THE CHICAGO TRIBUNE says, “Jay Bonansinga has quickly and firmly established himself as one of the most imaginative writers of thrillers. His twisting narratives, with their in-your-face glimpses of violence, are set in an unstable, almost psychotic universe that makes the work of many of his contemporaries look rather tame.”
THE WALKING DEAD: SEARCH AND DESTROY(2016)
SELF STORAGE (2016)
THE WALKING DEAD: INVASION (2015)
THE WALKING DEAD: DESCENT (2014)
THE WALKING DEAD: FALL OF THE GOVERNOR PART 1 & 2 (2013, co-author, with Robert Kirkman)
HIT ME (2013)
THE ROAD TO WOODBURY (2012, co-author, with Robert Kirkman)
THE WALKING DEAD: RISE OF THE GOVERNOR (2011, co-author, with Robert Kirkman)
PINKERTON’S WAR (2011)
PERFECT VICTIM (2008)
SINKING OF THE EASTLAND (2004)
THE SLEEP POLICE (2000)
HEAD CASE (1998)
THE KILLERS GAME (1997)
THE BLACK MARIAH (1994)
have been translated into 16 different languages.
His 2004 non-fiction debut THE SINKING OF THE EASTLAND was a Chicago Reader “Critics Choice Book” as well as the recipient of a Superior Achievement Award from the Illinois State Historical Society. His debut novel THE BLACK MARIAH was a finalist for a Bram Stoker award, and his numerous short tales and articles have been published in such magazines as THE WRITER, AMAZING STORIES, GRUE, FLESH & BLOOD, OUTRE and CEMETERY DANCE, as well as a number of anthologies.
Jay also proudly wears the hat of indie filmmaker: his music videos have been seen on The Nashville Network and Public Television, and his short film CITY OF MEN was awarded the prestigious silver plaque at the Chicago International Film Festival. In 2008, his feature-film debut, STASH (based on his short story of the same title collected in CANDY IN THE DUMPSTER), won the Gold Remi at the Houston International Film Festival and Best Comedy at the Iowa City and Queens International film festivals. STASH was shot in Chicago and stars Tim Kazurinsky (POLICE ACADEMY) and the late Marilyn Chambers (INSATIABLE), and has appeared on On-Demand nationwide in 50 million households. Jay has also worked as a screenwriter with horror legend George Romero, Will Smith’s production company Overbrook Entertainment, and Dennis Haysbert (THE UNIT).
The holder of a master’s degree in film from Columbia College Chicago, Jay currently resides in Evanston, Illinois. He is also a visiting professor at Northwestern University in their Creative Writing for the Media program, as well as the Graduate Writing Program at DePaul University. He can be reached at email@example.com.
Jay Bonansinga MA ’88
Writer. Director. Collaborator.
Jay Bonansinga brings The Walking Dead to life with a series of spin-off novels.
By William Meiners MFA ’96 / Oct 28, 2014
At least five days a week, Jay Bonansinga gets up in the morning and puts on a jacket and tie. But he doesn’t leave home. Instead, he begins writing—hammering out at least 1,250 words—some six daily pages that lead to a novel in four months. The workmanlike pace serves the author well. In 2011, Bonansinga stormed onto The New York Times bestseller list with The Walking Dead: The Rise of the Governor, a novel spin-off of the popular comic book and television series created by Robert Kirkman.
The business dress, partly an homage to The Twilight Zone creator Rod Serling—a mesmerizing hero of his youth—is also a reminder of the professional task at hand. And in a writing career that spans more than 20 years and 20 books, Bonansinga has professionally embraced everything from corporate freelance gigs to historical nonfiction to zombie prequels.
“I never really saw a distinction between writing films, television, comic books, or literature,” says the Evanston-based Bonansinga, whose 2004 nonfiction debut, The Sinking of the Eastland, inspired Eastland, the Lookingglass Theatre’s Tony Award-winning musical. “To me it’s all part of the same storytelling pot.”
Raise the Dead
A film student with a focus on screenwriting, Bonansinga says the visual medium of his schooldays continuously pushes his work, especially now that’s he contracted to write four more Walking Dead novels.
Right out of Columbia, Bonansinga says his big break came out of his darkest days. When financing fell through on a $1 million action movie set in Chicago, effectively spoiling his directorial debut, Bonansinga dropped into a depressive funk. “I said, ‘Never again.’ I knew I had to get a manager or an agent to protect me,” he says. “And I decided to write these ideas I had for films as books. Then I could only lose the words on the page.”
The author’s first novel, The Black Mariah, a Bram Stoker Award finalist published in 1994, led to collaboration with George Romero on the film adaptation. Another of Bonansinga’s cinematic heroes, Romero created the 1968 cult classic Night of the Living Dead. “Having Romero’s cell phone number could be the reason I got the Walking Deadjob,” he jokes.
In 2009, Bonansinga returned to his filmmaking roots, reworking an old short story into Stash, a mockumentary starring Tim Kazurinsky and Marilyn Chambers that’s set around a service that discretely removes pornography from a deceased person’s home. Independently financed and produced for $120,000, Stash was a film festival favorite and appeared in some 50 million households through On-Demand services.
But it’s the work, that storytelling, that gets Bonansinga into a coat and tie each day. He doesn’t feel like he’s slumming when writing about zombies or being particularly highbrow when writing nonfiction. He’s simply all in. “That’s maybe the key to surviving as an artist,” he says. “It’s a crazy and fickle business that’s full of heartache. You need to get to a place where you really enjoy the stretching of the canvas, or the editing—really every aspect of the work.”
Adapted from DEMO magazine, issue 21