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Before turning to fiction, Ken MacQueen spent 15 years as Vancouver bureau chief for Maclean’s, Canada’s newsmagazine, winning multiple National Magazine Awards and nominations. He travelled the world writing features and breaking news for the magazine, and previously for two national news agencies. He has written extensively on crime, politics, disasters, both natural and man-made—and, being Canadian, on the shifting fortunes of Queen Elizabeth II and her clan. All of this is potential fodder for future fiction, though the Queen as action hero seems unlikely. MacQueen covered nine Olympic Games and drew the athletic prowess of Jake Ockham, his protagonist, from tracking elite rowers in training and on podiums in Athens, Beijing and London. Hero Haters, set in the Pacific Northwest and rural Pennsylvania, is his debut thriller. He and his wife divide their time between North Vancouver and British Columbia’s Sunshine Coast.
Ken also wanted to pass along the link for the writer’s police academy.
Alright, so Hero Haters is the book and we’ll talk about conferences for the second half, the author half.
Stephen: All right. And I like to keep things casual, so if we go off on a tangent a little bit, that’s. Great with that. All right, so finally, after a few mishaps with technology I wanna welcome Ken McQueen to discovered wordsmiths today. Ken, how are you
Ken: doing? I’m doing great. Just had my book launched last night I might be a little fuzzy, but uh, I’m doing well.
Stephen: Good. Great. We’ll get into the book, we’ll talk about that. Before we do tell us a little bit about yourself. Some things you like, where you live, and some things you like to do outside of writing.
Ken: Ah, live in North Vancouver, British Columbia. I’m looking out over Barard Inlet right now, watching some freighters go by.
And what we like to do here is here and on the coastal part of. British Columbia as walk along the Pacific do some kayaking when we’re not, when I’m not writing, and just enjoying the moderate temperatures of British Columbia after years of living in Ottawa where it was extreme
Stephen: Got it. Yeah. I’m in Ohio, which has very frequently changing weather right below Lake Erie. Yes. And today it’s very mild and nice, but we’re supposed to get rain tonight. We’ll see.
Ken: So do you get the lake effect snow come winter, spring?
Stephen: Not so much. I’m just a little south of that. Lucky you.
Yeah. If I go north a little bit. But it’s really cool in the winter sometimes when it gets, like the last couple years really cold, you go up to Lake Erie and you see all the frozen waves and the piers are all frozen over and it’s really cool looking. It is. It looks pretty
Ken: freaky actually.
Stephen: yes. Inspiration for some story . Yeah, exactly. All right. Ken, why, tell us why you wanted to start writing.
Ken: Actually writing is what paid for part of this house. . I’ve been a journalist, I was a journalist for many decades before before turning to fiction. And I covered.
Any number of things. I worked for two National Wire services in Canada, and then for the last 15 years when I was a working journalist, I worked for McLean’s, which is our equivalent of Timer Newsweek. So that that sort of gave me the keys to the kingdom. I could travel all over the world, cover major events and nine Olympic games and whatnot.
Nice. So yeah, so it was fun. And then I retired. I took early retirement because I thought let’s try something a little fresh and different and not very fresh because I still ended up writing. It’s just that now now I make
Stephen: stuff up . So that’s admitting you didn’t make stuff up before. That’s good.
Ken: That is exactly do, and you know what I gotta say? That whole fake news thing really gets up my nose really. I had potentially millions of readers I was a writer for a national organizations. And plus, trust me, you’d get called out if you were making stuff up. I checked double check, verified, and anyone who attempted to accuse me of fake news usually got a bit of a reprimand for me because everything I did was recorded and confirmed.
Stephen: Which people I mean off on a tangent here, but I think people don’t want to listen and understand that purposefully they want to make their claims and their beliefs, even though it’s completely refuted and not true. I think that’s a definite problem we have with News . It is definitely, it’s just a, it’s a very inconvenient when they.
Ken: Facts and reality that they don’t like. So it’s a very easy way to dismiss something, but it’s a cheap way of doing it. Not very effective in my
Stephen: view. So I’ve talked to some other people that started in journalism and news articles and things and moved into writing fiction even though they’re way different.
Do you feel you had a good basis of learning to write and how to write, et cetera from that to move into your fiction, even though they’re vastly different ways of writing?
Ken: That’s actually, Steven, that’s quite a profound insight on your part because I thought I knew a lot about writing and I did.
Obviously, it paid me very well and got me a access to a old manner of people. But then now on my bookshelf, I have a whole book, a series of books on learning to write novels and fiction. And I did realize it’s quite an education actually to Go from writing. My longest magazine piece was probably about 19,000 words or so, quite long.
