PV: Richard, I understand you tell a little story about your name—on the way your mother handled phone calls?
RT: Oh God, that? Okay, so I’m named after my father. He is Richard Gordon Thomas, Jr. and I’m Richard Gordon Thomas III. When I was little they called me Dickie. I was too young to do anything about it, until I finally got to high school. It seemed too big a leap to go from Dickie to Richard or Rick or Rich, so I just changed my name to Dick. I didn’t think much about it, my dad went by Dick, and of course I knew it was a phallic reference.
Well, whenever a girl would call over to the house to ask for me, if my mom answered the call she’d say, “Big Dick or Little Dick?”
I can only imagine the horror and confusion of the girls that called. And for me it was a lose/lose situation. If they said, “OH, big dick!” and my dad answered the call, they’d hang up and run away (hopefully). If they said, timidly, “Um…little dick?” and I answered the call, well…I was doomed from the start.
My mom…the first cock blocker in my life.
PV: Ha. That cracks me up.
RT: Did you have a nickname growing up?
PV: Well, when I was six I changed my name to Chrissy, a la Three’s Company. And it makes perfect sense that I was watching that show at that age, by the way. Perfect sense.
PV: So, how are you? What’s new?
RT: I’m doing pretty well, for being borderline schizophrenic. Transubstantiate is doing well. I’m really thrilled about the whole Shivers VI thing, being published next to Stephen King and Peter Straub, I’m still pretty pumped up from that news. It’s kind of a dream come true.
PV: I’m excited on your behalf. Appearing beside King and Straub. That’s awesome.
RT: Thanks, PV. Your support and generosity really contributes to my confidence, my storytelling, my desire to put my work out there. And you’re a great writer. I love reading your work, I loved the Black Widow series.
PV: Thank you.
RT: How about you, what’s new and interesting for you?
NOW GET GRAPHIC
PV: Hmm. Very little new or interesting about me, but interesting for me? I’ve discovered the slot machine of insanity that is the Google image search! Keeps me entranced for unspeakable amounts of time. Simple searches like shame, weird, no or damn. Then my favorite, vulva. And there’s vajazzle, argyria, pareidolia, Meet Mr Happy, penile bifurcation, blue waffle (don’t!) and on and on. The subjects are exponential.
RT: Ha. Wow. I mean, I can guess why you were doing those image searches, but jeez, you must have an iron stomach.
PV: It’s not easy being a curious person. I don’t enjoy gross or disturbing stuff, I just have this intense need to check out everything once. When I’ve seen and learned what I needed, I move on.
RT: I feel the same way. But I’m not searching blue waffle, no way. Okay, I just did. HOLY CRAP.
PV: Ah! I’m so sorry! I feel bad now that I made you see that. Now search sorry. That’s from me.
INDULGE A LITTLE GOSSIP
PV: I love hearing certain people—namely those who can verbalize what fiction does for them—talk about various authors’ work.
What do you like specifically about the work of, say, Nik Korpon?
RT: Nik is one of my few neo-noir brothers. He’s not afraid to go dark, to be rich with the tone, the setting, the mood. He will pack a punch with his prose, and startle you, shock you with what happens, and then, he’ll back off of it, and make you tear up, the emotions, the humanity. Can’t wait to see Stay God come out. I nominated one of his stories over at the Cult, for the Palahniuk anthology contest, and of course if made the final five, has a shot at getting in. He’s just that good. He’s fearless. His voice is one that is close to my own, so of course I’m drawn to it.
PV: Caleb J Ross?
RT: Caleb is really smart, he brings a certain intelligence to his work, you have to pay attention. And he surprises me. I don’t think of him as being dark or strange in his writing but there were moments in I Didn’t Mean to be Kevin that I was floored. Same with Stranger Will. He doesn’t use gimmicks, he’s just a strong writer. I know his stories, his work, will always be captivating.
PV: Will Christopher Baer?
