Recently I was asked by Mike Thorn if he could do a guest blog. After talking to him I thought why the hell not! So with much respect I give you Mike Thorn……..
Please welcome Mike Thorn to Roadie Notes!……..
Mike Thorn is the author of the short story collection Darkest Hours. He completed his B.A. with honors at Mount Royal University and his M.A. in English Literature at the University of Calgary. His fiction has been published in a number of magazines and anthologies, including Dark Moon Digest, Turn to Ash and Straylight Literary Arts Magazine. His film criticism has appeared recently in MUBI Notebook, The Seventh Row and The Film Stage. For more information, visit his website, mikethornwrites.com, or connect with him on Twitter @MikeThornWrites.
Now that I’m looking back, it might be easier to identify who and what was influencing the things I’ve written. In the moment, I’m very rarely conscious of inspiration; I let my stories take me where they take me, and I don’t allow myself time for questioning. Darkest Hours, scheduled for a November 21 release with Unnerving, collects 16 pieces that I wrote between 2015 and 2017. I like to think the collection reflects a range of my interests and fixations. This post provides a brief insight into the books, authors, movies and situations that fueled the contents of my debut collection.
In the case of “Hair,” I wanted to reflect on addiction through a genre-specific lens. At the time that I wrote it, I was reading Eugene Thacker’s Horror of Philosophy trilogy (2011-15) and Dylan Trigg’s The Thing: A Phenomenology of Horror (2014). Though I wasn’t fully conscious of it at the time, I think these philosophers’ reflections bled into the fiction. Specifically, “Hair” picks up on Dylan Trigg’s study of alien anteriority within the human body—Trigg’s uniquely unhuman phenomenology works nicely with the metaphorical function of hair. Part of protagonist Theodore’s fixation on hair comes from its weird and seemingly paradoxical nature—something that is seemingly both dead and alive. This story is also all about the corrosive power of obsession, which is a topic I find myself returning to time and again. That probably stems in no small part from my love for Herman Melville’s Moby Dick (1851), fiction’s ultimate study of monomania.
I feel a deep affection for slasher horror films, and with “Mictian Diabolus” I set out to put my own occult twist on that subgenre’s framework. I wanted to translate some of the things I love about movies like A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) and The Funhouse (1981) while also incorporating the relationships between drugs, horror and metal music. I lifted the title incantation from Anton Szandor LaVey’s listing of “Infernal Names” in the “Invocation to Satan” section of the Satanic Bible (1969). “Whether all or only some of the names are called,” LaVey writes, “they must be taken out of the rigidly organized form in which they are listed here and arranged in a phonetically effective roster.” Paul The Peeler MacFarland, this story’s villain, picks up on LaVey’s instructions in a warped, misguided and profoundly evil way.
A New Kind of Drug
I had recently read and been devastated by Jack Ketchum’s The Girl Next Door (1989) when I dove into “A New Kind of Drug.” Ketchum’s novel is a brutal realist account of actual events involving the processes of social complicity and violent conditioning; by contrast, “A New Kind of Drug” depicts teenagers who discover creature-induced dimension-hopping as a method of getting high. Hardly realism. But still, this piece involves violent coercion of an innocent being, and I think I was influenced by Ketchum’s empathy and painfully exacting descriptions. I also wanted to write in an abstract way about the ways that humans regularly and systematically exploit nonhuman animals. It’s a dark, nasty, unpleasant piece of fiction, but that’s where it took me and I couldn’t see it going any other way.
This piece came out fully formed after a couple of quick and hyper-focused writing sessions. I wanted to use indirect narrative discourse to write from a toxic protagonist’s perspective; I also wanted to reflect hyperbolically on the ways that parties can quickly become menacing and even terrifying situations. Whenever I’m tapping into a scary or violent psyche, I think back to Hubert Selby Jr.’s techniques, especially the epic inner-monologue that comprises his novel The Room (1971). That influence was definitely clattering around in my brain when I worked on this story… as were Don Robertson’s The Ideal, Genuine Man (1987), Jim Thompson’s The Killer Inside Me (1952) and Robert Bloch’s The Scarf (1947).
After I’d produced several consecutive horror stories, “Mired” came from a deliberate effort to write something satirical. I was just beginning my graduate degree in English literature, and was already suffering from a bad case of impostor’s syndrome and perpetually increasing anxiety. I can’t say with all honesty that the anxiety has passed, but at least this story provided me with some kind of genre-codified catharsis. What are its influences? The countless philosophy/theory texts that I’ve hopelessly tried and failed to understand. It’s supposed to be a humorous and exaggerated reflection of actual fears. I hope that it does its job.
In my mid-teens, I worked for a while as a video store clerk. For the most part, I loved that environment and experience. I wanted this story to function as an ode to that time while also exploring my love for horror cinema. As with many of this collection’s pieces, I was influenced by a number of the stories in Thomas Ligotti’s Songs of a Dead Dreamer (1989) and Grimscribe: His Lives and Works (1991)—specifically, one of the characters I allude to herein is inspired partially by Ligotti’s story “The Night School.” “The Auteur” also serves as an homage to Kathe Koja’s The Cipher (1991), which is not only one of my favorite horror novels of all time but also one of my favorite books, full stop.
I love the final, often terrifying revelations that close out so many episodes of The Twilight Zone. I also love the ways that R.L. Stine updates that tradition for his Goosebumps books. With “Choo-Choo,” I intended to write a considerably darker Goosebumps-inspired story about adolescents in peril. I aimed to produce something fast and narratively concise with a gut-punch of a spooky ending. As brutal as it is, I also wanted this to be a fun read. Think Say Cheese and Die! (1992), the R-rated version.
