Last May, I had the absolute pleasure of sitting down with Simon & Schuster’s Children’s Editorial Director David Gale to hear about his upcoming projects. When he walked back from his bookshelf with a gargantuan looking book and set it on the table in front of me, I nearly passed out. The image in front of me was breathtaking. Granted, I’m probably one of the few to call this type of image breathtaking, but that’s what it was. Rot & Ruin. David informed me it was written by Author Jonathan Maberry, but I had already spied that on the cover. Having read Patient Zero, I was well aware of Mr. Maberry and a very huge fan.
Then I was informed that the book didn’t release until September 2010. My mind did a quick mental sweep of the months between. Close to 5 months I would have to wait to get my hands on this book. I tell you this, my friends, because I was a fraction away from snatching that copy of Rot & Ruin off of one of the most influential editor’s table and making a mad dash for the elevator.
I thought about Rot & Ruin for the next 5 months and salivated every time. I kept playing over and over in my mind what David Gale told me was being said about it: Rot & Ruin is George Romero meets The Catcher in the Rye. Swoon.
Then it released. I read it. Twice. Cried. A lot. Contacted the amazing Jonathan Maberry and asked if he would grace my blog with his typographical presence. And he replied, “I’m in! Sounds like fun!” Such a humble and gracious man. In the midst of a book release, book tours, release parties, and numerous book signings, he was able to find the time to be This Literary Life’s October Hot Blogger.
Please tap your keys loudly for Mr. Jonathan Maberry, New York Times best-selling and multiple Bram Stoker Award-winning author (meaning, I would pay close attention to his hot blogging advice if I were you):
A funny thing happened on the way to writing an adult horror short story. I wrote a teen dystopian novel instead.
That’s kind of how my career’s been going. I wear seatbelts when I write because I always seem to be taking hard curves at high speeds. And I couldn’t be happier.
When I first started fooling around with the idea of trying my hand at fiction –after writing magazine feature articles, poetry, plays, greeting cards and really bad song lyrics for 25 years—I received a couple of bits of advice. Some useful…others only useful as catbox liner. I was told to find a niche and dig in (bad advice). I was told that switching genres was a career killer (really bad advice). Stuff like that. Phooey.
I constantly switch genres. I love switching genres. It’s defined my career, and it’s also put me in the path of a lot of interesting projects. Genre hopping is also one of the reasons I’m now a full-time author making a very nice living. A lot of my friends are still working day jobs, or seeing their careers dry up because their genres stopped being hot. I’m certainly no better a writer than them…but I’ve learned to keep my options open.
I started out writing mostly articles nonfiction books on martial arts (kind of a ‘write what you know’ thing, which IS good advice), then shifted that to write textbooks on women’s self-defense and safety awareness. That may sound like a similar type of book to the martial arts books, but it’s not. Different audience, different info, different style. Different genre.
Then in 2001 I started writing about the things that go bump in the night and have since written four books on the folklore/legends of vampires, werewolves and other critters that get all bitey when the sun goes down. People warned me that it was career suicide…switching from writing scholarly books on martial arts to pop-culture books of supernatural folklore. They were wrong about that, too.
The first one I did was THE VAMPIRE SLAYERS FIELD GUIDE TO THE UNDEAD (released under my one-time-only pen name of Shane MacDougall); then VAMPIRE UNIVERSE (Citadel Press, 2006); THE CRYPTOPEDIA (co-authored with David Kramer; released in 2007); and ZOMBIE CSU: The Forensics of the Living Dead (2008), THEY BITE (also with David Kramer, 2009) and the just-released WANTED UNDEAD OR ALIVE: Vampire Hunters and Other Kick-ass Enemies of Evil (with Janice Gable Bashman). That opened up a whole new world for me, and a new audience. It was a fun audience, too!
While doing the research for these books, I wrote my first novel, GHOST ROAD BLUES, in 2005 and sold it to Pinnacle Books. It was the lead-off to a trilogy of supernatural thrillers set in a fictional small Pennsylvania town of Pine Deep. It won the Bram Stoker Award for Best First Novel, which –I have to admit—kind of validated my whole ‘should I try writing fiction experiment’. The sequel, DEAD MAN’S SONG came out in 2007; and then BAD MOON RISING the following year.
