The genre of “neo-noir” may not mean much to some of you. It is French for “new-black” and is a genre that breeds some bizarre and fantastic novels, Transubstantiate being one of them. I ordered Richard Thomas’ debut novel after seeing it advertised online, before I even finished it I knew I found something special, and contacted him immediately.
Richard Thomas is an up and coming author who I believe will one day be known as one of the prominant authors in the neo-noir / horror genre. He is featured in an upcoming anthology,Shivers VI, where he is published along side Stephen King and other fantastic authors.
1.) Transubstantiate, compared to most novels, focuses on large group of characters whose collective experiences or stories form a chapter. Did writing about so many different characters prove challenging?
It definitely did. I had to remember where each of the characters were, physically. I had to remember who knew what and at what time, and whether they knew the other characters knew certain things. I also tried to give each person their own identity, so somebody who is a pacifist and a bit of coward, like Jacob, they might run from a conflict, where somebody else like X or Gordon might thrive on conflict and violence. I’d often come back and then run through each character, like Jacob, chapters 1-5, just reading his story, to make sure it gelled. I tried to end each sub-chapter with something powerful, and then re-cap or pick it up in the next sub-chapter. It was very difficult. That’s probably why the next book I wrote was a single person, first person POV. If people want to read a sample of the novel they can head over to my blog as well, for the first chapter: http://whatdoesnotkillme.com/2009/03/24/transubstantiate/ if that sounds compelling.
2.) What was your inspiration for the apocalyptic, barren, wasteland that features in Transubstantiate?
I was heavily into Lost when I started this, but I actually completed it about halfway through the series. That, and Stephen King’s The Stand. But I wanted to keep it fast paced and in my usual tone, heavy settings, and a healthy mix of sex and violence. I’m also toying with the idea of doing something steampunk related for my third novel, and I’m a big fan of Stephen King’s The Dark Tower series, so that’s something that was kind of on my mind a little, the mix of nature and technology.
3.) You’re working on your new novel, Disintegration, what can you tell us about that?
It’s a neo-noir, transgressive thriller about a man who loses everything – his family, his mind, and his place on this earth. It’s a mix of the movie Falling Down and the television show Dexter. It’s much darker than Transubstantiate, but there are moments of humor and hope. It definitely is a tragedy. I think it’s some of my best work to date and I’m currently showing it to an agent that tracked me down and asked for it. I hope that works out. There’s a sample up at my blog at: http://whatdoesnotkillme.com/2009/06/16/disintegration/ if you’re interested.
4.) With Transubstantiate featuring so many different characters, do they all symbolise a part of you, or do you struggle to relate to some of them?
Good question. I think really, they all come from some aspect of my personality. While I’m not a killer, I do have a temper at times, but I’m also a family man, I’m a bit of a whore, but I’m also a child at times, full of wonder, full of innocence, and also bitter and jaded. I found some old notes, and originally I based them on the seven deadly sins. So there’s that for you as well, yeah?
5.) Transubstantiate is a neo-noir novel. How do you describe this genre to people who are not familiar with it, and who do you consider influences on your work?
Well, most people know what classic noir is, the old movies, Casablanca, The Maltese Falcon, L.A. Confidential, that kind of stuff. Neo-noir is just French for new-black, so to me it’s contemporary dark fiction. It’s not horror, in my opinion, it’s closer to noir – it’s the mood, the tone, the setting, and some people say it has to be tragic. I think of films like Blue Velvet and Mulholland Drive (David Lynch), Seven and Fight Club (David Fincher) and Memento and Inception (Christopher Nolan). Comics like Sin City, 100 Bullets. All of these were influences on me. As for authors, the closest were the Velvet trio of Will Christopher Baer, Stephen Graham Jones, and Craig Clevenger, also Dennis Lehane, Chuck Palahniuk, Craig Davidson, Brian Evenson, and many other voices.
6.) You have a story published in the upcoming Shivers VI, how did that happen and what is your story in the collection about?
That was pure luck, a real gift. I wrote “Stillness” in an intensive at The Cult (http://www.chuckpalahniuk.net) when I took a class with Craig Clevenger. At some point he dropped me a note and said send it off, it’s perfect, it’s ready. So I did.
I had little faith in it, but I sent it to the best places going. I knew some of the guys over at Cemetery Dance, and knew that SGJ had published there, as well as, of course, King, Straub, Ketchum, many others. They told me there were backlogged at CD magazine but would I be interested in having it in Shivers. I didn’t know what that was. I was kind of disappointed at first. I looked back at all of the previous five issues, and there were some good names in there, nobody HUGE, but solid, award-winning authors. So I said yes.
