Interview: Kealan Patrick Burke on VESSELS

In October 2012, Kealan Patrick Burke and Thunderstorm Books released Nemesis: The Death of Timmy Quinn, the fifth and concluding chapter in the Timmy Quinn series. As a fan of these stories from the beginning I wanted to commemorate this endgame in some way, so I invited Kealan to take part in a series of interviews, one based on each of the Timmy Quinn books, leading up to the final book’s release. Today we dive into the third book, Vessels, which Bloodletting Press originally published in 2006.

OC: I thought you’d completely isolated Timmy Quinn when you sent him to Dungarvan, Ireland in The Hides – then you upped the ante by moving him to the remote island of Blackrock in Vessels. How is this new locale a reflection of where Timmy is, mentally, at this point in his story?

KPB: Going to Ireland was a kind of naivete on Timmy’s part. He assumed because his experiences with the dead to that point had been limited to his hometown that maybe it would be different elsewhere, that the haunting might be limited by geography. He’s already getting worn down and this is his first time running. Of course, it makes little difference, because it isn’t the town that’s haunted at all; it’s him. So by the time we meet him in Vessels, he’s an adult and a life spent facilitating the vengeance of these things has taken its toll. He’s tired, dispirited, beaten down. His experiences have eroded him. He seeks solace on Blackrock because it’s isolated. It’s bleak, lonely, battered by the elements, just like Tim, and so I thought it the perfect place for us to find him.

At one point, The Scholar refers to Timmy as “a hollow vessel.” Between that comment and the title of the book, what are you trying to tell us about Timmy? Is there any of the Timmy we met in The Turtle Boy left at this point?

Only the faintest glimmer of it. Once Tim encounters The Turtle Boy, all chance of a normal childhood goes out the window. Similarly, his adolescence is traumatic, odd, terrifying. He hasn’t had a normal life, and likely never will. By the time we catch up to him in Vessels, he’s older, depressed, and angry. He’s starting to develop characteristics that make him more like the dead he serves than the living he seeks to protect. He resents the burden that’s been cast upon him, resents not being able to love. The bitterness and anger has hollowed him out. There are few reasons why he shouldn’t just give up, but those reasons—some of which he can’t even fully identify—are important enough to keep him going. When Kim shows up, he realizes she alone is worth every day of fighting the darkness.

I like the use of quotes as chapter titles. I know at least some of them came directly from the chapter itself, but others I couldn’t seem to find. Was I just not looking close enough, or do they come from other sources?

The book is partially dedicated to my late high school English teacher, who helped put me on the career path I’m still traveling today. Thinking of him brought me back to rainy days spent analyzing seemingly impenetrable verse in the classroom, so those chapter titles are something of an ode to him. All of them reference the content of the chapters in some way, even if those ways are obscure. I had no idea they’d prove to be so popular!

It’s strange that, by fleeing to an isolated community in order to “hide,” Timmy actually wound up drawing attention to himself almost immediately. Being from a small town in Alabama, I know that’s how it goes – people quickly notice strangers in such surroundings. Was it the same in Dungarvan, when you were growing up there?

Oh yeah. Newcomers are noticed immediately, and discussed thoroughly, though Dungarvan is considerably larger in scale than Blackrock. But as insular as small communities tend to be, island communities are even worse because they have to be. Everybody looks out for one another. There was no way Tim’s presence wasn’t going to be noticed. I think he expected that. It’s less the people he’s hiding from, than their crimes.

There’s a reference to Timmy’s years “of helping them to find justice, of helping them to murder their murderers.” Some people might actually view that as noble, questions of murder aside. Why isn’t Timmy able to find any peace in that idea?

I address this directly in Nemesis, so the best way to answer is with an excerpt from that book:

So yes, evil should be punished. He agreed with it in principle.

As an ethical issue, he believed none of it was right, a belief made easier by the burgeoning conviction that the dead did not know themselves, that they were mere puppets devoid of anything that had made them who they had been in life. And it was they, the true victims, who should be given the chance to make their executioners answer for their crimes, not the corrupt revenants, particularly when it was likely that their vengeance was merely the product of someone else’s agenda.

And that’s about the size of it. As early as The Hides, it’s been implied that the dead are being controlled, that their vengeance serves another entity, and Tim resents being a pawn in someone else’s metaphysical war. There’s no certainty in what he does, no evidence of peace, and so he finds it difficult to take any peace of his own in the face of monsters. I don’t think he believes the cause is a noble one, and without knowing the true instigator of it all, there’s no way to confirm this, and it leads to complicated questions of morality and its inherent grey areas.

