“We’re sick. We’re all sick. But we can be cured. And we can be kind. We don’t have to let our lives be ruled by the shadows of our past.”
Last week, author Brian Kirk released his debut novel, We Are Monsters (Samhain Publishing). Being a member of the Samhain Horror roster myself, I was lucky enough to get to read his wonderful debut ahead of the public. This guy has a bright future in this business. We Are Monsters is not your average gore-fest, zombie/werewolf/vampire come to get us all type of story. It digs deeper than that. We Are Monsters forces us to take a look at ourselves. That’s a pretty ballsy move for an author coming out the gate, but Brian Kirk has the skills to pull it off. You can read my review HERE. (I’ve also placed it farther down this page after the interview)
I got to interview Brian and pick his brain on a number of things. Check it out:
GR: This book takes place at an asylum. I love asylum flicks (One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and Girl, Interrupted are among my favorites) and have read a few novels that I really dig that take place in institutes. In the horror/thriller realm, remember reading Night Cage by Douglass Clegg (as Andrew Harper) and loving it. We Are Monsters brought me back there, but took me places I didn’t expect. A really powerful book, and amazing piece for a debut.
Are you a big asylum guy, too? Do they fascinate you, creep you out, or do you belong in one?
BK: Oh, thanks man. I’ve gotten to know you a little bit as brothers under the Samhain banner, and I know you mean what you say. So thank you for the kind words, and support you’ve given the book so far. It means a lot.
I probably belong in an asylum as much as anyone else. Truthfully, I don’t think anyone belongs in some of the more dreadful asylums that have existed throughout history, but that’s another story altogether. Suffice it to say that while doing research for this book I learned that some of the true stories of mental institutions are far scarier than my fictional one.
But, to answer your question, I’m not so much fascinated by asylums as I am by insanity. 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.
GR: You’re from the south. I imagine there’s ton of haunted old buildings (mansions, plantations, asylums, factories etc.) down there. Are there any that stand out to you? And if so, which and why?
BK: The south is heaped in ghoulish lore. From the heinous tradition of slavery, to the voodoo of New Orleans, to the bloodshed during the civil war. There is a certain aesthetic particular to the south that can be creepy as hell. The warped limbs on large oaks draped in Spanish moss. The old cemeteries that collect ground mist at night. There’s a sadness that’s specific to the south, but also an indomitable spirit. It’s why we enjoy so much comfort food, and like to sing the blues.
Atlanta, where I live, is actually a newish city as it was burned down by General Sherman during the civil war. So there aren’t many historic buildings or known hauntings. At least none that I know about. There’s been plenty of tragedy and heartache here, however. So if ghosts exist, I’m sure we have our share.
GR: You seem like a really smart, really focused guy, but what is your most ridiculous obsession?
BK: Dude, I have many. Speaking of mental heath disorders, I’ve dealt with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) all my life. A version that borderlines on Tourette’s. So I obsess over everything. While this may not be the exact answer you’re looking for, here are some of the curious ways my OCD has manifested throughout my life.
As a kid I used to hum out loud. Hmmm-Hmmm. Just like that. During class, riding in the car. Didn’t matter. For some reason, I felt the urge to hum.
I used to repeat the last part of a sentence I just heard someone say. This was particularly common while watching a movie or TV show. An actor would say a line, and I’d repeat it in this low, mumbly voice. Friends would look at me and be like, “Dude, you don’t have to repeat everything they say. Just watch the show.” I’d stay quiet for a few minutes, then an actor would say something like, “Hey, let’s go get a pizza.” I may try to cover my mouth, but it didn’t matter. “Let’s go get a pizza,” I’d say.
I used to rapidly blink my eyes all the time. Actually, I still do that a bit.
And then I started kind of bumping my chest with my fist and then touching my chin. Who the hell knows why? Not me. I literally get nothing out of it. But I do it anyway.
The fact that I have friends is amazing. The fact that I have a beautiful and wonderful wife defies all rationale understanding. We live in a strange world, my friend. Made no saner by my existence in it.
GR: Samhain Publishing put out We Are Monsters. Care to share the feelings that hit you when you opened that acceptance email?
BK: I flew out to Portland in order to pitch We Are Monsters to Don D’Auria at the 2014 World Horror Convention. Like many in the industry, I respected the work he did on the Leisure Book horror line, and jumped at the opportunity to pitch him in person for consideration at Samhain. The pitch went well and he asked to see the manuscript, which I sent to him soon after I returned home.
