Editor’s note: Since the time we ran the first part of our interview of Jonathan Maberry two weeks ago, his novel, Dust and Decay won the 2011 Stoker for Superior Achievement in a Young Adult Novel (a prize he shares with Nancy Holder, author of The Screaming Season). In this concluding part of the interview, Maberry discusses the writing life.
The first time I met Jonathan Maberry I was very apprehensive. I’d read his zombie thriller, PATIENT ZERO, and was familiar with his considerable resume both as a New York Times bestselling author and as an eighth degree black belt in Shinowara-ryu Jujutsu. He’s a physically imposing man with a list of accomplishments as a Bram Stoker Award winning writer and a martial artist that defy any fair abridgment. Walking up to him, I was pretty certain that I was going to get a second to introduce myself, thank him for the enjoyable read, and get the quick brush off as he moved on to more important people in the room. I could not have been more wrong. Jonathan is a cheerful, affable man whose friendliness, unaffected humility, and honest interest in conversation is infectious and enthralling. Just like the zombie plagues he writes about, you can’t help but walk away from a meeting with Jonathan Maberry without feeling like you’ve had an encounter that’s left you with something. And now I’ve been fortunate enough to get the chance to ask him some tough questions about his work. Again, he surprised me by laying bare more of his personal insight than I had any right to expect.
BRACKEN MacLEOD: Speaking of the writing process, you recently posted a picture on your Facebook feed of a small token object you bought as a source of inspiration for an upcoming project, mentioning that you do this for all of your books. I love this ritual. It reminds me of actors who say that putting on a costume or make up is half of creating a character. How did you begin collecting these totems? How does it affect your writing to be able to hold something talismanic in your hand?
JONATHAN MABERRY: I’m insanely and irrationally superstitious. Always have been. I could probably shake it if I tried, but I enjoy it…so what the hell.
These superstitions didn’t become connected to my writing career, though, until my son, Sam, gave me a pendant of the Hindu god Ganehsa. He’s the patron god of writers and the remover of obstacles. Am I Hindu? No. But the day after I got the pendant my agent sold my first three novels. I wear it every damn day. I have Ganesha statues all around my writing desk.
Then a few years later I was at a Fangoria Horror Convention in New Jersey and bought a cool statue of The Wolf Man. The next day I got an unsolicited and out-of-the-blue call from a vice-president at Universal Pictures who wanted to hire me to write the novelization of the remake of the Wolfman.
BRACKEN MacLEOD: Serendipity?
JONATHAN MABERRY: Sure, probably just a coincidence. But…
Now, every time I start a project I buy a little item for my desk. I have action figures for every character I’ve put into one of my scripts for Marvel Comics. I have vampires, robots, gun replicas, and all sorts of things; each is tied to some project or other. Most recently I bought a rather gorgeous Steampunk pistol because I am attached to a project that is an alt-history supernatural Steampunk western. I also bought a movie clapper because we’re now in talks about some of my film properties.
There may be absolutely nothing to any of this, but I really don’t care. My office is a shrine to pop culture weirdness, and that suits me just fine. And my career has been doing very nicely ever since I started collecting…
BRACKEN MacLEOD: You release a lot of supplementary material for your books including prequel stories and shorts that bridge gaps between books (one of the most satisfying epilogues I’ve ever read was the short story, “Zero Tolerance”, published in J.J. Adams’ The Living Dead 2 anthology). Are they pieces that didn’t make the cut into another novel (i.e., deleted scenes) or do you construct them solely as bonus material for fans?
JONATHAN MABERRY: All of the bonus materials are written for that purpose with the exception of the free ‘deleted scenes’ from DEAD OF NIGHT. Since novels in a series tend to be spaced at least a year apart, I want to keep my readers entertained, so I usually write a short story or a collection of vignettes and put them on the net.
With DEAD OF NIGHT, I wound up with a book that actually had too much action in it. Crazy, right? So I agreed to cut seven scenes from the book and we polished them up and I posted them for free as a holiday gift to my readers. [http://jonathanmaberry.com/happy-holidays-from-jonathan ]
BRACKEN MacLEOD: It’s great to see a commitment to fans like that. You also have a commitment to other writers. You are an author mentor for the Horror Writer’s Association and teach experimental writing for young writers (not to mention the work you do to support booksellers and public libraries). How did you get involved in this kind of outreach? Were you mentored as a young writer? How did other writers help shape your work and your work ethic?
JONATHAN MABERRY: In 1973 my middle school librarian was also the secretary for a couple of different clubs of professional writers. She got permission to drag me along to meetings, and so in 7th grade I was actually spending long evenings talking to people like Ray Bradbury, Richard Matheson, Arthur C. Clarke, Harlan Ellison, L. Sprague de Camp, Lin Carter, and many others. It was incredible. I still have the signed copies of SOMETHING WICKED THIS WAY COMES by Bradbury and I AM LEGEND by Matheson that they gave me.
Along the way I’ve met other authors –directly, or through social media—and I’ve found that so many of them are kind and generous people. I quickly learned that there are two basic attitudes. One is a fear-based viewpoint in which people hesitate to help other writers because they’re afraid that the other person will take their opportunity. The other view is that if writers help more people get successfully published, then more good books will get out there and that will attract more readers.
I believe in this second viewpoint. I enjoy seeing other folks make their step. It’s like a party. We all get to celebrate and share in the positive mojo.
Before I began teaching writing classes I was a college teacher (Martial Arts History, Women’s Self-defense, Jujutsu, etc. at Temple University) and a martial arts instructor. I’ve been teaching writing for over a dozen years now and I love it. Many of my former students are published (magazine features, short stories, nonfiction books and novels) and a bunch of them have agents. Makes me feel great.
I co-founded a group called The Liars Club, which is a cooperative of thirteen writers who are dedicated to community-building for writers. The current line-up is: Gregory Frost (best-selling fantasy author); Solomon Jones (Daily News columnist and crime novelist); Jon McGoran (author of forensics thrillers for Penguin as D H Dublin); Kelly Simmons (women’s contemporary fiction author); Ed Pettit (book reviewer and renowned expert on Edgar Allen Poe); Dennis Tafoya (celebrated crime and thriller writer); Don Lafferty (publicist, social media guru, and magazine feature writer), Marie Lamba (literary agent and author of Young Adult novels); Merry Jones (mystery novelist and humorist), Keith Strunk (actor, playwright, historian and children’s storyteller), Keith DeCandido (author of dozens of science fiction, fantasy and media tie-in novels) and Stephen Susco (Hollywood screenwriter of The Grudge).
We host the Writers Coffeehouse, a free 3-hour open discussion and networking session that meets at various venues every month. It’s been running for eight years now.
BRACKEN MacLEOD: Finally, speaking of other writers, I always like to ask whether there’s someone working in relative (or complete) obscurity right now who you think people should be running to their local bookstore to read. Is anyone blowing your socks off right now?
JONATHAN MABERRY: Absolutely. Dan Wells is one of the most exciting authors out there. His novels include I AM NOT A SERIAL KILLER and MR. MONSTER, among others. He’s mostly known to Young Adult audiences, but his books are great for adults. More people need to read his books. He’s brilliant, a bit twisted, and wicked fun to read.
BRACKEN MacLEOD: I will definitely check him out. Thank you again for taking the time to answer my rambling questions. You went above and beyond the call here.
JONATHAN MABERRY: I went pretty deep with the answers. This is not a short interview. Thanks!
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.
Bracken MacLeod is a negligible literary figure living in the Boston area. You can visit him at https://luxferre.wordpress.com and on Twitter (@an_adversary) and Facebook as well.