Maberry On Writing

On writing ROT and RUIN

By Jonathan Maberry – September 27, 2010
I started laying the groundwork for ROT & RUIN when I was ten years old.

That’s when Night of the Living Dead opened in Philadelphia. October 1968. I snuck into the deserted balcony of the old Midway Theater, one of those vast old Art Deco theaters. No one was supposed to be up there, and no one my age was supposed to be in the theater.

By age ten I’d seen just about every monster movie there was. Vampires, werewolves, giant bugs –the works. I was kind of jaded. I thought I had a good working plan for how to deal with monsters. Crosses, silver bullets, that sort of thing. Then George A. Romero made all of the dead rise to attack the living. Not one, not a pack…all of them.

Talk about game changers. Sure, I could figure out how to deal with one or two. But legions of flesh-eating monsters?

That movie scared me more than anything I’d ever seen, read or imagined. Scared me almost sick. So….I stayed to watch it again.

Since then, I’ve seen every zombie flick, read all of the books and movies, and I’ve spent an absurd amount of my time thinking about how I would survive a zombie apocalypse. That ten year old kid in me was still trying to out-think Romero.

As I grew older and (I hope) wiser, I applied what I knew of forensic science, martial arts, basic survival, and common sense to the problem. I thought of what to do during the crisis and what could be done after –especially if zombies completely overwhelmed civilization as we know it. I’ve discussed this as a guest on scores of zombie panels. I wrote about it in books like ZOMBIE CSU: The Forensics of the Living Dead and PATIENT ZERO.

But all of that was really tackling it from the point of view of an adult. I’m a very big guy, I’m an 8th degree black belt jujutsu master and former bodyguard, and I have over fifty years of life experience to draw on.

It still left me with the question of what would I have done if this happened when I was a kid? Or, what if it had happened when I was a baby and my whole life had been lived after the fall of mankind. Tough questions.

I’m a writer, and when I have something tough to figure out, I tend to write about it. Which is how ROT & RUIN got started. To explore it, I wrote it.

I started with a kid –Benny Imura– who was a toddler when the dead rose and is now fifteen. Everything in his world has been changed because of that. Benny doesn’t truly know what life was before the terrible events of ‘First Night’. Almost all of the adults he knows have lost all faith in everything that had been part of their world: society, politics, religion, technology, the military. They are all suffering from a kind of post-traumatic stress disorder. But Benny is fifteen. He expects to have a life and a future. He and his friends may have been handed a broken world, but it’s the world they’re going to have to live in. They don’t accept the idea that there is no future.

At the same time, everything in Benny’s world is defined by death. Everyone has lost someone (and even Benny has vague memories of his parents from First Night). The specter of death looms over everything and pollutes Benny’s world. This is where we meet him, and ass Benny explores this world –dealing with the constant threat of zombies, entrenched fears, violence, and the enduring corruption of evil men…he learns what it means to be alive. And to be human.

Benny Imura is an ordinary teenager, but ‘ordinary’ is a funny word, because when you scratch the surface of every single ordinary person you find an extraordinary uniqueness. Benny discovers his own weaknesses and learns the value of courage, trust, love, optimism and honor as he struggles to survive in world where zombies are really the least of his problems.


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