The Horror Librarian: Can you tell us about your creative process? How do you go from idea to book?
Jonathan Maberry: I’m a structure guy. My training as a writer was in journalism, and I did magazine feature writing for twenty-five years before turning to (mostly) fiction. That discipline and process stuck, though it’s evolved a bit over the last few years.
I start with a concept and work it around in my head for a while to find a version of it that isn’t a retread of what’s already out there. Any trope, no matter how old or stale, can be given fresh life.
I go from concept to rough outline. I use old-school bullet-pointed outlines. I don’t, however, set it in stone because it’s unreasonable to think that you have all of your best ideas on the day you write your outline.
From there I usually write the first chapter of a book and then the last chapter (or epilogue). Writing the first chapter sets the tone and voice for me. Writing the last chapter gives me something to aim at. With short stories I write the first and last pages. Same effect.
Along the way I read chapters aloud, or my wife does. That helps me find word echoes, stilted dialogue, logic flaws, and other errors.
My writing schedule is pretty demanding. I write eight to ten hours each day. A little less on weekends. I don’t take days off from writing.
The Horror Librarian: What is your dream project? And what won't you ever write?
Jonathan Maberry: I have a bunch of dream projects. I’d love to write an episode of DOCTOR WHO. I’m a Who fan going back to Jon Pertwee. I’d also love to write a story set in the world of Middle Earth, but I don’t think the Tolkien estate will ever greenlight that kind of project.
Naturally I’d love to adapt my own works to TV, film or comics. I could write a script for DEAD OF NIGHT in my sleep. And I would love to write a TV series based on my first three novels, the Pine Deep Trilogy (Ghost Road Blues, Dead Man’s Song and Bad Moon Rising).
The Horror Librarian: What advice would you give to aspiring authors?
Jonathan Maberry: It’s important for aspiring writers to understand that while writing is an art, publishing is a business. Know both. Be good at both.
Also, when faced with multiple good ideas for your next writing project, pick the one that would be the most fun to write. Do that, follow the fun.
Then, once you pick your story, write it all the way to the end before revising.
And…don’t let yourself get caught up in the mythology of being ‘a writer’. Forget writers block, forget waiting for the muse to speak to you. Write something. Write anything. If it comes out clunky, don’t sweat it. All first drafts are that way. You can always –ALWAYS—fix it in the rewrite.
The Horror Librarian: What books would you recommend (either fiction or nonfiction)?
Jonathan Maberry: The one writing book I recommend to everyone is Donald Maass’ Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook. That workbook has a series of exercises that help you get to the heart of your story. I go through it every time I start a new novel.
The Horror Librarian: List five things that are on your writing desk right now.
Jonathan Maberry: I have a lot of oddball things on my desk. Over the desk are shelves of books I’ve written and anthologies containing my stories. I have coffee mugs with my book covers on them. I have a hand-carved statue of Gandalf the Gray based on one of my sketches. I have a Shaun of the Dead statue. And there’s a remote control zombie that walks and moans.
The Horror Librarian: What are you reading this month?
Jonathan Maberry: I’m reading a bunch of stuff for possible cover quotes, and I have a slew of short stories to read for a class I’m teaching. Apart from that I’ve been trolling a lot of classic stuff –revisiting old friends, so to speak. I’m a few stories away from finishing the complete works of Robert Bloch, and the books on top of my to be read pile are Pariah by Graham Masterton, Swan Song by Robert McCammon, Cycle of the Werewolf by Stephen King, Floating Dragon by Peter Straub, and a bunch of small-press horror anthologies.
The Horror Librarian: As a horror author, your books often confront the dark side of human nature (and beyond) to scare the hell out of your readers. What scares you?
Jonathan Maberry: I’m not afraid of the boogeyman or the monster under my bed, but I have a sensible dread of misused technologies. Bioweapons and drones make me twitch because of all the research I’ve done on them for my novels. Although I’m a bit of a science geek, I’m realistic and cynic enough to know that many of the people who possess or control such things aren’t necessarily mature enough, smart enough, moral enough or sane enough to manage them with maximum safety or in ways that genuinely serve the common good. And our clumsy mishandling of antibiotics has resulted in a new generation of drug-resistant diseases. That’s scarier than anything with fangs or talons.
The Horror Librarian: Thanks, Jonathan!