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[Interview] Jonathan Maberry Talks Rot & Ruin, Favorite Novels, Universal Monsters and More!

I’ve got to confess, it’s been a great stretch recently. Not just for, but for me personally. In the last few days I’ve had the pleasure of prying at the recesses of Joe R. Lansdale’s mind, and now I’ve been fortunate enough to learn quite a bit about another favorite author of mine: Jonathan Maberry.

Mr. Maberry is one of today’s more prolific visionaries, churning out engaging novel after engaging novel. A New York Times bestselling author as well as multiple Bram Stoker award winner Maberry’s works are known and respected worldwide. And, for good reason: the man’s material is highly engrossing, extremely versatile and generally, just very, very enjoyable work.

To learn that Jonathan and I actually have quite a bit in common (I was amazed at the man’s list of favorite novels, for example, as six of the eight tales Maberry credits as favorites actually happen to mirror my own personal picks) was quite the cool discovery. Jon sounds like the kind of guy you (or at least I) could sit around a campfire with and comfortably juggle conversation. Horror, fiction in general, martial arts… this is a man I can relate to, which made way for what I consider a kick ass interview.

But, don’t take my word, take Jon’s!

Matt Molgaard: I really want to talk about the Rot and Ruin series you’re working on. I haven’t had the chance to catch the first book, and I know you’ve got more in the storyline arriving soon. What kind of a story are we dealing with, and how has fan reception been thus far?

Jonathan Maberry: ROT & RUIN is the quadrology (four novels) set fourteen years after a zombie apocalypse wiped out virtually all of humanity. Seven billion people are dead; there are about thirty thousand people living in fenced-off communities in Central California. Everything beyond the fence-line is the ‘great rot and ruin’, a wasteland of zombies. Benny Imura is a fifteen year old kid living in the town of Mountainside. He needs to get a job or have his rations cut in half; so he reluctantly signs on as an apprentice zombie-hunter with his hated brother, Tom.

The story deals with Benny learning the realities of the world in which he lives –and it’s very different from the one he thinks he knows. It’s bigger, harsher, and stranger.  And Tom is not the person Benny thinks he is.  With Tom as teacher and guide, Benny journeys outside of the fence-line and confronts terrible dangers in the form of endless hordes of zombies and genuine evil in people who are living and breathing.

ROT & RUIN isn’t a story about racking up a zombie headcount. It’s about the value of human life, the difference between assumption and reality, and the nature of what it means to be alive.

MM: Correct me if I’m wrong, but this series is aimed at a younger audience correct? Do you feel like this is the kind of material that’s going to please readers of all ages?

JM: ROT & RUIN started off as a novella, “Family Business”, that I wrote for the adult anthology, THE NEW DEAD, edited by Christopher Golden.  When my agent suggested that I expanded it and let her shop it as a teen novel, I was surprised. But at the time I hadn’t read much modern teen fiction. I had no idea how challenging, complex, and gritty teen fiction had become. Even so, after she sold it and I settled down to write the four books, I didn’t write it for teens. I wrote the best books I could, and I pulled very few punches in terms of themes, action, intensity, and edgy content. I generally don’t write anything simply to catch a trend.

MM: Switching gears a bit, I know that while you’ve delivered some diverse material, you seem really, really comfortable tackling some of the vintage monster prototypes. Does this stem from early influences, or do you just simply have a knack for bringing to life some great creatures like werewolves and vampires?

JM: I’ve loved monsters since I was kid. Growing up in the sixties and early seventies, I was inundated with old Universal Pictures monster flicks on TV and Hammer Horror films in the movies. Also, my grandmother engendered within me a love of folklore, particularly that of the supernatural. Before I turned to fiction, I wrote several nonfiction books on the myths and legends of monsters like vampires, werewolves, ghosts and demons.  So, the pump was pretty well primed by the time I settled down to write my first novel, GHOST ROAD BLUES. That book was primarily a vampire novel, but it included elements of werewolf and ghost legends.

MM: You’ve been in the industry for years pumping out quality fiction: do you ever find yourself challenged at this point, or does are you so comfortable in your craft that, once a story has ingrained itself in your head, it’s simply a matter of transferring it to paper?

JM: I’ve never had writer’s block and don’t entirely believe it exists. I’m a very disciplined writer, possibly because I was trained as a journalist rather than as a creative writer. Even though I write fiction, I am very focused when it comes to taking an idea and developing it into the best possible form –short story, novel, etc.  And ideas aren’t exactly rare. As I roll from project to project I’ve become more comfortable with the process of developing the story, finding the right voice for it, fleshing it out and getting it polished.

MM: I haven’t seen all too many film transfers of your work, yet I know at one point Patient Zero was optioned. Apparently some issues seemed to have left that one on the shelf. Are there any other adaptation proposals you’ve been dealt, and is seeing your work hit the big screen a serious desire of yours?

JM: PATIENT ZERO was optioned by Sony who brought it to ABC. They developed a pilot script and it got down to a split decision with the president of ABC. He opted for the other show…which was the remake of CHARLIE’S ANGELS. Which flopped.  That option has since expired and we’re looking elsewhere.

