Letters From the Labyrinth 325
In Which I Try A Different Approach
It is Monday morning, March 13th, as I write this. My clock says it is 8:23am. My body says it is 7:23am because I’m still calibrating to stupid Daylight Savings Time. And my email inbox looks like this.
And my To Do whiteboard, on which I track all the writing projects I have deadlines for, (and which I lovingly call The Whiteboard of Doom) looks like this.
Now add to those all the writing stuff that doesn’t go on The Whiteboard of Doom — this newsletter, the weekly Brian Keene Live show on YouTube, Jobs In Hell (announced here in last week’s newsletter), movie and television and video game stuff, J. F. Gonzalez’s literary estate, and the like. Then, add to that my duties for the Scares That Care charity. Then add my duties to my sons, my stepdaughter, Mary, and the rest of my family. Then add wedding planning.
There’s a lot going on.
I had to get a bunch of tests and stuff last week, trying to get to the bottom of my recent cognitive issues, which I’ve talked about here a few weeks ago. It’s not dementia or a brain tumor (or if it is, then it’s way too early for either to be detected). The doctors say that, among other things, I need less stress and more sleep. I’m stressed when I’m not writing. And when all the stuff that’s writing-adjacent but that doesn’t involve actual writing gets in the way, I tend to get less sleep to make up for that lost writing time. And at age 55, that’s no way to run a railroad.
This week, I’m going to try cutting out all social media except for promotion, and see how that impacts work-time. No Twitter. No Facebook. No Instagram. No message board. Nothing, unless it is to promote something. And since I’m typing this part of the newsletter on a Monday morning, by next Sunday (when you are reading this) we can both see how I did. I’ll do that at the end of this newsletter, so keep reading.
The Whiteboard of Doom probably looks like the fevered scrawlings of a madman to you, but it is basically my own personal shorthand. For example, “Beneath” means BENEATH THE LOST LEVEL. “Splinter” is, as you might have guessed, SPLINTERED: THE LABYRINTH Book 3 (currently being serialized on Patreon). Things in green and black are works in progress. Black indicates things that have been added recently. My rule is when the board is full, I say no to things until I have erased something from the board. Only then will I say yes to a project and add it. I use the two colors to help me differentiate the recency. So, the three items in black? Stuff I said yes to recently after erasing three things written in green. When the green is all gone, I’ll switch to blue and then the black will be the more focused stuff. Things written in red are previously published books now being re-published through Manhattan On Mars Press.
The inbox? I gave up a long time ago on trying to respond to every email I get, because it is impossible to do so, and I don’t make enough money to hire someone to do that for me, and pay their health insurance and 401K and such. I’m happy anytime I get it down to 2,000 unread, which is always my goal by the end of a week.
Okay, so anyway… now it’s 8:55am. Still Monday morning. Brian Keene Radio just segued from Kasey Lansdale’s “Why Can’t I” to the 2112 Overture by Rush, and that’s wonderful writing music, so I’m going to dive in to work. I’ll report the week’s results at the end of this newsletter, but first, here’s some other things you should know about.
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There are two media franchises Mary was born to write for -- Silent Hill and Alien. Last year, she finally got a chance to show what she could do with one of them, when Titan and 20th Century Fox tapped her to write for the Alien franchise. And she absolutely killed it on one of them. Just completely and totally crushed it.
ALIEN: ENEMY OF MY ENEMY has the horror of the first film, the action of the second film, and the psychological chills of the third film. It's out now in paperback, eBook, and audiobook. Get your copy here.
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The Kickstarter for SWORDS IN THE SHADOWS — a brand-new sword and sorcery horror anthology edited by Cullen Bunn and featuring all-new stories by myself, Stephen Graham Jones, Joe R. Lansdale, Mary SanGiovanni, Hailey Piper, James A. Moore, Charles R. Rutledge, Wile E. Young, Allison Pang, Jonathan Janz, Mike Oliveri, Jonathan Maberry, and many more — is now live.
Click here to back this project, learn more about it, and reserve your copy.
A little bit about my story in the book: it’s called “The Shadow In The Swamp” and it’s set in the Wasteworld — that far, far post-apocalyptic world that is seemingly unconnected to the rest of my mythos. This will be the 15th story set in that land. (The others have appeared in various anthologies and on my Patreon). This one is more Clark Ashton Smith than it is Robert E. Howard, and definitely more quiet horror / sword & sorcery than it is anything else.
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BRIAN KEENE LIVE - Episode 11: With all proper and due respect to everyone I’ve had on the show thus far (Paul Tremblay, Cynthia Pelayo, Stephen Kozeniewski, Laurel Hightower, etc) — this was my favorite episode so far. As I talked about here in the newsletter a few weeks ago, THE RISING turns twenty-years-old this year. And John Urbancik’s Sins of Blood and Stone turns twenty-one-years-old this year. So, we had a birthday party for the two books, and reminisced about our early days. Watch the entire episode here.
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A note to the reporters, reviewers, bloggers, and journalists who read this newsletter — I’ve updated my Press Kit. You can view it and utilize it here.
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The first issue of JOBS IN HELL should go out late next week. A reminder that unlike this newsletter (which has always been free and always will be free), JOBS IN HELL is a newsletter specifically for horror writers and works on a paid subscription model. Full details can be found here, in last week’s newsletter.
