It’s a real treat to welcome today’s author to my weekly “Friday 5 Questions With” blog. Joe McKinney is most well-known for his amazing horror novels, but he’s a Renaissance Man of sorts when it comes to writing. He can do it all, and as his Stoker Award for Flesh Eaters can attest, he can do it very well. If you’re a fan of horror fiction, but aren’t familiar with Joe McKinney, it’s time for your introduction because he’s one of the best writers in the genre right now. Also, as an added bonus, Joe has agreed to sponsor a book giveaway today. More details about that appear after the interview. With that, here’s Joe!
First things first, the final book in the Dead World series came out this year. What’s it called and what should fans expect from it?
That’s right. It’s called Mutated, and it came out in September. The first three books in the Dead World series all took place right around the beginning of the outbreak. Dead City and Flesh Eaters describe how the outbreak started, and Apocalypse of the Dead, which takes place about two years later, shows how the outbreak goes global. Mutated takes place about eight years after Apocalypse of the Dead, and picks up on a lot of the themes and plot lines left off at the ends of the previous books. For example, in Apocalypse of the Dead we learned that the military found a cure to the zombie virus, but the hospital working on that cure was overrun before they could make use of it. The only person to escape was a simpleton named Nate Royal, who is immune to the virus and who wears a flash drive containing the cure around his neck. By the time Mutated starts, Nate has been wandering the ruins of America for eight years. He’s not doing well. In fact, he’s nearly dead from exposure and malnutrition. It’s then that he meets up with Ben Richardson and a handful of survivors who are caught in a war with the leader of a zombie army known simply as the Red Man. In my books the victims of the zombie virus are living people who have been zombiefied by disease, and that disease goes through several stages. Most zombies die off in the first stage, though a few become second and third stage zombies, progressively capable of more and more sophisticated cognitive acts, such as setting traps, deception and using other zombies the way fox hunters use dogs. The Red Man though is the first ever Stage 4 zombie, and he is a force none of the survivors could have imagined.
Aside from being an author, you also have extensive law enforcement experience. How does that play into your written work?
That’s right, I’m still an active duty police officer with the San Antonio Police Department, where I’ve gotten to do a little bit of everything. I’ve been a regular patrol officer, a disaster mitigation expert, a homicide detective, I ran the city’s 911 Center for a while, and I’m currently a patrol supervisor. It’s the greatest job in the world, and policing does figure prominently in my books. A great many of my characters are cops, and so I guess that’s the obvious way my police career works into my writing, but it goes beyond that too. Policing taught me an awful lot about human nature, its highs and lows, and when I write, I pull from that knowledge and experience.
I know you mostly as a horror author, but you also write other genres. What’s your favorite genre to write in…or are you more inspired by story versus genre?
Excellent question! Yes, it’s story for me. I’ve written horror, science fiction, non-fiction, crime, even some contemporary non-genre stuff. I tend to work with genre stuff most of the time though because that’s what I enjoy reading. That’s fun for me. But really, the story is king. The story will suggest what genre it needs to be.
To date, what’s your single proudest moment as an author?
I’ve hit a lot of milestones in my career. I remember with great affection my first professional story sale; my first book contract with a major New York publisher; my first multi-book deal; winning a Bram Stoker Award and getting handed the award by two of my literary heroes, Joe R. Lansdale and Robert McCammon; the first time Hollywood came knocking; and watching my Dad’s eyes bulge out of his head when he saw the check for one of my advances. But without a doubt my proudest moment came just this year, when I was taking my daughters to school. I was talking with one of the other parents, not really paying attention to what my youngest daughter was doing, when I heard her tell a group of her little friends, “Oh yeah, well my Daddy’s a horror writer.” Then she turned and smiled at me, and I felt like I was king of the world.
What’s next for you?
More writing! I have a haunted house novel called CROOKED HOUSE coming out any day now from Dark Regions Press; my collected zombie short stories in a volume called DATING IN DEAD WORLD from Creeping Hemlock Press; a sequel to DEAD CITY as part of the JournalStone Publishing Double Down series; a shared world novella for JournalStone in their Limbus II anthology; a full length novel called St Rage for Journalstone; a standalone zombie novel with Kensington, due out in September, 2013; and a new zombie series starting in 2014 called The Dead Lands for Kensington. In between I’ll be doing short stories and articles, and possibly publishing another collection of my non-zombie short stories. There’s a lot to do, for sure! Anybody looking for more information can check out my website, http://joemckinney.wordpress.com, for all the details.
Now…let’s talk about the book giveaway! Joe has graciously offered to give away THREE copies of his new novel, Inheritance, to three lucky readers of this blog. He’ll also sign them before mailing them out! So, here’s the deal. First off, this giveaway is open to US RESIDENTS ONLY. To be eligible for the giveaway, you need to comment on this blog with an answer to the following question: Do you believe in ghosts?