I figured I would have to wait at least a couple of months for a reply. But he sent a contract offer in about two weeks. My hands were shaking when I clicked on the email. At first, I didn’t believe it. You wrack up so many short story rejections you almost condition yourself to expect another one. To receive a contract offer for my debut novel from my preferred editor whom I’d long admired was shocking.
What was I feeling? I felt sick. Literally, I felt like I was about to throw up.
That soon dissipated, however. And I felt neurotic and insecure, like I usually do. Conditions I immediately treated through the only method that works for me, by working on another story.
GR: What have you found to be the most challenging part of being an author? And also, the most rewarding?
BK: Man, 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 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.
While rewarding probably isn’t the right word. What I enjoy most about writing is the flow state. 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.
GR: Jonathan Moore and Mercedes M. Yardley have all endorsed We Are Monsters. That’s a pretty awesome collection of writers to have backing you. Do you have a favorite read from each of them to recommend?
BK: I know, right? To be honest, I’m blown away. Not only are all three of the authors mentioned incredibly talented, they’re kind and generous as hell. Outsiders who view horror authors as scabrous devil worshipers have got is so wrong. (Are there people who actually think that? I kind of made that part up to emphasize my point.)
Anyhow, yes I do have a favorite read from each of them.
Jonathan Moore, as you know, released his debut, Redheads, under the Samhain banner, and received a stellar endorsement himself from Jack Ketchum, who called it, “Accomplished and exciting work, which at times seems to channel the best of Michael Crichton.” I just finished it recently, and would have to agree. While I may or may not have read a book that’s still in the works, and is absolutely incredible, I would urge readers to get their hands on Close Reach while they wait on The Poison Artist to come out in 2016. Close Reach is a harsh, gritty thriller that glues you to the page. Jonathan Moore is the real deal. I love his work. I’ll be surprised if his next release isn’t a best seller.
Moore is a sensational thriller author along the lines of Elmore Leonard and Dennis LeHane. And then there’s Mercedes…
Mercedes M. Yardley stands alone in a category she created herself. She’s poetic, lyrical, dark, sunny, and deadly. Reading her work is like having a lucid dream. She lives in Las Vegas in a house with egg laying hens for crying out loud. That’s the dichotomy right there. Her short fiction is exceptional, and can be found collected in Beautiful Sorrows. Fans of Neil Gaiman will enjoy her dark fairy tale, Pretty Little Dead Girls, which I highly recommend.
GR: We’re attending Horror Hound Weekend in Indy together in September. There’s a huge Nightmare on Elm Street reunion and gathering there. Were you a Freddy fan?
BK: Ah, nice! I didn’t know that. We’ll have to mix it up with the Fredheads.
Yes, I absolutely was. In fact, A Nightmare on Elm Street may have been the first straight horror flick I ever saw. Right now I can clearly recall the opening scene where he’s making the knife-gloves in the boiler room and it still gives me butterflies. That creepy-ass nursery rhyme. The tongue through the phone receiver. His melted face. I wonder if those films hold up, though. I’ll have to go back and see. Regardless, Freddy will go with me to the grave.
GR: Give me two or three scary movies that you love.
BK: My personal favorites, in no particular order, are:
And, as a dark horse, I’ll go with Man Bites Dog, which is a funny, yet disturbing mockumentary about a reality show starring a serial killer.
GR: There’s a pretty large percentage of horror movie/TV fans that have never picked up a horror novel. What do you think we need to do to change that?
BK: I don’t have any empirical evidence to prove this, but I feel that reading is something ingrained early on. People who grow up loving to read continue reading throughout life. But I don’t know that people get turned on to reading as adults.
Subjectively, however, I consider the reading experience to be vastly more entertaining than the viewing experience. Reading is immersive – it activates the imagination in a participatory way that movies can’t replicate. Movies are more passive, and require little involvement from its audience. That’s not to say that there aren’t incredible movies that blow your mind and stay with you forever just like a great book does.
I’d say there are at least two things we can do:
- Reward current readers with stories that enrich their lives so much they feel compelled to pass the tradition down to their children. Remember, all it takes is a couple of negative experiences to turn someone away. We can’t afford that. Every writer should strive to deliver the most entertaining, engaging, and rewarding experience possible. We should put as much effort into our work as we do trying to get someone to fall in love with us. That’s the type of connection we should aspire to achieve.
