Richard Thomas and a Gamut of possibilities

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When I think of dedication, hard work—any and all attributes I aspire to as a writer, editor and publisher—I think of Richard Thomas. That maybe a lot of praise to place on Richard’s shoulders, but having seen his work ethic on display over the last half decade I can’t think of a harder working and talented individual. And the company he keeps is a testament to his dedication to the genre and the writers he has worked.

This month launched a very important Kickstarter, one that is both ambitious and necessary. Gamut Magazine promises to be a diverse online marketplace boasting professional rates and opportunities to be published alongside some of the industry’s top talents.

At this point the Gamut Kickstarter is closing the gap on its $52k goal with just over 2 days to go. Richard and I talked about Gamut, and why it is important for this Kickstart to succeed.

If you look up the meaning of gamut in the dictionary it is defined as the complete range or scope of something. What does gamut mean to you and what is its significance to your project?

When I think about the fiction that I like to write, the stories and novels I like to read, the authors I have published, it’s a wide range of fiction. But typically I am drawn to dark, tragic work, so as far as Gamut, we’ll be focusing on dark fiction, in all of its many flavors. Even with horror there is quiet horror, and splatterpunk, and psychological, and classic. It’s important to me that we broaden our scope, at Gamut. I’m looking for a wider range of stories and perspectives. We’re 60% women, for example, and have authors from all over the world. I love to see new mythologies, new cultures, and new histories. I like to be surprised, so don’t expect to see the same plots, the same creatures, the same tropes.

On the Gamut Kickstarter page you suggest that to understand the aesthetics of the magazine, one only needs to be familiar with your work as an editor and writer. For those not familiar with Richard Thomas tell us about your past works?

Well, I’ve written three novels, the last two for Random House Alibi, the Windy City Dark Mystery series. Disintegration is Falling Down meets Dexter, and Breaker is a mix of Leon: The Professional, Of Mice and Men, The Green Mile and To Kill a Mockingbird. I tend to write neo-noir, transgressive fiction. I also have three short story collections, the latest, Tribulations, out in March with Crystal Lake. My last big story placement was in Cemetery Dance magazine, and I have short fiction appearing in the anthologies Chiral Mad 3 and Gutted: Beautiful Horror Stories alongside Stephen King, Neil Gaiman, Clive Barker and Jack Ketchum.

As an editor, I’ve put together four anthologies—The New Black and Exigencies (the latter getting a story, “Wilderness” by Letitia Trent into the Best Horror of the Year anthology), both at Dark House Press; Burnt Tongues with Chuck Palahniuk and Dennis Widmyer, at Medallion (a finalist for the Bram Stoker award); and The Lineup: 20 Provocative Women Writers, at Black Lawrence Press.

As Editor-in-Chief at Dark House Press I’ve put out six books to date, two I’ve mentioned already, as well as Echo Lake by Letitia Trent; After the People Lights Have Gone Off by Stephen Graham Jones (Bram Stoker and Shirley Jackson award finalist); The Doors You Mark Are Your Own by Okla Elliott and Raul Clement; and Vile Men by Rebecca Jones-Howe. Out this year we have novels by Damien Angelica Walters and Steve Himmer.

So that really covers a wide range (a GAMUT!) of fiction including fantasy, science fiction, horror, crime, neo-noir, magical realism, transgressive, Southern gothic, and literary fiction.

That is definitely a GAMUT of fiction. Will Gamut just be a fiction magazine? Or will there be other opportunities to contribute?

We will have new fiction every week, and a reprint every week. I hope to also do flash fiction. As far as other work, yes, we’ll have columns—three are set up now for Keith Rawson, Max Booth and RK Arceneaux. We’ll also do non-fiction essays, poetry, and maybe even a Saturday Night Special serialization. And there will be original artwork with every story.

Once the campaign is done, do you plan on submission cycles or continuously open submissions?

