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.

Interview: Kealan Patrick Burke on THE TURTLE BOY: PEREGRINE’S TALE

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 reach the penultimate chapter with The Turtle Boy: Peregrine’s Tale, a novella originally published by Cemetery Dance in 2010.

OC: In the introduction to Peregrine’s Tale, you mention that The Turtle Boy originally had a different ending than what was published. Could you describe that original ending? What prompted the change?

KPB: The difference was small but significant. In it, Timmy discovers Darryl’s notebook in his attic twenty years later when he buys his childhood home, prompting the revelation of the killer earlier than it occurs in the series. There were a number of reasons why it didn’t work, that it was clichéd being only one of them. After some feedback, particularly and most notably from F. Paul Wilson, who generously and aggressively edited the whole novella, I decided to change it. I had already turned the book in to Don Koish at Necessary Evil Press but asked if I might have time to give it another pass. He agreed. If that hadn’t happened, I doubt it would have been so easy to make a series out of it, so it worked out for the best (though readers might have preferred the original ending to the cliffhanger it ended up with.)

You also mention in the introduction that Peregrine’s story was part of Brethren, your attempt at combining the existing Timmy Quinn books into one novel for the mainstream market. Was this a complete excerpt, or was Peregrine’s story integrated differently into the text of Brethren?

What’s there is the same, though in Brethren, it went on a few more chapters to document Peregrine’s revenge on The Man, facilitated by his father. I liked these scenes, but they have no place in the series anymore, so out they went. Peregrine’s Tale, as is, is exactly all the information you need going in to Nemesis. It preserves the mystery, I think, and doesn’t cast Peregrine as too much of a villain before you meet him, whereas the original chapters did.

Did the details of Peregrine’s origin remain essentially the same from Brethren to this release?

Exactly the same. Who Peregrine is only changed—very organically, I might add—during the writing of Nemesis.

One more Brethren question: How close did it come to publication? Would you still consider putting it out there, or has the success of the digital editions of the series made it unnecessary? Will we see any more material from that version of the story?

Don D’Auria at Leisure Books expressed great enthusiasm for the book, but when I sent it to him that was the last I heard from him, so two years later, I pulled it. I don’t blame Don for this at all. As it turns out, Leisure was undergoing something of a change at the time and I am, by nature, impatient. But after that, I stuck the book in a file and forgot about it.

I wouldn’t consider releasing it now because I think Stage Whispers, the collected volume and Nemesis represent the complete story. Anything I could add from Brethren would just be extraneous and unnecessary matter now, some of which would contradict the events in Nemesis. I had a different idea back then of where the story was going.

That being said, there are a few salvageable sequences that may end up in a volume of Timmy Quinn stories sometime in the future, or at least inspire a few new ones.

Okay, that was three more Brethren questions. This is the last one, I swear: If Brethren had been published, would Timmy’s story reach essentially the same conclusion that it does now in Nemesis?

No. If I’d managed to get Brethren in print, the end of the story would have been very different, so in that regard, I’m glad it never saw the light of day, because Nemesis is exactly where it needed to go.

Now, since this is an interview about Peregrine’s Tale, here are some questions about that book. There’s a passage when Peregrine comes out of the forest to confront his mother where you write that the world is “a fragile picture pasted over something terrible.” There’s an echo there of Stephen King’s idea of “thin places” in the world, where realities overlap. I know you’re a King fan – did his idea about such “thin places” influence your vision of the fragile veil between the living and the dead?

As I’m a big fan, I’m sure King’s work inspired quite a bit of my writing, but not consciously in this case. Rather, I put myself in the minds of these children. With trust shattered and love corrupted, there is no way it would seem anything other than a façade behind which the ugly truth lies. Literary inspiration aside, this is something I learned myself as a child, so it stands to reason that, given what they’re forced to endure, both Peregrine and Timmy would too.

Peregrine really had no more choice in the direction his life took than Timmy, did he? Is redemption possible for either of them at this point?

One of the things Peregrine and Timmy have in common is that adults shaped (and it could be argued, destroyed) their worlds when they were very young and altered their destinies forever. Neither of them sees the need for redemption. They’re bound to the path on which their parents put them. All they can hope for now is a benevolent end to the torment, something else they both share, though their ideas of what constitutes ‘benevolence’ differs greatly.

This is an incredibly dark series, and I really think Peregrine’s Tale is the darkest chapter at this point. Parent/child strife is just rampant in this thing! Was there ever an urge to go in and inject some levity in there somewhere? A comedic sidekick for Timmy, maybe?

