Thursday, November 13, 2014

Winter of Zombie Blog Tour: Spotlight on Joe McKinney


Your name.   

Joe McKinney

Why zombies?
I’m not going to tell you his name, but I know an author who, over the years, has been my friend, my best and most honest critic, and at times, unwillingly, my mentor.  He has praised me with patient, good humor during my successes and counseled me with sage advice during my low periods of self-doubt and frustration.  I admire and love the man.

But I don’t always agree with him.  For example, we were guests at a recent convention and found ourselves sitting next to each other on a zombie panel.  The moderator asked a question very similar to what we’re responding to today.  My friend, who likes to think of himself as a part-time misanthrope, said, and I’m paraphrasing, that the popularity of the zombie is a symptom of our societal self-loathing, that we so disgust ourselves as a species that we first seek to debase others by turning them into zombies and then punish them for all the things they do to piss us off through a series of zombie kills, each more gruesome and bloody than the last.

I don’t buy that… even though I kind of get where he’s coming from.  After all, when you look around, things are pretty bad.  The economy is horrible, and more and more young people are finding the job market a barren and hostile environment.  It’s easy to feel like you don’t matter when you can’t find a job.

And even if you do find one, it’s easy to feel the life bleeding out of you as you slog through another meaningless shift, or clear out the emails in your inbox, or put caps on bottles, or fold boxes, dunk fries in grease, whatever you do.  There is a cyclical monotony to our work lives that is paralleled in the endless parade of zombies in all the various first person shooter video games like Left 4 Dead and Dead Island.  Perhaps the greatest example I’ve ever seen of this is in Shaun of the Dead.  Remember Mary, the shop girl, the first zombie that Shaun and Ed encounter?  She’s also one of the first characters we see, making her appearance as a living person during the opening credits.  It’s that moment to which I’m referring.  I love that her expression as she’s ringing up a customer is exactly the same expression she wears as a zombie.  Life is a non-issue, that look says.  It’s the monotony that matters.

But, as I said, I don’t buy it.  Perhaps it’s true that zombies tell us a little about why we hate ourselves and the mess in which we find our lives, but I just can’t believe that hate and self-loathing can carry a wave of popularity as wide and as far-reaching as that which the zombie has achieved.  Surely there’s more to it than that.

I think what really bothers me about the “zombies as an expression of our self-loathing theory” is that it implies we’re amplifying our nightmares instead of purging them.  The best horror fiction, historically speaking, has always been cathartic.  It’s always been about stripping our fears of their efficacy by talking about them.  (Can there be a greater example of this than Dickens’ “there is more of gravy than the grave” line in A Christmas Carol?)  Zombie fiction is no different.  It is, for me—and I believe for so many others—a genre that proves we are, at heart, a creative species that needs to tear down the world and create it anew in order to survive in it.

That has certainly been my experience.  I started writing zombie fiction back when there were very few entries in the field.  (Romero had done three of his zombie movies, and Skipp and Goodfellow had done Mondo Zombie, and Brian Keene had just published his wonderful novel The Rising, but there wasn’t much else.)  I had watched Night of the Living Dead as a young teenager, and it was one of the only horror movies that ever actually scared me.  I still remember going to bed every night with a baseball bat cradled in my arms.  I knew that one day I would go on to write my own zombie story.

But of course life got in the way.  I grew up.  I went to college, and then grad school, and then got a job as a San Antonio police officer.  Every night I was experiencing something new and crazy.  Car chases and fistfights and talking people out of setting their babies on fire were normal nights for me.  Believe it or not, I was having the time of my life.  I even met the woman who would become the love of my life.  And in the winter of 2003, she gave me my first child.  That was the moment right there: fatherhood.  That was the moment the zombies finally got me.

It happened like this.  I was standing with my face against a large window, looking in on the nursery where my first-born lay sleeping.  I was a young man, a scared young man, a young man finally willing to accept what my dad had been telling me all along: that the world is infinitely more complex than I realized, and that fatherhood carries with it demands no one is ever truly prepared to accept.

