Review of Spontaneous Combustion by Richard Thomas (released 02/22/22, a Tuesday ~ 2’sday)

Excellent review of SHC!

playing footsie with another dimension

Was thrilled when I received my ARC of Spontaneous Human Combustion, late last year.

I have so much gratitude and overwhelming respect for Richard Thomas as a teacher, a great author/writer, a mentor, but most importantly, an artistic innovator with foresight into the necessities required to progress the arts for the future of mankind. He manages to introduce us to literature that tastes different than any other genre you’ve tried before.

He postures his concepts in a way that is conducive to spawning new ideas, particularly, in language, literature, and “methods » of writing, in general.

Pick up Spontaneous Human Combustion by Richard Thomas on Amazon or go to your favorite bookstore. (Psst: Order it from a smaller, family-owned bookstore. )

You will want to dive in from paragraph one.

It is a set of short stories so you can read them at your own leisure — but a disclaimer…

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Author Interview: Richard Thomas

New interview up!

MyLifeMyBooksMyEscape

Richard Thomas_Headshot_Credit John Geiger
Today I am interviewing Richard Thomas, author of the new science-fiction, fantasy, and horror short-story collection, Spontaneous Human Combustion.

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DJ: Hi Richard! Thanks for stopping by to do this interview! 

For readers who aren’t familiar with you, could you tell us a little about yourself?

Richard Thomas: Sure! Thanks for having me. I’ve been writing for about 14 years now, with three novels, three collection, over 170 stories published (including alongside Stephen King four times now). I also have edited four anthologies, and ran Gamut magazine and Dark House Press. So, I’m not just an author, but an editor, teacher, and past publisher. I write dark fiction, but more and more these days, with some hope, not entirely bleak. I write hybrid fiction, often maximalist, with heavy setting, across quite a few genres—fantasy, science fiction, and horror, as you  mentioned— as as well as neo-noir…

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New Essay at CrimeReads, Talking About My Favorite New Sub-Genres

I have a new essay up at CrimeReads, talking about my favorite new sub-genres. Click on over for more.

Release the Kraken! Spontaneous Human Combustion is Out Today!

My fourth short story collection, SPONTANEOUS HUMAN COMBUSTION, is now out! Thank you all for your support. Pick up a copy, spread the word, say a few kind words—whatever works for you. Thank you to everyone at Turner, all of the authors that took the time to give me an excellent blurb, and all of the reviewers (old AND new) who jumped in. I hope you all enjoy the stories.

Spontaneous Human Combustion Foreword, by Brian Evenson

To say that it was a dream come true to have Brian Evenson write the foreword to this collection, well, that is an understatement. Brian’s writing has been a huge influence on my work, as much as Stephen Graham Jones, Cormac McCarthy, Mary Gaitskill, Stephen King, Chuck Palahniuk, and Will Christopher Baer. So here is the entire foreword, for your enjoyment. If this sounds like your cup of tea, please pick up a copy, out tomorrow (2/22/22) with Turner Publishing. I honestly think this is some of my best work to date.

Foreword for Spontaneous Human Combustion

By Brian Evenson

Before I knew Richard Thomas as a writer, I knew him as the editor of a neo-noir anthology called The New Black. What intrigued me about that anthology was how expansive his definition of neo-noir was. For Richard, it wasn’t simply a matter of contemporary writers imitating the conventions of noir, but of writers using noir and hard-boiled fiction as a springboard to get to their own unique, dark places. Some of these dark places were quite different from what we usually think of when we think of noir. The Weird was part of it, and darkness of various kinds, sometimes crime-related and sometimes not. Indeed, many of the stories are shaded into horror and the fantastic. From the first story, Stephen Graham Jones’ stunning “Father, Son, and Holy Rabbit,” I was hooked. What followed was a constellation of well-written stories that went their own distinct direction but still felt like part of a larger, ongoing conversation. The stories were definitely sympathetic with one another, but in a more varied and expansive way than most stories in themed anthologies are. As I read forward, it became clear to me that Richard was much more interested in creating possible spaces for fiction to go than in reining everybody in to fit a narrow definition.

