Charles L. Grant’s The Orchard

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In the midst of writing a new essay for Dancing with Shadows, The Charles L. Grant Blogathon, I realized that I had said many of the same things before, and much more succinctly, in my preface for Necon Books’ digital reissue of The Orchard, which is not only one of my favorite titles from Charlie’s extensive body of work, but also one of my favorite collections, period. So, rather than repeat myself, I thought it more prudent to share that essay with you here (with slight edits for clarity):

There’s no better time to write this introduction than today, October 24th, because this is Charlie’s season. As I sit here pecking away at the keyboard, the light is an eerie shade of tarnished gold through a persistent rain. Dead leaves scratch across the porch like dirty paper airplanes thrown by sullen children. The wind is not quite howling, but it’s considering it, as it whips through the woods around my house. The branches are gnarled and bare, casting long thin shadows that look like rotten ropes poised to pull in the encroaching dark. The earth is sodden, the air smells like smoke. The river is thick and full and muddy as it rushes under the small wooden bridge that leads away from here.

This is Charlie’s season.

And this is what I said to my girlfriend a few days ago as we bundled up and took a stroll along the lane that meanders through these woods. “I love fall,” I told her. “The quality of the light, the taste of the air…it’s Charlie Grant’s season.” She did not need to ask who I meant, as she has heard me go on (and on, and on, God bless her patience) at length about my favorite writer. I have read passages to her from his books; she has seen the towering stack of yellowed paperbacks bearing his name that materializes beside the bed at this same time every year. She knows I edited a book called Quietly Now, which was a celebration of the man and his work. And she has heard me speak of him as a writer whose style I emulate over all others. There are any number of reasons why this is the case, most of which I’ve covered in the various essays and tributes I’ve written since Charlie passed away, so I won’t rehash them here. Besides, if you’re reading this book now, then chances are you already know them.

orchard-uk-pb-grantOf everything Charlie wrote, my favorite books of his are those that combine quartets of stories linked by a central motif and packaged as novels, books like Nightmare Seasons, The Black Carousel, Dialing the Wind, and this one you’re reading now. It has long been argued that, for horror writers particularly, the novella is the ideal length for a story. It allows character development and plenty of darkness, while negating the need for rambling or filler. For the reader, it’s just long enough to be worth the investment, but not so long it seems daunting. Charlie seemed most at home with novellas, and indeed they represented him at the height of his power, and nowhere is that more evident than in The Orchard.

Here, our connective tissue is the titular venue, an old orchard on the outskirts of town that has somehow managed to be forgotten by most of the people in Oxrun Station. And perhaps it wants to be forgotten. There was a fire there, you see, and although apples still grow on the trees that escaped the flames, it is inadvisable to eat them. Doing so changes things, changes you, and unleashes an insidious evil, whether within or without.

But people will always find places not meant to be found, and amid the shifting mists and half-glimpsed shadows, the orchard spreads its tendrils into the minds of the weak, exploiting the unrequited love of poor, overweight Herb Alstar in “My Mary’s Asleep”, and the loneliness and paternal insecurities of policeman Brett, in the ironically titled, “I See Her Sweet and Fair”.

I read this book in my late teens, about seven years after it was released, and though I didn’t revisit it until Captain of the Good Ship Necon, Bob Booth, approached me to write this introduction, the one story that had never left me was “The Last and Dreadful Hour”, which I recalled with almost perfect clarity. It’s a terrifying piece, a veritable chiaroscuro of horror, and my favorite kind of story—one that traps people together in a single setting and pits them against some type of invasive, unknowable evil. After I first read this, visits to my dilapidated local movie theater were never quite the same, and as I sat in the gloom, usually alone, waiting for the movie to start, I would always find myself squinting into the shadows beneath the stained screen, wondering if there was something hiding there. It’s a testament to Charlie’s power that he can write something so moody, so dark and dirty, that it sticks in the mind decades after you first read it. And that’s one of the reasons I love his work so much. It is less a reading experience than an immersion into a meticulously crafted and lyrical carnival of shadows you find difficult to forget.

