Interview with Richard Thomas
Richard Thomas is a brilliant author, and he’s Editor-in-Chief at Dark House Press. Richard has taken time out of his busy schedule to chat with me about Smurfs, Gamut Magazine, and other topics.
Jeremy C. Shipp: Hi, Richard. Welcome to my little chthonic cave. I hope you didn’t have any problems finding your way here.
Richard Thomas: Hey, Jeremy. Thanks. Just followed the trail of bones, and the colony of bats that came streaming out of the opening. No worries.
JCS: First of all, I should ask the question that’s on everyone’s mind. Do you believe that eating live Smurfs is morally wrong?
RT: I’d have to say yes—no matter how juicy or delicious they might be. Eating anything that’s still alive is pretty cruel. Smurf is a little gamey for my taste, anyway.
JCS: We’ll have to agree to disagree. Anyway, if you were a supervillain, what creatures would you want as your trusty minions?
RT: Huh. Minions—something prehistoric, maybe? Pterodactyl? I wrote a flash fiction piece about a Gandaberunda, a two-headed mythological bird. Those would be cool. Although I do have a slight fear of flying monkeys from my childhood Wizard of Oz days—so maybe that’s too close. As a kid, when asked what animal I wanted to be, it was always a cheetah.
JCS: Which multiverse hypothesis do you find most compelling?
RT: I have a lot of beliefs—some which may contradict each other. I believe in reincarnation, but I want to believe there is some kind of heaven. I believe in ghosts, that there are aliens out there, life on other planets. I’d like to believe in parallel dimensions. I’ve seen some wild things in my life, time rewinding, and playing back, which makes me think what we believe to be true is probably not very accurate. I also love The Matrix. There’s the end of Interstellar to consider, too. Whether you want to apply Occam’s Razor, or believe in quilted, brane, cyclic, or inflationary multiverses, I think we probably know only a fraction of what’s really going on.
JCS: What would you do if you met your doppelganger?
RT: I think there would probably be a handful of gut responses—kill it, have a conversation, or pretend you didn’t see it. I’d probably want to sit down and talk, try to understand what was going on, because it would certainly shake my reality. Saw a movie recently, Enemy, with Jake Gyllenhaal that was really interesting, about a doppelganger. There are days I feel that this is all a dream, and there are days where I feel that I’ve lived this life before. Who knows?
JCS: What question would you least like me to ask? And can you answer that question?
RT: I’m sure I’ve got some skeletons in my closets I’d prefer to leave there. And no, I’d prefer not to get into that.
JCS: How do you deal with withered hands growing out of your walls?
RT: You know, a hand, by it’s definition and nature, just wants to touch—it wants to hold, stroke, caress—just wants to be loved, like the rest of us. They want to feel valued, and special, a part of something. And withered, I imagine there would already be some self-conscious doubt, not the hands they used to be, all of the young, soft hands getting the attention. So, the way I deal with MY withered hands growing out of MY walls is to embrace them—I let them get to work, in a number of ways. Very exciting. The future of publishing, I think.
JCS: By George, I think you’re right. If Earth were an egg, what do you believe would hatch from it?
RT: LOL. Good question. I think it could go one of two ways—all of the love, and peace, and kindness could give birth to some kind of beautiful, angelic creature (why am I thinking about the baby at the end of 2001?) or it could be the opposite—all of our hatred, fear and violence born in some demonic, mythic, destructive beast. Depends on if you’re a half-full or half-empty kind of guy, I think.
JCS: Do you have a favorite Bizarro author/filmmaker/artist?
RT: Oh, man, that’s tricky. I was just thinking about this the other day. The first story I ever published was a bit of bizarro at Opium Magazine, entitled “Animal Magnetism” about a couple that gets a series of animal parts attached, in order to make their sex life better. I think the opening line was something like, “It started out with the elephant penis and went downhill from there.” Bradley Sands passed on it for Beat Down the Door and Eat All the Chickens, but suggested Opium. Which brings me to a reading Bradley did at an AWP event, maybe in Denver, where he read a story about soccer moms that just had the room in stitches, so funny. I laughed so much. So, I think I’ll always have a soft spot for Bradley.
JCS: What is the origin story of your interest in neo-noir and transgressive fiction?
