These days, independent writing is where it’s at. After scanning over the book rack at a local retailer lately, I trotted out of the exit doors empty handed and spent my evening reading through a copy of a book I downloaded through my publisher’s Facebook page.
I’m not finished with the book yet, but it didn’t take long for me to be hooked. Vampires, a seedy underworld of corruption and a haunted love. Good God, the author might as well have dedicated the book to me.
The book I am talking about is Ancient Blood, the first in a series by Brian McKinley.
McKinley is one of those good old fashioned, hard working authors who spends his nights writing and his days promoting his writing. I’m under the assumption that he has decided he will simply sleep when he is dead.
Hailing from New Jersey, a true vampire encyclopedia and an up and coming author, Mr. McKinley recently took a few minutes to chat.
Please cover your necks and bust out your stakes and crucifixes. Although, where we’re going, they may not do you much good…
Mangled Matters: Who or what hooked you on writing as a career?
Brian McKinley: It’s hard to identify any one person or thing. I was one of those kids who wrote stories for my grandparents as soon as I could write words, so I always had a desire to be a storyteller. As a kid, I loved science fiction, so all my early stuff was spaceships and lasers and such. I was also a performer and acted in school plays and community theater growing up, so I always knew I wanted to either be an author or an actor. Around college, I decided that I was a better writer than an actor and that writing was something I didn’t need other people’s help to do, so I started to pursue that and put acting on the back burner. To answer the question, though, reading and watching movies pretty much hooked me on telling stories and wanting to see my characters brought to life for others to enjoy.
MM: Having grown up along the Eastern seaboard, a monster hotbed for the U.S, what are a few of your favorite mythological beasts?
BM: Actually, I love Greek and Roman mythology, which doesn’t have much to do with the East Coast! Gryphons are awesome. My first favorite monster as a kid was Frankenstein’s Monster. I used to watch the old Universal movies on TV every Saturday and I loved him and The Wolf Man. My love for vampires didn’t start until later, during my teens. I don’t buy those stories about the Jersey Devil if that’s what you’re getting at.
MM: Ancient Blood is a sprawling saga that has a great social commentary back track to it. Tell us a little (or a ton!) about this series.
BM: Oh, boy, where to begin? Well, it really was conceived as a saga in the true sense. I originally wrote the story as a screenplay as a challenge because I always criticized so many vampire movies that I would watch. So, I tried to write a vampire movie that I wanted to watch. As a script, the story was a dismal failure! Haha.. It was way too cerebral and wanna-be clever. Even then, however, I had ideas for how the story would play out in sequels and tie-in stories, kind of like what Marvel’s doing now with their universe. But this was back in the late 90s and early 2000s when nobody was doing anything like this except maybe Stephen King with the Dark Tower series. After several other screenplays, an agent suggested that the story would work better as a novel. So, I went back to the basics and tried to figure out how to tell this story in a way that would be accessible. That’s when stumbled onto the idea of using Avery the viewpoint character; he’d been a minor character in the script and had never really fit well, so the idea to focus the entire story on him was kind of a big leap to take. But, as soon as I began, I realized that I was on the right track. Avery was just ordinary enough to be a perfect character for the reader to follow into this complicated and confusing world. By having him tell the story, I was able to inject a lot more humor into the rather grim story and undercut some of the pompous grandiosity of the characters.
That said, I have plans for continuing Avery’s story, but I’d also like to open up the world by telling some of the many other stories that are there to explore. Each of the Hegemons has fascinating backgrounds, and I have plans for a set of books that will explore the early history of The Order and show some of its development. I also have werewolves to introduce among others. My idea was that this could be an entire world that I could play in for as long as I wanted. To me, though, this is also our world. I see myself as exploring and explaining these fantastic events that have happened (or almost happened) right under our noses. The Order is a metaphor for everything that’s reactionary, corrupt, and wrong with the world. They’re the ultimate Old Boy Network, which makes them a great metaphor, and yet I feel a responsibility as an author to make them as real as I can. That’s why you can still see glimmers of hope and individuals who aren’t so bad or even idealistic inside of this monolithic organization. It’s similar to the way I look at corporations: there are lots of decent people involved in most corporations, but somehow the institution itself forces them to make inhumane decisions based on profit or efficiency or whatever. The difference between how people behave as individuals versus how they behave in groups fascinates me. I better stop now or I’ll write an entire essay just for that question!
MM: How long did it take you to write the first book in the series?
BM: I think I wrote steadily for about ten to twelve months, while I was at work. I was a third-shift security guard and so I’d usually be able to squeeze in an hour or two a night between my duties. Then sometimes I’d stop at Denny’s for breakfast on the way home and get another hour or two. After that, I spent a couple months editing.
MM: Do you have a strict daily writing schedule that you follow?
BM: I really should, but I’m too lazy! Haha.. Generally I write whenever I can make myself do it. For some strange reason, I have a really hard time making myself start. It doesn’t make sense to me, because I always feel great after getting some writing done, but I always seem to approach it like a chore.
MM: If you could have dinner with three literary icons to pick their brains for a bit, who would make the guest list and why?
BM: Wow, that’s tough! There are so many good choices for different reasons. I think I’d pick Stephen King, just because his On Writing was so inspirational to me and I’ve enjoyed so many of his books. Joss Whedon, again because he’d be so enjoyable, but because his writing on his shows is so sharp and his ability to make you laugh and then suddenly break your heart is something I want to learn. Probably the third is George R.R. Martin to get some tips on world-building. I considered some of the greats, of course, but from what I’ve read, most of the great authors could be jerks in person, so who wants to put up with that? Besides, I’m a modern author, so it makes sense for me to get advice from modern authors who understand what things are like now.
MM: In 30 years, what would you like your writing legacy to be?
BM: I’d like to be remembered as figure of note in vampire fiction. Ideally, I’d love to create a character or two who become pop cultural icons. It’s probably too late to be a giant among vampire authors, but I’d like to have made a positive contribution that people remember and continue to read.
(Mangled Matters’ note: In my opinion, it’s never too late to be remembered as a giant and if there is one indie author I have come across who can easily climb the ranks of vampire icon, it’s Mr. McKinley.)
MM: As a vampire aficionado, how do you like your vamps? What should they look like, in your opinion?
BM: I don’t think there’s any one answer to that. To me, the beauty of the vampire is in their diversity. To use my book as an example, I made a point of representing all the classic and modern archetypes somewhere, because I feel that the vampire genre should be inclusive rather than exclusive. I have my preferences, of course, I like vampires that look and act human. I like for them to be characters with dimension rather than flat boogeymen and I really like when their mythology has consistency to it. Don’t make them virus-based and then have them be repelled by crosses, that just doesn’t fit together. I try to be open-minded, though I’m not a fan of sparkly vampires.
MM: What are the three best and the three worst vampire movies in recent history, in your opinion?
BM: My best: Interview with the Vampire, Blade II, The Lost Boys.
My worst: 30 Days of Night, The Twilight Series, and Queen of the Damned.
MM: What projects are you currently working on?
BM: Well, I’m starting on the sequel to Ancient Blood as a matter of fact! I’m only 11 pages in, though, so it will be a while! I just completed a book called Drawing Dead that I’m very excited about. It takes place in The Order universe, but it’s the story of an Irish gangster in the 1930s who gets brought into The Order in New York and sets his sights on taking over. It’s a very different kind of story from Avery’s, much more action-packed and brutal. I really like the character, though, and think he’s a great anti-hero.
MM: Any last words?
BM: Please buy my book! Support a starving artist!
I sincerely appreciate Brian’s time for this interview and I wish him all the best in the near and distant future!