Monday, December 31, 2007

Happy New Year!

This is the last blog of I’ll be brief and just wish all of my many and varied creative friends (authors, artists, models, actors, freelancers, agents, editors, filmmakers, comic creators, producers, and publishers).

May 2008 bring astounding success to us all!

Jonathan Maberry

Friday, December 28, 2007



Not only is 2007 coming to an end but I just put the wraps on my latest novel, PATIENT ZERO. I feel pretty darn good about both endings.

The year was a turbulent one, with extreme highs and lows. Friends and relations passed on while new friendships were made. There were significant changes in my business affairs, including making an exciting three-book deal with a new publisher. My first novel, GHOST ROAD BLUES, won the Bram Stoker Award for best first novel and was a serious contender for Novel of the Year (some guy named Stephen King walked off with that one). And all sorts of other stuff happened. On balance, now that the year is just about over, I think I can put 2007 as a whole in the ‘plus’ column. The bad stuff…well, who the hell wants to hold on to negative memories? Besides, I was once described as ‘annoyingly optimistic’ –a comment that was intended as a slight but which, in keeping with my nature, I took as a compliment.

Wrapping the book was one of the biggest events. It marks a transition point in my career, perhaps one of the two biggest transition points of my entire career. For nearly thirty years I’ve been selling my writing. I started back in college with article sales to Black Belt and other martial arts magazines, and over the last few decades nearly all of my writing energies have been directed to nonfiction. Over 1100 articles, twenty nonfiction books, thousands of column entries, video scripts, package inserts, etc. I dabbled some in fiction by writing a couple of plays which were modestly produced (TALES FROM THE FIRE ZONE was the most successful), and sold a couple of short stories back in the late 80s/early 90s. But at the time fiction wasn’t a compelling force within my creative make-up.

Then in 2004 I took a swipe at writing a novel that drew on the information I’d gathered from my research into supernatural folklore for the books VAMPIRE SLAYERS’ FIELD GUIDE TO THE UNDEAD and VAMPIRE UNIVERSE. I had no idea if long fiction was going to be either satisfying or successful, but I’ve always loved experimenting within the world of writing –wanting to learn the boundaries of my creative strengths and weaknesses. The book that came out of that experiment was GHOST ROAD BLUES.

That story turned out to be bigger than I’d originally thought and as I worked through the early drafts it became clear that I was writing a horror trilogy –something that you generally don’t see in that genre. The second book, DEAD MAN’S SONG, came out in July and the final installment, BAD MOON RISING is set for release on May 8, 2008.

The next story I cooked up, however, was not exactly horror. I had the idea for a counter-terrorism novel in which a disease pathogen caused symptoms that closely resembled those of the zombies in flicks like Night of the Living Dead. Not a supernatural story, and not quite SF. More like the thrillers of Michael Crichton and James Rollins. A science thriller.

When my agent pitched the book it was variously seen as a zombie book (which it really isn’t, although I can’t imagine zombie fans not being satisfied by the amount of zombie-themed action in it) or a bio-terrorism novel (which is, technically, is). Either way I’m happy because it was a damn fun book to write.

I got to create a new set of characters and character development is one of my favorite parts of writing (along with intense action and dialogue). I wanted to create characters that I liked and cared about. The book is intended to launch a series of thrillers in which the hero, Joe Ledger, and his colleagues in the DMS (Department of Military Sciences) continually confront warped science in the form of threats to national or global security.

I finished the polished draft on December 27. Yesterday. I printed out a couple of copies and mailed it off to my editor, Michael Homler of St. Martin’s Press, today.

About one minute after I finish this blog I’m going to launch into writing the sequel, THE KING OF PLAGUES.

It’s a great way to end a year, and a great way to start a new one.

I love the writing life!

Friday, December 21, 2007

3-Act Structure for Novels


All storytelling is built on three acts: the set-up; the main exposition & action; the resolution. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a novel, short story, screenplay, or stand-up comic’s joke –they all have the three acts. Even plays broken down into four or five acts still use the three-act structure to tell the story.

When I plot a novel –and especially when I rewrite after finishing a first draft—the first thing I do is craft an outline that identifies the three acts.

Here’s how I view the elements that make up the three acts:

ACT ONE (aka Part One)
· We meet the protagonist and most of the central characters.
· The major plotline is introduced–either overtly or through foreshadowing. This is the main “problem” or “issue” around which the novel revolves.
· Subplots are introduced to give complexity and variety to the events.
· Often Act One begins with a dramatic moment, or teaser, as a way of hooking the reader’s interest, and then we settle down to introduce our characters and establish the “world” in which they live.
· Good novels start at some interesting point. Have a reason for page one to open the story.
· Begin the process of establishing the reader’s emotional & intellectual reactions to the characters.
o Who is the protagonist?
o Do we like this person?
o Do we care about what is happening?
o Do we care about the relationships that being established?
o What does the protagonist have to solve in order for the book to ultimate conclude?
o Is the problem compelling enough to draw us through several hundred pages?
· The villain is introduced no later than the end of Act One.

· In novels the middle act is generally the longest and involves the deepening & exploration of the central plot themes.
· Character relationships are fleshed out and explored.
· Complications are introduced that will change the direction of the story and begin steering it in unexpected directions.
· Backstory is provided.
· This is the most important act in the drama because you have the two most important structural moves in the story.
· By the end of Act Two things should look pretty grim for the protagonist. It has to seem that what he is trying to do mail fail.
· Act Two ends with a dramatic turn of events.

