The Deep End interview…with Brian Kirk

  Crystal Lake Publishing   Feb 16, 2017   Blog   1 Comment
Joe: Tell us a bit (or a lot) more about your childhood. Primary school, high school, etc. How do you think your experiences benefited or influenced your career?

BK: I moved around a bit growing up. I was born in Santa Monica, then moved to Atlanta when I was four after my parents divorced. Then from Atlanta to Dallas when I was five. My mother, who is an absolute saint, got duped into marrying a conman who was pulling one of those Bernie Madoff Ponzi schemes and took a bunch of people for a lot of money, including family members of mine. We moved back to Atlanta five years later when he got busted and sent to prison, which was a rather shocking revelation for all of us. I was really close with a group of friends in Dallas and we were forced to split town on a moment’s notice, so I never got to say goodbye to anyone, which was hard. Having to insert myself into a new school and make all new friends was hard, too.

I felt a lot of pressure to try and impress people when I was a kid in order to be accepted. Writing was one of the ways I felt I could make a strong impression, so I worked to cultivate that skill, and have relied on it ever since to support myself financially, and also, at times, to bolster my sense of self-worth.

Joe: Can you recall a moment where you had to choose between being an author/artist and another career? A decisive moment where you decided to go all out?

BK: Yes, definitely. I walked away from writing when I graduated college and got a job at a large ad agency in Atlanta. Figured writing was a frivolous hobby that I no longer had time for now that I was an adult embarking on my “big career”. It only took a couple of years for me to realise I had made a mistake, and that something vital was missing from my life. I went through a rather dark and self-destructive period while wrestling with my lack of fulfilment, feeling trapped in a job I didn’t like, travelling a path that was leading me farther away from my happy place.  

It became very clear to me that writing would make me happier, even if it was something I just did for myself. So I took a creative writing course at a local college to jumpstart the process, and began writing at night and on the weekends. Writing provided a renewed sense of purpose almost immediately, and soon began to consume my daily thoughts. Everything else in my life either became a distraction from writing, or inspiration for it.

My wife, I think, was the one who first encouraged me to submit my work for publication. She bought me my first issue of Cemetery Dance, which is how I learned about the magazine, and others like it. They were the first market to reject me, and have many times since. But I eventually wrote a story that got accepted by a semi-pro press. Then another. After a couple more sales, I put together a plan to quit my job and work as a freelance creative consultant, which is what I do now, in order to free up more time for fiction writing. I pitched the idea to my wife, and she bought it, and we set the plan in motion. Then we got pregnant with twins, and that gave us momentary pause, but we decided to stay the course. She was six months pregnant and on bed rest when I submitted my resignation letter. It was a heavy moment, but everything has worked out great so far, thank God.  

Joe: How did you respond to your very first success as an author? Was it just rewarding, or did it motivate you even more? Or, did it perhaps feel underwhelmed, which motivated you to even greater heights? 

BK: I was surprisingly underwhelmed both when my first story was accepted for publication as well as my first novel. I expected to be much more elated, and for the achievement of that life-long dream to propel me to a new plane of satisfaction. It didn’t. For me, each little success, from a business prospective at least, provides a blip of enjoyment, and then I’m back to baseline almost immediately.

This confused me at first—what’s the point of doing the work if the results don’t provide sustained gratification? But then I realised that it’s the work itself that sustains me, and that this was a good thing. I can’t always control the outcome of my efforts, but I can control the energy I apply to my writing. If all of my gratification came from circumstances outside my control, I’d be screwed. The fact that writing itself gives me such joy, regardless of outcome, is a blessing because no one can take that away from me. Every day that I commit myself entirely to the project at hand is a day well spent.   

Joe: How has your career as an author affected relationships with friends and family? 

BK: I’d say it’s bettered them. I was pretty miserable when I wasn’t writing. This general discontent gave me a dreary worldview and negatively impacted my personal relationships. I was trying to become someone I’m not, and it wasn’t working; was trying to conform to societal expectations that didn’t align with my authentic self. Once I recommitted myself to writing, I began to return to my former self who was much happier and more compassionate to those around me. While I’m sure there are certain friends and family members who question the decisions I’ve made, especially the type of material I tend to write, everyone has been incredibly supportive and I feel that my relationships have flourished since I returned to a place of purpose and contentment.

Joe: Which author most influenced your early career? And who still does?

BK: Growing up it was Stephen King for sure, my first exposure to him being Skeleton Crew, and he still holds a spot near the top today. There’s a darkness inside of me, in all of us, really, that needed an outlet, and King showed me what that outlet could be. I’ll be forever thankful to him for that.

I’ve since branched out quite a bit, and have fairly eclectic tastes in fiction. I read broadly and prefer to change up genre, subject, style, etc., from one book to the next. Influence to me is synonymous with inspiration. I take note of authors whose work floors me, makes me feel woefully inadequate, and inspires me to do better. I then try to understand what it is about their writing that made me feel that way so that I can attempt to provide the same experience for others. Following are some of the specific authors who have, and continue to inspire me.

