Interview with Tim Waggoner
By Brian M. Sammons
BMS – Tim Waggoner is a writer I only discovered four, maybe five years ago, and whereas I don’t remember where I first read him, I sure do still remember the story. It was “Do No Harm” and I loved his fresh, queen bee take on the rather tired and overused zombie genre. That one caused me to start actively seeking out more of his stories. After I read a few more of his tales I knew I wanted to have his stories in the anthologies I do, so I reached out to him, In doing so I not only discovered a great talent that makes all by books better by his inclusion, but plenty of more great work from Tim. This guy has been busy. He has three collections of short stories, more than 30 novels, and over 100 stories published. He has worked in the horror, fantasy, thriller, and weird genres. He has done books for the Dungeons & Dragons fantasy world of Dragonlance, the TV shows Supernatural, Stargate, and Dr. Who, and more. If a writer writes, then Tim Waggoner is most certainly a writer, and one hell of a good one.
Now before authors began to write they were readers, so what were some of your earliest literary loves? Who inspired you and made you want to keep on reading?
TW – I grew up reading horror comics like Creepy, Eerie, Vampirella, House of Mystery and House of Secrets, along with more lurid, blood-drenched horror magazines with names like Terror Tales. As I got a bit older, I started reading the Marvel horror comics and magazines – Tomb of Dracula, Werewolf by Night, Man Thing, Dracula Lives, Tales of the Zombie, etc. I also devoured nonfiction magazines like Famous Monsters of Filmland and Castle of Frankenstein. My two favorite anthologies as a kid were Monster Tales and Alfred Hitchcock’s Monster Museum. I first discovered Thomas F. Monteleone’s story “Wendigo’s Child” in the former, and Ray Bradbury’s “Homecoming” in the latter. I reread those books often. In junior high, a friend introduced me to Stephen King’s Salem’s Lot, and I became a rabid King fan. I started reading superhero comics then, as well as whatever science fiction or fantasy novels my dad would give me when he was through reading them. Piers Anthony’s Xanth series captured my imagination, as did works like Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land. I used to read a lot of “true” accounts of the paranormal – books about UFO’s Bigfoot, Nessie and the like. The best and scariest one I ever read was John Keel’s The Mothman Prophecies. That book ends with a quote from Charles Fort: “If there is a universal mind, must it be sane?” That line has stayed with me for decades, and in a very real sense has formed the foundation for a lot of my fiction.
BMS – If there was one author that from this day on was the only writer you could read, who would that be and why?
TW – That’s a tough one. Maybe Stephen King since his output is so vast. Maybe Shirley Jackson, since I think her language and themes would reward multiple readings. Maybe Shakespeare since he’s an entire body of literature unto himself. Maybe Lawrence Block since I love his mysteries, especially for their characterization and sense of place.
BMS – Do you have a favorite book? One you have read multiple times? Is it from the author you mentioned above and if not, why?
TW – When I was a kid, I used to re-read books all the time, but in fifth grade I had a teacher who told me that with so many good books in the world, why would I want to keep re-reading the same ones? I guess her words stuck with me because since that day I rarely re-read books. I’m always looking for writers and books I can learn from, so I seek out new (to me, anyway) material to read.
BMS – Was there always a love for horror and/or the darker themes or did that develop over time?
TW – One of my earliest memories is of my mother taking me trick-or-treating when I was a baby. I wore a pink bunny suit, and my mom carried me around and showed me off to the neighbors. I couldn’t figure out why they were making such a fuss over me, or what all the smaller creatures dressed in strange costumes were. Another early memory is sitting on my father’s lap while he read books about dinosaurs to me. I couldn’t read the dinosaurs’ names, but I learned to recognize the shapes of the words. I was fascinated by the idea that these monsters had been real and had once lived everywhere – including in my neighborhood! Another early memory is watching Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man with my parents. I was fascinated by the thought that these two monsters inhabited the same world and could actually meet and fight. So my love for all things dark and wonderful was there from the beginning of my life. But when I was nine, a beloved uncle died, and I had my first encounter with death. I realized that death was an actual thing, not just something that appeared in stories, and from that point on, horror started to become a more real thing for me, something that had depth and resonance as opposed to just being a fun story.
BMS – Do you recall when you first thought about writing your own stories? Was it a sudden epiphany, a gradual thing, or something else entirely?
TW – The first story I remember writing was a cartoon version of King Kong vs Godzilla which I drew on a stenographer’s pad when I was a child. In junior high I started drawing my own comic featuring myself and my friends as cyborg superheroes called the Bionic Team. I used to get mad at my friends because they loved my stories but made fun of how bad my art was! Then one day in high school I was reading an interview with Stephen King in Dracula Lives. It was early in King’s career, just after The Shining had been published. Reading that interview made me realize that writing fiction was a career that people could choose, and that I could choose it too, if wanted. After I finished reading the article, I told my mother that I thought I might like to be a writer. “I think you’d be a good one,” she said. And I’ve never looked back.