· This is where all of the plot threads are woven together and drawn tight.
· By the end of act three every major character will have gone through some process of change, for good or bad.
· The world we introduced our readers to at the beginning of Act One is now different.
· Most of Act Three is a race to resolve the story.
· You must resolve the story.
· The good guys don’t always win (though they seldom lose in bestsellers).

Thursday, December 20, 2007



I was at the end of the Baby Boom (born in ’58) but my wife was born ten years earlier, so she was a bona-fide hippie living in the Village during the 1960s, wearing love beads...doing the whole peace and love groove.

One of the things we both love is the music of the Beatles.

A couple of months ago Julie Taymor, director of FRIDA, released a stunning movie based on and built around Beatles music: ACROSS THE UNIVERSE. We absolutely loved this flick. We saw it three times, dragging other ex-hippie friends along with us. We’ve just about worn out the CD soundtrack.

The movie stars Evan Rachel Wood (currently Marilyn Manson’s main squeeze and an enormously talented singer!), a brilliant Jim Sturges, and a supporting case of superb relative unknowns: Joe Anderson, Dana Fuchs, Martin Luther McCoy, and T.V. Carpio; plus cool guest stars: Joe Cocker, Bono, Eddie Izzard and Salma Hyek.

Here’s the weird part: the critics savaged it and the audience stayed away in droves.

This is the best movie musical I’ve seen in years. Thoroughly watchable and, unlike other Beatles-themed films (and the piss-poor SGT PEPPER comes to mind) this one actually makes the lyrics and the story work together. The performances and song interpretations are amazing; and with T-Bone Burnett (O BROTHER WHERE ART THOU?) doing the music and arranging it’s no wonder.

I want this to become a cult classic. It SHOULD become a classic (and the reviewers can go jump in a lake). If you haven’t seen’ll be on DVD in February and on-demand in January. If you dig the Beatles and if you have an understanding of what the 60’s were all about, then do yourself a favor and watch this flick.

-Jonathan Maberry

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

I AM LEGEND, dammit

Okay...going to rant now. I generally don’t like blogs used for rants but I guess sometimes you just gotta do what you gotta do.

A few weeks ago I posted a blog about I AM LEGEND, in which I discussed meeting the author, Richard Matheson, when I was a teenager and how much of an impact he and his writings had on me. He’d given me a copy of I AM LEGEND when I was fourteen and it’s one of my favorite books. I also regard it as a masterpiece of social commentary with layers of psychological subtext.

I just went and saw the newest film adaptation of the book, starring Will Smith. I’m not a happy camper.

First let me say some nice things about the flick. Will Smith can act rings around a lot of other actors in Hollywood. There are a couple of scenes in the film (one based on grief over a loved one’s death and another where we can see his mind fracturing when something inexplicable happens.) Few actors could have pulled off what he did. So, Kudos to Will.

Also, the dog is adorable and I’m a sucker for German Shepherds.

If I had never read the book I would have thought that the film was ¾’ths of a great flick.


The downsides, of which there are too many, start with the fact that they did not film the damn book. They didn’t even try. I’m pretty sure they didn’t GET the book, and certainly didn’t put any value on the significance of its story. In the novel the protagonist goes from being a heroic figure fighting to keep evil at bay to becoming the legend of evil for an entirely new culture. It’s what makes the title so profound. None of that is in this flick.

Granted, it wasn’t in the Vincent Price version (THE LAST MAN ON EARTH) or the absurd Chuck Heston psycho albino take (OMEGA MAN)...but I really had high hopes for this one. Instead they just made it another last man on earth drama.

The entire third act --from the appearance of the woman and the boy—is the worst example of deus ex machina I’ve seen in years. Hokey, sappy, and it gives what could have been a powerful social commentary a Disney ending, during which a nonsense voice over attempts to tie in this new storyline to the title...and fails. Audience members laughed. No one cheered.

I’m a huge science fiction fan and I’ll even watch bad sci-fi flicks (I’ve seen every Godzilla flick three times or more), but when you take a great novel and demonstrably miss the point, then it just becomes a very expensive waste of time.

Here endeth the rant.

Jonathan Maberry

Tuesday, December 18, 2007


I’m a sucker for Christmas, what can I tell you. I’ve been playing Christmas music while I write (Accuradio’s Celtic Christmas is on right now); and I just finished listening to A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens, read on audio disk by Jim Dale (the guy who read the Harry Potter books and narrates Pushing Daisies on TV). Dale nails the book and I’d put it on a par with the wonderful Frank Muller version of a few years back.

That book, written over 150 years ago still nails me. It’s Dickens at his best. It isn’t wordy, which means his figurative language doesn’t get lost in the I’m-getting-paid-by-the-word descriptive marathons. It has some insightful characters, surprisingly contemporary (at times) dialogue, and even a little bit of flirtatious fun.

I’ve seen just about every dramatic re-imagining of the book. And yearly I enter into debates about which version is better, the George C. Scott TV movie or the Alistair Sim film version. That’s a discussion that, when between two grown men who have been drinking hot winter drinks, is probably very funny to listen to -though deadly serious between us. (There’s probably a short story just on that lurking somewhere.)

