Today in the MADHOUSE, I have the pleasure of sitting down to chat with one of my professors from graduate school, Tim Waggoner. I've known Tim since about 2011, back when I had first started in Seton Hill's Writing Popular Fiction Program, and since then, we've traveled near and far together, danced at the Lovecraft Bar in Portland, and shared many, many laughs, not to mention great conversation with each other.
For those of you unfamiliar with Waggoner and his work, he has published over thirty novels and three short story collections, and his work has been nominated for the Shirley Jackson Award, the Bram Stoker Award, and the Scribe Award. He teaches creative writing at Sinclair College in Dayton, Ohio, and previously, was a mentor in Seton Hill University's Writing Popular Fiction Program. Readers can find him on the web at www.timwaggoner.com, and truthfully, I can't recommend his work enough.
Below is a interview regarding his Bram Stoker award-nominated novella, The Winter Box. Pick up a copy here today, and enjoy the flow of conversation below!
With blood-soaked snowflakes,
Stephanie M. Wytovich
WYTOVICH: Tell us about the novella The Winter Box. What inspired you to write it?
WAGGONER: I use the notepad function on my phone to jot down ideas, words, and images that spark my imagination. When I’m starting a writing project, I’ll sometimes go through the list and use one of those ideas as inspiration, but by the time I use it, I often don’t remember where it came from! That’s what happened with The Winter Box. I have no memory of where the phrase came from. But I like it when this happens because it gives my imagination the freedom to conjure up whatever it wants instead of being bound to the original inspiration. I live in Ohio, and we’d had an extremely bitter winter that year, so I decided to use that as a setting, since it fulfilled the winter part. When writing fiction, I usually bring together several different ideas to make a whole. In this case, I’d had the idea of a couple haunted by the ghost of their dead relationship, so I decided to use that. Then I asked myself what the box would be and how it would relate to this couple, and I was off and writiing!
WYTOVICH: Can you talk a little bit about your writing process? What do you find is the hardest and easiest part of the craft?
WAGGONER: I’m often inspired by the weird things I see and hear every day. I like the idea that strange things occur around us all the time, just on the edge of our awareness, and I use that in a lot of my fiction. I talked about how I combine several different ideas to create a story in my answer to the last question. Once I start writing, I like to use an immersive point of view to draw readers into the story. I think that technique works great for any kind of fiction, but it works especially well for horror fiction, which is all about a character’s perception and emotional reaction to bizarre events. In terms of mechanics, sometimes I’ll write longhand and then type the text into my laptop later. I often do this for short stories. Sometimes I’ll compose on the computer (especially when the deadline is short!). I spend a lot of time visualizing scenes in my head, imagining dialogue and character emotions, so when I sit down to compose text, it usually comes fairly fast and doesn’t need a lot of editing. The easiest part of the craft for me is dialogue. I can write characters interacting through dialogue all day, almost effortlessly. The hardest part for me is writing action sequences. They require every move to be visualized in specific detail, and then you have to find the words to communicate those details to readers.
WYTOVICH: As a writer, what is your preferred form to tell a story? Why?
WAGGONER: I prefer the novel form. I tend to have big ideas and I love to explore the ramifications of them and to find connections between different story threads as I write. Novel writing is the only thing that makes me feel as if I’m using my entire self. Writing short stories has always felt awkward to me. It makes my brain cramp! But I’ve worked hard over the years to get better at the form. Writing novellas is challenging because sometimes you need to use short story techniques, sometimes novel techniques, and sometimes fusions of the two. That makes it the most creatively interesting – and challenging – form, I think. Horror tends to work really well at novella length, too.
WYTOVICH: How do you know when something is finished and ready to be sent out for publication consideration?
WAGGONER: When I get sick of working on it or when the deadline hits, whichever comes first! Seriously, though, I’m never sure if something is ever really ready. You can keep making changes to a story forever, but you have to let the work go sometime. As the years have gone by, and I’ve published a lot of fiction, I’ve developed a sense of what editors and readers respond to, and I try to use that as my guide as to when something is ready to go out.
WYTOVICH: Who are some of your influences in the genre?
WAGGONER: I loved horror movies as a kid and watched all the ones I could. This was before VCR’s and movie rentals, so I watched whatever I could find on TV. The first movie I remember watching was Frankenstein vs the Wolf Man with my parents when I was four. I loved horror comics, too, and read all the ones I could get my hands on. Some of them were quite bloody, and I’m grateful that my parents didn’t censor what I read! I loved Famous Monsters of Filmland, too, and devoured every issue. I discovered Stephen King in seventh grade when a friend told me about this horror book about vampires that he was reading, and I knew I had to check it out. By that point I’d read Richard Matheson’s I am Legend and Anne Rice’s Interview with the Vampire, so I was more than ready to start reading King. I continued reading King, but I also read science fiction and fantasy – anything that stimulated my imagination. I got into comics, too, and one of the things I really like about the form was that it combined tropes from different genres. One month Spiderman might battle mobsters, the next month aliens, and vampires the month after that. This cross-genre approach eventually found its way into my fiction. Other specific influences in the horror field are Clive Barker, Shirley Jackson, Dennis Etchison, Caitlin R. Kiernan, Ramsey Campbell, Charlee Jacob, Charles L. Grant, Harlan Ellison, and so many others . . .
WYTOVICH: What is your origin story? What drew you to horror in the first place?
WAGGONER: Honestly, I have no idea. I’ve always loved horror. I guess it started with learning about dinosaurs when I was very young. I was fascinated with the idea that these giant monsters were real and that they lived in the same place I did, only many millions of years ago – and the only way we could see them today was as skeletons. They were – are still are – perfect monsters to capture the imagination. I loved them so much that I memorized the shape of their names so I could recognize them in books even though I couldn’t read yet. One of my earliest dreams I remember was of a flying saucer landing on our street and releasing a number of dinosaurs. I guess I was combining genres even back then!
WYTOVICH: What’s sitting in your TBR pile these days?
WAGGONER: My TBR pile is more like a mountain! But a few selections: Steve Rasnic Tem’s Ubo, Jennifer McMahon’s The Winter People, Stephen King’s Desperation, Sarah Pinborough’s Behind Her Eyes, and Alison Littlewood’s Quieter Paths.
WYTOVICH: Where do you think the horror genre is presently sitting at in the market? What do you think the next big trend is going to be?
WAGGONER: Horror is strong in the small-press, and it has an increasing presence in literary and mainstream fiction. So many of the genre’s tropes have found their way into popular culture that horror’s almost in danger of becoming respectable! I think the next big trend is going to come from young people who grew up obsessed with games like Five Nights at Freddy’s or watching bizarre YouTube series like Don’t Hug Me I’m Scared. These works deal with paranoid glimpses into what lies just behind the veneer of what seems to be ordinary, even mundane reality. We might see hybrid forms, too, with some elements of a story appearing as text, some as video, some as interactive media, etc.
WYTOVICH: What can your readers look forward to on the horizon?
WAGGONER: My new novella A Kiss of Thorns was recently released, and The Men of Letters Bestiary: the Winchester Family Edition, will be out in September. I’ll be doing a new novelization that will be out in fall as well, but I can’t talk about it yet.
WYTOVICH: If you could give one piece of advice to writers, what would it be?
WAGGONER: Write what matters to you, and make sure there’s a piece of yourself in every word you write.