AMA: Big Bad Horror B*%ches: Horror author Kira McKinney ready to talk being a woman writing in a man's genre

Kira McKinney
Sep 22, 2018

        Gone are the days when women run up the stairs when they should simply bolt out the front door. In They Come from the Shadows: A Collection of Horror emerging author, Kira McKinney, unleashes story after story featuring female antagonists and protagonists whom readers will never find tripping over nothing as they run screaming through the woods. Instead, the women McKinney writes are smart, tough, and—generally—at least a little evil. However, they always have a redeeming quality, something that makes the reader root for them despite their obvious flaws.

            “I have always been drawn to horror. I like it because monsters are predictable, humans aren’t.” McKinney explains why she writes the genre despite living with PTSD, severe anxiety disorder, and bipolar disorder. She grew up in a violent home, abused by a step-father, and suffered other traumatic incidents throughout her life. Yet, she isn’t rattled by blood or gore or vicious monsters. “The storylines, the characters, the ideas are as old as time,” she says. “They all have rules.” Those rules make McKinney feel safe in an unpredictable world. Don’t worry. Kira has her own formula that, she feels, helps keep stories fresh and fun. She also likes to interject a bit of humor into her tales.

            Kira McKinney has already self-published two books and has two more set for release by the end of 2018. “Self-publishing is a giant learning curve, but as a woman writing horror, it is a good avenue. Women in the genre tend to be underappreciated and underrepresented.” Kira tried traditional publishing but decided early on that she wanted to retain control of her work, and that indie publishing seemed better suited for her ideas and her style. “I like to write in the past. Horror stories set in the 30s and 40s don’t seem to appeal to publishers, but my audience seems to dig them,” she says.

            Kira McKinney is a 2018 graduate of Arizona State University where she majored in Liberal Studies with a focus on English Literature. She graduated summa cum laude. Her book They Come from the Shadows: A Collection of Horror is available on Amazon for pre-order and releases on Kindle and paperback on October 15th, 2018. Her novel The Blood in Guthrie releases on November 26th. Visit her website kiramckinney.com and subscribe to her newsletter to stay up-to-date on all news.

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Who is you favourite writer ever? Do you try to be like them?
Sep 24, 10:39AM EDT0

Geovanna asked a similar question below. You can view my answer there regarding my favorite authors and my reasons for those answers.

I don't intentionally mimic their styles, but I am sure that it does influence my writing. Being such a devoted fan of those authors, it is nearly impossible for it to not be evident that they have influence both me and my work. That being said, I do hope that I convey a voice in my writing that is unique and my own. Something that was birthed by their influence and my personal experiences that could only come from me.

Sep 24, 11:09AM EDT0
Can you earn a decent living as a writer? Where do you market your work?
Sep 23, 8:15PM EDT0

That's a hard question to answer. Yes, there are certainly lots of writers who make excellent livings. There are a lot of career options for writers. You can be a travel writer, technical writer, copy writer, or you can research and write non-fiction for things like text books. It is much easier to make a living doing these types of writing than it is fiction.

Should you choose to write fiction and want to do it for a living, know that many people never reach that level. Many work day jobs and write for passion on the side. Many sell very few books per year. You can market on social media, blogs, via book tours. You can try to find an influencer to help suggest your book. There are a lot of options for marketing. Some are free and some are not. You have to figure out which ones reach your target market the best. It really comes down to a lot of trial and error. If you're willing to put in the time, you can be successful. It is a full-time job writing and marketing your own work. It takes a lot of time and a lot of patience and a lot of humility. 

If you or anyone else decides to go that route I wish you all the best in your journey!

Sep 23, 8:55PM EDT0
What are some mistakes you made so far in your career that you wish you haven’t?
Sep 23, 11:26AM EDT0

Early on, with Whispers Down the Hall, I did my own cover without knowing much about cover design. Same with the Kindle formatting for that book. I have grown a lot since that release in 2016.

I don't regret any of my mistakes. I think every mistake is an opportunity to learn. Even now, when I get really excited about something, I want to rush it and I have to remind myself to slow down. That is what Whispers taught me. I'm grateful for that lesson. 

Sep 23, 12:28PM EDT0
Does good always win in your stories? Do they generally have optimistic ending?
Sep 18, 12:31PM EDT0

I think this can be really subjective based on the views of the reader. In some of my stories, like Electric Rocks, there is a very clear line between good and evil. In other stories, like Stress Cracks, the line between is blurred. Some stories end very definitively--readers can be sure of exactly what happens to those characters. A lot of my stories, though, do not have a clear ending. 

