Halloween Extravaganza: INTERVIEW: Tim Waggoner

Tim Waggoner is a rather interesting guy, but unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on how you look at it) he has never been part of the Halloween Extravaganza until this year. It was a lot of fun getting to know him better, and I have to say that this was, by far, one of the most interesting interviews I’ve ever done.

Meghan: Hi, Tim. Welcome to Meghan’s House of Books. It’s great having you here today. Tell us a little bit about yourself.

Tim Waggoner: I’m fifty-five, I’ve lived in Ohio most of my life, I’m a lifelong fan of all things weird and wonderful, I’ve been writing seriously since the age of eighteen, I’ve traditionally published close to fifty novels and seven collections of short stories, and I’ve taught college composition and creative writing courses for the last thirty years. I write both original fiction and media tie-ins, and the majority of my fiction falls into the genres of horror and dark fantasy.

Meghan: What are five things most people don’t know about you?

Tim Waggoner:

  • My wife thinks I’m addicted to buying Funko Pops, but she’s wrong. I can quit any time I want.
  • I hate raisins and watermelon. They’re the devil’s fruits.
  • I refuse to ruin a good cup of coffee by putting anything in it.
  • I can juggle (a little).
  • I’m a big fan of musicals.

Meghan: What is the first book you remember reading?

Tim Waggoner: The Spaceship Under the Apple Tree by Louis Siobodkin. It’s about a boy who makes friends with a young explorer from another planet. I wanted a friend who had a spaceship and could take me on trips to other worlds!

Meghan: What are you reading now?

Tim Waggoner: I’m a moody reader, and often I’ll read a little of one book, then a little of another, and so on. I also read one thing on my Kindle and listen to something else on audio when I drive. Right now I’m reading Starship: Mutiny by Mike Resnick and listening to The Consultant by Bentley Little.

Meghan: What’s a book you really enjoyed that others wouldn’t expect you to have liked?

Tim Waggoner: Maybe Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf. It’s a literary novel about relationships in which nothing of any real importance seems to happen, but I found it riveting. It’s one of the few books I’ve read in a single sitting. I love stories that are written with a close identification with a character’s viewpoint, regardless of genre.

Meghan: What made you decide you want to write? When did you begin writing?

Tim Waggoner: I’ve been telling stories one way or another my entire life. I was the one who’d come up with scenarios for my friends and me to act out on the playground, and I used to create epic sagas with my army men and action figures. But in terms of consciously deciding to write, it began when I was in high school and read an interview with Stephen King in an issue of the B&W comic magazine Dracula Lives. The Shining had just come out, and King wasn’t super-famous yet. It might have been the first interview with a writer I ever read, and before this, it had never really occurred to me that being a writer was something a person could choose. Something I could choose. I later told my mom that I thought I might like to be a writer, and she said, “I think you’d be a good one.” Her simple encouragement meant the world to me, and it still does.

Meghan: Do you have a special place you like to write?

Tim Waggoner: I usually go out to a Starbucks. I grew up in a noisy household, and I don’t like working in silence. I like to have a certain amount of noise and activity around me, and at Starbucks there’s no one who needs me – no wife, no kids, no students, no pets. I can get my coffee, sit down, and write. I usually spend about three to four hours working, which translates into roughly four or five pages of manuscript, sometimes more, especially when I’m nearing the end of a story or novel and the words are really flowing.

Meghan: Do you have any quirks or processes that you go through when you write?

Tim Waggoner: I like to write my first drafts by hand. The words seem to flow better that way. Personal computers didn’t appear until I was nineteen or twenty, so I spent most of my formative years writing by hand. I’m more focused when I write by hand, and I produce more pages faster. Typing it up is a real pain in the ass sometimes, but it allows me to edit and clean up the text as I input it into the computer, and I usually don’t need to do any more drafts after that.

Meghan: Is there anything about writing you find most challenging?