Those of you with kids know what I mean.  One minute you’re footloose and fancy free.  You go out whenever you want.  Life is good.  You got this.  And then—a baby!  Suddenly, you’ve got more responsibilities than you ever knew existed.  Life is complicated.  Life is about diapers and insurance and visits to the pediatrician and wondering how you’re going to afford the groceries.  Life is about actually getting to sleep through the night.

That was me in the winter of 2003.  I was scared to death.  But I had my writing to back me up.  Since my early teenage years, writing had been my outlet for my anxieties and concerns.  I turned to it again.  I started a science fiction novel that really sucked ass and I nearly gave it all up.  But then I thought of the horror movies that I’d loved as a kid, and Night of the Living Dead came to mind.  I realized that if I was going to do this right, I needed to write what I loved, and what I loved was horror.  I figured if I was beset on all sides by responsibilities too big for my kenning, I would write about a character who was beset on all sides by horrors too big for his kenning, horrors he needed to dispatch in the most visceral way possible.

That’s how I started writing zombie fiction.

And that’s why I take exception whenever someone tries to dismiss zombie fiction as meaningless fluff.

Because it’s not.

It’s personal.

It matters.

It matters to me.

What is your latest zombie release? 

My latest is Plague of the Undead, released from Kensington Publishing on October 7th, 2014.

Quick description of it. 

A Handful Of Survivors
For thirty years, they have avoided the outbreak of walking death that has consumed America's heartland. They have secured a small compound near the ruins of Little Rock, Arkansas. Isolated from the world. Immune to the horror. Blissfully unaware of what lies outside in the region known as the Dead Lands. Until now. . .
A New Generation Of Explorers
Led by a military vet who's seen better days, the inexperienced offspring of the original survivors form a small expedition to explore the wastelands around them. A biologist, an anthropologist, a cartographer, a salvage expert--all are hoping to build a new future from the rubble, which they call the "Dead Lands." Until all hell breaks loose. . .
A Land Of Death
The infected are still out there. Stalking. Feeding. Spreading like a virus. Wild animals roam the countryside, hunting prey. Small pockets of humanity hide in the shadows: some scared, some mad, all dangerous. This is the New World. If the explorers want it, they'll have to take it. Dead or alive. . .

Something unique about it.

Plague of the Undead is the first book in a new series called The Deadlands.  It is at its core a novel of exploration, not only of the post-apocalyptic world in which it’s set, but also of what it takes to survive and the laws that help our communities to survive.

Links for people to buy it.

The book is available in all formats wherever books are sold.  If your local Barnes & Noble doesn’t have it, you can always find it through Amazon, right here:

Your promo links.

Readers can learn more about me and keep up with what’s going on by following me on Facebook, here:

Or follow me on Twitter:  @JoeMcKinney

Your short Bio.

Joe McKinney has been a patrol officer for the San Antonio Police Department, a homicide detective, a disaster mitigation specialist, a patrol commander, and a successful novelist. His books include the four-part Dead World series, Quarantined, Inheritance, Lost Girl of the Lake, The Savage Dead, St. Rage, Crooked House and Dodging Bullets. His short fiction has been collected in The Red Empire and Other Stories, Speculations, and Dead World Resurrection: The Complete Zombie Short Stories of Joe McKinney.  His latest works include the werewolf thriller, Dog Days, set in the summer of 1983 in the little Texas town of Clear Lake, where the author grew up, and Plague of the Undead, Book One in the Deadlands Saga.  McKinney is a two-time recipient of the Bram Stoker Award®. For more information go to

*   *   *   *   *

The stench of frozen rotted meat is in the air! Welcome to the Winter of Zombie Blog Tour 2014, with 10 of the best zombie authors spreading the disease in the month of November.

Stop by the event page on Facebook so you don't miss an interview, guest post or teaser… and pick up some great swag as well! Giveaways galore from most of the authors as well as interaction with them! #WinterZombie2014

AND so you don't miss any of the posts in November, here's the complete list, updated daily:

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Remembering J.F. Gonzalez

Yesterday the world lost a great man. I don't just say the world of horror because, while it's true, it's not the whole truth. Jesus F. Gonzalez was, among other things, a fantastic writer and a great asset to the horror community, but he was also a husband and father and a friend.

