This month, Monstrous Friends welcomes guest interviewer Hillary Dodge, who will be interviewing legendary author Jonathan Maberry. Hillary is a much-traveled writer currently living and working in Colorado Springs, recently returned from a car tour of Chile, where she gathered recipes for an exciting cookbook, coming to bookstores soon. In addition to both nonfiction and horror writing, Hillary is HWAColorado Event Organizer and Co-Chair of the 2021 StokerCon.
Jonathan Maberry is a New York Times bestseller and five-time Bram Stoker Award® winner. He is the author of the action-packed Joe Ledger thrillers, the Rot & Ruin young adult novels, The Pine Deep Trilogy, and much more. His novel, V-Wars, is currently being filmed for a Netflix original series, coming soon. You can connect with him via his Web site (http://www.jonathanmaberry.com) or on social media (http://www.facebook.com/jonathanmaberry) or http://www.twitter.com/jonathanmaberry.
HILLARY DODGE: It’s no secret that you are a terrific businessman. What tenets do you hold in high regard as a professional in the business of writing?
JONATHAN MABERRY: I have a few core tenets that drive my business model. When I was a young teen, Ray Bradbury schooled me on his “Ten Commandments for Being a Successful Writer.” Rule one: Don’t be a jackass. (Rules 2-10 are the same, but said with more emphasis). That’s a pretty good skeleton on which to build a business plan. Also, in any given project where multiple players are involved, it has to be a win-win for everyone, or it holds no appeal for me. And I prefer—whenever possible—to do business with people I actually get a chance to meet. There is a different dynamic when you can look them in the eye, and you learn a lot from reading body language.
I also focus on my own process, looking for ways to increase efficiency and output while also streamlining how I do things. As I discovered, watching hours of ’80s rock videos on YouTube is not particularly conducive to hitting deadlines. So, as my own boss, I have to make sure that the job is getting done in the best possible ways.
HD: Further, those who know you can attest to the fact that you have always been generous with your time and advice and have taken many aspiring authors under your wing, coaching them on the professionalism of being an author. What drives you to serve as an author role model?
JM: No one in the creative field ever got anywhere without some help along the way. There is a lot of generosity out in the world. I was amazingly lucky to have gotten to know writers like Ray Bradbury, Richard Matheson, and Harlan Ellison when I was a teen. Anytime they were on the East Coast in the early 1970s, my middle school librarian—who knew them—would take me to see them. They offered advice, kindness, and mentorship. They each encouraged me to help other writers, and I took that to heart. You see, I don’t look at publishing as a competition. It’s not. There is tremendous room for the market to grow, so I approach things in a way that hopefully encourages other writers to bring their A-game. I like sharing tips, leads, opportunities, and so on, because if there are more writers telling compelling stories, then the publishing world will have more outstanding products to sell, and everyone prospers. It’s an approach that is fueled by fun rather than fear. I never let fear or jealousy form any part of my business model.
It’s the main reason I started a series of monthly free networking sessions for writers of all kinds. The Writers Coffeehouse began in Doylestown, Pennsylvania about fifteen years ago. Now we have nineteen of them around the country. There are no fees, no registration, and no restrictions on whether the writers who attend are published, or if they are, how they’re published. It’s writers helping writers.
HD: On top of writing and managing your business, you’re a regular attendee and speaker at writing conferences and workshops around the country. What is your favorite writing-related topic to teach and why?
JM: I have a few favorite topics. I love teaching Writing Fight and Action Scenes because I am a fight scene snob. That’s a natural side-effect of over fifty years in jujutsu. I was a bodyguard, a bouncer, and also taught Martial Arts History and Women’s Self-Defense at Temple University for many years. I teach that writing workshop at conferences, and, although some of the subject matter is necessarily grim, it’s usually a fun and funny program.
Another workshop I love to teach is the Art of the Book Pitch. I absolutely love to pitch, ideally in person. I do this one exercise where I have the students give me a genre, a subgenre, the main character (name, age, and gender), a title, a target demographic (adult, young adult, or middle grade), and a crisis. Then I make up a 3-5 minute verbal book pitch on the spot. The process teaches them about content, body language, a bit of subtle theatrics, public speaking, and the elements of what sells a book in today’s market.
