I was fifteen when Brian Keene’s The Rising came out and I’m pretty sure I read it within the first month the Leisure mass market edition was available.
I say this not to bolster fifteen year-old me’s street cred, that ship sailed a long time ago, but to give you some context as to how old I am (not very) and how long I’ve been into horror fiction (a good percentage of my life).
Without someone to show you where you’re supposed to be starting as a reader interested in this stuff, I imagine a lot of people my age took a similar path through the genre. It starts maybe a little precociously, with Stephen King when you’re too young to appreciate him.
Screw ‘appreciate’, I was too young to string a few pages of King together when the man’s legend first struck my interest. In grade school I took out a slim biography on King from the library (large print and lots of pictures, a biography clearly meant for younger readers. Which is really a bizarre target demo, if you think about it) and used it as the basis for a book report. How young was I? I don’t quite remember but the “report” took the form of a clothes hanger mobile, if that gives you an idea.
So, realistically, reading King was still a few years away but the great thing about the early-to-mid 90s for a kid with this specific interest was that R.L. Stine’s Goosebumps series existed as a placeholder to guide that transition from The Poky Little Puppy to Cujo.
Not to knock Stine, but I remember feeling like I was outgrowing Goosebumps even while I was consuming (read: freebasing) them. It was both that magnetic pull of King and that weird inferiority complex that I felt as a young boy getting his books from the children’s section of Borders when I just knew that I was meant to be browsing the “grown-up” shelves.
When my ability caught up with my will, I started with the short story collections, taking little bites, experimenting with books on tape (Nightmares & Dreamscapes, I distinctly remember Whoopi Goldberg reading about a teacher shooting a roomful of little kids and it broadening my definition of horror), and wading into the pool.
Okay, I’m digressing a lot, we’ve got to move this along. Where does a young horror reader of my vintage go after King? Well if you’re like me and you have parents who were into reading but not into reading horror, you go for another big name: Poe. Which, again, proves difficult, even once you’ve got modern style and diction down and are blazing through King and a surfeit of tie-in paperbacks based on movies (I vividly remember reading the novelization of 1998’s thriller Disturbing Behavior and the passage beginning “[female character’s name] knew what guys liked”) and games (Warhammer 40k, natch).
Finally, once a few years pass and you gain an awareness of branding and publishers, you notice that two of the books on the “New in Paperback” endcap at Waldenbooks* have similar looking covers and boom!: you’re in deep with the Leisure horror books line. At that point, if you hit it at just the right time, you were set. Trying to keep a correct chronology is tough looking back now, but within a three to five year window those paperbacks exposed me to Jack Ketchum, Richard Laymon, Edward Lee (his “tamer” stuff which isn’t really tame at all), Ray Garton, John Skipp and Cody Goodfellow (which made me go back to the Skipp/Spector years, I guess I’m part of the first generation who can make that claim, which is cool because Goodfellow’s still kicking all the asses), Tim Lebbon (Berserk, mmmmm::Homer Simpson drool::) and, (I’m pretty sure) my gateway author into the line: Brian Keene.
Wait wait wait, why is this post called “A Big Night” again?
Give me a second, I’m getting there.
Since I’m such a class act and unwilling to perpetuate stereotypes about twenty-somethings, I turned my cell phone off during the presentation. By the time I turned it back on my Facebook messages were ringing off the hook.
“You’re on Brian Keene’s Top Ten of the Year list!” was the gist.
Whoa, back up (again).
So the night before this I’d been tagged by buddy (and generous, tireless pre-reader) Tod Clark into one of Brian Keene’s facebook posts. He alluded to the possibility that a few other authors and I would be getting a mention on the next episode of his podcast, The Horror Show. As someone who’s been listening to the show this bowled me over, as you can expect, but I figured the mention would be in passing.
For about as long as I’ve been reading Keene’s work he’s been making yearly top ten lists and (even if they don’t stretch back that far, his various blog posts and non-fiction pieces were quick to name-drop seminal works) I always take his recommendations seriously, especially in the time before I was thinking about writing and looking to broaden my genre reading.
It’s surreal to hear him (podcast link and full list complete with book links reprinted here) put Deadite’s 2014 re-issue of Tribesmen on a list with Bryan Smith (another Leisure author I was reading!), Stephen King, Laird Barron(!!!), friends John Boden and Jonathan Janz (dopey picture with Janz here), and a few other writers I clearly need to check out.
It feels real good, but still surreal, especially when taking into account the reverence with which Keene goes on to discuss editor Don D’Auria later in the show.
It feels weird because, well, throughout high school and college I wanted to be one of those Leisure authors. It was my main goal, while living in Boston I had discussed as much with Nate Kenyon (a Leisure author I tracked down and harassed into having lunch with me), and my first novel, Video Night, was written with that market in mind. It was a goal that began as a wouldn’t-it-be-cool-if? pipedream as a kid, worked its way into a vague well maybe when I’m a lot older… in my late teens and then became a schucks-I-guess-we-won’t-know-how-that-would-have-turned-out bummer when the publisher folded in 2010.
Things, clearly, turned out well (and much sooner than expected) in the end. I got to work first with John Skipp (still my spirit guide), then with Don D’Auria at Samhain, then everything came full circle as that first book with Skipp was re-printed with a rad cover and I’m on this list and oh my god I need to go lay down it was a big night.
Huge thanks to Mr. Keene.
*Whoa, bookstores in malls! Remember that? Ever notice how the spot that used to be the Waldenbooks in your mall is, like, cursed now? Mine was a Journeys shoes for a hot minute. I think it’s now an As-Seen-On-TV money laundering front.
** Yup, both crime writers, and if I’ve learned anything it’s that you’ve got to diversify your genre reading, yo!