Near the end of my undergraduate degree in English at Mount Royal University, I co-designed and fulfilled the requirements for a Directed Readings/Writings course with Dr. Randy Schroeder. Aside from two previous creative writing classes, this was the only chance I’d had to pursue my fiction-writing passion within an academic context. A genre-blurring author himself, Schroeder provided his theoretical and experiential knowledge to help me develop my commitment to writing horror. I was also able to fuel that area of interest in my honours thesis, which studied social-psychological systems of violence in Stephen King’s It (1986); that project was patiently and generously supervised by Dr. Kit Dobson, a leading scholar in Canadian literature (honestly, I don’t take it for granted that he was willing to take on a thesis so far outside his usual wheelhouse). In his experimental literature course, Dobson also allowed me to submit an experimental (and, looking back, mostly unreadable) re-write of my first horror novel, Speaking Walls.
After my undergrad degree, I radically reworked that novel and began selling fiction to anthologies and magazines. The first publication, “Long Man” (included in Creepy Campfire Stories (for Grownups) ), came away from a piece that Randy had helped me develop in our Directed Writings course. Shortly after that sale, I started my master’s degree in English at the University of Calgary. Truth told, I wanted to be writing horror fiction, but I hadn’t considered applying to the Creative Writing program because I figured genre fiction was generally dismissed in the academic sphere. Still, while completing my degree I was able to find the time and energy to continue producing short stories; I sold nine more pieces to various markets, and again found a means of pursuing my interests by developing a thesis with Dr. Anthony Camara on epistemophobia (editors note: “epistemophobia” is the fear of knowledge) in John Carpenter’s Prince of Darkness (1987).
While I was committed to my academic work, I was also seriously devoted to my own writing. That devotion included regular and methodical online market-hunting, which eventually led me to Unnerving’s opening for unsolicited manuscript submissions. I had enough material and previous publications to submit, so I figured, Why not? I assembled the manuscript that would become Darkest Hours and sent it their way, hoping for the best but expecting the worst (over time, I had quickly become all-too-familiar with standard form rejections). Unnerving sent me a surprisingly quick and enthusiastic acceptance, and I spent a large part of my second year at the University of Calgary working through the small-scale book publication process.
I think I benefitted from the range of literature and theory that I absorbed while pursuing my M.A. in English.
Would it have been easier to do all this while attending an incumbent program in creative writing? No doubt. But I think I benefitted from the range of literature and theory that I absorbed while pursuing my M.A. in English, and I mined a lot of anxiety-ridden horror fiction ideas from the experience of inhabiting academic spaces while simultaneously feeling totally unfit for them. The term “impostor syndrome” floats around a lot, and I’ve got a bad case of it, but I can’t think of many experiences that would’ve been so amenable to the manuscript-preparing process. I was lucky enough to get three Teaching Assistantships (two in an introductory Shakespeare course, one in detective fiction), and an extremely kind colleague in the English department directed me to a research assistant opening at the Taylor Institute for Teaching and Learning.
As soon as I finished my graduate degree, I was lucky yet again: I landed a contract as a communications and marketing assistant at the Taylor Institute. Again, I’m now in a position where I’m able to pursue my passion while also paying the bills. I’m always hoping to find more time and mental energy to put toward my writing—one can only produce so much when one writes for one hour a day, and life does find its way of presenting obstacles—but generally speaking, you won’t hear me complaining for now. What’s the next step? I don’t know. I think I’ll just continue doing what I’ve been doing for the last three or so years: writing as much as I can possibly manage, and following my instincts.
Mike Thorn (mikethornwrites.com) is the author of the short story collection Darkest Hours (http://mybook.to/DHMT). He completed his B.A. with honours at Mount Royal University and his M.A. in English Literature at the University of Calgary. He now works as a Communications & Marketing Assistant at the Taylor Institute for Teaching and Learning having recently graduated with a Master of Arts in English.