A new interview series launching in conjunction with THE STRANGE DEAD, the Nano Interview plugs into the brains of talented zombie artists and extracts their wit, wisdom and anything else it can get its teeth into.
That intro aside, we begin with a guy who himself needs none—monster maestro Jonathan Maberry.
DD: Thanks for plugging in, Jonathan! First off, DARKOF NIGHT. The novella ties together the worlds of three successful series: ROT & RUIN, DEAD OF NIGHT and the Joe Ledger books. What motivated you to bring these series together?
JM: I’ve been bringing in elements of my various horror-themed series together for years now. My four primary series are the Pine Deep Novels (Ghost Road Blues, Dead Man’s Song and Bad Moon Rising), the First Night series (Dead of Night and Fall of Night), my teen-themed Rot & Ruin series (Rot & Ruin, Dust & Decay, Flesh & Bone, Fire & Ash, and Bits & Pieces), and the ongoing Joe Ledger thrillers (of which Patient Zero was first and Kill Switch is 8th, with more to come). In one way or another all of those series connect, and it’s often Joe Ledger who serves as the nexus. He is a very tough man to kill. If any of my characters are likely to survive the zombie apocalypse, it’ll be Joe. He’s a former cop who now works as a Special Ops gunslinger for a secret government organization that goes up against terrorists armed with cutting-edge science weapons. The potential for a catastrophic outbreak to happen when he’s off the clock has always been a possibility. That’s what happens in Dead of Night and we see the effect fourteen years later in the Rot & Ruin series. The dead rose and we fell. By the time we look in on the world in Rot & Ruin there are thirty thousand people left and seven billion zombies.
In Rot & Ruin the kids wonder about ‘First Night’, which is what they call the night when everything went off the rails. I got so much reader mail –tens of thousands of requests—for that story, but most of those letters came from the adults who read the teen books rather than the teens. So I decided to write it in a single volume, Dead of Night. As soon as it came out there was a lot of pressure to have me follow it up, to tell what happened to Pennsylvania rural cop Desdemona ‘Dez’ Fox, and so I picked up the story five minutes later with Fall of Night. And I again thought I’d told enough of the story to satisfy me. But the letters and emails kept coming in. Around the same time Fall came out Simon & Schuster published the fifth teen book, Bits & Pieces, which was a collection of short stories that fleshed out the Rot & Ruin world. One of those stories dealt with a group of cosplayers who survived the apocalypse by emulating the heroic nature of the superheroes they portrayed. The lead character was based on a young woman who had been a writing student of mine ten years ago. She is a serious cosplayer whose group often does performances for children’s hospitals. Her real name is Rachael Lavin but she cosplays as Rachael Elle, so that’s the name I used.
When I decided to do a novella –a short novel—that checks in on Dez Fox and also introduces Joe Ledger to the equation, I asked Rachael to come in and write with me. I wrote the A and C storylines, which featured Dez Fox and Joe Ledger, and Rachael wrote the B storyline which focused on Rachael Elle.
DD: Were there any challenges in blending the three mythos?
JM: No, they fit together seamlessly. But here’s the weird part, this may only be a possible future for Joe Ledger. In my recent novel, Kill Switch, Joe experiences a series of traumatic shifts (that may be hallucinogens or may be him being transported back and forth through his own timeline) and in one of them he also meets Dez Fox, but in a different way. And at the resolution of that adventure he has foreknowledge of the coming pathogenic outbreak that will cause the dead to rise. The questions then become can he stop it? Which of the futures he’s seen is real? Are any of them? Or is he doomed to see the world he’s been fighting to protect crumble as the legions of the dead wave their war of hunger and death?
As this opens a can of worms I expect there will be more stories to tell.
Actually, to further complicate the whole thing, I’m co-editing an anthology with George A. Romero, who created this entire genre. Our book is Nights of the Living Dead, and will be out next fall. All of the stories are set in the 48-hours surrounding the events of that landmark film. George has asked me to write a story that officially combines Dead of Night to Night of the Living Dead. And that, my friend, is a career high.
