Kealan Patrick Burke brings down The Curtain on Timmy Quinn with NEMESIS

Concluding a series must be one of the most difficult things a writer can do – especially a series that’s been as popular for a writer as the Timmy Quinn stories (comprised up to this point of The Turtle BoyThe HidesVessels, and Peregrine’s Story) have been for Kealan Patrick Burke. Not only have they been popular for him, they have in many ways defined his career: from the hot-shot indie writer making a splash among those “in the know” with The Turtle Boy, to the growing artist tackling more complex themes in Vessels, to the mature author back from a long absence with new confidence and mastery of his craft as displayed in Nemesis: The Death of Timmy Quinn.

Many of the series I’m familiar with as a reader are open-ended, like the Hap and Leonard books by Joe R. Lansdale. Series such as these are more about the ongoing growth and development of the characters than a single storyline, and therefore are free of the pressure to give readers a definitive, cover-all-the-bases conclusion. For those writers who face wrapping up multiple books’ worth of interconnected storylines, I imagine the pressure is immense. J.K. Rowling had to be on pins and needles waiting on fan reaction to her last Harry Potter book. Stephen King was inundated for years with fan requests – demands, really – for a proper end to the Dark Tower series, and has been subjected to various degrees of second-guessing ever since he delivered the final chapter.

I don’t know how much external pressure Burke felt in writing the final Timmy Quinn book, but I believe the pressure he likely put on himself was more than enough. Fan feelings aside, this was a book Burke wanted to get right.

In my opinion, he did.

In Nemesis, Burke manages the precarious balancing act of not only tying together the threads from the previous books, but also introducing a number of new elements to the mix. He’s working on a much larger scale than in any of the previous Timmy Quinn books – larger, in fact, than anything he’s done up to this point. Where in the past Burke has struggled a bit with large casts and larger-scale stories, this time it’s clear that his craft has caught up with his ambition.

I’m not going to go into a plot description here. Not only do I want to avoid spoilers, but I also feel that if you’re interested in reading this review you’re probably already invested in the series. If not, I’d recommend that you start at the beginning – although Burke does a good job of bringing readers up to speed, it’s going to take more than a passing familiarity with the series to truly appreciate the scope of events that happens in Nemesis.

All along, this series has been about much more than the surface idea of a young man cursed with the ability to see the dead. It’s been about fathers and sons, and mothers and sons, and revenge, and fate; all wrapped up in the journey of Timmy Quinn, who has unsuccessfully tried running away from his abilities for most of his life. As Nemesis begins, Timmy is through running, ready to (or, perhaps, resigned to) embrace the destination those abilities have brought him to. Burke jumps back-and-forth in time throughout the narrative, weaving the threads he’s scattered throughout the previous books into a tight, cohesive whole. Yes, there are entirely new characters introduced throughout the book, and new details that haven’t even been hinted at before are brought to light, but each of these additions feels like an organic extension of what’s come before. Never once do you get the feeling that Burke is just trying to fill in plot holes – it all plays out like the carefully orchestrated finale that it should be.

And make no mistake, it is a finale – at least, for Timmy Quinn. What’s great about the book is that, while it delivers on the promise of bringing an end to the Timmy Quinn series, it simultaneously opens up a whole new mythology for Burke to play with in the future. Those looking for a definitive conclusion will be satisfied, while those hoping that Burke wasn’t abandoning the ideas of The Stage, The Curtain and the resurrected dead for good have a lot of hope to hang on to.

The Timmy Quinn Interviews

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

Nemesis is available digitally as well as in 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.

Interview: Kealan Patrick Burke on NEMESIS: THE DEATH OF TIMMY QUINN

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 I’m proud to present the final interview on the series, as Kealan discusses the conclusion of Timmy Quinn’s story…and what comes next.

OC: Nemesis is so much bigger in scale than the previous books in the Timmy Quinn series. How difficult was it to write in comparison to the other books?

KPB: Difficult isn’t the word, and not because it was bigger in scale. Once I finally sat down to write it, it came easy. It was getting to write it that was the hard part. As you know, I was forced to take something of a sabbatical (kind word) from writing that lasted almost two years. When I did at last get back into the driver seat, I found I was no longer as passionate about the book as I once had been. I wasn’t sure where to start or where to take it, and worrying over it kept stressing me out. So I shelved it. But then the series took off thanks to digital and the reader comments started flooding in, asking (another kind word) when the last book was coming. I figured I had already delayed it enough and owed the readers — and myself — some closure. So I sat down and reevaluated things and it was as if the book had been waiting for that very thing. It came together rather quickly after being shoved away for years, and once I began to write, it ran away with itself.

