20 December 2010

Title: Rot & Ruin
Author: Jonathan Maberry
Publisher: Simon & Schuster, 458 Pages (October 5th 2010)

Synopsis: In the zombie-infested, post-apocalyptic America where Benny Imura lives, every teenager must find a job by the time they turn fifteen or get their rations cut in half. Benny doesn't want to apprentice as a zombie hunter with his boring older brother Tom, but he has no choice. He expects a tedious job whacking zoms for cash, but what he gets is a vocation that will teach him what it means to be human.

First off, I have to ask, Why Zombies? And do you think that Zombies are the new Vampires?

First thing to know is that zombie novels are not about zombies. Zombie novels are about humans sharing a crisis. The zombies are stand-ins for whatever that crisis really is. For George Romero, zombies were metaphors for racism, rampant American consumerism, the build-up of the Reagan military complex, the division of economic classes during George W. Bush, the detachment of people because of technology, and so on. For Max Brooks in WORLD WAR Z, zombies represent the very real threat of a global pandemic. And so on.

In ROT & RUIN, the zombies represent our loss of connection to what it means to be human. Even though I enjoy video games and action movies, they do tend to reduce the ‘enemy’ into faceless head-counts rather than people. I’ve been a jujutsu teacher my whole life, and I’ve worked as a bodyguard and a bouncer. I’ve been in many real-life violent confrontations; and I know for a fact that it’s easy to erase the humanity of an opponent from our mind during a crisis. It’s easier to hurt them if you have to in order to defend yourself or protect others. But if we truly lose sight of an opponent as a real person, then killing and harming becomes easy to the point where it feels like a handy solution, rather than the last resort that it’s supposed to be.

The zoms in ROT & RUIN are mindless monsters who kill, but they were all people once. Understanding that is a crucial theme, and it forms part of the life lesson which brings protagonist Benny Imura from an immature state into the beginnings of maturity and responsibility.

What was the pivotal point in your life where you just knew you wanted to write thriller/horror/mysteries?

Most of my writing career has been dedicated to nonfiction stuff. I’ve sold over 1200 magazine articles, countless columns and reviews, a couple of plays, even song lyrics and greeting card text. In the 90s and early 2000s I was concentrating on nonfiction books, and after doing several on martial arts and self-defense, I decided to try one on the folklore of vampires. I’ve had a lifelong interest in the folklore, myths and legends of the supernatural, thanks to a wonderful spooky grandmother who shared a ton of information with me about what she called ‘the larger world’.

After my first nonfic book on vampire legends came out, THE VAMPIRE SLAYERS FIELD GUIDE TO THE UNDEAD (2011), I found myself still fascinated and far from satisfied. I began researching several more books on the subject and at the same time I was reading a lot, fiction and nonfiction. I became frustrated that I couldn’t find many vampire novels that drew on folklore. Most were retreads of the post-Dracula Hollywood model of vampires. So…after grumping about it for a while, I decided to try and write one myself. That was GHOST ROAD BLUES (Pinnacle Books, 2006). It was the first of a trilogy (followed by DEAD MAN’S SONG and BAD MOON RISING), and it won the Bram Stoker Award for Best First Novel. That, let me tell you, is the kind of validation that fires all the creative engines.

Since 2005, my agent has gone on to sell twelve novels for me, as well as five nonfiction books. I switch genres a bit, following the story I most want to tell. My first three novels were supernatural thrillers (aka horror), the next three, PATIENT ZERO, THE DRAGON FACTORY and the forthcoming THE KING OF PLAGUES, are science/action thrillers. I did a movie adaptation, THE WOLFMAN; then we sold ROT & RUIN and its sequel. And I have other novels sold but waiting their turn to be written.

What do you think about more and more adults reading in the Young Adult genre? And what book or books have you recently read for young adults that you think everyone should be sure to read?

I think it’s inevitable. Some of the most innovative and exciting writing is going on in YA right now. The doors are kicked open wide, genre lines are constantly being crossed, and creative freedom is flourishing. So many adults are frustrated by the formulaic constraints of many adult genres and subgenres, so they liberate themselves by picking up a YA.

They say that it’s so they can understand what their kids are reading, but let’s face it…they’re enjoying themselves!

What do you think about books to movie/tv these days? The good, the bad and the ugly?

I like what they’re doing with them. Understand, it is completely impossible to translate a novel to film or TV and make it an exact fit. They’re different formats and they are driven by different aspects of the creative process. Novels are cognitive, and they encourage the reader to fill in the blanks about visuals. Novels are also much longer and more complex than a TV episode or movie; or shorter than a TV season. Changes are necessary.

That said, adaptations are going to vary depending on the talent of the screenwriter, the needs of the producer and network, the vision of the director, the connections of the casting director, and the skill of the cinematographer, and the talent of the actors. That’s a lot of people in the mix. Change from the source material is inevitable.

Among the better adaptations on TV are True Blood and Dexter, neither of which looks much like the books by Charlaine Harris and Jeff Lindsay, but each of which is superb in its adapted way.

Writers who complain about adaptations are misguided. Whether the show is a hit or dud, it always brings readers to the book.

Could you tell readers a little bit about Rot & Ruin and how you can up with the idea for what is the beginning of a Series or Trilogy?

