In our ongoing series THE BOOK THAT HOOKED YOU at the Lachesis Publishing Daily Blog we feature Q and As with established and successful authors who tell us about the books and authors they love as well as telling us about the books they are working on.
Today’s Q and A features Joe McKinney, the multi-talented and a Bram Stoker Award winning author (multiple times) of horror fiction, science fiction and crime thrillers. Joe McKinney is based in San Antonio where he is a sergeant for the San Antonio Police Department where he helps to run their 911 Dispatch Center. He has been a homicide detective and a disaster mitigation specialist.
JM: My gateway drug was Stewart Cowley’s SPACEWRECK. An absolutely beautiful book. Every page featured a full size colored painting of some eerie, abandoned spaceship. There was a two or three page short story to go with each painting, and I would spend hours going through them. I must have read that book a thousand times. I think I was seven when I first found that book, and after that I went into Robert Heinlein’s juveniles. My favorite of those was SPACE CADET.
JM: One big inspiration was Lee Thomas. We met at a convention in Dallas shortly after I published my first novel, and we’ve been friends ever since. Lee has been through just about joy and nightmare the publishing world can throw at an author, and he was a tremendous mentor. As to authors who inspired me, I’d have to point to Robert McCammon. His early works were amazing takes on classic horror tropes, like vampires and zombies and werewolves. But after that, he went into these fantastically lush novels like Boy’s Life and Swan Song that set the bar impossibly high. When I write, I push myself to try to be that good.
JM: You know, I think the genre finds you and not the other way around. It’s like water finding its own level. You end up in horror because you have to be there. I’m a pretty upbeat guy most of the time, and I try to have a great deal of fun in everything I do, but when I write, it just ends up going to dark places. I wish I could give you a better answer than that, but that’s about the size of it.
You’re a police supervisor in your “day job”. How does your very challenging police work impact your writing?
JM: Well, police work has colored my entire writing career. Not only because a lot of my characters tend to be cops, but also my approach to characters. In fact, I think it’s impossible to underestimate the influence it’s had on my writing. You can’t do this job without it changing you in a fundamental way. Maybe that’s where the dark stuff comes from.
JM: That’s easy. 14 by Peter Clines was an amazing science fiction adventure story with a crazy Lovecraftian turn at the end. A young man is looking for a cheap apartment in the heart of LA. He finds one, but after he moves in, finds one odd quark of the building after another. Any one of them wouldn’t amount to much, but when taken in their totality, they add up to a mystery with shades of a government conspiracy and cosmic horror. Trust me, one of the best times I’ve ever had between the covers of a book. I also loved The Martian by Andy Weir and Ready Player One by Earnest Cline.
What is the coolest thing a reader has ever said (or done) for you?
JM: I once wrote a magic typewriter story called “Writing for Exposure.” A fan of mine enjoyed it so much he found a 1939 Underwood typewriter, completely restored it, and sent it to me as a gift. It has a special place of honor on the shelf in my office.
The first time I won was for my novel Flesh Eaters. That’s the origin story for my zombie series, The Dead World. You can probably tell from what I’ve written above that I’m a huge Robert McCammon fan. Well, he was one of the presenters for the award, and when I went up to the stage to receive it, McCammon leaned in and whispered, “Great job, Joe. I love your book.” I nearly fainted right there. To this day, that remains one of my finest writing moments ever.
JM: The Dead Won’t Die is Book 2 in my new zombie series, The Deadlands. It’s been thirty years since the zombie apocalypse, and only little pockets of humanity have survived. One of those communities is a place called Arbella. Arbella has not only survived, but thrived, and now they are getting so big they need to expand. The trouble is, nobody knows what’s out there. So, one of the up and coming members of the community, First Deputy of the Constabulary Jacob Carlton, organizes an expedition to go explore the Deadlands. In the first book Jacob and his friend Kelly Banis barely survive their encounter with the nomadic communities that wander the Deadlands. They are rescued by a super advanced society called Temple. The Dead Won’t Die takes us into a vast conspiracy that is threatening to destroy Temple from the inside out. Fun stuff, with tons of zombie action thrown in to boot.
JM: I’m currently finishing up Book 3 in a series that I’m writing with Craig DiLouie and Stephen Knight. My installment is called Die Laughing. The series takes place in the present day, along the Eastern seaboard. A new disease called The Bug appears on the scene, and it turns its victims into unspeakably cruel and viscous killers. The disease victims are called Klowns because they cannot control their laughter. It’s how they process pain, both their own and their victims. A battalion of light infantry is in Boston when the series starts, tasked with protecting the populace. But they never had a chance, and now they are in full retreat. The first book was about getting out of Boston. The second book was about the rolling gunfight that got them to Philadelphia. That’s where I pick it up.
You’re a writer of horror and crime and sci-fi. What truly scares you?
JM: Well, snakes and heights. But those are just things that give me the creeps. When I think about things that truly terrify me, I think about Alzheimer’s disease. I watched my grandfather die of that, seeing his mind taken from him just scared me to death. Now that I’m older, the fear is even stronger.
Bonus: What is your “go-to” snack when you’re writing?
JM: Popcorn. Definitely popcorn.
Joe McKinney is the San Antonio-based author of several horror, crime and science fiction novels. His longer works include the four part Dead World series, made up of Dead City, Apocalypse of the Dead, Flesh Eaters and The Zombie King; the science fiction disaster tale, Quarantined, which was nominated for the Horror Writers Association’s Bram Stoker Award for superior achievement in a novel, 2009; and the crime novel, Dodging Bullets. His upcoming releases include the horror novels Lost Girl of the Lake, The Red Empire, The Charge and St. Rage. Joe has also worked as an editor, along with Michelle McCrary, on the zombie-themed anthology Dead Set, and with Mark Onspaugh on the abandoned building-themed anthology The Forsaken. His short stories and novellas have been published in more than thirty publications and anthologies.