Isaac Marion Interview by Grover Gardner
GROVER GARDNER: Welcome to Downpour.com’s interview series. I’m Grover Gardner, and today it’s my pleasure to be speaking with Isaac Marion. Isaac is the author of Warm Bodies, a popular zombie romance story, which has been adapted for a movie directed by Jonathan Levine, starring Nicholas Hoult, Teresa Palmer, and Academy Award nominee John Malkovich, premiering February 1, 2013. Isaac has self-published three other novels and is also a musician. His novel has been described as a scary, funny, and surprisingly poignant story that explores what happens when the cold heart of a zombie is tempted by the warmth of human love. Blackstone Audio published the audio version of Warm Bodies, narrated by Kevin Kenerly. Welcome, and thanks for joining us today.
ISAAC MARION: Thank you.
GG: What motivated you to write Warm Bodies?
IM: I’ve always been interested in writing stories from the perspective of things that are very different from myself, often times not even human. I’ve written a lot of stuff from perspectives of creatures of various kinds and even inanimate objects. I just think that it gives an interesting opportunity to explore or see everyday life through a very different lens and create some unexpected new ways of looking at things we take for granted. So it started with that, thinking it would be fascinating to view life through the eyes of a dead person, and as I started working on that it developed into something much more complicated and more personal, and started to involve things that I was going through in my life at the time and personal transformations that somehow ended up becoming autobiographical, in a strange way.
GG: Why zombies?
IM: Like I said, it started with the idea that it would be an interesting perspective to start with this creature. Traditionally, you never really see its side of the story told. Most mythical creatures have plenty of stories that are from their point of view and they’ve all been made sympathetic in some way or another, but I’d never really seen it done with this particular creature. I thought it would be interesting to dive into that point of view and see what came out. It ended up being a lot richer than I expected, so I went with it.
GG: I’ve seen comparisons or read comparisons to Romeo and Juliet. Are you onboard with that? Was that conscious on your part?
IM: It was something that revealed itself in the process of writing the story. I noticed some recurring themes, and it’s more of a little, winking inside joke than it is a big, important element of the story. It’s not that I was trying to write a modern telling of Romeo and Juliet and zombies. It was more that I saw that this story was following that kind of classical arc and decided to acknowledge that with a few little inside jokes with the names and certain situations.
GG: Were you surprised that this became such a big deal?
IM: Very much. When I wrote the original short story that I based the novel on, I really didn’t think anybody was going to enjoy it as much as I did.
IM: It was just a little joke to myself, and I thought, “Of all the things I’ve written, this is not going to be the thing that anyone cares about.” It really surprised me when that short story started to take off. Then, I guess I had some inkling at that point that something about the premise of this basic story idea was resonating with people, but I didn’t really know how the full-blown novel version would go over. So it was definitely a shot in the dark.
GG: How did the movie deal come about?
IM: That happened in kind of a convoluted, backward way. The short story I wrote was discovered by somebody who worked in the film industry. She called me out of nowhere and told me she had read a bunch of my stories and wanted to help me get where I needed to be and introduce me to people that could help me get discovered. So she started this chain of events. After I’d written the book, I had a freelance editor that I hired who also used to work in the film industry. She took on a mentorship role as well and sent it out into that industry pretty much the day after I finished it. Before I’d even finished editing it, it was being shown to producers and various people in the industry, so within a very short span of time a producer showed up and said she loved it and wanted to option it. So film stuff started working in the background while I was still working on getting a book deal—so it actually kind of happened in reverse from normal.
GG: How much involvement have you had in the movie? Any?
IM: They’ve been pretty inclusive, much more so than a lot of authors get, from what I’ve heard. I’ve heard some horror stories about even fairly well-established authors getting told to get lost. But they talked to me a lot during the early process when they were talking to directors and casting and all that, and when the director was on board he met with me and called me a couple times—because he was writing the script also—to discuss some of the directions he was going in, and asked me questions about what I meant by this or that. I got to read a couple drafts of the script and make some notes on it, which as far as I can tell, were well received and some of them were implemented, so I’ve been involved a fair amount. It’s not that I have veto power over anything. It certainly ends up being their spin on the story. It’s not that I’m codirecting or anything, but they’re interested in what I think about it, which is very nice and unexpected.
GG: You write a lot in the horror genre. Is that right?
IM: Not really. Actually, this is the only thing that I’ve written that I think anyone would call horror, and I don’t even really consider it horror. It has zombies in it so people immediately jump to that genre, but it’s not really. I don’t know exactly how you would define that genre, but it’s not really about scares so much as it is just using those horror tropes to turn them inside-out and use it as commentary.
GG: Who are some of your influences as a writer?
IM: My influences are all over the map because I don’t really spend a lot of time on one author. I usually just hop from book to book and try to explore as many different veins as I can, but I guess—for this book anyway—I could say some influences might be Cormac McCarthy, Kurt Vonnegut, and Dave Eggers. Some films, like Charlie Kaufman’s movies, are a big influence on my storytelling aesthetic, so a lot of varying types of voices I think.
GG: Who do you most enjoy reading as an author?
IM: That’s also tough to answer because, again, I jump around a lot as far as particular authors. When I was younger, I read a lot of Stephen King and moved into more literary realms as I got a little older. These days it’s been a while since I’ve read two books by the same author. It hops around the map.
GG: Do you like mostly fiction? Do you read nonfiction?
