Pete's picture
Pete from Detroit is reading Red Dragon June 3, 2013 - 3:17pm

'Staring into the Abyss' by Richard Thomas

Discussion has officially started!

Synopsis: In this collection of short stories Richard Thomas shows us in dark, layered prose the human condition in all of its beauty and dysfunction. A man sits in a high tower making tiny, mechanical birds, longing for the day when he might see the sky again. A couple spends an evening in an underground sex club where jealousy and possession are the means of barter. A woman is victimized as a child, and turns that rage and vengeance into a lifelong mission, only to self-destruct, and become exactly what she battled against. These 20 stories will take you into the darkness, and sometimes bring you back. But now and then there is no getting out, the lights have faded, the pitch black wrapping around you like a festering blanket of lies. What will you do now? It's eat or be eaten--so bring a strong stomach and a hearty appetite.

Author: Richard Thomas is the author of three books--his debut novel, Transubstantiate (Otherworld Publications), and two short story collections, Herniated Roots (Snubnose Press) and Staring Into the Abyss (Kraken Press). He has published over 75 stories online and in print, including the Shivers VI anthology (Cemetery Dance) with Stephen King and Peter Straub. He is also the editor of two anthologies, both out in 2014: The Lineup (Black Lawrence Press) and Burnt Tongues (Medallion Press) with Chuck Palahniuk. In his spare time he is a featured book critic at The Nervous Breakdown, as well as a columnist at LitReactor. He is represented by Paula Munier at the Talcott Notch Literary Agency.

Discussion has officially started!

Richard Thomas might just be the hardest working author I know. He's got tons of stories out there. And every one of them is worth checking out. He's compiled this book from those stories to make it easier on you. I've been stoked to get my hands on this collection since he told me about it. Check this collection out and then read everything else you can find by him. I'm telling you, it's worth it!

Richard's website: www.whatdoesnotkillme.com.
Publisher's page: http://krakenpress.com/?p=162

Get to reading!

Order the Paperback from Amazon here

Order the Kindle Edition here

EDIT:

After talking with Richard, we will be doing a drawing with 3 seperate "prizes."

1. A copy of Staring into the Abyss signed by Richard
2. A limited edition copy of Transubstantiate signed by Richard, with a CD of short stories
3. A copy of Invisible Monsters Remix signed by Chuck Palahniuk to Richard (and Richard can add his signature to this if you like)

To enter the drawing, you just have to post in here with a post that adds to the discussion. Please think of thoughtful posts. 1 "entry" per person. Drawing will be held on the last day of July.

Good luck! And, again, get to reading!

Richard's picture
Richard from St. Louis is reading various anthologies June 3, 2013 - 4:11pm

Let me know if you have any questions. Also, here's the dedicated microsite:

http://www.abyss.krakenpress.com

Pete's picture
Pete from Detroit is reading Red Dragon June 3, 2013 - 4:22pm

Oops, I had the wrong link...

.'s picture
. June 3, 2013 - 4:28pm

Awesome cover art! 

Pete's picture
Pete from Detroit is reading Red Dragon June 3, 2013 - 4:39pm

Yeah, it's great isn't it?

Richard's picture
Richard from St. Louis is reading various anthologies June 3, 2013 - 5:41pm

no worries. the Kraken website is good, too, but the microsite has blurbs, reviews, a trailer. if you're not sure if this is your kind of collection, that should give you enough information to decide.

and pete and i have been chatting. we'll probably give away some prizes for showing up and asking some questions. TBD.

thanks for the kind words, guys. that cover art is by George Cotronis, who runs Kraken. love his work.

Jack Campbell Jr.'s picture
Jack Campbell Jr. from Lawrence, KS is reading American Rust by Phillipp Meyer June 3, 2013 - 7:04pm

I am really excited about this collection. I really liked Herniated Roots, but am looking forward Richard's horror writing. I don't know if I will get to it this month, but it is definitely on my to read list.

SRead's picture
SRead from Colorado is reading Stories June 3, 2013 - 7:07pm

Excited for this one. It's been on my "to read" list for a few months now---guess it's time to tuck in.

