Interview with Isaac Thorne, Horror Author
Haunted MTL interview with Isaac Thorne, author of horror stories such as The Gordon Place, Road Kills, The Murder of Crows, Dislike and Hoppers.
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.
The Roots Grow Into The Earth
Launching next month The Roots Grow Into The Earth was a delightful read. It’s the premiere novel by horror author Bert S. Lechner. And after reading it, I hope it’s not his last.
The Roots Grow Into The Earth is a collection of nine short stories and novellas, including three previously published stories. The tales are all part of one larger story. A story of darkness, and madness. A story of a creature released that should never have been. That begins then to sink its roots into the Earth and infect innocent people far and wide.
One such example is The Wall. This is the story of a man named Sam and his wife Nat. They have a lovely normal life full of morning coffee and weekend pizza nights. Until Sam notices something on the wall of their home. While it appears to be nothing, a vision starts taking shape. With Sam’s help.
Another story that really moved me was The Orchestra.
Let me first stay that this was not a particularly fleshed out story. We do not see The Conductor before she’s infected. We don’t see the fallout. No real picture is painted for us, it’s more like a sketch.
In the case of The Orchestra, though, this is exactly the right choice. We don’t need to see the whole picture in gruesome technicolor to get what’s happening in this ill fated concert. We understand perhaps too well what’s occurring. And I thought that was brilliant.
I just want to start by gushing over this storytelling style. Short story collections always have a soft spot in my heart. In the case of The Roots Grow, all of the short stories come together to create one truly dark tale.
I also loved the clear Lovecraftian influence of this story. It’s clear that this was something that the author was going for, from interviews and social media comments. But I could tell before I saw any of that.
The story in The Roots Grow is one of madness. But more than that, it’s one of madness and destruction that the victims could not have avoided. There was no being clever enough to avoid these dark roots that touched them. There was no being strong enough, or selfless and good enough. If the roots reach out and touch you, you’ve already lost.
Finally, I want to extend some praise to my favorite character, Joanne. She is dealing with her own madness, her own demons. But she still finds kindness and strength to help others when they need her. Even against some truly dark odds.
What didn’t work
All that being said, I will say that some of the short stories felt incomplete. One prime example is What Lies In The Icy Soil. This appears to be nothing more than the tale of a person possessed by the need to dig. He digs up something that for sure shouldn’t be dug up. But there’s nothing more to the story. We don’t know who this person is. We don’t know who might be missing him, or what might come of this thing he dug up. As a part of the whole story, it fits. But if we are to consider every tale by its own merit, this one doesn’t have much of anything going for it.
That being said, this is one story in a round ten that wasn’t much of anything. The rest of the stories were wonderfully eerie, both on their own and as part of a whole.
The Roots Grow Into The Earth comes out on October 7th. And I think it would be a perfect addition to your Halloween reading list. (4 / 5)
Strange Eons Review: Cornfields and Eldritch Gods
“The elder gods arrived in the sky in early September, like an unholy aurora borealis stretching across a midnight sky. Their vastness blocked the sun, an unending eclipse, a liminal state, a breath that was inhaled but never let go. Lovecraft got it wrong, I think. It was not the sight of the gods that made humanity go mad. It’s what they destroy that hurts us. Somehow, these elder gods, these aliens, had killed time itself.” – Strange Eons by Keria Perkins
Strange Eons is a short story published in Bourbon Penn Issue 30 by Keira Perkins. Perkins, is an Indiana writer of short fiction and poetry that has also appeared in Non-Stalgia and The Heartland Society of Women Writers. Bourbon Penn is an online and print journal that specializes in speculative, odd, and surreal fiction. All issues are available to be read online for free or can be purchased as a paperback from Bookshop.org.
Strange Eons follows a young woman struggling to adjust to a life post-Lovecraftian apocalypse. This is a cozy story, the majority of which takes place as the woman lays in a cornfield and hides from well-meaning but unhelpful family members. While cozy, the piece is ominous, tackling the terror associated with pregnancy. Specifically, the terror that comes from living in a Red State and finding a significant lack of resources or options.
As a Hoosier capable of becoming pregnant, Strange Eons resonated with me. The imagery of cornfields and cicadas were very Indiana. However, so is a young woman covertly asking her sister to drive her to Illinois to receive healthcare. I loved how Perkins merged cosmic horror with the horror of receiving reproductive healthcare in Indiana but also the United States as a whole. All that was missing were predatory billboards advertising fake pregnancy centers! Talk about maddening and terrifying! Throughout the short story, the most horrific part of the young woman’s ordeal is not the eldritch gods appearing but her rather typical, hellish circumstances.
Aside from content, Strange Eons is well-written. It keeps you guessing where the story will go next. If you like a non-tropey cozy take on Lovecraftian horror or have struggled to receive reproductive healthcare, I highly recommend checking out Strange Eons! You can also check out the other stories in this issue of Bourbon Penn here. Or you can see what else Perkins is up to on her website.(5 / 5)
Walking Practice – A Book Review
Walking Practice is Dolki Min’s debut novella about an alien named Mumu, who must learn what it is like to perform as a human. Victoria Caudle, the translator of this unique Korean story, experiments with the English language to properly convey Min’s style. This, complimented with Min’s various drawings of the story’s protagonist, creates a poetic, outlandish reading experience that keeps you hooked from beginning to end.
Walking Practice: Never Enough Practice
After the destruction of their home planet, Mumu crash lands their spaceship in a desolate forest far from human life. They survive by having sex with humans then, with graphic violence and great diligence, eats them.
Mumu has a strict schedule and regimen for this process; they must shapeshift their body to the specific gender and personality their date is attracted to. While this process of gender conformation is a difficult one (as the alien will often tell us), it is nowhere near as hard as the ridiculous habit humans have of walking on two legs. This is one of the many obstacles Mumu must struggle with while playing the game of life.
Mumu is a rich, self-aware character who seems to trust only one human: the reader. They address us directly, asking questions and indulging us with their theories on what it is to live on Earth. They are knowledgeable about the complexities of personhood, and aware that a person’s gender and sex are complex and not one-size-fits-all. After years of experience in multiple genders, the alien theorizes that humans are treated as people as soon as they have a sex and gender assigned to them. However, depending on the sex and gender, that treatment is never equal.
While Mumu performs various genders and personalities to match the sexual desires of their future prey, they do not identify as human. At the end of the day, they go home, stock their human leftovers in the fridge and freezer, and unleash their natural form. Their only priority is their own survival and pleasure (which, arguably, is their most humanlike quality).
“I’ve learned that my face arouses homicidal impulses”
Walking Practice uses horror, science fiction and satire to create a passionate queer narrative. While Mumu is a serial killer who prides themselves on their murderous skills, it is hard not to feel for them when karma strikes back and they are hurt. The poetic elements of Min’s story and Caudle’s translation support our empathy for such a vicious character
Min’s artwork, depicting Mumu’s alien forms, complements Caudle’s stylistic choices. There is enjambment in several paragraphs, (which can be interpreted as the alien either having a flair for the dramatic or genuinely pausing to find the right words), thus enhancing their internal dialogue. There are moments when the Mumu’s stream of consciousness confuses reality from imagination. They will also lose all learned human skills and revert to their mother tongue; words either run together or are spaced apart, and sometimes there are unintelligible symbols. At the surface, it looks like a linguistic nightmare. Once immersed in Mumu’s narrative, it is a work of art.
Walking Practice‘s balance of ambiguity and transparency keeps the reader close while also allowing an array of interpretations. It is an eccentric piece of fiction that plays with the literary status quo, resulting in an entertaining affair with an unforgettable alien. (5 / 5)