We will then choose three winners at random from all eligible entries. You have until Wednesday, January 2nd, 2013 at 12:00 pm EST to comment on the blog to be eligible. Good luck and happy haunting!
Today’s entry into my “Friday 5 Questions with…” series comes from K. Anthony Pagano. With his Lion in the Dark series, Pagano is helping bring back the lost art of serial novels. K. Anthony Pagano has a lot to say about the art of writing and the challenges of being an independent author, so instead of wasting time with a bulky interview, I’m going to let his answers to my questions do the talking. So, without further ado, I give you K. Anthony Pagano!
As I mentioned last week, I’m a big supporter of horror author Joseph Williams. So much so that I invited him to participate in this week’s Friday Five to help him promote his debut full-length novel, The Hunt.
Also, since I’m working on making this a regular thing on the blog, feel free to submit some “5 Questions With…” logos. I’d love to see what you come up with!
You’re known mainly for your short story collections. What made you want to switch it up and go with a long-form novel?
It was the next step towards where I want to be. I actually started out writing novels before I got into short stories, and those early manuscripts suffered for it. Short stories are a great way to learn writing. You have to be economical and get rid of all the bullshit you want to use, like absurdly unnecessary adverbs (which are still hard as hell to cut out), rants, and overly (or underly) detailed descriptions. You have to learn how to develop your plot and characters simultaneously in a much more confined space. You also don’t invest nearly as much time or energy in writing them, so it’s not as devastating if they turn out to be awful or no one will publish them. A couple years ago, I got frustrated with spending months writing bad novels and turned to shorts to learn the art of storytelling. I got to a point where I vowed not to write another novel until I had written at least fifty new short stories, and my work improved immensely in that time.
Publishing short stories is a great way to get your foot in the door in the greater publishing world. It beefs up your cover letter so publishers will look closer at your work. You get more of a lifeline, more room to take chances and make mistakes, and I really needed that. Even publishing with some smaller ezines got my novella Number Six in a real horror anthology. That first acceptance was very exciting. Unless you come out and blow people’s minds with the best debut novel in the history of the world or something with bare-chested werewolves, agents and publishers (in my experience) won’t give your work a second look without some writing credits. I’ve been fortunate enough to work with two outstanding publishers in Post Mortem Press and Severed Press, so I’ve felt comfortable with each of my three books. They represent exactly what I wanted them to be. If I had spent months trying to find publishers for my early novels, it would have distracted me from progressing as a writer and I probably would have wound up publishing them with a less than reputable press, which may have helped but more likely would have made my work stagnant. I wouldn’t have thought I was capable of moving on up.
For my novel debut, I wanted to make sure I took my time and went through many drafts before putting it out into the world. I didn’t want to do a straight-up horror or sci-fi or fantasy novel the first time around, either. The Hunt is about addiction and hard choices more than anything else. I think as people read it, they’ll see that the emphasis is on the relationships much more than the setting. I also didn’t want to throw in guts and gore or really anything genre-related unless it served a purpose on a deeper level. Whether or not I did what I set out to do is up to the reader to decide, but I’m very happy with how the book turned out and am glad I waited through the other ten-or-so unpublished novels before coming to this one, although there were close calls in the past. There’s one cool young adult novel I wrote that I still really dig, but it involved a kid’s Starting Lineup figurine of Nicklas Lidstrom. I had a publisher for the book and everything, but Mr. Lidstrom’s agent wouldn’t allow it to go forward. I’m happy with the way it worked out in the end, though. I’m really proud of The Hunt.
Did you approach The Hunt different than your short stories?
In some ways, although it felt like I was writing a short story collection when I did all of the flashbacks for Doreen. The Hunt was actually my Master’s thesis project in Creative Writing, so the approach was already different than anything I’ve done before and it helped the book. I had a few months where The Hunt was all I worked on and I had an amazing editor/poet/musician (Dr. Caroline Maun) to critique it. After the first draft that I went through with Dr. Maun, I went back and added seven chapters that were all flashbacks (I also took one chapter out completely along with paragraphs upon paragraphs of unnecessary introspection), and those were the ones that made me feel like I was doing a collection of literary fiction short stories rather than a dark fantasy/horror novel. It really energized my later drafts and helped me view the whole book in a different perspective. Dr. Maun really encouraged me to continually dig deeper into the motivations of Doreen, Katy, and Mr. Woods. It was cool being able to build character histories like that. I’ve never been able to do it to that degree in my short stories.
