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Letters From the Labyrinth 332
“Look,” I told Bocephus (the new feral cat who, following in the footsteps of other feral cats, decided to have a litter of five kittens under my front porch), “your babies aren’t going to come to me if you don’t come to me. And given that the wedding is a week away, our best chance to find homes for all five of them is next Saturday.”
Bocephus blinked at me, which is how cats smile. She no longer hisses at me unless I breach the one foot marker. That is the line for her. She waits for me in the morning, comes running when I call her, and is — in many ways — becoming less and less feral with each passing day. But the one foot line of demarcation persists, and the kittens are aware of it, and thus, they won’t cross it either. I need them tame to the point of picking up because Mary and I are getting married here next weekend, and it would be great to send each of these little furballs home with somebody. Not in a “Oh, you didn’t get the centerpiece for your reception table? Here, have a free kitten” kind of way. But in a “two of them are already spoken for, and the other three will be adopted as people see them” kind of way.
We blinked at each other for a while longer, building up trust and enjoying the weather together. Finally, when I couldn’t stifle it any longer, I turned my head and coughed. My entire body heaved and thrashed, and what came up out of my chest was yellow and green and had the consistency of paste. That was an improvement over the day before, when it had been bright green and had the consistency of tar. That phlegm had clung to my lungs the way Duncan Ralston clings to his perceived victimhood, and his ongoing fantasy that I am actively out to get him and have single handedly gate-kept him. This phlegm, while no less nauseating, was looser and less clingy — sort of the Jeremy Maddux of phlegm. You see, kids, there are many types of phlegm, and while they might differ in consistency and unpleasantness, there is no such thing as enjoyable phlegm.
Sitting there on the front step, I glanced out at the yard and made a mental note that I needed to mow again next Thursday. Instead of a rehearsal dinner, we’re going to be doing a backyard cookout next Friday night, so if I mow next Thursday, the grass will be the perfect length for that. I also had to finish the patio, which I started before the pandemic and which has remained unfinished because, as it turns out, I am not very good at making patios. I stared down at my hands, covered in dirt and manure, because I had just finished getting the garden planted.
“That reminds me,” I said, turning back to Bocephus. My voice was now hoarse again. “You’ve got to quit shitting in the garden. It was okay when nothing was planted there, but now? That’s a no poop zone. I can’t tell you how many cat turds I dug up while planting wax beans, purple beans, green beans, tomatoes, cucumbers, yellow peppers, red peppers, and green peppers this afternoon. Find somewhere else to do that. Maybe the house with the QAnon sign down the street?”
Bocephus meowed — a friendly, not-at-all distressed vocalization that perhaps said, “You just spread cow crap in the garden. Is my crap somehow less organic?”
I slowly, cautiously stuck out my hand, blinking at her repeatedly while I did so. She blinked too, and lowered her haunches. Then, with equal slowness and caution, Bocephus leaned forward and sniffed my fingers and did not hiss. Creamer, the bravest of this new litter of kittens, watched with rapt attention.
Progress had been made.
And progress is what it’s all about, here in the whirlwind of the final countdown. There are a million things to get done before next Saturday, and Mary and I are trying to get them all done while also trying to stay caught up on work.
My phone buzzed. I took my hand away from Bocephus and she remained where she was, sitting next to me, one foot away. I pulled my phone out of my pocket, too late in remembering that my hands were filthy. Three new messages, two from Wesley Southard and Todd Keisling, both wanting some advice, and the other from Christopher Golden, who picked that moment to decide that we should wrap up OPERATION WALKABOUT within the next 30 days.
“We can’t in the next 30 days,” I typed back with filthy fingers. “I’ve got a wedding and then a honeymoon and then StokerCon back to back to back.” All of this seemed reasonable to me, but Chris somehow still convinced me that 30 days was the target, and now I have a million and one things to do, instead of a million.
“Crap,” I said to Bocephus, remembering something as I shove my phone back in my pocket. “I still have to send David Schow those book recs. Remind me to do that tomorrow.”
One million and two.
I acknowledge that stress is a key factor in why I was so sick this past week. I got home from that last batch of signings, caught what Mary had, and instead of my body flushing it from my system within a few days, it stuck around and set up an apartment and then invited its friends to come live there, too. But I also know that I am feeling far better today (Saturday) than I did last Tuesday, when I was “lay on the couch unable to speak because my throat was too sore and instead simply try to avoid coughing my lungs out my mouth” sick.
My bright spot this week? The thing that distracted me from the whirlwind and made me smile and still does every time I look at it? This card my 15-year old made me last Tuesday, not for any special occasion but just because.
Instead of mentioning it on my next AMA (like the card says) I’m mentioning it here.
I love this kid. I love all of my kids. And I absolutely cannot wait to have them standing at our sides next weekend as we get married.
Good morning. My name is Brian Keene, and this is Letters From the Labyrinth, a weekly newsletter for my fans, my friends, and my family.
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In case you missed it, Scares That Care founder Joe Ripple, floor manager Jake Lerner, and myself did a vendor Q&A for AuthorCon III (a Scares That Care charity event) last week. You can watch it here. Vendor tables for next year went on sale last night and completely sold out in four minutes. We will implement the waiting list and give instructions how to be placed on it shortly.
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The audiobook adaptation of SUBMERGED: THE LABYRINTH Book 2 should drop next week.
SPLINTERED: THE LABYRINTH Book 3 should wrap this coming week on Patreon. This one has been an absolute blast to write, and judging by the comments from readers, it’s been a blast for them, as well. I think my Patreon is a good deal. You pay five bucks a month, and you get instant access to everything that’s ever been posted there. And since I post every single day, that means you have instant access to hundreds of short stories, essays, serialized novels, behind the scenes content, and more. Here is an index that shows you just what’s available for five bucks.
