Interview: The Dead Circle by Keith Varney

About the Author:Keith Varney

Originally from small town Vermont, Keith Varney is an award-winning musical theater writer and actor. He has written Book, Music and Lyrics in various combinations for I GOT FIRED (Best American Musical – DIMF), ELWAY: THE MUSICAL, THE OTHER SEX, JOSHUA: THE MUSICAL, PIE EATER & SCOOBY DOOSICAL. He has also written songs for Submissions Only, Hot Mess in Manhattan, See You Lighter, My Mother is a Sex Therapist & Dystopia Gardens. As an actor he has performed professionally in musicals including Les Miserables, The Producers, The Full Monty, Titanic and I Got Fired (Best Actor in a Musical – DIMF). He has a degree in classical voice from the Eastman School of Music. He now lives in Astoria NY with his wife Jillian, who is a Broadway actress. “The Dead Circle” is his debut novel. For more information, please visit

The-Dead-Circle-Book-CoverAbout the Book:

Something is terribly wrong in Detroit.

When Chris and Sarah bought an abandoned library to renovate and live in, they expected to be on the ground floor of the revival of Detroit. But unbeknownst to them, the city is about to fall. The devastation begins with a single woman who mysteriously tears off her clothing and starts walking the perimeter of an empty lot. Within minutes, hundreds of disparate people inexplicably form a giant human circle that slowly revolves like a hurricane of flesh. They twitch and spasm, contorting their naked bodies in a primordial death dance. They’re oblivious to everything, even the unfortunate souls who fall beneath their feet.

Bewildered citizens and authorities are desperate to know what’s causing the bizarre event… at least until it starts to rain.

Chris and Sarah abruptly find themselves trapped in a forsaken city. To survive, they must evade the horrifying illness, find food and shelter in a suddenly primitive world… and have a battle plan for when the circle stops spinning…


If you hadn’t become an author, what would you have done instead?

I always planned to be an actor in musical theater. I went to a musical school and majored in classical voice before arriving in NYC to chase a Broadway dream. My writing career started with writing songs, then musicals. The horror novel has been a surprising—but super fun!—detour.

Had you always wanted to be an author?

Honestly, until about a year ago, the thought of being a novelist hadn’t even occurred to me. My background is music and performing, but I keep finding that the most interesting things I do, I tend to do by accident.

What’s your favorite genre to write about and why?

That’s tough to say. I’ve spent most of my career writing comedy and really enjoy inventing people who create giant stakes for themselves and act irrationally despite there not being much really happening. Now, having written a horror novel where there are giant actual stakes, but the characters handle it relatively logically, I think I just enjoy anything that plays with the friction between what we think is important and what is.

Do you like reading as well as writing?

Absolutely. I don’t think you can enjoy writing without first developing a love of reading. Reading exercises your imagination and once you’ve built up the muscle, you can write.

Can you give 8 Writing Tips?

Wow. 8 eh?

  1. Turn off any part of your brain that judges what you are writing while you write it. Judging what you’ve written is great for the re-write, but I’d never get very far if I was editing while I was storytelling.
  2. Use your own experience as a guide for characters. We are made up of so many different personality quirks and conflicting motivations, experiences, desires and fears. If you can’t imagine some part of yourself saying, thinking or doing something, chances are your character’s actions aren’t going to feel genuine. Every character I’ve ever written—even, or perhaps especially those who hate each other—are parts of my personality.
  3. When it comes to feedback, listen to your wife/husband and your gut. One or both of them is always right.
  4. Forget everything you were ever taught in English class. Then, when you can’t figure out why something isn’t working, go back and remember it.
  5. Write down your dreams. You never know when a situation or just an image can kick off a great story.
  6. Don’t write cynically. Be a smartass, an opportunist and a pragmatist, but always write with an open heart.
  7. Write for yourself. Write a story you would want to read. If you genuinely like it, somebody else will too.
  8. Don’t listen to first-time horror novelists who have been called sophomoric by the New York Times ☺

What inspired you to write your book?

I had just finished a large reading of one of my musicals (I Got Fired) and was exhausted and stressed out. Putting up a musical involves so many people and budgets and arrangements and advertisements and casting and contracts and… well you get it. I really was looking for something that I could produce at my own pace and actually finish.

What urged you to become an author?

My own stubborn desire to do something I love for a living.

How do you write?

I write on the computer either in my office at home or my office at work. I usually do my best work first thing in the morning when I’m freshest.

What advice can you give to those who aspire the same career as you?

Get a good day job where nobody is looking over your shoulder so you can write at work ☺

Do you have future projects or plans regarding bookish stuffs? If ever, can you give me one?

Well, I’m just finishing up another musical called “Pie Eater,” a comedy about competitive eating. I’m also planning a couple of sequels to The Dead Circle.

Do you do lots of research for your book?

Tons! I never expected to, but I found myself looking up little details all the time. I spent lots of time on Google Maps researching the landscape of Detroit, but I find myself having to go down the rabbit hole looking for all sorts of little nuggets of information. For example: I had to look up ceiling height regulations for parking garages in Detroit built in the 1990’s. Even in science fiction when you are making some things up, it helps to get a general sense of what’s possible so that your fiction is only one or two clicks away from science. Conveniently, my little brother is a cellular biologist and could chime in as well. Of course anything that’s accurate in the book is because of him and anything that’s wrong is entirely my invention!

What’s the hardest thing about writing?

Proofing! The editing/proofing portion of the book took almost three times as long as writing the first draft.

What’s the easiest thing about writing?

I don’t know if its technically easy, but I think the most fun part is the problem solving. I love giving my characters crazy obstacles and really trying to work out intelligent solutions.

What can you say about @abookwithbea’s blog?

It’s delightful! I love its whimsical enthusiasm for books and in-depth interest in the process of writing.

Do you aim for the same word counts every time you write?

Not really. I certainly looked up what I should be aiming for in terms of a full length novel, but once I was in the ballpark, I just wanted to write the best story I could.

Is your book somewhat related to what you went through in life?

Happily, I have not had to deal with a zombie apocalypse! But, as each character is pulled from some part of my personality, many of my own experiences inspire what happens in the book. Certainly the relationship between Chris and Sarah is not that dissimilar from my relationship with my wife!

How did writing this book changed you as a person and your life?

I now know I can write a book! So that’s cool. I’ve certainly learned a ton about writing (much of it from my brilliant wife who served as editor.) I have no idea how it will change my life yet (or if it will), but I’m really happy I did it.

What advice can you give to those who..

–        Cry because someone broke their heart?

Your heart will heal. My father once gave me some great advice: If a relationship is going to work out, nothing can prevent it from succeeding. If it isn’t the right person, nothing can make it work. If a relationship ends, he or she wasn’t the right person for you anyway and you will be better for it.

–        Succeed but doesn’t consider looking back from where they’ve started?

Good, bad or ugly, your past is why you are where you are now. I would never presume to tell someone what their relationship with their past should be, but I will say that your past is always relevant.

–        Feel like they’re nothing in this world?

I can say I know how that feels and I empathize greatly. I don’t know if there is a lot of great cosmic meaning to our existence, but you matter to someone out there. Each of us is capable of goodness and joy.

–        Dream but always fail?

I guess that really depends on your definition of failure. I am someone who believes that dreams matter and have value even if they are never fulfilled in the way you expect.


4 thoughts on “Interview: The Dead Circle by Keith Varney

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s