Brian Keene Is a Writer’s (Very Creepy) Writer

Oct 5, 2016 at 11:09 am
Brian Keene
Brian Keene Photo by John Urbancik

This weekend’s Imaginarium convention is probably not going to help you turn your campfire ghost story into a Stephen King-style bestseller in time for Halloween. But if you enjoy trying to fan your own creative sparks into roaring flames, these three days at the Crowne Plaza Louisville will offer all kinds of instruction and workshopping, support and service offerings and kinship in suite parties and at the bar. You’ll also find a menu of entertainment that’s become de rigeur for topnotch cons: a film fest, costuming, game tourneys, musicians and some star power.

Since creative writing gets its sometimes-overlooked due with this con, the stars include top-line authors. Guest of Honor is Brian Keene — a man whose pen and palate run decidedly toward the dark. In 2014, he was made a World Horror Grandmaster, indicating plenty of respect from his peers, as well as from fans. Two decades ago, Keene was learning how to churn out gory stories but also created “Jobs in Hell,” a truth-from-the-trenches newsletter for wordsmiths. It paved the way for a fair amount of today’s blogging and networking/discourse among genre authors and publishers, editors and critics.

Keene’s novel, “The Rising,” decidedly upped the game when it came to white-knuckle suspense about a world overrun with zombies. Since then he’s been a veritable page-producing machine — delivering novels, novellas and short stories in a range from grimy street noir to reliably high-quality monster pulp.

But as he shows up in Louisville, this Pennsylvanian has just stretched himself further than perhaps ever before, in a project with a major New York publishing house. “Pressure” is an eco-thriller with key scenes set in a deep ocean trench. Of course you get moments where being in water establishes an otherness reminiscent of what first terrified readers (and viewers) of “Jaws.” But Keene’s protagonist, a world-record diver, has brought herself face to face against all kinds of enveloping nightmares — plenty of them coming from dry land, showing their sharp teeth not in a grimace but, instead, a seemingly reassuring smile.

LEO recently had the opportunity for a quick exchange with Keene about his writing, and some of his take on the writing lifestyle.

LEO: What do conventions like Imaginarium mean for the connection between you and fans? Between you and up-and-coming writers?

Brian Keene: Well, the fans are what it’s all about. Writing is a solitary act — just you and the computer. If it weren’t for my 8-year old, there are weeks where I wouldn’t physically interact with another human being.

We write in a vacuum, but we’re writing for the readers. We’re not finishing these things and sticking them in a box. We’re sharing them with the public. So it’s vital to interact with the public — to get that feedback, share some laughs. Yeah, you can do that online, but social media isn’t personal. There’s nothing like that physical, in-person connection.

The same goes with up-and-coming writers. I was lucky enough over the last 20 years to get advice and encouragement from everyone I grew up reading. I pay that forward. Although it is weird to give cover blurbs and advice to people who tell me, ‘I read you in high school!’

Eco-thrillers — Before “Pressure,” how far had you waded into this type of tale before? What’s the first one that you read, or that you found memorable?

First thing I vividly remember was [John] Wyndham’s ‘Day of the Triffids’ and [Alfred] Hitchcock’s ‘The Birds.’ And I loved all those nature-gone-bad movies and novels of the ‘70s and early ‘80s: ‘The Swarm,’ and James Herbert’s ‘Rats’ series. Stuff like that.

Are you a fan of the water, or does it intimidate you? Any bad memories or associations you have with the idea of the deep?

Nah. I love the water. Always have. I served on board a ship in the Navy, and I live on the banks of a river.

You’re one of the prime drivers for why “Walking Dead” zombie stories have become ubiquitous in entertainment over the past couple of decades. Do they still have legs? Is there still some life left in them? In other words, do you think they’ll still be popular by the year 2025?

I don’t know. Every time I think they’re over with, somebody comes up with something new and interesting and fresh — ‘The Last Weekend’ by Nick Mamatas, for example. I guess it’s up to the next generation of storytellers, but I’m sure folks will always think of new things to do with them. •


Friday, Oct. 7-9

Crowne Plaza Louisville

830 Phillips Lane

Weekend admission is $65

day passes $35