences, I have to say I hate listing my influences. I feel like I can never come up with a list that accurately encapsulates who I am or what I try to do with my writing. I think people spend too much time analyzing influences instead of just analyzing the work itself. I don't care who my favorite authors were inspired by or who this band "stole" this chord progression from or what classic movies this movie paid homage to/ripped off. I have a different view of what art is--not a power struggle between old masters and impudent upstarts but a coequal collaborative effort extending through history--so I'm not much concerned with the copyright court of ideas.
Q: When will THE NEW HUNGER be a physical book?
A: I don't know yet. Hopefully sometime this year, but it's complicated. It's definitely not "around the corner" so if you're really eager to read it, best go with the ebook via Zolabooks.com
Q: When will the WARM BODIES sequel come out?
A: Hopefully some time in 2014, but it's too early to say, since I haven't actually started writing it yet. I'm still getting it all worked out in my head, which is always a greater challenge than writing the prose itself, even more so in this case since this story is huge and complex and makes Warm Bodies look like...well, a cute little love story. It will collapse and fail if I try to rush it, so I beg your patience.
Q: When will you come to my city for a signing?
A: When a book store or event or publisher from your city reaches out to me and extends an official invitation. I don't know how to set up appearances for myself and don't want to go force myself upon your population unless they really want me there. If there's enough demand, someone will invite me.
Q: Why do you talk about your cat so much?
A: Because I am a loyal citizen of the Internet. And because he's adorable okay? Shut up. Go away.
Q: How would you describe your relationship with pizza?
Q: Are you saying you've had sex with pizza?
A: I have allowed pizza to enter my body. It was a special moment shared between a man and a pizza, and it was beautiful.
Q: Are we still doing this FAQ or are you drifting off into madness now?
A: That. Probably that. Asdfghjk.