I am very excited to share my interview with author Brian Kirk, he was kind enough to talk with me about writing, where his ideas come from and his debut novel We Are Monsters which is sure to be one heck of a great read. Thank you Brian for the great interview, I really enjoyed learning so much about you, your writing process and your novel We Are Monsters. Here is a quick description of Brian’s novel to grab your attention, the first sentence is enough for me to want to give it a read!
The Apocalypse has come to the Sugar Hill mental asylum.
He’s the hospital’s newest, and most notorious, patient—a paranoid schizophrenic who sees humanity’s dark side.
Luckily he’s in good hands. Dr. Eli Alpert has a talent for healing tortured souls. And his protégé is working on a cure for schizophrenia, a drug that returns patients to their former selves. But unforeseen side effects are starting to emerge. Forcing prior traumas to the surface. Setting inner demons free.
Monsters have been unleashed inside the Sugar Hill mental asylum. They don’t have fangs or claws. They look just like you or me.
The Scary Reviews: Why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself, where are you from? What propelled you to start writing?
Brian Kirk: Sure, I live in Atlanta with my wife and identical twin sons. When I’m not writing fiction, I work as a freelance marketing consultant and creative professional for large and small businesses.
I can’t remember when I first started writing, but I’ll never forget the first time I told a story. It was first grade (lot of firsts here), and my classmates and I were all sitting in a circle on the floor. Our teacher was at the helm. The plan was for the class to co-create a story with each student adding a bit of narrative before passing it to the person beside them. Around and around it would go.
The story started innocently enough. Our teacher placed us on an imaginary bus heading out on a field trip somewhere, perhaps the zoo. And not much had happened by the time the tale made it to me. We had waved at some cows; I think we had sung a song. Our voices were listless at this point, I remember. Our shoulders were slumped. The story we were telling was boring, and I wanted to change that.
As soon as it became my turn I immediately caused the bus to blow a tire and come to a crashing stop along the shoulder. Where, of course, a gunman was waiting. He burst through the retractable door, pulled a sawed-off shotgun out from underneath his tattered trench coat, placed it to the side of the driver’s head, and blew-
The teacher began shouting for me to pass the story at this point. But the student’s were no longer slouching, and nobody was bored. And I knew I had just discovered the thing that excites me more than anything else in the world.
TSR: That’s a great story and what an uproar it would cause in today’s world! Can you tell me a little about your writing process, do you let the words flow or do you like to have an outline?
BK: I don’t outline, although I do like to consider a few directions a story could possibly take before I start. I like to know that a story has legs, that the characters have depth, and that the narrative could present exciting and unpredictable twists before I invest the time.
The story almost always ventures down a different path as soon as I start writing. And the scenarios that I had in my mind rarely come to fruition. But that’s just because whatever ideas arise from the improvisational act of creation are often more interesting than the ones I had tentatively planned.
TSR: What is it you love about writing and is there anything you don’t like?
BK: What I enjoy most about writing is the flow state that comes when the writing is going well. That strange, mysterious state of being where time stops and you cease to exist as you meld into an imaginary realm where the story takes form. A realm that doesn’t seem all that imaginary when you’re there. I’m hooked on that. That’s my heroin.
While there’s not much that I don’t like about writing, there are many aspects of writing that I find incredibly challenging. But that’s also why I enjoy it so much. I remember when I was gearing up to write We Are Monsters I kept thinking, “I can’t wait to be engaged in the struggle of writing a book.” I figured it would be hard, but that was part of the allure.
To be more specific, though. I find writing every day challenging, although I usually do it. I find overcoming insecurity challenging, but I try. I find writing when depressed or tired difficult, but I keep slogging ahead until it gets better.
The challenge is what makes it rewarding, I think. So I work to embrace the challenges and overcome them with stubborn determination, by commiserating with other writers, and by trying not to take the whole thing so seriously in the first place.
TSR: That’s so true, overcoming the challenge is very satisfying and I think it makes the hard work all the more rewarding. Here’s a hard question for you, how does your work differ from others in its genre?
BK: I think any author who strives to write from an honest and authentic point-of-view will achieve originality. Every person is a complete original, even identical twins (and I know, because I’m raising a pair). But many people will mimic others, or present a false image, in order to gain acceptance or to try and achieve something they desire – a job, a promotion, a sexy companion, a publishing contract.
When I first started writing for publication, I either consciously or unconsciously mimicked the style of some of my favorite authors, or the writing of those being accepted by the markets I was targeting. In fact, I would make a point to utilize a different tone or voice with each new tale. It was like I was trying on clothes to see what fit.
It wasn’t until I started writing We Are Monsters that I discovered my true, authentic voice. I had seen glimpses of it before, and it’s threaded throughout my earlier work, but it became bright as the North Star during the writing of my novel, and has continued since. As far as what that is, I’d say it’s somewhat of a wry sense of humor coupled with a compassionate view of all beings, even those who do terrible things. I strive to find the light that casts the shadow.
TSR: I imagine there must be books you’ve read growing up that influenced you, if so which ones?
BK: I’ve been inspired by many books and authors throughout my life, but one style of book that sticks out from my formative years was the Choose Your Own Adventure stories. For those unfamiliar with these books, they were books in which you, the reader, were cast as the protagonist and would periodically be required to make a decision based on a situational conflict. So you may come up to a dark alley and be asked whether or not you wanted to:
- Enter the alley (turn to page 58), or
- Avoid the alley and continue forward (turn to page 103).
What happened next would depend on whatever decision you made. Sometimes your character would die and you’d have to start over.