IM: I try to push myself a little bit to read more nonfiction, but it’s usually only if I find a very specific topic that I’m very interested in. The last nonfiction book I read that I really responded to was The Shallows. That one was very relevant to my life at the time and I burned through that, but I’m definitely more of a fiction fan.
GG: We have a question from one of our Blackstone employees who is a fan. She e-mailed this to me. She wants to know what you think of the hit show The Walking Dead, whose portrayal of zombies is drastically different than yours, and she wants to know which version of zombies you think is more authentic and most likely to materialize during an apocalypse.
IM: Well, I’ve only seen, I think, the first two or three episodes of that show. I think it’s really well done and probably about as high quality as that kind of story could get. I never really got into it because it seemed just a little too predictable, as far as the scenario. The traditional zombie apocalypse scenario without any particular twist to it doesn’t really excite me anymore. I feel like I’ve seen it too many times, no matter how well it’s done. So I haven’t gotten that closely into the show, which surprises most of my friends who are into it, but I think as far as what’s likely to happen, I’d say would definitely have to be the viral kind of situation, but that is a lot less interesting to me than unexplained or metaphysical situations where the dead are actually coming to life as opposed to just someone who has a rabies kind of situation.
GG: Yes, the viral thing almost seems like an easy out, doesn’t it?
GG: It’s a little more complicated when you try to figure out why people would just come back to life and what’s behind that.
IM: Right. And there is more opportunity I think for exploring themes through the whole life and death and the various forms that those take that is more interesting than just “How do we cure this disease?”
GG: In the event of an apocalypse, do you have a plan of action? She wants to know.
IM: I don’t think that my life would change all that much, actually. I’m single. I have my house and my cat and canned goods already (laughter). I think I’m pretty much prepared without really going out of my way. I would just maybe go loot the nearest grocery store and I’d probably be set for a while. I have a basement that I could board up, so…
IM: I think I’m ready.
GG: Sounds like it. What are you working on now?
IM: I’m in the middle of two projects. One that I’ve announced already is that I’m doing an actual sequel to Warm Bodies, which is still in the development stage. Then, I also have an interlude thing that is hopefully going to happen in between the two books that I’m finishing up right now, but I don’t really have a pitch ready for that. But the sequel’s going to be the main project that I’ll be working on in the near future.
GG: Much anticipated, I’m sure.
IM: I hope so. It’s not going to be a series per se. This will be the conclusion of the story. It’s not going to be an ongoing thing.
GG: You sure? Even if fans are begging and…
IM: I didn’t even think I would get to do a sequel. When I wrote the first one, I had the larger world in mind, and I imagined it going into the future, but I never thought I would have the interest of the public to ever get to write it. I’d kind of resigned myself to it just being one book and had gotten very comfortable with that idea, and now I’m realizing that I can actually finish that arc, but I’m not going to try to stretch it into a syndicated serial.
GG: Do you ever listen to audiobooks?
IM: I do. I used to listen to them very regularly and I rediscovered them recently now with all the digital ways to get them. It used to be really difficult and expensive, but I’ve been enjoying a few on some road trips recently.
GG: What kinds of things do you like to listen to?
IM: Sometimes I go for the books I think are going to be more of a challenge to get through by normal means, like some very dense, arduous classics I’d like to get through, but I know it’s going to take me a long time to get through it word by word on the page. So I’ll get books that I want to have a little bit of extra juice in them when they’re from a dry point in history. The last one that I [listened to] was Warm Bodies on a road trip I took recently and I really, really enjoyed that performance. As I was gearing up to do the sequel, I wanted to re-experience that world and get back into it through a voice other than my own, and it was really fascinating just as an experience to hear the actual words that I wrote being performed by someone, in some ways even more strange and surreal than watching a movie be made—
IM: Because it’s the exact words that went through my head so many times in my voice and then to hear someone else do their own interpretation of it was an eerie sensation. I thought it was really well done.
GG: That’s good to know. I want to thank you for joining us today. It’s been very interesting and we’re looking forward to the sequel. Do you have a timeline on that we can look forward to?
IM: Within the next couple years is about as close as I could get to a timeline. It’s still very early. I haven’t actually started putting pen to paper yet, so it’s in the near future but no specifics.
GG: Well, you’re going to build the anticipation.
GG: Mercilessly. Thanks so much for talking to us today. It’s been a pleasure working with the book and recording it, and we just can only hope for the next one as soon as you are ready.
IM: Thank you for doing such a great job on this one.
GG: Thank you for joining us for this exclusive interview with Isaac Marion. You can find Warm Bodies and all of Blackstone Audio’s titles at Downpour.com.
This interview was recorded in December 2012.
Disclaimer: This audio and transcript have been edited slightly from the original recording for quality and readability.
R is a young man with an existential crisis—he is a zombie. He has no memories, no identity, and no pulse, but he has dreams. His ability to connect with the outside world is limited to a few grunted syllables, but his inner life is deep, full of wonder and longing. After experiencing a teenage boy’s memories while consuming his brain, R makes an unexpected choice that begins a tense, awkward, and strangely sweet relationship with the victim’s human girlfriend, Julie.
Julie is a blast of color in the otherwise dreary and gray landscape that surrounds R. His choice to protect her will transform not only R but his fellow Dead and perhaps their whole lifeless world. Scary, funny, and surprisingly poignant, Warm Bodies explores what happens when the cold heart of a zombie is tempted by the warmth of human love.