Monday, August 26, 2013

Interview with Kenna McKinnon

Kenna McKinnon is the author of SpaceHive, a middle grade sci-fi/fantasy novel traditionally published by Imajin Books; The Insanity Machine, a self-published memoir with co-author Austin Mardon, PhD, CM, including the latest research available at the time of writing; and Discovery – A Collection of Poetry, all released in 2012. Her books are available in eBook and paperback worldwide on Amazon, Smashwords, Barnes & Noble, and selected bookstores and public libraries. Kenna's newest MG/YA novel, Bigfoot Boy: Lost on Earth, has recently been accepted by Mockingbird Lane Press.

Kenna, you are a fascinating woman. You are open about your schizophrenia and reach out to help other people dealing with this mental health issue. What impact has this had on your writing career and the stories you choose to tell?

It' s had very little impact other than I suspect the illness has given me a scope of living experience and glimpses of creativity and imagination that made me who I am today, and thus the writer I am. I think I'm more tolerant as a result and hate to see racism or bigotry in any form, as I've been the victim of it too often in the past, and others like me have also been victims of discrimination and ignorance.

You must realize, Alison, that I'm almost 69 years old and have been ill for almost 40 years, part of that unmedicated and misdiagnosed. I haven't always been as open about the schizophrenia nor as well as I am today. However, I've always had a great thirst for learning and new experiences, and this has served me well in carving out a path of recovery, often without a great deal of assistance. That being said, the proper medication is essential, and adhering to a medication schedule and developing a therapeutic relationship with an excellent psychiatrist. This has not always been the case, and only recently have medications and the medical community been more open to admitting the hope and growth that's possible with mental illness.

I've written my story with the assistance of a friend, Austin Mardon, PhD, CM (Order of Canada), who also has schizophrenia. It's a book called The Insanity Machine and is available on Amazon and select bookstores. The book includes the latest research at the time of writing (2012) and anecdotes from our lives including somewhat chilling renderings of manifestations of the illness, reactions from family, friends, and medical personnel, and advice to caregivers. Note I have never had a caregiver nor a great deal of support until now, after I committed in 2009 a criminal act and received help from the legal system to address the symptoms of obsessive-compulsive disorder, delusions, and obsessive ruminating.

I have a degree in history and philosophy and turned to writing mysteries and historical romance. How has your degree in anthropology and psychology affected your choice of genre?

One of SpaceHive's protagonists is a South Asian young man, and the latter part of the book takes place in India and surrounding South Asian countries. I don't know if my degree has affected my choice of genre but I'm fascinated by other cultures. Psychology delves into the psyche of course, and I've written a mystery novel called Red Herrings that is in the process of final edits. I think my characters are perhaps well rounded or at least introspective and a bit crazy to the degree that I know a very little bit about psychology. My degree at the very least enabled me to learn to think critically and to have a wide range of interests.

Coincidentally, when I was ten or so, I had a friend who pretended that she came from a planet of sentient bee-like creatures. (I was from an aquatic planet.) In Space Hive, your young hero is kidnapped and taken aboard a ship of extra-terrestrial bees and wasps. What is the fascination we have with the hive mentality?

There is something about the hive mentality, for example, ants as well, that appeals to us as humans, especially those who have taken any sort of sociology course. There is something about the crowd mentality known to social scientists, and our behavior as humans, certainly in cities, could mimic perhaps the hive mentality of bees and ants. We're learning more and more about animals and insects now and in recent years, and are learning that we are closer to our evolutionary ancestors than we ever thought. Bees are fascinating creatures. I read an article that claimed bees have personalities and emotions, some sort of social experiment that was done with individual bees and in hives, and I'm sure that's true. I don't have the link, but I believe it's true that all God's creatures are unique and have souls. There, I've thrown the iron in the fire!

Was research an important factor when writing Space Hive?

Yes, very, I did a lot of research on bees, wasps, science, chemicals, and India, as well as Urdu, the Indian language used by Aadab Ali, and his religion, Islam, as well. I was told by a South Asian broadcaster that the Urdu words are correct. The internet makes research so much easier now than when I first started working on my first novel (unpublished) in the 1980s, but the internet information also must be used with caution, as it can be incorrect. One must check many sources to ensure the validity of the research, or make sure the source is reputable.

Can you give us a short excerpt from one of your favourite scenes?
WARNING: spoiler.

Jason spoke up from his position on the plastic recliner. "I've been loved by a bunch of people including my lovely wife, whom I met here in Burma six years ago. And our daughter, Beatrice." 
He turned to his daughter. "You want a green Gummigator candy or a blue one, honey?" 
Aadab, sitting with Iodine and Jason's father on an orange plastic couch, winked at the small child. "I bet she wants a red one." 
"Yes, Daddy, I want a red Gummigator."
Jason's old robotess hummed softly next to Beatrice, and one large LED eye winked.


After getting kidnapped by giant alien bees, twelve-year-old Jason Anderson is transported to a spaceship called SpaceHive. There, he learns of a horrifying plot to annihilate Earth's human population so that extraterrestrial bees and wasps can migrate to a new world.

