Richard Thomas – Storyville Studio

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QStoryville Studio has officially launched. Congratulations! So, you’ve been editing and offering writing classes for a long time, and have edited some outstanding authors. What differentiates Storyville from the work you’ve done previously?

RT – Thanks for having me! You guys are doing great work.

Well, I wanted to have a dedicated place for all of my classes—a portal to LitReactor.com (Short Story Mechanics and Flash Fiction); a way to professionally present my Contemporary Dark Fiction, Advanced Creative Writing, and Novel in a Year classes; and a way to expand into new offerings, such as Day of Reckoning. So, what’s new? How does this differentiate? I think it presents my offerings in a way that feels more like a university, a business, a professional environment vs. my old website and blog. Day of Reckoning is something we did at Gamut, so it’s a class I’ve done before, but NEVER with so many amazing teachers and new sessions. I mean, take a look at this list of authors: Carina Bissett, S. L. Coney, Brian Evenson, Brian Hodge, Sarah Gailey, Lindsay Hunter, Gabino Iglesias, John Langan, Livia Llewellyn, Jacklyn Dre Marceau, Sarah Read, Kelly Robson, Eden Royce, Karen Runge, Priya Sharma, Angela Slatter, Lucy A. Snyder, A.C. Wise, Mercedes M. Yardley, and Richard Wood.

Q – Storyville feels like a writing and editing empire! Do you have plans to continue expanding it?

RT – Thanks! Yes, for sure. Adding back in Day of Reckoning is one way we are already expanding—monthly sessions, whereas at Gamut we just did it a few times. We’ve added in an “at your own pace” version of Short Story Mechanics. And we include my editing services, a resources section, and we also have plans to add more stand-alone classes by other instructors down the road. I’m surrounded by a ton of amazing authors and I wanted to give them the opportunity to share what they know—about writing, submitting, editing, publishing, promoting, etc.

Q – Clearly, writers need editors and mentors to help them improve. Do you have a key writing coach or mentor? How have they developed your work?

RT – Well, yes, I’d say that I have a few people that have helped me evolve.

I have considered Stephen Graham Jones an unofficial mentor in that I’ve spoken to him over the years, sought out his advice, read his writing, edited his work, and published many of his stories. I’ve been lucky to hang out with him a few times too—at AWP in Colorado, and when he had me out to the UC-Riverside MFA as a guest author. He’s an inspiration, his writing teaching me so much over the years.

I got a lot of great advice in MFA program, but always thought my thesis advisor hated me, until he introduced me at my graduation and reading and I started crying. He said that I was already doing great work (he was so HARD ON ME) and that if anyone would be the next Stephen King from our program, it’d be me. Meant the world to me.

I’ve taken classes with the aforementioned SGJ, as well as Jack Ketchum (RIP), Monica Drake, Max Barry, and Craig Clevenger and each one of them had a major influence on m work. Stephen I’ve mentioned, Monica I’ve met up with a few times IRL, Max got me to my first novel (Transubstantiate), and Craig not only was a huge neo-noir influence on my writing, but pushed me to get my work out there, and that story, “Stillness” ended up in Shivers VI (Cemetery Dance) alongside Stephen King, Peter Straub, Brian Keene, and Brian Hodge.

And, I’d add the major craft books of my life: On Writing by Stephen King (a huge influence); Wonderbook by Jeff Vandermeer (his novel Annihilation directly informing my latest novella, “Ring of Fire”); Writing 21st Century Fiction by Donald Maass (super-agent, and such a nice guy); Thrill Me! by Benjamin Percy (an author I’ve published, his writing an excellent blend of genre/lit fiction); and of course Chuck Palahniuk who inspired me to start writing at the age of 40, with his new craft book, Consider This.

Q – So, you’ve assembled some serious talent to teach at Storyville, including Mercedes M. Yardley, Brian Evenson, Livia Llewellyn, Brian Hodge, Angela Slatter, Lucy Snyder, Priya Sharma and many, many more! How did you go about assembling this dream team? And in what ways are they offering instruction?

