Monday, September 28, 2015

Gangsters and Vampires: A Chat With Brian McKinley

Today I'd like to introduce you to Brian McKinley, an author from New Jersey who's written a novel with an interesting take on the vampire genre.

In Drawing Dead the world of the gangster is written very well. The two worlds (gangster and vampire) merge seamlessly. Had you done a lot of research on the gangster culture of the time?
Thank you, first of all. To answer: yes. I’ve always been a fan of gangster movies and novels, and had wanted to write a gangster movie about the 20s/30s that was more reality-based and factual than most were. Faolan was actually going to be the main character in that story as a human mobster.

Which came first: The desire to write a vampire novel using gangsters or a gangster novel using vampires? In other words, were the two separate interests that merged or did one inspire research on the other?
Well, Faolan began as the antagonist of another novel called The Chermasu and, the more scenes with him that I wrote, the more I liked him and didn’t want to kill him off. So I started changing the plot to allow him to live, but that still wasn’t quite enough. Then a friend of mine suggested that I write a novel about Faolan and I decided that I wanted to start from the beginning. That started the idea of making a series about his rise to power. So I suppose the vampire came first, but the attraction of telling Faolan’s story lay in his gangster roots.

When/how did you become interested in vampires?
Wow, probably back when I was very young. I used to watch the classic Universal movies on TV and loved them (though at the time my favorite was Frankenstein’s Monster). I don’t think it was until I read Interview with the Vampire in high school that the idea of a vampire protagonist really hit me. I still didn’t start writing about vampires for many years later, when I started being inspired to use some of my roleplaying characters in my fiction.

In terms of the genre, what book do you consider over rated and what book do you think should have more popularity?
I’m going to avoid the obvious Twilight, because that’s too easy. I actually don’t think that much of Dracula as a novel, considering the cultural impact that it’s had. The characters are iconic, but the book itself is badly-paced and episodic. As for which book I think should be more popular (aside from my own!)...

Who are some of your favorite authors?
George R.R. Martin, Jim Butcher, P.N. Elrod, Stephen King, Anne Rice, and Thomas Harris.

When/how did the writing bug bite you?
I remember writing stories for my grandparents from the time that I could put sentences together. I always loved making up stories and creating worlds.

Anyone else in your family interested in writing?
Not really. I have a few relatives who read, but I seem to be a bit of a rarity.

You have in the past mentioned your battles with depression. Can you explain how this has affected your writing (alternatively, if writing has helped with the depression)?
It’s definitely effected my writing, but mostly as a detriment. My depressive episodes tend to sap my energy, focus, and motivation, so I might think about my story, but I don’t get any writing done. Occasionally, I’ve managed to force myself to write while depressed and I usually feel better afterwards, but that never makes it easier to get started.

Would you ever try writing outside the vampire genre?
Absolutely. I started off writing psychological thrillers, but I’ve always had an interest in historical fiction as well as sci-fi. I have an idea for a sci-fi series, but I’ve been sticking with the vampire books for the moment because I feel like I need to establish myself in one genre before expanding into others.

Is Drawing Dead the first book in a continuing series or only one in a set number of sequels planned?
As I mentioned, I plan it as the first in a series that will span the 20th Century and up to the present with each book taking place in a different decade. I want to try to reflect what’s happening in America with what’s happening with the characters.

What is Drawing Dead about?
In essence, it’s about a terrible human being who, by turning into a “monster”, actually becomes a better person. That’s contrasted by his quest to be a success in the vampire society, despite tremendous odds against him.

You have another novel out there, don’t you? What's the title and plot of that one?
Well, Ancient Blood is only out there as an audiobook currently, but I’m planning to re-release that one. AB takes place in the same universe as Drawing Dead, but in the modern day. It’s the story of Avery, a vampire fanboy who becomes a real vampire, and is forced to deal with the ruling council and their politics.

Do you have any sort of routine for when you write: Favorite music you listen to, a particular time you prefer to write?
I try to make myself write whenever I have time, but it seems to work best if I isolate myself away from TV or the internet. I do a lot of writing in restaurants, especially a truck stop near me that has a good buffet and no internet. I also like music and I tend to create playlists for different characters that help me get into their headspace. I don’t have any real writing rituals, though.

