Washington author Gary McKinney stopped by one rainy afternoon to talk about his new book, Darkness Bids the Dead Goodbye (Kearney Street Books, $14.95).
Before he uttered a word about his book, Gary strapped on a guitar and sang a Grateful Dead song.* This was a "grate" introduction to his series hero who is a Deadhead. Gavin Pruitt is also the sheriff of a small town, a soon-to-be grandfather, and a soon-to-be father. What in Gary's background could have produced such a meld of stories?
Gary has a Masters in Creative Writing and played music professionally for several years. That's the short answer.
The long answer involves much of Gary's background story. How is Pruitt like him? Gary, too, grew up in an area much like what Sheriff Pruitt patrols. Pruitt's Grateful Dead and sensory deprivation tank interests are Gary's as well, but Pruitt is more intense and has a temper. Gary "wouldn't personally be good at" what Pruitt does. And Pruitt is starting over with his life (e.g., his child-in-waiting), and Gary contentedly isn't.
Was Gary one of the bad boys in town while growing up? No, more of a "geek-wuss," he says, laughing. In fact, he found it difficult to write the part of the killer. It "creeped me out," he says. About his town while he was growing up, Gary says, "It wasn't art and literature; it was beer and fights."
Gary's gentleness has infused Sheriff Pruitt with an optimism that is at odds with his job dealing with the evil that people can do to themselves and others. Pruitt "expects the worst but hopes for the best," Gary says.
Gary's evident sense of humor inserts itself into his books. He "wants the reader to get a few chuckles." It is a balance of humor and seriousness that he hopes will engage his audience. He says, "There should be a little bit of everything!"
That's why he may have brought back Angela, whom he had "fallen in love with as a character." Her outrageous behavior in Slipknot, the first book in his series, was too good to leave out of the second. Moving her next door to the sheriff lightened the more serious main story of a brutal murder.
How did Gary make his female characters believable? The rest of the members of his writer's group is all women. They have kept him on a realistic course. "He's a feminist-humanist," shouted a friend who had joined the get together. Good credentials.
The world of Sheriff Pruitt seems so far away from the life of Gary McKinney. How does he manage the technical details of his story? He has his stories vetted by a member of the Bellingham PD and by his friend, fellow author Robert Lopresti.
Gary works to keep his books real. He says that he has learned "what not to put in." Because the sheriff's town and the sheriff's character are so clear to him, it's "almost impossible" not to have the story be visual. (That will help if Hollywood ever comes knocking!)
There are some funny things from Gary and his wife's lives that he can still draw from. If you spot a muscular red Mustang car in one of his books, it's because his wife's parents owned one. Both Gary and Karen gave credible impressions of teenage girls flirting with the machine, only to be eventually surprised (and disappointed) to see Karen's mother at the wheel!
Next up for Gary is some research into hunting, because that's what Sheriff Pruitt is going to have to know for his next adventure. Gary is working to keep Pruitt from becoming jaded. No chance of that.