Tim Waggoner is a diverse dude. Capable of touching down on virtually any dark corner of the genre, Tim’s gained a strong following. But it isn’t just versatility that makes his fiction so damn endearing, it’s the overall talent and refined prose he consistently delivers to fans. He’s an awesome player in this game (and he’s an awesome dude, to boot!), and we’re extremely excited to offer you up a new, exclusive interview with this stud!
John Wisniewski: When did you begin writing horror, Tim?
Tim Waggoner: I first started consciously trying to write horror when I was eighteen. At that time, I played around with genre fiction in general and tried horror, fantasy, science fiction and mystery. I focused on fantasy for several years, but my first love as a reader had always been horror fiction. In some ways, I think was intimidated to seriously focus on horror because it meant so much to me. When I was in my late twenties, I was teaching composition part-time at several colleges, and in one of the college libraries I found a copy of Ramsey Campbell’s collection Alone with the Horrors. As I read through the collection, I started to get a sense of how short horror fiction works, and more imporantly, how I might be able to write my own stories. There was something about Ramsey’s imagistic approach and how his urban landscape mirrored a psychological landscape that spoke to me. I felt something click, and I decided it was time to give horror a serious try.
I had a similar experience years later when I tried to write my first horror novel. Reading Douglas Clegg’s You Come When I Call You and Tom Piccirilli’s A Lower Deep helped me see how I could plot out a novel that contained the darkly surreal elements that I’d been employing in my short fiction for several years.
JW: What was your first published novel?
TW: My first published novel was an erotic comic mystery entitled Dying for It, published by the long-defunct Foggy Windows Books. (Gary Braunbeck wrote a horror novel for Foggy Windows called This Flesh Unknown.) The editor, Russell Davis, and I had collaborated on a short story for an anthology about Xena the Warrior Princess, and he asked me to pitch some ideas to him for Foggy Windows. I was initially reluctant. Erotica wasn’t a genre I’d ever had much interested in writing,. To make things worse, the main charactesr for all Foggy Windows books had to be married, faithful couples. Talk about a challenge! I created husband and wife PI characters who had a problem: they couldn’t keep their hands off each other, and it was starting to get in the way of their investigations. I had fun writing the book, and maybe more fun cashing the check, but I’ve never written any full-fledged erotica since.
JW: Any zombie horror films that you like, Tim?
TW: Tons! I’m a big fan of zombies movies. Romero’s films are the best, but there are a lot of others I enjoy. I like Zach Snyder’s remake of Dawn of the Dead. When it first came out, I thought I would hate fast zombies, but they worked well in that film. 28 Days Later and 28 Weeks Later are both awesome, and The Devil’s Playground is hysterical because is has parkour zombies! The Horde is intense, and I love the scope and vision of The Dead. Night of the Living Dead: Mimesis is interesting. It’s premise is that a group of killers. Fido is one of my favorites — it’s a zombie film, a parallel history story, a comedy, and a social satire. One of the best zombie films ever made.
JW: How do you create suspense in your writing?
TW: The simplest technique is to foreshadow a threat so the reader is aware that a character is in danger then present details that create and further an atmosphere of suspense. These details actually slow the narrative’s pace, but since readers want to find out what’s going to happen, they speed up their reading pace. By making the reader read faster, you end up making their experience of the text even more suspenseful. Giving readers characters they care about is important too. If your readers feel no attachment whatsoever to a character, they won’t care about that character’s fate, and therefore the threat of danger to that character will mean nothing to them.
JW: Why do you like the horror genre?
TW: Horror has captured my imagination ever since I was a child. One of my earliest memories is watching Frankenstein vs the Wolfman on TV when I was three or four, and I devoured every horror movie and comic that I could get my hands on throughout my childhood. So Horror has always held a huge attraction for me. It stimulates my imagination in way that other genres don’t, even science fiction and fantasy. Horror deals with fear, the unknown, what might lie behind what we think is reality, and ultimately death. Coming to terms with all of these are huge aspects of the human experience. Certainly for children, who are essentially powerless and know little of the world, but also for adults who continually have their expectations and beliefs challenged as they age and draw ever nearer to death. Horror is a way of looking at the darkest aspects of the human experience through a buffering lens of the imagination, like viewing an eclipse indirectly. Horror also allows for wonderfully dark metaphors. For instance, vampires can represent parasitic relationships, the threat of disease, the lust for eternal youth, and so on. Horror, at its best, can create stories in which it’s impossible to anticipate what might happen next. Take the movie Psycho, where the woman we think is the main character is killed in the first twenty minutes. Since Horror is ultimately a violation of what we believe to be the norm, there’s no “normal” way to tell a story. This creates wonderful possibilities for plotting stories and for playing with reader expectations. It’s an artistically rich field overall, for both writers and readers.
