Jonathan Maberry is a renaissance man. There’s really no better way to describe him. He’s a New York Times best-selling author of over a dozen novels and a winner of multiple Bram Stoker awards, including the 2011 and 2012 awards for superior achievement in Young Adult Fiction. He’s written about topics as far ranging as the appropriate way to practice Ju-jitsu to the appropriate way to dispose of the undead. He’s an eighth degree black belt who was inducted into the Marital Arts’ Hall of Fame (which is why I’ll never mess with him), is a founding member of the Philadelphia Liars Club, and a regular speaker (and founder) of the Writers Coffee House.
I had the pleasure of meeting Jonathan at the 2012 Philadelphia Writers’ Conference. He taught the Novel: Focus on Character class and – while the lessons learned there were invaluable – what really struck me were the impromptu sessions he held AFTER class; where he freely gave his own time to anyone and everyone with a question. There was rarely a moment during that conference when I looked in the common room and didn’t see Jonathan surrounded by people, telling a story, dispensing advice, and just being much more approachable then someone who has reached his level of success would seem to be.
When it came time to finally start doing author interviews for KnippKnopp, it only seemed natural that Jonathan be the first. So I asked him to kick off his writing shoes, put on his best interview face, and help me launch KnippKnopp into a whole new direction. This is what that request has wrought.
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JAMES KNIPP: You have a new book coming out soon (Fire & Ash). Can you tell us a little about it?
JONATHAN MABERRY: FIRE & ASH debuts August 27. It’s the fourth and final book of the ROT & RUIN series. The whole series takes place fourteen years after the zombie apocalypse. The novels focus on fifteen-year-old Benny Imura and his friends as they try to solve some mysteries about how and why the world ended and explore the nature of life and death. Two of the previous books in the series, DUST & DECAY and FLESH & BONE won Bram Stoker Awards for Young Adult fiction; and the first book in the series, ROT & RUIN, is now in development for film. Although there’s a lot of action in the books, the series is really about the value of human life and respect for all life.
JAMES KNIPP: Are there certain themes in horror fiction that especially resonate for young adult readers?
JONATHAN MABERRY: It’s funny, but I’m often asked why I write about monsters…and I don’t do that. I write about people who fight monsters, people who oppose darkness. That’s a completely different take on it. The theme of taking a stand against evil, against corruption (ethical, political, personal), against abuse, and so on are what I’ve explored in most of my fiction, horror and otherwise. I also explore how someone discovers and uses personal power. These elements are in all my fiction, but they are crucial in my young adult stories.
JAMES KNIPP: You have two long running series – Rot & Ruin and Joe Ledger (“Extinction Machine”, the latest Joe Ledger novel was released earlier this year.) Is there a different methodology or pacing when writing for a series as opposed to a stand-alone novel?
JONATHAN MABERRY: I’ve only written one standalone novel, THE WOLFMAN, which is a movie adaptation. Everything else is part of a series, though I’ll do another standalone, DEADLANDS: GHOSTWALKERS, next year.
My first series was THE PINE DEEP TRILOGY (GHOST ROAD BLUES, DEAD MAN’S SONG and BAD MOON RISING), which are supernatural modern gothics set in rural Pennsylvania. Because it was written as a trilogy, I knew where it was going to end and each book builds itself into the next. Those novels did not have much in the way of an interior arc, so it’s harder to read each volume as standalones.
The Joe Ledger novels are episodic, in that each book is technically a standalone, but the central characters return. Much like episodes of a TV series the James Bond adventures. In each story Joe and his team face a different kind of threat, and that threat is resolved within the book. However because it’s a series, some story elements are picked up again in other books and in some of the short stories tied to the series.
The Rot & Ruin series was meant to be a quadrology, though there are several side adventures published as standalone eBook, the most recent of which is TOOTH & NAIL.
DEAD OF NIGHT was originally intended to be a standalone, but reader demand was so heavy that the publisher asked for a sequel. The sequel, FALL OF NIGHT, was written so that certain story elements provide the backstory for the Rot & Ruin series. FALL OF NIGHT, however, is NOT a teen book.
I’m now writing WATCH OVER ME, the first in a new mystery thriller series aimed at older teens; and early next year I’ll be writing THE NIGHTSIDERS: THE HUNTED, the first in a new sci-fi/horror series for middle grade readers.
Except in the case of the Pine Deep novels, each of the books in my series has its own interior arc and can be read as a standalone.
JAMES KNIPP: As you mentioned, Rot & Ruin is being made into a movie, can you tell us about that experience?
JONATHAN MABERRY: An actor who’d read the book reached out and asked if the movie had been optioned which, at that point, it hadn’t been. He wanted to play the older brother in a film version, so he got together a couple of producers and they formed an independent film company to make it. They’re in the scriptwriting phase now.
I’m totally jazzed about the movie they want to make. They’ve discussed the script with me, and some possible casting choices, and from all indications they’re going to do it right. I couldn’t be more pleased.
JAMES KNIPP: You’ve done work as a journalist, written both fiction and nonfiction books, created comics, and now movies – you’re like the new “king of all media.” Which medium have you found most challenging? Why?
JONATHAN MABERRY: There isn’t a particular medium that I find more challenging than the others. Usually when I’m trying something I haven’t done before that presents a new set of challenges, but it’s always fun to deconstruct the genre or story form and learn how it works. Overall, I suppose my greatest challenge isn’t a medium it’s length. My stories often turn out to be more complex than first anticipated and complexity can lead to longer books.
JAMES KNIPP: You’re known for your tremendous work ethic. How many words/pages do you put out in a day?
JONATHAN MABERRY: I typically work eight hours each weekday, less on weekends. My target word count is 2000 words per day. On days when I’m doing a lot of research or revisions that will drop. When I get closer to a deadline that number tends to shoot up. For example, during the last four days of writing my most recent novel, FALL OF NIGHT, I wrote 8000 words a day. Time will tell as to whether they are good words!
JAMES KNIPP: Any advice/helpful hints for getting your butt in the chair and hands on the keyboard?
JONATHAN MABERRY: I’m a big believer in setting reasonable goals. If a writer knows he can do 1000 words a day, then he should set a daily target word count at, say, 750 words. That way he doesn’t pressure himself and will often exceed his own expectations. And, each day that he finishes that word count he should put a buck or two into a jar. When the draft is done, that money can only be used for something fun. No bill-paying with it. However, for every day he doesn’t hit the word count he should take a week’s worth of money out.
This kind of ‘self bribery’ helps writers value their work because they’re getting paid for it. It has the incentives of fun built in. And it begins the process of feeling like a professional. It works, too. I still do it.
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For an excellent tribute on what Jonathan has meant to the Philadelphia Writers’ community, check out Ruth Littner’s blog