Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Interview: Author Iain McKinnon

Interview by Erika Gilbert.

Thank you for joining me today, Iain. Before we begin, can you tell us about your first Permuted Press novel, Domain of the Dead?

My pleasure. Domain of the Dead is a traditional Romero inspired zombie novel. We have a group of survivors held up in a warehouse penned in buy thousands of undead. One day they spot a helicopter on the horizon but is this the salvation they've all been hoping for? I wrote the zombie story I'd like to read, one where the world has already been over run, one where man was in the minority and one where the zombies are dumb and shambling and ravenous.

How do you research your books?

With Domain of the Dead and Remains of the Dead it was decades of fearing zombies. Whenever I heard something that fit my view of how zombies would work I stored that away. There is a lot of in-depth research I also do other than the things I just stumble upon. If I don't know how something works I'll look it up, but if I can find someone who knows first hand I go and interview them. For example, with Domain Of The Dead I knew nothing about ships. I was able to sit down with an ex-merchant seaman and quiz him about the details of life at sea. He was able to fill in lots of the blanks for me and give me details I'd never have found out from simply reading a book.

In Domain of the Dead your characters are trapped in a building with dwindling supplies leaving them no choice but to face the zombie horde in order to survive. Are these insurmountable odds part of what draws readers and writers to zombie fiction?

I don't think it is. It brings a level of peril to the narrative and makes for a more exciting read. The danger is you have too many insurmountable problems and if you don't set up the mechanism for the characters to triumph the story becomes unbelievable and you lose the reader. It's great when a character gets out of a situation in a way you hadn't anticipated as long as the means for that escape were already known to the reader. But for them to be plucked from danger by a deus ex machina belittles the intelligence of the reader.

I think most people when they get involved in a book want to empathize and identify with the characters. For the most part they want to be asked what would they do in this situation? If you can deliver that I think it hooks people in regardless of genre.

Tell us about your favorite character from one of your novels.

That's a hard question. At the end of the day every character an author writes (no mater how well observed) is ultimately a facet of the author. Every character is just a reflection of the writer’s own mind. So all the characters are fragments of me. The ones you like are ones you aspire to be and the nasty ones represent the darker side of yourself.

As a writer I like the zombies. They're simple. They have very few motives and there's no duplicity in their nature. All they want to do is eat human flesh and they're dumb so it's real easy to get into their mind set.

Apart from your own work, what is your favorite Permuted Press novel and what did you love about it?

Now that's going to put me in a trick situation. I was so excited to be offered a contract with Permuted Press as there were so many fantastic authors I love and admire with them already. The first Permuted title I read was The Undead anthology. The whole thing was chock full of great zombie stories but the story that sticks with me was David Moody’s. I know David isn't a Permuted Author but I'm a huge fan of his work he has such a talent for writing about the ordinary in an engaging way. The other two stand out novels for me are Day By Day Armageddon and Twilight of the Dead. Both these books I bought before they were snapped up by Permuted Press, so I'm proud that I had the foresight to buy these and also flattered that I've followed a similar route. Both those novels filled a gap for me. When there was very little good traditional shambling zombie stuff around they all quenched my thirst.

As a New Zealander I was excited to learn the sequel to Domain of the Dead takes place on Stewart Island. What made you choose New Zealand for this story?

Sorry to disappoint you but Remains of the Dead doesn't take place on Stewart Island. I make a reference to it as base of operations but it's not a location the characters have been to. I also mention Nelson which I believe you have a connection with. I've tried in The Domain series not to tie things down to one place. It's great when you're reading a book and somewhere you know is mentioned but most of the time that kind of thing excludes you. I wanted to strip that out so that you could believe the action was taking place in your own home town. When I mention place names I've tried to choose ones that are generic, places that have counterparts all over the globe. I chose Nelson as a place a name as there are number of small towns called Nelson all around the English speaking world.

But as a New Zealander you'll be pleased to hear the south island has the best chance to overcome the zombie apocalypse. It has a relatively low population while still having a good level of industrialization and good infrastructure. In my scenario although New Zealand has been overrun it presents the best chance for re-colonization – the details of which are in Remains of the Dead.

I’m on a personal crusade to find a book that really scares me. Is there a book you’ve read that scared you so badly you had to sleep with the light on?