Tim Waggoner: I’ve been writing for thirty years, and at this point, I have to be careful not to repeat ideas and concepts I’ve used for other stories in the past. It’s one thing for an author to work with recurring themes throughout his or her career, but it’s another to keep writing the same basic story over and over without realizing it. Hopefully, I’ve managed to avoid accidental self-plagiarism, but if I haven’t, would I even know it?

Something else – it seems to take me a couple weeks to fully make the mental shift from one project to another – especially when I have a bunch of novel proposals out at various publishers, any one of which I might (if I’m lucky) have to start on at any time. But one of the downsides to being prolific is figuring out which projects to work on when and shifting my mindset from one type of fiction to another. That shift seems to be getting more difficult as I get older. My wife says I always start slow on a project and pick up speed as I go until I’m rocketing along at a fast pace, but I hate the slow start!

Meghan: What’s the most satisfying thing you’ve written so far?

Tim Waggoner: My short story “Mr. Punch,” which appeared in the anthology Young Blood twenty-five years ago was my first professional sale. It was also when I found my voice as a horror author. “Mr. Punch” is the first time I learned to trust my instincts as an artist and write the story I wanted to write, no matter how weird and bizarre it turned out. And I’ve been writing weird and bizarre stories ever since!

Meghan: What books have most inspired you? Who are some authors that have inspired your writing style?

Tim Waggoner: Stephen King’s novels influenced me in terms of developing character and a sense of place. Piers Anthony’s novels – especially the Xanth series – made me fall in love with wild, manic invention in fiction. Charles de Lint’s novels showed me the power of placing dark fantasy in the contemporary world, and Clive Barker showed me how to create my own strange mythology. Ramsey Campbell and Charles L. Grant’s fiction helped teach me how to draw unique dark imagery from my subconscious to create my monsters. Tom Piccirilli and Douglas Clegg’s novels showed me how to develop my weird horror at novel length. Mystery writer Lawrence Block’s how-to-write columns and books taught me more about writing fiction than any creative writing class ever did. There are so many more – Shirley Jackson, Harlan Ellison, Ray Bradbury, Richard Matheson . . . It’s sounds like a cliché when writers say everything they’ve ever read, watched, or experienced influences their work, but it’s true.

Meghan: What do you think makes a good story?

Tim Waggoner: For me, it’s something that stimulates my imagination. It could be an intriguing concept, an interesting character, an original plot, or a captivating style. The best is when a story has all of these elements going for it. I like to read stories that let me get into the characters’ heads, and I like stories that, even if they’re set in the contemporary world create a reality all their own. While I enjoy stories that have a leisurely pace, my favorites tend to be more fast-paced, possessing a strong forward-moving momentum.

Meghan: What does it take for you to love a character? How do you utilize that when creating your characters?

Tim Waggoner: I have to feel a connection to a character in order to love him or her. This connection can be small. Hannibal Lector doesn’t have many admirable qualities, but he likes and respects Clarice Starling, and I can connect to that bit of humanity that still exists inside him. In Poe’s The Tell-Tale Heart, I connect to the insane narrator’s very human need to tell his tale in order to be understood. I try to create such a human connection between my characters and readers, and hopefully I succeed more often than not.

Meghan: Which, of all your characters, do you think is the most like you?

Tim Waggoner: They’re all part of me on way or another. Writers can never not write about ourselves. No matter how hard we try to disguise our characters, they’re all reflections of us in one way or another, even if they’re funhouse mirror distortions. My zombie PI Matt Richter from the Nekropolis series reflects my humorous side. Jayce in The Mouth of the Dark is the father side of me, while Neal in The Forever House is the part of me that can be insecure in relationships. My characters are all pieces of a puzzle that, if they were assembled, would make a portrait of me.

Meghan: Are you turned off by a bad cover? To what degree were you involved in creating your book covers?

