Photo Content from Joel McKayJoel McKay is an economic development professional, author and former public relations executive and journalist. He is based in Prince George, B.C. where he is the CEO of Northern Development, and sits on the boards of the University of Northern B.C. and Destination B.C. Joel is passionate about British Columbia, especially its vast and relatively misunderstood north. His writing focuses on the people, places and issues relevant to northern and rural communities, typically with a healthy dose of the absurd or supernatural. His short story 'Number Hunnerd', a fish tale set in B.C.'s Cariboo, was published in Tyche Books anthology Water: Selkies, Sirens and Sea Monsters in 2021. His novella, Wolf at the Door, was published in the spring of 2022 and focuses on a disastrous family Thanksgiving dinner. His forthcoming fiction, a short western horror story titled 'Hands', will be published by Brigids Gate Press in the summer of 2022.
Joel was previously Director, Communications at Northern Development. During that time he led the creation and publication of the 'Small Town PR Playbook', a first-of-its-kind how-to book for rural public relations in Canada that won the Don Rennie Award from the Canadian Public Relations Society for excellence in government communications. Prior to that, he was Assignment Editor at Business in Vancouver Newspaper where his journalism earned him a Jack Webster Award for Business, Industry and Economics in 2011, and a nomination for a second Jack Webster Award for Multimedia Reporting in 2012.
He has received the Distinguished Alumni Award from Kwantlen Polytechnic University for his professional achievements, and in 2021 was awarded the Chairman's Award from the B.C. Economic Development Association for his contributions to rural development. He has been named a Top 40 Under 40 by the Prince George Chamber of Commerce, and in 2021 and 2022 was named one of the 500 most influential business leaders in British Columbia by Business in Vancouver Media Group.
Greatest thing you learned at school.
The greatest thing I learned at school was how to write fast and concise. My undergrad is in journalism, and on day one we were learning how to write a story lede in 10 words or less. While not always necessary, it drove home the point that less is better and as a working journalist I got pretty good at it. That type of work also makes you fast – you get comfortable hammering out a story knowing you can go back and fix it later. This is a lesson that I’ve found very useful for writing fiction.
When/how did you realize you had a creative dream or calling to fulfill?
I was twelve. I wanted to keep playing with my action figures but decided I couldn’t. I also figured out you can create anything you want with a pen and paper – limitless universes, depthless caverns, treasures so vast they’d drive you mad just to catch a glimpse of them. I figured that out writing my first story and I’ve never let go of trying to practice that magic.
Beyond your own work (of course), what is your all-time favorite book and why? And what is your favorite book outside of your genre?
My all-time favourite book would be Susanna Clarke’s Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell. It’s a beast of a book, but after reading it I can’t imagine a world where it doesn’t exist. Though all of my published fiction has been firmly in the horror category, I would say my ‘home genre’ is fantasy and this book is the answer to the question: if you could take one book to a desert island, which would it be?
Tell us your most rewarding experience since being published.
It’s the random positive reviews from people you’ve never heard of, and probably never will again. Just knowing someone has read your work, escaped into that world and enjoyed it is worth the price of admission for me.
What was the single worst distraction that kept you from writing this book?
Lack of readiness. I’d been writing for 20+ years when I started Wolf at the Door, professionally since I was 22. But I had never published fiction, never really even attempted it until COVID. I just wasn’t ready. When the pandemic hit, a combination of life-changing circumstances and finally having my craft at a skill level necessary to publish arrived and here we are two years later.
Has reading a book ever changed your life? Which one and why, if yes?
The Castle in the Attic by Elizabeth Winthrop. It’s a children’s novel. The first novel I ever read. I don’t know how our family wound up with a copy, but my brother had read it and he seemed to like it so I picked it up. There’s a scene in it where the author describes the flesh and taste of an apple. I remember it clear as day as the first time in my life I truly felt the magic of reading – that feeling of be there instead of here. I was hooked.
Can you tell us when you started WOLF AT THE DOOR, how that came about?
I started Wolf at the Door in April 2020. It was the depths of the pandemic and I had written two other short stories and wanted to experiment with an ensemble cast of characters in a tight setting and have their various conflicts crash together. It was an experiment, at best. I wasn’t sure I could pull it off – I just wanted to see what I could learn from trying to create that setting. I threw the werewolves in because it added another urgency to the story that would take it beyond being just another literary story. The book was born in just a few weeks – it was a ton of fun to write and I surprised myself with what I was able to pull off.
Writing Behind the Scenes
When I sit down to write, I write like a fish drinks water. Once I get going, I don’t want to stop. I won’t stop unless I need to eat or sleep, and often I’ll ignore what my body wants in favour of my mind. There’s a few reasons for this. One, I’m one of those people that when I get into something, I reeeeeeally get into it. Same goes for writing. The other thing is paranoia that I won’t finished. I started writing fiction when I was twelve, but by the time I was 17 I stepped away from it and did very little fiction writing again until I was thirty-four. That’s almost twenty years. It wasn’t because I didn’t want to, it’s because I was a journalist, or in public relations or was having kids – there were always other things going on that I devoted time to, excuses I made to avoid it. Finally, I decided in my thirties I wanted to get good at it so I started taking courses, hired a writing coach, pushed through. All that is to say, although I’m producing now I’m terrified if I take a week away from a project I’ll never go back and finish it. That means when I’m into a bit of work, I try to push through until the first draft is done.
The other thing is I don’t do research. Funny thing is, I’m trained to research and disseminate complex information and data professionally – but at this point I’m not at all interested in spending three months researching a topic before I write it. I want the magic RIGHT NOW – so genre fiction works perfectly because you can make it all up!
What is the first job you have had?
I washed dishes at a café in Port Moody, B.C. After that, I worked for Eddie Bauer at two locations doing sales and stock. Then I worked for a major book store chain. Then a liquor store. Then I worked under the table as labour for an electrician. Then I was a warehouse manager, then a sales rep for a graphic supply company, then a landscaper. All that before I became a freelance writer and journalist. It’s been a long and interesting road.
What is the first thing you think of when you wake up in the morning?
The first thing I have to do. Typically, drink a glass of water, get moving and organize in my mind how that day is going to go.
Which incident in your life that totally changed the way you think today?
I was divorced in my twenties. It was a long relationship but a short marriage. Out of that I became a much more open, easy-going person. I learned a level of resilience I didn’t have before, and it built a lot of confidence in me that I would have the skills to get through whatever life threw it me.
Which would you choose, true love with a guarantee of a heart break or have never loved before?
True love. Every day of the week.
What do you usually think about right before falling asleep?
I tend to think about whatever story I’m working on. I find the mental escape relaxing. Also, I’m convinced if I fall asleep thinking about it I might have a dream that gives me an answer about it. Why not put my brain to work while I’m resting?
If you had to go back in time and change one thing, if you HAD to, even if you had “no regrets” what would it be?
I would have had less to drink that time I was in Boston.
All Charlotte Deerborn wanted was a nice Thanksgiving dinner with family and friends. Too bad for her no one else wanted to be there. By the time the turkey is carved, old grievances, bad behavior and crass remarks have transformed her dinner party into a disaster. And then a werewolf shows up to do some carving of its own.
Wolf at the Door is a fast-paced, absurdist take on modern creature horror, levering humor and action to highlight how one family comes to grips with what really matters in life.