Gef: What was the impetus behind We Are Monsters?
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 physical tics, 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.
Gef: Was there much of a balancing act for you in portraying mental illness as accurately and considerately as you can and still fit in the supernatural elements?
Brian: Providing an accurate portrayal of mental illness was extremely important to me. Not only in creating an authentic story with realistic characters, but in order to be respectful towards people who suffer mental disorders as well. In works of fiction, people with mental illnesses are often depicted as circus freaks. They’re “INSANE!” Almost like a different species of human completely unrelatable to the rest of us.
I conducted research to get a basic understanding of the various traits common to many mental disorders and what type of behaviors and speech patterns are associated with certain illnesses. I read books written by psychologists as well as those written by people suffering from psychoses such as schizophrenia. I needed to understand the disease from the patient’s point-of-view. I also visited a mental institution and interviewed people who worked there. Many readers have commented on how realistic the characters seemed, so I suppose the research paid off.
The supernatural elements in the story are really presented through the perceptual lens of the characters, so as long as I established the ground rules for the world and the psyches through which these elements manifested, I felt like the reader would follow along. Even with the more abstract elements, as the psychotic mind (along with the subconscious one) often speaks in abstract terms.
Gef: The novel has garnered a fair bit of praise thus far. Must be gratifying, right?
Brian: The praise has been stunning; it’s not something I expected. When I set out to write We Are Monsters my goal was simply to learn how to write a book. I had already published several short stories, but this was my first novel-length piece of work. Honestly, I figured it would wind up in a trunk somewhere.
To have it accepted by an editor, Don D’Auria, whom I have long admired, and to have writers like Brian Keene, Mercedes M. Yardley, Jonathan Moore, and John F.D. Taff take the time to read and comment on the book has been mind-blowing. I feel very fortunate and blessed.
Gef: Who do you count among your writing influences?
Brian: That list is constantly evolving. I enjoy Stephen King’s ability to plop you into a story on page one and have you instantly care for his characters. 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. The psychedelic mind-bending of Philip K. Dick. The heroic storytelling of Robert McCammon and Joe R. Lansdale. The gritty darkness of Gillian Flynn.
I love to read books that are so good they intimidate me and make me feel helplessly inferior. That’s where inspiration comes from.
Gef: How much emphasis do you place on setting as character?
Brian: It depends on the story. I’d say I give more consideration to mood and atmosphere, but that may be at matter of semantics. It’s an important consideration, though. Some things are more likely to happen in a dark alley at 2 AM than in an open field during the middle of a sunny day. The setting will often determine the mood and mindset of a character, which is how I typically view it.
Gef: Horror is a genre that often gets a bad rap. What do you consider to be the saving grace of the genre?
Brian: To be honest, I don’t pay too much attention to others’ perception of the genre. I think it’s a platitude that misses the point, which is whether a story is worth reading or not. And that will always be subjective. If some people want to miss out on some of the most imaginative and insightful pieces of work simply because marketers have decided to brand it a certain way, that’s fine.
Humans have been telling scary stories since the beginning of time. I don’t think we’ll ever eliminate danger or fear from our existence. Therefore, there will always be a place for dark fiction. It’s hardwired into us, and will be difficult, if not impossible, to flush from our genetic code. We’ll always be scared of the dark.
Gef: What's the worst piece of writing advice you ever received? Or what piece of writing advice do you wish would just go away?
Brian: I was recently advised to pick a genre and stick with it. I didn’t care for that advice.
I can’t think of anything that I wish would go away. What works for one person may not work for someone else. I guess I’d just say that anything presented as an absolute should generally be greeted with scrutiny or ignored.
Gef: What kind of guilty pleasures do you have when it comes to books or movies or whatnot?
Brian: None. I’ve worked too hard to stop feeling guilty about pleasure!
Gef: What projects are you cooking up that folks can expect in the near future, and how can folks keep up with your shenanigans?
Brian: Thanks for asking. I have a new short story titled Picking Splinters From a Sex Slave coming out in the anthology, Gutted: Beautiful Horror Stories, alongside two of my idols: Clive Barker and Neil Gaiman. When one of the editors, Doug Murano, announced the story he said, “This is the kind of story that starts book burning parties,” which leads me to believe the story works. I’m honored to be part of this project, and can’t wait for the anthology to come out.
In addition, I am currently working on the second book in a trilogy of dark sci-fi thrillers. The first book is complete and currently in the hands of a literary agent whom I’ve recently signed with. We are putting the final touches on the book and plan to submit it to publishers early next year.
In the meantime, I would love for people to connect with me through one of the following channels. Don’t worry. I only kill my characters.