On this month's Special Page:

An exclusive interview with best-selling, five-time Bram Stoker Award-winner Jonathan Maberry



Stephanie Charles
Mort Castle
Josh Darling
Ellen Datlow
Simon Clark

About Jonathan Maberry

Jonathan Maberry is a New York Times best-seller, five-time Bram Stoker Award-winner, anthology editor, comic book writer, executive producer, magazine feature writer, playwright, and writing teacher/lecturer. He is the editor of Weird Tales Magazine and president of the International Association of Media Tie-in Writers. He is the recipient of the Inkpot Award, three Scribe Awards, and was named one of the Today’s Top Ten Horror Writers. His books have been sold to more than thirty countries. He writes in several genres including thriller, horror, science fiction, epic fantasy, and mystery; and he writes for adults, middle grade, and young adult.


An interview with Jonathan Maberry

by The Horror Zine's Media Director, Trish Wilson


TRISH WILSON: You held a Master Class – The Novel: From Idea to Finished Manuscript. This was on June 11, 2023. How did it go, and will you offer another class or a similar one in the future?

JONATHAN MABERRY: The reason I started those classes was to offer insider’s views on both the art of writing and the business of publishing. Although most writers are born with what I call a ‘storyteller gene’, that isn’t enough. I teach craft classes because the more one knows about the structure of language, the forms of storytelling, and the ways in which things like voice, pace, POV, subtext and metaphor, motif, figurative and descriptive language, and so on, the better one can express the ideas born in their imaginations. The more we know, and the more confidence we have in using those tools, the more effectively we tell our tales. Along with that, it’s important to understand how publishing works – the roles of key players like agents, editors, publisher, PR and marketing people, trades sales teams, booksellers, and so on—the easier it is to get into print, and become successful.

I feel I bring some useful perspective to this, since I’ve been in publishing since 1978. First as a magazine feature writer, then writing odds and ends like greeting cards, how-to manuals, college textbooks, and workshop packets. Then I moved into mainstream mass-market nonfiction books on subjects as varied as Judo and the folklore of supernatural monsters around the world and throughout history. I also had a couple of experimental plays produced. Then, beginning in 2006, I began publishing novels (48 so far, with at least seven more pre-sold that still have to be written), 145 short stories, 22 runs of comic books for Marvel, IDW, and Dark Horse; a board game; etc. I’ve had a TV show on Netflix that was adapted from my books and comics; and I’ve edited 24 anthologies and edit Weird Tales Magazine. The variety of my experience –the ups and downs, ins and outs—give me the personal experience needed to help others get their works written and begin their search for agents.

The bottom line is that I teach the kinds of classes I wish had been available to me when I began my fiction career. And we usually have some laughs along the way. Also, proceeds benefit charity (women’s shelters, literacy, food banks, and no-kill animal shelters).

As for my teaching more…I tend to give online workshops six or more times a year, with topics that include Writing Fight and Action Scenes, Research for Writers, Writing and Selling Short Stories, Creating Compelling Characters, The Art of the Book Pitch, and others.

TRISH WILSON: You've been prolific for many decades. How has the publishing world changed over that time? What are some differences between publishing now as opposed to even five years ago?

JONATHAN MABERRY: My writing career began way back in the late 70s, so I’ve seen a lot of changes in publishing. In college, which is where I was when I began selling magazine articles, I was hammering them out on a typewriter and mailing hardcopies via the post office. That sentence barely makes sense to writers entering the business now.

The first big change was, of course, the computer. I bought a Commodore-64 the week they came out and it was revolutionary. Just in the ability to edit onscreen rather than either retype or use White-Out. Then email came around, and it was interesting to see how many publishers embraced that for sending query letters or manuscripts, and how many resisted it. I was always a fan of any change that made it easier and more efficient to get articles out to magazines.

Jump forward to when I began writing fiction –when I sold my first novel, GHOST ROAD BLUES (published in 2006), although much of the business was now being done online, book manuscripts were still being printed and sent via the mail. It took years for that to change, and there’s still one publisher with whom I work who insists on sending paper printouts of my books for edit. It feels weird now. Wildly archaic. And also wasteful in terms of paper, printing ink, and mail costs. My agent, Sara Crowe, was one of the first agents to switch to email queries and responses, and most of my publishers (Macmillan, Simon & Schuster, etc) have switched to digital.

