Exclusive Interview: “Midnight, Water City” Author Chris McKinney
If things continue the way they have been, we will one day be living in underwater homes. Which also means someone will be murdered in their underwater home. And when that happens, someone may say, “This reminds me of Midnight, Water City.” In the following email interview about that novel, author Chris McKinney discusses this noir sci-fi novel (which is now available in hardcover, Kindle, and audiobook).
Photo Credit: Brittany McKinney
To start, what is Midnight, Water City about, and when and where does it take place?
Ah, the elevator pitch. It’s 2142, and people have populated the ocean. The most famous person in the world, Akira Kimura, is found murdered in her underwater penthouse. Her old friend, a colorblind cop with a unique form of synesthesia, is on the case.
Where did you get the original idea for Midnight, Water City?
I was living in a condo at the time that had an ocean view. I was sitting on the balcony, smoking a cigarette. I wondered what it would look like if I took all these seaside condos, flipped them, and dropped them in the middle of the ocean. That’s basically how the book was born. A brief, simple curiosity that I’d need to create in my head in order to fully see.
And is there a reason you set in 2142 as opposed to 12142 or 102142?
Definitely. I wanted familiar things to keep my world-building grounded. To take current tech and advance it, but not go completely crazy. For example, the iE is a super advanced drone / smart phone neurally connected to users. The AMP chamber, which is basically hibernation tech, is based on research that I heard was conducted at MD Anderson and NASA. It’s one of those experiments where you think there’s a singular purpose (space travel hibernation, for example), but perhaps scientists discover that there are other possible applications (extending life span).
We already have a few underwater buildings. Nothing like in the book, but it’s a start. Thinking about 12142 would make my head explode. Also, I didn’t want to do space. The fact that we know more about Mars than we do about our planet’s oceans drives me crazy.
It sounds like Midnight, Water City is a noir, dystopian sci-fi novel. Is that how you’d describe it?
Noir, sci-fi, definitely. Mystery, too. Dystopian? I don’t know. There are aspects of the book’s world that are better than what we’re dealing with now. The planet is cleaner. Nuclear disarmament. Racism is pretty much non-existent. But you know, there are two more books coming in the trilogy, so there may possibly be some dystopia sprinkled in later. Midnight is only a chunk of the greater world. Elements of adventure and horror may be added as setting expands in the next two books.
Prior to Midnight, Water City you wrote six other novels, co-wrote a memoir, and wrote the screenplay for the movie Paradise Broken and one of the parts of the anthology movie 6B. Did I miss anything?
I also wrote a screenplay for a feature called Haole, and one for a short called “Calamity.” All low budget, indie stuff set in Hawaii.
Got it. But unless I’m mistaken, Midnight, Water City is the first of your novels to be a sci-fi story. Did you set out to write a science fiction novel, and this is what you came up with, or did you start with the story and realize it would work much better as a sci-fi story?
This one was sci-fi from the start. Part of it was because I was tired of just being the Hawaii guy. Not only was I tired of it, I began to question my own credibility. For example, when we were shooting one of the movies mentioned above, one of my production duties was to navigate a flat-bottom boat through the reefs of Kaneohe Bay on Oahu. I grew up on that side of the island, so I did it hundreds of times as a kid. But it’d been years. I forgot the way to open water. So, after shooting the film, I decided to do something different and rebrand. I always loved sci-fi and have a layman’s fascination with science, so it wasn’t too hard of a transition.
So then are there any writers, or maybe specific stories, that had a big influence on Midnight, Water City, but not on anything else you’ve written?
Four stories shook me more than any others when I was a kid: Animal Farm, Macbeth, Blood Meridian, and One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest. The Kesey novel never really directly influenced my writing in the past, but I think it was important in this one. The psychedelic aspects. The idea of perception — is what I’m seeing real? While developing the main character’s gift, I spent a lot of time exploring that question.
And how about non-literary influences; was Midnight, Water City influenced by any movies, TV shows, or games?
I think part of the fun of writing sci-fi is reconnecting to the joy that the fantastical catalyzed back in childhood. Blade Runner. Raiders Of The Lost Ark. Maybe not so much in Midnight, but book 2. Also, when I visualize this world in my head, I sometimes see it in anime. One of my main characters is named “Akira” after all. But no specific anime title influenced the story.
