Reviewer Ray Palen’s Q & A with Mike Thorn, author of Shelter for the Damned
- What authors influenced you growing up? Who are you reading now?
As a young kid, I was really excited by J. R. R. Tolkien, C. S. Lewis, and R. L. Stine. Discovering Stephen King as a preteen was a big deal, and the same goes for encountering Hubert Selby Jr. in my teens.
These days, I try to read as widely as possible. I’m currently making my way through Drawn Up from Deep Places, by Gemma Files, which is terrific. I was recently floored by two Henry James novels—The Portrait of a Lady and The Bostonians.
- Why horror? What are your thoughts on the recent resurgence of the genre in both print and film?
I feel most at home in the horror genre. I like how its unique excesses allow for such visceral, confrontational approaches. I’m a very enthusiastic student and fan of the genre, and my goal is to write the kinds of things I’d like to read. I’ve always been drawn to writing speculative stories—even as a young kid, I was writing fantasy, sci-fi, and horror stuff.
And I’m pleased to see that horror is alive and well! There are lots of folks I’m excited about—in print, there’s Kathe Koja, Stephen King, S. P. Miskowski, Joyce Carol Oates, Joanna Koch, Robert Dunbar, Kristi DeMeester, John Claude Smith, Farah Rose Smith, Tananarive Due, Gemma Files, Eden Robinson, Helen Oyeyemi, Todd Keisling, Stephen Graham Jones, Laurel Hightower, Daniel Braum, Sarah L. Johnson, Robert Bose, Daniel Barnett, Calvin Demmer, James Newman and Gwendolyn Kiste…among others!
As for people in contemporary horror film whose work intrigues me, there’s John Carpenter, Dario Argento, Rob Zombie, Kiyoshi Kurosawa, Takashi Miike, Eli Roth, M. Night Shyamalan, Johannes Roberts, Richard Stanley, Tara Subkoff, Daniel Goldhaber, Julia Ducournau, Jeffrey Reddick, Shinya Tsukamoto, Anna Biller, Coralie Fargeat and Rahi Anil Barve.
Of course, there are plenty of other people doing cool stuff in the genre right now… I’m sure I’m forgetting some names.
- What made you choose John Carpenter’s unheralded classic Prince of Darkness for your thesis? (P.S. Loved how you inserted a reference to the film in SHELTER FOR THE DAMNED)
Thank you! John Carpenter is a huge inspiration.
When I was batting around ideas for my thesis, I was thinking a lot about John Carpenter’s work, which seems to get more popular every year. As I was exploring the existing scholarship, I was surprised to see that there wasn’t a lot of material on Prince of Darkness, which I think is Carpenter’s definitive film: it really consolidates so many of his career-long philosophical and visual fixations. Through Prince of Darkness, I wanted to study horror and its engagement with knowledge systems (specifically philosophy, religion, and science), and this is where my term epistemophobia came into play (broadly speaking, epistemophobia describes the fear of knowledge, which articulates itself in multiple ways: it’s not only the fear of knowledge on a neurotic, phobic level, but also the fear of encountering knowledge’s profound limitations).
- The main characters of SHELTER FOR THE DAMNED are teens. What made you focus on this age group which is typically difficult to nail down?
These characters really presented themselves to me. I first wrote a brutal fight scene between Mark and Clinton, without knowing where I was going with it; it just sort of materialized, fully formed. The whole book emerged from that unexpected writing session.
I was probably drawn to this project because I’m so interested in coming-of-age and adolescent horror narratives (both in film and in literature). Several stories in my short story collection Darkest Hours explore similar milieus. I tried my best to be true to these people, their environment, and their points of view.
- Outside of Stephen King, who has done it several times, you do not see many authors attempting to utilize teens as the center of their narrative. Personally, I can only think of SUMMER OF NIGHT by Dan Simmons and THE TRAVELING VAMPIRE SHOW by Richard Laymon as examples of authors who really nailed this. Was any particular author or work your inspiration for the protagonists in SHELTER FOR THE DAMNED?
In terms of the teenage perspective, I drew a lot on my own memories (which is why I set the novel in the year 2003, when I was the same age as these lead characters). I had many cinematic reference points (such as Wes Craven and Larry Clark, among others), but I read a lot of youth/adolescent-focused horror fiction, too. Stephen King is a major influence (especially Christine, It, Rage, and the novellas Apt Pupil and The Body), but I also really like Ray Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes, Charles L. Grant’s Something Stirs, Jack Ketchum’s The Girl Next Door, Eden Robinson’s Traplines and Dan Simmons’ Summer of Night.
- Has or will the current pandemic influence your writing in any way?
It probably has, in unconscious ways. Lately I’m having very vivid dreams, even occasional sleep paralysis episodes, and those are trickling into my most recent short story.
- What is next for Mike Thorn?
Well, I’m excited about the recent two-book deal with JournalStone. There’s going to be a deluxe reissue of Darkest Hours, including a foreword by someone I admire in the genre world, plus author notes for every story and a section of my film criticism. And then there’s my new short story collection, Peel Back and See.
I also have a story in Beyond the Book of Eibon, a tribute anthology to Italian horror filmmaker Lucio Fulci (coming from Death Wound Publishing this month), and a story in Terrace VI: Forbidden Fruit (coming this June from the Seventh Terrace). And my essay on Tobe Hooper’s Eaten Alive and Crocodile is included in American Twilight: The Cinema of Tobe Hooper (coming this June from the University of Texas Press).