I’m going to publicly throw my hat in the ring for the Scott version. His Scrooge is more layered, complex, and subtle; and his transformation more considered. Edward Woodward makes the toughest Ghost of Christmas Present ever seen. And Roger Rees is the ONLY actor I’ve ever seen actually nail the emotional depth necessary to make his early speech in Scrooge’s office sound powerful enough to ‘shake’ his uncle. On the downside, the kid they have playing Tiny Tim looks like a zombie (hey....Scrooge of the Living Dead, there may be something there!).

Now, before anyone boils me with my own pudding and buries me with a stake of holly through my heart, the Alistair Sim version is pretty great, too; but it strays much farther from the source material. A lot of the Christmas Past exposition is new (and very good) stuff written for that film.’s miles ahead of anything even remotely in third place.

Later today, when I take a break from revising my current novel (PATIENT ZERO, due on the desk of editor at St. Martin’s Press in a couple of weeks) I’ll probably watch the Bill Murray Scrooged version...and maybe even, God help me, the Mr. Magoo version.

Jonathan Maberry
Writers Corner USA

Friday, December 14, 2007

Character Point of View Part 2

Since I posted a blog on Character Point of View earlier this week I’ve gotten a ton of email, IM’s and posts. Seems to be a topic worth returning to, and specifically with how that POV thing can be tweaked for effect.

I first experimented with shifting points of view for a scene in GHOST ROAD BLUES (Pinnacle Books, 2006), and in that case I had to select which character's point of view (even in 3rd person) would inform the scene. I had an ensemble cast and throughout the books different scenes were filtered through one or another character's perspective. And then I had a scene where three of the key players were in the same scene. Because I wanted an emotional connection to the scene I wanted to make sure that the scene played out from one character's POV. I wrote it three different ways -from the POV of the bad guy (Karl Ruger), from his intended victim (Val Guthrie) and from the hero (Crow). Each version made the scene feel different.

In the end I chose to begin the scene with Ruger's POV, because he's in charge of the moment; but as the scene moves on I gradually shifted it to Crow's POV as he begins to dominate the encounter.

I've gotten a lot of very positive feedback about the scene, which involves a seriously down-and-dirty fight scene in the rain. Some of the most stimulating feedback was from folks who have been in the fiction biz a lot longer than I have.

Experimentation expands the writer's mind!

Thursday, December 13, 2007



I love switching genres. I started out writing nonfiction books on martial arts, then shifted that to write textbooks on women’s self-defense and safety awareness. That may sound like a similar type of book to the martial arts books, but it’s not. Different audience, different info, different style.

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 out from Citadel in September 07)

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 out in July; and next May the series wraps with BAD MOON RISING.

This past weekend I just finished writing PATIENT ZERO, a totally new kind of book for me. It’s a bio-terrorism thriller in which 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.

Now, you may ask, isn’t switching genre supposed to be a risky move for an author? I don’t see it that way. After all, Stephen King has published books that are technically horror (SALEM’S LOT, THE SHINING), Young Adult fantasy (THE TALISMAN), adult fantasy (THE DARK TOWER series); science fiction (CARRIE, FIRESTARTER, THE CELL), urban fantasy (LISEY’S STORY), post-apocalyptic science fantasy (THE STAND), young adult dram (THE GIRL WHO LOVED TOM GORDON), and even suspense (MISERY). And a whole bunch of other stuff that would fit on a dozen different bookstore shelves.

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 young adult horror/comedy novel.

I love the freedom of movement, and I really dig the challenge of finding new voices for the characters living in my head.

Who knows what I’ll be writing in ten years. Maybe books on cooking or novels about fuzzy bunnies.

Hell...anything’s possible.

Jonathan Maberry

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Character Point Of View

A few weeks ago I was giving a talk at a library to a group of folks who are working on breaking into the writing biz (and a few folks who just loitered in the back while I spoke). The Q&A part of the talk wandered onto the subject of character points of view.

One of the folks in the audience --a person who had read my first two novels, Ghost Road Blues and Dead Man’s Song—asked how I get inside the heads of the villainous characters. My novels (they’re books 1 and 2 of a trilogy that will wrap with Bad Moon Rising in May ’08) include a number of bad guys. One is a psychotic serial killer and gangster named Karl Ruger, known for savagely murdered a group of senior citizens. Another one, Vic Wingate, is an abusive stepfather who savagely beats his fourteen-year old stepson. Then there is a nutso religious fanatic named Tow-Truck Eddie who believes that the voice in his head is God telling him to murder the local paperboy. And the last is an immortal monster. Each of them is a total creep in his own way, and each of them do some very, very bad things.

I, on the other hand, am not a creep and I don’t do very bad things. So, how do I crawl inside the heads of bad guys? That was the topic of conversation.

The answer is both simple and complex. The simple answer is: that’s what writers do. After all a writer doesn’t have to share lifestyle paths, political views, gender, or any other qualities with their characters. J. K. Rowling isn’t an English schoolboy any more than Stephen King wasn’t a religiously oppressed teenage high school girl.

The more complex answer is based on what a writer deliberately does to improve his craft. Shifting points of view is a great exercise for writers (just as it is for actors, artists, etc.). It forces us to take a different psychological or emotional stance. It helps us see through other eyes.

