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Jonathan Maberry

Jonathan Maberry


10-17-07: interviews Jonathan Maberry author of the military science fiction novel Patient Zero (St. Martins Press, 2009)

MilSciFi: "Welcome. What was your inspiration for your story?"

Maberry: "First, let me clarify a point about my genre.  Patient Zero is not a standard military SF novel.  It’s more of a science thriller with a strong military presence.

The idea grew out of research I was doing for a pop culture nonfiction book I was writing for Citadel Press called Zombie CSU: The Forensic Science of the Living Dead, in which I interviewed hundreds of experts in various fields (forensics, law enforcement, the sciences, the military, etc.) on how they might react/respond to a crisis along the lines of the events in Night of the Living Dead.  The zombie films, as George A. Romero created them, really belong in science fiction rather than horror as the threat is the result of radiation (from a returning Venus space probe) or a plague –pick your favorite theory.

While in discussions with various experts I began to toy with the idea of terrorists using a disease that could simulate the qualities of a flesh-eating zombie.  My experts gave me enough hard science to make the plot plausible.

And once I had the threat I needed something that could effectively respond to it, and I created the DMS (the Department of Military Sciences).  This organization, nicknamed ‘Geeks and Shooters’ by one of the characters, is a military unit created to be independent of the normal cumbersome chain of command.  They have a big budget, the best toys, and a rapid-response approach.  None of this is off-world, there are no spaceships, no aliens...but there is a lot of special ops-type of action and plotlines that take a sly step over the line into science fiction.  Think X-Files meets The Unit and you’ll be on the right page."

MilSciFi: "Do you have any future plans for stories set in the same universe?"

Maberry: "I have a deal with St. Martin’s Press to write at least three of these novels.  The working title of the second one is The King of Plagues and the working title of the third will either be Fury Road or Deep Dark (at least at this writing)."

MilSciFi: "What would your ideal project be if you could plan your own anthology?"

Maberry: "I’d love to do an anthology of special ops vs. monsters stories, with an emphasis on genuine police (SWAT, etc.) or military special forces (Rangers, Delta, etc.) in conflict with either the supernatural or paranormal."

MilSciFi: " What other upcoming works are on the horizon for you?"

Maberry: "I have a bunch of books coming out over the next few years.  In 2008 Pinnacle Books will release Bad Moon Rising, the concluding book of the Pine Deep Trilogy that began with the Bram Stoker Award-winning Ghost Road Blues and continued with Dead Man’s Song.  That series wraps up with one hell of a fierce battle as vampires and zombies attack the small rural Pennsylvania town of Pine Deep on Halloween.  That comes out May 8, 2008

The Zombie CSU debuts in August 2008, and that’ll be a lot of fun.  I plan to tour heavily in support of that, including panels, conference appearances, and maybe some TV and radio.

Both of these books feature a lot of celebrity appearances.  In the novel, Bad Moon Rising, since it takes place during a big Halloween festival, I asked some actors and filmmakers from the real world if I could write them into the story as celebs making appearances when things go to hell.  They were all game.  Appearing are Tom Savini (special makeup effects master), James Gun (writer-director of Slither and screenwriter for the remake of Dawn of the Dead), Ken Foree (Peter from the original Dawn of the Dead), Brinke Stevens and Debbie Rochon (scream queens), Joe Bob Briggs (Drive-In Movie reviewer), Stephen Susco (screenwriter of the Grudge movies), and Jim O’Rear (horror film stuntman and haunted attraction consultant).  Plus some blues musicians and other folks.

In Zombie CSU, apart from the technical experts I interviewed, I also have interviews, opinions, and sidebars with Tony Todd (Candyman and star of the 1990 remake of Night of the Living Dead); Patricia Tallman (Barbara from the Night of the Living Dead remake, as well as Star Trek); Michael Kelly (‘CJ’ from the Dawn of the Dead remake); Bruce Bohne (‘Andy’ from the Dawn remake); authors David Wellington, Brian Keene, CJ Henderson, Steve Alten, Doug Clegg, and dozens of others.  Plus artists, musicians, etc.

After that, in 2009, Citadel Press will release They Bite!: The Darkly Delicious World of Supernatural Predators, a book on folklore; and in 2010, Vampire Hunters and Other Enemies of Evil.

I’m also co-authoring a couple of SF-edged zombie novels that take place during the events of the original Night of the Living Dead.

And in December 2007, Permuted Press will release the anthology History is Dead, in which I have a short, humorous horror story: “Pegleg and Paddy Save the World”.

MilSciFi: "How would you describe your experience working on the book?"

Maberry: "Patient Zero is the most fun I’ve ever had writing a novel.  It’s the fifth one I’ve written and it’s a different style.  It’s more SF than horror, but it has a flavor of the wisecracking detective genre about it.  The hero, Joe Ledger, is smart, resourceful and very capable, but he’s also damaged in important psychological and emotional ways.  Playing with a flawed character who is put in the position of having to play hero is a great challenge, and it fires up the imagination.

I write for a living and this allows me to spend whole days, day after day, with my characters.  I become immersed in their world, and that allows me to view it as real.  I’ve always loved stories in which the fantastic is embedded in reality.  That makes it more compelling, more frightening, and more fun.

The response we’ve gotten to Patient Zero since the deal was announced a few months ago has been enormous, including being approached by a number of very big names in Hollywood."

MilSciFi: "How long have you been writing?"

