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Success Story Interview - Richard Thomas

An Interview with Richard Thomas (wickerkat on QT) upon receiving an offer of representation from agent Paula Munier of Talcott Notch Literary Services.


QT: Can you tell us a little bit about the book for which you've found representation? What inspired you to write it?
Richard Thomas:
It's called Disintegration, and I'm calling it a neo-noir, transgressive thriller. It's definitely the darkest book I've written to date, but there is still some hope buried in the text. It's a mix of Dexter and Falling Down. My unnamed protagonist sees his family die in front of him, a car accident, and he falls apart. He slowly loses his mind, disintegrating, leaving the safety and calm of the suburbs for the city of Chicago (Wicker Park, where I lived for ten years). He takes a job with a questionable man named Vlad and falls off the grid, descending into a life of crime and murder.
QT: How long have you been writing?
Richard Thomas:
Seriously, for about five years. I took a chance with some online classes at The Cult ( with Craig Clevenger, Monica, Drake, Max Barry, and Jack Ketchum, and it worked out. I've had sixty stories published in the past five years, including "Stillness" in Shivers VI with Stephen King and Peter Straub. But I knew I had to get an agent to take it to the next level.
QT: How long have you been working on this book?
Richard Thomas:
I wrote the first half in six months for my MFA at Murray State University, and then put it aside for a semester to work on short stories with a Pulitzer nominated professor. I picked it up and finished the second half a year later, then workshopped it for a year. I then shopped it for a year as well. So, I think that's about three years now, and we just started sending it out this past June.
QT: Was there ever a time you felt like giving up, and what helped you to stay on course?
Richard Thomas:
All the time. I questioned every instinct I had. But, I would get positive feedback here and there from presses and agents, so I kept at it. Strangely enough I had an offer on it from a press the same week as I got an offer for representation. Having a great support network really helped me to keep from getting discouraged. That, and I kept writing short stories, sending them out, so I was having some success with those, which made me feel like I wasn't a total failure.
QT: Is this your first book?
Richard Thomas:
No. I published my first novel, Transubstantiate, a neo-noir, speculative thriller in 2009 with a small press, Otherworld Publications. It's a mix of Lost, The Truman Show, and The Prisoner. A lot of great things happened because of that, but they also dropped the ball quite a few times. It's now out of print, as the owner is sick, and they're folding. But I learned a lot.
QT: Do you have any formal writing training?
Richard Thomas:
Aside from the online classes I mentioned above, I just received my diploma, my MFA in Creative Writing, from Murray State University down in Murray, KY. I live in Chicago, and this is a low-res program, so I'd drive down twice a year for ten days. It was a blast and I learned so much.
QT: Do you follow a writing routine or schedule?
Richard Thomas:
For Transubstantiate, because it ended up being seven first-person perspectives, I wrote 500-900 words a day on my lunch hour. I'd just close my office door, eat a sandwich, and write my butt off. Monday, that's Jacob. Tuesday, that's Marcy. These short blasts of writing really worked for me. For Disintegration, I was in a different mindset, different place and time, so I'd just block out a day, send away the wife and kids to go see her mother or something, and write all day long. I'd get anywhere from 5,000-10,000 words written. These large blocks of time really allowed me to spend time with my protagonist. But, these days, I just squeeze it in wherever I can, mostly writing short stories. I have about 8,000 words of my third novel, Incarnate, written, but I'm taking a break to work on other projects, and need to think about the direction on this one, I've hit a bit of a wall.
QT: How many times did you re-write/edit your book?
Richard Thomas:
Oh, man, no idea. Dozens, for sure. I rewrote each package for my MFA. I then went through it a few times when it was all done, reading for different things (tense, setting, cohesion, etc.). THEN I started the workshop, where I got at least four opinions on every chapter (but usually more), reworked those. It was a long process. I can still find things I'd fix. It never ends, right?
QT: Did you have beta readers for your book?
Richard Thomas:
Yes. I'm part of a private workshop called Write Club. We all came out of The Cult, so we were Chuck Palahniuk fans, ergo the play on Fight Club. We have a core group of about fifteen people, and then each year about a dozen drop and a dozen join, so we are about twenty-five to thirty members in any given year. The rule is, wait, I can't talk about it. My bad. Just kidding. You come in with a novel, either written, or outlined, and then you are assigned a spot in the lineup and are required to critique FOUR other novels over the course of the year. So you post up your work as you do it, and then read the other books. It's a great group, and I probably couldn't have done any of this without their support.
QT: Did you outline your book, or do you write from the hip?
Richard Thomas:
I had broad ideas, big brushstrokes, but no, I did not plot it, or outline it. I like to discover what's happening as my readers are discovering it. When I plot something out it feels too dry, too planned, and expected. If I know where it's going, so will the reader. I knew it would be about a man who loses his family, and I knew he would have no name. I knew I'd set it in Wicker Park, in my old apartment, in the winter. I knew that he would work for this guy, Vlad, and eventually start killing "bad guys" but beyond that, no idea where it would go.
QT: How long have you been querying for this book? Other books?
Richard Thomas:
Transubstantiate I got lucky, maybe three months in when I discovered Otherworld Publications. Disintegration was just over a year when I got the offer from Paula Munier at Talcott Notch Literary Agency.
QT: About how many query letters did you send out for this book?
Richard Thomas:
Well over a hundred. And I was just about out of options, even had an offer from a small press, when I signed with Paula.
QT: On what criteria did you select the agents you queried?
Richard Thomas:
I knew my novel could transcend several genres, so I sent it to horror, crime, thrillers, etc. I looked for anybody that had a similar sensibility, that represented similar voices, and had a good attitude. I got really close, several times, so there are definitely some great agents out there, not a shortage of capable people. But when Paula told me she love my voice, and felt that I could really break through, I was sold. She's been great.
QT: Did you tailor each query to the specific agent, and if so, how?
Richard Thomas:
Not too much. If it was an agent that I knew, or had met, if there was a relationship, yes, I'd tailor the opening paragraph. But for the majority of agents, I sent the same query.
QT: What advice would you give other writers seeking agents?
Richard Thomas:
Don't give up. Send your queries far and wide (not JUST the United States, either). Think outside the box. There may be more than one genre. If you write fantasy, you might also be appropriate for science fiction. If you write horror, also look at crime and mystery, as they may overlap. And be patient. It helps if you have ten, twenty, fifty submissions out. Work on other projects, especially shorter writing, so you can get some work published and not put all of your eggs in one basket. Don't just sit back and wait. You'll go crazy.

