Spiritual Nihilist: A Profile of Brian Keene

Written by Jess Peacock

"Most of my novels have begun as an observation on everyday things," explains Brian Keene, author of the upcoming novel Castaways, available from Leisure Books in February 2009. "The Rising was, at its core, simply about visitation between a father and son after divorce. The Conqueror Worms was about growing old and being helpless to stop it."

Keene, who has been credited by The New York Times as one of the faces who reinvigorated the zombie sub-genre ("I don't know if that's true or not, but if so, then I am very pleased and humbled"), started writing his first novel in 1999. The result of those efforts was the Bram Stoker Award winning novel The Rising, which Delirium books purchased in 2003. "[Delirium] released it later that year as a hardcover, right around the time 28 Days Later came out. Then Leisure Books bought the paperback rights and issued a mass market release in 2004."

"It's been very successful," Keene added.

That success spawned two sequels with City of the Dead and The Rising: Selected Scenes From the End of the World, and quickly set Keene apart with his potent mix of spirituality, anarchy ("Author Nick Mamatas once described me as a 'spiritual nihilist'"), and extreme violence. "I'm bothered by the fact that I still don't know what I believe spiritually," Keene explains. "I believe there's something out there, but I don't believe that mankind knows what it is."

Perhaps the nightmarish Lovecraftian beasts of The Conqueror Worms and the larger underworld hinted at in Ghoul ultimately sheds a little light on a spiritual worldview that Keene describes as a very big puzzle. "Whatever [God] is, I don't think it likes us very much. I think it's fucked with us for a long time. I think it's time we started fucking back."

Keene's latest is a self described tribute to horror author Richard Laymon, who won the Bram Stoker Award posthumously in 2001 for The Traveling Vampire Show. "[Castaways] is intentionally written in a style similar to his. It's about the cast of a reality television show who've been taken to an uninhabited jungle island where they have to outlast the other players in order to win a million dollars." The Survivor-esque setting takes a turn for the worse, naturally, with an approaching Hurricane and the introduction of the island's native inhabitants.

"We all do the same things to survive," Keene says in explaining the underlying theme of Castaways. "It doesn't matter who you are or where you come from."

The terrors in his latest novel, however, are not as mythical in origin than previous outings. "The monsters in Castaways are more along the line of crypto zoological nightmares than Lovecraftian beasties," he explains. "They are the result of evolution gone bad, rather than anything supernatural or otherworldly."

Aside from Castaways, the new year will bring a landslide of work from Keene. "You'll see at least three more books in 2009," he promises. "Urban Gothic (Leisure Books), The Cage (Cemetery Dance), and a short story collection called Unhappy Endings (Delirium Books)."

In addition to such a prolific book release schedule, Keene has also been involved in the world of comic books with his Dead of Night: Devil Slayer series drawn by Chris Samnee (Daredevil). "I can tell you that there will be more...comic books in the pipeline. I'm pitching some stuff right now."

On top of the overwhelming success Keene has experienced in print, The Rising, City of the Dead, and Ghoul have all been optioned for film adaptations, The Ties That Bind is in post-production, and the author recently alerted his fans to the exciting news that his novel Terminal is being developed for the big screen. "The screenplay is finished and they have some actors in mind," he explains. "There's some big news coming."

Always accessible to and grateful for his readers ("Ideally, I'd visit each of them at home and buy them a beer or coffee"), Keene has been posting a free serial online entitled Deluge, a sequel to The Conqueror Worms. "I wanted to give something back to my fans. I wanted to thank them for their support, both morally and financially, over the last ten years. So I decided to give them a free book, something that they didn't have to spend money on."

"I think we're going to see more [online books] as time goes by," Keene predicts. "Not just from me, but all across the medium. Personally, I prefer good old-fashioned paper, but this next generation…who knows?"

Ultimately, Keene somehow finds a way to balance his parade of book releases, dealings with Hollywood, and ventures into the world of comic books and online publishing with the domestic side of things. "I've got an eighteen year old son in addition to my six month old son," he explains. "These days I write whenever I get the chance."

"It varies," he explains of his writing schedule, "based upon the baby's needs. Sometimes I write all night long. And some days, I don't get any work done at all. But it's worth it. He's only going to be this age once. The writing will still be there later."

As for concerns that domestic bliss could smooth away Keene's nihilistic edge, the author is quick to reassure his readers that the reality is quite the opposite. "It makes it worse, because now I have a whole new array of things to be scared of."