by Roger Zotti
Frank McKinney has written an enthralling action-filled novel for young readers titled Dead Fred, Flying Lunchboxes, and the Good Luck Circle (HCI). “It’s a deep fantasy set in south Florida,” Frank said. “The primary character, an eighth grader, is named Ppeekk [pronounced Peekie]. She’s very insecure and shy.” As the story progresses, “she makes the most important friendship of her life with a little character she calls Dead Fred – whose real name is King Frederick the Ninth, ruler of the underwater kingdom known as High Voltage. He has been dethroned by a 50 foot Megalodon shark.”
The shark – which existed 50 million years ago – “comes back to life and is the evil villain,” Frank said. A superb descriptive writer, Frank depicts the gigantic Megalodon like this: “[His] thick gray hide was shriveled and puckered with scars. Dozens of remora fish clung to him, absorbing his evil essence … he bared rows of razor-sharp teeth …” Soon Ppeekk and her new friends – Quarto and his younger sister, Mini Romey – “have to find the courage to overthrow this seemingly insurmountable obstacle and restore King Frederick as High Voltage’s rightful ruler.” The theme of bravery abounds. But are the youngsters successful in restoring King Frederick and conquering the malevolent Megalodon? I’ll put it this way: the last paragraph is a stunner.
To write Dead Fred, Frank “leaped into the fantasy genre.” (His previous books dealt with business, real estate, and inspirational-spiritual matters.) He learned to write dialogue because his other books contained little conversation. And “writing action scenes, many of which take place underwater,” wasn’t easy because, Frank, “How do you create the true belief that these characters are breathing and fighting for their lives underwater?”
Frank believes a good fantasy opens up “the cinema in the reader’s mind. You become so engrossed you feel as if you are sitting in a movie theater watching a film.” He added, “The real bonding with the characters my readers have – who they like and dislike – is [key] in a fantasy novel.” And first-rate fantasy – which Dead Fred is -reminds the reader “never to lose the little boy or girl inside.” Lastly, consider what Ppeekk says in Chapter 13. They’re an ideal definition of fantasy. When she and her friends see some clown fish that, she says, “are not supposed to be here and yet are … doesn’t that tell you that maybe, just maybe, things you thought weren’t possible, are.”
In his Acknowledgements, Frank tells us that “the primary inspiration [for the book] came from his daughter, Laura, and [her friends] who walked the nearly one mile journey from our house to school every school day of Laura’s life … Right now that’s over 1200 walks. She’s never been driven – not once – and she’s ready to graduate sixth grade. We walked through a tropical forest, a jungle-like nature preserve, and over a drawbridge. So you can imagine the adventures we had in real life – which I fictionalized for the novel.” He also acknowledged Kate Mason (among others) who “taught me to love writing young reader fiction.” … Visit http://frank-mckinney.com/Dead-Fred.aspx for more information.