Letters From the Labyrinth 330
If you read last week’s newsletter, then you know that I was supposed to be in Dallas this morning, visiting my old Navy buddy Lee Miller in hospice, along with our other Navy buddies Blumenthal, Buige, and Riffle. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen, and it has been a long and trying week.
Last Monday was spent reaching out to other guys we’d served with, letting them know about Miller’s situation. Blumenthal reached out to Kooch, only to find out that Kooch had died the day before. Kooch was the chaplain’s assistant. When I knew him he was gentle and soft-spoken and thoughtful. He was very much the embodiment of Radar O’Reilly from M.A.S.H. — and we all loved him. You couldn’t not love Kooch, and woe upon the few who tried (and failed) to mess with him, because the rest of us gave it back to them in spades.
Anyway, that was Tuesday morning.
On Wednesday morning, Miller’s wife texted me to let me know that he had died late Tuesday night, so Buige, Blumenthal and I canceled our flights for Friday. (Riffle was driving to Texas from Alabama).
I dug up a bunch of photos of Miller from back in the day to share with his wife and kids. Miller loved to draw (including the illustrations in a bogus ship’s newsletter that I used to publish until the Executive Officer found out it was me and put a stop to it). I found this one by him, which always made me smile.
Left to right, that’s Blumenthal, Miller, myself, Jay Sharpes, and Andrew J. McFarland. (Not pictured are Riffle, Buige, and Ward. That was the OPS department. Eight of us.) I always loved the fact that Miller captured each of us as what we were: Blumenthal’s mouth is open because he was always taking (with that rapid-fire New Jersey accent). Miller himself is the calm, quiet observer. I’ve got my arm around Sharpes, about to convince him to join me and be involved in some crazy hijinks that will probably lead to trouble. Sharpes himself is full of wide-eyed nervousness (which is how he was when he first came onboard). And McFarland went through his enlistment with a middle finger upraised at everything — the Navy, our commanding officers, the Russians, Iran, the pirates in Kenya, the snakes on the Jordan River, the Italians who tried to mug us in Naples…
Sharpes went on to become a cop in Michigan. He died a few years ago. McFarland disappeared after we got out. No record of him anywhere. We’ve had private investigators try to track him down, but he literally vanished. So, from this pic, it’s just me and Blumenthal left. And total for OPS, there’s now just five of us — me, Blumenthal, Buige, Riffle, and Ward.
Here’s a photo of me and Kooch in Kiel, Germany, circa 1986. I’m the one wearing the denim jeans jacket. This was before the military issued me my prescription sunglasses, which I wear in an awful lot of photos from back then. (Miller even drew them on me in the illustration above).
Kooch’s daughter asked me to send her some photos of her Dad, and Miller’s wife asked me if I’d write something for his memorial service (with the caveat that it be appropriate for church). Here’s what I wrote:
I joined the Navy in June of 1985. I was two weeks out of high school and only 17 years old. I spent the rest of the year in California for boot camp and various advanced training, and didn't get back to my small, rural Pennsylvania hometown until Christmas. After a short visit, I deployed to Norfolk and boarded the U.S.S. Austin, which is where I met Lee Miller.
If nothing else, the Navy is good for showing you the world. The importance of that can't be understated. Before that experience, the only world I knew was that aforementioned small town. In the Navy, I was exposed to other people, cultures, religions, and ways of life. For the first time, I understood that while the world we all inhabit is singular, the individuals existing upon it together are multitude, and see things differently.
Seeing that world changed my life. But seeing it with Lee at my side allowed me to view it in ways I don't think I would have otherwise. Lee himself contained a multitude of worldviews inside of him. He was a soft-spoken guy of remarkable patience, peace, and kindness, but there was also enough Texas in him that brought woe upon anyone who crossed him or someone he cared about. We were both big lovers of music and books, and our friendship bloomed out of that. But again, Lee contained multitudes. I never met anybody else (other than myself) that loved punk rock and Bob Wills with equal enthusiasm. He'd rap along with the Beastie Boys and then, a minute later, serenade all of us with some Tammy Wynette. He was the same way with books, going from Stephen King to Joe R. Lansdale to Elmore Leonard to Hunter S. Thompson without missing a beat. Lee had a strong anti-establishment streak, and loathed taking orders and loved causing mayhem, but he was also a patriot who genuinely loved this country and took his job and duties deathly serious. Perhaps one of my favorite memories of Lee (and I know it is one shared by several of our friends) was the time we all went into a restaurant and ordered a meal. When the waitress brought Lee's sandwich, he immediately stood up and took half of it outside, and gave it to a homeless person he'd seen sitting on the sidewalk. The rest of us never even noticed the homeless person. But Lee did.
