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The Fire & Ash review that became a love letter to Jonathan Maberry (by Cuyler Creech)

Well, Benny and his friends have finally done it. They found the jet, found civilization, found a place every survivor of the zom apocalypse dreams of: Sanctuary.

But at what cost?
Tom is still dead, inner demons are tearing their humanity apart, Chong is still hanging in the balance between life and death, and the only word he can muster is a devilish “hungry…”,and the people of Sanctuary won’t answer any of their questions.
Benny and his friends may have done what they wanted to accomplish almost over a year ago when they set out onto the Ruin, but it in a world with raving zoms, callous killers, and murderously fanatic zealots bent on their eternal death, things are always too good to be true. The worst is certainly not over.
But there is one thing left. One tiny shred of hope that still filters in through the gloom and death of the Rot and Ruin.
The cure.
Someone has actually done it. A scientist named Dr. Monica McReady has cured the zombie plague. Only thing is, her notes on how to do it are missing. And so is she.
But if we know Benny, Nix, Lilah, and their new found friend and ex-Reaper, the fierce and quick-witted Riot, we know that with their swords and spears, their completely suicidal plans, the help of a hard-edged Ranger named Joe Ledger, and their boiling “warrior smart” blood driven deep into their souls by the infamous Tom Imura, they will do everything in their power, and more, to do what matters most to them.
To save Chong.
But the Night Church is always watching. Waiting for their plans to wipe human life from the earth to set in motion. Saint John waits with vigor renewed in the blood of those whom he’s sent into “the darkness” to send Benny, his friends, Sanctuary, and all of mankind there as well.
Survival demands lines be crossed, and for Benny and his friends to survive, for Chong to be saved, for Mountainside and the rest of the Nine Towns, there must be absolutely none that they won’t step over. Everyone Benny has ever come to know and love, their lives hang in the balance. And it’s on Benny Imura and his friend’s shoulders to fight the things even scarier than zoms.
Is Benny willing to see himself become a monster to fight the monster?
Lives will be crushed, people will be changed, and a war to end wars is coming. All things will be told amongst the fire and ash.
I have never had a book, in my life, affect my heart like Fire & Ash has. If a book could induce cardiac arrest, this would be that book. Your heart goes from happy beats to seeing characters we’ve grown with; to beating faster when we remember Chong is dying; to erratic when we learn that not all zoms are slow anymore; to beating against your ribcage with iron fists when Saint John and the Night Church attack; to complete cardiac explosion during the incredible final showdown of final showdowns; and then to complete and final arrest when we realize that this is the fourth and final book in this beloved series. Fire & Ash took me on a thrill ride so exhilarating, electrifying, and petrifying the standards for all good books has just been shot unbelievably sky high.
Like the infamous Tom Imura, Jonathan Maberry shows how much of a “closure specialist” he is himself as the writer of the Rot & Ruin Series. The questions we’ve been asking since the day Benny set out into the zom-infested Rot & Ruin are answered in this beast of a finale. The origin of the crashed jet. How the Reaper plague infested billions. Even some ins and outs of zom-biology (I came up with that myself. Quite proud, actually). But most of all, we find out if Maberry’s beloved characters are able to dig themselves out of the dark abyss that has become their mind and soul.
What I really liked about this final installment (one of about a billion, really), was Mr. Maberry focused on how the zombie apocalypse can not only tear us limb from limb, but can also do a serious number on our well-being, sense of self-worth, and our relationships with those we love and care for most. When I first met Mr. Maberry­ (I had the honor to meet him a few months ago at a book festival in Montgomery County, Texas), he gave me a little tidbit into Benny in Fire & Ash. As I was shakily handing my books to him to be autographed, he told me, “Benny steps up in Fire & Ash.” Mr. Maberry was not wrong. When we last saw Benny, he and Nix weren’t faring too well. Tom had just been murdered by the coward, Preacher Jack, and Benny was lost. He was constantly trying to step up to his brother’s level, trying to fix the unfixable, and this really grated on Benny’s being for what he truly was, and had so little chance to be: a teenager. This infuriated Nix, because she knew she was losing the boy she fell in love with. He’d become something darker, more calloused and receded, and we were all afraid that Benny was gone forever.
But, just as Jonathan told me as he held out my signed copies of Fire & Ash’s precursors, Benny did indeed “step up.” He finally realizes that he doesn’t have to become Tom, and that’s never what Nix Riley wanted. She wanted Benny. We wanted Benny. And, like dusty cogs clicking together with precision born in blood, fire, and ash, Benny Imura is reborn, not into the old Benny, but into a newer, better, more responsible and refined warrior. A samurai. He doesn’t become Tom. He finds himself, through the tangled arms of the dead, the cold, fierce eyes of the Night Church, and the unforgiving lands of the Rot and Ruin. Benny becomes someone Nix Riley can love again.
I cannot say that this is my favorite of the series, because I love each book in different ways. But what I can say is that this is the spectacular finale that Jonathan Maberry’s Rot& Ruin deserved. We get to see the characters, who have become our dear friends, fight for their lives as we cheer them on, crying when they cry, laughing when they laugh, and screaming when they scream. We get to see other characters, like the witty Riot, and the infamous Ranger, Joe Ledger help the gang through blood and fire, carrying the survival of the human race and the extinction of the undead on their shoulders with knives in their backs and broken souls fueling their hate of the Night Church and all the death it brings with it. Jonathan Maberry does it again for one more go around, crafting an ugly, evil, despicable, and with glistenings of hope, a beautiful post-apocalyptic world of the Rot & Ruin.
Without a single shroud of doubt, I can easily say that Fire & Ash gets ten burning stars, my novel of the year, and one of the best finales I have ever read in my life. Both young and old need to clear their schedules this August, because Fire & Ash is one thrill ride you donot want to miss. Your only excuse for not doing so is because you must be a brainless, shambling, rotting, flesh-eating zom.

