Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

On Writing, with Natalie Zina Walschots

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Natalie Zina Walschots

Natalie Zina Walschots is the author of Doom: Love Poems for Supervillains (Insomniac Press). From Magneto to the Joker, all your favourite Saturday morning baddies become the subject of tender and witty poems.

The book includes illustrations and a cover image by Evan Munday, the author of The Dead Kid Detective Agency (ECW Press).

Natalie talks to Open Book about her favourite ne'er do wells, the appeal of the supervillain and how it felt to see herself get the comic-cover treatment.

Open Book:

Tell us about your new book, Doom.

Natalie Zina Walschots:

Doom is a collection of love poems dedicated to comic book supervillains. Each poem explores the erotic potential of that supervillain using a highly specialized vocabulary drawn from their back-story, superpowers, skills and even their particular style of speech. The poems examine the universes that supervillains exist within as well, examining the innate poetic potential (and sexiness) in supervillains’ lairs, weapons and even the prisons used to occasionally contain them.

I started writing Doom about four years ago when Matrix Magazine put out a call for submissions for their Fan Friction issue. I wrote three love poems for Dr. Doom: the infamous antagonist of the Fantastic Four and my personal favourite supervillain. I so enjoyed the pieces that resulted, and the process of writing it (the research for this book is by far and away the most fun I’ve ever had) that I just kept writing new pieces and eventually I realized that I had a book on my hands.


Why supervillains rather than superheroes? What, if anything, has Lex Luthor got that Superman lacks?


To be perfectly honest, heroes are boring. They are completely confined by a code of ethics — the particular morality he or she ardently ascribes to. In any given situation, a hero can only do one thing: the most correct thing, according to their heroic point of view. Their reactions are, in a way, predetermined. Despite their weaknesses, and occasional plots involving mind control, heroes will always manage to do the “right” thing in the end. Batman is never going to kill anyone; Superman is never going to crown himself supreme ruler of Earth and subjugate us weaker beings. Heroes are imprisoned by their complex and often arbitrary morals, and so in the end, there are very few choices open to them. They are dogmatic ideologues by nature, and I find that insufferable.

Supervillains, on the other hand, have a whole host of options available to them that heroes can't even consider. Being a villain doesn't necessarily mean being evil all the time. For example, my fictional husband, Dr. Doom, is responsible for selfless, positive and undeniably good acts, such as freeing his mother’s soul from hell. He’s also a very beloved ruler (and absolute dictator) of his own country, Latveria, and is often portrayed as a benevolent monarch to his subjects. Because they are unbound by the same, safe rules as heroes, supervillains are unpredictable and much more intellectually stimulating, which is sexy.


Writers love all their children equally, but tell us: is there one piece you particularly enjoyed writing?


I am particularly pleased with how “Galactus” turned out. Exploring a hunger so great that it demands entire galaxies be consumed to sate it was a fascinating idea to wander around inside of. I also really loved writing the Joker poems that appear in this book, because in many ways he is the perfect villain; he is as close to an agent of pure chaos as has ever been written. I’ve always had a soft spot for Two-Face and his poems reflect that affection.


How did you decide on the structure and order of the collection, with so many different villains and desires to address? Did the magnitude of the project overwhelm you at any point?


I initially struggled with the structure quite a bit. I had the initial idea to cluster the supervillains according to which universe they primarily occupy, but this ended up not feeling natural and didn’t actually lend anything to the book. What does it matter if someone exists in the Marvel or DC universes? That doesn’t change who they are or what they want, or lend anything interesting to the text.

In the end, I decided to group the supervillains according to their motivations. The first section, “Dominion,” collects supervillains whose primarily goal is to rule, whether that means economic, political or intellectual dominion. The female supervillains received their own section in an attempt to illuminate and subvert the gaze that is usually turned on them by heroes, fellow villains and readers. The final section in the book, “Destruction,” collects all the supervillains who aren't as interested in controlling or dominating as they are in simply tearing things down. Then there are the section dedicated to supervillain lairs, “Stronghold,” and prisons, “Bondage.”

I was frequently overwhelmed by the scope of the project. Initially I thought that I would also include villains from film, television and literature, as well as comic books, but I quickly realized that this was far too gigantic an undertaking to be contained in a single text. Even when I decided to just focus on comic book villains there were literally hundreds to work with. In the end, I wrote about the villains I was most attracted to.


Were there any books you read prior to or during the writing of Doom that you found inspiring?


Two were particularly helpful: Soon I Will Be Invincible by Austin Grossman and All My Friends Are Superheroes by Andrew Kaufman. Grossman's book tells its story primarily from a supervillain’s perspective, and the insecurities, vulnerabilities and colossal ego the text revealed helped me write from the perspective of my villains more effectively. Kaufman's lovely book illuminated much of the intimacy possible in a super-powered context. Seeing the way that superpowers, which are usually portrayed as only weapons or tools, could be part of what defined extremely close relationships led to an epiphany.


How did you feel about getting your own super-treatment in the cover illustration?


A little overwhelmed! I absolutely adore the supervillain portrait that Evan Munday (who provided the internal illustrations that grace the pages of Doom as well) drew of me. I'd originally asked him to draw me so that the image could serve as my author illustration for the book, but it turned out so fantastic that it eventually wound up on the cover. That wasn't the original intention, but I love the way that it looks. My partner, Christopher Gramlich, originally suggested it, and once I talked to the publisher of Insomniac, Mike O'Connor, and my editor, Paul Vermeersch, they both agreed it should be the cover image. I always did want to be a supervillain when I grew up.


What are you working on now?


In addition to all the music writing in the entire world and working my many and various jobs (right now I am the Managing Editor of Canada Arts Connect and the Reviews Editor for This Magazine), I have a couple of projects in the works. I plan to put together a collection of heavy metal music writing that focuses on the contribution of women, both as musicians and writers, to the genre. I have also begun work on a magic realist autobiography set in the small town in Southern Ontario where I grew up, which is the closest thing to the Hellmouth I can imagine existing in Canada. In other words, I am fleshing out my back-story while simultaneously gathering my powers around me. And working on my evil laugh.

Natalie Zina Walschots lives, writes and wreaks havoc in Toronto, Ontario. Natalie writes live concert reviews, album reviews, interviews, blogposts, and articles for, This Is Not A Scene, Angry Metal Guy, About Heavy Metal and Exclaim!. She is the Managing Editor of Canada ArtsConnect Magazine, where she also writes the column “Girls Don't Like Metal.” She has recently joined THIS Magazine as the new Reviews Editor. Natalie's first book of poetry, Thumbscrews, won the Robert Kroetsch Award forInnovative Poetry and was published by Snare Books in 2007. She writes poetry about S&M, comic books, video games, gastroporn and difficult music. You can find her online at her website and on Twitter as @NatalieZed.

For more information about Doom please visit the Insomniac website.

Buy this book at your local independent bookstore or online at Chapters/Indigo or Amazon.

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