The Girl on the Glider by Brian Keene

Glider-e-book-2-662x1024It’s veritably impossible, right now, to go through the usual intro/pre-review spiel that I’m wont to do with every single blabbering piece that I write. There’s really no need for it here.

You’re either familiar with this author’s previous work, or you’re not.

Most average horror/speculative fiction readers that inhabit the hallowed, stinky halls of this genre can admit to reading one, if not at least a few, of Keene’s novels, but there are a few of us who have followed his work for a long time who finally get to a piece that we aren’t familiar with, or that doesn’t tie into something else he’s done… something larger and more “labyrinthine”, for lack of a better word.

Simply put – The Girl on the Glider is Brian Keene’s best piece of work to date – something I would hate to see going unnoticed in the awards circuit. A piece this powerful deserves more recognition beyond the Keene brand, and very well could be one of the modern classics of our time. Continue reading

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Earthworm Gods: Selected Scenes From The End Of The World by Brian Keene

earthwormgodsselectscenes-1-2With no shame at all, I’ll admit Brian Keene has made me cry.

No, it’s not because he’s failed to respond to my countless invitations to dinner, or the way his eyes seem to see straight into my heart. Oh… wait. That’s unrelated. Best you just ignore that.

Keene first brought my rotten heart back to life when he broke onto the horror scene with The Rising. That tale of father Jim Thurmond trying to get to his son, Danny, in the midst of a zombie apocalypse is both terrifying and a tear jerker. As a young father who was going through a divorce and worried the end of his first marriage would devour his relationship with his son much like the zombies in Keene’s debut novel, the book spoke to me and introduced me to an author I grew to admire. Continue reading

An Occurrence in Crazy Bear Valley by Brian Keene

Que the Ennio Morricone.  Grab your Stetson and saddle up.  Brian Keene is about to take you to the Old West (with a sasquatch or two)…..

From Deadite Press:

The Old West has never been weirder or wilder than it has in the hands of master horror writer Brian Keene.

Morgan and his gang are on the run—from their pasts and from the posse riding hot on their heels, intent on seeing them hang. But when they take refuge in Crazy Bear Valley, their flight becomes a siege as they find themselves battling a legendary race of monstrous, bloodthirsty beings. Now, Morgan and his gang aren’t worried about hanging. They just want to live to see the dawn.

To say this is a weird Western may be a bit misleading.  It is weird in the same way that McCabe & Mrs. Miller is a weird western.  Both are firmly planted in the era of the Old West and adhere to the preexisting conventions of the genre but both do it in a refreshingly new  fashion.  McCabe & Mrs. Miller toys with the viewer’s sense of traditional locale by setting the film in the snowy Pacific Northwest while An Occurrence in Crazy Bear Valley (although also toying with the traditional setting) has the reader examine what constitutes good and evil in a Western.  Keene doesn’t have a posse hunting a group of outlaws.  No way, that would be too easy.  Instead, Keene creates a race of monsters ,known as the “crazy bears”, who have been wronged by this group of rogue thieves.  The “crazy bears” follow the standard conventions that most heroes adhere to in classic Westerns except, y’know, they are scary as all get out.

These “crazy bears” are no joke!  Imagine of you took the savage humanity of the cannibals in Off Season, mated them with the fierceness of the beasts in The Cellar and filtered it through some down-and-dirty Bigfoot mythology.  These are the “crazy bears” and they mean business.  They may be visitors from space or they may be biblical beings that have been hidden away for centuries but either way, they are angry and out for revenge.

I’ve been on record as saying that Brian Keene can write about the working man like nobody’s business.  His words drip with the authenticity that can only come from the pen of a man who has been through the ringer and lived to tell the tale. This is his strength.  This is what makes him so important to so many readers.  We can identify with the characters on the page- even in a story set in the Old West, involving a pack of terrifying humanoid beasts and a band of despicable bandits.  Keene takes his “every man” sensibilities and applies it to a group of murders and thieves with superb  results.  This are the working class of the era and, after an initial brush with senseless violence, the readers grows to care about these characters who are left to fend off a group of crazed animals.  Again, this is Keene’s strength and this is what makes An Occurrence in Crazy Bear Valley such a fun and effective story.

