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Pete from Detroit is reading Red Dragon July 1, 2015 - 9:32am

'Disintegration' by Richard Thomas

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Synopsis: 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 coming 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.

Author: Richard Thomas is the author of seven books: Three novels, Disintegration and The Breaker (Random House Alibi), and Transubstantiate (Otherworld Publications); three short story collections, Tribulations (TBA), Staring Into the Abyss (Kraken Press), and Herniated Roots (Snubnose Press); as well as one novella of The Soul Standard (Dzanc Books). He is also the editor of four anthologies: Exigencies and The New Black (Dark House Press), The Lineup (Black Lawrence Press) and Burnt Tongues (Medallion Press) with Chuck Palahniuk (finalist for the Bram Stoker Award). In his spare time he is a columnist at LitReactor and Editor-in-Chief at Dark House Press. He has taught at LitReactor, the University of Iowa, StoryStudio Chicago, and in Transylvania. For more information visit

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Richard Thomas has probably helped more people here than anybody I know. And there's a reason that people look up to him for advice - he's a kick ass writer and he will out-work almost every person here. He's been working on this book for year, so I'm really happy for him that it's finally out in the world. If you've read anything by him, you've been looking forward to this as well.


Get to reading!


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Richard from St. Louis is reading various anthologies July 6, 2015 - 12:21pm


“A dark existential thriller of unexpected twists, featuring a drowning man determined to pull the rest of the world under with him. A stunning and vital piece of work.”
—Irvine Welsh, author of Trainspotting and Filth

“Sweet hot hell, Richard Thomas writes like a man possessed, a man on fire, a guy with a gun to his head. And you’ll read Disintegration like there’s a gun to yours, too. A twisted masterpiece.”
—Chuck Wendig, author of Blackbirds and Double Dead

“This novel is so hard-hitting it should come with its own ice-pack. Richard Thomas is the wild child of Raymond Chandler and Chuck Palahniuk, a neo-noirist who brings to life a gritty, shadow-soaked, bullet-pocked Chicago as the stage for this compulsively readable crime drama.”
—Benjamin Percy, author of The Dead Lands, Red Moon, and The Wilding

“Thomas builds his universe and its population with terse prose and dynamic, often horrifyingly visceral imagery that unspools with grand weirdness and intensity. Then he rips that universe apart, brick by bloody brick. Disintegration is provocative. It’s also damned fine noir.”
—Laird Barron, author of The Beautiful Thing That Awaits Us All and The Croning

“A sodden, stumbling anti-hero in a noir so dark it makes much of the rest of the genre seem like Disney movies by comparison. Gritty, obsessive, and compulsively readable.”
—Brian Evenson, author of Immobility and Windeye

“Disintegration is gritty neo-noir; a psycho-sexual descent into an unhinged psyche and an underworld Chicago that could very well stand in for one of the rings of Dante's Hell. Richard Thomas' depraved-doomed-philosopher hitman is your guide. I suggest you do as he says and follow him, if you know what's good for you.”
—Paul Tremblay, author of A Head Full of Ghosts and The Little Sleep

“In sharp, icy prose that cuts like a glacial wind, Richard Thomas’ dark Chicago tale keeps us absolutely riveted to the very end.” —Donald Ray Pollock, author of The Devil All the Time and Knockemstiff

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Richard from St. Louis is reading various anthologies July 6, 2015 - 12:26pm
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Richard from St. Louis is reading various anthologies July 9, 2015 - 6:35pm

THERE WILL BE SPOILERS IN THIS DISCUSSION. So pick up your copy for $3 and get to reading! I want you to feel free to ask me ANY questions about this book. I was just driving around Wicker Park pointing out to my wife and kids where parts of the book were set—there's Nik's, and there's Estelle's, and there's the alley, and my old apartment. Was pretty cool, haven't been back there in a few months. Even more powerful in the winter, with snow on the ground.

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Richard from St. Louis is reading various anthologies July 30, 2015 - 6:45pm


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Richard from St. Louis is reading various anthologies August 3, 2015 - 6:23am

Ask me anything, people, I'm here to talk about DISINTEGRATION, but also, anything else related to writing, and your career.

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NikKorpon from Baltimore is reading Book and books and books and August 3, 2015 - 11:15am

Were you really the inspiration behind MIDNIGHT COWBOY, and how has that affected the way you approach novels?

Real question: What genre do you really want to write in, but haven't yet? (I told my wife I really want to write a rom-com once I figure out the hook for the story.)

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Richard from St. Louis is reading various anthologies August 3, 2015 - 2:10pm

Hey Nik,

Thanks for stopping by! Yes, yes I was. It effects everything I do.