Tim Waggoner: When I first started writing, I heard a lot of professional writers say that editors always change the titles of your books and you never get any input into the cover. That’s not been my experience, though. Most editors keep my original titles, and they usually ask for my input on the covers. Most of the time, one of my suggestions forms the basis for the cover, and usually I think they turn out pretty good. Sometimes I think the covers are just okay, and other times – only a few – I dislike them. But there’s nothing that can be done at that point. The only thing I really hate is if a cover image has nothing to do with the book’s contents. When I was a kid, I hated it when the main character on a book cover looked different than the way the author described him or her, or if the cover seemed to promise a very different kind of story. The original cover for Jack Ketchum’s masterpiece The Girl Next Door is a perfect example. It depicts a skeleton in a cheerleader’s outfit, implying the story is a generic spooky tale when in fact it’s a brutal, bleak, uncompromising examination of violence toward the Other, of the dangers of going along with the group, and how ultimately violence affects both victims and perpetrators alike. I bet a lot of people who bought that paperback edition were shocked as hell when they started to read the book –which, now that I think about it, is pretty cool. Good horror should never be safe. So maybe, in a sense, that cover worked after all, just no in the way the publisher intended it to.

Meghan: What have you learned creating your books?

Tim Waggoner: What haven’t I learned? Writing novels uses more of me than anything else I’ve ever done. I’ve learned patience, perseverance, mental and emotional resilience . . . I’ve learned to prioritize my time, to take risks, to deal with setbacks, disappointments, self-doubts, and failures. I’ve learned so much about story – what makes one work, what makes one not work. . . I’ve learned how to write for readers without my awareness of those readers making me so self-conscious I freeze up. I’ve learned how to deal with praise, criticism, and outright hatred of my work. I’ve learned how to win awards and how to lose them. I’ve learned how to be a member of a writing community and how to – I hope – be a good citizen of that community. Most of all, I’ve learned more about who Tim Waggoner is, who he was, and who he might one day become.

Meghan: What has been the hardest scene for you to write so far?

Tim Waggoner: In my story “Voices Like Barbed Wire” I based a scene on when my ex-wife and I told our daughters that we were going to get divorced. It’s one of my most painful memories – one which I would happily cut out of my brain if I knew how – but since the story is about a woman who wants to get rid of a bad memory, I decided to give her my worst one so that the story might have more emotional truth and, at least to me, have more meaning. And by putting the memory in the story, maybe I managed to exorcise it from my mind, at least a little.

Meghan: What makes your books different from others out there in this genre?

Tim Waggoner: That’s hard for me to say. I just think of my horror novels as Tim Waggoner stories. Reviewers have remarked on my original ideas and nightmarish imagery, my strong characters and fast-paced narratives, and my blend of different styles of horror – from quiet to erotic to extreme to surreal – in the same novel. That’s probably as good a description as any of the kind of thing I write.

Meghan: How important is the book title, how hard is it to choose the best one, and how did you choose yours (of course, with no spoilers)?

Tim Waggoner: I put a lot of work into titles. I keep a file with possible titles in it – phrases I’ve overheard or read somewhere, snatches of song lyrics or poetry that spark my imagination . . . I also keep story ideas in the same file, weird things I’ve seen, heard, or thought, bizarre news stories I’ve read, etc. When it’s time to start a new project, I go through the file, looking for ideas. Sometimes I start with an idea, but a lot of times I start with the title. Sometimes an idea and a title seem perfect for each other. For example, a while ago, I had an idea about a house that was infinite on the inside. One of the phrases I’d collected was The Forever House. The idea and the phrase matched so well, that I decided to write a novel using that title. I did a search on Google and Amazon to see if anyone else had ever used that title for a novel – especially a horror novel – and when I was confident no one had, I committed to The Forever House as the title for the book.

Meghan: What makes you feel more fulfilled: Writing a novel or writing a short story?

Tim Waggoner: I feel most fulfilled when I write novels. I like the complexity of them and the chance to develop characters in greater detail than I can with a short story. In novels, you can work with a larger scope and with bigger ideas. I enjoy seeing all the ways that I can take plot points and spin out different threads from them, and I love weaving all those threads together and making connections between them to create a richer, tighter narrative.