Pete's picture
Pete from Detroit is reading Red Dragon June 3, 2013 - 7:17pm

And now we have 3 more awesome reasons to read this and take part in the discussion.

Check out the edits to the original post.

Dino Parenti's picture
Dino Parenti from Los Angeles is reading Everything He Gets His Hands On June 3, 2013 - 9:06pm

People, I'm reading it now (taking my time and parsing them out), and it's a great collection. Definately recommend adding it to your library.

Jack Campbell Jr.'s picture
Jack Campbell Jr. from Lawrence, KS is reading American Rust by Phillipp Meyer June 4, 2013 - 7:35am

I read the first four stories last night (not taking my time) and I agree.

Richard's picture
Richard from St. Louis is reading various anthologies June 4, 2013 - 8:17am

thanks, guys. much appreciation. we'll have a fun discussion. it's not just about my writing, but what you all are doing, too—what's inspiring you, what's new, what doesn't work for you, all of that.

Covewriter's picture
Covewriter from Nashville, Tennessee is reading & Sons June 4, 2013 - 7:41pm

Dang I just saw this. Will get it and read. 

 

coscooper's picture
coscooper from Longmont, Colorado is reading Books of Blood : Volume 2 June 5, 2013 - 6:17pm

Newbie to Litreactor and dove right into the monthly read. Was blown away by the writing quality. Should be a member by the time July rolls around and look forward to lively discussions. So far, ten stories in, I'm enjoying this so much, I pulled away from Books of Blood series to enjoy. Great reading!!!

Jay.SJ's picture
Jay.SJ from London is reading Warmed and Bound June 6, 2013 - 2:05am

I moved house the other day and all my books got packed up, after I finish the SGJ collection of the ones that got away I'm onto this. It's a beautiful book too, and anything I can do to support my buddy Richard I will.

Sound's picture
Sound from Azusa, CA is reading Greener Pastures by Michael Wehunt June 6, 2013 - 10:04am

Loved it, and can't wait to start discussing. This'll be my first time participating in one of these.

Richard's picture
Richard from St. Louis is reading various anthologies June 7, 2013 - 11:12am

thanks, guys. i really appreciate the kind words. i'm really curious to see what were your favories, and what stories did you feel fell flat. i had my own opions on it, but was often surprised to see reviews come in where the critics liked stories that i thought were "weaker."

also, for anybody here, if you want to put up a short review at Amazon and/or Goodreads, i'd really appreciate the support. it really does help.

Jkteeter714's picture
Jkteeter714 from Mesa Arizona is reading Staring into the Abyss by Richard Thomas June 7, 2013 - 8:47pm

Old member from the Cult, new member to LitReactor and new to the book club. Just bought the ebook because I couldn't wait for the book to be shipped. Had the book for 20 minutes and already can't put it down. Can't wait for the discussion to start. 

Richard, I will defiantly leave a review. Hope that it will help. 

Richard's picture
Richard from St. Louis is reading various anthologies June 7, 2013 - 9:49pm

Thanks, Teeter. What was your old Cult name? I don't recognize the avatar. Glad you're enjoying it. You really just made my day.

Jkteeter714's picture
Jkteeter714 from Mesa Arizona is reading Staring into the Abyss by Richard Thomas June 8, 2013 - 5:26am

i wasnt too active on the Cult but it was Jacks.Raging.Anger

i mainly used it to read about upcoming books and events. up until now, i was never really active on these websites but it just seemed like it would be alot of fun to get more involved. never really wrote either until i joined this website but have started doing that now. nothing too great but i guess you gotta crawl before you can walk. haha

Richard's picture
Richard from St. Louis is reading various anthologies June 8, 2013 - 10:31am

ah, yeah. cool. well, great to see you over here.

Jack Campbell Jr.'s picture
Jack Campbell Jr. from Lawrence, KS is reading American Rust by Phillipp Meyer June 11, 2013 - 10:28am

Speaking of reviews, this is my favorite review quote from Goodreads.

