Tuesday, October 27, 2009

The Monsterologist - Interview with Bobbi Katz

I'm excited to welcome Bobbi Katz to the blog today. We'll be talking about her new book, The Monsterologist: A Memoir in Rhyme. Before we start, let's take a look at the book trailer.
I picked up this book in September while perusing the poetry shelves in my local bookstore. My son (who's closing in on 9) immediately took it from me and placed it in his stack of books on dinosaurs and dragons. I've had difficulty prying it from his hands, a sure sign that this book is a winner. The fact that he has added post-it notes to mark his favorite poems makes me love it even more.

Written by Bobbi Katz (ghostwritten as it says on the cover) and illustrated by Adam McCauley, this collection of poems introduces readers to some of the world's most famous monsters -- Count Dracula, Godzilla, King Kong, Medusa, Grendel, the Loch Ness Monster, the Yeti and more. What sets this book apart from others is the form the poems take, and I don't mean poetic forms. In this collection you'll find letters, notes, interviews, personal ads, e-mails and other objects amassed through a lifetime of studying monsters. The illustrations are also particularly beautiful and unique. Here's how McCauley describes the illustrations on the copyright page.
The illustrations for this book were created using: lots of paper, spaghetti, twigs, tape, Adam's great grandmother's stamp collection, paint, file folders, rubber stamps, a scanner, old sketchbooks, new sketchbooks, a printer, a ballpoint pen, a Xerox machine, scraperboard, computer programs, clip art, things found on the street, and some string. Oh yeah, and a few brains and hands.
You can learn more about Adam and see some of the artwork from The Monsterologist at his interview at Seven Imp.

Bobbi was kind enough to stop by and answer some questions about The Monsterologist. So without further ado, here's what she had to say.

How did you select the monsters for the collection?
I'd been filling a folder marked NOISY POEMS over several years that eventually became A Rumpus of Rhymes. As I read the poems aloud before sending the manuscript off, I realized that all the poems were packed with onomatopoeic words except one: “Ping Pong with King Kong.” As I removed the poem, I wondered who might really care to play ping pong with King Kong. Almost immediately, a male character took shape: an eminent scientist and lecturer, a fussy but fearless bachelor, wholly dedicated to the study…. of monsters. That was in 1996. “The Monsterologist” introduced himself in the opening poem, and it was as if I began channeling him as I wrote. Naturally, he corresponded with Count Dracula. The Monsterologist and I both loved Greek mythology, so “Medusa” and the “Cyclops” came next. Our mutual discomfort with computers-the Monsterologist has no confidence in them whatsoever-resulted in “The Compu-Monster.” In 1997, I was writing 25 Great Grammar Poems for Scholastic Professional Books. I wrote a didactic poem about verbs one morning; “The Verbivore” was born that same night. So as you see, I didn't exactly decide what monsters to write about. The collection reflects the Monsterologist's life work, his concerns, and at times, our mutual interests.
Did you write any monsters that didn't make it into the book?
Yes, indeed. My truly wonderful editor felt that four poems seemed somehow wrong. Having been an editor myself, I did not wish to be a difficult diva author. Three of the poems were based on characters James Whitcomb Riley claimed to have heard about in logging camps: “The Squidicum Squee,” “Squonks,” and “Wonks.” The fourth was “The Blobster,” which was probably part of a huge sea animal that was actually found in the early 20th century. Some newspapers created buzz about an unidentified sea monster. (Of course, the Monsterologist was consulted.) My editor suggested “Godzilla” as a companion for “King Kong,” since both were movie stars. She also wanted a reason for the Monsterologist to close his memoir. I added the “The International Zombie Survey” in an E-mail from Will Nixon, a poet who actually has written poems based on the film, “The Night of the Living Dead.”
What kind of research did you do to prepare for writing these poems?
Most of the research I did was for the four poems that were cut. I did very little beyond checking the proper dates for the three musicians in “Ghost Notes,” and reading about the Golem (after I wrote the poem) and Godzilla. (Alas, I'd never seen any of the Godzilla movies, but I learned that this monstrous character had been first created as a metaphoric embodiment of atomic destruction in Japan.) “Godzilla” was the most difficult poem to write. Since Godzilla was to be opposite King Kong, I wanted some degree of balance between the poems.