The dynamic of Morgan’s gang is very intriguing because a normal author would have you hate these people based on their background.  Not Keene.  Keene even adds fuel to the fire by having an opening chapter which invites the reader to despise Morgan and his cronies. I honestly believe that Keene enjoys the challenge of trying have the reader relate to a character they once hated. The story then begins to slowly build these characters up in very convincing fashion.  We see their faults and fears and begin to feel for them as they fight for their lives.  Eventually, we are a member of Morgan’s gang and we, too, are fighting for our very survival. This is the hallmark of Keene’s writing and this why a story about crazed sasquatch set in a long-gone can feel so damn personal.

An Occurrence in Crazy Bear Valley is a fun story that packs a whole lot of tension into a very small space.  This is definitely “read in one sitting” territory here, folks, and I guarantee you’ll leave the story fully satisfied. Check it out if you’re looking for something a little off-beat!

 If the review above doesn’t sell you, there is also a short story included.  “Lost Canyon of the Damned” is a fun little tale that finds Keene venturing gloriously close to bizarro territory as he tells a story that is one part Western, one part Zombie with a heaping helping of prehistoric, inter-dimensional weirdness.  This is a fantastic piece for those interested in Keene’s upcoming bizarro piece that he has hinted at for the past few years.

Alone by Brian Keene

When it comes to Keene’s fiction, it’s usually hit or miss with me. I’m not a rabid fan, nor am I a hater, and the man has some serious chops, that much we all know. It’s not often that I don’t like a piece of the man’s writing, mainly ’cause he’s got the genre in the palm of his hand, but when his fiction is a “miss” in my eyes, it’s usually his shorter fare. This, thankfully, is not the case with Alone. Well, that’s not true. I didn’t dig the ending so much, but the first two acts of the novella are borderline brilliant.

Insomuch as Keene’s signature voice is very strong in this tale, he’s coming from a place of loneliness and despair, hinting at the fact that the man knows what it is to go through some serious pain. It also just so happens that I read this book during a very tough period of my life (which I’m still not even halfway through), and so it hit home in so many different ways. Loss, desperation, separation, and the overwhelming sense of being alone… sigh… such is life. And Keene does a great job of taking a story and embedding the emotions right into your heart, giving you no choice but to feel what the main character is feeling – even if you’ve work oh so damned hard to stomp that shit down into a corner of your soul.

Thanks for dredging this stuff up, Dr. Keene. I hope someone has a couch appointment available for me soon…

When Daniel Miller wakes up one morning, something has gone terribly wrong. The power is out. The phones are dead. The house is silent. The street is shrouded in fog. Both his partner and their adopted daughter are missing. So are their neighbors. And so is everyone else in the world. Daniel Miller is the last person left on Earth… or is he?

So, in the midst of a separation and a brutal case of the blues, I ventured forth and started reading a story titled “Alone“. Smooth move, Poindexter. And no doubt, it had to be written by one of the kings of lonely, beaten down characters, Brian “more metal than your mom” Keene. Seriously, what was I thinking? I’ve read his work before. I knew what I was getting into.

He kicked my ass with Dark Hollow, one of my favorite books this genre has to offer; whooped me silly with Dead Rising and City of the Dead; did a number on me with the short story Burying Betsy; and played with my emotions through a few other pieces of genre mastery (even his entry in the hard to find Excitable Boys, Full of It, which is just wonderfully disgusting). Granted, I wasn’t so much a fan of Ghost Walk, Urban Gothic, An Occurrence in Crazy Bear Valley, or The Damned Highway, but most of what this man has to offer hits me in a place that usually stays quite well hidden. It’s literature like this that speaks to the blue-collar boy in me, and evokes something that I try to keep out of the public eye for the sake of retaining some semblance of composure. Something that was utterly torn out of hiding with Alone.

See, when Keene wants to talk to you about being alone, being scared, or being separated from that which you love, you have no choice but to identify with it. That’s what this novella does without blinking – it makes you feel.

