For the release of the horror novella, BLANKY, Shannon had the chance to speak with author Kealan Patrick Burke. Burke, an Irish/American horror and dark fiction writer has written five novels, over a hundred short stories, six collections, and edited four acclaimed anthologies. He is also a winner of the acclaimed Bram Stoker Award for his novella The Turtle Boy.
Nightmarish Conjurings: Hi Kealan, thank you so much for speaking with me today! To start things off, can you tell those who may not be familiar with your latest novella BLANKY a little bit about it?
Kealan Patrick Burke: It's a story about the loss of loved one and the various ways in which grief can manifest itself. It starts with the death of a child and details how the parents cope with that loss (or don't, as the case may be), and how things change when the father finds his daughter's security blanket on the floor of her room. This would be bad enough to trigger his anguish, but what makes it worse (and unsettling) is that it's the same blanket in which she was buried.
NC: Where did the inspiration for this story come from?
KPB: The death of a loved one is an experience I've had and a fear that forever plagues me, so it's not surprise that I would feel moved to write about it. I wanted to explore the grieving process in a deeper way than I had done thus far. However, I didn't have my kick-off point until I spotted a vintage child's blanket, complete with sinister rabbits and balloons, being sold on Etsy. From there, the story wrote itself.
NC: Where a lot of stories capitalize on gore and bloodshed, your story kept a lot of that at bay. Was that a conscious decision?
KPB: It just felt organic. Each scene in every story dictates the amount of violence necessary to get the point across. For something like my novel Kin, an homage to movies like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and a literal criticism of casual violence upon one-dimensional characters, it felt integral to the story. For Blanky, it felt more unsettling to give the reader just enough to know what was happening, and nothing more. Blanky works quietly, insidiously, in the dark. Having it suddenly decorate the room with gore wouldn't have been in keeping with its nature.
NC: I liked how BLANKY wasn't just a horror story with no backbone. It deals with a lot issues, specifically those that deal with being new parents, the struggles that a marriage can have, etc. Was that something that was important to showcase in the story?
KPB: Yes, absolutely. I'm fascinated by the devastating effect that loss has on people, how it can shatter a bond no matter how strong, how it can alter our ability to cope with the world around us. The inevitability and inescapability of death makes life tenuous, and an awareness of the fragility of things can make it difficult to want to seek out love or happiness. To go on. But we do, because we are engineered to resist, to fight, and to persevere. It's how we persevere that interests me, because it's not always in the healthiest of ways.
NC: What is your process like when writing and what type of research did you do for the story?
KPB: I tend to let ideas percolate for a few months, years, sometimes decades before I feel ready to write them. Until then, I'm a construction worker standing before a half-built house without the materials needed to finish it. Then one day I'll wake up and the truck is outside with all those missing pieces and I'm ready to get to work. Once that happens, I write in a daze, rarely conscious of the story, following it to see where it goes. I love this part of the process: the discovery, the excitement, tracking the mystery as it unravels before me. Each day, before I start writing, I edit what I wrote in the previous session, a habit that can dramatically alter what comes next. Once the draft is done, I leave it for a week and either start something new, or completely immerse myself in reading. Then I edit the draft, give it to my first reader, and, after incorporating her feedback, send it along to my editor.
For Blanky, I lived all the research necessary for it to be authentic. Nothing else was needed.
NC: The ending could be construed in two different ways, ultimately leaving it up to the readers perception. Did you want it to be more vague as opposed to a more concrete ending?
KPB: Most definitely. I know they get a bad rap sometimes, but I love ambiguous endings, especially if all the conclusions you can draw from it are equally effective. With Blanky, as with an earlier work, Sour Candy (which I consider a sibling to Blanky in many ways), I liked having the narrator, and the reader, uncertain as to whether or not the events in the story were real or just the product of madness. But what I like even more is answering that question and then throwing a curveball in at the end.
NC: Last but not least, are there any other books you are working on that we should be keeping our eye out for?
KPB: I'm working on a new novel, entitled Sometimes They See You, which is about artists, madness, the creative process, and the sinister genesis of inspiration, all of which comes to light when people begin to have adverse reactions to a series of paintings by a once-prominent artist.