Storyville: Finding Your Voice

It’s tough out here in the trenches. The written word is dying, nobody is buying books, presses aren’t paying authors, and it’s impossible to get published or land an agent.

All lies.

Hi, my name is Richard Thomas and I’m an author. (Hi, Richard). If you’re familiar with my work then you know that while I do have a novel out (Transubstantiate) I’ve also had over forty stories published online and in print over the past four years, including a story in Shivers VI ("Cemetery Dance") with Stephen King and Peter Straub. I’m not giving you this information to brag, I’m letting you know that I’m one of you. I’m getting my stories rejected on a daily basis. I’m trying to break into the same markets that you are. I’m searching for the strength to believe that I can defy the odds and get accepted in a market where only one in a hundred stories makes the final cut. I’m trying to find an agent. Believe me, I get kicked in the nuts regularly, and have been driven to tears as I sit at my desktop. I’ve put my fist through a wall. If I wasn’t bipolar when this all started, I most certainly am now.

With this column, I’m going to try and share with you my ups and downs, the ways that I’ve found success, the paths I’ve found to break in, so I can let you in on all of the secrets, wisdom, and bravado that I’ve discovered in my short tenure as an author. I’m doing this because I want to see you succeed. I want to give you the tools you need to craft your stories, the knowledge you must have in order to send out your stories to the appropriate markets, and the confidence and faith you’ll need to survive the dark times: the weeks when nobody wants your work, when your significant other wonders what you think makes your work so special, when you curse the day you decided to be an author. I’ll show you examples of the stories that have changed my life and remain glued to the inside of my skull. I’ll talk about all of the various aspects of submitting your work. And I’ll write about various aspects of the craft of writing short stories as well.


One of the most important things you need to do when writing fiction is find your voice.  Whether you’ve written ten stories or none, it’s crucial that you can talk about your work and define it. Why? Well, for a number of reasons. Let’s start with this fantasy.


“Hey, what’s that novel you’re reading?” the bookish man asks you in the elevator.

“Oh this? It’s an anthology I’m in.”

“Oh, you have a story in there? How exciting! I’m an agent. What kind of stories do you write?”

“Um, well, they’re about the dark, I mean, like, not the dark as in night, but more about the way that people, um, well you know that story, oh what’s it called, you know that author who just got the film made, the guy…"

The agent’s eyes glass over and he turns back to his iPhone, pressing buttons, already gone.


“Hey, what’s that novel you’re reading?” the bookish man asks you in the elevator.

“Oh this? It’s an anthology I’m in. The collection is about twisted love stories, but I’d describe my work as neo-noir, you know, French for “new-black,” contemporary dark fiction, often transgressive in nature. Have you heard of Dennis Lehane?”

You need to be able to talk about your work whether you're online or in public, when you're writing a query letter, a submission, or a note to a friend. If you can’t define your work, if you can’t understand what you're doing and convey that information to friends and editors, they will have no chance of understanding what you’re trying to do, and they’ll shut you out. They won’t think you’re professional.

But Richard, I don’t know how to describe my writing. I don’t know what it is.

That’s okay. This is the fun part.

The best way to understand your own work is to understand the work of the authors that inspire you. If there is one piece of advice that I can give you above everything else it is READ. Read your ass off. I grew up reading Stephen King, and he has affected my work. I read the beatniks in college, and that was an influence. I found Chuck Palahniuk and he brought me to a whole slew of neo-noir, transgressive authors; people like Will Christopher Baer, Craig Clevenger, and Stephen Graham Jones. I am finishing up my MFA, and that has gotten me to read voices like Ron Rash, Cormac McCarthy, Flannery O’Connor, and George Saunders. All of these voices (and many more) have impacted what I do. And they’ve introduced me to many genres (and sub-genres) that I never knew existed. Four years ago I couldn’t have told you what a neo-noir, transgressive thriller was.

