Neighbors: Author Vince Churchill enjoys the art of putting words in other people’s minds

Vince Churchill has one primary goal as a writer.

“I’m really just trying to be entertaining, I want people to take my books on planes and to the beach,” Churchill said. “My books are like drive-in movies, just something fun.”

Churchill, a Jacksonville native who lives and works in Springfield, has written 11 published novels and one published children’s book, with more novels on the way. He was one of the first modern writers to publish novels about zombies, riding the wave of literary popularity as interest in the undead revived in the new millennium.

“There wasn’t tons of zombie stuff at all in the early 2000s, and then all of a sudden zombies were big,” Churchill said. “I was selling a bunch of books, this other up-and-coming novelist came out with a zombie book, and then ‘The Walking Dead’ came out. My book and his book were the only zombie books, so we were just cleaning up.”

Churchill’s first book, “The Dead Shall Inherit the Earth,” was published in 2002, but it began in the late 1970s as a story he wrote while a student at Jacksonville High School.

“I came home from a movie one night and decided to write a story that mixed the movie ‘Star Trek’ with the original ‘Dawn of the Dead’ zombie movie,” Churchill said. “I ended up writing this 68-page book that a friend of mine wrote for me.”

“When you’re in high school, it’s one thing to just write little stories in a notebook, but if you have this 68-page typewritten manuscript, it was just crazy,” Churchill said. “It was like a real book in high school.”

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Churchill’s book sat idle while he attended Western Illinois University to earn a law enforcement degree, but writing was never far from his mind.

“I always had this thought that I wanted to be like Joseph Wambaugh, who was a retired cop who wrote all these police thriller novels, many of which were made into TV series or movies,” Churchill said.

Churchill moved to Los Angeles after graduating from university and worked in film production. He met his wife, Dominique, there and eventually decided to take his 68-page high school manuscript and expand it into a novel.

“The Dead Shall Inherit the Earth” was the result, and more books would follow. Churchill continued to write, and after he and Dominique moved back to central Illinois in 2010, Churchill was able to get another writing gig, this time as a columnist for the Journal-Courier.

“I started with a column on Tuesdays and then pretty quickly I got a chance to jump to Sunday, and I thought it was a huge deal because everybody gets the Sunday paper,” Churchill said. “It was fun coming up with different topics, even though I often had no idea what I was going to write about that week. But something would always come up.”

Churchill also spent five years working at Jacksonville High School and is “especially grateful to coach Mark Grounds for giving me the opportunity and privilege of being a part of his program as a freshman football coach,” he said.

Churchill continued to write novels during that time and his works to date include “The Dead Shall Inherit the Earth”, “The Butcher’s Bride”, “Pandora”, “Death and Other Consequences”, “The Beast Within”, “The Blackest”. Heart”, “Hyde”, “Midnight Eternal”, “Goodnight, My Sweet”, “Seven”, “Prey for the Damned” and several short story anthologies. The locations of the majority of his books are evenly split between fictional versions of Jacksonville and Los Angeles.

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Churchill has also published a children’s book, “Run,” based on an experience he had while growing up on Kosciusko Street in Jacksonville.

“I left my friend Ray Samples’ house after dark and I got scared and started running and to this day I still say I couldn’t feel my feet hit the ground,” Churchill said. “My imagination ran wild; everywhere there was something in the shadows waiting to jump out at me.”

“That’s what we ended up making the book out of,” Churchill said. “The book isn’t scary, there are monsters in it, but it’s meant to be funny.”

Churchill worked on “Run” with his wife and two adult stepchildren, and he made the lyrics rhyme so that parents and children could read it aloud together. The children’s book has brought Churchill’s life full circle because as a child he showed an early talent for writing.

“My parents were both teachers, and my mom kind of raised me in the Jacksonville Public Library. The idea of ​​writing a book and having a book in the library sparked my interest in writing early on,” Churchill said. “I still have a report from Mrs. Marshall, my second-grade teacher, who said, ‘Oh, Vince writes little stories.'”

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Churchill continued to write short stories in old notebooks throughout middle school and high school and still has all the original work he created as a youth. His next book, tentatively titled “Gunn/Smoke,” is the third installment in a sci-fi western trilogy that began with 2004’s “The Blackest Heart” and 2008’s “Pandora.”

Churchill works as a clerk at the Sangamon County Courthouse in Springfield—”I’m the guy they never show on ‘Law and Order.’ They always show the judge, but they never show the clerk”—but his mind is never off writing.

“I always knew I had a lot of books in me, but you have to get the first one out of the way,” Churchill said. “I thought I could write a book a year. It hasn’t turned out that way, but I’ve had a pretty good run.”

Churchill feels that Jacksonville will always be his hometown.

“I wouldn’t be me without the support and influence of friends and teachers and colleagues who supported my dream of becoming a writer,” he said.

Churchill still makes a monthly trip to Jacksonville to get a stuffed pizza at Leo’s.

Churchill is not yet a big name in the genre like Stephen King, but he gets recognition from fans when he attends conventions.

“I like when someone buys a book on Friday, then Saturday morning sends me a message, ‘Hey, I was up half the night reading your book,'” Churchill said. “I like the idea that someone who buys a lot of books takes mine out of the stack and they get hooked.”

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