The Deep End author interview with Richard Thomas
Joe Mynhardt: Tell us a bit (or a lot) more about your childhood. Primary school, high school, etc. How do you think your experiences benefited or influenced your career?
Richard Thomas: I was always a big reader. Won a spelling bee in fifth grade, and a reading challenge in sixth grade for most books read. In high school English was always my best subject, and even classes like spelling and mythology really resonated with me. I was reading Stephen King by then, starting with The Shining, which scared the crap out of me.
Joe: Can you recall a moment where you had to choose between being an author/artist and another career? A decisive moment where you decided to go all out?
RT: For sure. I got into writing after seeing Fight Club, the movie. I went and read every book by Chuck Palahniuk and that woke me up, inspired me. I went to his website, The Cult, and hung out, taking classes with Max Barry (which got me my first novel, Transubstantiate), Monica Drake, Jack Ketchum (which got me Disintegration, my second novel, based on his idea to “write your worst fear”), and Craig Clevenger. That got me to The Velvet, another website, where I read CC, Will Christopher Baer (informing my neo-noir voice) and Stephen Graham Jones (who has been a huge influence and inspiration). Based on that success, and a story of mine, “Stillness”, getting into Shivers VI (Cemetery Dance) alongside Stephen King and Peter Straub, I decided to get my MFA. That was the first serious investment of time and money, but it wasn’t until last year that I decided to leave advertising where I’ve been a graphic designer and art director for 25 years, to write, edit, publish, and teach. I now do that full time.
Joe: How did you respond to your very first success as an author? Was it just rewarding, or did it motivate you even more? Or, did it perhaps feel underwhelmed, which motivated you to even greater heights?
RT: Getting that story, “Stillness”, into Shivers VI alongside King, I broke down and cried. My first true success as an author. I felt like maybe I didn’t totally suck, and that was the first time I got the thrill of the chase and win, and thought maybe this could become my career.
Joe: How has your career as an author affected relationships with friends and family?
RT: My family is very supportive, and it’s very exciting when I have big news. When I was able to take the advance money from my books Disintegration and Breaker and buy us a new AC for the house, my wife saw it was real money, and not just a hobby. My kids are big readers and really like what I’m doing (yes, they can read some of my work). My wife can’t handle the dark stories, haha. When I went to Transylvania to teach, when I went to UC-Riverside in California as a guest author, when I started teaching at the University of Iowa in the summer—they saw it was real, and how it might be something we could all share in, together. When we drove cross country to LA for The New Black release party that was a blast.
Joe: Which author most influenced your early career? And who still does?
RT: Early was King for sure, but I don’t write like him at all. I recently sold a story, “Nodus Tollens,” that was probably the first (out of 135 published to date) that actually sounded like him. For neo-noir, it’s definitely Baer. Stephen Graham Jones is a huge influence; he really raises the bar. For instance, his novel Mongrels (I saw an early draft and tried to buy it for Dark House Press but was too slow, but William Morrow did great with it) inspired my “we” story, “Asking for Forgiveness” (long-listed for Best Horror of the Year). His story, “Faberge”, which will be up at Gamut this month (July) inspired my story, “Undone,” which is a 1,500-word story in one sentence. I know, nuts. Anybody I’ve published in my anthologies or at Dark House Press or Gamut have influenced my work. In my MFA it was Denis Johnson, Mary Gaitskill, Cormac McCarthy, Joyce Carol Oates, Haruki Murakami and many others. I’m also a big fan of Benjamin Percy, Paul Tremblay, Damien Angelica Walters, Angela Slatter, Usman T. Malik, Brian Evenson, and so many other great voice. The list is huge.
Joe: Instead of just focussing on your most successful work, which story are you the proudest of, a story that managed to capture a piece of who you are?
RT: Wow, that’s tough. Disintegration is definitely my most personal novel. For short stories, maybe “Victimized” since it’s one of the few that’s a female POV, and the women I beta-tested it with said I did a good job with that aspect of it. It’s almost 7,000-words, so probably my longest short story. I really like the two that came out last year, “The Offering on the Hill” (Chiral Mad 3) and “Repent” (Gutted: Beautiful Horror Stories). I was able to somehow write and sell five stories so far in 2017, one, “Battle Not with Monsters”, landing at Cemetery Dance (again). Of course “Chasing Ghosts”, my first story in CD was a big deal. And the one I sold this year to Crystal Lake for Behold is very risky, thrilled that Doug liked it, “Hiraeth”. The work I’m doing this year is pretty out there. Hopefully people like it.
