Sunday, August 21, 2011

Author Bites - An Interview with the Zombitastic Jonathan Maberry

It really shouldn't have been a surprise that I loved ROT & RUIN by Jonathan Maberry. Someone that stole George Romero's soul and put a YA twist to it? You really can't go wrong with that. Because I loved it so much, I asked Jonathan if he'd stop on by. Much to my uneaten brains' delight, he agreed. Some thought-out questions later and I had a kick-ass interview with Jonathan Maberry on my hands. And you know what I learned? I'm totally tagging myself onto his team when the zombie apocalypse goes down. Read on to see why. Thanks for stopping by, Jonathan!

BITES: Why have Benny hate Tom for the majority of his life? Was it a means to snap Benny out of his immature funk? He could have asked him about it instead of assuming for all those years. Why did this not get resolved sooner?

JONATHAN MABERRY: In ROT & RUIN, Benny Imura’s earliest memory was of his brother, Tom, running away from their family home, leaving their mother behind to get attacked by their father, who had already become a zombie. Benny believed that Tom ran away out of cowardice rather than staying to help their mother. Like most teens, Benny is firmly convinced that his view of the world is the absolute right one; and he certainly isn’t willing to listen to anything his brother would have to say. He’d assume Tom’s defense would be a lie. This is something I’ve seen too many times with dysfunctional families…including in my own family, where misunderstandings can pollute the whole family for year after year.

BITES: In a book world where zombies have been neutered of their former Romero testicles and humanized entirely, you've managed to maintain your zombies' creepiness but make them more than just the walking dead. Was this difficult to strike such a delicate balance? Why go this route?

JONATHAN: I wanted my zoms to be exactly like Romero’s zoms. If you watch his films, the story is all about the personal experience of the people. Barbara and her brother in the first film; the loss of Roger in the original Dawn; the pathos of Bub in Day of the Dead. Even the tragic evolution of Big Daddy in Land of the Dead had heartbreaking drama in it. That connection to humanity is lost in too many zombie stories; the zoms become merely targets to shoot at. This misses Romero’s most salient point: that we’ve becoming depersonalized and dehumanized, and that’s a tragic bit of social commentary.

When writing ROT & RUIN, I wanted to have Benny Imura begin from a perspective of entrenched hatred and dismissal of zoms. To him they are nothing more than monsters to be killed. However Tom shows him another perspective, that each and every zombie was once a person. It’s a shocking and life-changing moment for Benny, and it informs everything that happens in the rest of the series.

BITES: You seem to have a thing for zombies altogether. What started that interest?

JONATHAN: When I was ten years old I snuck into my neighborhood movie theater in Philadelphia to see the world premiere of Night of the Living Dead. I was a real horror film fanatic by then and thought I was prepared for any celluloid creature. But that wasn’t the case. The ghouls, in their endless numbers, scared the crap out of me. I had never been more frightened in my life. So…I stayed to see it again. And came back the next day, too.

Also, when I was fourteen I got to meet and speak with Richard Matheson, who told me about the writing of I AM LEGEND. That’s the movie that inspired Romero and John Russo to write the script for Night of the Living Dead. Matheson gave me a copy of the 1954 edition of LEGEND for Christmas. Talk about life-changing events.

BITES: In a genre where zombies can range from lumbering sacks of flesh to hyped-up speed demons, what made you decide to go a more classic route for your walking dead?

JONATHAN: I’ve played with fast and slow zombies in various works. I prefer fast zombies on film and slow zombies in fiction. There’s more tragedy in the slow zoms; and more genuine shock in the fast ones. My favorite zombie movie of all time is the 2004 re-imagining of DAWN OF THE DEAD (but only the unrated director’s cut).

When I was writing ROT & RUIN and DUST & DECAY, I wanted to get back to the vibe of slow, inevitable horror. Something that builds. And I was writing a post-apocalyptic novel, so I wanted a big scale. A world in which there are seven billion fast zoms is a complete no-win scenario with a zero chance of survival. A world with seven billion slow zoms…yeah, there’s a chance we could come back from that. The zoms can’t learn and they can’t adapt. We can, and that’s a big part of the Rot & Ruin series.

BITES: What was the basis for Charlie Pink-Eye and The Motor City Hammer? Were they meant to be the epitome of the breakdown of society or are they just the token assholes of the group?

JONATHAN: Alas there are always people who prey on other people. You see it when there is a catastrophic event, like 9/11 or Hurricane Katrina. People set up fake sites to collect money ostensibly for victims, but they were stealing it. And during Katrina there were rapes and murders, not to mention all the looting.

Charlie Pink-eye and the Motor City Hammer represent that mentality. They are evil, but not from their own perspective. They are more like Visigoths and Vandals –the kind of mentality that believes that anyone of sufficient power deserves to win.

I’ve known a lot of people like this. Sad to say, my own father was like that, so there is a bit of him in Charlie. Definitely in the way Charlie rationalizes his actions.

BITES: I get that an author's characters are like children, but I'm going to ask it anyway: which of your characters is your favorite?

JONATHAN: It’s funny, a lot of people expect me to name Tom Imura as my favorite character, but really my favorite is Benny. I like his sense of wonder, his humor, and the depth of his compassion…once he gets his head out of his butt. He’s also heroic in a self-effacing way. He will do anything to protect those he loves.

