Halloween Extravaganza: INTERVIEW: Jeffrey J. Mariotte

Meghan: Hi, Jeffrey. Welcome to Meghan’s House of Books. Tell us a little bit about yourself.

Jeffrey J. Mariotte: I’m a writer, obviously, but I’ve also worked in the book business in many other capacities—as a bookstore manager and bookstore owner, at various publishing companies, as an editor on staff and freelance, etc. I’ve edited novels and art books and lots of comics and graphic novels. Since 1980, I’ve made my living from words and stories and books, one way or another. I also have a family—my wife Marsheila (Marcy) Rockwell, also an author and a poet–and Holly, David, Arthur, Francis, and Max, two cats, and a dog. And a house full of books and movies and music and games.

Meghan: What are five things most people don’t know about you?

Jeffrey J. Mariotte:

1) Desperadoes, one of the comic books I created and wrote was featured on the labels of Jones Soda root beer bottles.

2) Swift, one of the comic characters I co-created (with my daughter Holly and Jim Lee’s art) became a HeroClix toy.

3) I still have a stuffed bunny rabbit that was a gift to me when I was born. There’s a zipper in his back so you can put your pajamas inside him (if you’re, like, just born and your pajamas are tiny).

4) I love bears, giant squids, lemurs, and some types of monkeys. But mostly bears.

5) I once saved a rattlesnake who’d become hopelessly tangled in a fence, which required cutting the fence very close to its mouth. But during the process, it realized I wasn’t trying to hurt it, so it relaxed and didn’t try to bite me when I was within range.

Meghan: What is the first book you remember reading?

Jeffrey J. Mariotte: Happy Birthday to You! by Dr. Seuss. Many years later, as a full-grown human, I managed a bookstore in La Jolla, CA, where Dr. Seuss lived. I only met him once, but I have a thank-you note from him framed and hanging on the wall in my office.

Meghan: What are you reading now?

Jeffrey J. Mariotte: A collection of horror short stories by Paul Tremblay called Growing Things. It’s really good.

Meghan: What’s a book you really enjoyed that others wouldn’t expect you to have liked?

Jeffrey J. Mariotte: The Bridges of Madison County by Robert James Waller. It’s overwritten and romantic and sad, but I guess I have a sadly romantic overwriting streak in me somewhere.

Meghan: What made you decide you want to write? When did you begin writing?

Jeffrey J. Mariotte: I began when I was very young. I’d read Hardy Boys mysteries, then wrote my own very short, very derivative mysteries about brother detectives. I’m sure they were awful; fortunately, they’ve all disappeared. I started more seriously writing in high school, and was first published in college, but didn’t sell any fiction professionally until I was 33. I didn’t have a novel published until I was 44, so I guess I was a late bloomer in that regard. I’ve written more than 70 books since, though.

Meghan: Do you have a special place you like to write?

Jeffrey J. Mariotte: I usually write at the desk in my office, because it’s convenient. But I write on a laptop, so I can take it with me if I need to write elsewhere.

Meghan: Do you have any quirks or processes that you go through when you write?

Jeffrey J. Mariotte: Nothing too unusual. I like to have a solid outline, before I start, so I know where I’m going and don’t write myself into a corner. But sometimes I go without one, so that’s not an absolute requirement.

Meghan: Is there anything about writing you find most challenging?

Jeffrey J. Mariotte: Figuring out what the story is. I have a lot of books that I’ve started, then abandoned, because I realized I had one idea, or maybe a couple of them, but not enough ideas to synthesize into a whole actual book.

Meghan: What’s the most satisfying thing you’ve written so far?

Jeffrey J. Mariotte: Probably my horror novel River Runs Red. I re-read it recently, and I still think there’s a lot of really good stuff in it—interesting characters, compelling situations, satisfying and unexpected twists, etc. I’m proud of all my books, but that one stands out.

Meghan: What books have most inspired you? Who are some authors that have inspired your writing style?

Jeffrey J. Mariotte: Oh, man… this is a hard question, because as a bookseller and working in publishing—and just plain loving books—I’ve read SO MANY. And loved so many. Authors who’ve particularly inspired my writing include William Goldman, Thomas Gifford, Stephen King, Marsheila Rockwell, James Lee Burke, Joan Vinge, Robert B. Parker, Leigh Brackett, Clay Reynolds, Richard Matheson, Barbara Kingsolver… I could go on and on.

