World Horror Convention 2013 GoH Interview #6: Jonathan Maberry

jonathan maberry author photo

Jonathan Maberry is a New York Times best-selling author, multiple Bram Stoker Award® winner, and Marvel Comics writer. His novels include Assassin’s Code, Flesh & Bone, Ghost Road Blues, Rot & Ruin, Dust & Decay, Patient Zero, The Wolfman and many others. His non-fiction books include Ultimate Jujutsu, The Cryptopedia, Zombie CSU, Wanted Undead Or Alive and others.

He’s the editor/co-author of V-Wars, a vampire-themed anthology and was a featured expert on The History Channel special Zombies: A Living History. Since 1978 he’s sold more than 1200 magazine feature articles, 3000 columns, two plays, greeting cards, song lyrics, and poetry. His comics include Captain America: Hail Hydra, Doomwar, Marvel Zombies Return and Marvel Universe vs. The Avengers. He teaches the Experimental Writing for Teens class, is the founder of the Writers Coffeehouse, and co-founder of The Liars Club. Jonathan lives in Bucks County, Pennsylvania with his wife, Sara and their dog, Rosie. You can find him on Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook or at his author website.

HWA President Rocky Wood said, “Jonathan is proof positive that a talented, hard-working writer can achieve both sales and critical break-through even in the difficult publishing environment writers have been facing over recent years. Since moving into the horror genre and winning the Bram Stoker Award® for Superior Achievement in a First Novel for 2006, he has published at a rate that would challenge even Stephen King! He has built a strong following in the booming Young Adult market as well as the adult horror and thriller genres, has proven to be a very effective marketer of his own work and a strong supporter of the HWA, paying back to the genre. I expect those attending the Bram Stoker Awards® Weekend will learn a lot from Jonathan about cross genre writing, planning a writer’s work day, and marketing; and that they will be infected by his all-round enthusiasm for our profession and life in general.”

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Over the course of the coming months leading up to the Bram Stoker Awards® Weekend Incorporating the World Horror Convention 2013 in New Orleans, Louisiana, I will feature a series of interviews with each of the Guests of Honor.

Darkeva: You’re a frequent fixture at several types of genre and horror conventions, in particular, and you’ve also long been involved with the Horror Writers Association. In addition, you also run a hugely successful website and offer fantastic advice to aspiring and published writers alike. Some writers in your position don’t attend many conventions, or any at all. What attracts you to conventions, and what do you most look forward to when you’re going to one?

JM: Even more than I’m a writer of horror I’m a fan of the genre, and I have been since I was a kid. Horror conventions like WHC allow me to dive headlong into the genre with others of my species. I can talk shop with other horror writers and I can geek out with people of all ages who enjoy spooky tales. Conventions are a great place to discover new voices in the genre…I always come away with a suitcase crammed with new books, comics, DVDs and toys. Yes…toys. My office at home is a shrine to the weird and fantastic. I also collect horror and fantasy artwork.

The horror crowd is so surprisingly grounded. Lots of family people. Lots of genuine friendships, and more openness than is present in most other genre groups. The very first genre con I ever attended was the World Horror Con/Stokers in Toronto in 2007, and everyone made me feel accepted and at home. I made friends there that have lasted and which have really become meaningful. The horror people are my people.

Now…this year the WHC is in New Orleans. Can you imagine a more fitting site than a place whose history is steeped in magic, superstition, wildness and a terrific sense of fun?

Darkeva: Your works have been nominated for the Bram Stoker Awards® in several categories, and you’re also on the Preliminary Ballot in the category of YA Novel for Flesh and Bone, and your success in the Young Adult category continues. When you were starting out as a novelist, did you anticipate that you would break out in the genre and that there would be an explosion of interest in paranormal themes?

JM: I had no expectations at all of becoming a ‘name’. I just hoped people would enjoy my work. Prior to turning to horror I’d been a magazine feature writer for over twenty years, and I wrote college textbooks (on self-defense, Judo, etc.) and training manuals for various martial arts. In 2000 I tried an experiment and wrote a book on monster folklore (The Vampire Slayer’s Field Guide to the Undead) written under the pen name of ‘Shane MacDougall’. It was the first and last time I used a pen name. That book gave me a taste for writing horror, even though it was nonfiction. Then in 2005 I decided to take a swing at writing fiction. I hadn’t done that before except in two very bad short stories back in the 1990s and a moderately successful existential-fantasy play in the ‘80s. I wrote a novel, Ghost Road Blues, which was intended to be the lead book in a trilogy. Quite frankly I was surprised that I got an agent; then I was surprised again when it sold moderately quickly (to Pinnacle), and astonished when it was nominated for two Stokers –Novel and Best First Novel. When it won for Best First, I was absolutely floored. I had never expected to win. Not in a millions years.