The rise of social media changed the game, too. Authors were able to do much more in terms of building their brand, reaching and interacting with readers, networking with colleagues, and so on…and at no cost. This was critical for most writers. And it extended our PR and marketing reach globally. Massively important.

Another massive change was when audiobooks went from cassettes and CDs to digital downloads and streaming. It made audiobooks far more cost effective for publishers, and advances in digital recording and editing equipment reduced production costs as well, because the audiobook narrators were able to record from home studios.

All of this impacted independent publishing as well as mainstream. And though I’m a traditionally-published author, I’m delighted to see so many of my indie friends achieve success that would never have been possible just ten years ago.

On the whole, I’m a fan of almost all technological advances in publishing with one major exception –AI. Not a fan now, won’t ever be a fan.

TRISH WILSON: Tell me about Writers Coffeehouse.

JONATHAN MABERRY: Way back around 2000, I was running a writers center in Doylestown, Pennsylvania, and I noticed that the students in the classes tended to linger around after the sessions to hang out, talk, and network. Some even enrolled in classes just for that networking opportunity. Social media was still in its infancy, so this is often the only time writers were able to interact with one another in the real world, with the exception of a couple of days here and there at conferences. So, I decided to run with that and began staging formal events which we, at first called, Writers Sitting Around Talking About Writing…With Coffee. That was a runaway hit, and we very quickly outgrew our available space.

So, I made an agreement with a local coffeehouse that had a meeting room in the basement. This allowed us to have a larger group, and when we outgrew that, we moved to a bookstore. By this time the group’s name had changed to the Writers Coffeehouse.

The premise is a free 3-hour monthly networking session which I’d host. I’d start each session by sharing some info about what was going on in publishing, and then open it up to questions. I’d facilitate the conversations.

Before Covid, we had 18 of these across the country, and by then I’d moved to San Diego. Different colleagues hosted the other coffeehouses. During Covid, we took it onto Zoom, and that was fun. Now that Covid is fading, we’ve gone back to live monthly events. Alas, some of the hosting bookstores and coffee shops closed during Covid, so we are in the process of rebuilding.

My group, hosted by the wonderful Mysterious Galaxy Books in San Diego, is still the flagship, and we always have fun. There’s no registration, no previous publishing credits, no fees. It’s writers helping writers.

TRISH WILSON: How did you come to be the editorial director for Weird Tales?

JONATHAN MABERRY: First, I was editorial director for one issue (#363) and have since been the editor. Originally the new owners of Weird Tales reached out to see if I’d like to write a story for the newly reborn magazine. Naturally I said yes because Weird Tales is legendary, landmark. Foundational, in many ways. Shortly after my story, “The Shadows Beneath the Stone” was accepted, the editor became quite ill. I was asked to finish that issue. As it turned out, no other stories had yet been picked, so I curated the rest of it by tapping several of my writer colleagues. The issue launched Weird Tales for a new generation.

With issue #364, as full editor, I continued to mostly curate the issues. With Covid impacting the economy, budgeting was always a challenge, and so our ambition of regular issues became a bit wonky. Even so, we’ve managed to put out some pretty amazing issues, with writers that include Ramsey Campbell, Caitlin R. Kiernan, Joe R. Lansdale, Christopher Golden, Lisa Morton, F. Paul Wilson, Paul Cornell, Josh Malerman, Sherrilyn Kenyon, Seanan McGuire, Usman T. Malik, Marguerite Reed, Weston Ochse, Gregory Frost, Lee Murray, Kevin J. Anderson, Tim Waggoner, Heather Graham, Michael Moorcock, Dacre Stoker, Alma Katsu, Victor LaValle, Fran Wilde, and the list just goes on and on.

Currently I’m working on the 100th anniversary issue. Weird Tales was launched in 1923! And we have an absolutely killer lineup, with a mix of original short stories, poetry, essays, and poetry, and some classic works that span the last century.

TRISH WILSON: How has Weird Tales changed over the years? What changes if any are in store for future issues?

