Hosted by Ty Schwamberger
Interview conducted by Thomas A. Erb
Erb: When did you fully realize that writing was your passion/your calling?
Jonathan Maberry: About a minute and a half after I could form my first cohesive thought. Honestly, I can’t ever remember a time when I didn’t want to write. Even before I could actually write I’d use toys or drawings to tell stories.
Erb: You use the First Person POV in some of your work, that style is known to be one of the more difficult ones to utilize, why do you choose it and why do you think you do so, so effectively?
Maberry: Understanding the psychological and emotions of my characters is very important. Even though I write action-based fiction the books are character driven. So, since I climb so deeply inside the heads of the characters, I found it comfortable to have them tell the stories.
The Joe Ledger novels (Patient Zero, The Dragon Factory, The King Of Plagues, etc) actually switch between first and third person. Most of the story is told from Joe Ledger’s POV, however I use flashbacks and parallel stories to let the reader see how the threat has developed. In thrillers the hero seldom has a chance to sit down and chat with the villain, and except in James Bond movies, the villains are rarely likely to unburden their souls and reveal their secret plans … right before they kill the hero. So … I use third person to tell that side of the story.
Erb: How did you come to work with Marvel comics? And how is it different than prose writing?
Maberry: Axel Alonso, who was executive editor at the time and who’s now Marvel’s editor-in-chief and a vice president, read Patient Zero and loved it. He called me out of the blue and asked if I’d be interested in writing for Marvel. Turns out … yeah, I really was. So he had me audition with a couple of projects – a Wolverine 8-page backup story (“Ghosts,” published in Wolverine: The Anniversary) and “Naked Kills,” a one-shot 32-pager for the adults-only Marvel MAX line. Since then, I’ve been writing steadily, focusing on limited series. My current series is Captain America: Hail Hydra.
Erb: You use a lot of technical information in your work. How important is research and how much is too much?
Maberry: Research is crucial for good storytelling. You have to get your details right. If a character is firing a .38 Smith & Wesson Chief’s special, a favorite gun of detectives, the author better not have him firing six shots (it’s a five-shot pistol). My take is that the more solidly you ground the story in the real world, the more likely it is that the reader can comfortably suspend their disbelief. Michael Crichton, H.G. Wells, Richard Matheson … there’s a long history of writers who use facts to sell fantasy.
Of course you do need to balance it. If the book turns into an info-dump, then you’re doing the reader-and your own career-a disservice. The reader needs to know only as much of the science as is necessary to follow the plot.
Getting good research is easy in or electronic age. Instead of basing my research on printed matter, I use published works to help me identify the key players…and then I reach out to them via email. Scientists of all kinds, military, cops, political theorists, etc. Everyone has some kind of email (or Facebook page!). And rarely will an expert turn down an interview request from an author.
Erb: Are there any genres you haven’t tried yet you’d like to explore? (Is so, what one and why?)
Maberry: I love genre jumping. The genre I publish in is largely determined by the story I want to tell. I’ve got a Steampunk novel in outline form; I want to do a Western. I have a dystopian fantasy in first draft; and I’m working on an adaptation of a play I wrote back in the 1980s. After that … who knows?
Erb: What’s next? More Joe Ledger? Any more zombies in your future?
Maberry: There’s a lot of stuff in the pipeline. Next up is the third Joe Ledger book, THE KING OF PLAGUES (March 29), and I’m currently writing the fourth in the series, Assassin’s Code (3/2012). And there’s at least one more in that series to come.
In April IW will release Gi Joe: Tales Of The Cobra Wars, which is a collection of novellas. The line-up includes Max Brooks, Duane Swierczynski, Dennis Tafoya, Jon McGoran, John Skipp and me.
In May, Simon & Schuster releases the paperback edition of Rot & Ruin, with a new cover by acclaimed artist Chad Michael Ward; and in August the sequel, Dust & Decay hits in hardcover.
Then Dead Of Night, a standalone zombie novel, debuts from St. Martins just in time for Halloween.
Along the way, I’ve got the Captain America series running for a few more months and then it’ll be collected into hardback just in time for the movie. And I’m starting in on a prequel series to Marvel Universe Vs The Punisher. This one features Wolverine and other characters.
Erb: Who were your heroes growing up? (writing and life-wise)
Maberry: When I was a kid I idolized Jonas Salk. I thought it was so amazing that someone had pioneered a cure for a disease. Granted, this was an unusual hero for a kid growing up in an economically-depressed blue collar neighborhood in Philadelphia. But there you go.
I’ve never idolized sports or entertainment figures as ‘heroes.’ That word is misused. My current heroes tend to be folks off the public radar … people who work for positive change. And … librarians. Librarians are superheroes to me.
Which brings me to my literary heroes. When I was a teenager, my middle school librarian introduced me to several professional authors. Guys like Ray Bradbury, Richard Matheson, Arthur C. Clarke, Isaac Asimov, Avram Davidson, Harlan Ellison, Sprague de Camp. Naturally they made a HUGE impact on me, and I revere them to this day.
Erb: With the state of the publishing world in flux, what advice do you have for the struggling, up-n-coming writer?
Maberry: There are a couple of bits of advice I think are key. First, understand that writing is an art but publishing is a business … so learn the business. Be a businessperson who can write. Study the market, read the trades, learn the etiquette, and deport yourself as a business professional. The story you write is something you want to share with readers; but between you and the reader is the machinery of the publishing world. Used correctly, it serves your career; ignore it and it runs right over you.
Second, learn the craft. Storytelling is a natural gift, but good writing is a combination of that and the mechanics: voice, POV, pacing, tension, plotting, figurative and descriptive language, etc. A writer should always work to perfect their craft.
And third, don’t get locked into one kind of writing. Allow for diversity within your creative mind. The publishing industry shifts and changes, which means that genres go in and out of vogue. If you are locked into one kind of writing, the market might not be open to you. Over the years I’ve tried a little of everything, fiction and nonfiction, short and long fiction, plays and greeting cards. And even now, I write in several genres. It allows me to be in the path of paying writing jobs from several directions at once.
Jonathan Maberry is the NY Times bestselling author, multiple Bram Stoker Award winner, and Marvel Comics writer. His recent works include The King of Plagues, Rot & Ruin, and Wanted Undead or Alive. Since 1978 he has sold more than 1200 feature articles, thousands of columns, two plays, greeting cards, technical manuals, how-to books, short stories, and more. He Joe Ledger thrillers have been optioned by Sony Entertainment and are in development for TV. Jonathan is the founder of the Writers Coffeehouse and co-founder of The Liars Club. He is a frequent keynote speaker and guest of honor at writers conferences including BackSpace, PennWriters, The Write Stuff, Central Coast Writers, Liberty States, and many others.
Thomas A. Erb is an author in the horror genre.
Ty Schwamberger is an author in the horror genre.