I think it may be about a 50/50 split. It may even lean more toward evil winning more often than good. It could have a lot to do with the fact that I am still fighting those battles, so I am not ready to theorize on how they end. I like cliffhangers. I like to leave the story before we reach an absolute conclusion, or what looks like one. As far as I am concerned, unless a character is dead their story never ends. It is better to leave early than keep telling beyond the point of boredom. I come in at the latest possible moment and leave at the earliest possible moment. Sometimes, that means the reader needs to decide what ultimately happens--Her is a great example of that. 

Sep 18, 1:00PM EDT0
Do you feel writing is therapeutical to you? Would you have been able to deal with your past if you weren’t writing? Would you recommend others who have suffered to try writing?
Sep 18, 4:21AM EDT0

Writing is one of my primary therapy tools. I think I use it subconsciously. I don't plan for my story to show up in my fictional stories, my fictional demons or monsters to represent my personal struggles, or for my characters to represent me--it just works out that way. Somewhere, deep inside my brain, there are wars still being fought, and writing allows me to expel them in a healthy way. That being said, I still utilize other forms of therapy and medication. Those are important tools for recovery.

If anyone out there is struggling writing, in any form, can be an excellent release. Journaling, poetry, song writing, stories, novels--they can all help you banish the pain, terror, shock, whatever emotion eats away at you. Even if you never want to share it. Even if you burn it after you write it, or tuck it away in a box in the back of your closet. Writing is a great tool to use when you just aren't sure how to deal with something.

Sep 18, 11:51AM EDT0
Do you design your covers on your own? What are some good resources for that?
Sep 17, 3:47PM EDT0

Oh goodness no. I play around with photography, and I just happen to be very visual, so I generally have an idea about what I want. I did do the Whispers Down the Hall cover because I didn't know better. For Ink & Needles a graphic designer friend took the reigns, and for They Come from the Shadows I hired an amazing designer from Fiverr. 

If you're an indie writer and don't have a lot of capital Fiverr is an excellent place to get a custom cover made and support other artists. You can also find pre-made covers by doing a google search. There are a lot of options out there. 

Sep 17, 4:06PM EDT0
Do you think you will ever write something that is not horror?
Sep 17, 11:48AM EDT0

Definitely. While horror is my first love, my first book was actually a novella-length memoir called Whispers Down the Hall. I am also in the editing stages of a middle grade fantasy titled Elise and the Moonstone, although, I won't lie, that one has a few horror elements--age appropriate, of course. 

Sep 17, 1:25PM EDT0
Are there some clubs or groups for horror writers you are a part of? Is it generally a supportive community or competitive one?
Sep 16, 1:17PM EDT1

I have found some great groups on Facebook full of horror writers. The horror community, in general, is incredibly supportive. Fans of the genre are ravenous for new stories with fresh plots and characters. Writers are so kind to new blood, and do a lot to help welcome people by sharing their books and information.

Sep 16, 3:45PM EDT82
Why was it important to you to have strong female protagonists and antagonists in your stories?
Sep 16, 12:36PM EDT0

As my bio mentions, I grew up in an abusive home. As a result of feeling  inadequate and unable to protect myself I feel that my characters should send a message that women can do that.

My stories are a representation of the demons I still battle everyday. There is a little piece of me in every character--good, bad, or neutral. Through those characters I hope that I can send the message that we (people--humans) can triumph over what causes us pain. Sometimes my stories don't have an ultimate ending because I haven't finished fighting that monster yet. 

Last edited @ Sep 22, 2:17PM EDT.
Sep 16, 3:41PM EDT0
Why do you believe women in horror writing are underappreciated and underrepresented?
Sep 16, 11:27AM EDT0

I think it happened way back when literature and the genre developed and came to print. Males have dominated horror forever. From writing to the subject matter. Think about it, even the plots of traditional horror rarely allow for women to be heroes. They are damsels in distress. They are victims. It is the unlikely story (until recently) that a woman is the final survivor.

So, when women wanted to write in a genre dominated by men and male centered stories they used pseudonyms or ambiguous initials. This way, they could pass themselves off as men to the reading public, because it's always been assumed that the audience for horror was strictly male, even though plenty of females enjoy the genre. This masked the fact, to the public, that women were out there writing horror.

Add to that the fact that we hide successful female writers of the genre. When movie adaptations are made from Stephen King's books, his name is plastered to the movie. When movies were made based on Patricia Highsmith's books, her name was suspiciously absent. Is that because we don't want to know that a woman created a beloved horror story for what most people assume is a primarily male audience? 

