There was one hell of a journey before the journey, but we’ll just start at the point when I realized I wanted to write. I went online looking for tips and book recommendations, because I learned very quickly that having cool ideas wasn’t enough. I wrote some stuff, thought that maybe, just maybe, it was pretty good, right? Then I would read a short story or novel written by a professional, and then excitedly rush back to my story to re-read it, only to realize that it was, well, god awful. So I knew I needed to learn the craft. I read the books that seemed to be the most popular (Elements of Style, King’s On Writing, Morrell’s The Successful Novelist, etc.) and I took some online classes with Michael Knost. Most importantly, I wrote my ass off every day and submitted it all over the internet. All of the presses I was interested in were invite only or closed to submissions, so I started out, unfortunately, giving my work away to online zines or printed anthologies, all of which paid with “exposure” or called themselves “for the love” presses. Which means that I should give them my work for free because of how much I love writing, even though the publisher is not giving the book away because they love publishing, which means they were making money off my work, as well as countless others, banking on those writers’ families and friends who were buying these books because the writers involved were mostly new to the game and extremely excited to see their name printed in a book, period. Even though I can see how backwards that is now, to be honest, I don’t regret it. Most of, if not all of, those presses went under, so those books are disappearing, though I have a few old boogers still out there in Internet Land. But most importantly, I was writing. Those zines and anthologies, at the very least, got me inspired to write because I was already hooked on seeing my name on a book, and some of them forced me to challenge myself in order to write a story that fit a certain theme. As I wrote more and more, the lessons I was reading in those books I mentioned started making more sense. So I re-read those, wrote a bunch more, then re-read the books again, and so on. Each time I re-read a book on writing, I found something new that went right over my head the last time I read it, because I didn’t have the experience to truly grasp what that lesson was trying to teach me. I still re-read those books from time to time.
After having twenty or so stories published this way, I started to sort of buy into it. I was new and hungry and full of ideas, so I contacted the owner of a certain publisher and asked if I could edit some anthologies with themes of my choosing. I did a few of these, and very quickly found out that this job was not for me. However, it was another great lesson, and something that I honestly think could benefit every single new author, if they can find a place to do it. Reading through a slush pile will teach you how to identify bad writing. After a while, you can tell if something is going to be worth your time as an editor after reading a page, sometimes even a paragraph. As I was editing these things, I was still writing every day, and I started noticing some bad habits in my own work that was driving me insane as an editor. So I stopped doing those things. Being able to differentiate a bad story from a good one, obviously, is extremely important. I started to figure out certain things I could do to grab an editor’s attention and then hang onto it until the end. Whether they decide to publish the story or not, I was getting them to read the whole thing. Form rejections became personal rejections with actual feedback. Eventually, personal rejections became acceptances.
This is getting long-winded as hell, so let me make the next part quick. After I learned the craft and all the lessons above, I was selling stories. Getting paid, though still not very much. The problem was, I wanted to write a novel, and those damn presses were still closed to submissions. So I knew I had to get creative. I did some research and found out which professional authors lived close to me, and reached out to them. One of those authors is a guy named Wrath James White. I saw that he offered training for MMA fighters, so I contected him and signed up, having no fighting experience whatsoever. After sessions, we would talk about writing, which was mostly me asking a thousand questions. I figured, if I’m not willing to get the shit kicked out of me for writing, maybe I shouldn’t be a writer. Then something huge happened for me. I like to think it was fate. The World Horror Convention took place in Austin, TX, where I live. Wrath took me around and introduced me to some editors, all of which worked for those presses that were closed to submissions. We talked about writing and what not, but mostly, we hung out. We partied and had a good time. We became friends. That was the turning point for me right there. Because now, when I was sending emails asking if I could submit something, those editors knew who I was, and after getting to know me and hanging out with me, they were curious enough to agree to read my work. The next thing I knew, I had a published novel. And then another and another. Suddenly, I didn’t have to submit anything anymore because those same presses who were invite only were sending me invites.
I get to entertain people. I get to share the insanity floating around in my head with people who love the same kind of crazy shit I do. Nothing makes me happier than speaking with my readers.
If you could have dinner with any literary character, who would it be and what would you eat?
I would definitely feast on the souls of children with Pennywise the Clown.
If your book was to be made into a movie, who would you cast as the leads?
I imagine Cecilia as kind of a plain woman. Someone like Mireille Enos would be great. And for the fairy, I would only accept Joe Pesci sitting on Danny Devito’s shoulders.
As a horror writer you are looking to scare readers – what scares you?
Besides something bad happening to my wife and daughter, I would have to say heights. And dolls. If I was standing on the head of a giant china doll, I would soil my britches. I saw this video the other day of a woman’s nipple that had living bee larvae inside of it. It wasn’t my fault! It was one of those videos on Facebook that automatically plays when you scroll by it. The nipple had honeycomb patterns on it, and you could see the little white larvae moving around in there. If makes my scalp tingle when I think about it. It seriously freaks me out. So, a giant china doll with baby bees in its tits is my worst nightmare.
If you had a time machine, which era would you go back to and why?
I would travel back to yesterday because I had quite a nice dinner.
What life advice do you wish you’d been given sooner?
Being yourself is what makes you interesting. No matter how weird you might think you are.
If you were a supernatural creature, what would you be and why?
I would be a leprechaun because nobody would judge me for loving rainbows. And I also look fantastic in green and gold.
Where do you write best?
I can write anywhere. For me, it’s more about my state of mind than my surroundings. I am easily distracted, so I actually don’t write well at home because I’ll find so many other things I think need to be done. Or, you know, that blasted Netflix. I do most of my writing at my day job whenever I have a free moment. That way the writing itself feels like a treat instead of actual work.
I’ve been reading a lot of comic books lately. I’m working my way through Preacher right now, and it’s pretty damn fantastic. The last actual book I read was Mr. Fox and Other Feral Tales by Norman Partridge. This book is filled with amazing short stories and novellas, but for me, I enjoyed the bits of writing advice sprinkled throughout the most. Norm’s writing is inspiring and intimidating at the same time, and I will devour anything that man puts out. And he’s got some serious lessons to learn ya, too. Get this book.
If you didn’t write in your genre, which other would you prefer and why?
I think I would enjoy writing children’s books, actually. Maybe even some YA stuff. My ideas tend to be way out there, and though I tend to make them very adult, some of them could easily be toned down and marketed to a young audience. Sometimes, I see adults roll their eyes when I tell them what my latest book is about, and I can tell they aren’t taking it seriously because it seems silly to them. Which is fine, though I do think if they would actually read some of it, they may enjoy it. But with kids, the sillier the better. I will probably attempt a children’s book and YA novel at some point in my career.
Where can fans find you online?
You can head to my website: www.shanemckenzie.org
You can also find me on Facebook and Twitter @shanepmckenzie
I have an Amazon author page with all my available books listed there. You can also say my name seventy-six times in the mirror, and I’ll appear, but I’ll look exactly like you.