Robert Vaughan’s latest book Funhouse is a wild ride–he starts us off in the kiddy rides and before we know it we’re doing double loops on the Scrambler and full speed on the Centrifuge, the floor dropping away and we’re spinning and stuck to the wall, hair full of static like crazy cotton candy.
Nancy Stohlman: Describe this book in 6 words:
NS: You have authored multiple books including Addicts and Basements and Rift, which you co-authored with Kathy Fish. How is Funhouse different from your other books?
RV: Funhouse is a varied collection and contains four diverse sections. There is the opening flash and micro pieces. Then the two middle collaborative sections, “Hall of Mirrors” which I like to refer to as the “Kids in the Classroom”; and “Tunnel of Love” which is my nod to the numerous musical Divas. It also is my first book to contain my short stories in the fourth and last section of FUNHOUSE (unlike only flash or prose poetry in previous collections).
NS: I loved this tiny story, “Corn Maze”:
“I got lost in a corn maze this morning. I know you’re not supposed to panic, but this happened in Soho. I met a lot of other people in there. Many of them were in the arts. One girl told me she’d been in there since Labor Day. I think she said this out of shame. She was wearing white shoes.”
For me this is the perfect example of a micro—lots of implication and white space for the reader to fill in the rest of the story. How you decide what becomes a micro and what becomes a poem?
RV: First of all, thanks for liking this tiny piece. I never really know what something I write is, prose or poetry or whatever. I often like to say that categories of writing were made for libraries and bookstores! I know there are all of these defining “rules,” etc. But I do feel like I tend more toward the gray areas, or middle ground, then the “defining areas” of what others tell us are a micro or a poem. It’s probably what drove me to start Bending Genres journal and workshops/ retreats. Who knows?
NS: Your “Hall of Mirrors” section (2) is somehow both sweet and chilling at the same time, like Shel Silverstein crossed with Tim Burton. I could totally see this as a stand alone (freaky) children’s book. Talk about your inspiration for this. Would you ever consider publishing it as a stand-alone?
RV: One of my favorite book collections as a kid was a gift from my grandfather. It was The Gashlycrumb Tinies by Edward Gorey. I was fascinated by the poem lure (it’s all Iambic pentameter), completely entrancing gore and horror. Each kid dies (“A is for Amy who fell down the stairs, B was for Ben who was bitten by bears…”) So, my “Halls of Mirrors” is a nod to Gorey, and grandpa, but also in my own way, I decided to twist it, make it my own. And it’s a great idea to possibly make this into its own chapbook. Any takers?
NS: Loved your choice of “divas”—I approve of all of them! Explain your process: did you pick the line from their song and then break it apart or how did you use it as a starting point?
RV: This section began in 2013 when my friend Joseph Quintela started a project while at Sarah Lawrence, called The Word Poeticizer. He asked 15- 20 of his poet friends to re-assign their own definitions of words. Then you could feed anything into his Word Poeticizer and pop a new version of the lyric or poem out. Then I decided to do the nod to divas, or female singers who have meant everything to me. I chose a line, and it evolved into these prose poems. My last part was asking Eryk Wenziak to do the layout, and he laid each poem on the page so uniquely, many with much white, and symbolic space.
NS: In your “Tunnel of Love” section (3) you literally doubled your alphabet, using pretty much every symbol available on the keyboard. If I were to name this section I would have named it The Scrambler! There is a lot going on in this section and it’s definitely your most avant-garde. Talk about your inspiration here.
RV: Again, because we used the Word Poeticizer, it became quite odd, more abstraction. I wavered with editing these “too much,” and then decided to go back to the originals, which became the “Tunnel of Love.” I felt like I wanted one entire chunk of the book that left people sort of “huh?” And yet, many times, I’m told it is a reader’s favorite part of Funhouse. I also think because it was a collaborative project at the onset, asking Eryk to add his brilliant touches really made it all the more wondrously strange.
NS: You are a writer that really embraces (and promotes) the hybrid form. Gun to your head: Prose or poetry for the rest of your life—what do you choose?
RV: I’d take the bullet! HA. Actually, I have to choose poetry. It’s my go to, again and again. With all of the bullshit going on the world, poetry helps me to balance, to feel more deeply. And my mentors are all poets: Dorianne Laux, Ellen Bass, Marie Howe, Nick Flynn. But then there are all these amazing contemporary writers who effuse hybrid forms: I’m thinking Sabrina Orah Mark, Alina Stefanescu, Kaj Tanaka, Len Kuntz, Maggie Nelson, Meg Tuite, Steven Dunn, and so many more. Deep Gratitude to them all!
NS: You seem inspired by visuals—both the drawings in Hall of Mirrors (amazing artistry by Bob Schofield) and the use of white space in Tunnel of Love are very visual. How important are visuals to your creation process?
RV: Of course, I am a very visual person. And Bob did great renderings for the Hall Of Mirrors. Almost like he was in my head it is so terrific! I’d love to think I am a sensory person (all senses firing). I like to write from visual prompts, and I am also inspired by how words look on a page. How the author thinks about this (or in more cases, not). So, visuals are very important to me. And then, also, what is going on BELOW/ BENEATH/ UNDER.
NS: What is your favorite story in this book?
NS: This is your second book with Unknown Press. Talk about your publishing process.
RV: My fortune started with Gloria Mindock and Cervena Barva Press, she published “Microtones” in 2012. Joseph Quintela published “Diptychs, Triptychs, Lipsticks & Dipshits” (Deadly Chaps). My first full collection, “Addicts & Basements” was published by Civil Coping Mechanisms. Michael Seidlinger cold- called me after hearing me read and host a reading at the Boston AWP in 2013. (can you say HOLY FUCK?!!) In 2015, Bud Smith (Unknown Press) suggested Kathy Fish and I to do a collaborative book. I thought: she’s never going to do this! Turns out, Kathy was in a tough writing spot. We work-shopped that entire year (Fish, Smith, Michael Maxwell and me) online in the Night Owl Café. This made RIFT a possibility, which became a book! Bud and I also chatted about FUNHOUSE along the way. It came out almost one year later (December, 2017). Every single publisher I have worked with has been beyond my wildest dreams. So professional, beyond qualified, and brilliant.
NS: Advice to writers?
RV: Write as often as possible. PAY ATTENTION! Believe in yourself. Be curious. Meet other writers and greet your family. Make love often. Take suggestions with an open mind. Travel whenever possible. Cook with others. Read, read, read…
NS: Anything else you want to add?
RV: Have I mentioned how much I adore and revere you? Truly, I do. I’m so grateful to anyone who gives back to our writing community, and you always do in such a huge way.
NS: BLUSHING!! Thank YOU so much, Robert. I am honored to call you a friend. xoxoxo
Links to books or other promo links:
Robert Vaughan teaches workshops in hybrid writing, poetry, fiction at locations like The Clearing, Synergia Ranch, Mabel Dodge Luhan House. He leads roundtables in Milwaukee, WI. He was a finalist for the Gertrude Stein Award for Fiction (2013, 2014). His flash fiction, ‘A Box’ was selected for Best Small Fictions 2016 and his flash, “Six Glimpses of the Uncouth” was chosen for Best Small Fictions 2019 (Queen’s Ferry Press). He is the Editor-in-Chief at Bending Genres, LLC.
Vaughan is the author of five books: Microtones(Cervena Barva Press); Diptychs+ Triptychs + Lipsticks + Dipshits(Deadly Chaps); Addicts & Basements(CCM), RIFT, co-authored with Kathy Fish (Unknown Press) and FUNHOUSE(Unknown Press). His blog: www.robert-vaughan.com.