First off, I would like to congratulate Jonathan for winning the Bram Stoker Award for Best First Novel for his incredible book---Ghost Road Blues! If you haven’t read my review of it, you can check it out by clicking HERE. Now, without further delay, 10 questions for…The Bram Stoker Award Winning Novelist, Jonathan Maberry!
1.) Dave: What is your writing routine like?
Jonathan: I write for a living so I log a lot of hours. Mostly I work from home, so I’m usually up early and at my computer by around 7:30 and I write until 5. I usually take a 5 to 10 minute break each hour to exercise (stretch, move, etc.), and that keeps my mind fresh and reduces stress on my neck and shoulders.
I set myself a daily minimum of 4000 words for whichever project is currently on deadline. That’s usually half of my workday. The other half I’m working on research, marketing, or working on projects for my clients -book editing, manuscript analysis, etc.
I also try to spend a little time each day on message boards and MySpace. Those are great for meeting readers, fellow writers, experts for my research, and so on.
The day goes fast.
If I’m really pressed for a deadline then the whole day will be built around that project.
My agent has sold eight books for me over the last two years, only one of which was actually written at the time of sale...so I have a pretty hefty schedule. I love it though. It’s a great life.
2.) Dave: Ghost Road Blues is the first novel in a trilogy. Was a trilogy the original intention or did the scope of the story grow as you were writing it?
Jonathan: Well, originally I planned to write a very short novel about a psychotic tow-truck driver who thought that he was the avenging sword of God and that the local paperboy was the Anti-Christ; but that really grew in the telling and ultimately became a major subplot of the book. Once I realized that the story was about the town and all of its people then I realized that I couldn’t cram that into a single book. From that point on I plotted it out as a trilogy.
Even so, the story still grew in the telling. Minor characters emerged to become major players --the character of the town’s mayor, Terry Wolfe, is a perfect example—and some things I had intended to include got downplayed or cut entirely.
Novels are organic, and even though I do plot out my stories the books change as they grow.
3.) Dave: The characters in Ghost Road Blues are incredibly detailed. Do you create character outlines before you begin writing or do the characters come together during the writing process?
Jonathan: I have detailed character profiles of the major players and briefer character sketches of the supporting characters. This allows me to play with character nuance because I know far more about the characters than will be shown in the book.
I build characters out of bits and pieces of real people so that they have very familiar qualities to me which allows me to believe in them as I write. And there are a few of my own qualities, both good and bad, in several of the characters. Most notably Crow and Mike Sweeney.
4.) Dave: I love the way you add a certain song to a particular scene. It gives your story a very cinematic feel. Are the songs you choose personal favorites or are they chosen simply for the scene in general?
Jonathan: Ah, I do love the Blues! Actually I’m a huge music fan. I listen to music while I write and I used to sing with a few bands back in high school. I even did some musical theater.
The songs in the story are specially chosen. Each one offers a bit of a hint, or suggests a mood, for what’s happening in the book. Or about to happen.
I also had to bear in mind that any blues song played by the Bone Man, or referenced by him, has to have been recorded prior to 1976, which is when he died.
Crow listens to classic rock as well as Blues, and there is a shift in pace in the third book where the action amps up from the laid back pace of the blues to the harder and more urgent pace of rock. Crow even says (to Detective LaMastra): “This ain’t the blues no more...this is rock ‘n’ roll!”
I’ve had a lot of musicians contact me because of the book, and they really dig the music references. And a good friend of mine, A. L. Sirois, took the time and actually wrote a song called Ghost Road Blues, which had not really existed before I wrote the book. He did a hell of a good job with it, too.
5.) Dave: You have been writing for years, but this is your first published novel. Did you already have an agent or did you need one to get Ghost Road Blues published? If so, how did you find your agent?
Jonathan: I’ve been writing for about thirty years now, mostly nonfiction. I did a handful of short horror/humor stories twenty years ago and a couple of plays, but mostly nonfiction, and for most of those years I worked as my own agent. Never a really good move.
Then in late 2003 I landed a superb agent -Sara Crowe, who is currently with Harvey Klinger, Inc in New York. She’s smart and extremely savvy about the deal-making side of the business. I first approached her with a nonfiction project, but also pitched my fiction to her. She decided to represent both and in 2005 she sold Ghost Road Blues and its two sequels in April, and that may sold the nonfiction project, Vampire Universe. She’s since sold four more nonfiction books for me.
I found my agent by looking for the best ones I could find. Some writer friends had given me the advice of looking for a mid-level agent to try and break in that way, but that I hated that advice. So I started prowling bookstores and online resources to find out that names of agents who were working with key players. It’s important for authors to value their work highly and to shoot high.
I pitched to a bunch of top agents, got several go-aheads and went with the one I felt had the right smarts, savvy and personality. It was a good choice, too.
