Early morning in Los Angeles, and after a week, I was still on East Coast time. As a result, while the rest of the household slept, I was sitting out on David Schow’s balcony in the Hollywood hills, looking down on the city, and drinking coffee. It was the first moment of reflective, quiet, alone time I’d had since leaving home, and I was enjoying it. I watched the sun rise. I watched a coyote slink behind a neighbor’s house far below. And I watched three big black crows alight on some electrical wires just beyond David’s balcony. Squawking to each other, they looked out upon the world as if they owned it. And who knows? Maybe they did.
I sat there, quietly sipping coffee, watching three crows from the balcony of the man who co-wrote the screenplay to The Crow, and smiling at the universe’s little joke. Then Kasey Lansdale swept in like the Looney Tunes Tasmanian Devil, and the spell was broken, and the coffee was finished, and we headed out to the next signing—at Mysterious Galaxy Bookstore in San Diego.
Kasey is, of course, the daughter of Joe R. Lansdale. I don’t know what accounts for the talent in the Lansdale family. Maybe it’s an atmosphere that fosters and incubates creativity and expression. Maybe it’s something in the Nacogdoches water supply. Or maybe it just really good genes. Whatever the case, the Lansdale clan has always struck me as a literary equivalent to the Carter Family of old. Joe’s accomplishments need no recounting here, but he’s not the only writer in the family. His wife, Karen, has written, edited, and was one of the original founders of the Horror Writers Association. His son, Keith, writes prose and comic books. Kasey has written prose and edited an anthology (Impossible Monsters). She also runs her own small press publishing company—Pandi Press. But perhaps more prominently, she is also a country music singer and songwriter. She’s opened on tour for Wynonna Judd, worked in the studio with John Carter Cash, played Dodger Stadium, and traveled all over the United States and overseas, playing and singing.
And she busted her ass to get to that point.
Kasey has drive. The success she’s had so far? She didn’t get that overnight. She worked hard to achieve it. And that success pales in comparison to the future successes she’s currently striving for. And make no mistake—she’s doing this on her own. Yes, her father is there to help her if she asks for it (just like all good parents are—and just like I do for both of my sons), but she’s achieving these things on her own, much like Joe Hill did, writing and submitting stories under that name, determined to get published based on his skills and talent, rather than who his father was. Kasey has embarked on a similar journey, and as her friend, it’s exciting to see that dedication and determination finally paying off. Indeed, Kasey told me as we drove south toward San Diego, that she’d just been interviewed a few days before, and for the first time, the interviewer didn’t ask any questions about her famous father. Instead, the questions were all about her. That’s an important distinction.
You can teach an artist about the various rules and disciplines of their creative field. You can teach a writer about grammar and point-of-view and plot tropes. You can teach them to write every day and read every day. But you can’t teach them drive and you can’t teach them determination. Most of all, you can’t teach patience. An artist either has these things or they don’t. The artist who has these things will most likely achieve some degree of success.
With plenty of time to kill before our signing, Kasey and I stopped off at a tea room a friend of hers in Hollywood had recommended. I had a salad. She had a pastry. Neither of us had tea (unless you count iced tea) and neither of us were impressed. So we made a quick side-trip to the beach, and then headed to Mysterious Galaxy.
Jonathan Maberry was on hand to lead a discussion, and I was impressed by the size of the crowd. A full house, with a very diverse audience, asked great questions and had us both sign stuff for them. I was given more bottles of bourbon and other cool things. A fellow Navy veteran gave me a Chief’s badge and a trinket taken from around the neck of a dead ISIS fighter (more on that a few columns from now), both of which I was very touched by. San Diego is a military town. I was seventeen the first time I visited San Diego—and that was to undertake eight weeks of Navy boot camp, followed by another sixteen weeks of various specialist schools. I was humbled and honored by all of the current and former duty servicemen and servicewomen who showed up—everyone from mess cooks to SEALS.
I was also stunned by how many writers were in attendance. In addition to Jonathan, Kasey, myself, and Bryan Killian (whose first novel I was lucky enough to blurb a few years ago) there were probably a dozen other aspiring authors. I soon found out that this was the work of bizarro writer and political activist David Agranoff.
David has been making waves the last few years among readers of bizarro fiction (especially with his upcoming novel, Punk Rock Ghost Story, which was inspired by the strange case of the early-Eighties punk band The Fuckers), but just like Kasey, his success didn’t happen overnight. I’ve known David from online interactions—and later in person—for well over a decade now, so I can attest first-hand how hard he has worked to achieve it with drive, determination, and patience. Perhaps more impressively, he hasn’t used his talents to merely grow his own career. He’s used them to grow the careers of others, as well. Discovering a significant number of aspiring horror, bizarro, and other speculative fiction genre authors lived in San Diego, and dissatisfied with the offerings and current status of the HWA, David took it upon himself to found an independent writing organization—a collective of San Diego-based speculative fiction authors, made up of both beginners and professionals. He didn’t have to do this. David is a political organizer, and here he is doing the same thing in his spare time for his fellow writers. That would be like if I was a plumber, and I fixed toilets all day long, and then in my off-hours I went around plunging the clogs out of other writers’ toilets. But David doesn’t see it that way. That’s because he understands that in addition to drive, determination, and patience, an artist needs a community of other artists. We need friendships and interactions with others like us—simply because we’re not like other people. We need like-minded people who share our drive. We need people we can talk to about what we do and how we do it.
Out here on the road, I’ve seen dozens of friends whom I’ve known for the last twenty years. You can call them a posse, if you like. The horror media used to call them a cabal. I just call them friends. I couldn’t have done this without them. On days when my determination flagged, or my patience waned, they were there, encouraging me to drive on.
I’m older now. I’ve had a heart attack and my friends are dying and my beard has enough gray in it now that a tourist in Hollywood mistook me for Sean Connery. Some days, my drive falters. Just a little bit. But then I think about folks like Kasey and David and my transmission pops back into gear, and I floor the accelerator again.
And I drive on.
Which is exactly what I did the next morning. Feeling victorious after two wonderful signings at Dark Delicacies in Burbank and Mysterious Galaxy in San Diego, I rented a car, and drove off into the desert, heading for the next signing in Tucson…
…and ran smack into Donald Trump’s wall.
More on that next week.
Brian Keene writes novels, comic books, short fiction, and occasional journalism for money. He is the author of over forty books, including the recently released Pressure and The Complex. The father of two sons, Keene lives in rural Pennsylvania.