In Keith Wayne McCoy’s debut novel, The Travelers, aliens tangle the past with the present aboard the luxury liner Queen Mary. The book won the admiration of our reviewer, who called it a “philosophically rich hybrid of genres…strengthened by complex plotting and rich dialogue.” We caught up with McCoy and talked about his journey as a writer, self-publishing, and his genre fiction.
You recently signed a three-year contract with a publisher, and your book has been optioned for a film treatment. Can you tell us a little more about how that came about, beginning with your decision to self-publish?
After I finished The Travelers, my college writing mentor encouraged me to query publishing houses rather than agents as years could pass before acquiring an agent. My favorite author, F. Scott Fitzgerald, plastered the walls of his room with rejection letters and similar horror stories exist for J.K. Rowling and John Grisham. The acquisitions editor at [Champagne Book Group] requested a full manuscript in late March of 2013 and I was offered a contract in May. Ironically, I found out about the Publishers Weekly review by a film scout who called on the very day the review was published. When I asked her how she came across my book, she referred me to the review which I promptly Googled and howled with delight and tears. I have since been contacted by 3 film scouts, yet they are somewhat stymied that I don’t have an agent. How this will affect the possibility of a motion picture or even best-selling status, I have no idea and is, admittedly, a concern.
What is your connection to the luxury liner Queen Mary, and how did you become interested in it?
I became obsessed with the luxury liner Queen Mary in the third grade while watching a 1930s movietone piece of her maiden voyage. I still remember the thrill and awe of that giant black bow slicing the waves in a frantic fury of speed. While Titanic is inarguably the most famous liner in history, Queen Mary is the greatest superliner ever built. She was not a mere cruise ship but a giant passenger liner built exclusively for mass transportation at magnificent speed in unparalleled luxury at a time when liners were the only means of crossing the Atlantic. The fact that she still existed in retirement in Long Beach, California, held me spellbound and I have visited many times, although I do wish she were less commercialized and more pertinent as a museum and monument to human achievement.
Where do you think the book fits in terms of genre, and how do you think the elements of genre service the book?
I was taught to write exclusively literary fiction at university and, once, after reading Henry James’s The Turn of the Screw, I wrote a supernatural-themed assignment. My mentor was infuriated. He berated me in front of the entire class, even shouting. I was near tears. He apologized later and explained that he didn’t want to see my talent “wasted” on mainstream nonsense. But the dynamics of a character-driven tale forcing an exploration of ordinary people in extraordinary, supernatural situations remained with me. I personally find that pieces in which the characters are well-defined and face circumstances outside the “real” world appealing.
Your studied with Amy Hempel and John Hawkes. Did you find any of the writers you took workshops with to be particularly helpful?
Ironically, John Hawkes told me that although I definitely had the talent to be a successful writer, I should wait a decade or more before I diligently began a “serious” excursion into writing as I was too young to master the many complexities of the human condition. I was not even legal age at the time and although I was somewhat insulted, he was right: time brings a certain knowledge and recognition of how humans react to situations and each other. A writer must be a voyeur in many senses and simply study their fellow mankind in quiet meditation and judgment.