Author Interview - TIM WAGGONER
Today on The Witch Haunt, I’m so excited to interview the illustrious horror author, Tim Waggoner! *wild Kermit flail* Tim has published over forty novels and five collections of short stories. He writes original dark fantasy and horror, as well as media tie-ins, and his articles on writing have appeared in numerous publications. He’s won the Bram Stoker Award, the HWA’s Mentor of the Year Award, been a finalist for 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 twice had stories selected for inclusion in volumes of Year’s Best Hardcore Horror. He’s also a full-time tenured professor who teaches creative writing and composition at Sinclair College in Dayton, Ohio.
WH: Welcome, Tim! Please give us a brief introduction of your fabulous self:
I’m 54, I’ve lived in Ohio most of my life, I have a B.S. in Education, an M.A. in English, I’ve been writing seriously since I was 18, I’ve taught college writing courses for over thirty years, and I’m full-time tenured professor of English at Sinclair Community College in Dayton, Ohio. Most importantly, I have two wonderful daughters, 23 and 18, who are brilliant, creative people!
WH: A lifelong writing teacher to whose talents I can attest. I attended my first StokerCon this year after 17 years of publishing in the YA world, and Tim said everything I needed to hear. What other career would you have if not writing/publishing?
As I said above, I also teach writing – both composition and creative writing – but I count that as part of my overall writing life. If I couldn’t be involved with writing in any way, including screenwriting, I suppose I’d be a psychologist. I’m fascinated by the way people think, and I love to help people, so being a therapist might suit me. I’m also fascinated by evolutionary psychology, so I might specialize in that. But I can’t imagine not writing – it’s as much a part of me as breathing. It’s that intrinsic, that vital. If I didn’t do it, I don’t think I’d survive.
WH: I’ve always said if I wasn’t writing, I’d be a therapist of some kind, too. The human mind is a fascinating and often terrifying place. Tim, what is your writing process like?
I spend a lot of time thinking about novels and stories, working them out in my head. I make lists of characters, settings, and events before I start writing. For novels, I have an outline. Every novel I’ve published for the last twenty years I’ve sold to publishers on the basis of an outline or short pitch, so the outline always comes first. With short stories, I can write more freely, following my whims and instincts. If a short story is for a theme anthology or a novel is a media tie-in, I need to consider what elements are required and make sure to work them in. There’s also an approval process with media tie-ins, so I can’t start writing a novel until an editor and a representative from the IP holder give their approval. I often write at Starbucks. I need a place where there’s nothing else for me to do but write, and there are no people or pets around who need my attention. I often write longhand. For some reason, my thoughts seem to flow more easily this way. I later type the text into my computer, editing as I go. By the time I have a complete draft, I’ve gone over the story enough times that it’s usually ready to submit to an editor, after a final read-through to check for minor errors and typos, of course. Editors have told me my copy is usually very clean, and I don’t have to do much revision after submitting a manuscript. After this, I wait for the book or story to be published and hope readers don’t hate it!
WH: That’s one way the horror industry is different from children’s/YA. Novels usually have to be complete before an editor will even look at it, though sometimes they’ll accept the first three chapters, plus a character sketch and outline. So, I ask everyone on my blog what’s their favorite dessert. Do you have one?
I’m diabetic, so since I’m supposed to avoid sugar, all desserts are my favorite! Cheesecake is awesome. So is banana cream pie. And hot fudge sundaes, and fresh-baked chocolate chip cookies, and . . .
WH: Trust me, I hear you. I used to own a bakery, so they’re all my favorite, too. What short story or novel are you most proud of?
That’s a tough question. I think like a lot of writers, I’m focused on what I’m working on at the moment. It’s like Edna Mode says in The Incredibles: “I never look back, Darling. It distracts from the Now.” I suppose I’d pick my story “Mr. Punch,” which first appeared in the anthology Young Blood in 1999. The idea behind the anthology was that each story in it was written by the author before he or she turned thirty. It was my first pro-level sale, and my story appeared alongside reprinted stories by Edgar Allan Poe, Stephen King, and Ramsey Campbell, which was awesome. But the most important thing about “Mr. Punch” was that it was the first story I wrote using the kind of surreal, imagistic horror I’ve become known for. It was the first time I found my horror voice, and the first time I fully trusted my instincts as a writer. As I was writing it, I stopped at one point because I realized how good it was, and I was afraid I would screw it up if I kept going. But I found the courage to return to the story and finish it, and I’m so glad I did!
