It's a big day for A Little Literary. Richard Thomas is an extremely talented (and busy) writer and editor. His short story "The Jenny Store" is published in the sci-fi/horror antho Qualia Nous alongside Stephen King's "The Jaunt." He's also worked with Chuck Palahniuk as an editor for Burnt Tongues, a deliciously quirky/disturbing anthology of transgressive fiction I am just now sinking my teeth into.
The Chicago native is also running Dark House Press, an award winning indie book publisher. As senior editor for Oddville Press, I was ecstatic to get his story, "Dance Darling," into this issue of Oddville, just released for download here and completely free, so go check it out. After the interview, of course.
Richard, I am excited and honored to have you contribute to Oddville for the second time in your writing career. Can you describe some of your journey as a writer from your first publication with us to now?
Oh man, wow. So much has happened. I completed my MFA, which was really a big influence on my writing. I've published (or will publish next year) six books, including three novels (two with Random House Alibi out in 2015), two short story collections, and one novel-in-novellas with Nik Korpon, Axel Taiari, and Caleb Ross (Dzanc Books, also out in 2015). I’ve published over 100 short stories, including “Chasing Ghosts” coming out in Cemetery Dance later this year. I've chased down and harpooned a few white whales, and really feel like I've grown as an author. I've only been writing six years, but what a wild six years it has been.
Can you tell us what inspired you to write "Dance Darling"? The subject matter is dark and realistic. Was there a personal experience behind this?
It started with a call for submissions by Thunderdome Press for Cipher Sisters. The anthology was based on a photo and article about a pair of sisters that was found dead holding hands, lying in bed, very peaceful, but also very creepy. I remember Michael Gonzalez, the editor and publisher, talking about how we could write anything we wanted, heck, even include Hitler, or something like that. So it triggered this weird image of these elderly women with these branded codes on their wrists from a death camp, and I ran with it from there. A memory flashes back for them when they’re sitting at the train and watching it go by, and suddenly they’re back in Germany watching the people go by, loaded into the train cars like cattle. First time using German in a story, too. Very strange, but a story that I hope has a lot of heart and impact.
It certainly has both. What are the advantages of living in Chicago as a writer? Tell us a bit about the artistic community there.
There is definitely a strong community of authors here in Chicago. In addition to everyone at Curbside Splendor and Dark House Press, I've been lucky enough to get to know Lindsay Hunter, Jac Jemc, Joe Meno, Rebecca Makkai and many other authors. There is a lot to do in Chicago, so it’s always a draw for authors wanting to come here and read and hang out. But I will say that I think these days, as much as I love to travel to LA or NYC or Colorado, the virtual communities I’m involved with (the old Velvet and Write Club, as well as LitReactor.com, and social media—Facebook, Twitter, etc.) is also important.
So, I've tried to do this genre justice on the blog, but I'd much rather hear it from you. Describe neo-noir transgressive slipstream fiction for us. Why does it call to you as a writer? Is it just me, or is this suddenly a hot genre? Or maybe it's more cult than hot, which is what makes it so appealing?
Well, I think each of those labels is a separate genre, or sub-genre, but I definitely think there is a movement going on. Transgressive fiction, which typically focuses on people rebelling against the rules of society, nature, man, God, etc., was something I discovered with Chuck Palahniuk. That got me to neo-noir, which just means “new-black” and includes a wide range of genres, such as noir, crime, fantasy, science fiction, horror, Southern gothic, the grotesque, magical realism and literary fiction. It’s really about taking the classic expectations of the genres and making them new, defying formula and tropes, to create new horrors, new fantasies, new twists on old settings, characters, and stories.
Slipstream really is about the surreal, but also a story that “slips” from one genre to another. I think partly this movement, which I first started to notice at AWP NYC in 2009, has come about as genre that fiction authors and fans pushed back against the academic interests and philosophies, and the idea that the “best writing” can only be “literary.”
I remember listening to Brian Evenson and Stephen Graham Jones talk about this on various panels and I kept nodding my head. Yes, you can love Stephen King. Yes, you can write literary stories that are mysteries, that have werewolves (Red Moon by Benjamin Percy would come out a few years later). You can include the fantastic and still be literary. Take a look at the last Best American Short Stories anthology, and you’ll find examples of the surreal, the fantastic, magical realism, etc. I like writing in these genres, neo-noir specifically, because there are very few rules. I can write dark fiction, and then it can slip into crime or fantasy or horror or science fiction. It allows me to publish in more places, and to never stop myself from chasing the story I want to write.
You are not only a brilliant writer, but a talented editor and writing mentor as well. Tell us about some of your projects from an editing/critiquing standpoint.
