With three out of four books in the Warm Bodies series already released, Isaac Marion is gearing up for the final in the series, THE LIVING to be released in 2018. The latest book, THE BURNING WORLD, was released earlier this year and is the first sequel to Warm Bodies, with the second book being a prequel. The series is popular among fans around the world and it was opened up to a wider audience when Warm Bodies was adapted into a feature film with an A-List cast. We catch up with Isaac just a few months after THE BURNING WORLD’s release to talk about the series, new book, fan fiction and returning to the UK!
How did you come up with the idea for Warm Bodies?
I was going through a dark time in my life, struggling with depression and feeling very detached and confused, and it just came to me one day that the traditional description of a zombie was a near-perfect match for how I was feeling. I decided the zombie mythology would make an interesting and fun vehicle to explore those very serious themes.
How did you find out your book was going to be turned into a film?
I got an early morning call from the freelance editor I’d hired telling me that a producer she’d sent the book to was on her way to Seattle to talk to me about it. I met her for dinner and the ball started rolling…
Did you have a say in the casting?
Not really, no. They ran it by me as it was happening but most of it was already decided before I got to weigh in. It was disappointing to me that they chose a white actor to play the most prominent black character, Nora, but Analeigh (Tipton) nailed her version of the character and I thought the rest of the cast were perfect, especially Nicholas (Hoult).
What was it like at the premiere watching your own story?
When I think back on those days it kind of feels like a dream. Very hard to grasp that it really happened to me, that I actually walked on the red carpet next to John Malkovich. I was swimming in rivers of serotonin. The whole thing is a blissed-out blur to me now.
For those who have only seen the film, what do you think they would make of the book?
Some people are surprised by the more serious tone of the book. The movie plays more like a romantic comedy, and although the book has some laughs and definitely a lot of romance, I was actually trying to explore some pretty heavy themes, some of which aren’t really touched in the movie. So a lot of people come to the book expecting something cute and lighthearted and are surprised to find a bit more complexity.
Did you always know Warm Bodies would be a series of books?
I always knew there was more to the story and I had the broad outlines in my head but I didn’t originally expect to actually write those other chapters. Warm Bodies was my very first published novel so I wasn’t expecting to have the opportunity to do anything as ambitious as a series. But when the first book struck a chord, I realised the idea wasn’t as crazy as I thought and I really needed to write this thing to its true conclusion.
What can people expect from the sequel, The Burning World?
It’s a much bigger book, in terms of both page count and scope. Warm Bodies was a very compact story taking place on a small stage but the sequel widens the world a lot. It’s a bit like an epic fantasy quest because R and his gang are setting out into this mostly unknown post-apocalyptic landscape and encountering the mysteries of this strange new reality where things like zombies and walking skeletons are possible. It also gets much deeper into the characters as their pasts come back to haunt them, particularly R, whose past life won’t stay forgotten. The story goes to some pretty crazy places. It’s definitely not just a romance anymore. It gets real. It gets cosmic.
What has the reaction been like to the new book?
It’s been a slow burn. With very little marketing push and not much attention from the industry, I’ve had a weirdly hard time making people aware that it even exists, which has been somewhat baffling considering how popular the first book was. But the people who have read it seem to be pretty excited about it. It has great reviews and very high ratings on Amazon and Goodreads, so that’s been gratifying. But the lack of awareness has been frustrating. My hope is that the whole series will find its spotlight when the final book, THE LIVING, gets released next year.
Which did you find easier, writing the prequel to Warm Bodies or the sequel?
THE NEW HUNGER was definitely a lot easier. For one thing, it’s very short, just a novella, but it’s also simpler in pretty much every way. It’s a vignette of a brief, critical moment in the characters’ early lives. THE BURNING WORLD and THE LIVING were big, epic stories with a lot of threads to weave in terms of plot and themes and a lot of big conceptual challenges that I had to crack before I could finish them. I felt like I was working at the limits of my abilities on those books but I think I accomplished my goals in the end. For me, it’s a very satisfying story made all the more so by how much blood and tears I poured into it.
Have you started work on the next book in the series?
I actually wrote the last book in the series, THE LIVING, back to back with THE BURNING WORLD. There will be a little more editing to do but it’s essentially finished at this point and I’m just waiting on the publishers to figure out a release date, but I’m pretty sure it will be early 2018. I’m incredibly eager to get it out there so that people can see how it all ends, especially since I think THE LIVING is the best book in the series.
Can we expect them all to be turned into film?
I really have no idea. There have been various rumblings about films over the years and it’s in discussion again right now but Hollywood works slow sometimes and I’ve kind of stopped asking about it. Better if I just focus on writing my books and if films happen, it’ll be a wonderful surprise.
What books did you enjoy reading whilst growing up?
I read a lot of Sci-Fi and fantasy in my teen years. The Tripods, Lord of the Rings, The Wheel of Time, etc, then I started getting into weirder stuff like Stephen King and Kurt Vonnegut, then branched out into more literary realms in my twenties with authors like Cormac McCarthy and Dave Eggers and such, but I’m always drawn to stories that have some fantastical element in them no matter what genre I’m reading.
What do you think of fanfiction for your novels?
It’s so incredibly flattering. I feel weird reading it because it’s very “uncanny valley” to see my beloved characters written by someone else, it makes me weirdly uncomfortable. But I love that it exists! There’s a LOT of fanfic for Warm Bodies out there because of the movie, and sometimes it’s hard to tell if the writer has even read my book or if it’s just movie fanfic, which is still cool but doesn’t have a lot to do with me. I would love to see some Burning World stories…
Have you written any non-fiction books or would you consider it?
Nah, I’m not the guy to educate anyone on any real-world knowledge. I’m a dreamer, not a knower.
You’ve recently done book signings in the UK, how was your time here and do you have plans to return?
I had such an incredible time on that tour. My signing at Piccadilly Waterstones flared into an epic pub crawl and I was out partying with my readers until five in the morning. I absolutely fell in love with London and I’ve been scheming for a good excuse to come back as soon as possible. The release of THE LIVING for sure, if not sooner!
How do you switch your mind off from writing mode or are you always in that zone?
That’s one of the biggest struggles in my life, toggling that switch. Writing builds a lot of psychic momentum and it’s hard to come back down to interact with the real world. I work best in bursts. A few weeks of obsessive, uninterrupted work and then a few days of people time so I don’t lose all my friends!
Do you still get chance to work on any music?
I have been playing in a band with a few friends recently but I’m just a player on their songs; it’s not “my” music. I would really love to make some new music of my own but that requires a lot of focus and I feel like it needs to wait for a day when I’m sitting comfortably on a more established writing career. Right now, I have to keep pushing hard, and music would be a distraction. It pains me, though. I miss singing.
What are your writing plans once the Warm Bodies series has come to an end?
Well since the series is already finished for me, I’m moving on to the next big thing. I just recently chose my next novel from a pile of ideas I’ve been germinating and I’m just about ready to dive in. I’m intensely excited to get back to work. Nothing in my life is more satisfying than a solid day of good writing and after so many months of touring and marketing and other tawdry hustle, I’m craving it hard.
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