You mention parent/child strife there, and some reviewers have posited that that’s really what the whole series is about, and I find it difficult to disagree now that it’s finished and I can look back on it. And when dealing with such a theme, it’s tough to find anything funny about it. Though whatever levity there is in the series comes courtesy of Kim, who consistently seems to find the strength to crack wise in the darkest situations. She continues this trend in Nemesis, as does Alek, a new character. The conversations both of them have with Tim are some of the funniest the series has seen and they come when events have reached their most dangerous. Laughter at a funeral, you might say.

All of the books in the Timmy Quinn series up to this point have been very compact. Was that a conscious decision, or were you just more comfortable at that point in your career writing shorter material?

It’s a bit of both. The Turtle Boy was the longest story I had written at that point in my writing career. The Hides was longer, and, in technical terms, even though it’s on the shorter side, my first novel. I was working on writing longer stuff, but these seemed better suited to an episodic novella-length, particularly because I wasn’t entirely sure where I was going with the overall story. Gradually I learned how to tell a story at novel length, and which story needed that size canvas. And Nemesis is such a story.

As of now, the series is complete with Nemesis having just been published. Maybe this is a question best left for that interview, but I’ll go ahead and ask – do you ever see yourself tackling a series like this again?

As evidenced by the coda at the end of Nemesis, absolutely. Not just a series, but a related one.

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.

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.

Interview: Kealan Patrick Burke on THE HIDES

In October 2012, Kealan Patrick Burke and Thunderstorm Books will release 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. We continue that series today with a look back at the second Timmy Quinn book, The Hides, originally published in hardback by Cemetery Dance.

The Cemetery Dance edition of THE HIDES, with cover by James Higgins.

OC: The Turtle Boy came out in 2004, and The Hides was released in 2005 – a relatively quick follow-up. When did the idea for the sequel present itself? Was there something that triggered it, the way the sight of your stepson and his friend exploring in the woods triggered The Turtle Boy?

I actually hadn’t considered a sequel until I spoke to Richard Chizmar at Cemetery Dance after he’d read The Turtle Boy. I had published an anthology and some short stories in the magazine with CD by then, but no standalone fiction, and I was eager to do so. When Rich expressed a desire to see something in the vein of The Turtle Boy, I decided to play it safe and keep whatever I wrote in the same universe as that novella. As soon as I made that decision, I wondered where we might find the characters from The Turtle Boy if we moved ahead in time a few years. I found myself intrigued by the notion that Timmy might have not just the dead, but teenage angst to deal with too. I’d already been mulling over a ghost story set in my hometown, so the stage was set—excuse the pun—for Timmy’s adventures to take him there in The Hides.

The Hides takes place in Dungarvan, Ireland, which just happens to be your hometown. What prompted the switch in settings from a small American suburb to Ireland? Was it homesickness, story-driven, or a little of both?

It was a little of both. At the time, I hadn’t written very much fiction set in my hometown, and I wanted to do something that both addressed its turbulent history and incorporated the feel of the place. Plus, I hadn’t been home in many years and researching it through the town’s historian, photographs, and my own memories of it, was a way to revisit.

Was it easier to write about your hometown as opposed to a fictional or less familiar place?

Familiar settings are always easier, though I enjoy making places up from scratch just as much. With The Hides, I had to do a little of both, because some of the buildings where much of the action takes place are no longer there, so I had to rebuild them using my own imagination, memories, and notes from the town historian. I set the story decades ago and Dungarvan has changed an awful lot since then.

I feel like the setting is almost another character in The Hides – it seems to be much more a part of the story than the setting of The Turtle Boy. How much of the direction of the Timmy Quinn series from this book forward can be attributed to moving it to Ireland?

When I think of Ireland, I immediately get a sense of age, a sense you get when you’re there. So I think in bringing Timmy to Ireland, it gave me the idea that whatever was responsible for these revenants, or whatever they are, was very old, and not limited to any one place. I also liked the notion that the geography works in tandem with Timmy’s emotions at the time. This starts with The Hides and is compounded in the next novella, Vessels.

This is also the book where the use of theater metaphors really pick up – The Curtain, The Stage, even a mention of stage whispers. Where did that theme come from?

I always had the visual in mind of shadowy figures standing just beyond our ability to see them, and kept out of sight by a tattered curtain. As I started The Hides, this visual grew stronger, and the idea of actors (the dead) awaiting their turn in the limelight (revenge) took hold. Add to that the fact that I did quite a bit of theatrical work myself in Dungarvan, and it seemed very fitting indeed. But it wasn’t until Nemesis that it made complete sense to me in the context of Timmy’s world. The final book is very much about the genesis of that metaphysical theater, so hopefully that will serve as more complete answer to your question!

