While most people recognize Norman Reedus from AMC’s long-running zombie drama The Walking Dead or as the host of a moto-documentary series, Ride With Norman Reedus, the 53-year-old father of two has a much larger resume. He’s an artist, a photographer, a filmmaker, and now with the release of his debut novel, The Ravaged, an author. We spoke with Reedus about his creative writing process, how real-world encounters shape and inspire his characters, the ups and downs of collaborating with other creatives, and, of course, the final season of TWD.
Iron & Air: Have you been writing fiction for a while and just finally decided to publish something?
Norman Reedus: Yeah, I’ve done scripts, short stories, [and] I used to make short films. I was that kid in high school that wrote in a journal. So I’ve always kept ideas flowing on paper, but I’ve never written anything like [a novel] before. But I kept getting offers to write books about my life, and I don’t want to get beaten up by old friends, so I’m not going to do that until I’m on my deathbed. Then I was on my way to Italy to shoot Ride when the pandemic hit there. I stopped in LA, and they said, “You’re not going anywhere. Italy’s on lockdown. Just stay put.” And that turned into almost two years of staying put. So I started putting things on paper and turned them into a book.
How much of you and your experiences are in this book?
I try not to make it too obvious, but there’s a lot of me in the book. And there’s a theme in The Ravaged that coincides with The Walking Dead, though I didn’t realize it until later: It’s three separate stories, and each character is running to something or running from something. And in these dark, scary times, they start to [bond] with strangers and create their own families.
One story is about a wealthy businessman who doesn’t know what to do with himself after his family passes away. That one is based on a guy I met on a plane — and his story floored me. He was looking at me with tears in his eyes, and he said, “Norman, I’ve spent my whole life making money. I’ve wasted my whole life.”
… My father was a traveling salesman who was always trying to teach me things along the way. And I didn’t know what the fuck he was talking about until later on in life. [In the book], a guy going cross-country finds out that his father — a traveling salesman — was murdered. And as he tries to figure out what happened [to his dad], he realizes the morals of the stories that his father told him when he was little as he comes across people that are putting those morals to the test.
Some of the train-hopping stuff is based on when I was running around as a kid. I have a friend who used to hop trains as a kid [to] run away. So there’s a story about a young girl from an abusive family that finds a sense of family train-hopping.
When reading The Ravaged, I felt like there was a staccato rhythm to it. As in, you get these quick bites of the scene to set the stage with the dialogue layered over it. Is that picked up from reading and writing screenplays?
Well, a lot of that tone is Frank Bill. I had help with this book, and I went through several people to help me. Frank really had a rhythm to him. The guy drinks whiskey and speaks like I think. So when I’m describing something and I’m talking about dialogue, there’s a rhythm that we got into of how to pace that out. It’s hard to find a collaborator that gets that, and Frank and I hit it off, right off the bat.
The creative process — especially with writing and having that symbiotic relationship with a collaborator — has got to be special since the creative partners you surround yourself with make or break a project.
Totally. It’s hard to find those people, but it’s just like every other thing in life. Like-minded people hang out together. They kind of think the same and work well together. I had that with Guillermo del Toro. I have it with Hideo Kojima.
You’ve done five seasons and counting of your show Ride With Norman Reedus, but the 11th and final season of The Walking Dead is ending in the fall. How does that feel?
It hit me driving home from the set. The sun’s coming up, and there’s a certain route I take through the woods to get back to my house in Georgia. And when I finished that ride and I got to my gate, I was like, “Whoa, that’s the last time I’m going to do that.” It was weird and sad, and it’s also like a feeling of great accomplishment, in a way.
A bittersweet end, for sure. But I understand you’re getting a spinoff?
Yeah. I was going to do a spinoff, me and Melissa [McBride], we were going to do it together, but she wanted to take a break, and she deserves a break. And in the meantime, they were like, “Hey, do you want to go on a mission while she’s taking some time?” I’m like, “Yeah. Let’s fucking go on a mission.” So I’ll be going to Europe doing a mission. Some of our characters are lost, and maybe I’ll run into one or two of them.
So maybe the family will get reunited in some ways, you’re saying?
For sure. The Carol and Daryl will definitely come back together.
About The Ravaged
Jack’s dying mother told him, “Run and never look back.” He spent his life amassing wealth, but after losing his family, he has no one to share it with. Alone with his demons and a backpack, he heads to South America, where people with nothing teach him what matters. After thrashing his dog-abusing boss, Hunter learns of his father’s death in a mysterious fire. Biker buddies Nugget and Itch ride with him from North Carolina to California. Stories from his father’s life help ease the struggles of small-town Americans. Hunter discovers a secret past. Seventeen-year-old Anne flees Tennessee after her older brother attacks her. She whacks him with a skillet and hops a freight to Alabama with her best friend. Living hand to mouth, they build friendships, uncovering something they never had: family.
The Ravaged is a fast-paced, up-in-your-face novel of gritty realism, exploring three different personal quests with eerily parallel outcomes.