Born and raised in Dungvaren, Ireland, Kealan Patrick Burke is an award-winning author described by Publishers Weekly as "a newcomer worth watching." Some of his works include the novels Currency of Souls and The Hides, the novellas The Turtle Boy (Bram Stoker Award Winner, 2004) and Vessels, and the collection Ravenous Ghosts. He has also sold fiction to a number of publications, including Postscripts, Cemetery Dance, Grave Tales, Shivers II, Shivers III, Shivers IV, Looking Glass, Masques V, Subterranean, Evermore, Inhuman, Horror World, Surreal, and Corpse Blossoms. Aside from his accomplishments as an author, Kealan also edited the anthologies: Taverns of the Dead, Night Visions 12, (both recipients of starred reviews in Publishers Weekly), Brimstone Turnpike, Quietly Now: A Tribute to Charles L. Grant (International Horror Guild Nominee, 2004), and the charity anthology Tales from the Gorezone. You can contact Kealan at: firstname.lastname@example.org or visit his website at www.kealanpatrickburke.com.
How did you end up working for Subterranean Magazine?
I knew Bill Schafer (owner and publisher at Subterranean Press) for a few years by the time he decided to start Subterranean. I'd edited an anthology for him (Night Visions 12), and when he offered me a shot at trying to place a story in the premiere issue of the magazine, I jumped at it. Took me more than one try to meet his high standards, but I managed to win him over with a story called "The Grief Frequency". Shortly thereafter, with the first issue available on the stands, he asked if I'd be interested in coming on board Subterranean as an associate editor. It was another offer I jumped at.
What are your responsibilities there as Associate Editor?
Generally, I proofread every issue, sell some advertising, make sure checks get sent out to contributors etc. But truthfully, it doesn't involve much more than that. I don't read submissions, though very occasionally, I will, with Bill's approval, solicit a story from someone I think would be a good fit for the magazine, or make recommendations to Bill based on stuff I've come across in my own reading.
Since this is still a relatively new magazine could you tell us a little bit about it?
When it first started, I think people assumed it was going to be another Cemetery Dance (not that that would have been a bad thing), and certainly the inaugural issue didn't do much to dispel that assumption, as it was primarily horror, but from the second issue onward, Bill took the magazine into more sf/f/df territory. These days, it has more in common with magazines like F&SF and Asimov's than anything else, and regularly features contributions from some Subterranean Press mainstays, as well as some of the biggest names in the aforementioned genres. It is not uncommon to find fiction from luminaries like Orson Scott Card, Ray Bradbury, Phillip Jose Farmer, Poppy Z. Brite, Cherie Priest, Elizabeth Bear, Neal Barrett Jr., and others gracing the pages. In addition, there are the expected interviews, and a superb critical analysis/book review section from Dorman T. Shindler. Occasionally, there will be themed issues, such as the Sci-Fi Cliché issue, guest-edited by John Scalzi.
Last time I checked Subterranean is closed to unsolicited submissions. Are there any plans to change this policy? If so, when?
I honestly can't say. Whether or not it will ever open to submissions is entirely Bill's call, but personally, I can't see it happening. Not unless he takes on more staff to handle it. After as many years as he's been in the business, he knows very well how much time slushpiles take up. As do I. Maybe if he wasn't simultaneously running a high-output book line, there'd be some chance, but right now, I'd be very surprised to see it.
Besides your editorial duties with Subterranean you’re also an accomplished anthologist. Can you tell us how you got started on this side of the speculative business?
I wish I had a more interesting answer for this but I'm going to have to stick with the plain and simple truth. I'd wanted to do an anthology ever since reading Kirby McCauley's Dark Forces anthology, and the Stephen Jones/David Sutton Dark Terrors books way back when. Then, shortly after moving to the States, I suddenly found it within my power to, if not do one, then at least try. And that's what I did. I drew up a list of my favorite horror writers, tracked down their contact info (or bribed their agents—kidding), and put together an anthology of bar-themed horror stories entitled Taverns of the Dead. At the same time I connected with Richard Chizmar at Cemetery Dance Publications, who liked the idea and agreed to publish the book.
