Have ya ever heard the old phrase, “Don’t meet your idols”? What’s implied in this saying is that a real life person you ‘idolize’ will never be able to live up to the idea you have of them in your head. I’ve always taken this phrase to be more about the person doing the idolizing rather than the failings of the actual person. Sorry, I’m getting off topic. I’ve never really understood that old saying because first off, I don’t idolize anyone. I admire and respect certain people for the accomplishments they’ve made and for the person they are. That being said, I’ve been meeting tons of people I admire, and none of them have yet to let me down. All the genre icons of horror that I’ve met over the years at the Texas Frightmare Weekend have been nothing short of down-to-earth individuals who genuinely appreciate and love their fans. Why did I even bring this up? Well this past Saturday, February 11, 2012, I got the chance to meet another person I greatly admire, author Joe McKinney. McKinney was in Austin on Saturday promoting his new book, which is also his first collection of short stories, THE RED EMPIRE AND OTHER STORIES (my review here). The book reading/signing was set up by his publisher, Ed Kurtz, from RedRum Publishers, who happens to be another fantastic author who wrote the novel BLEED (my review here).
I had an immediate fondness for McKinney and his books from the first novel I read from him, DEAD CITY. Besides being a great, fast-paced, well-written first novel, what I really admired about McKinney was that he accomplished what I would love to do. He was a full time employee of the San Antonio Police Department who now makes his living writing horror novels. I admired his skill and his dedication to be able to make that leap into full time writing (something I’ve been unable to do; not due to my skills, but due to time). But then something remarkable happened. He wrote more novels, and with each new novel he got better and better. His writing matured, his characters became “deeper,” and his plots got more detailed. McKinney was quickly becoming a bad ass writer who was clearly no flash in the pan and was here to stay. So when Ed Kurtz sent me the invite letting me know McKinney was going to be doing a live, in-person book reading/signing in Austin, I was stoked. Joe and i had formed a friendship through email correspondences, but now I was gonna get the chance to meet a man I greatly admired.
But the little friendship McKinney and I developed through email was genuine. He treated all the people that went up to meet him as if they were the most important person in the world to him. And on a few occasions he may have met someone once before at another gathering but remembered that person’s name, where they met, and what they talked about. Nice.
The first story Joe read from THE RED EMPIRE AND OTHER STORIES was, “Eyes Open.” This, he mentioned by way of introduction, was one of the rare Lovecraftian-inspired stories he’s written. And because it contains the element of crazy-looking homeless people talking to themselves, the man sitting outside on the patio in front of the coffeehouse took on a bizarre kind of “life initiating art” quality. After a short break where we filled the kids with chocolate chip cookies, McKinney then read a passage out of the longer story, “Burning Finger Man” (one of my favorite stories from the collection). He then ended by reading the entire short story, “Empty Room,” which had all the parents at the reading either in tears or in an awkward silence.
This was the first time I’ve ever gone to an event where the author reads from his own works, and it was a great experience. Besides the obvious (of meeting McKinney), it’s interesting to hear what Joe emphasized in his stories. I had an idea of what parts of each story were important, but its a whole different experience to hear the author himself read and stress certain parts. It was a fantastic 2 hours that even my 3 and 6 year olds really enjoyed. They sat and listened and were intrigued by the stories as much as the adults around them.
So if you’re ever told that it’s a bad idea to meet the people you admire (i.e., your ‘idols’), you can go tell them to piss up a rope. Celebrities in the horror genre are so down-to-earth and genuine that it still shocks me whenever I meet one of my “Horror Icons.” Joe McKinney is no exception. Meeting McKinney confirmed my suspicions that he was an authentic human being who didn’t ‘play the game’ but who really and truly enjoyed and appreciated his fans. I don’t like Joe’s novels and short stories because I consider McKinney a friend; I like his books because he’s a helluva writer and he happens to be nice guy.
You can check out all of Joe McKinney’s books here. It looks like 2012 is gonna be a good year to be a McKinney fan. I sure hope he finds his way back to Austin for another reading/signing soon!!