This week we welcome Jeffrey Thomas to our blog to learn about horror, writing, and of course, flash fiction.
Hi Jeffrey, please tell us a bit about you and your writing.
Well, I used to simply say I write horror and science fiction, and combinations thereof, but now I find the term weird fiction very useful. Many people unfortunately tend to have a fairly limited sense of what horror or science fiction entails, and can be resistant to blends of those genres, whereas weird fiction is more nebulous, more accommodating, more open to interpretation as to what falls under its umbrella, even by its practitioners. Of course I’d prefer not to stick any labels on my work, but then you have to have something ready to say when people ask you what you write! I started seeing my short stories published in the late eighties, in the era of photocopied zines, and it’s been exciting watching the evolution of the indie press with the rapid expansion of the internet, and online publications, print on demand technology and digital books. Since those early days I’ve gone on to see numerous short story collections and novels published, including a number by mass market imprints. Though I’m probably best known for my stories set in the dark future world of Punktown, my latest two books are the collections The Endless Fall (Lovecraft eZine Press) and Haunted Worlds (Hippocampus Press).
What in your opinion makes good horror?
Horror is a reaction of fear and revulsion to the intrusion of wrongness into our (relatively) orderly world. In this way horror is the manifestation of chaos; it’s a destabilizing sensation, beyond whatever physical dangers it might represent. Stories that can truly make us experience in some way this sense of disorientation, of dread, of instability – vicariously, as the characters on the page experience it – are effective vehicles for horror. What’s exciting for readers and writers alike is that these effects can be achieved in so many different ways: by the appearance of a ghost, or a knife-wielding maniac, or a Lovecraftian monster. Horror can come in the form of something familiar, or something alien, or even something that is both at once. Just like in real life…only safer. (And therein lies the cathartic distraction of fictional horror.)
How do you feel about flash fiction as a medium for horror?
I love it! I’ve written a good number of flash fiction pieces myself. I feel fiction writers can sometimes get too long-winded, drawing out into a series what could be a standalone volume, drawing out into a novel what could be an effective novella, drawing out into a novella what could be a short story. There is something to be said for being concise. Writers like Richard Gavin and my brother Scott Thomas, just for two examples, understand how to deliver disturbing stories, with eerie atmosphere and emotional punch, in relatively few pages. Of course, every story should be the length it needs to be, but the trick is in determining that. For an analogy, I’ve often been more moved to thought or emotion by a poem by Thomas Hardy or Anne Sexton than by entire novels I’ve read by other writers. Less can be more, as the cliché goes.
What is your favourite horror short story?
I really can’t say I have a favorite. Among my favorites would be The Colour Out of Space by H. P. Lovecraft and In the Hills, the Cities by Clive Barker. It would be hard to pick a favorite among other great writers like M. R. James, Thomas Ligotti, Livia Llewellyn, and so on and so on.
What scares you the most and what is your favourite horror scene/passage/novel?
The obvious answer is bad things happening to loved ones, particularly children. Lately I’m afraid for all of us, if you know what I mean. Things seem to become more ugly and less enlightened as we go on, when instead we should all be evolving together toward compassion and harmony. But enough about real world horrors. Again, it’s hard to pick a favorite scene from one particular story, but just to give some kind of answer, perhaps it’s the ending of Lovecraft’s The Shadow Out of Time when the protagonist discovers an incredibly ancient manuscript written in his own hand, proving that his mind was indeed transported into the body of an alien researcher who had dwelt on Earth millions of years prior. As for a favorite novel, can I say probably The Exorcist but maybe also House of Leaves and I Am Legend?
Please give us a one sentence horror story!
Angela lay on her bed all day staring at the huge, gaping mouth that had opened last night in her bedroom wall, wondering what would happen should she step through it, until around midnight she finally remembered that she already had; it was how she had come to be here.