Now, I know my usual snarkiness and sarcastic banter is what keeps people coming back for more (if only to figure out how not to review a book), but I’m going to have to put that on hold for a minute and tell you why this story is so goddamned different from all of the other pieces of horror fiction you’re apt to find out there.

First of all, Keene opts to introduce a main character in a homosexual relationship – something I can’t possible applaud louder for. Growing up on Poppy Z. Brite and Clive Barker, being a huge fan of LGBT horror fiction, and being one of the most sexually secure man-droids you’ll ever meet, I have to give it to Keene for taking the initiative to step outside of the boy’s club suppositions and do something else with the character in this work. And what’s more is the fact that Keene writes his character without a single stereotype or misgiving about the man’s sexual orientation. This is a big and down-to-earth move for such a notable fixture in the genre. Why others can’t do this, and that includes authors that are heavily into the LGBT scene, I don’t know.

When I started reading this novella, I wasn’t really sure what I was heading into, but it started off feeling a little like Darkness On The Edge Of Town. I dug the hell out of that book, and was sure that I was in for a good old Levi Stoltzfus kind of tale. I was wrong, as I’m usually told by the ladies, and was instead treated to Dan’s silent torture and mental collapse.

Keene uses the idea of suspending one’s disbelief well with this one, creating scenarios and rules that make a helluva lot of sense in his world, and not a lick of such in reality. It’s not until the end where you find out just why things happen the way they do, and by that point it doesn’t even really matter what’s going on. I felt like my ears were plugged, by breath was catching, I was claustrophobic, and sure that Keene had watched the last 4 months of my life from behind a tree – creepy Bollywood style.

The ending played out a little too easily for me, but it still rings true with the intention put forth for the entirety of the story. You can tell where the tale is going, but if you’re like me, you read for the sake of absorbing, and not for the whole “what happens at the end” crap that some other folks do. Keene’s got his swagger on high, but it’s this ending that makes things feel a little rushed. Regardless, he writes a mean story of heartache and loss when he wants to, making this reader feel a little uncomfortable when things hit this close to home.

Not to say that I’m stuck in a muffled, grey covered world or anything. I can just empathize with poor old Dan’s “what the fuck is gong on”, is all.

For a buck or two, Alone is a brilliant tale that will kick your heart’s ass, and beautifully exemplifies Keene’s ability to write you into a state of awe and woe, and keep you coming back for more.

C.

News: Brian Keene Has Something Very Mysterious On His Site

UPDATE: The poll is now closed!

Every morning I check all of my favorite literary sites to ensure that I am hip to all of the goings-on in the genre.  This morning, while visiting Brian Keene’s site, I noticed a very interesting poll.  Of course, this is pure speculation on my part but it appears as if Brian may be interested in starting his own convention which would be huge.  Currently there are a handful of conventions devoted to genre literature (which is mildly surprising given the abundance of shows dedicated to genre films) and even fewer conventions that are run by authors for the fans.

We have seen many genre lit conventions go under and others cut down on their literary guests.  Just take a look at how the guest list was handled for Horrorfind this year.  Sure, they have secured two of my favorite authors with Ronald Malfi and Hunter Shea but it wasn’t given the same treatment as past years.  Maybe there isn’t money to be made with genre authors or just maybe the perceived popularity isn’t there.  Who knows?  What I can say is that we need something big.  We need a gathering that attracts authors from all of our beloved genres- not just horror. I picture something like WHC mixed with BizarroCon and set in a punk rock club.  Sure, this may just be me dreaming but one can never be sure when Brian Keene is involved.

Now I have no idea what Brian has planned but if history is any indication, this will be a show unlike any other designed for the ultimate fan experience. I encourage everyone head on over to Brian’s site to vote and show him support in this endeavor.

RELATED:

Dreadful Tales interview with Brian Keene, Mary SanGiovanni and JF Gonzalez.

