Sunday, December 23, 2012

In the mind of Award Winning Author Joe McKinney

Joe McKinney Interview with Mark Tufo

Thank you very much for taking the time to join us Joe.

1. Are you still working as a sergeant with the San Antonio Police Department?

Thanks so much for having me. It’s a pleasure to be here. Yes, I’m still a sergeant in the SAPD, and have been for about two years now. The writing career has been going well enough for the last few years that I could support my family on just that, but I love being a cop too much to quit. In the fifteen years I’ve been on the job I’ve done just about everything. I’ve been regular old patrolman, a disaster mitigation expert, a homicide detective, I’ve run the 911 Call Center, and I’ve been a Patrol Commander, which is what I do now. I love it!

2. Out of everything you have written who is your favorite character and why?

I’d have to say Lily Harris, from Quarantined. Stephen King has a quote (and I’m paraphrasing here) that goes something like: “For every novelist – and hopefully it comes early in their career – there is a book that forces the writer to work above and beyond what they thought they were capable of. Those are the books that make you grow as a writer.” I believe that’s true, every word of it, because that was what happened to me while writing Quarantined. I had used women characters before, obviously, but I’d never attempted to carry a novel length first person narrative in a woman’s voice. Being true to her character forced me to focus on every word. I learned a lot about my craft from writing Lily, and for that reason she’ll always be my favorite.

3. How in the world do you find time to write with a full time schedule, wife, kids, writing workshops, well you get the idea?

It’s not easy, that’s for sure. It seems like every day there’s something going on, be it Girl Scouts or basketball practice or one of my speaking engagements or something for my wife’s work (she’s a college English professor). The calendar on my iPhone looks like a pinball machine going full tilt. But I wouldn’t have it any other way. And really, I owe my writing method to that busy schedule. I learned early on that I would only have a few stolen moments out of every day to write, and that if I was going to do it I’d need to be organized about it. That’s why I started outlining everything I do before I start writing. My outlines for novels can run as long as 90 pages, and are usually detailed enough that I could write chapter 3 today and chapter 16 tomorrow and chapter 9 the next. It works for me.

4. What is your favorite form of social media to keep your fans up to date?

Facebook, definitely. Twitter is cool too, but Facebook is my favorite. I’m on Facebook as Joe McKinney (I’m the writer, not the Irish actor famous for his Guinness commercials) and on Twitter as @JoeMcKinney.

5. Out of all your book covers, which is your favorite?

Up until a few weeks ago I would have told you Flesh Eaters. I love that Megan Fox looking girl zombie on the cover. She’s sexy and scary at the same time. But now I really like the cover to my haunted house novel from Dark Regions Press called CROOKED HOUSE. This is what it looks like:

Wayne Miller and I talked about what I wanted for the cover and this is what he came up with. I am over the moon about it. The fangs really stand out and make it seem so incredibly menacing.

6. You have two new books coming out. Crooked House and Inheritance both look excellent are either based on your old trick or treating grounds?

Actually, yeah! Funny you should ask. Both are ghost stories, but very different from each other. Inheritance is a police procedural. It’s about a young police officer named Paul Henninger who celebrated his eighteenth birthday by killing his father in self-defense. Six years later, he’s a policeman learning the ropes on San Antonio’s East Side. But then the ghost of his father returns, hell bent on passing on the black magic he perfected in life to Paul. That is Paul’s inheritance, a gift he most certainly doesn’t want, but can’t avoid either. But Paul has other problems, for his father is murdering everyone stuck in his path, and the murders keep pointing back to Paul.

Writing INHERITANCE I got to cover a lot of familiar ground. Paul’s experiences on the job mirror my own education as a young police officer. I remember how wild it was back then, when I was first starting out. Every night I was getting into fights and foot chases and car chases. I was handling crazy calls from the public, and at the same time building some of the best friendships of my life. I put all that into Paul’s narrative. But there’s a parallel narrative running through the book. There’s a Homicide detective named Keith Anderson hot on Paul’s heels. Anderson is older, a little worn down and overworked. He’s tired, but he’s also relentless, and damn good at what he does. His world comes from the world I lived in during my Homicide days. But there’s another “old stomping grounds” in the novel as well: the many scenes of Paul’s old family house in the Texas Hill Country north of San Antonio. I spent a good many years out there, living amongst the horses and peach orchards, and so that part of the novel was a real joy to visit again.

CROOKED HOUSE is a haunted house story, but of a different world than INHERITANCE. I did my undergraduate work at Trinity University in San Antonio. Trinity is set in the middle of the Monte Vista neighborhood, which, during the late 1800s and up through Prohibition, was where San Antonio’s wealthiest people lived. There are sprawling mansions just a few blocks from where I went to school that take the breath away. Trinity in fact owns quite a few of those mansions, and from time to time, as an incentive to lure some distinguished professor from another university, they offer one of these mansions as part of their hiring package. That was the premise I started with. Well, that, and a baseball bat.

