While tattoos are forever, they do fade. But what if a rather meaningful tattoo faded away, and your memories of why you got it went with it. Such is the premise of Jonathan Maberry’s horror-ific suspenseful thriller Ink (paperback, Kindle, audiobook). In the following email interview about it, the tat-less Maberry discusses what inspired and influenced this story, as well as how this stand-alone novel connects to some of his other books, including his recently released zombie novel, Lost Roads (hardcover, Kindle, audiobook).
Photo Credit: Sara Jo West
To begin, what is Ink about, and when and where is it set?
Ink is a stand-alone suspense thriller with horror overtones.
Here’s the pitch: One day tattoo artist Patty Cakes, who has her dead daughter’s face tattooed on the back of her hand, notices that it’s beginning to fade, taking with it the memories she has of her daughter. Could this be real?
But she’s not alone….
Monk Addison is a private investigator whose skin is covered with the tattooed faces of murder victims. He is a predator who hunts for killers, and the ghosts of all of those dead people haunt his life. Some of those faces have begun to fade, too, destroying the very souls of the dead.
The damaged people of Pine Deep are all experiencing this same phenomenon: of having their most precious memories dragged and ripped out of their hearts forever. Something is out there. Something cruel and evil, preying on the damaged and lonely, feeding on their memories, erasing them from the minds of good people.
How do you hunt something you can’t see? How do you forget something you can’t remember?
For the people of Pine Deep, tracking down this memory thief will lead to the greatest horror of them all. Through the pain and suffering of memory, this supernatural thriller will teach you that there is no greater horror than forgetting.
Where did you get the idea for Ink, and how, if at all, did the plot evolve as you wrote it?
Although I don’t have any tattoos myself, I’ve always been fascinated by them. Mostly in the stories behind the tattoos. Why people get them, what do they mean, has the meaning changed, how do friends and family react, and so on. There are almost always fascinating stories behind tattoos. And in some cases, the ink is attached to very important, often tragic, memories. So, I wondered what would happen if someone somehow “lost” one of those deeply meaningful pieces of skin art. That was the seed of the idea.
As I set about doing research — by interviewing hundreds of people with tattoos — my understanding and insight into the tattoo culture grew, which in turn informed the story itself.
However, the essential plot was fully formed and mapped out before I wrote the first word.
My other doorway into writing this is the character of Monk Addison. He is a kind of private investigator who carries strange tattoos on his skin. I wrote four short stories about him, and then used him as a supporting character in my novel, Glimpse. Monk is one of my favorite characters I’ve ever created. A couple of Hollywood producers have optioned the character in hopes of developing a movie or TV series.
Are there any writers, or specific stories, that had a big influence on Ink but not on anything else you’ve written?
I can’t say that any authors or novels influenced Ink. I mean, sure, there are writers whose books and bodies of work have been influential in my own evolution as a novelist — James Lee Burke, Shirley Jackson, Peter Straub, Robert McCammon, John Connolly — but not this particular book.
How about movies, TV shows, or games? Did any of those things have a particularly big influence on Ink?
Not really. Ink is its own little orphan monster. It has no parents that I can think of. The same goes for Glimpse. They came fully formed into my head.
Along with all of your novels, you’ve also written a number of comics, including Marvel Universe Vs. Wolverine, Doomwar, and Captain America: Hail Hydra! Why did you decide to write Ink as a prose novel as opposed to a graphic one?
Funnily enough, the character of Monk Addison was originally conceived as a comic book back when IDW Publishing was considering launching its own horror universe. When the plans for that fell through, I repurposed the character for prose, in the short story, “Mystic,” published in 2016. The noir style owes a bit to the older Tom Waits songs like “Whistlin’ Past The Graveyard,” “Clap Hands,” “Small Change,” and so on. And maybe a bit of Leonard Cohen’s “A Million Kisses Deep.”
Do you think Ink would work as a comic?
Yeah, it would work very well as a comic. The moodiness and shadows of the small town of Pine Deep — the setting of my first three horror novels, Ghost Road Blues, Dead Man’s Song, and Bad Moon Rising — the graphic nature of tattoos, and the motifs of blowflies, rural small towns, seedy bars, bikers, and the supernatural all lend themselves to visual storytelling.
Now, along with Ink, you also just released Lost Roads, the latest book in your Rot & Ruin series. What is that series about, and when and where is it set?
The Rot & Ruin series is about growing up 14 years after a zombie apocalypse. They dead rose…we fell. All that’s left are a few scattered and fortified small towns, and the rest of the world is the great Rot And Ruin: A wasteland of destruction populated by billions of the living dead.
Benny Imura stars in the first four novels, and is the “B” storyline in the most recent two books, with Gutsy Gomez taking the lead role in Broken Lands and Lost Roads. The stories are told from the point of view of fifteen-year-olds who have grown up after the destruction. The adults all have some level of PTSD from having seen their world and all of its institutions fail. The teens, however, live in this world, and they expect to have a future worth living. So theirs is an exploration of personal courage and optimism. They are the ones who take the important actions and discover that the world is not quite as empty of humanity as the adults think.
