Isaac Marion explains why The New Hunger, the prequel to his bestselling novel Warm Bodies, is essential reading and shares exclusive details on the in-the-works sequel.
Zola: Where do you stand on the “read the book before you watch the movie” debate? For those who’ve never read Warm Bodies or seen the film, what do you recommend?
Isaac Marion: One version of the story is always going to partially overwrite the other, and since reading a book is a much bigger investment of time and emotion, with potentially greater rewards, I think that privilege should go to the book. Having read the book usually enhances my experience with a movie. Even if the movie is bad, I still get a certain thrill out of watching scenes from my imagination played out in reality, and I’m not sure the reverse is true. When you read the book first the story gets cemented in your mind, you own it, and you can relax and watch the movie as just someone else’s interpretation of what you know to be true.
Zola: You’ve said that Warm Bodies is a bit autobiographical at its core because it reflects a lot of the feelings you were having at the time about figuring out who you were. Does the prequel, The New Hunger, have similarly autobiographical roots or did it just grow out of Warm Bodies? How about the sequel you’re currently working on?
IM: The New Hunger is less specifically based on my own life, but it still revolves around themes that interest me personally: the concept of family, adults’ responsibilities to children, and the struggle of being an animal that’s programmed for selfishness but for some reason wants to do good. What “good” really is and how we can be part of it—that’s one of the bigger themes running through all three of these books and it will be expanded a lot in the sequel.
Zola: Why did you chose to write the prequel before the sequel?
IM: A lot of prequels feel sort of like afterthoughts, like little nuggets of nostalgia to enjoy if you’re still hungry after the real story has wrapped up. It’s harder to care about a story that happens in the past when you already know how everything ends up and have already put these characters to bed. Reading a prequel before you know the story’s final outcome is much more interesting to me because there are still things to discover. There are still things to learn about the characters and their world that will be important later. The New Hunger is less a walk down memory lane and more a primer for what’s coming, and it will be essential to understanding what happens in the sequel.
Zola: Did the movie add anything that wasn’t in the book that you were happy—or disappointed—to see?
IM: Most of the changes were subtractions, not additions. The one big addition was—SPOILER—Julie’s dad being alive at the end, which is a change I fully understand given the much lighter tone of the movie, but it will be interesting to see how they address that if they ever make a movie of my sequel. Maybe he’ll choke on some broccoli in the opening scene?
Zola: You’re an author committed to interacting with readers, via Twitter, Facebook, and your blog. Is that just your nature or do you feel it’s an author’s responsibility to engage with his or her fans? What’s the most memorable response to your work you’ve ever received from a fan?
IM: It’s mostly just my nature. I’ve always maintained a very active presence online—that’s how I first got “discovered,” when someone in the industry stumbled into one of my stories via my blog. I spend a lot of time alone in my head, so it’s nice to be able to pop out every once in a while and share what’s going on in there. And sometimes the interactions with readers are really amazing. I’ve gotten a few emails from people telling me how my book helped them get through a horrible time in their life, or gave them a new way of thinking about something, or inspired them in some way—really deep, from-the-heart stuff that makes me feel like I’m actually doing something worthwhile, not just pushing buttons to manufacture entertainment. I have a folder of fan emails that I save for moments when I’m feeling especially discouraged or unmotivated. Sometimes the right letter at the right moment will reinvigorate my sense of purpose.
Zola: Is there anything about the sequel you might share exclusively with Zola—either about the book’s progress or plot details?
IM: I’m still not ready with a proper pitch yet, but I’m geting close. It’s hard to summarize what it’s about because it’s about a lot of things. It’s about R trying to relearn how to be a human being and how to care for other human beings. It’s about him dealing with his very dark past, which comes bubbling up against his will, and how it affects his relationship with Julie—and humanity in general. But on a grander scale, it’s about a quest to save the world.
At the end of Warm Bodies they pushed the plague back, but it’s still there, and the forces behind it are still there, now pushed down deeper into a more insidious form. R and Julie are going to be driven out of their homes and forced to explore America looking for a way to fight back. It’s an extremely high-stakes cross-country road trip, and it’s exciting because we get a much wider view of this world and all the different groups and powers operating in it, some friendly, some unfriendly, some psychopathically evil.
I never really thought ofWarm Bodies as a “romance” exactly, but it was very focused on those two people and their relationship. This will be a bigger story, more in the realm of epic fantasy than romance. R and Julie’s relationship is still the central lynchpin, but we’ll be expanding beyond that, into global and even cosmic scales. (Yes, cosmic. You’ll have to trust me on this one.)
This article originally appeared on Zola Books.