RT – Most of the people I already knew—published alongside them, published them at Gamut or Dark House Press, they published me, etc. The ones I didn’t know yet, I probably am teaching in my classes, most likely the Advanced Creative Writing Workshop, where their stories ended up in the “best of the year” anthologies. Some are past students. I try to surround myself by talented people, because I learn so much from them all. You know—birds of a feather…

Most of them are involved with the Day of Reckoning class. That’s a one day class we’re offering monthly in 2020. Each day includes seven one hour lectures and sessions covering a wide range of topics—craft, genre, process, submissions, marketing, etc. I’ll be moderating those Skype calls. On top of that each student gets to send a story to all seven instructors and myself. So that could be eight stories to eight authors or one story to all eight, or any combination. The feedback you get, it’s not editing, but I’d equate it to what you HOPE to hear from editors at the top publications if you get in (or don’t get in) and some guidance on how to make your story better. These authors are publishing in the best markets, getting nominated for (and winning) major awards, making it into the “best of the year” anthologies. It went over well when we did it with Gamut, and I think it’s a very affordable way to continue your education, quickly (in one day), and evolve as an author.

Q – What’s one major thing you hope students take away from Storyville classes?

RT – Great question. I want authors to find their voice. So to me that means studying the masters in the genres they write, as well as contemporary authors, to understand the story form, the expectations of the various styles and genres, and to figure out where THEY fit in. I used to write more neo-noir than speculative (fantasy, SF, horror) and when I read people like Dennis Lehane, Will Christopher Baer, Craig Clevenger, and Stephen Graham Jones—it helped me to see what was possible, to believe that my stories had a place in the world. That’s so important.

Q – Your Advanced Creative Writing class is like an MFA in both reading and writing outstanding short stories. You guide students to examine great stories that have appeared in The Best Horror of the Year, The Best Fantasy & Science Fiction, and even The Best American Short Stories, then help people harness these for their own work. Recently, you’ve had a short story, “The Caged Bird Sings In A Darkness Of Its Own Creation,” published in Storgy’s very own Shallow Creek. Can you share any secrets as to the process of writing that story?

RT – There is so much to be learned by reading those annuals—what’s selling, how are authors innovating across genre, and who is accepting that work. Invaluable.

As far as my process? That was a very tricky story to write. We had, as you know, a world that was set up (Shallow Creek) and there was so much excellent material to look at—the background and history, character profiles, and even some other stories (I got to peek) that including my protagonist, Krinkles. I studies that, the videos, read everything I could—even studied the map to figure out where I should set it.

I knew right away that I didn’t want to write a standard “clown horror story,” so that was the first obstacle. I decided to write it in three or four acts (ended up being four) to try and look at different times in his life. I wanted to start at a less obvious place, so that ended up being him as an old man, with remnants of the clown life and the supernatural around him—isolated in a cabin in the woods. Some strange elements crept in—tall shadowy creatures watching him from the forest line, a red nose he pulls off, bleeding, that reappears, vomiting up balloons, as the jars lining his home are filled with a number of strange items. The second act is a huge departure and risk, I think. I wanted to touch on his origin story in a different way, so I shifted POV to his creator, to show HOW somebody might be created, and what other beings and creatures might be made at the same time—some good, and some obviously monstrous. Third act shifts to what I consider the more traditional clown elements—his youth, his career, his love lost, etc. That needed to be there to ground the story after so much weirdness. And then—the final act. I knew that it was going to be strange, a reward (or price) paid for what he’s done. I’m a big fan of Black Mirror and The Twilight Zone, so that kind of ambiguous, open-ended climax. It leaves room for the reader to decide what has happened here, and there are few options to choose from.

Q – You’ve also started running a Novel In A Year class to help writers develop the craft of novel-writing. It features daily writing and editing prompts, video-conferences, and editing from yourself and the cohort of class-mates. When developing this class, did you find that it influenced your own approach to creating stories?

RT – The NIAY class is so much fun, but it’s a lot of work for the authors, for sure. The first thing I wanted to do was to develop the prompts. I went back and looked over my notes, everything I did when writing, editing, and shopping my novel, and tried to capture as much of that as I could. January is all about pre-writing, March through August writing, September through November editing, and then December all about submitting.

In watching everyone work so hard this year, I definitely learned a lot. My first novel, Transubstantiate, I wrote on my lunch hour, an hour a day, for several months. My second novel, Disintegration, took six years from concept to publication. And then Breaker I wrote in 25 days, LOL, so…you never know what will happen, right? (And Breaker was nominated for a Thriller award.)

I did learn a few other things this year—make sure your idea has enough meat on the bones, come into it with a strong vision, stay on task (all things serving the beam, as Stephen King says in The Dark Tower), and get the first draft down, and written, before editing it extensively. It’s not an easy thing to do, but if you’ve honed your craft with short stories, and are confident in your voice, it can keep moving at a steady pace.

