Why Do I Write Horror?
By Richard Thomas
For the past ten years I’ve been writing short stories, and in that time, my work has certainly changed. I’ve always written dark fiction, but it started out as neo-noir, and has since evolved (hopefully) to include fantasy, science fiction, and horror. Even when I write magical realism, transgressive fiction, or literary stories—I always seem to tap into the horror and terror of tension, threat, truth, realization, and tragedy.
Let me see if I can explain.
For me, horror stories are more than gore. It’s about something you’ve never seen before, something unsettling—either thinly veiled in the humanity around you, or wrapped up in the supernatural, defying expectation. Either can work. There is so much in the world (in the universe, really) that is beyond explanation. I’ve seen things, born witness, and I can’t say it gave me any comfort—beyond the fact that I survived, and my knowledge was expanded. Maybe I was more prepared, or at least, forewarned.
I used to write horror because it was a rollercoaster ride of excitement—what weirdness could I put on the page, what darkness could I conjure up, what mythology could I tap into with my stories? But over time, once I’d written a good number of classic tropes—vampires, werewolves, demons, witches, etc.—I sought out more satisfying work. More complex stories to tell. It had to be more than just a wild ride. It had to mean something. The journey had to be worth it. So how could I get the horror to resonate?
I wanted to go beyond the cautionary tale.
I wanted to do more than shock and scare.
I wanted the imagery, the emotion, and the possibility of what I’d written to linger.
These days, whether my horror leans into the fantastic, the literary, or the uncanny, I’m always conscious of the message, the emotions, and the denouement. And on top of that, I’ve tried to use hope and love as the center of the stories, not death. It’s not easy. But I’ve found that if I can spin a yarn, do something slightly original, and surprise the reader (not a TWIST, but a REVELATION), then maybe the story will stay with you. When students of mine talk about a story I wrote several years ago, such as “Asking for Forgiveness” it makes me very happy—not only because I like that story quite a lot, but because there is more to that story than violence, darkness, lore, and vengeance—there is love, hope, and redemption. If they’re still talking about something I published back in 2014, I must have done something right.
The last story I wrote, a novelette, “Ring of Fire,” was probably the most difficult thing I’ve ever done. And quite possibly, some of my best work. I was invited into a “seven deadly sins” anthology, and as assigned lust. I didn’t want to regurgitate Hellraiser, and I didn’t want it to even HINT at rape and misogyny, so I had to work hard to find the right tone, the right emotions (a balance of light and dark), and the right ending. I was blocked for months. After watching several films, re-reading novels and novellas of authors that inspire me, I finally got it rolling, and it spilled out of me over a few days. 5,000 words a day. Which doesn’t happen very often. The three threads of the story would balance the narrative—the two voices that watch over it all; the lists acting as a chorus to help reveal the truth; and the protagonist, a man that had to not only be the catalyst for change, but a truly despicable individual. Not easy. When the ending came, and then changed, morphed, pushing into one long denouement, that epilogue was a surprise. But it’s what the story needed to really work—the way the end ripples out, the horror, the hope, and the change.
So, why do I write horror? Not simply to scare, but to enlighten.
Richard Thomas is the award-winning author of seven books—Disintegration and Breaker (Penguin Random House Alibi), Transubstantiate, Staring into the Abyss, Herniated Roots, Tribulations, and The Soul Standard (Dzanc Books). His over 140 stories in print include Cemetery Dance (twice), Behold!: Oddities, Curiosities and Undefinable Wonders (Bram Stoker Winner), PANK, storySouth, Gargoyle, Weird Fiction Review, Midwestern Gothic, Gutted: Beautiful Horror Stories, Qualia Nous, Chiral Mad (numbers 2-4), and Shivers VI. He was also the editor of four anthologies: The New Black and Exigencies (Dark House Press), The Lineup: 20 Provocative Women Writers (Black Lawrence Press) and Burnt Tongues (Medallion Press) with Chuck Palahniuk. He has been nominated for the Bram Stoker, Shirley Jackson, and Thriller awards. In his spare time he writes for Lit Reactor and is Editor-in-Chief at Gamut Magazine.
You can follow Richard on Twitter @richardgthomas3
The Seven Deadliest
Throughout history, there have been certain moral evils so entangling, so alluring, that they routinely give birth to countless other evils in the hearts of human beings.
From antiquity, these “capital vices” have been known as the seven deadly sins.
Now, from the editors who brought you Cutting Block Single Slices and Shadows Over Main Street, comes an all-new novella anthology featuring seven dark fiction authors at the top of their games, each writing passionately about one of The Seven Deadliest sins.
Inside these pages: John C. Foster spins “Gilda,” a yarn about Avarice; Bracken MacLeod takes us on the road to Wrath with “A Short Madness”; Kasey Lansdale’s “Cap Diamant” teaches us the steep cost of Pride; Brian Kirk lays bare the Jealousy hidden beneath affluence in “Chisel and Stone”; Rena Mason reveals a new and terrifying guise of Sloth in “Clevengers of the Carrion Sea”; Richard Thomas examines Lust in his dystopian “Ring of Fire”; and John F.D. Taff feeds us the darker aspects of Gluttony in “All You Care to Eat.”
These dark tales from a cabal of highly regarded and award-winning authors hold nothing back, so turn the pages and feast your eyes. The Seven Deadliest sins await you.
This is the tale of a town on the fringes of fear, of ordinary people and everyday objects transformed by terror and madness, a microcosm of the world where nothing is ever quite what it seems. This is a world where the unreal is real, where the familiar and friendly lure and deceive. On the outskirts of civilisation sits this solitary town. Home to the unhinged. Oblivion to outsiders.
Shallow Creek contains twenty-one original horror stories by a chilling cast of contemporary writers, including stories by Sarah Lotz, Richard Thomas, Adrian J Walker, and Aliya Whitely. Told through a series of interconnected narratives, Shallow Creek is an epic anthology that exposes the raw human emotion and heart-pounding thrills at the genre’s core.
Welcome to Shallow Creek!