The Truth Is Out There

I may be over-thinking this X-FILES story. 

As the deadline clock counts down to Thursday (which is when editor Jonathan Maberry officially sends out a ninja hit squad if I don’t turn my story in), I’m agonizing over details like “What does Skinner call Cigarette Smoking Man when they’re alone in his office?” Which, when you’re writing a scene of dialogue between these two characters, is an important detail you’d think someone would have addressed already. But apparently, nobody has. Does he call him “CSM”? “You black-lunged son of a bitch”? “Boss”? “Spender” (if, indeed, Spender is his real name)? 

I’m also debating minutia like “Could Skinner, an Assistant Director at the FBI, legally carry a firearm off-duty with D.C.’s extreme gun laws?” Yeah, might seem trivial, but the answer is the difference between him fighting a were-rat with a handgun versus fighting a were-rat with whatever makeshift weapon he can find in the sewers beneath the city. 

I need more coffee. Good morning…

(Yes, that’s right. You got two Blog posts this morning because my brain is treacherous and needs extra warming-up).

As 47 Begins and Winter Approaches

Since January of this year, I’ve completed seven books (Apocrypha, The Lost Level, 4AM, Libra Nigrum Scientia Secreta with J.F. Gonzalez, King of the Bastards with Steven Shrewsbury, Trigger Warnings, and All Black All the Time: The Complete Short Fiction Vol. 2), nine short stories, and edited one anthology.

With luck, before the last day of the year, I should complete three more books (Hole in the World, Invisible Monsters, and an unannounced book about writing for Lazy Fascist Press), and one more short story (for The X-Files).

Except that this X-Files story is kicking my ass all over because I want it to be perfect. And because it’s kicking my ass, it’s holding everything else up.

I’m not a big proponent of over-medicating children, and would be loathe to give my child Ritalin (unless there was no other choice), but sometimes I wish I could give it to my muse.

The Magus at 47 (or 46)

Spent the last three days enjoying some downtime in Ocean City, Maryland with my girlfriend, where there was no Wi-Fi (which is why you had no updates here). Today, I’m taking my 6-year old to school this morning, then working on this X-Files project for the rest of the day, followed by dinner with my son and ex-wife, and then more working on X-Files tonight.

At some point in-between all of that, I will turn forty-seven. Or forty-six. There is some debate over this, but my mother swears it’s forty-seven and I feel she ought to know, as she was there.

I don’t celebrate my birthday much these days. In truth, I’d forget it was my birthday if not for friends and loved ones who insist on celebrating it for me. And it pleases them to do so, and it pleases me to see them pleased, so it’s all good. But I don’t really think about birthdays or age anymore. My philosophy — one that I’ve adopted at this stage in life — is to simply take each day as it comes, good or bad, knowing that another day could follow it, or it could just as easily be my last. That fills me with simultaneous peace and anxiety. Peace because I make sure each day is spent making sure loved ones know what they mean to me, and anxiety because there’s still a lot of things left unwritten (although I’m beginning to narrow that gap).

So, that’s what I’m doing today. Spending time with the people who are important to me, and working on things that need to be finished.

Just in case…

Hello Brian. Do you think that author's should have a blog? Does it help to promote one's books? Thanks!

It definitely does, and you definitely should. Here are two excerpts from two speeches I’ve given over the last few years that answer this much better than I can at this time of morning before coffee:

Excerpt 1:

You also need to plan for your public identity. Even if you are just starting out as a writer, you should reserve a website domain in your name, and reserve every social media outlet in your name, as well. Even if you don’t ever intend to use them, you should stake a claim on your name at Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Google+ and every other site that comes along. I don’t use Reddit or Goodreads, but I’ve registered for them as BrianKeene simply because I don’t want somebody else controlling my public identity. That’s because these days, whether you are publishing traditionally or going the self-publishing route, you are primarily responsible for the marketing and promotion of your work. Yes, your publisher may get involved, but you must never, never count on that. You should take responsibility for it. Indeed, you have to take responsibility for it, if you want to do this full-time. Some of you may find marketing and promotion distasteful, but if you want to do this full-time—meaning you want to make money at it—then you will have to engage in them.

