For over two decades, author Brian Keene has given fans stories filled with zombies (The Rising series), massive man-eating earthworms (the Earthworm Gods series), an occult detective (the Levi Stotzfus series), a well-meaning serial killer (“I Am An Exit”, The Complex and more), and numerous other tales of horror, dark fantasy and crime fiction.
A World Horror Grandmaster and two-time Bram Stoker Award winner, Keene has also written comic books (including works for DC and Marvel), worked on the board of the Scares That Care charity, acted as showrunner for the audio series Silverwood: The Doorand hosted the popular podcast The Horror Show with Brian Keene.
Now, Keene is embarking on the biggest move of his career – launching his own publishing imprint, Manhattan On Mars Press. To discuss this new and significant development for the writer, Mr. Keene was kind enough to field a few questions from Bloody Disgusting to fill in fans and readers on what’s coming up next.
Bloody Disgusting: You’ve said this is one of the biggest moves (if not the biggest move) of your career thus far. Can you tell readers a bit about what’s happening with Brian Keene these days?
Brian Keene: I began getting published in 1997. Those early efforts were all in indie and small press publications. But by 2001 I was splitting my work between mainstream publishing and the small press, and that’s pretty much how I’ve kept things for the last twenty years. I’d release things through the Big Five (or Big Three, depending on how whether or not the New York publishers have gobbled each other up some more by the time this interview comes out), and I’d also release things through the small press and indie press. I’ve kept one foot firmly in both camps. Now, I’m slowly removing my feet from both and standing on my own.
BD: What led you to first consider launching an imprint?
BK: JF Gonzalez and I had often talked about doing this, but we were both of a generation where making this sort of transition was seen as crazy talk. So we never did. But even after he died, the idea was there in the back of my brain, gnawing and gnawing. And I started watching authors younger than me, whom I admire, and the success they were having making the plunge. Two of them are thriller writer Robert Swartwood and horror/sci-fi writer Stephen Kozeniewski. They were who finally convinced me to make the move. Rob got me to see that with the size of my audience and fan base, it was ridiculous not to do this.
For the entirety of my career, other companies — big and small — have had partial ownership of my rights and my intellectual properties. And these days, IP is king. These corporations aren’t paying for books or films or comics or video games. They’re paying for IP. I want to fully own my IP again. Now, obviously, I’m not talking about the properties I’ve worked on for others — stuff like Aliens, Doctor Who, The X Files and all of the Marvel and DC Comics stuff. That’s somebody else’s IP and I was paid to play with it. But I’ve got over fifty books and over three hundred short stories of my own. Why should somebody else get a cut of those profits and a share of the ownership when the technology and infrastructure exists for me to produce them myself and get them into stores and the hands of readers?
And I should stress, I have a great relationship with most of my current publishers. But when I reached out to each of them individually and told them this was the direction I wanted to go, they all understood. They get it. This is what’s best for my remaining years, and for my sons.
And that’s what it comes down to, really. My sounds. I turn fifty-five this week, and while I’m in relatively good health (despite the misadventures of my first fifty years), I can also hear that mortality clock ticking. I don’t plan on leaving yet, but most of us don’t really get a say in that, you know? Surprises happen. When I’m gone, I don’t want the executor of my literary estate having to chase down royalty checks from twenty different sources, and I don’t want my sons to have to share my intellectual property with a bunch of other people. By bringing everything in house, they’ll have total control over all of that.
BD: Will there be both physical and e-book editions of the imprint’s titles? Are they going to be available in bookstores?
BK: Yep, hardcover, paperback, and eBooks. The only thing I won’t do is signed limited edition hardcovers and audiobooks. Both of those require an entirely different infrastructure and I’m happy to allow others to continue to produce them. But everything else will — in time — be published through Manhattan On Mars. They’ll be available in bookstores and online. There’s a multi-phase plan. Phase one, which will take several years, is to slowly get all the rights reverted back to me, and then bring everything out through the imprint. That has already begun, but I can’t stress enough — I’m doing it slowly. I recognize and am sympathetic to how this impacts my publishers financially, and booksellers as well, and the last thing I want to do is crash the system. So it’s a very slow, methodical process.
During that time, everything will be done through KDP and Ingram. But once all the rights are back in house and under the Manhattan On Mars imprint, I’ll move to offset printing, with my own warehousing and distribution. That way I can offer bookstores returns, and negotiate price and discounts with them directly, rather than through an intermediary. That will be Phase two. But again, this is a year’s long process. We’re talking seven to ten years between then and now.
BD: Can you discuss the name of the imprint, and its meaning to you?
BK: Manhattan On Mars is sort of a two-fold thing. Mainstream publishing is traditionally headquartered in Manhattan. But the other aspect is a vibe from one of my favorite comic series — watch men. You know when Doctor Manhattan gets tired of all the bullshit and the headaches and the drama and he’s like “Why am I still here? I should just fuck off to Mars and do my own thing.” And then he does.
It’s incredibly empowering and freeing to come to the realization that you can do just that. You can do that very thing. I’ve often wondered if Alan Moore was feeling the same way when he wrote that scene. Given that he walked away from mainstream comics a few years after, I like to think he might have. (laughs)
BD: You’ve said that the imprint will encompass all of your back catalogue, in addition to your new works. When can we expect the first title from your imprint – and will it be new, or a reprint?
BK: The first one came out last week. It’s a reprint of sundancing — a book that hasn’t been in print since 2012 and was previously only published as a signed limited edition. Next up will be the inaugural paperback and digital release of Submerged: The Labyrinth Book 2as well as a brand-new short story collection and a reprint of Leader of the Banned. Those are the four on deck before year’s end. Next year, I’ll start ramping things up more.
BD: Is your imprint due to be devoted solely to your own works, or will it include titles from other authors? New or reprints, if so?
BK: Just my stuff. I don’t want to be responsible for anyone else’s money or intellectual property. And I should note, none of my collaborations — stuff like the Clickers books with JF Gonzalez or the Bastards series with Steven L. Shrewsbury or The Damned Highway with Nick Mamatas—will fall under the Manhattan On Mars umbrella. I don’t want to be responsible for half of their royalties, and I don’t want a situation where, thirty years down the road, I’m dead and Nick is dead, and our sons are debating who got paid. I started the imprint because it as what is best for me and my loved ones. But what’s best for my friends and collaborators and their loved ones is that those books continue to stay with publishers who can divvy everything up fairly.
BD: Beyond your imprint – what’s next for Brian Keene? What would you like readers to know?
BK: My novella The Cage was just optioned for a feature length film, but I’m not allowed to say any more about that. I really like the team, and everyone involved, however, and I have very high hopes for it. Lot of other movie stuff in the works, too, but in truth, I’ve learned not to talk about any of it until production actually starts. The only thing Hollywood loves more than jumping on trends is to option things and then never do anything with them. (laughs)
Other than that, just writing every day. I can’t complain. I grew up a fan of the horror genre. And now I’m lucky enough to make my living giving back to that genre and helping to guide and shape it. That’s a great honor, and a fantastic job. But from now on, I get to do it from Mars. And I don’t think that’s a bad thing. There’s an inherent danger in being too close or too involved in something you love. Consider a person who loves bacon and sausage. Then they get a job at a slaughterhouse and over time, they can’t stomach bacon and sausage anymore. Sometimes, a little distance keeps the love blooming.
Visit Brian Keene on the web at http://www.briankeene.com.