Neo–noir (English: New-black; from the Greek neo, new; and the French noir, black) is a style often seen in modern motion pictures and other forms that prominently use elements of film noir, but with updated themes, content, style, visual elements or media that were absent in films noir of the 1940s and 1950s.
Richard Thomas is one of the most well-respected names in the publishing world these days. An award-winning short story author, his work can be found in a number of publications, including Cemetery Dance’s Shivers VI anthology amongst the likes of Stephen King and Peter Straub.
Ever the omnipresent man of fiction, Thomas also is the Editor-in-Chief of Dark House Press. The publishing house is quickly earning a glowing reputation within the literary fields, having received a Shirley Jackson Award and Bram Stoker Award (After The People Lights Have Gone Off, 2014) nomination for best short story collection.
With such a busy schedule, it was quite the surprise when Richard replied to my interview inquiry and, as always, I was beyond grateful that he took some time out to discuss a few topics I had on my mind.
If you haven’t checked out Richard Thomas‘s work yet, do yourself a favor- grab a few titles, turn off your cell phone and spend a night (preferably a dark and gloomy one) in the mind of a literary giant in his own right.
MANGLED MATTERS: This may come as a shock to many readers, but you are a big fan of Stephen King. You’ve mentioned in the past he is one of the reasons you became attracted to horror writing. What was the first book of his you ever read and what about it really hooked you into the horror genre?
RICHARD THOMAS: I’m definitely a big King fan, having read pretty much all of his books. I think the first book of his I read was The Shining, back in high school. He would have only had about twenty books out in the 1980s. I can remember coming home “altered” one night and that book scared me to death. So much so, that I had to pick up a copy of The Bible to calm myself down. I recently re-read The Shining, and it’s still an amazing book. The same damn hedge animals scaring me again, and I swore that they wouldn’t, that the memory was silly, something as an adult that wouldn’t bother me, but it still did. It had to do with turning away and then the hedges moving, the weird leap in time and space between static and movement, that perception not matching up with reality. And the ending is so powerful, much better than the film, which I also love.
I’m sure that I read most of his early book in high school, and then college. For me it was the storytelling, the way he would hypnotize me—so many strange stories and plots that I’d never read before. When I compared it to what I was being forced to read in school, wow, he was so entertaining. He scared me, made me laugh, and made me cry, too. It wasn’t just the horror.
MM: Growing up, were you the typical horror-loving kid?
RT: I want to say no, but then I have so many memories of classic horror films—Halloween, Friday the 13th, The Amityville Horror, Jaws, The Omen, The Exorcist—you name it. I didn’t read a ton of horror authors, though, probably only King and Koontz when I was a kid. I didn’t read Straub or Ketchum or Barker until much later in life. The gore wasn’t what appealed to me- it was the tension, the possibility of something happening, the potential next door, or down the road, or in the woods. I felt like it could happen at any time, and quite often the monster was us—not a werewolf for vampire, but man, humanity, right?
MM: If you could pinpoint the moment you were able to tell yourself, “I am a professional writer” and see it as a career, when was that?
RT: Um, still getting there? (laughs)
I’m still trying to write full-time, with a career in advertising for the past twenty years supplementing my income. It’s a combination of writing novels and stories, teaching, editing, publishing and traveling to conferences to speak, sit on panels—all of that. I know I started to take it seriously when I decided to get my MFA. That was time and money, so I had to have a serious talk with my wife and kids, make sure they were all on board. My first professional sale to Cemetery Dance for Shivers VI really helped me to believe in myself. But, one hundred stories later, and I still get depressed, question myself, feel like a failure, on my bad days. On my good days I see so much potential, and have a hunger to write, to tell stories, to entertain and enlighten while getting my readers to feel something, strong emotions. It’s all connected. I think something big has to break, still, maybe film rights or a tenure-track teaching job, or something else, in order to stop working in advertising. I’m working on a couple of projects that I hope can get me there, but it’s a tough job.
MM: Describe a typical writing day for Richard Thomas.
RT: I wish there was one. I tend to steal my time when I can. These days I’m writing more in the winter, usually January through May, so on those days it’s kids off to school, cups of coffee, a quick peek at email and social media and then I burrow into my office to try and find a good story to tell. I keep my office dark, the walls covered with bookshelves, surrounded by the voices and authors and art that inspires me. I try not to repeat myself, to keep telling the same story, and often I’ll chase an emotion, or a more abstract feeling, than a particular plot line. If I’m lucky, and I find the story, I’ll become a “body without organs”- the world falling away, the visions channeling through me. I type fast, about 70 words per minute, so on my best days, I can write a 6,000-word story, at least the rough draft.
The most I’ve written for a novel was 9,000 to 10,000 words a day for Disintegration, my second novel, for a total of 40,000 words in five days. I once wrote 12,000 words of Breaker, my third novel, in a day. When it’s working, it’s working. And other days, absolutely nothing.
MM: Who are some authors on the indie scene today that you would recommend to someone perusing the internet in search of their next favorite author?