More importantly, you are responsible for growing and communicating with your audience. How and to what extent you do that is up to you, but understand something—the days of Bentley Little are gone. Bentley Little, who has a large readership but maintains no web presence himself and has done only three signings throughout his career, is an exception to the rule. Thanks to the Internet and social marketing, readers these days have an expectation to interact with their favorite author in some way. Again, how you do that and to what extent is up to you, but if you choose to write full-time, then you will have to do it. This is as vitally important as staying productive and writing every day. It is the second part of the writing for a living equation.

Hand-in-hand with that is how much of yourself you put out there. Some professional writers keep it simple, and confine their public musings to their work. Others might talk politics or pop culture. This can be a double-edged sword. Yes, F. Paul Wilson, Tom Monteleone, and Chet Williamson might occasionally post something from their respective Libertarian, Conservative, or Liberal perspectives, which is fine, but I bet each and every one of you can think of other authors on Facebook or elsewhere whom you’ve considered un-following simply because it’s all they talk about. You probably haven’t un-followed them, because you’re a writer and you want to keep that professional association. But readers have no such qualms, and they will turn away if you offend them.

You’ve got to decide who you want them to see you as. Maybe you’ll just be yourself. Perhaps you’ll choose a caricature of yourself. Maybe you’ll be the joker, like Jeff Strand, or the Peacemaker, like Christopher Golden, or the Strong Independent, like Sarah Pinborough. For years, Nick Mamatas and I got away with being the genre’s Angry Young Men, willing to speak bluntly—perhaps too bluntly at times—about what we thought and saw. These days, you’ll no doubt notice that we speak softer. That’s because you can’t be Angry Young Men when you’re in your Forties. But our audience still know we’ll speak bluntly, because our audience has come to expect that from us. Decide what your audience will expect from you, and then give it to them.

Perhaps more important than deciding how much of yourself to put out there is deciding what parts of you not to put out there. Writing is a solitary act, but publishing is public. We’re part of the entertainment industry, albeit the entertainment industry’s red-headed mutant stepchild. And just like any other entertainer, we attract our share of crazies. My own encounters with stalkers are well-documented. I’m sure you all know about the guy who mailed me a dead bird or the gentleman from Illinois who is convinced that Ray Garton, Poppy Z. Brite, and I (among others) are psychically stealing his story ideas. These people exist, and the Internet and social media make it easier for them than ever before to fulfill their unhealthy obsessions with you. As a result, you have to be mindful of what information is out there.


Excerpt 2:

So yes, promotion is important. But I think far too many new writers focus way too much on that aspect of the business and forget about what comes first…

…the writing.

Before you worry about promotion, you have to write something worth promoting. Especially if you’re doing this to “get your name out there”. Especially given this current economy. Money is tight. Readers are still willing to take a chance on a new author, but one chance and one chance only. If that new author doesn’t give them something worth coming back for, chances are they won’t.

There’s nothing wrong with getting up on the soapbox and shouting, “Hear me, world, for I have written something and I want you to read it!” After all, no writer in their right mind wants their work to go unread. However, before you get up on the soapbox, make sure that what you have to share is your absolute best. Make sure it shines, and that you’ve given it everything you have. Make sure that you’ve devoted just as much time and energy to its creation as you have to its promotion.

Don’t make the mistake of only marketing your work to other authors. That’s the dumbest thing a writer can do, yet I see them do it every day. Don’t only post a link to your book on places like a writer’s group on Facebook. The only people who will see it are people posting links to their own books, and all of you are writers, and none of you can afford to buy the fucking things. You have to go to where the readers are, or better yet, create a place where the readers can come to you, via Facebook, Twitter, your website, etc. Letting them come to you is less spammy and more sincere, and it also creates long-lasting loyalty.