I didn't know him very well, sadly. But he left a mark on me. I want to take a few minutes to remember him and to honor that memory.

I met Jesus at an event called Horrible Saturday back in the summer of 2010. That event was the real and true start of my horror writing career. It was also the first time I met some of my idols: Brian Keene, Kelli Owen, and of course, Jesus himself.

I'd fallen in love with the B movie gorefest that was the Clickers novels and from there, I'd read and enjoyed Survivor, Fetish, Primitive, and later on, It Drinks Blood. Now I was going to meet the guy who wrote them in person. For the first time in my life, I was going to be in the presence of these people who had inspired and entertained me, who had been there (in literary form, anyway) to help get me through the tough parts of my life. I was understandably pretty nervous going into it. The nerves continued after I'd said my hellos, too. Would I say something stupid? Would I embarrass myself horribly? I am prone to those kinds of things, after all. I was a wound up ball of nerves. And then Jesus said something that made me laugh.

I don't even think he was talking to me. He was probably talking to Brian or making an offhand comment, and for the life of me, I can't remember what it was. What I do remember is laughing and feeling relieved and finally being able to relax a bit.

I chatted with Jesus about Lovecraft and King and some other random horror trivia and was struck by how kind and genuine he was, but also how almost shy he came across. He wasn't the outgoing social butterfly badboy I'd been expecting. He was different. He was sincere. He was something else entirely, something that defies words. He was Jesus.

I spent the day at Horrible Saturday. I bought tons of books, chatted with some of the authors, and watched the hilarious mishmash that was the live collaborative story telling pictured below.

Jesus and I had a few interactions on Twitter. He granted me my very first interview. Me, some no-name nobody he'd met at a signing. That's who he was. Kind, giving, willing to help out some unknown by putting his name on her lowly little blog. It meant worlds to me and I really hope he knew that. Just that small act of answering a few questions, something I'm sure he'd done dozens if not hundreds of times before, made me feel so much more confident, so much more capable.

I only saw Jesus one more time, at Horrorfind 13. From that came one of my all time favorite pictures. It's been my facebook cover photo for years. It's me with some of my all time favorite authors, a title JF Gonzalez has most definitely earned.

My current work in progress is my first attempt at pulp. It goes without saying that Jesus was an inspiration. No one could do the kind of cheesy (in the best possible way!), action filled, B movie nightmare pulp goodness JF Gonzalez could. He wrote the book, literally.

Last night, my fiance and I read some Clickers, both as a way to remember and honor Jesus, but also because I'm working on his horror education and JF Gonzalez is a necessary part of that education. Darling Fiance made it through the prologue, turned to me and said "Clicknado!". I'd like to think Jesus would've appreciated that.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Aftermath: Bright Days Ahead

Lately, I tend to start every blog post with an apology over how long it's been since I've written. Apparently, I'm doing it again. But that's OK, because it has been a long time. That may or may not change, we'll see. But for now I'm writing and you're reading and that, my friends, is a beautiful thing.

2014 has been a great year for me. It's not quite time for that End-of-Year post, but given all that has gone on, I wanted to put words to what has happened so far, for those of you who don't speak to me regularly, for those of you who don't speak to me at all, and for myself. Because it's good to get it all down and it's nice to have a record of things that I can look back on. For personal reasons, I've never kept a diary. This is the closest thing I've got. Even though it's public. Even though literally anyone can read it, friend or foe. Even though it might not mean much to most. It's mine. And it's yours, too. The words I share here I share in the truest sense of the word. I give them to you as I've given words to many others over the years. Sometimes they are the best gift I can give.

Words are powerful, as a weapon, as a tool, as a gift. Words can convey loss, hope, fear, remorse, sympathy, and any of the other emotions that make up the human condition. These words are given with joy, gratitude, and more optimism than I can ever recall feeling.

I'm engaged to an amazing man. The man of my dreams. I mean that quite literally. I didn't have the best home life growing up. Part of what got me through it was the hours upon hours spent telling myself that someday things would be different. Someday someone would love me, value me for who I was (weirdness, horror fandom, eccentricity and all), want to be with me and me alone. It might seem silly or sad, but that was and always has been my greatest dream.