As for genre, really, YA. I've written a lot of stories that my children can't read, and I know they'll get there eventually, they're 11 now, but even at 18, I'm not sure I want them reading all of this. Maybe in their twenties. So I've thought a lot about YA and how that might look. I actually rewrote Transubstantiate as a YA book (titled Seven Deadly) and my agent is shopping it right now. I took out most of the sex, most of the cursing, and toned down the violence. (Yes, there was still a book left.) I also adjusted the ages a bit. I also would like to write more F/SF, as there are some great markets out there.

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Chacron from England, South Coast is reading Fool's Assassin by Robin Hobb August 3, 2015 - 2:13pm

I'll kick off the Disintegration questions...been looking forward to it!

I began building an idea that the narrator might have been more than a simple family man with an ordinary job in his previous life. His drink-fuelled present suggests he's a little unreliable even though there's no obvious memory loss about the things that happen, but when he gets into the past with vague and hazy details, I wonder what he was forgetting. Along with this, it's hard to think that someone ordinary would change from a family man with a routine day job to being a man who can kill with such methods as quickly as he seemed to.

Add to that the question of what his family believe happened to him (and I liked that we never got to find out because he never goes back to them) and I wonder if they were really the ones looking for an escape from him, and things he used to do but either doesn't recall or doesn't let the reader in on.

You told me in a PM that you actually did name the narrator originally but chose to make him anonymous. Did you ever have a full picture of who he was before, besides the small amount of detail he lets the reader in on?

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Richard from St. Louis is reading various anthologies August 3, 2015 - 5:19pm

As far as I know, he was a very normal man, essentially myself. A father, a husband, working an average job. I've always had this violence in me, that I've rarely let out, but I don't think I'd have trouble killing somebody if it came down to it, to protect my family. I've been in a few fights, tossed a guy off a bus, but I try to avoid it when I can, as it rarely leads to anything good. I wanted to see what it felt like to really fall apart. It's set in my old apartment in Wicker Park, where I did a good amount of failing and disintegrating myself—I was abusing alcohol and drugs, cutting myself, living life in the shadows for several months. It's nothing I'm proud of, that's for sure. There were some moments in the dead of night where things went down. I never killed anybody, but a guy I knew overdosed on heroin, people got into car accidents, DUIs, not me, I wasn't driving much then. I think they just moved on because they had to, the family. There's a moment there at the end where the wife is looking out the window, and she's missing him, even though she has moved on. I don't think he was a bad husband or father, not in the sense that he was hurting or abusing anyone. We all take people for granted at times, don't we? I think our protagonist eased into the killing. It's not hard to pull a trigger, really. Not hard to run somebody over in a car. The up close knife work, that came later. When we start the book, he's already covered in tattoos, so he's killed many people by then. How many in total, if I had to guess? Dozens. Less than a  hundred.

Hope that answers your questions!

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Chacron from England, South Coast is reading Fool's Assassin by Robin Hobb August 5, 2015 - 3:45am

How many drafts did you do before the one that became the published book? Do you write loads and then edit it down or do you plan it all before you put pen to paper and do as few drafts as possible?

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Richard from St. Louis is reading various anthologies August 5, 2015 - 7:11am

Man, I have no idea how many drafts I put into DISINTEGRATION. I wrote the first half in my MFA program, so each month I'd turn in a packet, and get revisions. So that would be the first and second drafts. I wrote the second half in a feverish week, 40,000 words in five days. I then read, edited and revised it over the next couple of months. I'd say at least five read throughs, maybe more. Then I sent it out to small presses, no luck, then to agents, 100 rejected it, finally signing with Paula Munier. She made some suggestions, and I tweaked a few things. Then we sent it out, got some close calls with the big six, ultimately signing with Random House Alibi. THEN, the work began. I did major edits with my editor there, Dana Isaacson, cutting out entire chapters, and changing the ending (which I must have written five times). Then it went to copy editing where we had at least five different rounds of edits—sometimes just a sheet of dangling and misplaced modifiers, sometimes a sheet of redundancies, but several rounds of edits across the entire book. So, to answer, A LOT.

With BREAKER, the second book in the series, I wrote it in 25 days last December, read through it, edited it maybe once or twice, and turned it in. Dana and I again went through it, cut a few scenes, rewrote a few scenes, and now we've gone through the first round of copy editing, which wasn't too bad. I don't tend to dwell on editing. I either get it "right" in my head, or I don't. I tend to edit on the fly, I don't plot though. I can usually tell when it's working. And when I edit, I look for places where dialogue is weak, the rhythm and beats are off, where it needs more setting (or less), where it slows down, etc. I'm always looking at character, setting, plot, sympathy, sensory details, etc.

Hope that answers your questions.

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Daniel W Broallt from Texas is reading The Emerald Mile August 11, 2015 - 4:55am

Hey Richard!

Just started Disintegration, about 10% in! 

First off, congrats!

