Vampire author Brian McKinley is promoting his latest novel “Drawing Dead”, and he very kindly granted me a wonderful little interview. There are some great insights into the writer’s journey, particularly useful if you are considering writing a horror short story for Twisted:50.
Cristina Palmer Romero: You are about to publish a new book, is it part of the "Order Saga"?
Brian McKinley: Technically, yes. The Order Saga is a catch-all term for my world and all the works set inside it.
CPR: Can you tell us a little bit about it?
BM: Drawing Dead is about Faolan O’Connor, who is a NY gangster in the 30s that gets recruited into a society of vampires called The Order. During the course of several years, as he fights his way up the ranks, he reawakens a basic humanity within himself. Naturally, this new consciousness isn’t necessarily a benefit in a ruthless battle for control.
CPR: How long has it taken you to write this novel?
BM: I started work on this novel back in 2005. It’s gone through a number of iterations and, to be fair, there have been several years in there when I wasn’t working on it at all. But it’s been a good several years in the writing. I finished it and got it accepted by PDMI in early 2013, which is a little lesson in how long real publishing can take.
CPR: In terms of your first novel, how long were you writing for before you found a publisher?
BM: Wow, I’ve been writing all my life. I wrote screenplays with friends throughout the 90s and even got an agent for one, but I switched to novels in the early 2000s. Wrote my first novel in 2003 and shopped that around for years. I got it accepted by one publisher who went out of business before releasing it, then I got sucked by a con artist pretending to be a small press publisher, and finally got it picked up by another small press that fell apart. I didn’t get my current publisher until Drawing Dead was finished. And by finished, I mean that I had professional editors look it over before I submitted it.
CPR: Do you think writer's today need an agent to represent their work?
BM: Sadly, my experience has been that it’s harder to get an agent than it is to get a publisher. It’s become so exclusive that I recommend that new authors just get their books out there and sell them. If you get big enough, the agents will approach you. Honestly, you don’t tend to need an agent anymore until you’re dealing with a Big 5 publisher.
CPR: You write short stories as well, I believe. What do you prefer? A short story or the long haul of a novel?
BM: I’m a terrible short story writer. Most of mine are excerpts from novels that were able to stand alone. Almost all of my ideas turn into novels and series. I can’t ever seem to dream small.
CPR: In your previous interviews you have talked of receiving rejections and a certain amount of silence. How do you deal with this?
BM: It used to bother me, but I just learned to expect it. Most of your early career is going to consist of getting rejected, so you have to plan on it. That way you can be pleasantly surprised when some acceptance comes through.
CPR: Prior to having a publisher, did you have friends who would read and feedback on your writing? It can be hard for writers to get constructive feedback from friends and family, how did you get around this?
BM: I don’t know that I ever really have! Lol! I begged and guilted my friends into reading my stuff just like every writer tends to, but what saved me was my critique group. I’ve gone through many, and you have to make sure you’re in the right group, because the wrong group can do more harm than good. I managed to find a good group who read through Drawing Dead and gave me a lot of criticism on it. The biggest problem is that friends and family really won’t give a writer the criticism they need—for that you need other writers who are willing to be brutally honest because they expect the same from you.
CPR: I have read that you approach writing like a chore, I can empathise with that. How do you get around that? Can you tell me more about your writing practice?
BM: Again, I’m not really sure that I have found a way around it. I still don’t write as often as I should. Mostly, I just have to find a day that I have time and decide that I’m going to get some writing done that day. Sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn’t. Facebook has cost me many a day’s work, I can tell you that!
CPR: There are so many vampire, monsters and werewolf stories out there now. What advice would you give to writers who are writing horror and who are trying to come up with original ideas?
BM: I would advise them to worry less about original ideas and more about good ideas and, even more importantly, good characters. An original twist on an old idea can be more intriguing to readers than something they have truly never seen before. In the end, you have to tell the story that you want to tell, the story that you’d want to read. I’ve seen wonderful ideas executed terribly and terrible ideas written brilliantly, so have faith in your personal vision. However, in actual answer to your question: when it comes to horror, look to the past. There are dozens of cultural, folkloric, and mythological monsters that have rarely if ever been used in a story. If it intrigues you, you can make it intrigue a reader.
CPR: Why do you think people like vampire stories so much?
BM: I’ve always maintained that the vampire is the most flexible, most human monster that we have. Vampires can be anything nowadays, and their strength has always been their symbolism. There’s a vampire out there for every taste: horrifying vamps, sexy vamps, funny vamps, tragic vamps, animalistic vamps, and genius vamps.
CPR: And horror, why do think it is a popular genre?
BM: Really, I think that old-school horror has fallen by the wayside in fiction. Movies can still pull it off because of their visual element, but most books that would have been horror are now Supernatural, Thriller, or Paranormal. Even Stephen King doesn’t seem to write straight horror anymore. The Shining was horror, but Doctor Sleep was a drama/thriller with paranormal elements.
CPR: Why do you love vampires?
BM: Part of it is what I mentioned in my other answer about them. Other than that, I think it might be simple romanticism. Vampires are the one “monster” that I could actually imagine wanting to be.
CPR: Do you think you have a blood fetish really?
BM: Not at all. In my regular life, blood does nothing for me.
CPR: I understand Anne Rice to have inspired you when you were younger. Do you think men and women approach horror differently? When they create it? And when they consume it?
BM: I do. Aside from a few notable exceptions, horror was a primarily male-oriented genre until recently. The first big-name female horror author I remember growing up was V.C. Andrews and her stories always revolved around families, abuse, and incest. Even today it still seems that female authors and readers skew heavily toward sex and romance while male authors explore every imaginable theme. Granted, that’s not true in every case, but I definitely notice that men and women seem to have different goals in mind when they set out to tell a story. I’d really like to see more female authors break away from those stereotypes, but I wonder how much of that is cultural conditioning and how much might be innate. That said, I’m no expert in the horror genre, since I don’t really even consider what I write to be horror. I plot my books as thrillers that just happen to have paranormal characters.
Big thanks to Brian for sharing his thoughts.
More author interviews to follow, watch this blog…