Q – Word on the grapevine (aka Twitter!) is that you’re working on a new novel, set in Alaska or another snowy domain. Is this true and can you tell us anything more?

RT – LOL, well, your little birdies have big ears. Must be tough to fly. Yes, I did post up in some groups asking about winter, Alaska, and snowy domains. I’ve been fascinated by the idea of the Wendigo since I read a few stories involving this creature, in the past couple of years. I also like the idea of dopplegangers and mirrors, and parallel universes, so I’ve contemplating that as well. I was just thinking about my protagonist in class the other day, where one of my students (a few actually) had older main characters, and after the success of Krinkles, am considering having an older, wiser, gentler man as the hero/antihero. It’s nothing I’ve started writing yet, but it’s simmering. The Post-it note on my computer from the other day only has a few words—old man, gatekeeper, protect, sacrifice, good vs. evil, and perception. So, I have no idea what that might add up to be. But I’m eager to write my next book, my agent is champing at the bit, and the new Tor horror imprint seems like a great place to send this, if I can get it written.

Q – I recently saw an intense debate about novellas versus novels, and this seems to be an ongoing thing that resurfaces every few years! You’ve had a novella, Ring of Fire, published in the outstanding collection The Seven Deadliest. It’s centred on the deadly sin of lust and is mind-warping and elusive to say the least. How did you go about layering a story like that and do you have any advice for aspiring writers attempting their own novella?

RT – Great question. My biggest concern with novellas are that they are hard to sell. I was lucky enough to be invited in to The Seven Deadliest, but otherwise, not sure where I would have sent that story, besides Tor (and they are VERY hard to get into). What was brilliant about The Seven Deadliest is that by limiting the novellas to seven, we get a nice, meaty anthology, and the time to sit with each story. I guess technically my story was a novelette, since it’s under 15,000 words (just barely) but still.

This was probably one of the hardest stories I’ve ever had to write. Getting assigned lust, as a deadly sin, and pairing it with horror, I knew I had to be careful to avoid the Hellraiser associations, and it couldn’t come off as misogynistic or rapey. I thought about it for months, watching a dozen films for atmosphere, tone, mood, imagery etc.—everything from Moon to Ex Machina to The Thing to Neon Demon to The Witch. For a long time I wanted to incorporate the “monkey story” into something I wrote, and this idea of evolution—of spontaneous subconscious change—always appealed to me. The three threads was also something that helped me to try and make this story more original—the disembodied voices that start the story (are they scientists, co-workers, aliens, gods, etc.); the chorus of lists that try to clue you in to what is happening; and then the body of the story. I also owe some thanks to The Warren by Brian Evenson, and Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer for inspiring me. They had a lot of influence on this story. One more thing I can tell you is that I was very aware of tone and scene—often backing off of something that got too dark, too violent, too intense—making sure there was a balance, and that I didn’t alienate my readers.

As far as advice—I guess just do some research into who is buying them, to have a sense of what might sell. Beyond that, I just write the story and worry about where it’ll land later, but there aren’t THAT many places that buy novellas, as far as I know.

Q – Your fiction treads the fine lines between horror, other types of genre-fiction, and literary. Do you think that writers of any genre could benefit from working with the Storyville Studio?

RT – Most definitely. What I learned in my MFA program really helped me to go deeper, to be more insightful, to find that meaning and intellect on top of the classic genre work I’d been writing and reading over the years. I also think that literary authors can learn about writing from genre fiction as well—mystery, suspense, horror, magic, wonder, fantasy, technology, etc. I write across genre as well, starting out with neo-noir, crime, and thrillers but also writing fantasy, science fiction and horror, in addition to magical realism, transgressive, and literary fiction. Each write has a journey to go on, and there is so much to be learned across the various genres, as well as from film, television, plays, art, travel, relationships, etc. You live your best life, and you take notes along the way.

STORGY would like to thank Richard Thomas for his time being interviewed by us, a fabulous writer that we have grown to know and call friend – we hope that this new endeavour helps to develop writers, produce fabulous stories and continues to grow! Go and check it out now…

To learn more about Storyville Studio click here.

Read our review of Tribulations here.

Read our review of The Seven Deadliest here.

Read our previous interview with Richard Thomas here.

Interview by Joseph Sale

The Annihilation Radiation Short Story Competition is now open for entries.

1st Prize – £500

2nd Prize – £100

3rd Prize – £50

Closing date – 31st January 2020

Finalists will be published in ANNIHILATION RADIATION

£10 Entry Fee

For more details click here!

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