Jonathan Maberry: LibraryThing Author Interview
Jonathan Maberry is the author of the techno-thriller Patient Zero. His new book, The Dragon Factory, is the sequel. This time Joe faces a few more human-created monsters, but none so evil as the bioterrorists who created them.
Jonathan is a multiple Bram Stoker Award-winning author, magazine feature writer, playwright, content creator, writing teacher/lecturer and LibraryThing author. Also, he's in the International Martial Arts Hall of Fame.
A major plot line of Dragon Factory is of bioterrorism, and out-and-out evil, which Joe Ledger and the DMS (Department of Military Science) fight against. Joe makes the point that lighting a fire doesn't usually just harm those in the wrong. Is this a comment on the contemporary world's fight of terrorism, and the complexity of separating those who are evil, those who are unwitting abettors and the innocent folks who happen to be standing nearby?
Yes...and it's a very complex issue. People generally don't wear I.D. badges that say "Good Guy", "Bad Guy" and "Innocent Bystander". There are innocent hurt in virtually any conflict, and a soldier with a strong moral compass has to bear that burden. At the same time, there is the ethical issue of 'acceptable losses'. If there is a threat so massive that it will overwhelm many, is it acceptable to allow a smaller number of innocents to perish in order to prevent the worst case scenario? We've wrestled with that issue for centuries and there is seldom a 'right' answer.
You had done a lot of scientific research (like on prions) to explain the zombies in Patient Zero. What kind of research did you find yourself doing for Dragon Factory?
First off, I'm a research junkie. When I begin a new novel I spend a lot of time doing research. Not only on the core topic—which in this case was transgenics and related areas of genetic science—but dozens of other topics, ranging from ethnic-specific diseases, cryptozoology, World War II, the death camps, the diseases of poverty, and more. The inspiration for this book was the question: What would happen if modern genetic science was applied to the Nazi Master Race program? That's a scary thought, considering the ethnic cleansing.
Patient Zero had zombies as the main non-human threat. Dragon Factory has zero zombies. Was the intention for the series to stay in the techno-thriller genre, without being exclusively about zombies, or did you tire of the undead?
This was never intended as a zombie series. It's a series of science thrillers. In each book Joe Ledger and the Department of Military Sciences will face a different kind of threat. I have a number of books outlined, and each one presents a different kind of threat, some grounded firmly in real world science and politics, some that stretch the boundaries of science into some creepy 'what if?' areas.
In The Dragon Factory, mad scientists are responsible not only for the bioterrorist events Joe Ledger finds himself fighting, but for a large number of the major diseases that have plagued the contemporary world, including HIV, noma and Tay-Sachs. Despite the fact that you were writing fiction, did you find yourself getting into the conspiracy theories of human-constructed diseases?
I'm not a full-blown conspiracy theorist, but I do believe that money is the root of all evil. Do I believe that corporations and (some) governments contribute to the climate of evil? Sure, because there are a lot of ways to profit from it. Do I think all corporations and governments are evil? Nah. But there are a lot of people out there perpetuating or cultivating harm because there's money to be made. I worked in the pharmaceutical field for a number of years, and I've seen some of the misinformation and disinformation that goes on in the name of profit. That probably starts at the top, where the money is bigger.
There are short stories that accompany this series. Were these bits of the book that you just couldn't cram in, or did they come about separately?
Yes and no. The first one, "Countdown", was originally in Patient Zero and I cut it down to focus less on backstory and more on the current events. When I suggested to my publishers that we do a short story as a freebie prequel, I was able to take that cut-down scene and use it as the seed for the story. However it grew in the telling and there's more in the short story than in the original scene.
Echo team was pared down by the time the action heated up in Dragon Factory. Is Joe going to have company for the third book?
Yeah, each time Echo Team gets chopped down it'll get built up again. In King of Plagues we meet new players: ex-SEAL Khalid Shaheed, former M.P. DeeDee Whitman, and former LAPD SWAT shooter John Smith.
