Brian Kirk Talks “Monsters”

I’m visited by Brian Kirk this week, who has a new horror novel out by Samhain Horror called We Are Monsters. It is a great read about things going horrific in an asylum. It is rare that the first Samhain title from an author is this strong. I met him at World Horror Con and he’s a great guy. Everyone needs to download a copy of this book today.

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Hi Russell. Thanks for having me on your site. Very kind of you, my friend. You asked me to talk a bit about what inspired my debut novel, We Are Monsters. Well, like many works of fiction, this one was inspired, in part, by psychedelic drugs.

In this case, by the most potent psychedelic chemical known to mankind: dimethyltryptamine, more commonly known as, DMT.

Most fans of horror fiction are familiar with altered states. But, for the uninitiated, DMT is a chemical that exists in most all living creatures, including us. It is presumed to be produced by the pineal gland and released during REM sleep and moments of extreme duress, such as at the time of death.

It may be what causes us to dream, and be responsible for what we see when we die. Some consider it to be the doorway through which our souls enter and depart our bodies (if you believe in such things).

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 A representation of someone under the influence of DMT.

When concentrated doses of DMT are consumed, either injected or smoked, the drug produces a 5 to 10 minute hallucinatory experience whereby people often report having their perceptual filters stripped away allowing them to view the underlying fabric of reality.

People also report visiting, what they believe to be, alternate dimensions where they establish contact with alien entities. These reports come from government funded clinical studies comprised of serious, sober individuals. Or so we’re told.

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 An artistic rendition of the DMT realm.

In We Are Monsters, a troubled, yet brilliant psychiatrist is experimenting with a derivative of DMT to see what effect it has on people suffering from 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.

One’s immediate reaction upon reading this may reasonably be, “Why the heck would anyone give someone with mental health issues an hallucinatory drug?”

While I’m certainly not advocating doing this, it’s not nearly as far-fetched as it may sound. There has been a huge resurgence in the research of psychedelic chemicals. And many of these tests are showing these compounds to have several therapeutic properties, particularly in the field of psychotherapy. While it may sound counterintuitive, these psychedelic compounds have proven effective in the treatment of a variety of mental ailments, such as chronic anxiety, depression, PTSD, OCD, and even schizophrenia.

The truth is that we don’t properly understand what causes altered states of consciousness, be it in someone suffering with schizophrenia or someone ingesting DMT. But there appears to be a biological purpose for it, otherwise it wouldn’t exist in nature, and our brains wouldn’t be designed to interact with them in the way that they are. Or, in the case of DMT, to produce it and release it into our system.

I’ve always been fascinated by the idea of altered states of consciousness, and am intrigued by the latest research being conducted in the fields of psychotherapy. What if, not too far from now, you go to see a psychiatrist and leave with a prescription to LSD? That would redefine the phrase, “Take two of these and call me in the morning.”

This general interest helped inspire the drama that unfolds in my debut novel, We Are Monsters. Probably not what you were expecting to hear, huh?

Thanks again for having me. Anyone interested in checking out my book can order a copy here.


And for anyone interested in striking up a virtual friendship, please connect with me through one of the following channels. Don’t worry. I only kill my characters.





A Work in Progress

This Work in Progress is called The Portal. In it, Satan returns to a small island town in Long Island Sound to use an enchanted portal to permanently open the doorway between our reality and Hell. Here’s how the whole thing starts, back in 1716.


At minutes before midnight, five matches flared in the darkness, and then five tallow candles flickered to life.

The dim, yellow flames illuminated a large circle etched into the drafty barn’s dirt floor. The circle encompassed two triangles, one inverted upon the other, all six sides radically concave. An upside down wooden cross impaled the ground at the star’s center. The musty air smelled of dried dung.

Five girls carried their candles to their designated points on the circle. Providence Neely’s wick’s amber glow lit her face, that brimmed with anticipation. In moments, Mr. Blackwell, agent from the East India Company, would fulfill his promise, and whisk her and the others on a journey to a place far away, where sermons did not fill each Sunday, where drink and dance were not forbidden. They would exercise control over all creatures that walked the earth, and they would be forever young.

Beside her, Sarah Rogers giggled. Providence stopped herself from slapping the stupid girl. If Sarah’s barn had not been the place the East India Man had selected for the ritual, Providence would have never let the silly, freckled girl into the group. One of the other girls shushed Sarah.