What are some of your favorites in books, movies and TV?
I’m watching a lot more TV shows than I used to, since it seems like the quality of cable and even network dramas are improving. "Penny Dreadful," "Game of Thrones," "Hannibal," "Walking Dead," "Rome," "Boardwalk Empire," "Blacklist," and all those CW super-hero shows. Most of my favorite movies are older now, things like "Goodfellas," "The Godfather," "Silence of the Lambs," "Princess Bride," "Young Frankenstein," "Pulp Fiction," and such, but I like a lot of the new Marvel movies, too.

Have you ever written anything that afterward surprised you? Perhaps after a reading it you recognized a hidden subtext that you didn’t realize was there?
I can’t really think of anything, because I tend to obsess and struggle over every scene as I write it so everything in there is usually deliberate. However, I have still been surprised sometimes by things that other people will see in my writing. Sometimes I see what they mean afterwards and sometimes it baffles me because it wasn’t at all what I intended.

Who would you like to see play the characters in a movie.
Is it ridiculous that I think about that stuff a lot? It’s kind of a difficult decision because I know enough about the movie business to understand that who I’d want and who would actually be possible to cast are very different. A lot of the actors I originally pictured in these roles are now way too old to be appropriate. Then there are certain actors who might perfectly capture the essence of a character but not look anything like what I describe in my novel. I may open this up as a contest in the future and see what others think.

What do you like best and like least about the marketing process?
You’re kidding, right? I enjoy doing interviews like this and talking casually about my work, but I absolutely hate trying to “sell” it. Even though I believe in what I’ve done completely, I’d much rather have other people say good things about it. I’ve still never done any sort of ad or post about my books that didn’t make me feel a little cheesy.

Any future projects you can tell us about?
Sure. Right now I’m working on the sequel to Drawing Dead which will probably be called Drawing Thin. I’ve got a bunch of pages written for the sequel to Ancient Blood, but I still have the second half of that to write. I’d also like to revisit The Chermasu and try to make that work.

Friday, September 4, 2015

A Trip to the Stars with Jex Collyer

Today I'd like to feature an author from England whose first novel has gotten some great reviews. Zero by Jex Collyer was released Aug. 15, 2014. The sequel, Haven, is due out Oct. 24.

Where are you from?

I grew up in Shropshire in the midlands but now live in Lancaster in the North West.

When did the writing bug hit you?

I’ve been scribbling stories since I was old enough to hold a pencil. I used to fold paper in half and staple it together to make books and wrote stories about trolls and pirates. When I started my Creative Writing degrees was when I first started getting serious about learning to write and being determined to get somewhere with it.

Do you have any authors or works that inspired you?

My biggest influences were actually fantasy writers and anime series from the nineties. Robin Hobb, fantasy author of the "Farseer Series," showed me exactly what sort of fiction I wanted to write: character-driven, emotive and epic but with buckets of other-worldliness. I also grew up with "Star Wars" and watching Japanese TV shows and movies like "Akira" and "Patlabore": these had a big influence on the style of setting and story types I enjoy.

Had you published prior to Zero: An Orbit Novel?

I have had a few short stories published in various anthologies, including Dagda Publishing’s Tuned to a Dead Channel and All Hail the New Flesh. My short stories tend to be science fiction, though I have had a horror story published in online E-Zine ‘Sirens’ Call’ also.

Zero is a science fiction novel. Is that the genre you feel more comfortable writing in?

Absolutely. I veered hither and yon with genre when I was doing my degrees. I tried literary, supernatural, general, horror. Secretly, I always thought I’d end up writing fantasy like my hero Robin Hobb. I even planned and started a fantasy novel. But then I was given a deadline for Zero and it brought roaring back everything I loved about "Star Wars" and the anime I grew up with. Never say never but I strongly suspect it will be SciFi and SpecFic from here on in.

Would you ever try anything outside that genre?

If I got an idea that just had to be done I probably would. Not many story ideas come to me these days that don’t have a scifi setting or element to them. My other great author hero apart from Robin Hobb, however, is Anne Rice. Old-style, decadent vampire fiction will always by a guilty pleasure of mine and I may have to try my hand at it one day.

What is the plot of your Zero?

