People see that name and expect to meet a red-headed Scotsman, perhaps wearing a plaid kilt and screaming about freedom. Then they meet me and think, oh, he’s Mexican. Then I tell them I’m Korean and their brains liquefy and drip from their nostrils. I get a kick out of this now.
We caught up with best selling author Shane McKenzie who’s latest novella Mutt will be published in May by Rothco Press.
You’re known as a horror writer, what made you write Mutt?
The same thing that Patrick goes through in Mutt is something I’ve been going through my whole life. My mother is Korean, and my father is basically white. He’s got a lot of bits and pieces of other nationalities, including Spanish from my great grandfather. But without getting too complicated, he’s white. And for whatever reason…I came out looking Mexican. Some have said that maybe it’s because of my great grandfather that I look so Hispanic. But here’s the thing. All of my cousins on my father’s side are as white as he is, and we’ve all got the same dose of Spanish grandpa. I tell my mom that she found me selling gum in Mexico, felt bad for me, and took me home with her. She always laughs…but never tells me I’m wrong. Hmm. What makes it even worse is that I live in Texas. So when people see me, they automatically assume I’m Mexican. I’ve had, on multiple occasions, people speaking Spanish to me, then getting very upset with me that I can’t speak it back.
This isn’t a big deal now that I’m an adult. In fact, I’m very proud that I’m Korean. What makes everything even more confusing is my name. People see that name and expect to meet a red-headed Scotsman, perhaps wearing a plaid kilt and screaming about freedom. Then they meet me and think, oh, he’s Mexican. Then I tell them I’m Korean and their brains liquefy and drip from their nostrils. I get a kick out of this now.
But in school? It was no fun at all. I’m ashamed to say it now, but it got so bad that I was actually embarrassed that I was Korean and not Mexican. Once the kids found out I was Asian, all the jokes started. There were no jokes about the Mexican kids. They, it seemed to me, were the cool kids. All of the prettiest girls, at least in my opinion, were all Mexican. I noticed over time that when they thought I was Mexican, they treated me with more respect. Didn’t make fun of me. Actually talked to me and sat by me and hung out with me. The girls smiled at me. Now, looking back at it now, I doubt all of this was just because they thought I was Mexican and not Korean, but at the time, I was convinced that was the reason. So when the inevitable question about how I got the name Shane McKenzie came up, I started to lie. They would ask about my name, then usually follow up with, “Are you Mexican?” and my answer for a while was “I’m half Mexican.” That solved the mystery of my name. And it kept my secret hidden.
God, that sounds awful, but it’s the truth. I lied because I was embarrassed of who I really was. Because kids in Middle and High School are fucking cruel to one another. Once I started writing, I always wondered if I would be able to implement that into a story. Using a racially confusing character in a regular horror story felt too forced. If I was going to do this, I had to make it the focal point of the story. So what I did was take my situation back in school and amplified it. Instead of a guy embarrassed of his race because he didn’t want to be made fun of by all the Mexican boys and girls at school, I made it a matter of life and death. If they found out, they would kill him. And more importantly, if his love interest found out, she might never speak to him again.
What makes the character so relatable?
This is easily the most personal story I’ve ever written. No, the events never actually happened, but the ridicule and name calling and the shame Patrick felt are all very real to me. Or they once were, anyway.
Maybe the characters are relatable because there are so many mixed-race people in this country. People who have to darken multiple circles on forms when they get to the race question. If you’re not one of them, you probably know lots of them. And come on, have you ever seen a mixed race baby? If you saw my baby picture, you’d punch your father for not marrying an Asian woman. I’m just saying!
But beyond the race thing, I think Patrick is relatable because we’ve all got something we’re ashamed of, something we’d be devastated for anyone to find out about. The life that you built may very well come crashing down if this secret was ever revealed.
I know you’re also a huge fan WWE, Lucha Underground and horror movies. How has that inspired your writing?
It all started with my brother and I being obsessed with wrestling from a very young age. We watched the WWF religiously, practiced the moves on each other, created our own wrestling personas. I got in trouble many times for hurting him. To this day, I can pull off an immaculate figure four leg lock. These were the days of Hulk Hogan, the Ultimate Warrior, Sgt. Slaughter, Hacksaw Jim Duggan, Jake the Snake, etc. I remember getting a WWF wrestling ring for Christmas one year. It came with wrestler action figures that had springs in their torsos so you could make them jump around. At the time, it was the most amazing thing that ever could be, and many epic, plastic, jumpy matches took place in that little ring. Then there was a long stretch when we seemed to stray away from the world of wrestling. I can’t remember why. It’s possible it had something to do with us finding out that wrestling was fake, but I can’t say for sure.
It wasn’t until high school that I got back into it. WWF and WCW were battling for my attention, so I watched them both. This was the time of Stone Cold Steve Austin, the Rock, Sting (the Crow version), Goldberg, NWO, the Wolfpack, and so much more. We were obsessed again. We hurt each other a lot. Good times.