My second favorite character is Nix Riley, Benny’s girlfriend. When I set out to write the book she was intended to be a minor character who didn’t play much of a role beyond the first third of the book. That changed real fast, because every time I wrote a scene with her in it, she got more complex and more interesting until she pretty well demanded to be a central character. Who am I to argue?

By the way, there are thirteen pages of free prequel scenes for ROT & RUIN available on the Simon & Schuster webpage for the book.

However, it’s best to read the novel first before reading this scenes. Go to the website and click on the banner that says: READ FREE BONUS MATERIAL.

And there are twenty-five pages of free scenes set in the months between ROT & RUIN and DUST & DECAY. Here’s a link to the main page; access the scenes by clicking on the banner that reads: READ BONUS MATERIAL BY JONATHAN MABERRY.

BITES: You've already run your characters through the wringer in R&R. What more could you possibly put them through in D&D?

JONATHAN: R&R is a vacation compared to Dust & Decay. Everything that can possibly go wrong, does. And there’s some serious heartbreak in store for Benny’s crew, because not everyone makes it out of that story alive. Life—and war—are like that.

BITES: What's the basis behind The Lost Girl? Is she meant to be the opposite to the likes of Charlie Pink-Eye in the sense that a total breakdown of society made her a better person whereas in Charlie is brought out the worst?

JONATHAN: Lilah, the Lost Girl, is a distillation of a number of girls and women I knew while teaching Women’s Self-Defense at Temple University, which I did for fourteen years. I met a number of women who had been damaged in one way or another by abusive men, but who rallied and found ways to become strong. So strong, in fact, that they were in charge of their lives rather than victims of circumstance. Lilah is that kind of person. Terrible things have happened to her, but she healed in the places where she was broken and rose to become immensely powerful. However, in Dust & Decay, we learn that she has weaknesses and a fragile side, too. No one is powerful in all ways, all the time.

BITES: If you could have a zombie portrait made of anyone, who would it be?

JONATHAN: I’d love one of my wedding picture, but my wife would kill me. Instead, I’ll probably get done from a photo my wife found of me as a four year old being handed my first puppy. And I’ll get Rob Sacchetto to do the art. He’s a professional zombie portrait artist who did my ‘author photo’ for the dust-jacket and the Zombie Cards that appear on the end-papers. He’s also a character in Rot & Ruin –an erosion artist.

Actually, a lot of people in Rot & Ruin and Dust & Decay are based on real people. After all, some of the people I know will probably survive the zombie apocalypse. One of my best friends, Keith Strunk, is captain of the town watch; and a writer colleague, the noted novelist Solomon Jones, is a bounty hunter in Dust & Decay.

BITES: What do you think you would do in a zombie apocalypse?

JONATHAN: I’d survive. I’ve got nearly fifty years in the martial arts and hold an 8th degree black belt in jujutsu and a 5th degree black belt in Kenjutsu (Japanese swordplay). I’m a former bodyguard; and I’ve been giving workshops to law enforcement for years, including ‘immediate threat resolution training’ for SWAT. So…yeah, I’m going to get past the zoms.

I know where I’d go (a food warehouse, not a grocery store, because there more food there and far fewer windows); and if any of the folks in my party turn out to be the ‘whiny loudmouth’….he’s gone.

BITES: I hear Costco is one of the best places to hunker down in the event of a zombie apocalypse. Would you agree?

JONATHAN: Absolutely. As I said, go to the warehouse. They’re built like blockhouses; there’s food, bottled water by the ton; books to read; lanterns; beach chairs and even mattresses. Sit and wait it out while making a decent plan.


ROT & RUIN is now available in paperback from Simon & Schuster and on audio from Recorded Books.

DUST & DECAY debuts in hardcover from Simon & Schuster on August 30; and also on audio.

Both books are available for Kindle, Nook, and all other e-readers.

Jonathan Maberry is a NY Times bestselling author, multiple Bram Stoker Award winner, and Marvel Comics writer. His novels include the Pine Deep Trilogy (Ghost Road Blues, Dead Man’s Song and Bad Moon Rising); the Joe Ledger thriller series (Patient Zero, The Dragon Factory, The King of Plagues, and Assassin’s Code); the Benny Imura Young Adult dystopian series (Rot & Ruin, Dust & Decay, and Flesh & Bone); the Scribe Award-winning film adaptation of The Wolfman and the standalone horror thriller –Dead of Night. His nonfiction books include the international bestseller Zombie CSU, The Cryptopedia, They Bite, Vampire Universe and Wanted Undead of Alive. He has sold over 1200 feature articles, thousands of columns, two plays, greeting cards, technical manuals, how-to books, and many short stories. His comics for Marvel include Marvel Universe vs the Wolverine, Marvel Universe vs the Punisher, DoomWar, Black Panther and Captain America: Hail Hydra. He is the founder of the Writers Coffeehouse and co-founder of The Liars Club; and is a frequent keynote speaker and guest of honor at conferences including BackSpace, Dragon*Con, ZombCon, PennWriters, The Write Stuff, Central Coast Writers, Necon, Killer Con, Liberty States, and many others. In 2004 Jonathan was inducted into the International Martial Arts Hall of Fame, due in part to his extensive writing on martial arts and self-defense. In October he’ll be featured as an expert in a History Channel documentary on zombies. Visit him online at, and
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