Are you interested in discovering horror literature, as opposed to only seeing it on a screen? If so, you’re in luck! I had a chance to play Diane Sawyer and interview horror author Isaac Thorne, author of works like The Gordon Place, Road Kills, The Murder of Crows and Hoppers. Admittedly, I wasn’t familiar with the author until I read his short story, Dislike, to prepare my questions. It’s actually a good story, in case you’re concerned. Anyway, here are the questions and answers!
After reading “Dislike,” I was pleased by the simple approach employed. It also seems like a fairly plausible story, as most of us have seen people carelessly ranting online. Was this at all based on a true experience?
Isaac Thorne: Dislike is unique in my catalog in that it’s a story told entirely through a series of social media posts. It’s not based on a true experience so much as it is an amalgam of experiences you can witness on any social media platform on any given day. The main thing I wanted to depict in that story is the way in which we all vent everything on social media. We shout virtually into these echo chambers thinking that we’re going to find love, support, or sympathy. What often happens instead is that we get yelled at or egged on in an unhealthy way.
What are some themes you plan on exploring in the future, or that you’d like other authors to explore?
Isaac Thorne: Almost all my stories are at least partially informed by current events. Dislike and The Murder of Crows are both more or less about our age of social media and social media justice. Decision Paralysis, on the other hand, is mainly about how damn busy we are with nonsense all the time, to the point of creating crippling anxiety for ourselves. Lately, I’ve been paying a lot of attention to guilt and rationalization, and how people are willing to accept any ridiculous excuse or story a bad guy throws out there as long as they feel like it somehow reinforces their worldview. I’d love to specifically tackle that kind of cognitive dissonance, where people are willingly gaslighted as long as they’re not threatened. But I want to do it in a unique way that doesn’t directly mirror events in the real world.
Do you ever visualize stories as if they are movies?
Isaac Thorne: All the time. In fact, that’s primarily the way my head works when I’m writing a scene. Some reviewers of both my short story collection Road Kills and my novel The Gordon Place have said that I have a cinematic style to my writing, so I guess that comes through in the final product to some extent. It’s simpler for me to write a scene if I imagine the way it might play out on-screen, as if I was watching a movie, instead of trying to place myself in whatever the scenario is in my imagination.
What’s the most ridiculous thing you’ve ever written, and did you like it?
Isaac Thorne: That has to be Hoppers, which is a short story about a bunch of demonic rabbits who take revenge on an automotive mechanic who ran over one of them on his way home from work. It’s a story that’s silly on purpose. I wanted to write something that was both horrific and slapstick like Evil Dead II except the possessed entities were bunnies.
Have you ever written yourself into a corner on purpose?
Isaac Thorne: Never intentionally, but it has happened. I wrote the first chapter of my novel The Gordon Place several years ago. That chapter ends with constable Graham Gordon falling into the cellar of his abandoned childhood home and getting trapped there. But it wasn’t until the fall of 2018 that I was able to sit down and take the story anywhere else. After I wrote Chapter Two, the rest started flowing naturally. For a long time, though, I feared that The Gordon Place was never going to be more than that first chapter.
Do you listen to music when writing, or would that just be a distraction?
Isaac Thorne: I used to listen to music. In fact, I incorporated the titles of some of the tunes I was listening to when I wrote Nobody Was Here into the story. That was easy because the whole thing basically takes place in a burger joint’s men’s room. Several of the songs that were in my earbuds in key scenes get a mention in the text of the story. Things are different now, though. It’s been seven years since I completed that first draft of Nobody Was Here, and my life has changed significantly. These days, listening to music or trying to have the TV on as background noise is more likely to distract me from what I’m trying to achieve. I don’t know if it’s because I feel more urgency to write something to completion now that I actually have an audience for my work, or if it’s just because I’ve become more [easily distracted] with age.
Physicality and Planning
In what ways is writing a physical process?
Isaac Thorne: There’s a tactile and auditory sensation to it that I love. I enjoy the feel of tapping the keys on my keyboard in addition to the sound of the clicks. I think the most interesting sensation for me is the relief I feel after I get my words for the day out of my head and into the document. By the time I’m done, my brain is tired, I’m yawning uncontrollably, and all I want to do for the rest of the night is stare at some silly fictional non-fiction on television, like Ghost Adventures or Ancient Aliens.
Do you create a skeletal draft or do you just go in unplanned?
Isaac Thorne: I mostly go in unplanned. The short stories, in particular, are never outlined. The way I start a new project is to form the climactic scene first in my head. I figure out what I want to lead up to, and then I flesh out the rest of the story around that. That way, everything I’m writing to get to that ultimate scene is in the service of answering one question: how did we get here? The aftermath of that ultimate scene then pretty much writes itself.
That said, I admit to having attempted to draft an outline for The Gordon Place after I wrote that first chapter and became worried that I wouldn’t be able to take it anywhere. All I knew when I wrote the first chapter is that I wanted the main character, Gordon Graham, to become trapped in his childhood home and therein be forced to confront the person whom his past had helped shape. Then I got stuck and figured an outline was probably the way to go.
The one benefit of having done so was that it helped me create the other characters in the novel. Everyone except Graham–Afia, Staff, Patsy, Lee–sprang from that outline attempt. Then I started trying to write scenes based on the outline I’d written. I got a third of the way into Chapter Two and realized that even though they’d been spawned from the outline, the characters were taking the story in directions I hadn’t anticipated. At that point, the outline pretty much went out the window.
Do you recommend using a dictionary or thesaurus?
Isaac Thorne: I recommend using both a dictionary and a thesaurus. Don’t use words when you don’t know their meanings. That’s when a dictionary is most handy. They’re also helpful for usage guidelines. A pet peeve of mine is when I see a writer incorrectly use the term “myriad.” You don’t say “a myriad of ways.” The correct usage is “myriad ways.” Many folks want to use “myriad” the same way you use “plethora,” and that’s not correct. However, it might be fine to use it that way someday soon. The way dictionaries seem to work these days is to adopt whatever the most common misusage of a word or phrase might be. That’s why nobody freaks out about the misuse of a word like “literally” anymore.
Are there any stories you’d like to write, but feel you couldn’t?
Isaac Thorne: I don’t think there are stories I want to write that I can’t write if I just sit down and do it. That goes the same for any writer. If you can imagine it, you can write it. Whether the depiction you’ve created of what you were imagining is any good is a different question and one that readers and writers can only answer for themselves.