Thoughts of Mr. Blackwell swirled in Providence’s head. Though stout and bald, he was somehow captivating. His presence set a fire between her legs she’d never felt before, a fire he promised in private to quench, after the girls opened the portal to the magic place beyond.

“This is the time,” Providence began, “and this is the place Mr. Blackwell chose. Are you ready to commit yourselves to his service?”

“Yes, we are ready,” the girls answered together.

“Are you prepared for the Cleansing,” she asked, “to strip away the impurities heaped upon you by the church and your families?”

“Yes, we are.”

“Then clear your minds.”

Providence went to the rear of the barn. On the ground lay a burlap sack adorned with the gold twin-lion crest of the East India Company. She knelt, opened it, and slid out the Portal, a disk three feet across, carved in thick, polished cherry. The symbol from the barn floor covered the center, inlaid in actual gold. Each triangle point hosted a picture of a strange, unrecognizable creature. Mr. Blackwell had taken her to find it, washed up on the shore outside Stone Harbor. Its arrival was a mystery, Mr. Blackwell’s refusal to touch it even more so. He explained this was the door to his kingdom, and the girls were the key to unlock it.

The far doors to the barn swung open. A mob of men with blazing torches charged in. The girls screamed. The torches’ flames overpowered the candles’ dim light and the girls squinted against the sudden brightness.

Providence gritted her teeth at the sight of the Stone Harbor elders. The men were armed, two with muskets, the rest with knives, pitchforks, one a rusty whaling spear. Reverend Snow, the aged, scrawny windbag, led the pack, ever-present Bible clasped against his chest. His eyes burned with his usual self-righteous fire.

“There!” He pointed his bony finger at the cowering girls and their flickering candles. “Just as I warned you! Witchcraft afoot in Stone Harbor!”

Providence doused her candle and ducked into the shadow. She shoved the Portal back into the burlap sack and pulled it over to her feet.

Sarah’s father muscled his way to the front of the group. His hard, angry face melted into shocked disbelief as he recognized his daughter at the strange symbol in the dirt.

“Sarah? How…how could you…?”

Sarah dropped her candle and scrambled over to her father’s feet. She wrapped her arms around his legs. Her face, white with fear, turned up to face his.

“Father, it wasn’t me!” she implored. “’Twas the East India Man. He bewitched us.”

“Did I not warn you all?” Reverend Snow said. “That man’s promises to make us a great seaport were falsehoods.”

“We are but his pawns,” Sarah said, “surely compelled we are, by him and by Providence.”

Providence wanted to beat the whiny weakling with the Portal. Sara had never been worthy of following Mr. Blackwell.

“Providence is here?” Reverend Snow said.

“She’s the full witch,” Sarah said. “Not me. She rides a broomstick and speaks black magic to cats.”

Providence knew that pack of lies would earn her a perfunctory trial and a death by pressing. She needed to get out of here now. She grasped the sack to her chest and stole out the rear door and into the night.

A blast of cold wind off the harbor whipped her long skirt around her legs. She clenched the heavy sack tight and ran for the sheep pasture. Behind her, torches lit the night as some of the elders left the barn.

In spite of her pounding heart, she tried to think clearly. Above the other four girls, Mr. Blackwell had entrusted her with the Portal, and with special instructions for its care. Should the Cleansing be unfinished, she had to hide it, to keep it out of the hands of the Reverend and the others. Mr. Blackwell promised to keep her under his protection forever if she would protect the Portal.

She crossed the pasture at a run. Bleating sheep scattered ahead of her. As the sheep’s cries rolled down toward the barn, the clamor of men’s voices echoed back in reply.

“She’s up there!”

“Grab her, brother! Use care for her spells!”

She cut right and entered the forest. The autumn’s bare branches reached for her like goblin hands from the darkness, each revealing itself a split-second before ensnaring her. She ducked and weaved, but one branch snagged and ripped her blouse. Then another whipped against her cheek and drew blood. From behind her came the sound of men charging across the pasture. Their voices grew louder as they closed on the forest.

Her heart seemed about to burst, her leg muscles burned. The Portal felt like it weighed a hundred pounds. She sagged against a tree, and scanned the forest for a hiding place.

Starlight lit a large, flat piece of shale amongst the fallen oak leaves. She stumbled over, dropped the sack beside the rock, and fell to her knees. Her hands shook as she grabbed the stone’s sharp corner and pulled with all her strength. The stone yielded and revealed a patch of soft, brown earth. With her bare hands, she attacked the ground. Her nails split and tore as she dug through roots and rocks. She scraped a shallow grave for the Portal.