Could you have written a book of this scale immediately after Vessels, or did the time away from the series help you develop your skills to the point where you felt more comfortable tackling it?

I could have, but it would have been a very different kind of book. The ideas I’d had for Nemesis back in the day were good and made sense in the context of the series, but they weren’t good enough. As a result, even though I had years of accumulated notes at hand when I started writing Nemesis, I used none of them. So while I can’t say whether the time away honed my skills — though it certainly taught me humility and the folly of taking anything for granted — I know Nemesis is exactly what it should be now. I couldn’t be happier with it. Had I written it a few years ago, I’m not sure I’d have been able to say that with total conviction.

Going in, did you have any idea it was going to grow the mythology so much, and introduce so many characters?

To a point, I did, but honestly this book wrote so much of itself I really felt as if I was an observer more than a participant, a quirk of the process I adore and one that ended up becoming part of the plot.

Nemesis really opens up the pasts of many of the characters from the series, and one thing a lot of them have in common is negative relationships with their parents. How closely were you looking to tie the idea of this reality being a sort of facade behind which The Stage and the spirits of the dead are hiding to the idea that happy, “normal” families are often a facade behind which anger and heartbreak is hiding?

Very much so. One of the misconceptions about horror writing is that monsters have to be serial killers or vampires or werewolves. But for me, when you’re a child and you have to question your parents’ love for you, there is nothing more terrifying. Outsiders don’t see this in a family. It’s always discovered when it comes to a head, like say when the child grows into a monster, so it’s the façade that’s presented and accepted, just as the series presents the idea that as ugly as our world is, there’s an infinitely uglier one hiding behind it. And in a less dramatic sense, every family has their secrets, the hidden betrayals and heartbreak. I just chose to use that sense of hidden turmoil as the driving force for my characters.

I realize this is an intensely personal question, but is this theme of unhappy families coming from personal experience?

For the most part I had an ordinary, happy childhood, but sure there was turmoil and upset, not the least of which was the separation of my parents when I was eight, and the resulting ugliness that occurs when parents try to convince a malleable child that the other parent is the bad one. It was a confusing time, but without it, I’d never have been able to write the things I write, so I wouldn’t change any of it. I do, however, seem to keep incorporating the emotions from those years into my work. Rarely is it intentional.

There are places in Nemesis – I’m thinking particularly of the scenes where you illustrate the dead meeting up with their killers – where you can sense the fun you were having just cutting loose. Was this a fun book to write, or did the pressure of ending this series (or, at least, this portion of it) that’s been such a major part of your career make it more difficult than fun?

Well, as I said above, trying to get motivated to write it was the tough part, but once I started it, it was a dream book to write, and it was the pressure that made it happen. The readers demanded an ending and the series needed one. It was long overdue, so I had no choice but to do it. But writing Nemesis was the most fun I’ve had in years. And as you so rightly stated, those scenes were a blast to write, particularly the IRA one. They’re almost like EC Comics-style vignettes, and I almost cut them for that reason, my concern being that they didn’t fit the tone of the book, or represented too much of a pull away from the main event. But ultimately I liked them too much to remove them.

As I said before, Nemesis really kicks the door wide open on the mythology, and it’s clear that the potential for more stories about The Stage are possible – with or without Timmy Quinn. Any plans in place?

Yep, as indicated by certain scenes at the end of the book, there will indeed be a new series, one with a female protagonist who has to contend, not only with the implications of her heritage and her “gift”, but also the dark interlopers from another realm.

Describe the feeling you had when you knew it was done, and that Timmy’s story was finished.

Immense relief due to the fact that for the longest time I doubted it would ever happen, but it was also a bittersweet feeling. Timmy has been with me in one way or another for ten years. It was hard to say goodbye to him. On the other hand, I put the poor bugger through enough hardship, so it was time to cut him a break (not that I think that’s really what I did…)

The Timmy Quinn Interviews

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

Nemesis is available digitally as well 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.