One of the things I was most excited about when I began my Flame Tree Friday feature, was chatting with some of the amazing authors. But, I didn’t want to waste their time with my inane ramblings, so I opened up the forum to you guys!
Welcome, to Questions with Brian Kirk.
So, one of the questions asked on Twitter was – tell me anything about yourself. Therefore, what would you tell a new reader about your work?
I’m a writer of surreal and psychological horror that attempts to create a space for self-reflection within the reader. For this reason, my work can sometimes be uncomfortable for readers looking for a simple escape.
Like most writers, I’ve spent the majority of my life inside my own mind, contemplating the nature of existence and my role within our world. That’s why I struggled so much through school. My sixth grade teacher’s trying to explain algebra and I’m helplessly imagining the day my mother dies and the sun supernovas. Wondering what we can do—what I can do—to alleviate so much inevitable suffering. Writing stories is how I process these thoughts.
I’ve recently begun to describe my work as psychedelic horror. Not because my stories feature hallucinogenic drugs. But, rather, because I often aim to produce a similar altered state of consciousness through my stories. Not all psychedelic trips are blissful. In fact, some of the experiences that result in the most positive outcomes are harrowing, if not outright terrifying. But people often emerge from these experiences with a deeper understanding of themselves, and feeling more connected and compassionate toward the people around them. Many of my stories feature people we typically disregard, or have developed a disdain for, such as psychotic men and women locked in mental asylums, and attempt to produce feelings of compassion toward these people through a harrowing psychedelic reading experience that illuminates our mutual suffering.
I also sometimes just like to write weird, scary shit because it’s fun.
Another reader would like to know more about your dedication to mental health issues after reading We Are Monsters.
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, as it’s something I struggle with myself. I’ve dealt with OCD all of my life, which produces chronic anxiety, uncontrollable physical tics, constant 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.
As much as I tried to expose the horrors that people with mental disorders face in We Are Monsters, the true horror is how we’ve historically treated the mentally ill.
What are you working on right now?
I recently finished a prison horror story titled Every Life A Death Sentence, which I plan to let rest for a good while. It deals with sensitive themes and issues that I still need to sort through before I feel comfortable sharing them, if ever.
Back in 2015 I wrote a dark Sci-Fi thriller titled The Sun Is a Tangerine, which takes place in a near future world where virtual reality technology has become totally integrated into society. I wrote the book as a hybrid experience where you read the sections that take place in our material world, and experience the sections that take place in virtual settings by accessing the virtual realms in which the scenes unfold, essentially becoming a character in the story. I’ve been waiting for VR technology to become more accessible in order to produce the virtual content, and publish the novel, and I feel like we’re getting closer. Producing these scenes, and publishing the book, is one of my main focuses at the moment.
I’m also currently writing a series of interactive horror books for middle grade readers, which has been a fun change of pace.
Will Haunt You sounds quite frankly, terrifying. People need to know, where did you get the idea from?
Will Haunt You was inspired by the story of a couple from my neighborhood who mysteriously disappeared after discovering a strange book in their home. My neighbor, Nancy Carter, chronicled her ordeal on the neighborhood website Nextdoor(dot)com, and I captured screen shots of the events as they unfolded. You can read about this unsolved mystery here, and learn what might await you when you read the book.
This question is from me! How are those Middle Grade Horrors coming along?
Ah, yes! As mentioned above, I’m currently writing a series of interactive horror books for middle grade readers. As this is intended to be an on-going series, with a recurring main character, it required more upfront planning than I usually do. Then the pandemic hit, which set me back a little bit, but I’m pretty much full steam ahead at the moment, and having a blast.
I have ten-year-old identical twin boys, and for the last three years I’ve written original short horror stories to read to their classrooms on Halloween, incorporating each of their classmates as characters. Writing these stories was so much fun, and the reactions they received was so rewarding, that I immediately felt compelled to start writing for a younger audience. I see these books as being something that I can work on with my kids, and have their friends beta-read, which makes me happy. I’m simultaneously launching a new business in July to raise capital for the interactive components, which won’t come cheap, so it’s quite the obsession. No point in going half way!
One of my literary heroes is Roald Dahl, who wrote incredibly dark adult fiction before switching over to younger audiences, and I wouldn’t mind following in his footsteps. There’s something liberating about writing for the unrestrained imaginations of young minds. I also just love to tell juvenile jokes.
Do you still sub shorts or do you stick to novel length work now?
I’m 90% committed to novel length work, while being selectively open to anthology projects with themes that spark ideas.
I can’t crank out short stories, nor can I predict what ideas will come to me, so writing for predetermined themes can be stressful and overly time consuming.
A popular question was, what is your writing process? Do you lock yourself away for a set time or work as and when you can?
I try to keep a consistent writing routine, but much of my process involves working to remove my critical mind from the proceeding as much as possible in order to let my subconscious take over.
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 possibly 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 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.
When I’m stuck, it’s typically because I’ve involved my rational mind in some annoying way. It’s when I’m consciously trying to “write well” rather than just let the words flow naturally. This quote from Thornton Wilder resonates with me, “If you write to impress it will always be bad, but if you write to express it will be good.”
A fellow horror writer would like to know what was the first horror novel you ever read?
Damn, I’m really not sure. I grew up reading Choose Your Own Adventure stories, which I loved. My first introduction to horror was Stephen King’s Night Shift, which was like discovering a north star. I immediately knew that’s what I wanted to do. I wasn’t allowed to watch R-rated movies, so fiction was the exciting loophole I exploited.
The first horror novel I read would probably have been Carrie, Cujo, or Christine. I’m just not sure which came first. I was the kid in the corner reading in-between classes and on the school bus, so I tore through books. I read a bunch of Dean Koontz in my middle grade years as well.
And finally, a short story writer would like to know – Do’s and Don’ts of a short story.
That’s tough, just because I don’t believe in hard rules for writing, and personally get most excited by writers who successfully break traditional norms.
My advice would be to write whatever sets your soul on fire, and pay attention to market guidelines if you want to have the story published. Reading a ton of short fiction that excites you should provide all the framework you’ll need. Then write>submit, write>submit, write>submit. Do this for years, and don’t get discouraged. Let the act of writing be your reward.
More than anything, try and have fun and use the page as your playground. Write from a place of vulnerability. Write the thing you’re most afraid to share.
A HUGE thank you to Brian for taking time out of his busy scedule to answer the questions you guys posed to him. He had a blast and I hope you did too!!! There will be plenty more of these Q and A’s over the coming months. If there is a Flame Tree writer that you would really like to know more about and ask something, let me know and will do my best to make it happen.
Be sure to share #FlameTreeFriday on social media and, as always, sleep well …