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The post where Jonathan Maberry helps me impress my husband (An Author Interview)

The Mr. will make this shocked face!
The Challenge

This is the true story of how the following post came to be.  Earlier this year, Lois Lowry did a guest post here at TLT and I went home exploding in excitement to my husband. “Who’s Lois Lowry?”, he asked.  So, after realizing that I had failed him as a librarian, I mentioned that she was a 2-time Newbery winning author.  You know, the author of The Giver (it turns out, he has never read it.) So, he looked at me and said, “If you can get Jonathan Maberry to do a guest post, then I will be impressed.”  He obviously is a huge fan of Jonathan Maberry.  And Mr. Maberry was kind enough to help me impress my husband by doing this interview here at TLT.  So thank you!  I promise, I will gloat.

So, to my zombie loving husband, I present you with an interview with Jonathan Maberry. Be impressed!

On Writing, and Reading, Horror
TLT: What draws you to writing horror? And zombies?

Jonathan Maberry. And Jonathan Maberry as a zombie.
JONATHAN MABERRY: I came to horror by several converging routes. As a kid I was partly raised by my grandmother, who was very knowledgeable about what she called ‘the larger world’. She taught me about the myths, legends and (to her) beliefs in supernatural creatures of all kinds. By the time I was old enough to watch my first Hammer Horror flick I already knew about Redcaps, church Grimms, the Russian Liho, the White Ladies of Fau, the loup garou and other critters.

However when I was thirteen my middle school librarian –who was also the secretary for several clubs of professional writers—introduced me to a number of notable genre authors. Two of them –Ray Bradbury and Richard Matheson—taught me a lot about the worlds of horror and fantasy. And for Christmas one year, Bradbury gave me a signed copy of SOMETHING WICKED THIS WAY COMES and Matheson gave me a signed copy of the 1954 edition of I AM LEGEND.

As for zombies…when I was ten I snuck into the old Midway Theater in Philadelphia on October 2, 1968 to see the world premiere of NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD. I was terrified and enchanted at the same time. 

On Surviving the Zombie Apocalypse and the Popularity of Zombies

TLT: What have you learned from your books about surviving the zombie apocalypse? What should we do and what should we not do?

JONATHAN MABERRY: I’ve spent more than a reasonable amount of time thinking about the zombie apocalypse since I was a kid. So, by the time I got around to writing about zombies in books like ZOMBIE CSU: The Forensics of the Living Dead, PATIENT ZERO, ROT & RUIN and DEAD OF NIGHT, I already had a workable plan.

