Release the Kraken! My short story collection, Staring Into the Abyss, will be out later this year.

That’s right, my second short story collection, Staring Into the Abyss, will be out later this year from Kraken Press. It’s a collection of 20 dark stories, neo-noir leaning towards horror, and some of my best work to date. Want to know more? Head over to their website or just keep reading. We’re targeting March, but definitely the first half of 2013. And it looks like it will be a book club selection over at LitReactor as well, probably July or August. More information to come.

FROM THE  JACKET: As Friedrich Nietzsche said, “Battle not with monsters lest ye become a monster; and if you gaze into the abyss the abyss gazes into you.” In this collection of short stories Richard Thomas shows us in dark, layered prose the human condition in all of its beauty and dysfunction. A man sits in a high tower making tiny, mechanical birds, longing for the day when he might see the sky again. A couple spends an evening in an underground sex club where jealousy and possession are the means of barter. A woman is victimized as a child, and turns that rage and vengeance into a lifelong mission, only to self-destruct, and become exactly what she battled against. A couple hears the echo of the many reasons they’ve stayed together, and the one reason the finally have to part. And a boy deals with a beast that visits him on a nightly basis, not so much a shadow, as a fixture in his home. These 20 stories will take you into the darkness, and sometimes bring you back. But now and then there is no getting out, the lights have faded, the pitch black wrapping around you like a festering blanket of lies. What will you do now? It’s eat or be eaten—so bring a strong stomach and a hearty appetite.

It includes my contest winning “Maker of Flight,” my longest short story to date, “Victimized,” a Pushcart nominee in “Twenty Reasons to Stay and One to Leave,” and much more. Full TOC below. I hope you’ll pick it up when it comes out. It’s a little over 130 pages, about 32,000 words.

Special thanks have to go out George Cotronis for his amazing cover design. That’s part of the reason I signed up with him, he’s a globally recognized illustrator and artist, and his work is just fantastic.

TABLE OF CONTENTS:

Maker of Flight 14
Steel-Toed Boots 18
Freedom 22
Committed 30
Splintered 34
Fallible 40
Stillness 42
Fringe 48
Underground Wonder Bound 52
Amazement 58
Victimized 62
Twenty-Dollar Bill 80
Interview 86
Paying Up 94
Ten Steps 98
Honor 106
Stephen King Ate My Brain 112
Twenty Reasons to Stay and One to Leave 116
Transmogrify 120
Rudy Jenkins Buries His Fears 130

My review of Vampire Conditions by Brian Allen Carr is up at The Nervous Breakdown

My review is now live at The Nervous Breakdown. But don’t let the title fool you, Vampire Conditions by Brian Allen Carr is not about teeth, and bats and the homesteads of pale night fliers. These stories will drain you, emotionally, and leave you spent, but alive. In a good way.

Bar Scars by Nik Korpon

When I think back to when and where my writing career really started, about five years ago, one of the first names that pops into my head is Nik Korpon. He was there when I discovered what neo-noir was all about, and he’s been a brother-in-arms ever since. With the release of Bar Scars (Snubnose Press) he puts together a compelling collection of neo-noir fiction that is always entertaining, thought provoking, and unexpected. Since we both have collections coming out with Snubnose this month, I’m going to talk about Bar Scars, and he’s going to talk about my collection, Herniated Roots, over at his blog. So check out both posts, it’ll definitely be worth your time.

“This Will All End Well”
SYNOPSIS: A man walks in on his girl with another guy. Or does he?
COMMENTS: With a title like “This Will All End Well,” you know it can only be the opposite. What Nik does so well here is set you up, again and again. First, it’s the cheating wife, the politician tossing money on the floor, begging for forgiveness, caught in the act. Then, it’s the fact that she hasn’t been cheating at all, this is all a set up, they’re in on this caper together. But there’s more here. And that’s what I love about Nik’s work, it just goes deeper. Adding in his usual lyrical voice and ability to turn a phrase, set the stage, and you have a great opening story to his collection.