We never lost touch, all these years later. Through letters, and later email, I watched as Genise came into his life, and later the Lord. I watched the crazy guy I'd drank with across 75% of the planet mature into a loving and responsible husband and father. Every Christmas, I got pictures or a card that showed how much hair he'd lost the previous year, and how much weight he'd gained around his midsection. I envied his faith -- not something that ever came easily to me, even now, and yet he was strong and steadfast in it. In our fifties, Lee continued to contain worlds inside of him. Worlds within this world.
Lee was absolutely one of the best friends I ever had, and though we only got to see each other in person at reunions and such, I've thought of him and the other guys we served with at least once a day for all of my adult life. That's no exaggeration. At least once a day, every day, they've been on my mind, be it remembering some wild adventure we had in some far off place, or simply wondering what they were doing today, and more importantly how they were doing.
It always comforted me to know that no matter where I was in the world, Lee was somewhere in the world, too, and we were sharing that space still, even across the miles. And though I know he's gone on to a much better world, my own world feels much emptier today.
Rest in peace, my brother. Thanks for being my friend.
I made a decision this week, after talking with Joe Hill, Bryan Smith, Cynthia Pelayo, Sadie Hartmann, and some other friends. I’m done with Twitter.
I joined Twitter in June 2008 (at the suggestion of author Mike Oliveri and artist Russell Dickerson). It has always been my favorite of the social media outposts, and that is because of the folks who I interact with there. My sincere thanks to the 25,500+ of you who've followed me on Twitter. You folks are the reason why I enjoyed it while it lasted.
Unfortunately, all good things eventually come to an end. Going forward, my Twitter (like my Facebook, Tumblr, Instagram, etc) will mostly be promotional only. If you want to actually *interact*, find me on Substack Notes which, as Joe pointed out, feels a lot like Twitter’s early days. I’m enjoying using it.
SHADOWS IN THE ATTIC: AN UNFINISHED HISTORY OF HORROR by J. F. Gonzalez is now available in paperback! Come and dig beneath the cobwebs, under the dust and through the forgotten boxes with horror historian J. F. Gonzalez. Collecting non-fiction works from J.F. Gonzalez, Shadows in the Attic takes the reader from Ancient times to the mid-40's weaving a tale of the history of horror-all the while discussing writers and stories that influenced, that captivated, and cultivated the genre through the centuries. Includes articles from LampLight, Afraid, Hellnotes and a never before published history of Splatterpunk, with a list of related works.
But wait, there’s more!
The SHADOWS IN THE ATTIC READER, compiled by Jacob Haddon, is also now available in paperback. This companion anthology to J. F. Gonzalez’s Shadows in the Attic collects dark tales that inspired, frightened and made new ground in the horror genre. Including writers like M. R. James, Francis Stevens, and Robert W. Chambers, the stories here compliment the rich history, a guided tour through horror’s past. So come, let us head to the third floor, and dig through the boxes and trunks stored in the attic and see what darkness we can find.
This was a very personal passion project for Jesus, and I’m so glad we finally saw it to fruition. Thanks to Jacob Haddon, without whom it would have never happened.
There’s a brand new episode of BRIAN KEENE LIVE. You can watch it for free here.
My guests were Willow Becker, Christi Nogle, Hailey Piper, and John Langan. We discussed their new Bram Stoker Award nominated anthology Mother: Tales of Love and Terror. We also talked about anthology editing in general, short story writing, and Willow’s new Kickstarter for Playlist of the Damned, which sounds frigging incredible. You can learn more about that here.