And it came true. A little over 3 years ago, I met the man I'm going to marry. He's everything I could have ever hoped for and more. He's my partner. My partner in crime. My partner in business. My partner in life. He's my dearest friend, my closest ally, my most enthusiastic supporter. He's also an amazing human being with a fantastic sense of humor, an unending well of kindness and generosity, and one of the most useful people I've ever met. He is, unquestioningly, the man I want to spend the rest of my life with. I can't believe I get to marry him. For the first time in my life, I have a home and a family and all the love and support I could ever need. It's just as wonderful as I always dreamed it would be.

Also in 2014, my 4-plus year long legal battle finally came to an end. After years of struggling, throwing thousands of dollars I didn't have at a problem that seemingly wouldn't go away, and being reduced to tears of frustration, I am finally free. I can move on now. I can put the mistakes of my past behind me without any fear that they'll come back to bite me someday. It may have taken more time and money than I would have liked, but in the end it was worth it. There is no price too great to pay for one's freedom.

I'm working on a pretty amazing project, too. I'm having so much fun writing this thing. Even things like writers' block and random plot issues aren't detracting from how thrilled I am to be part of this. I just know it's going to be great and I really hope everyone enjoys reading it as much as I'm enjoying writing it.

Last (but certainly not least), my battle with cancer is at an end. It seems weird to refer to it as a battle, when much of what I did was lying still: for tests, for treatments, for IVs and exams and follow ups and specialist visits. And I was extremely lucky. My experience with cancer hasn't been nearly as horrible, long, or painful as what many people end up with. The last round of test results were good, as were the set before that. I didn't say anything after the first set to anyone outside my immediate circle of friends and family because I was worried that one good result might be a fluke and I didn't want anyone else on that horrible roller coaster of  "Hooray I'm cured!" "Oh, wait, not really." But now I can conclusively say that there are no cancer cells remaining in my body. Even better, the rate of recurrence for the types of cancer I had are low, less than 25%.

This isn't my Happy Ending, it's a happy beginning.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Interview with Mike Lombardo

Mike Lombardo is the sick, sick man behind The Stall, My Friend Lawrence, and plenty of other films from Reel Splatter and Drunken Tentacle Productions. He's kind of twisted, a bit demented, and a lot of fun. He's also a super nice, friendly, and very cool guy in general. Recently, I had a conversation with him. Here's what happened:

Alyn Day: Let's get the cliches out of the way first... What's your favorite scary movie?

Mike Lombardo: I’d have to go with Hellbound: Hellraiser II

AD: Any particular reason?

ML: I’ve had an unhealthy obsession with Hellraiser since I was a kid. The vision of Hell they show is just so damn cool. I love the labyrinth and the all the surreal and grotesque imagery. The baby sewing its own mouth shut and the mime juggling his own eyeballs are particular favorites. Bob Keene’s skinned body make-up is among the greatest FX pieces in cinema history. The scene where skinless Julia emerges from the blood soaked mattress and kills the schizophrenic mental patient still haunts me to this day

AD: If you had to choose a way to die from a movie what would it be? 

ML:That’s a tough one. I’d have to go with a Technicolor meltdown ala Street Trash or a good old fashioned Hellraiser or Texas Chainsaw Massacre flensing. I’ve always had this weird thing about skin wearing, probably because of seeing those flicks as a kid.

AD: Favorite horror monster/creature?

ML: Without doubt the Xenomorph and Queen from Aliens. They are the most well designed/executed and terrifying creatures ever put on film. They are a nightmare vision of sex and death and violation. Just as likely to fuck you as they are to kill you. They are absolutely stunning pieces of FX mastery.

AD: What are your inspirations?

ML: I grew up on a steady diet of 70’s and 80’s splatter, Italian exploitation flicks, Troma, 90’s Nickelodeon and weird sketch comedy. The Adventures of Pete and Pete and Ren Stimpy were hugely inspirational to me, as were shows like The Kids in The Hall, The League of Gentleman, and The Upright Citizen’s Brigade. Tales From The Crypt and Are You Afraid of The Dark were playing non stop in my house when I was a kid (hell, I was just watching Are You Afraid of The Dark before I started typing this!). I was also inspired heavily by the films of David Cronenberg, John Waters and George Romero’s original Dead trilogy played a big part too.