Query Letter:

Dear _________,

I am writing to you seeking representation for my neo-noir, transgressive thriller, Disintegration. Information below.

DISINTEGRATION: This novel is the story of a man who loses everything and falls apart. It's a combination of the movie Falling Down and the tv show Dexter. It deals with how we value human life, where our bottom is, if we have one, once we start to lose our minds, our identity, and it also touches on the concepts of vengeance, justice, and hope. It's a dark book for sure, a tragic story, but along the way there are still moments of love, lust, hope, family, friendship, and beauty. It's a little over 70,000 words.

BIO: In the past five years, I've gone from having absolutely nothing published, to having a novel out, winning two contests at ChiZine and Jotspeak for my story "Maker of Flight" and publishing over forty stories online and in print. My work has appeared in Shivers VI (Cemetery Dance) with Stephen King and Peter Straub, Murky Depths, PANK, Pear Noir!, 3:AM Magazine, Word Riot, Dogmatika, Opium, Vain, Cherry Bleeds, Eternal Night: A Vampire Anthology (Living Dead Press),Outsider Writers Collective, The Oddville Press, Colored Chalk, Cause and Effect, Gold Dust, Nefarious Muse, and Troubadour 21. I was recently nominated for a Pushcart Prize, as well.

RECENT NEWS: I was recently offered two book contracts for two separate short story collections, one leaning towards horror, called Staring Into the Abyss (Kraken Press) out later this year, and another leaning towards neo-noir/crime called Herniated Roots (Snubnose Press) out in 2012. I was also awarded a writing residency this October with Writers in the Heartland, where I could possible write my third novel, with input from you, if you take me on as a client. I was thinking of doing something steampunk related. I don't know if any of this affects your opinion or me or Disintegration, but I wanted to let you know before I signed those contracts.


Richard Thomas