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 and genius of John Fowles. The psychedelic mind-bending of Philip K. Dick. The heroic storytelling of Robert McCammon and Joe R. Lansdale. The gritty darkness of Gillian Flynn. 

Joe: Instead of just focussing on your most successful work, which story are you the proudest of, a story that managed to capture a piece of who you are? 

BK: I can’t say that I have one. To be honest, pride isn’t something that I find useful when it comes to writing fiction. The more I can suppress my ego’s attachment to my work, the better it tends to be, so I consciously strive to detach myself from my writing. Cheesy and trite as it sounds, I try and view myself as a vessel through which stories flow more so than the “author” of the material I write. 

Joe: How do you feel when you don’t make your target words for the day?

BK: Depends on the day. While I strive to meet my daily writing goal, which for me is 1,000 words, I also work to be a well-rounded individual. I’ve got another job that helps pay the bills, a wife I fall more in love with every day, twin sons who crave attention, a reading addiction, in addition to other interests. Missing a day or two doesn’t bother me too much. Same as having an unproductive writing session. It’s when two days turns into a week or more that I start getting itchy, irritable, and grossly insecure.

Joe: What’s the most difficult topic for you to write?

BK: Sex, probably. I grew up believing sex outside of marriage was a sin that could condemn me to eternal hell. Not very romantic. Therefore, the subject is loaded with conflicting viewpoints that I haven’t effectively sorted out. I can’t seem to write a sex scene without it feeling gratuitous, or like I’m writing for the Penthouse forum.   

Joe: What do you do to distract you enough to actually relax a bit? Or do you always think about writing?

BK: While I don’t know that there’s anything that can stop me from thinking about writing—it’s definitely my greatest obsession—there are plenty of other things that I enjoy doing, none of which are overtly relaxing other than reading, though. I enjoy strenuous exercise. I enjoy bullshitting with friends. I enjoy live music, and attend concerts and music festivals as often as I can. I look for novelty in the mundane, and seek out peak experiences that make me feel so alive it almost hurts. Natural beauty can provide these emotional highs, as can certain entheogens taken with the right combination of set and setting, or so I’ve heard.      

Joe: Tell us a bit about the people you met while researching a book. Are you still friends with some of them?

BK: Not much to tell, really. I interviewed a few people while conducting researching for my debut novel, We Are Monsters, including the Medical Director for the mental institution at Emory University in Atlanta, but have not kept in touch. They were all incredibly helpful, though, and I appreciate their time.

Joe: Outside of the actual craft, what is the most useful skill you learnt from being an author? 

BK: Discipline is an extremely useful skill for a writer to have. My best work comes from a sort of waking dream state – a state of being where my critical mind falls silent and I enter into what feels like a hypnotic trance. In many ways, entering into this trance is like falling asleep; therefore, I approach writing in much the same way I do when preparing myself for bed. I like to do it at around the same time every day, in a similar setting, typically a quiet place with a chair and flat surface to rest my laptop. So, in the same way that my mind prepares to shut off and begin to dream at night, I look to facilitate a similar mental shift when I approach my writing desk, wherever that may be. Having the discipline to follow a consistent routine helps me to more readily and reliably enter this dream state where the stories come from.

Joe: How did being author change you as a person?

BK: Writing is something I’ve enjoyed doing all of my life; therefore, crafting stories and novels was always something I felt naturally inclined to do. I feel most like my true self when I’m working on a story, so I’d say that writing, or being an “author”, is my true nature. While I’m thrilled to have people read my work—whether they love it or hate it—the act of writing itself is what I enjoy most, and would continue doing it whether I could find an audience or not.

Conversely, I don’t think I’ll ever feel comfortable calling myself an author. There’s no way I could refer to myself like that at a cocktail party.

“Hi, what do you do?”

“Who, me? I’m an author, thanks for asking.” Even writing that feels pretentious to me for some reason. I guess I’ve got a case of imposter syndrome, and am okay with that.

Joe: Which response/comment from a reader has touched you the most throughout your career?

BK: There were two in relation to We Are Monsters—a novel about mental illness—that I found particular touching.

1) A reader sent me a note saying that she routinely gave money to the homeless, but purposefully avoided people she considered to be “crazy”, out of fear, and the thought that money couldn’t help them. She had a revelation, though, after reading my book and began to see the humanity underneath the illness, and made giving money to the mentally ill a priority now that she saw them through this new light.

2) I had a pharmacist approach me at a signing to say that We Are Monsters changed the way he viewed his profession, encouraging him to approach his job with more compassion for the people who require the medicine he provides. 

Both of these interactions took me by surprise and had a lasting impact. It’s amazing to be able to touch someone in such a meaningful way.

Joe: What is your life-long goal as an author?

BK: My only goal is to work as hard as I can to entertain myself and others as much as I’m capable for as long as possible.

Joe: What legacy do you want to leave behind?

BK: I’d like for people to feel that I was a nice fellow who produced more joy than suffering, and perhaps inspire others to do the same.

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