Maberry: "I’ve been writing and selling since my junior year of college (1978), and since then I’ve sold 18 nonfiction books (initially martial arts or self-defense; recently folklore, occult and paranormal); six novels (three supernatural thrillers to Pinnacle Books; three bio-terrorism thrillers to St. Martins Press); plus over 1000 feature articles, two plays, short stories, rock lyrics, greeting cards, video name it.

In 2002 I switched from writing part time to doing it as a full-time gig, though I also teach writing.  I co-founded a writers center, The Writers Corner USA (in Doylestown, PA), and I lecture at universities, writers conferences, genre conferences, writers groups, libraries and museums."

MilSciFi: "If you had a chance to write one story/novel just because you wanted to, and didn't have to worry about if it would sell or not, what would it be about?"

Maberry: "I already did that.  Back in 1984 I wrote a play called Tales from the Fire Zone, which was produced on both coasts and gained a bit of a cult following.  More recently I adapted it into a novel.  The book is avant-garde and surreal.  It’s an urban fantasy about how people whose lives have been polluted by evil, abuse or other damage can reshape the fabric of reality to create a world in which they can both survive and thrive.  When I come up for air from my other writing commitments I’m going to give it a final draft and let me agent see what she can do with it."

MilSciFi: "What is your favorite story/novel you have ever written and why?"

Maberry: "For me that answer is always going to be: The one I’m working on now.  I’ve loved each of my books as I’ve written them, and still love them now that they’re out...but once I move onto a new project I get totally absorbed in it.  Patient Zero is, I feel, my best writing to date.  And I hope I can make a similar statement with each new book."

MilSciFi: "Give us the details on your upcoming author appearances."

Maberry: "I’m in the last leg of a long book tour for Bad Moon Rising and The Cryptopedia (an occult and paranormal dictionary just released from Citadel Press).  I’ve got a number of signings and appearances slated all over the East Coast.

I’ll definitely be at PhilCon again this year (I never miss PhilCon); and I’ll be doing a reading at McNally Robinson NYC on Halloween.  And I’ve just been tapped to be the keynote speaker for the Greater Lehigh Valley Writers Conference in 2008."

MilSciFi: "What advice would you give the aspiring military science fiction writer?"

Maberry: "I’d give them the same advice I give all of my writing students: “Make the story about people first and events second.”

MilSciFi: "Who is your single-most influence in science fiction and what impact have they had on our own work?"

Maberry: "Richard Matheson truly changed my life with Shrinking Man and I Am Legend.  Matheson, who I met when I was a young teen, explained to me the secret of great science fiction.  He said, “The best SF is always a vehicle for a message of great importance.  More people will listen to the truth if there are spaceships and rayguns than if you tell it plain, so use that.”

MilSciFi: "What is the one thing you find the most difficult about writing military science fiction?"

Maberry: "I don’t have a military background.  In the early 1980s I worked as a professional bodyguard, and went through extensive training with the FBI and other groups to learn counter-terrorism, kidnap prevention, and similar skills.  And I’ve taught hand-to-hand combat, restrain-and-control, and risk management to law enforcement for years.  But my martial arts instructors were all military.  So I have a lot of different military, law enforcement, and paramilitary influences and as a result I have to sort out which bit of jargon or procedure comes from which group so the details are accurate in the book.

When in doubt, though, I call an expert and ask; and I have a terrific network of experts in all sorts of fields, from local law to military to Homeland Security."

MilSciFi: "Do you have any awards you would like to tell us about?"

Maberry: "I’ve been tremendously fortunate to have received a couple of major awards because of my writing.  The most recent was the Bram Stoker Award for Best First Novel for my supernatural thriller Ghost Road Blues.  That book was also nominated for Best Novel, but some guy named ‘Stephen King’ beat me (perhaps you’ve heard of him?).

Prior to launching into fiction I wrote a number of nonfiction books on martial arts and self-defense, and as a result of that (plus some other contributions as an instructor and teacher of jujutsu), I was inducted into the National and International Martial Arts Halls of Fame, in 2003 and 2004 respectively.  I was also given the International Martial Arts Hall of Fame Achievement Award by the World Head of Family Sokeship Council –an international organization of senior martial arts masters."

MilSciFi: "Do you have a website where our readers can go to fine more information about your work?"

Maberry: "I have a couple of sites. 
My primary author site is  I also co-own a writers education center in Doylestown, PA (; and am launching a horror and dark SF genre magazine, Cryptopedia Magazine on Halloween (

I can be found on MySpace at,, and "

MilSciFi: "Do you write under any other names?"

Maberry: "Not recently.  I did a number of articles over the years using pen names, but only at the editors’ request when I had multiple articles in a given issue.  And I did one book under the pen name of ‘Shane MacDougall’, which was The Vampire Slayers’ Field Guide to the Undead.  My publisher at the time felt that as I had been writing martial arts books and winning awards that my readers would think I’d gone daffy if I suddenly started writing about vampires, so he asked me to use a pen name.  I did it once and will never do it again."

MilSciFi: "Is military science fiction the only thing you write, or is there something else out there we should be looking for?"

Maberry: "As I mentioned earlier, I’m not quite sure military SF is an accurate name for what I write.  God knows I certainly read a lot of it.  My first three novels were supernatural thrillers; my next three (at least) will be counter-terrorism thrillers, but they certainly deal with the military and SF themes.

As far as what I’ll write in the future...I guess we’ll have to wait and find out!"


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