A few years back, I had the pleasure of meeting Brian Kirk during pitches at World Horror. I was helping out a small press at the time. I was immediately impressed with his presentation, personality, and sincerity. When I looked over his manuscript, I was even more impressed. I’m thrilled it landed at Samhain and is gaining much well deserved accolades and publicity. Here’s a short interview with Brian.
JP: Can you tell us a little bit about We Are Monsters?
BK: Certainly. We Are Monsters is my debut novel, literally making it a dream come true. Although all books are basically dreams that have come true when you really think about it. I mean, isn’t a book basically the end result of someone extracting the contents of some subconscious dream-state into the material realm. But that’s off topic, and perhaps too esoteric for this early on in the interview. My apologies.
We Are Monsters 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 you may imagine) 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.
JP: What inspired this story?
BK: 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 or deranged, 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.
JP: How did you get started writing?
BK: Reading and writing have been the two things I’ve enjoyed above all else for as long as I can remember. And I realized I had somewhat of a talent for telling stories early on, as students started looking forward to hearing my stories read aloud in class. My English teachers all encouraged my writing, and I won a poetry contest in 5th grade from a homework assignment that my teacher submitted on my behalf.
But I always considered it frivolous fun and knew that one day I’d have to get serious and find a line of work that I could turn into a career. So I studied marketing and took a job at an ad agency. But the urge to write stories never left. In fact, it grew stronger the farther away from it that I strayed. I returned to it a few years after starting my “big career,” writing short stories in the evenings and on the weekends, and then I began submitting them for publication. After accruing a massive stack of rejections for a couple of years, I finally sold one. Then another. After a while I decided to quit my full time job at the ad agency to work freelance and write a book. That’s how We Are Monsters came about.
JP: What was the path to publication like for you?
BK: Publishing my first short story and first novel were two entirely different experiences. For one, my writing was understandably amateurish when I first started out. With each story, my work got a bit more refined. The only way to learn how to write is by writing, which unfortunately results in the decimation of story ideas that could have been good if written with more skill.
And rejection stings, no matter what. Two straight years of generic rejections slips is humbling and will make you question your ability. But that just makes that first acceptance that much sweeter, I think.
Short stories helped me to refine my craft, but I didn’t really find my voice until I started writing We Are Monsters, which took about a year to write. And then I spent another five months or so rewriting, sharing with readers, and rewriting more. I considered pursuing agents, but didn’t feel like it was the right book for a large, traditional publisher. It’s a bit too unconventional. So I decided to seek out the proper fit on my own.
I knew about Don D’Auria, the head editor for the horror line at Samhain Publishing, from his work at Leisure Books, and was intent on pitching him. I flew from Atlanta to Portland for a ten minute pitch session with him at the 2014 World Horror Convention. The pitch went well and he asked to read the manuscript. I sent it to him and two weeks later he offered a contract. I was so excited I almost threw up in my lap.
JP: What’s in the future for you?
BK: I’m excited to have We Are Monsters out in the world. Early reviews have been encouraging and very kind. It has the potential to be a polarizing book, but the people who get it really seem to enjoy it. So I know it fundamentally works, which pleases me.
I’m currently writing the second book in a planned trilogy of dark thrillers. The first book is complete and currently being considered by various agents. I hope to be able to share exciting news on that soon. We’ll see.
JP: What would people be surprised to find out about you?
BK: Aside from writing fiction, I’m a father of five-year-old 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 search the phrase, “The best thing about having twins.” I needed a pep talk.
Fortunately, it turns out I didn’t. We were blessed with wonderful boys. Raising them has been a special privilege.
JP: Where can readers find and follow you?
BK: Thanks for asking. Anyone interesting in learning more about my work or striking up a virtual friendship can find me through any of the following channels. Thank you very much for having me.