By Jeremy Burns
An incredibly prolific up-and-coming thriller author, Michael McBride integrates elements of science-fiction and horror into his books. His latest, SUNBLIND, continues that trend while delving into one of today’s most controversial topics and completely turning it on its head. Michael sat down with THE BIG THRILL to take readers behind the scenes of his latest gripping adventure.
Please tell us a little about yourself.
I’m a third-generation Coloradan, born and raised in the shadow of the Rocky Mountains. My wife and I have a whole slew of beautiful children ranging in age from four to twenty-two, three dogs, and several iguanas. When I’m not writing, I’m shivering in an ice rink, examining patients in a radiology department, or immersed in all things football and hockey. My dream is to one day create a serial character as beloved as Jack Reacher or Harry Bosch, through whose exploits I can vicariously live out my days.
Tell us about your new book, SUNBLIND.
SUNBLIND is about a group of undocumented aliens who set out across one of the deadliest regions on the planet in search of a new life in America. It’s about their suffering at the hands of the merciless desert and something else…something that’s survived in complete geographic isolation. Mostly, though, it’s a story about hope and the triumph of the human spirit. It’s about learning how far we can physically push ourselves and to what lengths we are willing to go to survive.
How is this book different from other books you’ve written?
SUNBLIND is my first story told from the female perspective. Writing Mayra’s part was challenging because it forced me to work outside my comfort zone and make choices I might not have otherwise made. And the book’s better for it. I believe the reader will be able to identify with her suffering and appreciate the sacrifices she makes in order to survive.
What was your initial inspiration for SUNBLIND? How did the story’s premise develop through the early days of your writing process?
The seed of the idea that would one day become SUNBLIND grew from the research phase of writing my 2012 novel THE COYOTE, which is about an FBI agent’s hunt for a serial killer who targets undocumented aliens because no one will even know they are missing. I learned a lot about the horrors these people are forced to endure in the open desert and at the hands of unscrupulous criminals. And about how many don’t survive the journey, how many corpses are collected from the Sonoran Desert and never identified. I wanted to tell the story of those who didn’t make it, only from a perspective that will hopefully both educate and entertain the reader.
What are some of the ways you’ve conducted research for this novel? Any interesting stories there?
I spent months poring over books and websites, learning everything I possibly could about the location and the characters, all of whom hail from different regions south of the border. I investigated Central American gangs and Mexican drug trafficking organizations. I read countless documents provided by the DHS, ATF, CBP, and local law enforcement agencies, and biographical works on the agents themselves. I used satellite imaging to map the Arizona/Mexico crossing right down to the trails my characters would take. And yet the hardest part was inducing my own gag reflex repeatedly in order to describe the sensation during a scene where one of my characters swallowed a spider.
How much of yourself do you put in your characters? With which character in SUNBLIND do you most identify?
For the most part, I’m a fairly ordinary guy, so I like to try to step outside of myself to create characters who inhabit the more extraordinary end of the spectrum. The majority of SUNBLIND is told from the first-person perspective of a woman named Mayra, a nurse fleeing Oaxaca following the murder of her sister. Writing as though I were inside her head allowed us to share the same skin for several hours a day. Her background couldn’t have been more different from mine, but I’d like to think that were our roles reversed, I’d be able to tap into her strength. No matter how many times she’s knocked down, she always gets up again.
Which character was the most fun for you to write? Why?
El Bufón. He’s a pollero, a guide paid to lead the immigrants across the border. A brash wanna-be gangster, his use of intimidation to control his flock becomes almost comical as the situation gets out of hand and people start dying. He’s just a scared kid trying to make a name for himself in an industry that trades in violence. It’s his bravado that ultimately sets the whole group on a course for disaster.
When sitting down to write a new book, how much of an outline or plan do you usually create before launching into the first draft?
I generally spend anywhere from months to years toying with an idea. It bounces around in my head for a while until it strikes me as being worthy of serious consideration. At that point, I invest months into researching every aspect of the idea, amassing collections of literature and binders full of printouts and notes. Once I’m certain the concept has merit, I throw myself into the characters. That’s the crucial juncture. The project can move forward only if the characters have a story to tell. Once all of that’s lined up, I formulate a loose outline. Then, and only then, does the actual process of writing commence.
Other than SUNBLIND, what is your favorite book that you have written (or co-written)?