Joe: How do you feel when you don’t make your target words for the day?
RT: I don’t write every day. It’s either on or off, working or not. I write in spurts. But luckily I type fast (70 wpm) so I can write a 3,000-word story in a day. My best day was 12,000 words at the end of writing Breaker (currently up for a Thriller Award), in one day. I wrote 25,000 words in 25 days. My biggest week was 40,000 in five days, the second half of Disintegration. If the writing fails that day, I don’t dwell on it. It happens all the time. I step away, do something else, and come back to it.
Joe: What’s the most difficult topic for you to write?
RT: I try to avoid writing rape scenes, but there’s an intense on The Soul Standard, in my novella, Golden Geese. I also avoid molestation, incest, beastiality, etc. I’ve only really written one story with molestation, “Rudy Jenkins Buries His Fears”, and that was a really hard sell, took forever, even though he exacts justice and revenge. Landed in an anthology with Jack Ketchum. And the only real incest is a storyline in Breaker, but it’s not really true, not what it seems. Out of everything I’ve written, that’s it.
Joe: What do you do to distract you enough to actually relax a bit? Or do you always think about writing?
RT: I love good food, movies, reading, getting outside and doing something physical (hiking, tennis, golf, basketball, biking, games, etc.).
Joe: Outside of the actual craft, what is the most useful skill you learnt from being an author?
RT: That not everyone wants you to succeed. There are so many haters. And people constantly surprise me—good and bad. When we launched the Kickstarter for Gamut, which ended up raising $55,000, there were so many people who not only didn’t back it, but did very little to spread the word and support ANY of my efforts. That crushed me. And then they’d send me notes asking when the doors were opening, since they wanted that 10-cents a word paycheck. That hurt. A lot. But then there were people that stepped up and donated books (such as yourself, Joe!) and other items, friends who chipped in several thousand dollars, no strings attached, as we got close, making sure we made it. A total stranger donated $3,000 and when I asked her why, she just said it was important what we were doing, and to just make it happen. She’s now a student of mine, very talented, her work will be breaking out soon, I’m sure. Those people offset the others. Inspired me to keep going.
Joe: How did being author change you as a person?
RT: It taught me to go after my dreams and to never give up. I don’t think I realised how much my writing career meant to me until I started having success, and realised how fulfilling it was, how important it was to me. I live a different life now, and I fight for every moment.
Joe: Which response/comment from a reader has touched you the most throughout your career?
RT: There’s a note at the end of Breaker that talks about abuse (the main character Ray deals with abuse in his childhood and in fact the title comes from his working in underground fight clubs and trying to break the cycle of abuse). She said thank you so much for putting that at the end of the book, that she cried, but it meant so much what I had to say about survival, and how the light at the end of the tunnel isn’t always a train bearing down, but something a way out of the darkness. That meant a lot. A few people have reached out to say thanks for what I’m doing at Gamut, when it comes to diversity. I’ve had a few gay authors, and gender-fluid authors drop me notes, as well as authors from different countries around the globe, even just authors saying thanks for supporting women. Which means a lot. But to me, I guess I don’t feel like I’m doing anything special, it seems like the bare minimum, to not judge or rejected based on anything but the quality of the writing and how it fits in at Gamut. It’s part of why we read blind, but I also make an effort to let authors know that everyone is welcome.
Joe: What is your life-long goal as an author?
RT: To keep writing stories and novels, to be able to keep this dream alive, making a living as an author. It’s not easy. To make Gamut a huge success, to keep it going. Subscriptions have not been great, maybe 200 new since we launched. But if we can only get to double our base of 650, I think we can sustain just based on that. When you add in our editing services, our film series, our retreat, our first Best of Gamut anthology, and everything else—we have a shot. But it’s not going to be easy. I’d love to see some of my work adapted into films. When I write I can see it all unfurling, the film rolling. That would be amazing.
Joe: What legacy do you want to leave behind?
RT: Man, that’s a great question. I do think about it. I want my stories and novels to be worth reading in 10, 20, 100 years. I want them to be timeless. I know they won’t all survive, but I hope some will. I want to be part of the landscape, to be a name people recognise, and remember. And beyond that, I want to help other authors grow, find inspiration, evolve as writers, and make their mark. I’d like to help their dreams come true, as well.