Zero is set in the not-too-distant future of our own world and follows the story of Kaleb Hugo, a conservative, well-born soldier who holds a high rank in the Orbit-wide military establishment known as The Service. He is publicly disgraced after disobeying orders but is secretly re-assigned to captain the Zero – an undercover vessel engaged in smuggling and espionage charged with feeding underworld intelligence to the Service. He sees it has a demotion, especially after meeting the rag-tag crew he is to captain who look to their sardonic and wry commander, Ezekiel Webb, for leadership. But together they stumble into Orbit-wide conspiracies and revolutionary threats. Hugo will have to decide which side he’s on to prevent disaster. 

Zero is part of a series. What’s the title of the sequel and when is that due out?

Book 2 in the Orbit Series is called Haven and is released this October on the 24th.  The advance copies have gone out to a few reviewers already and feedback so far has been good. It continues the story of Hugo and how he deals with the aftermath of the events in book 1.

What if anything inspired the Zero?

I think my biggest influence for the setting was an Japanese anime TV series called "Gundam Wing" that was on in the nineties. However, the characters and narrative are inspired by a hundred different things I’ve read, watched or listened to. A lot of people draw comparisons to "Firefly", but I have never actually watched it. Given its premise and popularity, however, I certainly don’t  mind this comparison.

I really like the cover for Zero (and what I’ve seen of the follow up, Haven). Did you have any input on the artwork for the cover?

I was lucky enough to choose my own cover artist and was able to confer with him directly on the art, but it was all down to his talent. His name is Matt Davis and he works for Rock and Hill Studio. You can find his company online and he is well worth investing in. He’s doing the art for the next two books too.

Do you have a particular writing routine that you stick to? Perhaps you prefer to write at night, or you outline the book before writing it, etc.?

I have a full-time job so I have to be pretty strict with my writing routine to ensure I meet deadlines. I usually write after work, every day, for a few hours, but I prefer sinking bigger chunks of time into it. I take time off my day job as regularly as I can and often go away for a long weekend at a B & B to make a decent amount of progress on whatever project I’m working on. I always outline a book before I write it. I embellish and deviate from the plans usually, but I have to know where a plot is going before I start writing it.

Were other members of your family interested in writing?

My mum is a big reader – I got my love of fiction from her. My brother reads a lot too, and is creative in other ways, but I’m the only writer in the family. 

Have you ever written anything that, once you were done, sort of took you by surprise? For example, as you were writing you didn’t realize there was a subtext there that you caught later?

I’ve often written things that have surprised me with the direction they’ve taken. I always have an idea about what sort of thing I want to write and where I want it to go, but I often find the characters surprise me as I discover more about them by putting them in different situations. Sometimes they reveal significances about themselves that it never previously occurred to me they would have. I can’t say a subtext has ever taken me by surprise, but readers may find ones in there yet that I didn’t realise were there.

What are some of the books considered classic that you like?

I steered clear of classics for a long time. I was often bored, intimidated or mystified by them and didn’t find them an enjoyable experience growing up. However, I have continued to explore in the name of informing and improving my own writing and have since discovered that I love Wuthering Heights, Gone With the Wind, Rebecca  and To Kill a Mockingbird. It has proved to me that you should never write anything off in fiction: you never know what you might end up falling in love with.

Do you have any favorite music that inspires you or that you listen to while you write? 

I listen to a lot of film soundtracks when I write. I find they are great for producing emotion and mental images of action and drama so I find them very inspiring. My favourites are "Lord of the Rings," "300" and the "Troy" soundtracks. I also have a favourite band,, that have a very SciFi feel and they, too, help me get ideas and generate mood.

What author (living or dead) would you love to meet?

I would love to meet my favourite authors Robin Hobb, fantasy writer who I’ve already spoken about and Anne Rice whose "Vampire Chronicles" had a major influence on me as a young reader.

Have you seen a marked difference in your writing since you started? Not necessarily in quality but perhaps direction? Do you perhaps approach it differently than you once did?

I approach it with more discipline and with a perhaps more sensible attitude than I used to. It used to be something I did just for fun and was all dreams and premise and plans. It’s still a hobby, and I love it, but it’s now something I’ve invested a lot of time, effort and money in to get to the point where it’s at. I’d now really like to see it go somewhere, so I’m sensible about making sure it gets the time, dedication and commitment it needs to get books written, promoted and sold.