My first move would be to make some protective gear out of carpet and duct tape. You can’t bite through it –I checked with forensic ondontologists (bite experts). Then I’d grab my wife and my katana, a weapon I’ve been training with and teaching for nearly fifty years, and head out to the nearest food distribution center. Those buildings are huge, they have few windows, they have trucks, they have their own back-up generators and they have enough food and supplies to outwait anything. Using that as a base, I’d round up survivors, a tanker truck of gasoline, more weapons, and we’d start making plans.

TLT: Why do you think zombies are so popular right now?

JONATHAN MABERRY: Aside from the usefulness of zombies as metaphors for telling virtually any kind of threat-based story, the genre has had a bump because writers (screen, TV, prose and comics) have finally learned what makes a zombie story work. And, no, it’s not zombies.  The best zombie stories are about people. Human beings who are in the middle of a massive shared calamity. If you start there, with a story about people in threat, then you can go anywhere you want dramatically.  If, on the other hand, you focus on the zombie, the story often collapses into cliché. As writers…we now get that.

TLT: What books have made you afraid to turn off the light?

JONATHAN MABERRY: There is one book that has always scared the bejeezus out of me, and it still does: THE HAUNTING OF HILL HOUSE by Shirley Jackson. It’s flawless, and it invites the reader to participate in the development of the horror. The other books that continue to give me shivers even after multiple re-reads are ‘SALEM’S LOT by Stephen King, GHOST STORY by Peter Straub, MYSTERY WALK by Robert McCammon, and THE MANITOU by Graham Masterton.
On Turning Your Books into a Movie

TLT: Everyone at TLT is a huge fan of the Rot & Ruin series, I am very excited that it has been optioned and should soon be coming to the movie screen. What is the optioning process? And what role will you be playing in the movie development?

JONATHAN MABERRY: An ‘option’ means that a producer –or in this case, a team of producers and actors—have leased the rights to develop a script and shop it around in order to raise funds. Once they have a commitment from backers, then they buy the film rights and go into active production.

As for my involvement in the film version of ROT & RUIN, that’s still to be determined, though the producers, actor (who will play Tom Imura), and screenwriter are in frequent touch with me. We have long, rambling creative discussions by phone. And I can tell you this much…so far they seem to see the story the same way I do. Granted a 90-minute movie is not going to include everything that’s in the book, but the version they’re constructing seems to be very much in keeping with how I imagine the film.

On Guys and Reading

TLT: As a teen librarian, it seems like we are often asking ourselves “how do we get teen guys to read?” What type of a reader were you as a teen? What really moved or entertained you? How do you incorporate who you were as a teen reader into writing for teens today?

JONATHAN MABERRY: I was always a reader. Except for when I was with my creepy grandmother I had a rather horrible childhood. Books were my escape, and I read absolutely everything. By the time I was in fourth grade I was reading Ed McBain, Robert E. Howard, Sheridan Le Fenu, Robert Bloch, and others. In the sixties and seventies I burned through everything by Edgar Rice Burroughs, all of the Bantam Books reprints of Doc Savage, John D. MacDonald, and anyone else I could get my hands on.  Reading was not my challenge in school. Math was my kryptonite.

Now, understand…I knew I wanted to be a writer since before I could actually read. When I was little I told stories with toys. So reading was a natural part of that. However I also read an enormous amount of nonfiction. I liked knowing the nuts and bolts behind something. So, if I real a cop novel, I’d then read true-crime books. If I read science fiction I’d look for books and articles on rocketry, robotics, space exploration, and so on.  I guess I’m still like that.

When I meet teens who are ‘reluctant readers’, I usually spend some serious time finding out what they’re interested in. If they don’t want to pick up a novel, I recommend comics, audio books, and even movies. Particularly movies based on books. If they dig the movie, they’re more likely to want to back-track to see the original story.

I don’t know if my reading habits influence the way I write for teens, but it certainly gives me a basis for good conversation with teens. I ask what they’re reading and we discuss those books and soon we’re geeking out on books in general.

TLT: What do you wish teen guys knew about reading?