Sheep again bleated a warning. Torches flickered at the forest’s edge. She tossed the sack in the hole. It was just deep enough. She grabbed the rock, and heaved it back over the exposed earth. It landed with a sharp crack. The edge of the stone shattered, leaving a jagged border along one side. She kicked the soggy leaves back over the rock. Trickles of icy sweat ran down her face. She stood and raised her chin in triumph.

I did it, she thought. I saved the Portal. Its resting place shall never pass my lips. My East India man will shield me from their torments. Even if they capture me, no stones will crush my chest. Mr. Blackwell will rescue me. I know he will.

Leaves rustled at her feet. A flash of tan and copper lunged at her leg. Twin spikes of pain lanced her calf as a copperhead snake clamped on her calf. She dropped to one knee with a scream. The snake released her, slithered off, and coiled a few feet away.

Her leg went numb. Panic surged within her. She knew that many had died of copperhead snakebite. But didn’t snakes slumber this late in the fall?

The heavy shuffle of a dozen feet through the detritus of the forest floor came closer. Torches bobbed between the thick tree trunks. The voices grew louder, but the words less distinct as the poison made Providence’s head spin.

What grievous fate befalls me? Providence thought. How can this happen? All he asked, I have done.

She collapsed to the ground. All around her went dark. Her last breath passed her lips, and she wondered why her East India man had not protected her.


A little higher on the hill, Mr. Blackwell, as he called himself this time, stood in the shadow of a great glacial boulder. A broad black hat shielded the stocky man’s face from the cold, only his chin and black goatee poked out from its shadow.

With a sweeping hand gesture, he sent the copperhead retreating into the woods to return to its interrupted hibernation. Blackwell was indeed there to protect, just not to protect poor Providence.

This window of opportunity had closed. But the Portal lay safe. He’d be back in a few hundred years. Immortality bred amazing patience.

The rest coming soon. Somewhere. I hope.


Glenn Rolfe on Lousy Imitations: The Fear of Within

Glenn Rolfe joins me this month with some thoughts behind his great new novella BOOM TOWN that came out this month. Glenn is a multi-talented dynamo of a guy who can really tell a story. I’ve read his excellent works THE HAUNTED HALLS and ABRAHAM’S BRIDGE, and BOOM TOWN is just as good.

Take it away, Glenn.

Glenn Author Photo

Mankind’s fascination with aliens is timeless. Sure, since explosion of science fiction television and film in the twentieth century, we’ve been able to produce (and reproduce and reproduce) spectacular visions of what our minds conjure our universal roommates to look and act like. We have the classic “little green men”, the Grays, cute and almost cuddly E.T., a multitude of shapes and sizes represented through the Star Wars franchise, and plenty of other outrageous and creative forms. Then, there are the darker visions: the creature from Alien, the Predator, and (sillier yet presented with the same propulsion to kill) The Blob. These are all unique concepts of what our visitors may be like. Each of these forms would stand out in a crowd, wouldn’t you say?

But what if they looked like us?

Ah…there’s a concept. It seems simple enough, right?

Akhenaton, the 10th Egyptian pharaoh of the Eighteenth Dynasty, was a strange one from the word go. He walked a different line than all of his predecessors. The biggest judo chop he applied was implementing a monotheism religion over the traditional polytheism religion (multiple gods). The god he claimed was called Aten (shown in hieroglyphics as a solar disc). This was unheard of at the time and no doubt sent ripples of confusion through the people of Egypt. Akhenaton’s name (which he re-christened himself as) means “the living spirit of Aten.” And what if he was?  What if he was the living version of Aten, the god? Yeah, I know crazy talk. The other thing about the oddball pharaoh was the shape of his skull. In the art found on Akhenaton, he is always depicted with an elongated skull. His remains were discovered in an archeological dig in 1907. The skull was in fact elongated (though not to the exaggerated extent as some of the depictions) and his eyes were of unusual size. This has lead many Ufologists and alien theorists to believe it possible that Aton was an alien god, that Akhenaton may not have been of this world, and furthermore, that Akhenaton could have been the first alien-human hybrid. There’s an excellent look at this in an episode of the History Channel’s “Ancient Aliens.”

