Queen's alum talks first book, Different Beasts

Joel McConvey's scary stories show horrific side of humanity

Joel McConvey's Different Beasts. 

With a new take on scary stories, Queen’s alum Joel McConvey, known professionally as J.R. McConvey, shows that people might be scarier than your classic monster.

McConvey (ArtSci ’02) published his first book of short stories in September 2019. He spoke to The Journal about his writing process and his journey getting to this point in his career.

His book, Different Beasts, compiles stories that deal with what it means to be monstrous. His characters walk a delicate line between misguided and just plain evil, but they do so in an alarmingly plausible way.

McConvey said the stories in his book are some that he’s written over the past 10 years. He looked through the work he’s amassed and searched for a common thread throughout them. What he found with these selected stories was that they all feature characters who face a duality between monstrosity and humanity.

“We are all at times both human and monster; everyone has the capacity for monstrousness within them,” McConvey said. “One of the things I admire most about humans is that we are constantly not fighting against that, but trying to counter our monstrousness with compassion and humanity.”

One of his stories, “Little Flags,” is all too familiar to anyone who follows the littlest bit of American news.

Its main character is a border security enthusiast who, along with a team of fellow red-blooded Americans, patrols the line between America and Mexico.

They’re armed, and they set out on their escapades in armoured vehicles using droids donned with cameras to fly above them to survey the area. The reader quickly learns that the main character’s hatred for those who illegally cross the border conveniently doesn’t apply to the woman he’s keeping in his home. He seems to think she’s a girlfriend of sorts, but it’s quite clear that she’s a prisoner to circumstance—unable to leave the protagonist for fear of her life and the law.

Another story, “Pavilion,” takes place North of America’s other border, and is rooted in Kingston’s rich history. “Pavilion” is a fictionalization of the story of Sir John A. MacDonald and Bellevue House in Kingston.

The original draft wasn’t set in Kingston and didn’t center on the former prime minister. McConvey added these details in during the editing stage because he felt that the story needed to be associated with something more concrete.

“The basic skeletal structure of that story was just this notion that there would be a house that someone would destroy and then rebuild,” McConvey said.

This idea lends itself nicely to the historic Bellevue House. It also helps that McConvey is familiar with the house and Kingston itself. During his time at Queen’s, McConvey got his first paid writing job here at The Journal. He worked as the Arts Editor from 2000 to 2001. He credits this experience with getting a job in journalism after he graduated.

“I had an awesome time with The Journal, full of good people and we learned a ton of, I think, skills that I still carry with me to this day,” McConvey said. “I think that my time at The Journal allowed me to get a job out of school.”

Along with this experience, McConvey said that Professor Carolyn Smart had a hand in encouraging and teaching him to be a better writer.

“[Smart and The Journal] were foundational in getting to take writing seriously and as a craft, thinking about techniques, and also getting into the habit of sharing work with other writers and trying to figure out where one fits in a
larger community.”

For McConvey, his talents are multifaceted, allowing him to fit into many subsects of the writing world. He’s been a journalist, a producer, a short-story writer, and now he’s working on a novel. Keeping the monstrous theme going, his novel—which is still in the works—focuses on a monster hunter and a giant squid.

Knowing McConvey’s writing style and fascination with humanity, it’s likely going to be a wildly unsettling yet satisfying read.

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