Richard Thomas’ new story collection, Spontaneous Human Combustion, looks terrifying and wonderful. A blend of horror, science fiction, and fantasy, the collection has been praised as “simultaneously lush and terrifying” by A.C. Wise and got a starred review in Publisher’s Weekly.
On another note, I’ve been doing these Q&As now for almost three years now. I feel like I learn a lot about each person from their answers, and their experiences and emotions fascinate me. But no interview has given me chills the way this one has. Read on, my friends. You are in for a treat!
What is the scariest thing you remember from childhood?
I was hiking in downtown St. Louis with my Boy Scout troop, and we saw a man parachute out of a small plane, land briefly on the St. Louis Arch, and then plummet to his death right in front of us. We tried to run up the stairs, as one of our leaders was saying, “We can save him, we can catch him!” He bounced, like ten feet in the air. I’d never seen so much blood—a sheen of it as wide as a leg of the arch. I often wonder if that’s why I started writing horror stories.
“I’d never seen so much blood—a sheen of it as wide as a leg of the arch.”
Do you believe in ghosts?
I do, because I’ve seen a ghost. My friend Martin passed away at an early age. He was only 52. Before he died, he told me he had been dating this woman who was a witch. If anything happened to him, he said, it was her. And then he died. It was quite unsettling. What shocked me was that one day he appeared to me in shadow, dark, and translucent. And he was angry. I wasn’t expecting that. I told him I loved him, and that he had to move on, that he was freaking me out. I blinked, and he was gone.
Have you ever had any paranormal experiences or premonitions?
In addition to the Martin story, my son once did a photography project with candles and a pentagram he drew. I didn’t know this. When he was done, he asked what to do with the drawing. I was obviously not happy with this. We tore it into four sections and then drowned it (flushed it down the toilet), thew away part of it in the trash, buried part of it, and burned part of it. That night I woke up to a shadow standing over my bed. That happened a few times. My son didn’t think it was funny after that. We eventually smudged the house, and it seems to have moved on. Did not enjoy that, no.
Is there anything you are terrified of eating?
I’m not a fan of stinky, gooey cheeses. That and some fish—really stinky fish. But mostly I’ll eat anything. Not a huge fan of mushrooms.
What’s the scariest thing you’ve ever written?
That’s a tough question. There are some great stories in my current collection, Spontaneous Human Combustion, but quite a few of them have hope at the end. There is a story, the first one in my collection, “Repent,” that involves satanic rituals and spells. I didn’t even like looking these things up—and in fact, never did read any spell to completion or include all the ingredients necessary. The ultimate sacrifice that he makes in that story, erasing himself in the process, really breaks my heart. That scares me, bothers me, so many aspects of that story.
Do you have any horror movie dealbreakers?
I don’t like watching anything involving sexual abuse of anyone, really, but especially children. I’m not a huge fan of “torture porn,” but in the right film, I can tolerate the violence. I love movies like Hereditary and The Witch, but films like Martyrs? I get it, and it works, but I won’t watch that again.
What’s the scariest book you’ve ever read?
I think The Girl Next Door by Jack Ketchum. I felt complicit. I thought of books like American Psycho and The End of Alice by AM Homes, and The Wasp Factory by Ian Banks, but it’s often the human element that scares me the most—not demons, werewolves, vampires, and zombies. The lengths that people will go to in order to hurt each other? It breaks my heart. Really affects me. The opening to that book is, “You think you know about pain?” It’s intense.
What is your favorite monster/villain?
Lately I’ve been digging cosmic horror, and there are some fascinating creatures under that Lovecraftian umbrella. I think it’s more about the old gods, the futility of fighting back, the scope of the horrors that are scattered across the universe, and other planets. Maybe because I’ve been writing a lot of cosmic horror and new-weird, this is what’s fascinating me these days. I’m always looking for an original experience—via the prose, story, plot, characters, settings, and/or monsters. So if you can surprise me, show me something I haven’t seen before, or do it in a new, fresh way, that’s exciting. It’s part of what I loved most running both Gamut Magazine and Dark House Press.
People often say death is their greatest fear. What are your feelings about death/dying?
I feel like there is so much we don’t know or understand. I don’t believe in a “heaven” per se, with clouds and pearly gates, but I do believe in a higher power, and so of course, with that good presence, I also believe in a negative presence, in evil. I believe in reincarnation, so I think there is more out there than this, more opportunities, other lives to live. It’s a hopeful belief, glass half full, so really crossing my fingers that it’s accurate.
What is your greatest fear as a writer?
I think for me it’s that my work disappears and that nobody will read me. I want my stories, or at least my best work, to stand the test of time. I was so excited that Spontaneous Human Combustion came out in hardcover (my first time), because it makes me think people might hold onto it, cherish it, and that it may hold up to aging.
Richard Thomas is the award-winning author of eight books—Disintegration and Breaker (Penguin Random House Alibi), Transubstantiate, Herniated Roots, Staring Into the Abyss, Tribulations, Spontaneous Human Combustion (Turner Publishing), and The Soul Standard (Dzanc Books). He has been nominated for the Bram Stoker, Shirley Jackson, Thriller, and Audie awards. His over 165 stories in print include The Best Horror of the Year (Volume Eleven), Behold!: Oddities, Curiosities and Undefinable Wonders (Bram Stoker winner), Cemetery Dance (twice), PANK, storySouth, Gargoyle, Weird Fiction Review, Shallow Creek, The Seven Deadliest, Gutted: Beautiful Horror Stories, Qualia Nous, Chiral Mad (numbers 2-4), PRISMS, and Shivers VI.