First off I want to give a HUGE thanks to stalker fan of Jonathan’s and I couldn’t wait to see what he had to say!for taking the time out of his BUSY schedule to answer some questions for me! I’m honored to have him as my very first author interview! It’s no secret that I’m a rabid
You’ve been enjoying some well-deserved success from Patient Zero, The Dragon Factory, and most recently, your first YA novel, Rot & Ruin. Why zombies, and why do you think people are so fascinated by them?
Zombie stories are not about zombies. These are stories about our own real world; the zombies are surrogates for whatever it is we fear. Usually the fear in question is something large and shared, such as our fear of a global pandemic, racism, ethnic cleansing, rampant consumerism, the loss of identity in a busy world, fear of invasion, and so on. They are the ‘BIG CRISIS’ that everyone in the story has to deal with, and which impacts every life, every action.
Once introduced, the story then becomes about how people deal with this massive shared crisis…and that’s the basis for all drama. People in crisis. Stress and tension warp personalities; it causes personality traits to change so that our true selves emerge. A person who has always been timid may discover that in a time of crisis he is a natural leader. A tough jock-type might discover that his courage is only skin deep. And so on. When we watch a zombie novel, we’re seeing our own fears played out, and—hopefully—confronted & dealt with in some constructive way.
However, there’s also the element of pure entertainment. Zombie stories are thrill rises.
What made you decide to write a YA novel?
I didn’t set out to write one. I was asked to contribute a novella to THE NEW DEAD, a zombie anthology being edited by Christopher Golden for St. Martin’s Griffin. Chris asked the writers to do something a little different –either different in terms of the genre or different in terms of our own writing. I wrote a story about a teenager (which I seldom do) and I set it fourteen years a zombie apocalypse wiped out most of humanity.
Once the story was finished and turned in, I showed it to my agent, Sara Crowe (of Harvey Klinger, Inc.) She said that it read like the opening to a teen novel. I was surprised, because at the time I had a very outdated view of what teen fiction was like. My agent gave me a list of current YA novels to read. Wow…that was an eye opener. I started with Scott Westerfeld’s THE UGLIES and then Suzanne Collins HUNGER GAMES. Now I devour YA literature. Not just because I’m writing it, but because some of the best fiction going into print right now is on the YA shelves. No doubt about it.
You won the Stoker Award for Best First Novel for Ghost Road Blues in 2006.
I’ve yet to start the Pine Deep series, although I’m very much looking forward to reading it. For people that were introduced to your work through Patient Zero, would you say that Pine Deep would appeal to the same audience?
The Pine Deep Trilogy is a different kind of story. Even though it borrows some of the thriller format (in that there is a race against time in each of the three books), the trilogy is in many ways an old fashioned horror story. Very gothic in structure. It has gotten a lot of traction with fans of Stephen King’s ‘SALEM’S LOT, Peter Straub’s GHOST STORY, and those sort of books. It’s set in a rural American town, and the town itself is as much a character as the people.
It draws on the folklore of vampires, werewolves and ghosts from eastern Europe. It has a lot of action, a fair amount of humor, and characters that became real people to me.
The meticulous research you put into your books is obvious. About how long from conception to publication did it take to get Patient Zero on the shelves?
The process, at this stage of my career, takes about eighteen months from sale to shelf. Down at the nuts and bolts level, it takes me three to five months to write a novel, and once delivered it’s in bookshelves within a year.
I’m fortunate enough these days to be able to give my agent a few chapters and a synopsis and let her shop that; and then write the book once a deal is struck and a delivery-date agreed upon.
Since I write in multiple genres, I usually always have a deadline looming. This year I’ll be writing two novels (at least), a dozen or so comic books, several short stories, a novella or two, some articles and lots of blogs.
Do you handle all research yourself or do you have help?
I’m a research junkie. I do all of my own research, though I have established a network of experts around the world (and in different fields) who I tap for in-depth material. I generally do a bulk of initial research for one book while writing another. For example, while I was writing DEAD OF NIGHT in the last quarter of 2010, I was doing research for BOOK OF SHADOWS.
Once I have the bulk research done I reach out to experts on key topics to ask questions that will give me deeper info. Along with my regular questions, I often ask the experts questions like ‘What question should I have asked?’ or ‘Tell me something about your field that people never think to ask.” That gives you some of the best and most unexpected stuff.
Did you have any particular inspirations for the character of Joe Ledger?
He’s an amalgam of different people. There’s a little bit of my late martial arts instructor in Joe; and there are aspects of several friends and acquaintances from the police, and military special forces. And, there’s a lot of my own personality in Joe. Certainly we share the same blend of practicality and idealism; the same childhood trauma…and the same sense of humor.
What were a few of your favorite reads growing up?
I was a voracious reader. Still am. When I was fourteen I had the incredible good fortune to meet Ray Bradbury and Richard Matheson. Both of them took time to give me advice and encouragement about my writing; and each gave me signed copies of their books. That (and the quality of their writing) made me a lifelong fan.
