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Brian Keene
"A Bloody Good Time"

Noted horror author speaks with us on his books, horror subtext, who he likes, and of course--METAL
By: Frank Hill, Eric Compton  |  Published: Monday, October 25, 2004
Brian and his buddyHorror and Metal go together extremely well, so for our Halloween week here we took some time to chat with horror author Brian Keene about his books, the next big things in horror and of course, METAL. He's quite the nice guy, so go empty your bladder, have a go at this bloody great interview then go check out his stuff.

EC: I'm a big fan of 'The Rising' and I read you have a new book coming out called 'Terminal' which is described as a supernatural crime story. What else can you tell us about it?


Basically, the premise is you have a guy growing up in a blue-color town, white-trash type who can't rise above anything, working for minimum wage in a factory, wife and kid to support and he find out he has two weeks to live because of terminal cancer. He's determined that after he's gone his family will have a better life, so he decides to rob a bank; what's the worst that will happen since they can't give him life. So, him and two friends decide to do a bank job, something goes wrong, they take hostages, and one of them is a little boy who can heal people by touching them. That's the basic premise. The hardcover to it will be published by Bloodletting Press (link: www.bloodlettingpress.com) and it should be out any time now. The paperback will be done by Random House and it should be out in June.

I also have a sequel to The Rising coming out early next year, also. The hardcover around Jan 2 by Delirium Books and the pb, through Leisure Books, will also be out in June, so it's a double shot month. Originally, it was going to have two different titles, but the publishers and myself agreed that it would be easier with one--'City of the Dead'.

MM: Since we're primarily a metal site, can you describe the difference between apocalyptic horror and regular horror for those who don't know:

Regular horror deals with everyday situations gone awry--the serial killer that lives next door, the werewolf out in the woods behind your house. Apocalyptic horror usually deals with end-of-the-world scenarios--nuclear war, or like in The Rising, the dead have returned to live, your stereotypical zombie movie.

MM: You basically have the undead as animated shells capable of doing standard stuff like driving and even using weapons. Are you going to keep that in the sequel?

Oh, yeah, in 'City of the Dead', you're going to see a lot more of that--zombies are using artillery, tanks...there's a great scene where a bunch of people are trapped in a skyscraper and the zombies actually send in suicide bombers, so they're real cunning in the sequel.

MM: Is that meant to be analogous to our current political situations?

It's funny, when I'm writing, I don't think that way. I set out to tell a good story, something I would enjoy reading. When I'm done and I sit back and read it, a lot of times I will see analogies like that and I guess it's my subconscious doing that. I'm not aware of it when I'm writing.

FH: For me, 'The Rising' stayed closer to pure horror in that whenever you thought things might get better or you'd get a nice, Hollywood ending, things usually got worse. Was this intentional on your part?

Totally intentional. I created a world where the odds are REALLY against humanity and I consciously wanted it to not have a happy ending. I wanted it to be grim and bleak and horrifying cause that's what horror is all about at it's core. For the sequel--even more so.

MM: 'The Rising' kind of had an interpretive ending that some people were critical of. How do you respond to charges that it was a cop out ending to set up a sequel?

Well, the only thing I can say was that it wasn't. Originally, there was not going to be a sequel. While the ending to 'The Rising' was not clear-cut as in 'this is what happens and I'm going to explain it to you', I thought if you sat back and thought about it, that it was pretty apparent.

****SPOILER SECTION**** (highlight this section with your cursor if you want an explanation of the ending ) The father went inside the house, he found his kid was a zombie, he shot him and then he shot himself. I told the reader he's got two bullets left in the gun, I had the character Martin going over Bible verses and even the dream sequence was in there.
****END OF SPOILER SECTION****

I'll admit, it was my first, big novel and I think the main reason the ending confused some people was partly from my own weakness as a writer, but I also think that people aren't used to those endings anymore. They get used to the TV endings that are wrapped up in a half hour and everything makes perfect sense. Even my editors weren't sure which led to the idea of the sequel. They said, "well you're going to do a sequel?" and I said no, what are we gonna write about, but they threw a lot of money at me...hahaha.