Much of the action takes place in Blackrock’s small chapel. Why are churches such scary places?

I was raised Catholic and spent a lot of time in big Gothic churches and small shadowy chapels. For places designed to represent serenity and peace, the architecture, mournful statues, dark corners and creaking doors, used to terrify me. As of course did the pronouncements from the priests and bishops that we were all most likely going to Hell. You will never find anywhere else the kind of darkness you’ll find in an old church. If God exists, he has a grim sense of humor.

There’s also the scene at the beginning, in the confessional, between Timmy and his father. Again, you’re not doing anything for the image of the church as a “safe sanctuary.” Is that deliberate?

There’s a short story by the late Irish writer Frank O’ Connor called “First Confession,” which we had to read for school. It is, as the title suggests, a hysterical account of a child’s terrifying first confession. And it’s something to which all children who were raised Catholic can relate. It is, perhaps, the first real spiritual trauma we endure in our young lives. We’re prepped for weeks, exposed to fabricated horror stories about kids who went in to the confessional and never came back out, and then the day comes where we’re instructed to go into a box that’s dark as night, smells of dust and judgment, and tell all our sins to a priest who we know will know us by the sound of our voices. It’s a petrifying experience, and one you never forget. Aside from the terror of the dark inside that ancient confessional, there’s the terror of the priest, the terror that he’ll come into your side of the box and punch you in the face for being evil (because you just know your sins are worse than everybody else’s), the terror that he’ll go right back and tell your parents all the wicked things you’ve done, and finally, the terror that you’ll go to Hell for your sins. All of which sounds funny, and in retrospect, it is. But at the time? Horrifying.

So I have no love for confessionals. Vessels was the perfect opportunity to share that.

How has your own faith or belief system played into the series?

Until Vessels, I kept faith out of it as there didn’t seem a good place to illuminate the struggle, but as Tim’s about my age in that book, I figured it was about time for him to start questioning faith as a whole in light of his burden. Religion is not something you’ll find me discussing much outside of my own fiction because in this day and age, it’s only asking for trouble. I talk about the things that I need to talk about and resolve my own conflicts in the stories, which I think is the appropriate place for them. I will admit that though raised Catholic, I’m now lapsed enough to be prolapsed. I’ve seen religion used too much as a crutch, as an excuse, as justification for intolerance and wrongdoing to have much time for it anymore. When your faith in your fellow man buckles in the face of overwhelming evil, it’s hard to believe in the unseen.

There’s a scene in Nemesis (again in a church!) where Tim’s anguish leads him to consider an act of desecration. When he’s told by another character that it’s blasphemy, Tim’s response is: “Yeah, well, if God wants to put in an appearance, I’ll gladly answer for it.” Which I think perfectly illustrates his frustration (and mine) with religion. Though in Tim’s case, he’s not being flippant. He’s almost pleading for God to intervene if only so he has something to believe in other than evil.

Timmy’s dad tells him that everything is predestined. I’ve always found the idea of predestination to be a rather depressing and frustrating concept – the idea that things are going to turn out the same no matter what you do. Do you believe in predestination, or fate?

Not at all. I think we’re pinballs in the universe’s machine. I don’t much like the idea of predestination either. It would render everything we do somewhat futile and eliminates the concept of free will. I’d much rather fuck up my life on my own without thinking it part of some celestial blueprint.

But for Timmy Quinn, there’s a very good reason why everything is predestined (as you’ll see in Nemesis.)

We get our first mention of Peregrine, the living being behind much of what’s happened to Timmy. How long had you known this character was behind the scenes, or did he only reveal himself to you as you were working on Vessels?

I knew someone was pulling the strings by the end of The Hides, but not who or what he was. I wrote Peregrine’s Tale with no intention of ever publishing it. It was just a way to get to know who this guy was and where he came from. By the time I was ready to write Nemesis though, I knew him inside and out. Once I started feeling sorry for him, I knew he was the perfect bad guy. The why of what he’s done, however, didn’t become fully clear to me until I had already started the novel.

The Timmy Quinn Interviews

Catch up on the series with Stage Whispers: The Collected Timmy Quinn Stories

Nemesis is available as a signed, limited edition hardcover from Thunderstorm Books. Thunderstorm is also prepping a deluxe edition of Stage Whispers: The Collected Timmy Quinn Stories that will include Nemesis, which is not included in the current digital edition. Visit Thunderstorm Books for more information.

6 thoughts on “Interview: Kealan Patrick Burke on VESSELS

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