Ten Questions for Ken McKea
(used by permission)
Ken McKea, author of four Florida mysteries, is at work on number five in the series. He talks about the process.
1-First, how do you pronounce your name? Mack-kee?
No, McKAY. Some branches of the clan spell it that way, too. Mine’s the poor branch of the clan, I guess.
2-What made you want to write mysteries?
I was a fan of the late John D. MacDonald, author of a number of mysteries set in Florida, most notably the Travis McGee series. Travis is a salvage expert. He finds clients who have lost a lot of money and have no legal way of retrieving it. He gets it back for them, or what’s left of it, and splits it fifty-fifty. Half of something is better than all of nothing. McGee is a self-described beach bum who takes a slice of his retirement when he makes a score, so he might work one or two cases a year and then party for the rest of the time. Nice work if you can get it, but he pays a high price: his carcass is scarred and marked from the violence he encounters.
3-McGee, McKea—is there a relationship?
Not a direct one, but I think my character Jim Dallas is at least a cousin of McGee’s.
4-How long does it take you to write a book?
Why does everybody ask that? It takes as long as it takes. I do considerable research, and then life intervenes. I’m not a full-time writer. A book might gestate for years before it’s written, or I might write at a rapid pace. Two books a year is probably what I could do if I put my mind to it and set all else aside.
5-How did you come up with Jim Dallas as a character?
James Thomas Dallas. I don’t think anyone’s known his full name until now. Wanted a guy who’s been around and who has a grudge to settle with the world. Named him Dallas because at first John D. MacDonald was going to name Travis McGee “Dallas McGee.” Unfortunately, his manuscripts for the first three novels landed on his editor’s desk on November 23, 1963. At that time, nobody wanted to be reminded of Dallas. He found “Travis” as a replacement by looking at the names of Air Force bases. Anyway, Dallas is the son of an Alabama salesman and a former schoolteacher, both now dead. He has one living sister, but they’re not close. He went to college intending to be a lawyer, decided against that profession, and entered the police force in Atlanta. He was persistent if not brilliant and began to rise in the force. Got married to a nice Atlanta girl. They were trying to have kids. Then Dallas was more or less roped into going undercover to investigate police corruption—a lot more of that is going to come out in two later books—and when his cover was blown, two rogue cops tried their best to murder him and got his wife instead. They turned state’s evidence and are both serving prison terms. Dallas, who was badly hurt in the assassination attempt, has been pensioned off and now lives in an odd little house he inherited from his wife—it once had belonged to her crazy uncle. From time to time people who know him ask him to do favors. He usually profits from them.
Now, how did he emerge? God only knows. The books needed someone who’s driven, obsessive, but—I hope—human. Dallas could easily become a case of anti-social behavior disorder. What saves him from that is his friendship with another guy, Sam Lyons, who’s his polar opposite in many ways but who has a gift of openness and a shrewd sense of character. Through their investigations, Dallas is slowly learning to cope with the world again.
However, he still has unresolved issues.
6-Do I notice a pattern in the titles?
I don’t know, do you? There is one, of course: Atlanta Bones, Cuban Dagger, Eden Feint, and Glades Heist. AB, CD, EF, GH. The next one is Islamorada Jam. It involves Florida land developers, civil and moral corruption, and a might-be, might-not-be suicide. Dallas runs into a woman who’s been as deeply damaged by loss as he has. There’s chemistry, of a kind. Of course, there’s chemistry in making TNT too.
7-So you have what, thirteen titles?
Thirteen planned. Two are pivotal: Miami Needle and Year Zero. Don’t ask me what I’m doing for X—I know it, but that’s a surprise.
8-Does Dallas die in the Y-Z one?
Wouldn’t you like to know?
9-These are self-published, right?
Right. Which is different from vanity publishing. Actually, I write other things, under other names, and I have an agent. I really wanted to write these, but he discouraged me because there’s not a huge market for this sort of adventure-thriller any more, and the big publishers want guaranteed best-sellers. However, they all came out as books for Kindle, and they’re doing well. I get a nice check every month, anyway, and I’ve received some encouraging letters from readers.
10-So, if you could be any writer in the world, who would it be?
Me. It’s a dirty job, but somebody’s got to do it, and I’m the closest.