This week’s author in the spotlight is Ken McCarthy!
Author Interview with Ken McCarthy
When did you first start writing?
That’s a tough one. My memory doesn’t work like that. I envy people who can answer questions like that honestly. Writing always came a little easier for me than for most people — that was something that I started to notice over time. I can remember sitting at the dining room table in my parents’ house working on a writing assignment when I was probably in fourth or fifth grade. I think we were asked to basically make up some kind of story, although I’m guessing there were some parameters.
Anyway, I can remember one of my older sisters peeking over my shoulder as I wrote this story and her saying something like “how do you do that? How can you just come up with that stuff out of nowhere?” As I said, it was never all that difficult for me, and that was my first glimpse into the fact that it wasn’t like that for everyone. I actually thought it was kind of fun — the idea that it was my story and so there were no rules and I could basically make the characters do and say whatever I wanted. There was no right or wrong. I liked that.
When did you know you wanted to be an author?
Another tough one. I work as a reporter in my “real” life, and I’ve found that when you do any kind of writing people will ask “when are you going to write a book?” I would always kind of laugh it off. Writing a 750-word story for the local newspaper and writing a novel are so completely different that I wouldn’t even bother trying to explain how crazy the question was. Apples and oranges doesn’t even get close to the truth. But at the same time, I always kind of looked at being an author as the pinnacle of being a writer of any kind. It’s the Super Bowl of writing. So I would be lying if I said it wasn’t something that was always in the back of my mind, but it was WAY back there.
A couple of years ago that started to change and I can’t say why. I think part of it was that turning 50 hit me really hard. My mom died that year and my oldest son went off to college. My own mortality smacked me in the face. And so, in a situation like that, you start thinking about what you want to do with the time you have left. A couple of people I knew had also just come out with books of their own, and the idea of doing it myself kind of took hold. And then I just couldn’t shake it.
Was there any author or book in particular that inspired you to write? Or a teacher/mentor?
Not really. Like I said, I think it was just a culmination of a bunch of factors. Years ago, I worked for a company called Hundreds of Heads that put out a series of books in which they would basically interview the public on a specific topic. For instance, one of those books is called “How to Survive Your Freshmen Year.” Anyway, I was one of those interviewers out in the field getting responses from people, so I got a mention in the book. I thought that was so cool — it was almost like I was an author on the book.
And, as I mentioned before, two people I knew put out books recently. Mitch McCrady wrote “Pittsburgh to Cadiz,” which is the first in a four-book series. And Linda Schmitmeyer wrote “Rambler.” When I saw those books written by regular people who I knew personally, the idea that I could do it too started to seem real.
What genre do you write?
You know…I don’t know the answer to that. I know that sounds stupid, but as I said I came into this knowing very little about the publishing world. That question pops up from time to time and I’m always scrambling a little. I wish SINK fit perfectly into a category like “true crime” or “horror.” But I guess it’s contemporary fiction? Family drama? Quit-lit? I think one of those — or maybe all three — works.
What inspires you to write the most?
I guess I’d say wanting to have completed stories to share with the world. And I got a real taste for being a part of the writing community after I finished SINK. The problem is that you can only rest on your laurels for so long. You kinda need to be always writing and working on that next book.
What is your favorite thing about writing?
I started running 5Ks a couple of years ago and once heard someone say about running that it’s “only fun when it’s done.” I think that applies to writing too. I want to say the writing process is agonizing, although that might be overly-dramatic. But only by a little.
How many books have you written? What are they called? Where can they be found/bought?
I self-published my first novel in March of 2020 on KDP. It’s called ONE HAND ON THE SINK, and you can find it on Amazon. It’s a fictionalized account of my experiences with alcoholism and recovery. I’m working on another novel now that is tentatively called THE HOMECOMING. I’m hoping to self-publish it in April.
What do you write — short stories, poems, novels, novellas, blog posts etc. — and which do you enjoy writing the most?
Other than writing news stories for my real job, I’m primarily focused on writing novels now. I like the long-form format better than something shorter because it gives you more of a chance to really delve into the characters.
