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INTRODUCTION: THE WORLD OF JOE LEDGER
Joe Ledger was born in a diner.
That seems somehow very appropriate.
I was sitting at the Red Lion Diner north of Philadelphia having an omelet and (I think) my twentieth cup of coffee while going over notes for a nonfiction book I was writing, Zombie CSU: The Forensics of the Living Dead. That book asked the question “What would happen if Night of the Living Dead were real?” How would people in various fields—science, medicine, law enforcement, the military, the clergy, the press, etc.—react, research, and respond? While I was editing, a couple of people started talking in my head.
Understand, if you’re not a writer, then this is a serious cry for help. You put your shrink on danger pay and get lots of help.
If, however, you are a writer, this is another day on the job. You see, for guys like me, there are always conversations going on. There are scenes playing out. It’s like standing in the TV showroom at Best Buy when every screen is playing a different channel. That’s what a writer’s head is like pretty much all the time. The imagination is a multitrack mixing board and sometimes you don’t know what random elements are suddenly going to coalesce into a scene, a character, or a story.
Inexperienced writers often try to shut out those voices.
Writers who understand the somewhat eccentric nature of the craft listen for a bit, eavesdropping on the conversation. If it’s just background noise—what I often consider “airport waiting room chatter”—then you close it out and go back to work on whatever has a deadline catching fire. If, on the other hand, it has the flavor of importance, then you absolutely must stop and listen closely.
The conversation going on in my head that day was like that. My gut told me that I needed to lean in and pay attention.
I had no idea who these two people were. Not until I started paying attention. It became apparent, though, that it was a cop being interviewed for a job with a covert Special Ops group.
The cop was a smart-ass.
The guy interviewing him was smarter, older, and a little scary.
They were talking about saving the world.
So, I took control of the conversation, as a practiced writer will, and I wrote down everything I could remember of what they said, and then I roughed out the rest of that chat. And I wrote a short follow-up scene, quick and dirty, where the cop is put in a room with a terrorist he killed during a joint police/Homeland raid. The dead guy attacks him.
And that’s when I backed up and wrote something that I realized was the opening chapter of a new novel. What I wrote was:
When you have to kill the same terrorist twice in one week, then there’s either something wrong with your skills or something wrong with your world.
And there’s nothing wrong with my skills.
That was Joe Ledger. It was his voice. It was his world. And he’d reached out from some weird place in my writer brain and told me—told, not asked—to write his story.
Details like an actual plot, the names of the characters, the structure of the novel, all came later, but they came very fast. I told my agent, Sara Crowe, about this and she was very excited and told me that it was something she was certain she could sell. Mind you, we had no completed manuscript at the time. She asked for an outline and fifty pages. I slammed that out because I found that once I started writing the book that became known as Patient Zero, I could not wait to get back to it every day. It was the most fun I’ve ever had as a writer.
She sold it very quickly to St. Martin’s Griffin and Michael Homler became my editor. He has since become a very good and trusted friend, and together we have worked our way through nine Ledger novels, of which Dogs of War is the most recent. By the time Joe Ledger: Unstoppable hits stores I will almost certainly have delivered a tenth Ledger novel. I’ve written a couple of dozen short stories about Ledger, and he’s managed to show up in several of my other series, including my teen postapocalyptic zombie series, Rot & Ruin; my vampire apocalypse novels and comics for adults, V-Wars; short stories involving characters from my Ghost Road Blues trilogy; and more. He is ubiquitous in that he is a very difficult person to kill.
Who is he?
Joe is a former Baltimore cop who becomes a senior field agent for the shadowy Department of Military Sciences, run by the enigmatic Mr. Church. Joe leads Echo Team against terrorists who use cutting-edge science weapons to threaten America and the world. Joe is a good guy, but he is not a particularly nice guy. He doesn’t play party politics and tends to err on the side of humanism rather than any political agenda.
Joe is, psychologically speaking, a box of hamsters. But his best friend, psychiatrist and trauma specialist Dr. Rudy Sanchez, helps him manage his personal demons.
One thing I’ve found particularly weird while writing the Ledger stories is that he’s funny. He is, in fact, funnier than I am, and I write his dialogue. No, I don’t understand that, either, and maybe it’s best if we don’t take too close a look at it.
Joe has appeared in novels, short stories, graphic novels, and audiobooks and is on his way to feature films. I have no plans to ever stop writing stories about him. I am as excited to write any new Ledger tale as I was the first time.
But I like to share. I was the kid in the playground who liked to let other kids play with my toys as long as we could all have some fun.
Which brings me to Joe Ledger: Unstoppable.
When Bryan Thomas Schmidt approached me with the crazy idea of doing an anthology of Ledger stories, I absolutely jumped at it. You see, I love the tradition of shared world stories, and of sharing story elements. I was introduced to the concept through the story cycles of two of my favorite writers from when I was a kid, H. P. Lovecraft and Michael Moorcock.
Lovecraft created his own version of the genre of “cosmic horror” and invited his friends to take elements of it and write their own stories. Since then, thousands of people have jumped aboard the Lovecraft express to write tales of what are variously called “Lovecraftian” or “Cthulhu Mythos” tales, and they include August Derleth, Stephen King, Robert E. Howard, Robert Bloch, and … well … just the list of names could fill an entire volume! Michael Moorcock invited writers to tell stories of his bizarre Jerry Cornelius, a secret agent, assassin, and adventurer, and writers such as Norman Spinrad, Mœbius, Brian Aldiss, and others took up the challenge.
And so Bryan and I built a wish list of writers we thought would enjoy visiting Joe Ledger’s world. A few of the stories are crossovers, in which Joe’s world collides with those of other writers who have their own ongoing series. Some stories are set completely in my world, but bring unique perspectives and insights. All of the stories are absolute killers. I couldn’t be more pleased.
So, if you’re a longtime Joe Ledger fan, you’ll no doubt find these stories very satisfying. If you’re new to this world and, perhaps, followed one of your favorite writers into new territory, then welcome! In either case, buckle up, because this is going to be a bumpy ride through very dangerous country.
Copyright © 2017 by Jonathan Maberry and Bryan Thomas Schmidt
Foreword copyright © 2017 by Tony Eldridge