Fear and Grace
This is an enclosed and intimate story about a woman dealing with trauma and a success-laden, sociopathic friend who has left a trail of destruction in his wake. While it’s a very particular, insular and character-focused piece, I think I was also working with bigger ideas about power, hierarchies and the corporatization of radical thought. I wasn’t conscious of any specific influences, but I was probably inspired to varying degrees by Stephen King’s 1982 novella Apt Pupil (from the collection Different Seasons), Joyce Carol Oates’s Daddy Love (2013), excerpts from Eden Robinson’s Traplines (1996) and Simone de Beauvoir’s A Woman Destroyed (1967).
Along with the final story in Darkest Hours (“Remembering Absence”), “Long Man” came out of an abandoned novel I was writing from the perspective of a sleuthing ghost. While dealing with a part of the narrative that finds two friends connecting over childhood trauma, I was definitely conscious of Gregg Araki’s 2004 film adaptation of Mysterious Skin, a novel by Scott Heim (1995). For whatever reason, I listened to Cher’s “Believe” on repeat while writing the horrific climax. In my mind, that’s the song playing in the van when hell breaks loose.
Economy These Days
I wrote this story as a deliberate counterpoint to the book’s persisting darkness… which is not to say that it doesn’t feature its fair share of pessimism. This is a satirical and deliberately blunt narrative about late capitalism, which takes cues from the tonal acrobatics that Eli Roth puts to work in his Hostel films (2005/7). I don’t read a lot of overtly humorous fiction, and certainly not a lot of it in the horror genre, so it’s difficult for me to pin down the influences for stories like “Economy These Days.” I certainly admire the balance of humour and profound insight in books like Zadie Smith’s White Teeth (1999), Hari Kunzru’s Transmission (2004) and John Irving’s The World According to Garp (1978), but I can’t see any explicit connections between those novels’ uses of comedy and mine.
Here, as elsewhere, I was influenced by Thomas Ligotti’s fiction and philosophy… I was definitely working through some of the most unsettling and antihuman revelations in The Conspiracy Against the Human Race (2010). I was also reading a lot of cyberpunk fiction at the time, which is way outside of my usual wheelhouse… some of the more conceptual and less plot-specific stuff in William Gibson’s Neuromancer (1984) probably had some kind of effect on this story, even if I’m not completely sure how.
This story stems in large part from my fascination with the anti-Satanist Christian propaganda films of the titular era. I’m talking the Geraldo Rivera Show’s floodgate 1988 special “Exposing Satan’s Underground,” but also Cults and Ritual Crime (1990), Devil Worship: The Rise of Satanism (1989), Exposing the Satanic Web (1990) and Law Enforcement Guide to Satanic Cults (1994), to name a small handful of many. Even more than “Mictian Diabolus,” this story is very clearly about the ties between metal music and horror films; as a fan of both, the mostly normal and innocent protagonist personifies a perceived Satanic threat. I took inspiration from specific moments in the aforementioned propaganda documents; for example, Exposing the Satanic Web features a long and paranoiac analysis of the Satanic messages imbedded in Slayer’s Reign in Blood (1986) album cover. So yes, I listened to some old Slayer records while writing this, but I mostly played the Possessed album Seven Churches (1985) on repeat. There’s a lot of straight-up horror here, but I hope that the dark humor also finds its way through.
Speaking of Ghosts
Probably more than any other story in this collection, “Speaking of Ghosts” was explicitly influenced by a specific text. I had just read David Foster Wallace’s Brief Interviews with Hideous Men (1999) and wanted to reinterpret the modus operandi driving some of those stories. I set out to write a comically dialogue-driven, old-fashioned ghost story – I took notes from Robert Aickman, Edgar Allan Poe and even Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol (1843).
Yet again, I’m mulling over a lot of Ligotti’s terrifying explorations of mannequins and dolls; but this story is grounded in its own distinct world. I wanted to say something about power, academia and art. Under the pseudonym Rosamond Smith, Joyce Carol Oates wrote Nemesis (1990), an extremely disturbing novel about abuse in academia—that book is operating on a crushingly realist register, but I think some of its concerns worked its way into “Lucio Schluter,” which directly and openly announces itself as horror fiction. I suspect I was also unconsciously inspired by Kathe Koja’s masterful Skin (1992), a psychological body horror novel set in the world of art.
I wanted to replicate that particular outdoorsy sense of mounting dread that Algernon Blackwood achieves in his novella The Willows (1907)… but then the dread was pushed past its threshold and this became a gruesome tale of body invasion. Some of the grotesquerie might stem from my unapologetic love for things like Stephen King’s visceral, trippy alien novels, The Tommyknockers (1987) and Dreamcatcher (2001). Although it bears no clear resemblance to Harlan Ellison’s writing, I was reading the collection I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream (1967) at the time that I wrote this. I remember my writing soundtrack clearly, too: Posthuman, by JK Flesh (2012).
“Remembering Absence” came from the ambitious but obviously doomed idea of writing an entire long novel from a ghost’s point of view (I’m sure it has been done before, but I couldn’t seem to wrap my head around creating a protagonist with no agency). Plain and simple, this story arises from two main ingredients: a period of depression and a James Joyce seminar. Turns out I couldn’t put down Ulysses (1922) without feeling completely intoxicated and attached—I really wanted to try my own hand at the kind of free-wheeling, interior style of narration threading through so many of that novel’s best sequences. I also wanted to write something personal and cathartic. This is the result.