JONATHAN MABERRYis a New York Times best-selling and multiple Bram Stoker Award-winning author, magazine feature writer, playwright, content creator and writing teacher/lecturer. His books have been sold to more than a dozen countries. His novels include the Pine Deep Trilogy: GHOST ROAD BLUES (winner of the Bram Stoker Award for Best First Novel), DEAD MAN’S SONG, and BAD MOON RISING; the Joe Ledger series of action thrillers from St. Martin’s Griffin: PATIENT ZERO (winner of the Black Glove Award for Best Zombie Novel of the Year, and in development for TV), THE DRAGON FACTORY, THE KING OF PLAGUES; THE WOLFMAN; the Benny Imura series of Young Adult dystopian zombie thrillers from Simon & Schuster: ROT & RUIN and DUST & DECAY; and the forthcoming standalone zombie thriller DEAD OF NIGHT. His nonfiction works include: VAMPIRE UNIVERSE, THE CRYPTOPEDIA (winner of the Bram Stoker Award for Outstanding Achievement in Nonfiction; co-authored by David F. Kramer), ZOMBIE CSU: The Forensics of the Living Dead (Winner of the Hinzman and Black Quill Awards and nominated for a Stoker Award), THEY BITE! (with David F. Kramer), and WANTED UNDEAD OR ALIVE (with Janice Gable Bashman). His work for Marvel includes BLACK PANTHER: POWER, KLAWS OF THE PANTHER, CAPTAIN AMERICA: HAIL HYDRA, DOOMWAR and MARVEL ZOMBIES RETURN. Jonathan has been a popular writing teacher and career counselor for writers for the last two decades. He teaches a highly regard series of classes and workshops including Write Your Novel in Nine Months, Revise & Sell, Experimental Writing for Teens, and others. Many of his students have gone on to publish in short and novel-length fiction, magazine feature writing, nonfiction books, TV, film, and comics. In 2004 Jonathan was inducted into the International Martial Arts Hall of Fame largely because of his extensive writings in that field. Visit his website at www.jonathanmaberry.com or find him on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, GoodReads, Library Thing, Shefari and Plaxo.
And now for the interview...
Why did you decide to write about zombies in Rot and Ruin?
I’ve always loved zombie stories, ever since I was ten and saw NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD for the first time. And I’ve loved post-apocalyptic stories ever since I first read I AM LEGEND, which author Richard Matheson gave me a copy of when I was fourteen.
Last year I was approached by editor Christopher Golden to write a novella for a zombie anthology, THE NEW DEAD. Golden wanted each writer on the project to do something different. All of my novels up to that point had been about adults in crisis, so I decided to explore the experience of a teenager dealing with something vastly beyond his control. During the writing of the novella I fell in love with the characters and the world of the Rot & Ruin (which is what everything is called that’s beyond the fenceline of the small town in which the characters live).
Then, after the story was delivered, my agent asked if that story could be expanded into a novel. I said that it would be easy to do because there was so much more about that world that I wanted to tell. She sold the rights to two novels to Simon & Schuster and I dug in to write ROT & RUIN.
This week I turned in the final draft of the second book, DUST & DECAY; and there’s a possibility of more books. There are a whole lot of stories about this world that I want to tell.
What is experimental writing and why did you choose to teach it to teens?
By the time most writers hit their twenties they know –or they think they know—what kind of writing they want to do. They often become fixated on being a poet, a short story writer, a novelist. And more than they, they confined themselves to specific sub-genre. They don’t just want to write a novel, they want to specifically write a paranormal romance, or a literary novel, or a military science fiction, or whatever. The problem is that they lock themselves into one vision of what their writing could be, and that isn’t necessarily the kind of writing they can do best. But they never try anything else.
In my teen class, I expose the students to as many different kinds of writing as possible and encourage them to try it. We’ll do some sessions on epic poetry, then move to narrative nonfiction, then onto crime fiction, then onto something else. The students get to work on short stories, novels, articles, poetry, spoken word, then onto something else.
We also cover the aspects of style. Descriptive and figurative language, scene building, pace, voice, point of view…just about everything.
The students do two or three writing exercises per session and everyone reads their writing aloud. Everyone participates in a discussion.
The upshot is that the students try everything, so that when they decide to write something for submission, they’ve tried their hand at so many genres, they’ll know which one is really right for them. Or, more often, they learn that they can write anything.
Recently one of my students got picked up by a major New York agent for a novel she wrote in class.
Why should we read Rot and Ruin, or any of your other books?
MABERRY: Like all good horror stories, ROT & RUIN isn’t about the monsters. It’s about how people confront a shared catastrophe. Ever since NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD zombies have been ‘stand ins’ for things we’re afraid of. In the Living Dead movies zombies have symbolized racism, rampant consumerism, sexism, loss of identity. In more modern zombie stories –including my forthcoming novel, DEAD OF NIGHT (St. Martins Griffin, Summer 2011) zombies symbolize our fear of a global disaster, such as a pandemic.
When I wrote ROT & RUIN, I wasn’t writing about people fighting zombies. I was writing about how a teenager tries to understand the world in which he lives. During our teen years, our worldview changes from what we know in our neighborhood to what we know about the whole world. We see our place in the scheme of things and that is often at odds with how we THOUGHT the world was.
Benny Imura, the fifteen year old hero of the tale, learns a lot about the value of human life, the nature of his own assumptions, and the level of his own courage.
ROT & RUIN is fun, fast-paced, filled with wild characters, and has tons of action. It also has characters you will like and who you can believe in.
What do you think is most unique about your writing?
Everything I do has a sense of humor. Even my most intense thrillers and my scariest horror have humor. That’s a reflection of my personality. Humor is so powerful. It uplifts you. It peels back the darkness. I had a lot of darkness in my life, some pretty rough patches. Humor was one of the things that helped me maintain my optimism no matter how bad things got.
Nowadays I infuse my writing with it because it’s such a part of real life.
Plus, these days I’m a very happy guy living a great life. So, I laugh a lot, and so do my characters.
Read the first 13 pages of Rot & Ruin now!
JONATHON MABERRY was interviewed on NOVEMBER 6, 2010 by READING ROCKS.