JONATHAN MABERRY: Reading is power. Reading gives you power and helps your power to grow. Since I had a rough home life, I had no role models worth following. I learn my core values from comics and novels. I tell kids that. I also explain that I’m largely self-educated. Sure, I went to college, but I know far more about life, the world, and my place in it because of the thing I chose to read rather than books that were assigned to me. I talk to teen boys about what strength, courage and toughness really mean, and I can draw on examples from fiction and nonfiction.  And I explain how knowledge allows you to imagine solutions and opportunities that can help you out of any tough spot. That’s been a great basis for meaningful conversations with teen guys and me.
For more on guys and reading, see Show Me How to Live and visit Guys Read

TLT: Rot & Ruin is my go-to recommendation for a wide variety of readers, including guys. Thank you for that, by the way. What would be some other great recommendations?

JONATHAN MABERRY: I love Dan Wells’ books, particularly I AM NOT A SERIAL KILLER. Brilliant. Naturally S.E. Hinton’s books are timeless classics. James Dashner’s MAZE RUNNER books. Markus Zusak’s THE BOOK THIEF.  LOOKING FOR ALASKA by John Green. THE KNIFE OF NEVER LETTING GO by Patrick Ness. Anything by Garth Nix. And, I recommend that boys read up. Read Stephen King’s THE STAND or THE DARK TOWER Series. Grab Roger Zelazny’s brilliant CHRONICLES OF AMBER or Frank Herbert’s DUNE.

But I also recommend to teen guy readers to occasionally pick up books that are popular with girls. When you read what they read, it’s easier to understand how they think and feel.

On What’s Next

TLT: Will Rot & Ruin be getting the graphic novel treatment?

JONATHAN MABERRY: Once the movie is actually getting close to release we’ll probably do something with a comic or graphic novel. We’re also discussing a video game, and a collectible card game based on the Zombie Cards.

On Visiting Schools and Libraries

TLT: I would love to sit down and talk with you about the characters and situations in Rot & Ruin, but I don’t want to overwhelm you with questions or get to spoilery. But I know you have done school and bookstore visits, what does an author get from doing these type of visits and interacting with readers? And do you have a school or library visit that you would like to share?

JONATHAN MABERRY: Visiting schools is such incredible fun. They’re all different because kids are different, and because schools have their own personalities.  Usually, though, I talk about my own rather weird path and some of the things I’ve done and experienced. You never know what’s going to connect with the teens who come to hear you talk. Sometimes it’s my background in martial arts that opens the door. Sometimes it’s my anecdotes about being a bodyguard in the entertainment industry (and being shot at, stabbed and run over!). Or being a singer/songwriter in the world heavy metal band in the history of bad music. Or writing for Marvel Comics. Or whatever. I talk and I allow questions right from the jump. We always have a good time.

Usually at least one kid in the audience will ask a challenging question in hopes of putting me on the spot. But I always respect the question and the questioner. And often that’s the point at which we dive deep into a real conversation.

I love school library visits. I’ve been doing them all over the country and it’s my favorite part of being a writer in the Young Adult genre.

Teen Librarian Toolbox: And finally, don’t you want to say “neener neener” to my The Mr.? (I am just kidding with this one 🙂 )

JONATHAN MABERRY: Dude…you didn’t think your wife could snag an interview with me. But, hey…check it out.  (Haven’t you learned that wives have super powers?)

Thank you so much to Jonathan Maberry for this moment.  We are huge fans at my house AND at my library, and I really did want some pointers on surviving the zombie apocalypse.

Jonathan Maberry is the New York Times bestselling and multiple Bram Stoker Award winning author of multiple novels for teens and adults, including the Rot & Ruin series and Joe Ledger series.  If you haven’t read them, check them out.  You can follow him on Twitter @JonathanMaberry.  You can also “like” him on Facebook.

All the places Jonathan Maberry is mentioned on TLT:
Book Review: Rot & Ruin
Book Review: Flesh & Bone
Reading the Zombie Apocalypse
What’s the Deal with Zombies Anyway?
Top 10 Tips for Surviving the Apocalypse

Please feel free to leave a comment telling Jonathan Maberry how much you love his books.  Or to leave The Mr. a “neener neener” in the comments.