When Johnathan contacted me, a while ago, to see if I would like to interview him, I knew that Zombie Apocalypses and Dystopia, were subject matters, that often walk hand in hand with each other. So I suggested that we hold off until YAD2 was well underway and post it then.
So, I’ve been holding on to this little chat for a few weeks, but I’m more than happy to be posting it now!
Jonathan Maberry: Although ROT & RUIN is my first teen novel, I’ve been a working writer for a lot of years. I sold my first magazine article while still in college (and that was waaaaay back in the late 1970s, and went on to sell over 1200 articles, as well as short stories, plays, greeting card text, song lyrics, college textbooks and a bunch of other stuff. In 2006 I finished and sold my first novel, GHOST ROAD BLUES (Pinnacle Books), and that won a Bram Stoker Award for Best First Novel. That really gave me the bug for fiction writing, and I’ve been knocking out a couple of novels per year.
I also teach ‘Experimental Writing for Teens’ –and one of my students just landed a top literary agent for her first novel!
A couple of years ago I co-founded the Liar’s Club, a group of professional authors who do events in support of bookstores, libraries, readers and literacy. That group includes Sara Shepard (Pretty Little Liars), Gregory Frost (Shadowbridge), LA Banks (the Vampire Huntress series) and others.
Jonathan Maberry: Benny Imura is fifteen. He was eighteen months old when the zombie apocalypse swept across the world. Benny’s world is small: he lives in a small town surrounded by a fence, and everything else is the great Rot & Ruin –a vast wasteland populated by the living dead.
Benny’s half-brother, Tom, was in the police academy during First Night (the day the plague started) and fled with Benny when the plague struck their town. Benny believes that Tom is a coward who deserted their parents and left them to be killed by the zoms.
Tom works as a bounty hunter, taking jobs from people who want him to go into the Ruin to find family members who have become zoms —and give them closure. Benny has no respect for Tom and instead idolizes some rough, brutal bounty hunters who appear to be braver and much cooler.
When Benny is forced to get a job or lose his rations, he has no choice but to apprentice to Tom. From that point everything changes…and Benny learns that everything he thinks he knows about the world –including Tom, the bounty hunters, and the zombies—is wrong.
Jonathan Maberry: Part of the book deals with Tom training Benny in the ways of the bounty hunters; but soon things take a turn when Benny learns about the Lost Girl –a beautiful teenager living wild in the Ruin. Benny wants to find her, but his search kicks off a series of disastrous events that result in murder, zombie attacks, kidnapping, and a wild chase through the Ruin.
Jonathan Maberry: A lot of apocalyptic fiction deals with the fall of mankind; and much of dystopian fiction focuses on civilizations that have grown up decades or centuries after the fall. I wanted to explore the middle ground: what would the world be like just a few years after everything changed? All of the adults shared the fall of humanity and therefore share post-traumatic stress disorder. Most of the people in the town refuse to go outside the fenceline, and most don’t even talk about the world outside. They’re in a kind of denial.
The teens in the town are faced with the challenge of looking toward their own future while at the same time being told that the world is broken and dead. They refuse to accept that there is no future, but they don’t yet know how to create one. That’s where we enter the story, and those are themes we explore.
I also had some fun creating post-apocalyptic jobs. We humans always adapt, and we always look for a way to make a profit. So fourteen years after zombies wiped out most of humanity there are jobs like Erosion Artist (artists who make drawings of people as they might look as zombies in order for bounty hunters to identify them), Pit Thrower (somebody has to put dead zoms into the incinerators!), and Carpet Coat Salesman (ever try to bite through a piece of carpet? Can’t do it. Neither can a zombie with rotting teeth. Carpet coats are your first line of defense). Kids also collect Zombie Cards, and my publisher liked the idea so much that he commissioned several from noted ‘erosion artist’ Rob Sacchetto. Rob’s erosion portrait of me is actually used as my official author portrait!
Jonathan Maberry: I like the intellectual challenge of solving the problem of survival. I’m a pretty physical guy (46 years in jujutsu, a former bodyguard, and a lifelong practitioner of martial arts, boxing, wrestling, fencing, etc.); and I’ve done a lot of wildness hiking, skydiving, etc. I know I can handle the physical part of it; but in a post-apocalyptic world there are so many things that require a rational mind, clear reasoning, problem solving, and a practical application of common sense. That’s a nice challenge.
As a storyteller, I like the broad-canvas scope of apocalyptic storytelling. You put a handful of characters into a HUGE scenario of great stress and you get to explore the ways in which people, their actions, their choices, and their interactions are warped by that stress. It makes you take a deep look into the human heart and mind.
Jonathan Maberry: Both. I plot the whole book, and often write the first and last chapter before starting the whole book. However, characters often grow once you let them start speaking. Best example of that is the character of Nix Riley –the girl who loves Benny. She was a fairly minor character when I first conceived the book, but from the first time she appears in a scene it was clear that she was not going to fade into the background. She had a lot to say and there was no stopping her. And, as her voice and personality blossomed, the plot began to revolve around her as much as it did around Benny.
Jonathan Maberry: I’m a full-time writer. I usually write eight to ten hours a day; somewhat less on the weekends. I take about ten minutes out of every work hour to do social networking (I’m all over Twitter, Facebook, etc.), because those things are critical for authors.
I’m a caffeine nomad (a term I coined to describe writers like myself who wander from coffeeshop to coffee shop. I usually write at one Starbucks in the morning, then move to a Panera’s, a Cosi, a Saxby’s or some other coffee shop in the afternoon.
Often I’ll break up my projects. I always have a bunch of projects with overlapping deadlines. So I might spend the morning working on a comic book script for Marvel and the afternoon logging a few thousand words for my current novel.
Jonathan Maberry: This has been my most productive year to date. Between novels, nonfiction books, short stories and comics, I’ve had something new coming out every month, and often multiple things coming out in a single week.
I also have three mini-series from Marvel in the pipeline. MARVEL UNIVERSE VS THE PUNISHER just finished and will be out as a hardback graphic novel in December (it’s a post-apocalyptic existentialist adventure. Very strange, even for me.) Next up is BLACK PANTHER: KLAWS OF THE PANTHER, kicking off in October; and then in January we launch CAPTAIN AMERICA: HAIL HYDRA, a five-issue Marvel Event that follows Cap from World War II to present day. And my graphic novel, DOOMWAR, debuts in hardcover in October.
In early 2011, I have my third Joe Ledger thriller, THE KING OF PLAGUES, hitting stores in March from St. Martins Griffin. It follows PATIENT ZERO (2009) and THE DRAGON FACTORY (2010). The whole series has been optioned by producer Michael DeLuca (Blade, Magnolia, Se7en) and is in development for TV.
And I’m currently writing DEAD OF NIGHT, a standalone zombie novel to be release by Griffin in the fall.
Jonathan can also be found at: Twitter: @JonathanMaberry, Facebook , Web: http://jonathanmaberry.com