I did go through a gaming phase. I was once an MMO junkie. EQ and WoW. But that’s fantasy. Maybe residue from Mass Effect and BioShock?
Now, as you mentioned Midnight, Water City is the first book in a trilogy, which you’re calling the Water City Trilogy. Do you know yet what the other books will be called and when they’ll be out?
I’m not quite sure. I have a draft of book 2, and I’m working on a rough, rough draft of book 3. My guess is that Midnight will go from hardcover to paperback in a year, and hopefully, during that time, we’ll be editing book 2. I think the plan is to keep “Water City” in the three titles. So, maybe the next one will be Sunset, Water City.
What was it about this story that made you think it needed to be a trilogy as opposed to a stand-alone story or a duology or even an ongoing series?
I was thinking stand-alone story in the very beginning. Also, I don’t know if I have it in me to do an ongoing series, but who knows? Trilogy was casually suggested by others. Then it sort of became an ear worm. I began seeing it as a trilogy while I was working on it. Maybe I’m just a dope who’s susceptible to the powers of suggestion, but it’s been working out well. I’m not ready to step out of this world yet.
Upon learning that Midnight, Water City is the first book of a trilogy some people will decide to wait until all of the books are out before reading any of them. Do you think they should?
I didn’t even think about readers waiting until all three books are out, but I’ll say this: Midnight works as a stand-alone. There’s no cliffhanger. There’s resolution. In fact, for all I know, I’ll give book 2 to the publisher, and they’ll laugh and say, are you serious? And I’ll need to start from scratch. Or I’ll get mangled in a car accident tomorrow, and there will be no book 2. Just like the novel’s main character, I’ve done a piss poor job living life and envisioning some kind of long game.
The book has received some glowing pre-pub reviews, so that’s a relief. Kirkus said something interesting. They praised the book, calling it “a slice of post-apocalyptic even darker and more stylized than Blade Runner.” but they also said that readers might turn the last page exhausted. Not in the trudging slowly page after page way, but the, whoa, so much happened in such a short time span kind of way. That’s what I wanted to create. So, with this in mind, maybe read book 1 and take a break before reading book 2. Apparently, Kirkus thinks you might need it because right now, book 2 is written in the same break-neck style.
Earlier I asked if Midnight, Water City had been influenced by any movies, TV shows, or games. But to flip things around, do you think the Water City Trilogy could work as a movie or series of movies, a show, or a game?
I think it would work well in all the above versions. If I put my producer hat on, maybe the best way would be Americanized anime. A hybrid of sorts. A mixed breed thing, like me. Like I said, sometimes I visualize the story in anime. That would also make it more affordable.
If someone did want to turn the Water City Trilogy into an anime, who would you want them to cast as the voices of the main characters?
I’d just want good actors. A lot my favorite TV and film stuff is filled with a largely unknown cast of talented people. Sure, some got big after the fact, but I think of The Sopranos, The Wire, Breaking Bad, Game Of Thrones, The Queen’s Gambit, Battlestar Galactica — it feels like going talent over star-power is the best way to go.
And if someone wanted to make a Water City Trilogy game, what kind of game should it be and who should make it?
Oh man, an action / adventure video game would be fun. I played Red Dead Redemption 2 and was wildly impressed. What a game. Rockstar? I mentioned Mass Effect and BioShock earlier. I’d add Fallout to that list. I’ve always been a BioWare and Bethesda fan, but I’m a Gen X dinosaur who kicked the gaming addiction awhile back, so I don’t know how relevant the developers I’m citing are today.
They’re all still around, and doing good work. Anyway, I always like to end with a recommendation. If someone enjoys Midnight, Water City, which of your other novels would you suggest they read next?
I’d say the first one, The Tattoo. Maybe it’d be interesting to compare my latest to the one I wrote when I was 24. Does a writer get better with age? I always ask myself this question and like to think so but have no definitive answer. Sometimes, your best work is behind you. Sometimes, it’s ahead. But I’m always shooting for the best to be right now. I think I may have hit it with Midnight, Water City.