First, let me tell you about the bat. A lot of serial killers keep mementos of their kills, some little trinket that enables them to relive the thrill of the kill. For me, every book is memorialized on the shelves of my office by some little trinket that was significant to me at the time I was writing it. While I was writing Dead City, for instance, the wallet the police department issued me at my graduation from the Academy (the one that holds my ID and all my other stuff I need to present while off-duty to prove I’m really a cop) fell apart. Literally, it fell apart. But I kept it for some reason, and it sits to this day on a shelf about three feet from my desk. Anybody who’s read Dead City will probably remember the scene where Eddie Hudson takes out his police wallet and looks at the picture of his newborn son he’s put over his official police ID. My oldest child’s baby picture rests in the same place in my wallet.

While I was writing Crooked House, the object that stayed by my side night after night was a Louisville Slugger baseball bat I used while playing baseball for Trinity University. I’ve loved baseball my entire life, and I’ve played it in one form or another, from Little League all the way through college. Recently my unit in the police department formed a softball team, and of course I joined. I took my favorite bat out of storage and kept it next to my desk in my office. Using it again, I got the inspiration for one of the characters in Crooked House and the bat figures in a big way in the book’s ending.

So I had a main character, but no house to haunt. That’s where the second source of inspiration came in. The living characters in Crooked House all work for Lightner University in San Antonio, which is loosely based on Trinity University, where I went to school. Trinity is surrounded by one of San Antonio’s oldest and wealthiest neighborhoods, Monte Vista. And Trinity owns quite a few of the homes close to campus. They tend to give these to distinguished professors as part of their hiring package. I was visiting campus just after you approached me about doing a book for Dark Regions Press, and I happened to see one of the homes owned by Trinity. It was an enormous fourteen-room mansion built in the style of a Tuscan farm, you know, the kind you’d expect to see surrounded by vineyards. Well, the house next door was an equally fancy Mediterranean style villa. I looked from house to house, wondering what they’d look like sandwiched together, and that’s when the idea for Crooked House popped into my head. It was a weird experience, because the entire novel really did pop into my head at that moment. The setup, the big finish at the end, all of it. Just like that. And it all came from my old stomping grounds back in my undergraduate days.

7. With your background have you ever considered doing a who done it series?

Already done, in fact! I’ve already done the murder mystery several times (Quarantined, Dodging Bullets, and most recently Inheritance) but I’ve also got the first novel written in an ongoing police procedural series written. It’ll follow a female Homicide detective who gets regular help from a mysterious man who may or may not have been a spy in his former life. I’m hoping the series will come across as successful blending of the sexual tension on Castle and the gritty, hard-edged realism of Michael Connelly’s Harry Bosch books.

8. How is your home office decorated?

This is where the magic happens!

You can’t see it in this picture but the wall to the left (the one directly across from my desk) is one solid bookshelf sagging under piles of horror books. Plus, there’s usually a cat sleeping on the arm of the chair to the left and a dog sleeping under the desk.

There’s a passage in Edmund Spenser’s The Faerie Queene where the Red Cross Knight has to fight a monster called Error. The scene sticks in my memory because Error distinguishes herself by spewing books and pamphlets containing heresy. Imagine that, a monster that pukes books! Kind of looks like what happened to my office.

9. With the poor economy throughout the world right now do you feel that an apocalyptic event could take place?

Unfortunately, yes. Look at the riots in Greece and France, and in the Middle East, and in West Africa, and in Pakistan and India. I don’t know if our world is any closer to complete anarchy than we’ve ever been in the past, or whether TV just allows us to notice it, but things are pretty scary. Thinking of what the world will look like 30 years from now terrifies me. I have two young daughters who will be living in that world. I can only hope that things settle down a little by then, but something tells me that they probably won’t.

Realistically, I think that’s the most likely form an apocalyptic event would take, mass rioting. With economic collapse, rioting would be inevitable, and we certainly seem to be heading toward a major economic event. I’ve got my fingers crossed, but my shotgun loaded just the same.

10. Are there any new authors that have caught your attention and why?

Quite a few, actually. In the last two years or so I’ve started watching John Palisano (his novel NERVES is amazing), Brad C. Hodson (his novel DARLING scared the crap out of me), Pete Giglio (who writes the short novel so well he stands up to the likes of masters like T.E.D. Klein and Dan Simmons) and Nate Southard (whose writing reminds me an awful lot of Richard Matheson). There are more, but those come immediately to mind. Also, there’s this guy named Mark Tufo who writes a damn good zombie story, but you don’t want to hear about that…

11. What is the one question you wish someone would ask you and the answer.

Q: How would you like your steak?

A: Medium rare, please!

…or maybe…

Q: Honey, can I bring you a beer?

A: Yes please!


Q: (From my publisher) Will there be any more books in the Dead World Series?

A: Yes! Two more, in fact.

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  1. Thank you Sgt. McKinney for taking the time to be interviewed, and thank you Mark for doing it. Sgt. McKinney, love your work! San Antonio, the city of my not a great place to be for the apocalypse. lol Prior military and law enforcement here also, thank you for your service. Keep up the good work!

  2. Joe you are fantastic writer & I love all of your work! I can't wait to read the future works as well! Thank you for taking the time to share w/us some more info about you & how that brilliant mind works! also thank you for taking the time to be in our Zombie Book of the Month club as well! we are honored to have you w/us!