Manhattan On Mars – Horror Author Brian Keene Launches His Own Publishing Company [Interview]

Manhattan On Mars – Horror Author Brian Keene Launches His Own Publishing Company [Interview]

For more than two decades, the author Brian Keen gave fans zombie-filled stories (The climb series), massive man-eating earthworms (the earthworm gods series), an occult detective (the Levi Stotzfus series), a well-meaning serial killer (“I Am An Exit”, The complex and more), and many other horror, dark fantasy, and detective story tales.

A grandmaster of global horror and a two-time Bram Stoker Award winner, Keene has also written comics (including work for DC and Marvel), served on the board of the Scares That Care charity , acted as showrunner for the audio series Silverwood: The Gateand hosted the popular podcast The Horror Show with Brian Keene.

Now Keene is embarking on the biggest move of her career – starting her own publishing house, Manhattan on Mars Press. To discuss this important new development for the writer, Mr. Keene was kind enough to answer a few questions from Bloody Disgusting to educate fans and readers on what’s to come.

Bloody Disgusting: You said this is one of the biggest moves (if not the biggest) of your career so far. Can you tell readers a bit about what’s going on with Brian Keene these days?

Brian Keene: I started publishing in 1997. Those early efforts were all in independent and small-press publications. But in 2001, I was splitting my work between consumer publishing and small press, and that’s pretty much how I’ve kept it for the past twenty years. I’d post stuff through the Big Five (or the Big Three, depending on whether or not New York publishers had gobbled up a bit more by the time this interview came out), and I’d also post stuff through the small press and independent press . I kept a firm footing on both sides. Now I slowly remove my feet from both and stand on my own.

BD: What made you consider launching a footprint?

BK: JF Gonzalez and I had often talked about doing this, but we were both from a generation where making this kind of transition was considered foolish talk. So we never did. But even after he died, the idea was there at the back of my brain, gnawing and gnawing. And I started watching authors younger than me, who I admire, and the success they had take the plunge. Two of them are thriller writer Robert Swartwood and horror/sci-fi writer Stephen Kozeniewski. They are the ones who finally convinced me to take the step. Rob made me see that with the size of my audience and my fan base, it was ridiculous not to do that.

Throughout my career, other companies, large and small, have owned some of my rights and intellectual property. And these days, intellectual property is king. These companies do not pay for books, movies, comics or video games. They pay for the IP. I want to regain full ownership of my IP address. Now obviously I’m not talking about the properties I’ve worked on for others – stuff like Aliens, Doctor Who, X-Files and all the Marvel and DC Comics stuff. It’s someone else’s IP and I got paid to play with it. But I have more than fifty books and more than three hundred short stories of my own. Why should anyone else get a share of those profits and a share of the ownership when the technology and infrastructure exists for me to produce them myself and put them in stores and in the hands of readers?

And I have to point out that I have a great relationship with most of my current editors. But when I reached out to each of them individually and told them this was the direction I wanted to go, they all understood. They get it. This is best for my remaining years and for my sons.

And that’s what it’s all about, really. My sons. I am fifty-five this week, and although I am in relatively good health (despite the misadventures of my first fifty years), I also hear the ticking of the clock of mortality. I don’t plan on leaving yet, but most of us don’t really have a say in it, you know? Surprises happen. When I’m gone, I don’t want the executor of my literary estate to have to hunt for royalty checks from twenty different sources, and I don’t want my sons to have to share my intellectual property with a bunch of other people. By bringing everything in-house, they will have full control over it all.

BD: Will there be both physical and e-book editions of the publisher’s titles? Will they be available in bookstores?

BK: Yes, hardcover, paperback and e-books. The only thing I won’t do is limited editions and signed audiobooks. Both require entirely different infrastructure and I am happy to allow others to continue producing them. But everything else will – over time – be released via Manhattan On Mars. They will be available in bookstores and online. There is a phased plan. The first phase, which will take several years, is to slowly reclaim all rights and then bring everything out through the imprint. It’s already started, but I can’t stress enough – I’m doing it slowly. I recognize and understand the financial impact this has on my publishers, as well as booksellers, and the last thing I want to do is crash the system. So it’s a very slow and methodical process.

During this time, everything will be done through KDP and Ingram. But once all rights are back in-house and under the Manhattan On Mars imprint, I will move into offset printing, with my own warehousing and distribution. This way I can offer returns to booksellers and negotiate prices and discounts with them directly, rather than through an intermediary. This will be phase two. But again, it’s a year long process. We’re talking about seven to ten years from then until today.

BD: Can you tell us about the name of the print and what it means to you?

BK: Manhattan On Mars is sort of a two-pronged thing. The consumer edition is traditionally headquartered in Manhattan. But the other aspect is a vibe from one of my favorite comic book series – watchmen. You know, when Doctor Manhattan gets sick of all this bullshit and headaches and drama, he’s like, “Why am I still here?” I should just go fuck myself on Mars and do my own thing. And then he does.

It’s incredibly empowering and liberating to realize that you can do just that. You can do this very thing. I’ve often wondered if Alan Moore felt the same way when he wrote that scene. Considering he walked away from mainstream comics a few years later, I like to think he could have. (Laughs)

BD: You said that the imprint will encompass your entire old catalog, in addition to your new works. When can we expect the first title from your imprint – and will it be new or a reprint?

BK: The first came out last week. This is a reprint of Sun tanning – a book that has not been printed since 2012 and was previously only published in a signed limited edition. The next step will be the first paper and digital version of Submerged: The Labyrinth Volume 2as well as a brand new collection of short stories and a reprint of Chief of Prohibitions. These are the four on deck before the end of the year. Next year I will start to speed things up.

BD: Should your imprint be dedicated solely to your own works, or will it include titles by other authors? New or reprints, if so?

BK: Just my stuff. I don’t want to be responsible for anyone else’s money or intellectual property. And I should note that none of my collaborations – stuff like the Clickers books with JF Gonzalez or the Bastards series with Steven L. Shrewsbury or The cursed highway with Nick Mamatas – will fall under the Manhattan On Mars umbrella. I don’t want to be responsible for half their royalties, and I don’t want a situation where, thirty years later, I’m dead and Nick is dead, and our sons are wondering who got paid. I started imprinting because it is best for me and my loved ones. But what’s best for my friends, collaborators and loved ones is that these books stay with publishers who can share everything fairly.

BD: Beyond your footprint, what’s next for Brian Keene? What would you like readers to know?

BK: My news The cage was just an option for a feature film, but I’m not allowed to say more about that. I really like the team, and everyone involved, though, and have very high hopes for her. Lots of other movies are also in the works, but in truth, I’ve learned not to say anything about them until production begins. The only thing Hollywood loves more than jumping on trends is picking things and never doing anything with them. (Laughs)

Other than that, I write every day. I can not complain. I grew up as a fan of the horror genre. And now I have the chance to make a living by giving back to this genre and helping to guide and shape it. It’s a great honor and fantastic work. But as of now, I can do it from Mars. And I don’t think that’s a bad thing. There is an inherent danger in being too close or too involved in something you love. Consider a person who loves bacon and sausages. Then they get a job in a slaughterhouse and over time they can’t swallow bacon and sausages. Sometimes a little distance makes love bloom.

Visit Brian Keene on the web at

Kimberly B. Nguyen