I have a writing exercise based on point of view (POV) that I use with my writing students. Here’s an example of how it works:

I’ll describe something (since ‘tis the season, let’s pick a Christmas tree). Then I’ll ask my students to describe that tree in 1-3 paragraphs. Generally their descriptions will be based on their own takes on Christmas, and there’s a lot of variety there (a class with Christians, agnostics, Jews, etc. will yield substantially different results).

Then, every few minutes I tell them to start with a fresh sheet of paper and describe the Christmas tree as seen by:

· A burglar breaking into the house on Christmas Eve.
· A broken-hearted old woman sitting alone
· A cop at a crime scene
· A blind man who has just had successful surgery to restore his eyesight
· A serial killer
· A young man arriving at a house to pick up his date
· A Hindu visiting a co-worker’s house for dinner
· And so on...
With each new personality model the Christmas tree becomes a different thing because each of these characters could not possibly have the same reference points. The writer then has to imagine their thoughts/reactions/opinions, either based on pure imagination or on information and/or experiences with persons who might fight (to some degree) the models provided.

If you’re a writer give it a try. Feel free to post your version here in the comments section. It’ll definitely be interesting.

-Jonathan Maberry

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Write, Dammit!

I’m a very disciplined writer. It’s my day job, so slouching around the house, watching zombie flicks, or playing Snood pretty much doesn’t get the job done...though I have palyed hookey a few times and done each of those things (sometimes all at once).

But for the most part I believe in establishing and maintaing good work habits. I write every day, and I did that long before writing became my 9-5 job. I’m a believer in that saying: “If you write every day you get better every day.” I roll out of bed around 7:30 and by 8-ish I’m at my desk. I set goals for myself –usually 4000 words per day. If I write more, that’s great, but it doesn’t mean I can write less tomorrow. On weekends I scale it back to about 1000 words.

I’m also pretty structured in my approach to storytelling. I’m a list maker and a devoted believer in the power of the Outline. Mind you, I do allow for a lot of flexibility. I write my outline first and then knock out some character profiles. Then I sit down and draft out a very rough ‘preliminary synopsis’ of what the finished book might be like. I like complicated storylines and deep-reaching character development, and that has to be planned to some degree.

However I have never finished a project that bears much resemblance to the original outline. Books are organic and they’ll change in the telling. The outline allows me to remember the underlying logic of the story, but I often let the characters drive the car.

Also, as you develop a scene there is an internal logic that often necessitates story changes you did not initially predict. This is cause and effect as applied to writing, and that allows the story to take on a pattern closer to reality.

When I started writing novels it took about a year and a half to finish one; now it takes 4 to 6 months, and the process has become a lot more fun, too.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007


Today was another ‘Career Day’ outing for me. There’s an organization in Doylestown that brings professionals from a variety of fields in to middle schools to talk about what we do. We’re supposed to dress the way we dress for work, and to talk about the ups and downs of our jobs, and what newbies can expect.

If I were to actually wear what I normally wear to work -such as what I’m wearing at the moment—I think the schools might get a bit upset. I work from home. Currently I’m wearing gray-plaid fleece pajama bottoms, socks with a garish Christmas pattern, a black beater undershirt that’s seen better decades, and I have Irish punk music (the Pogues, Flogging Molly) cranked up loud enough to sterilize an elk. That’s me at work.

For the kids I put on jeans and a flannel shirt and even combed my hair.

These talks are a lot of fun. Really. Especially when you listen to what the kids have to say. They’re really bright little blighters. Smart, insightful, subtle, funny, and a lot savvier than I remember my 9th grade peer group ever being. I’m not sure when this evolutionary jump happened, but these kids would probably cream my generation on the SATs. Granted we could physically kick their asses, but that’s hardly a career talking point.

Usually I get a couple of these bright young ones to join one of my teen novel writing programs, and then I really get to see what ticks inside their brains. I’m always in awe of the young intellect and imagination. Wow.

Kids are smart. Who’da thunk it?

Sunday, December 2, 2007

When Sane People See Weird Things

Since early Fall of 2005 there have been a number of sightings of a strange dog-like creature roaming the fringes of various Bucks County, PA towns. The creature looks like a mix of dog, jackal, and kangaroo, and was dubbed ‘The Yardley Yeti’ by newspaper columnist J. D. Mullane (Bucks County Courier Times). Other folks are calling it The Lower Makefield Lurker (or Lower Makefield Monster), the Bucks County Boggart, and the New Hope Hyena.

Lower Makefield Police Chief Ken Coluzzi said that his department had fielded a lot of reports about the creature. Chief Coluzzi remarked: “The greatest part of this job is the unknown. We say that it’s the greatest show on earth. Just when you think you have seen and done it all-- 'bam' -- another bizarre encounter occurs. When I first overheard the conversations about a sighting of a mutant dog like creature I just laughed. Then the reports started coming in. Officers were called to various locations within my township to take reports of people who claim to have spotted it. They did not know what it was. Some called it a cross between a dog and a hyena. Others said a wolf dog, and others said it was a sick looking fox like creature. Others said a coyote.”

Now here’s where this story gets even weirder...I’ve not only seen it, I’ve taken photos of it. Considering that I write books about strange creatures, it seems wonderfully appropriate that I got a chance to not only see the thing, but to photograph it.

