Interview with Author Joe McKinney

Bec: Welcome to my blog, please start out by sharing a little bit about yourself:

Joe McKinney:  Thanks!  Okay, well, I’m a husband, a father, an author, and a police officer.  All of those things have come together to form my public persona as a horror writer.  They also define the directions I’ve chosen to pursue in my stories.  I draw on each to shape the stuff I write.  Those four sides of my personality form the nucleus of my themes, my characters, even the stories themselves.  I guess that pretty much describes me in a nutshell.

Bec: What first got you interested in writing?

JM:  I’ve been writing since I was twelve or thirteen.  I don’t really remember what made me decide to start writing stories, but once I did I found I loved it.  After that, writing became something I did every chance I got.  It’s an addiction, you know?  There’s a thrill that comes from completing a story, and especially a novel, that is unlike any other.

Bec: What are the worst struggles you think writers face, writing and marketing?

JM:  Marketing, by far.  Marketing, in fact, sucks.  There’s nothing I hate worse than getting on Facebook and reading yet another post from writers who sound like used car salesmen trying to put me in a lemon.  I cringe, then I get angry – or rather, resentful – because I know that, to a certain extent, marketing is necessary.  The trouble is that so many people are unable to do it tastefully.

Bec: Tell us about your book/s –

JM:  I’ve written quite a bit, though my most popular by far have been the four books that make up my Dead World series.  Zombies are hot right now, and of course the Dead World books are all about our undead du jour.  Dead CityApocalypse of the DeadFlesh Eaters, and the soon to be released Mutated, have all been very kind to me, and I’m grateful for the success they’ve brought me.  They are, in fact, putting my kids through college.  But they represent a very small part of my professional interests and endeavors.  I’ve worked in crime fiction, for example, turning out a novel, Dodging Bullets, and several dozen short stories.  I’ve also worked in fantasy and science fiction, such as with my novel Quarantined.  The fact is that I have a lot of paths still to try, and my future novels will hopefully showcase that.

Bec: Are you working on a sequel/s?

JM:  My next full length novel release is going to be the final book in the Dead World series.  It’s called Mutated.  It takes place eight years after the events described inApocalypse of the Dead and should tie up a lot of the loose ends left by earlier books in the series.  Of course, not all the loose ends will go away.  A writer has to keep a few cards close to the vest, just in case, but I think readers will feel rewarded for sticking with the series as long as they have.  And who knows, maybe, just maybe, I could do another Dead World novel after Mutated.  Like I said, I haven’t played all my cards.

Bec: What other projects are you working on or involved with?

JM:  For this year, my major products include a police procedural ghost story novel called The Charge, a zombie novella for Creeping Hemlock Press, a haunted house novella called Crooked House for Dark Regions Press, a werewolf novella that hasn’t found a home yet, and a zombie novel called Midnight Buffet.  In between I have several short stories, articles, blurbs and introductions to write, but those are the major fiction projects.  It should be a great, if not incredibly busy, year.

Bec: What’s your favorite color?

JM:  Green.  A deep forest green.

Bec: It’s midnight, and you’re starving! What would be your snack of choice?

JM:  A tomato and goat cheese omelet.  I make a damn good omelet.

Bec: Do you like to listen to music while you write or have complete silence?

JM:  Complete silence.  I’ve tried listening to music, but it just doesn’t work for me.  I have to have the house completely quiet, otherwise I find it hard to concentrate.

Bec: What genres do you most like to read/write?

JM:  My favorite genres to write are horror and crime.  To read?  Well, I read just about everything that catches my eye, though I love biographies and the anthropology of food most of all.

Bec: If you had the choice of riding a camel, elephant, or ostrich around town, which would it be?

JM:  Hmm, probably the elephant.  It’d be a bitch to park, but something tells me people would do their best to get out of your way.  Besides, camels spit and ostriches are a bit peckish.

Bec: Do you find writing a lonely profession?

JM:  Not at all.  My world has grown considerably since I started writing professionally.  I’m grateful for that.

Bec: If something was going to suck your brains out, which orifice would you prefer the procedure be done through?