"I think Richard Thomas is a normal guy. He lives in, like, Chicago-ish, maybe. I think he's married and maybe has a kid and a job. Probably has a car. I don't know. But, you know, I think he's a normal guy"

Richard's picture
Richard from St. Louis is reading various anthologies June 11, 2013 - 2:56pm

lol. hard to say. what do you define as "normal?" i mean, we've all killed a man in the dark of night, right? i mean, that just happen, a rite of passage. we've all been there.

jk

Jack Campbell Jr.'s picture
Jack Campbell Jr. from Lawrence, KS is reading American Rust by Phillipp Meyer June 11, 2013 - 5:29pm

Technically, I didn't kill him. Hypothermia did. I just dropped him off twenty miles from the nearest town, naked, in December, and slit his achilles tendons. But I didn't kill him.

Richard's picture
Richard from St. Louis is reading various anthologies June 11, 2013 - 9:09pm

^^see, jack knows what i'm talking about.

Covewriter's picture
Covewriter from Nashville, Tennessee is reading & Sons June 17, 2013 - 6:49pm

I'm ordering the book now. Should be fun to discuss. 

Richard's picture
Richard from St. Louis is reading various anthologies June 18, 2013 - 11:53am

Sweet! Hope you enjoy it, Cove. Thanks for the support.

Jkteeter714's picture
Jkteeter714 from Mesa Arizona is reading Staring into the Abyss by Richard Thomas June 18, 2013 - 6:34pm

God I can't wait for the discussion to start. I've got SOOOOOO many questions that need answered. 

Richard's picture
Richard from St. Louis is reading various anthologies June 19, 2013 - 8:16am

awesome! looking forward to your questions!

i'd love to hear thoughts on:

1. what stories were your favorites, and why?

2. what stories didn't work for you, and why?

3. there are a variety of lengths—flash, short stories, and one really long story. does the length influence your read?

4. there are few stories that break the conventional format (list story, choose your own path, etc.). what did you think of those?

5. did the cover art influence your desire to pick this title up? how about the blurbs? the reviews?

THANKS!

Ric Haffer's picture
Ric Haffer from Missouri is reading Naked Lunch by William S. Burroughs June 19, 2013 - 11:45am

Richard,

I just finished your book and I was amazed from the beginning. I have to say though, the first few stories I wasn't that impressed with, but after about the 25% mark (I was reading the Kindle Edition, not sure which story exactly) I became engourged into the book. I finished it in about three sessions of reading. Absolutely awesome book! 

As far as your questions, I'll answer a few. This was a quick read for me and I didn't pay much attention to the titles (sorry). 

1. My favorite by far was Amazement. This one I actually read through multiple times as it's written in close to the same way that I write. I absolutely loved this story and the ending made it in my opinion. 

3. The length does effect my read unfortunately. Reading a collection like that I expect to read about four pages max and after that my ADD starts to kick in. There's nothing wrong with having longer stories, I just wish there was some way to be expecting them on the Kindle. This is just personal preference and my opinion may or may not be shared. 

4. The one list story that you had (10 Steps I believe was the name of it) was AMAZING. I had never encountered a story like that and was excited to see how it panned out. It was awesome how you tied the scenarios and built the character around each event. Wonderfully written. 

The only one I didn't like that you seemed to be experimenting with was the "Choose your own adventure". This almost seemed childish to me because the only other stories that I had read like that was from... well, my childhood. Once again, personal preference, but I'd rather have the author choose my adventure. To me, that's kind of the point of writing. 

5. The cover art really didn't inspire me all that much. The title did though. Mostly because my thoughts immediately flew to Nietzsche's quote "If you stare long enough into the abyss, eventually the abyss stares back" (paraphrased, obviously). Considering Nietzsche was my favorite philosopher from my teen years I had to pick up this book, regardless of the fact it was this month's book club read. 

 

Overall, I loved your book. I'm normally pretty picky whenever it comes to what I read (I don't like Great Gatsby at all, just as an example) and this book I constantly wanted to continue reading. Great writing style and great collection!

Renfield's picture
Renfield from Hell is reading 20th Century Ghosts June 19, 2013 - 1:15pm

I kind of wondered about the Nietzche allusions too, if it was some conscious loadstone to building your Neo-Noir voice, or simply because they sound cool? You can't go wrong with Nietzche for some good imagery. Pretty standard question, but do you start stories with some of your cool, catchy titles you've had milling around in mind or do the narratives build into such perfect tags like "Underground Wonder Bound"?