GENRES (and sub-genres)

I usually start with horror. I think Stephen King has a wide range of talent, and isn’t always a horror writer. But I know what horror writing is. I’ve read enough of his work, the work of Clive Barker, Peter Straub, and Jack Ketchum to get a sense of how you scare somebody, how you create tension, and what is expected in a horror novel. And then I find a way to twist it.

Science fiction is another popular genre, and I grew up reading Ray Bradbury and Robert Heinlein, and enjoy contemporary authors like China Miéville as well (some call his work steampunk, a sub-genre of science fiction). From science fiction I’ve learned about how science defines reality, how you can expand the scope or focus of your story with the unexplainable, the unbelievable, and other aspects of the genre

There’s fantasy as well, and for me that usually means J.R.R. Tolkein, or these days, Neil Gaiman. I learned about world building, mythology and language, about how life can be altered a little bit or a lot, and what that can do to an otherwise normal story. Magical realism is a popular sub-genre right now.

Under the broad umbrella of crime and mystery writing you have examples like hardboiled, detective, noir, neo-noir, and thrillers. These categories have taught me about setting and plot, how to build up suspense, string a reader along, and lead a story into the darkness. Sometimes you even make it out.

Literary fiction is probably one of the most difficult genres to define, but much like art (or pornography, for that matter) you know it when you see it. I think of literary fiction as a style that elevates the language, avoids the conventions of most genre fiction, and involves asking questions instead of solving problems. It does not typically rely on excessive violence or sex.

In the end, whether you write in one of the aforementioned genres, or something else, the important thing to understand is that you need to study the masters that came before you. Whatever genre you write, read the authors that define it. You won’t like everyone, of course, but that’s how you’ll develop your taste. But whatever genre you grew up reading, step outside your comfort zone and see what else you can learn. Every genre has something to offer you. 


So right now, pick up a pencil and write down your five favorite authors. Write down your five favorite books. While you’re at it, write down your five favorite movies. And add to that your five favorite television shows. Don’t agonize over it, do it fast, whatever leaps out at you, it will reveal to you some common threads. Here, I’ll do this right now, in front of you, live and without a net. (UPDATED 2019)

Authors: Stephen King, Will Christopher Baer, Chuck Palahniuk, Stephen Graham Jones, Brian Evenson.

Books: The Stand, Kiss Me Judas, Perdido Street Station, All The Beautiful Sinners, Annihilation.

Movies: Blade Runner, Under the Skin, Hereditary, Memento, American Beauty.

TV: Lost, Six Feet Under, The Wire, The Sopranos, The Shield.

Okay, what do you see? Well, I see the darkness that I know informs my writing. I see lyrical prose and innovation. I see epic stories based on mythology. There is anarchy and chaos and rebellion. I see the future. And I see love, buried deep in the middle of it all.

Neo-noir, transgressive fiction. (Or these days, neo-noir, speculative fiction.)

That’s what I call my work. But it doesn’t mean that I only write one kind of story. I wrote ten stories in my MFA that I’d call straight up literary. I write horror now and then. I am dabbling in magical realism now as well. But if you’ve read my work, a lot of it, if you were as close to it as I am, you’d know a Richard Thomas story when you read it.

Now how about you?

Do some research into the list you just created and see what you can find. Study your answers and how it reflects back onto your own work. Even if you’ve never written a single story, but want to, if you look at your interests, you’ll at least be able to see what entertains you, what moves you, what excites you out there in the world.

And then start writing. Practice. Figure out what the standard expectations of your genre are, and use them. Eventually, you’ll start to twist those expectations. But for now, steal from every giant in that genre. Not word for word, but the style, the idea, the voice. You’ll never be able to keep it, because your own voice will start to seep through. Your past, your experiences: they will shine through because only you can be you. And keep doing it. Write stories of every imaginable length, long and short. Write five hundred words. Write one thousand words. Write three thousand words. Go back and do five hundred again. Watch that favorite movie over again. When it makes you smile, when your heart beats fast, take notice.