Soon as the serial is finished, I’ll send it off to pre-readers and then do a final draft. With luck, you’ll see the limited edition this fall and the paperback and ebook this winter, right around the holidays.
I suspect the Labyrinth series will end up being six books in length, which means we are now at the halfway point. I say “I suspect” because I am a pantser rather than a plotter, and while I know the overall plot of this saga, and have for a long time, I;m not yet sure how long it will take to reveal. My target is six books, but it could be five or it could be seven. But we’re going with six for now.
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When we get back from the honeymoon, Manhattan On Mars (my publishing imprint) will launch an online store. Fans will be able to order signed books directly from me, and bookstores will be able to order signed books by me, as well, at a very competitive discount.
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Five huge boxes of books for Lifetime Subscribers have shipped out for fulfillment. When we get back from the honeymoon, another four big boxes will follow. Thanks to my Lifetimers for their patience.
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I’m pleased to learn that DER KOMPLEX has made the longlist for the Skoutz Award in Germany. I’m told the finalists will be decided in September. Thanks to all of my German readers who made this possible. And thanks as well to the good folks at Festa Verlag.
And a reminder that DER KOMPLEX is available in the following formats from the following outlets:
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Currently Listening: Brian Keene Radio
Currently Watching: Barry season 3 (HBO), Survivor season 42 (Paramount), and In the Shadow of the Moon (Netflix).
Currently Reading: Saint’s Blood by Ryan C. Bradley
I’m rooting for Lauren or Carson to win this season of Survivor (both are among the most delightful players in recent memory) but I have to agree with Jeff Strand at this point that it looks like Carolyn might take home the prize.
In the Shadow of the Moon is a great genre-bending, mind-bending film from Jim Mickle (who has done such a great job with his Joe R. Lansdale adaptations). I watched it just for him, and also for Bokeem Woodbine, who has a supporting actor role, and whom I feel is one of the best character actors currently working today. He’s sort of this generation’s Keith David, and I’ll watch anything he’s in.
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I mentioned above that Wesley Southard and Todd Keisling needed some advice. Both of them had the misfortune of getting it from me while I was sick. Here's a much better version, boys.
About fifteen years ago, at a point in my career when I'd gone full-time as a writer, and everyone wanted to publish everything I wrote, the great author Norman Partridge gave me some of the best advice I've ever received. We were on the phone, me in Pennsylvania and he in California. I was whining about being burned out, and feeling so overwhelmed with deadlines, half of which I wasn't even passionate about writing, let alone meeting on time.
Norm said, "That's easy. Got yourself a Post-It Note pad their, pard?"
I confirmed that I did.
Norm said, "Okay then. Here's what you do. Get a pen."
I got a pen.
"Now," said Norm, "write the following down. You ready?"
I confirmed that I was.
"N," he spelled, "O. Got it?"
"N - O -" I repeated, writing it dutifully.
"Now, stick that up above your computer, and every time somebody asks you for something, just read off what's written there."
We don't owe everybody everything. When you're trying to grow your career as an author, this is a difficult truth to learn. When you've grown your career to the point of going full-time, and you are dependent upon that next advance check, it can be a nearly impossible truth to learn. But it is a truth all the same.
When I was at that stage, I'd say yes to anything that involved a paycheck. I said yes to writing a Hellboy story despite the fact that I'd never read an issue of the comic book or watched any of the films. I said yes to writing a follow-up to DEAD SEA exactly one week after getting out of the hospital from a heart attack, and in the midst of a post-divorce, post-Leisure Books mental breakdown. And you know what? Readers noticed. They noticed that my heart and my creativity weren't in those two things, particularly the latter -- ENTOMBED, my most critically panned book, and most deservedly so.
If a publisher queries you with a book offer or an anthology invite, it is perfectly acceptable to take stock of the situation before replying. Is it something that you want to write? Is it something that you have time to write? if not, is it something you can make time to write? If the answer to all of these is no, then it is okay for you to say no. There's no shame in saying yes either, of course. If you need the money, then you need the money. But writing something from the creative standpoint of "writing it for the money" isn't much of a creative standpoint at all, and you'll find that devoting your time to such an endeavor will drain you creatively. Then you'll reach burnout, which brings me to point two.
It is okay to say no to yourself, as well. Sooner or later, we all flame out. We all crash and burn. That's been happening to creatives since our ancestors were painting stories on cave walls with sticks. Do you think Thurg reached a point where he said, "I'm just not engaged in painting these pictures of bison and sabertooth tigers anymore. I've gone just about as far with this as I can." Because he did.
Depression, exhaustion, stress, health, and many other factors can lead to burn-out. Lord knows it has been a particularly stressful time for the horror fiction industry this past year. And maybe you've had to take on gigs that, while being financially rewarding, were done in a creative vacuum. The end result of that is you can feel disengaged from your muse, and dispassionate about writing, and that is never a good place to be.
So... when you feel yourself going to that place, it's okay to tell yourself no. Rather than dutifully typing the day's mandatory word count, it's okay to take a few days off and do something else -- something that doesn't involve writing. Something that allows you to reconnect with your muse. For me, sitting outside and reading a book, or going fishing and reading a book, usually recharge me. Find what works for you, tell yourself no, and then go do that other thing instead.
No is a powerful word, yet we wordsmiths are loathe to use it often. And maybe we need to start.
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Yes is a powerful word, too, and I’m so glad Mary said it. Let’s look back on that, one more time.
By the time you read this newsletter next Sunday, we’ll be married. I suspect that issue will just be wedding photos, as I usually type these on Saturday, and I doubt I’ll be typing one on the day of our wedding. But I’ll see you back here for that photo album.
Love, respect, and appreciation to you all. I’m so grateful to my readers, my friends, and my family.
— Brian Keene