JONATHAN MABERRY: In its infancy, Weird Tales was dominated mainly by white male writers, which was fairly common for the pulps in the early 20th Century. Over the years, other editors have worked to expand that, notably the brilliant Ann VanderMeer, who was very far-reaching and visionary in her lineups. The magazine, though, retained its primary goal of telling stories that wouldn’t fit anywhere else. Whether those stories are horror, science fiction, fantasy, or mystery, it’s the ‘weird’ part that marks it as ours. If any story would easily fit into another genre magazine, then it wasn’t quite right for us.

This unique approach has always worked for Weird Tales. After all, it was where Conan the Barbarian was born, and where H.P. Lovecraft’s Cthulhu cosmic horror flourished. The first female swords and sorcery –the Jirel of Joiry stories by C.L. Moore—were published by us back in the day.

However, in today’s market, and with social media and email allowing us a global reach, we’re able to draw in writers of all kinds. It’s not stunt-casting to virtue signal diversity, but an actual embracing of diverse viewpoints, insights, experiences, cultures, genders, and lives. As an editor, I get to build issues that tell stories that might never reach, for example, the American audience, because a century ago it just wasn’t practical to do so. Now it is, and as a result we publish pieces with points of view so radically different from my own that I can be amazed, informed, delighted, and entertained by seeing what the world considers weird. And, yes, I am having waaaay too much fun.

TRISH WILSON: How do you define weird fiction?

JONATHAN MABERRY: Weird, as a concept, isn’t easy to define, because it takes so many forms. However, it’s often a trope being given a new aspect. For example, there have been adventure stories for centuries about swashbuckling heroes, but in the Conan, King Kull, Solomon Kane, and Bran Mak Morn stories by Robert E. Howard, suddenly you have elements of eldritch horror, dark sorcery, elder gods, and other aspects that make ‘swords and sorcery’ substantially different from what was then, the heroic norm. There had been alien invasion science fiction predating H.G. Wells and Jules Verne, but neither of those writers went as far as Lovecraft and his followers with cosmic horror and space-born races of pan-dimensional beings so powerful that they are indistinguishable from gods, but not at all benign. Robert Bloch’s landmark short, “Yours Truly, Jack the Ripper” took a story about that legendary murderer and gave it several bizarre twists including location and placement in time, and then created a twist ending that is believed to have greatly influenced Rod Serling’s The Twilight Zone. Oh, and a lot of writers who did stories went on to write for Twilight Zone, a show that was our kind of weird.

You can see the DNA of Weird Tales in a lot of contemporary pop culture –The Wild Wild West, The Outer Limits, Hellboy, The Mist, Kolchak the Night Stalker, The X-Files, and many more.

TRISH WILSON: What kinds of stories are you looking for?

JONATHAN MABERRY: I tend to focus more on the writer than the story. I rarely do open calls, and when I do, it’s for story pitches, not straight slush-pile submissions. This is why I mainly curate issues because I am wired in pretty solidly to the fiction world, and across genre lines. I belong not only to the Horror Writers Association (HWA), but also the Mystery Writers of America (MWA), the Thriller Writers Association (TWA), the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA), and others. And I also read across genre lines. So, when I’m building a theme issue (which is pretty common for us), I think about which writers have a solid presence in that space, which is why I reached out to Mike Mignola and Christopher Golden for a Hellboy cover story for our ‘cosmic horror’ issue, and Michael Moorcock for our ‘swords and sorcery’ issue. Once I have my anchors, then I start thinking about which writer of a different genre I can tap to try their hand at something weird. And I go from there. Mixes genres, asking writers to go outside their comfort zone, or asking writers who are solidly in one genre to do something extremely weird while still more or less staying in their lane.

I want stories that are well told, well-written, and way outside the comfort box. And I’ve found that there are a whole damn lot of writers who have Weird Tales on their bucket list.

TRISH WILSON: What aren't you looking for?

JONATHAN MABERRY: I don’t want stuff that would fit just anywhere. I don’t want copycats. If someone wants to sell me, say, a sword and sorcery story, then don’t send me something that looks like imitation Robert E. Howard. Good example, Marguerite Reed’s ‘Varka’ stories are told in a unique voice. She’s not at all giving me something I’ve seen before, and as a result her stories pop with individuality, uniqueness, and her agency over the genre.