Nope. Sorry but I’ve never read a horror that scared me. Yeah there have been creepy moments or things that made me feel sick but nothing I couldn’t switch off from. Romero’s early zombie movies and 28 days later all gave me horrific nightmares but I’ve never had a book do the same. It may be because I’m a slow reader. I’m Dyslexic so I have the reading speed of a fourteen-year-old (I know I’ve been tested). That means it takes me a few days to read a book and I guess that gives me time to escape the horror. But up until recently a zombie movie would have me terrified for days on end, maybe because it would all go in such a short space of time. The real horror though isn’t what people like me write its what’s actually happening. I try to put a message into my writing and hope that in some way I’m contributing the positive in the world.

Has anyone or anything from your past influenced your writing?

Yes. There are lots to people I can thank for being a writer. There are the people who were a positive influence on me, encouraging me or helping me. I include their names in the acknowledgments of my books and I owe my success as a writer to their help. I hope that they know how much they mean to me and how much I appreciate their support.
There are people and events in life that shape who you are. Some are positive experiences some are negative. I think we’re shaped as much by the negative as we are the positive. I haven’t had a hard life, I don’t have a big sob story to tell but like everyone I’ve had my share of heartbreak and rejection, failure and regret. I think it’s important to draw on those and use them as a strength rather than a weakness.

Do you have any advice for aspiring writers just embarking on the journey?

Write. That’s the biggest advice, just sit down and write. If you can write just one page a day you’ll have a novel by the end of the year. It’s as simple as that. People often say but how do I write well? I don’t know, but I do know if you don’t practice and put the effort in you’ll never learn. Olympic athletes don’t just turn up on the day and race. Writers write.

The other thing I’ve found is you can’t write in isolation. You need someone (or some people) you can trust to read your work and pull it apart. I have a few fantastic friends who read my work and critique it. They’re close enough that they can say what they think and articulate enough that they can frame it in a constructive way. Much of the time I miss out important details that I’ve skipped over and my Muses (as I like to call them) point these out and get me to bring out the best in my work. As a writer if you can find people like that they’re worth their weight in gold.

Can you share something about yourself not many people know?

The one thing (I think I’ll be saying forever) is I’m not a horror writer. I’m a Sci-Fi author who’s just very twisted.

Sum up your writing style in one sentence or less.

Fast paced and visual.

Do you have any upcoming novels and/or works in progress you’d like to share with us?

As you know Remains of the Dead is almost finished. I have one draft to finish then it’s off to Permuted Press for their approval. There may be some work once they’ve read it but I’m hopeful we’ll see it in print summer 2011. I hate to call it a sequel to Domain of the Dead, it’s technically a concurrent story. It follows the people left behind in chapter one of Domain of the Dead and follows the same time line.

Once Remains is out of the way I have an occult thriller that I started last year but didn’t finish. I’d like to see if I can get back into that. It was causing a few headaches that I think I’ve ironed out now. I’ve also got a few Sci-Fi books either finished or in the planning stages.

But it’s all in the air at the moment, the priority is Remains of the Dead and then I’ll see where things take me.

If you could be a supernatural creature what would it be?

Nice question but I can’t tell you. My occult thriller has a supernatural being at the center of it. I think I’d like to be one of those (it would be fun for a few centuries). Not much of an answer I know but as an author you need to keep hold of your ideas until they’re in print.

About Iain McKinnon
Iain Mckinnon was born in Scotland in the early seventies and lived a happy well balanced childhood, with the exception of being forced to wear flares and the 1978 World Cup.

Aged 18 he saw George A Romero's Day of the Dead and from then on zombies crowned his list of irrational fears.

In 2005 he wrote the screen play for the 10 minute zombie film The Dead Walk in an attempt to confront his fear and get a restful night's sleep.

Unfortunately although his plan worked and he lost his fear of the undead at the same time his wife gave birth to their son and he hasn’t had a good night's sleep since.

Iain currently lives and writes from his home just outside Edinburgh. At the moment he only has one irrational fear but he does still keep a survival kit and crowbar close at hand just in case.

About Erika Gilbert
Erika Gilbert is a stay home mother by day and a paranormal author by night. She has trained in martial arts and has a psychology degree, but her greatest achievement is the birth of her son who is an inspiration to both parents. Erika's father, Tom Millard, died before he could realize his dream of becoming a published writer. Erika hopes he would be proud. Erika lives in New Zealand with her family. Her first novel, Blood Talisman, is available from Noble Romance Ltd. She has two humerous urban fantays novels coming out in 2011 from MuseItUp Publishing and her flash story, "Kiss the Bride," will be included in the Pill Hill Press 2011 Daily Bites of Flesh horror anthology. Visit Erika online at http://erikagilbert.weebly.com.

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