So the third installment of the Joe Ledger series is called The King of Plagues. I hear it features another bioterrorist. Will Joe run into more technologically-explained supernatural creatures?
THE King of Plagues deals with the rise of a new secret society, so it deals more with conspiracy theories and terrorism than with unnatural monsters. That story is much bigger and more complex than the first two, and it also deals with fighting a war that might be unwinnable. However there is a subplot that deals with a character who appears to be supernatural. I have plans for other Joe Ledger stories, both short and novel-length; and Joe will continue to face increasingly bizarre threats. The stories will always walk the thin line between what is real and what may be possible.
You hold black belts in jujutsu and kenjutsu, which explains how you can describe the hand-to-hand action scenes with such precision. If you were being attacked by a zombie, what would your first defensive move be? How would you handle similar situations with a chimera, a Jersey devil, or a unicorn?
I've actually discussed the self-defense against zombies issue a lot, and did a whole chapter on it in my nonfiction book, Zombie CSU: The Forensics of the Living Dead. A proper and effective response would be based on the kind of zombie. For the slow shufflers, the easiest moves would be evasion with parries along with attacks to the knee (not even a zombie can walk on a shattered leg—it's a gravity thing); and/or attacks to the neck or spine. Evading a bite is actually pretty easy.
Your Macmillan bio says "1100 articles, seventeen nonfiction books, six novels, as well as short stories, poetry, song lyrics, video scripts, and two plays." If you added a Jonathan Maberry greeting card, what occasion would it be?
Actually, I've done greeting cards, and they were all sarcastic. If I created my own occasion cards? I'd love to do a 'You Died and Woke Up as a Zombie' card.
You recently wrote the novelization of The Wolfman. What was your writing process, to adapt a screenplay into a novel?
I did a couple of read-throughs of the script to get my head in the game. The first read-through was as a 'reader'; but on the second I took notes as a 'writer'. Then I picked a scene which I felt would allow me to find the right voice for telling the story in prose. The scene I picked, by the way, was longer in the script (and in the novel) that it ultimately was in the final cut of the film. It was Lawrence Talbot, who is a Shakespearean actor in the new story, giving the Yorick soliloquy from Hamlet. Having done some theater in my time, and having done Shakespeare, I was able to crawl inside the head of an actor, and that allowed me to better understand Lawrence. He's damaged goods—reeling from childhood tragedy and trauma compounded by rejection—and theater has been his way of being anyone other than himself. He hides inside of other characters. I was able to use that as the basis for a motif of 'actors in roles' throughout the book, exploring that with Lawrence and his reactions, and with his relationships with his father, the police and Gwen.
You mentioned a YA zombie novel coming out this year, called Rot & Ruin. Can you talk about the story?
The story takes place fourteen years after the zombie apocalypse. Fifteen year old Benny Imura lives in a small, isolated and fenced-in town in Central California, and everything else is the great Rot & Ruin, populated by hundreds of millions of zombies. Benny's brother, Tom, is a bounty hunter who specializes in 'closure': finding people who have become zombies and putting them to rest so their families can be at peace. There are also bounty hunters who kidnap kids to make them fight in zombie pits so gamblers can bet on it.
What are some great techno-thrillers you've read recently?
I gobble up everything by James Rollins, Vince Flynn and David Morrell. Rollin's Altar of Eden was a blast; and I've been trolling some of the thrillers that form the cornerstone of the genre, including The Blue Nowhere by Jeffery Deaver, Deep Sound Channel by Joe Buff, The Moon Pool by P T Deuterman, Hunter Killer by Patrick Robinson, A Signal Shattered by Eric Nylund, anything by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child, Matthew Reilly's Scarecrow, Cory Doctorow's Little Brother, and on and on.
What's on your bookshelf?