Let me put it this way though, for those who read the spoiler, what you expect to happen, doesn't happen. But everything will be revealed though they may not be happy about it.

MM: 'The Rising' has been optioned for a film. Has anything been started on that yet?

Some of the conceptual art has been done and work on the screen play has begun. A gentleman named John Kilker is working on it. It's only been a couple of months, but it sounds like it will stay pretty close to the book.

MM: Do you have much say in the production of it?

Legally, I don't, however, the folks that optioned it have been just wonderful with getting my input, asking me what I think about certain things and they really keep me updated. It'll definitely be rated R with some things like the zombie-fetus maybe getting cut. But they're fans and are striving to remain true to the source.

MM: One of our readers wanted to ask a couple questions. Your two stories 'Earthworm Gods' and 'The Garden Where My Rain Grows' were set in the same world. Can we expect to see more from there?

Yes, you can and this is a MaximumMetal.com exclusive--there is going to be a full-length novel, that I'm almost finished with, based on those two stories that will be out in early 2006 and basically the premise of them is a day that starts raining and doesn't stop, pretty much the entire Earth is flooded again. Kind of like Waterworld without Kevin Costner.

MM: What's your favorite work professionally and personally?

Short story--'Earthworm Gods' or 'Babylon Falling'. Novel--Probably, 'Terminal'. I really bled into that book going 48 hours without sleeping, drinking coffee and doing shots of Tequila pouring myself into the keyboard. I'm a firm believer in whatever I'm working on now, is my favorite. I don't think I've ever been halfway through something and thought 'I hate this'.

MM: Let's move on to some horror stuff. What's your favorite kind of horror--the pure nastiness of a gore film or a great, psychological creep-out?

I like both. To me what's important is the story. It has to engage me, it has to capture my imagination and attention. I love gore growing up on 'Dawn of the Dead', Carpenter's 'The Thing', 'Evil Dead', 'Phantasm'. I also love the quiet, supernatural stuff too. One of my all-time favorites is 'Jacob's Ladder' and I don't think you see a drop of blood in that one, but it scares the shit out of me every time I watch it.

MM: Could you pinpoint your favorite type of horror--slasher, zombie, haunted house, mutant animal...

I've a soft spot for zombies, but I think overall, my favorite is post-apocalyptic horror. It's things like Stephen King's 'The Stand' and 'Swan Song' by Robert McCammon.

MM: Of the top of your head, what's the scariest film of all time and why?

Carpenter's 'The Thing' for the overwhelming sense of paranoia and despair he packs into that film. That's another one where the ending pissed some people off.

MM: What some of your favorite horror novels out there?

I'll give you my Top 5/6:
1. The Stand & Salem's Lot - Stephen King
2. The Cellar - Richard Layman
3. Hexes - Tom Piccirilli
4. At the Mountains of Madness - H.P. Lovecraft
5. I Am Legend - Graham Masterson

MM: Do you buy into the idea that great horror has a subtext that taps into or touches upon the national fears and anxieties?

To an extent, however, I don't think the filmmaker or the writer should set out to consciously do that. I think story comes first--tell an engaging story with characters that may not have to be sympathetic, but they at least have to be believable. Horror in and of itself, does just that. It taps into our fears and subconscious. Take Mary Shelly's 'Frankenstein', the big social conflict was science vs religion. We were discovering things and playing God and the religious society didn't like it. Did Mary specifically set out to talk about that? I don't think so. I think she had a neat idea about a scientist who animated a body and when you look at the subtext, it's there.

I would even say the same thing about modern stuff. Take Stephen King's 'Salem Lot'. I think he set out to write a really kick-ass vampire story, but if you look at the subtext, it's kind of a portrait of the death of small town America which was really starting to become a problem when he was writing it.

MM: Nice lead in here. Recently, we had '28 Days Later', 'Dawn of the Dead', 'Resident Evil: Apocalypse' and even 'Shaun of the Dead'--a big zombie set of years. Do you think apocalyptic horror is the horror of the Internet generation which maybe sees us more connected worldwide, but also fairly anonymous. Or do you think it's just a Hollywood trend right now?