A year, maybe two go by. Still waiting for this to come out. I keep talking to Brian Freeman at CD, because I’ve bought a ton of books from CD over the years (big King collector) and he keeps teasing me saying, this is going to be the best issue yet. I didn’t dare dream that we’d get King. When the announcement came out that not only did we have a novella by King, but also work by Straub in there, well, I was floored. I may have screamed, then cried. It really is a dream come true, something that I never thought would happen. I’m lucky, and very grateful, to everyone at CD (Brian Freeman, Richard Chizmar, Norman Prentiss) for taking this story, and being so kind and generous to me ever since.
“Stillness” is about a guy at the end of the world who has one job: to push a button that sends flames into the air, burning up a variety of creatures that are out in the dark, there at a gateway that separates an endless desert with the rest of the world. He’s alone, waiting to go home, and he misses his family. It’s been years now with no contact. And then things changed. It’s not at all what it seems.
7.) How does it feel to be published in a collection along with Stephen King and other greats?
It’s unreal. I feel like I have at least THIS minor bit of history. They sold out the 75 signed/limited editions at $175 a pop in one day. The same for the 175 hardcover copies at $40 each. The first print run for paperbacks is now sold out too. On to the second printing. I know that people will take that leather-bound $175 issue and put it on their shelves, keep it forever. And I’m a part of that. It’s surreal. The one thing I always feared was being irrelevant, of nobody ever enjoying or noticing or remembering my work. This is a small thing, one story, but it means a lot to me. And it’s a story I really like too, so I feel good having it in there.
8.) You have been published in print and in collections online, what advice do you have for aspiring writers hoping to be published in some medium?
Do both. Put your work out there wherever you can, any place that you’re proud to be. My rule of thumb is: if Stephen Graham Jones has published there, then it’s good enough for me. Same for Kyle Minor, Blake Butler, Paul Tremblay – anybody that impresses me on a regular basis. Stephen has easily 100+ stories out there.
Also, read. Read all the time, everyone in your genre and similar genres and anybody that excites you. It’ll show you how to do it. Read the Best American Short Stories series, the Best American Mystery Stories, all of it. See what they’re doing right.
As for submitting, SEND IT OUT. When you’ve gone over it a dozen times, can’t look at it anymore, and don’t know what more to do, you’ve workshopped it, and it’s ready, send it. Aim high, aim for a “cool” place, but send it out, a dozen places at a time, but do your research. Make sure it’s a good fit. Don’t shotgun. Read an issue if it’s possible (library, used bookstore, ebay, etc.) or even better, subscribe. Support those indie journals.
One other thing that Richard Bausch mentioned when he came down to my MFA program at Murray State University in Kentucky. Search for that emotional truth. It’ll resonate with your audience. That’s what I’m trying to do now, with my literary short stories, with my dark fiction, long and short. We can all relate to loss, to betrayal, to love, to hope, whether it’s on Mars, or in the middle of a desert, or in a tower twenty stories high, locked away for eternity making tiny, wind-up birds. The setting isn’t important, the truth, the emotion, that is.
9.) Would you consider writing a sequel to Transubstantiate, or any future novels, or do you believe that the original work should be left untouched, and potentially uncorrupted by future work?
I left the end of the book open. It can be continued if I want to. But it was difficult to write. People ask me if I’ll continue it all the time, and I think, if and when the people in that novel call out to me, if their story is compelling enough, if I stare at my ceiling one night and plot out a possible way to open it, to continue it, then I may do that. I loved The Dark Tower, all seven books, but some more than others. The opening line still gives me chills: “The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed.” I just know it’s an epic adventure about to start. SO, who knows. Maybe someday I’ll continue Transubstantiate.
10.) What other types of books do you plan on releasing in your career, and how would you carry on with your career after identifying a piece of work as your magnum opus?
I don’t think I’ll have a “magnum opus” as I usually think my work sucks. If some day society deems something that great, well, it would probably just excite me to write more.
As for other books. There’s Disintegration, which is more neo-noir, but not speculative. It’s straight neo-noir as far as I see it. After that, as I said, I’m toying with the idea of a steampunk novel. Beyond that? Maybe straight horror, or science fiction. I’m trying to get into comics and graphic novels too. Depends on what I’m into, what inspires me, and what story I feel that I’m able to tell. But I hope I can keep growing and improving, learning from past mistakes, and continue to entertain the people that enjoy my work, who make it possible for me to put my work out there. That support, that random love I get on Facebook or in an e-mail or at a convention, like AWP, makes it all worthwhile, and drives me to write more