Well, I’ve already got 40 authors involved, as far as solicitations. Not ALL will have original work for me, but most will. So let’s just say I have about 36 weeks set. That leaves the rest of the 2017 to fill out. So, yes, we will open up to submissions later in 2016. Most likely we’ll use the lower Submittable package, which caps at 300 submissions a month. That will include fiction, poetry, non-fiction, etc. That’s why I have three fiction editors and two poetry editors, to help with that. My fiction editors—Mercedes M. Yardley, Dino Parenti, and Casey Frechette will be my first readers. I’ll still solicit now and then, I’m sure. And people will probably approach me as well, but most work will come through the front door. Anything with three yes votes will be forwarded to me with a highlighted status. Two yes votes, also forwarded to me, but not as urgently. One yes vote is probably a rejection, unless the one yes vote is adamant that I see it, then I’ll take a look. Three no votes and I probably won’t even see it. I trust my editors, they understand my aesthetic, but ultimately it’ll be my call. If we feel that we’re getting too many stories to process in a timely manner, then we’ll close the door and maybe do every other month. Whatever we do, I’m excited to work with the authors I know, and stoked to discover new voices as well. I mean, I could take a weird western and then an edgy literary story and then a dark fantasy and then a gritty neo-noir. You never know.

Gamut isn’t the first magazine to vie for a successful Kickstarter. What sets Gamut apart from the others?

Well, first of all, we’ll pay ten cents a word, which is different. Very few places pay that rate, especially with speculative fiction. We’re also focusing on that sweet spot between genre and lit, that hybrid-blending, genre-bending fiction. We’re not going to have “issues” per se, just new content every week, hopefully, every day if we can raise enough funds. We’re including original art with every story, and we’ll also have columns, reprints, poetry, non-fiction and maybe even a serialization. We’re also looking into eBooks and digital downloads, interacting with local theaters to showcase films that fit the Gamut vibe, a Best of Gamut print anthology, and some other services and swag. Only time will tell.

Only time, which starts at the end of the Gamut Kickstarter at 11 pm March 1st.

Should the Kickstarter succeed, and with your help it is guaranteed to hit its $52,000 goal, the first issue will launch January 2017 with stories, columns and industry staples available all online for a small price of $60 a year after the current campaign is complete. It’s going to be a great magazine with tons of potential for writers and readers of neo-noir, crime, horror, transgressive and a multitude of sub-genres.

 

Bury Me Deep by Richard Thomas

The stranger rode into town on a horse that was nothing more than dried skin stretched taut over creaking bones, one eye glancing back over his shoulder watching the devil that he knew, the other wandering forward to spy the one that he didn’t. He slid off the horse, a layer of dust and grime coating his torn clothes—lanky and disoriented, his lips chapped, torn and bleeding from riding into the wind, his yellow teeth chewing on them to slow his worried heart. He’d left the shadows in the mountains, their stench still in his bandana—the cloth around his neck damp with sweat, covering the thin slash marks that ran a red line from ear to ear. Peace was all he sought, and perhaps forgiveness for his done deeds. Whether the legs that were roasting on the open spit had two legs or four, a man had to eat, regardless of the cries that echoed through the whispering pines—his eyes twitching, bony hands trembling, his swollen gut twisted in knots.

The town had no name that he knew, but the sign at the crossroads pointed this way, offering work, and maybe a place to rest his head. He closed his eyes for a moment and prayed for forgiveness, and then he prayed for a glass of something dark and hot, a bit of amber to coat his throat, and wash away his sins. The hefty woman in the doorway of the saloon had no hair on her shiny bald head, hands on her hips, apron straining over a faded blue dress, but her smile was as white as bone, beckoning him inside with a nod of her head and a wave. He went to tie his steed to the rail, and wondered what was the point. The mare would be dust soon, drained of its life over the trails these past few months. It was better that the horse should close its eyes and forget what it had seen.

He found his way to the bar, slid onto a stool and exhaled all that he had carried over the hills and dry, empty land. She poured him a short glass, asking for no payment, simply walking back towards the mirror that reflected his shaking hand rising slowly to his lips.