Well, I think it's both. Zombies are definitely the monster of the Internet generation exactly for those reasons. However, at the same time it is a Hollywood trend and like any trend they will beat it into the ground. Off the top of my head, I think there's seven more that have been green-lighted or in production. I'm looking forward to Romero's new Dead film and a couple others.

MM: In your opinion what makes horror stay fresh and creative over the years?

I think more than any other genre, horror really speaks to humanity. When you think back to the cavemen in their cave drawing pictures on the wall around the campfire, they would draw pictures of their hunts with ferocious beasts attacking them--they were telling horror stories. They were scared of the very things out there in the dark outside the cave and I think it's always been that way.

Horror helps us deal with the very real monsters and the very real evils that we face every day. We live in a place where people are flying planes into buildings, they're hacking up their pregnant wife, abducting kids behind carwashes--the monsters are real. Horror provides an outlet. It's a nice way to curl up and escape the real life terrors out there. I think that's what keeps it fresh. Horror has gone through some dry spells, but it always re-invents itself.

MM: Coming off of that, is there anything that can be done with classic monsters like the vampire, werewolf and the ghost or are they all played out at this point?

Oh, no, there's plenty to be done. Obviously, zombies have been redone with '28 Days Later' a good example. I thought that was a brilliant update and they weren't dead, just really, really angry people--the zombie equivalent of our next door neighbor who wakes up one morning and goes on a shooting spree.

Vampires--you're actually starting to see the update. Nothing against Anne Rice, she's a great writer and she kinda made vampires her own. They all dressed in black, drank wine and sat around listening to Bauhaus, Morrissey and talking about how horrible life was. We're getting away from that. Simon Clark has done some great stuff with vampires; really just made them mean, nasty bastards again.

Personally, I think the next big thing will be werewolves. I think we're going to see an update in the werewolf mythos. It may have started with movies like 'Ginger Snaps' and I'm starting to see it creep into fiction, too.

MM: What's some good werewolf fiction out there that's current?

The best I've read in a long time is by a guy named Steve Wedel and the name of that novel is 'Sharah'. It's a small-press, trade paperback probably easier to order from Amazon than find at the bookstore. It's a fresh update on the werewolf mythos that I dug the hell out of.

MM: What do you think of this run of Japanese horror being remade for the U.S.?

I dig it y'know, I thought Ringu was pretty scary and fun, but I think they do it better. What's been impressing me and a lot of people don't know it's taking place is the British Invasion. Movies like 'Dog Soldiers', '28 Days Later' and 'Shaun of the Dead'. The Brits have proven that they can make a great horror movie.

We're just gonna throw a bunch of names at you and you say the first thing off the top of your head:

Richard Matheson
--The King.
Shirley Jackson--Wonderful writer, it's a shame this new generation of readers haven't really discovered her.
Clive Barker--Wish he'd get back to writing horror again.
Stephen King--The Man. He's an example of somebody a writer should look up to not only of the art of story telling, but of how to stay real to both yourself and your fans.
George Romero--I'm so glad he's back and working again. The nicest, most affable guy, George has MANY more horrors to show us.
John Carpenter--Greatest director of all time.
Lucio Fulci--The King of Gore.
Dario Argento--Right up there with Fulci.
Wes Craven--Great director. The first 'Nightmare on Elm Street' is one of the finest horror movies ever.
Vincent Price--The man with the voice like no other.
"My fans uncovered a photo of me from 1986 rockin' the mullet and I had a Winger shirt on. They hold it over me as blackmail all the time."
Christopher Lee--Nice to see him working again, some of his best work ever even now.
Alan Moore--Alan Moore is God, 'nuff said. One of the biggest influences of my life; I'm in awe of what he does. And he created the greatest comic book character of all time--John Constantine.
H.P. Lovecraft--Wow, even more so than Stephen King, Lovecraft directly influenced more artists than anybody. Everybody from Iron Maiden to Robert Bloch to King himself.

