Influences on Shelter for the Damned: Novels About Obsession (Guest Post on Where the Reader Grows)

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…

Read the guest post.

Kristi DeMeester Explores Everything That’s Underneath Social Norms, Consciousness, and Reality


Kristi DeMeester’s Everything That’s Underneath reads something like a creative thesis on horror fiction’s inherently allegorical potential. The story’s title speaks to the collection’s persisting concerns. Namely, the book faces the menace undergirding polite society, and the unseen specters clawing at the outskirts of consciousness, even of reality itself (consider, for example, the title story, “Birthright,” and “Split Tongues”).

The author navigates lived-in, conflicted protagonists through plots whose threats are often shapeshifting, amorphous, and inscrutable. DeMeester demonstrates a mastery of withholding detail while doling out just enough information to pry her way under the reader’s skin. This is one of the most difficult tasks the horror writer faces: if we show too much, we risk deflating the tension, but if we show too little, we might seem like we’re bluffing or shying away from the dark stuff. DeMeester never misses the mark in this regard, depicting horrific presences that push against the thin membrane separating reality and that which is underneath.

The book displays an extremely impressive knack for character psychology, using heightened sensory experiences and drives as catalysts to confront supernatural forces. Consider the characters’ sexual lust propelling the narratives in “The Fleshtival,” “Daughters of Hecate,” and “Split Tongues,” or the yearning to undo loss in the title story and “To Sleep in the Dust of the Earth.” DeMeester is unflinching in her exploration of her characters’ desires, which lends itself to a convincing sense of realism in their motivations and actions.

Driven by challenging thematic interests and a stunning prose style, this book ranks among the best dark fiction collections of the past ten years. Think S. P. Miskowski, Gwendolyn Kiste, Kathe Koja … yes, DeMeester is that good. This is the work of a major talent, and an absolute must-read for anyone interested in contemporary weird fiction.

Stephen King’s Short Story & Novella Collections, Ranked

I’m nearly finished reading Stephen King’s fiction bibliography. Since I’ve now finished reading all of his collections, I thought I’d share my personal ranking:

  1. Skeleton Crew (1985)
  2. Full Dark, No Stars (2010)
  3. Hearts in Atlantis (1999)
  4. Night Shift (1978)
  5. Different Seasons (1982)
  6. Just After Sunset (2008)
  7. Everything’s Eventual (2002)
  8. Nightmares & Dreamscapes (1993)
  9. Four Past Midnight (1990)
  10. If It Bleeds (2020)
  11. The Bazaar of Bad Dreams (2015)

 

Kathe Koja’s Velocities is a Major, Genre-Transcending Achievement

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Kathe Koja’s work has always wrestled with complex issues: the limits of agonistic art, performance/performativity, and expressions of embodiment. From her groundbreaking debut novel, The Cipher (1991), to her 1997 collection Extremities, the author often evaluates these topics through the porous boundaries of horror. Of course, it is not only Koja’s compelling thematic engagements that set her writing apart, but also her crackling, inimitable, urgent prose style.

Koja’s career-long fixations persist in her new collection, Velocities, one of the most vital, haunting, and commanding genre releases in recent years. Particularly noteworthy is the book’s interest in art (especially performance art) as a catalyst for negotiations with trauma. Two stand-out examples are “Velocity,” which sees its performance artist reliving a horrific event through his work, and “Pas de Deux,” which depicts a woman grappling with the interior catharsis of dance versus exterior demands on her body. Indeed, this tension between desires of interiority and those of embodied, physical reality (central to novels like Skin [1993] and Strange Angels [1994]) shows up repeatedly throughout this collection.

When dealing with Koja, one of the twentieth century’s major American horror novelists, it seems impossible to avoid the question of genre. Is Velocities a “genre” collection? Undoubtedly Koja lays bare her expertise on genre forms and modes (“The Marble Lily” might be the most convincing contemporary imitation of nineteenth-century Gothic I’ve read), but this book circumvents categorical structures at nearly every turn. Within the first couple stories, it dawned on me that Koja’s fiction is simply a genre unto itself; hers is a body of work defined by singular style. Truly, Koja’s voice is among the most distinctive and invigorating I have encountered.