But from age eight I was reading Ed McBain, Tolkien, Robert E. Howard, Edgar Rice Burroughs, Kenneth Robeson, Shirley Jackson, Robert Bloch, and John D. MacDonald.
I noticed on your home page that you have a blurb for the new AMC series The Walking Dead. I was absolutely riveted by it and can’t wait for the next season.
Did you love it? If so, why? If not, why?
I’ve loved the WALKING DEAD comic since issue #1, and I’ve met creator Robert Kirkman several times and have interviewed him for my nonfiction books and my blogs.
When Frank Darabont adapted it for TV, he got everything right. Of course there are changes because there have to be changes. TV is not a comic book. The changes were smart, intended to bring elements of the comics so that fans of that are satisfied and at the same time give them story elements they haven’t seen; and the whole thing was structure to allow anyone to jump aboard. The show is gorgeously shot, beautifully acted, and it pulls no punches. Usually you’d have to go to BBC TV to see something as gritty and well-crafted as this.
In 2009 you wrote your first comic for Marvel for Wolverine: The Anniversary. How exciting! Was it difficult transitioning from writing novels to writing for a more visual medium?
Well, I had to learn to tell shorter stories, that’s for sure! My novels are long and complex, but comics is a medium that lends itself to a less-is-more philosophy when it comes to words, and a more-is-more when it comes to visual storytelling. Luckily I’m also an artist –not a professional, but enough of one to understand how visual storytelling works—so that helps.
Another important thing I learned when doing comics is that it isn’t a one-man creative show. Novels are that, so are short stories; but comics are a collaboration between writer, editor, penciller, inker and colorist. Everyone brings something to the mix, and you have to respect their skills and allow for it when writing a script.
You’ve penned a number of books on Martial Arts (not to mention being inducted into the International Martial Arts Hall of Fame) and the depth of your knowledge is obvious, especially in the Joe Ledger books. How long have you been practicing?
I’ve been involved with jujutsu since the mid-1960s. I currently hold an 8th degree black belt in jujutsu and a 5th degree in kenjutsu (Japanese swordplay). I spent years as a ring competitor in mixed martial arts, boxing, fencing and wrestling; and worked as a bodyguard in the entertainment field. More recently I was CEO and chief instructor for a company that gave workshops on hand-to-hand combat for all levels of law enforcement including SWAT.
When you’re not kicking butt and writing, what do you like to do to unwind?
My wife and I love to travel. Sometimes we’ll jump in the car and try to get lost. Luckily my job requires travel –for conventions and book tours, so we try to build some ‘us’ time into every trip.
We also love the arts: music, dance, film…you name it.
And when it’s just me, I slouch on the sofa and watch old monster movies.
Any juicy news of upcoming releases or projects that you can share with us?
I just sold books 3 and 4 in the Benny Imura series. They will be FLESH & BONE and FIRE & ASH, to be released in 2012 and ’13.
I’m also working on a role playing game set in the world of Benny Imura and the Rot & Ruin. I’ll be releasing details on that soon.
I’m still on tour for ROT & RUIN and WANTED UNDEAD OR ALIVE (a nonfiction book on good & evil in folklore, literature, and pop culture, which includes interviews with everyone from Stan Lee to Mike Mignola). I recently turned in my tenth novel, DEAD OF NIGHT (St. Martin’s Griffin, summer 2011) and am at work on BOOK OF SHADOWS, the fourth novel in my Joe Ledger thriller series (following 2009’s PATIENT ZERO, 2010’s THE DRAGON FACTORY, 2011’s THE KING OF PLAGUES).
I also write comics for Marvel. My newest limited series, CAPTAIN AMERICA: HAIL HYDRA, just started and will run for five months before being collected into a graphic novel. I’m also writing MARVEL UNIVERSE VS WOLVERINE, a prequel to my best-selling MARVEL UNIVERSE VS THE PUNISHER (now out in hardback).
And I’m gearing up for the March 2011 release of GI JOE: COBRA WARS, a print anthology of novellas by Max Brooks, Duane Swierczynski, Dennis Tafoya, Jon McGoran and me.
Finally, I read that on the last Sunday of every month, you host a networking session for writers and aspiring writers of all genres. Any advice you have for writers struggling to get noticed?
I suggest they follow the two things I did: learn the business and diversify your creative output. Normal. Also, learn the craft. Take classes and learn how to craft good sentences; learn figurative language, learn how to use metaphor and motif; in short, make yourself the best writer you can be. A good writer never stops improving his skillset.
The other thing is…follow the business. I subscribe towww.publishersmarketpace.com, which is one of the very few pay services that’s worth the cost. It provides a ton of information about the flow of the industry, and it sends a daily email that keeps you up to date on virtually every book deal. This allows writers to see what’s selling, who’s buying and who’s representing these works. Each deal listing names the agent and editor, and there’s no better way to tailor a submission list.
One more thing…never EVER rewrite anything until you have a completed first draft. No exceptions. Otherwise, you get into the rewrite twilight zone and you’ll never get anywhere. I learned that from my journalism professor waaaay back in college and it serves me well in novels, short fiction, and everything else