How close was it putting together this one and the HERNIATED ROOTS collection? That must've been a pretty interesting process to build two solid collections at a relatively similar time. I do appreciate that this collection seems to be older stories mixed with the breakthrough stories like the ChiZine winner.

 

[I haven't got the book from amazon yet but have read most of the stories, figure these are okay questions for early discussion]

Nav Persona's picture
Nav Persona from Purgatory is reading The Babayaga June 19, 2013 - 5:25pm

I'm in. Downloading now... reading later, posting yet to come :)

Covewriter's picture
Covewriter from Nashville, Tennessee is reading & Sons June 19, 2013 - 6:55pm

Hoping to get my copy and discuss July 1. Can't wait. 

Richard's picture
Richard from St. Louis is reading various anthologies June 20, 2013 - 8:47am

yeah, we have ten days until we really kick this off, but i'll try to address what's been posted anyway.

Ric - see, that's what I find so interesting, that Amazement was your favorite. I definitely had a hard time setting the TOC, and some of the older, shorter stories I worred would sound dated. You know, we always feel like we're evolving. But when I re-read all of the Colored Chalk flash fiction, I still liked it. So, thanks for that.

I knew the "choose your own adventure" story was a risky one ("Spintered") and it wouldn't be for everyone. I totally tapped into my childhood with that. Getting it accepted at PANK was validation enough, but I understand it's not for everyone. Funny that the list story "Ten Steps" DID work for you. That story was a big break on form for me, was very worried that it wouldn't work, but I hoped the jumps from time to time and place to place would hold up. See, it's so weird, you never know what will work for somebody.

I'm glad that the mixture of lengths worked for you. I hoped that mixing it up, breaking up longer stories with shorter ones, would be a good thing to do. Sounds like it worked for you.

Sorry the cover art wasn't to your liking, I see so many bad illustrations, I thought it was compelling. How exactly do you draw an abyss? I'm a fan of George Costronis's work. But luckily the Nietzsche inspired title and quote pulled you in. I'm a big fan of his philosophies.

Richard's picture
Richard from St. Louis is reading various anthologies June 20, 2013 - 8:53am

Hey Ren,

Thanks for chiming in. Sure, feel free to comment on stories you know, that's totally cool.

I guess in my head the two collections were pretty far apart. They definitely felt like two different themes and voices—Herniated Roots leaning noir, and SITA leaning horror. But with all of my work, there are similarities, of course. I went though my stories and tried to find voices that fit each collection. For instance, I left out a few of my newer stoiries that are more magical realism, and all of my thesis stoiries, that are too literary. They just wouldnt fit as well.

I've always enjoyed Nietzsche, since college, so I assume part of his teachings have leaked into who I am as a person, my thoughts, and psychology. But no, it isn't a conscious choice or thought I carry around with me. I suppose much of my writing does fit into his mindset—nihilism, for instance.

I rarely start a story by the title, unless it is a one-word title, and that word is what the theme and focus of the story, collection, or novel is about. So, yes, Transubstantiate and Disintegration were named long before I wrote the novels. I imagine some of my stories were the same way. But "Underground Wonder Bound," that came to me later. Catchy, right? I like that title a lot, layers of meaning in there, I think.

Thanks for the kind words, too. Means a lot.

Nav Persona's picture
Nav Persona from Purgatory is reading The Babayaga June 22, 2013 - 2:04pm

I finished the book the other night, and as I reached the end of the last story, I kept checking to see if there were more - like a dark and dangerous party I didn't want to end. The book has also raised some interesting thoughts and questions. I'm looking forward to the full discussion :)

Jack Campbell Jr.'s picture
Jack Campbell Jr. from Lawrence, KS is reading American Rust by Phillipp Meyer June 22, 2013 - 2:30pm

I enjoyed the choose-your-own-adventure format, and I have lots of thoughts on it. I'm looking forward to sharing them.