As for direction, I still do it for the love of it and for the love of having people read my stories. That direction is still the same. It’s just now I feel like it’s actually starting to happen rather than just a distant dream.

Do you have any hobbies?
Apart from writing I love, probably predictably: reading, walking, going to gigs and listening to music.

What are some of your favorite TV and Movies (and have any helped inspire your writing)?

I’ve already mentioned some of the Japanese anime that had a big impact on me and still does to this day: "Gundam Wing" which was a SciFi TV series for teenage boys, "Akira", the classic dystopian 80s anime movie and "Patlabore" which is another post-apocalyptic futuristic Japanese SciFi. As far as current entertainment goes, I like anything I find well-written which has depth but I tend to get drawn to things that are Scifi, Fantasy of Supernatural. I do enjoy a good whodunit too. My favorites are "Supernatural", "Gotham", "The Mentalist", "Midsomer Murders", the "Alien" films, the "Predator" films…all pretty obvious choices probably!

Who would you like to see in a movie version of your novel?

I’ve thought about this a lot. What writer doesn’t? One of my favorite pastimes. But have yet to decide absolutely who would be best in the leading roles, though I’m leaning toward Idris Elba or Colin Farrel as the moody, conservative Hugo and Cylian Murphy as the sarcastic, wry-humoured Webb. Would also love to see Charlize Theron, Lena Headey, and Judi Dench in there too.

I have a friend who told me that marketing a book can be a full time gig in itself. I now know of course how right he was. Yet there are particulars to the marketing process that I happen to enjoy. Do you have any marketing tips to share with fellow authors? Also, are there aspects of marketing that you like and aspects that you really would rather not do?

Marketing is definitely a big job and works best with professional input and budget it too. Of course, not everyone has access to a professional marketing budget or manager, so it really is worth investing time in that which you can do yourself: set up a Twitter, a Facebook page and a Goodreads account. Get a blog too (I use wordpress) then sling content up and do it regularly. 

My biggest tip is don’t use these platforms to just say BUY MY BOOK. It won’t work and you look desperate when you probably aren’t. Put up book reviews, thoughts on the writing process, announcements, articles that interest you or advertise events you’re attending or support. I enjoy all these things, though they do take a lot of time. So be realistic about this: it needs to be done and it takes time and people will engage if you’re enthusiastic. My favourite form of marketing is attending conventions. I get tables at cons and SciFi festival and local comic days regularly to sell my books and meet new fans and readers. The personable approach is very effective and is also a lot more fun. Of course, this costs money and time. Again, be realistic.

I don’t mind doing any of the things I do (all of the above). I do wish I had more of a budget to invest in events, conventions and getting on booklists and websites, but going through an independent publisher means swings and roundabouts. I may not have a professional budget to sink into things at this stage, but having the control of my work that I do as well as the hands-on approach to marketing and the great support of an enthusiastic publisher more than make up for it.

Do you have any advice, words of wisdom, suggestions for other up and coming and authors? Also, was there anything that surprised you (positively and negatively) about the writing game once you were immersed in it?

The best piece of advice is: write. It may seem obvious but I’m constantly surprised by the amount of people I meet who want to be writers, but then don’t actually write anything. I understand in some ways: the idea of writing a whole novel is daunting. What if it’s no good? What if I run out of ideas? What if no one reads it? What if no one wants to publish it? These are understandable doubts, but they are not helpful. You squash them all buy just doing it. When you write and write and write, bang, surprise surprise: you have material. When you have material, you can then work with it, get advice, feedback and progress and BAM, you have a PRODUCT. This carries on forever: never stop wanting to get better but never stop going. This means you leave books, stories and readers and a growing audience in your wake.

The only thing that surprised me, and it was in an immeasurably pleasurable way, was that, good Lord, I could actually write a book. And, even better, that people enjoyed reading it. Having done that, I feel I could do anything.

Any links people can use to find information on you and your work?


My wordpress for publication and eventt reviews and announcements:
Booklist on Goodreads:

Look forward to connecting with anyone and everyone who likes fiction/scifi/writing!

Thanks Jex.