Similarly, the closing segment of The Orchard, “Screaming, In the Dark” documents a man trapped (this time by injury and not supernatural means) in a hospital bed as odd things begin to occur in the hallways and rooms around him. What I like most about this one is how Charlie subverts the use of darkness and somehow manages to make dazzling bursts of white light even more threatening.

The Orchard is bookended by the story of Abe Stockton, the current chief of police, who is not long for this world, and the man he brings to the orchard to educate about the ways of the place. To assist him, he has brought along some files, and it is those that make up the stories in the book. This introduction and epilogue could be considered incidental, but they’re anything but. In addition to making the book read more cohesively than most novels, they’re also just as skin-crawlingly unsettling as the stories themselves.

If you’re reading these stories for the first time, I envy you. And I can’t help wondering what Charlie would have made of seeing his work presented in digital form. Some authors still rail against the new medium, and I completely understand why. Like them, I too have a deep attachment to physical books. To me, it’s as much a part of the reading experience as the stories themselves, and it’s still how I prefer to read, if possible. The argument could, and has, been made that digital reading is too cold and impersonal, but to be fair, I think this misses the point. The medium is irrelevant, merely the means by which the stories are brought to you. Deliver them via papyrus scrolls, cave paintings, pulp, movies, audio, digital screen, retinal scan, or brain implant (for who knows what comes next!), it is the stories, and only the stories that matter. I don’t think Charlie would have cared how you read his work, only that you enjoyed it. And it is my hope that having his work available digitally exposes it to a new and expanded audience. It is nothing less than he deserved.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve prattled on long enough, and I am due another walk with my better half. It is the perfect day for such things, just as it is the perfect day to reminisce about my favorite writer and mentor.

Because now the light is fading and streetlights are coming on, sending shadows sprawling across the porch and toward the door. The wind has indeed risen to a howl, moaning once more about the things it seeks to change. The leaves are scratching at the door, tapping on the windows, asking to be let in, eager for me to come out. The river hurries on, and there’s a chill in the air that foretells of the coming storm.

It’s Charlie Grant’s season.

And it always will be.

 

 

THE TENT Free on Wattpad

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You can now read my novella THE TENT for free on Wattpad.

“If JAWS was the story that made people stay away from the ocean, THE TENT is the mean little novella that will keep them out of the woods.” – Norman Partridge, author of DARK HARVEST.

“Burke has concocted a tasty mix of THE THING meets INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS meets THE TWILIGHT ZONE, and he made sure to marinate it in a couple of gallons of blood before setting it free.” – FEARNET

John Carpenter’s TALES FOR A HALLOWEEN NIGHT, V2

I have a story (“Mr. Goodnight”) in the upcoming graphic novel anthology John Carpenter’s Tales for a Halloween Night, Volume 2, edited by Sandy King Carpenter. As a lifelong fan of John and Sandy King Carpenter’s work, to say it’s an honor to be included in this book is an understatement.

Look for the book in stores on October 18th, or preorder the book here.

From John Carpenter, the man who brought you the cult classic horror film Halloween and all of the scares beyond comes 12 more twisted tales of terror, tricks, and treats. In volume 2 of the award-winning graphic novel series, Carpenter brings together another stellar ensemble of storytellers from the worlds of movies, novels and comics for a collection of stories that will haunt your dreams at night.

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Cheap Tricks: Indie Marketing on a Budget – Beta Readers

Publisher’s Weekly recently ran an article about my experiences with self-publishing, and while it proved very popular, one comment decried the lack of examples, specifically in regard to marketing. And that’s a valid complaint. After all, a writer will get much more use out of being shown how to market rather than just being told that they should. So, I thought I’d write a few blog posts about it, with a few examples of how I went about getting my novella Sour Candy ready for publication and in front of as many eyes as possible while not breaking the bank.

