Today I am interviewing Richard A. Kirk, author of the new sci-fi, fantasy novel, Necessary Monsters.
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DJ: Hey Richard! Thanks for agreeing to do this interview!
For readers who aren’t familiar with you, could you tell us a little about yourself?
Richard A. Kirk: Sure, I am an author, illustrator and visual artist. I was born in Kingston Upon Hull and immigrated to Canada with my parents when I was young. I grew up in an industrial town on the shore of the Great Lakes. My work written and illustrative is informed by those two facts. Writing, reading and drawing have always been my primary interests, and they have always been interwoven in my mind. Anyone who is familiar with my drawing would not be surprised by my writing. I love all literature and try to read as widely as I can, but branch the contains science fiction, fantasy, weird fiction and horror fiction is where I live creatively. In my fiction I like to work across genres, because I believe that it where the interesting stuff happens. In a single work, I might incorporate elements of high fantasy, horror, and literary fiction. This isn’t so much a strategy as simply an outcome of how I work. The kinds of books I like to read follow a similar path. When writing I like to challenge the reader’s expectations. I like to be surprised by what I am writing. I write every day, even when I am very busy with other projects. Of all my creative endeavors, writing is the one I where I truly lose myself.
DJ: What is Necessary Monsters about?
Richard: It’s about learning to face the truth about yourself. Lumsden Moss is an escaped convict, living under a false identity. He was set on a bad path during his childhood when a girl he loved, named Memoria, fell from a sea wall and drowned. When the book opens, Moss has spent his life feeling a heavy burden of guilt for Memoria’s death. He learns that she is still alive when a monstrous underworld figure blackmails him into looking for her. The book is Moss’s journey from ancient port city to a forbidden island. Throughout, Moss puts his life on the line as a child-witch named Elizabeth, and her demon, Echo pursues him. The story leads to Nightjar Island where he confronts the fact that his story is part of a mystery much larger than himself. The book is very much about how environment and circumstance shape our perceptions and identity. How much do we owe the past? What is our obligation to those who fundamentally change over time? How do you grapple with the monstrous both internally and externally? These are questions Moss has to deal with as he pierces the layers of the mystery.
DJ: What were some of your influences for Necessary Monsters?
Richard: Like any writer I think I am a bit of a magpie when it comes to gathering influences. Certainly the fictional works of John Banville were a huge influence, not in the sense of the narrative structure or direction, but rather in taking note of his remarkable powers of observation and the way that he expresses them so eloquently and evocatively. Banville is a writer that can stop me in my tracks as a reader. I definitely wanted to bring that sensibility to the book. I’ll leave it to the reader to let me know if I succeeded!
Necessary Monsters took a few years to write. As I have said elsewhere, it shed its skin a number of times. What really inspired me to make the final push was Brian Catling’s Vorrh. The fact that this strange and beautiful book found its place in the current market was very motivating. After I finished reading Vorrh, I was able to tap a reserve of energy that allowed me to complete mine Necessary Monsters. Again, it was the strange, incredibly imaginative vision underpinning the narrative that impressed me. Bakelite robots with cream-like insides like insects. Come on! Further back, my influences were books like the Gormenghast trilogy, the early epics of Clive Barker, works such as Imajica and Weaveworld.
DJ: Could you briefly tell us a little about your main characters? Do they have any cool quirks or habits, or any reason why readers with sympathize with them?
Richard: Lumsden Moss is a man of great contradictions and internal conflict. On one hand, he is a man accused of crimes he didn’t commit, but on the other, he is artfully living under a false identity in the house of the man who sentenced him. He loves the art, the stagecraft, at the center of his deceit, but he knows that it is ultimately corrosive to his soul, just like the drug sinispore that he takes to alleviate his stress. He is a bibliophile that would risk his life to steal a book in order to right a wrong against a dead cellmate, but he is also capable of violence when those he loves are threatened. Moss has to reconcile these internal forces if he is to survive. For me, this internal struggle that we all experience, between the person that life molds us into and the person we deep down believe we are, or aspire to be, is the struggle that makes Moss compelling.
Imogene Machine is the daughter of a con-man. Her body is covered with scrolling tattoos depicting fairytales. She has grown up in the underworld and become a proficient criminal. For Imogene, this has been her way of surviving in a world of bad men. She sees something different in Moss, and places her trust in him and his companion Starling. Imogene is a strong, capable woman but she is haunted by a dark entity seeking retribution on her father through her. Imogene has a dry wit and she’s more than happy to troll Moss on his failings. She is attracted to Moss but life has taught her to be careful where she places her trust.