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AuthorCon II (a Scares That Care charity event) is less than two weeks away. It takes place March 31st through April 2 in Williamsburg, VA. There will be over 100 of your favorite authors in attendance, as well as artists, publishers, editors, agents and more. Come meet your favorite writer. Get your books signed. Make friends with fellow fans. Learn the tips to the trade. And most importantly, all of the money goes to the three families we are helping this year.
Weekend tickets are just $30 and are available here.
You’ll note when you go to that page that some of the additional events taking place at the convention that weekend (such as Tim Waggoner’s workshop on Writing Personal Horror and Richard Dansky’s workshop on Writing For Video Games) are nearly sold out. So don’t hesitate. Get your ticket and then get in the car, or a train, bus, plane, or… I dunno. A horse or something. It’s the biggest and best horror fiction fan convention of the year. You need to be there. Somebody will let you crash in their room.
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Currently Listening: Various by Hatebreed, Ronnie Milsap, Biohazard, Doug E. Fresh, and Whodini. (All via Brian Keene Radio)
Currently Reading: Elric of Melnibone: The Elric Saga Vol. 1 by Michael Moorcock
Currently Watching: Mayor of Kingstown season 2 (Paramount+), South Park season 26 (HBO), Snowfall season 6 (Hulu), Survivor season 44 (Paramount+), Joe Pera Talks With You (HBO), and Oz (all seasons, HBO).
I loved the first season of Taylor Sheridan’s Mayor of Kingstown, but this second season suffers from the same writing and pacing issues that I felt were an issue with two of his other shows — 1923 (which I enjoyed, but took forever to get to a season finale that should have been a midway season episode) and Yellowstone (which I’ve tried twice now, and have never made it past the first few episodes of the first season — friends tell me there’s a great gun battle later on in the series, but I don’t want to sit through drawn out soap to get to it).
Mayor of Kingstown takes an entire second season to tell what is essentially three episodes worth of plot and character development. It’s padded and spends to much time treading water with the status quo. And it also has a problem with its female characters — most especially the mother and the prostitute. Both were set up in season one as these strong characters with agency and engaging backstories and in season two? They’re an afterthought. It feels very much like some suit at Paramount said, “Oh, remember gang, people want diversity so make sure you give Dianne Wiest a few lines this episode” and then they trot her onscreen to deliver those two lines and then she leaves again. It’s not organic to the plot. It’s lazy. It’s writing-by-committee.
Snowfall and South Park, on the other hand, continue to be excellent. Indeed, i would argue that these last few years of South Park, beginning with the Q-Anon special, the new pandemic-centered movies on Paramount, and now this new season on HBO/Comedy Central, have been their strongest ever.
Mary had never seen Oz so we’ve been binging that (note to David J. Schow: as per your own newsletter from last week, I’m choosing to go with “binging”. That’s the proper form). Then the news came this week of actor Lance Reddick's death. He was so great in The Wire, Lost, Fringe, and the John Wick movies, but for me, I think his best role was on Oz, as an undercover cop ultimately broken, corrupted, and betrayed by the very system he was a part of. He brought a lot of heart and gravitas to that role.
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Okay, so now it is Saturday afternoon as I write this next part. My 15-year old celebrated his birthday weekend by having some buddies (including author Somer Canon’s son) sleep over last night. They were up till 2am, playing Mario Kart. This afternoon they are far out in the woods, miles from the house. Mary is downstairs, and I am up in my office, glancing at the Whiteboard of Doom and marveling at how much more productive I was this week, having (mostly) eschewed social media.
I posted a few times on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook, but the majority of those were autoposts that simply promoted whatever I needed to promote that day — Mary’s book, the Kickstarter, and the new episode of Brian Keene Live. I didn’t really post any “personal” things except for Mary’s revelation of misheard song lyrics and an outlet shopping excursion with Cynthia Pelayo, Gemma Amor, and Hailey Piper.
As a result, I was able to erase two items from the Whiteboard of Doom, and made a lot of progress on others. Thursday and Friday slowed me down a bit, as they were consumed with meetings. Myself and some of the other Scares That Care directors met with some folks regarding some future plans, and I had a Zoom call with a production team about a documentary series I’m involved with, and another Zoom call about a movie I’m involved with, and then Chris Golden and I had a Skype call about something we’re going to be doing next year. So… those two days weren’t exactly productive, writing-wise, but I also wasn’t stressed about missing actual writing time during them because I’d more than made up for it earlier in the week.
I’m not 100% satisfied with the progress and output, but for the first time in a very long time, I’m not stressed out about work. And as a result? No panic attacks. No passing out. No cognitive glitches where I stop the car because I can’t remember where I was supposed to be going, or I forget my own date of birth.
So, yes. Absolutely. Less social media going forward for me. I’d like to get it to the point where I don’t have to do it at all, but the only conceivable way I can achieve that is if everybody is reading this newsletter instead. So, if you enjoy these Sunday morning missives, please feel free to suggest it to a friend or the folks in your own social media circles. Here’s the share button.
Or, you know, alternatively, you can just copy and paste the link from your browser window.
Regardless, I’m so glad you’re here. As always, thanks for reading — not only this newsletter but my books and comic books and everything else I write. It will be Sunday morning now, as you read this, and me, Mary, my 15-year old, and his mom will be doing something to celebrate his birthday, now that his buddies have gone home. I hope that you, too, get to spend the day with people you love. And if not, then I hope that maybe today is the day you find some people you love. I’ll see you back here next week. Bring a friend.
— Brian Keene