“A Sparrow With White Scars”
SYNOPSIS: A man in a bar has an ongoing relationship with a young girl.
COMMENTS: Tension is another thing that Nik does really well. I was nervous throughout this whole story. An underage girl, a man who is spending time with her when he shouldn’t, love that knows no rules. The violence fans out in every direction, and in the end, it’s a brutal story, one that cause you to shift loyalties several times.
QUOTE: “Darla straddled a stool, listening to a man in a white polyester suit tell a joke. He looked like a Messiah Elvis. Her pockets peeked below the frayed edge of her jean shorts, a bikini strap caressing her neck underneath a tank top the color of a fresh bruise. She threw her head back when she laughed, tender breasts rocking, slender throat pale and exposed and I could taste the salt on her neck, smell the hot sweat on her thighs. When the troll turned to order drinks for them, she glanced over to me, licked her teeth and winked. My stomach filled with moths and metal shards.”

“Intersections”
SYNOPSIS: A man prepares to propose to his girl, but an accident ruins everything.
COMMENTS: Of course the title gives you the first clue, “Intersections.” This story moves along at nice clip—we see the seedy underbelly of Baltimore, a guy trying to get out from under a rock, no more working for Mr. Harry. And in one evening things take a dark turn. I thought I knew where this one was going, too, and the tension, that beautiful moment when you get a shock through your system, muttering to yourself, “No, no…it can’t be.” And then you think, he’s going to get away with it, it’s okay, you realize there is a tape, and there is proof now, and everything spins out of control. Nik is very adept at creating these situations, things get bad, and then they get worse, and then there’s no way out.

“That Pale Light in the West”
SYNOPSIS: A confrontation in a bar does not go well.
COMMENTS: In a very short period of time, two pages here, we get the whole story. It doesn’t feel like a set-up from the beginning, but at some point you know it’s going to go wrong. The last line is heavy. It’s nice to know that psychopaths have rules.

“Alex and the Music Box”
SYNOPSIS: A man sneaks into an ex-girlfriend’s apartment to get something turns out bad.
COMMENTS: The tension of not only sneaking back into an ex-girlfriend’s apartment but then her coming home with a guy? Man, that’s tough. Poetic at times this story, like much of Nik’s work, has layers, and we keep getting into it deeper and deeper until there’s no way out. I like that he leaves it open, the ending. We’re left with that anxiety of what to do.
QUOTE: “I lay listening to breath drift from my mouth for minutes or hours. Rub my palms over my cheeks. I blow on her hand, and when she doesn’t move, I slide around it and stand. Naked, sweaty and flushed, she’s sprawled over her bed like a gunshot victim. Red phantom fingers wrap around her neck. I want to lay my hands on them, pretend they’re mine again. No smell of latex and I hope she doesn’t regret this tomorrow. I kneel beside her, penitent.”

“She Sleeps Beneath Clouds of Embers”
SYNOPSIS: Foggy memories and a strange hotel room lead to some very strange moments.
COMMENTS: “This is one of Nik’s more atmospheric pieces, and really, doesn’t a foggy memory, bruises and a dildo always lead to trouble? There is a sadness that permeates this story, the last line echoing desperation and loss. And somehow in the midst of this Baer inspired madness he made me laugh twice.”

“Haymaker”
SYNOPSIS: A fighter runs into a bit of bad luck.
COMMENTS: “This one kind of breaks my heart. I hate it when the good guy gets screwed over by a crooked cop, some palooka trying to work his way out of the gutter with his fists, or some straight blue collar job, but the man keeps pushing him down. The ending just makes me sad.”

“His Footsteps are Made of Soot”
SYNOPSIS: When his mother’s memories and bruised love can’t be ignored any longer, our protagonist opts for a risky surgery.
COMMENTS: “This might be the best story in the collection. It’s the back and forth between the basement surgeries he assists and the broken body and mind (and heart) of his mother that really pulls you in. The final scene, and the final words (or lack thereof) are so powerful, they just echo out into the silence. Classic Korpon.”
EXCERPT #1: “Sometimes things happen in home surgery, and it’s easier to be objective when the body doesn’t have a name, an address, a way
they take their coffee. Everything’s easier when history is malleable.”
EXCERPT #2: “I just nod and lay down, close my eyes. A muted rainbow of dots float across the flesh inside my eyelids. I focus, try to rearrange them into a halftone print of a family portrait with only two people. Inhale. The smell of damp smoke floods my nostrils, and Marcel gave up cigarettes years ago when his wife died of cancer. Exhale. The sound of game-show audiences drowns out scratchy country guitars. Inhale. A fist of cheap cologne, vodka and the burnt baby laxative used to cut dope crushes my nose. Exhale. A whiff of ash, of baby powder, of Mom’s shampoo from when I was younger that always reminded me of cut grass. Inhale. Nitrous oxide and Marcel’s liquid voice telling me to count to ten. Somewhere beyond my ears, past bloody eyelids and clenched fists and bruised legs and pipe-burnt chests, Hank Williams drags his voice over broken glass in the darkness.”

