Archive for the ‘zombies’ Category

A conversation with Douglas Clegg about ZOMBIES

July 31, 2008

While doing research for ZOMBIE CSU: The Forensics of the Living Dead I had the good fortune to have a frank discussion with bestselling author Douglass Clegg.


Pull up a chair and listen in….


JONATHAN: Doug, thanks for stopping by to share your views on pop culture and the walking dead.  Why is it about zombies that draws our attention?


DOUG CLEGG: We’re fascinated by the physical body and what happens after death to it. Additionally, with zombies, there’s the sense of the dumb, destructive crowd out there that’s going to somehow drive us insane or destroy us — sort of like the guy in Munch’s painting, The Scream, with the world all around him while he exists in his own nightmare.


Overall,  I really think it goes back to a kind of thrill about coming back from the grave. And eating brains and other organs. I suspect that would be a bit sloppier than the vampire, who drinks blood in a kind of erotic kiss. It’s interesting that both the zombie and the vampire — in terms of the horror genre — have a cannibalistic hunger for the living.   It’s not enough just to be killed, but to be eaten or drained of blood, that seems a wee bit more horrifying.


JONATHAN: What’s the dumbest thing you’ve ever seen humans do in a zombie film?


CLEGG:  Trust each other to do the right thing.


JONATHAN: What’s the smartest thing you’ve seen a human do in one of those flicks?


CLEGG: Keep running. Or else just shoot themselves in the head when surrounded by dozens of zombies. That’s what I’d do — after all, I don’t care what anyone does with my body after I’m dead. I just don’t want to be around to watch it happen.


JONATHAN: Okay,, quick question: Zombies…fast or slow?


CLEGG: Slow. There is something so terrifying about the slow attack that is inescapable. Serial killers can be fast, jaguars can be fast, a train about to hit you on the tracks can be fast — but there is a more nightmarish quality to the shambling corpse whose only goal is to find the nearest living human to eat. There is something incredibly horrible about the idea of being taken down by a slow, dumb predator — we expect the smart ones to get us, but not those relentless brainless ones.


JONATHAN: What are your favorite zombies movies and books?


CLEGG: Night of the Living Dead (the original) really launched the sub-genre of zombie flicks, but Shaun of the Dead certainly made its mark — as did 28 Days Later. I also enjoyed The Serpent and the Rainbow, more in book form than movie form — but still, the movie was fun to watch. For camp, those Return of the Living Dead movies were fun, too.


JONATHAN: Have you ever written zombie fiction? 


CLEGG: I have an unpublished illustrated children’s book for adults called The Saddest Little Zombie, with illustrations by Glenn Chadbourne. In it, a boy named Tommy is killed by his mother as she tries to dislodge a stew-bone caught in his throat. Later, a voodoo priestess raises him from the grave. He returns to his family for supper on Christmas Eve, but can’t stop himself from eating people. There’s even a Christmas tree made of bones in it. It’s sort of a holiday book with the living dead, for adults who like scary kids’ books. I have to admit, I’m not sure a kid should read it.



Visit Doug’s website at:


Look for ZOMBIE CSU: The Forensics of the Living Dead by Jonathan Maberry

Citadel Press – Fully Illustrated – $16.95

Available Everywhere August 26

Available for pre-order online at Borders, Amazon and Barnes & Noble



February 1, 2008

The writing life is always interesting but it isn’t always fun.  Most writers don’t make enough cash; reviewers can be savage; with the sagging economy book sales are down; and publishers mostly don’t spend much bread on promotion. 

To want to be a professional author you really need a lot of optimism, or you need to be just on the useful side of delusional.  Often both.  One of the key elements to making this wacky profession work is ‘networking’.  Two writers together can do more than two writers alone.  Not exactly a new concept, but it’s nice to discover that it still works.