Have you tried to go the traditional route with publishing? How did it go? Are you self-published? How did that go and what route did you take? What advice would you give to others who want to self-publish?
I combined these two questions because they go hand in hand. I thought the biggest challenge would be to write a good book, and after that things would fall into place publishing-wise. Needless to say, that is not what happened. I was very happy with how the book turned out and started asking questions about how to get it published. As you can imagine, the advice was all over the place. I sent out a bunch of query letters and quickly grew frustrated at the lack of response, even though one piece of advice I heard over and over was that the process takes forever.
I heard about KDP and found that it was pretty easy to use. When I realized I was going to take the self-pub route, I was determined to spend as little as possible on the process. I knew that very few indies sell a lot of books, so I figured there was no point in putting a lot of money into it.
So what will I do differently with my second book? To be honest I’m not sure. I think I will forgo the querying process altogether and head straight to KDP. I just don’t have the patience for the traditional route. It would be different if I KNEW that a book deal would result, but waiting for something that might never (probably will never) come seems silly. I’m definitely not the kind of person who can handle having multiple projects open at the same time. I want to focus on writing one book, get it published, and move on to another. That’s just not possible with traditional publishing unless you want to put all other writing projects on hold for years while you wait for the process to play out.
My one piece of self-pub advice would be to learn all you can about formatting the book. I had no idea what I was doing, and my book was kind of a mess visually.
Who is your favorite author now? What is it you like about them?
The high-brow crowd won’t like it, but most of my favorites are popular fiction writers. I think John Grisham is the best American storyteller writing today. Don’t @ me. His writing is just so crisp and clear. And simple. I love the writers who can tell a simple story beautifully. My favorite book of his is A Painted House. What’s it about? It’s about a young boy growing up on a cotton farm in Arkansas in the 1950s. No dragons or aliens, no gunfights, no sex. But it’s so well written. I’ve read that book probably half a dozen times.
Do you have any favorite books you recommend right now?
I love the Lee Child ‘Jack Reacher’ books. They are all very similar but the format is one that I love.
Do you have any advice for aspiring authors?
I don’t know if this really answers the question, but the one thing that I would say is that if you decide to self-publish you should feel completely free to write whatever story you want, in any way that you want. I get irritated when I see all these “writing rules” thrown around. All these Dos and Don’ts for aspiring novelists. That’s fine if you’re signed with an agent and trying to get a book deal with a traditional publisher. In that case, they have skin in the game and are within their rights to try to mold your story into one that is more marketable. But if you are going out on your own, I say to hell with all that. Do whatever you want. Tell your story the way you want to. Rules be damned.
Are you on Twitter/Instagram/Facebook or do you have an author website we should check out as readers?
Yes, yes, yes and no. I think having a strong presence on social media is critical for self-published authors. If you want to sell books, that is. On Twitter I’m @KMcCarthyauthor, on IG I’m ken_mccarthy04 and on Facebook my author page is ken.mccarthy.04. I don’t have a website because honestly, it sounds like too much work.
Is there anything else you want to share about your writing or that you want your readers to know?
As far as SINK, the two questions I’ve heard most often are ‘how real it is?’ and “why didn’t you just write it as non-fiction?” First, there is a lot in the book that corresponds to my own story, but I took some big liberties too. The biggest of those is that the book starts out with the main character, who is obviously based on me, losing his sobriety after eight years sober. That never happened to me. But the story came about because I was thinking about what it might look like if I DID decide to drink again. My kids were all pretty young when I got sober, so I was wondering how different life might look if they were older and I was drinking.
On the second question….the truth is that — because I was a blackout drinker almost from the start — I have no first-hand knowledge of a lot of the things I did and that happened to me when I was drunk. Much of it is just stuff I was told after the fact. So I would have been making a lot of it up anyway. I figured writing it as fiction would be the best of both worlds.
End of Author Interview with Ken McCarthy
I hope you enjoyed learning more about author Ken McCarthy! Make sure to check out his books and follow him on social media to keep up with his future projects.