Thomas is offering annual subscriptions to the magazine and a lot more, with a focus on publishing genre-bending, hybrid fiction that utilises the best of genre and literary voices. What’s more, Gamut is intended to offer a new market for dark fiction and genre authors, paying twice the standard professional rate. Over the past eight years, Thomas has written and published: over 100 short stories, at magazines such as PANK and Cemetery Dance; three novels—including Disintegration and Breaker at Random House Alibi; and three short story collections. Starburst first reviewed Thomas’ work in 2013, calling his short story collection, Staring into the Abyss, ‘a merciless book that wastes no time in uncovering humanity’s sordid underbelly.’
Thomas, also editor-in-chief of Dark House Press and co-editor with Chuck Palahniuk and Dennis Widmyer of the transgressive fiction anthology Burnt Tongues (a Bram Stoker finalist), has secured a wide range of contributors for the first planned year of Gamut, including Stephen Graham Jones (Mongrels, William Morrow), Benjamin Percy (The Dead Lands, Grand Central Publishing), Lucy A. Snyder (Soft Apocalypses, Raw Dog Screaming Press, Bram Stoker Award Winner, 2014) and Helen Marshall (Gifts For the One Who Comes After, ChiZine Publications, Shirley Jackson Award Winner, 2014).
STARBURST spoke to Richard Thomas to find out more about what Gamut will have to offer to genre readers and how some of the most recognisable artists in horror and fantasy right now will figure into his plans.
STARBURST: You've probably spoken extensively about it by this point, so let's cut to the chase - tell us about a standout story that you're excited to publish in Gamut.
Richard Thomas: Most of the stories haven’t been written yet, I trust the authors involved to write new fiction for me. BUT, I do have a list of reprints I’m going after. With Stephen Graham Jones, it could be anything, he has so many excellent stories, same with Brian Evenson. I will probably reprint a few stories from Exigencies, which I edited, since they haven’t gotten enough attention. The first story in that anthology Wilderness by Letitia Trent was just selected for the Best Horror of the Year anthology, edited by Ellen Datlow, so that’s one for sure. Usman T. Malik just won the Bram Stoker Award last year, in short fiction, the first Pakistani author to ever do that. So, I may ask for his story from Exigencies, too. And, I just finished editing a collection by Dino Parenti, so I definitely want to steal a story or two from his work. Dark, haunting, surreal, emotional stories - that’s what they all write.
There are some excellent artists involved in Gamut, including former British Fantasy Award-winning Daniele Serra. How important will commissioned art be to the magazine and what is it about the contributing artists that really spoke to you?
It will be very important. Luke Spooner will be doing original black and white illustrations for every story we publish. He and I have had a great relationship at Dark House Press (where I’m Editor-in-Chief). He did objects for The New Black, full-page drawings for After the People Lights Have Gone Off by Stephen Graham Jones (Bram Stoker and Shirley Jackson finalist), and landscape art for Exigencies. He gets my aesthetic, and has a way of tapping into the heart of the stories. Daniele Serra is amazing, he did the cover art for Exigencies, so I’ll use him for some of the more complicated conceptual stories, since he’s more abstract. George C. Cotronis did a few covers for Dark House Press as well, in addition to my short story collection Staring at the Abyss (Kraken Press) and I love his collage style of art, so cool, so edgy. Bob Crum is designing our website, and he does some surreal work that is really vivid. And Jennifer Moore, who did the cover photo for The Lineup: 20 Provocative Women Writers will add photography as well. She does beautiful, haunting work that I know will look great.
The credential that most recommends you as the driving force behind Gamut is your experience in selling short stories, which have been published alongside authors such as Stephen King, Peter Straub, Clive Barker, Jack Ketchum and Neil Gaiman. Is there still a big market for genre writers to sell short stories?
Thanks. There are some great markets, but it’s not huge when it comes to horror. That’s why I write across genres - fantasy, science fiction, horror, crime, Southern Gothic, magical realism, and literary. I think there is definitely a need for more markets that pay professional rates. We’ll pay ten cents a word, which is double the current standard. I can really only think of a few places that pay more than that - at least, ones that are open to submissions. That being said, there are dozens of genre markets that pay pro rates - and even more publications out there in the literary community. But you really have to break through; I mean the acceptance rate is like 1% (or lower). It’s about getting to know the editors, the aesthetic, the stories they like. I still have quite a few white whales I’m chasing down. There have been some excellent opportunities with small presses lately, especially in anthologies, you just have to keep your eyes and ears open. I think there definitely is a need for a publication like Gamut.
Some of the most obvious inspirations on your writing are transgressive authors like Chuck Palahniuk and Will Christopher Baer. What is it about transgressive fiction that attracts you and why do you think it appeals to so many genre readers?
Great question. I like to put my readers in a moment, sometimes a difficult moment, and figure a way out. What’s it like to be abused, and how can you survive? What does it mean to lose everything, including your hope, but then discover it’s not entirely true? I want to move people, emotionally, have an effect on them, for them to finish a story, or novel, and go, “DAMN! That was intense.” And then go hug their kids, or have a good cry, or call up a lost love - embracing the idea that they still have time to change, to forgive, to chase their dreams, to be forgiven. There are many taboo subjects in transgressive fiction, and how we challenge the norm, how we rebel against conventional thought and outdated philosophies - that’s how we evolve. Fight Club woke me up, Perdido Street Station filled me with wonder, All the Beautiful Sinners stunned me, The Wasp Factory shocked me, and Annihilation inspired me.
The hard sell - if Gamut isn't funded, what's going to be the one thing that you'll be most sorry not to publish?
The exciting new work of marginalised authors who are trying to break out, that may never get their opportunity to shine.
I’ll tell you a little story. A woman that I don’t know, at all, just raised her pledge from $30 to $100 to $2,000. I was shocked. I sent her a note to say thank you for the generosity, that it was really appreciated. You know what she said? “Make it happen.” So, I will do everything I can to make Gamut succeed, I can’t let her down, or the authors that are counting on me to create this new publication.
My staff and I are furiously running around behind the scenes - Mercedes donating books and sewing blankets, Dino woodworking coasters, Heather offering up editing services, Casey making videos, while I personally reach out to ever author and reader I’ve ever talked to. I have done eight hours of podcasts, 20+ interviews, and sent press releases to hundreds of people. I’m even talking to a few ‘angel investors’ behind the scenes - just in case. We’ve had people at Medallion Books, Written Backwards, and many individual authors, offer up donations in order for this to succeed. It’s inspiring.
I cannot let this fail. So I’ll pose this question to your readers—are you in yet? And if not, why not? Be a part of something here, be a patron of the arts, and help to create something wonderful.