These books weren’t particularly well written, but I loved how they made you an active participant in the story, and how the procession of the story was malleable and unfixed. This made me realize that there are endless ways to tell a story. What matters most is that you make the story surprising and engaging throughout. It also helps when you can make the reader feel like an active participant.
TSR: I do remember those books very well and loved them growing up, it was really fun to see how your choice would affect the story. Can you tell me who are you favorite authors? Which author(s) had a significant impact on you growing up?
BK: That list is constantly evolving. I enjoy Stephen King’s ability to plop you into a story on page one and have you instantly care for his characters. I appreciate the lush writing and quirky humor of luminaries like Roald Dahl, Richard Matheson, and Ray Bradbury. I like the stark, gothic realism of Joyce Carol Oates, Flannery O’Connor, and Cormac McCarthy. The ambition of David Mitchell. The psychedelic mind-bending of Philip K. Dick. The heroic storytelling of Robert McCammon and Joe R. Lansdale. The gritty darkness of Gillian Flynn.
Growing up – until high school, I’d say – I basically just alternated between reading Stephen King and Dean Koontz.
TSR: I couldn’t agree more, I know my list has flowed from one author to another but a few core favorites always remain at the top of my list. If you had to choose, which writer would you consider a mentor?
BK: That’s easy, as there is a specific writer who has acted as a mentor, and that’s the incredibly talented, Bob Ford. I was introduced to Bob through a mutual friend when I was just starting to submit my work for publication, and he has been instrumental in guiding me through the process and helping me avoid any major pitfalls.
Not only is Bob Ford a kind and supportive person, he is insanely talented, and among the most courageous writers I know, taking the toughest experiences in his life and transforming them into exquisitely devastating tales. He doesn’t just bleed on the page, he soaks each page in arterial blood and makes you lick it off. Bob’s writing has introduced me to emotions I didn’t know I had.
Anyone who has not read something by Bob Ford should change that immediately. I’d start with Samson and Denial and see if you can put it down. Then check out his short fiction in The God Beneath My Garden, but fortify yourself first. His stories hurt.
TSR: Bob Ford isn’t an author I’m familiar with but I love the fact his stories hurt, that sounds like an incredible talent he has to bring that kind of emotion to a reader. Can you tell us a little about your current/latest book?
BK: We Are Monsters is my debut novel. It is a story about a brilliant, yet troubled psychiatrist named Alex Drexler who is working to create a cure for schizophrenia. At first, the drug he creates shows great promise in alleviating his patient’s symptoms. It appears to return schizophrenics to their former selves. But (as one may expect) something goes wrong. Unforeseen side effects begin to emerge, forcing prior traumas to the surface, setting inner demons free. His medicine may help heal the schizophrenic mind, but it also expands it, and the monsters it releases could be more dangerous than the disease.
TSR: That’s a fantastic premise for a story and I’m so glad it’s on my to read list, can you tell me how you come up with the title?
I wanted a title that addressed the themes within the story and We Are Monsters fit the bill. The title acts on a few levels. It speaks to the horrific ways we often treat each other, including the monstrous ways we’ve historically treated the mentally ill.
It also refers to the monstrous ways we treat ourselves. Our self-hatred and self-judgment. The ways in which we limit ourselves or sabotage our true potential. The straitjackets we unconsciously wear.
And, lastly, it refers to the monsters that live inside of us. The addictions, the illnesses, the inner demons, whether real or imagined.
These are all themes explored within the novel to varying degrees.
TSR: This is so true, we do have a truly scary capacity to be monsters to others as well as ourselves. Can you tell me what book are you reading now?
BK: Right now I am reading Slade House by David Mitchell, who is one of my all-time favorite authors, and absolutely loving it. That guy can cast a spell and transport you to places unlike anyone else.
TSR: What is your all-time favorite horror novel, and film?
BK: My favorite horror novel is The Stand by Stephen King, with Peter Straub’s Ghost Story being a close second (although Slade House may soon unseat it).
My favorite horror movie is The Shining, with Event Horizon being a close second.
TSR: What is the best piece of advice you ever received from another author?
BK: “Write like everyone you know is dead.”
-Joe R. Lansdale
TSR: Who is your favorite character from your book and why?
BK: It would probably be the social worker, Angela Drake. She is much kinder to others than she is to herself, and I empathize with that conflict very much.
TSR: Is there one piece of your own work are you most proud of?
BK: That’s a tough one. Pride isn’t something I find useful in writing fiction. I enjoy the act of creating something more than looking back on what I’ve completed. This sentence I’m writing now brings me as much joy as anything I’ve written previously. And I’m already looking forward to the next one.
TSR: Brian can you tell us what’s coming next and where people can buy your stuff?
BK: People can purchase We Are Monsters through any of the following online book retailers. And thank you if you do!
Regarding what’s next, I have a new short story titled Picking Splinters From a Sex Slave coming out in the anthology, Gutted: Beautiful Horror Stories, alongside two of my idols: Clive Barker and Neil Gaiman. When one of the editors, Doug Murano, announced the story he said, “This is the kind of story that starts book burning parties,” which lets me know the story works. I’m honored to be part of this project, and can’t wait for the anthology to come out.
In addition, I am currently working on the second book in a trilogy of dark sci-fi thrillers. The first book is complete and currently in the hands of a literary agent whom I’ve recently signed with. We are putting the final touches on the book and plan to submit it to publishers early next year.
Meanwhile, anyone interested in striking up a virtual friendship, please connect with me through one of the following channels. Don’t worry. I only kill my characters.