This week, we did a massive update and overhaul of how we handle the Brian Keene Lifetime Subscriptions.
If you are a Lifetime Subscriber (old or new) we need you to send your mailing address to email@example.com (regardless of whether you have moved or not).
There are a couple of reasons for this.
1. USPS will not forward mail (i.e, an added risk given the current disarray in both the USPS and shipping in general)
2. We are upgrading our shipping software soon and the current database will not be easy to transfer over to the new one. Thus, we need an up-to-date backup to refer to.
Thanks for your attention in this matter. Next shipment will go out very, very soon! Half of it is already with Paul in Arizona. The other half of it is here, and I spent much of yesterday signing everything. We apologize for the delay (which was longer than any of us had intended due to a combination of deaths, illnesses, and family issues).
Currently Watching: Barry season 3 (HBO), Joe Pera Talks With You season 3 (HBO), Survivor season 42 (Paramount), and Lost Highway (Amazon Prime)
Currently Reading: A Little Silver Book: A Screenplay by Richard Chizmar and Johnathan Schaech, and Still I Persist In Wondering by Edgar Pangborn
Currently Listening: Brian Keene Radio
Mary and I both adore Joe Pera Talks With You. It is a sweet sort of comedy — very much like Mister Rogers for adults. It won’t be to everyone’s tastes but we find it joyful and comforting and a nice change from everything else.
Saw a massive influx of new listeners to Brian Keene Radio this week. I’m assuming it must be because I mentioned it on Substack Notes. Anyway, hello to all of you new listeners. Glad you’re enjoying my pirate radio station, and I apologize for playing Faith No More’s “Last Cup of Sorrow” fifteen times in a row on Thursday.
Work this week was a mixed bag. Mostly it was that overhaul of how we order, process, and ship Lifetime Subscriber packages. But I worked on edits for my new nonfiction collection and the website and infrastructure for Manhattan On Mars Press. And I worked on the first draft of SPLINTERED: THE LABYRINTH Book 3, and me and Christopher Golden’s OPERATION: WALKABOUT, and answered some emails. I also worked on the next issue of Jobs In Hell, which will go out this coming week. (Subscribe here).
Next weekend, Mary and I are signing books in Chicago and Indianapolis.
Friday, May 5
4pm to 7pm
Bucket O’ Blood Books
3182 N Elston Ave
Chicago IL 60618
Saturday, May 6
10:30am to 6pm
1220 Waterway Blvd
Indianapolis, IN 46208
You may have noticed that the address and venue have changed for Mo*Con. Why? Because this happened.
So, now there’s a new address for Mo*Con.
That picture of the car sticking out of the wall sort of sums up this week for me.
Sunday morning now, as I write this next part. 4:54am. Blumenthal, Buige, and myself got together yesterday to raise many glasses to the memories of Miller and a few glasses to Kooch, as well. I discovered Skrewball peanut butter flavored bourbon, which is delightful.
We admitted to each other that we have, in fact, gotten old. But that we could probably still mess you up, provided you gave us a head start and stood still.
But hey, how about a bit of good news before we end this?
Long-time newsletter readers will remember the saga of Josey Wales — a feral cat who had three litters of kittens (a total of 28) beneath my porch. I found homes for all of them, and eventually got her to trust me enough to get her fixed and live inside.
I thought that would be the end, but then a new feral cat that I named Bocephus showed up.
Over the last week, Bocephus has been hanging around our porch. I told Mary that I suspected there might be a new litter of feral kittens under there. Well, yesterday I got my first glimpse of them.
So far, it’s just been those three. I suspect there are probably more, but Bocephus and these three stooges won’t let me get close enough to see, and I don’t want to spook her and have her move them today in what is expected to be torrential rain.
Anway, I’ll be back on my Cat Dad shenanigans this spring.
It’s the circle of life.
As always, thank you for reading this newsletter and form reading my books. I appreciate all of you. I’ll leave you with this, from Faith No More.
You might surprise yourself…
— Brian Keene
Hope to see some of you in Chicago and Indianapolis next weekend.