We here at GLAHW have met so many amazing and talented people out in the big wide world (you know, OFF the internets) and thought it was high-time we introduced them to you. Who knows? You may end up discovering a favorite new artist, photographer, writer, or all-around awesome human. This time around, Ken MacGregor will be talking to an author who may well be King of the Zombies, Joe McKinney. https://joemckinney.wordpress.com/
GLAHW: How long have you been writing? Professionally?
JOE McKINNEY: I’ve been writing since I was about twelve or thirteen, but I didn’t get serious about publishing until I was in my mid-thirties, right about the time my first daughter was born. I remember looking in on her in the nursery and thinking to myself that the world had suddenly gotten so much more complex. Up to that point I’d been a pretty carefree cop with little responsibility outside of day job. But suddenly I had all these new worries and anxieties rushing in at me. So I took out a pen and started writing, hoping to get my head around my new role as a father. I was a young policeman surrounded by worries, so I wrote a book about a young policeman surrounded by zombies. That was back in 2006, before the zombie craze started. The book, called Dead City, sold well, to date, just over 500,000 copies, and the publisher came back wanting more. I haven’t looked back.
GLAHW: What draws you to write horror?
JOE McKINNEY: I’ve had a love affair with horror since I was a kid. I really don’t know why. But I do know that most of the time, when I tell a story, it just comes out that way. I guess that’s the music that’s in me. I wish I could explain it, but I don’t know if that’s possible. The heart wants what it wants, and for me that’s the scary stuff.
GLAHW: Do the things you write ever make you laugh out loud or cringe? Both at once?
JOE McKINNEY: I have made myself laugh several times. And yeah, cringe too. I don’t know if I’ve had both at once, but that sounds like fun. Sometimes scenes are so much fun to write you can’t help but laugh. That’s one way to tell you’re getting it right.
GLAHW: Do you outline or are you more of a “pantser”?
JOE McKINNEY: I outline everything I write. Usually, by the time I’m done with a novel, my outline will have grown to 70 to 90 pages and include everything from plot structure to character sketches and dry runs on important scenes. Here’s the thing though. Outlines are living documents. If you get to a point in the story where you were convinced in the plotting stages that you were going to turn left, and you realize you have to turn right, go with it. Just tweak the outline from that point.
GLAHW: Tell us something interesting about you not related to your books.
JOE McKINNEY: Well, okay. Back in my street cop days I worked in the DWI Enforcement Division. I had to go to all these special schools and over the years racked up a fairly impressive resume of topics upon which I am a court-recognized expert. So, one day I was testifying in a DWI trial and the prosecutor starts rolling through my list of topics in which I am court recognized expert. The defense attorney got annoyed and interrupted. He told the judge: “Look, it’s obvious the officer has been to a lot of schools. We’re willing to allow that he’s an expert in intoxication.” The judge agreed, and I was declared an expert in intoxication. The jokes just write themselves, don’t they?
GLAHW: Has your fiction ever upset someone in your family? Your friends? If yes, how do you deal with that?
JOE McKINNEY: Oh, great question! My wife gets mad at me sometimes because she’ll be reading one of my new releases and she’ll come to a scene and go, “Hey, I told you that!” Luckily, she never stays mad at me. Good thing for me too, because she’s my muse.
GLAHW: You bring a wealth of police-related experience to your books. Do you ever re-enact actual crimes in your fiction?
JOE McKINNEY: My department has very specific and rigid rules about writing for publication. You are not allowed to write about cases you have been personally involved in or cases that have yet to be adjudicated. Believe me, that makes things very difficult for me on Facebook, especially with people asking me to comment on the various stories that make it to the center stage of the current political landscape. Some people hear that, and they scream censorship. I don’t agree, though. For me, there’s an uncrossable line of trust that you deal with when handling an investigation. Imagine being a victim of a horrific rape. You work up the courage necessary to report it, to subject yourself to the countless interviews and the shame and outrage and trauma of telling your story to a stranger. You open yourself up, you lay it all on the line. And after all of that, you read your thinly veiled horror in some hack’s story in a magazine somewhere. That’s a line I will never cross, and I trust I will never violate.
GLAHW: If you could be one of your characters for a day, who would it be and why?
JOE McKINNEY: Jeff Stavers, from Apocalypse of the Dead. He spends the first day of the zombie apocalypse on a fully loaded RV filled with A list porn stars. That boy, for that day anyway, has got it good.
GLAHW: If you had to give up writing, what’s your second career choice?
JOE McKINNEY: Chef. I’m actually pretty darn good in the kitchen.
GLAHW: How often do you write? Do you have a daily word-count goal?
JOE McKINNEY: I write everyday. My word goal is 1,500 words. If I can do more, I do. If I do less, I try to make it up to myself the next day. Rare are the days I fail to make that goal.
GLAHW: What’s your favorite flavor of ice cream?
JOE McKINNEY: Blue Bell Butter Pecan. I like to sprinkle a little cinnamon on it, just to spice things up.
GLAHW: When you write, do you listen to music? If yes, what are some of your favorites?
JOE McKINNEY: I have to have the house completely silent when I write. Music is too much of a distraction. But, that said, I do love music. All kinds of music. I especially love old Country, though, like Merle Haggard and Waylon Jennings. I’m also a big Pink Floyd fan. And The Clash. Oh, and ‘80s pop music. Love the ‘80s!
GLAHW: Is there anything that scares you?
JOE McKINNEY: Snakes, yeah. Hate snakes. But surprisingly, and this happened only recently, but I’ve discovered that I am afraid of heights. As a kid, I loved rollercoasters. That slow climb up to the first big drop was always so exciting. Then, a few years ago, I took my oldest daughter to Fiesta Texas for her first rollercoaster. It was business as usual until we started that slow climb up to the top. I looked over the side and the long way down scared the ever-loving crap out of me.
GLAHW: What do you read for pleasure? Favorite authors? Recommendations?
JOE McKINNEY: Wow, this is a hard one. I’ve got so many favorites, and my answer to a question like this will probably change from day to day. I love, love, love James Lee Burke, John D. MacDonald, T.E.D. Klein, Ted Chiang, Connie Willis, James Thurber, John Dos Passos and Tennessee Williams, among countless others. But I will add that the one book I have read again and again, and in fact make a point to read every year, is Melville’s Moby Dick. That is my all time favorite book!
GLAHW: What do you think makes a good story?
JOE McKINNEY: Characters you can relate to engaged in situations that make you squirm. Character is key, though. Without that, no amount of plot is going to save you.
GLAHW: What’s the best piece of non-writing advice you’ve ever gotten?
JOE McKINNEY: Non-writing advice? Okay, that would have come from my dad as I was leaving for my first date. My dad told me, “Hear this very clearly. You are responsible for everything that happens to that girl from the moment she walks out her front door to the moment she walks back in it. You will be held accountable. Conduct yourself accordingly.”
Ken MacGregor’s work has appeared in dozens of anthologies and magazines. His story collection, “An Aberrant Mind” is available online and in select bookstores. Ken is a member of the Great Lakes Association of Horror Writers and an Affiliate member of HWA. He edits an annual horror-themed anthology for the former. He has also dabbled in TV, radio, movies and sketch comedy. Recently, he co-wrote a novel and is working on the sequel. Ken lives in Michigan with his family and two “domesticated” predators.