Interview with Jonathan Maberry, Author of ROT & RUIN

Jonathan Maberry is the author of several books and comics, including the recently released YA post-apocalyptic adventure ROT & RUIN.  Jonathan was able to evade the zombie horde long enough to drop by the virtual offices to answer some questions.

JULIE: Describe yourself in 140 characters or less.

JONATHAN:  Jonathan Maberry is a NY Times bestseller, multiple Bram Stoker Award winning author, lecturer, writing teacher and Marvel Comics writer.

JULIE: Can you tell us a little about your book, ROT AND RUIN?

MABERRY:  ROT & RUIN is the first of a new series of post-apocalyptic adventures for teens.  It takes place fourteen years after a zombie plague wiped out most of humanity.  There are only a few fenced in isolated towns and the rest is the great Rot and Ruin.  Six billion zombies.

Benny Imura has just turned fifteen, which means he has to get a job.  The only one he can get is with his zombie-killer brother, Tom.  Problem is that Benny believes Tom to be a coward who deserted their parents on First Night –when the zombies rose.  It’s not the only thing Benny is dead wrong about, and when he’s forced to work with Tom and go out into the Ruin, Benny learns about the real world.  It’s both a shattering experience and one that will open his eyes forever.

ROT & RUIN explores the dynamic of a troubled relationship between brothers, and what it means to be strong and to be ‘human’. 

The book also deals with the nature of ‘evil’, and how that manifests.  There are some truly evil characters in the book, and none of them are zombies.

During the course of the book Benny learns to fight, he falls in love (maybe twice), he discovers genuine heartbreak, and comes face-to-face with death.

JULIE: How did you come up with the concept and the characters for the story?

MABERRY:  I’ve wanted to write about growing up in a post apocalyptic world since I first read Richard Matheson’s I AM LEGEND at age fourteen. And I’ve wanted to write a novel about a teenager dealing with a zombie apocalypse since I was ten, which is when NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD first premiered in theaters.  However, it wasn’t until I was approached by editor Christopher Golden to contribute a story for the zombie anthology THE NEW DEAD (St. Martin’s Griffin, 2010) that both desires collided into one story.  I wrote “Family Business” and shortly after turning it in it became clear that the events in the story were just a fragment of a much larger tale. 

When constructing the world of ROT & RUIN, I drew on my practical side.  Even though I’m a dreamer I’m also very nuts and bolts.  When I write something fantastical –whether it’s a vampire, a ghost, aliens, or something equally otherworldly, I have a need to ground it in as much reality as I can.  So, when approaching Benny Imura’s world, I thought about how living in a world with zombies would impact day to day thing.  Trade, inventions, lifestyle, jobs…even clothing.  For example, in zombie films you almost never see anyone try to properly protect themselves. They try to run through a crowd of zoms wearing only their streetclothes.  Nonsense. If I was trapped somewhere and needed to break out, I’d rip up the carpet and wrap it around me.  Ever try to bite through carpet?  A person can’t do it, and neither could a zombie.  So, in the post-apocalyptic world you have people who make and sell ‘carpet coats’. 

That’s the kind of practicality I built into the story.  It’s fun, too.

For the characters…each person in the story is drawn, in whole or part, on people I’ve known.  I usually do that.  It makes the characters more real, more nuanced.  Writers are great observers of people.

JULIE: What have you learned about yourself through your characters?

MABERRY: I always discover new ways of looking at the world when writing characters.  I shift point of view a lot in my stories, so one scene may be driven from the point of view of a teenage boy; the next might be from a girl. Or an elderly priest.  Or a psychotic killer.  In order to write these characters effectively you need to be able to shift your thoughts so that you can see the world as they do.  It doesn’t mean you agree with them, or their views; but you understand the logic of why they do what they do.  Even a madman believes that what he is doing makes sense, if only to him.

When you write stories with large, varied casts, you tend to strip away some of the limitations of your own thinking.  You can more easily see other people’s points of view.  It’s very liberating, and it gives you useful insight in day to day living.

JULIE: What made you decide to write a book about zombies?

MABERRY: My first zombie book was ZOMBIE CSU: The Forensics of the Living Dead (Citadel Press, 2008).  I was asked by a publisher to do a zombie nonfic book, and I decided to do one in which I explored how the real world would react if zombies actually existed.   I interviewed hundreds of people —cops, forensics experts, detectives, military personnel, doctors of all kinds, scientists, the clergy, the press, psychologists…even Homeland Security.  For someone who loves the practical side of the fantastic, this was perfect.

While researching that book I got the idea for a thriller in which terrorists developed a designer plague that would turn people into zombies.  I wrote that as PATIENT ZERO (St. Martin’s Griffin, 2009), and that’s since launched series f thrillers and is in development for TV.

Then I wrote “Family Business” for THE NEW DEAD.  My agent was the one who told me that it read like the opening of a teen novel.  She was right. 

