by Blu Gilliand
Jonathan Maberry’s fiction may be all over the map, ranging from science fiction to supernatural to action to straight-up horror, but it all shares the trademark elements of expert characterization, tension, and atmosphere. Maberry is a born storyteller, and reading over his list of upcoming projects suggests that he can barely get the words out fast enough. Fortunately for Horror World, Maberry was willing to take a few minutes away from his work to chat about his approach to writing and his impressive slate of projects.
HORROR WORLD: You're a very prolific writer with a lot of projects going on. Before we get into some of those individual projects, I have to ask - how do you juggle it all? Do you work on multiple projects at once, or do you prefer to complete something before moving on to the next?
JONATHAN MABERRY: I went to school for journalism, not creative writing. Reporters are incredibly efficient. They don’t sit around moodily waiting for the muse to whisper in their ears. They don’t mythologize the process of writing. They get right to it. And if the first draft isn't right, they fix it in the rewrite. That’s my approach. I manage my creative output by being very disciplined and practical. Not only does that NOT interfere with my creative side, it allows that side a clearer and more frequent voice.
In terms of juggling the projects, it helps to write fast. I do. I write my best work when I’m facing a deadline. The pace keeps me from writing anything that doesn’t really belong in the book or story.
And moving from project to project, format to format, and genre to genre keeps it all fresh and exciting for me.
Speaking of moving from format to format, how do you approach writing for comics versus writing prose?
Comics are a collaborative process. Prose novels and short stories are solo gigs. When I’m doing a comic, I write the script and after that’s turned in there’s an ongoing creative discussion with the artist (or artists if there’s a penciller and inker), the colorist, the editor and sometimes even the letterer. And then there’s the cover artist. A lot of creative people add their two cents and all of that input helps to make for a successful comic. What’s important for a novelist is to learn to trust and to share.
How do you approach writing for adults versus writing for the "young adult" market?
The only real differences come in some elements of content. Writing for Middle Grade (8-12 year olds) means eliminating all harsh language and most or all romance. For the 12-15 year olds in the younger YA category, I’m a little more free with language, but definitely not potty-mouthed. And there’s usually romance, especially first romance. For older teens there’s edgier material and language. Also for each category the protagonist is generally of that age group.
I don’t cut kids a break in terms of complexity of theme or vocabulary. I know how smart kids are. If they don’t know a word, they’ll look it up. And they read up in terms of age and content. Never –ever—write ‘down’ to a kid.
Let's get into some of the stuff that's coming out this year. First the new Joe Ledger book, Code Zero. What's happening with Joe this time around?
Code Zero is my favorite of the series so far. A brilliant villain who calls herself Mother Night has launched a nationwide campaign of anarchist terrorist attacks. At the same time she’s managed to steal the cutting-edge bioweapons Joe Ledger and his team have been taking away from terrorists for the last few years. Now, armed with these weapons – including the zombie plague from the first novel, Patient Zero – she’s about to bring America to its knees. It’s a brutal, convoluted and wild book.
This is the fifth book, and I understand you have a sixth scheduled for next year. Did you envision the series being around this long? How many Joe Ledger books do you have in you?
Actually, Code Zero is the sixth book, following Patient Zero, The Dragon Factory, The King of Plagues, Assassin’s Code and last year’s Extinction Machine. All of the Ledger books come from St. Martin’s Griffin. I’m writing the seventh in the series, Predator One, right now. And I have no plans to stop. We’re also releasing a collection of Joe Ledger short stories this spring, Joe Ledger: Special Ops. It will be in print from Journalstone and on audio from Blackstone. He also appears in the last two books of the “Rot & Ruin” series, Flesh & Bone and Fire & Ash; and in the eBook, Tooth & Nail.
Ledger strikes me as the kind of character that would work in other formats. Will we be seeing any comics or television or film projects featuring the character?
Joe Ledger will make his comic book debut in issues 6-8 of V-Wars. And an older version of Joe will appear in flashbacks in the “Rot & Ruin” comic. As for TV, we almost made it to ABC with a Joe Ledger series. Patient Zero was optioned by producer Michael DeLuca on behalf of Sony, who took it to ABC. They commissioned a brilliant script by Emmy-winner Javier Grillo Marxuach, but the president of the network decided, last minute, to go with a remake of Charlie’s Angels instead…which was promptly canceled. Ah well. I’m sure Joe will find a home elsewhere. Discussions are ongoing.
Let's talk about that V-Wars comic series, which is coming from IDW. Tell us how this project got started, and what's your involvement with the comic?