Ah, you’re too kind. At some point I felt like I wanted to edit and publish the writers that were blowing me away, some of whom I just mentioned. I kept seeing people write such amazing stories, and then publish in The Paris Revew and Cemetery Dance in the same year. I felt like I wanted to align myself with these voices, because their work was important.
The New Black was the first project that I pitched to Curbside Splendor, and it ended up not only being my first anthology, but it got me the gig as Editor-in-Chief at Dark House Press. This was essentially my “best of” neo-noir from the past 5-10 years. At the same time, the Burnt Tongues anthology took a strange turn. I went from being a workshop moderator, where I read 100+ stories a month for a year, nominating my six favorite stories each month, to being one of the editors. I helped reshape the manuscript, the pitch, and then I started knocking on doors. Thanks to Chuck’s name and influence, we got into a bit of a bidding war and sold it to Medallion, who has done an amazing job with it. We sold out the first print run before it even released.
And then I decided that there were a ton of exceptional women that weren't getting the attention they deserved, and so I put together The Lineup: 25 Provocative Women Writers, which I sold to Black Lawrence Press. That people still think women can’t write everything that men can write, well, that’s just ridiculous.
Well, that is an amazing thing to hear from a successful male author. Extra shot of espresso for you, Richard. I can't wait to get my hands on that collection.
The first two collection I mentioned are out, The Lineup this October. All three projects were different, but all were labors of love, a desire for me to share these amazing stories, and exceptional authors, with the world. And so far, the reception has been really good! Which makes me very happy.
How was working with Chuck Palahniuk on Burnt Tongues? I hear his work has inspired you as a writer. (I had to ask this. I've been a huge fan since high school, when I loved Invisible Monsters before I could pronounce the guy's name).
Chuck is amazing. He is so generous, and talented, and his name really helps open a lot of doors. His writing really woke me up. After I saw Fight Club, I read all of his novels, and I felt like, yes, there was amazing writing being done, and that maybe there was room in the world for my voice. I’m not a minimalist like Chuck, probably the opposite, but he got me to authors like Will Christopher Baer, Craig Clevenger, and Stephen Graham Jones, who were all writing neo-noir, or variations of it. When you see what Chuck has done, you feel like anything is possible.
What other authors inspire you?
Everyone I’ve mentioned by name so far, as well as all of the authors in the three anthologies I edited. I’ve also been motivated and inspired by authors like Dennis Lehane, Mary Gaitskill, Denis Johnson, Flannery O’Connor, Cormac McCarthy, Haruki Murakami, Philip K. Dick, really, so many people. It’s probably the people I interact with on a daily basis that inspire me the most. When I see friends and peers developing television shows (True Detective, The Walking Dead, The Leftovers) as well as selling film rights, in addition to publishing amazing books and stories, it really shows me that anything is possible. That you CAN survive—make a career as an author. But you have to do the work, have to put in the time, spill your heart and soul onto the page, make it the best you possibly can, the most personal work possible. And then you put it out into the world and hope for the best.
Do you think coffee is synonymous with writing? How do you take yours, if at all?
YES! I take it with cream and a lot of sugar. I have a weakness for Starbucks, a Venti Mocha, but mostly it’s just whatever I’m brewing at home.
What is your favorite story, written by you?
Oh man, that’s really hard, like picking your favorite child. I think the stories that have placed the best are on that list for sure. “Chasing Ghosts” in Cemetery Dance magazine later this year, that’s one I worked very hard on in my MFA program, and CD has been a white whale for a long time. “Victimized” is my longest short story, one that I think is very intense. I got some attention for “Fireflies,” an honorable mention for Best Horror of the Year. “Maker of Flight” won a contest at ChiZine. I got a Pushcart nomination for “Twenty Reasons to Stay and One to Leave” at Metazen. And I really love a recent one, “Asking for Forgiveness” up at Menacing Hedge. I know, I totally cheated here—forgive me!
Where can we find more Richard Thomas? Can you list some of the blogs/webites/presses you contribute to?
You can find links to just about everything I do at my blog, whatdoesnotkillme.com. I have links to all of my stories online and in print over there, as well as links to all of my book reviews, and my ongoing column, Storyville, at LitReactor.com. I’m on Facebook, Twitter, Amazon, Goodreads—I’m pretty easy to find. Keep an eye out for Disintegration in March of 2015 with Random House Alibi. I think it’s some of my best work to date, really excited for this to finally come out. It’s been about five years since I started it. Kind of Dexter meets Falling Down, a wild ride for sure.
"Dance, Darling" available in Volume 2, Issue III of Oddville Press, out now!
|Cover Art: The Slow House Trailer by Allesandra|
*Image credit: Author Richard Thomas photo from www.whatdoesnotkillme.com/about, retrieved Septmeber 26, 2014.