About Mike Thorn:
Mike Thorn is the author of the novel Shelter for the Damned and the short story collection Darkest Hours. His fiction has appeared in numerous magazines, anthologies and podcasts, including Vastarien, Dark Moon Digest, The NoSleep Podcast, and Tales to Terrify. His film criticism has been published in MUBI Notebook, The Film Stage, and In Review Online. Visit his website (mikethornwrites.com) or connect with him on Twitter (@MikeThornWrites).
The Interview with Mike Thorn
Welcome, and congratulations on your debut novel Shelter For The Damned (out Feb 26th).
How long did it take for Shelter for the Damned to develop, from seed to birth, from first draft to completed novel?
From first draft to final edits, Shelter for the Damned took me several years to complete. During that time, it has evolved into many different shapes; at one point, it was formally quite experimental, more like a long prose-poem than a conventional novel.
What was the seed and inspiration behind this work?
Initially, I wrote a brutal fight scene between the protagonist, Mark, and one of his schoolmates, Clinton. I didn’t know what the scene was, but I thought it might be the beginning of a short story, or maybe a standalone writing exercise. I soon developed an interest in this disturbed young character, Mark, and I became excited by the idea of writing something with the pessimism and downward trajectory of a Jim Thompson novel. With these ideas in mind, I immersed myself in the subterranean horrors of the story’s suburban environment. It grew into something bigger than I anticipated.
Are there books behind this book?
Definitely. I took inspiration from far too many places to name, but two of my primary influences were the aforementioned Jim Thompson (particular The Killer Inside Me, A Hell of a Woman and Now and on Earth) and Hubert Selby Jr. (especially The Room, The Demon, Requiem for a Dream and Waiting Period). I also drew a lot on Edgar Allan Poe, H. P. Lovecraft, and Stephen King (Christine, Rage, It, and two of the novellas from Different Seasons, Apt Pupil and The Body).
What do you hope to communicate with this book?
I never set out to deliver specific messages through my fiction. I hope readers will connect with the book on a visceral and emotional level. If they also find something worthwhile in the book, philosophically, politically, or otherwise, then that’s great, too.
Let’s talk a bit about a short story from your collection Darkest Hours, “The Auteur,” and its unwelcome dread.
“The Auteur” is my love letter to horror cinema and video stores. I worked at Blockbuster for a few years in my teens, and I remember that time fondly. I wanted to study the horrific possibilities of spectating, and the impact of seeing too much, seeing too deeply. The story took cues from Thomas Ligotti and Kathe Koja.
You have a new short story, “Deprimer,” in Vastarien, Vol. 3, issue 2.
Decode this for me, the deprimer. What was the inspiration, and what were you trying to communicate with this story?
“Deprimer” is my most overt fictional engagement with anxiety and depression. At the time I wrote it, my struggles with mental health were really getting in the way of my creative output. I decided to lean hard into my pain and explore it explicitly through storytelling. The being described in the title is a genre-codified representation of that ineffable something that causes us internal suffering: what is it? Where does it come from? Can it be beaten? My sense is that it can be managed, and it can be weakened, but that it can’t be totally subtracted.
Here are some quotes by authors on writing and horror:
“I want to bring horror up to date in addressing our real fears… so much of what passes for modern horror, for all its graphic gore and ‘edgy’ modern trappings, is essentially comfort food that diverts us from what we really fear, which is that the system is designed to consume us and the world, and it’s all starting to fly apart, and we’d rather read a gnarly horror book about it, than consider how to weather, if not avert, it.”
-Cody Goodfellow ( More2read Interview)
“I want them to have intense and satisfying experiences with my stories, and to go away from reading my books still thinking about the stories.”
-Brian Evenson (More2read Interview )
“Now the simple fact of horror fiction in whatever medium you choose … the bedrock of horror fiction, we might say, is simply this: you gotta scare the audience. Sooner or later you gotta put on the gruesome mask and go booga-booga.”
—Stephen King in Danse Macabre
Now with this in mind, what is horror for you? What do you hope horror does, and what do you hope to communicate in your writing, in horror and more generally?
