Today, Chris McKinney tells me how finally including his childhood loves and memories into his fiction gave him a breath of new life—personally and professionally. As a child of the eighties, I can see myself in him. As an author who had her own rediscovery of self, I empathize with him.
Blade Runner, Raiders of the Lost Ark, The Road Warrior, Heavy Metal—when I was a child, these were among my favorite things. Then, later, when gaming emerged, Baldur’s Gate, Final Fantasy, Fallout, Everquest, Bioshock, Mass Effect—I couldn’t get enough to the point where I had to stop (my last brief relapse was Red Dead Redemption II—but I digress). However, despite all these influences, their impact on my writing was minimal for years. After all, I was taught in graduate school that fiction writing is serious business.
It took a couple of decades for me to understand that, sure, fiction is serious, but it can be fun, too. I wanted to have fun, so I decided to delve into speculative fiction that paid homage to my childhood loves. I didn’t want to copy these things, but I didn’t shy away from their influence either. The result is Midnight, Water City, the first book in a trilogy. It’s set in 2142, and is a mash up of murder mystery, cyberpunk, noir, and eco-fiction. It’s fusion like I’m fusion. I’m a Korean, Japanese, Scottish American who was born and raised on an island in the middle of the Pacific. I live three blocks away from a huge Chinese graveyard. I live one mile away from a waterfall next to an arboretum that fights to preserve endangered Hawaiian plant species. My Japanese American stepfather is an aging vet who was a LRRP in Vietnam. So guess what? Graveyards, waterfalls, indigenous plant life, and an old war vet—I threw all this in the trilogy, too.
I’ve also spent just about my entire life in, and near, the ocean, so I figured, why not? Let’s toss in an underwater city as well. Books that I’ve written in the past, “serious” regional fiction that has been well-received over the years, really only revealed parts of me. My first book, a semi-autobiographic novel that ignores the childhood loves that I mention above. My second, loosely based on some of my grandparents’ experiences during and after the Korean War. A couple of novels about addiction, which I’ve struggled with in the past. But I revealed more of myself in Midnight, Water City than any other book. My love of the ocean and my anxiety of the future. My lifelong jones for sci-fi and fantasy. The looming sensation and fear that I don’t see things the way most others do and that a big part of my life has been me barreling through existence and leaving wreckage behind. These books, are, in fact, the most personal and “serious” I’ve ever written. They also pressed my imagination more than it had ever been pressed before.
But they’re meant to be fun, too. I hope some of the joy that I felt while worldbuilding is reflected on the page. I also sadistically hope that readers feel the twinge of terror that one can feel when underwater. We’ve all been there, some literally, most figuratively, drowning and on the verge of swimming ourselves to death. Perhaps some of us emerge from the water gasping and decide that it’s time to rethink past choices, that it’s time for a rebrand. We lean on our childhood loves and catch our breaths. Midnight, Water City is a rebrand like that for me. One that I, personally and professionally, very much needed.
Chris McKinney was born in Honolulu and grew up in Kahaluu on the island of Oahu. He is the author of Midnight, Water City, book one of the Water City trilogy. It was named a Best Mystery of 2021 by Publisher’s Weekly and a Best Speculative Mystery of 2021 by CrimeReads. The paperback edition will be released June 14, 2022 and includes the first two chapters of Eventide, Water City, book two of the Water City trilogy. Book two will be released summer 2023.
Chris has written six other novels: The Tattoo, The Queen of Tears, Bolohead Row, Mililani Mauka, Boi No Good, and Yakudoshi: Age of Calamity. He currently resides in Honolulu, Hawaii.