Even adding those chapters to the book was a lot different than my last short story project though. The Tea Leaf Green book, Swinging from Stars. In a lot of ways, that was the most challenging writing project I’ve ever undertaken and it had the most unique approach I’ve ever used. There’s a very fine line in that series of books (Blues Traveler and Grateful Dead forthcoming) between respecting the lyrics/general mood of the song and putting my own spin on the stories so they’re worth reading, both for people who already know the words and for people who’ve never heard the band’s music in their life. I had to completely immerse myself in Tea Leaf Green when I wrote Swinging from Stars. I’d make playlists of all of my favorite live renditions of each song and listen to them on repeat the entire time I was writing and editing. You really have to commit to something like that and accept that not all of it is going to work out. I had to leave three stories on the cutting room floor. There were songs I thought would be easy to adapt based on the lyrics and those were usually the ones I had to give up on. That whole experience helped me in editing The Hunt. I learned to let go of stuff that was pure shit even though I really wanted to include it in the book for whatever reason.
Beyond that, the new novel I’m working on for Severed Press was started as two successive short stories which morphed into a longer project, so I’ve been approaching each chapter as its own entity. I really like working that way. I think writing short stories has changed my approach to writing novels and vice versa.
What is it about the horror genre that is so appealing to you?
I’m just drawn to more realistic human experiences. I don’t mean all of the monsters and blood and guts, although those do symbolize very real things in our lives. I think that the horror genre, when done well, offers a unique arena for exploring what makes people who they are. I think the way that people react in horrific situations—whether it’s an ugly divorce, an addiction, or the sadistic mutant living in the closet—truly defines their character, and it also helps me sort of exorcise and control my own fears. Writing these stories gives me a peculiar agency in situations where I would be powerless in real life. It’s a coping mechanism, to a degree.
Not to stay on Tea Leaf Green for too long, but I interviewed their singer/songwriter/pianist Trevor Garrod for Real Detroit Weekly back before I’d even pitched the project to the band, and I asked him a very similar question. His response pretty much sums it up for me:
“I’ve always loved that kind of music. You know, the Bob Dylan sort of folk tradition. The Jack Kerouac ‘rambling man’ sort of image. It’s always been terribly romantic to me. Anything about the dark places you go in life. I’ve always found it so much more compelling than writing songs about…what else is there to write about? Cars? Girls? Parties? I mean, I wish I could write about stuff like that, but it always seems so shallow.”
Preach on, Trevor. Preach on.
The dark places we go in life are much more compelling to me than the bright ones. Romance stories and cake walks aren’t what make a man or woman weak or strong, at least not in my life. That’s what Doreen’s journey in The Hunt is all about. There’s a reason fertilizer (shit) makes things grow. How boring would a book or movie about a perfect marriage with perfect children in a perfect house be? Give me a crisis of faith or a mountain of adversity over that garbage any day…
…and add a demon, zombie, or serial killer, too. Preferably all three. Thanks.
What’s the best book someone has recommended to you lately?
Hmm. That’s tough. Ever since Borders closed down and I don’t get to converse about books in person as much as I used to, I actually haven’t gotten many recommendations that didn’t come from the author or publisher. The last one I remember from those days that’s really stuck with me was from my friend Trevor Snyder, who told me about Richard Laymon. I’d heard of him before but never really had an interest in checking him out until Trevor recommended a book to me. I also used to get great recommendations from customers when we’d talk books, but now I mostly buy my books online (I know, right?) since Barnes & Noble doesn’t even have a horror section for me to browse. An awesome non-horror recommendation I got in the Borders days was Glen Cook’s Black Company series, but I can’t remember who told me about it (sorry).
I tend to find things on my own these days and it’s pretty exciting in its own way. I’ve gotten over some of my silly embarrassment over reading and watching ‘nerdy’ sci-fi stuff and that has provided me with some good reads like the Hand of Thrawn books by Timothy Zahn. My wife teases me relentlessly whenever I watch Battlestar Galactica or Firefly or Star Trek, but whatever, she watches Dance Moms (sorry honey). I’ve gotten really into Philip K. Dick and Chuck Palahniuk lately, too, because I’m ahead of the game like that. One of my creative writing professors just passed away (Christopher Towne Leland, to whom The Hunt is dedicated) and I’ve been poking around in his short stories and novels. He was an amazing writer who published with Scribners and Houghton Mifflin. Toni Morrison even edited one of his books. Check him out if you get the chance.
Do you have any recommendations for me? I’d trust this blog with my life. (Editor’s Note: If it’s Chuck Palahniuk you’re after, you can’t go wrong with Invisible Monsters. This is by far one of his best books and a fun re-read…especially these days when his work has been hit or miss)
Any last words?
Grasshopper. Long-johns. Shears. Butt.
…I think that’s all of them.