“Glass Bubbles”
SYNOPSIS: Hanging out in a local bar you can only get yourself in trouble.
COMMENTS: “This story touches on those lost moments, things you can’t get back, better days. I love the way he doesn’t tell this story in chronological order, it makes it much more powerful.”

This is a great collection of Nik’s work. Chuck Palahniuk said something like “Teach me something, make me laugh, and then break my heart.” And that’s what Nik does. Whether it’s educating me about Baltimore or basement surgeries, boxing or drug dealing, his stories always resonate with authority. He also has a way of turning a phrase, juxtaposing words in a way that is totally unique, his own language. And he also creates plots that aren’t what you expect, layers and turns that keep you guessing. He’s one of my favorite neo-noir authors going, and if you haven’t read his work before, this is a great place to start.

Also, keep an eye out for a future project we’re doing together entitled Four Corners, a series of four novellas that Nik and I, along with Caleb J. Ross and Axel Taiari have written and are currently shopping. It’s some of his best work to date, I think. You can find more of his work on Amazon, of course. I suggest Stay God as well as By the Nails of the Warpriest.

READ HIS COMMENTS ON MY COLLECTION, HERNIATED ROOTS, HERE.

New Storyville Column is Live – All About Narrative Hooks

New Storyville column is now up, all about writing narrative hooks. I focus on some of the work of southern gothic author Ron Rash. How do get your audience’s attention with one line? Icebergs and red herrings, what are those? In medias res, have you heard that said before? It’s Latin. And which of these are not narrative hooks: descriptions, settings, action, dialogue, back story? One hint: all of them. Hope it helps!

My debut short story collection, Herniated Roots (Snubnose Press) is now OUT.

OUT NOW.

Table of Contents
Unzipped
Your Enemies Will Devour You
A Bird in the Hand
Released
Herniated Roots
Seeing Red
Gateway
Say Yes to Pleasure
Terrapin Station
Daybreak
Three Mistakes
Descent
The Jenny Store
Tinkering With the Moon
Kiss Off
Dyer

PRAISE:

“Richard Thomas’s stories are filled with a kind of dark magic shot through with danger. These are beautiful roses loaded with thorns. Take hold of them at your own risk and reward—be prepared for the most exquisite, ecstatic kind of pain.”
—Amber Sparks, MAY WE SHED THESE HUMAN BODIES

“Richard Thomas writes from the inglorious depths of human experience. Each sentence, blooming like a bruise, articulates the unspeakable truth of our own disappointment. In Herniated Roots, an aggressive collection of modern fables and cautionary tales, Thomas delivers the kind of prose that leaves you bloody on the inside. This is the kind of book that demands a second reading long before your ribs begin to heal.”
—Daniel Casebeer, PEAR NOIR

“Richard Thomas writes seductively mordant prose. His powerful short stories are noir fables for the twenty-first century—gracefully controlled yet executed with a lethal precision. Precious few writers can provide a vital anatomy of the inner self. Thomas does so masterfully, presenting the darkest slices of the human soul.”
—Darren Richard Carlaw, STEPAWAY MAGAZINE

“Richard Thomas can make his readers feel what he wants them to feel. He distills life into the moments that charge us, and he works them into honest and gripping prose, with visuals that invariably leave a mark.”
—Pela Via, WARMED AND BOUND

“An outstanding short story writer who consistently nails the bull’s-eye.”
—David Cranmer, BEAT TO A PULP

“Herniated Roots by Richard Thomas demonstrates a masterly use of tension. Real page-turning fiction that never resorts to cliché or stereotype.”
—Doug Johnstone, HIT AND RUN

My review of Little Sinners and Other Stories by Karen Brown is live at The Nervous Breakdown

Winner of the Prairie Schooner Book Prize in Fiction, Little Sinners and Other Stories by Karen Brown is fantastic collection of stories. I’m calling it “suburban noir” because Karen focuses on the dark events that happen in these otherwise idyllic settings. I first heard of Karen when she had a story, “Galatea” in the Best American Short Stories anthology back in 2008. I later reached out to her for a story that I ran in the short-lived Colored Chalk ezine. And I’ll be including some of her work in an upcoming anthology with Black Lawrence Press. Check out my full review of Little Sinners over at The Nervous Breakdown.