The Cage by Brian Keene

Brian Keene has a knack for writing some of the most powerful novella length fiction in the genre.  His no-nonsense style is well suited for format.  Most authors introduce us to the characters and then allow the plot to unfold around them but Keene is a completely different animal.  One of the strongest aspects of Keene’s writing is his ability to mesh character development with plot to form a fast paced, suffocating story that gets right to the action and rarely relents.  This delightfully streamlined style allows Keene to tell a novel length story over the span of a hundred pages.  With that in mind, I was absolutely delighted when I learned that Deadite Press would be releasing a paperback version of the long out-of-print novella, The Cage

From Amazon.com:

For the employees of Big Bill’s Home Electronics, it’s just the end of another workday – until a gunman bursts into the store and begins shooting. Now, with some of their co-workers dead, the hostages are being slaughtered one-by-one, and if they want to survive the night, they’ll have to escape… The Cage.

As described in the summary, the story follows a group of six electronics store employees who are at the mercy of a madman.  This man breaks into the store after-hours and locks the group up in the store room for very mysterious, yet surely sinister reasons.  The majority of the story takes place in the store room as we play voyeur to the interactions of the employees, all while the mysterious intruder is busy in the front of the store.  One-by-one the man brings the employees to the front of the store leaving the remaining hostages to wonder what exactly is happening on the other side of the warehouse doors.

The Cage is the perfect marriage of youthful hope, world-worn wisdom, nerve wracking tension and some gore soaked imagery that will leave your jaw hanging and your unmentionables soiled. What makes this story so damn engrossing is Keene’s ability to intertwine genuine supernatural terror with the everyday horrors that we all experience in our lives.  The villain in the story will get your blood pumping and your palms sweating but the reason this tale will resonate with readers is the trials and tribulations of the common man.  It is completely evident that Keene knows quite a bit about strife and pain.  The characters in The Cage discuss topics such as love lost, growing older and loneliness with such raw authenticity that the reader has no choice but to succumb to the story’s power. There is a certain power in prose that is born from a world of sweat and hardship. Keene wields that power with a reckless abandoned that only few in the genre can ever hope to harness.

It was also interesting to notice the subtle shift in style with the dichotomy between the real life fears and supernatural elements.  Keene wrote the conversations between the store employees with copious amounts pain and grit sprinkled in the interactions.  These are the conversations that we have had a thousand times yet they continue to be important because they are is the lifeblood of our daily routines and existence. Much like the author himself, there is no pretense with the characters and their interactions as the wear their hearts on their sleeves on every page. There is exchange that was particularly heart wrenching between Roy, the older warehouse employee and the younger store employees that I found to be especially heart wrenching :

“Your kids don’t know you, your wife barely tolerates you. You’re a stranger in your own house. And a stranger in the mirror, too. And when that happens, you look back on the last few decades and wonder where they went.”

These moments of gritty truth make the juxtaposition of the super natural so much more extreme. When Keene  isn’t describing the inner-turmoil of the Big Bill’s employees, his writing takes on a cinematic quality that would not be out of place in the world of Cronenberg or Lynch.  The main villain in The Cage is donned in black and sports an arsenal that would make Frank Castle giddy.  Keene creates one frightening villain who nonchalantly goes about his grisly business with the indifference of a T-1000.  I use the Teminator example because this dude is straight out of a late 80’s action film but still maintains a surreal presence that is common with Keene’s other works..  Keene himself seems to realize the cinematic leanings of his writing as the characters joke about the clichés of action films. There is a particularly humorous exchange when the trapped employees attempt to lighten the mood by discussing how their ideal action film would play out.

The Cage comes to a very satisfying finale with absolutely every element of the story getting heightened to extreme volumes (literally and figuratively). Blood flows, hearts break and evil is everywhere.  Much like some of my favorite Keene stories, everything ends as it should.  The ending is in keeping with the rest of the tale with no surprises.  It is always refreshing to read a story that does not stray from a previously established tone and plot in order to achieve a gimmicky twist.

This is a story that is perfect for those looking for a quick scare.  It is also a story that is MANDATORY reading for Keene fans that have an interest in his Labyrinth mythology.  Readers are treated to some added content as well. Included are three short stories that share the same themes and tone of The Cage, as well as accompanying ‘Author’s Notes’ which add a tremendous amount of insight.

Deadite Press is releasing The Cage in Trade Paperback which marks the first time that this amazing story can be enjoyed by the masses.  You will be able to pick up the book shortly from Amazon and check out all things Keene at his site.