What if Akhenaton was really an alien?

We often see this “wearing of humans” or the alien/human merger in films like “Invasion of the Body Snatchers,” “Men in Black,” and “The Faculty.” For me, the best of all of these types of movies is John Carpenter’s “The Thing.”  The alien creature imitates any living being. It first arrives at the U.S. research camp in Antarctica as a dog that we watch the lone surviving member of the Norwegian research group trying to kill. After one of the Norwegian pursuer’s bullets rips through one of the members of the U.S. group, he is immediately shot and killed. Meanwhile, the dog is taken in and…well, it all goes wrong for the U.S. camp, too.  The Thing wears Palmer and Clark like Dolce and Gabbana. There’s plenty of terrifying and grotesque scenes (like when we see the frozen body with two faces they dig up from the Norwegian camp, or the splitting of the “thing” dog in the kennel when the alien flees from Childs and the flamethrower), but the real fear is in the unsettling paranoia that clutches the characters. Who is left? Who is really still themselves? Accusations fly, the flamethrower ignites, and of course, a terrible storm blows through at the worst possible time. The tension is amazing.

Can you imagine if that happened to you at summer camp?

And what is it about the idea of someone not being themselves that frightens us so deeply? It’s like when you think you know someone and then find out they’re not who you thought they were. It’s a betrayal, right? It’s being deceived, or lied to. Relationships are built on trust. So much of what we do is layered on top of this foundation of trust that if the relationship is suddenly questioned, so then is the life we’ve created around that relationship. Depending on the closeness of the bond, ones entire world could collapse. On the grander scale, looking at a substantial amount of the human populace coming into question, we’re looking at societal collapse. Pretty f*&%ing scary.

I think that’s where the weight of this “imitation” gains its marrow-freezing depth. It might be from a leader who walks a different line and wields the power to alter an entire peoples religion, to the co-worker or best friend, or to the spouse who you share your day-to-day life whose wicked truth is revealed. The results can be life (or world) altering.


In my new Horror/Sci-Fi novella, Boom Town (from Samhain Publishing), I explore some of these concepts.  An intelligent alien substance is left behind from a famous UFO sighting and stirs up some big trouble for the small town of Eckert, WI. Some of the townspeople begin to hear the whispers: Take them. Bring them. Ascend.  What does it mean? And will they listen? I invite you to grab a copy of Boom Town today, walk the line with me, and find out.



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Copy Edits With Old Friends

Here’s how writing a novel works, at least for me. I spend about a year creating it. A first draft, a second draft, then a third draft after another round of revisions from Beta readers. Then it goes off to my publisher. With luck my editor buys it for publication sometime in the next year.

So a few months before it gets published, I get the copy edit version back. This has notes and correction from my editor, the amazing Don D’Auria, and a copy editor. If I did well with the first three drafts, these are usually minor continuity errors, typos, and a few review lessons on embarrassing grammar points I’d forgotten. This my last chance to get the whole thing right. Whatever goes back to Samhain from here gets sent out to the rest of the world.


This week I got back Q Island which releases in June. In the story, Long Island, NY becomes a quarantine zone as a plague breaks out. The victims become ultra-strong psychopaths, bent on murder. The island goes to hell. One woman, Melanie, finds out her son is immune, and this is the story of her escape attempt.

I could just check and approve changes and corrections, but instead I decided to re-read the whole thing. What am I finding?

First, the copy editor is apparently a much bigger fan if commas than I am. I swear the whole thing is two pages longer now.

Second, I really like these characters. The heroes, the villains, the ones in between. Honestly, after beating the thing to death for twelve months, I never wanted to see the book again. But it feels good to visit with Melanie once more, feel the strange combination of love and frustration she experiences with her autistic son. I missed old Samuel, the GP doctor who ends up treating Patient Zero+One, and watch the spread of the epidemic through his eyes. But the bad guy, Jimmy Wade, now he’s a trip. A nickel-and-dime crook and perennial loser, he gets infected and instead of going psychotic, he goes telepathic, though a little psychosis still develops. What fun watching him grow into his role as Long Island’s new crime lord.

In a few months, Q Island will hit the stores, and the rest of you will get to meet these friends pulled from my subconscious. I think you’ll like them, or hate them as need be. I’m sure that you’ll enjoy Melanie’s desperate attempt to get herself and her son off Long Island before Jimmy Wade and his thugs or the growing army of the infected can get to them. I mean, I’m enjoying reading it. And I know how it ends.

