EXCLUSIVE: Q&A with The Burning World Author Isaac Marion
In 2010 Warm Bodies, a book with a new kind of zombie, hit store shelves. It quickly became a bestseller and a major motion picture. Many years later the much anticipated sequel, The Burning World, will finally be released on February 7, 2017, kicking off with a multi-city tour.
In advance of that, New York Times bestselling author Isaac Marion found time to sit down to talk with me about the new book.
M.F. Wahl: What’s the order of books in the Warm Bodies series?
Isaac Marion: Warm Bodies – An existentially troubled zombie fights to resurrect himself with the help of a fiery living girl. They accidentally change the world.
The New Hunger – A glimpse into the early lives of some characters and the early deaths of others and the crucial moment they intersect. A prequel that sets the stage for what’s coming.
The Burning World – The zombie population is in limbo. R is alive but doesn’t know who he is and isn’t sure he wants to. Then a militant relic of the old world shows up to “restore order,” and R has to take his journey of self-discovery on the road into the unexplored ruins of America.
MF: Are you nervous about expectations faithful readers have with The Burning World (review) being so highly anticipated?
IM: Very nervous, thanks for the reminder! I’m just hoping my readers aren’t expecting a simple rehash of Warm Bodies because the only reason I got excited about continuing the story was knowing how much bigger and weirder it would get. I couldn’t just keep writing about zombies falling in love. I wanted to take the concept all the way and really explore a world where corpses come to life and thoughts have power and how these characters fit into that world. I’m just crossing my fingers that readers are willing to take the leap with me.
MF: Warm Bodies was adapted for screen. Was that a good experience for you, and would you be open to having the rest of the series adapted?
IM: There were some drawbacks. The movie kind of overwrote the book with its own version of characters and events so now people will always think of Warm Bodies as a sweet romantic comedy, and R will always be a teenager in jeans and a hoodie. It changes my feelings toward my work somewhat when I know that the vast majority of “Warm Bodies fans” are there for the movie and might not even know about the book. There are times when I wish the story was still “mine.”
On the other hand, there probably wouldn’t BE any Warm Bodies fans if not for the movie. The movie gave me an audience. Not necessarily the audience I expected for my writing, but an audience. And watching the movie get made was probably the peak moment of my life. So yeah, I’d be ecstatic if another movie happened. Even if they butchered it, it would still bring people to the books, and that’s all I really care about.
MF: Warm Bodies was described as a “zom-rom-com.” That’s not how I would describe The Burning World. How would you describe the tone of the new book, and what made you decide to go in a different direction?
IM: I never thought that was a fair description of Warm Bodies. I think a lot of the labels applied to the book–rom-com, Young Adult, etc.–were really meant for the movie, which was younger and lighter in tone. But even so, the first book was lighter than this one. Things get pretty real here. It wasn’t so much a decision to “go dark” as it was just the natural way to tell this part of the story.
Warm Bodies was amused with its premise. It had to spend most of its time just getting the reader acclimated to a world where zombies are people, and it did a lot of that with humor. There wasn’t a lot of room to explore the implications of that strange world or the lives of the characters. I had to keep things relatively surface-level. Now I’m really diving into it, digging up their pasts and showing a wider view of this ruined world, how it got ruined and how it might be restored. So the tone changed to match the content, which is pretty intense stuff.
MF: The Burning World is a set-up for the final book in the series. What will that be titled, and what can we expect for R, Julie, and the rest of the gang?
IM: The final book is called The Living, and I wrote it back-to-back with The Burning World so it’s actually almost finished now. I’m hoping it can be released later this year so people can read the conclusion while everything’s still fresh. It’s hard to say much about the story without spoiling The Burning World because it picks up right where that one leaves off, but basically, it’s the journey home, the final confrontation with inner and outer demons. It’s less urban, weirder, and more primal, even cosmic. It goes to some very surreal, psychedelic places and has a lot of emotional release. It’s my favorite piece of the story for sure.
MF: On your website you mention that you were once almost decapitated. I think that’s a story we need to hear.
IM: When I was around 8, we lived on a hill with a very steep driveway, and I would ride my bike down it as fast as I could just for the speed rush. We had horses, and one day my mom put a rope across the driveway so they could graze in the yard… You can probably see where this is going. The rope burn on my throat was so bad it would lock my head in place every time it scabbed over. I had to take regular baths to soften the scab so I could move my jaw enough to eat.
MF: You self-published three novels prior to the Warm Bodies series. Are those novels still available for readers, and where would they find them?
IM: I always tell people it’s a stretch to call what I did “self-publishing.” I just printed a couple hundred copies and sold them on my blog. It was mostly a way to share the books while I worked toward getting a publisher. Without that tangible reward to work towards, it would have been hard to stay motivated since actual publication was always such a longshot.
But no, those books definitely aren’t available anymore. The first two were the beginning of an epic fantasy series that I started when I was 14, and they are… not readable. The third was a story that still excites me and I might actually come back to it for my next book, but that particular telling of it is dead to me. It does pop up on eBay sometimes though!
MF: It seems as though you’ve had a long and varied employment history, including working with foster children. How have these experiences colored your writing?
IM: The last couple jobs I had involved a lot of close contact with death and human misery. The foster care job in particular really impacted me because I was constantly surrounded by broken families and lives that had fallen apart. There were so many different reasons for these collapses, but with the sheer quantity passing in front of me, it started to blur together into some kind of monstrous amalgam of everything that’s wrong with humanity. That was my inspiration for “the plague.” The kids I worked with inspired the fierce resilience of characters like Julie and Nora. I dedicated Warm Bodies to the foster kids I’ve met. They meant a lot to me.
MF: You’re running a unique pre-sale campaign for The Burning World. When readers pre-order your book, they also get a free digital copy of the “bizarre post-apocalyptic newspaper” that guides the main character, R. What made you decide to do this?
IM: I’m always looking for ways to make the reading experience more immersive and involving. The Exed World Almanac is something that appears throughout The Burning World in crazed, hand-scrawled illustrations so I thought it’d be cool to release a special issue that’s written just before the book begins and kind of foreshadows what’s about to happen. When people order directly from my author site, Isaacmarion.com, I’m able to include it as a bonus.
Pre-orders are great for artists because they allow you to start promoting your work far in advance of the release date and get people on board in their moment of interest instead of expecting them to “stay tuned” for six months. The downside is that they’re so unsatisfying because you pay money and then nothing happens for a long time. I wanted to give people some instant gratification when they pre-order and also provide a little appetizer for what’s coming. And I just like writing the Almanac. It takes my brain to weird, crackling places.
Thanks to Isaac for his time! For more info visit his social media accounts:
Being alive is hard. Being human is harder. But since his recent recovery from death, R is making progress. He’s learning how to read, how to speak, maybe even how to love; and the city’s undead population is showing signs of life. R can almost imagine a future with Julie, this girl who restarted his heart – building a new world from the ashes of the old one.
And then helicopters appear on the horizon. Someone is coming to restore order. To silence all this noise. To return things to the way they were, the good old days of stability and control and the strong eating the weak. The plague is ancient and ambitious, and the Dead were never its only weapon.
How do you fight an enemy that’s in everyone? Can the world ever really change? With their home overrun by madmen, R, Julie, and their ragged group of refugees plunge into the otherworldly wastelands of America in search of answers. But there are some answers R doesn’t want to find… a past life, an old shadow, crawling up from the basement.