Ginger Nuts of Horror
I’m starting to think that this book may actually be, in it’s own way, as important and valuable a book for the aspiring professional author to read as ‘On Writing’.
Well, this is kind of awkward admission time. Here goes - this is my first encounter with Brian Keene’s work. Basically, Keene broke about a year or two after I dropped out of reading horror. Since beginning to reconnect with the scene in the last couple of years, his name has come up with crushing regularity. And I’m a huge fan and regular listener of his ‘Horror Show’ podcast: as well as being an entertaining listen, it’s also consistently essential community broadcasting.
So when Mr. Keene mentioned in passing that ‘The Girl On The Glider’ was one the books he was proudest of, and then coincidentally announced a price drop on the ebook edition on his blog, I figured it was time to take a long-overdue look. The fact that ‘The Girl..’ is a short novella also played into my decision making - a quick hit to give me an idea of his style, a palette cleanser in between the longer works I’m currently reading.
Well, it’s been over a week, and I’m still struggling to get to grips with this story, and the impact it’s had on me.....
I think ‘The Girl On The Glider’ is a jaw dropping piece of work, for a number of reasons. I guess I’ll start with the voice - for the length of this tale, it was like Brian Keene was living in my head, talking to me. It’s that simple. The book captures the cadence and rhythm of his speech so closely that it’s genuinely eerie, like reading a transcript of an unbroadcast episode of ‘The Horror Show’. There’s a good reason for that, which is revealed in the Afterword and I will not spoil in this review, but it made my reading experience immediate and visceral. I know metafiction isn’t everyone's cup of tea, and I understand why. Nonetheless, if you’re even remotely open to it as an approach, I think you’ll find this an exemplar of the form.
And I don’t want to shortchange the story - it’s as neat and efficiently told a ghost story as you’re likely to read, and works on just about every level. That said, the story itself is not the reason I’ve found my mind returning to this book again and again in the days since I finished reading it. No, that has more to do with the breathtaking and painful honesty on display here. I’m starting to think that this book may actually be, in it’s own way, as important and valuable a book for the aspiring professional author to read as ‘On Writing’.
No, I'm not fucking kidding - though I share your incredulity. And to clarify what I am saying - I’m not suggesting this book could or should replace ‘On Writing’. What I am saying, after long and careful reflection, is that ‘The Girl On The Glider’ is a near essential companion to ‘On Writing’.
So I guess I should probably tell you why I think that.
And there’s two reasons - one general, one specific. The general is, this gives you an insight into what it’s like to be a successful genre author in the second decade of the 21st century. In the throwaway background details, I was given as honest and unsentimental a window into that world as I could wish for. With not a single ounce of self pity or appeals for sympathy, a clear picture is drawn of just what a slog the life of a professional writer is. That’s why it’s an essential companion to ‘On Writing’. Because while ‘On Writing’, yes, as I can personally attest, will get you fired up, will absolutely infect you with a love of fiction, will leave you desperate to fire up your WIP and get it on, what it doesn’t do - cannot do - is give you an insight into the path you’ll likely end up going down. Because for basically everybody reading this, King level success and money is not going to happen. Depending on who you listen to, the digital revolution may mean that it never happens that way for anyone ever again. There’s good news alongside that, if true - more than ever before will be able to make a middle class living, or decent second income - but the fact remains, the era of the global author millionaire may well be over for good.
And with the best will in the world, King can’t tell you about that life. It’s not his fault, and this is not a deficit in ‘On Writing’ - it’s simply a statement of fact. I will always respect how King held on to the reality of his origins, how to this day he can write relatable working and lower middle class characters (and for that matter how he continues to pay it forward in all kinds of ways - blurbs, support, huge amounts of charitable donations, etc.). Nonetheless, for him to talk about the struggles of the day-to-day of a ‘merely’ successful (as opposed to stratospherically world dominating) writer would have been so inauthentic as to undermine the whole point of that brilliant, brilliant book. It’s the one thing he can’t speak to.
But Brian Keene can. And he does. Brilliantly. With purpose. With muscle. With clear eyed honesty and no apologies. And it’s absolutely gripping.
So there’s that. There’s also a second reason - mildest of spoilers ahead, so if you haven’t already read the book/are already sold on picking it up, skip the rest of this paragraph to avoid learning more. For the rest of you, there’s a section in this book where Keene, in a few short pages, lays bare a truth I’d long suspected about fiction writing, but never heard anyone admit to before - least of all this brazenly, with what amounts to a worked example. It’s breathtaking both in its causal delivery and in its content. I think it may have been the single most eye opening practical lesson concerning fiction writing I have ever read - and yes, I include ‘On Writing’ in that statement.
I’m actually left with a bit of a mix of emotions. There’s a lot of embarrassment - that this is my first encounter with Keene, that I’ve managed to miss a writer this good for this long. Curiosity and excitement, too - because the flip side to that is that there’s a big fat back catalogue to dive into, and that’s always exhilarating. The other thing is a sense of determination - a determination to take this man’s advice incredibly seriously, to sit my ass down for an hour every night and fucking write. Not because such an approach guarantees any kind of success or fulfillment, but because that’s the only way you’ll ever have chance to get it done.
Thank you, Mr. Keene. ‘The Girl On The Glider’ has changed how I think about writing. Looking forward to the rest of your work.
Considered by many critics to be one of Brian Keene’s best works, The Girl on the Glider has been long out of print – until now!
The year is 2009, and the world’s financial and publishing sectors are in chaos. In the midst of this disarray, a burned-out horror writer finds himself haunted by a variety of ghosts, both real and metaphorical. And as the ghosts increase their attacks, his struggle to make a living quickly becomes a fight to hold on to his family – and his very sanity.
This meta-fictional take on the traditional, old-fashioned ghost story is a deft mix of M.R. James and Hunter S. Thompson, and makes for one of Keene’s most personal and powerful novellas.
First time in digital. Includes a brand-new Afterword by the author.
PURCHASE A COPY HERE