And my other favorite is Act Like A Writer, which I co-created with writer/actor/director Keith Strunk. Essentially this covers everything from business etiquette to how to be the “celebrity author” when making public appearances. It was created originally to help some students who had social anxiety disorders, but we expanded it greatly since then. It has useful elements for anyone in the writing world.
HD: Given your prolific nature as a writer, it’s difficult to imagine you ever running out of ideas. But, where do you/might you go when you need inspiration?
JM: Ideas are everywhere. There is no shortage of them. What’s useful is playing a kind of “what if” game. This is an exercise where you look at anything and begin asking questions. Since fiction typically deals with people in some kind of crisis (from a fractured romance to the end of the world), the questions tend to be provocative. What if that bird on the tree limb there is looking at me? What if he doesn’t like me? Why doesn’t he like me? How intense is his dislike? How long has he been looking at me? What is he going to do to me? And so on … It’s like allowing yourself to be usefully paranoid because in the exercise you want to create a possibility of crisis, and then explore the human element, the cost, possible outcomes, and so on.
Also, I do a ton of research. Many of my novels are in the “weird science” category—all of my Joe Ledger thrillers, for example. So I read a lot about new developments in science, the history of science, politics, history, and so on. There are countless stories waiting to be told. As long as you twist them in useful directions.
HD: If you could become an expert at anything (in areas where you’re not already a rock-star), what would you choose?
JM: I would love to be an expert in some field of science. Possibly epidemiology or molecular biology. I find those fields endlessly fascinating. But…I suck at math, so there was never a chance for me there.
HD: Because our stuff often says a lot about us, what’s on your writing desk right now?
JM: My writing desk is awash with weirdness. Apart from the mundane stuff (stapler, lamp, etc.) I have a snow globe with a golden skull in it that has gold dust swirling around; I have a black sand hourglass; I have a bronze statue of the Hindu god Ganesha (the remover of obstacles, god of new beginnings, and patron god of writers); I have various multi-colored tentacles sticking out of my pencil caddy; I have a lovely piece of semi-translucent quartz; I have a silver knight in full armor kneeling to offer me a pen; I have a lava lamp; and I have a pair of excellent binoculars for looking at ships, dolphins, and whales because my home office window looks out to the Pacific.
HD: Everyone wants to know: how is the filming for V-WARS going? Have you been on set and how was that experience?
JM: V-WARS SEASON ONE is in post-production at Netflix. Being at the table read and then being on set for some of the filmings was surreal. The actors have become friends, as have many of the production folks and the writers. And it is particularly strange to hear actors you’ve seen in other popular shows (VAMPIRE DIARIES, LOST, ORPHAN BLACK, SMALLVILLE, TWILIGHT, etc.) speaking lines that were conjured in your head.
HD: What horrific projects are you working on right now? What can we look forward to seeing on the bookshelves later this year or next?
JM: I just wrapped edits on novel #35 (Lost Roads), and am clearing up a few smaller projects. I have four short stories due, an essay on the Black Panther comic book character, and the script for the first issue of a new comic we’ll be announcing soon for IDW. Then I dive into novel #36, INK, which is about haunted tattoos. And it’ll be set in the same troubled little rural town of Pine Deep that I used for my first three novels. I’m also doing a lot of traveling. Been to a slew of conventions and conferences so far this year. Next up is a trip to the East Coast. I’ll go to New York City for some meetings related to Book Expo America. Then I have signings in a few places and will wrap that trip up with a keynote at the Philadelphia Writers Conference. But the whole year will be busy. Among other places, I’ll be at San Diego Comic-Con, FanX Comic Con in Salt Lake, Scares That Care in Virginia, DragonCon in Atlanta, the Florida Writers Convention, Spooky Empire in Orlando, TusCon in Tuscon, and others. And I’m the new editorial director for the return of the classic Weird Tales Magazine. I’m also on the board of the HWA and the president of the International Association of Media Tie-in Writers. And in my spare time …
HD: Thanks for taking the time to interview with me. Always a pleasure!