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Interview with Kealan Patrick Burke


CHHR: I have read several of your books, but Blanky is one of your best so far. Which book was your favorite to write?
KPB: I think that would be a toss-up between The Tent and Sour Candy. The concepts for both were just so much fun from the very beginning and I was grinning like a madman while I wrote them. Writing psychological horror can be depressing at times (most of the time, if I’m being honest), but, while those novellas were certainly dark, I had a terrific time putting the characters through the wringer and creating the monsters. Conversely, Blanky was a chore to write. It was so unrelentingly grim that it exhausted me.

CHHR: I see that you moved from Ireland to the United States. Did family and friends think you were crazy when you moved to America to become a writer? What do they say now?
KPB: Not at all. They were just as aware that the economy in Ireland was in the dumps. By the time the opportunity to come here presented itself, I had graduated in journalism but I was tending bar with no immediate prospects. There was no reason not to take the chance on relocation. It was a badly needed reboot, so they were very supportive, and they still are. Plus, I’d run out of trouble to cause in Ireland.

CHHR: What does your writing schedule look like?
KPB: I don’t have a strict “write every day” policy because that simply doesn’t work for me. I write when the words are there. Sometimes that means twelve-hour periods of feverish creation; other times, it means a page every four or five days. I’m at the mercy of inspiration and focus and they don’t always show up for work.

CHHR: Do you have any interesting writing quirks? If so, what are they?
KPB: I suspect I’m hardly unique in this, but I rarely write a story using the same font I used for the last one. It’s always the same when it’s published, but not when it’s being written.

CHHR: Do you outline your work or do you go with the flow?
KPB: I prefer to go with the flow. It depends on the story, of course, but on those rare occasions in which I do outline, it tends to be very vague. More a list of random thoughts than summaries. I’ve never been one of those writers who makes a detailed map of their book before they start writing it. To me, that removes the element of surprise, and I like to be just as surprised as the reader when I’m following the story.

CHHR: You have created some memorable characters over the years. How do you get readers to empathize with irredeemable characters?
KPB: By making them human. We’ve all made mistakes. We’ve all sought redemption in one way or another. It’s part of the human condition. The struggle for redemption, even if ultimately unobtainable, is a fascinating arc in both fiction and real life. But the struggle of any character is pointless if they aren’t drawn well, if you’re not invested in their plight. Even those characters who come across as completely evil and malicious don’t actually believe that about themselves. They’re doing what they believe is right, and that makes for the deadliest kind of villain—one who doesn’t seek redemption because they don’t believe they need it, that their cause is just.

CHHR: What do you think makes a good horror story?

KPB: I think what makes a good story, period, is an appealing voice, good characters, an interesting plot, realistic dialogue. Specific to horror, an awareness of literary precedent and the foundations of the genre are invaluable. Know from whence you came, as it were. Realistic character reactions to the horror they experience is a big one too. And, most important and hardest to achieve: make it scary. Sounds simple, but it isn’t. Crafting a terrifying scene requires you to install in the reader’s mind a clear visual of the circumstances, to trigger the engagement of all senses, and to manipulate expectations. When you pull back that curtain to reveal the horror, it must be something they haven’t seen before. It must jar the senses.

CHHR: How did publishing your first book or short story change your writing process?
KPB: My first book was published about a decade before my work was ready for primetime. It was clunky and ham-handed. If there was a benefit to that, it was the reviews it received. Some readers dug it, most reviewers, not so much, so it goaded me, as all criticism should, to do better. I got validation from that book. It made me a published writer. But it was also not a good book, so the reception helped to make me a better one. I worked harder at bettering my craft, which is something I intend to do until I hit my expiration date.

CHHR: What is in your TBR pile?
KPB: About 400 books, but near the top are The Blinds by Adam Sternbergh, Gwendy’s Button Box by Stephen King and Richard Chizmar, The Forgotten Girlby Rio Youers, The Art of Forgery by Noah Charney, Since She Fell by Dennis Lehane, A Game of Ghosts by John Connolly, A House at the Bottom of the Lake by Josh Malerman, Hannah Green and Her Unfeasibly Mundane Existence by Michael Marshall Smith, Spoonbenders by Daryl Gregory, and In the Garden of Beasts by Erik Larson

CHHR: What do you do when you aren’t writing? Any interesting hobbies?
KPB: I live for road trips, but when those aren’t viable, I like to unwind with videogames (which I have and will continue to argue are as important a storytelling medium as any other; see Bioshock Infinite or The Last of Us), hang out with my dog, Red, go to the movies or art galleries, or binge-watch TV shows. Also, karaoke.

CHHR: Your book cover designs are dope AF! Can you tell me a little bit about Elderlemon Design?
KPB: Thank you! When I was preparing to make my backlist available for sale in digital format, I realized purchasing covers for over a dozen titles was going to cost more than I could afford. I’d always played around with art as a hobby, so I decided to try making the covers myself. For the most part, I was pleased with the results. As time went on and I got better at it, other writers started asking me who designed my covers, and when they learned I had done them myself, they hired me to do theirs. This was close to a decade ago now, and since then I’ve designed covers for some of the top names and publishers in the business.

CHHR: What are you currently working on?
KPB: I’m currently writing and researching a novel entitled Sometimes They See You, which is about art, madness, and the genesis of creative inspiration.

CHHR: Do you have any advice for writers who are just starting out and trying to get published?
KPB: The same advice you hear over and over again because it’s true: read often and read everything, and not just books in your chosen genre. Mystery, romance, drama, nonfiction…the more well-versed you are in multiple genres, the broader your ability to employ those components effectively in your own work.

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