Shells Chats with author Jonathan Maberry

What made you want to be an author?

I think I was born with a gene for it. 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.

What do you love most about comics and how did you get involved in writing them?

I’ve always loved comics. I learned a lot of my values and ethics from comics like the FANTASTIC FOUR, BLACK PANTHER and SPIDER-MAN. I’ve always wanted to write comics, but it’s a tough nut to crack.
Then it came at me out of the blue. 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.

Any current projects or upcoming projects in the comic world?

I recently finished writing a five-issue limited series CAPTAIN AMERICA HAIL HYDRA. It’s fun, too, because the story is set in five different eras of Cap’s career, starting with the 1940s and going all the way to modern day. And it retells and expands upon the history of Hydra, the terrorist organization. Each issue is drawn by a different artist, too.
Right now I’m writing a prequel to MARVEL UNIVERSE VS THE PUNISHER, my recent post-apocalyptic series. The prequel features Wolverine, Hulk and a few other key characters.

What made you want to write Horror?

I’ve always had an interest in the occult and paranormal thanks to a grandmother who taught me all about what she called the ‘larger world’. She was teaching me to read tarot cards when I was eight and filled my head with stories of monsters and things that go bump in the night.

For most of my writing career I was a nonfiction writer, doing articles, textbooks, and similar stuff. So the first book on monsters I did was a nonfiction exploration of the folklore of vampires around the world. THE VAMPIRE SLAYERS FIELD GUIDE TO THE UNDEAD. My publisher at the time requested that I write it under a pen name, fearing that the readers of my successful martial arts books would think I’d had a cerebral incident because I was now writing about vampires.

The book was pretty successful, however, and it got me invited to a bunch of events related to horror. I really liked the crowd—fans, industry pros and the other writers.

Then I thought I’d take a swing at a horror novel. I had no idea if I would be any good at it, or if the book would be successful. Took me about a year and a half. It got me an agent very quickly, it sold quickly, and it won the Bram Stoker Award for Best First Novel. I never looked back.

You co-wrote a book called Wanted Undead or Alive Vampire Hunters with Janice Gable Bashman, can you tell us a bit about it and why you decided to write that?

That was the fifth book in a five-book deal I made with Citadel Press. The series started with VAMPIRE UNIVERSE, which was an update on the FIELD GUIDE, and it was written under my own name. I did two of them with David F. Kramer, and we won a Stoker Award for THE CRYPTOPEDIA, the second in the series. The first four more or less dealt with the monsters of folklore; the last one would spin around and focus on the good guys and their fight against evil.

Because I was pressed with novel deadlines, I brought in another author for WANTED UNDEAD OR ALIVE. Janice Gable Bashman was a colleague and former student of mine who is a superb researcher and writer. I asked her to collaborate and we had a blast writing it.

The book explores the struggle of good vs evil in history, religion, politics, folklore, myth, pop culture and the real world. We interviewed tons of cool people including Stan Lee, Mike Mignola, Charlaine Harris, John Carpenter, Jack Ketchum and many others.

Patient Zero is still a favorite amongst readers, how do you feel about that compared when you first wrote it?

I recently re-read the book and found myself enjoying it as a reader. I like the book a lot, but I’m always most in love with whatever book I’m writing now. The Joe Ledger series has my favorite cast of characters, though. Mr. Church, Dr. Hu, Bug, Rudy Sanchez. I’m writing the fourth book in the series now, ASSASSIN’S CODE

How did you come up with the character of Joe Ledger?

Weird story. I was sitting by myself at a diner counter, drinking coffee and making some notes about the nonfiction book I was writing at the time, ZOMBIE CSU and a couple of characters started talking in my head. Now, understand, for most people this would be a cry for help but to a writer this is just another day on the job. So…I turned to a fresh page and began jotting down the conversation. I had no idea who these two guys were or where the conversation was going. But I kept drinking coffee and writing and soon I had six or seven pages done, and that was the conversation where Joe Ledger meets Mr. Church for the first time.
By the time I got home I had the story roughed out in my mind and within a week I had enough of the novel written to give to my agent and we were off and running.

Rot & Ruin is your most recent released book. Can you tell us a bit about it?

ROT & RUIN takes place fourteen years after the zombie apocalypse. The only survivors are a few small fenced-in towns in Central California and everything else is the great zombie wasteland called the Rot and Ruin.
Fifteen year old Benny Imura has to get a job, so he winds up apprenticing with his zombie-killer brother, Tom. Benny hates Tom and thinks he’s a coward who let their parents die on ‘First Night’, the eve of the zombie apocalypse. However Tom is a vastly different person than Benny expects, and the world is far stranger, more dangerous, and more heartbreaking.

The book is less about zombie violence than it is about the search for the value of human life.

Where did the idea for the character Benny come from?

He’s based largely on the goofy, brooding and bitter kid I used to be.

What made you want to write a young adult novel?

That story started out as a novella, “Family Business”, that I was writing for an anthology of zombie stories being edited by Christopher Golden for St. Martin’s 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.

Will there be more from the characters in Rot & Ruin?

I recently completed DUST & DECAY, the second in the series, which will be released in August. And we sold two more, FLESH & BONE and FIRE & ASH.

Any future projects in the works that you can tell us a bit about?

There’s a lot of stuff in the pipeline. Next up is the third Joe Ledger book, THE KING OF PLAGUES (March 29).

In April IDW 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.

Any future appearances/book signings in the future?

Tons. I’m putting together my schedule for this year and I’m slated to be a guest of honor, keynote speaker, or workshop presenter at PhilCon, Dragon*Con, KillerCon, Central Coast Writers, BackSpace, ThrillerFest, Liberty States Writers, PennWriters, The Write Stuff, Philly Fantastic, and a bunch of others. The full schedule will be posted on my website later this month.

What would you tell a writer just starting out is the most important thing they need to know?

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.

Where can people find out more about you?

My website is also my blog, and you can sign up for my free newsletter on that site, too. Each issue will have free stories, contest info, etc. I’m on Twitter at and Facebook at

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