DJ: What is the world and setting of Necessary Monsters like?
Richard: Necessary Monsters is a second world story that begins in The City of Steps or Irridia, a crumbling old city on the coast of the Irridian Sea. The city is ancient, really a succession of cities, each imperfectly built on top of the others over the course of centuries. The city is raised above sea level, and a massive stone staircase forms the eastern bulwark. The City of Steps is largely controlled by a criminal secret society known as The Red Lamprey, largely made up of men that once controlled Nightjar Island.
Later, the novel actually takes us to Nightjar Island. Following a bitter war, Nightjar was purged of its inhabitants and it became forbidden for anyone to travel there. Its city, Absentia, was left to rot and the rest of the island slowly returned to nature. Technology in this world remains at the level of the early 20th century. There are motorized vehicles, airships coexisting with carriages pulled by horses. It is a world in transition. An interesting thing about the world is that there are hints that it once knew a more advanced culture. I read once, and whether or not it’s true it’s very provocative, that our current civilization will one day be reduced to a line in the geologic record the thickness of a credit card. What would we know about that civilization? This is an interesting thought to me, stepping outside the myth of endless progress and thinking about a cycle that repeats. There’s not enough room to get into that here, but in the context of this book there is the idea of a highly technological civilization overwritten by subsequent civilizations. Anyway, one of the key characters in the book, Starling (Irridis), is a part biological, part mechanical entity. The presence of the character suggests that this once greater culture has fallen out of collective memory, and that its remnants, when encountered, are regarded as supernatural.
DJ: What is so special about this book Lumsden steals?
Richard: The Songbirds of Nightjar Island was a book written by a fellow prisoner, a serial killer that happened to be an ornithologist, a man who Moss grew close to in Brickscold Prison. The book was stolen from the prisoner by the same man that was instrumental of sending Moss to prison for a crime he did not commit. In prison, Moss vows to steal the book back. The fulfilment of his promise requires Moss to adopt a false identity, and serves to lead him deeper into trouble at various points. Moss carries the book with him throughout the story. It is a symbol of sorts for the tension that exists between rationalism and the subconscious, the human need for order and entropy.
DJ: I’m also curious about how you fused magic and technology together?
Richard: The world of this book is one of porous reality, and supernatural elements seep through the fabric of the everyday with horrific consequences. It is not unlike the way fragments of a particularly vivid dream can bleed up from your subconscious as you go about your day. Framing this is the idea that our sensory experience of the world is simply an evolutionary construct, staking out functional territory in a larger reality. We are low-fi creatures in a high bandwidth universe. The magic in the book is the result of certain characters who have devised ways of puncturing this construct, and have learned to manipulate what pours in. There is always a price though.
The technology in this book is transitional. Think of Victorian or even Edwardian Britain where you have very different worlds overlapping. It is a world where technology is stalled in some ways, the result of an off-stage historical trauma. It is a world fertile to forces that function outside of reason.
DJ: What was your favorite part about writing Necessary Monsters?
Richard: There are 3 parts to the novel, the city, a journey, and a forbidden island. Each of the parts has a slightly different flavor. It was a lot of fun playing with the conflict inherent in each phase, and the humor as well. There are a couple of times Moss is forced to deal with a certain character that really, really gets on his nerves. I have to admit to a kind of mad glee in writing those kinds of character interactions. I also really enjoyed the world building. Being an artist as well as a writer, this novel afforded some great opportunities to release my inner art director. I truly live for the cinematic set piece. My favorite part was taking the journey, looking around the corners.
DJ: What do you think readers will be talking about most once they finish it?
Richard: I just really hope that they find the book exiting, interesting and fun to read. At the same time, I hope that the book raises interesting ethical questions, about the porosity inherent in people’s constructed selves, and empathy for others. I hope people will find something new in how I illuminate these themes through the form of various notions of the monstrous.
DJ: Did you have a particular goal when you began writing the Necessary Monsters? Was there a particular message or meaning you are hoping to get across when readers finish it? Or is there perhaps a certain theme to the story?
Richard: Reading is a fascinating cognitive process. It allows us to create worlds from words. With Necessary Monsters, my intent was to build a believable world for readers, which contained things that were familiar and strange. Then I wanted to drop the reader into the middle of it, to create a yearning for discovery. I set myself many challenges with this book. The two main settings, The City of Steps, and Nightjar Island are ancient places with troubled histories. The reader learns there was a war, and subsequently a Purge. These things are not directly relevant to the plot but he reader comes to understand that they have affected the psychology of the inhabitants in subtle ways. A friend pointed out a great image to me. It was a copy of The Castle by Franz Kafka laid under a brick wall. The presence of the book subtly affects the entire structure of the wall. Similarly, small event can come to have larger repercussions. The characters are playing on a vaster stage, foregrounded against mysteries much larger than their own narratives.
