In Conversation With Jesse McKinnell, author of Dead Cats and Other Reflections on Parenthood
Norm Goldman

Reviewer & Author Interviewer, Norm Goldman. Norm is the Publisher & Editor of

He has been reviewing books for the past twenty years after retiring from the legal profession.

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By Norm Goldman
Published on August 7, 2018 welcomes as our guest Jesse McKinnell, author of Dead Cats and Other Reflections on Parenthood.

Jesse grew up in Massachusetts but has lived peacefully in Maine for many years. On July 4, 2015, he had a dream about a dentist with a passion for writing sitcoms. Somehow, DEAD CATS And Other Reflections on Parenthood was the result. It is his first novel. welcomesas our guest Jesse McKinnell, author of Dead Cats and Other Reflections on Parenthood.

Jesse grew up in Massachusetts but has lived peacefully in Maine for many years. On July 4, 2015, he had a dream about a dentist with a passion for writing sitcoms. Somehow, DEAD CATS And Other Reflections on Parenthood was the result. It is his first novel.

Norm: Good day Jesse and thanks for participating in our interview.

How did you get started in writing? What keeps you going?

Jesse: Hey - thanks for having me. I've been writing since I was a little kid. My mom got me a word processor in 6th grade, and I would write short stories all the time. My teachers in middle school would assign vocabulary homework where we had to use “work" in a sentence. I could never contain myself in a single sentence and would return some really obnoxious paragraph for each of them.

In 8th grade, I won a Halloween short-story contest for adults in the Boston Globe. It was about a teddy bear that tried to murder a kid, somehow I wrapped up that whole thing in 250 words, I think. I just really enjoy the process of writing. It's fun to be creative and think of scenarios (many of them ridiculous) and then work them out in a story.

Norm: I understand DEAD CATS And Other Reflections on Parenthood is your first novel. How did you find writing a novel different from your usual writing of short stories?

Jesse: Well, it takes quite a bit longer. Part of the fun to me of writing is sharing it with people and sometimes I get frustrated when writing novels because it takes so much longer to get the idea out of my head and onto paper or a computer. I keep a running list of ideas and usually I can tell the ones that are complete enough thoughts to be novels and the ones that are just scenes.

Now that I have my website up, I'm going to be publishing a few of my newer short stories. I've got a solid draft of a second novel complete and I'm working on a third right now.

Norm: What served as the primary inspiration for the book and how did you decide you were ready to write the book?

Jesse: I started Dead Cats after I had a dream about a dentist who wanted to write sitcoms. In my dream he discussed his idea with a hygienist while a patient was under the gas. When that patient woke up the sitcom idea had imprinted on him and he went out and created the show, which drove the dentist insane.

I woke up laughing from that dream and scribbled down the outline in my notebook. After that it was just a matter of setting my mind to do it. Obviously the concept morphed quite a bit, but that was the original kernel - not a disdain for dentists.

Norm: What purpose do you believe your story serves and what matters to you about the story? As a follow up, what do you hope will be the everlasting thoughts for readers who finish your book?

Jesse: Well first, I hope that people just enjoy the experience of reading Dead Cats and have fun with it. It's funny and moves pretty quickly. If you want to read deeper, I wove a lot of themes into it about our culture - celebrities, what it means to be a man, how we treat people at the bottom rungs of our social/economic ladder and how we value our families.

Norm: Did you know the end of your book at the beginning?

Jesse: Sort of. I'm not someone with enough patience to write some huge outline and then stick to it. Every night when I save my progress, I try to write myself a little note for the next day with an idea about where to go next and I sort of weave the stories together that way. I think with Dead Cats, I got about 3/4 of the way through it before I went and wrote the very last scene.

Norm: You use a great deal of dark humor in your novel. In your opinion, why is dark humor funny yet it is not everyone's cup of tea?

Jesse: Haha. I don't know why dark humor is funny to me. I love comedy and comedians but the broadest stuff has never appealed to me. I think it's OK to laugh at inappropriate things. Sometimes it's all you can do. When I was sending around the first draft of Dead Cats to friends and family, I always caveated that it was supposed to be funny, because I was a bit self-conscious about it. But the response has been great. Almost everybody gets the tone of the book.

Norm: How did you go about creating the character of Joel Peterson? Is he based on someone you know or knew?

Jesse: Joel is not based directly on anyone. He's sort of an amalgamation of what I thought would happen if you took an ordinary man, plopped him into middle age, then all of a sudden stripped away all of his comforts and set him adrift.

Norm: Why did you choose the ghost of Kurt Cobain as the sidekick to Joel Peterson? What purpose do you believe he serves in the story?

Jesse: Cobain is a fascinating person to me. I was a big fan of Nirvana as a kid and then to have him ripped away so suddenly really imprinted on me. It felt natural to me that Joel would turn to him in a flailing search for guidance. Joel really needed a foil, and I thought that Kurt was the perfect sort of wincing, moral compass to keep the story a little bit grounded.

Norm: What was one of the most surprising things you learned in writing your novel?

Jesse: I've been surprised that people I didn't expect to like the book have taken to it. I thought it would be a little too dark for some but the feedback so far has been really positive.

Norm: How do you define success?

Jesse: Not the same way as Joel, haha. I just want people to read the book and enjoy it. There are a lot of crappy things that the internet has unlocked in humanity but it is pretty amazing how broad a reach we can have now. So I've tried my best to keep the book cheap to buy, because I don't want people not to read it because of a price tag.

Norm: Do you worry about the human race?

Jesse: Hell yes. Doesn't everyone? It's hard to add context to how I feel. It's hard to figure out if things are always getting worse or if this is just normal. I wonder all the time if it's our nature to cling to nostalgia and people have always been aghast while watching humanity struggle like it does. I don't know. There's a lot of unreasonable, needless conflict in the world. I suppose that's just the way it is.

Norm: Do you feel that writers, regardless of genre owe something to readers, if not, why not, if so, why and what would that be?

Jesse: There are a lot of books out there and not everyone is going to like everything that someone writes. I'm a big reader too so I feel like writers owe readers a lot. In my opinion, a good book should be genuine and fearless. I don't want to read anything that was a compromise or worries about what people will think about it. The writer needs to be true to themselves and to have a perspective. As I reader, I hate it when books are safe. That's boring. If someone paid to read what you wrote, you at least owe them to not be boring.

Norm: Where can our readers find out more about you and DEAD CATS And Other Reflections on Parenthood?

Jesse: Dead Cats is available on Amazon, Kindle, Barnes and Noble, etc. I also have signed copies on my WEBSITE. I'll even scratch out a terrible little drawing for you on the title page. The first chapter is available for free on my site and on Kindle. You can also follow me on instagram or twitter @jessemckinnell

Norm: What is next for Jesse McKinnell?

Jesse: I'll be publishing some short stories on my website and then whipping my second novel into shape. 

Norm: As this interview comes to an end, what question do you wish that someone would ask about your book, but nobody has?

Jesse: That's a hard one, so I'll answer it in the most self-promotional way possible. I wish that someone would ask me about how Dead Cats as an unpublished manuscript made it to the 2017 Publisher's Weekly Booklife Prize Semi Finals. I suppose that's not really a question, more of a statement, and one that sort of makes me sound like a jerk. Maybe I should take the inverse of your question, I wish people would stop asking me if I hate cats. I don't. They're fine. Dogs are better, but cats are fine.

Norm: Thanks once again and good luck with all of your future endeavors

FOLLOW HERE TO READ NORM'S REVIEW OF DEAD CATS and other reflections in parenthood