These journeys push those teens out of the complacent acceptance that they learned from their despondent and defeated parents. They learn how to become the driving force of their own lives; they learn how to work together and how to unlock their own strengths and potential.
The first two books are set in Central California; books 3 and 4 are set mainly in Nevada; and the last books are set in South Texas, near the Mexican border.
And then what is Lost Roads about, and how does it connect, both narratively and chronologically, to the previous book in this series, Broken Lands?
Lost Roads picks up where Broken Lands ended: in the small town of New Alamo, which was — before the apocalypse — a detention center for undocumented immigrants. The main character, Gabriella “Gutsy” Gomez, is the main character, and like everyone else in her town, she believes that New Alamo is the only town of living people left in the world. Not only does she learn different, but she discovers an awful secret about the nature of that town…one that brings her and her friends in collision with enemies that are both undead and quite human.
Lost Roads is classified as a young adult novel. But do you think an adult who isn’t so young anymore would enjoy this story, and this series, as well?
There are a lot of adult fans of the whole Rot & Ruin series. It’s YA because of the characters’ ages, but there’s a lot to love for adults as well. And a lot of the kids who read the books in school are now adults and have moved on to reading my adult novels and comics. And a lot of parents also read the books with their teens, which is fun.
Now, correct me if I’m wrong, but my understanding is that while Lost Roads is part of your Rot & Ruin series, it and Broken Lands are also part of a sub-series called the Broken Lands series. Is the Broken Lands series a set number of books or will it be an ongoing thing?
Actually, that math is a little different. The Rot & Ruin series includes the first four novels — Rot & Ruin, Dust & Decay, Flesh & Bone, Fire & Ash — as well as a graphic novel, Rot & Ruin: Warrior Smart — which takes places between books 2 and 3; a book of short stories, Bits & Pieces; then the two spinoffs, Broken Lands and Lost Roads. As far as I — and my fans see it — Broken Lands and Lost Roads are the finale of the whole series, so they are really the official 6th and 7th prose books.
The series wraps with Lost Roads, though I may decide to pick up the narrative a bit farther down the road. Particularly now that we have a movie in development with Alcon Entertainment (The Expanse, Bladerunner 2049, Book Of Eli), with a brilliant script by one of the writers of a key Marvel movie.
And Webtoon just wrapped an adaptation of Rot & Ruin which had 317,000 subscribers to weekly episodes. They’re clamoring for more…so more is likely.
Lost Roads came out two weeks ago; Ink this week. Which suggest they were written around the same time. How do you think writing Ink influenced Lost Roads and vice versa?
Those books were written back-to-back, but they are for vastly different audiences. Ink is definitely not for teens. There’s a lot of adult content — language, sex, themes — that are not suitable for younger readers.
Thematically, though, there is a similarity — as there is in most of my fiction — in that although there are monsters in each book the stories are not about monsters. They’re about the kind of people who fight monsters. Not necessarily “chosen ones” or “born heroes” (concepts that hold little interest for me), but people who face a crisis and discover within themselves deeper reserves of strength and courage than they thought existed. People often have qualities like that but are unaware of it because day-to-day living seldom puts them in the position to act heroically or become the heroes of their own stories. And yet we do see that in times of great crisis — natural disasters, terrorist attacks, and so on — where ordinary people unlock extraordinary abilities.
You mentioned a moment ago that a Rot & Ruin movie may be in the works, and in the previous interview we did about your novel Glimpse [which you can read by clicking here], you not only said that novel had been optioned, as had your novel Mars One, but that Sony had optioned your Joe Ledger novels, “with an eye toward a cable TV series.” Where do things stand with those adaptations?
Options are fickle things. Mars One and Joe Ledger are no longer under option. However, Glimpse and Ink are; as is my Rot & Ruin series, which is being developed as a feature by Alcon Entertainment. And I have some other works under option as well as non-disclosure agreements. And, of course, my V Wars books and comics were produced as a TV series for Netflix.
And you mentioned that Monk as a character has been optioned as well. What form do you think his stories should take?
I think Ink would make a better movie than TV show. Same with Glimpse. However, if the producers go in the direction of focusing more on Monk than the novels, then there’s enough meat on the bone for TV.
So who do you think they should cast as Monk?
I dream cast all of my stuff, but I seldom share my choices because I don’t want to influence the producers who are developing those projects.
By the way, has anyone else pointed out that Monk Addison sounds like the name of a jazz musician, like a guy who played bass for Sonny Rollins back in the ’60s?
Yeah, Monk does have a kind of jazz quality, but to me he’s more of a Tom Waits character.
Finally, if someone enjoys Glimpse and Ink, what supernatural thriller of someone else’s would you suggest they read next and why that?
I recommend Peter Clines’ novels The Fold, 14, and Paradox Bound, and Christopher Golden’s Red Hands, Ararat, and The Pandora Room for books with a similar vibe. And the Charlie Parker novels by John Connolly.