Freelance and Fiction: Welcome to the blog, Jonathan! Could you tell us a little bit about Dead of Night?
JONATHAN MABERRY: Dead of Night is a new take on the zombie apocalypse, starting with the absolute beginning of the outbreak in a small Pennsylvania town. We see the first kill, the first encounter with the cops, the first reporters on scene to cover it. The main characters are a female redneck cop named Dez Fox and her partner, JT Hammond; and Dez’s ex-boyfriend, Billy Trout, a reporter who risks his life to discover the truth behind the outbreak. We also get a pretty plausible scientific explanation for how a zombie apocalypse could happen. So plausible, in fact, that it absolutely creeped me out while I was writing it.
Freelance and Fiction: In Dead of Night, your zombie wasn’t an average Joe before being infected – he was a serial killer. Why did you choose this unique angle?
JONATHAN: That’s how the story started. I had an idea about a prison doctor who creates a formula would keep an executed serial killer’s consciousness alive while even after his body has been buried. I thought of how horrible it would be to be in your coffin, unable to die but aware of your own body rotting. Once I had that, the rest of the story just rolled out. But the killer in the story, Homer Gibbon, became a much more important character, as did the prison doctor.
Freelance and Fiction: How would you define horror to someone who’d never heard of the genre?
JONATHAN: Horror is a step into the dark with your eyes closed. When it is at its best, horror takes the reader only half of the distance toward something frightening, but it allows the reader to go the last mile himself. The point of horror is to engage the reader’s imagination, to coax them into participating in the process of defining what that horror looks like.
Most good horror is cathartic. We explore what makes us afraid as a way of understanding it. When we understand it there is the potential for control and even resolution is possible. Horror is seldom about monsters and more often it explores how monsters can be defeated.
Freelance and Fiction: Why do you think horror sometimes gets a bad rap? When does horror become art?
JONATHAN: Horror took a big hit during the seventies and eighties largely because of the advent of slasher films. Those movies were marketing as ‘horror’ –which they aren’t. Those films were written by screenwriters who have no idea what makes horror work. They’re self-indulgently misogynistic and they used shock instead of suspense. But, since far more people go to the average movie than read the average book, the mass market perception was that ‘horror’ equaled ‘gratuitous violence and gore’. That killed horror as big-market sales. And it’s the reason that authors like Stephen King, Dean R. Koontz, Peter Straub and Anne Rice chose not to use the word ‘horror’ on the covers of their books.
At the same time, there have always been writers who have ignored the word ‘horror’ and simply concentrated on superb storytelling. Consider books like Shirley Jackson’s psychologically complex The Haunting of Hill House; Robert Bloch’s riveting exploration of psychopathic behavior in Psycho; Robert McCammon’s Mystery Walk, an elegant journey into the shadows of backwoods America; Peter Straub’s recherché deconstruction of mannered New English society in Ghost Story; Stephen King’s ‘Salem’s Lot, a novel that virtually created the model of the small town American gothic storytelling while at the same time reviving the vampire as a frightening fictional monster; and the ornate beauty of Anne Rice’s Interview with the Vampire.
Freelance and Fiction: Do you have any favorite authors we should be reading? Who are your influences?
JONATHAN: I read constantly and my tastes are all over the place. As a result I have favorites in lots of different genres. My long-time favorites are Ray Bradbury, Richard Matheson, Ed McBain and John D. MacDonald. But there are soooo many authors whose works I love. I’ll read anything James Lee Burke writes. My current favorite horror writers include Christopher Golden, Peter Straub, Nancy Holder, Graham Masterton, and the late L.A. Banks.
Freelance and Fiction: When you think about the future of horror, what do you envision?
JONATHAN: I’m seeing a movement toward mining folklore for ‘new’ monsters and elements of horror. The mainstream/Hollywood models for vampires, ghosts and werewolves have gotten pretty tired, and they don’t bear much resemblance to the monsters in folklore. Take vampires, for example—there are hundreds of different kinds of variations on this monster, most of which haven’t been used in modern storytelling. I think that’s where the most exciting new horror is going to come from.
Freelance and Fiction: What is your best advice on writing?
JONATHAN: Learn the business. Learn that publishing is a business. Being good at the craft of writing will only take you so far. That’s a fact of life in publishing. Learning how the business works can give a writer a solid chance to get their stories into the hands of readers.
And, one more thing: be relentless. Don’t let anything stop you from achieving your dreams.
Freelance and Fiction: Thanks so much for stopping by, Jonathan!
JONATHAN: My pleasure!
Jonathan Maberry is a NY Times bestselling author, multiple Bram Stoker Award winner, and Marvel Comics writer. His novels include the Pine Deep Trilogy (Ghost Road Blues, Dead Man’s Song and Bad Moon Rising); the Joe Ledger thriller series (Patient Zero, The Dragon Factory, The King of Plagues, and Assassin’s Code); the Benny Imura Young Adult dystopian series (Rot & Ruin, Dust & Decay, and Flesh & Bone); the Scribe Award-winning film adaptation of The Wolfman and the standalone horror thriller –Dead of Night. His nonfiction books include the international bestseller Zombie CSU, The Cryptopedia, They Bite, Vampire Universe and Wanted Undead of Alive. He has sold over 1200 feature articles, thousands of columns, two plays, greeting cards, technical manuals, how-to books, and many short stories. His comics for Marvel include Marvel Universe vs the Wolverine, Marvel Universe vs the Punisher, DoomWar, Black Panther and Captain America: Hail Hydra. He is the founder of the Writers Coffeehouse and co-founder of The Liars Club; and is a frequent keynote speaker and guest of honor at conferences including BackSpace, Dragon*Con, ZombCon, PennWriters, The Write Stuff, Central Coast Writers, Necon, Killer Con, Liberty States, and many others. In 2004 Jonathan was inducted into the International Martial Arts Hall of Fame, due in part to his extensive writing on martial arts and self-defense. In October he’ll be featured as an expert in a History Channel documentary on zombies. Visit him online at www.jonathanmaberry.com, www.twitter.com/jonathanmaberry and www.facebook.com/jonathanmaberry
Dead of Night is available in bookstores everywhere; also available for all e-readers and on audio. Check it out at Barnes & Noble and MacMillan!