An interview with author and writing professor Tim Waggoner . . .
Tim Waggoner is the author of more than 50 novels of dark fiction, fantasy, and young adult, plus many, many short stories and novellas. He’s also penned the award-winning Writing in the Dark and its companion, Writing in the Dark Workbook, that guides writers on their path to creating dark fiction. Tim is a tenured professor of creative writing and composition at Sinclair College in Dayton, OH.
You can find him at timwaggoner.com and can follow him on Twitter and Facebook.
Interview by BWG members Diane Sismour and Dianna Sinovic
In the last 20 years, you’ve published more than 50 novels! How do you do it? What’s your process for creating and getting your work down on the page so quickly?
I spend a lot of time thinking about stories beforehand, visualizing scenes, thinking through dialogue, etc. With short stories, this may be all I do before I start writing. With novels, I’ll write an outline, which I’ll use as a general guide as I draft. I don’t always refer to the outline as I write, though, and sometimes the final story will differ in some significant ways. As I draft, I’ll write notes for specific scenes as I go, which are kind of like mini informal outlines. This overall process tends to work well for me. It allows me to move from the macro to the micro level effectively.
I also tend to make decisions quickly, so I don’t spend much time debating what to write next when I’m composing a story, and this helps a lot. I also do my best to keep a regular writing schedule when I’m working on a project, and this helps me stay on track.
Do you find that your first drafts are now closer to the final version, or do you still need to polish?
Because of the process I discussed above, by the time I finish a draft, it’s close to the final version. I also edit as I go, which means I usually don’t have much polishing to do before I submit the work to an editor. The overall process must work, since editors tend not to ask me to revise much.
What drew you to dark fiction and fantasy? What keeps you returning to those genres?
I’ve loved horror and fantasy all my life. Nothing stimulates my imagination like those genres, and as a writer, I love the freedom they give me. Any story I might want to tell is possible, plus other genres work and play well with horror and fantasy, so I can incorporate elements of mystery, romance, science fiction, and anything else I want.
Which authors inspired you to write dark fiction, and why?
I’m 58, and when I was a kid in the late ‘60s and ‘70s, there were a lot of horror movies and comics around. I read and watched every bit of horror media I could get my hands on, so I was already in love with dark fiction before I became aware of specific authors. Eventually, I got hold of an anthology called Alfred Hitchcock’s Monster Museum. It contained stories by such writers as Theodore Sturgeon, Manly Wade Wellman, and Ray Bradbury. It was the first time I began to associate specific stories with specific writers. Bradbury’s contribution was a reprint of “Homecoming,” and that story had a profound effect on me. Another anthology I read around this time was Monster Tales, which had a story called “Wendigo’s Children,” from Thomas F. Monteleone, which blew me away. Tom later became a friend and mentor to me, and I was thrilled to have him sign my copy of his story.
In fifth grade I read Anne Rice’s Interview with the Vampire, and it showed me how powerful a story written from the monster’s point of view could be, as did Richard Matheson’s “Born of Man and Woman,” which I eventually read for a class in high school.
Stephen King’s Salem’s Lot came out when I was in seventh grade, and the book was absolutely electrifying. I’d never read horror that was so rich in terms of character and setting – and which was damn scary! Not long after King wrote The Shining, he gave an interview to a Marvel B&W magazine called The Tomb of Dracula (not the comic book of the same name). While reading the interview, I realized for the first time in my life that someone could choose to become a writer, and that I could choose that too, if I wanted. That one moment had a gigantic impact on the course of my life.
When Clive Barker’s Books of Blood came out, it was like a nuclear bomb exploded in the horror field, and Barker’s fiction expanded my awareness of what was possible in horror in terms of content, theme, and style.
In a very real way, every writer I’ve read in any genre has inspired me in one way or another.
What are some of your favorite themes? Are there themes you still want to explore?
Like most writers, I do have recognizable themes and motifs in my work that I tend to revisit. Instead of writing about Good vs. Evil, I write about the inevitability of death and how people come to terms with it (or not). I also write about the duality of the individual and two personalities fusing into one (literally or symbolically). I like to play around with and subvert horror tropes. And since I almost drowned when I was nine, water themes show up in my work a lot.
Out of all your characters, which was your favorite to write, and why?
I really enjoyed writing Matthew Richter, my zombie private investigator from the Nekropolis urban fantasy series. I loved writing in his voice and exploring his extradimensional city of monsters with him.
Tell us about your new book, which came out this past summer.
