Chuck McKenzie - Battling the forces of darkness, shining a light


Chuck McKenzie is a multi talented sort of a person out of Melbourne, we don't hold that against him by the way. As well as being a writer with a fair few tales under the belt, Chuck runs the best speculative bookstore in the whole state of Victoria, and makes time in his busy schedule to research the zombie apocalypse, which they keep promising us is just around the corner. Rumour has it Chuck is married, sorry Ladies, has offspring, and is looked after by a number of felines, we don't hold the cats against him either. Chuck, having battled the forces of evil in the form of Real Estate Agents, took time out of the bloody battlefield to answer a few questions.

ScaryMinds - Notions Unlimited Bookstore, you launched this new venture in the midst of apparent doom and gloom about traditional fiction markets. Did you see the decision to go Independent as high risk or did you spot a niche in the market?

Chuck McKenzie - Both. When Borders and Angus & Robinson went to the wall, sales at the Dymocks store I was managing at the time went through the roof, indicating to me that it wasn't a lack of customers that was the problem, but rather an oversaturation of bookshops. At that point, I realised that it was only a matter of time before other operators moved to fill the gap created by the demise of Borders and A&R, so I jumped at the chance to finally open the specialist bookstore I'd been planning on-and-off for the previous few years. I felt reasonably confident that the lack of competitors, among other things, would most likely ensure success, but I was also aware that there were no guarantees - all the planning in the world can't guarantee that customers will walk through the door. And, to be honest, it is a tough business, but as more people discover the shop, we've continued to grow.

ScaryMinds - The website for the Bookstore doesn’t include an online store but does offer to take phone or email orders, why the preference for old fashion “counter” sales?

Chuck McKenzie - We did think long and hard about having an online store, but decided against it (for the moment, anyway), for two main reasons. Firstly, our point of difference from many other booksellers (at the risk of sounding smug) is that we genuinely do focus on customer service, and it's worked well for us, as evidenced by the fact that most of our custom is generated through word-of-mouth. We wanted to extend this service to our online presence, so we've opted to avoid the 'faceless computer' aspect of online shopping, and instead simply list our inventory, with an invitation to customers to call us. This further allows us to do things that online stores currently can't, such as advise on exact arrival times for out-of-stock titles, or suggest alternate (or additional) items. Secondly, I didn't want to blindly offer online sales unless I had something to offer customers that I couldn't offer them in person - and I genuinely couldn't think of anything. We can't do better prices, ranges or postal options - but, again, we can do better personal service.

ScaryMinds - How are horror sales going, any notable trends in the market that are becoming apparent?

Chuck McKenzie - Sales in general are pretty good, although they could always be better. :) We currently sell more horror than any other genre, which pleases me greatly.

ScaryMinds - As an Author you appear to prefer to write a hybrid of humour, horror, and Science Fiction, is this your preferred style of writing or is it something that has developed as you have explored your imagination?

Chuck McKenzie - It developed slowly. When I first tried to crack the market, I was writing serious SF pieces. The first works I managed to get published had strayed into the SF Comedy subgenre, and as I kept writing and getting published I just seemed to gravitate towards a much darker sort of prose, though still largely comedic. Not sure why, but I suspect that a long spell of clinical depression may have had something to do with it.

ScaryMinds - How do you find time to write in between managing the Bookstore, doing the normal wife and kids thing, and keeping the greater Melbourne area free of zombies?

Chuck McKenzie - Embarrassingly, I don't. Haven't really written anything since about 2005.

ScaryMinds - For those not aware of the Chuck McKenzie back catalogue, which books of yours would you suggest would be a good place to start?

Chuck McKenzie - Well, probably the one that's still in print. :) That would be Confessions of a Pod Person, my 2005 collection, which is available from MirrorDanse Books.

ScaryMinds - What are you currently working on and when can we expect to get our grubby hands on a copy?

Chuck McKenzie - Ummm...see answer to question 5.

ScaryMinds - How do friends, family, and the neighbourhood kids you keep chained in the basement relate to you being a writer of dark speculative fiction?

Chuck McKenzie - I used to get 'looks' from them early on, but now they think it's cool though slightly weird. My 10 year-old, however, has just kinda worked out that I used to write, and likes looking through my brag shelf.

ScaryMinds - You are credited with being one of the leading zombie experts in the Country, fast or slow zombies, what can we expect in the coming apocalypse? What defines a zombie in your opinion?

Chuck McKenzie - I'm not overly fussy about my zombies - I find both fast and slow zombies scary (and enjoyable), in completely different ways. The latter create a frantic adrenalin-fuelled terror. The former are more atmospheric, generating that creeping, sick realisation that, no matter how fast you run, they will eventually catch up with you... For me, a good broad definition of a zombie is person robbed completely of intelligence and/or the behavioural, moral or ethical strictures of normal human beings.

ScaryMinds - If you were stuck in an apartment building with the zombie apocalypse going down which three people would you want in your team as you try to make the nearest relief station?

Chuck McKenzie - Geez - that's a hard one... Jonathan Maberry, because he not only knows his modern zombie lore (having written a wealth of fiction and non-fiction on the subject), but also has a background in martial arts and combat. Chuck Norris, obviously. And possibly our current PM, Tony Abbott - we could throw him to the zombies to create a distraction if things get too hairy...

ScaryMinds - Recently concerns have been raised in some quarters over the state of Australian horror literature. Do you think we are in a good space or have local Writers, Editors, Publishers failed to fully capture the current surge in horror’s popularity?

Chuck McKenzie - Australian writers certainly haven't missed the boat - there's a wealth of great horror lit out there, although most of it seems to be coming through the small presses, so relatively few potential readers ever hear about it. I think the bigger publishers have possibly been riding on the crest of the Paranormal Romance wave for so long, they've been unwilling to risk funding the darker stuff, which is a shame.

ScaryMinds - What’s your movie line up for Halloween evening or what are your five favourite horror flicks?

Chuck McKenzie - Ha! I spent Halloween working - scary clown getup and all. :) My five fave horror flicks, though, in no particular order, are:
John Carpenter's The Thing
Lake Mungo
Dawn of the Dead (the original)
The Mist
Invasion of the Body Snatchers (Kauffman version)

ScaryMinds would like to thank Chuck McKenzie for taking time out of his work and family committments to chat with us. Fingers crossed you got the chance and inspiration to write the odd story again.

Internet References for Chuck McKenzie

Notions Unlimited Bookshop - The best in the business, check them out.