And so I have this really awesome interview. You can tell when you're getting answers from a writer.
Regardless, this is one of the most entertaining interviews I have done in a long time.
If you don't know Jonathan, you WILL when we're done reading this!
BLOG OF THE DEAD: When did you start writing?
JONATHAN MABERRY: I’ve been telling stories since long before I could write. I used toys, then I drew very bad and very silly comics. Once I learned how to write, I never stopped. I wrote for school papers and journals, I wrote very wild stuff during creative writing sessions on English class. I guess I’ve always known that I was going to do this for the rest of my life.
I started selling my writing during my junior year in college. I’d been studying newspaper journalism but I took a swing at magazine feature writing, building on the ‘write what you know’ advice you heard all the time. Since I’ve been practicing jujutsu since –oh, I don’t know, maybe since I was an embryo—I pitched an article to Black Belt Magazine. I sold that and a slew of others after that.
For most of my life I wrote on the side and worked a full-time job. Then around 2003 or so I went full-time. And I never looked back.
BLOG OF THE DEAD: Before that, dig back into your memory and tell us about the worst jobs you did before you became a writer (that pays your bills).
JONATHAN MABERRY: I don’t have to dig deep to remember the worst writing gig I ever had. A number of years ago I wrote some call-floor scripts for a smarmy pharmaceutical company. Basically the scripts provided pat answers for the customer service reps to use to convince callers that the third eye they’d just grown is not a side-effect of the drug. That sort of thing. Very depressing, and I’ll probably have to do a little time roasting my hairy butt in Hell to work that off of my karma.
BLOG OF THE DEAD: When did this actually happen (writing for a living)? When did you know -- and what happened-- was there a specific publication?
JONATHAN MABERRY: Around 2003 my wife made me a deal. She said that she’d work full-time for five years so that I could do nothing but write. The catch was that if at the end of those five years I wasn’t making a decent income from writing then I’d have to go back to work. As it turned out, my wife was eventually able to retire from her job and we are living a very nice life.
The thing that changed my career direction was switching from writing exclusively nonfiction to trying my hand at a novel. Based on my first novel, GHOST ROAD BLUES, I landed a top New York agent and she placed the book and its two sequels with a top publisher. The novel caught fire and won some awards (including the Bram Stoker Award for Best First Novel).
Nowadays I write two to three novels a year, short stories and comics. It’s the best day job in the world.
BLOG OF THE DEAD: Did you start with horror?
JONATHAN MABERRY: I wrote my first novel in the horror genre because I’d had some success with a nonfiction book on the folklore of vampires and other monsters. Doing all the research for that book, THE VAMPIRE SLAYER’S FIELD GUIDE TO THE UNDEAD (written under the pen name of Shane MacDougall), got me hooked on horror. I tried to find some novels that tapped folklore and world myth rather than recycling the Hollywood versions. So…I wrote one, and that changed everything. GHOST ROAD BLUES was the first book in a trilogy of horror novels set in a small, haunted town in rural Pennsylvania.
BLOG OF THE DEAD: Why horror?
JONATHAN MABERRY: I’ve always loved horror, of course. I grew up with Universal Pictures and Hammer Films. I watched every episode of DARK SHADOWS and THE OUTER LIMITS.
The horror genre allows for so much creative exploration. And the genre itself resists specific definition. Consider the range of books that fall under the dark umbrella of horror: ‘SALEM’S LOT, THE HAUNTING, THE LOVELY BONES, SILENCE OF THE LAMBS, THE WALKING DEAD, I AM LEGEND…the list goes on and on. Horror fiction isn’t specifically about monsters, or gore, or ghosts, or the supernatural. It doesn’t even have to be scary. Some horror is funny, some is sad. I can’t think of another genre that has so much range.
On a more personal level, I grew up in a fairly horrific environment –an abuse family, a violent neighborhood, all sorts of trauma. I knew some real monsters. Luckily, because of studying martial arts I was able to confront and defeat the monsters in my life. I know a lot of people who were less lucky. So…in my novels I tend to write about ordinary people confronting and defeating monsters.
BLOG OF THE DEAD: What would be your advice to budding writers (aside from writing)?
JONATHAN MABERRY: One of the most important things for new writers to understand is that writing is an art but publishing is a business. The writing is essentially a conversation between the writer and the reader. But in order to reach readers, the writer has to go through the business entity that is publishing. There’s a lot of propaganda out there that creative people are naturally bad at business. That’s crap. I used to believe that, too, and when I believed it I wasn’t very successful. However I made a decision to learn as much about publishing as I could. Kind of funny, but it was at that point that my career went from a flat line to a vertical climb.
