Yesterday we ventured out of the Library in the search of some Halloween decorations. The Library can never be spooky enough, after all – and not just at Halloween! We were soon mortified to discover that the skeletons, pumpkins, witches and spiders were now sharing shelf space with, gasp, wait for it… Christmas! *insert screeching, head-spinning horror here* We fled back to the safety of the Library, stroked our pet snake, brewed a pot of coffee, and hoped our little expedition wouldn’t lead to days of nightmares to come.
Then we decided it was time to get back to the spooky season and queued up this interview with the Bram Stoker Award-winning Kealan Patrick Burke, author of The Turtle Boy, Kin, and Sour Candy.
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31 Days of Halloween… with Kealan Patrick Burke
Describe a time when a scene in a horror novel really unnerved you or caused you to turn on all the lights.
I had a really weird moment while reading House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski, a book that despite requiring three efforts to read it, ended up becoming one of my all-time favourite books. It was late at night and I was reading in bed, which was inadvisable considering the book weighs roughly the same as the bed I was reading it in. As anyone familiar with House of Leaves knows, the layout is intentionally odd, sometimes cryptic, and at times requires you to turn the book sideways, upside down, even diagonally, to read it. As I was reading by a small light, this manipulation of the book cast various shadows around the room, which went largely unnoticed until I reached a part where a character is lost in the dark and suspects something is moving up ahead of him. Right as I was reading this, a shadow moved across the far wall toward the bedroom door. My heart gave a solid jolt and what little hair I had stood on end. I lowered the book, stared at the wall, even while my rational brain was telling me “you’re an idiot” and still thought I saw the shadow edging out of the room. I was spooked, and while I know it was nothing other than my imagination demonizing the shadow cast by my manipulation of the book, I admit I was quite spooked. And I think in that instant, considering how weathered I am to modern horror, that was the moment I fell in love with the book.
In your opinion, what is the all-time scariest horror novel or short story? (Please feel free to elaborate on your selection.)
Since I’ve already discussed House of Leaves, I would have to go with Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy for the novel, because, while it’s not usually discussed by horror fans, nor was it marketed as a horror novel, it is easily one of the most horrific novels I’ve read. The final scene, in which there is no bloodletting at all, still remains with me to this day. It gave me nightmares and sometimes still does, but I won’t describe it for fear of diluting the impact for anyone who has yet to read it. Suffice it to say, the novel is grim and unrelenting, full of unspeakable violence, but the scariest scene only implies the violence and what happens is so gonzo and unexpected, so disturbing, that it engages the mind in a way that makes it an impossible scene to shake.
Short story-wise, there are so many we’d be here all day discussing them, but off the top of my head, I’d have to go with “The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, for many of the same reasons as I cited Blood Meridian as the most horrific novel, especially in terms of a resonant ending. Thinking of the conclusion of either one of these works gives me the creeps, and when a story has that kind of a lingering impact, it enters into the long list of all-time favourites. I read that story in my teens and still can remember it as if I’d read it yesterday.
What’s the scariest scene and/or book you yourself have written?
There’s a scene in my novel Master of the Moors I quite like in which the odious village doctor gets lost on the moors. He gradually comes to suspect that something in the fog is stalking him and in his attempt to outrun it, runs face first into a veritable wall of brambles and thorns. He finds himself trapped as the unseen creature closes in, his struggles only worsening his predicament.
But if I were to point to complete books, I’d have to say Jack & Jill or Sour Candy. In the former, almost from the outset, you suspect nobody is going to escape unscathed and it just becomes a matter of watching to see how bad it’s going to get. The dread is punctuated by some rather creepy sequences in which the main character sees alternate embodiments of the man who tormented her as a child. It’s all very grim and unpleasant.
And while Sour Candy is not jump-out-of-your-skin scary, the implication of someone or something abruptly altering your life (past, present, and future) to suit their own ends is terrifying to me.
List your top three fears.
1 – Losing the people I love.
2 – Losing my mind.
3 – Heights.
Visit Kealan Patrick Burke on at www.kealanpatrickburke.com.