Obsession is a primary driving force in Shelter for the Damned, as the novel’s protagonist, Mark, becomes intensely fixated on a shack he discovers in a suburban field. As the Shack begins revealing its weird sentience, Mark’s interest grows. His relationship to the Shack eventually becomes horrifically parasitic, evoking the nature of debilitating addiction.
While writing Shelter for the Damned, I was conscious of several other books focused on obsession and dependency. I was especially interested in novels that used first-person or quasi-omniscient style to depict their protagonists’ experiences. I have provided snapshots for some of the most overt influences on Shelter for the Damned below…
At first it seems like the perfect place to quietly enjoy a secluded smoke, but three teens soon discover that their supposed safe haven is actually something downright sinister in Shelter for the Damned, the debut novel from Mike Thorn (author of the short story collection Darkest Hours). With Shelter for the Damned out now from Journalstone, we caught up with Thorn in our latest Q&A feature to discuss the journey of writing his new book, the influences that inspired him along the way, and his upcoming releases that readers can look forward to from Journalstone.
For many fans of fiction writing, the horror genre is exciting, tense and leaves uncomfortable impressions regarding characters set in everyday life. For Calgary-based author Mike Thorn, the uncomfortable nature of the horror genre is what inspired him and his debut novel Shelter for the Damned.
Daniel Braum’s new short story collection Underworld Dreams comes equipped with a Story Notes section; within these Notes, the author provides thoughtful reflections on his creative process, narrative intentions, and philosophical interests, among other things. Most prominently, Braum stresses his persisting interest in the ambiguous space between the psychological and the supernatural. Braum’s fiction inhabits this space and engages with the Weird tradition to depict our reality as innately interstitial, slippery, and impervious to “mastery.” By extension, Underworld Dreams repeatedly encourages us to scrutinize the artificial gap between human and nonhuman animals, between subject and world.
This coy, quiet, and unassuming challenge to human exceptionalism resonates throughout. The first story, “How to Stay Afloat When Drowning,” features a disturbing centerpiece in which a group of people brutally torture a shark; later, the story uses its psychological-supernatural ambiguity to blur the distinction between shark and human. “The Monkey Coat” lends attention to the suffering bound up in its titular object (the origin of whose horrors remain unknown).
Braum does not employ this symbolism to bluntly didactic ends; rather, he assesses the artificial divide between human and nonhuman animal to underline broader investigations about the human subject’s relation to the world. For example, the title story sees characters discussing acts of infidelity and dishonesty as reflections of their “monkey in the jungle” selves.
Braum cites Algernon Blackwood’s classic Weird novella The Willows in his Story Notes, and the imprint is visible: Underworld Dreams repeatedly sees its characters encountering eerily numinous spaces and reality-fissures in environments that have evaded global industrialism. Braum finds lots of potential for the ineffable in “natural” spaces, demonstrating a knack for imagery and atmosphere.
There are horrifying moments here (perhaps most notably in the aforementioned “Monkey Coat,” reportedly inspired by advice Braum got from the legendary Jack Ketchum), but this book mostly occupies Weird Fiction’s less macabre terrain. China Melville writes that the “obsession with numinosity under the everyday is at the heart of Weird Fiction,” and this is the obsession that most clearly characterizes Underworld Dreams. For readers seeking fiction with a strong narrative engine and a bold commitment to the unknown, this collection is one to seek out.
“Was there a pivotal moment when you decided to be a writer?
I can’t remember a time before I started writing. For better or worse, it has been a lifelong impulse. I was always drawn to reading, which is probably where my interest in writing originated. As a kid, I was excited by fantasy and horror (J. R. R. Tolkien, C. S. Lewis and R. L. Stine when I was quite young, and then Stephen King when I got a little older).”
Mike Thorn is an author and film critic who currently resides in Calgary, Alberta (mostly inside his apartment, at the moment). Thorn’s Darkest Hours, a collection of short stories, is anything but mundane. Although his writing is full of darkness and supernatural horrors, it is always rooted in something painfully human. A genre film enthusiast, Mike excels at uncovering allegorical meanings behind fantastical works of art, often rooted in depictions of trauma and hidden pasts. He also can name the top ten horror flicks from any decade at the drop of a hat; the man has lists for everything. Mike is unique in his approach to writing, as he is informed not only by his intense love for literature, but also by his extensive knowledge of cinema. He is particularly influenced and inspired by 1930s horror. Currently, Mike works as an instructor at Bow Valley College, while also keeping up with personal writing projects. Keep your eyes peeled in February 2021 for his debut novel, Shelter for the Damned.