Heroed Out

This has all happened before. When I was a kid, we had The Incredible Hulk, Spider-Man, Wonder Woman, Flash, and Captain America television shows (and a Dr. Strange made-for-TV movie). We had the Christopher Reeve Superman movies. A few years later, we had Tim Burton’s Batman

And then the market for superhero-based properties dried up, because viewers got tired of them all, and tuned in to other things.

I loved Nolan’s Batman trilogy, and I’ve loved, loved, LOVED the Marvel Cinematic offerings so far (with the exception of Thor: The Dark World). But I’ve no interest in Superman vs. Batman, haven’t watched a single episode of Arrow, and have no desire to watch the upcoming Constantine, Gotham, or Flash. I find my interest is waning on the Marvel side of things, as well. I dropped Agents of SHIELD after 3 episodes, have no plans to watch Peggy Carter, and I’m sorry, but the Netflix Defenders ain’t my Defenders. I’ll probably see Avengers 2, just to catch Robert Downey Jr’s last hurrah as Tony Stark, but my excitement even for that has waned.

Sooner or later, this superhero bubble is going to burst, because all such bubbles pop eventually, and things run in cycles, and this has all happened before. When it does, a lot of people in film-making are suddenly going to be scrambling to find work elsewhere.

I guess the bright side is that it shouldn’t impact comic book sales, because the mythical droves of movie-goers who have never read a comic book and march off to their local comic shop after seeing Iron Man and buy up all the Iron Man comics are just that — a myth. Oh sure, there have been some, but not enough to boost the entire industry. You also need to wonder, how long before those new readers get burned out by all the gimmicks and crossovers and other things we long-time readers take for granted, but for new readers represent yet one more reason not to bother?

Good morning.

Why Writers Should Ignore Reviews

Yesterday, I told a friend that after 45 books, three dozen comic books, and 2 film adaptations of my work, I ignore all reviews, both good and bad. Doesn’t matter if they are five-star or one-star — I ignore them all.

Reviews are written for consumers. They are supposed to help consumers make an informed decision about their purchase. Creators should ignore them for several reasons.

First, a writer should always be writing for themselves, and never for audience edicts or demands, because that way lies madness. 

Secondly, there is a constant danger of believing the reviews, be they good or bad. In the case of the former, the writer may soon believe themselves to be at the top of their game, having mastered their craft, with no further room for growth. This is stupid, because you NEVER master this craft completely, and there is always room for growth. In the case of the latter, a good writer might believe the one-star brigade, and it might impact them to the point where they second-guess everything they do, or worse, quit writing altogether.

The only time I use reviews is when I’m marketing or promoting something. If I’m trying to convince consumers to purchase my new book, then of course I’ll point to a particularly enthusiastic review. But when it comes to writing and the creative process itself? I listen to editors and pre-readers and, most importantly, myself. 

Bad Winter

It’s going to be an especially bad winter. Yes, it’s still the fall, but trust me on this. I’m a 4th generation hillbilly, and know how to read the signs. And the signs are all there — from the way the last few tomatoes in my garden hang on the vine to the places where wasps built their nests this year. It’s going to be colder than normal. There may be more snowfall than normal, as well. (I’m 100% on that first, and 60% on that second). Will be a good season to sit inside and write. 

Trigger Warnings

Yesterday was spent editing my newest forthcoming non-fiction collection, TRIGGER WARNINGS. The material spans 2009 to 2014, including the downfall of Borders, my divorce, the Dorchester War, my heart attack, two hurricanes, one tropical storm, and the polar vortex, all of which wreaked havoc on both my writing and my life. Indeed, I’ve only truly begun to recover and rebuild from that confluence of events this past year. Reading through the text was a stark reminder of that. Maybe the book should have been called NOT DEAD YET or something like that. Anyway, TRIGGER WARNINGS will be available in e-book and paperback before the end of the year.

