with Frederick Key
Author of: McMann & Duck: Private Investigators,
Larry and the Mascots, Cobalt Agonistes, and more
Please tell me a little about your current work in progress.
Last year I completed a mystery novel entitled McMann & Duck: Private Investigators. It takes place in 1951 in a small Texas town. As I write this I am polishing up the outline for a sequel that takes place eight years later. I became so interested in the main character, a World War II army vet, that I envisioned a series of mystery novels about him because I enjoyed his company so much, and much about him remains secret. We don’t have much in common, however, although we are both usually polite.
As to whether he will survive these books, well, that remains to be seen.
Where did you get the idea for this book or series?
A boring meeting. I am an inveterate doodler. I doodled my way through school. I had college notebooks that looked like the walls of pyramid chamber. One day I was in a dull meeting and I started to sketch, and a man in a suit and fedora looked back at me, smoking a cigarette. By his side was a duck. I wondered who they were, and off I went. C. S. Lewis famously started Narnia with a vision of the lamppost and a faun under it in the snow, and this kind of struck me the same way.
Do you write in more than one genre?
Yes. I’ve written mostly mysteries, but also contemporary fantasy novels. Larry and the Mascots, where a college student meets a crew of living advertising mascots, and I’ve Got This, a middle-grade book about a boy with an unusual superpower, fall into that category. Cobalt Agonistes, which is half-drama, half-comic book story, runs along those lines as well.
My two MacFinster books are comedies, but they have elements of crime fiction because crime is a great plot driver. It’s why so many of Wodehouse’s stories have (usually comical) felons about.
Tell me about something that you believe makes your writing unique or worthy of attention.
To my personal credit and professional detriment, I have never been able to go along with the zeitgeist. Often it’s just my own orneriness; the music I hated in college, for example, I like now, because now it is painted it over with nostalgia. On the other hand, it has saved me from following more people off intellectual and artistic cliffs. A thousand people doing a stupid thing doesn’t make it a smart thing. Doing something of worth (as I hope readers will find in my work) means I didn’t go off a cliff following the fads and formulas I see elsewhere.
Is there anything about your personal history or personality that manifests strongly in your writing?
I struggled with a lot of things in my early adulthood that had to be discarded down the line—paganism, atheism, alcohol abuse. I can’t say I was born again in the common sense, only because to me that always meant a lightning-bolt like experience—if only! I still struggle with faith, because I was not raised in a religious home and it’s always a second language to me. I also think that like all Christians, the faith itself is like a second language—who wants to be humble, who wants to forgive those who hate you? I hope that my actions and thoughts are informed by my faith today.
Of course my personal experience features in one way or another in all my writing, but in a practical sense, I think my attempts at humility get me to try to be more concise. Brevity is the soul of wit, after all, and I never want to be a dull writer. The reader’s interest is paramount.
You wouldn’t know concision was important to me based on my answers to your questions, however.
What else would be helpful for readers to know about you?
Like most writers, I became a dedicated reader from childhood—big fan of comic books and the Hardy Boys mysteries, later classic pulp fiction characters like the Shadow and the Avenger—and my entire professional career came from that. I’ve worked behind the scenes for decades at book and magazine publishers. I grew up in the friendly confines of New York City—from my bedroom window I could see cars go by on the highway all day and all night. I have two enormously hairy dogs who have confounded the best vacuum cleaners money can buy. And I blog daily at vitaminfred.blogspot.com.
While I hope readers will visit my blog, I mention it here because it began as a discipline, to make sure I wrote or drew something creative every day. As they say, writers write; they don’t sit around talking about writing. Putting the onus on myself to produce something I hope people will enjoy every day, be it writing or a cartoon, is a great motivator.
Excluding your own work, what underrated author or book would you recommend that more people read? Why?
In high school I discovered a huge book of the short stories of Henry Kuttner, a science fiction writer in the 1950s who died much too young. Kuttner was incredibly inventive and prolific. There are few books I have ever enjoyed as much as that one. Science fiction dates terribly, and its stars fade quickly, which is a shame.
Which of your books do you most highly recommend? Why?
Like most authors, the book I think is my best is whatever I just finished. So as of today it would be McMann & Duck.
Which break, event, decision, or fortuitous circumstance has helped you or your writing career the most?
I mentioned earlier that I was a fan of the Hardy Boys books when I was a child. The first one I got was in a Christmas grab bag event, and I was hugely disappointed. Tried to swap it with something else, anything else—a Slinky, a pack of gum, whatever—but there were no takers. So one day I just sat down and read the damn thing.
It sounds stupid, but my whole love of reading, and thus wanting to write, came from that incident—that some parent was boring enough to put a book in a school gift grab bag. Go figure.
What question do you wish you would get asked more often?
“May I pay you fifty million dollars for the rights to make your book into a movie?” would be a pretty good one. Failing that, I would like to be asked, “How much of what you write comes from reality?” because I would like to say “None of it, and all of it,” because it sounds pithy and Wildean. So no one ever asks me that.
Do you have a catch-phrase or quote that you like? What is it? And why do you choose it?
Today it is “A proud man is always looking down on things and people; and, of course, as long as you are looking down, you cannot see something that is above you.” C. S. Lewis again.
It reminds me that pride is the king of the sins, and most to be avoided. All the other sins come from telling myself that I Know Best and I Deserve More.
If you ask me that question tomorrow, I would probably have a different quote. This is why I can never get a tattoo.
Thank you for asking me to participate in your authors’ profile series!
You're Welcome Fred.
I can't let this pass without mention: As I write this I am polishing up the outline for a sequel that takes place eight years later. I became so interested in the main character, a World War II army vet, that I envisioned a series of mystery novels about him because I enjoyed his company so much, and much about him remains secret.
In other writing news, I've completed In Death Bedrenched, the prequel to the Tomahawks and Dragon Fire series. A free ecopy is available here simply for signing up for my newsletter.