MM: Even more than Edgar Allen Poe?

Yeah, even though people would string me up for saying that. Poe was the better writer, his prose was sharper, but idea-wise HP created things that are even now being recycled over and over again in modern fiction. He was one of the first to really cross science fiction with horror and blend the elements together.

MM: Talking about all these guys, are there any great horror actors right now?

I've always been amazed by Keith David. He was Childs in 'The Thing' and in a ton of horror movies. Now, he mostly does voiceovers for commercials. Bruce Campbell is probably our generation's version of Boris Karloff. If you go to the horror conventions, he's a celebrity like none other. When he's there, it's like Elvis is in the building.

MM: Alright, let's talk about METAL.

I just want to say, first off, that if anybody from Queensryche is reading this, thank you for bringing us the sequel to 'Operation Mindcrime'. It's about damn time. I'm excited. Are they making a play for money, sure, but y'know what, I don't care. It seems like they're energized again in interviews. They created these characters--Dr. X, Nikki and Mary--a lot of times when you create characters like that, you think their story is over and years later, all of a sudden, your muse will wake you up and say no it's not. I think the sequel may surprise us.

The other thing with the timing of the release, Mindcrime was a BIG progressive metal album; it's about an underground group wanting to start a revolution in America. Not that long after, we had a nutcase named Timothy McVeigh who wanted to do the same thing. I don't know that an OM2 would be well received after that climate. I'm curious to know if anything played a role in them waiting or not.

MM: Besides them, do you keep up with the current metal trends?

I went through a phase about 10 years ago where I didn't dig the new stuff and my wife, she's nine years younger than me, got me into Korn and Life of Agony and Type O Negative and since then I've tried to stay current. Maybe that's impending middle-age creeping up on me. I dig a lot of the new stuff, even some Nu Metal.

MM: Who's on your playlist right now?

Fear Factory--'Archetype', been listening to the hell out of that. The new Megadeth which I think is the best Mustaine has done in years. A lot of Iced Earth and classic Iron Maiden. I'm pretty eclectic when it comes to metal.

MM: A lot of metal bands finds inspiration from novels. Do you ever get inspired by any songs?

Oh, hell yeah. One of the first short stories I wrote and sold for publication was entitled 'Caught in a Mosh'. Even some of my book titles--'No Rest for the Wicked'. When I was working on 'City of the Dead', I pretty much listened non-stop to Fear Factory's 'Archetype' and Life of Agony's 'River Runs Red' cause the background tone was perfect for what I wanted with the book. I write a lot to metal and find a lot of inspiration there. The two go hand-in-hand well.

MM: So, how do you remember the Hairband Days?

Well, my fans uncovered a photo of me from 1986 rockin' the mullet and I had a Winger shirt on. They hold it over me as blackmail all the time. Some of it was complete bullshit, but I remember those days with fondness because I was out of high school when it all took off. I was a young, single guy and let me tell you, if you wanted to get laid, you put in Poison or Cinderella or Winger and you were gonna get laid that night. And after the girl left, you put in your Iron Maiden and Metallica or Gwar.

Some of those guys didn't get a fair shake. Def Leppard with 'Pyromania' was great until they went pop metal. Their roots was great, same as Metallica. At the time, they were what you listened to, to not fit in school.

MM: Do you play any instruments or ever tried to start a band?

I used to DJ and I'm good with two turntables and a microphone, but that's about all I can play. I can play harmonica a little bit. There's a lot of fellow writers I know who are in bands as side projects. I might be able to do some growling, but that's it.

MM: You get a chance to take in any concerts lately?

Oh, yeah, last thing I saw was Hatebreed, Biohazard and Agnostic Front in Allentown, PA and you want to talk about a generation gap. There were older guys like me there to see Biohazard and the kids there to see Hatebreed. It was bizare, but a fun concert with a monstrous pit that I am now officially to old to get into cause I got my ass kicked.

MM: Do you get anybody who says, are you ever gonna outgrow this metal and horror stuff?