WH: Isn’t that crazy, how we sometimes lose our confidence when we become hyper-aware of how well we’re doing? If you could interview any horror author, gone or alive, who would it be?
Maybe Thomas Ligotti. I love the way his imagination works, and I think he’d be fascinating to talk to. Plus, he’s talked openly about his struggles with depression and anxiety. I’ve been diagnosed as a high-functioning dysthymic, meaning I have a low-grade but constant depression. I’d be interested in talking to Ligotti about how he’s dealt with his depression, how it’s informed his work, etc. I’d love to talk to Shirley Jackson, too. I’d like to hear her talk about where her ideas came from and why she decided to write such brilliantly dark and evocative fiction, especially during a time when women, especially mothers, were supposed to be happy and positive at all times, regardless of what they were really feeling. Her stories are almost like a rebellion against society’s expectations. Ray Bradbury was a force of nature, and I think I could learn a ton by talking with him. Oh hell, I guess my answer is I’d like to interview everyone! Poe, Lovecraft, Shelley, etc., etc. I’m as much a student of horror as a writer of it, and I love to talk horror with anyone, especially other practitioners in the genre.
WH: All great ones. One of my favorites who doesn’t get mentioned enough is Lois Duncan who recently passed away. I was lucky enough to talk to her in person and introduce her at our SCBWI conference a few years back. So, Tim, how have you changed as a person from your early life until now?
My mother was a depressive agoraphobic who taught me that the world was a dangerous place. As I got older and began to experience more of the world on my own, I became less anxious and more confident I wouldn’t die as soon as I walked out the front door. I grew up during a time – the 60’s, 70’s, and 80’s – when people were learning to shed their prejudices and become more accepting of those who were different than themselves (although it may not always seem like that today.) Through teaching, I’ve been exposed to thousands of people from different backgrounds, lifestyles, countries, religions, political viewpoints, etc. This has broadened and deepened my empathy for others. Becoming a father changed me more than any other experience in my life. It helped me learn not to focus on myself and my concerns so much, and it gave me a perspective on life that I could never have gained otherwise. It gave me a better sense of priorities and what really matters in life. As far as writing, I’m a more confident writer than I was when I started out because I’ve published work and readers seem to have enjoyed it for the most part. But every time I finish a story or novel, I still worry that readers will hate it. I guess that will never go away for me, but maybe it’s good that it won’t. Maybe it keeps me from getting too complacent as an artist.
WH: Oof, I feel that so much. Growing up in a Hispanic household, I constantly felt a leash around my neck. Don’t go too far, don’t take too many risks, always have a Plan B, C, and D. It made me feel like I would fail at every turn, and I think I compensated for that by flying even higher. I also feel that readers will hate my work once I put it out there, but then I remind myself that my readers are my readers for a reason—because they love my stories.
How do you like your coffee? What’s your favorite libation?
I like my coffee black. Adding anything to coffee only ruins it. A vodka sour was my favorite drink for years, but I’ve recently become fond of good, smooth whiskey – straight, no ice. I like Sam Adams, too, and a nice Merlot. I’m mostly a social drinker, though. There was almost no alcohol in my parents’ house when I was growing up. My folks weren’t against drinking. They just weren’t interested in it. I drank like a fish in college – like a lot of students – but after I graduated, I stopped drinking for the most part. As a diabetic, it’s better if I avoid drinking too much alcohol, but really, like my parents, I’m just not that interested in it.
WH: As a horror author, you’ve gotta have a favorite Halloween tradition, right?
They’re all great! I love Halloween because it’s the only holiday dedicated to the imagination. You can pretend to be anything you want – it doesn’t have to be something scary – and you’re invited to imagine what sinister things might be lurking in the shadows, ready to shamble forth, ring your doorbell with a clawed finger, and demand tribute – or else. I like seeing everyday people getting excited about Halloween, since it’s Halloween inside my head 24/7.
WH: Absolutely! Every year I say I’m going to keep my Halloween decorations up year round, and every year I end up taking them down mid-November and giving into the change of seasons. What is the most witchy thing about you (we’re all a little witchy)?