Update #2 The Impact of Kindle Lending

I did an earlier post on the impact of Amazon’s new Kindle Unlimited option on book sales for MLG Publishing’s benefit anthology OUT OF TIME. My theory, based on limited data, was that Kindle Unlimited would add new lenders without impacting sales much. The process was only a few weeks old, and I promised an update after a few more months. Here’s the update:

To review, Kindle Unlimited (KU) and Kindle Owners Lending Library (KOLL), from the author’s point of view, both do the same thing. They make the book available for Kindle users to borrow. Amazon pays the author for each borrow instead of paying a royalty for each paid download. The amount paid, unfortunately, is up to Amazon’s discretion. They set aside a pile of money and then divide it equally, one share for every borrow. A 99 cent short story earns the same as a thousand-page $14.99 piece of high fantasy. People’s concern was that the overall impact on sales, and more importantly, income, would be negative.

OUT OF TIME went on sale in 2013 as a 99 cent benefit anthology for Doctors Without Borders. It sold hot straight out of the gate and we’ve sent thousands of dollars to this worthy cause. The initial spike in sales calmed down after a few months and settled into a steady weekly volume. All the graphs you will see below start at the point the volume appeared to be steady. All volume numbers are just relative references. Let’s look at sales first:

oot chart sales KOLL was always active, but KU kicks in week 17 on this chart. Sales volume through week 21 is pretty uniform, then there is a drop through week 30, and a bottoming out at a new level from week 31 to 44. Volume spikes back up in weeks 45 through 47, but I attribute that to the release of a second time travel anthology by the same authors, STILL OUT OF TIME, which I think spurred a new set of sales.

Now let’s look at lending:

oot chart lend

Week 17, KU kicks in and from then on lending rises through about week 30, then pretty much stabilizes when you average the high and low weeks that are coincidentally next to each other most of the time.

So sales are down, lends are up. The sum is shown below:

oot chart total

The overall trend holds with the sales trend. Starting at week 31, total units moved goes to a “new normal”, roughly 45% less than before KU went active. Sales of any item drop over time, so it may be presumptuous to think that OUT OF TIME would sell at the weeks 1-20 level forever, but it does look like KU is a pretty good suspect for the sudden drop, even though the book is popular through KU itself.

An economist might say that demand, with some product being available free, could be measured not in dollars, but in readers’ time available to read. This fixed demand is now spread across a larger supply, because free books extend the reach of the reader, despite limited disposable income. This relationship (more supply, fixed demand) will depress most individual sales, though the sum total over all books will most likely rise until readers’ available time to read is filled.

Read that a few times so it sinks in. End result, the reader wins. Amazon goal #1 met.

Does the self-published author win? Hmm. First let’s see what the self-pub guy gets per sale. These are the dollars earned per unit of OUT OF TIME over the last few months:

oot chart ku cash
June is the last month with KOLL only. KOLL had a much richer payout, by design, than KU does. Amazon won’t be going back to any $2.24 payouts any time soon. But let’s say they stabilize at $1.42.

Using this data, for every 100 books you sold pre-KU, you would sell 45 less. At the minimum royalty of $0.33, you would lose $14.85 in royalties. But you would gain 15 lent units at $1.42 and earn  $21.30. You move fewer books, and make more money.

Unless your royalty rate is higher. Then you lose. The break even point is only $0.47, or having your book at a price point of $1.42 on Kindle. Anything above that and this “new normal” is a financial disaster. Amazon spends less to deliver content. Amazon goal #2 met.

So do you pull out of KU? Maybe if you are a big name who people must buy as soon as your book leaves a press. But not if you are a small fry. If the theoretical economist a few paragraphs up is correct, overall demand per seller is down. Drop KU, and you may lose the lends, and gain no sales in return, as individuals continue to get a percent of their content free, just from someone else. Authors making more money doesn’t appear to be on Amazon’s list of goals.

Of course, all of this is based on a data set of one, which is just a step away from “My cousin Leroy told me this story about a guy…” So pop over the my Facebook link for this post and link me to anyone else’s story abut the impact of KU, stories that contain actual numbers, please. Love to see what other authors have experienced.

And if you want to read a copy of OUT OF TIME, it won’t hurt my feelings, and 33 cents goes to Doctors Without Borders, $1.42 if you just borrow it.


-Russell James