There were always filler matches during the shows. A lot of the time, it was a popular wrestling with a flashy name fighting some regular looking guy whose wrestling name was just his regular name. Diamond Dallas Page vs Pete Adams. Pete would be already in the ring, being unworthy of a theme song, bouncing around and practicing his moves, watching as DDP sprints through the fireworks toward him, deafened by the roaring fans and the opening music. Those matches usually lasted a few minutes at most. We watched them, but didn’t get much out of them. But the other filler matches were luchadores. We didn’t know who they were, they wore the most ridiculous costumes and masks, but it didn’t matter. These guys were captivating. Flipping and spinning through the air, pulling off moves that didn’t seem humanly possible. They knew how to put on a show, and it didn’t matter that we weren’t familiar with them. They didn’t rely on gimmicks or finishing moves that were only deadly to their opponents because they were titled finishing moves (the People’s Elbow?). These were showmen. As a wrestling fan, it’s impossible not to respect these guys.
My other obsession growing up was slasher movies. I loved the masked killer. So, when I got into writing, I immediately knew I wanted to create my own iconic slasher villain. I didn’t know who he would be or what his story was, I just knew I had to have one of my very own. My favorite slasher movie of all time is The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. I asked myself, “If that were to happen today, who would their victims be?” I didn’t want to do the teenager thing, I knew that much. I wanted it to be current and different. A current issue in Texas, something I kept hearing about over and over, was illegal immigration. Right away I knew I had my victims. The killers would pick off Mexicans as they ran across the border. Not only would there be an endless supply of victims, but they would be damn near untraceable. I decided to make my villains Mexican as well, and they would butcher their victims, using the meat to make tacos and menudo which they sold from a taco truck. All of that was good, and I was loving the idea more and more. But I still hadn’t created my slasher yet. He needed a mask and a weapon of choice. The answer was so obvious that when it hit me, I remember laughing out loud as I called myself a fucking idiot. The slasher would be an oversized luchador. A makeshift wrestling ring with skulls for turnbuckles would be his weapon, where he pummeled his victims before slaughtering them.
I called the novel Muerte Con Carne. Now, that doesn’t really mean anything. People always translate it and sort of laugh and give me a look. Yes, it translates to Death with Meat. I named it Muerte Con Carne because I wanted a Spanish title that sounded like something you would order at a Mexican restaurant.
I was pretty damn happy with the book, and to this day, it’s one of my personal favorites. Soon after it was published, a man named John Skipp read it and reviewed it on Fangoria. Skipp went to a film festival centered around female directors, where he met Gigi Saul Guerrero and her crew at LuchaGore Productions. After watching their film, he told Gigi she needed to read Muerte Con Carne and get in touch with me. She did that. We now have a short film, which has won multiple festivals now, called El Gigante, which is based on the prologue of the novel. The purpose of the short was to show what LuchaGore could do with this story in hopes we’d get funding to make a feature length version of the Muerte Con Carne novel. All I can say at this point is…things are looking good.
You cut your teeth in Bizarro fiction, how has that trained you as a writer?
I actually cut my teeth in extreme horror fiction, bizarro coming shortly after. The reason I love both so much is that there are no limitations. They both taught me to trust and embrace the strange way my brain seems to work. When I first started writing, I concentrated on short stories, submitting to as many anthologies and magazines as I could. And like most new writers, I got an avalanche of rejections. The main reason for this, I think, was because I wasn’t bringing anything new to the table. My stories were not only crafted amateurishly, but they were full of cliché ideas and characters. I held back my creativity because I was scared nobody would get the weird shit I really wanted to write. But as the rejections kept rolling in, I knew I had to try something else. Through a friend, I was brought onboard as a reader for an anthology with open submissions. I read tons of stories for this thing, and you know what I noticed? Most of them sucked. I read so many bad stories, that I was starting to recognize a bad one within the first paragraph. I was getting frustrated and impatient. And this taught me the most important lesson of my career: find a way to get an editor’s attention.
So instead of writing the same old thing that I knew from experience an editor would give up on within a few sentences, I just let loose. I didn’t hold back anymore. No matter how weird, no matter how unnecessarily violent or insane it was, I wrote it. And I wrote it in a way that I knew would entertain an editor who was fed up with reading bad stories. I wanted to give them something to smile about. Rejections started turning into acceptances.
When I got into writing longer fiction, I kept the same mind frame. And the result was the same. I never hold back. I always just go for it. If I like an idea enough, no matter how strange it is, no matter upset I know it’ll make my mother, I just do it. This actually became a problem for me when I was hired to write comics for Zenescope Entertainment. I had to hold back, had to use ideas from the owners, etc. It was frustrating at times, but also a great lesson for me.
What’s next for you?
I’m writing many new novels, with many more planned. I’m putting together three different comic book pitches with some amazing artists. The feature length screenplay for the Muerte Con Carne film is finished, and at this point, we are searching for more funding, but as I said above, things are looking great. So hopefully, I’ll be on my first movie set soon. I’m writing an original horror screenplay right now with a producer already interested. I can’t say much about it, but if it happens, you’ll be seeing this baby on the big screen. An extremely talented author named Adam Cesare and I are developing a TV show pitch right now, and I gotta say, it’s kind of bad ass. I’m also developing a cartoon show based on one of my bizarro novels. If it happens, kids will love me and parents will hate me.