However ROT & RUIN has been optioned and is now in development for film.  And there are some discussions ongoing about other projects.  It’s an exciting time.

MM: You’ve built quite the extensive résumé. If (it’s possible) you could choose a single one of your own works to label your finest, what would that be?

JM: If I had to pick only one book (and I never would except in an interview of this kind), it would probably be ROT & RUIN. I’m proud of the writing and the story development; and the book has racked up a lot of awards. It’s also been included on many school lists for reluctant readers.  It’s also the book that has changed the minds of many students, teachers, parents and librarians about the zombie genre.

MM: If you would, name some of today’s… “contemporary” talents that you enjoy?

JM: There are so many fine writers emerging these days, in adult and teen fiction. Dennis Tafoya, Jonathan McGoran, Dan Wells, Jeff Hirsch, Jeyn Roberts…really, it’s an incredibly long list. We’re in a new golden age of fiction.

MM: General favorites?

JM: My all-time favorite books include SOMETHING WICKED THIS WAY COMES by Ray Bradbury, I AM LEGEND by Richard Matheson, THE HAUNTING OF HILL HOUSE by Shirley Jackson, ‘SALEM’S LOT by Stephen King, GHOST STORY by Peter Straub, BLACK CHERRY BLUES by James Lee Burke, BLACK SUNDAY by Thomas Harris, and  CATSKILL EAGLE by Robert B. Parker.

MM: Do you feel that, with the ever-expanding field of authors, it’s more difficult to make a name for yourself as a young author?

JM: The age of the author is irrelevant. Visibility matters much more, especially for authors new to mainstream publishing. Social media is crucial for writers these days, and a savvy, positive, and consistent presence on Twitter, Facebook, Goodreads, LinkedIn and a few other platforms can give even a newbie a real shot.

MM: And before I let you go, I’ve got to touch down very briefly on mixed martial arts. I know you’re a decorated martial arts practitioner yourself. I studied Judo and TKD for quite a few years and am absolutely in love with combat sports. What is your take on Mixed Martial Arts and the growing popularity of the sport?

JM: I’m of two minds when it comes to MMA.  On one hand I’m a staunch traditionalist and a believer that a truly serious study of most individual martial arts will provide the kind of technical, scientific and philosophic knowledge that will allow a practitioner to become truly proficient.  For example, in the jujutsu style I learned and teach, a black belt was earned after many years of intense training, and given after scoring significantly in tests that include physical performance, anatomy, physics, physiology, medicine, history, psychology and the law. That level of commitment is all too rare these days, however; and worse, few schools even offer that kind of deep training.  MMA is a useful shortcut.

I think practitioners have to understand it’s nature, however. I’ve met MMA practitioners who insist that it’s the best fighting art on the planet. It isn’t, because no one can accurately make that kind of statement. Even if it were the best form of competitive martial arts, that’s a far cry from real combat. I fought in full-contact tournaments for a long time, and I retired in the late 1980s with a record of 102 wins, two losses and two ties. I racked up sixty-eight knock-outs. Sounds wonderful, but the stuff I used in the ring was not combat martial arts. It was ring science, ring techniques. Even the most brutal ring fight or cage match is not the same as a life-or-death streetfight. Anyone who says it is, is misinformed or naïve. I know a lot of guys in the SEALS, Delta, Force Recon, and SWAT. Many of them are or were students of mine. The techniques they use in real combat cannot be used in a ring.

I once had an MMA practitioner try to tell me that everything was allowed in the ring –all techniques. I said, ‘What about a strike to the hyoid bone?’  He insisted that it was allowed and that a strong fighter could shake it off.  Any doctor will tell you that 100% of the people whose hyoid bones are broken die. There’s no wiggle room. MMA doesn’t allow eyes to be gouged out, necks to be broken, etc.

I have a great deal of respect for any MMA practitioner who dedicates himself to a genuine, reasonable, intelligent, and scientific study of that art. Those practitioners are very good. They’re real martial artists. Sadly, they are seldom the loudest voice. As is often the case (in ALL martial arts), it’s the bullies and braggarts who yell the loudest.

So, at the end of the day, I respect the real MMA. I wish I saw more of it. I know it’s there.

I’ve just got to extend a huge Thank You! to Jonathan Maberry. It was an honor and a pleasure digging around those mental corridors, and I sincerely hope we can make it happen again before too long!

Be sure to visit Jon’s website for all things Maberry!

About The Overseer (1669 Articles)
Author of Say No to Drugs, writer for Blumhouse, Dread Central, Horror Novel Reviews and Addicted to Horror Movies.

2 Comments on [Interview] Jonathan Maberry Talks Rot & Ruin, Favorite Novels, Universal Monsters and More!

  1. Great interview….I enjoyed all of this…from his feelings about himself and his encouragement for newer writers.I also liked his personal choices when it came to favorite authors…really who can go wrong with Ray Bradbury ? I found his discussion regarding MMA today and what it is today…on spot…Thanks for the pleasure I took from this interview…just me…the little old hippie!


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