BMS – What was your first sale and to what market?
TW – My first publication was in a small weekly newspaper. In high school, I’d written a story about the last Christmas elf struggling to keep Santa’s legacy alive, and I was named Author of the Month. The paper interviewed me and ran the story – so that was my first interview, too! My first story submission and acceptance was to Nexus, the literary magazine at Wright State University, where I went to college. I later became the editor of the magazine. My first sale for pro rates was to an anthology called Young Blood. The hook for the anthology was that all the writers had to be under thirty at the time they wrote their story. The book contained reprints from Poe, Howard, Bloch, Campbell, and King – all stories they wrote before the age of thirty. Other writers in the book who went on to substantial careers are Barb Hendee, Brian Evenson, J.F. Gonzalez, Gordon Van Gelder, Poppy Z Brite, and Christa Faust. A very cool first pro publication!
BMS – What is the best thing about being a writer?
TW – Getting to live inside my head most of the time. I’d do that anyway, but writing makes it possible for me to take what’s in my head, give it concrete form, and share it with others – and that makes living inside your head seem at least somewhat socially acceptable! I also love dealing with narrative challenges and problems with each new story or novel. The overall process of writing – from initial idea to finished product – is an endless source of fascination for me. I’m sure that’s why I also love teaching creative writing.
BMS – What’s the worst thing about being a writer?
TW – Always feeling like what you write isn’t good enough because it can never measure up to the ideal in your mind. We always fall short of our goals when we write. The question is how short. Rejection is hard, as are bad reviews, or worse – indifference when you write something and it sinks from view without seeming to make even the slightest impact on readers. Poor sales resulting in a series being canceled or a publisher dropping you can be especially hard. The business aspect of writing can be demoralizing at best and soul-crushing at worst, but you have to try not to let it get to you.
BMS – If I asked you for three stories or books that would give a reader who is unfamiliar with your work the best representation of what you as an author, what would those three be?
TW – Like Death for my nightmarish, surreal horror. Nekropolis for my lighter, more humorous fiction. My collection Bone Whispers to see how I handle short fiction. These three books would give a fairly complete picture of my range as a writer, I think. I’d add Supernatural: Carved in Flesh if someone also wanted to see how I handle tie-in fiction.
BMS – You have done quite a few tie-in novels from stuff based on Stargate: SG-1, Doctor Who, A Nightmare on Elm Street, Xena the Warrior Princess, Supernatural and even the videogame Defender. How is it playing with other people’s toys when writing? What the best thing about writing for established properties and what’s the worst and/or trickiest things about it?
TW – It can be both fun and challenging to work with other people’s properties. Sometimes my imagination can run too wild when I’m writing my own stuff, and working with an established property gives my imagination some pre-set boundaries to work with. The best thing is that I get a chance to work in some genres that I might not even think to try on my own, such as SF-based properties like Defender and Stargate. The challenge is to try to capture the feeling of the property – the world and the kind of stories that take place there – as well as the voice of the characters. That challenge is one of the things I enjoy most about writing tie-in fiction. The trickiest thing is dealing with whoever represents the property. You need to get your initial pitch approved by the editor at the publisher, then by the property’s rep – which might be more than one person. Then you need to get your detailed outline approved the same way, and then a draft, and then a final manuscript. All of those approvals from all of those different people can take a lot of time, leaving you little time to actually make the changes that people request.
BMS – You have a series of books under the banner of The Nekropolis Archives. What would be the hook you’d want someone not familiar with those books to read to get them interested in them.
TW – Matt Richter is a cop who chased a suspect through a portal to another dimension and found himself in the city of Nekropolis, where all of Earth’s Darkfolk – vampires, werewolves, witches, and more – emigrated to four hundred years ago. Matt died and was resurrected as a zombie, and now he works as a private detective on the very mean streets of this shadow-enshrouded city. This series is a love letter to all the monsters and horror stories/movies I’ve loved since I was a kid. It’s some of the most fun I’ve had as a writer, and I hope it’s just as much fun to read!
BMS – You also have two books in the Shadow Watch series, what are those about and do you have plans for more novels set in that world?
TW – The Shadow Watch series is like Men in Black, only with living nightmares instead of aliens. Audra is an agent of the Shadow Watch, and she’s partnered with Mr. Jinx, the psychotic nightmare clown that she dreamed into life. This is a harder-edged urban fantasy series than Nekropolis, and while I don’t have any current plans for more adventures of Audra and Jinx, they might make an appearance again one day. Bad dreams may be temporary but they always come back, don’t they?
