Writing isn’t about making money, getting famous, getting dates, getting laid, or making friends. In the end, it’s about enriching the lives of those who will read your work, and enriching your own life, as well.
― Stephen King
Richard Thomas is a writer who’s been around the block andknows a thing or two about the commitment, hard work, and rejection that comes part and parcel of being afictionwriter.
“I was a big reader in grade school,” he recounts of his beginnings, “where I won an award for ‘most books read’ in the sixth grade,” he recalls, smiling. “I…
Rebecca and I go WAY back, some 17 years or so to The Cult, LitReactor, and, Write Club—three forums and workshops where we hung out and honed our craft. I’ve published her work in quite a few places—her Vile Men collection of stories at Dark House Press, “Cat Calls” in the Exigencies anthology, and then “Tourist,” and “Ghost Story” reprinted at Gamut. Love her work. She has a new story out, so I asked her to stop by and answer some questions about it, as well as her career. This is the first in an ongoing series that I’ll be doing with authors. I hope you enjoy the content.
QUESTION ONE: Tell me about your story—a brief synopsis, genre/s, and tone.
ANSWER ONE: When Mary, an isolated woman living on the outskirts of town, finds a man on her property, she is quick to make a friend. The man, Nathaniel, observes of her strange skin rash, taking it upon himself to help, and Mary finds herself accepting of his seemingly good intentions in more ways than one. But Mary’s understanding of their relationship is put to the test when Nathaniel turns out to be the the new doctor at the nearby asylum.
“Woman of the White Cottage” is a gothic horror story that focuses on how society looked at women who didn’t fit into the rigid purity-ridden “true woman” ideals of the Victorian era, and shines some light on the horrors of how they were often dealt with.
It’s now available in the Anomalies & Curiosities, an anthology of gothic medical horror from Quill and Crow Publishing House.
QUESTION TWO: Where did the idea for this come from?
ANSWER TWO: The call for the Anomalies & Curiosities anthology was for gothic fiction, which isn’t my normal affair. When I found the call, I did have a “vaguely historical” stalled story about a woman with a white cottage in my drafts folder. I often like writing about female issues and feminism and so I settled on writing a story about female hysteria and did a lot of research. This particular article was of major inspiration, both providing me themes and some incentive for my villain.
QUESTION THREE: Why this story, why now?
ANSWER THREE: I’m relatively new to writing horror, but I do feel like the genre is growing and that people have more interest in reading it, especially women. Gothic horror has always been a very female-centered sub-genre, the tropes of which parallel a lot of the subjects that I enjoy writing about often in my neo-noir fiction. Dangerous men. Female issues. Societal issues.
I started writing a lot of transgressive, gritty fiction, but then slipped into neo-noir, which allowed me the flexibility to write minimalism while borrowing influences from other genres. 2020 found me gravitating more toward various horror tropes than any other, and something about this particular anthology call really pushed me to embrace horror entirely for the first time. One thing I love about gothic fiction is its heavy reliance on atmosphere, so writing in this genre really pushed me into using a different voice than my usual minimalist one. I loved having to blend minimalism with atmosphere and it made for a very enjoyable writing experience for me.
QUESTION FOUR: What do you hope people take away from this story?
ANSWER FOUR: “Woman of the White Cottage” definitely isn’t that uplifting a story, but I do hope that it forces people to look back on some of the women who suffered a myriad of physical and mental health issues all because doctors weren’t able to “figure women out” and then just diagnosed them under the umbrella of “hysteria”.
I did write the story to a bunch of female-led sexually charged music like “WAP” and Madonna’s “Human Nature” and Peaches’ “Fuck the Pain Away”, and if there is any hope in the ending, it’s in that power of reclaiming words and meanings of things. Society still has a long way to go from forcing women into specific boxes, and so I do appreciate anthems and stories that are rather shameless in doing so.
QUESTION FIVE: What are your comps for this story—what authors, titles, and other projects are similar to it, and share the same vibe?
ANSWER FIVE: Probably Shirley Jackson, Mary Shelley, or Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s “The Yellow Wallpaper“, but infused with some nice Chuck Palahniuk-inspired minimalism.
