“It’s a fun job, but it’s still a job. Save your money, man. A hit single don’t last very long. There’s gonna be another cat coming out, looking like me, sounding like me, next year. I know this.” – Cypress Hill, ‘Rock Superstar’
“Right when you get good, they replace you. Best thing that ever happened to me.” – Marc Maron
Time dragged on, and so did the third leg of the Farewell (But Not Really) Tour. By now, both my publishers and the general public had moved on to other, more immediate books. And who can blame them, really? That’s just how things are these days. We are a civilization of immediacy. We want things now. We want things instantly. We have information, music, movies, books, sporting events, concerts, medical advice, legal advice, grocery shopping, and everything else in our lives available at the touch of a button. I know a woman who has not left her house to go shopping or consume any form of entertainment in over a year. Her groceries and other consumer products are all purchased from Amazon, via her couch. The media she consumes is purchased the same way. If it’s not on Amazon Prime or Netflix, she’s not watching it. If it’s more than four months old, she’s probably not watching it either.
Pressure and The Complex had been on sale for five months. They were now considered old. The publishers were focused on what was coming out next. The readers were focused on what was available now—not what was available five months before. If it wasn’t a trending hashtag on Twitter, then it wasn’t prominent in their minds.
What was prominent in their minds was the presidential election. The deep partisan divide I’d noticed widening all summer long had pretty much split the country in half by September. A nation teetered on the brink of that dark, yawning chasm, yet most of them didn’t seem to notice—caught up, as they were, with trying to push the other team into the crevice first, not realizing that in doing so, they’d drag themselves down, as well.
Most of my peers were talking about politics—telling their readers whom to vote for and why. I’ve never liked doing that. As a rule, I don’t tell folks who to vote for, who to love, or what to worship. I believe equal rights for all people means just that, regardless of your race, your gender, your religious beliefs, your sexual orientation, or your political affiliation. Having this belief makes me a minority of one.
So, while all the other writers were arguing the benefits of Candidate Coke or Candidate Pepsi, I was still out there on the road and online, talking about Pressure and The Complex. You’d think, given the tenor of the nation, and given the fact that it seemed impossible to escape the political coverage, the public would have been receptive. You’d think I could have provided a distraction—an escape from it all. Instead, I got lost in the din. Nobody cared anymore. There were newer books and newer authors and newer hashtags. There was also an election to argue about. Who had time to read a book or go to a signing when—from the comfort of their home—they could belittle complete strangers who had committed the crime of having different values or beliefs than them? And thus, the public appearances, so well attended in the months before, now had fewer and fewer people showing up. Sales, which had skyrocketed and remained steady throughout the summer, now started to slide down the chart.
And the worst part about it all?
The worst part was that I no longer cared. It wasn’t just the road fatigue or the depression. I genuinely no longer cared. After twenty years in this business, I’d ridden this particular merry-go-round more than once. It doesn’t matter what form of entertainer you are—writer, comic, musician, actor, artist. In the eyes of the public, you’re only as good as your last release, and your last release better have been today, because if it wasn’t, somebody else’s will be. I was out here to say goodbye, and goodbye was what I intended it to be. When the clock struck midnight on New Year’s Eve, I intended to retire. Not from writing, but from the grind. Somewhere out there between Pennsylvania and California, between Florida and Rhode Island, between the big cities and the small towns, I’d decided to check out. No longer would I be a slave to social media, or self-promotion, or the constant demands of fandom. No longer would I be a slave to being a brand. A slave to being the horror genre’s Batman. Life is too goddamned short to spend it doing that. I’d played that game for twenty years. Now it was someone else’s turn. Or maybe multiple people’s turns. I thought about all the next-generation authors I’d seen this year, and I decided that the horror genre was in good hands. It faced an uncertain future. There were changes and upheaval to come. But there are always changes and upheaval to come. The horror genre is currently undergoing another radical paradigm shift, much like the one it was undergoing when I came on the scene twenty years ago, and there’s a new generation ready to guide it and shepherd it and defend it just like I’ve taught them to.
I decided that no longer caring wasn’t the worst part of all.
It was the best part.
At the end of September, I found myself in Twilight Zone-creator Rod Serling’s hometown of Binghamton, New York—a beautiful little city that has both incredible wealth and incredible poverty. Author Kevin Lucia (who you seriously need to check out if you haven’t yet—Lucia is this generation’s answer to Charles L. Grant) had invited me to be a guest speaker at the high school where he teaches. I had a great time talking to several different classes about writing.
Afterward, Kevin, myself, Dan Padavona, and perhaps a half dozen other authors (apologies for not being able to remember who all was in attendance) did a signing at RiverRead Books-–the local independent bookstore. RiverRead is appropriately named, since it sits alongside the Susquehanna River—the longest river (at four hundred and sixty four miles) on the American east coast to drain into the Atlantic Ocean, and a major waterway for the northeastern United States.
It also flows, literally, through my front yard.
I stood there, not far from the Susquehanna’s origin point, and thought about home. How easy it would be to just jump in the water and float hundreds of miles downstream, until I arrived at my front door. The distance from my front door to the river’s edge is exactly twenty-six steps. Less than that if I’m in the boathouse. How great would it be to dive into the water and leave it all behind—to be home with my sons and my girlfriend? To spend the days sitting by the river with them, and writing. To let the current wash everything else away.
It would be grand.
But I still had unfinished business to attend to.
I’d made up my mind regarding retirement, but the heist…?
I was still mulling that over as I drove south, passing through Syracuse and then Sleepy Hollow, and then New Jersey, and finally, Pennsylvania and home.
The river was there, waiting for me.
But so were the ghosts.
To be continued…
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.