I have asked in previous answers--How many current female horror authors can the average horror fan name? Most know plenty of male authors, but can't name a single current female horror author. They may get publishing deals, they may have books on shelves in stores or on amazon, but they simply do not receive the same marketing or support that male horror authors receive.

Sep 16, 11:55AM EDT0
Why do you find self-publishing in horror is more beneficial to the writer?
Sep 16, 1:07AM EDT0

Please don't misunderstand. Traditional publishing is still an excellent avenue if an author can utilize it. It does put your work in brick and mortar stores when indie/self-publishing rarely can. Despite self-publishing beginning to be viewed as more acceptable within the literary community, there are still many people who question your validity as an author if you do self-publish.

That being said, authors have some tools handy when they begin to query their manuscripts to agents and publishers who accept unsolicited work. The Manscriptwishlist website and #MSWL on Twitter are direct links to agents who post what kind of manuscript they are currently seeking. What is consistently missing from both of those sites are requests for horror manuscripts. As I queried The Blood in Guthrie, I had always planned to self-publish my other works, I even found that agents who normally represent horror just aren't currently interested in it.

The current political climate of the US, the litany of political movements, and the social movements that are happening right now are all having an effect on what the literary market is looking for. They are also focusing heavily on Middle Grade Fiction and Young Adult. Being part of an already underrepresented and underappreciated group of writers, female horror writers, the odds were stacked against me from the beginning. So, in the end, after sending nearly 20 queries (which is quite few by today's standards), I decided I preferred to stay in control of my work and get it out rather than spend what could amount to two or more years querying only to end up self-publishing anyway. 

That decision was made after beta readers, readers on my website (I gave them a preview chapter), and a professional editor gave me positive feedback on the story. I spend a lot of my time marketing, but even authors who are signed with publishers, unless they are well-known, are expected to do a great deal of their own marketing.

Ultimately, the decision to self or traditionally publish is very personal. It may even change from one book to the next. 

Sep 16, 10:37AM EDT0
What can readers expect from "They Come from the Shadows: A Collection of Horror" book?
Sep 15, 9:25AM EDT0

They Come from the Shadows features short stories from my blog as well as five exclusive short stories called Metacarcinus, Charlie, The Night Shift, The Girl with the Dragon Eyes, and Water Treatment. There are 20 stories total, and they run the gamut from straight horror, to paranormal, to horror/sci-fi, to horror/fantasy, and even some horror/comedy. There should really be something for everyone in there.

I am currently holding a fan art contest on my page. If all goes well, there will be some illustrations along with the stories as well. You can read about the contest on my blog. 

Last edited @ Sep 22, 2:23PM EDT.
Sep 15, 11:48AM EDT0
Which of your stories are your readers favorite? Why do you think so?
Sep 15, 3:24AM EDT0

I would guess, based on analytics, it would be The Carnival. My theory is that people are just drawn to the ethereal feeling that surrounds them. The music, the lights, the voices rising up from the crowd, and the fact that anything could happen--theoretically--because they are filled with strangers. 

Last edited @ Sep 15, 11:49AM EDT.
Sep 15, 11:40AM EDT0
Who are your favorite authors? How do they inspire your writing style?
Sep 15, 2:04AM EDT0

I really love Shirley Jackson, Poe, and H.P. Lovecraft.

Shirley Jackson is great with twists and keeping her readers guessing. I think she has influenced my work in that way. While some of my stories are pretty straight forward, a lot of them involve more than one twist that I hope make the reader's jaw drop as they yell, "What!" into their covers. 

I love Poe's voice. It's dark and delicate. He chose his words, it seems, very deliberately. I hope that my writing eventually reaches a level that reflects my efforts to do the same.

Lovecraft had an ability to craft horrible yet beautiful worlds. Everyday places that were dark and sinister--like an alternate version of our own reality where the worst of monsters dwelled. The universe I have created for my stories is much like this. All of my stories are happening in the same universe, most in Central Pennsylvania (or with characters who have come from there). 

Sep 15, 11:37AM EDT0
How often do you write?
Sep 14, 11:43PM EDT0

About 5-6 days a week. I shoot for 2000-4000 words a day, whatever it takes to finish a scene (chapter or short story). I really hate leaving something in the middle.

That doesn't include the writing I do for social media marketing, press releases, in group forums and chats, etc.

Sep 15, 11:31AM EDT0
What are your top three favorite all time books?
Sep 14, 11:42AM EDT0

Yikes! That's like asking me to choose a favorite child! haha. 

They aren't even all horror. In no particular order...

On the Road-Jack Kerouac

Choke-Chuck Palahniuk

Strangers on a Train-Patricia Highsmith

Let's add in short stories, because I write a lot of those and their influence is real.