- We can also explore symbiotic relationships between books, movies and TV content. When a great movie is based on a book, that creates cross-over opportunities. How many people started reading George R.R. Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire series based on HBO’s remake of Game of Thrones? I know I did. Right now comics and film have a good symbiotic relationship. As do movies and video games. We just need to work hard to create the same cross-over opportunities for prose fiction.
GR: Anything special you want to share about your upcoming promotional campaign for We Are Monsters?
BK: Just that I hope I don’t overstay my welcome. My aim, through interviews such as this, and some guest posts I’ve authored, is to offer something insightful and/or entertaining to prospective readers, rather than just make it all about me. Because, really, it’s not about me at all. It’s about the story that came from that strange, mysterious realm mentioned earlier. I’m just the penmonkey that jotted it down.
Anyone who wants to stay connected can reach me through these channels. I’m always happy to make new virtual friends.
Amazon: Brian Kirk
GR: Thanks for talking with me, man. I’ll see you in Indy!
BK: Thank YOU, Glenn, for having me. I can’t wait.
Speaking of great books. People reading this should immediately check out some of Glenn’s amazing work. Dude seems incapable of receiving fewer than four stars. Abram’s Bridge, Boom Town, and his pending release, Blood and Rain. You’re doing great work, Glenn. Keep it up.
WE ARE MONSTERS by Brian Kirk (Samhain Publishing, 2015)
Review by Glenn Rolfe
“We’re sick. We’re all sick. But we can be cured. And we can be kind. We don’t have to let our lives be ruled by the shadows of our past.”
We Are Monsters. This is the debut novel for Brian Kirk. As far as debuts go, this one is very impressive. Kirk is a gifted writer and it shows in his details. The characters in this book have gone through tragic beginnings that lead them in, one way or another, to Sugar Hill Mental Asylum. Some come as patients, others work there in one capacity or another.
Dr. Alex Drexler is in line to become the Chief Medical Director at Sugar Hill, a position currently held by his mentor, Dr. Eli Alpert. Alex has developed a ground-breaking new drug that could cure schizophrenia. He’s ready to claim his new status. He’s invested in his future, in his intelligence, and in himself. After a failed trial run of the drug, all of his hopes and dreams, all of his hedged bets, teeter on the precipice of total collapse. Desperate to keep what he thinks he deserves, Alex tweaks his new drug and tries it on his favorite patient, his brother, Jerry. The results are amazing. Jerry is cured. Or is he?
What Alex discovers is that his new drug may do more than cure the mind, it just might expand it.
Kirk does a fantastic job in creating a fully developed cast of characters. Dr. Alpert’s (my favorite character in the book) history is beautifully, if not heartbreakingly, scripted through various flashback chapters. If you’re familiar with my reviews, you know that chapters of “look backs” are not one of my favorite things to find in a novel, but in capable hands, I can be persuaded to follow along. Kirk handles the majority of these with precision and flare, particularly with Dr. Alpert. From Dr. Alpert’s Vietnam experience, to the young female patient he befriends early on in his career, to the woman he would fall in love with only to watch fade away, Eli’s story is the true heart of We Are Monsters.
One fair warning, mid-way through the novel, all hell breaks loose. When this shift first happened, I was so confused. I was totally lost. I struggled to wrap my head around just what in the hell was suddenly going on. Hold on. This is intentional. Kirk wants us shaken, stirred, and off kilter. It puts us in the same boat as his characters. We are dropped into this mad world to figure out whether the doctors are just as broken as the patients or if something more sinister, something more fantastic is occurring.
While the search for answers did stretch on a bit too much for me, the ending is beautifully played.
“But you don’t have to carry it with you. You can let it go.”
While We Are Monsters offers plenty of nasty descriptions in some horrifying scenes, and offers up plenty of scares (mostly in the second half of the novel), it is the heart and the tragedy of the cast that push and pull this psychological horror novel to its potential. Brian Kirk delivers a smart and gritty novel that shows us that monsters do indeed exist. We all have a darkness inside, it’s how we choose to hold that darkness that either becomes our downfall or redeems us as individuals.
I give We Are Monsters 4 stars.