Can you tell us about some of the anthologies you’ve edited?
Aside from Taverns of the Dead, which featured bar-themed stories by Peter Straub, Ramsey Campbell, Charles deLint, Jack Cady, Steve Tem, Terry Lamsley, Nicholas Royle, and Neil Gaiman, to name a few, I also edited a book entitled Quietly Now: A Tribute to Charles L. Grant, which featured stories and essays by some of the genre's biggest names (King, Straub, Lansdale, and more) all, as the title suggests, as a thank you to one of horror/dark fantasy's greatest purveyors, now sadly passed away. Then there's Tales from the Gorezone, a charity anthology I put together some years back consisting of stories from members of the now-defunct Gorezone website. All proceeds went to PROTECT.
Any anthologies in the works/due to be published/recently released?
As mentioned earlier, I edited the twelfth installment of the venerable Night Visions series for Subterranean Press, with stories by P.D. Cacek, Simon Clark and Mark Morris, and cover art by Russell Dickerson. This has just been released and should be on the shelves soon. Due from Cemetery Dance is Brimstone Turnpike, a quintet of novellas by Thomas F. Monteleone, Scott Nicholson, Tim Waggoner, Harry Shannon and Michael Oliveri, all revolving around a character named Johnny Divine, who sits on a rocking chair at the titular location, dispensing "souvenirs" from his battered red suitcase to a character from each novella, thereby influencing their lives in unusual ways.
Other than those, I'm playing around with ideas and talking to some people, but I'm not working on anything definite anthology-wise at the moment.
On average, what percentage of stories do you solicit in advance for your anthologies?
With the exception of Tales from the Gorezone, which was open to anyone registered as a member of the Gorezone message board, and Hour of Pain, which never saw print (see below), all of them.
Can you give us an idea about the average amount of submissions you receive for the open slots in your anthologies?
I edited an anthology years ago called Hour of Pain, which found a publisher and then that publisher vanished into the ether, and as the book was done for the sole purpose of highlighting the dearth of talent in the small press outside of the big names, and therefore featured no recognizable, or to put it in publishing terms, "saleable" names, the book never happened. That was open to submissions and during the six-month reading period, I estimate I received close to four hundred stories. Of that number, I selected twenty.
For Tales from the Gorezone, restricted to members of the Gorezone message board, the numbers were lower. Of the one hundred stories I was sent for that, I think I took about eighteen.
What advice would you give to someone considering putting together an anthology?
I wrote a bit about this in a column for the Cemetery Dance website, which is a lot longer and more in-depth than we have room for here, but to sum it up I'd say one of the most important things I learned doing these books is not to sell out, or—as pretentious as it may sound—amend your vision to suit others. Sure, there are guidelines, but if you're going to put together a book, be sure you know why you're doing it, then do it. Don't accept bad stories just because they're written by ordinarily good authors, or will sell the book for you, because the euphoria of that sale will last only until the reviews come out, and as hard a sell as anthologies are these days, that concession you made to avoid looking bad to one of your authors may be the reason you find it even harder to sell the next one. Don't be afraid to reject stories you don't think suit the book, and don't make promises you can't keep. Remember above all else: A good story is a good story; a bad one, isn't. Sounds obvious, doesn't it? You'd be amazed how blurry the lines can get when you're dealing with your heroes.
Don't just do an anthology because it seems like the popular thing to do. Do one because you love them. And for Chrissakes, don't do a "royalty-only" anthology that essentially means you'll have your writers busting their asses for no pay, and no readers. If you want a professional anthology, you get a professional publisher to publish a book of professional stories by professional writers. There was a time when this didn't need to be said. Go to www.ralan.com and look at the anthologies currently open to submissions. The ratio of pay versus "royalty-only" (i.e. no pay) is alarming.
