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!