Deirdra: When did you first know you wanted to be an author?
Jeffrey: It seems it was always a part of my genes or destiny, so much that there was never a time when I didn’t want to be a writer. I recall at six years old drawing my own little comic books. But in my teens the comic books became novels. At fourteen I submitted a handwritten novel to the long-defunct Lancer Books. They politely returned it on their dime (I was lucky they didn’t trash it!) explaining that a manuscript needed to be in typed form. My novel, by the way, was an imaginative blend of A Clockwork Orange meets Planet of the Apes involving cultural conflicts between human colonists and the simian natives of another world. I still address such themes today in stories set in my far-future world of Punktown.
Deirdra: What is your writing and educational background?
Jeffrey: I had no formal writing studies in school; never attended college. Self-taught, though my father was a poet who late in life was much-published in local papers, and my mother wrote a column for a local paper in her youth.
Deirdra: What makes you passionate about writing?
Jeffrey: It’s just that pure act of creativity, building anything at all you like out of thin air -- worlds, cultures, people, emotions, events, creatures -- immersing yourself utterly in the deep sea of the imagination, then bringing up all sorts of treasures that, if you make them shine enough, will allow others to experience the same enthusiasm and sense of immersion you felt.
Deirdra: What was the pathway like for you to get your first book published?
Jeffrey: A long and winding road led to that door. Upon which I knocked long and hard. After years of rejections, soliciting work both with and without the help of an agent, in the late 80s I finally started getting short stories published in small press horror publications. Once in a while I placed a story in a bigger publication, too. Gradually I built a reputation, so that by 1999 I finally had a few small press publishers approach me asking me to do a book for them. (My case is unusual in that ever since then, publishers almost always come to me with a request for a book, as opposed to me soliciting publishers.) My first book was the short story collection Terror Incognita (Delirium Books), followed closely by my science fiction/horror collection Punktown (Ministry of Whimsy Press). In 2002 I sold my first novel, Monstrocity (Prime), which went on to be a finalist for the Bram Stoker Award for Best First Novel.
Deirdra: Were you ever discouraged along the way? If so, how did you deal with it?
Jeffrey: Oh, every rejection was a nail in the heart, but somehow my drive was sustained -- because the passion for what I was doing was just too strong. There was no question of stopping. I had perseverance, and I had faith, and I had will. It was what you call a dream, a dream I never gave up on. I dealt with it by just immersing myself in the next story…yeah, this next story will be the one!
Deirdra: What is your writing schedule like?
Jeffrey: That’s varied over the years depending on what I had going on. For a few months now I’ve been unemployed, so I’ve had a lot more time in which to write (when not chasing a mischievous two year old around the apartment!). She does let me write during the day, but the best time is of course during naps or the deep heart of night.
Deirdra: Can you tell us about your book The Dream Dealers?
Jeffrey: The Dream Dealers was a blast to write, being as it is an original novel based on the A Nightmare on Elm Street movies. By 2004 I’d made enough of a name for myself that the mass market imprint Black Library contacted me, telling me they had the rights to a number of New Line Cinema franchises like Friday the 13th, and they were looking for authors to write new novels based in those worlds. I almost sold them a novel in the Jason X world, but I think they ended up having enough of those titles, so instead it was a novel about our good friend Freddy Krueger. Such fun writing about a pop culture icon like that; an exciting challenge to bring my own imagination to the task of writing a story based on an established series.
Deirdra: Okay, I have to ask since I've wondered for years ... as a horror author, do you have a lot of nightmares?
Jeffrey: I rarely remember my dreams, so if I do have nightmares, I don’t recall them. Maybe they’re too scary, and that’s why I won’t let myself remember them! Once in a while a doozy about a ghost will wake me up. Ghosts are particularly scary. I used to have a lot of dreams about zombie apocalypses, but maybe it was the over-proliferation of zombies in horror stories that cured me of that affliction.
Deirdra: How many beta readers do you have review your manuscript before you send it to your editor?
Jeffrey: None; my stories go straight from me to the editor/publisher. Used to be my brother Scott and I read each other’s work immediately, but we’ve grown too busy in our lives so we now catch up with each other’s work after it’s been published. (Scott’s a respected writer himself.) Once my work is in the publisher’s hands, it depends how much review it will receive. I’m notoriously thick-headed (egotistical?) about editors and red pencils. I’ve butted heads numerous times. It’s always good to have someone watch your back for typos, but I’m pretty good in that regard, having in the past worked for years as a print shop proofreader.
Deirdra: What do you hope readers will get from your books?
Jeffrey: Escape, to be transported, but something for their minds to chew on, too. A sense of wonder. A commitment to my characters, an investment in the events transpiring. An appreciation of the power of the human imagination, and further inspiration for them to continue reading books -- and do their own writing, if they’re inclined that way.
Deirdra: Can you tell us about some of the fantastic awards your books have won?
Jeffrey: Well, I haven’t won any major awards, though as I say I was a finalist for the Bram Stoker Award, and a finalist for the John W. Campbell Award for my novel Deadstock, and those are big deals. I did once win a Froggy Award, from the late Janet Fox, for (intentionally) worst short horror story (about a giant hamburger monster). It’s a beautiful blue glass frog sculpture, and I’m proud of it.