This is who you are. Embrace it.

A classic story to read: William Gay’s “The Paperhanger,” in I Hate to See That Evening Sun Go Down or a fantastic collection, The Anchor Book of New American Short Stories (originally published in Harper’s.)

A contemporary story to read: Stephen Graham Jones’s “Father, Son, Holy Rabbit,” from The Ones That Got Away (originally published in Cemetery Dance #57).

Richard Thomas

Column by Richard Thomas

Richard Thomas is the award-winning author of eight books—Disintegration and Breaker (Penguin Random House Alibi), Transubstantiate, Staring Into the Abyss, Herniated Roots, Tribulations, Spontaneous Human Combustion (Turner Publishing), and The Soul Standard (Dzanc Books). His over 175 stories in print include The Best Horror of the Year (Volume Eleven), Cemetery Dance (twice), Behold!: Oddities, Curiosities and Undefinable Wonders (Bram Stoker winner), Lightspeed, PANK, storySouth, Gargoyle, Weird Fiction Review, Midwestern Gothic, Shallow Creek, The Seven Deadliest, Gutted: Beautiful Horror Stories, Qualia Nous, Chiral Mad (numbers 2-4), PRISMS, Pantheon, 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 (twice), Shirley Jackson, Thriller, and Audie awards. In his spare time he is a columnist at Lit Reactor. He was the Editor-in-Chief at Dark House Press and Gamut Magazine. For more information visit or contact Paula Munier at Talcott Notch.

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Erin's picture
Erin from Omaha is reading manuscripts... October 1, 2011 - 7:54am

GREAT article and exercise, Richard! Yes, yes, yes! Know the masters of your genre, know the mechanics and the conventions of your genre, write it, polish it and finally, know how to pitch it! Writers, my dears, you gotta know how to pitch your stuff - that's how you get people to read your work. Great writing+knowing how to pitch=a little jingle in your pockets.

Nathan's picture
Nathan from Louisiana (South of New Orleans) is reading Re-reading The Rust Maidens by Gwendolyn Kiste, The Bone Weaver's Orchard by Sarah Read October 19, 2011 - 1:05pm

That was definitely great and some of the most inspiring words I've read from you, Richard. You're certainly a huge influence on me as a writer -in more ways than one, and when I read a column like this, it kicks me in the ass to go read and write -so I'm off to it. Thanks for posting this. 

Joshua Chaplinsky's picture
Joshua Chaplinsky from New York is reading Library Books October 19, 2011 - 1:22pm

Great stuff, Richard. Some really good advice in there.

Richard's picture
Richard from St. Louis is reading various anthologies October 19, 2011 - 2:02pm

Thanks guys, hope it helps! Appreciate the kind words.

Dan's picture
Dan from Santa Monica, CA is reading Beautiful You by Chuck Palahniuk October 19, 2011 - 2:10pm

"Contemporary transgressive fiction"

Thanks Richard. You're the best.

Did you really punch your fist through a wall?

bryanhowie's picture
bryanhowie from FW, ID is reading East of Eden. Steinbeck is FUCKING AMAZING. October 19, 2011 - 2:16pm

Neo-noir makes me think "black is the new black".


Is 'neo' a french word?

Raelyn's picture
Raelyn from California is reading The Liars' Club October 19, 2011 - 2:56pm

I have a question.  I've only written short stories so far, but none of them have themes similar to the other.  One is about a young cartographer who is kidnapped and sent into another world, another is based on a historical event, and another is about a reporter who discovers a political scandal while interviewing an murderer (just wrote that one for Mark Vanderpool's class).

Would an agent think you're a stronger writer if you can define your work within a single genre?  I must admit, fantasy is my favorite and probably what I will most often write, but I don't want to be limited from fear of being inconsistent. 

Renfield's picture
Renfield from Hell is reading 20th Century Ghosts October 19, 2011 - 6:19pm

I believe 'neo' is Latin. But you know, tele-vision has a Greek prefix and a Latin root, so in conclusion, words are stupid.