The other thing that your question brings to mind is a desire to explore what we mean when we say monster or monstrous. Without giving anything away, there are a number of “monsters” in this book. It makes the point that given the right circumstances we can all be monsters. It was important that even the more extreme instances of monstrousness were grounded in sympathy. In the physical realm the monster’s physicality balances on a fine line between the beautiful and the grotesque. The character of Echo, the demon, is a good example of this. He is at once terrifying and darkly beautiful, and ultimately sad, if you are willing to extend your empathy as a reader. As you can see, I do not like boxes. I prefer the liminal. It can be destabilizing for the reader but I hope ultimately it be rewarding.
DJ: When I read, I love to collect quotes – whether it be because they’re funny, foodie, or have a personal meaning to me. Do you have any favorite quotes from Necessary Monsters that you can share with us?
Richard: “The tadpoles continued to wriggle against the glass until a large one made its way to the rim and slipped into the canal. “That’s the clever one,” said Memoria. In a few seconds the jar was empty.” P.6.
“She’s not human. But I’ll grant that you do have a point about people being evil. A man has to be careful who he keeps company with.” P.235.
“The creature opened its mouth and a vapor rose into the air, spiraling and twisting. It dissipated, settling over Moss and Imogene like fine polled, as they watched, unable to move or speak. And like characters in a fairlytale, they fell into a deep and dream-filled sleep.” P.274
DJ: Now that Necessary Monsters is released, what is next for you?
Richard: In the fall of 2017 an illustrated collection of my short stories called Magpie’s Ladder will be published. I will be spending much of the summer creating the illustrations for that book. I have also completed a new novel called The Tailor of Echoes, which is with my agent now. It takes place in the same world as Necessary Monsters but it is a completely new story with new characters. I can’t wait to share it with readers. This summer I am working on a new novel. It is in the early stages yet, but I am enjoying the writing very much. All I can tell you about it so far is that it has clever birds, monsters and murderers. I’m hoping that with each project I can broaden and engage more with readers. It is an enormous privilege to have people to commit their time to one’s words.
DJ: Where can readers find out more about you?
DJ: Before we go, what is that one thing you’d like readers to know about Necessary Monsters that we haven’t talked about yet?
Richard: Readers interested in the characters of Moss and Irridis should know that they first appear in my short novel THE LOST MACHINE. It can be read on the Weird Fiction Review website where it was serialized in 2016, or it can be ordered directly from my website in print form. I am planning on writing another story, a spinoff, from NECESSARY MONSTERS. Close readers might be able to figure out who that story will be about!
DJ: Thank you so much for taking time out of your day to answer my questions!
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*** Necessary Monsters is published by Arche Press and is available TODAY!!! ***
Buy the Book:
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Lumsden Moss is an escaped thief and an unrepentant bibliophile with a long-suffering desire to foist some karmic retribution on those who have wronged him. But when the opportunity to steal a rare book from the man who sentenced him to prison puts him on the wrong side of the wrong people, Moss finds himself on the run. And it’s not just the book he stole that these people want, it’s also the secrets of a long-forgotten location on Nightjar Island, a place cursed and abandoned since the Purge.
When Moss falls in with Imogen, a nimble-fingered thief who has taken a traveling bookcase filled with many secrets, he starts to realize how much of his unsavory past is indelibly tied to a frightening witch-child and her nightmarish pet monster.
In a fantastic world, still recovering from a war where magic and technology were fused together, Moss and Imogen must decipher the mystery of their mutual pasts in order to illuminate the dark heart that still lurks on Nightjar Island.
RICHARD A. KIRK IS A CANADIAN VISUAL ARTIST, ILLUSTRATOR, AND AUTHOR.
He exhibits internationally. Richard has illustrated works by Clive Barker, Caitlin R. Kiernan, Christopher Golden, China Mieville, the rock band Korn and others.
Richard’s work is drawn from an interest in the forms and processes of the natural world. He explores these themes through the creation of meticulous drawings, which often depict chimerical creatures and protean landscapes. Metamorphosis is an underlying narrative in all of Richard’s work.
Richard is the author of the novels, THE LOST MACHINE (Radiolaria Studios, 2010), and NECESSARY MONSTERS (Resurrection House, Arche Press, 2017), and a forthcoming short story collection (2017).