Meet Tim Waggoner #HorrorLounge

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Welcome, Tim Waggoner

Tell us about your latest book:

The Mouth of the Dark is about a man named Jayce whose 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. 

First memory of reading horror: 

I was fascinated by Norman Bridwell’s How to Care for Your Monster when I was five. Bridwell – who’s more well-known for writing the Clifford the Big Red Dog series – wrote a how-to book for children who want monsters as pets. There were sections on Vampires, Werewolves, Mummies, and Frankenstein Monsters, and I loved the idea of being able to have my very own monster. The book was written in a light tone appropriate to children, but there were elements of creepiness to it, and the monsters were drawn more scary than cute. I still have a copy of it, and I still love it! 

For readers new to horror which 3 books would you recommend they start with? 

An anthology of classic horror (Poe, M.R. James, Blackwood, LeFanu, Wharton, Gaskell, Lovecraft, etc.), an anthology of contemporary horror (one of Ellen Datlow’s or Stephen Jones’ Best Of volumes), and a volume of The Year’s Best Hardcore Horror. Reading three of these books would give a new reader of horror a quick education on the overall field and (hopefully) help them identify which type of horror they enjoy the most.

Do you have a favourite horror sub-genre, and why? 

I love all horror, but I’m especially fond of literary horror, cosmic horror, and the weird. I like fiction that stimulates my imagination, wherein reality is twisted and bent. Some readers and critics have referred to my work as a blend of horror and dark fantasy, and that’s as good a way as any to describe the kind of fiction I like to read and write. 

Most terrifying book you’ve ever read. 

The Mothman Prophecies by John Keel. This is a “true” account of bizarre UFO, Men in Black, and Mothman sightings. I read it when I was a preteen, and the thesis of the book – that maybe strange things that happen are unexplainable, that maybe they don’t have any meaning – terrified me. That idea was a huge influence on my work. The final quote from the book, attributed to Charles Fort, hit me like a punch in the gut: “If there is a universal mind, who says it must be sane?” 

Your favourite Stephen King book: 

Salem’s Lot because it was the first novel of King’s that I read. When it came out, I was in seventh grade, and a friend told me about this great book he was reading. He told me it was called Salem’s Lot, but the town was originally called Jerusalem’s Lot and there was this pig and a vampire named Barlow and . . . He rambled on, not making a whole lot of sense to me, but I could tell how excited he was about the book, and how good he thought it was – and he wasn’t a horror fan like I was, so I knew it had to be something special. And it was! 

New horror authors you’d recommend. 

I’m currently listening to Alma Katsu’s The Hunger on audio and enjoying it very much. I love Paul Tremblay’s and John Langan’s literary horror fiction – I wish I could write half as well as they do! Lynn Hortel’s first novel Throwback will soon be coming out from Omnium Gatherum, and it’s a fantastic blend of supernatural horror and gritty psychological suspense. Josh Malerman’s novels kick major ass, and I can’t recommend his work enough. 

Who do you consider the King and Queen of horror fiction? 

I’ll stick with living authors, and I’ll avoid Stephen King and Anne Rice who, while hugely popular and influential, don’t seem to me to produce work that’s innovative in terms of the genre. I consider Ramsey Campbell and Caitlin R. Kiernan the King and Queen of horror fiction, although Kiernan undoubtedly would prefer not to be labelled a horror writer. She’d likely refer to herself as a writer of weird fiction or dark fantasy. Both Campbell and Kiernan have produced a body of work that’s not only of high literary quality, but which also has contributed a great deal to the genre of horror. Their fiction is uniquely theirs and doesn’t trod the same well-worn genre paths that so many horror writers follow. I admire them both tremendously. 

Your favourite horror film (adapted from a book) & why? 

The Haunting, adapted from Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House. I’m talking about the 1963 Robert Wise film, not the horrible remark with Liam Neeson. I think Wise did a wonderful job of capturing the novel’s atmosphere of mounting dread. Hitchcock’s Psycho is another favourite. Robert Bloch’s novel is good, but Hitchcock created his own work of art using the book as a basis, and the film is absolutely iconic. 

Horror book that you’d like to see adapted to film & why? 

I’m a huge fan of Dennis Etchison, and I’d love to see any of his novels brought to the screen, such as Shadowman and California Gothic. I love the way Etchison blends the inner worlds of his characters with the outer worlds they inhabit, and I think that combination would lend itself to film quite well. 

Best horror TV?

I wouldn’t call it the best, but my favourite horror TV show when I was a kid was Kolchak: The Night Stalker. I loved Kolchak’s long-suffering everyman character who discovers horrifying truths that the rest of world would rather ignore, and who’s then forced to combat the weird and supernatural because no one else will. Kolchak taught me that as cool as monsters are, they’re most effective when we see how characters react to them. 

Did you write in other genres or straight to horror? 

When I was in my late teens, I first tried writing heroic fantasy because that’s what I was mostly reading in those days. I wrote horror, too, but primarily short stories. I continued writing fantasy at novel length for several years while writing short horror fiction. I eventually grew tired of heroic fantasy. I wanted to base my fiction on my own imagination, and I wanted to write about the real world more. Horror was my first love in genre fiction, so I began to focus on it exclusively. I think because I loved it so much, I was intimidated to commit to it fully, was afraid that maybe I wouldn’t do a good enough job. Luckily, I overcame that reluctance. I still write in other genres – most notably media tie-ins – but I think my horror represents the best of my work. 

