By Derek Gunn
On a scorching hot summer day in Elkwood, Alabama, Claire Lambert staggers naked, wounded, and half-blind away from the scene of an atrocity. She is the sole survivor of a nightmare that claimed her friends, and even as she prays for rescue, the killers — a family of cannibalistic lunatics — are closing in.
Kealan Patrick Burke was born in Dungarven, Ireland and when this book came up for review I was eager to review it. Not just because he is a fellow Irishman but also because I have enjoyed his previous work; Carnival of Souls and The Hides. It was a happy co-incidence that I was in Dungarven for the weekend visiting friends when I began this novel so it seemed somewhat fated that I would get this book to review.
Dungarven has changed a lot since Kealan packed his bags for America. It has matured and outgrown its previous humble beginnings. So too has Kealan. This novel is a well-crafted story that will shock, entertain and have you cringing while eagerly turning the pages.
The blurb will tell you that this is in the vein of the ‘Texas Chain Saw Massacre’ and ‘Deliverance’ and, while I can see what they mean, it doesn’t do the book justice. This is not a ‘slasher’ book or a book that reads like a movie. This is far more. This is a novel that begins where the other stories ended and explores the impact such horror has on the survivors, their family and, though we may not like them, the perpetrators of the horror. It doesn’t excuse them but it does try to offer what their mind set is and where it developed from. This is not empathic per se; I still wanted to see them come to a gruesome end but the fact that their point of view was portrayed added depth to the story.
An eighteen year old girl is found walking naked and abused on a deserted road by Jack Lowell and his son, Pete, in a small town in Alabama. While Jack considers leaving her there Pete sees her and they stop. What follows is a violent tale of murder, revenge and terror. Those who have survived in the town of Elkwood have done so by minding their own business. People have gone missing in and around the town for years and most people suspect what has happened to them. However, no one crosses the Merrill family and survives.
Claire’s escape is a catalyst that forces local men Jack Lowell and Doc Wellman to re-evaluate their years of ignoring the carnage. Both men help Claire and send Pete, with Claire to the nearest city hospital. Later than night the Merrill family come calling and by morning both men are dead and Wellman is framed for the murder of Claire’s friends. Despite the media mania over the event, the police have their killer and Claire is in a coma so can not deny the story. The case closes and life goes on.
That’s all I’m going to tell you of the plot, but this is just the beginning so I haven’t ruined anything for you. But the story is far from over.
I was lucky enough to have a few words with Kealan about his approach to writing, his views on the way publishing is going and a glimpse into what the future holds.
The book will be available through Cemetary Dance as a beautiful numbered signed hardback, will it be available in any other editions?
Absolutely. I plan to give the limited edition sufficient lead time to sell out before I make the book available electronically, so hopefully, we’ll see the e-book version before the end of the year, if not sooner. I haven’t contracted to have the book available in paperback format, so we’ll have to see what the future holds in that regard. DIY print publishing seems to be the trend these days, but I’m not yet ready to sell my soul to the idea. Call me a fool, but I still prefer print over electronic, though both obviously have their pros and cons. I’m also looking into producing audio books of my titles, but as this is a relatively new format for me, it’ll be a while before I’m adequately set up in that regard.
How do you write? Do you have a ritual, do you plan out every detail or do you see where the story leads?
It varies from project to project. I don’t outline often, if ever. Usually what will happen is a scene will come to me, unbidden, that is so full of questions and possibilities, I need to explore it. What if? becomes where, why, and how? The idea simmers and stews for a few months, or sometimes years before I’m ready to write it. The characters have to introduce themselves to me on some level, and tell me why I should write about them. I have to connect and be fully invested in them before I can care about the story.
And then other times, I’ll take a twenty minute walk, or lie in bed thinking, and a fully fleshed out story will come to me and beg to be written right then and there. Always though, there has to be a question that needs to be answered, a deeper point to the story. Why does it need to be written? To entertain, sure. Because I can’t not write it, okay. But what am I attempting to explore here? When I look back over all the books I’ve written, I can point at them and tell you what needed to be explored in each one, and that’s ultimately, why they were written.
But once I start writing, the characters dictate the story, and frequently take me to places I didn’t see coming. And I love that. I know a lot of writers who use extensive, detailed outlines. If I did that, I couldn’t write the story. So, no literary GPS for me.