That story started out as a novella for an anthology of zombie stories being edited by Christopher Golden for St. Martins Griffin. The story was not intended for teens. It was a story, accessible to anyone. However, since the protagonist was fifteen, my agent (upon reading the novella) thought that it read like the opening to a middle-grade novel.

I was surprised. At that time I hadn’t read much of the recent middle grade or YA books apart from J K Rowling’s Harry Potter books and the Vadimir Tod novels by my friend, Heather Brewer. My agent gave me a reading list that included Scott Westerfield, Cassandra Claire, Michael Northrop, Dan Wells, Holly Black, and others. Talk about eye-openers!

In terms of story…during the writing of the novella, “Family Business”, I really fell in love with the characters and the world in which they lived. I had a lot of stories about those characters banging around in my head, and when we landed a two book deal with Simon & Schuster, I opened my head and let it all pour out.

I recently completed DUST & DECAY, the second in the series. We’re discussing additional entries. Each book is a standalone, but at the same time they advance an underlying storyline.

Could you share with us your favorite line or passage from Rot & Ruin?

Sure. Benny Imura’s older brother, Tom, is a former cop who has become a bounty hunter and zombie killer. He’s teaching Benny the ways of the world out in the Rot & Ruin (the wasteland outside of the town’s high fences). Benny thinks the job is all about fancy weapons and killing –and to a lot of lowlifes, it is; but not to Tom.

During their first visit to the Ruin, Tom says: “Every dead person out there deserves respect. Even in death. Even when we fear them. Even when we have to kill them. They aren’t just ‘zoms,’ Benny. That’s a side effect of a disease, or from some kind of radiation, or something else that we don’t understand. I’m no scientist, Benny. I’m a simple man doing a job.”

Can you tell us a little bit about your writing process and what’s next for you?

My writing process is fun but disciplined. I’m a full-time author, so I write eight to ten hours a day. Sometimes from home and sometimes at coffee shops. Aside from novels, I also write comics for Marvel, so I may spend the morning working on a comic book script. Right now I’m doing something with Captain America. Then I take a break (often going to the gym to swim laps), and find another coffee shop to settle in and write until about five or six in the evening.

I take about five to ten minutes out of every hour to do social media. Twitter, GoodReads, Shelfari, and Facebook are crucial to writers. Plus I have my own blog at http://www.jonathanmaberry.com/

As far as what’s coming up next….wow, that’s actually a complicated questions because I’ve been insanely busy lately. I’m a few days away from wrapping my tenth novel, DEAD OF NIGHT, a standalone zombie novel due out from St. Martins Griffin next summer. I’m also writing the last issue of my 5-issue series, CAPTAIN AMERICA: HAIL HYDRA, which kicks off in January; and I’m about to start writing a prequel to my best-selling MARVEL UNIVERSE vs THE PUNISHER.

Then I have several short stories due to anthology, and one that I’ll post for free on the Internet (something I do every year around this time).

After that I’ll dive into writing THE OTHERS, my eleventh novel (due April 1), which is also the 4th noel in my Joe Ledger science/action thriller series. The first three books in the series are in development for TV by SONY Entertainment.

I’m also in the development stages of a vampire anthology I’ll be editing, but info on that is under wraps.

While doing all of this, I’m still on book tour with ROT & RUIN as well as my most recent nonfiction book, WANTED UNDEAD OR ALIVE: Vampire Hunters and other Kick-Ass Enemies of Evil, co-authored by Janice Gable Bashman. And I’m planning my tour for the three novels I have coming out in 2011: THE KING OF PLAGUES (March), DEAD OF NIGHT (summer) and DUST & DECAY (Autum); and the anthology, GI JOE: COBRA WARS, in which I have a novella.

So…before you ask…no, I don’t sleep.

Lastly, what would you suggest to everyone out there as tips and tricks you’d use to survive a Zombie Apocalypse?

Learn how to use a sword. They’re quiet and you don’t have to reload. Also, know where the food warehouses are. Supermarkets have big glass windows; the warehouses that supply those markets generally don’t. You want to stay safe for a long time, go there. Oh yeah, and if you’re trapped somewhere and there’s a whiney guy causing trouble…toss him out to the zoms.

Thanks for stopping by Jonathan!

Please be sure to check back - Jonathan was kind enough to share an excerpt from Rot & Ruin which I'll be posting tomorrow.

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  1. Nice interview. I haven't read any zombie books yet but this one looks interesting.

  2. Very good interview. I actually just finished reading one of Maberry's book last weekend (Dead Man's Song), and I already have this one on my wish list.

    There's not enough YA horror in the world, or I'm just not noticing it.

  3. The best zombie stories really need to have more meat behind them than simply a story about flesh eating dead people. And while I haven't read Rot & Ruin yet, it sounds like it has more to it, and Maberry's reasoning behind writing zombies really makes me want to run to the bookstore to get it.

    I hadn't realized just how much Maberry had actually written. I remember seeing Patient Zero at the bookstore and nearly buying it a while back. I think I'll have to pick it up now.

    Thanks for stopping by Jonathan! I hope you're able to get some sleep over the holidays because I have no idea how you're able to do all the writing you do, especially while on a book tour. It's pretty much amazing.


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