The digital edition of THE HIDES.

It’s hinted that the years between the events of The Turtle Boy and The Hides have been tough for Timmy. Any chance we’ll get to read about those years at some point in the future? I’d think some of those encounters would make excellent short stories…

It’s very much a plan of mine to do a collection of stories about Timmy’s (mis)adventures in the periods between the books, for completion’s sake and to sate my own curiosity. I already have some interesting ideas I’m looking forward to exploring.

This book goes a long way toward establishing the rules of what’s going on in Timmy’s world – how he interacts with the ghosts, why they appear for him, etc. Did you have those rules worked out ahead of time, or were you discovering them as you wrote?

I had some idea, but truthfully, not much. I’m a make-it-up-as-I-go-along type writer, which is sometimes a good thing, sometimes not. When it comes to a series, it helps if you have a guideline, a set rulebook. I didn’t, but once the basic rules came to me, I found it easy to build on them. And though I didn’t know it as I was working from book to book, those rules made for a very interesting finale, one that seemed to suggest to me as I was writing Nemesis, that I had more an idea than I realized about where it would all lead. That’s kind of what Nemesis is about too: the nature of artistic creation.

Did you get feedback from friends or family back home in Dungarvan about the havoc you wreaked on the place?

Yes, and I loved it. My own mother was freaked out every time she passed the Moresby Buoy after reading the scene in which the dead woman appears there. And as the book was available in the local library, many of the townspeople wrote to tell me they haven’t looked the same way at some of the local landmarks since. I even had American readers of mine include the town in their visits to Ireland. They all but used the book as a tour guide, which is amazing.

How much of Dungarvan’s history as presented in The Hides is based on actual events?

Almost all of it. We did have Nazi U-boats patrolling the harbor and a lot of IRA activity at the time. The names are all fictional, of course, as are the events that led to the hauntings.

What kind of reception did The Hides receive upon its release? Did it help bring more attention to The Turtle Boy? And is this the point where you started to get encouragement to keep the Timmy Quinn series going?

The Hides did very well, or at least, as well as a 750-copy release can do. It got some nice ink in the trades, was reviewed well among readers, and picked up a Bram Stoker Award-nomination. So I was happy with the reception, and it definitely helped get other publishers interested in the series, which led to the publication of Vessels a year later. And more readers were discovering the books, sometimes working their way backward to read them all. The problem was, The Turtle Boy was long sold-out and only available on the secondary market for insane prices, so it was hard to grow the readership by any substantial degree, and this was disheartening. To counter this, I combined the first three novellas into a standalone novel entitled Brethren, which I sent to Leisure Books. After two years of waiting, I hadn’t gotten an answer, so I withdrew it. The series might never have gone any further after Cemetery Dance published Peregrine’s Tale, if not for digital, which saw a massive increase in the popularity of the books and vocal demand from readers for the next installment in the series. So it took almost ten years for the real encouragement to kick in, and for that I’m endlessly thankful.

The Timmy Quinn Interviews

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

Nemesis will be 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.

Interview: Kealan Patrick Burke on THE TURTLE BOY

The Necessary Evil Press edition of THE TURTLE BOY, with cover artwork by Caniglia.

In October 2012, Kealan Patrick Burke and Thunderstorm Books will release 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. We begin that series today with a look back at the one that started it all, the winner of the 2004 Bram Stoker Award for Best Long Fiction, The Turtle Boy.

OC: What was the inspiration for The Turtle Boy?

KPB: When I wrote The Turtle Boy, I was living in an old rambling farmhouse in Delaware, Ohio. Eager to write, but short on inspiration, I found myself looking out my office window at my stepson and his best friend standing at the threshold to the neighboring field. They were discussing the potential for adventure now that summer vacation had started. They eventually decided to explore the pond, which was some distance away and all but hidden from view by a cluster of pines. Suitably inspired, I started with this scene and the rest came easy, particularly as my neighbor at the time had told me the pond contained turtles the size of Buicks and that one of them had ripped off a hunk of his finger.

Are there stories or characters from other authors that influenced this book (or the series as a whole)? Being from Ireland, did you work any Irish folklore into the story?

I’m a big fan of coming-of-age stories like Boy’s Life by Robert McCammon, “The Body” by Stephen King, Summer of Night by Dan Simmons, and Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury. Even To Kill a Mockingbird was an influence. If I hadn’t read all of these books, I wouldn’t have been able to write The Turtle Boy.

I wouldn’t say there’s much Irish folklore in The Turtle Boy, but there’s definitely an Irish flavor to the later books, most significantly in The Hides and Vessels, and not just because they use the country as the setting. Our attachment to and the influence of history comes into play in The Hides, and Vessels incorporates as a subtext the erosion of faith in the Catholic Church and religion as a whole. While these are not inherently Irish subjects, they’re definitely prevalent ones.