According to this test, I'm aiming for Southern Gothic Noir Splatterpunk, which is deftly close but also a mouthful.

Dan's picture
Dan from Santa Monica, CA is reading Beautiful You by Chuck Palahniuk October 19, 2011 - 9:05pm


That is a perfect question for Erin Reel.

Submit your question to be chosen for her Q&A that she does on this site. Have you checked that section out? She answered one of my questions perfectly. And she super sweet.

Richard's picture
Richard from St. Louis is reading various anthologies October 19, 2011 - 9:33pm

@dan - thanks. The wall? I'll never tell.

@bryan - yes, it's French. neo=new. noir=black.

@raelyn - themes are different than style. you can have horror that is historic, crime that is historic, literary that is historic. you can see a lot of "literary" authors that are claimed by the academics, when in reality they are really genre fiction writers. if your work is fantasy it will always be fantasy, at least when you are lookingn to sell a novel. now it may be high-fantasy or low-fantasy, it could be magical realism, that's up to you to determine. when you research the genres (and sub-genres) you'll start to figure out who you are. but that doesn't mean you are limited to that. you can write fantasy, sf, horror, all kinds of similar, but different stories (and novels). for a novel, you should for sure find a way to define it. for stories, you just need to find a market, the labels are really so you can find an appropriate place. most magazine don't care what you call your work, only if it fits into their aesthetic.

@renfield - i love that, at least you're starting to get a grip on it, yeah? since Southern Gothic already implies noir (dark) you could probably just say Southern Gothic Splatterpunk. there's a lot of hybrid SG work going on, SG noir being one example.

Liana's picture
Liana from Romania and Texas is reading Naked Lunch October 19, 2011 - 10:02pm

I'll play!

Books: Blood Meridian, Absalom, Absalom!, Love in the Time of Cholera, The Sound and the Fury, Slaughterhouse Five.

Movies: Donnie Darko, Empire of the Sun, Full Metal Jacket, Gabbeh, They Shoot Horses, Don't They?

TV shows: Battlestar Galactica (the new one), Carnivale, Twin Peaks, Breaking Bad, Mad Men.


I did this super-fast so it's most likely not exactly the list I'd come up with if I gave myself more time. Then what I'd get out of this in terms of what I'm interested in writing (since it seems like my list is somewhat chaotic), is that I have an interest in taking reality to a different space, though not entirely into sci-fi or fantasy; maybe magical realism with a mystical tint? Stepping outside stark reality would be done in such a way that it would still be grounded in the real but would use symbolic layers to probe into the depths of reality and ask the question: how can we make sense of experience? Of course, that wouldn't work in the elevator, so maybe I'd shorten it to "literary fiction with some magical realism and merging the ordinary with the out of the ordinary" - and the agent would start yawning? Oh - I'd add that I like to include multicultural aspects in my fiction, whenever possible, given my background. 

Jay.SJ's picture
Jay.SJ from London is reading Warmed and Bound October 20, 2011 - 5:37am

Fantastic Rich.

Scott Williams's picture
Scott Williams from Brooklyn, NY is reading 11/23/63 October 20, 2011 - 7:40am

Great article.  An interesting thing to look for in the lists generated by the exercise is: where are the incongruties? In other words, what doesn't fit, and where are the inconsistencies.  When you look at your lists and realize that you like Game of Thrones, How I Met Your Mother, and Ultimate Fighter (three examples from my list) you can suddenly start to see where things don't fit together so neatly.  The spaces inbetween the tidy categories that we put up for ourselves are often the most fruitful for exploration, because they are weird.  Weird is interesting.  When unlike things rub against each other, that's when you get sparks.  And everybody knows you don't fire without some sparks.