“You come over the mountains, through the pass?” she asked.

“Yep.”

“How long, weeks maybe? Did you miss the snow, or catch it?”

“Months, I reckon. No snow when I passed through, just a bitch of a wind, no offense.”

“None taken,” she smiled. “Your horse is dead,” she muttered.

The stranger glanced out the door, “I know,” he said. “She just doesn’t know it yet.”

The empty bar was nothing but tables and chairs, a small piano by the back wall, and rows and rows of shimmering bottles sparkling in the gleam of stray sunlight beams, the woman polishing a tall glass nearly to dust.

“Thanks for the drink,” the stranger said.

“First one’s always on me.,” she said. “I’m Sadie.”

He nodded.

“Much obliged.”

“You looking for work or moving on?” she asked.

“Not sure—just trying to keep breathing, ma’am. But I suppose the work will find me, it always does—one way or another. Can’t seem to shake nothing these days. Must be getting old.”

He grinned in her direction, brown teeth filed down nearly to points, a cough and a hack filling the dusty room, spitting towards the floor, the blood stained mucus holding their attention.

Her smile faltered and she placed the glass on the shelf.

“Well, stranger, maybe there is something you can help me with after all,” she said. “We don’t have a lot of folks here in town, or even on the farms still. Hard to raise much of anything here.”

He nodded, licking his lips. She wandered over and refilled his drink.

“That’s for the work, what I’m about to tell you about,” her eyes turned to steel, and then blinking, back to light brown.

The straw man knocked it back and nodded.

“Go on,” he said.

“Kids wander off,” she sighed. “They run to the hills, wanna get nekkid or maybe just shoot something. Sometimes they come back, sometimes the don’t.”

She rubbed her neck and eyeballed the man. Taking a deep breath, she went on.

“Same with the cattle, the dogs, the chickens, the hogs. Don’t know what draws them up to them damn mountains, but take your eyes off them for a moment, and they gone.”

The double-doors to the saloon slapped open and pale young boy bounced in, took one look at Sadie, and the stranger, and stopped.

“Go on, Jeb, get out of here. We’re talking business.”

The boy turned and fled, eyes wide. The stranger didn’t move, didn’t turn his neck, or blink his fading eyes. Instead he swallowed what liquid was left in his mouth and stared into his mangled hands.

“I got a well out back, and somehow a calf fell down it, just happened before you wandered in here, in fact. If you listen, you can hear it crying out there, broke its legs in the fall I suspect.”

The man craned his neck and listened, and sure enough there was a low bleating moan, drifting on the wind.

“Help me out, stranger? I got rope, the men are all busy harvesting or hunting, some two towns away selling seed and corn, nobody giving a shit about Sadie until they want to wet their whistle.”

The man picked up the glass, licked it clean, what was left of the brown liquid, and stood up straight.

“Sure, Sadie, I’ll help you out. Then we can talk about what other forms of compensation y’all got around here.”

She smiled a wide grin, her face nearly folding in half, running her plump hands over her slick, bald head.

“Deal,” she whispered, and topped off his glass one last time. He knocked it back, hitched up his jeans, and headed for the back door.

Sadie followed him out, the wind picking up, the sun sliding behind the heavy clouds. He could hear the noises seeping up from the bottom of the well, and on the wind, they changed, from bleating calf to crying child to weeping man and back to farm animal, a low guttural moan.

“How deep?” he asked.

“Not far,” she said. “Enough to snap a thin leg, like my calf, but not that far, maybe fifteen feet? Not sure, it’s been here longer than me.

The man stared at the stones that formed a ring around the hole, dust and dirt, a chip here and there—dark stains splattered now and again, water perhaps. There was little fear in him, because there was little life left in his weary bones, so he hopped up on the lip of the well, grabbed hold of the rope, nodded once to Sadie, and down he went.

Above the sun held a fading gray light, his boots on the stone, looking down into the darkness, looking up to the circle of sky. It grew colder the deeper he went, and then it grew colder still. And yet, a sheen of sweat coated his back and neck, the stench from the bottom of the well growing, the fading bleat rising up to meet him.