BMS – Your novella Deep like the River was published by Dark Regions Press, for the uninitiated in the audience, what’s that book about?
TW – Deep Like the River is about two sisters – one of whom has recently had a miscarriage – on a nightmarish canoe trip. They discover a baby abandoned at the water’s edge and decide to take her with them and get her to safety – but something’s following the sisters on the shore . . . something that may want the baby, but which may want something else entirely. It’s a story about loss and the toll it can take on an individual, as well as secrets about ourselves that we don’t want to face. And there’s a lot of weird imagery and cool monsters, too.
BMS – You and I did a little something together that will be coming out from Dark Regions Press soon. I’m talking about the anthology called Return of the Old Ones which has your story, “Sorrow Road” in it. Can you tell us a little bit about that story, not only a teaser of what it is about, but how it came about?
TW – “Sorrow Road” is about a mother and son trapped on a highway during the Old Ones’ return, and what – if anything – the mother can do to try and ensure her son’s survival. I’ve always been fascinated by the idea of what the world would be like once Lovecraft’s Old Ones return to claim the planet, and I believe that humanity’s skill at adapting to harsh environments and impossible situations might give us a shot at surviving the Old Ones as well. I used that idea as the basis for my novella The Last Mile, and I decided to revisit it again in “Sorrow Road.” I’ve used the same scenario as a proposal for a trilogy of novels, which is out to publishers right now. We’ll see if anyone goes for it.
BMS – You’ve been writing horror for more than a few years, how has that genre changed, as both a fan and creator, since the time you began writing until now?
TW – I started seriously writing horror at almost the precise instant the horror boom of the 1980’s fizzled out. Before that, I focused on writing fantasy. For a number of years, “horror” was a dirty word in publishing, and everyone was writing “dark suspense” or “supernatural thrillers.” The small press began to emerge as a dominant force in horror, and since they didn’t have to worry about the almighty dollar the same way traditional publishing does, there was a lot of room for different voices and styles. I started publishing my brand of nightmarish horror – a surreal blend of psychological and supernatural horror – as short stories in venues like Cemetery Dance, and eventually I published my first horror novel The Harmony Society, which Dark Regions reprinted not long ago. Leisure kept the spirit of the 80’s boom alive, publishing a mix of traditional horror and more offbeat stories. I published three novels with Leisure – Like Death, Pandora Drive, and Darkness Wakes – but sales weren’t great, and I didn’t get to do a fourth book with them, which turned out to be a blessing when Leisure eventually died. All three of those novels are now available as ebooks. The small press continued to thrive, and many different styles of horror blossomed. Literary horror emerged as a strong force in the genre, as did Mythos-based works, and of course zombie fiction became a huge subgenre. These days you can find a wide variety of horror written by exciting, powerful voices both new and established in the small press, and I’m starting to see signs that mainstream, traditional publishers are slowly but surely beginning to commit to the horror genre again, so with luck, we may be on the verge of a new resurgence of the genre in the publishing world. Whatever kind of horror you want to write or read, there’s a place for it out there somewhere!
BMS – Can you share any info on what you’re working on now?
TW – At the moment I’m writing the novelization for the movie Resident Evil: the Final Chapter. It’s my first novelization, and I’m finding the process – which is a kind of long-distance collaboration with someone you have no contact with – to be quite different than writing a regular tie-in. But it’s fun!
BMS – Any words of advice, or even warnings, you would like to give to beginning authors?
TW – Read my article “The (Extremely) Short Guide to Writing Horror.” It’s available on my blog at http://writinginthedarktw.blogspot.com/2014/04/the-extremely-short-guide-to-writing.html and it covers just about all the advice I have to offer on writing horror fiction. Beyond that, I’d advise writers to write with a deep, immersive point of view, to make sure there’s a strong emotional core to their stories, and to learn to employ the techniques of Scene and Sequel (here’s a good intro to the concept: http://www.advancedfictionwriting.com/articles/writing-the-perfect-scene/ ). As for warnings, being an artist of any sort can be difficult emotionally and financially. Make sure you have a strong support network and learn as much as you can from both contemporaries and elders in your field, especially when it comes to living and surviving the artist’s life. Check out Eric Maisel’s book Creativity for Life. It’s all about how to deal with the mental and emotional aspects of living an artist’s life – something most how-to books, classes, and seminars never deal with.
BMS – If I asked you to predict where you see the world of horror fiction in the next few years, what would your answer be?
TW – I think the small press will continue to be strong, and literary horror will continue to grow in influence and gain further respect outside the genre. As I said earlier, there are signs that larger publishers are starting to invest in horror again, and I think we’ll see a greater presence of horror fiction in the mainstream marketplace. At least we can hope, right?
BMS – What is the best way for people to learn more about you and your work?
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