The box set audiobook is finally here, and I’m so excited to share it with you! My narrator (whose name goes great with mine, don’t ya think?) did an awesome job bringing this world, characters, and story to life. And that was no easy task, considering she had demons, jinn, and ancient vampires to create voices for. I’m really proud of how this turned out, and it’s been a long time in the works. It’s amazing that a story I started as catharsis for living through a super hot summer in Kansas City turned into 24 LISTENING HOURS of Fantasy storytelling.
If you want to listen to a sample or check it out for yourself, you can find the audiobook available at Amazon, Audible, and iTunes.
For a limited time, I’m offering FREE AUDIBLE CODES if you email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Times are tough and stressful for everyone right now, and I’d love to offer some Fantasy/Sci-Fi escape and make your life a little more entertaining. So – first come, first served!
I hope you enjoy listening to this as much as I do!
Today I’d like to welcome Mike Thorn, author of the horror novel, Shelter for the Damned, which I recently had the privilege of reviewing.
Can you give us your quickest description of your book?
Shelter for the Damned is a coming-of-age narrative wrapped up in a pessimistic, suburban horror plot. The novel is set in a deliberately ambiguated suburban environment in the year 2003.
Any particular reason you chose 2003?
Initially, I didn’t specify the time period at all (and I still don’t, within the actual body of the narrative). However, close to publication, I had a discussion with JournalStone’s managing editor, Scarlett R. Algee, in which we noted the book’s absence of contemporary details like cellphones and social media. I was undoubtedly writing about a horror-infected version of the suburbs I remember from my own teens. So, we decided to include a page at the beginning of the book stating Suburban Somewhere, 2003 to help situate the reader.
Makes sense. I noted the lack of cellphones. What are you working on currently?
I’m currently reworking a nonfiction, academic book proposal for a project focused on two horror filmmakers. I can’t share any details about that just yet. Wish me luck!
Sounds interesting! Do you like taking a break from fiction to change things up?
Thank you! I do enjoy slipping into nonfiction/critical mode every now and then (although not as often as I used to). I think writing essays requires a very different cognitive process from writing fiction.
Certainly. What is your favorite scene you’ve written?
I’m pleased with the third act of Shelter for the Damned, which descends into hallucinatory and semi-cosmic territory. I can’t say too much without giving anything away, but I drew a lot on the kind of imagery that draws me to writers like H. P. Lovecraft and Edgar Allan Poe.
I know exactly the portions you mean. It gets almost trippy but works perfectly for how the horror of the Shack has unfolded. I can see the Lovecraft influence for sure. What are some of your favorite classic stories that bend towards horror?
I appreciate that! In terms of Poe, my favorite story is “The Black Cat,” and my favorite Lovecraft story is probably “The Dreams in the Witch House.” I love so many classic books in the Gothic/horror realm… among my favorites are Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, Matthew Gregory Lewis’s The Monk, Charles Robert Maturin’s Melmoth the Wanderer, Algernon Blackwood’s The Willows, Daphne du Maurier’s The Breaking Point, Bram Stoker’s Dracula, and Ann Radcliffe’s The Mysteries of Udolpho. Macbeth has always been my favorite of Shakespeare’s plays, and I would argue that it leans hard into horror, too.
I’d worry about anyone who didn’t find MacBeth horrific. LOL. What is one bit of advice you’d like to share with writers?
Read, read, read. Avoid limiting yourself to one genre. Read the classics, but also try to keep up with new releases. Read fiction. Read theory, philosophy, autobiographies, and poetry. Push against your genre biases: distinctions between “high” and “low” art are generally just elitist fabrications. You can learn from the stuff you don’t like as much as you can learn from the stuff you do like.
I agree 100% (as an English Lit nerd myself who loves bending genres). How do you go about discovering new releases and keeping up with the thousands of books released these days?
I try to stay tapped into the small press horror world, and social media is helpful on that front. In pre-pandemic times, I liked browsing the library and local bookstores, too. You’re right, though, there are so many new releases that it can be difficult to keep afloat.
Who inspires you to write?
I take inspiration from relationships, friendships, and banal daily encounters. I’m often very stimulated by conversations with other writers.
Weirdest thing that’s inspired you?
One of my darkest horror stories, “Long Man,” was partially inspired by a prank my older brother played on me when we were kids.
Ha! Whatever works! In a perfect world where you could cast your book for a movie, who would you pick for your main characters?
It’s hard to say, since my main characters are so young! I’ll just imagine that this imaginary production budget can cover the cost of a time machine with anachronistic era-crossing capabilities. A 13 to 15-year-old Nick Stahl would be fantastic for the protagonist, Mark. A 13 to 15-year-old Katharine Isabelle would be terrific for Madeline. I really love both of those actors.
Time machines are often essential for author answers to this question. LOL. It’s funny that Madeline in my head looked exactly like your actress pick! Which is interesting because you don’t give a lot of physical description for many of your characters at all. Is that on purpose? I thought it was very effective how you describe Mark really only as he sees himself.
That’s great to hear! Thank you.
Yes, I deliberately minimize physical descriptions for my characters, because I draw liberally on the power of familiarity and memory. In Shelter for the Damned, especially, I wanted my readers to flesh out this space of “Suburban Somewhere” with their own recollections and points of reference.
Mark’s self-image is key to his psychological state, though, so it was important that I apply some description in that case.