RT: Baer, yes…he’s probably the strongest voice, the largest influence on my work of anyone I’ve ever read. There’s something special about Kiss Me Judas, like you’ve said before, it’s the mix of love and pain, the s/m quality of it, the torture and the worship. You don’t see as much of his influence in my book Transubstantiate, but it’s certainly there in Disintegration. I’m just so mad that I missed his class at the Cult. And he’s so private, I’d really love to meet him. He is a voice, a tone, a perspective that really moves me. I wish he’d put out more work.
PV: Stephen Graham Jones?
RT: I’m glad you mentioned him. He has also been a huge influence on me, his work, the ability he has to straddle the lit-genre fence. He is so prolific, so talented, so incredibly smart. And humble. I’ve met him twice, at two AWPs, and he’s just so down to earth, always defending Stephen King, and the books and films he loves, always supportive of my work. He also blurbed Transubstantiate. Really, his is the life I want. To publish like he does, short and long form, to teach, to talk at panels, to be a part of it all. My favorite of his is All the Beautiful Sinners, and the opening to that book will haunt me forever.
PV: Craig Clevenger?
RT: Craig. Where to start. Craig is brilliant. The authority he brings to his work, it blows me away. I studied with him, twice, at the Cult. The story “Stillness”, he pushed me, said send it out, it’s perfect, and that blew me away. Compared my work to Steve Erickson, an idol of his. And that story will publish next to King & Straub, as I’ve mentioned. So, he knows what he’s doing. His work is original, inventive, rich, and also in the neo-noir family, although I think he’s moving away from that tone. The Contortionist’s Handbook and Dermaphoria are two fantastic books, and we need more of his work out there. He’s so hard on himself. But he gets great results. I re-read those books often. He’s been a great supporter of my work, blurbed my novel, really a shining example of talent and generosity.
RELATE AN ANECDOTE
PV: I’ve studied with him a little as well. In fact, not long afterward I was there in San Francisco on a night he was participating in a reading. I brought my husband, and in the bar I was approached by a man with wiry long gray hair, shredded jeans, sandals and a guitar, and he said to me, “Hey! How ya doin? You look good.” I chatted with him, because I believed he was Craig. I thought, What a sly one, posting photos online of himself thirty years younger. But then he said something peculiar. Minutes before the show would start, while my husband stood beside me perfectly dumbfounded, he said to me, “So, you wanna get outta here?” Turns out he was a homeless guy, sort of a loner, not even there for the reading. It was a confusing night for me. And I still haven’t talked to Craig in person.
RT: Hahahahhahaah, that is hilarious…love it. Good thing you’re married and not the type to sleep with authors to further your writing career. . .
PV: Ha. Exactly.
DISCUSS “THE CRAFT”
PV: What is it you like to accomplish with your writing?
RT: I like to push buttons, that’s what I shoot for. I want to make you angry, get your heart beating, turn you on, scare you, make you awestruck with wonder, just run you through it all, leaving you in a quivering pile of raw emotion. Not sure if I do that all the time, but I think there are moments in all of my work where I get close.
PV: I believe so. You’ve told me you don’t plot. Why not?
RT: When I know where it’s going, I get bored, I feel like I have to write to that direction, and force characters to a certain decision, and it doesn’t feel right. I have more fun with an idea, a philosophy, and putting characters in situations where they have to reveal themselves.
I had a very clear idea of the Narrator in Disintegration, and where that story would start, that apartment, a place I used to live when I was in Wicker Park, a place I disintegrated in a bit myself, falling down, losing my mind, drunk all the time, drugs, cutting myself, suicidal, really just falling apart.
PV: You use your own experiences often in your work?
RT: Well, what’s interesting, I remember workshopping a novel (The Fool, my memoir) and I was trying to sell it as fiction and people were like “no way did he have a threesome, no way did that guy die, I just don’t buy it” and yet, it was all true.