IDW, which is a comic book company, had a prose-based product line that included anthologies tied to various popular comic book lines. I did a novella for their “GI Joe” anthology (which was edited by Max Brooks). After that project was done, they approached me to edit my own anthology.
Instead of basing one on an existing property, I pitched an idea I’d been playing with about a plague that triggers junk DNA, including the gene that codes for vampirism. It was horror told as science fiction. It was also a ‘shared world’ antho, meaning that all of the stories are connected and take place in the same world, often with overlapping characters. They loved the idea and the first anthology included stories by Nancy Holder, Scott Nicholson, Gregory Frost, Keith R.A. DeCandido, James A. Moore, Yvonne Navarro, and John Everson. I wrote a framing story that connected all of the other stories. The book was successful and critically lauded, and it did really well in audio, as well. Wil Wheaton even read one of the stories.
Then the CEO of IDW, Ted Adams, approached me and asked if I’d like to do another anthology and a monthly comic. Everyone at the company had gotten really enthused about the potential of V-Wars, including their new entertainment division. There are discussions ongoing with a major TV network and we all hope to bring V-Wars to TV soon.
I’m writing the monthly comic and Alan Robinson has been absolutely killing it with the art. We launch on Free Comic Book Day in May.
How are the vampires in V-Wars different from other vampires?
The vampires we’re using are what you’d call “old school.” They’re not the Hollywood vampire. Prior to becoming a novelist I wrote six nonfiction books on the folklore and legends of vampires and werewolves. There are hundreds of different kinds of vampires in world culture. Few of them resemble each other; and they have different powers, different aspects, different vulnerabilities, and unique histories. So, in V-Wars, when a person becomes infected with the virus and manifests as a vampire, they become whatever kind of vampire is tied to their genetic ethnicity. A Chinese person would become a chiang-shih, a Haitian would become a Loogaroo. And so on.
Not all of the vampires are evil. Many are not. So we explore the difference between nature, nurture and choice.
Oh, and in V-Wars, there are no supernatural elements. This is weird science and aberrant genetics.
IDW is putting a lot behind this project, making a prequel issue one of their titles for Free Comic Book Day in May and releasing the first issue that same day. What's it been like working with them on this project?
The cats at IDW are the best. No prima-donnas, no red tape. They get things done – and they grow their company – because they respect the people with whom they work, they get behind good ideas, and they listen. I’m having a great time working with them.
Finally, I want to talk about the Pine Deep Trilogy, which is getting its first hardcover release this year from JournalStone. Tell us a little about these new editions - will there be any new material?
Each hardcover volume of the Pine Deep Trilogy (Ghost Road Blues, Dead Man’s Song and Bad Moon Rising) will include a short story set either before or after the events of the Trilogy. And we’ve gone in and made a few changes – including repairing some typos and glitches from the paperbacks. We also have new covers by Kealan Patrick Burke. They’re stunning.
What was it like to revisit these books in preparation for these releases? Did you re-read them all? Did you have a desire to tinker with them?
The Pine Deep novels were my first fiction. I had been cooking that story since I was a kid. It was the horror novel I wanted to read, which is why I wrote it. Re-reading them, and doing some small revisions, allowed me to sink into that world again. I love those characters. And, I’ve been writing a number of Pine Deep short stories lately. There are a lot more stories to tell about that unfortunate little town.
Are there any plans to release new paperback or digital editions once the limited hardcovers are out?
Kensington Publishing will re-issue them as trade paperbacks. They hold the eBook rights, and there are already digital versions available. And, Blackstone released them on audio with Tom Weiner reading them and scary the bejeezus out of people. He is an incredible audiobook reader.
Any chances of another Pine Deep novel?
I’ve been considering another novel or two set in Pine Deep. Not sure when I’d get a chance to do it, though. I’m writing three novel series right now. But…eventually? Sure.
Is there anything else coming out this year that you'd like to mention?
Code Zero debuts in March; then Joe Ledger: Special Ops drops in April. V-Wars: Blood and Fire, the second (prose) anthology, will be released in June or July; and the comic book kicks off in May. And Out of Tune, a dark fantasy anthology will be released by Journalstone this summer, with stories by Steve Niles, Seanan McGuire, Jack Ketchum, Simon R. Green, Kelley Armstrong, Nancy Holder, David Liss, Gary Braunbeck, and others. Then the Rot & Ruin comic debuts in the fall. And in September Fall of Night, the sequel to Dead of Night (what is also in development for film), debuts. Plus I have a limited series horror comic, Bad Blood, running right now from Dark Horse. And, I’m waiting to hear if my first middle grade sci-fi/fantasy/horror mashup, The Nightsiders, will be released in hardcover late this year or in early 2015.
So…yeah, it’s going to be a crazy year.
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