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The University of Texas at San Antonio Online Magazine

Rise from the Dead

Famed for his zombie novels, alumnus Joe McKinney has garnered a second Bram Stoker Award for horror writing

Joe McKinney M.A. ’04 describes one of his most recent novels as a mirror of his own 1983 summer. “Well, everything but the werewolf,” he says. “And the scene with the alligator,” he quickly adds.

OK, so there was no werewolf on a murderous rampage, and McKinney didn’t shoot an alligator in the head over and over again after a dare from his friend. “Definitely not,” he laughs.

It was the summer that Hurricane Alicia tore through the Gulf Coast, leaving a trail of devastation, including in Clear Lake, where McKinney grew up. The storm was so severe that the National Weather Service retired the name.

Against this backdrop, McKinney’s Dog Days follows a 15-year-old boy as he navigates a rocky summer filled with peer pressure, some bad decisions and the aforementioned alligator and werewolf. The book earned the author and San Antonio police sergeant his second Bram Stoker Award from the Horror Writers Association.

Take a look at our Web Exclusive slide show “ Shooting Zombies” on the making of the photo shoot for our interview with Joe McKinney.

But sadly, for McKinney’s die-hard fans, Dog Days has none of the trademark zombies that his writing is known for.

The book is just one example of how McKinney has continued to expand his repertoire of horror subjects since the 2006 publication of his first novel, Dead City, which was released two years after he graduated with a master’s in English literature.

McKinney actually started working on the zombie tale as a UTSA graduate student. He credits the English literature program with giving him the confidence and knowledge to really take charge of his writing. The passion for the written word from professors like Jeanne Reesman was contagious, he says.

Reesman, the university’s Jack and Laura Richmond Endowed Fellow in American Literature, wasn’t surprised when she saw her former student’s name on a book cover. “I remember Joe being one of the most talented writers I have ever taught in 30 years,” she says. “I wasn’t a bit surprised later on to see his success in writing novels.”

McKinney, however, was surprised and still marvels that he has published more than 30 works since the release of Dead City. “I still didn’t think of myself as a writer,” he says. “I figured it would just be that book, and that would be it.”

But his publishing company asked for more and the Dead World Series was born. The five-book compilation became McKinney’s most well-known work. A book in that series, Flesh Eaters, earned McKinney his first Bram Stoker Award.

Throughout the years, McKinney has often collaborated with other writers and editors, so he was a perfect fit for JournalStone’s Double Down series, which pairs an acclaimed writer to mentor a novel-writing newcomer. The two separate works are published in one bound book. McKinney worked with Sanford Allen ’12, another UTSA graduate, to complete the third installment of the Double Down series. From this project, Dog Days and Allen’s Deadly Passage were born. The December 2013 release marked Allen’s first published novel.

“I was thrilled to be paired with Joe McKinney,” says Allen, who earned his master’s in communication. “Joe has been a great friend and mentor to me over the past few years and offered sage guidance as I completed final edits. Writing a first novel is a daunting process, especially given the short turnaround time provided by our publisher, but Joe was beyond generous with his time and gave me plenty of encouragement along the way. It thrills me to see someone achieve his level of success and still find time to share his wisdom with emerging authors.”

Both authors are featured in a short story compilation released this fall; McKinney also published Dead World Resurrection: The Collected Zombie Short Stories of Joe McKinney and Plague of the Dead, the first in his newest zombie series.

Zombies, he says, are a way for us to work through fears and anxieties. They are also an excellent source of stress to test his characters’, well, character. At a book signing in August, McKinney discussed his favorite characters with a boy in the audience: “I like the villains. The ones who think they’re right, anyway. I love the moral ambiguity. I think it’s more fun to watch a villain try to be a good guy than to watch a good guy try to be a good guy.”

–Michelle Mondo


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