There are two basic ways of approaching fiction. One is to write work that sits primly within accepted genre boundaries but tries to write exceptionally well within those limitations. Such fiction stays politely in its room and doesn’t wander out of the house. The other is to grab an axe, chop through the nearest wall, and then use some old warped lumber to connect your house to the house next door. It’s transformative, maybe even a little unhinged. As an editor, Richard is decidedly of the second school. Perhaps not surprisingly, he’s that as a writer as well, and his fiction is all the more satisfying because of it. If you’re looking for typical horror fare, stories that situate themselves squarely in the genre of Horror with a capital H, you’ve come to the wrong place. Sure, you’ll find recognizable bits and pieces from that genre, the ghosts of the tropes you know. Richard knows the horror genre and isn’t afraid to use it for his own purposes. But those tropes, those gestures, are deployed differently, are truncated, left suggestive. You’ll find instead what Simon Strantzas has called, “the other kind of Horror, the lens of horror,” which “is a bit harder to define because by its nature it’s undefinable.” It’s Horror that’s “not about tropes, but about intention.”[1]

In other words, the tropes, even when he embraces them, are not what give Richard’s work its coherence and its momentum. Rather, it’s his style, the economy and allusiveness of it, his ability to leave a door open onto the abyss even as a given story comes to a close. It’s also the particular way he uses that lens of horror: even when we are quite distant from what might be termed “real life” there are certain things his gaze always drifts back to. Family or intimacy, for instance, as a source of hope and loss and regret and pain. Richard is particularly deft at showing how familial joy and hope are the shining underbelly of the horror. For him, horror has a more intense effect if it’s the inevitable extension of heartbreak, guilt and blame.

For Richard, horror is something that clings to human connection and feeds on it as it dies. What makes these stories resonate for me is that they pry up the loose floorboards of my own fears, particularly the very personal ones, the ones that truly haunt me. These are fears that are deep-seated, almost foundational, because they’re so personal. Such fears raise the specter of failure: of my failing those who I’m closest to, of failing myself as well, of failing to be the self I’ve convinced myself and the world that I am. For many of Richard’s characters, it’s too late: they were right to be afraid because their world has already collapsed. For others, the sense of impending collapse, their sense (right or wrong) of the inevitability of it, is often enough to drive them away from the very things that give them solace. Sometimes they are so afraid they will destroy what they love that they flee from it in advance, cut themselves off. That, for me, is much more terrifying than the usual horror tropes, such as, say, things that go bump in the night or scary clowns.

All right, I admit it: I’m also afraid of things that go bump in the night. And also scary clowns. And especially scary clowns that go bump in the night. And it’d be remiss of me not to mention that Richard does have two scary clown stories here, but they’re different sorts of clown stories than we’re used to. One, for instance, puts us in very close proximity to the clown, to his dark and churning mind, and then…leaves us there in anticipation of what he is likely to do. The story stops as the darkness within his head prepares to spill out. The other I’ll leave you to discover on your own.

Richard opens the collection with a story entitled “Repent”, in which a crooked cop seems to be undergoing a sort of failed atonement. “It seems petty now,” says the narrator, “looking back, the ways I boiled over, the ways I was betrayed.” Indeed it does, once we discover the deal he has made and what he had to sacrifice to make it. There’s a way of telling this story that’s all plot, but Richard is much more interested in the character’s effect, in the emotional damage the narrator is still undergoing. In how this loss makes him feel. And in what, by proxy, this loss can make us feel.