My wife, Sara Jo, and I were visiting the Michener Art Museum in New Hope, PA on October 30 of 2005. We had our camera with us (a Minolta D-Image digital). In the parking lot we saw a very odd-looking creature moving among the parked cars. It was brownish, with some gray, with an unhealthy-looking coat. The creature moved very quickly. Never aggressive in any way. It didn’t even take notice of us other than to continue moving away from us. It moved out of the parking lot and across the tracks of the Ivyland-New Hope line before finally disappearing into some brush. It made no sound, and didn’t even react when I made some noise to try and attract its attention. At a guess I’d put it at about 25-30 pounds, give or take.

After seeing the photos, Chief Coluzzi observed: “When I viewed the pictures you sent me I was truly amazed. It appeared to me to be a mix of all the descriptions. Whatever it is or turns out to be, I hope our suspicious creature likes us.”

If it’s a dog...then it is the weirdest mutt I ever saw. If it’s a fox, then the critter has been popping steroids. For a while I was convinced that it was a fox with mange or some other disease, but local vets and zoo personnel have disagreed and have said they’re not sure what it is.

I’ve since seen it twice more. Once in the parking lot of a Wegmen’s supermarket on 611 (in Warrington, PA) and again last night on Byberry Road in Northeast Philadelphia. I still don’t what the critter is.

To see photos of it, click on this link:

You tell me what it is!

Friday, November 30, 2007


One of the things I love best about the writing biz is the ‘author appearance’. Whether it’s a book signing, a lecture, a panel discussion, or a reading, I love either being in the crowd to meet one of my favorite authors or being the author sitting there at the table.

This weekend I’m going to get a chance to do a little of both.

Tonight my good buddy Jon McGoran will be signing books at the Doylestown Bookshop (Doylestown Bookshop;; 16 S Main St; Doylestown, PA 18901; 215/230-7610 ). Jon writes terrific forensics mysteries under the pen name of D. H. Dublin. His first book, BLOOD POISON, introduced rookie forensic investigator Madison Cross and it was one of these debut books that make it clear to anyone that this guy is going to have a real career: long, varied and interesting. His second book, BODY TRACE, just confirms what the rest of knew all along. It’s just as good and maybe even a little bit better. Come on up to Doylestown and meet this guy.

Then tomorrow I’ll be doing a reading and signing at Between Books; 2703 Philadelphia Pike; Claymont, DE 19703;; 302/798-3378. This is one of the best genre bookstores in the country. I always have a good time at the store. Aside from a great place for an author to meet readers it’s always my favorite place to shop for horror and SF, though like all good independent stores it carries just about everything of all genres.

The real jazz in these events, whether I’m there as reader or author is that everyone there has a shared love of books. Books of all kinds, and nowhere is that more clearly celebrated than at independent bookstores. The staff KNOW books and the LOVE books. You can talk books all day long.

Come on out and join us!

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Exploring the Larger World

Since I come from a background of magazine feature writing I have the writers’ knack of becoming obsessed with a topic –for a while. Aside from the martial arts books I’ve written, I’ve also written articles about dating, mixology, jazz, blues, film, gastropod farming (no, that’s not a typo), business, parenting, writing, technology, folklore and dozens of other topics. When I’m in research mode I want to know everything I can about a subject, and then I find that one element –the hook—that will give me something unique that I can pitch.

For books, I feel that I’ve kind of ‘been there, done that’ with martial arts. I’ve been an active jujutsu practitioner for 46 years now and I’ve written extensively about it. In 2002 I ‘moved on’ from that topic and became more fully enmeshed in folklore, which has always been a passion of mine. I suppose it’s the closest thing to an abiding ‘obsession’ with me. There’s so much to say on the subject, even within my area of specialty, which is the folklore of the occult and paranormal.

My first book on that subject was The Vampire Slayers’ Field Guide to the Undead, which is the only book I ever did under a pen name (that of Shane MacDougall, an alter ego I’ve since bumped off).

That book gave me a taste for the supernatural and after I landed my agent I gave her a proposal for a new book on vampire folklore, VAMPIRE UNIVERSE, which is a collection of folklore and myths about vampires and other monsters from around the world and throughout history. That was bought by Citadel Press and bfore I’d even finished writing it the deal got tweaked and expanded so that I was suddenly under contract to write three more books in the same, um…’vein’.

The second in that series, THE CRYPTOPEDIA (co-authored with David F. Kramer) just debuted on September 1 and we’ve been touring bookstores doing talks and panel discussions. That one is an occult/paranormal dictionary covering thirteen different subject areas (from divination to UFOs).

The final two in that series are tentatively titled THEY BITE! (which discussed supernatural predators) and VAMPIRE HUNTERS AND OTHER ENEMIES OF EVIL, scheduled for release in 2009 and 2010 respectively.

In 2008 I’m diverting from folklore for a pop culture monster book: ZOMBIE CSU: The Forensic Science of the Living Dead, also for Citadel, in which I ask real-world experts in forensics, law enforcement, medicine, and science how they might react and respond to zombies (of the Night of the Living Dead variety).

One of the really fun aspects to this research is that I get to pick the brains of world-class folklorists, anthropologists, scientists, historians, as well as authors, artists and filmmakers. It’s a horror-buff’s dream job!

