The following interview with Joe McKinney is courtesy of Market Scoops by D.L. Snell.
Joe McKinney is the author of the novels Dead City and Quarantined, and more than thirty short stories and novellas. He has a Masters Degree in English Literature from the University of Texas at San Antonio, and has worked as a homicide detective and as a disaster mitigation specialist for the San Antonio Police Department. He lives in Texas Hill Country north of San Antonio.
D.L. Snell: Hi, Joe! Thanks for joining us.
Joe McKinney: My pleasure, David. Thanks for having me.
DS: I think one of the most interesting things about your background is your day job. So, what is it that you do when you’re not writing?
JM: Well, up until a few days ago I was a homicide detective for the San Antonio Police Department, where I specialized in investigating vehicular homicides. (And yeah, vehicular homicide happens often enough that we have detectives who specialize in it. Go figure.) Before that, I was a member of the SAPD’s Critical Incident Management Team, where I helped coordinate San Antonio’s official response to natural and manmade disasters — everything from floods to building collapses to the mass evacuations of the Gulf Coast due to hurricanes, or train wrecks with hazardous materials spills. Several of my books, including Dead City and Quarantined, have had some sort of large scale natural disaster going on in the background, and much of the official response to those disasters was based on my training as a disaster mitigation specialist. I just got promoted to sergeant last week, so now I’m in charge of the 911 system for the San Antonio metropolitan area.
DS: I remember first seeing your name on the horror scene back in 2006. What are your literary achievements to date?
JM: The last few years have been kind to me. I’ve published three novels, edited a short story collection, and sold about sixty short stories and non-fiction articles. I’ve also joined the faculty of Gemini Ink, where I teach a course called Writing Modern Horror. Quarantined, my second book, was nominated for the HWA’s Bram Stoker Award for Best Novel in 2009. My third book, Dodging Bullets, was the debut publication for the Indie crime fiction publisher, Gutter Books. I’ve got two novels coming out for Bad Moon Books in 2011, and I’m finishing up the four part series that began with Dead City. The next book in that series, Apocalypse of the Dead, comes out November 2nd.
DS: In your first novel, Dead City, the main character is a police officer. How much of Joe McKinney is in that character? What would you do differently than him if you were facing a zombie apocalypse?
JM: Eddie Hudson was fun to write for a number of reasons, as he’s sort of an Everyman character. He’s a father, a husband, a well-meaning if not totally effective cop, and, let’s face it, far from the brightest bulb in the box. So, in that respect, I guess there’s a good amount of Joe McKinney in Eddie Hudson. I loved J.L. Bourne’s Day by Day Armageddon and Jonathan Maberry’s Patient Zero, but I didn’t want to write about a character who was a Billy Badass, like in those novels. I wanted to write about an average guy struggling to survive and reunite with the people he loves. The world has suddenly grown very complicated and Eddie Hudson is simply doing the best he can. He has little grasp of what’s going on in the big picture. All he knows is that the rug has been pulled out from underneath him and now he has to fall back on his limited resources. I’ve read a few reader responses on Amazon and other places where people seem to think this is a problem. I don’t see that. Quite the opposite, actually. Not everybody who wades into a zombie apocalypse is a Special Forces badass. If something like that really happened, an awful lot of us would feel like Eddie feels. We would muddle through, as Eddie does. That’s what I was trying to capture with Dead City, and I think it comes across pretty well.
And, in light of the second half of your question … what would any of us do, really? If we managed to avoid getting munched in the first few hours of a zombie apocalypse, we’d run for our families and go to ground, looking for shelter. I know that’s what I’d be doing.
DS: In your second novel, Quarantined – a finalist in the Bram Stoker Awards – you put some of your real-world knowledge to work. What would you do in the event of a bird flu pandemic? Or worse, what would do you if you were inside the quarantine?
JM: The really scary thing about a pandemic flu outbreak is how fast it spreads. Within weeks, maybe even less in our modern era of international flights, a particularly virulent strain of the flu could touch every corner of the planet. Generally, flu pandemics kill the very young and the very old. If you were to graph mortality by age groups, you’d get a sinkhole in the middle of the graph, where the 20- to 50-year-olds are. But a flu pandemic like the one in 1918 did just the opposite. Some bugs are just unpredictable, and that’s what makes the possibility of a flu pandemic so terrifying.
When I was with the Critical Incident Management Team one of the things we trained for but thankfully never had to implement was our response to one of these pandemics. How would we distribute vaccines? How would we handle the massive numbers of sick people? How would our own ranks be affected? None of the answers we came up with did the problem justice, I’m afraid.
And then came George W. Bush. I was listening to a speech of his one day, and I heard him suggest that it might become necessary to quarantine a major metropolitan area in order to prevent such a pandemic outbreak. The cop in me said, “Oh my God, what an incredibly stupid disaster that would be.” And then the horror writer in me said, “Oh my God, what a magnificent disaster that would be!” Quarantined jumped into my head nearly fully formed at that moment.
But you asked what I would do if it happened in real life. That, I’m afraid, I can’t answer truthfully. I just don’t know. I suspect my first instinct would be to send my family away as quickly as possible. Would I stay? I don’t know. I do have an awful lot of vacation time saved up…
DS: Speaking of the Bram Stoker Awards, I know many authors campaign to get their work into the hands of voters, the members of the Horror Writers Association (HWA). So, for all the writers out there, I’ve got to ask: what was the best way you found to get your book noticed by the HWA?
JM: You know, I’ve seen writers do all kinds of things, all kinds of shameless things, to garner votes. But what a good many of them fail to realize is that approach just makes you come across as a sleazy used car salesman. It’s hard to take writers seriously when they pander and plead for votes because, well, really, doesn’t it say something about the quality of the writing if they have to resort to those kinds of tactics?
But you do have to get people to notice you, and that’s the trick. The good stuff will usually rise to the top on its own merits, of course, but you can help it along by having your publisher mail out advance reader copies to HWA members and by making appearances at conventions, and by utilizing the HWA message board and internet mailer. Back when I was doing the publicity for Quarantined, I did a combination of all those things. I also hit Shocklines and advertised in the HWA newsletter that I could send electronic and print review copies of the book to interested members. There are other ways too, but the main thing is to have some dignity about it. Shameless self-promoters may get a smattering of votes during the general recommendation period, but that won’t help them make the final ballot. For that, the work will have to stand on its own two feet.
DS: Also for the writers out there, what is the best advice you can give for landing a novel deal over at Kensington, or any big market for that matter?
JM: On the one hand, that question is pretty easy. On the other, well… You see, Kensington only reads submissions from agents, so the easy part of your answer is to get an agent and have them shop the novel to Kensington. But I suspect your question is hinging more on the other part, the substance. What kind of book is Kensington looking to buy? Well, horror with an X-Files-type mystery element always does well. So, too, do big action horror novels. Kensington is also fond of books that can turn into a series, like Jonathan Maberry’s Ghost Road Blues, or my Dead City series. Scalability is the name of the game with big publishers these days. Take it one book at a time, but keep yourself open for the potential to turn that one book into more books. This is a good time for Kensington. With Leisure circling the drain, Kensington is set to take over a good deal of their mass market audience.
Read the remainder of this interview on The Market Scoops website here: Joe McKinney Interview