Sadie Hartmann: Richard, thank you so much for chatting with me today-I know this is a crazy time
Richard Thomas: For sure. My pleasure!
SH: You wear a lot of hats! I know you write, edit, teach classes, what has a typical day looked like for you this year?
RT: LOL typical? I wish I could say. Some days you just pull the covers over your head and don't get up. But mostly, with my kids in high school (remotely) and the wife working from home as well, it's a crowded house. Fun, loving house, but not a lot of quiet. Right now, I'm mostly focused on my classes and teaching at Storyville.
I have a Contemporary Dark Fiction class that meets on Tuesdays (via Skype), my Advanced Creative Writing Workshop that meets on Wednesdays, and my Novel Workshop 365 that meets once a month. I just wrapped up my Short Story Mechanics class at LitReactor.com. which I teach three times a year, and then I edit work privately.
So, it really depends on the day. I have stories to read for my classes, their work, as well as things we're talking about in class. I need to refresh and re-read every time we cover an essay, a column, a story, and/or a book. But I love re-reading Bird Box, Annihilation, Come Closer, and Perdido Street Station. So, some days it's almost all for the classes. Other days I work on private editing clients. In-between I'm usually interacting with classes or people on Facebook or Twitter, or doing my own thing. My writing has definitely suffered over the last four years, but I have managed to get SOME work done. About 3-6 stories a year, including some longer work (novelettes recently). I'm trying to write a new book, this weird arctic horror sin-eater thing, but it's been elusive. I'm on deadline for a few stories, and just had a new idea I'm actually excited about, so hopefully that will happen soon. I have new work out in Cemetery Dance and the PRISMS anthology still this year but those have taken 3-5 years to come to fruition. I have NO new stories just sitting here.
SH: PRISMS sounds awesome. I'm looking forward to it. You can see the TOC on Richard's website, HERE
It makes me happy to see that you have been adaptable during this difficult season and you have found a way. So it seems like the mechanics of storytelling and writing has been more of a focus and maybe the creative/writing side has taken a back seat--is that accurate?
RT: For sure. I know that I can always talk about stories, I can always edit, as it's more of a learned skill. Though on our Skype calls we have lively discussions, and I'm always thinking of ways for my students to be more creative, more innovative, to avoid cliches and tropes. And sometimes it's easier to talk about other people's work than my own. I've been writing for 12 years now, and while I KNOW that perfection is the enemy of good, I still have very lofty goals with my work. If it isn't a story that I feel can be very good, something special, I'm not interested in telling it. For me, it's feast or famine. It's either working or it's not. On my BEST days I've written stories that were 6,000+ words—started with nothing, wrote it, edited it, put it aside, turned it in for a deadline, done. I once wrote 12,000 words of my third novel Breaker in one day. 76,000 words in 25 days. And it got a Thriller Award nomination. Wrote 40,000 words of my second novel, Disintegration, in a week. AND then I'll have days that net me ZERO. If I can find the voice, the angle, the heart, the weirdness, the nugget of something original and unsettling—I'm off to the races. Doesn't always come, though.
SH: And I'm sure it takes an incredible amount of concentration and focus to be that dedicated to the craft, which as been difficult in 2020 to say the least
RT: Exactly. It's hard to find an hour of peace and clarity, let alone two or three. I feel like I'm always juggling. I'm thinking about it right now, Sadie, LOL...how can I find a day to write that next story, because I really like the idea, and want to get to it. The fact that I'm EXCITED, that's a big deal. Haven't been excited to write a story in a while.
SH: That's awesome! Fresh inspiration and that rush of creativity is such a gift these days.
RT: And when you're physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually drained? For me? Nothing comes. I put a lot of myself in my work, and it takes a lot out of me, I'm often drained when I'm done. Have to have something to GIVE first.
RT: Has this been a subject in your classes that you have worked through with your students this year? What's the advice you usually give them
RT: God bless them, they've been able to create. I hope that I'm pushing and inspiring and helping them move forward. We all seem to be drawn to a bit more hope in our work. Much of my work the last four years has been more hopeful, more "hopepunk," as I just can't write super bleak right now. I tell them the same things I'm telling myself—find a cool idea, something you are into, and write to your strengths, start with an idea or emotion, and just run, don't worry about it, use your emotions to feel your way forward. For me, that's maximalism, so I'll lean into the setting and sensory details. But the idea has to come first. And luckily they can come from anywhere—falling asleep, dreams, television and film, music, nature, the world around us, etc.
My novelette, "Ring of Fire" is a good example of that hope, amidst the darkness.
SH: I love that! Very powerful encouragement. I find that just being supportive of one other's efforts, no matter how small those efforts or accomplishments, goes a long way
Also, I love "Ring of Fire"!
RT: For sure. And you have to be okay with not creating some days. That's okay too.
SH: You also edit anthologies, anything on the horizon we should know about?