JW: Are you a fan of H.P. Lovecraft perhaps, Tim?
TW: While I’d read some of Lovecraft’s stories over the years, I didn’t come to fully appreciate his work until the last decade or so. Since then I’ve become a fan, and I enjoy seeing how other writers have been influenced by his work in their own fiction and how they interpret the Mythos when they choose to play in the cosmically bleak sandbox he created. I’m a huge fan of the audio adaptations of Lovecraft’s stories produced by the H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society. They’re full-cast dramatizations done in the style of old-time radio plays. Lovecraft’s mythos is cool, but what I appreciate most about his work is his inventiveness. He created his own tropes — which is what I think the best horror writers do — and a true sense of dread permeates his work, a quality that I think is missing from a lot of modern horror. The existentialism of Lovecraft’s fiction also appeals to me, as that’s something I like to explore in my own fiction. Lovecraft’s racism is something that modern readers often struggle with, and I’m no different in that regard. Some readers try to ignore it or excuse it, while others treat Lovecraft as anathema because of his views. Human beings are flawed, complex creatures, and I believe it’s possible to recognize a person’s flaws without excusing them and still be able to appreciate the work. Racism was the worst of Lovecraft, and his fiction — and his well-known support of other writers — was the best of him. But I also understand why many readers can’t bring themselves to read his work knowing he was racist. Reading is an intimate act. We invite the thoughts of another into our own mind, and that intimacy can become extremely uncomfortable if you know an author holds views that you find distasteful or repugnant.
JW: Any interest in occult writings?
TW: When I was young, I went through a phase where I devoured books on paranormal phenomena — UFO’s Bigfoot, the Loch Ness Monster, etc. Although I had fun wondering if all this cool weird stuff could be real, I think I was really reading those books like fiction written in the style of nonfiction. They stimulated my imagination much the same way that horror did, and the books were filled with stories of “eyewitness” accounts, which I found enthralling. This phase culminated with the reading of John Keel’s The Mothman Prophecies. That book absolutely terrified me, partly because of the enigmatic, surreal stories of Mothman sightings and men in black encounters, but mostly for the book’s final line, a quote from Charles Fort: “If there is a universal mind, must it be sane?” The thought disturbed me on a very deep level, and even though I own a copy of the book, I’ve never re-read it. That quote from Fort still resonates with me today, and much of my horror deals, one way of another, with that theme.
JW: What is the general reactions that you receive from fans about your books, Tim?
TW: In general, reader response to my work has been positive — at least based on reviews and what people tell me. I write a number of different kinds of fiction: surreal horror, urban fantasy (with a good dose of humor), media tie-ins, novels and short stories. I get different reactions from readers depending on what type of my fiction they read. Last night I participated in a group signing, and a gentleman came up to my table to tell me that he’d read and enjoyed by novella Deep Like the River. He said, “It’s a departure for you, isn’t it? It’s horror, but it’s almost literary.” It wasn’t a departure for me at all, but he’d never encountered that kind of story from me before. The people who like my horror say they appreciate the imagery and atmosphere. The readers who enjoy my urban fantasies say they like the characters, the fast-paced action, and the humor. Those who read my tie-in work tell me I do a great job capturing the tone and style of a media property, as well as the personality and dialogue of the main characters. I don’t have a strong sense of how I’m viewed as a writer overall. I suppose I’m like the elephant in the story of the Blind Men and the Elephant. I’m a different writer depending on who’s reading my work and what they’re reading.
Occasionally, I get people who can’t seem to reconcile my darker, more bizarre horror with how they perceive me as a person. Someone once told me that, “You seem too pleasant a person to write this kind of stuff.” I told her, “How do you think I stay so pleasant?” The most extreme reaction I ever had was from a woman in Florida who read my novel Pandora Drive. After finishing it (although why she didn’t stop reading, I’ll never understand) she was horrified and decided that I must be deeply disturbed to write such a story. When she saw in the author bio that I teach college in Dayton, Ohio, she wrote to the Dayton police to ask them to investigate me since I could be a dangerous madman who was teaching defenseless students. The cops spoke with the college administration who assured them I wasn’t a lunatic, and that was the end of that. I felt sorry for the woman — she was generally afraid that I might hurt someone. It fascinates me that some people don’t seem to be able to understand that just because someone’s imagination may work differently than theirs doesn’t mean they’re going to snap one day and go on a killing spree.
Big thanks go out to Tim Waggoner and John Wisniewski who put their heads together to deliver a very insightful interview! You can keep up with Tim’s work by following his website!