Dwelling places are often isolated in Richard’s fiction, and shot through with heat. Characters are lonely or alone, either literally or metaphysically. The whole world is permeated with loss and regret. Characters are haunted by what they’ve done or, in advance, by what they might do. Rage is often bubbling up, threatening to erupt. There are memory gaps, holes. People struggle to remember who they are, experience disorientation from their own bodies (if it really is their own body). As one narrator suggests at the beginning of “Nodus Tollens”:

“I’ve been trying to find myself for what seems my whole life. Now, a dark fate has found me instead. I’ve summoned something; drawn its gaze down upon me.”

This is how the suffering begins.

Suffering, how it begins, how one becomes conscious (even hyperconscious) of the extent of it, and where it leads, is at the heart of Richard’s work. It makes his fiction as painfully tender as a bruise. Know thyself, counsels the Delphic maxim, but Richard recognizes that in the quest to know yourself you’re as likely to dig something else up, something that would be better left buried. And yet, you can’t stop yourself from digging.

These stories are often voice-driven. The voices that drive them are abject, uncomfortable. You might hear some version of them coming out of the mouth of the homeless schizophrenic on the El if you took the time to listen and could understand what he said. Nightmares abound here. There’s a story about the feeling of being trapped in a situation that repeats again and again, like a video game gone wrong, and the desperation that comes in trying anything, no matter how extreme, to try to spark a change. Or a story in which the narrator withdraws into a virtual world as his own body and the world around him collapses. Or a story about gambling (kind of), in which the loser ends up having to take on a decades-long burden. There’s a brother and sister who seem to be on opposite sides of a teeter-totter: when one thrives the other fades. There’s a son’s return from a traumatic otherworldly interaction. And much, much more.

Closing the collection is the excellent novelette “Ring of Fire”, perhaps the most ambitious piece of fiction in the collection, one that combines an initially mysterious rehabilitation effort with temptation and confusion. The narrator himself isn’t quite sure what’s happening—even though he often thinks he is—and as a result we have to read the story against its own grain, trying to construct the reality lying behind the story that he tells himself about how this world works. Richard, in this story and several of the others, gives us just enough to energize our reading and drive us forward, but quite smartly opts to leave a certain, crucial amount of mystery intact. This story (and indeed Spontaneous Human Combustion as a whole) continues to grow and expand within your head well after you’ve put the book down.

The stories in Spontaneous Human Combustion are quite different from one another. They participate in several other different genres—science fiction, the weird, noir, literature, etc.—at the same time as they always work as slow-burn horror. But despite the range of these stories, they all feel like they were written by Richard Thomas. Few writers understand misery as well as Richard does, and few are as willing to look with a steady eye at such flawed and suffering humans. Richard has a wonderful ability not to judge in advance, not to dismiss, not to villainize. He’s much more interested in zooming in his horror lens to try to see clearly and in vivid detail who people are, to try to understand them in all their abjection, contradiction, and pain. In other words, this is experiential fiction, something to be undergone, lived through. To live through these characters vicariously, with Richard as your guide, will give you a sharper and more empathetic understanding of the darkness of the actual world.

—Brian Evenson,
June 21, 2021
Valencia, CA


[1] Simon Strantzas, “Best Left in the Shadows” in the first issue of Weird Horror (Fall 2020).

Spontaneous Human Combustion Releases in THREE DAYS. Here Is What People Are Saying.

My fourth short story collection, Spontaneous Human Combustion will be out on 2/22/22. I honestly think it’s some of my best work to date. Not sure if it’s for you? Here are the reviews and blurbs we’ve gotten so far.

