In his new novel Glimpse (hardcover, Kindle), writer Jonathan Maberry explores what it would be like to see through someone else’s glasses. But while most writers would use this as a heavy-handed opportunity to tell a story of compassion and empathy, Maberry is instead using it to tell one of horror and hallucination…with some far less ham-fisted compassion thrown in for good measure.
Photo Credit: Sara Jo West
To begin, what is Glimpse about?
Rain Thomas is a mess. Seven years an addict and three difficult years clean. Racked by guilt for the baby she gave up for adoption when she was sixteen. Still grieving for the boy’s father who died in Iraq. Alone, discarded by her family, with only the damaged members of her narcotics anonymous meetings as friends. Them, and the voices in her head.
One morning, on the way to a much-needed job interview, she borrows reading glasses to review her resume. There is a small crack in one lens and through that damaged slice of glass she sees a young boy go running down the aisle of the subway train. Is he screaming with laughter or just screaming? When she tries to find the boy he’s gone and no one has seen him. The day spins out of control. Rain loses whole chunks of time. The voices she hears are telling her horrible things. And Doctor Nine, a spectral boogey man conjured in drug induced hallucinogens is now hunting her in the real world. And Doctor Nine is also chasing that boy. A boy who looks so much like Rain’s dead boyfriend. Unsure whether she is insane or if the world itself is broken, Rain begins a mother’s quest for her lost child through a world where reality and nightmare are in head-on collision. How far will one person go to save someone they love?
What inspired this story, and how different is the finished version of Glimpse from that original idea?
Glimpse has a complex history. The main story, Rain’s story, started with a road trip my wife and I were taking. We pulled into a rest stop and she lost her glasses in the parking lot. By the time we found them someone had stepped on them. As we continued our drive, I wondered aloud what it would be like to put on someone else’s glasses as see the world as they saw it. That idea morphed into thinking about the crack she had in her lens, and wondering if the world was different as viewed from the broken and unbroken lenses. This is the kind of “what if” exercise we writers do.
I also tapped into some ideas that have been cooking in my brain for a long time. The villain, Doctor Nine, is based on my own personal boogeyman from when I was a little kid in an abusive household. And the concept of the “Fire Zone,” a place Rain goes to in dreams, that was born way back in the early 1980s when I was working a violent and depressing job as a bouncer in a strip club in Philadelphia. I kept wondering how a guy with decent education, aspirations, and ethics could find himself trapped in a job where I got into fights nearly every night. The idea of a place where troubled people could escape to and solve their issues popped into my head, and that was when the Fire Zone was born.
And I’ve had a lot of friends and family members who have faced some of the challenges the characters in the story face: substance abuse and recovery, single-parenting, poverty, harassment, mental health issues, and more. Glimpse has is roots deep in the soil of the real world.
It seems like Glimpse is less a straight-up horror novel and more of a supernatural thriller.
I’m not sure how I’d classify Glimpse. It has elements of horror and the supernatural, but it’s also a contemporary drama about the hardships of life and the fragile nature of hope. So, if there’s ever a category of contemporary supernatural fiction, this would fit right in. I think it speaks to a lot of people, a lot of readers, including those who might not necessarily list “supernatural thriller” among their favorites.
Now, the cover of Glimpse features a very cool quote from Clive Barker. But do you think Glimpse is Clive Barker-y? Or would appeal to fans of his work?
Clive is a brilliant writer who has stretched beyond the confines of what most people consider horror. The horror elements of Glimpse speak to his fans who love [Clive’s books] Hellbound Heart, Damnation Game, and Scarlet Gospels; and the dream-world of the Fire Zone would appeal to fans of Imajica, The Great And Secret Show, and Cabal.
Speaking of Clive Barker, are there any writers, or specific stories, that had a big influence on Glimpse, but not on your previous books?
Glimpse, and its author, owes a lot to certain key writers. The breaking of the lines between reality and fantasy are something I’ve appreciated since Ray Bradbury gave me a signed copy of Something Wicked This Way Comes for Christmas in 1972; but also to Peter Straub’s elegant Shadowland and Neil Gaiman’s American Gods. Stephen King’s The Dark Tower and Salem’s Lot are no doubt influences on the depiction of a shadowy and otherworldly villain. But I owe a lot about my understanding of character building and storytelling to Ellen Hopkins, Joyce Carol Oates, James Lee Burke, Shirley Jackson, Joe R. Lansdale, James Crumb, and Walter Mosley.