Cool websites to check out: (for info, art and cool facts on vampires, werewolves and other things that go bump in our collective night.) There’s even a page for the Yardley Yeti, our very own mysterious creature from here in Bucks County, PA. and for more on the fothcoming ZOMBIE CSU book. Not much stuff there now, but bookmark summer 2008 it will be zombie central!

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Hanging Out with the Ghosts in My Head

For the last few years I’ve been living in a different reality with folks that don’t really exist. And I kind of miss them. I’m getting separation anxiety.

After nearly thirty years as a writer of nonfiction articles and books I broke into fiction with my 2006 novel GHOST ROAD BLUES, the first of a trilogy of supernatural thrillers set in the fictional town of Pine Deep, Pennsylvania. (And yes, for those of you who have asked...Pine Deep is based on New Hope, PA). The trilogy continued with DEAD MAN’S SONG (released from Pinnacle Books in July) and will conclude with BAD MOON RISING in May 2008.

The thing is...all three books are written, the story is told and I’ve moved on. I’m now writing bio-terrorism thrillers for St. Martin’s Press. And though I’m loving the new book and the new cast of characters I miss that group of people I got to know in Pine Deep. You see, to me the characters are the most important part of any story. If I don’t bond with the characters (whether good or vile) I don’t become invested in the book. That’s as true for me as a writer as it is as a reader, and I felt that Malcolm Crow, Val Guthrie, Mike Sweeney, Terry Wolfe, Willard Fowler Newton, Jonatha Corbiel, Frank Ferro, Vince LaMastra and Dr. Saul Weinstock were real people. I cared about them...even the ones I eventually kill off as the series unfolds.

Recently Michaela Hamilton, my editor at Pinnacle, sent me the copy edit manuscript of Bad Moon Rising to review and make some changes. It was the first time I’d read the book since I’d wrapped it up many moons ago, and revisiting the creepy ol’ town of Pine Deep and spending time with the characters again was strangely moving. It was fun, and sad (‘cause I really do kill a bunch of them off and then have to leave all of them again.

Who knows, maybe like a guest who doesn’t want to leave a party I’ll pretend I’ve forgotten my car keys and use it as an excuse to revisit Pine Deep. One of these days.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Zombies Ate My Brains

After a break of nearly 18 years I’ve recently drifted back into the world of short story writing and this week my first short story ever to appear in an anthology has hit the stands in HISTORY IS DEAD, edited by Kim Paffenroth for Permuted Press (ISBN-10: 0978970799).

The anthology is made up of zombie stories that take place prior to the 20th century, and my contribution is “Pegleg and Paddy Save the World”, which deals with bootleggers, gangsters, zombies, a cow, and the Chicago Fire.

The whole anthology is a hoot, with wildly weird stories by authors ranging from established horror writers to talented newbies.

I mention all of this (aside from plugging the book for the nice folks at Permuted Press) because it speaks to a side of the writing mentality that a lot of folks don’t know about. We writers are, by nature, schizophrenic. We have multiple personalities speaking in our heads all the time. For Joe Ordinary this would be a cry for help and a reason to keep a loaded syringe of Thorazine handy; but for writers it’s just another day on the job.

Not only do we hear voices (and no, it isn’t God speaking through a dog telling us to shoot people), those voices carry on conversations. They don’t so much speak to us as to each other. Scenes suddenly start playing in our heads and we listen in and then write them down. It’s like a DVD player suddenly starting on its own. I get some of my best stuff when I’m in the shower. Apparently shampooing my hair does something to stimulate my inner cast of characters to start talking.

Ray Bradbury once told me: “Writing is 99% thinking and the rest is typing.” It took me a while but I get that now. The voices in my head have always understood this.

This relates to zombies as follows: The fiction I’ve been writing has been moody, threatening, and very serious. Some humor, sure, but it’s end of the world stuff because that’s what the interior voices are saying to me. When I sit down to write short stories, however, it’s an entirely different set of interior voices talking to me. And those voices are, apparently, a bunch of smart-asses. “Pegleg and Paddy Save the World” is a smartass comedy story. Not at all doom and gloom; and it came from some part of my head that I hadn’t know existed.

I can’t wait to hear what the voices have to tell me next. I think I’ll go take a shower and listen.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Don't Be's Just Horror

I’m gonna rant a little here.

The horror industry –especially where books are concerned—have gotten a bum rap. You tell most folks that you write horror and they look at you like you just said that you eat puppies.

People think that all horror is torture porn, slasher stuff, and buckets o’gore. Admittedly those elements may play into some horror, but that doesn’t define the genre. In fact, defining the genre is difficult to do when you consider that The Turn of the Screw (Henry James), The Haunting of Hill House (Shirley Jackson), The Exorcist (William Peter Blatty), and Rosemary’s Baby (Ira Levin) are no less ‘horror’ novels than Off Season (Jack Ketchum), ‘Salem’s Lot (Stephen King), Headstone City (Tom Piccirilli), Monster Island (David Wellington) or The Rising (Brian Keene).

It’s often been discussed that ‘horror’ as a genre label doesn’t quite cover it. Not all horror fiction is horrifying (The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold won the 2002 First Novel Bram Stoker Award). Not all horror fiction involves the supernatural (Silence of the Lambs won the 1989 Bram Stoker Award for Best Novel).

