Del Mar author Jonathan Maberry’s vampire novel ‘V-Wars’ lands Netflix deal

Jonathan Maberry
Jonathan Maberry Courtesy

On page 3 of the horror novel “V-Wars,” malcontent actor Michael Fayne suffers through a shift in a Manhattan Starbucks, grousing sardonic about the junk script he’s just read ahead of yet another audition for yet another go-nowhere movie. His inner monologue oozes contempt as he laments the “direct-to-Netflix pieces of crap” to which he feels doomed, entirely unaware that in only two weeks he will be swept up in a global pandemic of vampirism.

Nor could New York Times bestselling author Jonathan Maberry have known when he penned the diss in 2012 that the streaming service would in a few years upend the entertainment industry as the world knew it.

Oh, how times do change.

IDW, the San Diego publisher renowned for comic books and graphic novels, commissioned Maberry to spearhead V-Wars, which went on to become four novels, a series of comics, even a board game. Maberry had just gotten off a plane on his way to a gaming conference in Atlanta in September when David Ozer, president of IDW Entertainment, called with momentous news.

“David said, ‘Looks like we're going to be closing this thing with Netflix,’ and I nearly walked into a wall, ‘Wait, wait, Netflix?!’” Maberry said.

Mum was the word for six months as negotiations nailed down a cast and crew. On April 16, IDW announced that Netflix had ordered a 10-episode run with Ian Somerhalder — he of Vampire Diaries and LOST fame — in one of the two leading roles. Filming is expected to start this summer.

“David called me last week and said, ‘Buckle up, it's about to get really, really fast,’” Maberry said.

Within hours, news of the Netflix deal was trending on Twitter in the United States, Brazil, Germany and Spain. Maberry gained 2,000 new followers overnight. His life has bordered on bedlam ever since, which was busy even by the standards of a bestselling author of nearly 30 novels, more than 100 short stories and 15 comic book runs that have been collected into graphic novels. He has four other TV/film projects in various stages of development. Hours before our April 18 interview, Sony Television optioned his adult thriller series Joe Ledger.

Thanks to his 4,000-words-per-day, work on his 28th novel should wrap up next week. And the year is young yet: he figures to churn out two, maybe three more novels before 2018 is done.

Still, Maberry carved out a few minutes from his frenetic schedule to talk with us about V-Wars’ deeply personal roots and how its lessons on the power of perspective make the beloved series about so much more than creatures that go bump in the night. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

What do you think it is about the V-Wars series that has made it so popular?

Maberry: It's not about humans fighting vampires. It's about intolerance. Our knee-jerk reaction is, ‘If they are not us, they are not right.’ This is a push-back against all that. In the story, we find out that there are good vampires and bad vampires and good humans and bad humans. So it's about intolerance, it's about racism and bigotry and religious intolerance and so on, using vampires as a way of telling that story from all sides. We get inside pretty much every mindset and explore it. We don't want to necessarily demonize one side. We'd rather try to understand where they're coming from even if we disagree with them.

What compelled you to write the series in the first place?

Maberry: I grew up in a part of Philadelphia that was plagued with intense racism. My father, unfortunately, was in the KKK. By the time I hit middle school and started meeting people of other ethnicities, other religions and so on, it really opened my eyes up. Coincidentally, I had read an old Fantastic Four comic book with the Black Panther in it. That was the first black superhero and there were no black people at all in our neighborhood. It was through that character that I learned about apartheid, which began the split between my father and I. He was so entrenched in his view and he believed his view, which is kind of frightening when you think about it—someone who actually believes that to be the right way.

So I kept moving farther and farther away. Then in 2009, Marvel Comics asked me to write the Black Panther comic, which I did for almost two years, partly because of how that character essentially saved my life. So I had been really focusing on the issues of intolerance of bigotry and hatred and how strange and unfair it is—but how when you're trapped in it, the world makes sense through the lens through which you're looking. That's scary, disturbing, sad. When IDW asked me to write a book for them, that's what I pitched and they said ‘Oh yeah, we're definitely doing that.’ And that became V-Wars. So it's something that's been cooking in me since I was a kid.

How much of a hand have you had in the development of the Netflix series?

Maberry: Some creative consulting. The TV version is the brainchild of the screenwriters and the producers and director and actors. It's a really good collaboration. In the early stages of the development—the pitch and so on—they went over a lot of it with me and asked for my input and feedback and so on. It's nice to be involved that much. I love the pilot script. IDW picked up option rights for TV development in 2014, and has been moving it around since, looking for the right home. IDW is very picky and for good reason. They and Netflix got on the same page and it very quickly became apparent that the guys at Netflix got it, too. It was really the right home, so everybody's pretty happy with how unified our thinking is on what the show is really about.

How well do you think the text will translate from print to screen?

Maberry: You can't put a book on TV without changes. I'm not one of those writers who resists the idea of making changes that would make a better TV show. There are going to be some substantial changes in the TV version and I'm OK with that. I've had friends who wrote books that became TV shows—like George RR Martin with “Game of Thrones” and Charlaine Harris with “True Blood” — the shows and the books are different. Robert Kirkman with “The Walking Dead,” too. As long as the people involved understand the message of the book, the core elements of it, then the changes become less important to the writer.

The central theme that they're going to focus on is the relationship between Luther Swann and his friend Michael Fayne, who becomes the first open vampire. They are tight friends and that begins to decay as the blood-hunger starts building in Fayne. It's almost like two brothers on either side of the Civil War; they each are gravitating toward what their nature is. There's some real heartbreaking stuff built into that, as well, and some scary stuff, too.

Has your writing changed since moving to Del Mar?

Maberry: It’s certainly a wonderful place to write. It's relaxing. I can write at home. There are great restaurants everywhere. I write at Pacifica, I write at Starbucks, I write in Encinitas, all over the area writing. It's a great environment. There's a really good supportive writing community here.

I've been doing a lot of work to build that writing community and unify it, through the Writers Coffee House. We give a free three-hour networking session once a month at Mysterious Galaxy Bookstore for writers of every kind to talk about the craft and the business of writing. None of us, not one person in this business, got anywhere without somebody giving them a little bit of help or advice. When I was a kid I was fortunate enough to get to know Ray Bradbury and Richard Matheson, both of whom mentored me off and on. That was tremendous stuff. I was a poor kid from the inner city of Philadelphia and here are these two great writers. They just believed that I actually was serious about wanting to be a writer. So I think all writers should help each other.”

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