Meghan: Hi, Brian. Welcome to Meghan’s House of Books. Tell us a little bit about yourself.
Brian Kirk: Aside from being a fiction writer, I’m a father of identical twin boys: the rarest form of human offspring (a very technical term for kids). Only fraternal twins are hereditary; identical twins are a random anomaly. So it came as quite a surprise. In fact, the first thing I did when I found out was Google the phrase, “What’s the best thing about having twins?” I needed a pep talk.
Actually, it turns out I didn’t. My wife and I are blessed with wonderful boys. Raising them has been a special privilege.
Meghan: What are five things most people don’t know about you?
Brian Kirk: People who know me even a little basically know everything about me. I’m—apologies for the pun—an open book. I spent most of my adolescence feeling insecure about my reading habits and writing interests. Even when a teacher could see I had writing potential, they would discourage my dark stories, and make me feel strange for writing them. I felt a crippling urge to fit in amongst my peers when growing up, and would only do or say things that I knew would be deemed acceptable and not attract too much attention or scrutiny. So I was extremely quiet and shy, despite having an extroverted personality.
As I got older, I started to realize that there was nothing wrong with my thoughts and interests, and that I was doing a disservice to myself, my friends, and my family, by suppressing my authentic self. So I began opening up—bit by bit—exposing people in small doses to my true passions. And, to my extreme relief, I found that the more I opened up, sharing my deepest and purest inner thoughts, the more people seemed to open up in return, which helped to deepen our relationships.
I don’t have much tolerance for small talk. Within a few minutes of meeting someone, I’m moving the conversation into deep waters. This tendency helps filter out the people I am unlikely to connect with. I have nothing against people who prefer to keep things on the surface, but those who are willing to venture deeper get full access to my heart and soul.
Meghan: What is the first book you remember reading?
Brian Kirk: Learning to read was a profound experience for me. I remember the exact moment the words revealed their meaning, and I could decipher what they were saying. I was so excited I asked my teacher to let me bring home the school book so I could show my parents what I had learned. What I had unlocked. Because that’s how it felt, like I had broken some kind of seal that allowed me access to all the stories in the world.
I grew up reading everything I could get my hands on, but most fondly remember the “Choose Your Own Adventure” stories before I was introduced to the work of Stephen King.
Meghan: What are you reading now?
Brian Kirk: My reading tastes are wide and varied, and I like to change up genre/subject/style/author from one book to the next. I’m currently reading The Dead Letters by Tom Piccirilli, and loving it. His immense talent was taking from us far too soon.
Meghan: What’s a book you really enjoyed that others wouldn’t expect you to have liked?
Brian Kirk: Maybe the Harry Potter series? I struggled a bit with books 1-3, but books 4-7 ripped me straight out of my reality and fully immersed me in the world of Hogwarts. I love when that happens.
Meghan: What made you decide you want to write? When did you begin writing?
Brian Kirk: I’ve enjoyed writing stories for as long as I can remember, and have done so enthusiastically my whole life. I took a hiatus for a few years following college when I thought I needed to pursue a “serious” career, but quickly realized that was a mistake and returned to writing stories. I now freelance to allow more time for fiction writing.
Meghan: Do you have a special place you like to write?
Brian Kirk: I have a home office where I do most of my work. If I’m feeling dull or stifled, I’ll go to a nearby coffee shop to change up my environment.
Meghan: Do you have any quirks or processes that you go through when you write?
Brian Kirk: Sort of. My best writing comes from a type of waking dream state. It’s basically when I fall into an immersive daydream that silences my rational mind and taps into my subconscious (at least I think that’s what is happening, I really have no idea). This mindless dream state is where the story unfolds, and my job is simply to bear witness and try and get it down on the page as clearly as I can.
I, therefore, approach writing as though I’m preparing myself for bed. I prefer to do it in the same place, or type of place (a quiet room with a hard surface and minimal potential for distraction). I prefer to do it when all my paid freelance work is done, so that it’s not nagging the back of my mind. And then, like lying down to sleep, when I sit down to work I trust that my mind will shut off and the dreams will begin. This doesn’t always happen, of course. Just as we all have restless nights. But it’s my general approach.
Meghan: Is there anything about writing you find most challenging?
Brian Kirk: There’s a lot about writing that I find challenging, but that’s also why I enjoy it so much. I remember when I was gearing up to begin writing my debut novel 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 on a regular basis 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.
If writing were easy, it wouldn’t be rewarding. 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.
Meghan: What’s the most satisfying thing you’ve written so far?
