Today Daniel Braum speaks with Lee Thomas, author of 30 plus books including The Dust of Wonderland, about his work, monsters, and his short story “Flowers for Bitsy” from the Spirits Unwrapped anthology out now from Lethe Press.
DB: You are a writer of both novels and short stories. Which of your novels and or short stories might serve as an introduction to your work for readers new to you and could you tell us a bit about them?
LT: Well, of the 30-plus books I’ve had published, the standouts for me are Stained, The Dust of Wonderland, Parish Damned, and The German. They’re all very different in style and intent, but each was received quite well, and most represented a first of sorts for me. Stained, which deals with an entity that hops bodies and manipulates the host’s weaknesses and passions, driving them to kill, was my first published novel. The Dust of Wonderland was written about 15 years before I tried to get it published. It tells the story of a gay man who is hunted by a vengeful entity that can consciously reincarnate (remember its past lives), though it cannot control what gender or lineage it will have upon rebirth. That was the first novel of mine that was marketed heavily to the LGBTQ+ community, and it did well in the traditional horror channels as well. Parish Damned was my first foray into eBooks. The original version of that was published in 2002, and it was later picked up by Telos for print. The novella deals with a “school” of brutal, aquatic vampires, residing in a shipwreck off the coast of a resort town in the Florida Keys. And finally, The German, which actually wasn’t a first of any kind, but it’s a favorite of mine.
As for short stories, I have a couple online that are strong representations of my work: “Fine in the Fire”; and “The Lord of Corrosion.” Both can be found at Nightmare Magazine.
Also, Cemetery Dance put together 4 of my stories for their Select Series. This one includes a couple of my earliest published stories: “An Apiary of White Bees”; and “I’m Your Violence.”
DB: Was your process the same or different working on “Flowers for Bitsy”?
LT: The only minor difference from the way I usually approach a story was a higher than usual sensitivity to the suggested word count. I don’t usually think about that much, but I took it as a challenge for this one. Otherwise, the story developed quickly, and I was happy with the first draft, but it required a lot of fine tuning. Since it’s not a linear piece, I was particularly concerned with clarity.
DB: What about mummies in fiction and pop culture most appeals to you? Is there any aspect that you dislike or drives you nuts?
LT: I liked the way Karloff’s mummy, this ancient creature, attempted to fit into modern society. He had a disturbing elegance, despite his shredded-wheat complexion. Everybody got hung up on the bandages in later movies, and the mummies became shambling brutes that did as they were told by whomever brewed their funky tea, but I think Universal’s original interpretation of the creature is the most compelling. He was damaged, and brilliant, and clearly he wielded power, but it wasn’t the hyper-apocalyptic power of more recent films.
DB: Which is your favorite “classic” monster and why?
LT: Werewolves fascinate me. The Wolfman was a favorite. Lawrence Talbot’s misery over his affliction drew me in. I mean, all of his confidence and humor were eradicated by what he first took as a myth. Then he transforms into a thing of raging id. Unfortunately, these two emotional states were about the only ones the character was allowed in the sequels—miserable self-pity to monster and right on back to pity. I still enjoyed the hell out of the sequels, but I think it’s a shame the character became so limited. Modern werewolf stories like the films Dog Soldiers, The Howling, and An American Werewolf in London and books like Thomas Tessier’s The Nightwalker and Stephen Graham Jones’s Mongrels are contemporary, powerful variations on the werewolf tale that I find exceptional.
As noted above, I also enjoy Karloff’s mummy. Yes, it’s essentially the same story as Lugosi’s Dracula, but I think it tells the story more successfully, possibly because they learned a few lessons from the Browning film.
DB: How does the supernatural fit in and what role does it play in your favorite stories, both ones you have written and as a reader?
LT: As a reader, I always found the supernatural put me in a state of wonder, rather than one of fear or dread. Granted, since my reading leaned toward horror, the something wondrous that penetrates the “normal” world was usually comprised of a dark origin or intent. Even so, wonder more than fear, draws me to supernatural stories. The idea that there is something else going on in the universe, something beyond that occasionally makes an appearance in our world, just astounded me as a kid and still does. I imagine it’s what draws some to religion. I never really got religion, but when I’m immersed in a story, that sense of wonder is everywhere. I love it.
DB: What are you working on now and what are you working on next?
LT: I’m going to start shopping a short story collection, titled The Grief Season in the near future. It’s been ready for a while, but I’ve been involved in other projects. Then, I’ll get serious about the next novel, which if all goes according to plan, will be an expansion of the ideas I began tinkering with in the short story, “The Lord of Corrosion.”
LEE THOMAS is the Bram Stoker Award- and two-time Lambda Literary Award-winning author of the books Stained, The Dust of Wonderland, The German, Torn, Like Light for Flies, Down on Your Knees, and Distortion among others. His work has been translated into multiple languages and has been optioned for film. Lee lives in Austin, Texas with his husband, John.
DANIEL BRAUM is the author of the short story collections The Night Marchers and Other Strange Tales (Cemetery Dance), The Wish Mechanics: Stories of the Strange and Fantastic (Independent Legions 2017) and Yeti Tiger Dragon (Dim Shores 2016). His third collection, Underworld Dreams is forthcoming from Lethe Press in 2020. The Serpent’s Shadow, his first novel, was released from Cemetery Dance eBooks in July 2019. He is the editor of the Spirits Unwrapped anthology from Lethe Press and the host and founder of the Night Time Logic reading series in New York City which can also be heard on the Ink Heist podcast. He can be found at https://bloodandstardust.wordpress.com, www.facebook.com/DanielBraumFiction, and @danielbraum