**Update: the Gamut Kickstarter is now offering eBook subscriptions vs. the original plan of online only content. Since I get most of my reading done at work, this appeals to me. Thanks for listening to the fans.**
The Mouths of Madness Podcastshow presents The Eyes of Madness, “A Simple interview from a simple reader…”
Today I had the opportunity & the pleasure to chat a bit with Richard Thomas, a man of many hats, about his upcoming projects. Also got to chat a bit about what makes him tick, as a writer and as a reader. From his back catalogue, to his upcoming Crystal Lake Publishing release, and on to his Gamut Magazine Crowdfunding project. I walked away from this interview very excited, and I think you will too.
ZDubbz – Good day sir, welcome to The Eyes of Madness. I’m pleased to connect with you. First off, tell me a little about yourself.
Richard Thomas – Hey, Zakk, thanks for having me. My name is Richard Thomas, and I’m the author of three novels, three collections, 100+ stories in print, editor of four anthologies, and Editor-in-Chief at Dark House Press.
ZD – That’s a nice pedigree. Dark House Press has released a great selection of books, there are a couple I’m excited to get my hands on. There’s a nice attention to quality and design, that can’t be coincidence, can it?
RT – Thanks. I’ve spent the last 20 years in advertising as an art director and graphic designer, so our covers, our layout and design, our interior illustrations—they’re all important to me, for sure. Typically we use original illustrations and designs for the covers, with some very talented artists, many who are also involved with me at Gamut.
ZD – For those uninitiated with Richard Thomas fiction, describe your style of writing.
RT – I call it neo-noir, speculative fiction with a literary bent. Neo-noir just means “new-black,” contemporary dark fiction. Speculative covers fantasy, science fiction, and horror. And literary usually means thoughtful, elevated prose. So, the sweet spot between all of that.
ZD – Sounds like a very cerebral experience, a perfect storm of literary fiction. Is it a style that will be easy for any reader to connect with or does it require a bit of focus?
RT – I think it depends on the author. Cormac McCarthy is an acquired taste, same as William Burroughs. Some neo-noir is heavier on setting, some less so. Dennis Lehane is probably the most successful neo-noir author. And in horror alone you have a range—quiet horror, splatterpunk and everything in-between—psychological horror, classic horror, etc. I think the best writing works on a number of levels—approachable on the surface, but with layers of symbolism and metaphor buried underneath.
ZD – When writing, is there a particular genre that calls to you? Are there any prevalent themes that you like to play with, any emotions you like to tap into?
RT – I guess I’ve always been a big fan of horror, but really, more than traditional scary, violent stories and movies, the dark, strange dramas. I like psychological thrillers—anything by David Lynch, Christopher Nolan, David Fincher. So I’m a big fan of Stephen King, but also grew up reading Ray Bradbury, and then later, the beats in college, eventually getting to Chuck Palahniuk, and then in my MFA, authors like Cormac McCarthy, Joyce Carol Oates, Denis Johnson, Flannery O’Connor, Haruki Murakami, Toni Morrison, etc.
ZD – Sounds like you’re into artists that offer surface haunts as well as deeper meanings for those who want to explore a little further into their psyche. Not just a read (or watch) but an experience? Is there another level to be found in your work?
RT – I certainly hope so. To really get to a reader, you have to get them emotionally invested. They have to CARE about the characters. I can’t even list how many times I’ve cried over somebody or something dying in a Stephen King novel. And that goes for a story that’s 25 words, 1,000 words, 5,000 words or a novel at 60-80,000 words. I like to write first person, so that you’re IN the story, living the moment, feeling the pain, the hope, the desire. When I finished writing Disintegration, I broke down and cried, thought I might vomit. I had BEEN that guy for years, and it was powerful—I was spent. And that’s what I want from my readers, for my work, and the work I publish. They should have a visceral reaction—laughter, tears, arousal, fear, hope, or inspiration. If not, then I’m not doing my job.
ZD – I have always been interested in how reader’s favorites compare to writer’s favorites. Which of your titles has been most popular with readers? And of your titles, which is your personal favorite?
RT – A lot of people have responded to Disintegration and Breaker. Irvine Welsh called Disintegration, “A stunning and vital piece of work,” which meant a lot. I have a soft spot for that novel, since it took six years go from start to finish. But I hear a lot of people like Breaker even more than Disintegration. They’re part of the Windy City Dark mystery series, Disintegration a mix of Dexter and Falling Down, Breaker a bit of the following—Leon: The Professional, Of Mice and Men, The Green Mile, and To Kill a Mockingbird.