Meghan: What do you think makes a good story?

Jeffrey J. Mariotte: Characters I care about who have goals I want them to achieve, and obstacles that seem likely to prevent them from achieving their goals. I like lots of suspense, an element of darkness, a bit of humor, and a fast pace.

Meghan: What does it take for you to love a character? How do you utilize that when creating your characters?

Jeffrey J. Mariotte: I like to become really immersed in a character’s world, and to know a lot about the character. The more detail I get, the more familiar with the character, the more I fall in love. Sometimes it can be done without a lot of detail, but with just the right details—think of Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird. We don’t know a whole lot about him, but we know just enough. But in other cases, a series character who appears in book after book, so I can learn more and more about him or her, like Parker’s Spenser or Burke’s Dave Robicheaux, can become like an old friend who I want to keep checking in on.

As for how I use that, I try to supply the important details without weighing the reader down with too much (because not everybody likes to read 600-page epics). I try to create characters who are likable but flawed, because we’re all flawed. And I try to give them something that they’re striving for, that the reader can identify with—and then put the outcome in serious doubt.

Meghan: Which, of all your characters, do you think is the most like you?

Jeffrey Mariotte: A lot of them are something like me, but none are exactly like me. I guess in some ways, Richey Krebs from my mystery/thriller Empty Rooms is like me—he’s fascinated by crime and the darkness inside the human heart, and sometimes exploring that gets him in trouble.

Meghan: Are you turned off by a bad cover? To what degree were you involved in creating your book covers?

Jeffrey J. Mariotte: I think it’s more accurate to say that I can be really turned on by a good cover. As one example, the cover by Jeff Jones to the Avon paperback edition of Roger Zelazny’s Nine Princes in Amber made me have to pick that up and read it, and that turned me into a lifelong fan of Zelazny. Some of Frank Frazetta’s covers have done the same for books by Robert E. Howard and Edgar Rice Burroughs, among others. But if a book looks promising based on the description, or what I know of the author, then a not-that-exciting cover won’t push me away.

As for my own covers, I sometimes have approval, but often I don’t see them until they’re finalized and there’s not much I can say about them at that point. On some occasions I’ve been able to help choose the cover art, but that’s a rarity in traditional publishing. I’ve had some really good luck with covers, though.

Meghan: What have you learned creating your books?

Jeffrey J. Mariotte: Again, that’s an almost impossible question, because I’ve written so many and learned so much in the process. Things I’ve learned in other aspects of life go into the books, of course, and things I learn writing books bleed into my life.

Meghan: What has been the hardest scene for you to write so far?

Jeffrey J. Mariotte: In my teen horror quartet Year of the Wicked, there’s a character who dies (there are several, but one in particular I’m referring to here—and I’m not going to name that character, because that would be a spoiler. When I was outlining the four books initially, I knew this person had to die, and the editor who bought the books bought them from the outline, so she knew it, too. But as that death got closer (I think it’s in book 3—they’re all combined in one volume now, though), the editor asked me if that character really had to go. I tried to find a way around it, but I couldn’t. Writing that death scene was really hard, because I didn’t want to do it, and my editor didn’t want to do it. But it had to be done.

Meghan: What makes your books different from others out there in this genre?

Jeffrey J. Mariotte: I write in a lot of different genres, though most of my books fall into the horror, suspense, or thriller categories. So that’s kind of a broad question, but I guess what I think makes them different is the humanity I try to put into each of my books. My characters feel real and alive, and readers care about them.

Meghan: How important is the book title, how hard is it to choose the best one, and how did you choose yours (of course, with no spoilers)?

Jeffrey J. Mariotte: Titles are very important, of course. They have to have some resonance with what’s inside the book, and ideally, they have to intrigue the casual browser. I’ve chosen titles in many different ways, sometimes spurred by song lyrics or a phrase I read somewhere. Other times they’re harder to come by and I have to dig for inspiration. Occasionally—but not very often—my title is overruled by the publisher, who chooses something better.

Meghan: What makes you feel more fulfilled: Writing a novel or writing a short story?