Richard's picture
Richard from St. Louis is reading various anthologies October 21, 2011 - 6:58am

@liana - love your list. i think you're on the right track here. you mention chaotic, so i wonder if something like transgressive magical realism might not work? as long as YOU can see the potential, the ideas that are being generated by your interests, that's all that really matters. if you can get excited to work in the worlds that are on you list, like Cormac and the neo-noir contemporary tv that you like, then at least you have someplace to start, to play.

@JSJ - thanks, buddy, appreciate it.

@scott - yeah, liana, listen to what scott says here, he makes a great point. if 12/15 of the items on your list sync up, but three don't, maybe those are the places you explore. maybe the inclusion of GOT means you have an interest in mythology, or history, and can use that to your advantage. HIMYM might show that you appreciate humor, or that you are attracted to the interactions between a close knit group of friends. UF brings in a bit of violence. out of those three, now you might have something like King's THE STAND or McCammon's SWAN SONG. i love weird, scott, the unexpected, not just a twist at the end, but a build up to something unexpected. i like your imagery of sparks and fire, great way to make your point.

Daniel Donche's picture
Daniel Donche from Seattle is reading Transubstantiate, by Richard Thomas October 21, 2011 - 11:10am

Richard! Love the article and it's awesome how many of your favorites are the same as mine. Fight Club, Seven, Memento? Just to name the ones that might not be self-evident. I'm inserting another exclamation point now!

Richard's picture
Richard from St. Louis is reading various anthologies October 21, 2011 - 11:25am

right on, thanks dan

justkristin's picture
justkristin from the basement is reading whatever is within reach October 26, 2011 - 10:24pm

Holy skunk! Answering the questions was the easy-ish part...

Authors: E. B. White, Neil Gaiman, Chaucer, Christopher Moore, Lafcadio Hearn
Books: Grimms' Fairy Tales, OED, Canterbury Tales, Smoke and Mirrors, Archy & Mehitabel
Movies: Blazing Saddles, Triplets of Belleville, Amadeus, Seventh Seal, 隣のトトロ
TV: Criminal Minds, Bizarre ER, Twilight Zone, X Files, House

Making something out of that mess? That's going to take a while...

Richard's picture
Richard from St. Louis is reading various anthologies October 27, 2011 - 9:01am

Hey Kristin. Let me see if I can make any sense out of that. I'm not familiar with all of the titles, but I'll give it a go.

The first thing that stood out was the idea of the fantastic, be it magical realism or an interest in mythology, tales, lore, etc. You also have a sense of humor, so satire may be something that interests you. And you have an interest in the scientific and the technical as well.

I'd say for sure play around in fantasy, magical realism, and maybe even thrillers, fast paced stories where things actually happen, not just conjecture. You could certainly find contemporary literary examples of doing this, such as Cormac McCarthy, Joyce Carol Oates, Audrey Niffenegger Aimee Bender, and Kelly Link.

Play around, write a few shorts trying to emulate whatever author you are into at the moment, or a story that blew you away, and see where it gets you.

Good luck!

Dorian Grey's picture
Dorian Grey from Transexual, Transylvania is reading "East of Eden" by John Steinbeck February 28, 2012 - 9:16pm

I loved the article. Just out of curiousity, where is that building with the books on it in the picture at the top?

Richard's picture
Richard from St. Louis is reading various anthologies February 29, 2012 - 10:47am

^thanks, dorian. i think that's Kansas City.

Jen Soignier's picture
Jen Soignier from New Orleans, Louisiana is reading I'm about to start "Shadow & Claw" by Gene Wolfe March 22, 2012 - 2:42pm

Authors: Tony Morrison, Cormac McCarthy, Ayn Rand, David Sedaris, Hemingway

Books: Blood Meridian, The Darktower Series, A Song of Ice and Fire, Sula, Atlas Shrugged

Movies: What Dreams May Come, Almost Famous, Aliens, The Village, Two Lovers

TV Series: Battlestar Galactica (new), Fringe, X-Files, Grey's Anatomy, Modern Family


Do me?