REVIEWS

Reviews for Spontaneous Human Combustion

“Thomas breathes fresh air into the genre of dark speculative fiction with a brilliant collection that teems with haunting elements, dark nostalgia for lost love, dysfunctional families, and self-torment. Equally devastating and refreshing, this is a collection to be savored by horror fans and literary readers alike.”—Starred Review at Publishers Weekly

“Fans of science fiction, horror, and dark fiction will relish immersing themselves in this collection for all its grit, lyricism, and unquestionable profundity.” —Library Journal

“Horror fans will be drawn to this compelling anthology.” —Booklist

“Each story is filled with vivid and evocative details and provides a fascinating journey that explores the dark places of our existence and engages its readers throughout…[Richard Thomas] does not disappoint.”—New York Journal of Books

Transgressive, dark and masterfully written—with Spontaneous Human Combustion Thomas forces the reader to run the gamut of human emotions. With beguiling and devastating prose one can’t help but see the beauty in the macabre morsels Thomas has given us to consume. A truly breathtaking collection.’—STORGY

“Richard Thomas pushes the envelope of what is possible in fiction, and strives to show us something truly sublime. Perhaps the collection is best summarized in…his story ‘Undone:’ ‘…everything I could never be, nothing we have been before.’” —Joseph Sale, at The Mindflayer

“…in the manner of some of the original American gothic writers, Thomas’s most fertile ground is the darkness of each human’s heart…This collection of fourteen stories shows an incredible range…Above all, this collection asks us to think about the true horrors of existence and about the sacrifices that must be made to hold those horrors at bay.”—Rhonda McDonnell

“Richard Thomas is a seasoned professional…He is such a fantastic writer with so much depth and subtext in every single paragraph. Every single line has punch to it…This collection is damn near perfect!” —Edward Lorn, author of Life After Dane

“Imaginative and propulsive, the stories of Spontaneous Human Combustion confront universal human fears in supernatural, futuristic worlds.”—Foreword Reviews

“If you dig Black Mirror or any surrealist, neo-noir fiction, then you definitely need to check this out, because this would be right up your alley.”—Jenny Ashford, 13 O’Clock Podcast (Tomes of Terror)

“Genius. Masterpiece. Auto-buy author. Best collection I’ve read in 2021. 10/10, will re-read these stories. Hell, I may even re-read a few over the next few days. Cannot recommend enough.”—The Nerdy Narrative

“It’s rare I read a collection of this size and feel each story is a 5 star read, but this one is it…Now I want to read EVERYTHING Richard Thomas has and anything he has coming out in the future. Top short story collection of the year for me—trust me, it had some steep competition too!”—The Nerdy Narrative

“This is our final recommendation for 2021.  In this new collection, Richard Thomas has crafted fourteen stories that push the boundaries of dark fiction in an intoxicating, piercing blend of fantasy, science fiction, and horror. Equally provocative and profound, each story is masterfully woven with transgressive themes that burrow beneath the skin.”—Puzzle Box Horror

“There are a wondrous range of stories here from dark fiction to fantasy and horror, some with elements of sci-fi…all are beautifully written.”—Well Worth a Read

“My-oh-my did this one take me by surprise…strong and impressive…poignant, artful, and fun.”—Uncomfortably Dark

BLURBS

Blurbs for Spontaneous Human Combustion

“In range alone, Richard Thomas is boundless. He is Lovecraft. He is Bradbury. He is Gaiman.”—Chuck Palahniuk, author of Fight Club

“Equally devastating and refreshing, this is a collection to be savored by horror fans and literary readers alike.”—Starred review at Publishers Weekly

“A feast for the senses, this collection is simultaneously lush and terrifying. Horror and dark fantasy fans are sure to find many delights within.”—A.C. Wise, author of Wendy, Darling

“Richard Thomas gives us a timely and eloquent reminder that, no matter how far we run, we take our darkness with us.”—Priya Sharma, author of Ormeshadow

“By turns poetic and brutal, this is a stellar collection.”—Lucy A. Snyder, author of Sister, Maiden, Monster

The language here is dense and richly evocative, achieving at times a transgressive and surreal quality reminiscent of Rimbaud in its beauty and brutality.” —Steve Rasnic Tem, author of Figures Unseen: Selected Stories and Thanatrauma

“Thomas masterfully combines noir and horror. He paints the beauty and the meanness of human life with an ease that belies how damned hard a trick it is to accomplish. Spontaneous Human Combustion is a bottle of the top shelf stuff—smooth, but it burns. Burns all the way to the bottom.”—Laird Barron, author of Swift to Chase 