When I was a kid, I used to have what I called future dreams. They were tiny snippets of time, only a few seconds in length, in which I was doing mundane, everyday things. Not only would I dream the actions I performed, I’d dream the thoughts I was having as I did those actions. I always forgot about my dreams the next day, but then several weeks later, they would come true, and I’d remember that I’d dreamed about the event. My future dreams always came true, without fail. When I was older, I had a dream that my cat was on the roof. In the dream, I was worried he’d get hurt if he tried to jump down, so I held up my hands and urged him to jump. He wasn’t sure at first, but eventually, I convinced him, and he jumped. I saw him coming toward me, and then everything went black. The scene began again at the point where the cat jumped, and then it went black once more. It repeated again from the same point, and once more went black. As usual, I forgot about this dream. Months later, it began to come true. My cat was on the roof, I was worried about him, and I cajoled him to jump. But as he was bunching up his leg muscles, preparing to launch himself into the air, I suddenly remembered my dream. I put out my hand and yelled, “Stop!” The cat’s eyes flew wide, and it felt like the entire universe tilted for a moment before righting itself. I looked behind me and saw that my dad had left some metal fence posts on the ground, their ends sticking up. If I’d fallen while trying to catch the cat, I might’ve landed on them and been injured, maybe killed. I have no idea if this future dream saved my life, but it was one of the strangest things that ever happened to me. After that, my future dreams came less frequently, and while I sometimes sense that I might’ve dreamed about an event that happens to me now, it’s a vague sense only. (If you’re curious about what happened with my cat, I ran inside, got a can of cat food, and put it on the shed next to the house. The cat jumped down onto it and began eating the food. When he was done, I picked him up and put him on the ground.)
WH: That’s fascinating, Tim. I believe we’re all psychic to some degree. Most of us have not bothered to develop those skills, but gut instincts are there for a reason. Good thing you listened to yours and remembered your future dream.
Who is your favorite Addams Family character?
If you’d asked me this when I was a kid, I would’ve said I like the Munsters better because they were more obvious monsters. But as an adult, I like the Addamses much more. They’re ghoulishly strange, but they don’t fit into an obvious horror paradigm like the Munsters. Because of this, they’re unpredictable, which I think is one of the most important aspects of good horror. I like Thing (from the TV show) because you never knew how it traveled from one of its boxes to the others around the house, and sometimes it would be a right hand, sometimes a left. Thing had a surreal strangeness to it that the Addamses accepted as perfectly normal, which made it even stranger. The Thing in the movies was fun, but nowhere near as interesting to me.
WH: Good call on what makes the Addamses more intriguing. For me, it’s how close to a real family they are that makes them awesome and how close weall are to being mysteriously kooky. So, back to books, what makes a horror novel scary?
For me, it’s a close identification with a character’s viewpoint. Horror is someone’s reaction to something awful that’s happening to them, something that violates their sense of how the world works (or should work), that upends their perception of reality. So whether a horror story is realistic, supernatural, or batshit crazy surreal, if it doesn’t focus on the characters’ reaction to the horror element – how if affects them mentally, emotionally, physically, and even spiritually – then it’s nothing more than a dull trip through a meaningless spook house in a rundown carnival. Fake ghosts and monsters might pop up to say “Boo!” as you trundle through in an ancient metal cart, but they have no real impact on you. Bad horror, whether in prose or on film, is the same. The last scary film I saw was Hereditary, and it was the raw portrayal of the mother’s grief – along with her conflicted feelings about her own mother – that gave that story a strong emotional core and made it scary. Without that, the supernatural elements would have had no impact at all. But with that emotional core, those elements were devastating.
WH: And with Toni Collette to portray that mother! I found myself crying during the dinner scene with her son and, of course, when she was wailing in her room after “the incident.” What is the most awesome thing happening in your life right now that you’d like to share with us?
Writing-wise, I’ve just started working on a new tie-in project for a horror-related property that I can’t talk about yet, but it’s a franchise I’ve never worked with before, so it’s exciting. Life-wise, I’ve been enjoying serving as a mentor to other writers. I’ve always done this in classes and through workshops, but social media has allowed writers to reach out to me if they have questions or are seeking advice, and I’m happy to try to help. The genres of horror, science fiction, and fantasy have a long tradition of paying forward, and I’m grateful to be in a position where I can do that.
Tim, thank you SO MUCH for being here on The Witch Haunt. You have helped my crossover into horror go that much easier, and it’s because of generous folks like you lifting others up that I feel so at home here. To follow Tim, visit him at the following links:
* Website: www.timwaggoner.com
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🔮 GABY TRIANA ☠️