Catholic Distance University

Mail-order Zombies: An Interview With Ryan Charles Trusell

Ryan Charles Trusell has launched an experiment in “old media”: the publication of a true epistolary novel (a novel in letters—real letters). As he describes it,

Ora et Labora et Zombies is composed of seventy-two handwritten Letters of between 4-6 pages, reproduced on specially watermarked stationery with a hand-printed serigraph cover sheet. Each Letter will be published individually, as a weekly serial, and distributed to readers through the mail. This idiosyncratic method of publication aims to celebrate and prolong the disappearing experience of receiving letters in the mailbox, and also to create in the reader a sense of anticipation, of waiting as the dramatis personae must wait to discover what is happening.”

Trusell has hit upon an innovative way to capture readers’ attention through some very traditional media.

I’m so tickled that the breakout sensation of the Catholic New Media Conference is the old-media-est guy I know, Ryan Charles Trusell of Labora Editions.  When Ryan stopped by the Dappled Things table, we realized we had several random things and people in common, and so I was very intrigued when he handed me The Envelope.

I am such a sucker for handmade things, for old-world things, for nice paper. So the hand-screened cover was really all I needed to become a fan of Ryan’s work, but the first chapter was even better. Yes, in case you haven’t seen this five other places on the Internet—he’s writing a true epistolary novel, your standard monastery-as-zombie-shelter story in 72 individually mailed installments.

As a long-time sufferer of mailphobia (fear of remembering to go to the post office), I am very impressed with the heroic valor required to haul crates of envelopes to the post office each week to be sent to readers around the world. I also thought this was an incredibly novel way to market a book; if he’d handed me a paperback with this cover, I would have thought “I’ll have to read this sometime,” but instead it’s the whole experience of opening the letter, looking forward to the next installment, and collecting them—that’s what you are getting. It enhances the first-person perspective from which the novel is written.

Ryan was kind enough to answer a few questions as part of the Art for the Sake of Grace series of interviews with Catholic artists [conducted at the Scrutinies blog] and I think you’ll enjoy his responses.

Dorian Speed: How long ago did you come up with the idea for your novel? Was it before the current zombie/vampire/werewolf craze, or did you decide to write something that would speak to the current obsession in our culture?

Ryan Charles Trusell: I’ve had the idea since the summer of 2010, which I guess is about a year after Pride and Prejudice and Zombies came out, to which my title is of course an homage. I had no plan whatsoever to write anything pop-culture relevant. I am a sucker for Benedictine spirituality. I had just visited Belmont Abbey in North Carolina, had spent some time in the Adoration chapel, and was driving around town and saw a large, outdoor statue of the Sacred Heart, but for some reason the arms on the statue looked wrong. Instead of the usual gesture of open arms, or one arm open and one hand pointing to the Heart, it looked to me as though both arms were stuck straight out in front, in the Karloffian manner. The phrase popped into my head: Ora et Labora et Zombies! It was good for a laugh, and I thought about trying to turn it into something, but really it just sat there in the back of my mind for a year, fermenting. Eventually, out of necessity, I figured out how to tell the story.

DS: What’s your background as far as printmaking—are you self-taught? If not, where did you study and what has your focus been?

RCT: I got my Bachelor of Fine Arts in 2005 from the University of Arkansas in . . . ceramics. I’ve always had an interest in printmaking, though, even more so than ceramics after a certain point (but who wants to change majors again?). My favorite college roommate was an MFA printmaking student and I spent a lot of time hanging out drinking beer with him in the print studio. I’m not sure how impressive a pedigree this is for a guy about to add a custom design and printing portal to his business, but honestly, printmaking processes are pretty straightforward. You can build a lot of equipment yourself and get good, consistent results. The harder part is good design.

DS: Did you do the graphics for the “adore” and “ora et labora” shirts yourself? What’s your process?

RCT: Yes. I actually made the OeLeZ logo back in 2010 when I first had the idea. I remembered a great logo from a fruitcake box from the Abbey of Gethsemene, and wanted to try to approximate that but with a third element to represent “zombies.” I thought the addition of the skull worked in that regard, as well as providing a pretty sweet memento mori. The ADORE shirt is my pithy Catholic response to Shepherd Fairey’s “Obey Giant” brand.

My process is Illustrator & Photoshop, design vellum, scanner, Photoshop, coffee, repeat. Sorta high-low-tech. I make up what I don’t know and nobody ever tells me otherwise.

DS: Do you have a master plan for how the 72 chapters of the novel will pan out or are you waiting to see where the story takes you?

RCT: I love this question. I got it a lot in Dallas. The entire story arc is set, in detail. Each Letter is roughed out in a page or two of unpolished, poorly punctuated prose, and a majority of the Letters are already in their final form.

DS: What prompted you to attend the CNMC? What’s been the benefit so far, for you, as an artist?

RCT: I read a lot of Catholic mommy blogs (not kidding), and basically get most of my news from the headlines page on New Advent (like the kids with Jon Stewart), and from time to time I listen to the Willits’ show on Sirius XM’s Catholic Channel. So I had heard about the conference. I live in Houston, which is three hours and change from Dallas. What can I say? I was curious. I thought, “If I can just find a couple of dorks like me who hear the words ‘Benedictine zombie apocalypse novel’ and nod their heads in agreement, maybe I can drum up some interest in this thing.”

 

This interview was originally published at Scrutinies.net.

 

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