JM:  My urethra, definitely.

Bec: What would you share with a beginning writer?

JM:  Treat writing like a business, because that’s what it is.  If you want to do this “for the love,” then go ahead and do whatever.  But if you want to make a living at writing, you need to treat it like a job.  You need to show up for work everyday.  You need to put in a solid day’s work.  You need to turn out a professional product with an eye on the fact that you’re only as good as the last thing you wrote.  The public has a short memory, and if you don’t bring your A game every time, chances are you won’t get a second chance.

Bec: Snot, blood, or vomit?

JM:  Blood is always nice, for a horror writer, but a good thriller has to have all three.  If you’re writing action the way it needs to be written, you really do need all three.

Bec: What do you wish someone would have told you when you first started your writing journey?

JM:  To be mindful of career architecture.  In many respects, our writing careers are beyond our control.  At least from a commercial standpoint.  Consider the dedicated short story writer whose first novel turns into a bestseller.  That writer will feel the pressure to turn out more novels along the same vein…perhaps even a sequel.  When I started out, that was me, the dedicated short story writer.  I had no intention of writing more novels.  I was happy cranking out stories that never went much further than the corner of my desk.  But when Dead City hit it big, I found myself suddenly branded as a zombie writer.  I didn’t, and still don’t, regret that.  I love zombies, and I’m both thrilled by, and imminently pleased with, the success I’ve had in that direction.  But I wish somebody had been there at the beginning to tell me how to space out short stories, novels, and articles.  The trick, for the commercial writer, at least, is to something out on a more or less regular basis.  And, if you want to know the truth, that something really should be a novel.  Novels do far better commercially than short stories.  Don’t get bogged down in all the offers to do short stories for anthologies.  Short stories are great, they keep you fresh, and interesting, but they won’t do anything to get your name out there.  That’s where novels really pay.

Bec: Do you think having other writers as friend is a good thing for your growth as a writer?

JM:  Absolutely, as long as they are also readers.  I don’t think much of people who don’t love books.  The key ingredient to good writing is good reading, and nothing promotes good reading like having other writers around you.  Trust me, if you don’t read, you won’t ever write anything worth reading.  Sorry.  That’s just the way it is.  Surround yourself with readers, and you will find your writing improving by leaps and bounds.

Bec: What’s your favorite book? Why?

JM:  This is one of those questions that I will answer differently on Tuesday than I do on Wednesday.  Or Thursday.  Or…but you get the idea.  I’m protean on this subject.  However, I can point to the two books that have had the most influence on me as a writer.  They are Nightshift, by Stephen King, and The October Country, by Ray Bradbury.  It’s perhaps no accident that both are short story collections.  I was attracted early to the short story, and when I started writing, it was natural for me to turn to that genre.  Even today, after I’ve written a number of novels and gotten to the point that I can support myself and my family on the sales of those novels, I still gravitate to the short story.  There is a magic there that I first encountered in Nightshift and The October Country, and that I keep trying to recapture.  I think that is why those books deserve my nod for absolute favorites.

Bec: Who’s your favorite author? Why?

JM:  There’s a famous saying – and forgive me, I don’t know who said it – that there are two types of horror writers working today: those who were influenced by Stephen King, and those who are lying when they say they weren’t influenced by Stephen King.  It’s certainly true of me that Stephen King was my biggest influence…but is he my favorite writer?  Hardly.  My favorite, by a long country mile, is Charles Dickens.  I would also put John McPhee, Philip K. Dick, Cordwainer Smith, Algernon Blackwood, and others up there pretty close to the top, but Dickens owns the top rung on my ladder.

Bec: Is there anything you would like to share that I haven’t asked you about?

JM:  Yes: I love cheese, good booze, and a huge grilled ribeye steak slathered in melted butter and sprinkled lightly with chopped parsley.

Bec: Thank you for stopping by and sharing! Best of luck with your book and future projects!

JM:  Thanks, Bec!  I had fun.


©Rebecca Besser & Joe McKinney, 2012. All rights reserved.


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