By Ava Zardynezhad, October 21 2021—
University of Calgary master of arts alumnus Mike Thorn is back with his newest collection of short stories, Peel Back and See. This fiction collection follows Thorn’s debut novel, Shelter for the Damned, and is his second collection of short stories after his debut, Darkest Hours.
Thorn wrote the collection between 2018 and 2021, and he considers it his darkest and most personal book to date.
“I experienced several heartbreaks in that period of time, and I had some traumatic experiences that shook the foundations of my worldview around trust, relationships and human interaction. There were stretches between 2018 and 2021 where I felt physically, emotionally and spiritually broken, and I found fiction, in particular, was a very cathartic and productive medium through which to navigate those feelings,” says Thorn.
Considering the experiences and emotions that inspired this collection of shorts, it is only appropriate that Thorn navigates them through the horror genre.
“I’ve just always felt at home in the horror genre,” says Thorn. “By virtue of its inherent excesses, it allows writers to, very overtly and combatively, address uncomfortable subject matter in a way that is perhaps less intuitive to other genres.”
Discomfort was a central experience with Peel Back and See. Though Thorn wanted to be respectful of the traditions of the horror genre, he also used this experience to depart from its boundaries.
“When you have the wide open world of a fictional medium, you can allow yourself to explore, to be a little bit reckless and go to some really uncomfortable places. Peel Back and See probably goes further, in terms of my discomfort as a writer, than either of my previous books. We’ll see how readers feel about that, but it was liberating for me,” he says.
Despite coming back from his debut novel, short fiction has always had a certain appeal for Thorn.
“I enjoy the element of concision — the practice of fine-tuning one focused idea. My short stories are usually centered around one concept, one image, one feeling,” Thorn explained.
The stories in the collection are to be approached as stand-alone pieces, however they can be thematically interconnected.
Like any creator, Thorn’s primary hope is that his readers are able to connect with his stories, that they are convinced of the realism of the worlds he has created, and that he is able to provide an escape through his stories.
“But, if I can also offer some much-needed pessimism or skepticism in the midst of these dark times — that kind of clings to people’s unconscious or subconscious — that’s great too,” he adds, jokingly.
Thorn is currently completing a PhD in creative writing at the University of New Brunswick. However, reflecting back on his educational career, he remembers his U of C years fondly and shares some advice for aspiring writers.
“Persistence is key. Discouragement and rejection are just built into the structures and the fabric of everyday life. It’s important to find a way to fold those rejections into your creativity. I also think it’s just really valuable that, as writers, we are kind and generous towards each other, and that we do our best to support each other,” he says.
Peel Back and See will be available on Oct. 29 through JournalStone. For more information on Thorn and his previous works, you can visit his website or follow him on Instagram and Twitter @mikethornwrites.