Richard's picture
Richard from St. Louis is reading various anthologies June 23, 2013 - 12:01pm

thanks, Apple. yeah, format is definitely something i want to talk about, jack.

voodoo_em's picture
voodoo_em from England is reading All the books by Chelsea Cain! June 24, 2013 - 1:33am

I got my copy this weekend :)

Richard's picture
Richard from St. Louis is reading various anthologies June 24, 2013 - 12:00pm

thanks, em. hope you dig it.

thanks, jamarts!

OtisTheBulldog's picture
OtisTheBulldog from Somerville, MA is reading The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz June 26, 2013 - 9:32am

Got my copy in the mail last week so I can join in on the fun. I've already read a few of them (while taking a break working through Ben Percy's Red Moon). I'll reserve my commentary until I get through the collection - I have some reading to do.

Richard's picture
Richard from St. Louis is reading various anthologies June 26, 2013 - 12:55pm

Cool! Yeah, a few may be familiar. I wonder how often people read a story twice. I have to imagine that most of the time we never do. How's RED MOON treating you? My review went up at TNB when you're done:

http://www.thenervousbreakdown.com/rthomas/2013/06/review-of-red-moon-by...

Richard's picture
Richard from St. Louis is reading various anthologies June 26, 2013 - 2:18pm

Also, if at any point you want to post up a short review and some stars, I can use them at Amazon especially, and also Goodreads. Feel free to cut and paste from one site to the next.

http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/9197972592

http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/17231578-staring-into-the-abyss

THANKS!

Jack Campbell Jr.'s picture
Jack Campbell Jr. from Lawrence, KS is reading American Rust by Phillipp Meyer June 27, 2013 - 7:43am

I could get into some lengthy conversations about Red Moon. There are actually several things I would like to talk to Benjamin Percy about, just to get his perspective on some technical choices he made. Great book, though. So good that I found myself nitpicking, if that makes any sense.

voodoo_em's picture
voodoo_em from England is reading All the books by Chelsea Cain! July 1, 2013 - 6:18am

It’s July!

Richard, I really enjoyed this collection of stories. To your questions:

1. My favourites were:

Splintered ~ Oh yes, I loved this one. It’s the emotion, all the little details, the build up of darkness and suspicion. Clever and quirky and sardonic.

Victimized ~ The layers and emotions and darkness. And the whole concept, oh yeah!

Twenty dollar bill ~ Another clever break of conventions, I love the way the stories of different lives are tied around a twenty dollar bill.

Interview ~ From “1 box of Hefty CinchSak Trash Bags, Large 30 Gallon, 32 CT: $7.99” I just knew... What I like about this is that it only hints at horror with a list of items surrounded by a relatively normal conversation. Subtle suggestions that lead to a brain full of horror. I think it is very clever. I also like how some sections are just dialogue, yet as a reader we barely even notice.

Paying up ~ This is kind of beautiful in the way I always find heartbreak and sorrow beautiful. The regret of the dad, and the love he has.

Ten steps ~ Another clever unconventional story. So much time passes over 10 short steps.

Stephen King ate my brain ~ Because yeah, where exactly does Stephen King get all these idea from? I loved it more because you made yourself the narrator :)

Twenty reasons to stay and one to leave ~ I loved this the first time I read it in Storyville. Every paragraph a reason why. Every paragraph so many fragments of a broken story. Beautiful.

2. I wouldn’t say any of the stories didn’t work for me, I enjoyed aspects of all of them. I connected more with some but you have to consider that this is opinions after one read. Speaking as someone who does re-read and re-read books I find that connections to some stories come over time.

3. I think having a different lengths works really well in a short story collection. It creates a nice rhythm (if that makes sense?)

4. Ahh I think it’s safe to say that I am a big fan of breaking the conventional  :) (I also enjoyed your story Kiss Off over on Parable Press)

5. The influence for picking up this book came from the fact that I had previously read your work and enjoyed it. For the record, the blurb did pique my interest and I didn’t read the reviews (I do sometimes, depends what I’m thinking of buying).

With regards to the title, I didn’t realise that it related to a quote and somehow interpreted it as referring to the darkness inside humanity.


 

Richard's picture
Richard from St. Louis is reading various anthologies July 1, 2013 - 9:09am

Thanks for all of that, Em! You and I tend to align on a lot of things.