I’ve been friends with Joseph Williams for a little over a year now. I met him when I found out about his short story collection, Detroit Macabre. I tried to bring it into the local stores, but I couldn’t because I could only get it non-returnable through Ingram (luckily, Joe was able to get some at his store without us). We kept in contact after Borders shut down, and I even picked up his book before the Novi store closed down.
In September of last year, I did a “5 Questions with…” feature with him for Curiosity Killed the Bookworm. Then, Joe came back to my blog in October to contribute to my 31 Days of Halloween Hijinks blog challenge with a blog about the best Horror films.
We also have plans to start a writing group and a horror blog one of these days.
As it just so happens, Joe released his latest novel, The Hunt, and it’s a free Kindle ebook download until tomorrow. If you want a great read in the horror genre, consider giving The Hunt a chance. I’ve read lots of Joe’s short stories, but this is his first novel. Support independent authors.
Unless of course you want to take Grumpy Cat’s advice.
I’ve done several “5 Questions With…” features on my blog since its inception, but I’m hoping to make it a more regular occurrence. Since Friday is also known for Friday Five, it just makes sense to move this feature to Friday as well, don’t you think?
I’m starting things off with a bang – with the New York Times bestseller and co-writer of The Walking Dead novels, Jay Bonansinga! Before he teamed up with Robert Kirkman for this project, Jay was responsible for 16 other novels including the Stoker-nominated The Black Mariah.
I got my first taste of The Walking Dead book universe with the first in the series – Rise of the Governor. This book already had a few things going for it: it was part of TWD’s universe, it focused on The Governor, and it was well-written. I had big plans for the book in terms of promotion at Borders. I was presented it right before Borders went belly up, and I was immediately ready to make it the focus of my October 2011 promotional efforts. Those plans never came to fruition unfortunately, so it’s especially cool that I was contacted about helping promote the second book in the series. I jumped at the opportunity!
So, without further ado, here are my Five Questions with Jay Bonansinga.
What’s it like to be part of the Walking Dead universe and to be able to work with Robert Kirkman?
Best job of my career… really. Twenty-five years in the horror field, sixteen books, 60 short stories, a gig with George Romero, and an absolute LOVE of zombies, and I feel like I have been in training for this work my whole career. Love it, love it, LOVE IT!!
Now that the comic has transcended to just about every form of medium, do you find it challenging to make sure the novels stand out in the crowd?
Yeah, absolutely, it’s really scary and fascinating to see the novel form pitted against these sexier mediums… but that is what’s SO interesting about this whole experience, the books are self contained and yet perfectly conformed, like genetically modified organisms, to the comic and TV series.
The first novel focused on the origins of the Governor and the latest novel mainly focuses on Lilly. Do you anticipate branching out into different parts of the world in future work, or are you going to stay close to Woodbury?
I want to do this until I die… so, yeah, I see it branching out… in fact, I want to do it beyond the point that I die, especially if I turn and come back as a zombie, in which case I will continue to write, although my penmanship will suffer.
What would you say to fans of the comic or fans of the show who haven’t given the novels a chance to entice them into checking them out?
I would say that the novels are like having sex with a lot more foreplay, and it’s really excellent foreplay, so come on… if you want to just get your rocks off, fine, but don’t you want more foreplay? (Is this a family publication?) Editor’s Note: We’ll let it slide
Who’s more fanatic: Trekkies, Star Wars fans, or Walking Dead fans?
I would say either Trekkies or Star Wars fans are more fanatic… Walking Dead fans are more like GRATEFUL Dead fans… and we all know Dead Heads are too stoned to be fanatic.
Also, if you want to give it a shot, Paste Magazine posted the first three chapters of The Walking Dead: Road to Woodbury HERE!
31 Days of Lessons Learned: Day Twenty Three
There’s a Fine Line Between Classic and Dated
From now until Halloween, my wife and I are watching horror movies every night to get in the spooky mood. I love horror movies, so this is definitely my favorite time of year. Tonight, we watched the original Carrie movie from 1976 starring Sissy Spacek, John Travolta, and the dude from Greatest American Hero (among others).
I’ve seen it on more than one occasion and I still like watching it, but this time around, I noticed a few things that just don’t jive these days. For starters, the opening girl’s changing room scene feels like a scene out of Porky’s. If you think about it, the actresses in that scene are all playing high school kids. Do you think a movie filmed these days would have a scene depicting a room full of naked high school kids? I don’t.
The clothing and the music also make this classic horror film feel pretty dated. So much so that all the scares and mayhem feel completely telegraphed with all the music cues.
The whole time I watched the movie, I just kept swaying between thinking Carrie was a classic or just another dated flick.
What I learned is that it’s just too close to call. I guess it’s a dated classic…
I guess that conflict is one of the reasons they’re remaking the movie…well, that and for another payday.
I just hope some of the other horror flicks I plan on watching in the next week don’t conflict me this much.