Thursday, July 29, 2010

Interview with Author Scott Thomas

Scott Thomas is the author of the short story collections Midnight in New England, The Ghosts in the Garden and his newly released Quill and Candle anthology. His supernatural tales are sophisticated spookfests that are usually based in rustic locales that add to their creepy charm.

I was delighted to interview Mr. Thomas to find out the secrets behind his unnerving stories, how his older brother got him hooked on horror and how writing runs in the family. Enjoy the interview below!

Fatally Yours: When did you fall in love with the horror genre?

Scott Thomas: I can hardly think of a time when I wasn’t interested in horror, though in my younger days horror was not the primary focus so much as one of several major interests, the others being science fiction and fantasy. Not to diminish any fascination with the genre. It’s actually hard not to say we when referring to those more youthful times, because my interests were so interwoven with and influenced by those of my older brother Jeffrey — yes, Jeffrey Thomas the author of Punktown. My interests were our interests. We loved monster movies and Halloween, spooky old time radio classics like Lights Out, and publications such as Eerie, Creepy, and Famous Monsters of Filmland. Oh, yes, and TV shows such as The Twilight Zone and The Outer Limits.

FY: When did you realize you wanted to pursue writing? Have you always known you wanted to be an author?

ST: I came from a home where creativity was highly regarded. My father was a poet and an artist and my mother used to have her own musing newspaper column, so, creating, whether it be art, or homemade comic books (and eventually penning stories) became a way of expressing and inventing, a way of processing and indulging interests. Story telling, in that environment, seemed to come naturally. As far back as 5th grade I was writing what I considered novels, though I don’t think the actual word counts would have justified the label. Even so, my desire to be an author goes back at least to that time.

FY: How did you start your writing career and what was the very first thing that you had published?

ST: I wrote a certain vignette, an October mood piece called Only the Night Knows, that saw print in a pagan periodical called New Earth Journal some years before being published in anything like a horror publication.

Back in the early nineties there were a lot of small press genre magazines being put out with subject matter ranging from traditional horror and sci-fi to gothic stuff and hardcore fantasy (some will remember Deathrealm, Elegia, 2AM and Eldritch Tales, to name a few). Well, I started submitting short stories to some of those markets and scored a hit with a sale to a handsome magazine called Haunts. That was in February of 1991. The story, Memento Mori, came out in May of 1993 and later was scooped up for a reprint in DAW’s The Year’s Best Horror #22. Other short works appeared in this and that little magazine before the May issue of Haunts came out, but Memento Mori remains my first fiction acceptance.

FY: Do you follow a certain routine when writing a novel? Do you put in a certain number of hours per day?

ST: Well, whether I’m working on a novel, which is infrequent, or a short story, I guess I do it when I have time and energy and I’m in writing mode or mood. I can’t say there’s an actual pattern. I’d certainly like to write more often than I do.

FY: Your collection, The Garden of Ghosts, is set in Victorian times. What interests you about the Victorian period and why did you decide to set your book in this time period?

ST: My interest in that period stems, I would say, from my interest in the classic Victorian ghost story. The classic British Victorian ghost story especially. Some decades back, I was also rather taken with the architecture of the era, though I’ve since become more fond of earlier period houses. The Victorians were fascinated with death, of course, so setting stories in that environment seems appropriate. And, in my humble opinion, stories of a ghostly nature seem more at home in a time when people rode in carriages and relied on fireplaces and candles, and women wore long picturesque skirts. With The Garden of Ghosts I simply determined to do a collection of nothing but Victorian ghost stories, though in my own idiosyncratic interpretations of the tradition.

FY: Did you have to do a lot of research on the Victorian period before writing The Garden of Ghosts?

ST: I tend do quite a bit of research when I’m doing period stories. I get obsessive, learning more than I need. Even so, the research is a way of tuning into a certain place and period, so it proves a valuable expenditure of time. Yes, I would definitely say I did quite a bit for that particular collection. I recall looking into things such things as village life in 1830s New England, and the building styles and street lay-outs of old British villages, even the kinds of plants one would have encountered in Victorian times. A great deal of research went into the Jack-the-Ripper story Mr. Pickergill’s Unusual Oak-wood Box. I aimed to capture details of the actual crimes as well as the dreary slum environs where that gory bit of history took place. I wanted that crime-infested, down-trodden part of London to almost function as a character in the story.

