Spotlight on Brian McKinley



Today’s special guest is Brian McKinley, author of the new ”vampire noir” (my term) Drawing Dead.   He’s also a lot of fun to interview,  and has been at Portals before.  Say hello again to Brian!

Q:Do things feel different now that “Drawing Dead” is in the world?

A:Right now, it all still feels slightly unreal. The book is both out-but-not-out, kind of like Schrödinger’s cat, in that it’s available for pre-order but no one is really reading it yet. No one can leave reviews on Amazon yet. I’m still waiting for the “opening weekend box office” to see if all these promotional efforts will pay off.


Q:What project are you currently working on?

A:Right now, I’m writing the sequel to Drawing Dead which is tentatively being called Drawing Thin. It will move the story along into the 1940s and deals with Faolan’s first real challenge to his new-found power as well as some problems in his personal life.


Q:What were some of your influences when coming up with the character of Faolan O’Connor?

A:That’s an interesting mix, actually. When I first created Faolan, he was an antagonist for a group of werewolves that I writing about. My original inspiration for him came from the Dennis Leary character in a movie called Judgement Night (which I wonder if anybody even remembers). I liked the combination of street-level rawness combined with humor that he had and I wanted something like that for my villain. Well, as time went on, I built up Faolan’s backstory and began using him as my character in roleplaying games and I added layers of Jimmy Cagney from The Public Enemy and Bogart from The Petrified Forrest since that was the time-period I wanted him to come from. As I wrote him, I found that he just took over the scenes he was in and, more and more, I didn’t want to lose him as a character. So, in draft after draft, he became less of a villain until I started to realize that he was being wasted in that story, since he now only had a peripheral part to play. Friends had been telling me that I should tell Faolan’s story and I finally decided to do that.

After that, Faolan began taking on all kinds of added layers: I went all the way back to classic characters like MacBeth, Sam Spade, Phillip Marlowe, Hammet’s Continental Operative, and Fleming’s original James Bond to see how they were written and the kind of traits they shared. Finally, to personalize him a bit, I added some elements that I remembered from my grandparents—figures of speech, mannerisms, interests, and attitudes. It still wound up being very difficult, truth be told, since I needed to take a potentially unsympathetic protagonist through a story that would change him without losing the rough elements that made him so interesting in the first place!


Q:What do you think sets your work apart from other dark fantasy or urban fantasy authors—Jim Butcher, for instance, if you’ve read him?

A:I love Jim Butcher, as a matter of fact! It’s difficult for me to analyze my own work compared to other authors, but I’d have to say that I don’t see quite as much grittiness and attention to the mundane in other authors’ series. I don’t know if that’s a good or bad thing! I think I like to pick apart the conventions and question why things work the way they do a bit more. I try to pay attention to the little details of life when I can.


Q:What do you like to do when you’re not writing?

A:I watch TV, mostly shows with good writing and supernatural elements like Penny Dreadful, Game of Thrones, and such. I also love to pretend to be a vampire in roleplaying games, because I’m a big dork at heart. I try to read, but I seem to have so little time for it anymore that I’ve fallen way behind on some of my favorite series.


Q:Do you listen to music when you write?  Any favorite bands/albums?

A:Yes I do. I try to create playlists with music that puts me in my character’s mindset, so I’ll use different music for different novels and characters. For Faolan, it’s a lot of Rolling Stones, Billy Joel, Frank Sinatra, Metallica, and other hard rock despite him being a product of the Jazz Age. Avery from Ancient Blood was lots of Weezer, The Offspring, Concrete Blonde, The Killers, Oingo Boingo Type-O Negative and other bands like that. However, when I was writing my female werewolf protagonist, I was listening to Evanescence, Carly Simon, ABBA, Miranda Sex Garden, and Blondie. For some reason, I find music to be a very important element of a character and a way into their headspace.


Q:What would you like your readers to know about you?

A:I’m single, reasonably attractive, and welcome sexually-explicit fan-mail.


Q:Do you have any particular goals you’d like to achieve, writing-wise?

A:Aside from NYT bestseller status? I’d like to get my level of discipline to the point where I can write my novels more quickly. I’ll never be the type who can just churn stuff out, but even a steady 1 per year would be nice.


Q:What’s your favorite food?

A:Depends on my mood. It’s hard to pick a single favorite.


Q: What person—living or dead—would you most like to meet?  Christopher Walken.

Thanks for your time, Brian!  Always a blast.


Spotlight on Michael Beyer

Today, my guest on Portals and Pathways is author and teacher Michael Beyer, author of the novel “Snow Babies”, coming soon from PDMI Publishing.  Michael is passionate about his writing, and I came to find out that we shared not only that, but a background in teaching and many of the same literary interests as well, including Tolkien and Lovecraft.  Here’s Michael!