But my book is 81,000 words and there’s a whole arc series of arcs. But I would say I had to do a lot of research to learn how to make stuff up, which is weird, but it’s very,
Stephen: Nice. Yeah, I could see that. I can, I could see how being a journalist helps you more than to move into fiction than to start as a fiction writer and moving into journalism.
I, I think it’s easier going one way. Yes.
Ken: I I still root my stories in a lot of a lot of fact it gives me confidence, and when you have confidence, it gives you the voice that you need when you’re writing. Concept of voice is a very difficult thing to define, but it’s essential.
You have to have this confidence. So let’s talk a bit about that book, it’s called Hero Haters. Tell us a little bit about it and why you wanted to write this particular book. I’ve been fascinated by heroes for a long time. We create them in the news business.
Often, but the ones that I was interested in for this were everyday heroes. People who were thrown into a circumstance. It might be a burning building, it might be somebody flailing in the ocean. It could be a car crash. Any case where a regular person puts themselves at risk to rescue a stranger. And I thought what makes those heroes?
What do they do? And I’ve actually researched that quite a bit and talked to people about it when I was a reporter, but also just doing academic studies and so forth. And people have been asked to explain why they did what they did. Like why would you risk your butt to Rescue someone. And most honestly, they say, I don’t know.
I just did it. And so that’s just a glorious act of selflessness. And those were the sorts of heroes I wanted to explore in this book. But as admirable as that is, as a thriller writer, I wanted to turn the concept on his head, on its head and say, So what would happen if people didn’t love a hero? In fact, what would happen if they were trying to kill off a.
So that’s where my book, the germ of my book was as a ex reporter myself, I made my protagonist a reporter, just because we’re all heroes in our own imagination. So his job was to vet heroes for something called the Sedwick Medallion. It was a creation of mine and he was a.
Robert Barron back in the turn of the last century, and he funded this legacy that still lives on today and awards these very respected medallions and financial aid for heroes. So I thought alright, so my guy will vet these as a reporter, former reporter, because he has the ability to do those research.
But then what would happen his heroes started disappear. And all of a sudden the heroes that he confirmed and respected are vanishing and he becomes a suspect. So he has to not only try to save these good people, but he also has to clear his name. And that’s basically the genesis of the
Nice. Now, is this a standalone or part of a series?
Ken: In my optimistic Frame of mind. It is I’m six chapters into the next book with my same protagonist. So we’ll see. His name is Jake Aum and he’s based in at a small weekly newspaper now in Aberdeen, Washington. And yes, I would like to see him as a hero.
I think he has the the legs to carry on for a little while, but we’ll see. Nice.
Stephen: It sounds like when you started, you just planned on the one book, but had thoughts for more stories, more series. Is that accurate? Yes. I always, I’d always constructed it with a few unanswered questions and backstory that I would fill in later should Lord willing, there’d be another publishing contract, but you never know.
Ken: But I. I thought it had legs, but I’m not much of a planner, so I started this book Hero Haters without really knowing how it was gonna end. And then it evolved slowly as I went
Stephen: along. Okay. I just ask cuz that’s kinda what start with me, my. My fantasy series, I had an idea for a story that turned into, now I’ve got an idea for seven stories
Ok. It seems like that’s how it goes. Your brain works a little better than mine. I’m, I’ve got an idea for the next one, but I never looked beyond that. I don’t
know about better, maybe differently, but, Okay. , But please tell me, you said his name was Jason or Jake Aum. Please tell me, you have a scene in there where he shaves with Jake AUMs.
Razor , Sorry.
Ken: Yes. Actually there is a scene where he does explain that name of his, which is his family name spelled a little differently than the O C A M, but yes. So actually the AUMs Razor does play a part in this story, .
Stephen: Okay. Sorry, I like corny dad joke type puns and stuff. Now you also said you made him a journalist because you know that, and that’s interesting cuz how many Stephen King stories is the protagonist a writer?
He’s got writers in every other story he does just about. Yeah. So I think, and it’s a good, that type of protagonist I think could lead to a series and adventures, things can happen and he’s pursuing a different story or
Ken: whatever. E Exactly. And he’s still working part-time for this Sedwick fund.
So I’ll always move from from Pittsburgh to the West Coast to work for his family newspaper. He still vets some heroes for for the sedwick metal. So he’s got that going on the side too. So that gives him not only the reporting side, but the heroic side that I can play. Which gives me a lot of
Yeah. And you mentioned a publishing contract, but I take it, this is self-published right now, right?
Ken: No. My publisher is Wild Roads Press of New York State. Yeah. But it’s a one book contract and I hope if I sweet talk them along, they’ll they’ll renew it with a second book.
So we’ll just
Stephen: Nice. So has the first book been doing well, what it’s feedback from.
