Richard Thomas’s brand new thriller, Disintegration, just came out at the end of May, and he kindly stopped by to answer a few of my questions about it! Please welcome him back!
There’s already been fantastic buzz for Disintegration! Will you tell us more about it, and your protagonist?
Thanks for the kind words. It’s been such a long journey, six years in the making, and I’m really excited and relieved to have it finally out. Not to mention excellent blurbs from such amazing authors as Irvine Welsh, Benjamin Percy, Brian Evenson, Laird Barron, Paul Tremblay, Chuck Wendig, and Donald Ray Pollock. My protagonist is essentially me. These are my worst fears come true. I was taking a class with Jack Ketchum and he told us to write about what scares us the most, and this is what I worry about—anything happening to my family. His downward spiral is what I imagine could happen to anyone that went through something like this—getting drunk, falling apart, losing everything, resorting to violence to exact vengeance, losing faith in the world, in God, seeing only chaos. This is the only way he can find a reason to continue, by ridding Chicago of the worst people out there—murderers, rapists, and pedophiles.
Did you do any particular research for the book?
Actually, I did a lot of research. I lived in the Bucktown / Wicker Park area where this is set, for about 12 years, but I went back and walked around, looked up things online to get the colors and textures and little details right. I did research on everything from BDSM and Chicago gangs to local architecture and tattoos. I learned a lot, and then filled in any gaps with my own experiences (it’s set in my old apartment on Milwaukee Avenue, and Luscious is my cat, who passed away a few years ago).
Obviously you’re not afraid to explore the dark side of the human psyche, writing characters that are as complex as they are dark. What are a few of your favorite anti-heroes in film or books?
Well, I think the obvious first thought is Dexter. You can see a lot of that vengeance in here, a certain set of rules, although my protagonist isn’t as detailed. I always liked reading about Hannibal Lecter—I think I may have even rooted for him as some point, wanting him to get away with it all. He has his own set of rules, too, a way of living, and dispensing justice. He’s a fascinating character. Another character I think about is The Judge from Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian, who is the blueprint for my main character, Ray, in my next book in the Windy City Dark Mystery Series—The Breaker. I have to mention Patrick Bateman in American Psycho, and more recently, Walter White, in Breaking Bad.
What is your writing process like? Can you write anywhere, or do you need certain things to get the creative juices flowing?
I’ve written a few different places, was awarded a writing residency once, but I do prefer the comfort of my office, my desk, and my iMac. I can make my office dark, close the blinds and drapes, and drift off to any place I like. I don’t write every day, that’s for sure. It tends to come in spurts, writing a 6,000-word short story in one day, or a novel in 25 days—65,000 words in less than a month. I wrote the second half of Disintegration in five days, about 40,000 words. When I latch onto something I like, I run with it. Luckily I type about 70 wpm, so I can usually keep up with my thoughts and visions. I also don’t plot—so a lot of my writing is following my instincts, chasing emotions and motivations, doing what feels right, logical, and yet still trying to be unique in my choices.
Two come to mind, because they’re the two books I give away the most, probably twenty copies of each, at least, over the years.
The first is Will Christopher Baer’s Kiss Me, Judas, because it really defines the neo-noir tone I seek in my writing—a story that is compelling, urging you forward, and yet lyrical and poetic at times, some unique sentences and phrases. The other is All the Beautiful Sinners by Stephen Graham Jones. He’s such an original voice, and what that book does for serial killers—I really think it’s innovative. I was lucky enough to reprint his story, “Father, Son, Holy Rabbit” in The New Black, which I edited for Dark House Press—it’s one of my favorite stories ever. And we also published his collection, After the People Lights Have Gone Off, which was nominated for a Bram Stoker Award (didn’t win) and is currently up for a Shirley Jackson Award. Those two, and probably Blood Meridian—and Perdido Street Station by China Mieville. Those all leap out at me.
You’re a wearer of many hats: you’re an accomplished editor and author. What’s next for you?
Well, the second anthology for Dark House Press just came out, which I edited, all new stories (no reprints) and we are currently the #1 Hot New Release in Horror Anthologies on Amazon, which is exciting. Of course, I’m editing The Breaker, which should be out later this year or early 2016. This Windy City Dark Mystery series is set in Chicago, different neighborhoods, but with a similar tone, mood, atmosphere and backdrop. The second book is set in Logan Square, just up the road from Disintegration—in fact, Disintegration ends in Logan Square, and the protagonists from both books briefly cross paths. It’s really more like what Stephen King did with small town Maine settings than a traditional mystery series. And speaking of King, I have a story in Chiral Mad 3 alongside him again (this will be the fourth time we’ve been in the same magazine or anthology) as well as a novella in The Soul Standard, which I wrote with Caleb Ross, Nik Korpon, and Axel Taiari out with Dzanc Books in early 2016. And there will be a third short story collection next year, Tribulations, as well as a collection of non-fiction essays, but I can’t talk about those just yet. I’m really excited about each and every one of these opportunities, to be surrounded by so many talented authors, to get to work with so many amazing editor, and artists—it’s such fulfilling work.
Once a suburban husband and father, now the man has lost all sense of time. He retains only a few keepsakes of his former life: a handmade dining room table, an armoire and dresser from the bedroom, and a tape of the last message his wife ever left on their answering machine. These are memories of a man who no longer exists. Booze and an affair with a beautiful woman provide little relief, with the only meaning left in his life comes from his assignments. An envelope slipped under the door of his apartment with the name and address of an unpunished evildoer. The unspoken directive to kill. And every time he does, he marks the occasion with a memento: a tattoo. He has a lot of tattoos.
But into this unchanging existence seep unsettling questions. How much of what he feels and sees can he trust? How much is a lie designed to control him? He will risk his own life—and the lives of everyone around him—to find out.