Deirdra: Can you tell us about your indie press imprint Necropolitan Press? How is indie press different from small or mid-size presses?
Jeffrey: The main distinction is in how many copies of their books reach the public, and I couldn’t tell you offhand how many copies a book has to sell before a publisher is considered a “large” press. (I’ve had numerous small press books, plus three mass market novels.) I began Necropolitan Press in 1992, after falling in love with all these small publications that were taking my work, and started out with a short-lived zine called The End. Later I published a few chapbooks by authors who have gone on to much wider acclaim, like Jeff VanderMeer and W. H. Pugmire. In 2009, my friend Nick Curtis helped me resurrect the press and we released Paul Tremblay’s disturbing novella The Harlequin and the Train, though right now the press is on hiatus again. I’m so busy with my own stories!
Deirdra: What kinds of inspiration do you use during your story creation periods? How do you set the mood for a horror book?
Jeffrey: I get a lot of inspiration from real life; things I see on the internet that might haunt me, but also from my own experiences. I’ve been working on a novel set in modern day Vietnam, and my wife is Vietnamese so I’ve traveled there seven times to date. I love doing research and incorporating it in my stories! As for getting in the right mood, putting on eerie music helps. I can always trust Lustmord and Akira Yamaoka (the Silent Hill games soundtracks), and lately I open David Lynch’s web site where free creepy music is always streaming. When my novel Monstrocity is released as an ebook this summer, from Anarchy Books, there will be an accompanying unsettling soundtrack from the group Das Sombreros! And Walter Egan (of Magnet and Steel fame) has a song called Build a Fire, on the new CD he’s done with the group the Burritos, inspired by some of my stories!
Deirdra: Who has made the greatest difference for you as a writer?
Jeffrey: My brother Scott Thomas, also a writer as I’ve mentioned (he’s written horror collections such as Midnight in New England and the beautiful fantasy collection Westermead). As I said earlier, Scott and I used to read each other’s work in progress, praising and encouraging each other and at the same time trying to outdo each other, which upped the ante, in the process developing and honing our craft. We continue to be each other’s biggest fan. And occasionally we’ve collaborated. Our latest book is The Sea of Flesh and Ash, from Terradan Works, which consists of two short horror novels -- my own “The Sea of Flesh,” and Scott’s “The Sea of Ash.”
Deirdra: What’s your secret to making the characters in your books come to life?
Jeffrey: It’s a tricky skill not to write cardboard characters, or clichéd characters one has seen too many times, who don’t stand out as real breathing entities. You have to give them depth, complexity, the shading, the frailties, the motivations and emotions of real people. If you can learn the trick, you can make readers empathize with robots, aliens, even your villains. But you have to empathize with them first. You have to wear their skins.
Deirdra: What authors do you admire, and why?
Jeffrey: I admire so many authors, but some of those I’ve read repeatedly are Thomas Hardy, Yukio Mishima, Martin Cruz Smith, H. P. Lovecraft, M. R. James, J. G. Ballard, Vladimir Nabokov, Edgar Rice Burroughs, Clive Barker, Kathe Koja. They’ve just got the magic! They take whatever they’re doing to a level of art, of real literature. I’m now reading Dimiter by the great William Peter Blatty, and it’s an inspiration that the man can still write so brilliantly in his eighties.
Deirdra: what is it like co-write a book vs. writing on your own?
Jeffrey: My creative vision (um, ego) generally prevents me from collaborating, unless it’s with someone with whom I have great affinity, like Scott. I like control, I like to run the show! But lately I’ve been working on a short story collection with W. H. Pugmire, where each tale focuses on a sinister New England artist named Enoch Coffin. I couldn’t do this if I didn’t have such a great love of Pugmire’s work, and an ability to get inside his aesthetic and approach. Oh, it’s been fun!
Deirdra: Besides writing what other talents or hobbies do you have?
Jeffrey: I’m a competent artist, so I’ve done a lot of illustrating for the small press, and a few book covers here and there, including a couple for my own books. As I mentioned, I love traveling. I love talking long walks with my kids.
Deirdra: What words of advice do you have for other writers who desire to have their manuscripts become books in print?
Jeffrey: Refer again to question #5: you must have perseverance, faith, and will. It has to be your dream. But to be taken seriously you must perfect your craft. So many would-be writers (probably because of the ease in which ebooks can be produced) can barely spell or construct an effective sentence. You must read avidly, with an eye for the magic going on behind the curtain.
Deirdra: What are you working on now?
Jeffrey: Well, there’s that collaborative collection with Pugmire, my Vietnam novel -- which has been an off-and-ongoing project -- and I’ve been immersed lately in a spooky novella called Subject 11.
Deirdra: Where can our readers go to find your books and order them?
Jeffrey: Preferably to the publishers’ web sites, such as those for Dark Regions Press, Raw Dog Screaming Press, Delirium Books, Darkside Digital, etc. etc., but you can also readily find most of my books at places like Amazon.com, where I have an author’s page.
Deirdra: Any final words you would like to share?
Jeffrey: The Sea of Flesh and Ash from Terradan Works -- it’s new, it’s a good introduction to myself and my brother Scott, and it’s imaginative/emotional dark fantasy done the Thomas Brother way!
Thank you so much, Jeffrey. It’s a real honor to get your insights.