#1: BETA READERS

A beta reader is someone who is willing to read your book before you publish it, and as such can be an invaluable asset. If you’ve been crowing on social media about the upcoming release of your new book (“OMG, you guys, December can’t come soon enough!”) and have seen an enthusiastic response from some readers (“Yaaaaaas! Can’t wait!”), you may already have a critical resource at your disposal. Now, some caveats:

1) Try to avoid enlisting the help of family and friends as your primary beta reading crew, because feelings. Your Mom or your sister is not as likely to tell you your spelling is atrocious and the plot makes no sense, because they love you and would still like to get back that $100 they gave you last Thanksgiving. It’s harder for them to be objective without worrying that you’ll take it badly. (I, however, am fortunate in that regard, because neither my girlfriend nor my mother are afraid to tell me when something I’ve written sucks. As a result, I don’t much care for either of them, and I’m never paying back that money.) Objectivity is key, and that is more likely to be found when there are no emotional or personal ties involved. We all love it when our parents tell us you done good, but that’s not going to help do anything but give us the warm fuzzies. Your future readership don’t give a diddly-squat that your parents are proud because you’re finally working on moving out of their basement.

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Eventually…

 

2) There’s a difference between online enthusiasm and real world interest. Don’t

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“Ffft, sorry, but like, I hate books, so laterz!”

assume because someone gives you the blue thumb on Facebook that they’re simply falling all over themselves to give up Big Brother in favor of reading the latest opus from some writer with an airbrushed face they just added on Facebook last Monday. Gauge the level of interest first before you embarrass yourself and the reader. Also make sure that they like to read. For that reason, I suggest Goodreads as a good recruitment zone. If readers have added you there, obviously they like books, and there’s a greater chance they dig your genre. Join groups on GR and put out some feelers for folks who love to read what you’re putting down and welcome the chance to help an author out.

3) Creative incentives. Asking someone to read a book is no small request. Books are long and reading them for anything other than enjoyment can be time-consuming, and honestly, a bit of a chore. And if the reader doesn’t like the book, then they’re stuck with the stress of how you’ll take it. (And if you don’t take it well, you’re a jerk and shouldn’t be in this business in the first place. Publishing is a heatwave with no place for special snowflakes. You, yes you, are flawed and fallible. So is your work. Even Stephen King bakes the occasional turkey. James Patterson…well, Patterson runs a goddamn turkey farm and he’s still beloved, and a zillionaire, so get over yourself.)

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“I know. Works tho.”

So, try to make it worth the reader’s while. At the very least, offer to mention them in the acknowledgment page of the published book, and of course, furnish them with a copy of the book in their preferred format. You would be astonished at how often this is considered a major incentive. If your reader is a non-writer, the notion of their name appearing in a published book can be a major thrill. (Remember the first time you saw your name in print? Didn’t it give you a ferocious case of the soul-jiggles? Yeah, that.) Also, if you end up generating any kind of swag while promoting your book, this too should be sent to your beta readers. And once you find beta readers (and you will) who you really trust, do everything you can to keep them happy. They are helping you in ways you can’t help yourself, and they’re doing it simply because they want to. You can’t put a price tag on that kind of loyalty. So appreciate it.

4) Don’t be pushy. In your search for beta readers, you’ll undoubtedly encounter some folks who really aren’t all that interested, or who are interested but already beta read for other authors and simply don’t have the time to read your book. The polite response to this is to thank them for considering your request and move on. The incorrect response is to hammer them with emails demanding to know how come they didn’t get the special snowflake memo, and to tell them that now there’s no way you’re paying back that $150, Mom. Trust me, there are more beta readers than there are books to beta read, so be professional and courteous and not a pushy primadonna. The same applies, even more so, if the feedback you receive is negative.

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“Dear God, it was like trying to read the inside of a possum’s face.”

You enlist beta readers to read the book and identify problems, not to be told you’re a flawless juggler of glitter-filled amazeballs. Leave your ego outside in the rain and take it for a walk later. Beta readers are not there to tell you you’re great. They’re there to tell you why your book isn’t and how it could be. And if any of this is news to you, you may have some career reconsideration to mull over because you’re destined to be about as successful as a one-legged horse trying to climb a ladder sideways.