Richard's picture
Richard from St. Louis is reading various anthologies March 22, 2012 - 4:32pm

definitely a sense of the grounded in reality grunge of a rough life paired with a bit of the fantastic and philosophical. also, a bit of the unknown, the mysterious.

i'd say something like mystical grotesque, which could be submitted to various places, probably work in the magical realism and literary arenas.

sound good? make sense?

Covewriter's picture
Covewriter from Nashville, Tennessee is reading & Sons March 25, 2012 - 11:41pm

Hey Richard - Great column. Thanks for steering me here. I love to talk about what people read. I have found that my best friends are also avid readers. If you don't read books, i don't really understand you. Favorite authors: I'm with you on King, Straud and  O'Conner. Oh, and Hunter S. Thompson. Love him. Also, Joyce Carol Oates, all of John Updikes "Rabbit" books, Pat Conroy, Robert Penn Warren and lots of great new authors I've discovered lately. (Read Ready Player One, Silent Land, Unbroken... the list goes on and on.)  I am beginning to think when literary meets transgrissive it is an awesome marriage. Hope to read more columns from you. -Covewriter.

Richard's picture
Richard from St. Louis is reading various anthologies March 26, 2012 - 6:18am

thanks, CW. sounds like you're reading some excellent authors, and after reading your work, i can say that you should follow your instincts. where transgressive meets literary is exactly what i'm trying to do, and i think you do that well. also try Stephen Graham Jones, Will Christopher Baer, Craig Clevenger, Mary Gaitskill, Denis Johnson, etc. i can give you a list of contemporary authors as well, if you like.

Jen Soignier's picture
Jen Soignier from New Orleans, Louisiana is reading I'm about to start "Shadow & Claw" by Gene Wolfe March 28, 2012 - 9:58am

Richard that's so me! "..grounded in reality grunge of a rough life paired with a bit of the fantastic and philosophical. also, a bit of the unknown, the mysterious" is what I write. Thank you! Mystical grotesque. Love it. 

Richard's picture
Richard from St. Louis is reading various anthologies March 28, 2012 - 3:58pm

part of the battle here is understanding your work. the other half is figuring where to send it. "mystical grotesque" is for you, or for when you're talking about your work to others (writers, editors, agents, presses), but when it comes down to it, you still have to figure out if publications that put out horror, fantasy, SF, or just edgy lit, will be a good fit. but you've got this pillar to hold onto, at least. good luck! 

Teri's picture
Teri March 30, 2012 - 10:15pm

This is a great article and exercise. Perhaps one to be repeated from time to time, I've noticed that every few years some of my answers to those five favorites change. The next movie I see could be the best one we've ever seen. Good write up.

Richard's picture
Richard from St. Louis is reading various anthologies March 30, 2012 - 7:56pm

^thanks, kathryn!

Emma C's picture
Class Facilitator
Emma C from Los Angeles is reading Black Spire by Delilah Dawson July 18, 2012 - 10:29am

Writers: Neil Gaiman, George R.R. Martin, Douglas Coupland, Haruki Murakami, Cormac McCarthy

Books: The Graveyard Book, A Song of Ice and Fire, Life After God, The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, American Gods

Movies: Star Wars, Labyrinth, Drive, The Dark Crystal, Marie Antoinette

TV: Lost, Twin Peaks, Homeland, Luck, Firefly

What am I?


Richard's picture
Richard from St. Louis is reading various anthologies July 18, 2012 - 7:42pm

hey, emma.

definitely a sense of the surreal, and a love for fantasy, the unknown, and classic archetypes. you also may like a bit of humor in your work, so a hint of satire. 

i'd say fantastic grotesque.

your work could appeal to fantasy, SF and horror publications, speculative fiction. but you also like the unique, ergo the grotesque. i hope this exercise helps.