I devour books, with a three-way split between novels (thrillers, mysteries, crime novels, dystopian science fiction, horror, and urban fantasy), comics (most of the Marvel Comics line—for enjoyment and for homework, since I'm writing for them); and tons of nonfiction. For the nonfic stuff, I read a lot of science books, books on global politics, and general information books on hundreds of subjects from great works of art to causes of death.
—interview by Sonya Green
Books by Jonathan Maberry
Rot and Ruin (1216 copies)
Patient Zero (1120 copies)
Dust & Decay (468 copies)
Ghost Road Blues (414 copies)
The Dragon Factory (371 copies)
Flesh & Bone (305 copies)
The New Dead [anthology] (265 copies)
Dead of Night (255 copies)
An Apple for the Creature (243 copies)
The Living Dead 2 (234 copies)
Bad Moon Rising (227 copies)
The King of Plagues (225 copies)
Dead Man's Song (220 copies)
Fire & Ash (217 copies)
Assassin's Code (166 copies)
Slasher Girls & Monster Boys (165 copies)
The End is Nigh (155 copies)
Limbus, Inc. (155 copies)
Extinction Machine (123 copies)
History is Dead: A Zombie Anthology (121 copies)
Zombie CSU: The Forensics of the Living Dead (115 copies)
Code Zero (107 copies)
Joe Ledger: Special Ops (101 copies)
The Monster's Corner (100 copies)
Weird Detectives: Recent Investigations (99 copies)
Countdown (91 copies)
VWars (89 copies)
21st Century Dead (86 copies)
The End Is Now (76 copies)
The Gods of HP Lovecraft (75 copies)
Dead Man's Hand (71 copies)
The Wolfman (70 copies)
Rage Against the Night (62 copies)
Predator One (60 copies)
Fall of Night (58 copies)
Bits & Pieces (Rot & Ruin) (58 copies)
The End Has Come (55 copies)
Kill Switch (50 copies)
The Orphan Army (44 copies)
Limbus, Inc. - Book II (43 copies)
Magic City: Recent Spells (40 copies)
Zombies: More Recent Dead (38 copies)
The Madness of Cthulhu (vol 1) (37 copies)
Operation Arcana (BAEN) (36 copies)
Dead & Gone (36 copies)
Vampire Universe (35 copies)
Trust No One (34 copies)
Write Good or Die (33 copies)
Urban Enemies (31 copies)
Indigo: A Novel (30 copies)
Halloween : Magic, Mystery, and the Macabre (30 copies)
Wanted Undead or Alive (30 copies)
The X-Files Origins: Devil's Advocate (29 copies)
Ghostwalkers (27 copies)
Best New Zombie Tales (Vol. 1) (26 copies)
Mars One (26 copies)
In the Land of the Dead (21 copies)
Marvel Universe vs. The Punisher (20 copies)
Doomwar (19 copies)
Dogs of War (19 copies)
Scary Out There (19 copies)
Material Witness (19 copies)
Tooth & Nail (19 copies)
Streets of Shadows (19 copies)
Deep, Dark (18 copies)
Aliens: Bug Hunt (17 copies)
First Night Memories (16 copies)
V-Wars Volume 1: Crimson Queen (14 copies)
The Madness of Cthulhu, Volume Two (14 copies)
Nights of the Living Dead: An Anthology (14 copies)
Marvel Universe vs. Wolverine (14 copies)
G.I. Joe: Tales From The Cobra Wars (14 copies)
Joe Ledger: The Missing Files (13 copies)
Like Part of the Family (12 copies)
Snafu: An Anthology of Military Horror (12 copies)
Ultimate Jujutsu: Principles and Practices (12 copies)
Appalachian Undead (12 copies)
Whistling Past the Graveyard (11 copies)
