Letters From the Labyrinth 331
My apologies for the fact that there was no newsletter last week. As you were waking up, I was in the Indianapolis train station, trying very hard to not snap.
See, originally, Mary and I had decided to take the train from Lancaster to our signings in Chicago and Indianapolis. I reserved a sleeper car for us, which as two sort-of beds and a little more leg room and comes with full room service. We thought it would be fun and romantic, since we were traveling together. But then Mary got sick and I ended up traveling to the signings alone, and it was decidedly less fun and romantic solo.
Both signings went great, particularly the one in Chicago. I’m told it was “the biggest crowd” the store has ever seen, which is nice to hear. In truth, I’m at a place in my life where I love doing the Q&A more than I love signing the books. I mean, don’t get me wrong. I enjoy signing still, particularly meeting the folks who’ve been reading me the last 25 years. But I really love talking. As wonderful author Daniel Kraus said, “Brian Keene is at that stage where every Q&A answer is a long, windy tale of arcane horror history, and I LOVE IT.”
He’s not wrong. (And thanks, Daniel).
Anyway, Sunday morning rolls around and I Uber out early and get to the Amtrak station an hour before we’re due to depart. There is no passenger train between Indianapolis and Chicago anymore, because everything is terrible in America now and the centre cannot hold. They are sending us to Chicago via Greyhound bus. I haven’t ridden on a Greyhound since my ill-fated trip to World Horror Convention 2000 in Denver, during which myself and an Olympic hopeful spent a delirious and deranged five days skirting a nightmarish version of America. (That trip is recounted in SYMPATHY FOR THE DEVIL which you can get here). I was curious to see if the experience had improved in 23 years. Unfortunately, I never got to find out, because our bus never came. When myself and my fellow passengers inquired about it, we received less-than-helpful replies from a less-than-helpful customer service agent who seemed surly and beleaguered and had one tone of voice which was ‘Angry Yelling Interspersed With Cursing’.
Eventually, one of the other passengers called Amtrak’s help line, and a far more helpful customer service rep informed her that out bus was delayed 24 hours. I overheard this when she despondently told her husband that we would be stuck in this hellhole for 24 hours.
The customer service person who excelled at angry yelling interspersed with cursing was now angrily yelling at all of the travelers, and interspersing it with cursing. I stepped away from the crowd, pulled out my phone, and checked to see how much an Uber ride from Indianapolis to Chicago would be. Turned out it would be $341, plus tip. I’d be damned if I was spending the next 24 hours in a train station in Indianapolis, so I ordered up the ride, not fully expecting any driver to take it. But one did — brave Abdullah — who was 8 minutes away. He had room for six people.
I quickly gathered as many passengers as I could, led them away from the angrily yelling and cursing customer service rep and explained to them the situation. “I’ll pay for the Uber,” I said. “You folks take care of the tip.”
While I went outside to watch for Abdullah, they settled among themselves who would come. I won’t use any of their names here, out of respect for their privacy, but in addition to myself, there was the aforementioned husband and wife, an elderly lady visiting her sister in Chicago, and a guy from Kenya. He was bewildered, given that he spoke little English and I spoke little Swahili (having spent a little time in Kenya when I was younger), but he finally understood what was happening and hitched his wagon to ours.
The husband snapped this photo of me on the elderly lady’s phone, explaining to her sister that no, I wasn’t a serial killer, and yes, I’d get them safely to Chicago.
Abdullah showed up, and squeezed all of us and all of our luggage into his vehicle. It was a very, very, very tight fit, but we made it. Then we drove three and a half hours, and saw far more of Indiana than any human being should ever have to see. (I learned that Indiana has a state law that requires a religious billboard every two miles). It was a long slog. Abdullah, it turns out, is a long haul truck driver, and when he’s home, he drives an Uber. We stopped once, at a Love’s Truck Stop, and I figured out that the guy from Kenya had no money, so I bought him drinks and food. Eventually, we made it to Chicago in time for everyone to grab their connecting trains, and for the older lady to meet her sister. Abdullah got tipped extremely well, and was very happy he took the fare.
And that is why there was no newsletter last Sunday.
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We’ve got a month off now. Our next stop will be StokerCon in Pittsburgh. I’ll be manning a Scares That Care charity table in the dealer’s room, auctioning off items to raise money for our beneficiaries. Among the items I’ll be auctioning are author Jay Wilburn’s complete Brian Keene collection, most of which I signed for him over the years. (His wife graciously donated the collection to the charity). I won’t be selling books of my own there, because that’s a conflict of interest, but if you bring books from home I will be more than happy to sign them for you.
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The paperback edition of THE DRIVE-IN: MULTIPLEX — edited by myself and Christopher Golden and featuring brand new stories by Owen King, Stephen Graham Jones, Josh Malerman, S.A. Cosby, Mary SanGiovanni, Norman Partridge, David J. Schow, Laird Barron, Linda Addison, Gabino Iglesias, Cynthia Pelayo, Chet Williamson, Nancy Collins, Jonathan Janz, Elizabeth Massie, James A. Moore and Charles R. Rutledge, Aaron Dries, Rachel Autumn Deering, Gary Braunbeck, and of course, Joe R. Lansdale and Keith Lansdale — is up for preorder.
In 1988, Joe R. Lansdale’s The Drive-In launched onto the fiction scene and left an indelible mark, influencing generations of genre-spanning writers. In honor of this groundbreaking novel, twenty-one of those writers pay tribute to Lansdale with all-new stories and novellas set in the bizarre and terrifying universe created by the champion mojo storyteller hisownself, all those years ago.
In this quintessential anthology, not to be missed, Lansdale returns and the stories are wilder and darker than ever. Christopher Golden and Brian Keene, who cite Lansdale as an integral influence in their careers, have curated an incredible lineup featuring some of the finest storytellers in the field today.