RT: That's a great question. I haven't edited one in a few years, and I'm definitely itching to do it again. I don't have anything in the works, really, the re-release of Burnt Tongues that I co-edited with Chuck Palahniuk and Dennis Widmyer just came out with Turner Publishing. I may be doing something else with them, too. My work. And I have been thinking about doing a hopepunk anthology, chatted with one new press, but nothing firm yet. It's a lot of work, and if I'm going to do it, it has to be done right—good pay, great art, excellent people, enough time to get good stories, etc. But I'd love to do one again, hopefully soon.
SH: I hope you do, Richard. The New Black is one of my favorite anthologies of all time
RT: Thank you! It's so many of my favorite stories, love those authors, and Laird Barron wrote such an amazing intro. I teach it in my Contemporary Dark Fiction class, so revisiting those stories often—Brian Evenson, SGJ, Paul Tremblay, Benjamin Percy, Lindsay Hunter, Craig Davidson...love those stories.
SH: I was just going to ask you if you had a favorite short story!
Probably too many to choose from--
RT: Whew. That's tough. I tend to start and finish anthologies with the best work—the best story last and second best, first. So, SGJ's "Father, Son, Holy Rabbit" is first, and Brian's "Windeye" ends it. I always thought that if the first three—SGJ, then Paul's "It's Against the Law to Feed the Ducks" and Lindsay Hunter's "That Baby" could make you cry, I'd have done my job. LOL But I DO love them all. Micaela Morrisette's "The Familiars" was in Jeff VanderMeer's massive bible, The Weird, and that's a great one, too. Percy's "Dial Tone" Is amazing. So many. LOL
SH: Hah! You're like me, it's too hard to narrow these things down. I love how after I review a book, I can always count on a comment from you on Goodreads telling me how much you enjoyed it too--I think horror is the greatest common denominator sometimes
RT: Right on! I mean, if an anthology of 15-20 stories can blow you away with HALF I think that's good. Revisiting TNB I still love them all. I mean, this was essentially me seeking out the best stories I'd ever read. The only one I couldn't get was "The Paperhanger" by William Gay. He passed away, the estate was not responsive, etc.
SH: It must be so fun to take a class from you! Can you tell us more about how people can sign up for those or when to expect them? It's an annual thing at LitReactor right?
I teach at LitReactor.com four times a year. Usually Short Story Mechanics (two weeks) in Jan, April, Oct and my Flash Fiction class in July. For Storyville, we run Contemporary Dark Fiction twice—16 weeks, once starting in January and once starting in September. (Though in 2021 we are offering FOR THE FIRST TIME a Contemporary Dark Fiction class that has Skype calls at 8 PM London (Greenwich Mean) time. For the UK/European students that don't want to get up at 2 AM. We offer my Advanced Creative Writing Workshop three times, for 16 weeks each, again starting in January, May, September. The Novel Workshop 365 (where you write a novel in a year) runs all year. Of the 2021 classes, the novel class is sold out, as is the January CDF/ACWW. The others are filling up now. We do also offer my SSM class in an "at your own pace" version on the site as well. So you can take it at any time, at your own pace. I also will be teaching at Clarion West in 2021, but that hasn't been nailed down yet, as far as what and when. MIGHT be the new-weird in the fall.
SH: All of this sounds like a great resource for writers. I’m excited to share this with the Horror community.
RT: Thanks. Being online really makes it possible to work with authors from all over the world. Running Dark House Press and Gamut, I loved seeing work from so many different perspectives—men and women, authors of color, different orientations and gender, different cultures, cities, and countries. So exciting to see a more GLOBAL POV. In my classes right now I have authors from all over the US, Canada, UK, AUS, NZ, Poland, Columbia, etc.
Well, I can’t believe our hour is up! --is there anything you want our Night Worms to know? We will make sure to let them know where they can find you online...
RT: Oh thanks, Sadie, yes let me add a few final thoughts here.
First, if there is any way I can help you to grow as an author, if you need anything—resources, help, advice—just reach out. You don't have to be in my classes to seek me out. You can find me on Facebook and Twitter and Instagram. My blog has a lot of links and information as well (http://www.whatdoesnotkillme.com) and all of my classes are at Storyville (https://storyvilleonline.com/). You can find my LitReactor.com class at https://litreactor.com/classes/upcoming. And I also have an ongoing column there, with some 130 entries covering craft, genre, process, the industry, etc. It's free and covers a lot of ground. (https://litreactor.com/tags/storyville) Keep writing, and put into your work whatever it is that makes YOU unique. Put your heart, soul, blood, sweat, and tears on the page. You have a story to tell, something that nobody can tell, and the way that you will tell it, is something different, special, and powerful. Share it with us. Keep honing your craft. Never give up, never surrender, right? Don't let the bastards get you down. We'll come out of this with so many stories to tell, tapping into our hopes and fears. I want to hear them. Good luck!