Something I’ve been struggling with this week… well, for the last two or three years… well, okay maybe for the last decade, actually, is that I am a terrible judge of character. I always see the best in people, and I make friends too easily, and I’m ride or die with those companions, and then far, far too often they turn out to either be terribly flawed and not-so-nice to others or it turns out they only wanted to be friends with ‘Brian Keene’ rather than myself.
The latter I learned to deal with about a decade ago. I did so by creating mental and emotional walls between myself and the people I meet. And yet, it’s impossible to deny that too many of the people who made it past all those safeguards turned out to be toxic or destructive regardless.
Over the last year, I’ve found myself withdrawing from this business more and more, particularly on an emotional level. You can’t be Batman when the citizens of Gotham are making you wonder more and more every day if maybe the best thing for the city might be to just let the Joker and the rest of the rogues gallery have their way. That’s one of the reasons for Manhattan On Mars. It’s one of the reasons I’ve been doing fewer conventions and interviews. And it’s one of the reasons I’m increasingly using social media less.
I don’t like what social media is doing to us, as a community. I don’t like watching authors and editors in their seventies who once contributed so many important things to our industry now destroying their legacies because their valid fears of being forgotten by the genre’s historical memory have led to misplaced anger due to generational views and the toxic stew of false logic they got from sketchy Facebook posts and talk radio. I don’t like watching writers in their thirties who have inherited this industry dispensing mob justice at the click of a button without pausing to think how it might hurt others who are listening. Speaking truth to power is something that should always be done. But that truth gets muted when everyone is speaking at once, and it’s hard to hear or discern wisdom in the midst of collective braying. I don’t like promising writers in their teens and early twenties, brimming with talent, that the sky is still the limit and yes, if they keep writing and keep submitting, they, too, can have this career… because I no longer believe that is true. They are entering the field at a time when, thanks to social media and technology, every single person in the world is a published writer, and not only do they have to compete with the entire population, they’ll now have to compete with A.I. as well.
So many people seem to have lost their empathy. So many people seem unable to pause, or just walk away. Everyone has to get that last post or Tweet or shot in, and for someone sitting here in the middle of it all, it’s just so very exhausting. To have entered this field in the aftermath of the Nineties crash, and to have seen the state of things then, and to have watched it evolve since then? No, we didn’t rebuild it into paradise, but I dare say things got fairer there for a while, in regards to pay and equality and inclusion and rights and avenues to publication and the growth of the indies and the small press. But all of that seems to be on fire now, and speaking as someone who once set himself on actual fire, that sucks. And it leaves scars.
And it’s not just our community, I suppose. It’s all communities. Engineers, and duck farmers, and nurses, and janitors, and attorneys, and rodeo clowns are all probably seeing the same thing in their online spaces. And while everyone is engaged in fighting, the corporations and the various flavors of fascists are solidifying their grip. We’re too distracted to notice. Or if we do notice, we argue about it with others on the very system designed to keep us fighting and distracted.
It’s too much sometimes. And as a result, I’ve grown distrustful of people in general, and acknowledge that I’m crap at spotting character flaws right away (or perhaps too lenient on overlooking them when they manifest) and I’ve grown terribly weary of the constant drama and fighting and outrage (both the valid and the manufactured).
I hate it when I let someone down. I hate it when someone lets me down. I hate it when someone I allow myself to think must surely be okay turns cruel, or sadistic, or an opportunist, or a bully, or intolerant, or a demagogue, or sexist, or racist, or homophobic, or insert your own thing here ___________. And it’s not just one “side” either. Drive far enough Right or far enough Left and you’ll find it. And social media seems to amplify it.
So, then I lay there at night thinking, “Is there anybody left? Other than Mary and my kids and a small handful of non-writer friends?”
And I feel very alone with it all.
It’s gotten so bad that most of this week, I debated with myself whether or not I could beg Mary that we should elope, because I worry that even our wedding will somehow become a source of drama and stress. But, as Josh Malerman told me earlier this week “Brian, you cantelope.”
I dunno. I think it might be time for my annual rewatch of my favorite television show.
Good morning. I’m Brian Keene and this is the 318th issue of Letters From the Labyrinth, a positive, cheery and uplifting weekly newsletter for friends, family and fans of my work.
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Wrath and I have extended the recommendation deadline for this year’s Splatterpunk Awards. Details can be found here.
We are also debating expanding the J.F. Gonzalez Lifetime Achievement Award to two honorees each year, rather than one, although we haven’t made a firm decision on that yet.
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Brian Keene Live - Episode 4
The Newlywed Game - Recently engaged Josh Malerman and Allison Laako compete against recently engaged Brian Keene and Mary SanGiovanni to see which couple knows each other best. And it's all for Laird Barron. Click here to watch!
Next week, my guest is Christopher Golden. And coming up we’ve got R.J. Joseph, Dustin from Church of Disgust, Laurel Hightower, Hailey Piper and many more!
