Mike Thorn’s debut collection, Darkest Hours, lurks just around the corner. It will be published through Unnerving Magazine on November 21st and the cover art alone has me frothing at the mouth. Add to this the fact that I already know Mike can spin a good yarn having come across his work in Dark Moon Digest. I also know he is passionate and knowledgeable about the horror genre and its writers. His Thorn’s Thoughts reviews over at Unnerving Magazine provide in-depth analysis about books and I always look forward to reading them. I thought now would be a good time to get to know a bit more about Mike Thorn and his new book.
TGR: Mike, thanks for stopping by. Firstly, who are some of the authors that have helped shape you as a writer and where did your love of dark fiction come from?
Thanks so much for having me! I think my love of dark fiction came fully into being when I was suspended from school at thirteen years old, and I picked up Stephen King’s Pet Sematary rather than reading my assigned class materials. Since then, I’ve always associated horror expressly with more productive and adaptable forms of transgression.
When it comes to writers who have inspired me, I always have a hard time compiling an exhaustive list. In addition to King, a few of my favorite working horror writers are Kathe Koja, S.P. Miskowski, Eden Robinson, Robert Dunbar, Thomas Ligotti, Joyce Carol Oates and Gwendolyn Kiste. I also read a lot of stuff outside of the genre—off the top of my head, I love Herman Melville, Virginia Woolf, Charles Dickens, Jim Thompson, William Faulkner, Hubert Selby Jr., William Blake, Flannery O’Connor, Georges Bataille, Don DeLillo and Roberto Bolaño. I’m sure I’m forgetting some essential names here, but those are definitely some of my major influences!
TGR: Can you take us through your writing process? How does it begin? Do you outline, or is it much more natural than that?
It depends largely on the story. Sometimes things come to me almost fully formed, while other pieces begin with something as open as a thematic interest or a scene or even just an image. I prefer to write “hot,” meaning I don’t like to box myself in too much in advance, and then edit “cold,” taking a very calculated and surgical approach to restructuring and revising. For my next novel, though, I’m planning to lay myself a very sturdy plot/knowledge foundation before I dive into the writing.
TGR: It might seem a straightforward question but why do you write dark fiction?
Honestly, it’s just what comes out. I told a friend recently that I’ve tried to write straight-up comic fiction and that it always veers into dark and often horrific territory, and she told me that I need to see a therapist. Whether or not that’s true, I do think it’s an impulsive and almost unconscious thing—I let my writing dictate what it wants to be. I’m also such a huge fan of the genre, so I think I just end up producing the kind of material that I might want to read myself. I don’t know how much of a choice I really have. The ideas lead me where they lead me.
TGR: What sort of a response do you hope to achieve from readers of your stories?
I see myself more as an affect-driven writer than a cerebral one, so I hope that I can incite emotional reactions. At the same time, I believe that almost all great horror fiction is driven by a motor of both affect and critique. So I hope that the stories also leave readers with openings for reflection.
TGR: After reading your insightful critiques on Unnerving’s website, I can see that you have a very good understanding of themes in stories. What themes have you covered with Darkest Hours?
Thank you! I rarely go into a project with theme as a central focus, but I think I can look back on Darkest Hours now and see a lot of recurring fixations. What’s the main theme? My overriding anxieties and fears. Where do those anxieties and fears come from? Mostly the awful things that human animals do to one another—the most dreadful realities stem too often from power, hierarchies, exploitation, prejudice and ignorance. I think some of my material works with a more elusive sense of dread, too—I want to tap into the kind of tangible but almost inaccessible thoughts that linger after I read people like Lovecraft, Ligotti, and even Quentin Meillassoux.
TGR: How did you approach the selection process when putting together this collection?
These stories were all written between 2015 and 2017, so I think they give an abstract reflection of my experiences within that very short timeframe. When I first started selecting pieces for the collection, I realized that there was a kind of relentless bleakness that I felt unsure about. I made a conscious effort to incorporate some of my more satirical pieces (“Speaking of Ghosts,” “Economy These Days,” and, to a lesser extent, “Satanic Panic”) to balance out the book’s vibe a little bit.
TGR: Getting a book noticed is getting increasingly harder these days. A good book cover always helps and with Darkest Hours you have one of my favourites! How does the cover reflect the content and did you have any input into the design?
All credit goes to Unnerving frontman Eddie Generous for that cover design! He pitched the idea very shortly after signing on to publish the collection, which he says was inspired by my story “The Auteur.” That piece, along with “Satanic Panic,” plays into my memories of working at a video store in my teens. The cover also reflects my love of cinema, which I think bleeds into this collection in a number of ways. Eddie carried his ingenious cover concept into the book’s interior, as well—as the hours grow darker and the ending approaches, the video-recorder’s battery dwindles. It’s a beautifully designed collection.
TGR: Stories of the undead, of Vampires and Werewolves are still common themes within the dark fiction genre. Are any of these horror tropes found within Darkest Hours, and if not, would you consider using them in the future?
I love tropes, and I think they can always serve as excellent conduits for reframing recurrent fears. Although I would love to work in an established tradition or framework, whether it be a story about werewolves or vampires or aliens, my stories usually deal with their own unique monsters and demons. Mostly I write about ghosts and scary human beings—there are definitely creatures and monsters in Darkest Hours, too, but they don’t come with previously established names or genre “rules.”
TGR: You will be celebrating the book’s launch at Owls Nest Books in Calgary on December 6. Will you be reading from the book and what story will you choose to read from and why?
I will be reading from the book, yeah. I haven’t decided yet whether I’ll read a family-friendly passage or something that might incite more of a reaction. My partner is encouraging me to read the opening of “Hair,” which describes its protagonist finally succumbing to his desires and consuming human hair. That is the first story in the collection, and it nicely sets the stage in a way; so maybe I’ll go with that one! Or maybe not. We’ll see.
TGR: Mike, thanks heaps for stopping by. I’m looking forward to getting the book. I am a huge fan of short story collections. What else do you have planned for the next few months and where can folk find you on the web?
Many, many thanks for having me. I can’t wait to hear your thoughts on the book. I’m mostly working on new short fiction these days, but I’m also doing loads of research for my next novel, which I don’t think I’ll be prepared to start writing until at least a year down the road. I am all over this thing we refer to as the Internet: my website is mikethornwrites.com, my Twitter handle is @MikeThornWrites, and I’m also on Goodreads and Facebook. If people are interested, I’m also an Instagram newcomer—my username there is mikethornthorn.
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