Yesterday I met with three friends who are also professional authors and together we created a new organization: THE LIAR’S CLUB.  (Why that name?  Well…let’s face it, we’re authors, we make stuff up for a living.)  We started the group to network with each other authors, but over the course of a long and very funny lunch at the Irish Pub in Philly, we agreed that we could also do a lot of good for the writing and reading community.  So…were cooking up plans to do joint signings, workshops, panel discussions, speaking engagements, contests, mentoring and more. 


The one certain thing is that we’re going to have fun.  No doubt about it.  But I got a feeling that Liar’s Club is going to make itself heard.  Count on it.


Here are the founding members:

  L. A. Banks (, author of the insanely popular Vampire Huntress series of novels. 

Gregory Frost  ( author of, among other things, the recent Random House release SHADOWBRIDGE.


Jon McGoran  (, who writes forensics mysteries under the pen name of D. H. Dublin.  The third in that series, FREEZER BURN will be out in June.

 And my website is 

There are some other folks who will be joining us.  I’ll catch you up on those later


Right now, do yourself a favor and check out my co-conspirators in the Liar’s Club!



January 16, 2008

For the first twenty-five years of my writing career I didn’t have a literary agent.  Most of my early sales were magazine features and columns for which you don’t use an agent; and then a few textbook sales which tend to yield money so small an agent would like set himself on fire rather than bother with making that kind of deal.


When I decided to try and break into fiction  –something totally new for me—I figured I needed an agent.  Now I needed to find one.  Any writer who hits that moment realizes how daunting it is.  Unsigned writers fear agents because they know that to a very great degree there’s no way to get sold without one.


First thing I did was to ask everyone I know who had an agent for suggestions on how to go about finding one.  They all said the same thing, and the advice they gave SOUNDED right at first, but the more I thought about it the less I liked it.  What they said was: “Find a low-level or mid-level agent, someone who is just getting in the business, and sign with them.  They’re the only ones looking to take on new clients and you can rise with them.”


Sounds good, right?  Sounds reasonable.  Think again.


Business is all about messaging.  There’s always a subtext to anything said in business.   That said, think of the message that you send out if you only try for agents who are either bottom-rung or brand new to the business.  It says: “My work isn’t good enough to be represented by a top agent.” Sadly that message comes across loud and clear.


That didn’t work for me.  I have more faith in my writing than that (as subjective as that might be) and I wanted a really good agent.


So I sat back and thought about who and what an agent is and made some reasonable deductions: 

  Agents are human.  Not Olympian gods.  I’d met some at writers conferences.  None of them had horns, none of them threw lightning bolts. 

Agents are working stiffs, too.  There have to be good and bad agents.  There have to be lucky or unlucky agents.  There have to be rising stars and has-beens.  There have to well-connected agents and those to whom most doors are still closed.  That’s the way every business is, no matter what business we’re talking about.


Some of today’s top writers are still repped by the agents that handled their first works.  The biggest deals are made by agents on the inside track of the business.  Read the market news, this bears out most of the time.  If so, then big agents must be taking on new clients (who then go on to make big money).


One of the common pieces of good advice for writers trying to find an agent is to look in the dedication and acknowledgments pages of books by writers of the same genre.  Writers often thank their agents (and editors) and that’s a great way of beginning to build a target list.


Other resources include using (which costs $20/month) and (free) to search for agents whose recent track record shows that they have the chops and connections to make decent deals for authors.  It’s worth checking those resources to see who is representing debut authors as well.


Tomorrow we’ll talk about the next steps to take. 

  Keep Writing!Jonathan  Jonathan Maberry (my author website) Career Doctor for Writers  (my consulting business) Writers Corner USA (the writers center I co-founded) 


January 14, 2008



Only four months and counting…


BAD MOON RISING, the final book of the Pine Deep Trilogy (which began with 2006’s GHOST ROAD BLUES and continued with 2007’s DEAD MAN’S SONG) will be released everywhere on May 8. 