“In this collection, Richard Thomas leads us through a vivid sequence of ever-darkening dreams. Strange, surreal, terrible and beautiful—I didn’t want to wake.”—Karen Runge, author of Doll Crimes

“With Spontaneous Human Combustion, Richard Thomas bravely leads us into the darkest recesses of the human soul. As always his writing is superb—precise, evocative and moving.”—Kate Jonez, author of Lady Bits

“Richard Thomas’s Spontaneous Human Combustion is a marvelous monster made of blood, anger, fear, guilt, grief, hunger, and pain. These gritty, blood-soaked stories pull readers into the darkness of the single black heart beating at the core of horror and noir, and somehow makes them love every second of it.”—Gabino Iglesias, author of Coyote Songs

“Dark, but rarely bleak. Punishing, but never sadistic. Thomas’s stories drag you into the light as often as they knock you into the abyss. A necessary collection.”—Doug Murano, Bram-Stoker winning editor of Behold!: Oddities, Curiosities & Undefinable Wonders

“Soaked in dread and wonder, Richard Thomas’ work has a way of worming deep into your heart to take hold like a beautiful sickness. And true to form, every piece in his magnificent Spontaneous Human Combustion hits like a fever dream you wish would never end.” —Matthew Lyons, author of The Night Will Find Us and A Black And Endless Sky

“Richard Thomas isn’t just writing stories in his new collection, he’s taking that part of yourself you look away from, the dark thoughts and forgotten nightmares, and showing them to you with the clarity and power only our best working writers possess. Take it from a guy who’s actually been on fire—Spontaneous Human Combustion delivers.” —Fred Venturini, author of The Heart Does Not Grow Back and To Dust You Shall Return

“Nothing will prepare you for Richard Thomas’ stories, for the brutality, for the intense white-hot horror, for the blood-soaked gorgeous beauty of his writing. Reading his fiction is like sinking into a fever dream, filled with an alien-yet-familiar wondrousness to it all that makes you long to be back inside those seductive terrors long after they’ve ended. I was not prepared: I can’t wait to return.”—Livia Llewellyn, author of Furnace 

“The stories in Spontaneous Human Combustion sizzle and burn. Richard Thomas is a narrator of the human condition at its most feral, and a master at the damnation game.”—Usman T. Malik, award-winning author of Midnight Doorways: Fables from Pakistan

“Richard Thomas brings us expertly crafted tales steeped in violence and beauty. Each richly detailed story teases the reader with equal parts emotion and stoicism. Spontaneous Human Combustion is truly a work of dark wonder.”—Bram Stoker Award-winning author Mercedes M. Yardley

Recent Films and Shows That Have Informed My Writing

I have a new essay up on recent films that have informed my writing. ENJOY!

Author Spotlight and Giveaway

I have a new author spotlight and giveaway up now at J. Scott Coatsworth’s website. Click on over for some very interesting questions.

New Interview is Live, With Robert Stahl, Where We Talk About Spontaneous Human Combustion.

https://robertestahl.com/spontaneous-human-combustion-by-richard-thomas

Robert Stahl is a student, peer, and friend of mine. He wanted to dig in deeper to my upcoming short story collection, SPONTANEOUS HUMAN COMBUSTION (out on 2/22/22 with Turner Publishing). Click on over and read his review as well as my thoughts on some of the stories. Warning—there ARE spoilers. Books are shipping now, so pick up your copy when you get a chance. I think it’s some of my best work to date.

“Writers understand that a story must show a character going through a change, and Spontaneous Human Combustion delivers on that notion with terrifying vigor. The characters in these pages transmogrify in ways that defy comprehension, whether by a glorious epiphany that ultimately vindicates them, or by a fatal misstep that leads to their eternal damnation. “

For more, head on over to his website. THANKS!