Brian Kirk: Satisfying is a good word here, and it would probably have to be We Are Monsters, which is the first novel I ever wrote. I really struggled to write this book, and suffered somewhat of a nervous breakdown during the process. You see, writing a novel had been a dream of mine from as early as I can remember, which actually worked against me when I set out to write this book. Despite having already written and published several short stories, I found that I had inflated the importance of writing a novel so much that it suddenly seemed insurmountable. I had made it a seminal moment in my life, setting the nonexistent stakes unreasonably high. And so I started out tentatively, on shaky knees that were threatening to buckle under the weight of such a heavy load.
My first few weeks were spent in a state of desperation, as I struggled to get 300 over-written words onto a page in a single sitting. The starting pistol had fired and I had pulled my rigid hamstrings right out of the gate. The finish line seemed like an eternity away. There was no way I could ever reach it at this lumbering pace. I truly questioned whether or not I was capable of writing something so large, and that uncertainly nearly unraveled me. This was a dark and difficult period of time.
Rather than give in to this early desperation, however, I just kept going. I was struggling with the first chapter, so I skipped it, and started writing the second one. This one began to flow better. My word count increased. My rhythm returned. And the story began to take form. Sure, not every day was wonderful. But that’s the nature of writing. The trick was to get over the pre-game jitters and let my instincts take over. I needed to get out of my own way.
The lesson I learned is not to make too much of the situation. You’re just writing a story. Make it the best it can be, but don’t make it bigger than it is.
I’m satisfied that I finished this novel, knowing what it took to complete it.
Meghan: What books have most inspired you? Who are some authors that have inspired your writing style?
Brian Kirk: The three books that immediately come to mind are The Stand by Stephen King, Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell, and The Magus by John Fowles. I like stories with disparate threads that begin to weave together as the story unfolds.
The list of authors I draw inspiration from is long, and 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.
I love to read books that are so good they intimidate me and make me feel helplessly inferior. That’s where inspiration comes from.
Meghan: What do you think makes a good story?
Brian Kirk: Interesting characters placed in difficult situations that help illuminate the challenges and rewards of being human.
Meghan: What does it take for you to love a character? How do you utilize that when creating your characters?
Brian Kirk: I tend to like quirky characters who are just a touch larger than life. The type of characters you’ll find in something written by Carl Hiaasen, Katherine Dunn, Joe Lansdale, Shirley Jackson, or Patrick deWitt.
I find that humor is something that draws me in and connects me with a character, even, if not especially, the villains. In my writing, I attempt to convey humor both through dialogue and how a particular character views the world. I feel that humor can be an excellent counterpoint to horror. It works to both disarm readers and draw them to your characters.
Meghan: Which, of all your characters, do you think is the most like you?
Brian Kirk: While there’s probably a piece of me in all of my characters, I can’t say that I am like any one of them in real life. At least, I hope not. My characters aren’t usually the most likable bunch.
Meghan: Are you turned off by a bad cover? To what degree were you involved in creating your book covers?
Brian Kirk: Yes, very much so. I actually supplied the cover art for my first two novels.
Taste is subjective, however. What I like someone else might hate. With that said, I’m more likely to connect with the content of a book if I appreciate its cover.
Meghan: What have you learned creating your books?
Brian Kirk: That writing is the part of the process that I enjoy most, which is a relief, as that’s the only part I can control.
Meghan: What has been the hardest scene for you to write so far?
Brian Kirk: One involving sexual abuse.
Meghan: What makes your books different from others out there in this genre?
Brian Kirk: I strive to write psychedelic horror, but not in the sense that my stories involve hippies or hallucinogenic drugs. Rather, I try to write stories that function like psychedelic drugs.
In the same way that a psychedelic drug, such as psilocybin or LSD, will alter one’s state of consciousness, and make one see life through a different lens, I attempt to achieve the same overall effect with the stories I write.
While a psychedelic experience can be challenging, harrowing, and even painful, it typically results in a state of euphoria and a feeling of being more connected to, and compassion towards, ourselves and the people around us. That’s what I strive to accomplish with much of my writing.
Meghan: How important is the book title, how hard is it to choose the best one, and how did you choose yours (of course, with no spoilers)?
Brian Kirk: Book titles are like people’s names; they have to fit, and often have a deeper meaning. My titles almost always come to me after the story is written, or when I’m near the end. I need to know what the story is really about, which I rarely know until I’m deep into it. What happens in the story, and what the story is about, can be two different things, and I prefer for my titles to convey the latter whenever possible.