Short stories are in some ways harder for me to write. They require a laser-like focus on a narrower concept, and you have to make every word, every image count. My brain always feels like it gets a workout when I write a short story, but I get a lot of satisfaction when I finish one because they don’t come so easily to me.

Meghan: Tell us a little bit about your books, your target audience, and what you would like readers to take away from your stories.

Tim Waggoner: In the horror community, I’m known for writing a certain kind of surreal, existential horror, but I’ve written a lot of different kinds of fiction: epic fantasy, action-adventure, spy thriller, creature-feature fiction, erotica, science fiction, urban fantasy, young adult, middle-grade reader . . . Most of those were tie-in books where the genre was given to me. I like that because it stretches me as a writer, makes me try my hand at genres that I might not otherwise attempt. Whatever the genre, I always try to give the reader developed characters, interesting ideas, and a fast-paced, smooth read. I want to stimulate readers’ imaginations – which is, as I said earlier, I seek as a reader myself – and I hope to make readers think. I want to surprise them with my stories, take them places where they don’t expect. I hope they’ll view the genre a little differently when they’ve finished one of my books.

I write my horror novels for fans that are well-versed in the genre and are looking for something different. My tie-in novels have different audiences. For example, I write Supernatural novels for fans of the TV series, although I hope that anyone can enjoy them.

I like to write my books on two levels: on one level, I hope they’re fun, enjoyable reads, but on another, deeper level, I play with genre conventions and write an almost metafictional critique of the genre itself. I try to do the latter as subtly as possible, so I don’t spoil the story for anyone, but there’s a deeper layer to the story for those who want a little more from a reading experience. A colleague once told me I write “deep parody,” and I suppose that’s as good a description as any of what I do. I’m not trying to mock a genre or its readers, but I hope that I can get them to engage with the genre in a different way and perhaps even show them something about the genre they’ve never considered before. I do this in my tie-in books too (but don’t tell my editors!).

Meghan: Can you tell us about some of the deleted scenes/stuff that got left out of your work?

Tim Waggoner: I don’t usually have to cut anything from my original work. Editors do sometimes make me cut some stuff from tie-in novels. Years ago, I was working on A Nightmare on Elm Street novel. New Line Cinema was taking a long time to approve my outline, so the editor told me to just go ahead and start writing. I was sixty pages into the book when the editor told me the studio refused to approve the idea. My concept was that Freddie was returned to life as a human and was trying to find a way to return to the dream realm. The studio didn’t want Freddie to be human again because it brought up the specter of him being a child molester in life, something the studio didn’t want to remind people of. I had to come up with an entirely new outline for a novel, and New Line approved it, and that became my novel A Nightmare on Elm Street: Protégé. That experience taught me never to begin drafting a tie-in novel before the rights holder gives their approval.

Meghan: What is in your “trunk”?

Tim Waggoner: I have a number of novel proposals that my agent sends around to publishers, and of course not all of them are picked up. I’d love to work on some of those projects, but I’ve been selling novels on the basis of proposals for twenty years now. I prefer to have a contract in hand before I fully commit to writing a novel. But even if all my proposals were picked up by editors, I doubt I’d have time to write them all before I die. It’s the lot of artists to know that we’ll never be able to make all the things we want to make in a single lifetime. The trick is to make as many as possible in the time we have.

Meghan: What can we expect from you in the future?

Tim Waggoner: My tie-in novel Alien: Protocol will be out in late October. I’ll have two other books out in 2020, a horror novel called The Forever House from Flame Tree Press, and a how-to-write horror book called Writing in the Dark from Guide Dog Books. I’m especially proud of Writing in the Dark since it’s a culmination of thirty years of writing and teaching.

Meghan: Where can we find you?

Tim Waggoner: Website ** Twitter ** Facebook ** Instagram

Meghan: Do you have any closing words for your fans or anything you’d like to say that we didn’t get to cover in this interview?