Jeffrey J. Mariotte: I love writing both (and comics), but writing a novel is more satisfying. As I said earlier, I like long books, in which the reader can get totally immersed in the world of the book. So writing that kind of book is an utterly fulfilling experience.

Meghan: Tell us a little bit about your books, your target audience, and what you would like readers to take away from your stories.

Jeffrey J. Mariotte: All of my books, I think, are suspenseful, compelling reads—the kind you don’t want to put down, even though it’s late and you have to work in the morning. They’re mostly thrillers or horror—or often, a mix of both elements. But I’ve also written Westerns (weird and otherwise—one of my Western short stories was a finalist for both the Spur Award from the Western Writers of America and the Peacemaker Award from the Western Fictioneers this year), fantasy, science fiction, and more. And I’ve written a lot of tie-in books, so I’ve written about Buffy and Angel, CSI, NCIS, Spider-Man, Superman, Conan, Star Trek, Narcos, etc. In fact my Narcos novel just won the prestigious Scribe Award for best original novel from the International Association of Tie-in Writers. What I like readers to take away is the idea that there’s magic in the world. Sometimes it’s hard to find it, but it’s there.

Meghan: Can you tell us about some of the deleted scenes/stuff that got left out of your work?

Jeffrey J. Mariotte: I can’t think of many that are worth mentioning—if they were deleted, there was a reason for it. I was at one time writing a CSI novel in which a member of Congress was shot. Right before my deadline, a real member of Congress—Gabby Giffords, who happened to be my representative and a friend—was shot. I called my editor and said, the book’s going to be a little late, because I’m going to have to rethink and rewrite the entire premise. I couldn’t do the book as originally planned, after that. Fortunately, he was thinking the same thing, so we were in accord.

Meghan: What is in your “trunk”?

Jeffrey J. Mariotte: For a long time, I’ve wanted to write a ghost story set in old Tucson, Arizona. In its early days, Tucson was basically a Victorian city set in the middle of the desert, surrounded by rugged country, not-always-friendly Native Americans, and various outlaws. A lot of classical ghost stories are set in Victorian England, or in East Coast cities, so the twist of this Victorian city in a completely different environment appeals to me. Hopefully, I’ll get around to it one of these days. I did recently write a different, semi-ghost story set in old Colorado, that’s a different take on part of the core idea. It’s coming in October in an anthology called Straight Outta Deadwood, from Baen Books. My wife Marcy has a terrific story in the book as well.

Meghan: What can we expect from you in the future?

Jeffrey J. Mariotte: I’m kind of playing around with a Western novel idea right now. I have a thriller out on submission, and I’m thinking about a historical, WWII-era thriller. So as usual, I’m all over the place.

Meghan: Where can we find you?

Jeffrey J. Mariotte: My website, which is way overdue for an update, can be found here. I’m more regular about posting on my blog, Dispatches from the Flying M. I also have a Facebook author page and am on Twitter.

Meghan: Do you have any closing words for your fans or anything you’d like to say that we didn’t get to cover in this interview?

Jeffrey J. Mariotte: 2019 is my 20th year as a working novelist. During those I’ve written more than 70 books, a couple dozen short stories, a whole mess of comics, and other things (articles, a DVD game, and more). To celebrate that anniversary, a couple of publishers have re-released some of my favorite of my novels, including The Slab, Missing White Girl, River Runs Red, Season of the Wolf, and Cold Black Hearts, all from WordFire Press, and Year of the Wicked (which was originally called Witch Season, then Dark Vengeance), from Simon & Schuster. Those have all been hard to come by, but now they’re available again. The five from WordFire are something I love to do, combining straight thriller elements—cops, spies, etc.—with elements of supernatural horror, and they’re out in hardcover, paperback, and ebook. Year of the Wicked is my teen horror, witchy girl power quartet, all in a single volume for the first time, in paperback and ebook. Getting to write all these books over the years has been a dream come true, and I really appreciate every single reader who forks over hard-earned cash to buy one. I love hearing from readers and meeting them at conventions and book festivals and signings. Writing can be a lonely business, but interacting with readers makes that all worthwhile.

