Author Lee Thomas writes horror, queer horror, slightly bent horror, and more than horror. If you've read his I'm Your Violence short story in Unspeakable Horror: From the Shadows of the Closet, I don't really need to tell you how he writes it. In that story he brought guilt, retribution, pasty gore, and gruesome death from under the pillow, leaving a nasty stain of reflection to think about.
In an interview you said writing has always been a part of your life. Why is that?
I'm not sure of the "why" of it. It probably had something to do with childhood insecurity. I wasn't (and am still not) very comfortable around people, and I didn't express myself well verbally; but if I had the opportunity to write an idea down and tinker with it, I was able to convey my thoughts with some form of clarity. In the third grade I wrote short stories and puppet show scripts. I wrote my first novel when I was sixteen. It was a really bad werewolf novel and the character names kept changing, but a lot of it ended up informing my first published novel, Stained.
Though I've been writing most of my life, I didn't really try to sell my work until about eight years ago, and since then I've seen dozens of my short stories published, along with 10 novels (for adults and young adults) and a handful of non-fiction pieces.
You like to write horror fiction: tell us about your monsterkid influences as you grew up, and how they affected your writing.
I think my first exposure to horror was catching Frankenstein on television. There was that moment when the "monster" turned to the camera from a doorway and it scared the hell out of me. I liked it. So, I spent a lot of time looking to repeat that thrill. I watched anything with a creature in it, from Hammer films to Toho giant monster flicks. When I started reading "real" books, around 10 or 11 years old, I jumped in head first, reading Stoker's Dracula, Blatty's The Exorcist, and anything else I could get my hands on. Then I was exposed to James Herbert and early Stephen King, and a whole slew of really awful mass-market novels, some of which were brilliantly bad.
The older I grew, the more discriminating I became in what I read, and the sheer pulpy fun of the bulk of those mass-market titles took a backseat to more accomplished writing with greater depth of character and intricacy of plot (a la Peter Straub). Then Barker came along and brought a different sensibility to the genre that blew me away. Joe R. Lansdale was another great influence. In my own writing I keep trying to find the balance between intellectual and emotional engagement and the extremely fun gut-punch of the pulps I loved as a kid. One of these days, I'll get it right.
What is your daily routine for writing?
Oh that I had one. I've been writing full time for about 5 years now, but no pattern has emerged, except that I wake every day intending to write and I usually get something done everyday. Sometimes my entire day's production will take place before noon. Other times, I need some TV, reading or video game action to wake the brain up, so it might not be until afternoon or evening before I get to work. Some projects, like The Dust of Wonderland, come in a flood and I'm obsessed from the time I wake up until I crash, and I spend every available minute on them. Others move at a more leisurely pace. If I'm researching, which I've found I enjoy, a whole day can pass as I follow one thread of
information to another.
Really important question: having grown up in Seattle, are you a tea or coffee drinker?
Coffee. Morning, noon, and night. There aren't enough hours in the day for all of the coffee I want to drink.
Which authors does Lee Thomas read and why should we read them too?
I covered the early influences above (and I'm still reading most of them). I discovered Thomas Tessier, Graham Joyce, and Jack Ketchum more recently (in the last 10 years or so), and I've gone back and devoured their work. Newer authors I enjoy include Joe Hill, Tim Lebbon, Sarah Langan, Brian Keene, Tom Piccirilli, Laird Barron, Gary Braunbeck, Jim Moore, David Wellington, and a handful of emerging folks like Nate Southard, Joe McKinney, Paul Tremblay, John Langan, Nick Kaufmann, Joel Lane, and others I'm sure I'm forgetting.
Outside of genre I'm reading James Lee Burke, Russell Banks, Michael Cunningham, Armistead Maupin, John Irving, Ken Bruen, and going back, as I always do, to Hemingway, Steinbeck, Capote, and Baldwin.
What about horror movies?
Wow, just about everything, from ultra-bad slashers to brilliant mind-screws. Universal classics, particularly The Wolf Man; Hammer Studios; Italian horror from Bava, Fulci, and Argento; The Evil Dead trilogy; The Exorcist; The first few Romero zombie films; Carpenter's The Thing, Halloween, and The Fog; Stuart Gordon's work (with a soft spot for his film Dolls); about one-third of Wes Craven's films; a good amount of Asian Horror with big love for Ringu, Ju-On, and Cure. Of the recent spate of remakes I've enjoyed My Bloody Valentine 3-D, Friday the 13th, and Dawn of the Dead.
What does it take to become a successfully published author in today's market?
I imagine it takes what it always has: hard work, which includes pushing yourself to improve your craft; persistence in sending your work out; and a bit of luck in getting the right story in front of the right eyes (which can be managed through persistence). Beyond that it can take a good amount of patience. This is the thing that's tough for a lot of new writers to get their minds around.
Authors sign bad--sometimes pure-crap--deals on their work just to have it out there fast (I know I did early on). This does them, their careers, and their readers a great disservice. Granted some authors have found short cuts with online publishing, podcasting, self-publishing, and other new media, and for some it has translated into success, like Monster Island author David Wellington who first published his books as blog posts. Eventually the publishing dynamic is going to shift dramatically as a result of new media, but right now, the traditional route to publication is still firmly in place, and that means an author may have to wait a very long time to see his/her work reputably published.
What can we expect from you in the future?
My short story collection, In the Closet, Under the Bed, which collects 15 of my queer-themed short stories, will be out December 15th from Dark Scribe Press. I'm thrilled about this one; it's a unique horror collection to be sure. Plus, I have some new short stories coming out, including "Nothing Forgiven," which will appear in Darkness on the Edge from PS Publishing, and "Inside Where It's Warm," a zombie story I wrote for a forthcoming anthology edited by Joe McKinney.
There are a couple of others I can't talk about right now. My novella The Black Sun Set will be released next year by Burning Effigy Press out of Canada, and a novella collaboration I did with Nate Southard called Focus will also be hitting in 2010. Other things are in the works but I can't comment until contracts are signed.
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