Part of the problem with writing from past experiences is that sometimes you are so committed to the memory that you lose sight of the drama in the scene, and you aren’t willing to cut things, or build on a moment—if the scene doesn’t work it doesn’t work, whether it happened or not
ADDRESS PERSONALITY DISORDERS
PV: You’ve called yourself bi-polar, what does that look like for you?
RT: I say bi-polar, but I’m not on medication or anything, just that I tend to go to extremes, one day on top of the world, a gifted writer, the next day thinking I’m wasting my time, deluding myself. Really, I’m very humble, consider myself very lucky, and a product of my surroundings. BUT, you also have to have a lot of confidence to write, to sell yourself like I do.
You may not answer this question, PV, but why the dual identities? Why not just put your stamp on your work, and put it out there, have confidence in what you do, and tell the world to fuck off? I know that some of my work, the sex and violence, oh…it does give me pause. It does when I think “Oh shit, is my MOM going to read this?” It’s tough. And I know you’re often writing about sex and violence as well. Own it, sister.
PV: That’s a really good question. My answer wouldn’t be as good. Although, I would have used the word pussy—in addressing the potential lexicon of an alternate persona in contrast to that of someone’s mother. You didn’t say pussy.
RT: Ha. True. Here’s a tough question. Honestly how do you feel when you see people succeeding around you? Does it crush you a little bit?
PV: Are you kidding, I love it. Climb that ladder. Show me your coattails, I’ll show you mine.
Seriously, I love it when those I like get due affection and recognition. I have fantastic taste in people.
EXPLORE GENDER IDENTIFICATION
PV: Have you ever worn makeup, excluding stage?
RT: Sure, I’ve worn it. Not so much eyeliner and lipstick, but I’ve dressed up in drag for Halloween. Hard to find size 12 women’s shoes. I have nice legs, so I’ve been told. I did go through a phase where I wore nail polish, usually black, but also dark blue, and even this cat-eye thing I did for awhile, black with a red stripe. This was during my own disintegration phase. Let’s just say that certain ladies really liked it. I had a look for sure, a certain arrogance, a who cares mindset, because, I didn’t care, about myself, about anything. Some women find that attractive.
Have you ever dressed up in drag, like a man?
PV: In seventh grade I was an old man for Halloween, gray wig and all, and nobody recognized me. I hated it. Years later we had some old film developed and found this awful, haunting photo of a lonely old man. It was another couple years before someone realized it was me in my ill-conceived costume. I’ve learned—you never wanna go full drag. You gotta hold a little back.
Are you an emotional guy? What makes you cry?
RT: It wouldn’t take much to make me cry, seriously. I keep my emotions bubbling right on the surface. Easier to access them that way. I cry over stupid shows like Top Chef or Lost or anything that feels real, human emotions, real risk and fear and hope. Do you cry easily?
PV: No. And using a one-word answer for that question.
I do, however, come apart at the sight of Mickey Mouse in a parade. No joke, he comes around the corner with Minnie and I’m finished. Ceremonious processions of any kind can destroy me.
EXPLORE SELF PERCEPTION
PV: Which actor would play you in your biopic?
RT: Let me think. I’ve been told I look like a lot of people. I’ve gotten Matthew Broderick, Harry Connick Jr., even JFK Jr. Don’t laugh! I had a waitress approach me once and ask if I was Broderick. And my nickname in college was Ferris. I think it’s because the sorority girls didn’t like yelling out DICK to get my attention. I could see Broderick now, playing me at this age. When I was younger though, in my prime? Boy, that’s tough. Maybe a young Christian Bale? He’d have to have thick, curvy hair. Maybe Gordon Levitt, Jared Leto? Shia LeBouf is growing into a look. I don’t know.
Who’d play you? I see a combination of Sherilyn Fenn, Jennifer Connelly, and Dita Von Teese.
PV: Those are fine. If Courtney Cox could take some ludes, maybe her. I move slow like Connelly but she’s a little blank for me. Amanda Peet? Ideally it’d be someone who easily slides from contemplative to playful and from sultry to maternal. It’s seems I get quickly pinned as a singular thing but it’s not so; I go from shrewd to slightly retarded really goddamn quickly.