Jeffrey J. Mariotte has written more than seventy books, including original supernatural thrillers River Runs Red, Missing White Girl, and Cold Black Hearts, horror epic The Slab, and the Stoker Award-nominated teen horror quartet Dark Vengeance. Other works include the acclaimed thrillers Empty Rooms and The Devil’s Bait, and—with his wife and writing partner Marsheila (Marcy) Rockwell—the science fiction thriller 7 SYKOS and Mafia III: Plain of Jars, the authorized prequel to the hit video game, as well as numerous shorter works. He has also written novels set in the worlds of Star Trek, CSI, NCIS, Narcos, Deadlands, 30 Days of Night, Spider-Man, Conan, Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel, and more. Two of his novels have won Scribe Awards for Best Original Novel, presented by the International Association of Media Tie-In Writers.

He is also the author of many comic books and graphic novels, including the original Western series Desperadoes, some of which have been nominated for Stoker and International Horror Guild Awards. Other comics work includes the horror series Fade to Black, action-adventure series Garrison, and the original graphic novel Zombie Cop.

He is a member of the International Thriller Writers, Sisters in Crime, the Western Writers of America, Western Fictioneers, and the International Association of Media Tie-In Writers. He has worked in virtually every aspect of the book businesses, as a bookseller, VP of Marketing for Image Comics/WildStorm, Senior Editor for DC Comics/WildStorm, and the first Editor-in-Chief for IDW Publishing. When he’s not writing, reading, or editing something, he’s probably out enjoying the desert landscape around the Arizona home he shares with his family and dog and cats. Find him online at his website, Facebook, and Twitter.

Cold Black Hearts

A murder investigation brings former police detective Annie O’Brien in contact with the supernatural forces that destroyed the town of New Dominion nearly 100 years earlier.

Missing White Girl

A bestselling Young Adult author takes an adult turn. 

Bram Stoker Award-nominated author Jeffrey Mariotte delivers a novel of heartstopping horror. When a girl is kidnapped and her family murdered, Sheriff’s Lieutenant Buck Shelton is drawn into a bloody supernatural showdown between good and evil-with an innocent girl.

River Runs Red

A new novel of gripping terror from the author of Missing White Girl.

Within the caves of a small Texas town lies a pool of strange, luminescent water. Twenty years ago, three teenagers were inhabited by a malevolent force living in the caves. Now, they’ve returned to the site as combatants in a supernatural war that flows through the raging currents of the world’s rivers.

Season of the Wolf

When Alex Converse, heir to a coal company fortune, visits Silver Gap, Colorado to make an environmentally themed documentary film, he’s hoping to change some minds and to soothe his own troubled conscience. But there’s more going on—in his mind, and in Silver Gap—than Alex knows. People are dying and women are disappearing. Some of the killers have fur, fangs, and claws—but some don’t. What is Alex’s connection to the missing women? Will anyone live long enough to find out? And what’s up with those wolves?

Season of the Wolf is a heart-stopping supernatural thriller about climate change, the human capacity for evil, and the epic struggle between a small town’s citizens and impossible creatures from the dawn of history.

The Slab

Three veterans of different wars, their lives once saved by magic, find themselves brought together in one of the most strange, remote, and cruel parts of the California desert. As serial killers ply their deadly trade, a young woman, abducted and endangered, seeks her own brand of justice for those who threatened her, and an ancient evil sprouts from beneath desert sands, these three war veterans must learn to embrace the terrifying bond they share. Written in powerful prose as dry and dangerous as its desert setting, The Slab, for all its horrors, is ultimately an epic tale of hope and redemption.

Year of the Wicked: Witch Season 1-4: Summer, Fall, Winter, Spring

In the tradition of The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina and Riverdale, this magical bind-up includes all four novels in the Witch Season series filled with spellbinding romance, revenge, and of course, witches!

A witches’ war is brewing…

And it’s coming straight towards Kerry and her friends at their summertime home. Along with it is Daniel Blessing. Mysterious, charismatic, and handsome Daniel is on the run from a powerful witch named Season.

Kerry and her friends don’t believe in witches and spells, but Kerry can’t help believing in Daniel… and falling for him.

But falling for Daniel pulls Kerry into a feud his family has been waging for generations. A dark feud of passion, magic, and revenge. Suddenly it becomes clear that Season isn’t after just Daniel, she wants Kerry and her friends dead too. Because, though Kerry doesn’t know it yet, she might just be the only one with the power to uncover the truth—and end the witches’ war once and for all.

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