5) Enlist more than one. Every reader likes different things, and for your purposes, one reader may focus on the technical nitty-gritty of your writing, while another may be more interested in the story as a whole. Maybe one of them gets jingly for sex scenes, maybe another craves comedy.

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“Guess which one I am?”

The more beta readers you have, the more feedback you get. And when you start to get down because six beta readers all wrote back to tell you your story isn’t as great as you thought it was, consider how much worse it will feel when reviewers on Amazon tell you that. Always be willing to accept defeat. Beta readers make that defeat temporary and repairable. So get as many as you can and brace yourself for the impact. You’ll be glad of it later.

Announcing SECRET FACES

Secret Faces smallI am pleased to announce that my new short story collection SECRET FACES is now available for preorder on Amazon, Smashwords, and Kobo, with all other vendors to follow in the coming hours. Here’s the lowdown:

“If you are hiding from yourself, don’t expect anyone else to see you.”

Everyone has a secret. Everyone is someone else when the world isn’t looking. Sometimes that person is good, sometimes that person is not. In Bram Stoker Award-winning author Kealan Patrick Burke’s latest terrifying collection of short stories, you’ll meet thirteen people who discover the horror of what happens when those secret faces are removed and the true darkness that dwells within us all is unleashed.

Table of Contents:

Home
Stalled
The End of Us
The Red Light is Blinking
Mother/Nature
I’m Not There
Memory Lane
Terminal
Forced Entry
The Quiet
The One Night of the Year
Pig
Hoarder

With an introduction and story notes by the author.

Preorder on Amazon here.

 

 

On Location

When The Turtle Boy was first released back in 2003, I included an afterword letting readers know that Myers Pond, where Timmy Quinn first encounters the boy who will change his life forever, was based on a real place, as is the neighborhood in which Timmy lives. The pond is in Delaware, Ohio, which is where I was living when I wrote it. This is not the first time I have used real places in my work, so I thought it might be fun to share a few of them with you here.

The Turtle Boy, Currency of Souls, “Snowmen”, “Mr. Goodnight” – Delaware, OH

Myers Pond

All the locations used in the novella are real and are still there today, though, as documented at the end of the story, a house was built by the pond, which made it private property, and the water was subsequently dyed green, an aesthetic move I can only assume proved fatal for the turtles who once called it home. In the town proper, the economic downturn meant that most of the people you encountered looked dispirited, burdened, a sight so prevalent it inspired an entire novel and the creation of the haunted town of Milestone.

The Hides, “The Acquaintance”, “Prohibited” – Dungarvan, Ireland

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Photo courtesy Wikipedia/Mik Herman

The Hides was my chance to revisit my hometown in the south of Ireland and populate it with ghosts and other things. While I took some geographical and historical liberties to service the story, the majority of locations in the book are just as they appear in real life, with the exception of the leather factory (now a block of apartments) and the library (since moved to a new location, though the Old Market House which used to house it, still remains.) The Moresby Buoy (“there was a dead woman clinging to it”) has been restored and stands as a monument to the lives lost when the titular ship was sunk just outside the harbor.

Vessels – Inis Oírr, The Aran Islands

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Photo courtesy DiscoverIreland.ie

Located on the west coast of Ireland, Inis Oírr is the smallest of three islands which make up The Aran Islands. With a combined population of approximately 1200 people, I couldn’t think of a better place to send Timmy Quinn, who, by the time we catch up to him in Vessels, is desperate for isolation.

Peregrine’s Tale, Nemesis, The Tent – Hocking Hills, OH

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Photo courtesy ExploreHockingHills.com

I’ve been to Hocking Hills dozens of times. With its caves, nature trails, wide expanse of untamed woods, hideaways, and cabins, it’s a great place to get away from it all. And when you find yourself in the forest without a cell phone signal, well, how can you not write a horror story about it?