RT: I think it all starts with Chuck Palahniuk’s Fight Club. I saw the movie, and it woke me up. I found his books, and read everything he had out, starting with Choke, Survivor, Diary, Lullaby, etc. That got me to The Velvet, a website for Will Christopher Baer, Craig Clevenger and Stephen Graham Jones. Those guys really spoke to me, the way they bent genres to create dark, lyrical stories that were both exciting and literary, ticking off all of the flavors—salty, sweet, sour, bitter, and umami. I didn’t know you could write like that. I read some wild authors in college, William Burroughs, for example, but I grew up reading Stephen King and John Grisham, popular writers, mostly. Later, when I got my MFA, I’d study the dark sheep of the literary world—Denis Johnson, Mary Gaitskill, Cormac McCarthy, Joyce Carol Oates, Haruki Murakami, Toni Morrison, etc. So, for me, the ideal story, or novel finds the sweet spot between genre and lit, between visceral and introspective, between tension and lyricism. That’s what I try to write, and that’s what I like to edit and publish.
JCS: Can you tell us a bit about Gamut magazine?
RT: Sure. It’s an online magazine I’m Kickstarting on 2/1/16. It will focus on fiction, with new stories out every Monday, reprints every Thursday, with columns sprinkled in, and poetry, as well. If we can hit a few stretch goals, we’ll expand to more non-fiction, a Flash Fiction Friday, and a Saturday Night Special (which would be a serialization of Stripped: A Memoir, to start). We’ll focus on the kind of genres we’ve been talking about here—fantasy, science fiction, horror, transgressive, magical realism, neo-noir, Southern gothic, bizarro, and new weird—all with a literary bent. It won’t be “classic” in any sense of the word, but contemporary dark fiction. If Gamut were a film it would be directed by David Fincher, Christopher Nolan, or David Lynch. We need to raise $52,000, and the bulk of that will come from an annual subscription of $30, for over 400,000 words of fiction, new art every week, and much more. After the Kickstarter, the regular rate will be $60/year, or $5/ month. We will NEVER offer the $30/year rate again. AND, as long as you keep renewing, you can keep that rate indefinitely. If you’ve read any of my writing, the books I’ve published at Dark House Press, and/or the four anthologies I’ve edited—The New Black and Exigencies (Dark House Press), Burnt Tongues, with Chuck Palahniuk and Dennis Widmyer (Medallion), or The Lineup: 20 Provocative Women Writers (Black Lawrence Press)—then you’re probably familiar with my aesthetic.
JCS: Where do you see Gamut in 10 years? And where do you see it after the Singularity?
RT: I’d like us to be an important part of the landscape—alongside publications like Tor, Nightmare, Apex, F&SF, Clarkesworld, Black Static, Shock Totem, etc. I’d like to see us continue to grow, to gain the kind of following that Tin House and A24 Films have—passionate fans that are invested in what we do. This is all in progress—people can make suggestions, help us to shape and form Gamut, into something special. Hopefully. As for after the Singularity, hopefully Gamut will just start running itself and I can chill out on a beach in Hawaii and sip on Piña Coladas for the rest of my life.
JCS: Perhaps a pterodactyl butler could serve you the drinks? Thank you kindly for taking the time to answer my questions. Here’s a complementary bag of fresh ectoplasm.
RT: My pleasure. Great questions, Jeremy. Oh, and thanks, I just ran out, this saves me a trip to the store.
JCS: *backs away and fades into the shadows*
If you feel so inclined, check out Gamut Magazine’s kickstarter campaign right here.
Richard Thomas is the author of seven books: Three novels, Disintegration and Breaker (Random House Alibi), and Transubstantiate (Otherworld Publications); three short story collections, Tribulations (Crystal Lake), Staring Into the Abyss (Kraken Press), and Herniated Roots (Snubnose Press); as well as one novella of The Soul Standard (Dzanc Books). With over 100 stories published, his credits include Cemetery Dance, PANK, Gargoyle, Weird Fiction Review, Midwestern Gothic, Arcadia, Qualia Nous, Chiral Mad 2 & 3, Gutted, and Shivers 6. He has won contests at ChiZine and One Buck Horror, and has received five Pushcart Prize nominations to date. He is also the editor of four anthologies: Exigencies and The New Black (Dark House Press), The Lineup: 20 Provocative Women Writers (Black Lawrence Press) and Burnt Tongues (Medallion Press) with Chuck Palahniuk (finalist for the Bram Stoker Award). In his spare time he is a columnist at LitReactor and Editor-in-Chief at Dark House Press. He has taught at LitReactor, the University of Iowa, StoryStudio Chicago, and in Transylvania. His agent is Paula Munier at Talcott Notch. For more information visit www.whatdoesnotkillme.com.