Wednesday, July 10, 2019
You'll never break THE CHAIN: an Interview with Adrian McKinty
The writing game is a tough one. The worst day in writing is still better than the best day in construction, but we don't see the struggle of most writers. We assume that writers whose work we love, who garner many awards, are doing well. This isn't always the case. For example, Adrian McKinty, author of the beloved Sean Duffy crime series set in '80s Northern Ireland, wrote recently about losing his family's home and driving for Uber to make ends meet. After 20 years of writing in the midlist, he was set to quit. He's won many awards, and everyone I know who reads his wonderful novels loves them. I bought the whole series when McKinty and fam moved to New York, and I met him at Noir at the Bar Queens. But according to him, those books only sell two or three thousand copies.
Now the writers reading this might scoff and wish for such sales. In the name of transparency, I've sold about the same with my books, and I've only been published for six years and have written two books. I'm not a name like Adrian. I was stunned, because I know what the royalties translate to. It's not a living. But there's good news for The Great McKinty. His new thriller THE CHAIN has great reviews--including my own, here at Criminal Element--and a seven figure movie deal. I spoke with him about the Duffy series, the new novel, and his exquisite musical and literary tastes. Here is our interview.
The Chain is set to be this summer's blockbuster. First: Congratulations! I loved the book. Let's get the question you've no doubt been peppered with out of the way. What inspired the fiendish premise?
I was in Mexico City working on another book about the murder of Leon Trotsky and I read about this concept of exchange kidnappings whereby a family member exchanges himself or herself with a more vulnerable family member while they raise the ransom… I combined that with the chain letters from my childhood and came up with the concept which initially I wrote as a short story. The morality underpinnings of the story has of course many precursors such as ‘The Button’, ‘The Monkey’s Paw’ etc. So its not terrible original in those terms but it is a spin on these ideas.
When writers pivot to thrillers, they often dumb it down or think it's somehow "easier" than other forms, but The Chain doesn't have that problem. Your style is quick but not simplified, but your allusions and references to poetry and literature remain. Did it feel freeing to leave the first person point of view of Sean Duffy and write several characters, including the villains?
I’ve always preferred standalones to series titles exactly because of that freedom! I love the fact that in a standalone everyone could die in the final chapter. I’ve done books like that which end like Hamlet the stage covered with blood and bodies. I do really prefer the freedom of going anywhere!
I loved the Massachusetts setting, and I'm familiar with the Quabbin area that you reference with the little nods to Lovecraft. You made it as realistic as your novels set in '80s Northern Ireland. Have you lived there? What made you choose it as the setting?
I know Northern Mass really well. My wife is from there and I’ve spent about 20 summers there and a few winters too. I love that part of the world and yes I love the fact that’s Lovecraft country.
I was flabbergasted when I learned that your Sean Duffy series isn't printed in the U.K. It's one of my favorite series, and I am generally not fond of police procedurals, which read like police state fan fiction. Duffy is more like a hardboiled P.I. Do you have more in store for Sean, and we will see more standalones? Perhaps set in Australia?
I love the character of Duffy and writing books set in that milieu but its been a very hard sell trying to get people to read books sent in 1980s Belfast. Its not the readers fault of course. Its my fault.
How are you handling your new level of success? Because while the Duffy novels aren't as famous as they deserve--here's hoping they soon will be--I won't say they weren't "success." You will always be a writer's writer to me, no matter how well known you become, because you respect the genre while bending it to your literary will.
If I do get money for The Chain it’s going to make me a better writer. Constantly worrying about money as an anxiety I do not need in my life. Stress kills creativity in my opinion.
What are your favorite books of the past year? I put The Overstory by Richard Powers on my list because you raved.
Overstory and Milkman were probably my two big favourites. Boy they were great books. And they were both up for the Booker Prize which proved it was a good year for fiction. Every once in a while Will Self will write an article in the Guardian declaring the novel to be dead and I’m like did you read the Booker Shortlist? The National Book Award shortlist? The Pulitzer Shortlist? The Edgar Shortlist? The Hugo Shortlist? I mean holy fuck mate there’s so much amazing stuff out there…
Have you watched Derry Girls? I liked season one, but I have no idea how true to life it is.
Derry Girls is a bit broad for me. I’m happy that people are looking at Derry through new eyes and I’m happy that people are finally understanding that Ulster people have a sense of humour. But its not really my sense of humour. I’m a wee bit dryer.
As a disclaimer, thank you for blurbing my novel Bad Boy Boogie. What crime fiction novels have excited you lately?
You took my blurb off the cover and replaced it with someone more famous didn’t you? One does not forget such slights. I just read two BIG novels. Winslow’s The Border and Ellroy’s This Storm both of which were fantastic.
It deserves to be on the cover! But my publisher couldn't make it fit. --ed. (Not Ed. Tommy.)
I'm an I.T. professional, The Chain didn't require any willful suspension of disbelief for me. It takes the internet-strangled lifestyle of the past decade and makes it our worst nightmare, without being fanciful. Have you taken extra online precautions, after writing this? Are you surprised at how much information people share that could be weaponized by their enemies?
I’m not on Facebook so I didn’t know if what I was going to say in the book was bullshit or not. But my wife is and I spent a couple of days on her account going through her friends’ accounts. I was absolutely astounded and horrified by the amount of information people put online without thinking. Casually mentioning that their back door is broken and doesn’t close and when they’ll be leaving the house etc. etc. Horrifying…
Without ruining the surprises, I loved that The Chain wasn't a techno-thriller, despite depending on tech for its premise. I've known catfish, and I'm glad someone made a villain that is based on the reality of internet obsessives who know how to use it as a weapon. Have you ever had a frightening online experience from a stalker or troll?
Funnily enough for this book I’ve had a few angry Duffy obsessives giving me 1 star reviews and saying that they hadn’t read the book but would keep giving me 1 star reviews until I bring out the new Sean Duffy novel. To me that is not very nice behavior on the part of a “fan”. It hasn’t gotten weirder than that thank goodness.
That's terrible, and I will tell fellow Duffy fans that The Chain is as great a read as any of the series novels.-Tom (aka ed.)
Last one--the Duffy series wouldn't be the same without his record collection, but that's limited by the constraints of the period setting. What new music do you like, if any? If Sean makes it to the modern day, what would he spin on his turntable?
Sean and I don’t have exactly the same tastes. I’ve often wondered what he would make of the 90s? Would he be on board with grunge, Radiohead etc? I dunno. For me I’ve liked new stuff from Joanna Newsom, James Holden, Nine Inch Nails, Tyler The Creator, Max Richter, VNV Nation etc.
Back to all Tommy, all the time---
I'll be adding those to my playlists. For me, Dragon Inn 3, The Haxan Cloak, Jucifer, Santigold, and the new albums by L7 and the Lunachicks have been on my rotation. Love 'em to death.