Nemesis – Adare Manor, Ireland

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Photo courtesy Adaremanor.com

In the final book of the Timmy Quinn series, Timmy finds that there are others who share his curse/talent. These people call themselves The Conduits. Led by the mysterious Catherine Moriarty, their base of operations is a mansion, inspired by the very real and very beautiful Adare Manor in Ireland.

Kin – Alabama

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Photo courtesy The Miami Herald

I had never been outside of Ohio by the time I took my first road trip. That trip took me through Alabama, some of the best and worst parts of the state. Then I saw a cotton field, something I’d never seen before. I walked through it, watching as the sun hit it just right, my fingers trailing over the cotton, and inspiration struck. While Kin had been on my mind for quite some time, that’s when I knew where it would start. When I returned from the road trip (to Florida), I immediately sat down and wrote the first four chapters of the book. The wind-wracked tree upon which Claire etches her initials and those of her friends, is real too.

Jack & Jill – Logan, Ohio

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Photo courtesy Wikipedia

With no disrespect to the people who call it home, there is something very much amiss about Logan. For a start, I have been there three times and never seen more than a handful of people there. On my first visit, a beautiful blonde woman in white was playing a violin on a bandstand at twilight, to no audience. I was convinced she was a ghost. For another, on my last visit, as I was talking with my friends about best places to photograph, a woman burst out of her house and fell to the ground screaming and covered in blood. My friend’s son questioned Heaven as we were walking through the cemetery. There are an unusual number of car accidents there. The worst thing that’s ever happened to a friend happened in Logan when she was a child. There’s a feeling in the air there that’s just wrong. The graveyards are on a hill that overlook the town, and at the opposite end, there stands a parade of mausoleums, many of them sunken, many of them open. I cannot explain what it is or why it is that’s so odd about the place, but Jack & Jill describes it better than I can here.

Master of the Moors, “Tonight the Moon is Ours” – Touraneena, Ireland

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Photo courtesy FlickrHiveMind.net

I spent a lot of my childhood in Touraneena, which is where my grandparents lived. It’s a beautiful, rural area surrounded by mountains on one side and endless fields on the other. It’s ancient, steeped in history, an anachronistic paradise for a storyteller. Many of my adventures and misadventures ended up making it into future stories. In the short “Tonight the Moon is Ours”, everything but the supernatural element really happened, though when you’re in Touraneena, it’s not hard to believe all of it could have happened. The fields, the horses, the mountains, the fog that appears abruptly, all of these combined to help influence my novel Master of the Moors.

 

Everybody Loves SOUR CANDY

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Okay, not everyone, because that’s pretty much impossible (and for those of you who didn’t, I tried, I swear), but I am certainly gratified by the positive feedback I’ve received for my humble little (read: weird and twisted) novella. In addition to the overwhelmingly great reviews from readers and reviewers alike, some of my favorite writers also weighed in with the following praise (a kindness for which I am endlessly indebted):

“SOUR CANDY is spectacularly good. A brilliant premise, marvelously executed, it’s as close to a perfect story as I can remember reading. I only wish I’d written it myself.” – Bentley Little, Bram Stoker Award-winning author of THE POLICY and THE CONSULTANT.

“On top, SOUR CANDY is a parental nightmare. But just under the lid is a mindscrew-story of a man’s life exploding. Like The Twilight Zone and the great, shorter stuff by Beaumont and Matheson, Kealan Patrick Burke opens a door that we didn’t even know was in the house.” – Josh Malerman, author of BIRD BOX

“SOUR CANDY is Kealan Patrick Burke at his beautifully hideous best. Original, compelling, and unsettling as hell, it’s must-read horror!” -Christopher Golden, New York Times #1 bestselling author of DEAD RINGERS

“An unexpected knife-turn in psychological suspense…” Christopher Fowler, author of NYCTOPHOBIA, THE SAND MEN, and the Bryant & May series.

If you haven’t already found out why Phil Pendleton really shouldn’t have accepted candy from a strange kid, you can procure your SOUR CANDY here.