However that win –an really, the nominations–were insanely validating. It made me believe that I could write well enough to entertain. So…I dove in with my whole heart and soul.

A lot has happened since then. I’ve sold nineteen novels, fifteen of which have been written and delivered as of this writing. I’ve sold five more horror-themed nonfiction books, a slew of short stories, novellas, essays, and articles. And my novels brought me onto the radar of Marvel Comics, and they asked me to write for them.

None of this was part of any future I expected.

Now…as far as my foray into Young Adult literature…that actually came in a roundabout way. Editor Christopher Golden asked me to contribute a novella to an anthology he was putting together of original zombie stories. He asked for something outside of my normal wheelhouse. So I wrote a post-apocalyptic tale about a teenager learning how to hunt zombies. The story went into the antho, The New Dead (St. Martin’s Griffin), and was very well-received. My agent read I and asked if she could shop it as the opening of a Young Adult novel. I thought she was nuts, because the story was clearly written for adults. But…turns out she was dead right. Simon & Schuster made us a spectacular four-book deal for Rot & Ruin and three sequels.

rot and ruin books

As a result of that, I began reading deeply into the YA genre and I’m constantly amazed at how much terrific writing is being published there. Authors are encouraged to take all sorts of creative and thematic risks, unencumbered by the rigid genre lines that often stifle some writers in the adult market. And horror is very well respected and very successful in YA.

Kids have tremendously open minds, and they really don’t flinch from hard truths, which encourages writers to use horrific story elements to explore things that truly matter. Life, death, loss, grief, fear, defeat and also love, empowerment and strength.

Darkeva: Are there any particular YA novelists who you think are doing interesting things in the genre right now?

JM: Dan Wells is one of my favorite YA authors. His book, I Am Not a Serial Killer, is brilliant. Jeff Hirsch’s chilling Eleventh Plague was a great post-apocalyptic tale. And newcomer Jeyn Roberts has killed it with a couple of post-apoc horror tales. And…god…there are so many YA horror novelists out there doing great work. The Replacement by Brenna Yovanoff, Anna Dressed in Blood by Kendare Blake, Ashes by Ilsa Black, The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman, The Enemy by Charlie Higson. Probably my favorite YA horror novel of recent years, though, is Nancy Holder’s The Screaming Season. We split the 2012 Stoker for Best YA, and she deserves every accolade she gets.

Darkeva: What’s on your TBR pile right now?

JM: I’m reading all of the Hellboy and BPRD graphic novels by my buddy Mike Mignola and his team. I’m looking forward to diving into the second book in the new vampire series by James Rollins and Becka Black. There’s a mile-high stack of anthologies waiting for me to take a bite. And I’ve got a couple of advance reading copies of next year’s books that I’m looking at for possible cover quotes.

Darkeva: What part of being a Guest of Honor at the Bram Stoker Awards® Weekend incorporating the World Horror Convention 2013 are you most excited about?

JM: Quite honestly, the thing I most look forward to is seeing friends I only get to see at these events. Some are colleagues, some are fans, and all are family. That really makes me happy.

Darkeva: What other projects do you have on the horizon?

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JM: This is the busiest year of my professional life (so far). I have three complete novels to write this year: Code Zero (the 6th book in my Joe Ledger series of weird science thrillers; St. Martin’s Griffin), Fall of Night (the sequel to my 2011 zombie novel, Dead of Night, also for Griffin); and Watch Over Me (first in a new series of mystery-thrillers for teens). I have several short stories due, including a new Sam Hunter werewolf novella for JournalStone’s Limbus series; and a novella to co-write with Amber Benson for an urban fantasy mash-up anthology being edited by Faith Hunter. My novel, Rot & Ruin, is in development for film now, so there’s some work to do with that. And I’m working on a new horror comic for Dark Horse, pitching some film properties to Hollywood, and I’m on an extended (nearly) year-long bookstore and library tour of America. I have five minutes set aside in early December for a quick nap.

A huge thank-you to Jonathan for agreeing to be part of this feature. Be sure to visit his website. You can also follow him on Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook.

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