It’s been suggested a few times that ‘suspense’ would be a better word, or perhaps ‘thriller’; though those labels are mainly used by sub-genres of the mystery/crime fiction or action fiction markets.

I see ‘horror’ as suspenseful storytelling that may (or may not) include elements of mystery, suspense, supernatural, gore, violence, humor, passion, romance, science fiction or fantasy. And about fifty other genre elements. Horror can be edgy and raw and it can be elegant and sophisticated. Horror can be visceral or it can be entirely psychological. Horror can be shocking or it can be a slow burn. Horror can be grim or it can be funny. Horror can be niche market and it can be mainstream.

What defines horror most is good storytelling. If you haven’t read horror before, or haven’t given it a chance, be fair (and treat yourself). Start with one of the anthologies, like Stephen Jones’ Mammoth Book of Best New Horror Vol. 18 or The Year's Best Fantasy and Horror 2007: 20th Annual Collection (Year's Best Fantasy and Horror) edited by Kelly Link, Gavin Grant, and Ellen Datlow. Start with the short fiction –which will allow you to sample the writing of a lot of different horror writers (and some of the name’s may be surprisingly familiar to you!).

Then, when you find a short story that grabs you, that speaks to you...go out and find one of their novels. Take a chance. Horror may not be what you think...but once you experience will be what you think about.

And check out this link:

See you tomorrow.

Friday, November 23, 2007


A writer has to believe in himself and in the quality of his work. From my students and clients I often hear people start off by telling me, “It’s not good, but...”.

I threaten to throw things at them if they say that. (I might even be serious about that, too. Never can tell with guys like me.)

The truth is that we writers have to believe that what we write is good. Very good. Good enough to be bought, to be read, and to be appreciated. If we don’t value our work, no one else will.

It’s also smart in terms of business to place a high value on our writing. You don’t see car companies advertising their new models by saying: “It’s a junker that’ll break down every six blocks.” No, they are proud of their new cars and they make damn sure everyone hears about it.

This doesn’t mean that we can slam out something filled with errors and needing revision and say: “I wrote it, accept it as is.” It’s important for us to value ourselves enough to have the patience and clarity of vision needed to refine the product until it is market-ready. But even a knobbly, awkward first draft has real value --if it’s a COMPLETE first draft. That is a real accomplishment. From them on it’s revision and polish. No matter how crappy the first draft (and every first draft reeks a bit) there’s nothing in it that can’t be fixed, repaired, expanded, trimmed, retooled or otherwise improved.

The thing to remember is that there is a difference between ‘storytelling’ and ‘good writing’. Storytelling is all gut and imagination and intuition. You’re born with that or you’re not. Good writing on the other hand is the acquired understanding of the craft of languaging; grammar, style, structure, and all of the other techniques of writing. One is art, the other is craft. Smart writers seldom try to do both at the same time; they get the story out fast and dirty, and then they go in and let a different part of their brain pretty it up.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Networking Mojo for Writers

I run a writers center called The Writers Corner USA (, is located in a set of tiny offices in Doylestown, PA. Once a month we have this free event called The Coffeehouse, which is a no rules, no agenda networking session for writers of any kind and of any level of success (from absolute I-just-picked-up-a-pen-for-the-first-time newbies to seasoned pros with multiple books on the market.)

What we do is brew a pot of alarmingly strong coffee, dig into some doughnuts (gotta have fried and sugared carbs) and just chat about the writing life. Sometimes the mix has more beginners and then those of us who have publishing history field questions and share advice, leads, etc. Sometimes its a more even mix of newbies and pros and in those sessions everyone’s talking about some news, gossip, insight, accomplishment or opinion related to the writing life.

This whole thing came about when a bunch of my writer friends and I were sitting around drinking coffee and talking about writing. I said that it would be cool if there was a regular event called Writers Sitting Around Talking About Writing...With Coffee. That title kind of morphed into “The Writers Coffeehouse”.

Cool thing is...people have been getting real career boosts from this little java shindig. As a result of networking we’ve seen book deals, people signing with agents, collaborations forming, and a lot of traction and forward career momentum for the folks who trek to Doylestown to join us.

Won’t cost you a dime. The parking’s even free. So, if you’re in the area on the last Sunday of every month, from 12 to 2:30, then drop on by and share in the networking mojo. Oh, and if you don’t my coffee, there’s a Starbucks one short block away.

If you can’t make it...a comment for the crew (or a question) and I’ll read them at this month’s Coffeehouse.

See you there!

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

The Legend Behind I AM LEGEND

In 7th grade (1973) I was moved out of the regular English class and essentially given to the school librarian. It wasn’t a punishment...I was just a book nut at thirteen and I was in a school where most of the other kids (and a lot of the teachers, as far as I could tell) thought books and reading were about as much fun as being nibbled on by rats. Or maybe the librarian needed an Igor. Hard to say.

She turned out to be the secretary for a couple of groups of professional writers, and once I got permission from my parents to accompany her, she dragged me along to their monthly get-togethers. They definitely needed an Igor, and so once a month for the next few years I made coffee, fetched beers, and hustled chips and dip for guys like Sprague De Camp, Lin Carter, John Jakes, Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke, and a bunch of others.

