Today’s guest blogger is Joe McKinney, an author I had heard people talking about for quite a while before I got the chance to check out his work for myself. When I finally picked up one of his books–the zombie novel Dead City–I kicked myself for not having read it sooner. Right about the same time, Joe sent me a tale called “Blemish” for the Dust & Shadow ghost story anthology I was editing, and it quite simply blew me away, solidifying my appreciation for his work. If you haven’t read him yet, you need to, and I would suggest starting as I did with Dead City and its sequels Apocalypse of the Dead, Flesh Eaters, and The Zombie King. Outside of the undead, Joe wrote the acclaimed science fiction disaster novel, Quarantined, and the crime thriller, Dodging Bullets (which I’m particularly excited to read given Joe’s background as a homicide detective.) Upcoming releases include the horror novels Lost Girl of the Lake, The Red Empire, The Charge, and St. Rage. Joe also worked as editor on the zombie anthology Dead Set (with Michelle McCrary), The Predatory Kind, and the abandoned-building themed collection, The Forsaken (with Mark Onspaugh).
Speaking of abandoned buildings…
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In Praise of Spooky Old Buildings
The loot gathering was good, because I grew up in a fairly affluent suburb, where the streets grow and spread in crystalline profusion, and where the soul of modern man grows numb in cookie cutter houses.
Fortunately, the little suburb where I grew up was on the edge of vast cotton farm…or what had once been a cotton farm many years earlier. By the time I came along, the fields had run to riot and a dense forest of trees grew where once there had been furrows. My friends and I spent our summers roaming that empty landscape, our dogs by our sides, BB guns gripped by the breach in reasonable imitation of Marines on patrol in the jungle. We boys were like gods then, carving empires of the imagination from the air on a daily basis.
But there was something else besides tall weeds and swamp trees, for those fields weren’t entirely empty. Just a few hundred yards in from the fence that was supposed to keep us out, hidden behind a large copse of trees, was what I guess was on old cotton processing facility. It was little more than three large, interconnected metal silos, nearly every inch of which was covered with graffiti. But in its moldering, rusting decay it was resplendent. I was drawn to it in much the same way as water finds its own level. There was an irresistible gravity around that abandoned structure that both held me hostage and set my mind free. It was like a flint for my imagination, for with the smallest of effort I found I could turn those silos into cities, the loose machine parts around them into a cemetery of dead cars. That lonely collection of silos took me to dark and apocalyptic places. And I loved every minute of it.
But that Halloween, as we wandered the neighborhood, collecting our loot, we happened by the new construction that would, within the coming year, spread our neighborhood into the empty fields we loved so much. Cookie cutter houses would take the place of my beloved cotton processing silos, and another empty place on the map would get filled in with names like Spring Forest Lane and Oak Terrace and Verbena Drive.
But for that night, that magical last night of October, 1981, the palace of my imagination was still intact, sitting like a sentinel at the outskirts of my own October Country.
May that land forever live.
– Joe McKinney