Five Questions With Walking Dead Novelist Jay Bonansinga
Feb 27, 2013
He is the chap that gets to work with Robert Kirkman in creating The Walking Dead universe for those taking a trip to the library. Yes, adventures of survivalists in Kirkman's zombie world also can be read in prose form, and author Jay Bonansinga is the man banging at the keyboard.
PREVIEWSworld: How does the collaboration work between you and Robert Kirkman?
Jay Bonansinga: Robert is the story guy – which is the understatement of the day – and initially he gives me a ten-page outline. This whole process is kind of fascinating and miraculous to me, because I turn ten double-spaced pages of thumbnail directions – “they go here, then this happens” – into 400 pages of prose. But the craziest, coolest thing is this: When I’m done, the novel follows his original story blueprint with almost mathematical precision. And it all works! The huge twist at the end of Governor, for example, was always there, and I had to sort of “reverse engineer” the thing to the beginning of the book in terms of making the character arcs of Philip and Brian Blake work properly. But Robert is the Man. He has an almost preternatural sense of story.
PREVIEWSworld: What's it like writing someone else's mythology and universe, when you're used to creating your own characters?
Jay Bonansinga: I have to say it is a blast! It’s like being a chef, and all of a sudden somebody else is cooking for you, and all you have to do is set the table and maybe, I don't know, wash the dishes afterwards. It’s totally fun, especially since I’m a fan of the whole franchise in all its mediums. I think I’ve been working toward this my entire career – previously working with Romero, writing horror fiction, ghost-writing, endlessly watching zombie movies. I have the best job in the world!
PREVIEWSworld: How does The Walking Dead graphic novel series influence your prose novels?
Jay Bonansinga: We use the comic series as a sort of Rosetta Stone – for the timeline, the way environments look, the way character’s dress, and on and on. Or Robert will call me and say stuff like, “That character can’t have a tattoo on his arm because in Issue #46 we see him without a shirt and there’s no tattoo.” Most importantly, I use the comic as a series of visual and behavioral snapshots of characters at certain points in the epic, and I extrapolate their back-stories – how did they get there? Did they get enough love from their parents as children? Do they have bodies buried somewhere?
PREVIEWSworld: How does the graphic novel series differ from your prose novels?
Jay Bonansinga: To me – as least in terms of the technicalities of writing – comics are closer to film. Comics are about the here and now, and they’re relentlessly linear, which is why I love them. Prose is more internal, cerebral, and all over the place in terms of space and time. But I have made an effort to keep the The Walking Dead books as close to the comics in tone and feel as I could – this is why they are told in present tense, in limited third-person.
PREVIEWSworld: Why, in your opinion, are zombies so popular right now?
Jay Bonansinga: Zombies are hot because the world has gone to hell in a hand basket. Seriously. I truly believe that the zombie archetype resonates right now because we have an economy in the toilet, and terrorism gripping the world, and people under water in their mortgages, and on and on… and these problems don’t go away even when you shoot them in the head, or you make your monthly payment or whatever, they just keep coming back, every morning . You see that credit rating or check those threatening emails – and the teeth sink deeper. But people LOVE to see characters dealing with analogous problems by firing a double-barreled shotgun into the brains of flesh-eating monsters. It’s the definition of catharsis! It’s also highly entertaining.
NOTE: For fans of Jay’s work, Crossroads Press is releasing a whole slew of his books and stories, some never-before-seen-in-this-country. Check out http://store.crossroadpress.com for more details!