Tim Waggoner: Aardvark, zither, chrysanthemum.

Tim Waggoner’s first novel came out in 2001, and since then he’s published over forty novels and five collections of short stories. He writes original dark fantasy and horror, as well as media tie-ins. His novels include Like Death, considered a modern classic in the genre, and the popular Nekropolis series of urban fantasy novels. He’s written tie-in fiction based on Supernatural, Grimm, The X-Files, Alien, Doctor Who, A Nightmare on Elm Street, and Transformers, among others, and he’s written novelizations for films such as Kingsman: the Golden Circle and Resident Evil: the Final Chapter. His articles on writing have appeared in Writer’s Digest, Writer’s Journal, Writer’s Workshop of Horror, Horror 101, and Where Nightmares Come From. In 2017 he received the Bram Stoker Award for Superior Achievement in Long Fiction, and he’s been a finalist multiple times for both the Shirley Jackson Award and the Scribe Award. His fiction has received numerous Honorable Mentions in volumes of Best Horror of the Year, and he’s had several stories selected for inclusion in volumes of Year’s Best Hardcore Horror. In addition to writing, he’s also a full-time tenured professor who teaches creative writing and composition at Sinclair College in Dayton, Ohio.

Alien: Prototype

When an industrial spy steals a Xenomorph egg, former Colonial Marine Zula Hendricks must prevent an alien from killing everyone on an isolated colony planet.

Venture, a direct rival to the Weyland-Yutani corporation, will accept any risk to crush the competition. Thus, when a corporate spy “acquires” a bizarre, leathery egg from a hijacked vessel, she takes it directly to the Venture testing facility on Jericho 3.

Though unaware of the danger it poses, the scientists there recognize their prize’s immeasurable value. Early tests reveal little, however, and they come to an inevitable conclusion. They need a human test subject…

Enter Zula Hendricks.

A member of the Jericho 3 security staff, Colonial Marines veteran Zula Hendricks has been tasked with training personnel to deal with anything the treacherous planet can throw their way. Yet nothing can prepare them for the horror that appears–a creature more hideous than any Zula has encountered before.

Unless stopped, it will kill every human being on the planet.

Supernatural: Children of Anubis

A brand new Supernatural novel inspired by the record-breaking show starring Jared Padalecki and Jensen Ackles.

A brand-new Supernatural novel that reveals a previously unseen adventure for the Winchester brothers, from the hit TV series!

Sam and Dean travel to Indiana, to investigate a murder that could be the work of a werewolf. But they soon discover that werewolves aren’t the only things going bump in the night. The town is also home to a pack of jakkals who worship the god Anubis: carrion-eating scavengers who hate werewolves. With the help of Garth, the Winchester brothers must stop the werewolf-jakkal turf war before it engulfs the town – and before the god Anubis is awakened…

The Mouth of the Dark

Jayce’s twenty-year-old daughter Emory is missing, lost in a dark, dangerous realm called Shadow that exists alongside our own reality. An enigmatic woman named Nicola guides Jayce through this bizarre world, and together they search for Emory, facing deadly dog-eaters, crazed killers, homicidal sex toys, and – worst of all – a monstrous being known as the Harvest Man. But no matter what Shadow throws at him, Jayce won’t stop. He’ll do whatever it takes to find his daughter, even if it means becoming a worse monster than the things that are trying to stop him.

They Kill

What are you willing to do, what are you willing to become, to save someone you love?

Sierra Sowell’s dead brother Jeffrey is resurrected by a mysterious man known only as Corliss. Corliss also transforms four people in Sierra’s life into inhuman monsters determined to kill her. Sierra and Jeffrey’s boyfriend Marc work to discover the reason for her brother’s return to life while struggling to survive attacks by this monstrous quartet.

Corliss gives Sierra a chance to make Jeffrey’s resurrection permanent – if she makes a dreadful bargain. Can she do what it will take to save her brother, no matter how much blood is shed along the way?

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