ZD – That’s an awesome mix of ingredients and to get a quote like that from a respected author must have felt great. Six years is quite a commitment, was that due to any issues in development or is that just how long the story needed to be told the right way?
RT – For sure, was definitely great to hear it. It was a combination of my MFA program, shopping it for a year to small presses, then to agents, then landing an agent, then shopping it to the big six, and then finally selling it to Random House Alibi.
ZD – You have an upcoming release with Crystal Lake Publishing (CLP), Tribulations, can you tell me a little about this release?
RT – Sure. It’s my third collection of stories, dark fiction, across a range of genres. It’s funny, when you look back on older work, invariably you think it’s terrible. I look at my first collection and see a lot of weak stories. But that’s part of evolving, right? So I’d like to believe my stories in Tribulations are my best work. One story was in Cemetery Dance, which was a market I tried for years to break into, and two others were long-listed for Best Horror of the Year.
ZD – As Stephen King says, an author is never completely satisfied with a story and a story is never truly finished in a writer’s eye (paraphrasing). I see that as the beauty in genre fiction, so many different readers with different nuances. A piece that one might consider weak, another will call it a treasure. Is Richard Thomas your harshest critic?
RT – I think I have to be, right?
ZD – A story in Cemetery Dance is definitely bragging rights, congratulations. I think that as long as you are evolving, honing your craft, then you are on the right path. And absolutely, you should be your own harshest critic if you are taking your passion seriously. An author set it their ways (or style) isn’t going to remain challenging to themselves or their readers, and in this day and age of limited reader loyalty, they will bolt quickly. Is there a particular story in Tribulations that will challenge readers? Is there a story that may divide readers?
RT – Good question. There are a few I’m sure. “Flowers for Jessica” was in Weird Fiction Review, and is what I guess you’d call gothic horror. I gave it to my wife and she said, “What the hell is wrong with you?” Others have read it and said, “How romantic.”
ZD – That’s awesome that it hit people in different ways. Does your wife read all of your work?
RT – No, she’s much too sensitive. Even my literary fiction, where nobody dies, is too much for her. She’s not a huge reader, but maybe it’s better this way, right?
ZD – From a reader’s standpoint, CLP has a hell of a line-up of releases for 2016. How has your experience been working with CLP?
RT – Joe is great. I first placed a story with him in Fear the Reaper, and ever since then I’ve been a big fan of his work. They have great cover art, do a great job of editing, and promoting, and are just a pleasure to work with.
ZD – CLP definitely seem to take pride in their releases by hitting quality marks from all aspects. I know that you are not supposed to judge a book by its cover but giving it an eye catching cover that fits the book (as well as running it through one more round of edits) is a big deal. It makes me feel, as a reader, that they aren’t simply trying to sell me a product but trying to connect me with something that they feel is going to move me. Is it safe to say that you feel that Tribulations is in good hands?
RT – Most definitely. Joe gets my aesthetic. We’re tweaking the cover art right now, and everything has been really exciting about the process.
ZD – What is the release window looking like?
RT – March, just waiting for something top secret to sync up first.
ZD – Nice. You are also involved in a crowdfunding project through Kickstarter, Gamut Magazine, can you tell me a little bit about it?
RT – Sure. It’s a new online magazine, that will cover a wide range (the gamut!) of dark fiction. If you’ve read any of the anthologies I’ve edited—The New Black, Exigencies, Burnt Tongues (with Chuck Palahniuk) or The Lineup: 20 Provocative Women Writers—then you get my aesthetic. We have raised almost $30,000 in 16 days, with our goal of $52,000 still a ways to go. We’ll publish new fiction every week, reprints, columns, poetry, and hopefully also non-fiction, flash fiction, and more.
ZD – It sounds like a great, all encompassing publication and it is nice to see the magazine format reemerge in the digital era. Is Gamut going to be strictly an online medium or will it be available via eReader subscription?
RT – For now, online. But a lot of people have asked about eBooks, so it’s something we’re going to consider. Depends on the budget and cost. We’d like to do a print anthology, too, a Best of Gamut every year. Be a nice way to get people involved that haven’t subscribed. **Update: Gamut is now being offered as an eBook subscription, while the online subscription is still an option.**
ZD – In what capacity are you involved with Gamut Magazine?
RT – Well, I’m the editor, so I’ll oversee everything. I have a talented staff around me, so I’ll lean on them. My fiction editors, and first readers, are Mercedes M. Yardley, Dino Parenti, and Casey Frechette, with Heather Foster overseeing the poetry. And I have three columnists—Max Booth, Keith Rawson, and RK Arceneaux to break up all of the darkness. Not to mention talented illustrators in Luke Spooner, George Cotronis, Daniele Serra, Bob Crum and photographer Jennifer Moore.
