Interview with The Walking Dead novel series writer Jay Bonansinga

The Governor, as he calls himself, is one of the most mysterious and fascinating characters in the Walking Dead graphic novels and television series. Fans may know who he is, but no one really knows him. No one except Jay Bonansinga. Jay is the renowned author of many novels and scripts, including a trilogy based around The Governor’s life and trials during the zombie apocalypse. This past week, I was able to catch up with Jay and ask him a few questions about his life, his work, and the man they call The Governor.

That VideoGame Blog: Thanks for taking time out of your writing schedule to talk with me. First off, when did you decide you wanted to be a writer? What was the catalyst?

Jay Bonansinga: I started the process of wanting to be a writer when I was about 7 years old and saw 101 Dalmations at a Drive-In with my Grandma Pas and Grandpa Bud… and Cruella DeVille traumatized me, sent me diving into the back seat of Bud’s Rambler… and I decided I never wanted to be that scared again.  Even in my 7 year old mind, I consciously decided that I never wanted to be that helpless, and a few years later, in middle school, it hit me: You become the person who MAKES THIS STUFF UP!!!!!  That’s how you insure it will not scare you.  You invent it to scare others.

TVGB: Your most recent/notable works are your two, soon to be three, Walking Dead books. How did you get into the world of zombies and survival?

JB: I guess I had been writing about monsters and plagues and disasters all my life.  I even worked with the Grand Master of all zombie stories, George Romero, in 1993.  With my background in horror, it was a natural step to throw my hat in the ring as Kirkman’s house novelist.  Thank God he hired me.  Bless his huge, Kentucky-bred, blood engorged heart!!!

TVGB: What are some of your inspirations for your books? Do you draw from anything in particular?

JB: To be honest, I draw from all the things that scare me (and believe me there are a lot, including but not limited to clowns, tax returns, Catholic priests, and the Ice-Capades).  I know with Robert it’s the same kind of dynamic.  People who create horror are — contrary to common wisdom — not at all inured to this stuff.  We’re not jaded, stoic, desensitized blood-mongers. We are creeped out by a lot of stuff and that’s how we recreate it for your viewing or reading pleasure.

TVGB: What made you choose to focus on the Governor for this series of books?

JB: Robert Kirkman makes those decisions, bless his heart!  He gives me an 8-to-10 page outline, and I turn it into 100,000 words of prose.

TVGB: Who is the Governor to you? What does he stand for to you?

JB: Great question!  To boil it down, the Gov is — to me — a Jungian dream-projection of all of us.  He is the human psyche cornered, a caged animal.  He is an archetype of an ordinary man pushed into extraordinary acts.  He is not exactly evil — though he does evil acts — but is more like a doppelganger of Rick Grimes.

TVGB: Do you watch the Walking Dead television series? If so, did the show inform any of your writings, or did your writings inform the show at all?

JB: I love the show.  On a strictly personal, fan-based level — I cannot remember needing to be in front of the tube with a bowl of popcorn and my girlfriend Jilly by my side every Sunday night more intensely for any othershow ever!!!!  On a professional level, the answer is yes, the show and books and comics all inform each other in fascinating and complex ways.  I call it the Calculus of Kirkman.  Each medium is self- contained, but each one reflects elements of the others in time-line, characters, plot, deaths, battles, etc.

TVGB: What do you think about zombies coming back to the mainstream after so many years? The last big zombie craze I remember was Night of the Living Dead or the Evil Dead series. Did these films have any influence on your writing, or at least topics of interest?

JB: Yeah, I agree with you.  The first modern zombie wave was in the 1960s when we were mired in Vietnam.  The archetype resonated in weird ways with Americans back then.  I think now they’re back because of the dark developments in our country in recent years — endless war, economic woes, terrorism, mortgages under water, reality TV… ugh!  Zombies are cathartic for our current society because they represent the threat that just keeps coming… like the IRS… your property taxes… that biopsy you’re worried about… to endlessly mess with you.

TVGB: If any one of your books was to be optioned for a television series or movie right now, which one would you want it to be? Would you even accept the offer?

JB: Oh my God, I would SO accept the right offer to make my Ulysses Grove quartet into a TV series — which is a series of four supernatural thrillers — about an FBI profiler with a connection to the ancient, paleolithic world: FROZEN (2005, Pinnacle), TWISTED (2006, Pinnacle), SHATTERED (2007, Pinnacle), and PERFECT VICTIM (2008, Pinnacle).

TVGB: What hobbies do you have outside of writing?

JB: Other than my girlfriend and fiance, Jilly — who’s not a hobby, of course, but more of an obsession — I also sit in with bands as a blues harmonica blower.  I come from a blues city, and a blues background, and I love playing blues in clubs and parties and basements and backyards, especially when there’s a side of a pig on a grill, or some form of pork product being smoked.  Okay, food is another hobby.  I ghost-wrote a memoir for a chef once, and learned a lot techniques.  Jilly game me a Shun for my birthday this year — the finest chef knife in the world — reminiscent of Michonne’s steel.

TVGB: If you could pick any other character from the Walking Dead series to do a book trilogy about, who do you think would be the most interesting and exciting to write about?

JB: Perfect Segway. Michonne, Michonne, and… um… oh… also… MICHONNE!

TVGB: Finally, if you could leave one legacy behind with your writing, what would you want it to be?

JB: Wow… I so wasn’t prepared for this one.  In all honesty, my one legacy, if I had a choice, would be for my two sons to always know who their dad was by picking up one of his books and looking inside his head and heart and imagination.

TVGB: Thank you so much and I wish you luck on your new novel, Fall of The Governor.