Interview with Author Jeffrey Thomas by Brian M. Sammons

April 09, 2018

Jeffrey Thomas is one of my favorite authors working today. He is a master of horror, weird, sci-fi, urban fantasy, and weird horrific science fiction set in a fanciful urban setting. Perhaps his best known creation is the genre melting pot that defies classification: the Punktown setting and series of books and stories. He has appeared in a large number of anthologies I have edited and has had a long publishing history with Dark Regions Press, so I have tracked him down and asked him about his books with DRP, about an upcoming something with me, and other questions the world needs to know.

BMS: What was the first book to be published by Dark Regions Press, when was that, and how did that come about?

JT: My first book with Dark Regions Press was a short story collection called Doomsdays, released in 2007. This was when Joe Morey ran DRP, before he turned the reins over to his son Chris Morey. I’d already had a history with DRP, having placed stories in two issues of Dark Regions Magazine (1998 and 1999) and a magazine-format collection called The Year’s Best Fantastic Fiction (1998). So when Joe decided to venture into book publishing, and approached me about doing a book with him, I eagerly accepted. The rest is history! My history, anyway.

BMS: What was the next book and what brought you back to work with DRP?

JT: The next one was a collection of short stories set in my own particular vision of Hades, which I’d begun with my novel Letters From Hades (Bedlam Press, 2003), a book Joe much admired. That second DRP book was Voices From Hades, in 2008. What kept me returning to work with DRP was Joe’s requests for more books from me (an author is lucky to have a good publisher approaching them, rather than the other way around!), the high quality of DRP’s books, and Joe’s warm personality. We became good friends.

BMS: I know you mostly from a lot, and I mean A LOT, of short stories and your first books with Dark Regions Press were story collections. Do you prefer writing short fiction over novels?

JT: Though they’re both wonderful forms to work in, I’d say that in general I prefer to work in the short form. This is largely because, as I’ve often opined, I feel horror and weird fiction are best served by the short form. I do miss writing novels, though; I haven’t completed one in years. Part of that is simply because I get invited to write short stories for so many cool anthologies and publications!

BMS: A lot of authors say short stories are more challenging to do than novels. As someone who has done both, what is your opinion on that?

JT: Hm, in a way. Maybe I’d say it depends on the particular story, and the particular writer. It’s a challenge to condense so much into a short story without making it seem rushed: setting, atmosphere, characterization, the unfolding of events, and any subtext that might be in the mix. Then again, it’s a challenge extending and sustaining the above mentioned components to novel length, without making it seem padded or bloated. Let’s just say, writing good fiction is a challenge, period.

BMS: You have a book titled Beautiful Hell, what can you tell us about that?

JT: It’s a novella set in my Hades milieu, which was originally half of a book called Ugly Heaven, Beautiful Hell published in 2007 by Corrosion Press, which was an imprint of Delirium Books. The Ugly Heaven part was written by Carlton Mellick III. When a few years later Carlton wanted to publish his novella separately, I decided to do the same with my story. (The plotlines of these novellas were not linked, by the way.) So again, Joe being a fan of my Hades work, he took on Beautiful Hell. If I wanted to hook somebody into reading it, I’d say: samurai sword battles between nude human-like demons and floating octopus-like demons!

BMS: One of my favorite creations of yours is your Punktown setting. For those not in the know, what would you say about Punktown? How would you describe it to the uninitiated?

JT: Punktown is the nickname of an immense city called Paxton, on another world colonized not only by Earth people but seemingly countless races from other planets and even other dimensions. It’s chaotic and tremendously dangerous, but some of its facets can be weirdly beautiful. As I like to say, Punktown isn’t my attempt at predicting the future; Punktown is our here and now, cranked up to 11. I’ve written many a Punktown novel and short story, and each is created so that it can stand on its own, so that a reader is never pressured into catching up on some sprawling storyline. You can dive in anywhere.

BMS: You have Ghosts of Punktown through Dark Regions, what can you say about that one?