I used to maybe 10 years ago, but like it or not, our generation has pretty much assumed control of the planet. You see Ozzy's music being used to sell SUVs. Devo used to be the weird, new wave stuff that the freakiest kid in school listened to and now it's being used to sell dust mops to middle-aged housewives. I don't know when exactly Priest and Leppard became classic rock, but it's on the radio.

MM: What do you think about females in metal?

I think we need more of them. Off the top of my head, I can't name a current, predominately female band. Maybe I'm out of touch. I think it's time for Lita to stage a comeback.

MM: What's the last thing you downloaded?

You know I don't and I'll tell you why. It's not that I want to give my money to the conglomerates cause they're an evil bunch of bastards, but as an artist when I see a pirated copy of 'The Rising' on some Russian website, that people can get for free, I'm not getting a dime for it. Also, I'm basically technologically illiterate. I'm happy if I can send an email half the time.

MM: You ever get a chance to surf the site and read up on the gossip?

Oh, yeah. I don't have a favorite site, but my message board (Link: www.briankeene.com/board.html) is real active with a couple hundred users and we don't just talk about books. Music and Metal is probably the most popular threads on there.

MM: A lot of guys will just put a board out there and let the fans run it, but you'll jump in there all the time.

I'm lucky enough to really do what I want to do for a living which is making up horror stories. It's a great gig--my commute is from the bed, to the coffee pot, to the computer and I know who put me here. The people who buy my books, I don't just consider them readers, I consider them friends. I like that sense of community and the interaction keeps me honest and grounded.
Brian's Top 25 Metal CDs:
1. Queensryche: Operation Mindcrime
2. Anthrax: Among the Living
3. Iron Maiden: Number of the Beast
4. Faith No More: Angel Dust
5. Led Zepplin: IV
6. Black Sabbath: Paranoid
7. Megadeth: Peace Sells...But Who's Buying
8. Anthrax: Sound of White Noise
9. Queensryche: Rage For Order
10. Iron Maiden: Somewhere In Time
11. Ozzy: Bark At The Moon
12. Danzig: How The Gods Kill
13. Body Count: Body Count
14. Helloween: Keeper of the Seven Keys I
15. Overkill: Fuck You
16: Testament: Practice What You Preach
17. Metallica: Master of Puppets
18. Guns N Roses: Appetite For Destruction
19. Ozzy: Diary of a Madman
20. Type O Negative: Bloody Kisses
21: Life of Agony: Ugly
22. Wasp: Inside The Electric Circus
23: Motorhead: Rock n Roll
24. Warrior Soul: Drugs, God & The New Republic
25. Fear Factory: Archetype


MM: State your preference:

Anthrax--Turbin, Belladonna or Bush era?
I love all three, but personally I gotta go with Belladonna cause that's what I grew up on. I do love the Bush era though. Anthrax just keeps re-inventing themselves with a winning package every time.

Maiden--Di'Anno, Dickinson, Blaze?
Dickinson...I liked the early stuff, but it ended so fast. Bruce can still wail like nobody else.

Ozzy--Sabbath, Randy, Jake E., Zakk days?
Whatever he's doing, I love him. Ozzy is our generation's Elvis. When our parents grew up, Elvis started as this shocking musician who parents didn't want their kids to listen to cause he could lead them to Hell. He went out as this balding, middle-aged fat guy who couldn't speak he was so fucked up on drugs...look at Ozzy.. Randy may have been his muse and Ozzy may have never fully recovered from that loss.

Dio--Dio, Rainbow, Elf, The Prophets?
I love Dio...just got 'Master of the Moon' and it's been growing on me. Early solo stuff is the best.

Do you really care about a new G'nR at this point?

I really thought they were going to be the Rolling Stones of their generation. I thought they had it and, of course, it fell apart. I didn't like G'nR Version 2.0. I didn't like Velvet Revolver. I think in another 5 years or so, I think we'll see a true reunion.

MM: Do you get to listen to much underground stuff?

