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Friday, March 5, 2021

Guest Post: Influences on Shelter for the Damned: Novels About Obsession by Mike Thorn

Shelter for the Damned:
Novels About Obsession
by Mike Thorn

Publisher: JournalStone
Publish Date: February 26, 2021
190 Pages
Genre: Horror

While looking for a secret place to smoke cigarettes with his two best friends, troubled teenager Mark discovers a mysterious shack in a suburban field. Alienated from his parents and peers, Mark finds within the shack an escape greater than anything he has ever experienced.

But it isn't long before the place begins revealing its strange, powerful sentience. And it wants something in exchange for the shelter it provides.

Shelter for the Damned is not only a scary, fast-paced horror novel, but also an unflinching study of suburban violence, masculine conditioning, and adolescent rage.

Influences on Shelter for the Damned: Novels About Obsession

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…

Moby-Dick; or, The Whale, by Herman Melville (1851)

This cosmically ambitious novel seems to defy all rules of literary tradition. It reads somehow like pre-modern postmodernism, incorporating nonfiction tangents, verse, and a vast array of mythological, literary and religious allusions into its narrative. It might be the most essential American novel about the forceful power of obsession (which M elville describes throughout as “monomania”). Indeed, thanks to Melville, the term “white whale” is now a colloquial stand-in for the out-of-reach object of one’s obsession. I have always loved the way this novel evokes the titular mystic creature through its form. I tried to echo a little of that in my own humble, mere-mortal way. Earlier drafts of Shelter for the Damned included some iffy concrete poetry, in which I built the Shack’s shape through punctuation marks. Ultimately, I abandoned my wilder experimental ideas in favor of a leaner, more visceral plot.

The Killer Inside Me, by Jim Thompson (1952)

I was reading a lot of Jim Thompson while writing the first draft of Shelter for the Damned. I was intoxicated by Thompson’s clean, brutal prose style, and his penchant for folding experimentation and philosophy into works of genre fiction. Like the protagonists in many of Thompson’s novels, the central character in The Killer Inside Me is a violent, sociopathic individual. I was stunned by the way Thompson’s novel so convincingly conveyed this terrifying man’s perspective, offering an intimate look at the depravity underlying his polite fa├žade. I was so taken with Thompson’s work that he became the namesake for one of the police officers in my novel.

The Temple of the Golden Pavilion, by Yukio Mishima (1956)

I was about midway through my first draft of Shelter for the Damned when my friend Tomas Boudreau recommended The Temple of the Golden Pavilion. Tomas had read some early chapters of my book, and he thought Mishima’s novel might be a useful point of reference. He was right. At the center of Temple is a young man named Mizoguchi, an outsider much like Mark in Shelter for the Damned. Mishima’s novel sees Mizoguchi becoming mesmerized by Kyoto’s famous Golden Temple, absolutely transfixed by its sublime beauty. However, as the novel progresses, Mizoguchi’s vision of the Temple becomes tainted, and he ultimately decides to commit a profane act of destruction.

The Room, by Hubert Selby Jr. (1971)

Published seven years after Hubert Selby Jr.’s devastating debut (Last Exit to Brooklyn [1964]), The Room is the most sustained and disturbing demonstration of first-person monologue I have ever read. Written in Selby’s trademark Joycean, rhythmic prose style, The Room is a horror novel whose movement is all interior, tracing the protagonist’s descent into the depths of his own sadistic revenge fantasies. I cannot think of a more demanding study of the human psyche at its most violent and corrosive. When I first discovered Selby’s work in my teens, it felt like a truly game-changing event. The encounter got me thinking, Wait … fiction can do this? Fiction can go there? Selby is, by far, one of my biggest and longest lasting creative influences. Also, like Thompson, he is the namesake for one of the police officers in Shelter for the Damned. 

Christine, by Stephen King (1983)

Like Shelter for the Damned, Stephen King’s Christine locates its horror in the experiences of young, suburban males. King’s novel has a lot to say about the masculinist psychology underlying American consumerism, which the author explores through the fetishization of the title car, a 1958 Plymouth Fury. Like the Shack in my novel, Christine’s car is the protagonist’s supernatural object of obsession, and its powerfully seductive force leads to violent consequences. In formal terms, this is quite an adventurous novel: the bookends are narrated in first-person by protagonist Dennis, but the body of the novel swerves into third-person quasi-omniscient style for narrative and thematic purposes. Like any dutiful student of the genre, I have read a lot of Stephen King, and I have tried to learn from all of it. In terms of thematic dealings with obsession, though, Christine had the biggest impact on Shelter for the Damned. 

The Cipher, by Kathe Koja (1991)

Kathe Koja’s classic debut novel The Cipher finds cosmic horror within banal spaces. Specifically, the locus of terror is a dark hole that materializes in the storage room of the apartment building inhabited by the protagonist, Nicholas. Devilishly nicknamed “the Funhole,” this mysterious void draws Nicholas away from the doldrums of his life as a jaded video store clerk, leading him and his girlfriend, Nakota, down a hallucinatory and destructive path. Koja’s voice is haunting, gorgeous, and undeniably distinct; in her first novel, she already displays a fully formed sense of character interiority, imagery, and atmosphere the likes of which most mature writers never quite achieve. She is one of the genre’s greatest writers of obsession, understanding monomania always as something equally alluring and harmful.

Zombie, by Joyce Carol Oates (1995)

Modeled quite explicitly after real-life American serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer, Joyce Carol Oates’s scarring novel Zombie occupies the headspace of Quentin P, who becomes possessed by the idea of turning some unsuspecting young man into his brainless sex slave. In search of the ideal “zombie,” Quentin abducts, tortures, and murders numerous victims. Oates locks the reader into Quentin’s point-of-view, transcribing his consciousness through stunted, almost childlike sentence structure. This book is slim but ferocious, immersing itself in the horribly deluded pathology of its protagonist without ever turning away.

Mike Thorn is the author of the short story collection Darkest Hours and the novel Shelter for the Damned (coming from JournalStone on February 26). His fiction has appeared in numerous magazines, anthologies and podcasts, including Vastarien, Dark Moon DigestThe NoSleep PodcastTales to Terrify and Prairie Gothic. His film criticism has been published in MUBI NotebookThe Film Stage, Seventh Row, Bright Lights Film Journal and Vague VisagesHe completed his M.A. with a major in English literature at the University of Calgary, where he wrote a thesis on epistemophobia in John Carpenter’s Prince of Darkness. 

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