At this year’s Central Coast Writers' Conference, tales of zombies, werewolves and vampires

Jonathan Maberry spent decades writing nonfiction before changing his writing direction.
Jonathan Maberry spent decades writing nonfiction before changing his writing direction.

Ever since he snuck into the Philadelphia premiere of “Night of the Living Dead” at age 10, best-selling author Jonathan Maberry has been fascinated by the supernatural.

“It really gouged a mark into me,” he recalled.

Maberry is the keynote speaker at this year’s Central Coast Writers' Conference, where he’ll appear alongside literary standouts such as publisher Mark Coker, children’s book author Mary Ann Fraser and screenwriter Anthony Peckham. He’ll also participate in the Central Coast Book and Author Festival in downtown San Luis Obispo.

The winner of multiple Bram Stoker Awards, Maberry launched his professional writing career while studying journalism at Temple University.

He spent decades focusing on non-fiction — writing magazine articles, martial arts manuals, plays and greeting cards — before his lifelong love of horror stories inspired a new career path.

“It always annoyed me that I couldn’t find novels that were based on folklore,” recalled Maberry, who grew up listening to his grandmother’s traditional tales of ghosts and goblins. “Most of them tended to retread the Hollywood version of vampires and werewolves.”

Encouraged by his wife, he decided to write his own supernatural saga. “Ghost Road Blues,” about a rural Pennsylvania town haunted by a long-dead serial killer, won the Bram Stoker Award for Best First Novel in 2006.

“Because of the success of (the book) and the enthusiastic response to it, it validated my decision to write fiction,” he said. “I actually feel I’ve found my home.”

Over the past few years, Maberry has focused on fiction full-time.

In addition to the Pine Deep Trilogy, which includes “Dead Man’s Song” and “Bad Moon Rising,” he’s the author of the Joe Ledger series of techno-savvy horror-thrillers. The first book in the series, 2009’s “Patient Zero,” finds the world-weary detective battling a zombie plague created by bioterrorists.

“I just love the race-against-time feel of the story,” said Maberry, who brought back Ledger in 2010’s “The Dragon Factory” and 2011’s “The King of Plagues.” “There’s always something big and bad that’s going to happen, and the characters have to be smart and resourceful to stop it.”

Maberry’s other fiction includes several short stories, a handful of Marvel comic books and the novelization of the 2010 horror movie “The Wolfman.”

He’s also branched out into young adult fiction with the series “Rot & Ruin,” which debuted in 2010. Set in a post-apocalyptic America, the novels follow a teenage boy who reluctantly joins his big brother in the family business of zombie killing.

Maberry will explore the zombie phenomenon further in “Dead of Night: A Zombie Novel,” which comes out in October.

“You can tell any kind of story using zombies,” explained Maberry, whose nonfiction books include “They Bite!: Endless Cravings of Supernatural Predators” and “Zombie CSU: The Forensics of the Undead.” “They don’t have a personality, and they stand in for the thing we’re afraid of at the moment.”

In contrast, he said, “Werewolves allow us to talk about our inner urges,” while vampire stories serve the same purpose as ancient myths about gods and goddesses.

Acknowledging that books, movies and television shows with a supernatural twist — such as “Twilight,” “True Blood” and “The Walking Dead” — have seen a surge in popularity in recent years, Maberry said that audiences are clearly looking for a new way to confront their fears.

“Monsters in movies can be conquered,” he said. “The monsters that we’re fighting right now, we don’t have a way to technically win (against).”

That’s a storytelling strategy that dates back to Homer’s “The Odyssey” and the Epic of Gilgamesh, Maberry added.

“We’ve always used fantastic storytelling as a way of telling the truth in a way that people are comfortable hearing it,” he said. “Because the message is often buried, we allow readers to be part of the storytelling process.”