Many things became fodder for the Monsterologist. I went to a series of three readings of poet Seamus Heaney's translation of Beowulf. The violent images marinated and finally resulted in the Monsterologist's discovery of Grendel's mother's recipe for Danish Pastry! I must say that I knew the Monsterologist so well that he led me to the poems. I knew he might go hiking in Denmark or notice “Bluebeard's Personal Ad” while reading a newspaper in a London tea shop.
What inspired the memoir format and the use of letters, notes, and other objects?
From the very beginning, I saw this as a memoir: a scrapbook of memorabilia. I thought it would be interesting to reflect the work of an academic scientist. I wanted the poems to take various forms from note cards, queries, and descriptions to letters. Just as you are interviewing me, the Monsterologist interviews the Loch Ness Monster.

As for the design of the book, that is the work of the art director and Adam McCauley, who did a stunning job. I had nothing to say about its creation, except in response to early versions.
Do you have a favorite poem? If so, will you share?
Oh, dear! Your request reminds me of when one of my children asked which of them I loved the most! Here comes a letter “From the Desk of Count Dracula”:

My Dear Friend,
I'm the Count whom you can count on for hospitality.
When you come to Transylvania, be sure to stay with me.
My ancient castle's gloomy, but you'll have a lovely room,
Conveniently located…close to the family tomb.
Just buy a one-way ticket. There's no need to splurge.
I'd really love to see you. It's an overwhelming urge.
You'll find that I'm a genial host,
but at times I think I'll burst,
unless I drink a bit of blood to satisfy my thirst.
A friendly nip, a little sip is harmless you'll agree.
It's natural and organic, and my castle is smoke free.
Please hurry, hurry, hurry! No need to R.S.V.P.
I can hardly wait to see you. Please come and visit me.
Yours, truly, most cordially,
The Count
The Monsterologist has a terrific web site. You can listen to Bobbi read a number of the poems, play a matching game that uses the monster stamp images from the endpapers, read a Q&A with the Monsterologist, learn more about the author and illustrator, and find advice from some of the monsters themselves.

Finally, you should know that there is a Monsterologist Contest underway. Here are the details.
You may have seen the back of my head, but what about my face?

Starting right now, imagine me! Draw a mask with pencils, markers, crayons or paint! Mold one from papier mache. A council of witches will select the ten best entries. Each will receive a valuable prize.

Next the witches will choose the very best mask of all. I will wear it on Halloween and on Day of the Dead (el dia de los muertos) which I may celebrate in a graveyard in Mexico. Whoever creates that mask gets a signed copy of my memoir.

Be sure to send your name and address with the mask. Print neatly. Don’t miss a chance to be the witches choice.

All entries must be mailed no later than Nov. 13th 2009 to:

PO BOX 113
Thanks to Bobbi for stopping by to chat about The Monsterologist. If you haven't seen it yet, what are you waiting for? I promise you'll love it.

Text copyright c Bobbi Katz
Art copyright c Adam McCauley
These images and poems have been used with permission.
All rights reserved Sterling Publishing Company, Inc


  1. Is this one of our Cybils? The title sounds familiar -- I think it's in SFF instead of poetry. I'll have to look-

  2. Great interview, Tricia and Bobbi (hi, Bobbi!). I picked this up at ALA and had the pleasure of chatting a few minutes with Bobbi while she ate an enormously overpriced lunch at the convention center! And of course doing the Poetry Blast with her. This book is a treat. A monstrously good treat. It was very cool to hear how the collection evolved over the years.

    Thanks, ladies!

    And there's poetry based on Night of the Living Dead. Lord, my husband will be thrilled!

  3. I love this book! And this interview. Bobbi will be visiting at 7-Imp this week -- for Poetry Friday. (I hope to get the interview done by then anyway!) Thanks for this one; I'll be sure to link to it.