Turtle Boy (currently free), Kealan Patrick Burke.
His new novel Kin is a self published title available in print or ebook. I will have my review of Kin tomorrow, but I should mention, Kin has already garnered many positive reviews.
Also, for those of you who enjoyed yesterday's post about self-publishing and libraries, click here to see Burke's guest post on Alexandra Sokoloff's blog about how e-publishing saved his career.
So here's Burke talking about why he writes horror.
NAVIGATING THE DARK: WHY I WRITE HORROR
Upon finishing her copy of KIN, my latest novel, my mother’s verdict was mostly positive. She’s not afraid to tell me the truth about my books, which is why she’s one of my most invaluable first readers. If she hates something, she’ll say so, because she doesn’t believe there’s anything to be gained by sparing my feelings. She knows the world at large has no such obligations. And so, she called to tell me she had very much enjoyed the book, but wondered when I might consider writing something a little less grim, a little less dark.
A variation of this question often pops up in interviews: What attracts you to the dark stuff? Why horror? I once received a rejection letter for a story in which the editor asked if I had something that wouldn’t have their readers reaching for the Prozac. It’s a valid question, and often leads me to ask myself the same thing. Why do I write horror?
The irony of having my own mother pose this question is that if not for her, there’s a good chance I wouldn’t be writing at all, and if I was, it would probably be in some other genre.
A little background, because the motivation for one’s future is most often found in the past: My mother had me reading when I was a zygote. I remember making a fast progression from children’s books to young adult by the time I was eight. I was insatiable, a sponge, soaking up everything and anything with no particular preference for genre. Anything would do. After reading everything I could get my hands on, I hungered for more, and it was this hunger that led me to start sneaking books from the shelves in my mother’s bedroom. I was about eleven and these books are not ones that she would have vetted at the time. The most significant of these was Pet Sematary by Stephen King. After sneaking it out under my sweater, I saved it until bed time and, under the covers with a flashlight, read the entire novel in seven hours. The book scared the hell out of me, but not in any kind of traumatizing way. If anything I was thrilled, and at a time when I was already producing my own first shaky attempts at writing, I knew I had found my genre. I wanted to make people feel the way King’s book, and later Poe and Matheson and Grant, had made me feel. I wanted to give them the creeps, shock them, scare them, and most importantly, draw them fully into the world I had created.
Eventually my mother discovered her missing books and rather than deliver me a tongue-lashing, allowed me to use her library card on the condition that she would read the books first and decide what was suitable and what wasn’t. Even as she said this, she knew censorship was a futile endeavor. I would read them all, and she gradually conceded that it was better to feed this habit than try to impose restrictions on it. After all, it kept me out of trouble.
But of course, being a voracious reader might have explained my desire to write, and the genre in which I read may have informed the tone of my own stories, but there was more to it than that.
For my mother, ditched by my father when I was eight, life was no picnic. In the mid-eighties, well-paying jobs for single mothers who didn’t possess a trade were few and far between. She was a good mother, but poverty, stress and eventually alcohol made a bitter and sometimes violent stranger of
her, and as my brother was too young (and a lot less mouthy, if we’re being honest here), I was the one who got the brunt of it.
My teenage years were fraught with violence and self-hatred. I withdrew into myself and hid in books and my own stories. I was a typical angst-ridden teen, with atypical theories on why. Life from this point took a significantly dark turn, even as my love of the written word increased.
I’ll resist going into any more detail here, but suffice it to say, the stories I write are encoded with fragments of my own dramatic autobiography.
Having grown up around relatives who loved to spin ghost stories they swore were true, and living in a town still surrounded by the ruins of a castle that had been there for hundreds of years, a town that breathed history, it was hard to escape the need to spin tales of my own. My mother instilled in me a love for reading and encouraged my writing, but also a premature awareness that life is sometimes harsh and dangerous, and that even the people you trust can turn on you.
For me, happiness doesn’t need a reason, nor does it require a closer look. It’s just good, and pure, and as a result I don’t find it nearly as interesting to study. If you’re happy, everything’s A-OK and these days I’m happy more often than not. I have enough light to limit the darkness to the shadows where they belong. I love life and all it has to offer, and I have nothing to whine or complain about. Even when I do, I choose not to. Someone else always has it worse.
And this is what I write about: the people who have it worse. I write as an exploration of the darkness in me, in the people I know, and in those I don’t. I write as a psychological exploration of the why? Why do people do the things they do? Why do we hurt each other? Why is the world the way it is?
Darkness is depthless and complicated, and often unconquerable. Getting to the root of it, assuming there is one, is what keeps me writing what I write. Every story is an attempt to understand the sharp edges of the world and the ones that gave me my scars.
Maybe someday my attempts to understand will yield sufficient results and all my questions will be answered. Maybe then I’ll move onto lighter fare. Until then, I’ll keep writing the dark stuff, because the secret to who we are and why we are fascinates and thrills as much as it terrifies.
And I am a student.
- Kealan Patrick Burke