For instance, the title We Are Monsters can be interpreted a number of ways. On one level, 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 straightjackets we unconsciously wear.
And, lastly, it refers to the monsters that live inside of us. The addictions, the illnesses, the inner demons (real or imagined).
My favorite titles are ones that capture both the subject and theme of the story.
Meghan: What makes you feel more fulfilled: Writing a novel or writing a short story?
Brian Kirk: That’s tough because they’re so different. Ultimately, though, fulfillment for me comes through the act of writing itself. It doesn’t arrive after I’ve written something. For whatever reason, the act of writing allows me to access that allusive flow state that makes us all feel like we’re fulfilling our purpose in life. It’s when time stands still and that pesky inner critic that nags some of us all day long goes quiet. In many ways, writing this sentence is as fulfilling to me as writing any other.
I’d say I prefer writing novels to short stories because they allow me to sustain that flow state for a longer period of time. It’s the same wonderful drug, just with a longer peak.
Meghan: Tell us a little bit about your books, your target audience, and what you would like readers to take away from your stories.
Brian Kirk: My books are psychological and surreal. They focus more on stirring strong emotions than producing sensations of fear. They are weird, and quirky, and can be hard to follow at times. They cater primarily to a small, fringe audience of readers who enjoy work that’s emotionally challenging, and pretty far off the beaten path.
A reader of We Are Monsters wrote to me saying that she had always given money to the homeless, but never to people she thought were “CRAZY,” because she thought it would go to waste. She said that after reading We Are Monsters, she now makes a point to give money to homeless people with clear mental illnesses because she sees them differently, and feels like they might need it even more than someone with an able-mind. That’s the kind of reaction I aim for in my writing. That in addition to simply being entertained.
Meghan: What is in your “trunk”?
Brian Kirk: I have a completed novel titled The Sun Is A Tangerine that has scenes that can only be accessed in virtual reality. Whether or not this ever sees the light of day will depend on if I can ever afford to make it, which is something I’m working on. Anyone with a pile of unused cash is welcome to give me a call!
Meghan: What can we expect from you in the future?
Brian Kirk: I’m making the final revisions on a new novel that I’d like to see out at the end of 2020 or early 2021. After that, I am planning to write a series of middle grade horror novels that I have loosely outlined. My sons turn ten soon, and I think it would be a fun project for us to work on together. We have a blast bouncing story ideas off one another. We have even more fun grossing each other out. I’m looking forward to writing for a younger audience with unbridled imaginations.
Meghan: Where can we find you?
Brian Kirk: I’m always happy to connect with people anywhere in the real or digital world. Following are the easiest ways to find me.
Meghan: Do you have any closing words for your fans or anything you’d like to say that we didn’t get to cover in this interview?
Brian Kirk: I’d just like to say thank you very much for conducting this interview! It’s probably the most in-depth one I’ve ever done, and I appreciate the probing questions. I hope people find it useful and entertaining.
Brian Kirk writes strange, often scary stories. His debut novel, We Are Monsters, was a finalist for the Bram Stoker Award in the first novel category. And his short fiction has been published in several notable magazines and anthologies, such as Gutted: Beautiful Horror Stories and Behold! Oddities, Curiosities, and Undefinable Wonders, which won a Bram Stoker Award.
His latest novel is a work of surreal horror titled Will Haunt You. He wrote the prequel as a creepy-pasta story, titled OBSIDEO.
You don’t read the book. It reads you.
Rumors of a deadly book have been floating around the dark corners of the deep web. A disturbing tale about a mysterious figure who preys on those who read the book and subjects them to a world of personalized terror. Jesse Wheeler–former guitarist of the heavy metal group The Rising Dead–was quick to discount the ominous folklore associated with the book. It takes more than some urban legend to frighten him. Hell, reality is scary enough. Seven years ago his greatest responsibility was the nightly guitar solo. Then one night when Jesse was blackout drunk, he accidentally injured his son, leaving him permanently disabled. Dreams of being a rock star died when he destroyed his son’s future. Now he cuts radio jingles and fights to stay clean. But Jesse is wrong.
The legend is real–and tonight he will become the protagonist in an elaborate scheme specifically tailored to prey on his fears and resurrect the ghosts from his past. Jesse is not the only one in danger, however.
By reading the book, you have volunteered to participate in the author’s deadly game, with every page drawing you closer to your own personalized nightmare.
The real horror doesn’t begin until you reach the end. That’s when the evil comes for you.
We Are Monsters
Available for Pre-Order on Amazon
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.