RT: Oh, man, where to even begin? I’d say pick up The New Black (Dark House Press), Burnt Tongues (Medallion Press, with Chuck Palahniuk and Dennis Widmyer), Exigencies (Dark House Press), and The Lineup (Black Lawrence Press), all anthologies I’ve edited, or co-edited. Those are the voices that I love the most, the authors I read all the time. If I had to pick a few out of those, authors I’ve read extensively, I’d probably say Stephen Graham Jones for sure. We published his collection at Dark House Publishing as well. It is a Bram Stoker and Shirley Jackson finalist. Brian Evenson, Roxane Gay, Paul Tremblay, Craig Clevenger, Lindsay Hunter, Nik Korpon, Damien Angelica Walters (we’re publishing her book Paper Tigers in 2016), Letitia Trent (Echo Lake at DHP), Holly Goddard Jones, Benjamin Percy, Paula Bomer, Matt Bell, Amelia Gray, Rebecca Jones-Howe (we just put out her collection at DHP), Usman T. Malik, Laura Benedict, Sarah Read, David James Keaton, Axel Taiari, really I could go on forever. Those are all people I’ve published.
Outside of them, Laird Barron, Josh Malerman, Jeff VanderMeer, Joe Lansdale, and on and on. In addition to Damien, Steve Himmer has a book with DHP in 2015 as well. There are so many excellent authors out there today, especially in the indie community.
MM: What is it about the short story structure that attracts you to the form? Do you prefer writing short stories or novels, and why?
RT: I love writing them both. A novel, you really get to sit and be a person, be in a place and time for a longer piece of time. Short stories, they allow me to experiment more, to take chances, and for people to dip in and out, a great way to discover new voices. I love collection and anthologies, although I do understand some people don’t like to constantly start over and have to figure it all out. It’s kind of like a big steak versus a long buffet—do you want one thing, and a lot of it, or to sample and nibble at a variety of flavors? Tapas or a whole trout? Your call, I guess, right?
MM: Has there been any one specific short story that you are most proud of in your career? I imagine being included in a collection alongside Stephen King and Peter Straub has to be up there on the mantle!
RT: Wow, that’s tough. Sure, “Stillness,” my story in Shivers VI, that’s an important one, as well as the story that got into Cemetery Dance #72, “Chasing Ghosts.” I like “Victimized” a lot, one of my longest stories to date. I have two longer stories coming out in 2015, “The Offering on the Hill” is in Chiral Mad 3, alongside King and Ketchum again. That one’s got one hell of a table of contents. I’m excited for that story to get out there.
With my shorter work, two that people really seem to like are “Twenty Reasons to Stay and One to Leave”, which was nominated for a Pushcart Prize at Metazen, and then “Asking for Forgiveness” at Menacing Hedge, another lyrical story, I think. Also, “Fireflies”, which was long-listed for Best Horror of the Year, and “Flowers for Jessica” both tap into this new magical realism I’ve been writing. I’m fond of them both. You can find some of those online, some in my second collection, Staring Into the Abyss, and some in Tribulations, my third collection, out in 2015.
MM: As Editor-in-Chief of Dark House Press, what inspired you to create your own publishing house? What can you tell us about DHP and what kind of books your publishing company is looking for?
RT: Basically I just wanted to support the voices that blew me away. The New Black was the first book we put out, essentially my list of the “best of neo-noir” from the past ten years or so. I say we publish neo-noir, speculative fiction with a literary bent. Neo-noir just means “new-black” so it’s contemporary dark fiction, that often dips into the supernatural (fantasy, science fiction, or horror) with a smart and layered voice. The whole new weird movement is really exciting. I see a lot of hybrid or cross-genre fiction these days, and that’s really exciting. Paper Tigers by Damien Angelica Walters is our next novel out in 2015. It’s a new twist on the haunted house story, followed by Scratch by Steve Himmer, a contemporary rural fantasy. Both books just blew me away. Vile Men by Rebecca Jones-Howe just came out, short stories, and she writes taboo stories full of sex, violence, and urban fantasy.
MM: If you could collaborate with one fellow artist (musician, author, filmmaker, anyone currently working), who would it be and what would this dream project consist of?
RT: I’d love to work with David Fincher. Fight Club is an important film, and book, to me, leading me to Chuck Palahniuk, and his work, and then to Will Christopher Baer, Craig Clevenger, and Stephen Graham Jones. When I look at Fight Club, Seven, The Game, Zodiac—I just love his work. If you’re looking for a film to adapt, David, Disintegration is still available! I’m also really getting into the films at A24—titles like Under the Skin and Ex Machina. I really love their aesthetic.
MM: What are you currently working on?
RT: I’m hoping to start a new novel soon, probably in January. I’m still kicking around ideas. I’m on deadline for a few short stories as well. There just aren’t enough hours in the day. Add in Dark House, and it’s a non-stop rollercoaster ride.
As for 2016, as of right now I have Breaker in January (Random House Alibi), the second book in the Windy City Mystery Series. Then my story in Chiral Mad 3 is in February. My third collection, Tribulations, will be out after that. And then there’s the Dzanc Books’ novel-in-novellas next. Finally there may be a non-fiction book, a collection of my column, Storyville, later in the year. I hope to find time to write some new short stories in 2016 as well. So many excellent editors, presses and publishers out there, I want to write for them all!