From Mud Creek, Texas,
Welcome to The Drive in: Multiplex
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Currently Listening: Brian Keene Radio
Currently Watching: Barry season 3 (HBO), Bupkis season 1 (Peacock), The Last of Us season 1 (HBO), and Survivor season 42 (Paramount).
Currently Reading: Still I Persist In Wondering by Edgar Pangborn, Carnacki, The Ghost Finder by William Hope Hodgson, The Obituaries 1 by Aron Beauregard, Kristopher Triana, and Daniel J. Volpe, and The Perfectly Fine House by Stephen Kozeniewski and Wile E. Young.
This final season of Barry took a daring and surprising turn, but I’m here for it. Desperately hoping they stick the landing, and fairly confident they will.
I haven’t watched SNL in many years, so I’m fairly unfamiliar with Pete Davidson but Bupkis is a delight -- a funny, clever, heartfelt show that is sort of a cross between Curb Your Enthusiasm and Californication. The entire first season can be binged in a single night. Worth it.
The Perfectly Fine House, The Obituaries 1, and Carnacki the Ghost Finder were all re-reads for me — research this time around:
I was asked to be in The Perfectly Fine House follow-up anthology, so I’m re-familiarizing myself with the rules of that world. My 15-year old is also writing a story to submit to the anthology. He understands that the story will be accepted or rejected on its merits (he’s very laser-focused and adamant that his writing stand on its own, rather than because of who his father is, and I fully 100% support that). Still, it’s kind of neat to know that we’re both going to be writing separate stories for the same book.
Edward Lee and I were kicking around the idea of doing a Carnacki story a while ago, and our schedules should soon allow that.
And I was asked to write for a future volume of The Obituaries, so I wanted to re-familiarize myself with the level of extreme horror those guys put into each volume. Extreme Horror is more difficult for me to write these days. That’s why I ultimately had Bryan Smith help me finish SUBURBAN GOTHIC. I suppose it has to do with getting older, but it is very difficult for me to put myself in the headspace required to write that sort of thing. I still enjoy reading it, when it's well done, but writing it? I struggle.
I’ve read a good bit of Aron Beauregard, Kristopher Triana, and Daniel J. Volpe over the last few years, and I agree with the critics’ assessment that the three of them, along with Carver Pike, are pretty much the dominant force in Splatterpunk and Extreme Horror right now, and justifiably so. I was struck in rereading this book — Daniel is very much the Splatterpunk of the group. His work reminds me of David J. Schow and Billy Martin (Poppy Z. Brite). Aron is very reminiscent of Richard Laymon. And Kristopher (as I’ve said before) straddles the line — very much, in my opinion, the proper heir to Jack Ketchum (who was an influence and a mentor to him), and Wrath James White. And Carver Pike? Well, Carver is Brian Keene and Skipp and Spector and J. F. Gonzalez all rolled into one.
There’s a lot of garbage being published right now under the Extreme Horror and Splatterpunk banners — much of it by authors who’d be hard pressed to explain the distinct definition between the two subgenres — writers who have never read Edward Lee or Lucy Taylor or Charlee Jacob or David J. Schow. Some of it is by writers simply chasing the “what’s hot” trend. Some of it is by writers who have an axe to grind against the perceived ills of society and (rightfully) assume that Splatterpunk and Bizarro are the genres to address those ills — but unfortunately — the ills they are addressing aren’t really ills. (Pro-tip: things like "a person of color got ahead" or "a woman got to choose what happens with her body" is not a societal ill). And finally, some it is written by incel chuds who are spewing their misogynistic, hateful crap into quick prose and throwing it up on the internet for some quick bucks. I don’t know how well that latter sells, but I do know that — just like last time — it will eventually drag everyone else down, and then Extreme Horror and Splatterpunk will go back into the closet for a while, and rise up in popularity again another decade down the road. Now, I’m not saying ban or censor the latter, because I’m never down for the banning or censoring of books. But… if you give a fire oxygen, don’t be surprised when the fire consumes everything around you.
But yes — if you want to read some excellent Splatterpunk or Extreme Horror, if you want to read stuff that matters, and is as important now as the stuff the O.G.s were doing back in the day, Aron Beauregard, Kristopher Triana, Daniel J. Volpe, and Carver Pike come highly recommended by me. Definitely check their work out.
I read Edgar Pangborn’s Still I Persist In Wondering while on the train to Chicago, and given that (as detailed in the previous newsletter) I’m still reeling from the death of two friends, I was struck by this beautiful rumination on age and death. Apologies for the blur -- I took this photo on a fast-moving train.
What more indeed…?
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Happy Mother’s Day to all of the mothers reading this. My own mother is in West Virginia this weekend, visiting my grandmother. My 15-year old and I were going to take Mary to the comic book store and the garden store to celebrate. (His mother is unfortunately traveling for work, and Mary’s daughter is unfortunately in New Jersey this weekend). Sadly, yesterday I came down with the same crud that Mary had last week, so the only thing I’m doing today is staying in bed.
People have asked me what I’m most looking forward to with the wedding (coming up in just two weeks). My answer might surprise you. It will be delightful to have all of the kids — three sons, one daughter, one niece, one nephew, and a godson and goddaughter — all together in the same place at the same time for an afternoon.
I am also looking forward to watching my Navy buddies Lou and Dan go head-to-head with authors Rio Youers and Christian Jensen in ‘Who Can Drink The Most And Still Not Engage In Completely Inappropriate Behavior At Brian And Mary’s Wedding’.
And I’m looking forward to finally being married to the woman I love, of course. We should have done this a long time ago.
That’s all for this week. I’ll see you back here next Sunday. Be good to one another, and as always, thanks for reading.
— Brian Keene