It’s difficult to keep your self-esteem during a five-hour signing/interview with Brian Keene. Note that when I say "with" Brian, I wasn’t actually signing and I sure as hell wasn’t being interviewed. I was just his wing man while hanging around HEROES ONLY (http://www.heroesonly.net/
) in Cheyenne Wyoming, a small comic shop run by several nice guys (and apparently their wives, who they leave covering the store while they run out for food and booze) who own the place almost as a labor of love as much as a business. Shout-outs to PJ and Jeremy, the only two names I can remember. I’m old and I was out of my natural element. I mean, I was in Wyoming, man.
When I say the place is small, I’m talking small, sparky. I’m talking "you can barely swing a cat in the middle of the room" kind of small. But what they lack for in size and space they make up for in enthusiasm. These dudes apparently called everybody from their local high schools, newspapers, cable stations. Maybe, just maybe, they stopped short of phoning Newsweek.
Now, you never know which way a signing is going to go. At least, I don’t. I might have 20 folks show up, or I might wind up flirting with the chick working the coffee counter at B&N because I’m sick and tired of making sad puppy dog eyes at stone-faced customers walking past at a brisk pace. Occasionally, the coffee counter chick might front me a biscotti for my trouble at a 20% discount, which she probably pockets anyway. In general though, my signings definitely fall to the puppy dog eye extreme.
I suspect such is not the case with Brian.
He downplayed it. He hoped to fake me out. He tried to tell me nobody would show. He said I would be bored shitless. He mentioned I could take the rented car and go off and get lunch and try to keep myself entertained, go see a movie, go find a holdover frontier whorehouse, rather than sit around with nothing to do. He even talked me into bringing a Don Winslow novel along so I could read in the comic shop while he sat alone in the center of the store with nothing but the sound of crickets to keep him company.
HEROES ONLY ordered tons of Brian’s titles, from THE RISING, CITY OF THE DEAD, KILL WHITEY, GHOUL, DARK HOLLOW, and GHOST WALK to the first three issues of DEAD OF NIGHT: DEVIL-SLAYER, which had all been bagged and backboarded and laid out on a table like a buffet at Sizzler. They had signs up. They had pictures of Brian in full gangsta pose in all corners. They lose two points for stopping short of having a life-size Brian Keene cut-out which you could pose beside. Or better yet, one with the face cut out saying YOU CAN BE BRIAN KEENE FOR A DAY!
I never got a full head-count of how many guys actually run HEROES ONLY as opposed to their close pals who were just hanging around, but it had to be around seven or eight. Including the missile silo dude who keeps our country safe from evil foreign powers, so long as he’s not needed to push a button on comics day while he’s flipping through the latest issue of the Teen Titans.
Then the interviews began, the first conducted by store employee Jeremy on camera. As you might guess, this consisted of many super-hero and super-villain questions. If you had to face down a zombie apocalypse, what super-hero or villain would you want at your side? (Brian answered, of course, Wolverine. With a codicil of "or maybe Galactus.") Fun questions handled easily and with good grace and lots of laughter.
Next came the interview by a group of three young guys from the YMCA who apparently were putting this up on a website. They had a laptop with a camera set-up and just faced it at Brian. They hit him with a load of questions, some sharp, some stolen from the previous list (Yes, still Wolverine, yes still Galactus).
Then the cutie but professional high school reporter chick showed up and asked pointed questions about writing, his personal history, day jobs, his new baby boy, his wife, writer’s block, inspiration, his parents. The local news channel wafted in about this time, set-up camera, and glommed onto the interview until Brian made an off-hand crack about religion in a red state. For a second it seemed like he might be going into a Glory Hallelujah Obama speech, at which point Brian got his microphone yanked off.
The second round of high school reporters came in and essentially asked all the same questions again, which Brian responded to for the third time. (Yes, still Wolverine, yes still Galactus. Yes, he gets frustrated with writing and considers bowing out and finding a day job. No, he doesn’t get the urge to call up his Mom on weekly basis and ask her for story ideas).
A few fans had been stepping in and out and roaming around the entire time Brian’s been talking. During a free moment here and there, Brian shook hands and signed books and bonded with guys in full military Desert Storm gear who’ve run over from the nearby military base during their lunch hours.
Then the rest of the zombie fan hoards started to show up.
Okay, I’m an old man. Two whole years older than Brian. I have more gray in my hair (but I do have more hair. Take that). And I guess I write for an older crowd. A mature crowd, a crowd that doesn’t say "awesome!" every fifteen seconds. Who think you spell dog D-O-G and who believe said dog is something that wags its tail when you feed it Milk Bones, rather than D-A-W-G and is something you call each other while your oversized pants are falling off your hips. A crowd that has refined tastes. A crowd where every guy doesn’t have peach fuzz on his chin and every girl has been out of her training bra for more than six months.
Boy, have I been a dick.
I SHOULD be writing for the kids, because the kids get wild. The kids are enthused, man, the kids fill the room with energy. While my crowd is reading my shit between subway stops and dragging their asses home from a ten-hour day, the kids are pumped and wired and jittering in their seats like Marcia Brady at a fucking Davey Jones concert. Their eyes are filled with glee and unabashed love. They tremble and go "yeeeee." And they buy loads of books and bushels of comics.
Authors have a lot of signing stories. Fun ones, crappy ones, fascinating ones, bizarre ones. They talk about how they signed a tit here, a right buttock there, signed dogs and infants and chastity belts and colostomy bags. Me, I’ve only ever signed books. Maybe once I signed a photograph or a sheet of paper that turned out to be a bench warrant.
But I’ve never signed a guitar. I’m not sure why anyone would want a writer to sign a guitar. I’m not entirely sure how you make the transition from "I love this guy’s books" to "I need his autograph on my Fender, man!" But despite my confusion, I watched Brian sign a guitar. I watched a young man cry "awesome" with tears pooled in his eyes.
Did I mention the damn near full-page newspaper article with the two-inch heading that read HORROR AUTHOR BRIAN KEENE FINALLY MEETS FANS IN WYOMING! Did I mention Tony yet? The dude who drove two hours through the fucking barren straits of Wyoming to meet Brian? Did I mention Owen, the three-year-old who nabbed a signed comic which he hopefully hermetically sealed so that by the time he graduates high school he’ll be able to eBay that bitch and pay for his college tuition? Did I mention the autistic kid who came in with his Dad? How about Kate? Who came this close to folding up Brian and putting him in her pocket and bringing him home to live in a terrarium in her living room? That’s what it looked like she wanted to do to him to my eyes anyway.
Did I mention Brian got a very cool HEROES ONLY T-shirt? I didn’t even get a biscotti.
But hey, I know how to handle. I don’t rattle. My upper lip is always stiff, baby, same as my naughty bits. I deal. I’m stone. I’m ice. I’m the Sultan of Swat, the King of Swing. I’m the fucking rock of Gibraltar. But I do get that sinking feeling below my loving and generous heart when only one person the whole day asks, "So, Tom, do you write too?"