In Laymon’s Terms Edited by Kelly Laymon, Steve Gerlach, and Richard Chizmar

From Cemetery Dance:

This massive, oversized tribute anthology for Richard Laymon features short fiction and personal remembrances from dozens and dozens of the biggest names in horror and Laymon’s biggest fans.

In addition, there are more than one hundred pages of “Rarities and Fan Favorites” from Richard Laymon’s personal files — stories, interviews, and more, including a 17 page photo album personally selected by Ann Laymon. Several of these rare pieces were scanned directly from Laymon’s original manuscripts and contain his handwritten corrections.

Featuring more than 600 pages of fiction and essays written in honor of the man, author, and friend, In Laymon’s Terms is personal, moving, and wildly entertaining. This is a unique hardcover that would have made Richard Laymon proud.

Richard Laymon is the most respected author in the genre.  This is a very simple and a very bold statement but it is also a statement that I believe to be completely accurate.  Listening to authors talk about Laymon is like listening to veterans talk about a sergeant who saved his entire platoon because of his selfless devotion to the cause.  The love they have for Richard Laymon is genuine and boundless.  I’ve even spoken to authors who may not necessarily care for his style but they are quick to add that, as a person, Dick was in a league of his own.  His love for the genre and his peers was unparelled and the man never took his success for granted.  Simply put, he was a class act.

Cemetery Dance did a fantastic job with this book.  The look and  feel of the book is absolutely breathtaking and it does the memory of Richard Laymon supreme justice.  The amount of material presented within the covers is staggering and every word of it drips with the love and adoration for a man who was criminally underrated by a few and insanely loved by many.

The beauty of this wonderful Cemetery Dance release is that it will appeal to Laymon devotees, as well as non-fans equally.  Sure there are stories here that could have easily come directly from Laymon’s pen (Keene’s Castaways and Smith’s Pizza Face) but there are a great abundance of tales that channel the spirit of Laymon without bearing much resemblance to his style (Ed Lee’s Chef).  A great deal of credit should be given to Kelly Laymon, Steve Gerlach and Richard Chizmar.  These are the editors who realized that there are genre fans out there that may not care for the Laymon style but are very curious about his impact on the genre and they did a wonderful job putting that on display in this collection. The stories range from despicable in the case of Torres’ Bestiality, to humorous in Piccirilli’s New York Comes to the Desert, to flat-out brilliant with Little’s Meeting Joanne. Every story really seems to take a theme present in Laymon’s work and exploit it to the fullest.  The quality of work in this collection is amazing, as every story is memorable and executed impeccably.  This is one of those rare collections where there really isn’t a weak spot to speak of.

Then there are the remembrances.  Ah yes, the remembrances. There is no way I can adequately explain the emotion evoked in these heartfelt essays.  For many of these writers, this was the opportunity to formally say goodbye to a friend that was taken from them too early. The magnitude of emotions displayed here will have your heart in your throat and tears streaming from your eyes.  There is no way around it. The recollections range in tone but all are a testament to the fact that Richard Laymon was a great mentor and friend to many. The reader will feel slightly voyeuristic as these authors lay their souls on the paper.  These essays are really that powerful.

As a complete Laymon nut, the real highlight for me was the inclusion of actual Laymon works that I have never read.  Reading Laymon’s dedication to pipe smoking in his short lived zine, ‘Smokers Blend’, was an absolute treat, while dissecting some poems from a college aged Laymon was more fun than I’ve had in awhile.  These are the real draw for the Laymon fan and make this collection well worth the price.  It adds a certain sense of validity to those years of clamoring about in used bookstores trying to find the Headline edition of In The Dark or selling various organs to afford that copy of A Writer’s Tale on eBay. This collection proves that we weren’t the only ones going crazy over the writings of Richard Laymon.

This is a most fitting farewell to a man who deserves to be appreciated in the same way that people appreciate names like King, Barker and Bloch.  His writing was mean and gritty with a subtle undercurrent of brutal humor which made his style so damn unique.  More than any other writer, Richard Laymon sucked me into the world of genre fiction and, based on the brilliant display of emotion in this gorgeous collection, I am not the only one.