DD: Are there any totems or muses you keep on your desk? (For example, I have a robot whose head comes off. He's filled with Zoloft)
JM: I am very superstitious person and I always buy something that will act as a good luck charm for a new project. And I have some weird stuff that’s there only because it’s weird. On or around my desk, I have the skull of a housecat, a megalodon tooth, a collection of fighting knives with which I am very proficient, tiny wind-up robots, a rubber brain, a plastic and blood-spattered hand, action figures of Dana Scully and Fox Mulder, a statue of Wolverine as a zombie, stuffed Cthulhu in a Hawaiian shirt and straw hat, a copy of the shooting script for Night of the Living Dead signed by George Romero and John Russo, a bobble-head statue of Edgar Allan Poe, a statue of Godzilla (Japanese version, not the U.S. revisionist critter), several gargoyles, several statues of the Hindu god Ganesha (I’m not Hindu, but he’s the patron god of writers), two Steampunk pistols, a Beanie Baby bat, brass knuckles, a TARDIS coin bank, a statue of Anubis, several antique Halloween figures, action figures of both the Lon Chaney, Jr. and Benicio Del Toro versions of The Wolf Man, voodoo dolls, a replica of the planet Mars on a glass pedestal, several Day of the Dead musicians, a Navajo storyteller figure, a hand-carved Malaysian bat, a mask from Mardi Gras, a roll of crime scene tape, fifteen different kinds of rare rocks and crystals, a trophy from my induction into the Martial Arts Hall of Fame, a wind-up Dalek, a magic 8-Ball I have been known to consult on serious business issues, a miniature Tom Servo from Mystery Science Theater 3000, an excellent statue of a lurching zombie, various pairs of nunchankus, five Bram Stoker Awards, a copy of V-Wars: a Game of Blood and Betrayal, which is based on my novels and comics, a Hollywood scene clapboard, four of the Eight Immortals (no idea where the other four have wandered off to), a miniature Easter Island Maoi, a zombie Elvis Presley statue, a jack-o-lantern squeezie-ball, a perfect replica of a human skull, and several glow-in-the-dark zombies. Oh, yeah, and a whole bunch of multi-colored tentacles sprout from the top of my pen holder, which also contains a replica of Dumbledore’s wand, a tiny and very sharp Samurai sword, a hand-carved pewter Gandalf the Gray based on one of my own drawings, a dish of lucky pennies, and a throwing knife that I use as a letter opener. So…yeah.
DD: Have dreams & nightmares inspired any of your works? Do you keep track of dreams?
JM: I began keeping a dream diary when I was six and kept it faithfully until my first marriage at age 32. I have ‘sequential dreams’, where my dreams often pick up where the last one left off, much like chapters in a book. They play out all the way to the end of the story. And then the next night I dream something else.
When that relationship crumbled my soon-to-be-ex burned the diaries, along with most of my photo albums and my grandmother’s 187-year-old set of hand-painted tarot cards. It was that kind of breakup.
Anyway, when I meditate since then I often try to go back and remember old dreams, and the old stories I used to tell my friends as a kid. And I’ve found some pages that, for whatever reason, I tore out of the diaries. I recently took a series of those dreams from when I was in 5th grade and updated and adapted them into a novel, The Orphan Army, Book 1 of The Nightsiders. It was a direct collaboration between my 58-year old self and my 11-year old self. That kid was weird, too. The story’s about human and supernatural monster kids teaming up to fight back against alien invaders. It was published last year and the sequel, Vault of Shadows, debuts August 30.
DD: Is there anything you'd like to see more (or less) of in zombiedom?
JM: Yes, and from a couple of different perspectives. On one hand it’s getting old having people say that ‘zombies are so over’ and ‘zombies are dead’, the latter said with an alarming ignorance of irony. Zombie stories will end when writers stop having good ideas, and last I checked there were a lot of good ‘fresh’ zombie stories out there. Hell, The Walking Dead is in its seventh season, and it’s still the #1 show on TV.
That said, I’d like to see more stories where we see intelligent groups of people working together and using rational thought to survive rather than sheer defensive brutality. And, yes, it would even make for compelling storytelling, but at least you’d have heroes you can root for, rather than waiting to see who survives.
Jonathan Maberry is a NY Times bestselling novelist, five-time Bram Stoker Award winner, and comic book writer. He writes the Joe Ledger thrillers, the Rot & Ruin series, the Nightsiders series, the Dead of Night series, as well as standalone novels in multiple genres. His recent novels include KILL SWITCH, the 8th in his best-selling Joe Ledger thriller series; VAULT OF SHADOWS, a middle-grade sf/fantasy mash-up; and MARS ONE, a standalone teen space travel novel. He is the editor of many anthologies including THE X-FILES, SCARY OUT THERE, OUT OF TUNE, and V-WARS. His comic book works include, among others, CAPTAIN AMERICA, the Bram Stoker Award-winning BAD BLOOD, ROT & RUIN, V-WARS, the NY Times bests-selling MARVEL ZOMBIES RETURN, and others. His books EXTINCTION MACHINE, V-WARS and MARS ONE are in development for TV/film. A board game version of V-WARS was released in early 2016. He is the founder of the Writers Coffeehouse, and the co-founder of The Liars Club. Prior to becoming a full-time novelist, Jonathan spent twenty-five years as a magazine feature writer, martial arts instructor and playwright. He was a featured expert on the History Channel documentary, Zombies: A Living History and a regular expert on the TV series, True Monsters. He is one third of the very popular and mildly weird Three Guys With Beards pop-culture podcast. Jonathan lives in Del Mar, California with his wife, Sara Jo. www.jonathanmaberry.com