Second, your narrator (at least at the start) is a bit in a haze, unreliable. I've noticed this in some other noir (neo-noir?), specifically I'm thinking of Baer's Kiss Me, Judas and Clevenger's Dermaphoria, which I can only assume both have some influence on your work. 

1. Is the unreliable narrator a hallmark of neo-noir? Are there other good examples?

2. Or is it more of an example of noir filtered through minimalism, that is - if the narrator is drunk/high/weary then the text should pull the reader into the narrator's experience? 

3. And if you want to put on your teacher hat, here you can talk about the risks and benefits of using an unreliable narrator (in reference to Disintegration)? 

Looking forward to reading more! 

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Richard from St. Louis is reading various anthologies August 11, 2015 - 5:49am

He Daniel, good to see you here.

1. I think so, yes. It's not essential, much like there is a wide range of horror, but it's often found in neo-noir. Memento is another good example, that film, as well as Blade Runner. A lot of my fiction has unreliable narrators—anybody that has issues with memory, or is on drugs or altered, or has mental issues. Shutter Island is another one, by Lehane. 

2. I think it also depends on first vs. third, and what you choose to represent. Some like the slow reveal, some don't. Dexter kind of puts it all out there, same with Silence of the Lambs, we know that killer is present. Others, like Gone Girl, we have to figure out. I guess, mystery vs. noir? 

3. I try to honor my characters and speak the truth. So in Disintegration, the choices I made about "truth" were ones that seemed logical and necessary. Of course, there are times my protagonist is figuring things out as I AM figuring them out. The ending changed five times, for example. Obviously, you run the risk of frustrating the reader if you make them wait too long, or if you don't give them enough. Look at the end of the Dark Tower series or Lost, some people were very upset. The benefit is that the reader is trying to figure it out, and most people do like a challenge, in mystery it's right there in the name of the genre. I love playing with the truth, as well as perception, in my fiction. I hope there are those A-HA moments, those epiphanies (and not JUST twist endings) throughout that get the reader to feel something, strong emotions.

Great questions!

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Pete from Detroit is reading Red Dragon August 11, 2015 - 9:23am

Just finished it.

Man reading this was like having a grinding tension constantly in my head. It was almost a relief to finish it. I don't mean that as an insult either. It's just that the narrator was so full of something... I found myself making fists while I was reading this. I'd look up and my hand would be tightly clenched, white knucking.

I sure wish he would have taken the cat with him, as well.

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Richard from St. Louis is reading various anthologies August 11, 2015 - 12:38pm

Lol...thanks, Pete. Yeah, it was tough writing it, when I finished I was spent–crying, on the verge of throwing up, just exhausted. It wasn't a pleasant place to be. But I hope that the ending worked for you, that there were some moments of humor and lightness sprinkled throughout. BREAKER isn't as tense, I don't think. If you have any questions, shoot them at me!

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cshultz81 from Oklahoma is reading Best Horror of the Year Volume 8 August 12, 2015 - 11:38pm

Just finished yesterday. A difficult read, to be sure, particularly since so much of the protagonist's existence rang true for me. Much like you, Richard, I spent a lot of time drinking copious amounts of booze, smoking tons of pot and eating hallucinogenic cacti in my tiny studio apartment in the Granville neighborhood. I also struggled with a short temper, which led me to spending just as much money on wall spackle and beige paint as I did on booze and drugs. You captured the desparity of being a loner drunk excellently.

What I'm wondering is, how much of the protagonist's experience is real? Sure, he's an unreliable narrator, but I believe he is royally fucked up all the time, and he even states that he doesn't know if his memories are his own or if they're just something he saw in a movie. Could it be anything that transpires outside his apartment (and some things that transpire within it) is nothing but a fantasy? 

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Pete from Detroit is reading Red Dragon August 13, 2015 - 4:29am

I think this adds a bit to what you're asking (above me). Or at least gives a little bit of my perspective.

There were these moments, like the one on the bus, where it was alluded to that the narrator has just done something crazy that he doesn't remember. I wish there was a moment, like seeing video footage of himself, where we see what's actually happened. The only thing close to that is the girl saying he's was crying. But that doesn't justify a whole bus giving him strange looks and a different little girl giving him the finger.

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Jonathan Riley from Memphis, Tennessee is reading Flashover by Gordon Highland August 13, 2015 - 2:24pm

I loved this book. Left my review on Amazon and GoodReads. Must warn you, it's just the third review I've written outside of a workshop and I didn't really talk about the plot or writing style at all, and may have included spoilers, but hey, I'm learning. It's atleast a jist of what I thought about it. That said. Great Job Richard!

