JONATHAN MABERRY: I’m fickle when it comes to my own writing. I’m in love with whichever book I’m currently writing. Same goes for the latest book to hit stores –that one will always be my favorite. But…if I was forced at gunpoint to pick one book, it would probably be ROT & RUIN, the first in my teen series of post-apocalyptic zombie novels. More than anything else I’ve written, that one has opened more doorways to meaningful conversations with young readers, librarians, teachers, booksellers, and parents.
Q: Patty Campbell talks about the germ for a piece of writing being like the sand in the oyster. What is your grain of sand? Do you begin with character or setting or something else?
JM: My starting point varies. I usually have a lot of projects going at once –I write 2-3 novels per year, scads of short stories and novellas, and also comic books. ROT & RUIN began with a thought: “What would it be like to grow up in a world after the zombie apocalypse has already happened?” My first adult thriller, PATIENT ZERO, started when two characters I didn’t yet know began having a conversation in my head. If you’re not a writer, that’s a cry for help. If you are a writer, it’s both normal and exciting. For my 2011 horror novel, DEAD OF NIGHT, it began with a line of poetry from T. S. Eliot: “This is how the world ends” (from THE HOLLOW MEN). Sometimes, like with THE DRAGON FACTORY and THE KING OF PLAGUES, it was something in a news story or a bit of science I was reading about.
Q: What do you hear from your readers?
JM: I have a strong and fairly constant interaction with readers, and that conversation happens in a lot of different ways. I’m on an extended national book tour, I Skype in for library and school visits, I am very active on Twitter, Facebook, GoodReads and LinkedIn, and I get scads of email. The response to the books is so much fun and always positive. We’re all having fun geeking out and talking pop culture, talking character, swapping reading suggestions, and exploring the process of writing. I love it.
Q: Why do you write for Young Adults or Children or Adult?
JM: I write stories of all kinds and for all kinds of readers. Often I don’t plan for a certain demographic; instead I concentrate on telling a story that absolutely fascinates me. My agent is usually the one who points out that this story is YA or that story is better suited to adults. That said, now that about half of my writing is for teens, I love the freedom that YA offers. The genre lines aren’t as rigid as in adult fiction, which allows the author to concentrate more fully on the story he wants to tell instead of slanting it for a genre. Plus, today’s teens are so smart that it coaxes a writer into really bringing his creative A-game to any project.
Q: Who is your favorite character you have written or read about?
JM: Joe Ledger is my favorite character. He’s the star of my adult thriller series (PATIENT ZERO is the first book; ASSASSIN’S CODE is the latest, and EXTINCTION MACHINE is next). Ledger is a survivor of deep emotional and physical trauma as a child who has spent his life becoming as strong as possible so that he can be the one who stands between the Big Bad and the innocent. He’s the kind of person who embodies the concept of ‘being stronger in the places where you’ve been broken’. He’s also funny –and, strangely, he’s funnier than I am. Not sure how that works. In the adult series, he’s recruited by a secret government agency to fight groups using cutting-edge science as weapons of terror. However Joe also enters the world of the Rot & Ruin in book 3, FIRE & ASH. Joe’s the one character who I will probably never kill off. No one else is really all that safe in my books.
Q: What is one thing you would like your readers to know about you?
JM: I’ve been fortunate in that I’ve had a strange life. I’ve been practicing/teaching jujutsu for forty-eight years –I currently hold an 8th degree black belt and was even inducted into the International Martial Arts Hall of Fame. I worked as a bodyguard in the entertainment industry. I used to be a college teacher (Temple University, teaching Martial Arts History, Jujutsu, and Personal Defense for Women). I’ve written sarcastic greeting cards, psycho-drama plays, and over a thousand magazine articles. I used to skydive. I competed in boxing, wrestling, fencing, and full-contact martial arts (with a record of 102 wins, 2 losses, 2 ties). I was in the traveling company for the musical GODSPELL, and also appeared in regional theater productions of CAMELOT, HOW TO SUCCEED IN BUSINESS, JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR, ROCKY HORROR SHOW, and FIDDLER ON THE ROOF. And my office is filled with pop culture junk and oddities that includes a robot clock, Marvel Comics action figures, a genuine cat skull, a vampire hunting kit, many odd little rubber ducks, a Steampunk pistol, a Dalek, dancing skeletons, and antique Halloween decorations. I am not entirely normal.
Q: In high school, where did you fall? (Prom Queen/King, Gamer Geek, Brainy/Book Nerd, Jock, Shy/Quiet Scholar, Skate Rat, Stoner, Class Clown, etc.)
JM: I was a brainy jock who was in debate, choir, art class, theater and the wrestling and boxing teams.
Q: Do you have a pet (pets)? Tell us about it (them) and how they help/hinder your writing.
JM: Six months ago my wife, Sara, and I adopted a rescue dog –Rosie. She’s part rat terrier, part Cavalier King Charles. Thirteen pounds of ferocious energy and absolute love. While she’s not my muse (she’s too young to read my novels), she is my coach. She gets me out of the chair and makes me take long, brisk walks. It’s good for health, it’s good for the dog, and it’s good for giving me time to think up dreadful things to do to my characters.
Q: What is the hardest part of waiting for a book from the end of your writing to when it is released?
JM: As soon as I write ‘THE END’ on a manuscript I start longing to have a copy of the finished book in my hand. I love it when the editor sends me a jpeg of the cover art, and later when I get Advance Reading Copies. And my pulse quickens when I know that the publisher is sending my author copies of the finished book. Opening that box is better (for me) than opening a present on Christmas morning.
Q: How often do you dream about the writing you are working on?
JM: I doubt I’ve ever had a night’s sleep where I didn’t have story dreams. I can remember story dreams back when I was a little kid, even before I could write. Next day I’d use toys to tell those stories to my family and friends. I believe I am hard-wired to be a writer. And, as a result, I now get to play in my imagination all day long.
Thank you so much for your time Jonathan! We look forward to seeing you at the Festival.
To learn more about Jonathan Maberry, visit his website.