Thursday, September 4, 2008
JONATHAN MABERRY - This Week's Man of Mystery
Acme Authors Link proudly presents Man of Mystery, Jonathan Maberry!
WRITING ON THE RUN
I love switching genres.
My writing career got into gear thirty years ago and back then I was writing magazine feature articles and college textbooks on martial arts. It was a ‘write what you know’ thing and I’ve been jujutsu since I was an embryo, give or take a few years. That worked pretty well and it gave me the practical experience to develop a skill set as a writer.
Then I did a couple books on women’s self-defense and safety awareness. That may sound like a similar type of book to the martial arts, but it’s not. Different audience, different info, different style. The shift made me stretch as a writer, made me find new ways to explain things and helped me cultivate the concept of ‘different readership with different needs and expectations’. That’s not a small thing.
Then in 2001 I started writing about the things that go bump in the night and have since written four books on the folklore/legends of vampires, werewolves and other critters that get all bitey when the sun goes down. First it was THE VAMPIRE SLAYERS FIELD GUIDE TO THE UNDEAD (released under my one-time-only pen name of Shane MacDougall); then VAMPIRE UNIVERSE (Citadel Press, 2006); THE CRYPTOPEDIA (co-authored with David Kramer; released in 2007); and ZOMBIE CSU: The Forensics of the Living Dead (due from Citadel on August 26). Right now I’m putting the finishing touches on THEY BITE!, the fourth of the five books in this series.
The shift from martial arts to self-defense writing was relatively easy; the shift to folklore and pop-culture was tougher. The editor of my martial arts books wanted me to write the folklore under a pen name. I’d just been inducted into the International Martial Arts Hall of Fame and he was afraid that my readers would think I’m going wacko if I suddenly started writing about vampires and ghouls. Turns out that the first (and only) folklore book by Shane MacDougall was a much better seller than all of my martial arts books put together.
Here’s the problem. With that first folklore book I’d established a new ‘brand’. I was Shane MacDougall, folklorist. Shane got invited to speak at places Jonathan didn’t. Jonathan began to resent that.
So, Jonathan killed Shane off (just as Stephen King killed off Richard Bachman). I moved to a bigger publisher and went back to my real name. VAMPIRE UNIVERSE was the first folklore book by Jonathan Maberry. And, yes, I had to deal with folks saying that I was copying the style of the late Mr. MacDougall. Life is weird.
In 2005 I decided I’d try another shift. I took a swing at writing a novel. I’d never done fiction before and I had no fricking idea if I’d be any good at it. On the other hand I had no fricking idea that I wouldn’t be good at it, so I tried. In 2006 my first novel, GHOST ROAD BLUES, was published by Pinnacle Books. It was the lead-off to a trilogy of supernatural thrillers set in a fictional small Pennsylvania town of Pine Deep. It won the Bram Stoker Award for Best First Novel. The sequel, DEAD MAN’S SONG came a year later, and the final book, BAD MOON RISING, landed in bookstores this past May.
Suddenly I was a novelist. I’d written three 140 thousand word monster books in under three years and I was getting pretty well known as a horror writer.
And, though I love horror, I have this atavistic dream of being pigeon-holed.
So, my next book, PATIENT ZERO, is a mainstream thriller. It’s intended to launch a new series of novels featuring Joe Ledger, a Baltimore detective (Joe Ledger) is recruited by a government agency (the DMS: Department of Military Sciences) to combat a terrorist group bent on releasing a plague. It’s not horror. Of course…the plague does turn people into zombies, but it’s really grounded in science (to a fairly alarming level!). It was pitched as a thriller, bought as a thriller, and will be released by St. Martins Press as a thriller on March 3, 2009.
One of the most common things I’m asked in interviews is: Isn’t switching genre supposed to be a risky move for an author?
Maybe ten years ago that was true. Nowadays it’s all a matter of how you manage your career. I’m a believer in the philosophy that a writer writes. End of definition. A writer should be able –and certainly willing—to write anything. Fiction or non; light or heavy; pop culture or literature; self-help or technical.
A writer who says that they’re a specific kind of write shoots themselves in the foot. Markets and trends change. Readers are fickle. Genres come and go. A writer should be able to move with these changes, swimming with the current rather than against it. And no matter what they’re writing it should also be their very best work. The most recent thing a writer turns in should be their best stuff. Every single time.
For me, the shift to thrillers is a comfortable and necessary step. It’s where my muse is pointing me (or, perhaps, pushing me). At the same time I’m experimenting with a novel in a proposed dark fantasy series, a gritty crime drama, a young adult novel, as well as a pitch for comics and an entertainment news show I co-created for ABC Disney.
I love the freedom of movement, and I really dig the challenge of finding new voices for each of these projects..
Who knows what I’ll be writing in ten years. Maybe books on cooking or novels about fuzzy bunnies.
Hell...anything’s possible. But I’m a writer. I write.