Crows and Corpse Flowers: Interview with Ronald J. Murray

Welcome back for this week’s author interview! Today, I’m thrilled to spotlight Ronald J. Murray. His debut poetry collection, Cries to Kill the Corpse Flower, is forthcoming from Bizarro Pulp Press, an imprint of JournalStone.

Recently, he and I discussed his inspiration as a writer and how the Pittsburgh area influences his work as well as what he’s got planned next.

A couple icebreakers to start: when did you decide to become a writer, and who are some of your favorite authors?

My only vivid memories from elementary school are sitting in the library, listening to our librarian read to my class, so I guess it’s fair to say that I’ve always been fascinated by the art of storytelling. However, I found out that writing was a part of me when my seventh-grade literature class took turns reading paragraphs from Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Tell-Tale Heart.” My parents got me The Complete Tales and Poems of Edgar Allan Poe the following Christmas, and with a mind full of terrors and mysteries and vicariously experienced losses, I began experimenting with my own stories and poetry.

I’d have to say that my favorite authors are (have I mentioned Poe?) Neil Gaiman, Josh Malerman, Patrick Rothfuss, Steven Erikson, Junji Ito, Sara Tantlinger, Claudia Gray, Timothy Zahn, Robert W. Chambers, and H.P. Lovecraft. This is probably cheesy to say, since you’re the one interviewing me, but I really enjoyed your collection And Her Smile Will Untether the Universe, and it’s definitely listed among my favorite books.

Congratulations on the forthcoming release of your poetry collection, Cries to Kill the Corpse Flower. What can you share about how this book developed?

Thank you, thank you! The funny thing about Cries to Kill the Corpse Flower is that I consider it to be an accidental poetry collection. I was going through a pretty severe depressive episode at the time I was writing it. I’d take cigarette breaks at work and just write these bursts of emotion in my notepad app on my phone. I’d go out for cigarettes at home and do it again. I’d just jam my thumbs onto the touchscreen keyboard any time I felt the fiery whirl of anxiety rise in me, whether I was in bed or taking my dog for a walk or drinking my morning coffee. Then, I put them all in a Word document so I didn’t lose them and realized I had forty poems about the same thing, using the same metaphors. So, I put them into a manuscript and gave them a collective title and sent them to Jennifer Wilson to be edited. From there, Nicholas Day and Don Noble acquired the collection for Bizarro Pulp Press, and here we are, with Cries to Kill the Corpse Flower available in print on June 29th of this year.

What draws you to horror poetry in particular? Is horror your favorite genre of poetry, or do you widely read other genres as well?

I feel like I am drawn to horror poetry because dark imagery packed into powerful sentences just resonates with me as a person. I’ve always been a dramatic, emotional person, and I’ve always been drawn to the dark side of life.

I’ve been reading a lot of horror poetry lately! I just finished the HWA Poetry Showcase, Volume VI. There is a lot of great work in there! Other recent horror poetry collections I’ve read is Stephanie M. Wytovich’s Hysteria, Sara Tantlinger’s Love for Slaughter (for the second time; god, I love that collection), and Donna Lynch’s Choking Back the Devil. But, I am a fan of poetry in general, especially love poems and just anything generally moody.

How does your approach differ when writing poetry as opposed to fiction?

Fiction, for me, takes a lot more planning to write than when I am writing poetry. Though, lately, I’ve been playing with discovery writing, or “pantsing,” and just taking notes on important story elements that I want to revisit later in a separate notebook so I don’t forget them. It is more careful and calculated.

When I write poetry, it’s like I’m quietly screaming whatever comes crawling out of my heart at my notebook or notepad app or word processor. Then, I step away from the piece for a couple of days until it becomes a stranger and edit it then.

You reside in the Pittsburgh area. With Romero’s zombie legacy looming large over the region, do you find that living in such a horror-centric city influences your work?

I know that I like to work in the café at the Monroeville Mall Barnes & Noble because it feels good to say I’m writing in the Dawn of the Dead mall! I do feel like the general air of horror interest in Pittsburgh helps to keep me exploring the horror genre. There is also a lot of amazing artistic talent in this city, especially in horror, and being around that talent definitely influences me to keep pushing myself forward in the constant development of my skills as a writer.

If forced to choose, which is your favorite part of the writing process: crafting language, establishing setting, or developing characters?

Developing characters would have to be my favorite part of the writing process. I love figuring out what makes my characters click, what makes them do what they do and where that will lead them and how the consequences of their actions will affect their changes as the plot rolls forward.

What are you working on next?

I just finished a new chapbook of poetry about the pain of failed love, which uses a lot of dark, sad imagery to get its message across. Once I edit that and send it to a second set of professional eyes, I’ll start shopping it around for publication. Otherwise, I’m playing with a lot of ideas for pieces of longer fiction, including trying to solve some seemingly insurmountable issues with a novel I’d been working on for some time. But those projects are still in their infant stages, so I can’t say much about them.

Big thanks to Ronald J. Murray for being part of this week’s author interview series. Find him online at his website as well as Twitter and Tumblr.

Happy reading!