ZD – That is a fantastic group of talent, any one of whom would peak my interest alone. As a whole, the word excited doesn’t seem to express my feelings enough, it’s like an all-star line-up. Did you hand pick the staff?
RT – I did. This all starts and ends with me, but along the way I try to surround myself with talented people, and then get out of the way. I’m genuinely excited to publish each and every author that has committed to this project. It all means a lot to me, personally.
ZD – What kind of reader will Gamut Magazine appeal to?
RT – The reader who is not looking for the lowest common denominator. We are not “classic” anything, we are trying to publish new voices, from a range of experiences. We embrace diversity in every possible way. There is so much exciting work going on in speculative fiction these days, seeping into all kinds of literary magazines.
ZD – Sounds ambitious, which is great. An aged brandy in an oversized chair kind of read, not a Pabst in a sports bar kind of read?
RT – Most definitely. Although being from St. Louis, there are some days where an ice cold Budweiser is what really hits the spot.
ZD – I hear you there. Will the realization of Gamut be dependent on a successful Kickstarter campaign?
RT – Most definitely. If we don’t raise the full $52,000 then this will not happen. But I’ve got a lot of ideas for after we make it. I’m talking to the Music Box Theatre here in Chicago, they’re excited to partner with me on some events. How much fun would it be to show Blade Runner on the big screen, or get Irvine Welsh to do a Q&A after watching Trainspotting? And we’ve got a few other things in mind.
ZD – That would be an awesome time. I’ve been a Cubs fan for nearly 30 years, how about something at Wrigley Field?
RT – How about those Cubbies? Was very exciting to watch them last year, for sure. I don’t know if I can sell out Wrigley, but man, I like the way you think!
ZD – When the work day, or writing session, is over how do you decompress?
RT – Usually it’s just relaxing with my wife and kids. I love movies, so I’m a big fan of what’s going on at A24—films like Enemy, Under the Skin, Ex Machina, and the upcoming The Witch, as well as other movies such as Spring, and It Follows. I read, always reading. And I love to get out of the house—tennis, biking, golf, hiking, etc.
Zd – The Witch does look fantastic, probably the movie I’m looking forward to the most right now.
RT – For sure, can’t wait to see it.
ZD – Who are you favorite authors and/ or books to read?
RT – Man, that’s so hard. Always King. Perdido Street Station by China Mieville is a favorite. I love the work of Will Christopher Baer, Craig Clevenger and Stephen Graham Jones—as far as the neo-noir crowd. My favorite book of 2014 was Bird Box by Josh Malerman, and my favorite of 2015 was Jeff VanderMeer’s Annihilation.
ZD – And the one book (any author/ any genre) you recommend most is?
RT – It’s really a tie between Perdido, Will Christopher Baer’s Kiss Me, Judas, and All the Beautiful Sinners by Stephen Graham Jones.
ZD – Very cool, I’ll have to check out some of those titles, as well as some of your titles.
RT – Thanks, please do, and let me know what you think.
ZD – Sure thing, you’ll be the first to know. Lastly, what’s your favorite scary movie?
RT – Of all time? Or recently? I’m kind of obsessed with Under the Skin, but I wouldn’t call it scary. The classics like The Omen and The Exorcist always got to me. There was something about Blair Witch, the ending, that really unsettled me.
ZD – Some good pics there. I’d have to agree completely with the ending to Blair Witch, it stayed with me for a long time. Where can people find you online?
RT – You can find me at http://www.whatdoesnotkillme.com, and then from there you can find everything I do—my books, my stories, Amazon, my Storyville column at LitReactor, my classes, Dark House Press, and of course, the Gamut Kickstarter.
ZD – Alright my man, thank you very much for your time and best of luck with Gamut and Kickstarter. I really hope that this project comes to fruition, it sounds like you have an amazing experience to offer readers. Do you have any last words?
RT – Thanks, Zakk. Sure, how about this: The opposite of love is not hate—it’s indifference. Whether it’s Gamut, or your own writing, or whatever labor of love you’ve been putting off—do it, do it now, there is never a perfect moment to risk breaking your heart. But you’ll never know if you don’t take the shot.
ZD – Perfect.
Be sure to check out the Kickstarter project page for Gamut Magazine, and if it speaks to you, pledge a little bit. It’s an exciting project with a lot of talented individuals involved. TMOM podcast is in, for sure.
Let us know what we’re doing wrong.