FY: What are your favorite stories that you’ve written?

ST: Favorites change over time, but one that I would absolutely list is The Swan of Prudence Street, which appeared in Ministry of Whimsy’s Leviathan 3. I’m rather proud of that one. Two others that I consider favorites are The Second Parsonage, from my collection Midnight in New England and the title story from The Garden of Ghosts. The collective stories of my book Westermead are very dear to me as well.

FY: How do you feel about ultra-gory horror novels as opposed to more psychologically chilling tales?

ST: I can’t say I’m much of a novel reader, but as regards horror fiction in general, I favor quiet ghost stories to gore. I’m a big fan of Thomas Harris, though, and his violent, bloody work borders on horror (but also works on a psychological level as well). It’s sort of ironic, I suppose, because back when I was in my early twenties I wanted my writing to be the most violent stuff around. Not that I’m a prude now by any means. I enjoy a good exploding heads zombie flick as much as the next guy.

FY: What do you think of the recent popularity of period-based horror novels that take established classic texts and infuse monsters in them, like Pride and Prejudice and Zombies and Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters?

ST: I looked one of those books over in a store once. While some tolerant part of me almost wants to find the concept amusing and witty, I’m really pretty disgusted by the idea. It’s so smirky and arrogant to deface antique works of literature. Would it be cute and funny to spray paint giant boobs on the wall of some historical figure’s birth place, or to superimpose party hats on the portraits of historical figures? Splice silly blips of annoying music into a Bach cello piece? No, I can’t say I care for the trend and I hope I’m not alone in that sentiment. Is it, perhaps, just another emanation of a soulless, jaded, and barbaric pop culture?

FY: Where do you get inspiration for your stories?

ST: It really varies. Sometimes elements of a story will just sort of pop into mind. Sometimes it’s an image, or a line of descriptive, or I may get inspired by reading something about life in the past and roll from there. Reading or hearing something by a skilled author can stir the creative juices, certainly.

FY: Who are your main influences?

ST: My brother Jeffrey has always been an influence. Who knows, if it were not for his early interest in writing, I might not have gravitated to that pursuit myself. I’ve been influenced by M.R. James and Dylan Thomas, the singer/ musician/storyteller Robin Williamson and I’ve always loved Dickens’s A Christmas Carol with its ghostly elements.

FY: What are some of your favorite horror books and films?

ST: My favorite horror books are collections by M.R. James, H.P. Lovecraft and H. Russell Wakefield. And my brother’s work, of course! For novels I’d have to mention William Peter Blatty’s Legion. Films…The Innocents, which is a haunting 1961 black and white version of Henry James’s The Turn of the Screw. The masterful The Others! Carpenter’s Halloween! Others favorites include Eyes of Fire, Ghost Story, Kubrick’s The Shining, An American Werewolf in London, Carpenter’s The Thing, Reanimator.

FY: Who are your favorite authors?

ST: Jeffrey Thomas, Dylan Thomas, M.R. James, Charles Dickens, Thomas Harris, H. Russell Wakefield, H.P. Lovecraft, Thomas Hardy, Truman Capote.

FY: What was the last book you read?

ST: Devil’s Gate by David Roberts. It’s a haunting tale of true life horror and suffering, a documentation of the plight of Mormon pilgrims who died from starvation, exhaustion and freezing weather while pushing handcarts for over a thousand miles in the western wilderness of 1856. The book explicitly illustrates how dangerous religions can sometimes be. Over two hundred people lost their lives. It was the greatest tragedy in the history of western migration. Devil’s Gate, which is wonderfully written and constructed, was an odd choice of a book for me to read, as I’m not terribly interested in western history. The human drama of the event was what drew my interest.

FY: Do you have any upcoming projects you are working on?

ST: Well, my latest collection of supernatural short stories, Quill and Candle, is now available from Dark Regions Press as part of their Ghost House imprint. It features superb cover and interior artwork by Erin Wells and, like my book Midnight in New England, contains stories set in New England’s past.
I’ll soon be starting another collection for Dark Regions, more ghostly tales.

Thanks for having me by for a chat!

FY: And many thanks to you, Scott!

Buy Scott Thomas’ novels on Amazon:
Midnight in New England: Strange and Mysterious Tales
The Garden of Ghosts

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