Friday, March 15, 2013

The Abyss May Stare Back At You: An interview with neo-noir/horror author Richard Thomas

1) Please tell us about Staring into the Abyss.

It's a collection of dark stories, somewhere between neo-noir (French for "new-black") and horror. The stories are tragic, but there are rays of hope. I like to see how people react to those moments in their lives where there is a tipping point, that inciting incident,beyond the point of no return. I like to see how these characters react to loss, to violence, to pain and suffering. Do they wilt or rise up? Do they seek revenge or collapse under the weight of their own actions.

Kraken Press is a new publisher, but George Cotronis is a globally recognized artist, and that's what originally drew me to him. So I'm lucky to have his cover art on this collection, as well as a free eSingle we're giving away soon of "Transmogrify." He's done an amazing job of putting this together, getting the word out, and so far the reviews are primarily positive. I know that not every story inStaring Into the Abyss will work for every reader—a choose your own adventure, a list of twenty reasons why a man stays, a dark tale of rape, abuse and vengeance—some of those narrative are challenging. But I hope that there is something in here for everyone, and if I can really find a way to connect with each reader, then I will feel like I succeeded. "Maker of Flight," the first story (which won a contest at ChiZine), is one I've read to my children, and they love it, so it's not all doom and gloom.

2) What motivated you to focus on this sort of subject matter?

I've read a lot of interviews with Stephen King, he's somebody I grew up reading, and I really admire him. I've read all of his books. He has talked about how his wife always asked him, and his family too, why he writes such dark stories? Why not something lighter or funny? My mom asks me the same questions, my wife, too. I try. I did just get my MFA and those stories tend to be more literary, very little sex or violence, nobody dies in those tales. Basically, what I'm saying, is that I have a hard time writing anything else. I'm drawn to the darkness, much like the moth is drawn to the flame. Whether it's cathartic to live out these moments, a way to live out my own anger and frustrations without actually acting, I don't know. But I feel we can all learn something from focusing on the negative—we can be glad it wasn't us, we can feel sympathy for someone and vow to reach out to a person in need, or we can promise to be better people ourselves. But I don't think these stories, or the subject matter, are simply entertainment, just blood porn.

3) Are the stories distinguished by style differences in addition to theme differences? If so, could you tell us a bit about that.

Definitely. I alluded to the choose your own adventure story, "Splintered," that ran at PANK. That's a story I've never written before. And the "Twenty Reasons to Stay and One to Leave" story is really just a list of 20 responses, a man answering the questions he hears after a great loss: why are you still here, why do you still love her, why don't you leave? So, as far as style and format, those two are definitely different. "Interview" is another story that breaks my usual format, sprinkling a grocery receipt (or list) throughout the story, so that over time those items add up to something sinister. And "Ten Steps" is basically the ten steps it takes a child to turn into a monster, so the way that is organized, the lack of an explanation, or happy ending, the open ending, that is something I think is compelling.

As for theme, I think most of the stories are tragic, so the theme is primarily about loss, and how to react and deal with that loss. Even the stories that end on an up note, that have that bit of hope and optimism, they are surrounded by the pain that came before it. The only one that probably could be called "funny" is "Stephen King Ate My Brain," and people seem to enjoy that break. I purposefully put it after "Steel Toed-Boots" one of the darkest in the collection.

4) We all love our children, sure, but is there a particular story in the collection that you like more than the others? 

I have my favorites, maybe four or five that I think are really special. But if I had to pick one, it's probably "Twenty Reasons to Stay and One to Leave." I was so thrilled when it was accepted at Metazen, and even more so when it was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. It really validated my work, the experiment of the form. I like the echo of the story, the way it doesn't really give you all of the details, you have to build on the skeleton of the story, and fill in some blanks. I dissected it over at LitReactor and I know a teacher in Tennessee, Heather Foster, even taught it in one of her classes, alongside Joyce Carol Oates's classic, "Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been," so that was really an honor.

That story, and maybe "Victimized," the longest story I've ever written. It just added up to what I think is a powerful story, with a twist that I really hope is a punch in the gut.

5) Were any of these stories more difficult for you to write than the others, for whatever reason?

Any of the stories that focus on the loss of a child. It's so hard for me to channel those kinds of thoughts. Maybe that's why "Twenty Reasons to Stay and One to Leave," is one of my favorites, it was so difficult for me to write. Much like my second novel, Disintegration, which my agent is shopping right now. All of that focus on your family dying in front of you, I can remember finishing that book and feeling like I was going to throw up, breaking down and crying, and then taking a deep breath and hopping in the minivan to go see my mother-in-law. It really got to me. Much like some of the stories in this book do. I try to be as honest as I can, and leave it all on the page.

6) What motivates you as a writer? What do you feel the fundamental goal of your fiction is?

I love telling stories. I really live for those moments when my work gets to somebody, when they laugh, or get aroused, or yell at me for scaring them, or tell me I made them cry. I want people to feel something, a powerful emotion, and to do that with just my words, from miles away, it really empowers me to keep writing and entertaining, and maybe even inspire people to be creative, to get out into the world and live their lives, no matter what their hopes and dreams are. I want to touch lives, and then have people react—maybe they go hug their son or daughter, or decide to take a chance on a project, or go back to school, or even just feel a little better about themselves. I use a quote from Nietzsche in describing this book, saying "Battle not with monsters, lest ye become a monster." I'm basically asking people to live a better life, to avoid the demons, to get away from toxic people, so that maybe they can find fulfillment. Kind of funny way to go about it, with this dark fiction—maybe it's reverse psychology or something—these cautionary tales.

7) Please tell us a bit about your other work.

My first novel, Transubstantiate, a neo-noir, speculative thriller came out in 2010, but it's out of print. I'm working on turning it into a YA title, and the experiment is going well, gave it to my agent a few weeks ago. I have another collection out, Herniated Roots, which leans towards crime. I've published over 75 stories, online and print, but really got started when my story "Stillness" (which is in this collection, Staring Into the Abyss) was accepted for Shivers VI alongside Stephen King and Peter Staub. I just got my MFA, so I'm looking for a teaching gig, and in the mean time I'm editing two anthologies, The Lineup (Black Lawrence Press, out in 2014) which is edgy literary fiction by 25 women authors, and Burnt Tongues, with Chuck Palahniuk and Dennis Widmyer, which evolved out of a workshop, and just found a home (out in 2014 as well). I just had two stories accepted that I'm excited about, that aren't out yet, "Garage Sales" in Midwestern Gothic, and "Chrysalis" in Aracadia, two really cool journals that are pretty hard to get into. I'm thrilled to see those in print later this year.

Also, we'll be giving away copies of Staring Into the Abyss at Goodreads, as well as a teaser story, "Transmogrify" as an eSingle, later this month on Amazon. So come find me on Twitter or Facebook to stay in the loop.

8) Where can readers find out more about you?

You can stay up to date, and find all of my published work (both print and online, for sale as well as FREE) at my blog, Here are a few other places as well:

Richard was the winner of the 2009 “Enter the World of Filaria” contest at ChiZine. He has published over sixty stories online and in print, including the Shivers VI anthology (Cemetery Dance) with Stephen King and Peter Straub, Murky Depths, PANK, Gargoyle, Weird Fiction Review, Pear Noir!, Word Riot, 3:AM Magazine, Dogmatika, Vain and Opium. His debut novel Transubstantiate was released in 2010. In his spare time he is a featured book critic at The Nervous Breakdown, as well as a columnist at Lit Reactor. He is represented by Paula Munier at the Talcott Notch agency.

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