How about non-literary influences; are there any movies, TV shows, or video games that had a big impact on Glimpse?
Writers draw influences, conscious or not, from all kinds of sources. I’m aware of the influences on my writing from the original Twilight Zone and Night Gallery, from Penny Dreadful, Breaking Bad, Gravity, Flaked, Blow, White Girl, Heaven Knows What, and others. These influences aren’t direct thematic grabs, but rather an ongoing study course in how various creatives interpret — right or wrong — the challenges people face. Scriptwriters, directors, actors, and so on each lend their insights to a production, and that allows the viewer to see facets of a story that provoke thought and consideration.
Along with such novels as Glimpse, you’ve also written such comics as Captain America: Hail Hydra! and Marvel Universe Vs. The Avengers. Why did you decide to tell this story as a prose novel instead of a graphic one?
I am, at heart, a novelist. I recently completed my 28th novel, and will write at least two more novels this year. I write in multiple genres; sometimes as parts of series and occasionally as standalones. Though I love comics, as a fan and a creator, I prefer the written word for stories dealing with horror, suspense, psychology, and the perception of reality. Prose allows the reader to co-create the world of the book, to conjure the visuals and “cast” the actors.
As you mentioned, you’ve written such stand-alone novelsas Mars One, as well as such series as the Pine Deep Trilogy and the Joe Ledger books [Patient Zero, The Dragon Factory, The King Of Plagues, Assassin’s Code, The Extinction Machine, Code Zero, Special Ops, Predator One, Kill Switch, and Dogs Of War]. Is Glimpse a one-off story or the first in a new series?
Glimpse was written as a stand-alone novel, and the story is entirely self-contained. However, some of the supporting characters — notably Gerald “Monk” Addison and tattoo artist Patty-cakes — will be in another standalone, Ink, which I’ll be writing soon. Glimpse is the only novel to feature Rain Thomas. I’ve already written four short stories featuring Monk, and we’re even discussing a possible Monk TV series.
Speaking of which, your Joe Ledger books were once optioned for a TV series by ABC, though it didn’t ultimately get picked up, and your V-Wars short story collections and comics have been made into a board game. Has there been any interest in adapting Glimpse into a TV show or board game?
The Joe Ledger novels are actually under option again. Sony picked them up just recently with an eye toward a cable TV series. V-Wars has been bought by a notable streaming service but an official announcement is pending. And Glimpse and my YA science fiction novel Mars One have both been optioned. Right now I can’t share too many details, but those announcements are coming.
As for a board game of Glimpse…that would be trippy. I already have a V-Wars board game, which is crazy fun. A Glimpse game would likely center on the Fire Zone. Something for me to think about.
If Glimpse does become a TV show, who would you like them to cast in the main roles?
I tend to dream cast my books while writing them, and I had Tatiana Maslany [Orphan Black] in mind all the time. But there are a number of other actresses who could bring both the vulnerability and strength needed for that role, including Mila Kunis [Bad Moms], Jennifer Lawrence [the Hunger Games movies], Kristin Bell [The Good Place], and others. Monk was always Bruce Willis [Die Hard] during the writing, though again there are plenty of actors, including some a good deal younger, who could play him. And I saw either John Malkovich [Deepwater Horizon] or Jeff Goldblum [Thor: Ragnarok] as Doctor Nine.
Finally, if someone’s first venture into your oeuvre is Glimpse, and they really enjoy it, which of your other books would you suggest they read next?
For anyone who digs Glimpse and wants to read my other works, there are a lot of directions they can go in. For straight horror, there’s my Pine Deep Trilogy [Ghost Road Blues, Dead Man’s Song, and Bad Moon Rising]. For weird suspense, try X-Files Origins: Devil’s Advocate, which is the story of Dana Scully as a troubled teen. For social conflict, vampires, and issues of intolerance, V-Wars would work. And for weird science, action and snark humor, try the Joe Ledger series, the first book of which is Patient Zero. But also, the Monk Addison short stories and a story about Doctor Nine are in my various short story collections, including Wind Through The Fence, Whistling Past The Graveyard, and A Little Bronze Book Of Cautionary Tales.