I do. A reader who has a band will send me something or somebody will post a link, but I freely admit I'm not totally up on it. There's a band out of Jersey called Power Plant that kicks ass.

MM: Do you think America right now is missing a good, fun, hard rock band?

We are. I hate to come back to G'nR, but I think we need something that is radio-friendly that doesn't sell out. America desperately needs it to save us. I love hardcore, but it's all angry, angry, angry and I'd love to see a good sex, drugs and rock 'n roll band.

MM: And to jazz things up a little with some off-the-wall stuff...who's worse in your stories, the undead or the humans?

Humans...and that's intentional.

MM: What did you really think of Rob Zombie's 'House of 1,000 Corpses'?

I thought it was a brilliant idea that was poorly executed, but I give Rob credit for trying to expand his boundaries, but it just didn't work. The first 10 minutes were great and after that it went down hill and fell apart for the last 20 min. I didn't like it even after 2nd and 3rd viewings. That said, I think with time and practice, he could really be a powerhouse film maker.

MM: Who has more merchandise--KISS or Spongebob Squarepants?

KISS. They have a KISS coffin!

MM: Who's gonna win the Superbowl this year?

I could give a rat's ass. On Superbowl Sunday, I watch a horror movie. To me, when football, baseball or racing is on it's about as exciting as watching flies fuck. I hate that our teachers and cops are making $20,000 a year a some guy who can throw a football is making $17 million.

MM: Do you recommend schizophrenia?

If you have to pick a disease to go with your SUV and cell phone, then that's a good one. Bipolar is probably my highest recommendation.

MM: What's your beer of choice?

Domestic--Ying Ling lager, that's good stuff. Import--I've been drinking a lot of Harp and Bass Ale. One of the producers for 'The Rising' movie turned me on to Knob Creek, a top-shelf bourbon which may have be dropped off by an alien race from the gods.

MM: Ever Google your name to see what's out there about ya?

Yeah, I do it about once a month to find out who's talking smack and who's giving props. It feels weird, but it's all part of the business.

MM: Who's higher on the geek list--horror, metal or comic book fans?

I think comic fans are socially accepted right now because of Spiderman and the X-Men movies. I'd say horror fans are high on society's geek list right now followed by the comic book fans then the metal fans who run Wall Street and make websites and write horror novels.

MM: Which words best describe you from this list--gimp, wimp, simp, chimp, imp, shrimp, blimp, limp, pimp:

I'm a pimpin' imp.

MM: Have you ever powdered your nuts with Gold Bond Medicated Powder?

Hahaha...I have never powdered my nuts. Howard Stern just did a bit about that and told his listeners not to do it. I just shave mine, but don't ever use Old Spice down there.

MM: So, what have you got planned for Halloween?

I am dressing up as Howard Stern and I have a book signing in Fall's Church, VA and I'm gonna party that night and get suitably drunk.

MM: Lastly, are there any underground horror writers you want to tune us into?

Yes--Wrath James White, one of the best and biggest in the underground right now with real hardcore horror like a double-shot of heroin. People need to read him. Another is Bryan Smith who will have his first mainstream release next year. He writes like a young Stephen King. And probably my favorite right now is Mathew Warner, everybody buy his books.

MM: Any last words you want to say to the headbangers out there?

Just keep the faith and don't try this at home.




LINK LIST:
www.bloodlettingpress.com
www.briankeene.com


MORE NEWS ON BRIAN KEENE:

  • Brian has accepted a position with Cemetery Dance Publications as the new Associate Editor for the GRAVE TALES comic book. His tenure will begin with issue #4, due out before the end of the year.

  • Pre-orders are now being taken for both City of the Dead (the sequel to The Rising) and Sympathy For The Devil: The Best of Hail Saten Vol. 1. Check out his site for details.

  • The limited edition hardcover of TERMINAL will ship in just a few short weeks. The critics are raving about this one: "Echoes of Stephen King's working class voice." "Keene's greatest work to date." "Grim, violent and bleak as hell-guaranteed to have people talking."



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    Horror AuthorBrian KeeneFrank Hill, Eric Compton10/25/2004



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