What are your views on the eBook phenomena – is it a help or a hindrance?
It’s been nothing but a good thing for me. As I’ve been published primarily in the small press, the majority of the books of which I’m most proud have been out of print for a long time. Great reviews in the trades, word of mouth, an existing fan base etc, helped secure lifelong associations with great publishers like Cemetery Dance and Subterranean, and the books did what they were supposed to. But once those books sell out their print run, they’re gone, relegated to eBay, ABEbooks, etc at ridiculous prices. So, e-publishing has allowed me to get all those titles back out there, and at an affordable price, for new readers. It is a little daunting, however, because it feels like starting all over again. I’m having fun with it though and the sales are decent.
That being said, e-publishing has essentially changed the game to the point where anyone with a word processing program and an Internet connection can now be a published author. Remember when someone asked you: “What do you do?” and you said: “I’m a writer?” and it was a big deal? Now chances are that person is going to nod knowingly and say: “Me too!” Because they can be. A lot of these people could have benefited from running the traditional gauntlet first so they’d have been inspired to better their craft. Because while there’s a lot of good stuff available in this new format, there’s also a whole lot of bad. But I guess that’s always been the way.
Something else I’m not fond of is the increasingly popular attitude that the quality of the work is less important than your ability to market it. I watch on a daily basis writers who are far from ready for publication, defending this theory out of necessity. On some level, they know they’re not ready, but they have found a forum full of like-minded folks, and the support that allows them to believe otherwise. It’s quick-fix validation, and I have found that if you disagree, you’re an elitist. If you’ve been traditionally published, you’re a sucker. I have to assume, if history has shown us anything, the readers will separate the wheat from the chaff. Or maybe they won’t, and I’ll find myself in the odd position of being a 35 year old writer who fondly remembers the good old days while reading a book that doesn’t require a battery.
Do you see Cemetery Dance ever embracing eBooks?
Funnily enough, as of last week, they’ve done this very thing, with books by some of their top authors and a lot more in the pipeline.
If you were given one paragraph to convince people to buy your novel what would it say?
Conflicted? Indecisive? Unsure if that money should go elsewhere? You’re not alone. In a recent poll, 90% of the reading public said they battle with similar feelings. Thankfully, now there’s help. Statistics prove that buying Kin by Kealan Patrick Burke, not only cures indecision and chronic indifference, it also lowers cholesterol, blood pressure, and increases your general appeal to the opposite sex. Or the same sex, if the opposite isn’t your thing. And as a special one-time gaur-uhn-tee, if you read this book and you aren’t satisfied, I’ll give you your money back in full. (offer only available until the end of this sentence).
In between work and writing do you have any time to read? Who do you enjoy most?
I don’t have as much time to read as I used to, which saddens me. I’ve gone from reading about a hundred books a year, to about thirty, if I’m lucky. But I have to read as much as I have to write, so I find the time, and when I do, I enjoy, off the top of my head,Stephen King, Larry McMurtry, Dan Simmons, John Connolly, Dennis Lehane, Gillian Flynn, Michael Connelly, Jeffrey Deaver, Susanna Clarke, Tana French, Ken Bruen, David Morrell, Scott Smith (write more, Scott!), Michael Marshall, F. Paul Wilson, and lots more.
I’m currently working on NEMESIS, the last book (of five) in the Timmy Quinn series of ghost stories, then it’s on to a novel called THE BLOODRUNNERS, a crime-horror hybrid which has been simmering for about six years now. This year also sees the release of JACK & JILL, a novella from Cemetery Dance, a novella in a Subterranean Press anthology, and more novellas and short stories from various other publisher as the end of the year hurries to meet us. I’m also, like pretty much everybody else these days, working on a few screenplays in the little time I can eke out between writing, editing, and cover design projects.
Kin is available now for pre-order via Cemetery Dance’s web site, here. It comes as a limited edition hardbound edition that is surely to be worth more than the cover price in no time if this book follows the usual route of these quality releases. I am still in awe of the $300 price tag on my copy of the very fine ‘Once Upon A Halloween’ by Richard Laymon that has pride of place on my shelf. If you like your fiction uncompromising and well-written then you don’t have to look any further.
You might, however, want to give that holiday to backwoods Alabama a miss.
Originally from Ireland, he currently resides in Columbus, Ohio. To learn about Kealan, please visit his website.