Horror Habits: Kealan Patrick Burke

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Author Kealan Patrick Burke
Kealan Patrick Burke

I’ve always been curious about how creators create. As a creator myself, I know it’s not some magical process where you just sit there and the muse descends from the clouds and bestows upon you a complete story, film, painting, etc. It’s hard work, and the process differs for everyone. 

Horror Habits is an interview series that lifts the veil on the writing process for writers of dark fiction. No, your favorite horror writer isn’t sitting in some gloomy castle, penning their masterworks under candlelight (hit me up if that is how you work, though!). They’re sitting at their laptops, plugging away on a word processor, and possibly eating trail mix along the way. From outlining to music choices, this series will give you some insight as to how some of today’s best horror writers get their words to the page. First up: Kealan Patrick Burke

Kealan Patrick Burke is a Bram Stoker Award-winning author based in Ohio. He is the author of several novels and over 200 short stories and novellas, including The House on Abigail Lane, currently in development as a TV series. 

(Interview conducted by John Brhel)

cover of The House on Abigail Lane by Kealan Patrick BurkeCEMETERY DANCE: Where do you so most of your writing?

KEALAN PATRICK BURKE: Despite having a dedicated office specifically for writing, I managed to write my first new novel in seven years at my dining room table and now feel superstitious about writing anywhere else, especially since I also managed to write three novellas, a graphic novel, and eight short stories this year in the same location. Thus, despite it not being the quietest or most convenient area in the house, it’s where I intend to keep writing.

So your office is now what, where the ghosts live? Do you ever write there or is the superstition that deep that it’s dining room table only?

The office is where the books live. Ultimately, I could write anywhere. I just won’t, for now. Just in case…

Do you have a set time of day when you work? Are you more inspired in the morning, evening, etc.?

I’m not a morning person, though I appreciate the concept of mornings. I’m better suited to writing at night when the world is quiet.

Do you listen to anything while you’re writing?

I need absolute quiet. I’m always baffled by writers who can listen to Norwegian death metal while composing florid prose. If a chipmunk barks its ankle three yards down from my house, I throw my computer in the sink.

I’ve tried to put on spooky music before, but that doesn’t work well for me.

I’ve tried. It just doesn’t take. It’s like how some writers can write while drinking or high…not me. I think I’m in the throes of wild, world-altering genius and then wake up to find I’ve just drawn a picture of an outhouse with YOUR CAREER written on the door in crayon.

What do you write on? Laptop? Notebook? If a computer, do you use any specific programs?

Laptop. Word. As vanilla as it’s possible to get, though to be fair, I started at age 14 on a typewriter I loved to ribbons, and moved up through various word processors, before settling on my handy dandy Dell XP.

How do you typically approach a project? It’s the age-old question, I suppose. Are you an outliner or a pantser?

An idea comes to me. Years later, when it’s decided it’s done being difficult, I sit down and write it. I don’t use an outline. Instead, once the first draft is done, I rewrite it roughly 80,000 times until it makes the kind of sense it would have if I’d thought to use an outline from the start.

Do you have a daily word or page count you try to hit? Or do you set any other kind of goals for yourself when you sit down to write?

I don’t have any goals other than to be satisfied with the day’s output. I’ll take 100 good words over 10,000 shaky ones, so I’ll keep at it until I’m happy with what’s on the page, though chances are it’ll all get rewritten the next day anyway.

How many drafts do you tend to do? How much editing?

The number of drafts differs from project to project. Because I edit as I go, sometimes only one or two drafts will do. Conversely, my latest novel had 12, and I’m sure it will need a few more once the editors go at it with their scalpels.

Do you eat or drink anything specific before/during/after you write?

I don’t eat before or during writing. As a general rule, I only eat once a day, dinner at six, and that’s it.

cover of Master of the Moors by Kealan Patrick BurkeDo you do a lot of research or is everything off the top of your head?

Research also depends on the project. Some books require very little. In the case of my novel Master of the Moors, I reached out to a master of the hunt on the Devonshire moors and interviewed him extensively so I could get the details right about the terrain, rituals, horses, etc. For The Hides, I spoke with the town historian, who helped me develop an accurate portrayal of my hometown the way it was back when I was too young to remember the specifics. He was also invaluable in helping me deep-dive into things like the inner workings of the long-gone leather factory and the impact war had upon the town before I was born.

How do you avoid writer’s block? Do you exercise, go for walks? I know you bake. Does that help?

Writer’s block is rare for me, but whenever the words stop coming, yes, I do literally anything else: play video games, listen to music, read, cook/bake, go for a drive, or just lounge and watch TV. I have found that forcing it doesn’t work for me. The block breaks by itself when I stop hammering at it.

Any weird quirks that you might have writing-wise? E.g. Do you only write with blue text or do you stand up?

The only quirk I have is that I never use the same font for consecutive projects. For instance, if I write a novel using Garamond, I won’t use that for whatever I write next. It’s less superstition than personal preference.

Do you have any tips you regularly give to writers? Any writing rules you sort of live by?

The advice I give to writers who ask is the same advice they’ll get from everyone else: just write. There’s no magic key that will open doors for you. You just have to do the work. Too many writers have asked me how I got to where I am — whatever that means — and the implication is always that there’s a secret being kept from them, that there’s a way to become a published writer without actually working for it. And there isn’t. Sit down and write. It’s all the advice you’ll ever need. Everything else will follow.

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