Richard Thomas writes about the dark and strange. I first read his collection of stories called Staring into the Abyss. A few of those stories hit a nerve, and that rarely happens for me. I’m now devouring his Tribulations.
Richard has an extensive list of accomplishments that you can read about on his website, What Does Not Kill Me. He was the editor-in-chief of Gamut, an online magazine of neo-noir, speculative fiction with a literary bent, and is also a writing instructor. I’m thrilled to say that I am enrolled at the ‘University of Richard” and will be part of his class next fall!
Richard Thomas is also part of †3Dark’s Issue #2 – Cursed Crossings and was kind enough to talk about his writing and the genre of dark fiction with me. You’ll be surprised how his writing career started!
Tell us a little bit about your background. Where are you from? What did you want to be when you grew up? What made you become a writer?
I grew up in a suburb of St. Louis, called Webster Groves. My high school was on the cover of Time magazine as an “All-American City” and the Cardinals won the World Series about that time. Author Jonathan Franzen went to my school. I always loved to read, and write, from grade school on up. Won a spelling bee in 5th grade. Most books read by a 6th grader. I took a vocabulary class in high school as an elective—for fun! That and mythology. In college I studied advertising, but every spare class I had I took psychology, philosophy, and writing classes. When I got into advertising, as a designer, I loved it. One day, at the age of 40, I woke up and realized I was very unhappy. I saw the movie Fight Club, realized it was based on the book by Chuck Palahniuk, and proceeded to read all of his books, took some classes, and at the urging of one teacher, Craig Clevenger, submitted my story, “Stillness,” which ended up in Shivers VI alongside Peter Straub and Stephen King. I always wanted to be a writer. It just took me a long time to get serious about it.
‘The best horror stories ripple outward after its all over like a stone in a pond. We feel complicit, we have witnessed something—and it very well may turn its gaze upon us now.’—Richard Thomas @richardgthomas3 #horror #shortstories… Click To Tweet
Your story URGENT! Do Not Delete. is a powerful punch in less than 500 words. What do you like about writing flash fiction? Is it more or less challenging for you than longer fiction?
Thank you for the kind words. I love flash fiction. It’s very hard, I think, as you just don’t have the room to expand, so you have to infer, things have to happen off the page, and you have to really do double duty with every phrase. You STILL have to have all of the essentials—the Freytag elements—narrative hook, inciting incident, internal and external conflict, resolution, change, and denouement. It’s definitely more challenging. Stephen King said, and I paraphrase, that a novel is like a marriage, and a short story is like a stolen kiss in an alley. So what does that make flash? A secret glance, a close brush in the grocery aisle, a whisper in the dark?
You’re a master and teacher of dark fiction. What are the origins of this genre? What do you think about its future?
Well, I wouldn’t say master, I’m still learning, still reading the Best Horror of the Year and trying to figure out how to get in, but I do write a wide range of dark fiction, and enjoy teaching it, as well. To me, contemporary dark fiction is more than horror, it’s more than fantasy, and it can also include science, as well as the transgressive. The whole new-weird movement and neo-noir are very interesting to me. The films of A24, the slew of hybrid, genre-bending work—that’s what appeals to me the most. In the introduction to an anthology I edited, The New Black, Laird Barron spoke about neo-noir being the intersection of hardboiled and horror. And Jeff VanderMeer talked of the new-weird, in his anthology, The Weird, pairing the old weird (Lovecraft) with the visceral body horror of Clive Barker, to get something contemporary and intense. To me, the best dark fiction is original, surprising, emotional, immersive, and full of setting, atmosphere, and intellect. It’s not just splatter and gore, it’s not the same old formulas and monsters. The future of dark fiction is very exciting, and I’m happy to play a small role in its expansion and development. I’m really just chasing Stephen Graham Jones, Livia Llewellyn, Brian Evenson, and others like them.
‘It’s not just splatter and gore, it’s not the same old formulas and monsters. The future of dark fiction is very exciting, and I’m happy to play a small role in its expansion and development.’—Richard Thomas @richardgthomas3… Click To Tweet
Why do you think it’s important to write about the dark and horrific elements of our consciousness and the human experience?
To get beyond it, to see that we can survive, to have that brush with death and darkness. It’s cathartic, it’s a thrill—it’s why we ride rollercoasters, why we camp out in the woods, why we tell stories around a fire. We need to face our demons (literally and figuratively). I know as an author I’m able to work out subjects, issues, stories, nightmares, and images that haunt me, taboo subjects, personal failures, and my own fears. It’s all very personal. When done well, I think the author gets as much out of it as the readers. The best horror stories ripple outward after its all over like a stone in a pond. We feel complicit, we have witnessed something—and it very well may turn its gaze upon us now.
Who are your favorite writers and why?
So many. I grew up reading King, but really, if I’m honest, his last couple of books haven’t been very good. But the first 50, really solid. LOL. I read across horror, fantasy, science fiction, thriller, neo-noir, transgressive—so many voices. Literary, too. But if we want to focus on the dark stuff, wow, well, here are some names of people that I’ve been reading lately: Damien Angelica Walters, Kristi DeMeester, Paul Tremblay, Jeff VanderMeer, China Mieville, Victor LaValle, Adam Nevill, Brian Hodge, Angela Slatter, Benjamin Percy, Cassandra Khaw, Sarah Read, Craig Wallwork, Dino Parenti, Mercedes M. Yardley, E. Catherine Tobler, Eric Reitan, Kurt Fawver, Helen Marshall, Jac Jemc, Karen Runge, Kate Jonez, Letitia Trent, Lindsay Hunter, Lisa Morton, Lucy Snyder, Samantha Irby, Steve Rasnic Tem, and Rebecca Jones-Howe. All of them are original, compelling, emotional, and fulfilling.
I’m honored to be featured in Project †3 Dark alongside author Richard Thomas. I’m chomping a the bit to begin his class (I admit, I had to google Freytag elements). Thank you for imparting your wisdom, Richard!
Connect with author Richard Thomas
Now it's up to you...
and Anthony Self.
Bring the next issue to life!