I’m getting pretty excited about the release of BAD MOON RISING, and for a number of reasons.  First, the book has one hell of a lot of action in it.  The growing threat discussed in the first two books explodes in the third and the second half of that book is basically one big, rolling battle between the dwindling forces of good and the swelling forces of evil.  The dead rise to attack the world of the living with a Red Wave of murder.  I had sooooo much fun writing that book.


The book also has a fun twist in that I’ve written a lot of real-world people into the book.  I tapped a number of good folks in the horror industry and asked if I could write them into the story.  Since the book deals with a massive Halloween celebration (during which very bad things happen) I wanted to have some fun with blurring the lines between reality and fantasy.  So… I contacted a bunch of friends in the horror biz and asked if I could write them into the book.  They all agreed, so in BAD MOON RISING you can expect to meet TOM SAVINI (make-effects wizard), STEPHEN SUSCO (screenwriter for the Grudge flicks), JAMES GUNN (screenwriter of the new Dawn of the Dead), BRINKE STEVENS (scream queen), DEBBIE ROCHON (scream queen), KEN FOREE (star of the original Dawn of the Dead), JIM O’REAR (stuntman and haunted attraction consultant), and JOE BOB BRIGGS (drive-in movie critic and actor).  Also making a brief appearance is MEM SHANNON (one of my all-time favorite Bluesmen!).


And these folks aren’t just doing walk-ons.  They actually get into the action.  Question is…will they make it out of Pine Deep alive?


This is going to be fun!


Jonathan Maberry



January 3, 2008



Nothing scares new writers more than the prospect of having to write a query letter.  Most of the writers I know would rather be gnawed on by rats rather than draft a query and (even worse) send the damn thing out to editors.


I remember the very first one I wrote, way back in my second year of college (1978!).  Though my journalism courses hadn’t yet covered how to write a query letter I was eager to jump into magazine feature writing.  So I wrote one that I thought would be effective and fired it off. 


It came back with ‘Are you serious?’ written in red ink across the page.


If there are, say, 25 things you should NEVER do in a query, I managed to do them all, and I invented a few new ones.  The editor thought the query was a joke sent in by one of his editor buddies –a kind of absolute worst-case query.


Soooo…I broke another old rule about queries and I called the editor on the phone.  This was waaay before the cell phone era.  When I explained that I was a college student and was genuinely trying to pitch an article to him (and after he stopped laughing) he took a few minutes to explain to me how and what queries are. 


Based on that discussion I was able to build a model query and have used it, in one form or another, to sell over 1100 articles and 20-odd books.  That’s not to say that I never got any more queries (I could wallpaper Nebraska with the queries I’ve gotten over 30 years in the biz) but my sell ratio jumped and I’ve sold virtually everything I’ve pitched.  Not necessarily to the first market or editor to whom it was sent, but I generally will sell what I pitch. 


The moral here is that industry is not looking for writers to reinvent the wheel.  There are certain things they need to see in a query and they need to be able to make a decision about the pitch in a few quick seconds.  Anything that interferes with that process wastes the editor’s time and also sends a clear message that “I’m not a professional”.


On the other hand, it helps to understand why rejection letters happen (maybe I’ll cover that tomorrow).


Nowadays I teach workshops on query writing and the art of the book pitch and my students are going on to nail sale after sale.  That totally jazzes me.  There’s nothing more exciting for a writing teacher than to have his students become successful.


More on this tomorrow.




My editing/consulting business:


Happy New Year

December 31, 2007

This is the last blog of 2007…so 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


3-Act Structure for Novels

December 21, 2007


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.
    • Who is the protagonist?
    • Do we like this person?
    • Do we care about what is happening?
    • Do we care about the relationships that being established?
    • What does the protagonist have to solve in order for the book to ultimate conclude?
    • 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).


December 21, 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 Hayek.

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 it…it’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



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.  Still…it’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


Character Point of View Part 2

December 14, 2007

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!


Jonathan Maberry