Captain America: Hail Hydra #1 (of 5) (11 copies)
Zero Tolerance (10 copies)
Vault of Shadows (10 copies)
Death, Be Not Proud (9 copies)
Borrowed Power (Joe Ledger) (9 copies)
Beneath the Skin: The Sam Hunter Case Files (9 copies)
Dog Days (8 copies)
Marvel Universe vs. the Avengers (7 copies)
The Wind Through the Fence (7 copies)
Limbus, Inc. - Book III (6 copies)
Tales from the Fire Zone (6 copies)
The EC Archives: Vault of Horror Volume 4 (5 copies)
The Complete Rot & Ruin Collection: Rot & Ruin; Dust & Decay; Flesh & Bone; Fire & Ash; Bits & Pieces (5 copies)
Decision Points (5 copies)
Bad Blood (5 copies)
Dark Discoveries - Issue #24 (5 copies)
X-Files: The Truth Is Out There (5 copies)
V-Wars #0 (Free Comic Book Day 2014) (5 copies)
Rot & Ruin: Warrior Smart (5 copies)
Hungry Tales (5 copies)
Legends of the Mountain State 2 (4 copies)
A Little Bronze Book of Cautionary Tales (4 copies)
Doctor Nine (4 copies)
Haunted Nights (4 copies)
Zombies: Shambling Through the Ages (3 copies)
Pegleg And Paddy Save The World (3 copies)
Klaws of the Panther (3 copies)
The Adventure of the Greenbriar Ghost (2 copies)
V-Wars, Vol. 3: Night Terrors (2 copies)
New Blood (2 copies)
SNAFU: Heroes (SNAFU, #2) (2 copies)
Zombie Apocalypse Survival Scorecard (2 copies)
Tales of the Rot & Ruin (2 copies)
Property Condemned (2 copies)
The Martial Arts Student Log Book (2 copies)
Clean Sweeps (2 copies)
13 Ran (2 copies)
Cold Cold Heart (2 copies)
Das Marvel-Universum gegen die Avengers (2 copies)
Glimpse (1 copies)
SNAFU: BLACK OPS (1 copies)
PUNISHER VS UNIVERSO MARVEL (1 copies)
Black Panther: Doomwar (1 copies)
Devil's advocate (1 copies)
Wind Through the Fence: And Other Stories (1 copies)
Jack and Jill (1 copies)
Oz Reimagined: The Cobbler of Oz (1 copies)
Das Marvel-Universum gegen Wolverine (1 copies)
The Death Song of Dwar Guntha (1 copies)
She's Got a Ticket to Ride (1 copies)
Watch Over Me (Dylan Quinn #1) (1 copies)
Marvel Universe vs. The Avengers #3 (1 copies)
Marvel Universe vs. The Avengers #4 (1 copies)
Marvel Universe vs. The Avengers #2 (1 copies)
Before Plan 9: Plans 1-8 from Outer Space (1 copies)
Lucifer 113 (1 copies)
Deadlands - Ghostwalkers (1 copies)
V-Wars: Shockwaves (Vampire Wars) (1 copies)
Lost Land, Band 3: Lost Land, Die Finsternis (1 copies)
Unnamed horror novel (1 copies)
The Vanishing Assassin (1 copies)
Out of Tune - Book II (1 copies)
Recent author interviews
Brad Stone (2017-03-22)
David Mitchell (2015-10-26)
Sharma Shields (2015-02-20)
Kara Cooney (2014-11-21)
Mallory Ortberg (2014-10-22)
Gregory Maguire (2014-09-25)
Ann Leckie (2014-09-24)
Andy Weir (2014-08-18)
Matthew Thomas (2014-07-24)
Maximillian Potter (2014-07-24)
Alexi Zentner (2014-05-20)
Ian Doescher (2014-03-24)
Jeff Greenfield (2013-11-13)
Patrick Ness (2013-10-16)
Tom Standage (2013-10-16)
Samantha Shannon (2013-08-20)
Paul Collins (2013-07-24)
Travis McDade (2013-07-24)
Colum McCann (2013-05-22)
Jennifer McVeigh (2013-05-22)
About author interviews
Each month we feature a few exclusive interviews with authors in our "State of the Thing" newsletter. Know an author who might want to be interviewed? Find out more.