Emma C's picture
Class Facilitator
Emma C from Los Angeles is reading Black Spire by Delilah Dawson October 11, 2012 - 8:02pm

I just got around to reading this when I went to reference this article for someone. I'm going to put "fantastic grotesque" on a t-shirt.

I've written a lot more since this and you were spot on. Holiday said much the same thing in her review of my Scare Us! story. Great exercise, Richard. Thanks!

Richard's picture
Richard from St. Louis is reading various anthologies October 12, 2012 - 11:14am

awesome, that makes my day, nikita. and, seriously, "fantastic grotesque"? that kicks ass, right? i've embraced the neo-noir and it just feels like home for me now. keeps me focused, as i do believe that i have a voice. you do, too. best of luck with your evolution, sounds like you're doing great work.

Remij's picture
Remij November 4, 2012 - 2:18pm

Let me start by saying how much I enjoy your articles. Excellent food for thought.

I wrote the list off the top of my head. If i put more thought into it I imagine it would evolve into a far more pretentious list, so maybe quick is best.

Favorite Books

Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell
Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides
Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro
Sheila Levine is Dead and Living in New York by Gail Parent
Shopaholic by Sophie Kinsella

Favorite Authors Jeffrey Eugenidies, Marian Keyes, Janet Fitch, Alice Walker, Nick Hornsby

Favorite Movies Gone With the Wind, Inglorious Basterds, Mi Vida Loca, The Godless Girl, It Happened One Niight.

Favorite TV Shows Soap, The Sopranos, Oz, Six Feet Under, Sex and the City

I've never considered that what I liked would influence my work, which in retrospect seems silly. I see darkness, depth with a touch of humor. I can handle dark with a touch of humor but depth? I may be out of my league. Am I reading it correctly?

Thank you.

Richard's picture
Richard from St. Louis is reading various anthologies November 5, 2012 - 1:21pm

yeah, makes sense doesn't it? we usually write what we enjoy reading. i do see a bit of nostalgia and dare i say it romance at the center of some gritty, humorous stories. most of these are grounded in reality, although hints of the surreal here and there. this is a tough one.

maybe transgressive satire?

that would pull in the chaos, anarchy and surreal and pair it with the humor and realism as well. as long as you know what your voice is, your strengths and weaknesses, you can build from there, i think.

Cures and Remedies's picture
Cures and Remedies from Canada is reading Transubstantiate - Richard Thomas November 22, 2012 - 9:44pm

Authors: Palahniuk, George RR Martin, JK Rowling, Vonnegut, Markus Zusak

Books: East of Eden, The Book Thief, A Song of Ice and Fire, Slaughterhouse Five, Rant

Movies: How To Train Your Dragon, The Prestige, Pulp Fiction, Shawshank Redemption, The Dark Knight

TV Shows: Lost, Breaking Bad, The Newsroom, Person of Interest, Friends

Any chance you'd be willing to help me figure what I am?

Richard's picture
Richard from St. Louis is reading various anthologies December 1, 2012 - 5:56pm

Feels like transgressive fantastic, yeah? which is pretty cool.

Aaron Burwell's picture
Aaron Burwell from Alvordton is reading High Fidelity December 4, 2012 - 1:06pm

Authors: Stephen King; Paul Auster; Philip Roth; J.D. Salinger; William Faulkner




I'm sort of having trouble figuring out what it means in terms of what I should write. (SHERLOCK is technically part of MASTERPIECE MYSTERY, but I enjoy it; so I included it on there.)

Richard's picture
Richard from St. Louis is reading various anthologies December 4, 2012 - 9:07pm

hmmmm. you really have a thing for humor and music, but the KING, that throws me, mixed in with the literary.

i'd say dark, literary satire. and there are lots of people who would dig that, i immediately think of Vonnegut and David Foster Wallace.

JonathanC's picture
JonathanC from Ireland is reading a whole lot of stuff! always. February 10, 2014 - 7:10am

Hey Richard,

I've read this (and a few of your other articles) a number of times. I've really enjoyed all of them. This one though I found really helpful because I'm just starting out (I've been writing "seriously" for about 3 months) and the whole "finding your voice" thing is something thats looming large for me.