Tell us briefly about your route to being published 

I started writing seriously with an intent to publish when I was eighteen. I’ll be fifty-five in a couple months. I started writing and submitting in the early days of PC’s, and there was no email and no Internet. I had to print out my work on dot matrix printers and physically mail it to publishers, including a self-addressed stamped envelope for the return of the manuscript if it was rejected. I found markets by reading writing magazines and buying copies of Writers’ Market every year. I submitted stories without much luck for a few years, then I analysed all my rejections, looking for trends in the editors’ comments. I discovered things like I took too long to get to the main action in my stories, and I had huge expository lumps which slowed the pace. The editors’ feedback – most of which came from small-press markets since editors at larger markets were too busy to comment – was extremely helpful, and I started working on fixing these problems in my writing. Later, I read an article in an edition of Writers’ Market that suggested writers send their work out and keep it on the market until it was sold. Up to that point, I’d been giving up on stories after two or three rejections. I took the article’s advice, and I discovered that on average my stories sold on the ninth submission. I began selling regularly after that, and I’ve been selling my writing ever since. 

Tell us about your fans  

Because I write different types of fiction – horror, urban fantasy, media tie-ins – I have fans who enjoy one genre but not another. There are readers who love my novels based on the TV show Supernatural that shy away from my harder-edged original horror. And there are fans of my horror who aren’t interested in my tie-in work. But all the readers who’ve reached out to me have been kind and enthusiastic about my writing, and I appreciate them all!

Horror doesn’t seem to be as well respected as other genres of fiction. Why do you think that is? 

I think a lot of the general public associates the horror genre solely with gore-soaked splatter films aimed toward adolescents, and they don’t understand the rich literary and cinematic tradition horror has. I also think that people who don’t love horror don’t understand those of us who do. They think there must be something wrong with anyone who seeks out and enjoys reading and watching dark stories. I wouldn’t be surprised if on a subconscious level, those people fear they’ll be “tainted” by reading horror and they’ll no longer be mentally healthy. On one level that’s very sad, but it does give horror a mystique that other genres don’t have, a sense that it’s dangerous and not for the faint of heart or weak of mind. 

Do you think horror is ready for a renaissance? 

I do! Horror is being taken more seriously these days. Movies like Heredity and The Quiet Place are hits with both audiences and critics alike, and television is following suit with quality series like Mike Flanagan’s The Haunting of Hill House on Netflix. Authors such as Paul Tremblay, John Langan, and Marisha Pessl are producing wonderful literary horror, and the dark psychological thrillers of Gillian Flynn and Paula Hawkins are bestsellers. Horror videogames continue to sell well, and YouTube has spawned any number of horror series consisting of short films which are like pieces of a sinister puzzle for viewers to assemble. Horror will always be with us, but these are good days for the genre! 

Tips for new writers of horror fiction. 

1) Horror stories aren’t about monsters or terrible things happening. They’re about how people react to monsters or to terrible things happening. A monster standing by itself in the middle of a field isn’t scary. A monster is only scary when it’s perceived by someone. Write with an immersive point of view and focus on your characters’ experiences – show us the horror through their eyes, show us how it impacts them. 

2) Write the horror only you can write. Avoid clichés and well-worn tropes. Write from your fears, passions, and obsessions, draw inspiration from the weird world around you. Pay attention to strange things you encounter in your day-to-day life. Once I was mowing the lawn, and I found a bloody sock in the grass near the street. I may be the only person in the world who ever found a bloody sock in his yard, so if I used that detail in a story, it couldn’t be anything but original. Keep a list of the weird things you see and when it’s time to write a story, combine several so that the tale you come up with is even more interesting and effective. 

3) Write with vivid details filtered through your character’s point of view. Let us know what your character is seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, touching. Let us know what he or she is thinking or feeling. Let us know how their body reacts to the horrors they encounter. Details like this not only make fiction more vivid, they can ground your horror – no matter how weird it is – in reality, making it all the scarier for the reader. 

Do you believe in evil? 

Not in a cosmic or spiritual sense. Evil, like Good, is a human concept, and we define both in relation to ourselves. What benefits us is good, what doesn’t is evil. I see evil as when individuals intentionally put their needs ahead of others to the point where others are harmed – especially when they purposefully exploit others for their own gain, even if that gain is only pleasure. 

What scares you? 

What truly terrifies me is the idea that my consciousness might continue after death. I’m not an anti-natalist by any means, but one lifetime being myself is more than enough. 

3 most scary words in English language? 

Sorry.

It’s.

Malignant. 

And I say this as a cancer survivor.

Do you celebrate Halloween? 

Halloween is my favourite holiday because it’s the only one dedicated to the imagination. You can dress up as anything you like – it doesn’t have to be something scary – and role-play for an evening. And it celebrates all things dark and wonderful. All that said, I don’t do much for Halloween except decorate the house a bit and pass out candy to trick-or-treaters. I live Halloween all year round, so it doesn’t feel all that special to me, although it’s nice seeing that everyone else has gotten in sync with me, even if only for one day.

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