Horror is the only genre named explicitly after its desired affect. Indeed, it is specifically designed to induce certain psychological and somatic reactions. However, I believe these reactions only comprise a small fraction of the genre, and it is worth noting that while some realities threaten all of us, every reader possesses unique fear triggers. As such, I believe horror texts are better defined by the methods and principles used to incite these responses. Horror is therefore not founded primarily on subjective responses, but rather founded on important philosophical and structural traditions that speak to disturbing truths (social, cultural, individual, and even transcendent). Horror is a spectral force that haunts us with its history: recurring formations, motifs, images, and ontological premises.
When, where, and with what do you do your writing?
These days, I write less often than I’d like. The state of the world can feel debilitating at times. Ideally, I prefer to write daily.
I write at a desk in my bedroom, and I use my laptop.
What writing advice would you share with aspiring novelists and short story writers?
Read, read, read, read, read. Engage with other writers. Keep your mind and body healthy. Discouragement is almost always easier to find than encouragement, but don’t give up. Social media platforms have become necessary evils, especially for independent artists, but don’t let them swallow you up.
What are your two favorite movies, and why?
The Black Cat synthesizes all that is seductive but destructive about modernity, symbolized through a noveau-Expressionist mansion built on the remains of post-war atrocities. This space, possessed by veteran-turned Satanic architect-Hjalmar Poelzig (Boris Karloff), becomes a menacing site of traumatic exorcism for psychiatrist Dr. Vitus Werdegast (Bela Lugosi). I am in love with the film’s bold pre-Code ethos, and with Ulmer’s economical, atmospheric direction. Karloff and Lugosi are my favorite actors in the genre, and they play off each other here in career-best performances.
The Crowd finds enormous allegorical potential within an elegantly handled character drama. To me, the central narrative lays bare the dangerous, exceptionalist lies born from capitalism, and the ways in which capitalist enterprise forecloses both individual and collective futures. And I’m just so stunned by King Vidor’s formal ingenuity.
What are your two favorite books, and why?
Moby-Dick; or, the Whale, by Herman Melville (1851), and Songs of Innocence and of Experience, by William Blake (1789).
Melville’s Moby-Dick is the ultimate fictional study of obsession. It is scarier than any horror novel, as absorbing as any fast-paced potboiler, and its depths of allusion and philosophical possibilities seem bottomless.
William Blake finds sublime, hallucinatory possibilities in the marriage of language and visual art. Songs of Innocence and of Experience is an unbelievably gorgeous aesthetic object. Its tightly constructed, conceptually connected poems contain many profound, troubling insights.
Which books would you recommend readers try out?
I’ll recommend some recent books that have excited me:
Daniel Barnett’s Nightfall
Kristi DeMeester’s Everything That’s Underneath
Robert Dunbar’s The Streets
Niall Howell’s Only Pretty Damned
Kathe Koja’s Velocities
Patricia MacCormack’s The Ahuman Manifesto: Activism for the End of the Anthropocene
S. P. Miskowski’s I Wish I Was Like You
Josiah Morgan’s Inside the Castle
Helen Oyeyemi’s What Is Not Yours Is Not Yours
Eden Robinson’s Son of a Trickster
Randy Nikkel Schroeder’s Arctic Smoke
John Claude Smith’s The Wilderness Within
Eugene Thacker’s Cosmic Pessimism
and Erin Emily Ann Vance’s The Sorceress Who Left too Soon:
Poems After Remedios Varo.
Anything you are working on now? Anything forthcoming?
I am reworking a proposal for an academic book on two horror filmmakers. I can’t say much about it right now. Please wish me luck, everyone.
Darkest Hours is coming soon as a deluxe reissue from Journalstone. This newly revised version will include author notes for every story, a selection of my horror film criticism, and a foreword by someone awesome in the genre world (more news soon). Journalstone is also set to release my next short story collection, Peel Back and See.
Thanks for taking time to share your thoughts on writing, and I hope your book does well.
Thank you likewise! Stay safe, stay healthy.