Anyway, I did what you said and didn't think too much and just wrote the first ones that came to mind so this is them;

Bret Easton Ellis, Zadie Smith, Mark Danielewski, Grant Morrison, George R. R. Martin

House of Leaves, On Beauty, Stoner, Money, American Psycho

The Big Lebowski, Legends of the Fall, Drive, The Master, Pulp Fiction

The Simpsons, Community, Mad Men, Game of Thrones, Band of Brothers

If you could tell me what you thought that might mean that'd be fantastic. 


Richard's picture
Richard from St. Louis is reading various anthologies February 15, 2014 - 9:42pm

Hey Jon. Yeah, very cool selections. You like a mix of gritty reality and fantasy. Neo-noir may be something you dig, with a hint of magical realism and horror.

So, probably close to what I do, maybe I'd call it neo-noir fantastic.

Michael Wais Jr's picture
Michael Wais Jr from Los Angeles, CA is reading "The Iliad" July 3, 2015 - 8:46am

I'd recommend a better way to do the anthology bit (and I'm sure that I'll alienate as many people who would agree with me):

*Agent walks into elevator*

AGENT: "Oh hey, what's that book you're reading?"

WRITER: "Oh, it's this new anthology that this awesome writer Richard Thomas is in! Have you ever heard of this story?"

The point should be to do it naturally and to only slightly elevate the positives about the story and only slightly put down the negatives a little more. You don't want to exaggerate bringing up the strengths too much.

Being anonymous is a really great trait if you're into writing/publishing. I mean, if you brag about your own writing people are going to take it with a lot of salt. But if you're some average guy/girl who is like, "Hey, so-and-so published this great story," and the agent or reader is none-the-wiser that you're the author, they'll be willing to give it another glance just because if an average reader says it's good, that's one person out there who can boost your credentials.

Anyway, I just woke up so I hope this technique makes sense.

If you pretend to be one of the majority readers who has not published and you're talking to someone you don't know, there's no reason they have to know who you "really" are and pretending to be just another person who reads while you're raving about the story or book actually helps your chances. I have a feeling that this sort of "guerilla marketing" happens all the time in Starbucks and coffee-houses all over.

Anyway, what are all your thoughts on this technique?

By the way, great article Richard! Thanks so much for providing us all with all your helpful tips!

Richard's picture
Richard from St. Louis is reading various anthologies July 10, 2015 - 10:07am

Funny you say this, Michael. I was just in Quimby's Bookstore last night, this really cool place in Wicker Park. I've read there before, years ago. I went in to inquite about Curbside and Dark House Press, and they had copies of the books on the shelves. I just wanted to see what he knew about us, what he stocked, his impression. Then when I found a copy of EXIGENCIES (which I edited) I said, "Yeah, I haven't been entirely honest. I run DHP, and I edited this. Would you like me to sign it?" He said, "Sure!" I explained I just wanted to see what he had to say before I revealed who I was. 

Is that kind of what you meant?

RUDIER1955's picture
RUDIER1955 from San Diego is reading Carver, Where I'm Calling From August 7, 2018 - 11:09am

Great article, Richard.  And, thanks for the book recommendations -- both are on their way!


Authors:  Caroline Leavitt, Amor Towles, Joan Didion, Michael Chabon and Alice Munroe.

Books:  Gone with the Wind, Slouching Toward Bethlehen, Gentleman from Moscow, Dear Life, and The Mysteries of Pittsburgh.

Movies:  Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy; Woman in Gold; No Country for Old Men; Victor and Abdul.

Television:  Not a tv watcher. 

Note:  I'm willing to watch tv on a recommendation basis, otherwise, 'I'm out!"


The themes here are writing about writer's social/cultural concerns generally, individual and social fragments, specifically.  Interested in writing mystery 'shorts' too.