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Author interview – Jonathan Maberry

February 6, 2012

Kicking off something entirely new for Dawn of the Lead, here’s my first interview. I’m starting big, as the first interviewee is none other than Jonathan Maberry, author of Zombie CSU, Patient Zero, Rot & Ruin and Dead of Night. Click the first three titles for their respective reviews, the one on Dead of Night is upcoming.

DotL: Why zombies? What is it about them that appeals to you?

JM: Zombies are one of the few monsters than can scare anyone. Vampires have been largely de-fanged by making them the romantic central characters;
werewolves are too often a one-note monster; mummies are slow. And most of these are solo monsters. Zombies come at you by the thousands. By the millions. Damn…you can’t really win against those kinds of numbers. And that is really frightening.

As a storyteller, I love the fact that the personality of the zombie doesn’t intrude into the story. They are metaphors –ravenous, shambling metaphors who stand in for anything we’re really and truly afraid of. Racism, nuclear war, pathogens, you name it. So, once they’re introduced into the story all of the characters are reacting to the same shared threat. That allows the writer to focus on real people and real human psychology. That is an infinite canvas on which to paint dramatic images. I mean, look at the more celebrated zombie novels: Max Brooks’ World War Z, Joe McKinney’s Dead City and its sequels, Brian Keene’s The Rising, S.G. Browne’s Breathers: A Zombie’s Lament, Carrie Ryan’s The Forest of Hands and Teeth, Ryan Brown’s Play Dead, and Cherie Priest’s Boneshaker. They’re all zombie novels and they aren’t even remotely close to one another. And they’re all about the human experience during a crisis. All of them.

Here’s a secret: the best way to tell a zombie story is to NOT focus on the zombie. Focus on the people and let the zombies be the Big Bad. Those are the best stories, and they are far more frightening than when all of the attention is on the shambling dead.

DotL: Are you a fan of other media promoting apocalyptic scenarios? If so, any examples and some elaboration?

JM: Apocalyptic scenarios are very much the in thing right now, and I’m all for it. I love the fact that the CDC (Centers for Disease Control) sent a mass
mailing on what to do during a zombie outbreak. Inspired…because the information is truly useful if there is an outbreak of any major disease, but because it was zombie-themed, more people read it. So many, in fact, that it crashed the CDC servers!

But zombies are showing up everywhere, and that’s wonderful. I love zombie comics – Marvel Zombies is a favorite, of course, because I had the chance to collaborate on the New York Times bestselling Marvel Zombies Return, with Seth Grahame-Smith (Pride and Prejudice and Zombies), David Wellington (Monster Island, etc.) and Fred Van Lente (Cowboys and Aliens). And, Robert Kirkman owns zombie comics, probably now and forever, with his brilliant The Walking Dead. I’ve been a fan of that comic from the jump, and I love the TV series.

There are zombies everywhere – advertising, toys, video games, food, you name it. And I love every damn bit of it. Zombies, zombies and more zombies. Keep ‘em coming.

DotL: Every zombie buff out there has seen their Romeros, Fulcis and read their Max Brooks and Kirkman. Any interesting, lesser-known genre picks and personal favourites you wish to share with the readers?

JM: As much as I love Romero, my favorite zombie movie of all time is the Zack Snyder remake of Dawn of the Dead. Specifically the unrated director’s cut. James Gunn’s script was brilliant, the cast was perfect, the soundtrack kicked TOTAL ass, and the action is great. I love fast zombies on film as much as slow ones.

But my favorite flicks are in the sub-genre of ‘rage virus’ films. 28 Days Later, and both versions of The Crazies. I want to see more of those. In fact I plan to write a rage virus novel.

I also love the RomZomComs. Shaun of the Dead, Zombieland, Fido and Braindead. Love ‘em to pieces.

DotL: Back in Zombie CSU you presented an informed guess that law enforcement and humanity in general would be pretty efficient in containing a zombie outbreak. However, in Dead of Night things go to Hell in a handbasket pretty quickly. Is this purely a dramatic choice of worst-case event, or are you having second thoughts regarding the scenario?

