A Philly native takes on dragons, vampires and other scary phenomena.
For years, Jonathan Maberry kicked butt and drew blood as a karate expert. In recent years, Maberry has been kicking butt and drawing blood as an emerging author of supernatural thrillers.
The two activities aren't entirely unrelated.
"When my writing career took off, it was pretty easy to keep my ego in check because old school martial arts isn’t about ego-gratification," says Maberry, a Philly native. "It’s about maintaining a balanced view of the world and your place in it.
"Mind you, it has helped in my writing because it gave me a clear understanding of strategies and tactics, of physics and physiology, and of human psychology," he adds. "And since I write action-oriented fiction, it’s allowed me to write solid and believable fight scenes.”
Not to mention entertaining. Maberry has been called “the next Stephen King" and received plenty of Bram Stoker recognition for his writing, which includes such novels novels include Ghost Road Blues, Dead Man’s Song, Bad Moon Rising and Patient Zero. His upcoming novels include The Dragon Factory, The King of Plagues, and The Wolfman. His nonfiction books include Vampire Universe, The Cryptopedia, which won the Stoker Award for Outstanding Achievement in Nonfiction in 2007, and Zombie CSU: The Forensics of the Living Dead. His upcoming books include They Bite and Vampire Hunters and Other Enemies of Evil.
For a supernatural thriller writer, winning the Bram Stoker awards is like winning an Oscar. Maberry started getting recognition right out of the gate with Ghost Road Blues, garnering Stoker nominations for Best First Novel and Novel of the Year.
“Considering that fiction was an experiment for me, getting nominated ... was an insanely validating experience," Maberry says. "For the Novel of the Year category I was up against Stephen King and only lost by a narrow margin. That’s sobering. The universe doesn’t often give you clear signs pointing in the direction of your future, but that pretty much was a neon billboard with big arrows.”
Ah, yes: Stephen King. It's a comparison that can delight and discomfit any horror writer.
“They’ve been made because my first three novels were supernatural vampire stories set in small town America. So was his Salem’s Lot," Maberry says. "But that’s about the end of the comparison...I don’t aspire to write like Steve King. Sure, I admire his work and I think he’s a hell of a nice guy; we met shortly after my first Stoker win. I aspire to write like Jonathan Maberry.”
Maberry was born in 1958 in Kensington. He went to Frankford High School and Temple University; he lives these days in Warrington.
Maberry started martial arts as a kid and earned an eighth-degree black belt in traditional Japanese jujitsu and a fifth-degree black belt in kenjutsu, the Japanese art of swordplay. He’s written hundreds of articles and a dozen books on martial arts. In 2003, he was given the "writer's award" by the International Martial Arts Hall of Fame.
Shortly thereafter, he turned his attention to writing fiction.
“A lifetime’s study of traditional martial arts does as much to help you understand your inner life as it does to prepare you for defense," he says. "When people ask me about what I learned from martial arts, I don’t talk about favorite punches or kicks, or about fights won or lost. I talk about learning self-discipline, about ethics and manners and benevolence and fairness."
Perhaps he also learned something about being prolific. His Big Scary Blog focuses on the publishing industry and has interviews with many best-selling authors. He is a frequent guest speaker at writers conferences, and he is a contributing editor for the International Thriller Writers newsletter. And, oh yeah, he’s published seven books in the last three years and he’ll complete three more books by the end of this year. He says that he writes 2,000 to 7,000 words a day.
“I write every day," he says. "Most weekdays I write about ten hours a day. That doesn’t mean eight hours of surfing the net or watching videos on YouTube. I park my butt in a chair and write...I learned that writer’s block is a myth created by people who don’t have, or understand, a writing process. None of the pros ever get it, and you never hear about a newspaper reporter ever having it. These days I can usually write a book in three months.”
In reflecting on the transition from nonfiction to fiction writing, Maberry says, “It helps to not believe the propaganda. A lot of folks in–and out–of the business will tell you that it’s impossible to find an agent, that nonfiction authors can’t transition to fiction. Once I made the decision to try anyway, the process became quite easy. And after 25 years as a nonfiction writer, fiction was an incredibly liberating process. The difficult part was essentially starting over with no existing audience...and realizing that with fiction the author really has to drive the publicity and marketing.”
Larry Atkins teaches Journalism at Temple University and Arcadia University
PW's Weekend Picks
In Memoriam: Amiri Baraka