How much of you exists in the character of Timmy Quinn?

In the first book, there’s more of my stepson in Timmy than anyone else, but as the books go on and the conflict with his father comes into play, I think there’s a lot of me in there. As has been pointed out elsewhere, the theme of paternal estrangement seems to be a running one throughout the books. Although I wasn’t conscious of this when I wrote them, I am now, and given my own relationship with my father, it makes a lot of sense. And that’s what Timmy tries to do throughout the series: try to make sense of all that’s gone wrong in his life.

When did you begin writing the book, and how long/how many drafts did it take?

I started it in the summer of 2003, and it took about two weeks to write the first draft. Then I sent it around to some people for advice, among them Norman Partridge and F. Paul Wilson. Both of them gave me extensive notes and suggestions, almost all of which I incorporated. By the time it went to press, I’d rewritten it more times than I’ve ever rewritten anything since. It went through about twenty drafts before I was happy with it.

Were you thinking of this as a series at the time? It doesn’t read like a deliberate segue into a series, although you could easily see the potential for the story to continue.

No, contrary to popular belief (and a substantial amount of reviews that imply I ended it on a cliffhanger to get people to buy the rest of the series), The Turtle Boy was not written with a sequel in mind. It wasn’t until a year after the book had been released that Rich Chizmar at Cemetery Dance expressed interest in something in a similar vein. After I gave it some thought, I found myself curious about where Tim and Kim et al might be if we revisited them a few years down the road. I also hadn’t set very much of my writing in Ireland at the time, and it presented me with a great opportunity to do that very thing. The notion of populating my hometown with ghosts was irresistible.

How has the overall story evolved as you’ve continued writing about Timmy?

As soon as I realized it was going to be a series (right about the time the idea for Vessels sprung full formed into my brain), I assumed it was always going to be a ghost story. And while it is, for the most part, Vessels sets up some curve balls and Nemesis turns the tables in a most unexpected fashion. I also didn’t realize it was going to have an apocalyptic flavor by the end. So yes, the journey has been filled with unexpected twists and turns, but Nemesis is the mother of them all.

What else had you published when The Turtle Boy was released?

My first collection, Ravenous Ghosts, had just been released, and I’d had a number of short stories published in various venues, but The Turtle Boy was the most significant release to that point.

How big of an impact did its success have on your career?

Oddly enough, it didn’t do much for me at the time, not that I really expected it to, but it has done a lot in the past few years, more than I’d ever have imagined, in fact. Thanks to a new lease on life as a digital release, the success of it and the other books in the series has allowed me to return to writing full-time after a few years spent floundering in the doldrums.

Caniglia’s art was such an amazing addition to that first Necessary Evil Press edition of the book – especially that cover, which pops into my head whenever I think of this series. How much did his art add to the package in your eyes?

I absolutely adore that cover. With that image, and the interiors he did for the book, I think Jason completely nailed the spirit of the book. I remember the first time I saw them, my breath literally caught in my throat. With only minimal input from me, it looked as if he’d actually visited the real-life pond that inspired the story. It was uncanny. And I think his work elevated the book from just another small press title to a work of art, more due to his illustrations than my story.

Among your books, where does The Turtle Boy rank in your eyes? How about within the Timmy Quinn series itself?

Because of all it’s done for me over the years, The Turtle Boy is my favorite book. I’m not overstating things when I say it has given me my career. But overall, I think my best book to date is Kin for its maturity and cohesiveness. In terms of its rank within the series, I would rank The Turtle Boy lowest because I wrote it in my early twenties and had not yet found my proper voice. So I think every book in the series benefited from the age I was when I wrote it. To that end, I would rank Vessels and Nemesis as the strongest entries. I’m fond of them all for different reasons though.

Would you ever consider taking a second stab at The Turtle Boy, like Stephen King did with the first Dark Tower book? If so, what would you do differently?

That’s a superb question, and man, have I been tempted. The advent of digital publishing means I can revise at any time if I wish. And I do wish, if only to smooth out some of the clunkier parts, and reduce the block of exposition toward the end. Maybe even nix that cliffhanger ending so many readers find so troublesome. But I can’t. Don’t ask me why. Something stays my hand every time I get close. Maybe I’m just too proud of it, flaws and all, to want to fiddle with it. It’d be like if I took one of my childhood pictures and photoshopped out my buck teeth. Sure, I might look less goofy, but it wouldn’t be an accurate depiction of who I was at the time.

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

Nemesis will be 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.