Products of Our Times

Throw a rock on Tumblr (or better yet, simply surf at random) and you’re bound to find a Blogger who is outraged over something in pop culture. This morning, I’ve seen outrage over the inherent racism in everything from the works of H.P. Lovecraft to The Breakfast Club and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, outrage over the Seventies sexist depictions of Ms. Marvel and She-Hulk, and some sort of vague, ill-explained outrage over old Hanna-Barbara cartoons that I gave up on trying to understand.

I agree with some of these things (Lovecraft was certainly a racist, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg). Others not so much (yes, perhaps The Breakfast Club is guilty of whitewashing, but as someone who was in high school when The Breakfast Club came out, I can tell you it wasn’t far-fetched to have a high school with no black students, as I came from one myself).

Racism, sexism, and other bad things exist. And yes, they often exist in pop culture. There’s no denying that. They are indefensible. Inexcusable. But it’s also important to remember that in many cases, they are products of their times — times in which institutionalized racism and sexism were entrenched in the culture and in society. That’s not an excuse. But it is a fact.

I graduated high school in 1985 at the age of seventeen. I had four friends in my graduating class who were gay. All of them were closeted, except to a small handful of us whom they trusted. They were products of their times. There were no gay pride parades in Central Pennsylvania. There were no shows like HBO’s wonderful Looking or the less-than-wonderful Will & Grace. There was no Anderson Cooper or Rachel Maddow or Neil Patrick Harris (well, we had Neil, but he was still closeted at the time). Pop culture then was a product of its time, and if my gay friends wanted to look to a public figure to identify with, they pretty much only had the safe whitewashed androgyny of Boy George, George Michael, or (if you wanted to live dangerously) Elton John, who had come out as bi. It was a very different environment back then — a product of its times, just as things like Looking or the success of Anderson Cooper or Ellen DeGeneres are products of our time.   

Today’s outrage culture is also a product of its time. And in my lone opinion, it needs to stop focusing its outrage on the past, and focus instead on the now. Yes, HP Lovecraft was a racist, and yes, there are no black people in The Breakfast Club, and yes, She-Hulk was created to preserve a trademark rather than as a bastion of Seventies feminism. These things are all true. But these things are also all in the past. You can’t go back and change them now.

Instead of focusing your outrage and derision and snark on things of the past, would it not be better to focus them on the now? Instead of creators taking to Tumblr and Twitter and spending hours deriding a product of institutional racism or sexism that is well past its expiration date, would it not be more productive for creators to spend those hours creating new things — pop culture icons born out of this outrage? Pop culture icons that reflect the now? Pop culture icons that are a product of our times?

Many years ago, when my novel Dead Sea first came out, all interviewers wanted to ask me about was why I’d made the main character a gay black man. What was I trying to say with that? And they seemed perplexed by my answer that I wasn’t trying to “say” anything — I was simply trying to reflect my audience, not all of whom are straight white men, and I thought it would be nice if I gave them a character whom they could identify with. Years later, when I wrote Alone, those same interviewers never once asked about the fact that the protagonists are a married gay couple with an adopted daughter. Why? Because the times are changing, and the products reflect it. 

Yes, if you look to the past, you’ll see racism and sexism and other inequalities everywhere — products of their times. I’m not suggesting we ignore the past or stop talking about it. But I am saying that you can’t change the past, and it seems futile to rail against it, when instead, that energy could be used to reflect the now, so that in fifty or a hundred years, fans have something better to say about the products of our time. 


LAST OF THE ALBATWITCHES - Paperback and Kindle

Yes, I know there is usually a two-month delay between the release of the paperback and the release of the Kindle edition. But apparently not this time, as the Kindle edition of the new Levi Stoltzfus book, LAST OF THE ALBATWITCHES, went on sale this morning.

Brian Keene’s fan-favorite ex-Amish occult detective Levi Stolzfus, the star of GHOST WALK and A GATHERING OF CROWS, returns to face…

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