JT: I’ve released a number of collections that consist entirely of Punktown stories, and I’d be tempted to call Ghosts of Punktown my favorite, overall. I think it is pretty consistent in quality, and it’s also probably my consistently darkest Punktown collection. Plus it has a brilliant cover by mixed media artist Kris Kuksi. I think my favorite story therein is Life Work, in which a sex worker android trying to pass for a human woman, a self-destructive former hitman, and an old woman with a sentient plant for a pet, merge destinies. Anyway, I’m extremely proud of the book.

BMS: You have a collaboration between yourself and another author I greatly admire, W. H. Pugmire. It’s called Encounters with Enoch Coffin, what is that one about?

JT: I also admire Pugmire; I’ve been a fan of his since our obscure small press days, and we’ve been close friends – through written correspondence, then audio cassette letters, then email – since around 1990. When Wilum had the idea that we should collaborate on a series of stories about an artist, somewhat in the vein of Lovecraft’s Pickman, who seeks out uncanny subject matter to inspire his work, I eagerly accepted the challenge. We decided to write an equal number of stories individually, and we’d read each other’s work along the way so we could play off each other’s story events. It was an incredibly fun and rewarding project.

BMS: How did that team up come together?

JT: Well, because I’ve followed Wilum’s career for so long, and become very acquainted with his literary voice/style, Wilum knew I’d be able to sound enough like him – without trying to ape him – to make this work. He also wanted me for the book because I’m an artist myself, and could bring that knowledge to the table.

BMS: Have you done a lot of collaborations? How do you like doing them and do you have a set way or process of tackling them?

JT: Actually I haven’t, and in general I’m not interested in collaborating. I have a very personal relationship with my work, I’m jealous of it, like a dog with its bone. Though my brother Scott Thomas and I have had a few books released in which we paired up novellas or contributed a number of short stories, we’ve only actually written one short story together. Many years ago I wrote an erotic horror novel in collaboration with Brad Boucher, but we never got it out there for people to look at. Maybe one day! I’d have to be very simpatico with another writer to think of collaborating again. Given that I’m not all that productive anymore, at least not like I used to be, I’m not sure I’ll ever again give a major collaboration a go.

BMS: Now let’s talk a little about future stuff coming out from you and Dark Regions Press. You have a novella coming out in I Am the Abyss. What’s it called and what can you tell us about it?

JT: My novella in that anthology is called Acheron. Given the book’s afterlife theme, I again set my story in my world of Hades, knowing that Chris Morey is a fan of that series, too. The story mostly takes place aboard a gigantic, nightmarish ship that ferries large numbers of the damned across oceans of blood, from one destination to another. The protagonist is one such member of the damned, who has to deal with his inner demons and literal demons as well.

BMS: I have it on good authority that DRP will be publishing something called Transmissions from Punktown soon, what can you tell us about that?

JT: Oh, do you know something about this project? Ha. Having done a fine job putting this book together, as its editor, you should. Transmissions from Punktown is a shared world anthology, for which a whole bunch of cool writers were invited to delve into my Punktown universe and create their own stories set there. It made me excited and proud to see other writers take inspiration from my humble creation, and the results just blew me away. I think readers will be just as impressed as I. Oh, and by the way, thanks for accepting my two-part story for the anthology. I’d have been mortified to be rejected for a Punktown book!

BMS: Where can people find out more about you and your books?

JT: The most valuable place they can find me is at my Author’s Page on Amazon! I don’t keep up with my blog these days (“blog...what’s a blog?”), but I’m very active on Facebook and keep my followers updated frequently on my writing exploits.

BMS: Thanks so much for taking the time to talk with us today.

JT: My pleasure, my friend – thanks for having me.

Jeffrey Thomas is the author of such novels as Deadstock, Blue War, Letters from Hades, and The Fall of Hades, and such short story collections as Punktown, Nocturnal Emissions, Thirteen Specimens, and Unholy Dimensions. His stories have appeared in the anthologies The Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror, The Year’s Best Horror Stories, Leviathan 3, The Thackery T. Lambshead Pocket Guide to Eccentric & Discredited Diseases, and The Solaris Book of New Science Fiction. Forthcoming from Miskatonic River Press is a role-playing game based upon Thomas’ universe of Punktown. Thomas is also an artist, and lives in Massachusetts.