JM: Zombie CSU dealt with the zombie apocalypse as viewed through the filter of our modern-day high-tech infrastructure. I do think that, given the technology and resources we have available that we would, in fact, survive a zombie outbreak. However, there is no such thing as a guaranteed win. Ask the builders of the Titanic. So, in Dead of Night, I throw a major storm into the mix. We know from experience that society, communications, cooperation, efficiency and infrastructure can quickly go to hell in a handbasket if Mother Nature gets cranky. So…it’s a timing thing. Lately, we’ve seen an increase in the frequency and severity of storms, tsunamis, earthquakes and other natural disasters. If we’re unlucky enough to have a major catastrophe such as a pandemic timed to a natural disaster….well, yeah, that’s your apocalyptic moment right there.

DotL: The main characters in both Patient Zero and Dead of Night (and Rot & Ruin to some extent as well) have anger and aggression issues. Do you have a general penchant for angry characters, or are these fictional people a way to let off steam? Do you see yourself writing a zombie novel with a happy-go-lucky protagonist?

JM: I was a troubled kid, so I grew up with some rage issues of my own. I’ve since conquered them (and in fact I’m kind of an affable goof these days), but I remember what it’s like to have emotional damage and to struggle with anger. My own life experiences, and those of many of the folks I know who have had similarly troubled lives, inform the complex characters I prefer to write about. Fiction in general is seldom interesting when the focus is on well-balanced people having a pleasant day. In fiction we take complex characters and totally screw up their lives…and then watch what happens. That’s the core of drama.

That said, I did write one zombie short story that was a straight comedy: “Pegleg and Paddy Save the World

DotL: Zombie CSU and Dead of Night both demonstrate (to me at least) a good knowledge of law enforcement procedure. Where did you pick up all this information?

JM: I grew up in a blue-collar Philadelphia neighborhood where it seemed like everybody’s dad or uncle was a cop, and my sister was a cop. Also, I was the CEO and chief instructor for a small corporation that provided hand-to-hand combat and arrest-and-control workshops to all levels of law enforcement including SWAT. Plus I have a large number of friends in that line of work.

DotL: Can we expect a sequel to Dead of Night? If not, do you have plans for more zombie fiction in the future?

JM: I have no immediate plans for a sequel to Dead of Night, at least not a novel. However I do have some other stories set in that world. First up is a novella called “Jack and Jill”, which will be including in the upcoming anthology, 21st Century Dead, edited by Christopher Golden (for St. Martin’s Griffin, June 2012). That story takes place at the same time as the events of Dead of Night but with a different cast of characters. I also have the first of several sequel stories – outbreak stories, really — that will appear in various magazines and anthologies. The first of those is “Chokepoint”, which will be in issue #2 of The Uninvited. And more to come. Now…that doesn’t mean I
wouldn’t take a swing at a sequel, but at the moment I haven’t pitched one to my publisher.

DotL: If we in all seriousness hypothetically consider a zombie outbreak happening, how do you rate your chance of survival and why?

JM: I’ve been practicing and teaching jujutsu and Kenjutsu (the art of Japanese swordplay) for almost fifty years. If the zombie apocalypse comes…I will fight my way out. Stick close.

DotL: Jonathan Maberry, thanks for your time and all the best for the future!

See reviews of Maberry’s books here on Dawn of the Lead, and visit his homepage at www.jonathanmaberry.com.

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5 comments

  1. I found myself nodding ans stroking my chin in agreement at nearly all of that, from comments on metaphor to soundtracks and the like. As a result I wont be able to contribute anything too controversial to the conversation: no drama without conflict.

    I loved Zombie CSU. It should be compulsory reading for zombie fans I think.

    Good luck with the interview angle Mikko. Its off to a good start.


  2. Wow, I love his room and bookshelves.


    • I know, gave me quite a pang of nerd-envy.


  3. Great interview with a great author!


    • Thanks Lucas!



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