Please welcome Brian Kirk to The Qwillery as part of the 2015 Debut Author Challenge Interviews. We Are Monsters was published on July 7th by Samhain Publishing.
TQ: Welcome to The Qwillery. When and why did you start writing?
Brian: Thank you for having me. I’m happy to be here.
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 fieldtrip 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.
TQ: Are you a plotter, pantser or a hybrid?
Brian: I’m definitely a pantser, 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.
TQ: What is the most challenging thing for you about writing?
Brian: What, I only get to choose one? Jeez. 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 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.
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.
TQ: Who are some of your literary influences? Favorite authors?
Brian: I couldn’t start this list with anyone other than Stephen King, who I was fortunate to meet a few years ago. I literally ran into him at the entrance of a hotel in Atlanta. I was so stunned that, without thinking, I reached out, took his hand and said, “Mr. King.” Equally stunned, he shook it. If I were thinking clearly I would have left it at that. But I wasn’t, so I started to blab, “I’m an aspiring horror writer who has published a few short stories and just started writing my first novel. I owe all my inspiration to you.” More gratuitous praise followed, I’m sure.
He received the praise graciously, untangled himself from my grasp, and started to stroll away before a crowd could form (it was just the two of us). Then he stopped and turned. “Hey,” he said, catching my eye. “Good luck with your work.”
Not story, not book. But work. That was a fine moment.
I read broadly and find myself influenced by a multitude of authors for various reasons. Some of my favorite authors include, Richard Matheson, Larry McMurtry, Joyce Carol Oates, Mercedes M. Yardley, Cormac McCarthy, Ray Bradbury, David Mitchell, Roald Dahl, Flannery O’Connor, Philip K. Dick, Jonathan Franzen, J.K. Rowling, Robert McCammon, Joe R. Lansdale, among many others.
Gillian Flynn, John F.D. Taff, and Jonathan Moore are a few of my new favorites.
TQ: Describe We Are Monsters in 140 characters or less.
Brian: Troubled psychiatrist creates a drug to cure schizophrenia that opens the mind and sets inner demons free.
TQ: Tell us something about We Are Monsters that is not found in the book description.
Brian: I can talk a bit about the title and what it means. "We Are Monsters," is multi-layered. 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.
TQ: What inspired you to write We Are Monsters? What appeals to you about writing Horror?
Brian: I’ve always been fascinated by mental illness. The idea that our own brains can turn against us is terrifying. It’s the ultimate enemy; it knows our deepest secrets and it’s something we can’t escape.
I also have a great deal of sympathy for people who suffer mental heath disorders. I’ve dealt with OCD all of my life, which produces chronic anxiety, negative thought loops, and periods of depression. No fun, I’ll tell you. And I feel that mental disease is misunderstood by our society at large. In fact, many people who are mentally ill are often labeled as evil, which I feel is unfair, and precludes us from exploring proper treatment options.
I suppose I found the subject both fascinating and deeply personal, and I wanted to explore it further, so I wrote about it.
When it comes to horror, that’s just the way my imagination works. I didn’t choose it so much as it chose me.
TQ: What sort of research did you do for We Are Monsters?
Brian: I read several books on the history of mental health and the nature of specific disorders, with an emphasis on schizophrenia. Sadly, the factual books on the subject are far scarier than the fictional one I wrote.
I also met with the director of a mental institution at Emory. I had to get there at 6 a.m. and wasn’t allowed entrance to the patient area. When I arrived, however, they buzzed me through, so I was able to get a sense for what it was like inside. I brought a camera for the director to take pictures of the facility with, many of which inspired elements of the book, including a painted mural on the wall.
TQ: Who was the easiest character to write and why? The hardest and why?
Brian: The easiest character to write was a secondary character named Bob Bearman who appears mid-way through the book. Mr. Bearman is head of the board that oversees Sugar Hill, the mental health hospital where the story takes place. He is a blustering, narcissistic blowhard that is almost certainly sociopathic. I’ve met several people just like him in the upper ranks of corporate America.
The hardest character to write was Dr. Alex Drexler, the psychiatrist who is developing the drug designed to cure schizophrenia. Alex is basically a good guy who puts himself in some bad situations that cause him to make regrettable decisions. Getting both the good and bad sides of him to come through in a nuanced way was a challenge. I hope I succeeded.
TQ: Which question about We Are Monsters do you wish someone would ask? Ask it and answer it!
Brian: Is dimethyltryptamine (DMT) a real drug?
Yes, DMT, one of the ingredients in the drug Dr. Drexler is developing, is a real chemical. In fact, it’s the most powerful hallucinogenic chemical known to mankind. Not only is it found in most plant species, it exists in all living creatures, including us. It is presumably produced by the pineal gland and released during REM sleep and during moments of extreme duress, such as at the time of death. It’s thought to be responsible for our dreams and what we see when we die. And it was the subject of the most recent government funded study of a psychedelic chemical. Dr. Rick Strassman was the clinician behind these tests, and his findings are recorded in his book, The Spirit Molecule.
TQ: Give us one or two of your favorite non-spoilery lines from We Are Monsters.
Brian: Sure, how about the opening lines?
No matter how many times he saw the syringe, the needle always looked too long. Too menacing. Less like an instrument of healing than one of pain.
TQ: What's next?
Brian: I’m currently writing the second book in a trilogy of dark thrillers. The first book is completed and currently being considered by various agents. I hope to be able to share exciting news on this soon.
TQ: Thank you for joining us at The Qwillery.
Brian: Thank you for having me! Let’s stay in touch. Here’s my contact info in case anyone is interested in forming a virtual friendship.
We Are Monsters
Samhain Publishing, July 7, 2015
Trade Paperback and eBook, 312 pages
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.
Brian Kirk lives in Atlanta with his beautiful wife and rambunctious identical twin boys. He works as a freelance writer in addition to writing fiction, and is currently working on the second book in a planned trilogy. We Are Monsters is his debut release. Feel free to connect with him online. Don't worry, he only kills his characters.