QUESTION SIX: Aside from this story, give us a quick bio, and tell us about your writing career.
ANSWER SIX: I’ve been writing since the third grade, when my awesome teacher would give the class weekly writing prompts for us to write stories with. The practice really made me fall in love with telling stories, and I gained a lot of confidence reading my stories in front of the class. Short fiction has always been my favoritism thing to write. I joined the Chuck Palahniuk writing group in the 2010s, which eventually became LitReactor, and through the online courses I really managed to up my craft and meet other writers (including you!) who have been lifelong friends that I’ve never actually met.
My work has been published in Pank, Pulp Modern, Dark Moon Digest and in various other anthologies. In 2015 I published my first collection of short fiction, Vile Men, of which you also had a very big part in making real. Since then, I painstakingly worked at writing my first novel, The View From the Basement, a psychological horror that was inspired by my experience with becoming a mother for the first time. I’m currently querying said novel while also writing new short stories, most of which are horror, of course!
QUESTION SEVEN: What are three books (and/or authors) that have influenced your writing the most, and how did they do that?
ANSWER SEVEN: Chuck Palahniuk was an early influence. I just loved how bold and punchy his prose was. His novels were always about something massive and grand but they always cut right beneath the surface with his careful use of minimalism. Another favorite of mine is Gillian Flynn. Her work is just so dark and scary and a bit sexy too.
Lastly, and kind of shamefully, I’d say that I’ve been subconsciously influenced by V.C. Andrews for years. Her work might seem trashy on the surface, but she was one of the only bestselling female horror authors of the 70s-80s horror trend, and there was a very good reason for that. It was almost like she knew exactly what kind of weird horrific stuff women loved reading about. She shamelessly wrote about all that forbidden stuff that women were often not expected to speak of. She definitely put a nice spin on the old gothic horror romance tropes, with her eerie father figures and mansion settings. I wouldn’t say she was the greatest writer, but she definitely knew how to tell twisted and messed-up stories that kept women talking.
QUESTION EIGHT: What are your top three favorite movies of all time, and why?
ANSWER EIGHT: Heathers for its razor sharp black comedy. Scream for its crafty spin on the 80s slasher film. And Hot Fuzz, because everyone needs that fun go-to movie to watch when they feel like garbage.
QUESTION NINE: What is one bit of advice you’d give a new author on how to find their voice, tell great stories, and succeed in their career?
ANSWER NINE: Get raw. Even in genre fiction, the best writers can put their own twists on things by writing about their guilty pleasures or the the strange facts and stories they find on a good Wikipedia wormhole bender. Read more. Go for walks. Listen to music that makes you feel stuff. The right blend of influences will always find you if you take the time to enjoy things.
As for succeeding in their career, I can’t say that I know. My ultimate goal is to become the next Gillian Flynn, which isn’t likely to ever happen. I know this but I still want it. Writing is a tough gig that is mostly wrought with disappointment. Only a handful of writers will ever really achieve what they originally intended to, so part of having a successful writing “career” is doing what makes you thrive while also being flexible about where the journey of establishing a career might take out. Never put too much weight on one piece.
For me, writing was always a coping mechanism for insecurities and I’m sure I’m no different from many other writers when I say that not getting enough compliments or even a reaction to a story I’ve written can be tough. Take pride in what you do. Try to take the criticism into every next project and always let the praise you receive guide you.
QUESTION TEN: What’s next? Do you have any other stories coming out, are you working on a book, is there a collection coming soon? Do tell.
ANSWER TEN: I’ve got a story in an upcoming anthology about the experience of young fathers in today’s work-centered society. It was heavily influenced by the whole online subculture of “dead malls”, and also inspired by my husband’s struggle with balancing work and home life. I personally think it’s one of the best stories I’ve ever written, so look out for that.
I’m still hard at work that querying the novel but have mostly been writing short fiction just to distract myself from the painful process of agent rejection over and over. Thankfully, I’ve had a nice set of story acceptances in great markets, and will hopefully have a nice collection of short fiction query with some small presses soon.