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Writers Helping Writers: Interview With Jonathan Maberry

Jonathan Maberry

Jonathan Maberry Photo © Sara Jo West

This article originally appeared in the July/August 2016 issue of Writer's Digest.

Jonathan Maberry has no reason to fear being typecast by genre. TheNew York Times bestselling author and five-time Bram Stoker Award–winner has published books, short stories and articles in nearly every category imaginable, including science fiction, horror, fantasy, thriller, mystery, young adult and Western.

In addition to editing anthologies (including the recent X-Files: Trust No One, based on the revamped hit television show), penning the popular Big Scary Blog and co-hosting the pop-culture podcast “Three Guys With Beards” with Christopher Golden and James A. Moore, Maberry is a strong advocate for writing communities and mutual support networks—a sermon he preaches at length to crowds at writing conferences across the country.

Maberry took a brief break from his rigorous writing and speaking schedule to chat with WD from his home in Del Mar, Calif.

You keynote many conferences spreading a message about writers helping other writers. How did you come to feel so passionate about this approach?

When I was 12 I had the good fortune to meet and get to know several top science-fiction writers, including [the bestsellers] Ray Bradbury and Richard Matheson. Both of these legendary writers were incredibly kind, generous and patient with me. Over the course of the three years I knew them, [they] advised me on both the craft of writing and the business of publishing. They recommended I learn both and become skillful at each so that I could more effectively live the dream of being a professional writer. At the same time, they cautioned me to always be generous and helpful to other writers. Bradbury said, “None of us—not one person in this entire business—became successful without help.” They also warned me to be cautious of the negative propaganda that limits a lot of writers. Matheson said that I’d encounter the common lie that creative people are naturally bad at business. They pointed out that since many writers had become successful despite the same obstacles we all face, it implied that solutions must exist. Once learned, they said, these solutions should be shared. After all, what good is ever accomplished by seeing our colleagues crash and burn, or waste their own time by doing things the wrong way?

I took that to heart. I’m mindful of the value of the lessons I learned from them, and from other good-hearted people I’ve met. At the same time, I have taken negative encounters as learning experiences rather than letting myself become mired in regret, anger and grudge-holding.

During the economic downturn I saw two main camps emerge from the writing community. One camp apparently believes that if writers help other writers, then the people they help are the ones who will take what few opportunities are out there. That is fear-based thinking, and it is counterproductive.

The other camp—to which Bradbury and Matheson belonged, and I am a resident—believes that if writers help each other, then more good books will get written and sold, more readers will be drawn to this bounty, and all of publishing will prosper. I like that camp. There are more kids in the playground and more toys to play with.

Does this mentality apply to writers of all levels?

Positive thinking is simply good business. A positive attitude is more attractive to potential collaborators, editors, agents, booksellers, readers and reviewers. I’ve been invited into anthologies, speaking engagements [and more] as much because of my positive “let’s all share” attitude as for my writing. Any writer who establishes a personal and career brand that is inclusive, open, nonjudgmental and fair, but who also understands the nature of the commercial side of publishing, is a safer, saner (and likely more profitable) bet. That is as important when breaking into the business as it is for someone trying to maintain a viable brand as a working writer.

It’s critical to make sure that all of a writer’s social media reflects this brand. … I’ve seen writers, including some close friends, sabotage themselves by becoming too political or by using their social media to elevate their status by climbing over their colleagues. That’s bad form and it turns people off. Social media is the new business attire. Dress for success, not to shock and offend.

How does your involvement in The Liars Club fit in with this message of community?

The Liars Club is a group of professional writers I co-founded with fantasist Gregory Frost when I lived in Philadelphia. Our original goal was to form a group that would be a mutual support network for writers we knew. But during the economic downturn we shifted that focus outward. We did a lot of parties and events in support of brick-and-mortar bookstores and libraries, and held fundraisers for literacy foundations. Our anthology, Liar Liar, was a fundraiser.

Around the same time, I began a series of monthly gatherings called the Writers Coffeehouse. These were free, three-hour networking sessions open to writers of any kind and every level, from beginner to bestseller. I later brought The Liars Club in to help me facilitate these meetings because they exploded from half a dozen people to about a hundred per session. We expanded outward, setting up new Writers Coffeehouses in the Philly area, and after I moved to California a couple of years ago, I expanded it further by establishing a new one at Mysterious Galaxy Books in San Diego. Then, as I began doing a lot of keynote speeches and talking about the power of the writers community, I was approached by other writers who wanted to do the same thing in their city. Now we have a slew of them, and more opening all the time. No one has to register, there are no fees, and no one gets paid. It’s all about writers helping writers without asking for anything in return.

The sessions are great. The first hour is usually built around the pros in the group sharing info on the latest deals, events, news and so on in publishing. Then we open [the floor] up to questions. We talk conventional and indie publishing, we talk about pitching, we talk craft, and we talk about whatever else anyone wants to talk about.

Meanwhile, you’re such a prolific writer. What does your process look like?

I was trained as a news reporter, so I [was able to develop] good work habits. I’m fortunate enough to be a professional writer, so this is my day job. I usually write eight hours per day, four in the morning and four in the afternoon, with a break in between. I write between 2,000 and 4,000 words per day—less when I’m editing, more when I’m closing in on a deadline. I write three to five novels per year, in multiple genres. I plot out my books but also allow for organic changes. I write about two dozen or more short stories per year, and usually some comics for Marvel, IDW or Dark Horse. I am never bored and am having an insane amount of fun.

For the first 25 years of my career, I was a part-time magazine feature writer. [During that time I published] nonfiction books, textbooks, greeting cards and other stuff. Then in 2004 I wrote my first novel, Ghost Road Blues. I’m now writing my 25th and have seven more sold [and] waiting to be written.

I’m an active participant in my career. This is not just my craft, it’s also my business and I follow Matheson and Bradbury’s advice by doing my best to be good at both.

Don’t Be Scared: Maberry shares secrets for writing successful horror scenes, and more about creating anthologies in these interview outtakes.

Tyler Moss is the managing editor of Writer's Digest. Follow him on Twitter @tjmoss11.

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