"Victimized" is one of my favorites, too, and it's my longest short story to day. Can I ask you how you felt about the female protagonist? I often get criticized for making all of my women sexual, or victims, or stereotypes. While there IS sex in this story, and she is a victim, I tried to use that as her back story, so that Belle evolves over time. I wanted to see what that abuse would do to her. Sadly, a lot of abused kids turn into messes when they get older, including violence, and overtly sexual behavior. "Transmogrify" was another female protagonist that I hope was done well, too. Tried to make her strong and in control.

I'm glad to see some unconventional stories worked for you, I never know if those risks are worth it, but it's fun, and they've done pretty well for me. PANK was a score that made me really happy.

And I'm really happy some of the shorter work was strong, in your opinion, becuase it was older and I wasn't sure. Glad that mixing up lengths worked, I felt like that was a good approach.

Jack Campbell Jr.'s picture
Jack Campbell Jr. from Lawrence, KS is reading American Rust by Phillipp Meyer July 1, 2013 - 12:01pm

Since it had been brought up earlier, I loved the use of the choose your own adventure style for "Splintered" because I thought it summed up the collection as a whole.

The protagonist in "Splintered" has so many chances to make things different, or at least to make them on his  terms, but he keeps staring right back in to the blackness. I read it beginning to end, less as a choose your own adventure and more as a mechanism describing his potential choices.

One thing I have noticed about your characters, no matter how dark they are, whether they become victims or victimizers, they arrive there through their own choices. Perhaps it goes back to that idea of staring into the abyss long enough that the abyss stares back.

Also, the stories build tension very well. I've been reading a lot of Algernon Blackwood and Joyce Carol Oates lately, and it reminded me of how they do it. They always nudge you a bit into thinking something really bad is about to happen. Nudge by nudge, they increase the dread until...sometimes something happens, and sometimes you are left to imagine, which is sometimes more horrible than knowing. You built tension very well, as a rule.

Reading your collection and reading Joyce Carol Oates's Give Me Your Heart, which was similar sylistically and thematically, I have to say that you did it better, with all due respect to Oates, who is one of my favorite writers.

Richard's picture
Richard from St. Louis is reading various anthologies July 1, 2013 - 2:39pm

Glad you liked "Splintered" that was hard to write, but a lot of fun. The choices, yes, I think that's what defines us all, right? I mean, so many things are out of our control, but there are moments when we make important decisions, and the impact always follows.

The tension, yes, that's always important to me. I've been accused of being too subtle or vague, even my MFA professor told me to "leave the slow reveal to the strippers" (great teacher). He would have hated LOST. I don't think I've read Algernon, but I'll take the JCO compliment, thanks so much. I read her for the first time with an open mind in my MFA and really loved her writing. I appreciate the kind words.

Did you have a favorite story, Jack? Just curious. Anything you think didn't work well?

And if you want to talk about RED MOON, drop some comments on me. I loved it. My review:

http://www.thenervousbreakdown.com/rthomas/2013/06/review-of-red-moon-by...

JEFFREY GRANT BARR's picture
JEFFREY GRANT BARR from Central OR is reading Nothing but fucking Shakespeare, for the rest of my life July 1, 2013 - 2:59pm

One thing I have noticed about your characters, no matter how dark they are, whether they become victims or victimizers, they arrive there through their own choices.

Yes! This was my take on the stories: the journey that the characters take, their own free will as the architect of their misery. 'Splintered' is a prime example and probably my favorite story in the book. Just the right mix of real human despair and inevitability leavened by black humor.

I have more thoughts on other stories as well that I will get around to one of these days.

Richard's picture
Richard from St. Louis is reading various anthologies July 1, 2013 - 5:09pm

Cool to hear you all say this. I do try to put my characters in situations and just "follow them" I don't write with a plot, a set goal in mind. Later, I'll check to make sure it all makes sense, but I don't predetermine things. So in a lot of ways, I guess you can say they do have free will.

Covewriter's picture
Covewriter from Nashville, Tennessee is reading & Sons July 1, 2013 - 7:36pm

Ordered a physical copy a while back from Amazon and haven't gotten it. Kind of surprised at that. may have to order the digital. I enjoy books more in the printed version though. Maybe it will arrive tomorrow.