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…
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  and Strange Angels ) 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.