interviews Jonathan Maberry author of the military science fiction novel Patient
Zero (St. Martins Press, 2009)
What was your inspiration for your story?"
let me clarify a point about my genre. Patient
Zero is not a standard military SF novel.
Itís 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 Ėpick your
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 ĎGeeks and
Shootersí 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 youíll 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. Martinís 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
would your ideal project be if you could plan your own anthology?"
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
Manís 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
CSU debuts in August 2008, and thatíll 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 OíRear (horror film stuntman and haunted
attraction consultant). Plus some blues
musicians and other folks.
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 (ĎCJí from the Dawn of the Dead remake); Bruce Bohne (ĎAndyí 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.
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: ďPegleg and Paddy Save the WorldĒ.
would you describe your experience working on the book?"
Zero is the most fun Iíve ever had writing a novel. Itís the fifth one Iíve written and itís a
different style. Itís 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 heís 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. Iíve
always loved stories in which the fantastic is embedded in reality. That makes it more compelling, more
frightening, and more fun.
weíve 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
MilSciFi: "How long
have you been writing?"
been writing and selling since my junior year of college (1978), and since then
Iíve 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 scripts...you 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?"
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.
Itís 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 Iím 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 Iím working on now. Iíve loved each of my books as Iíve written
them, and still love them now that theyíre 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: "Iím 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). Iíve got a number of signings
and appearances slated all over the East Coast.
be at PhilCon again this year (I never miss PhilCon); and Iíll be doing a
reading at McNally Robinson NYC on Halloween. And Iíve just been tapped to be the keynote
speaker for the Greater Lehigh Valley Writers Conference in 2008."
advice would you give the aspiring military science fiction writer?"
give them the same advice I give all of my writing students: ďMake the story
about people first and events second.Ē
MilSciFi: "Who is
your single-most influence in science fiction and what impact have they had on
our own work?"
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, ďThe 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.Ē
MilSciFi: "What is
the one thing you find the most difficult about writing military science
Maberry: "I donít
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 Iíve 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?"
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 ĎStephen Kingí beat me (perhaps
youíve heard of him?).
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 Ėan international organization of senior martial arts masters."
MilSciFi: "Do you
have a website where our readers can go to fine more information about your
Maberry: "I have
a couple of sites.
My primary author
site is www.jonathanmaberry.com. I also co-own a writers education center in Doylestown, PA (www.writerscornerusa.com); and
am launching a horror and dark SF genre magazine, Cryptopedia Magazine on
I can be found
on MySpace at www.myspace.com/jonathan_maberry, www.myspace.com/zombiecsu, and www.myspace.com/writerscornerusa "
MilSciFi: "Do you
write under any other names?"
recently. I did a number of articles
over the years using pen names, but only at the editorsí request when I had
multiple articles in a given issue. And
I did one book under the pen name of ĎShane MacDougallí, which was The
Vampire Slayersí 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 Iíd 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."
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, Iím 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.
far as what Iíll write in the future...I guess weíll have to wait and find out!"