Author of over 40 novels, winner of two Bram Stoker awards and the World Horror Grand Master award, Brian Keene specializes in telling stories that are as thrilling as they are unsettling. His 2003 novelThe Rising makes the short list of books and films that helped kick off our current love for all things zombie, and his newest novel is The Lost Level is a loving ode to the lost world adventure tales of yesteryear. On top of balancing multiple projects (including the recently launched name–your–own–price monthly serial novel The Labyrinth and serving as Executive Producer for the independent film studio Drunken Tentacle Productions), Brian also manages and oversees Maelstrom, a small press publishing house that specializes in collectible limited editions.
If you enjoy fiction that smacks you right in the face, you’re in for a treat with Keene’s “A Revolution of One,” which appears in this month’s issue of Apex Magazine. This story left me absolutely speechless. While reading, I went from curious, to sympathetic agreement, to a sense of building concern, to outright shock at how the story ends. Maybe you’ll see the end coming, I sure didn’t.
Brian was kind enough to answer a few of my questions about “A Revolution of One,” The Lost Level, collaborations with other authors, and his upcoming charity event with Scares That Care.
Questions about “A Revolution of One” and your new novel, The Lost Level
APEX MAGAZINE: “A Revolution of One” is more manifesto than short story. The inspirations for this story are pretty obvious, but can you tell us about what triggered you to write it?
BRIAN KEENE: It was an experiment of sorts. I was working on a since–aborted novel, told from the perspective of someone who goes on a shooting spree. I wanted to examine what makes somebody do that—what possesses them to decide that picking up a gun and slaughtering innocents is a viable solution to their problems. It was a balancing act, because I wanted the character to be sympathetic, yet at the same time, I didn’t want the reader to excuse or sympathize with their actions. Telling it from the first person made it even trickier. The novel stalled, and stalled some more. Eventually, I put it away, but I got this short story out of it—an exercise in getting inside the head of somebody whose brain has become like a bag full of cats.
AM: Did you have any concerns about how readers would react to this story?
BK: Not really. Different genres come with different expectations. Horror fiction is supposed to leave the reader unsettled and uncomfortable. As a horror story, I hope it achieves that. And all good fiction, regardless of genre, should make the reader feel. I think the story accomplishes that, as well. No, you might not be left feeling like everything is wonderful and shiny, but hopefully you feel some sort of emotion.
AM: What do you hope people will get out of this story?
BK: The same thing I hope they get from everything I write. A few minutes of entertainment. A few moments of escape from their job or their commute or their study hall.
AM: I’ve had the opportunity to read a portion of The Lost Level, and it certainly does feel like a golden age pulp adventure throwback! In fact, you mention Robert E. Howard and Edgar Rice Burroughs in the acknowledgments. What made you decide to write a “lost world/time travel” homage?
BK: It’s something I’ve always wanted to do, but I always hesitated. Early in my career, I tried my hand at a crime novel. It bombed, even as my horror stuff became more and more popular. Conventional wisdom said that readers expected horror novels from me, and I shouldn’t try anything else. Now, forty books later, I think we’ve gotten to the point where my audience trusts me a little bit more. I’ve done five books of non–fiction, written for a few science–fiction properties, gone back to crime, etc. And after reading Joe R. Lansdale’s own golden age pulp pastiche, Under the Warrior Star, and talking with him about my hesitation, I decided to go for it.
And I’m glad I did, because so far, the response from readers has been very enthusiastic.
AM: Were there any scenes in particular that were a challenge to write?
BK: Aaron’s impressions of Kasheena were tricky. Those golden age pulp stories—Pellucidar, Almuric, John Carter, etc.—they were written in a different era, and while the female characters, for the most part, were written respectfully, there’s still a lot of underlying sexism in those stories. Often, the female character’s development never went beyond “She’s sexy and brave!” So, I didn’t want Aaron to come off as a sexist jackass. But at the same time, Kasheena is indeed beautiful. That’s the first thing he notices about her, which I think is a realistic reaction, within the context of the story. But over time, her characterization goes far beyond that. And it’s not always him rescuing the princess, but her rescuing him.
Also, a character death near the end of the book. Without giving spoilers, I struggled with it for several months, going back and forth. In truth, I struggled with that particular plot development right up until the manuscript was turned in.
AM: What’s next for our hero Aaron Pace? Will there be more adventures in this series?
BK: Absolutely. I have six books in mind, plus a prequel featuring different characters. That prequel, Hole in the World, and the sequel, Return to the Lost Level, are both halfway completed. And there are five more uncompleted books inside my head. So, provided readers want more, there’ll be more.
Questions about writing and your career
AM: You primarily write horror, dark fantasy, and crime fiction. What is it about those genres that calls you to your keyboard to type away?
BK: I don’t know, other than they are what I gravitated to at an early age. They’re what I’ve always enjoyed the most, and what I seem to enjoy writing the most. I take comfort in them, and hopefully, give a little something back to some genres that have given me so much.
AM: In July of this year, you’ll be doing a special two–hour performance event through the Scares That Care convention in Virginia. Can you tell us about your event, and how/why you got involved with the Scares That Care charity?
BK: Sure. The event itself is fashioned after similar appearances done by Kevin Smith, Neil Gaiman, and Stephen King. Basically it’s me on a stage for two hours, answering questions and telling stories and anecdotes inspired by those questions. I’ve been writing full–time for twenty years now, and know all the secrets and where all the bodies are buried. So, hopefully, I’ve got some entertaining tales to tell. It will be filmed for DVD, and 100% of the proceeds go to the charity, which is awesome.
The charity helps sick children and their families—burn victims, cancer victims, etc. They raise money for them, help with increasing public awareness of certain issues, and simultaneously do something positive for the horror genre, as well. They do a lot with folks like Kane Hodder (who played Jason in most of the Friday the 13th films) and other horror celebrities. And I’m happy to be involved, as well.
AM: You’ve collaborated with a number of other authors, including J.F. Gonzalez, Nick Mamatas, and Steven Shrewsbury among others. How can you tell if an author is someone you would like to write a book with? What is your strategy for collaboration?
BK: It varies from author to author. With J.F., for example, he was one of my absolute best friends, and our tastes and writing styles were very, very similar. With Nick, he’s another dear friend, but our styles are very different. However, the idea I had—Hunter S. Thompson versus Cthulhu—was a deeply political book, and I knew the only way it would ever work was if I brought him in to help me.
AM: You’ve written over forty novels. Any advice for authors who are in the early stages of their careers, who only have a few novels under their belt?
BK: Patience. That’s the one thing they don’t teach in writing classes, or talk much about in books about the craft of writing. But patience really is such an essential ingredient for any modicum of success in this business. Be patient, and keep writing. Write every single day, if you can, even if only for a few minutes.
AM: Thanks, Brian!