JULIE: Why do you think horror stories are so popular?  What do you find appealing about them?

MABERRY:  People like reading about monsters being defeated.  There are so many things in our world that are bigger than us, scarier than us, and appear to be impossible for us to defeat.  Wars, the economy, damage to the environment, racial and religious hatred.  We can’t seem to stop those monsters; so we read stories in which there are monsters of the kind that can be defeated.  So, we read stories about vampires, and giant insects and zombies, and by the end of the book the monsters (we hope) will be stopped.

And…let’s face it, people like to be scared.  Look at the lines for the Haunted Houses and rollercoasters.

JULIE: If you had to pick one book that turned you on to reading, what would it be?

MABERRY: DANDELION WINE by Ray Bradbury.  Perhaps the single most magical book ever written.

JULIE: What do you like to do when you aren’t writing?

MABERRY: My wife and I travel a lot.  Often it’s tied to book tours and conferences where I’m a speaker or guest, but we get to travel all over.  And we enjoy music (I currently have 7983 songs on my iTunes and I’m nowhere near done uploading all my CDs!)  We also do gallery crawls…we both love art of all kinds.

And, I’m a total movie and TV junkie.  My Netflix account has skid-marks on it, and my DVR whimpers every time I come near.
JULIE: Can you tell us about your next project?

MABERRY: I’m one of those writers who always has a lot going on, so buckle up.  I’m currently writing DEAD OF NIGHT, a standalone zombie novel for the adult market, due out next summer from St. Martin’s Griffin.  I’m also finishing up the final revisions on DUST & DECAY, the sequel to ROT & RUIN.  At the same time I’m writing two limited series for Marvel Comics: KLAWS OF THE PANTHER (I just wrapped the 4th and final issue) and CAPTAIN AMERICA: HAIL HYDRA, which hits in January.  I’m also in the early stages of editing a trio of vampire anthologies; and I recently wrapped a novella for IDW’s GI JOE: COBRA WARS anthology.

JULIE: Thank you for stopping in!  You have made me want to read ROT & RUIN even more!  Beware of the zombies lurking just outside the door when you leave though.


Visit his website at or find him on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, GoodReads, Library Thing, Shefari and Plaxo.

ROT & RUIN is out now, so you can purchase a copy from your favorite bookseller.

To read 13 pages of free prequel scenes to ROT & RUIN:

BIO: JONATHAN MABERRY is a New York Times best-selling and multiple Bram Stoker Award-winning author, magazine feature writer, playwright, content creator and writing teacher/lecturer.  His books have been sold to more than a dozen countries.  His novels include the Pine Deep Trilogy: GHOST ROAD BLUES (winner of the Bram Stoker Award for Best First Novel), DEAD MAN’S SONG, and BAD MOON RISING; the Joe Ledger series of action thrillers from St. Martin’s Griffin: PATIENT ZERO (winner of the Black Glove Award for Best Zombie Novel of the Year, and in development for TV), THE DRAGON FACTORY, THE KING OF PLAGUES; THE WOLFMAN; the Benny Imura series of Young Adult dystopian zombie thrillers from Simon & Schuster:  ROT & RUIN and DUST & DECAY; and the forthcoming standalone zombie thriller DEAD OF NIGHT.  His nonfiction works include: VAMPIRE UNIVERSE, THE CRYPTOPEDIA (winner of the Bram Stoker Award for Outstanding Achievement in Nonfiction; co-authored by David F. Kramer), ZOMBIE CSU: The Forensics of the Living Dead (Winner of the Hinzman and Black Quill Awards and nominated for a Stoker Award), THEY BITE! (with David F. Kramer), and WANTED UNDEAD OR ALIVE (with Janice Gable Bashman).  His work for Marvel includes BLACK PANTHER: POWER, KLAWS OF THE PANTHER, CAPTAIN AMERICA: HAIL HYDRA, DOOMWAR and MARVEL ZOMBIES RETURN.  Jonathan has been a popular writing teacher and career counselor for writers for the last two decades.  He teaches a highly regard series of classes and workshops including Write Your Novel in Nine Months, Revise & Sell, Experimental Writing for Teens, and others.  Many of his students have gone on to publish in short and novel-length fiction, magazine feature writing, nonfiction books, TV, film, and comics.  In 2004 Jonathan was inducted into the International Martial Arts Hall of Fame largely because of his extensive writings in that field. 

One thought on “Interview with Jonathan Maberry, Author of ROT & RUIN

  • November 13, 2010 at 12:11 am

    I’ve read romance novels set in a post-apocalyptic world from Joss Ware earlier this year and I was fascinated with the concept. My other favorite genre besides romance is YA so I’d love to read a book featuring this sort of environment from a teenager’s POV.

    That’s a fantastic photo of Jonathan! I also love the cover of this book. It really grabs your attention.

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