Instead of pounding away at horror (a genre that has been a ‘soft market’ for years anyway), I decided to try my hand at a much,much healthier genre: thrillers. I wrote the pitch for PATIENT ZERO, a bio-terrorism thriller in which a Baltimore detective (Joe Ledger) is recruited by a government agency to combat a terrorist group bent on releasing a plague. St. Martins Griffin bought that and two sequels (THE DRAGON FACTORY, which came out this year; and THE KING OF PLAGUES, due out in March).
Sure, switching genres meant re-branding myself to a new audience. And, sure that meant doing a lot of social network (Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Goodreads, Shelfari, etc.) and a blog and other stuff to get on the radar of the new audience. That’s a pain in the butt if you don’t like the nuts and bolts aspects of publishing-oriented marketing; and it’s fun if you’re like me and you digEVERYTHING about the publishing world and the writing life.
Somewhere around the time I was wrapping PATIENT ZERO, I got approached to try something new. Because of my presence on the social media sites, Universal Pictures sought me out when looking for someone to write a novelization of the remake of The Wolfman. Had I ever done a media tie-in book? No. Had I ever adapted anyone else’s work? No. Did I take the gig? Hell yes. When Tor Books released THE WOLFMAN in February it clawed its way right onto the New York Times bestseller list (my first visit to that lofty peak!)
Then came ROT & RUIN. That was kind of a double genre shift for me. It started out as a short story for an adult anthology called THE NEW DEAD, edited by Christopher Golden for Griffin. Golden asked each of the contributors to do something different, something they had never done before. I had never written a post-apocalyptic story, so that’s what I wrote. The story was called ‘Family Business’, and it’s been cited in a lot of the reviews of the book (which is packed with superb stories by superb writers like Max Brooks, Kelley Armstrong, David Liss and others!).
I showed the story to my agent, and she said that it was the opening of a teen novel. I was surprised. I’d had no intention at all of writing a dystopian teen story –and in truth the short story version has violence and harsh language. My agent suggested I read some of what’s being published in the teen market. I did. Wow.
So, I let her shop an outline for a much expanded version of the story, and almost at once we had competing bids for what they were calling ‘a dystopian novel for the middle grade boy market’. Really? I had no idea. Simon & Schuster won the bidding war and bought ROT & RUIN and its sequel, DUST & DECAY. Now I was writing teen fiction.
So…where’s all this going and why am I pulling on your coat about it?
The economy is still in the crapper and the publishing industry is walking with a limp. A lot of writers are hitting closed doors at full speed. A lot of writers are being chased out of the biz by the need to find a job that pays the bills.
I’m doing great. As I said, this is not because I’m any better or worse than these other writers (and some of them I know damn well are better than I’ll ever be). But I move around. I follow the trends. I put myself in the path of publishing success. It works. I’ll also try just about anything. Over the last few years I’ve been invited to write short stories or novellas in a variety of genres including mystery, military science fiction, horror, psychological suspense, comedy, regional folklore, fantasy, pulp, thrillers and even toy-related media tie-in fiction (such as GI Joe). My gypsy tendencies have put me on several radars. Some haven’t led to anything. Some have lead to big things (Marvel Comics scouted me to write super hero comics –Wolverine, Punisher, Captain America—after an editor read one of my thrillers.)
I didn’t invent this process. Some of the most successful writers in recent history have stayed in the game by using the same genre-hopping process. After all, Stephen King has published books that are technically horror (SALEM’S LOT, THE SHINING), Young Adult fantasy (THE TALISMAN), adult fantasy (THE DARK TOWER series); science fiction (CARRIE, FIRESTARTER, THE CELL), urban fantasy (LISEY’S STORY), post-apocalyptic science fantasy (THE STAND), young adult drama (THE GIRL WHO LOVED TOM GORDON), suspense (MISERY), and a whole bunch of other stuff that would fit on a dozen different bookstore shelves.
So…to all of the writers reading this –those of you who are published and those who are not yet published—if you want a tip from someone who is living the writing life and having a blast…consider opening yourself up to…anything. If you’ve been shopping a YA paranormal fantasy for three years and haven’t gotten a bite…keep shopping it, but maybe try a Steampunk novel. Or a dark fantasy for the adult market. Or a romance. Or…anything.
Who knows…maybe your first success will be in a genre you always thought was ‘not something you’d ever try’. Shake loose from that kind of thinking. Try anything. Try everything.
Follow Jonathan on Twitter/ @JonathanMaberry