Yes! His self-image was definitely important to the story. When you get stuck in your writing, how do you make yourself keep going?
I usually just charge ahead and remind myself that first drafts are almost always messy and imperfect.
Forcing yourself, nice. Do you work with an editor?
Once my work is accepted for publication, I work with press/magazine/anthology/podcast editors. I have a few trusted readers who I consult for my early drafts.
Do you use your personal experiences in your writing?
All my fiction is personal, but I usually write about my personal experiences in abstracted ways. The horror genre offers unique possibilities for expression through excess and metaphor.
Getting into real life issues, I was impressed by how your book deals with the topic of “masculine conditioning” in particular. The use of the 2 main fathers in particular was subtle but underscored everything happening with the boys. Was that societal issue something that was important for you to touch on?
Thanks again, Sunshine. I don’t usually set out to write with specific messages or thematic concerns in mind, but there’s no doubt that I was grappling with problems around masculine conditioning here. As I was reviewing later drafts of Shelter for the Damned, it became clear to me that the novel was saying things about addiction, suburban violence, domestic abuse, and certainly masculine conditioning. I tried my best to attribute these issues with as much gravitas and realism as possible.
I smiled the entire time I read this book. It’s sweet, fun, colorful, imaginative, and includes wonderful lessons for any child or adult. The wordplay often made me chuckle, and the writing proves Mr. Estrada is a poet even in prose. The story reminded me at times of “Alice in Wonderland ” and at times of “Charlie and The Chocolate Factory” while always being unique as well. Great characters, fantastical adventures, beautiful language – I was hooked.
This is a book I will definitely buy in paperback for my kid to treasure.
Have you ever wanted to read a book that dreams about becoming a Studio Ghibli film? Well now you can. Given to Fly is the 13th book by Puerto Rican indie author JD Estrada and his first full length middle grade fantasy novel. But more importantly, it’s a book with a lot of heart and no violence.
If you see movies, TV, video games, or the news at any given moment, it’s almost as if violence is a required ingredient in whatever medium we enjoy. Given to Fly is a book that avoids the use of violence even when it talks about real issues like death, financial and professional struggles, and life in general in favor of finding joy and life lessons through the fantastical.
At 11 years old, John Rivers is a kind hearted kid who dreams about flying. He’s just moved to the Pacific Northwest with his family to a house that although it’s very lovely and very cozy, it’s not exactly magical. What he doesn’t know is that magic is actually closer than he thinks.
After strolling up a hill near his house, he finds a cliff with a cove at the bottom and a huge tree growing over the water. What’s special about this particular tree is that it currently serves as the resting spot for a house that defies logic while embracing the amazing. As curious as he is kind, one look at Od Manor would have been all it takes for him to consider heading into the sideways house, but when he sees a shadow inside, he climbs down to make sure no one is in trouble. Once inside, he discovers that no one is in trouble but that the term living room has never been as literal as when an ottoman starts asking questions. The house’s owner is called Fäet Odstein, which would be odd enough if he weren’t also the literary persona of JD Estrada. Adventure ensues as Fäet discovers that John dreams about flying. Intent on helping the boy out, they seek the help from a library pillaging bookworm, angels, spiders, and even take a moment to contemplate at the meaning of life in the linen lagoon as they try to discover what it takes to fly.
Apart from a whimsical adventure that feels like a lover letter to works by Hayao Miyazaki, Given to Fly is also the first of what will be a series of stand-alone middle-grade novels with Fäet Odstein as one of its protagonists. The purpose of these books shall be to offer stories without violence that hopefully get more children to read and dream.
Influenced by Hayao Miyazaki, Peter Pan, and dreams of flight, Given to Fly is a book full of heart that skips the violence in favor of the fantastical.
This is not the first time JD Estrada has written middle grade fantasy stories. His Daydreams on the Sherbet Shore have been described as whimsical bedtime stories with a lot of heart. That same heart was the main driver for this story. Like most of his works, Given to Fly was written longhand in one of the best gifts Estrada has ever received in his life. A long time ago, his wife gifted him a hard cover notebook. The image on it was particularly special to him. She had asked him what image meant the most to him. Without batting an eye, he looked up the image to the Pearl Jam single by the same name. A couple of months later and with misty eyes, he had a hard cover notebook with that same image and the name could only be Given to Fly. But what to write about…
The question lingered in the air and rumbled in his brain until a trip to Orlando had him and his wife going to Epcot Center and getting on the Soarin’ ride for the first time. As sights, sounds, and smells washed over him in the beautiful flight simulator, an idea was born and by the end, he had soared right into an epiphany. “It’s going to be about a boy who dreams about flying,” he told his wife through tears of joy after getting off the ride.
Several years have passed after that ride and finally Given to Fly is ready for you to read. It is a tribute to things that bring him joy and a song that makes his soul smile.
In honor of the band that has inspired his life so much, all proceeds for Given to Fly and all other Estrada books for the remainder of 2018 shall be donated to Actionforjackson.org in support of #EBAwareness. Epidermolysis Bullosa is a family of rare genetic disorders that affect the body’s largest organ: the skin. Eddie Vedder (lead singer for Pearl Jam) has worked hard to support this cause. It is a small token of gratitude for everything the band means to Estrada and aligns with his #Humans4Humans efforts to support different causes and try to make a positive impact through his writing and any other efforts to support good causes that help our fellow humans.