We Will Rise is a ghost apocalypse novel. The publisher’s description explains it well:
In Echo Hill, Ohio, the dead begin to reappear, manifesting in various forms, from classic ghosts and poltergeists, to physical undead and bizarre apparitions for which there is no name. These malign spirits attack the living, tormenting and ultimately killing them in order to add more recruits to their spectral ranks.
A group of survivors come together after the initial attack, all plagued by different ghostly apparitions of their own. Can they make it out of Echo Hill alive? And if so, will they still be sane? Or will they die and join the ranks of the vengeful dead?
I first had the initial idea years ago when I drove past a street called Resurrection Road. I thought I might write a novel about an entire street that was haunted, but as the years went by, the idea morphed into the entire world becoming haunted. I had a lot of fun writing We Will Rise, and I hope people enjoy it!
Your novels have been published by a number of different publishers. Do you have an agent? Or do you reach out to a specific publisher directly at this point?
I’m currently working with my third agent. She submits my original work to publishers and reaches out to tie-in editors to see if they have any gigs available for me. Most large traditional publishers would rather writers submit through agents, even if the editor knows the writer personally. Small-press publishers are open to direct contact from authors, and by this point in my career, a lot of editors already know who I am, so I can approach them directly if I want. My agent still gets involved early on in the process, though.
You’re also a professor of creative writing and composition. Do you find inspiration for your own work from your work in the classroom?
Everything I write teaches me something that I can pass on to students, and the act of teaching – of figuring out ways to explain issues of craft – gives me greater insight into writing, which feeds back into my own work. It’s a cycle. The better writer I become, the better teacher I become, which in turn makes me a better writer, and so on.
Writing in the Dark, your textbook on the craft of writing dark fiction, is laid out as though you’re having a conversation with the reader. This is a fabulous way to engage the audience. How did you approach the concept?
When I was in high school, I started reading Writer’s Digest. The mystery writer Lawrence Block wrote a regular fiction column for the magazine, and he wrote in a conversational style. I loved his columns, and I learned a lot from them, and I thought that if I ever started writing how-to-write articles, I’d employ the same style. I’m glad that approach seems to have worked for readers of Writing in the Dark!
Tell us about your media tie-ins. How did you come to write them? Are these fan fiction?
As I said earlier, I’m 58. I’m part of a generation before home computers, VCRs, and cable TV were common. If we were lucky enough to talk our parents into taking us to see a movie, the only way we could revisit that experience was to read the novelization of the film. I loved novelizations because they contained extra scenes that weren’t in the film, and the writers could get into the heads of the characters in ways that are impossible to do in film. Before the first Star Trek movie came out, novels presenting original stories featuring the Enterprise crew began to appear, and they were the only way to experience more Trek. I always thought it would be an interesting challenge – and a fun one – to try and capture the tone and style of media properties in fiction. And it is!
Licensed media tie-in novels aren’t fan fiction. Writers are hired and paid by publishers to produce tie-in novels, which are officially licensed by the IP holder. Writers have a certain amount of freedom when they write tie-in fiction, but the IP holder calls the shots in terms of what they can and can’t do. Fan fiction is technically illegal since fan writers don’t own the IP’s they write about and have not been officially approved by the IP holder to use them in their fiction. But as long as fans don’t try to profit off of their stories, most IP holders are happy to let them do their thing. Because there’s no oversight from the IP holder, fan writers can do whatever they want in their stories. They can rewrite canon, do crossovers with other IP’s, etc. Writing fan fiction can be a wonderful way for a writer to build their skills, but if they have any ambition to have a professional career as a writer, they should eventually move on to writing their own original stories.
Diversity issues are part of today’s news headlines. Has this changed which characters to write into your stories? How does the change affect you as a writer?
I’ve always tried to incorporate diverse characters into my fiction because I live in a diverse world. It just seemed natural to me. As the years went on, I became more aware of diversity issues, thanks to social media. I tried to listen and learn as much as I could about different ways to effectively and respectfully handle diversity in my writing. I’m a middle-aged cishet white man, and I won’t write a story that attempts to speak to the experience of being someone I’m not. But I am comfortable having a diverse cast of characters who are dealing with a problem – like a ghost apocalypse! – which doesn’t specifically deal with identity issues. I think of it like being a casting director of a film. If the movie is about a search for lost treasure, and there’s no particular reason to make any of the characters have a specific gender, race, sexual identity, or cultural background, I can cast whoever I want to play the roles. Hopefully, this works well. I haven’t received any negative feedback from editors or readers yet regarding how I incorporate diversity into my writing, but I’m always willing to listen, learn, and try to do better, so I welcome whatever feedback I might get, positive or negative.