I’m new to horror. I didn’t grow up reading it, I simply have a natural bent towards dark story-telling. I’m trying to respect the genre, learning its history as I hone my craft. Lord knows, I thought Lovecraft was over-rated and a tedious read, but I also wanted to study why he has left such an indelible mark in horror. However, as I look across the landscape of up and coming writers, of which I realize that I am one, I think that I’m seeing a disturbing pattern. Too many people are succumbing to what I call “the Brian Keene Effect”.

The Brian Keene effect has a few dimensions to it, but it boils down to people emulating what they think worked for Keene. Don’t get me wrong, Keene was not the first person to make a name for himself with “bad boy” behavior. However, he was the poster boy for the Generation X brand of it. Following his example, some up and coming writers adopt a similar bad boy posture, thinking that their steel-toed boots will be used to kick down the doors to professional, and widely read, popularity. Some find a stage, a bully pulpit visible enough to be heard and draw attention to themselves. Be it a muck-raking image on a message board, a “controversial” regular column in some forum, or a contentious message board or LiveJournal.

A variation of this takes a page from the hip-hop/rap community. Some of these up and coming writers attempt to make a name for themselves, create a buzz about them, by attacking a (much) bigger name. Realizing that they wouldn’t be taken seriously calling out a Stephen King, they pick more reasonable targets, say a Poppy Z. Brite or a Brian Keene, again, under the misunderstanding that challenging the perceived “status quo” is the sure route to prominence.

Part of the problem is that they are locked into thinking short term. Don’t forget, you can get trapped by a persona. People (fans and others you’ve offended along the way) learn to accept and expect that persona, not being quick to allow growth (or growing up). Images aren’t easy to shake, but worse, playing into them decades into your career can turn you into a bit of a caricature.

Most importantly, these writers miss the point of what truly separates a career from a marketing scheme. Stories and talent: if you want to make a name for yourself, write well. You can’t have a lot of hype with not a lot written.

So, please, spare me your “bad boy” posing. Spare me your blather in what you assume is “taking it to the genre”. Spare me your puerile attacks on people who have been doing it, and doing it better, for a lot longer than you. And write good stories. That’s what I’ll pay attention to, and what ought to define your legacy to the genre (rather than being a footnote of annoyance).

P.S. I
Since I’m not about the “dis”, I wrote Brian to see if he’d take offense at my comments. He told me to keep my eye out for an upcoming Hellnotes interview. Something tells me I better post this soon before he steals my thunder.

P.S. II
But at least Keene tells me “Good stuff, man. I dig it (and you can tell them I said it)”

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