Please welcome Author Isaac Marion to THE KATY today!
Isaac Marion grew up in the mossy depths of the Pacific Northwest, where he worked as a heating installer, a security guard, and a visitation supervisor for foster children before publishing his debut novel in 2010. Warm Bodies became a New York Times bestseller and inspired a major film adaptation. It has been translated into twenty-five languages. Isaac lives in Seattle with his cat, Watson, writing fiction and music and taking pictures of everything.
How did you decide to become an author? Any books, movies, or people that inspired you to pursue your dream?
I had a strong urge to tell stories pretty much since I was born, but for some reason it took me a long time to direct that urge toward its most obvious medium. I channeled it into strange things like backstories for video games that didn’t exist and increasingly fictionalized travel journals where me and my friends ended up being sacrificed by Scottish druids. (real blood stains on the pages, thanks to some travel injuries.) When I was about 14, I created an incredibly elaborate tabletop RPG to play with my friends, and it was basically just an excuse to write the story. I worked on it for a whole year, and then my friends moved to Alaska, and there I was with this “amazing” story in a format that I couldn’t share with anyone, and that’s when it finally clicked—you idiot! Put it in a book! So I started my writing career with this thousand-page fantasy novel adapted from my RPG, and from then on it was a steady stream from my brain to the pages.
Are you a plotter or a panster? Or a planster?
It depends on what I’m writing. For short stories, I wing it. For looser, more abstract novels I work out the general shape of the thing–where the story will end up and what I want to say with it–and then I wing it. But for a complex multi-part series with a lot of characters and plot threads, I definitely plot it. A big story needs a structure for its arcs and if you plunge in blindly with no idea where you’re headed, you can’t expect to arrive at satisfying conclusions a thousand pages later. But that’s a specific type of storytelling, and I think my future novels will be less plot-intensive and more free-flowing.
Why do you think people feel drawn to zombies and end of the world scenarios?
I think most people are drawn to zombies for very different reasons than I am. A lot of people seem to like the idea of humans as cannon fodder that can be killed without remorse. It lets them live out various survival fantasies, “us against the world” and such. For me, what’s interesting about zombies is that they ARE people. They’re people in an extremely low state of being that I think is familiar to all of us. Who hasn’t felt like they were mindlessly following instincts and routines without any sense of self or purpose? It’s a very relatable thing to me, and when you combine it with the post-apocalyptic setting, there are just so many interesting aspects of real life you can explore. It exposes the guts of society and human existence and you can get in there and study the parts.
Do you think zombies are a possibility for our future?
I think zombies are already a reality. Our entire culture is designed to grind down the human spirit and reduce us to a mindlessly self-replicating swarm. You don’t have to stretch the metaphor very far to fit.
Would you rather be one of the zombies in Warm Bodies or a survivor?
It’s a more complicated question than it seems. Nobody wants to be a zombie. All of the Dead want to be Living. But one of R’s big questions in the sequel is what did he gain from the zombie experience? Because as he starts to recover his past, he sees the dark path he was on, and in some ways, dying gave him a second chance. Losing your memories—even temporarily—can have a cleansing effect. It clears out some of the accumulated debris of all the traumas and cultural programming of your life. There are real stories of people who were total assholes in their normal life and then they had amnesia and came back as much better people. So that’s really interesting to me—what would I be like if I could reset my brain? How much of me is hardwired and how much is programmed?
Did having a movie adaption of your novel help your writing process or possibly hurt it?
Well, Warm Bodies was already written when it was adapted so I assume you mean the sequels. And yeah, there was a weird transition period when I started writing THE BURNING WORLD—I had to purge the movie from my brain and reconnect to the book version of the characters. It didn’t take long though; and at this point they feel like two very different universes.
Do any of your characters represent you as a whole or someone you know? Or are they qualities you admire in others?
I don’t know if I could create a character completely from scratch without drawing from any real people. Some are more specific than others. I’d say R is definitely a big part of who I am, but not the whole. I think if you combine R and Perry—and that’s basically what happens in the book—that’s a closer approximation of who I am. Those two voices arguing with each other. And Julie was initially based on a girl I was pining for at the time, but as I continued to write the story she evolved past her source and became her own person, who as far as I’m aware, does not exist in real life. That was a pretty surreal process to observe, like an imaginary person coming to life.
Are there any genres of literature or movies that you won’t read or watch? What’s your favorite genre to read/watch?
I guess don’t really think in terms of genres. What draws me to a story is just a certain theme or mood or style, not so much the setting or content. I generally like things that fall somewhere in the middle between realism and fantasy, things that present the reality we live in but stretched and heightened in some way. That can be literary realism with subtle fantasy elements, like Jonathan Lethem’s The Fortress of Solitude, or wild fantasy with elements of realism, like Stephen King’s Dark Tower series. Stories on either extreme end of that spectrum—basic, unadorned realism and unrelatably exotic fantasy—usually don’t resonate with me.
Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?
Write something that fascinates you, something that feels real in your mind and keeps you up all night with feelings and images. Don’t try to conform your imagination to the parameters of a genre or market. Literary conventions are full of authors who talk about their books like salespeople talking about this year’s model of vacuum cleaner, without any evident joy. I guess there are worse ways to make a living, but I’d encourage you to aim higher. Do something that comes from YOU.
What do you do when you’re not writing?
Pet my cat. Eat thai food. Drink whiskey. Drive around. Walk around. Think about writing.
I read that you recently finished writing the next book in the Warm Bodies series! Congratulations! Is there anything you can share with us about it?
It’s called The Burning World, and I’ll spare you the plot summary because that’s plastered all over the internet, but I’ll just say that it’s a pretty dramatic expansion from Warm Bodies in terms of scale and scope. I think there’s an assumption that sequels will be slightly inflated copies of the original, but I really went crazy with this one. Warm Bodies was a pretty simple story, very compact and digestible—some have even called it a “rom com”—but it sparked a lot of bigger ideas for me and I decided to say to hell with it and take the sequel all the way. It’s still centered around R’s relationship with Julie, but it goes a LOT farther than that, from insane apocalyptic corporations to new forms of undead to mysterious cosmic forces from the beginning of life on earth. So yeah, it gets weird.
Anything else you’d like to add?
I’m trying to encourage anyone who plans to buy the book to preorder it now from my store at isaacmarion.com. It helps me out a lot, but more importantly, I have some unique prizes and original Warm Bodies stories that I’m giving away through that preorder program and I’d love for people to see them.
Thank you for joining me on THE KATY today, Isaac!