So…yeah, learn the business end of things. One of the best results is that if you’re successful you get MORE time to write. It also means that more people get access to your work. No downside.
BLOG OF THE DEAD: Are there projects that you would like to get involved with (TV, Movies, Graphic Novels?)
JONATHAN MABERRY: I seem to be feeling a bit of a magnetic pull toward Hollywood. We’re in some serious discussions about film versions of several of my projects. Too soon to share details, though.
That works with my game plan, too, since I very much want to write TV and movie scripts. Writing for Marvel Comics has been great training for writing scripts for visually-driven stories.
BLOG OF THE DEAD: I assume you do book tours... Will you be making it to Toronto any time soon?
JONATHAN MABERRY: I hope to hit Toronto this year. Next stop, though, will be KeyCon in Winnipeg…and a ton of other events all across North America.
BLOG OF THE DEAD: What is the best thing you've ever written?
JONATHAN MABERRY: I’m fickle when it comes to answering the question of which of my pieces is my favorite. That answer tends to change every Time I’m asked. My current favorite is my new novel, ASSASSIN’S CODE, a vampire-themed action thriller. It’s the fourth book in the Joe Ledger series, and fans are really hooked on the series. But I’m also having a hell of a lot of fun with DEAD OF NIGHT, my standalone zombie novel. That one actually scared hell of me while I was writing it.
Jonathan Maberry is a NY Times bestselling author, multiple Bram Stoker Award winner, and Marvel Comics writer. He’s the author of many novels including Assassin’s Code, Dead of Night, Patient Zero and Rot & Ruin. His nonfiction books on topics ranging from martial arts to zombie pop-culture. Since 1978 he has sold more than 1200 magazine feature articles, 3000 columns, two plays, greeting cards, song lyrics, poetry, and textbooks. Jonathan continues to teach the celebrated Experimental Writing for Teens class, which he created. He founded the Writers Coffeehouse and co-founded The Liars Club; and is a frequent speaker at schools and libraries, as well as a keynote speaker and guest of honor at major writers and genre conferences. Jonathan lives in Bucks County, Pennsylvania with his wife, Sara and their son, Sam. Visit him online at www.jonathanmaberry.com and on Twitter (@jonathanmaberry) and Facebook.
Praise for DEAD OF NIGHT:
“Jonathan Maberry is the top gun when it comes to zombies, and with DEAD OF NIGHT, he's at the top of his game. Frankly, I'm shocked by how effortlessly he moves between the lofty intellectual heights of T.S. Eliot's poetry and the savage carnality of the kill. DEAD OF NIGHT develops with the fevered pace of a manhunt, and yet still manages to hit all the right notes. Strap in, because Maberry's latest is one hell of a wild ride. I loved it.” - Joe McKinney, author of DEAD CITY and FLESH EATERS
“Jonathan Maberry has created an homage to death itself and an homage to the undead that is as poetic as it is terrifying. It's a brand new and intriguingly fresh slant on the zombie genre that we all love!” -John A. Russo co-screenwriter of NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD
“Maberry is a master at writing scenes that surge and hum with tension. The pacing is relentless. He presses the accelerator to the floor and never lets up, taking you on a ride that leaves your heart pounding. It’s almost impossible to put this book down. Dead of Night is an excellent read.” —S.G. Browne, author of BREATHERS
"It would be enough to say that Jonathan Maberry had topped himself yet again with an epic zombie novel that is as much fun as it is terrifying. But that he has also created a story of such tremendous heart and social relevance only further cements his place as a master of the genre. It also doesn't hurt that in DEAD OF NIGHT he has created one of the most compelling heroines I've read in years. Dead of Night blew me away!" --Ryan Brown - Author of PLAY DEAD
“Once again, Jonathan Maberry does what he does best; Take proven science, synthesize it and create something truly terrifying. In DEAD OF NIGHT, Maberry lays the groundwork for a Bioweapon that could very well create zombies in the real world. Combining great characters (I fell in love with Dez Fox from the moment she was introduced) and taut, blindingly fast action, DEAD OF NIGHT, is a runaway bullet train of a ride. This is Jonathan Maberry's best writing yet.” –Greg Schauer, owner Between Books, Claymont, DE
“Dead of Night stands drooped head and lurching shoulders above most zombie novels. The nightmare increases exponentially - from minor outbreak to major crisis with unstoppable speed, building to a heart-stopping climax you won't be able to put down.” --David Moody, author of the HATER and AUTUMN books