He landed on the bottom with a wet slap, bones snapping under his feet, the dank mossy smell mixing with copper and rotting flesh. As he knelt to grab the calf his hands found a shoulder and a skull, thin arms and wet denim running down worn out boots. The dying man moaned, took his last breath, and expired. Glancing up to the darkening circle above, the stranger watched as Sadie leaned over the hole, a cast of shadows standing tall beside her, her long arm pointing down the hole towards him, and the shades spilled over the lip, finally catching up to him, and the town of Redemption moved on.

Gandaberunda by Richard Thomas

When Rodney found the tiny bones scattered on the concrete slab that was his front porch, he assumed they were from a small animal, like a raccoon or a squirrel. In time, he learned that he was wrong. When the long shadows passed over the back yard, and a gust of cool wind caused the skeletal branches of the skinny dogwood tree to bend and wave, he hardly glanced up, thinking airplane, in his fearless skull—airplane, airplane, airplane. When the phone started ringing at all hours of the night, his mother’s voice rising to a high pitch, he rolled over and went back to sleep, because death had never visited their doorstep before. He had no base of knowledge.

There were cops at his school the next morning, Rodney noticed, as the beige 4-door crept up to the parking lot. His mother drove him as usual, but today she walked him in—all the way in. She nodded to Mr. Langer, the gym teacher, with his bushy mustache and crossed arms, a hairy beast guarding the door to Rodney’s school. His mother held his hand, and it was nothing new—he liked to hold his mother’s hand, his father’s hand, they felt large and warm—safe was the word that came to mind.

The classroom would have an electric quality to it all day long, as rain beat at the windows like knuckles—knocking and knocking, wanting to come inside. Rodney noticed that Millicent was missing. She was his very first crush. It would make the day slower, the math problems dry and calculated, no dishwater blonde across from him with a smile and a toss of her hair. There would be tears in the hallway later that week, anguish echoing in the hallways. But Rodney would be long gone by then.

Hushed voices in the kitchen, and Rodney sat on the couch, a juice box in one hand, and a bowl of Cheetos by his side. The puppy lay next to him, eyes to the ground, and then back to him, her black tail wagging furiously, and then stopping. Her head kept lifting to look at the mother, to look at the father. There was whispering in the kitchen, words that Rodney didn’t understand, exhaled with a heavy despair. Abduction was one of them—pedophile another. His parents were also wrong. The bones from the other day flashed across his mind’s eye, but Rodney pushed the image away. Stupid bones. They meant nothing to him, not sacrifice, or remains, they were not real—they were not familiar at all.

The puppy ran around the back yard, yapping at the leaves that fell from the neighbor’s oak tree, faster and faster in an infinite loop, around the swing set, around Rodney as he stood in the breeze, his mother watching from the kitchen sink, the sun setting over the faded wooden fence. He stared at the sky—and with Halloween approaching—the myths and fables came back to him. He thought of wolves and huntsmen, he thought of sharp teeth at his neck. He laughed and lowered his eyes to the dog, a black shadow blurred across the dying grass. When the wings expanded overhead, the leathery skin taut across ancient bones, he opened his mouth, to scream perhaps—and then he was gone.

After She Has Gone by Richard Thomas

Walking out into the woods there was no moon overhead to guide him. Bumping into the trees, he wound his way deep into the forest, tripping over roots that herniated through the dirt. The darkness wrapped around him and he went on walking, the gun dangling from the end of his right hand, and his legs kept moving. He thought it would be easy to give up now that everything is gone—the money spent, his job an echo, her essence reduced to a figment. It should be easy to just roll over and die. He found that at the center of this forest, the depths of his own morass of fear and remorse, that maybe he didn’t want to do that. There was a rustling in the bushes, a flutter of wings, and something expansive spread out against the dark sky, black on black, no discernible shape, only the feeling of movement and a sense of great speed, a brush of wind on his face, and he tried to breathe again.