Brian Keene is something of a leader in the horror genre. His books The Rising and City of the Dead helped resurrect the zombie subgenre that is still going strong today. When things began to go south at Leisure, the then-publisher of the huge majority of mass market paperback horror available at bookstores, he was among the first to go public with the issues before finally breaking away. He was also quick to test the waters of digital publishing, and these days the majority of his current and forthcoming work is readily available in affordable digital formats.
All of which makes it somewhat surprising that Keene had not tried the self-publishing route. Given his very public difficulties with Leisure, it seemed like taking the reigns of his career would be the logical next step, especially given the success other genre authors have found by doing the same thing. But Keene found homes at Deadite Press and Thunderstorm Books and seemed content to funnel the majority of his work through them.
A few weeks ago, that changed. Oh, he’s still working with the above-mentioned publishers, but he’s finally taken the self-publishing plunge with Alone, a haunting novella that was first released as a limited edition hardcover by Thunderstorm.
The official synopsis of Alone reads:
When Daniel Miller wakes up one morning, something has gone terribly wrong. The power is out. The phones are dead. The house is silent. The street is shrouded in fog. Both his partner and their adopted daughter are missing. So are their neighbors. And so is everyone else in the world. Daniel Miller is the last person left on Earth…or is he?
Alone represents more than Keene branching out into a new publishing venture – it showcases a new side of his writing as well. While I haven’t read everything Keene has published, I’ve read a lot of it. In my experience, Keene’s work usually grabs you by the throat and squeezes tight, whereas Alone is quieter, more confident. Like Dan, Keene is entering the middle age of his career, and he no longer needs to shout to be heard. He’s discovered the power of restraint, and demonstrates it with his understanding of the way a silent, empty house can be just as terrifying as a horde of gut-munching zombies.
He further illustrates this growth with what I think is some of the best character work of his career. There are three main characters in this novella, but we only actually meet one of them. From the moment Dan wakes up to start the story, he is alone. His partner Jerry and their adopted daughter Danielle are already gone, yet Keene makes them real through Dan’s memories and observations. The tidiness of Jerry’s dresser and closet, Dan’s thoughts of a wide-eyed Danielle watching planes take off and land at the airport – these small details flesh out characters who aren’t physically present in the story.
As always, Keene’s influences ring strongly throughout the story. There’s a decidedly Twilight Zone-ish vibe here, and strong echoes of Stephen King’s novella The Mist. As I read the story (in one sitting, I might add), my familiarity with both helped me formulate a couple of theories about what was happening to Dan – one of which turned out to be correct. Did this dampen my enjoyment of the story? Not at all, as Keene did a fine job of not showing his hand until almost the end.
I don’t know what kind of success Alone was (or will be) financially for Keene, but creatively it’s a home run. He’s recently announced another self-published project, Scratch, that is now available in various digital formats. Described as a “giant snake novella,” it sounds like a return to the kind of in-your-face Keene story that he’s built his career on. I hope he continues to make a variety of work available, and that it will be as much of a win for him as it is for his dedicated and ever-growing fanbase.
Order Alone, by Brian Keene here.
Blu Gilliand is a freelance writer of fiction and nonfiction. He covers horror fiction at his blog, October Country (http://theoctobercountry.wordpress.com), and contributes interviews to the Horror World website (www.horrorworld.org). Follow him on Twitter at @BluGilliand.