For those readers interested, the column I wrote about this subject is here: (http://www.cemeterydance.com/page/CDP/WritersColumnKealanPatrickBurke)
Personally, I love to blab on and on about my slush discoveries. What about you? Any stories you’ve discovered for your various anthologies you’d like to tell us about?
A British writer named Paul Finch wrote a story called "Children Don't Play Here Anymore" for my Quietly Now anthology, which has stayed with me in the years since. It was a beautiful and haunting tale, as was Darren Godfrey's "Storage Unit" for the same book. These were writers not many people were familiar with, and they proved they were more than qualified to share a table of contents with the greats. From the veterans then, Mark Morris wrote a story for Night Visions 12 called "What Nature Abhors" which I class as one of the scariest and most unsettling tales I've ever read. Charles L. Grant and Jack Cady wrote the kind of tales I'd been hoping and praying they'd deliver for Taverns of the Dead, as did everyone in that book. I felt blessed. Like I said earlier though, I reject stories I don't like, no matter who writes them, so I'm absolutely proud of every story I've accepted for my anthologies.
What are your pet peeves as an editor?
It's a pretty common one: formatting errors. I absolutely hate it when someone sends me a story and it's one big massive block of text with no spacing, or paragraphs. It used to mean I'd have to spent hours fixing it myself just to read it. Not any more. These days I either return the story with a note asking for the story to be reformatted, or I delete it, depending on my mood. With the amount of guidelines freely available around the 'Net and in books, there's no excuse for not preparing your submission properly.
People who ignore guidelines get on my nerves too, particularly those with the attitude that their work is so exceptional, they don't need to follow the guidelines because you'll be so blown away by their immense talent to notice they sent a vampire story for an absolutely-no-vampire-stories anthology. Or a 40,000-word novella when the limit is 5,000 words. Or a splatter/gore-soaked zombie tale to a traditional ghost story anthology, or vice-versa. Or poetry for a prose-only antho. Not adhering to the guidelines shows a lack of interest on the part of the writer, and if they're not willing to take the time to read them, why should we read the story?
Who are some of your favorite authors, both in and outside of the genre?
Charles L. Grant, Ramsey Campbell, Steve Rasnic Tem, Christopher Fowler, Joe Hill, Nicholas Royle, Glen Hirshberg, Peter Crowther, Mark Morris, Simon Clark, Norman Partridge, Susanna Clarke, Larry McMurtry, John Connolly, Jeffrey Deaver, Ed Gorman, Stephen King, Peter Straub, Bentley Little, Al Sarrantonio, Tim Lebbon, Dan Simmons, Terry Lamsley, Simon Clark, Jack Ketchum, T.E.D Klein, Jack Cady, Michael Marshall Smith, David B. Silva, Kim Newman, Chet Williamson, Joe Lansdale, Michael Chabon. That's off the top of my head. No doubt I'm forgetting a boatload. I read a bit of everything.
Do you have any additional editorial aspirations?
I'd like to edit a ghost story magazine in the vein of Ash-Tree's All Hallows, or a mystery/ghost story magazine like The Strand. I'd also like to land a mass-market paperback deal for one of my anthologies. It would be nice to see the books get a wider readership.
You’ve also accomplished quite a bit as a writer. Has your editorial work helped your writing at all?
I think, from picking through so many stories over the years I find it easier to identify the flaws in my own. And like general reading for pleasure, exposure to so much damn fine work has made me want to be a better writer.
Does the writer in you have any non-editorial advice for the hordes of scribes out there?
Don't give up. I have faced more heartbreak, self-doubt, and disappointment in this profession than in any other I've put my hand to. But in the end, quitting is too easy. Anyone can do that. The same can't be said for this creative madness we call writing.
Thanks so much for your time.
You're very welcome. I hope I wasn't too boring.
Big thanks to Kealan for doing this interview. Next month I hope to avoid these sorts of mistakes, so hopefully you'll continue to tune in when I interview . . .???