With a big move planned and a few film deals in the works, best−selling horror and science fiction author Jonathan Maberry has his hands, happily, full.
By Naila Francis
Jonathan Maberry has proclaimed 2014 “Hell Year.”
It’s a perhaps fitting designation for the multiple Bram Stoker Award−winning author.
But Maberry isn’t referring − at least not specifically − to the vampires, zombies and other ghouls that have long populated his novels. The coming year, rather, is shaping up to be his busiest.
He’s working on four new novels in four different genres, including “Predator One,” the seventh book in his Joe Ledger series; “Watch Over Me,” the first in a mystery series for teens, featuring a transgender character; and “The Nightsiders,” which will launch a horror series for ages 8 through 12. Also in the pipeline are comic books for Dark Horse and IDW and the editing of at least three anthologies.
Then there’s the much−anticipated big−screen transfer of some of Maberry’s most popular tales. All four of the books in his post−apocalyptic Rot & Ruin series, about a 15−year−old apprentice zombie hunter, have been optioned for film. The first is in development, as is an adaptation of his zombie novel “Dead of Night.”
And with Hollywood at his door, Maberry has decided to migrate closer to the seat of the action. After years of building his kingdom from Warrington, the New York Times best−selling author is headed for the West Coast. By the end of the month, he and his wife will be San Diego residents.
“It wasn’t all that long ago that I was a working schlub trying to pay bills. I put a lot of irons in the fire hoping some of them would get hot,” says Maberry. “Now they’re all hot.”
Not that he’s overwhelmed by his brimming plate. The ever−industrious Maberry seems to thrive on juggling multiple projects, all while maintaining a daily discipline of cranking out 3,000 words and serving as guide and mentor to countless aspiring writers. The author, best known for his bioweapons thriller “Patient Zero” − it’s required reading in creative writing classes across the country − is as revered for his generosity as a teacher as he is his talent.
“Jonathan’s entire attitude is inspirational, so it is easy for him to inspire and energize other writers,” says Eileen D’Angelo, president of the Philadelphia Writers’ Conference, where Maberry has been a perennially popular workshop leader and also served on the board. “Many writers in his position would be more focused on their own success and the betterment of their own careers but from the very beginning…through his teaching and workshops, he has been pulling new writers into the rocket that has been his rising career.”
According to Maberry, that’s as it should be. It was the conference that rescued him from burn−out when he first attended more than a decade ago, and was holding down one in a long series of day jobs while trying to establish himself as a writer beyond the magazine features he’d been doing since his undergrad days as a journalism major at Temple University. He’s been giving back ever since, whether it’s through presenting there and at events across the country, raising awareness and support for bookstores, libraries and literacy foundations alongside writers like Solomon Jones, Gregory Frost and Marie Lamba through the Liars Club − “We make up stuff for a living,” he explains − or talking informally about the craft and business of publishing at the Writer’s Coffeehouse, a free monthly gathering for writers of all levels held at Barnes & Noble in Willow Grove.
“People think if they help someone else, they will lose their opportunity. I’m in the other camp. If you help people get into the business, the business prospers and that helps all of us,” says Maberry. “I’m not a glass half−empty guy. I’m a glass half−full and the waiter’s coming with a pitcher.”
Yet as he describes his upbringing in the Kensington section of Philadelphia, in an atmosphere of abuse and bigotry, it would be easy to imagine a less−optimistic Maberry. Reading and writing saved him, though the former was considered an ignominy of grandiose ambition. The latter was all he aspired to, and that path seemed inevitable.
By middle school, he’d been taken under the wing of the school librarian, who served as secretary for several local writing clubs. Maberry often accompanied her to those meetings, and by 13, he was getting advice from celebrated horror and science fiction writers like Ray Bradbury and Richard Matheson.
“(Bradbury) taught me about writing and free thinking. He said, ‘Make your mind powerful,’ ” recalls Maberry. “Learn more than you’re taught. Know more than you’re taught. Read everything. When you grow up in that kind of intolerant environment, your mind is your escape.”
The circumstances of his childhood would serve his writing career in other ways. Maberry was 6 when he began training in martial arts to defend himself from the abuse he suffered at home. A black belt in both jujutsu and kenjutsu, he was inducted into the International Martial Arts Hall of Fame in 2004 − an honor largely attributable to his nonfiction works on the subject.
But he’d always read mystery novels as a kid. And, yes, his lifelong fascination with zombies was inspired by seeing George A. Romero’s “Night of the Living Dead” at age 10, but his interest in the occult had been stoked even earlier.
“The horror thing started with my grandmother, who was a wonderfully spooky old lady,” says Maberry. “She was 81 when I was born.”
Although Scottish, Maude Blanche Flavell was reared in Alsace−Lorraine, a region steeped in the folklore of vampires and werewolves. She often regaled Maberry with those myths and legends and it was she who gave him his first pet, a dog named Spooker, born on Halloween.
“She was teaching me how to read tarot cards and tea leaves when I was 10. She believed in everything. She thought the supernatural world was an aspect of science not fully understood,” he says.
Some of her stories informed his first forays into monster territory, beginning with 2000’s “The Vampire Slayers’ Field Guide to the Undead,” a look at vampire legends from around the world, which Maberry wrote under the pen name of Shane MacDougall.
“I published it under a pen name because I was afraid my martial arts readers would think I’d gone cuckoo,” he says.
Its success prompted a series of nonfiction books, this time under his own name, examining the zombie phenomenon. But it was the launch, in 2006, of the Pine Deep Trilogy with “Ghost Road Blues,” winner of the Bram Stoker Award for best first novel, that kicked his career into another stratosphere.
Yet Maberry has never been interested in doling out horror for horror’s sake. It’s why he turned down an offer to rewrite the films in the popular “Saw” franchise.
“A lot of my stories are about people who confront the monster. Some horror writers write about monsters. I write about people who fight the monster. That’s a big distinction,” he says. “In my stories, the heroes may be dented at the end but they always win.”
– The Intelligencer and Bucks County Courier Times