As a swarm of spaceships make a beeline toward Earth, Jason must convince three friendly worker bees to help him escape his space prison and find other humans to aid in his mission to stop the invasion. But General Vard, wasp commander of the Black Watch, has other plans.

Can Jason unite the nations of Earth in their common fight to destroy these alien invaders? Or will Earth be lost to the sting of conspiracy and a worldwide massacre?


Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Summer Time

... and the living is hectic?

Every August, as the middle of the month flies by, I ask the same question: Where did the summer go?

When I was a kid enjoying summer holidays, I couldn't have answered that question. Oh sure, we went to visit family in Montreal and they came and visited us, but surely that didn't take all summer. Maybe we went to Stratford for a play - back when ordinary people could afford to do that sort of thing. But many days seems to drag by without the structure of school to define them. Then suddenly, the endless days of summer would end and I'd wonder where they went.

I know my kids feel it. My son is looking forward to going back to school and seeing his friends. My daughter used to feel that way. Now, her reaction to Labour Day mirrors my own when I was at high school. (YIKES! Say it isn't so.)

I can't say I'm in a hurry for school to start either. One of my jobs is crossing guard which means, like my kids, I go back to school the day after Labour Day. Besides, I love having my kids around. I miss them when they go back to school. When they go, my best excuse for goofing off during the day goes too.

Not that there was a lot of goofing off this summer. That is, when I goofed off one day, I'd have to make up for it the next. That's the upside of working from home - being able to take the day. The downside is the workload waiting for me when I take a few days off - as I did to visit my uncle in Ottawa. There's no one to take over my job when I'm on holiday.

Of course, as the blog title says, "have laptop, will travel." As long as there is WiFi, I can keep up with the stuff I can't leave. The trick is to only let it take up a small fraction of the day. Got to leave the rest of the day for beach trips, picnics, ferry rides, museum visits, and watching your son crash two aircraft in a simulator (pictured above).

Okay, I know where the summer went. It went to two beach days; five days in Ottawa; several days, spread out, visiting closer friends and relations; getting one book ready for publication; starting on the edits for another; contract work; getting Arthur Ellis Awards material prepared and the usual Crime Writer's of Canada work.

And these were my slow months.

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Contest ends August 31, 2013.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Author Interview - Peter Clenott

 We have a great group of authors at Imajin Books, but sometimes it's hard to keep up with them all. Fortunately, I have blog and am not afraid to use it. Offer an interview as bait, and it's amazing the things you can learn.

A quick look at his bio reveals that Peter Clenott is well-traveled as well as well-read. He works in the housing field in Boston, advocating for public housing and helping the homeless. He wrote his first novel, The Third World, soon after college graduation. Devolution is his fifth novel.

Hi Peter. Let’s get the obvious questions out of the way first. Who are you and what made you write this book? 
I am a very curious man. The origins of this novel go back to the mid-1970s when I became fascinated by the work of anthropologists using sign language to see if chimpanzees had the ability to develop language skills. My thought was, what would happen if chimpanzees in the wild were taught human language. Would they ultimately abandon it? Or would they expand their new-found ability, pass it on from generation to generation. If the latter, what would be the impact on chimpanzee society?

It’s clear that you’re a man with a strong social conscience. How has that affected your novels and choice of themes?

Writers have to entertain in order to sell. But I feel the reader is cheated unless they get something else even if subtly. I try to put in my novels themes, in Devolution the theme is the threat to our environment of corporate waste and greed, that provoke debate and discussion. I want the reader to remember my book after they have put it on the shelf and gone on to their next read. Maybe Devolution will stir the reader enough to want to learn more about chimpanzees, the rainforest and the effects of environmental mismanagement.

Being a research junkie myself, I have to ask, how much research goes into your books?

For Devolution I needed to know as much as I could about chimpanzees and the work of anthropologists using sign language. I needed to know about the history of the Congo and the habitat in the Maiku National Park in the Congo.

What were some of your sources?

I talked to a bunch of chimpanzees. (just kidding). I used the library and took out a number of books on chimpanzee behavior and the teaching of chimpanzees sign language. I can’t remember specifically which books. Jane Goodall would have been one. I think another dealt with a chimpanzee named Washoe. I wrote a novel about the rise and fall of Patrice Lumumba in the Congo. Based on my research for this novel, I learned a lot about the history of the Congo. Again, this was using a number of books pulled from the library regarding the Congo and Lumumba. That novel was almost picked up by Harper Collins. Alack and alas…

We all have those alack and alas moments, don’t we. What authors have inspired your writing?

I don’t know that any one author in particular has inspired me to write. However, I recently discovered Mario Vargas Llosa, a Peruvian author, whose novels Feast of the Goat and War at the End of the World are remarkable. I highly recommend his work.


Chiku Flynn wasn’t born to be human. Her name in Swahili means ‘chatterbox’ but to the chimpanzees of the Maiku National Park, with whom she can communicate using sign language, she is known simply as Talk Talk.

Available on Amazon:

Author links: 

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