DISCUSS CURRENT PROJECTS
PV: How’s Write Club going for you?
RT: Write Club is such a great place, this is my fourth year, I think, and I could never see myself leaving the group, they’re such a great support system, so smart, so encouraging,
PV: Agreed. I should confess that I predicted you wouldn’t apply more than a tenth of the suggestions you receive on your current project, Disintegration. You think that’s a valid guess?
RT: I think I’ll apply a lot more than 10%, but that’s funny that you think I’ll basically ignore the group.
PV: Yeah? Well, you’re always visibly grateful for the input, and I really wouldn’t fault you for going your own way; you know what you like, you produce consistent work, and I think that’s been a huge factor in your success so far. I envy your certainty. The end result is always sharp with you.
RT: Thanks. I do consider every comment and edit that is given to me, at Write Club, and beyond. I usually feel like I’ve gotten things right the first time, because the scene speaks to me, it pours out of me, it’s just a matter of nailing it down. I have to follow my guts, my instincts, but I’m always open to suggestion. When you’ve written as much as I have (four novels, 25 stories) you get a sense of when it is working and when it isn’t. BUT if you can convince me of something, I’ll do it.
But yes, I’ll maybe take half of the advice. That rape scene won’t go any father. That was a weird moment, I remember thinking “Well, Richard, are you going to do it? Is this your Requiem for a Dream moment?” I actually thought of you, Pela, and could hear you telling me to push it, take it as far as I could. And that’s what I got. I learned something about the Narrator. And myself. You’d like me to take it farther, right?
PV: I would in that scene, that’s true. It’s pretty bold to let your protagonist rape a woman. I felt like you were onto something unique there in exemplifying the disintegration of a good man.
RT: If there was one thing you’d love me to add or change in Disintegration, what would it be?
PV: I don’t have any one change for that book. I pointed out a thing here and there, but I saw your vision and I am genuinely really into it.
SHOW PROPER AFFECTION
PV: Richard, you write such intense prose. The style, the melody of your voice lends itself perfectly to a character-driven noir tale. This is where I like you best. You know I’m crazy about Disintegration. I can’t wait to see that one on my shelf.
RT: Thanks, PV. I look forward to your new work, too, always compelling and entertaining, with a bit of heat. What I like most about your work, and your personality, is that you have a unique perspective. You aren’t afraid to put taboo subject matter on the page. You tell it how it is, and I think your writing is very intense, it always gets a strong reaction out of me. And you constantly shock me. You have a curiosity about you that is captivating.
LEAVE THEM DISTURBED
PV: This was fun, Richard. Thanks.
RT: Thank you, PV. You’re a very smart, very funny woman, with a powerful appeal, and one hell of a writer too. These conversations are fun.
PV: You know, when I did a conversation-interview like this with Caleb J Ross, by some unexplained mystery—my brain crossing wires—in one of the single most nonsexual associations ever, there was like a six month period where nearly every orgasm I had was briefly interrupted by the image of Caleb’s blog popping into my head.
RT: I’m not even sure how to comment on that.
PV: Not the man, remember, just his blog. He’s a family man and I’m very happily married.
RT: I have to run tell Caleb this.
PV: Don’t. I guarantee you he’ll stop returning my emails. This is between me, my husband and a blog.
PV: On that note.
Thanks, Richard, for taking the time to talk to me. I always enjoy your company.
RT: Thank you, Pela. The pleasure’s been mine.About the author
Pela Via is the fiction editor for Outsider Writers Collective and a member of Write Club 2010. Her limited short work has appeared at Red Fez, Troubadour 21 and Nefarious Muse. Her story “Burning Hot Girls” is nominated for the 2009 Best of the Net Anthology. Pela was a panelist for the Velvet Podcast on sex and violence in fiction. She can be found at pelavia.com.