And though all of those writers were (and in some cases still are) literary powerhouses, two of them took some time to sit me down and tell me about how stories are created and crafted. And each of them gave me signed copies of their books. I’m delighted that both of them are still alive and well today: Richard Matheson and Ray Bradbury. I was incredibly fortunate in that as a young teenager I got to meet them, and both of these great writers took some time to talk with me about writing, about imagination, and about thinking outside the box. I’m not joking when I say that it was life-changing.

Bradbury gave me a signed copy of Something Wicked This Way Comes. The one he gave me is put away, but I read a copy of that book every year on Halloween.

Matheson rocked my world when he gave me a copy of I Am Legend when I was fourteen. He told me to read that one and The Shrinking Man. These books were my introduction to allegory, social commentary, and the subtle underpinnings that make genre fiction so much more than most people give it credit for. I Am Legend, though a very short novel, opened my mind up and truly showed me what thinking outside the box meant.

I wonder if the new Will Smith film interpretation will do it justice?

To catch the I Am Legend trailer, click here:

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Inspiration and where to find it

In a recent interview I was asked: Where do you find your inspirations to write?

There are two ways to answer that. Like most writers I have more ideas in my head than I’ll ever have time to write. It’s funny, but one of the most common questions writers are asked is ‘Where do you get your ideas? and another is ‘Aren’t you afraid you’ll ever run out of ideas?’. A writer would never even think to ask those questions because there is always a process of creation going on in the writers’ mind. never stops. My characters begin conversations in my head. Scenes take place. For most people this would be a psychological cry for help and Thorazine might be called-for; but to a writer this is another happy day on the job.

On the other hand, specific bursts of inspiration generally come from observing life as one passes through it. Writers observe all the time, and we think about what we observe –sometimes consciously and deliberately, and sometimes subconsciously. We listen in on conversations –not to be rude, but to hear how people speak, how they relate to one another, and how they edit themselves depending on whom they’re talking with. More than once folks have seen me just standing and being quiet at a party and have mistaken that for shyness or ‘being lost in my thoughts’, but in reality I’m very present and am trying to absorb as much of what’s going on as possible. Life, when closely observed, teaches us nearly everything we need to know about making good stories and real characters.

You can read the full interview here:

Swing by to say hello: and on MySpace:

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Author Jonathan Maberry


Jonathan Maberry is the Bram Stoker Award-winning author of Ghost Road Blues (Pinnacle Books, 2006), first of a trilogy of thrillers with a supernatural bite. Publishers Weekly called it “Horror on a grand scale...reminiscent of Stephen King’s heftier works.”

Jonathan’s second novel, Dead Man’s Song, was released from Pinnacle, and the trilogy will conclude with Bad Moon Rising in 2008. He recently signed a major three-book deal with St. Martin’s Press to write a series of bio-terrorism thrillers that will introduce a new action hero, Joe Ledger; the first book in that series, Patient Zero, is tentatively scheduled for release in early 2009.

He is a professional writer and writing teacher and since 1979 has sold more than 1000 articles, seventeen nonfiction books, six novels, as well as short stories, poetry, song lyrics, video scripts, and two plays.

His nonfiction works include Vampire Universe: The Dark World of Supernatural Beings That Hunt Us, Haunt Us and Hunger For Us (Citadel Press, 2006), and The Cryptopedia: A Dictionary of the Weird, Strange and Downright Bizarre (Citadel, 2007); Zombie CSU: The Forensic Science of the Living Dead (to be release 2008); They Bite (2009); and Vampire Hunters and Other Enemies of Evil (2010). Jonathan is also the author of The Vampire Slayers’ Field Guide to the Undead (under the pen name of Shane MacDougall; the book was released in 2001).

Jonathan is the Executive Director of The Career Doctor for Writers (, which provides workshops, classes and editorial services for writers of all genres. He tours libraries and independent bookstores giving his Careers in Writing lecture to packed houses. Jonathan is a speaker for the National Writers Union, a former Board Member of the Philadelphia Writers Conference, and an active member of SFWA, MWA, and HWA. Jonathan is also the co-founder of The Wild River Review, an online literary magazine (

Jonathan is frequent writers conference speaker and has appeared at PennWriters, PhilCon, the Greater Lehigh Valley Writers Conference, Romance Writers of America, LunaCon, University of Pennsylvania Writers Conference, and many others and in 2007 will appear at Backspace and the Philadelphia Writers Conference, among others.

Jonathan is a founding partner of The Writers Corner USA at 4 West Oakland Avenue, Doylestown, PA 18901 (, a writers’ education center. The Writers Corner provides classes and workshops on the craft and business of

In 2004 Jonathan was inducted into the International Martial Arts Hall of Fame largely because of his extensive writings in that field. His martial arts books include E.S.M: Effective Survival Methods (Vortex Multimedia, 1985); Introduction to Asian Martial Arts (Vortex Multimedia, 1986); The Self-Defense Instructor’s Handbook (Vortex Multimedia, 1990); Judo and You (Kendall Hunt, 1991); Ultimate Jujutsu Principles and Practices (Strider Nolan, 2002); The Martial Arts Student Logbook (Strider Nolan, 2002); Ultimate Sparring Principles and Practices (Strider Nolan, 2003).