BLOODLETTING was great fun to write. The characters were unlike any I’d written up until that point and still beg to be revisited, which I hope to do sometime soon. And the plot was the kind that all authors dream about, one that almost magically fell together at all of the right moments. SNOWBLIND’s another of my favorites, although for different reasons. While BLOODLETTING was carefully plotted and attention paid to every minuscule detail, I consider SNOWBLIND the equivalent of throwing caution to the wind and speeding downhill toward a brick wall. It was written with the sole intention of creating unbearable tension and moving at the fastest pace I could sustain.
What is your favorite book by another author? Why?
It’s impossible to narrow down to just one! I love the Charlie Parker series by John Connolly and each year look forward to receiving the newest entry. The same goes for the Reacher books by Lee Child, the Robicheaux books by James Lee Burke, the Pendergast books by Douglas Preston & Lincoln Child, the Bosch books by Michael Connelly, and the Sigma Force books by James Rollins, among others. These guys are all amazing authors who breathe genuine life into their characters and craft settings somehow more real than the world outside your front door. When a new title is released, it’s like sitting down with old friends and catching up with their lives. You get to slip into worlds simultaneously familiar and dangerous and for some length of time become a part of their adventures. That’s what reading’s all about.
What is your favorite travel destination? Why?
We go to Disneyland several times a year. There aren’t many destinations that can fully stimulate and entertain a brood as large as ours. It really is a magical place. Cast members treat you like royalty and go out of their way to make your experience special. Where else can you rub shoulders with Captain America and Darth Vader and escape bloodthirsty pirates and yetis, all without ever straying more than fifteen feet from a churros cart?
What is your dream travel destination that you’ve never been to? Why?
It’s all about the adventure! Imagine exploring the newly discovered Mayan ruins in the jungles outside of Mexico City or hiking through the Tibetan Himalayas. Recreating Darwin’s passage through the Galapagos Islands or following the historical footsteps of primitive man through Africa. There are so many amazing places I want to go and once I get these kids through college, that’s exactly what I’m going to do!
If you could have dinner with any one person, dead or alive, who would it be and what would you talk about?
My dad. We lost him to cancer nearly a decade ago. I’d love the opportunity to sit down with him and tell him about all of the things his grandchildren are doing, about all of the little things I wish he could be here to experience. Introduce him to my two youngest, who he didn’t get to meet. We could talk football and Star Wars and I could thank him for everything he taught me that’s made me who I am today.
What do you find most rewarding about writing?
Everything! I get to live in a fictional world eight hours a day. I get to interact with my readers and fellow writers. I get to turn loose the voices in my head and keep myself sane. And, thanks to my loyal readers, I have the luxury of being able to spend more time at home with my family, so I don’t miss as many of the important events.
What is one thing that would surprise your fans about you or your writing process?
I write all of my manuscripts by hand. The words just seem to flow so much better that way. Typing the pages after the fact allows me to polish the prose and perform edits while the scenes are still fresh in my mind. It obviously takes longer, but my work is so much better for it.
What advice would you give to new or aspiring authors who look up to you?
I know it’s hard, but wait until you’ve mastered the craft before publishing. The siren call of self-publishing can be very seductive. The money! The fame! It’s all for naught if you’re not ready. Take your time. Study. Read. Learn. A good book will always reach its desired audience, while one that’s not ready will alienate you from it.
What can we expect next from you, and where can readers go to hear the latest news?
A new novel called FEARFUL SYMMETRY—a team of scientists follows in the historical footsteps of an ill-fated Nazi expedition into the Himalayas in search of the origins of the Aryan race and discovers something far more terrifying—was just released, and CONDEMNED—racial tensions ignite when a serial killer utilizes the abandoned historical landmarks of Detroit to display his victims—hits stores in December. The coming year will also see the release of my backlist in audiobook and several German translations from Voodoo Press. To keep up with the chaos, please visit his website, or you can hook up with me on Twitter and Facebook.
Thanks to the author for taking us behind the curtain of his varied but always fascinating thriller world. If you haven’t checked out Michael McBride yet, now’s the time, as he only seems to be gaining steam. Check out SUNBLIND when it hits stores September 2.
Michael McBride is the author of ANCIENT ENEMY, BLOODLETTING, BURIAL GROUND, FEARFUL SYMMETRY, INNOCENTS LOST, PREDATORY INSTINCT, THE COYOTE, and VECTOR BORNE. His novella SNOWBLIND won the 2012 DarkFuse Readers Choice Award and received honorable mention in THE BEST HORROR OF THE YEAR. He lives in Avalanche Territory with his wife and kids.