Ken: I’ve got some great reviews already on Good Reads, but it only actually hit the a release date yesterday oh. Okay. So it’s that’s why, as I said, I was a bit fuzzy this morning. Refreshments were surge last night at my launch
Stephen: party. Nice. Okay. Okay. Taking your book, if you had a choice, would you rather see this turned into a movie or a tv? Whoa.
Ken: You know what? I would have to go with a TV series because one of, one of the my favorite authors I have a couple of them that are former reporters like Michael Conley and his Harry Bosch series.
And John Sanford, of course, has written some wonderful books. He’s got some great characters, Virgil Flowers and so forth. They’ve both talked about how wonderful an apprenticeship journalism is, and I have to agree with him on that. You just, you run into so many characters as a reporter, you see the best of people’s lives and the worst of people’s lives.
And you can draw on a lot of that as you move forward
Stephen: in fiction. Nice. And would. When you think of TV series, do you think of old school back in the day, as starts a season in September and goes till spring or the new TV type series where it’s a limited run at just about any time of the
I kinda like that streaming idea very much. It’s it works for me because I’ve enjoyed I’ve certainly enjoyed Harry Bosch. If you’ve seen the Bosch series. On prime, I guess that is. And yeah it’s a fabulous way of doing it. And you can get an arc, a very complex arc that you can’t get in a movie when it’s so terribly compressed.
But I think I’m probably getting a little ahead of myself when it comes to talking about
Stephen: that . But it is good to think that way too. Like you said, a TV series has different requirements for the story than a movie. if you write your stories, so they fit well with a TV series like Indiana Jones, the Raiders.
It was written kinda like the old serials where it goes highlight and stop that type of feel. So it’s it if your stories are already like, Could make it easier to make it a TV show. And there’s a lot of more choices
Ken: out there. I remember when I saw Indiana Jones, the first one in the movie theater, and it was just love at first sight and that it really did bring me back to my childhood and all those serials and series and the the wonderful I guess I’d call ’em the chapter endings that kept going on and on.
Oh my God, what’s gonna happen next Then? So I try to drag my reader through that sort of thing too. A lot of cliff hangers in the book.
Stephen: Nice. So do you consider your book more action oriented, thriller? What type?
Ken: I would call it a thriller as opposed to a mystery, because we know who who the bad person is.
Although my protagonist doesn’t know he’s in the dark. So I, I enjoy abusing. Poor protagonist, poor Jake. I put him through the mill, but the reader knows that there’s more going on than he realizes.
Stephen: Nice. And you mentioned Bosch and Virgil Flowers. So if people like those books and those characters, would you say that they’d like yours?
It’s very similar
Ken: in my dream, Steven. Yes, I would exactly say that. I love those those two writers. John Sanford is consistently brilliant. So is the Harry Bosch series and the Lincoln Lawyer Series. They’re both the excellent ones that I’ve enjoyed very much, and so those if I can emulate those I can’t hope to match their success probably.
But I certainly love, One of the things I really love is the mix that they’re both able to get. Very blood thirsty concepts from time to time. But there’s humor in them, especially in John Sanford. He’s got a great gift for humor and especially with the Virgil Flowers part of the series it’s just fun and it, and I like lightening the tension and the drama it makes.
I think if you have these little asides it. , it gives people a breather and then you can then mess with their head in the next chapter. .
Stephen: Absolutely. Okay, so where you live, which is like the other side of the continent from me. Do you have any favorite bookstores that you like to go to?
Ken: There’s one in North Vancouver. There, there’s a bunch. But there very few in North Vancouver that that I. That I see they’re just two are opening up and I don’t even know the names of them yet. So it’s an act of courage that they’re even opening bookstores in this day and age, but
Nice. That’s good though. I like that. Yeah. There
Ken: are, of course, the chain stores. There is Chapters Indigo, which we have one in West Vancouver just down the road for me, and it’s a good one. But the little independence are it’s always a bit of. Struggle for them? I think so, yes.
Stephen: All right. Before we go and talk about some author stuff, which we’re going to talk about conferences, you just went to one.
If somebody came up to you and said, Hey Ken, I heard you wrote a book. Why should I get it and read it? What would you tell ’em?
Ken: Ah, that’s a very good question. I would say if you’re fascinated with heroes, if you’re fascinated with the question, Who am I when no one is looking and explore some of that.
I think that you might like this book. You, now you may have to put up with a little mayhem and murder, but there, there are some deeper aspects of heroism that I think you might find quite interesting. And so yes, I would say give it a shot for that reason to love.
Stephen: Great. Thank you.
Appreciate that. We’ll make sure there’s links in the show notes for people interested in the book. Thank you. Thanks for sharing.