TRISH WILSON: What would you like to see that you haven't seen as of yet?
JONATHAN MABERRY: The one zone I don’t get enough of are really unique occult detective tales. Mind you, I get a lot of pitches, but too many are trying hard to be the next X-Files or Supernatural. Weird Tales, over the last century, has published some landmark stuff, including the off-the-beaten-path stuff by Manly Wade Wellman and Seabury Quinn. I’m currently building that themed issue now, and it’s taking twice as long to fill it with unique tales on the genre. But…word has gotten out, and new pitches are coming in that fill me with optimism.

TRISH WILSON: Which writers have you lined up for future issues?

JONATHAN MABERRY: I work a couple of issues ahead, so expect to see Laurell K. Hamilton, Keith DeCandido, R.L. Stine, Brian Lumley, Jennifer Brody, Blake Northcott, Dana Fredsti, Jeff Strand, Jody Lynn Nye, Scott Sigler, Hailey Piper, Maurice Broaddus, Jacopo della Quercia, Usman T. Malik, Owl Goingback, and many others.

TRISH WILSON: What other projects are you working on now and when may readers/viewers expect to see them?

JONATHAN MABERRY: I am busier than a three-headed cat in a dairy. I am writing four novels each year, all in different genres. This year that includes a deep space cosmic horror adventure (NecroTek), a dark epic fantasy (The Dragon in Winter), the 14th in my Joe Ledger weird science thriller series (Burn to Shine), and an alien invasion book with Weston Ochse (The Sleepers War). I recently wrote introductions for a pair of classic reprints, Edgar Allan Poe’s The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket and Jules Verne’s An Antarctic Mystery. And (though stalled by the current WGA writers’ strike), working on the development of my first feature film, Rot & Ruin, and four possible TV shows. No, I don’t really sleep.

This year I’ll have a slew of new books out. Son of the Poison Rose kicked off the year (2nd in my Kagen the Damned trilogy); then in August I have Cave 13 (thirteenth in the Joe Ledger Series), Long Past Midnight: Tales from Pine Deep (a collection of short stories and poems set in the fictional and scary little small town that was the location of my first three novels, The Pine Deep Trilogy); and then The Sleepers War: Alpha Wave (first in the series I’m co-writing with Weston Ochse). Plus my three latest anthologies debut this year –The Good, the Bad, and the Uncanny: Tales of a Very Weird West; Joe Ledger: Unbreakable -co-edited with Bryan Thomas Schmidt;and a media tie-in antho, Double-Trouble, co-edited with Keith DeCandido. And we’ll end the year with the Weird Tales 100th Anniversary celebration book.

TRISH WILSON: You've seen your works recreated by Hollywood. How much creative control do you have in development of a television series like "V-Wars"?

JONATHAN MABERRY: With V-Wars I had little say at first. It was my first work adapted for the screen and was not originally an executive producer. That said, I was invited to the table reads and to the set up in Sudbury, Canada. I became friends with several cast members –Ian Somerhalder, Laura Vandervoort, Michael Greyeyes, Adrian Holmes, and quite a few others; as well as friends with crew and production folks. By the end of production and shortly before we aired I was made an executive producer, which allowed me to participate in some creative decisions later in the process.

Ian and I –along with producing partners—have the rights to the show back in our hands and we’re developing a radical new take that we hope to shop once the WGA strike is over. I’m much more involved in all aspects of the creative process with this, and with other projects I have in the works. Recently, for example, I was delighted to read the script for ROT & RUIN and to give notes. I’ll be EP (executive producer) on that and all other projects of mine going forward.

TRISH WILSON: You are President of the International Association of Media Tie-In Writers. Tell me more about that organization. How is writing a tie-in different from writing a novel, graphic novel, or short story? Tell me about some of your own media tie-ins.