What inspired you to become an author?  Was it something you always wanted to do? I have been a story-teller and severely overly imaginative since childhood.  I started writing short stories and novellas in junior high school.  There was never any question about me becoming a writer.  I even told them in college I might not finish a four-year degree because I was interested more in cartooning and telling stories.  But I am also cursed with too much intelligence.  I read and learned so much beyond the curriculum in college that I couldn’t help but get a degree by default… Phi Kappa Phi and a BA in English Literature… unemployable, but too smart and capable to starve… so I went for two more years and got an MA in Education, but at a different school, because University of Iowa had the writing program that boasted having Kurt Vonnegut as a participating instructor.  And then I took my portfolio of cartoons (rejection letters and all) and went to South Texas to teach Spanish-speaking junior high school kids English, how to read it, speak it, and write it.  And I fell in love.  I fell in love with teaching… and writing took a back seat.  I never stopped being a writer.  I collected story ideas, characters from my students, community, and world, and filed it all away for later.  I did not stop teaching until my body gave out, 3 schools and 33 years later, thirty one years with my own classroom and two as a substitute.   And now I am bursting with unwritten stories and projects that have yet to be finished.  I have to write and publish or go supernova and simply burst.


 Favorite  authors or books that have inspired you?  I have read everything ever written by Michael Crichton, J.R.R. Tolkien, Louis L’Amour, and H.P. Lovecraft.  Crichton is the master of research and realism; Tolkien excels at characterization and background building; L’Amour is a master of plot and continuity; And I love the bizarre play of words and repetitive phrasing in Lovecraft.  It is safe to say all four of them have a great deal of influence on my work and style.  I am also obsessed with Mark Twain, Charles Dickens, Jane Austen, Terry Pratchett, and lately… John Green.   I have read more young adult novels than is reasonable and healthy for any sane adult individual.

Any non-literary sources of inspiration?  A majority of my fictional characters are lifted whole from children I taught, friends I have had, and the people I grew up with in a tiny farm town in Iowa.   I have a deep love and affection for all the people I have known… even the ones who hated me and did terrible things to me have a place in my heart.  And I am good at revenge through fiction.


How do you start a new project?  Do you have any daily goals—word count, page count, etc?

I don’t really have to start any new projects.  I have an old notebook with 67 novel ideas in it that I have worked on over the years.  Lots of those need to get finished before I open the back door for the old Grim Reaper.  My latest contest novel (Submitted to the Chanticleer Book Reviews’ YA novel contest) is called The Magical Miss Morgan, and I wrote that after a sudden inspiration in March of 2014 and completed it in January of 2015.  I have a daily goal of at least 500 words of written, revised, and edited copy every day.  Of course, when I am binge-writing like I did for the contest novel, I go way over that goal.  Sometimes when I am ill I don’t make the goal and I try to average out the next day.  But I am frequently ill, and I find it actually provides more uninterrupted writing time to be bed-ridden and feeling poorly.  It plays heck with characters lives, though.  I think I killed some who might otherwise have lived long and happy lives because I was sick and cranky.  But, hey, that makes good fiction, right?  I also have made it my goal to post in my blog every single day of 2015.  As of July 30th I haven’t missed a day yet.


Favorite movie?  Favorite band?  Favorite food?

My all-time favorite movie is The Wizard Oz, which, as a kid, I used to watch every year around Thanksgiving time in Mason City, Iowa at Grandma Beyer’s house because she was the only member of our family with an RCA Victor color TV.  The rest of the world was all in black and white when I was a kid.  I am a movie nut, though, and have thousands of favorite movies… some in black and white.  I loved the music of the Beatles in the 60’s and the Eagles in the 70’s and listen to oldies stations now.  And one cannot move to Cotulla, Texas in 1981 to teach Hispanic kids English without learning to love tortillas, chalupas, tacos, burritos, and enchiladas, as well as every other uniquely American dish that masquerades under the name Mexican food.  Oh, and I like real Mexican food too.


What do you like to do when you’re not writing?

When I am not writing, I like to teach… but since I cannot stand in front of a classroom any more without being propped up there like the Scarecrow from the Wizard of Oz on his pole, I guess I write all the time.  Even when I’m sleeping.


       Do you have any advice for aspiring authors?

The best writing advice that this old expiring writer can give any younger aspiring writer is this; You need to have something real to write about.  Even fantasy and science fiction ideas work best when the reality that underlies it all is readily apparent.  You need experience in life to translate into your writing and to work out as wisdom.  A good writing teacher once told me that the real reason we write is to create that bittersweet je ne sais quoi (I know not what) that every reader knows when he or she sees it.  For me, it took 30-plus years of teaching to build up that store of something real.  But don’t despair… not every writer is as slow as I am to learn stuff.