Koja maximizes on that which is specific to the written medium; her wildly unique prose style delivers affective experiences that I cannot imagine transmitting fully to any other artistic form. At the same time, though, this author draws often on the tactility of performance and dance, imagining the many ways in which artistic modes can either mirror or contend with each other.

Suffice to say that Velocities is, like any other Koja book, a major event. This writer’s work has had more impact on me and my work than I can express. Time and again, her fiction has reinvigorated me and helped me to imagine the boundless literary potential of genre. It is no exaggeration to say that she is among the most important writers in horror, and a major figure in contemporary American fiction more broadly.

Buy Velocities.

Limited time offer: Get a signed copy of DARKEST HOURS

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Once again, I find myself with a few spare copies of Darkest Hours that I’m willing to sign and mail out ($18 USD + shipping).

Contact me if you’re interested!

“Perfectly paced from the first sentence, these stories grab you by the collar with the urgency of mortal danger. Highly recommended.”
— Bram Stoker Award nominee S.P. Miskowski, author of Strange is the Night

“Thorn presents a collection of horror stories that are not only scary, but also intelligent, thoughtful, and carefully planned confronting the anxieties of modern life.”
— iHorror

“Just read the opener, ‘Hair’ and became an instant fan. How can you not delight in a story about a metalhead fixated on long hair who starts obsessively eating it until hair begins to… um, well, buy Darkest Hours now and find out.”
— Bram Stoker Award winner Michael Arnzen, author of Grave Markings

“When you first encounter Thorn’s writing, a number of qualities impress themselves: the macabre intelligence (brutal really), the chilling wit, the naturalness of the dialogue. Plus there’s the skill and style of the prose. It may all play out like a nightmare, but a terrible logic remains inherent.”
— Robert Dunbar, author of The Pines and Willy

“These short stories show the author’s incredible range and versatility.”
Sadie “Mother Horror” Hartmann

“Fast, fun and full of fear, Darkest Hours turns on a dime from a laugh to a scream. Terrifying and sly, Mike Thorn writes with refreshing originality and hides fangs behind a smile.”
— John C. Foster, author of Mister White

“Mike Thorn’s debut story collection is not to be missed by those who enjoy an academic intellect with a potent flair for fiction.”
— Dustin LaValley, author of A Soundless Dawn

“Take a dollop of Michael A. Arnzen and Brian Evenson’s quirky styles, and add a pinch of Mark Twain, stir well and let bubble, and you have a sense of Mike Thorn’s stories.”
— Bram Stoker Award winner Marge Simon, author of Four Elements and Satan’s Sweethearts

“One of the best and most rewarding feelings as a horror fan is reading a new author’s work and being blown away by their talent and the awe of discovering something cool. That is the exact feeling I got when I first sat down to crack open Mike Thorn’s debut story collection, Darkest Hours.”
— The Horror Bookshelf

“I think Mike Thorn is an author to watch. I think he’s going to do great things in the world of horror and dark fiction, and I for one, will be there to watch it. Will you?”
— Char’s Horror Corner

Darkest Hours is for readers wishing to take a thrilling walk on the dark side. Mike Thorn has delivered a promising debut with this collection showing off his commitment to stories of nuance, heart, and of course… darkness.”
— Daniel Braum, author of The Night Marchers and Other Strange Tales

Darkest Hours is a varied and hugely enjoyable gathering of dark fiction. There is more than enough talent showcased within these pages to suggest that Mike Thorn’s journey has only just begun.”
— Grim Reader Reviews

Darkest Hours is horror for horror people. For the ‘confirmed ghost story and horror film addict,’ if you will. But it’s also for people with strong emotions and a desire for philosophical thought.”
— One Critical Bitch

“There are times in Thorn’s prose where I’m reminded not only of some of the best Stephen King from Skeleton Crew or Night Shift, but also of some of the more bizarre stories from Clive Barker’s Books of Blood.”
— Biff Bam Pop

“The stories are clever and witty. The characters are all too real.”
— Cedar Hollow Horror Reviews

“Mike Thorn’s Darkest Hours contains the most diverse selection of stories that I’ve ever read from a single author.”
— Sci-Fi & Scary

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