Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Author Interview: Jonathan Maberry

"In the zombie-infested, post-apocalyptic America where Benny Imura lives, every teenager must find a job by the time they turn fifteen or get their rations cut in half. Benny doesn't want to apprentice as a zombie hunter with his boring older brother Tom, but he has no choice. He expects a tedious job whacking zoms for cash, but what he gets is a vocation that will teach him what it means to be human."

To read free prequel scenes to Rot & Ruin click here!
Or, read my review!
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You’ve written a lot of books, as well as several short stories and comics.  Do you have a favorite work (or works)?

Usually my favorite is whichever one I’m currently writing.  I fall in love with each new project.  Of my completed works, it’s an event split between ROT & RUIN (out now from Simon & Schuster), my first teen novel; and THE KING OF PLAGUES, the third in my Joe Ledger series of thrillers (due out March 2011 from St. Martin’s Griffin).  My favorite comic series (so far!) is MARVEL UNIVERSE VS THE PUNISHER, which was released earlier this year and will soon be collected as a graphic novel. 

Rot & Ruin is your first YA book.  Would you say that writing YA is any different from writing for adults?

JM: Adult books tend to be more strongly forced into a category and sub-category, teen novels are much freer and more open to cross-genre writing.  Also, the teen readers I’ve met are so much more open-minded than most of the adults.  And they’re so much more imaginative.  You don’t have to lay everything out for them—they’re with the author from the jump, and they get the story and its implications.  As a result it’s more fun to include them in the collaborative storytelling process.
When the reader finishes Rot & Ruin, what is one thing you want them to take away from it?

JM: Hope.  The story about discovering the value of human life, the measure of one’s own courage, and the power of optimism.  The kids in the story are being handed a ‘broken’ world by a generation of adults who have lost all faith in any possible future.  The teens, however, expect to live long lives and to have those lives matter.  So, much of the subtext of the story deals with those teens discovering their own power, and learning how that power can sculpt any future they want.

Rot & Ruin is set in a dystopian world, fourteen years after the First Night zombie attack.  What was your inspiration for the world itself?

JM: Take a look around.  There are a lot of huge, dangerous problems in our world.  Wars, religious and racial intolerance, a damaged ecology, ruined economies, and political unrest. When writers tell a story about monsters, we’re usually using them as a vehicle in order to tell a story about our own world. 
That’s how the zombie genre got started.  George A. Romero used NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD to talk about racism; DAWN OF THE DEAD was really about rampant American consumerism; DAY OF THE DEAD was about the runaway buildup of the military industrial complex.  And so on.  Max Brooks’ WORLD WAR Z was about our fears of a global pandemic (such as SARS).  That’s what drives the whole zombie pop culture –and all apocalyptic fiction—they’re stories that use monsters to tell important truths about our real world.
Dystopian fiction is much the same.  These are stories that express our fears about society taking dangerous paths.  We write these as truly ‘cautionary’ tales, stories in order to warn ourselves and each other about these dangers.
And…on a less complex level, they make darn good stories.  They allow use to explore the phenomenon of a hero (often a stand in for our own idealized selves) facing seemingly impossible odds, and then overcoming them.  

Benny's story is a coming-of-age saga; did you base any of his emotional and mental growth and change off of your own experience?

JM: In small ways, yes.  Mostly Benny is based on a friend of mine growing up, a kid name Jamie.  He was always a little ‘younger’ than the rest of us, even though we were the same age. Jamie was also angry all the time, largely because he was holding onto a lot of assumptions about his parents and the world.  It wasn’t until we were fifteen and Jamie started working summers with his dad that he ‘grew up’.  It was a pretty remarkable change, too, because he went from being grumpy and na├»ve to being very upbeat and worldly.  From them on, he really grew, and wound up outgrowing a lot of the kids in our group.  Sometimes it happens like that.

I probably have more in common with Tom than Benny.  I was a quiet, introspective kid and I’ve been involved with martial arts since I was six.  Of course, Tom is better looking and cooler than I ever was…but this is fiction after all.
Elements of my own childhood did play a large part in my first three novels, GHOST ROAD BLUES, DEAD MAN’S SONG and BAD MOON RISING (collectively known as the Pine Deep Trilogy).  The character of troubled teen Mike Sweeney draws heavily on elements of child abuse I experienced, and how I used martial arts to life myself out of that swamp.

You play with religion a little in Rot & Ruin, describing one group of people that comes to consider electricity evil and another that believes God wants them to care for, sometimes even feed themselves to, zombies.  If the zombiepocalyse occurred tomorrow, what effect do you think it would have on your beliefs?

JM: None, really.  I’m a very Big Picture guy when it comes to religion.  I more or less believe that everyone is right. My circle of friends range from the most cynical atheists to Right Wing evangelists. That said, if an apocalypse happened, AND if I was inclined to want to assign blame somewhere, I’d probably focus most of my attention on deliberate human action, human error, or human inaction.
I’m not entirely jaded, mind you.  More of a realist.  I’m idealistic enough to remain optimistic that we won’t actually bring about some kind of science-based apocalypse.  But I’ve also done a lot of research for my adult science thrillers, and have interviewed enough people in the military, government, and the sciences, to know that greed often outstrips both our common sense and our moral judgment.
 So…I doubt my religious beliefs would be affected, but I would be sorely disappointed in my fellow men.

You've written a lot about zombies in the past few years, so you know a lot about them.  What precautions do you take in real life against the eventual zombie apocalypse?  Do you lock your doors and stockpile automatic weapons, just in case?

JM: I’m not a survivalist, though I have friends who are.  I have a close friend who actually has an apocalypse bug-out kit in the trunk of his car.  And over the last few years I’ve been a guest on dozens of zombie apocalypse panels at SF and horror conventions.
So, even though I don’t have weapons and a stockpile of canned foods in my trunk…I have worked out escape scenarios.  Just for fun.  And as a way of getting in the mindset necessary to write these kinds of stories.  I’m also an experienced martial artist (46 years and counting), and as a former bodyguard I have extensive experience in real-world violent confrontations.   Bottom line: if an apocalypse DID occur, I’m pretty sure I’m getting my family to a safe place.  Zombies?  Well…there had better be a lot of them, otherwise I’m leaving a trail of parts behind me.

Jonathan Maberry is 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 or find him on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, GoodReads, Library Thing, Shefari and Plaxo.

1 comment:

  1. Great Interview. What an interesting concept for the book. Great questions and answers making true valid points. This book is now for sure on my TBR Get now list.

    Mad Scientist