JONATHAN MABERRY: I first got involved in media tie-in fiction when a VP from Universal contacted me and asked if I’d be interested in writing the novelization of the Benecio Del Toro/Emily Blunt/Anthony Hopkins remake of The Wolf Man. My agent negotiated the deal and I dove in. What I was surprised to learn was that media tie-in writers generally don’t get to see the actual movie before we’re tasked with writing the novelization. Sometimes we get some production stills to look at, but mostly we just work directly from the script. Now, since a script does not tell us how lines are to be inflected or delivered, what costumes people wear, and a lot of other details, there is considerable research. I did a tremendous amount of research on that and turned David Self’s script into a full-blown Gothic novel. I was both delighted and surprised that it became my first NY Times bestseller and also won a Scribe Award.

It was because of that award that I learned about the International Association of Media Tie-in Writers. The organization was created by Max Allen Collins and Lee Goldberg to both celebrate this kind of writing, and to help with resources, networking, and encouragement so that these works are of high literary standard.

There’s more to media tie-in than novelizations, though. In fact most of the works published in that field are original works set in existing pop culture worlds –movies (Star Wars, Star Trek, etc), TV shows (Supernatural, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, CSI, etc), board games (Dungeons & Dragons, Deadlands, etc), video games (Diablo, Assassins Creed, etc), and comics (Marvel, DC, IDW, etc.). The Scribe Awards, presented each year at San Diego ComicCon are our way of honoring the best of the best.

Our organization recently published its second anthology, Double-Trouble, which I co-edited with my good friend Keith DeCandido, with significant help from Rigel Ailur.

I’ve had a lot of fun writing in a variety of worlds, including True Blood, Hellboy, John Carter of Mars, Aliens, Predator, CHUD, Sherlock Holmes, Winnie the Pooh, Wizard of Oz, Deadlands, Omnipark, Night of the Living Dead, and many others. And two of my own worlds have become active licenses in which other writers have created award-winning works –V-Wars and The Joe Ledger Thrillers.

TRISH WILSON: You've edited many anthologies including three X-Files anthologies,  as well as Nights of the Living Dead, Aliens vs Predator, and the official tribute to Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark. What advice would you give writers who wish to see their works published in anthologies?

JONATHAN MABERRY: Short fiction is an excellent way for writers to get noticed. Not just by readers, though that is wonderful; but by editors. Those of us who edit anthologies often read the works edited by colleagues such as Christopher Golden, John Joseph Adams, James Aquilone, Ellen Datlow, and others. Sometimes this is how we first learn of hot new talent, or of writers who aren’t afraid to go outside of their comfort zone.

I highly recommend anthologies of all kinds to writers who want to break in, deepen their career footprint, or try to expand their skill set by taking creative risks.

TRISH WILSON: How has the 2023 Writers Guild of America strike affected your work? Is anything in hiatus until the issues are settled? What would you like to see as positive results of the strike?

JONATHAN MABERRY: All of my Hollywood projects are on hold during the strike, and as frustrating as that can be, I’m fine with it. I support the WGA entirely. I like seeing writers paid well and paid fairly; and I loathe AI, which is one of the things they are against.

TRISH WILSON: Your mid-grade novel The Nightsiders Book 2: The Orphan Army was named one of the best books for children in 2015. How does writing mid-grade or young adult differ from adult-oriented books? What kinds of trends are popular today? Where do you see mid-grade or young adult going in the future?

JONATHAN MABERRY: Some folks think that writing for kids is easier than writing for adults. They are completely wrong. Today’s pre-teens (middle grade) and teens (young adult) are much savvier, better informed thanks to access to the bottomless wells of information on the Net, and improvements in the science of teaching. To write successfully for them you have to start with a strong respect for their intelligence, their ability to self-censor (they won’t read anything that offends them, which is why book banning is so completely absurd), and their ability to grasp real-world issues (and again I throw rotten fruit at book banning). I write up to kids. The only concessions I make in middle grade fiction is that I restrain my tendencies to be wildly potty-mouthed, I usually omit romance –since it isn’t much of a factor in 4th or 5th grade; and I typically focus on one character’s point of view. With my middle grade stuff (and I’m about to launch a new series), and my young adult fiction (Mars One, Rot & Ruin, etc), I write the kinds of books I would have read at their age. And I make sure they’re the kinds of books the readers can return to as they get older, and find new layers.

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