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Apex Book Company — publisher of my The Lost Level series (currently comprised of THE LOST LEVEL, RETURN TO THE LOST LEVEL, and HOLE IN THE WORLD) and me and Steven L. Shrewsbury’s Saga of Rogan trilogy (comprised of KING OF THE BASTARDS, THRONE OF THE BASTARDS, and CURSE OF THE BASTARDS) — are having a huge sale right now. They’ve bundled the books together for substantial savings. Click here to take advantage of this sale.
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For the first time ever, DEAD SEA is now available as an audiobook, narrated by Ron Butler and available via Audible and Apple!
First time in audio! In 2003, Brian Keene's The Rising revived horror's dormant obsession with zombies. In 2007, Brian Keene's Dead Sea knocked that obsession on its ass.
The city streets are no longer safe. They are filled instead with the living dead, rotting predators driven only by a need to kill and eat. Some of the living still struggle to survive, but with each passing day, their odds grow worse. Some survivors have fled, frantically searching for a place to escape, even briefly, the slaughter around them. For Lamar Reed and a handful of others, that safe haven is an old Coast Guard ship out at sea, with plenty of water between them and the zombies. These desperate survivors are completely isolated from the dangers of the mainland. But their haven will soon become a deathtrap, and they'll learn that isolation can also mean no escape!
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Currently Listening: At the beginning of the week, it was “Stay (Far Away, So Close)” by U2 and “New Kid In Town” by The Eagles. And various versions of these songs (live, covers, etc). But then, from the middle of the week and through this weekend, it has been Limp Bizkit’s “Break Stuff” and “Take A Look Around” on an endless loop at ear-shattering volume while I stomp around my office signing along and punching the air.
Currently Reading: Vanilla by Mona Kabbani and Wicked Appalachia: A Collection by Tony Evans
Currently Watching: Doctor Who (HBO Max) and Vengeance (Netflix)
Vengeance is the best movie I’ve seen so far this year, and one of the best films I’ve seen in a long time. Written, directed, and starring B.J. Novak (Ryan from The Office) — it’s at times a crime movie, a comedy, a great human drama, and throughout it is also a respectful, earnest look at the space between metropolitan and rural America, and the “Red” and the “Blue”. It’s also notable for, believe it or not, Ashton Kutcher, who turns in probably the best performance of his career so far. I highly, highly recommend this one. Seriously. It will be hard to top this movie for me in 2023.
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Yesterday was Mary’s birthday. If you’d like to wish her a happy birthday, maybe buy one of her books? You can find them here.
Here’s a picture from very early in our relationship. I can’t remember who took it, but whoever it was, I love that they caught us laughing. I love to laugh more than just about anything else in life, and I have laughed more with Mary than I have with anyone else in life.
I can’t wait to marry this woman.
(If you’re interested, here are some more photos from our last 11 years together).
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Work this past week was laser-focused on three things: the script for GWENDY’S BUTTON BOX, edits for ISLAND OF THE DEAD, and the first draft of a new Levi Stoltzfus short story involving some Vietnamese folklore (so several days were spent in research for that, making sure I could write about it respectively and effectively).
Once those edits are finished, ISLAND OF THE DEAD will get the signed hardcover treatment from Thunderstorm Books. Then, much later this year, it will come out in paperback, eBook and audiobook.
This coming week, I’ll be focused on GWENDY’S BUTTON BOX and that new Levi story. If I can get out from under them, then two weeks from now I’ll focus on rewrites of the second half of MONSTERS INVISIBLE (formerly titled INVISIBLE MONSTERS but David J. Schow told me I should change it, and as Mary is fond of telling people, “If Joe Lansdale or David Schow told Brian to jump off a building, he’d do it.”)
Well… yeah. She’s not wrong. I mean, I once considered getting the cover to the Sub Press edition of Havoc Swims Jaded tattooed on my lower back, right beneath my upper back tattoo of the cover to 4X4. But it was cost prohibitive, and also, it’s a pain in the ass shaving my upper back anytime I go shirtless. I’d have to do the same for my lower back, or else the Creature would resemble a gorilla.
And listen, if you’ve never read Havoc Swims Jaded, the Cimarron Street Books edition is available in hardcover, paperback and Kindle right here. I’ve been digging these new editions. I own all of the original versions, but Cimarron Street often include extra material, new packaging, new notes from the author and other cool stuff like that, so I’ve been buying them, as well. It’s a good short story collection.
(Although he should have titled it Jaded Swims Havoc).
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And that does it for this week! Keep your head down and focus on the people who are important to you. pay attention to the signal to noise ratio in your life and adjust accordingly. As always, thank you for reading. I’ll see you back here next Sunday.
— Brian Keene
Thank you Brian. We'll said. We all need to be more empathetic.