I guess my biggest question is why does the Protag keep underestimating women? Early on you tell us he's never hit or been abusive to women and he even dreads the day he'll have one show up in the envelope, and when he does, he may hesitate a bit, but it's business as usual. I guess my point is he doesn't seem overly mosaginistic or feminist at all but somewhere in the middle. I counted four times (minimum) where woman got the upperhand on him. The whore at the drug deal/execution, he hit her and then disregarded her as a threat and then she attacked him. His first encounter with Isadora where he ends up strapped to a crucifix and cut. His first encounter with Pippi where he gets tazed, (somewhere in their Holly might have got the better of him too) and lastly the young Japanese(was she Japanese? I remember picturing Asian at least, that might have been just me) woman at Vlads house. The first three times seemed organic and worked, but as a reader that last time I'm sitting there yelling at my book, How can you just tell her to leave. She's gonna get you man!!! And I guess that makes it exciting but I also was thinking, this dude never learns and I believed he should had by then. It's not really a qualm at all. I liked it. He didn't make good decisions most of the way, but I could tell that that wasn't a coincidence because it happens so often so I wondered what your take was on it. Why does he overlook women as a threat? Or does he find them threatening and just doesn't care? Like if he's going to meet his end he'd rather it be a woman than Vlad or one of his thugs? Thanks Richard.

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HillarynDodge from Colorado is reading Choke by Chuck Palahniuk August 14, 2015 - 3:17pm

Just jumping in!

Bought the book today and read a few chapters during lunch.

First impressions: I'm clue what is really going on at this point. Love the writing; this line is one of my favorites: "They are two dark tunnels, bottomless pits, and I stand at the openings breathing in the musty air, rich with soil and rotting bones." (I've started highlighting awesome metaphors in the books I read becuase it is one of my personal goals to improve in this area of my own writing.) I'm also enjoying that it is written in present tense; because of that, I feel more in the head of the MC and I'm equally as disoriented as he is at times - I think that really helps the reader "feel" the book. I'm a big mood-reader so I appreciate this approach.

Richard, when approaching the rough draft of Disintegration, did you know you wanted to write it in first person or did you play around with viewpoint while writing/editing?



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Richard from St. Louis is reading various anthologies August 14, 2015 - 7:37pm

HILLARY: Minor spoilers below.

Thanks, cshultz81, there's a lot of my haunted past in here for sure. I believe most of it is very real. There are some surreal moments (the lightning jesus thing, the coated in red blood in the alley) that are hallucinations, or just exaggerated moments. But the bulk of it is real. In the beginning he isn't sure if Holly is real, we aren't sure if she's real (and to be honest, I WASN'T sure if she was real). There are some slippery moments for sure, but I leave it up to YOU to define that reality.

Pete: The girl on the bus, he takes her doll and rips the head off. But yes, often the details that are there are pretty subtle or quick. It's easy to miss things. I was purposefully not giving you details at times, but hopefully it wasn't too vague or elusive. I DID try to make BREAKER more straight forward, less slippery, as far as what's really happening. But maybe it's just me, my style, I like leaving room for you, the reader, to define what happens in some of the moments.

Thanks, JR! Much appreciation. As for the women, that's a great question. I don't think he feels the women are LESS, he obviously sees eventually that Holly is a threat, but quite often, I think he just doesn't want to believe that these women can be as nasty, and violent, and dark as he is. He wants to believe that they're good people, I think. He definitely doesn't want to kill any women, he is naive when it comes to Isadora, but is obviously attracted to her, and he's killed so many people by the end, I guess he just think he's pretty intimidating and the girl won't come back. He has issues with loyalty, probably didn't think Vlad's girl would risk her life for him. He quite often DOES underestimate wome, but I think that's just him quite often underestimating a LOT of people, human nature in general. When the other assassin comes into his apartment, we don't see him fight, run, attack, he just accepts that the guy is there. I think that's part of his nature—he's a reluctant killer, in many way. He never sees Pippi coming for him, and that's just part of his weakness, I think, a blind spot. Hope that makes sense and answers your questions.

Hillary! Glad you're digging it. I really wanted it to be first-person, I want you to BE the protagonist, to really go through it with him, as much as possible. Some people love it, some hate it. It's obviously violent and dark, so I've had readers really get turned off by it, but I enjoyed following Hannibal or Dexter or Bateman, at least, some of the time. I wanted this to be trippy, surreal, disorienting. I love Burroughs and others that do that, Steve Erickson, Clive Barker—even Jeff VanderMeer's latest, Annihilation, or parts of Bird Box, by Josh Malerman, do that. I think there are enough moments that are grounded. I always wanted it to be first, third was way too distant to make this the journey I wanted it to be.

Thanks for chiming in, everyone. If you have other questions, shoot them at me!

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Richard from St. Louis is reading various anthologies August 30, 2015 - 4:49pm

Thanks everyone for stopping by. As this month winds down, just wanted to say I appreciate your continued support and if you have any other questions, post them up!