AD: What’s your favorite project you’ve worked on?

ML: My favorite project would probably be Womb For Two. It was a gimmick sitcom parody we shot back in 2008. It was about a 16 year old fetus that still lived inside his mother’s womb. It was basically a love letter to Pete and Pete and Ren & Stimpy. It had cartoon logic and I got to build a huge womb set with a working tv and a bed and no joke was too weird to put into the script. We would just make up more and more bizarre shit as we were shooting and it was so freeing to be able to do that. It was definitely the most fun I ever had making a movie. If you’re interested in watching it, it’s on our first dvd, “SuburbanHolocaust: Reel Splatter Volume 1”

AD: Favorite horror prop?

ML:  My favorite horror prop that I’ve made is the skinned face mask “Lori”. I took a lifecast of a friend of mine and sculpted it out as a flayed face stitched to a torn off scalp complete with a full head of long blond hair. I entered a costume contest at a horror convention once wearing heels, a bloodsoaked leopard print dress, and that mask and I weirded out the judges big time. I wouldn’t break character until after the show. It was wonderful. I actually got offered a drag modeling gig by a fetish model while I was waiting to go on stage!

As for favorite prop from a movie I didn’t make, I’d have to say the puzzle box from Hellraiser. I would kill to own one of the originals.

AD: Favorite movie effect?

 ML: My favorite bit of FX work I’ve done is a tie between the tentacles from my new short, “The Stall” and buzzsaw evisceration I did for a short film that never got finished called “Til Death”. The scene started with a guy drawing a dotted line on a gal’s chest from neck to crotch, donning goggles (safety first!) and buzzsawing her open. There is a really awesome shot that I was particularly proud of where he spreads her chest open and the camera is inside looking up as the edges of her skin part to reveal his blood splattered face.

Favorite FX scene I didn’t do is the Norris Head Spider crab from John Carpenter’s The Thing. That whole sequence is just so fucking disgustingly realistic it almost hypnotizes you. You cannot  look away.

AD: Favorite makeup trick?

ML: My favorite make-up trick adding instant coffee to blood. It melts into a dark muddy red and looks like clotted blood. When I’m on set doing FX I always make sure I have a jar of instant coffee with me. I prefer the vanilla flavored stuff because it smells nice and it tastes a little better so the actor’s don’t mind it as much. I also like to add chocolate syrup to my blood to help darken it and cut down on the amount of food coloring I need which saves money and helps the blood not stain as badly. It also tastes great!

AD: Where have you gone that you think would make an excellent movie set?

ML: I spent a month in Rome, and pretty much any given street would look amazing on film. The coolest place though was The Bone Church, it’s a crypt that is decorated entirely with the skeletons of the monks who worshipped there. There was a child’s skeleton on the ceiling wielding a scythe made of pelvic bones and holding an hour glass made of bones. It was equal parts fascinating and disturbing to be in there surrounded by thousands of the dead. It would look absolutely incredible on film.

AD: What skills do you have that would help you survive the zombie apocalypse?

ML: Is owning a shitload of machetes and chainsaws a skill? I think my ability to operate under extreme pressure without losing my cool and leadership skills (both forged by 10 years of indie filmmaking) would be pretty helpful.

AD: What’s something about you that people may not know or would find surprising?

ML: One of my favorite movies is Toy Story. I have it on my shelf next to Cannibal Holocaust. Everyone assumes that all I watch is ultra violent horror films and it’s just not true. I honestly have more affection for comedy and just plain weird stuff than I do for disturbing, straight horror. People assume that because of the stuff I write about and the things I joke about that I’m a homicidal maniac. I’m really just a big kid at heart and I’m one of the friendliest people you’ll ever meet.  I still watch cartoons like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (the original 80’s show, not the latest abortion err incarnation of it) and Pinky and The Brain. 

You can find Mike on Twitter , Facebook or on Reel Splatter's website.