We have Always Lived in the Castle-Shirley Jackson (a novella)

The Yellow Wallpaper-Charlotte Perkins Gilman

The Music of Erich Zann-H.P. Lovecraft

Sep 14, 11:55AM EDT0
What is your next story going to focus on?
Sep 14, 5:06AM EDT0

My writing style is a little, we'll call it "odd" to be nice. I don't outline anything. I watch the story like a movie in my head. Then, I record what I see and hear just as I have watched it. So, I never know, for short stories, what my brain will give me next. For novel length pieces, I never know where the story will end up unless I get a "preview" that shows me the ending. It's a weird process. 

I can tell you about my upcoming novel The Blood in Guthrie. Here is a brief synopsis of that one. I am very excited to release it.

It's 1934 Guthrie, Louisiana the population is 577...make that 571. Severed heads are piling up with no trace of the bodies, and as it turns out, until now, no one was all that concerned. Cincinnati transplant, Jack McMann, the town's new deputy is determined to find the missing pieces of the puzzle and bring down the human guillotine. 

The rest of Guthrie seems to be looking the other way; eating at Minnie's Place, swilling bourbon, and averting their eyes to anything suspicious.  

Nothing makes sense in the small town filled with dirty blood and dark secrets, but Jack will have to connect the dots, dodge meddling townspeople, and stop the killer before Guthrie is left with a population of zero.

"The Blood in Guthrie" is a horror novel, with a hint of comedy, set in a small southern town during Jim Crow and just after the end of Prohibition. These factors touch the lives of the citizens of Guthrie. "The Blood in Guthrie" is in a similar vein as The Killer Inside Me by Jim Thompson and Sweeny Todd

I hope you'll check it out when it releases on November 26th!

Sep 14, 8:46AM EDT0
What other aspects of horror do you enjoy?
Sep 14, 3:28AM EDT0

I am a fan of the genre as a whole. I love the gore and the violence, and the emotions those invoke--you'll find those in some of my writing. I also love ghost stories and paranormal. Ghost hunting is a favorite pass-time of mine. I also love a great storyline. 

I will almost always pass on blood and gore in exchange for a compelling story and lots and lots of backstory. One of my favorite horror films is Rose Red. If I can get something that keeps me guessing the whole way through, even better. That's why I loved Shirley Jackson's novella, We have Always Lived in the Castle.

Sep 14, 8:36AM EDT0
Which character is your favorite that you have created? Why?
Sep 14, 2:37AM EDT0

That's a tough one. I have a special place in my heart for all of my characters. I think I would have to say Minnie from my upcoming novel The Blood in Guthrie.

Minnie faces an incredibly difficult set of challenges in the story. She is a person of color, originally from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, but she now resides in Guthrie, which is in southeast Louisiana. It is 1934, so the story takes place during Jim Crow when people of color had few rights and segregation was a natural way of life--especially in the south.

Minnie is strong, courageous, and she doesn't take any sh*t. She has basically trained the entire town of Guthrie not to use racial slurs, and she is working on the segregation thing. So, there are things that happen-language that gets used-in Guthrie that will make some readers uncomfortable. But, I think, even in horror, we can address what is going on in the world around us and how we need to stand up for what is right. Minnie is the one brave social activist soul who does that.

Minnie is part of what makes Guthrie unique. Without her, it would just be another backwoods southern town. Does that mean she's totally good? Well, that isn't for me to say. Haha.

Sep 14, 8:30AM EDT0
How do you think the world of women horror writers are evolving?
Sep 13, 8:14PM EDT0

l wish I could say that it was evolving by leaps and bounds, but that wouldn't be true. The hard truth is that women who write horror still have to fight to be taken seriously.

Let's take an oldie into example. Mary Shelley was well known and respected in her time as a writer. After she released Frankenstein, the literary community recognized her as a deserving author. However, despite movie studios and theatrical companies making tons of profits from adapting her work, until the 1980s Shelley was more or less viewed as Percy Shelley's wife who just happened to write a nice novel.

On another note, reknown author Patricia Highsmith, author of Strangers on a Train and The Talented Mr. Ripley was well-respected during her writing career, but when her work was adapted to film, she was nearly invisible.

My point here is that everyone knows the Stephen Kings and the Clive Barkers and the Neil Gaimans of the world, but very few can name one or two current female horror authors. We do have some folks on Twitter supporting women with #ladiesofhorrorfiction which is just amazing. In that way women will see some sort of evolution, but it will be slow going unless people make a concious effort to purchase and read and support us.

Sep 13, 11:08PM EDT0
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