6.) Dave: How long did it take Ghost Road Blues to hit the shelves once it was completed, and what were your emotions during the publishing process?
Jonathan: I completed the book in February of 2005 and it was sold in April, bought by the second publisher who read it.
From that point it was almost exactly two years before it was on the shelf, debuting in June 2006. It takes a while to get a book from your hands into the hands of the readers.
7.) Dave: Dead Man’s Song is the second book in this trilogy and it is set for release on July 3rd. Is the final book already written, and can you give us an idea of what your next project will be?
Jonathan: Yep, Bad Moon Rising, the concluding book, is on my editor’s desk. Like Dead Man’s Song, it’s different than Ghost Road Blues. The first book is a chase story –the hunt for Karl Ruger. Dead Man’s Song is a mystery –Crow and his friends search for answers to what’s going on; and Bad Moon Rising is an action novel –and I do mean ‘action’.
Next up for me in terms of writing is another nonfiction book: Zombie CSU: The Forensic Science of the Living Dead. I’m interviewing actual crime scene investigators, cops, federal agents, scientists, and other experts to ask them how the crime detection infrastructure would handle a case that turned out to have supernatural elements. All in good fun, but these are real experts sharing theories and insights. I’m having a blast with that. I’m even getting to do some ride-alongs with police and spending a day with a SWAT team.
As far as my next fiction, I’m writing a bio-terrorism thriller that has a few spooky elements, but that’s kind of under wraps at the moment.
8.) Dave: Can you please tell us a little bit about your writing classes?
Jonathan: I teach a whole boatload of classes, some at writers’ conferences (Philadelphia Writers Conference, Backspace, PennWriters, etc.) and some at the Writers Corner USA –a writing center I co-own in Doylestown, PA.
My signature classes are ‘Write Your Novel in Nine Months’, ‘Write Your Nonfiction Book in Nine Months’, and ‘The Art of the Pitch’; but I also teach workshops on ‘Writing Fight and Action Scenes’, ‘The Nuts & Bolts of the Writing Business’, and others.
I do a lot of talks at libraries and bookstores, too. Mostly on how to break into the business. Writers groups often have me in to speak on various aspects of the writing life, which is always a lot of fun.
I also do a lot of career counseling for writers: helping them get their careers moving forward.
9.) Dave: Who inspires you?
Jonathan: That’s a complex question because so many people inspire me. I draw a lot of inspiration from my students –I love the honest determination and creative strength they bring to what they do. And I draw great personal inspiration from my son, Sam –who is always surprising and remarkable- and my wife, Sara, who approaches life with great joy and insight.
In terms of writers who have been inspirations for me, I’ve been fortunate enough to meet some of my writing heroes. When I was a very young teenager I had the chance to meet Ray Bradbury, Arthur C. Clarke, Richard Matheson and Sprague DeCamp. Each of them took a little time to talk with me about writing, about how to think things through, about how to liberate the creative forces. These were major moments in my life.
Of these, Bradbury and Matheson were the most significant influences. And I still have the signed books they gave me: Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury, which I’ve read every Halloween since I was fourteen; and I Am Legend by Richard Matheson, which is probably the single most mind-altering book for me. That one made me stop reacting to stories and kick-started me into thinking my way through them. That’s huge for a kid who wants to write.
Stylistically the biggest influence on me has been Robert McCammon. His books Swan Song, Mystery Walk, Gone South and Boy’s Life each had a profound effect on me. Brilliant writing and gorgeous plotting.
10.) Dave: How did it feel to have your name called at the Bram Stoker Awards as the winner of Best First Novel for Ghost Road Blues?
Jonathan: I’m still in shock. You have to understand that the competition for that award was fierce. Really, really fierce. Each of the other three books, The Keeper by Sarah Langan, Bloodstone by Nate Kenyon, and The Harrowing by Alexandra Sokoloff are tremendous books. Books I read and thoroughly enjoyed, and by writers I like and respect. It’s not just lip service to say that just being nominated into that group was an honor. It truly was.
That said, when they called my name I was absolutely floored. I don’t think I have ever been at a loss for words before and when I got up to give my acceptance speech I’m pretty sure I just babbled.
I’ve got the award (it’s a statue of a haunted house) sitting on the shelf over my desk and I keep having to look at it to assure myself that it’s really there.
I would like to sincerely thank Jonathan for taking the time to answer my questions and wish him luck on his future creations. If you would like to learn more about this great storyteller, check out his websites http://www.ghostroadblues.com and http://www.jonathanmaberry.com, or if you want to see for yourself what it takes to win a Bram Stoker Award simply order the book right now by clicking HERE. You can also pre-order Dead Man’s Song, the second chapter in Jonathan’s amazing trilogy set for release on July 3rd, by clicking HERE.