Sunday, February 10, 2019

Literary Citizenship

At Book Expo America 2018 with members of my literary community: Hunter Shea, Jonathan Janz, Don D'Auria, and John Everson

February is Women in Horror Month, a time dedicated to recognizing and promoting women in the horror field. In both publishing and film, women creatives of horror have often been seen as producing less intense work than their male counterparts because of their softer feminine emotions. And that’s if women horror creatives are even recognized at all. All too often they’re invisible in the industry. If you want to learn more about Women in Horror Month, here are a couple links:

Every year on social media, some idiot male posts a variation on this comment regarding WIHM: “When is it going to be MEN in Horror Month?”

(The answer is “Every fucking month is Men in Horror Month, jackass.”)

And sure enough, this happened on my Facebook feed the other day, and I’ve since seen other men complaining about WIHM (the poor fragile things). These men weren’t being good literary citizens, and while there’s no requirement that writers have to not be assholes, there are many good – and even selfish – reasons to be the best literary citizen you can be.

So what is literary citizenship? It means thinking of yourself as a member of a literary community as opposed to a lone writer who’s in a Battle Royale-type competition with every other writer out there. Writing and publishing guru Jane Friedman explains it thusly:

“For those unaware of the term, it’s widely used in the literary, bookish community to refer to activities that support and further reading, writing, and publishing, and the growth of your professional network. . . . It operates with an abundance mindset. It’s not about competition, but collaboration. If I’m doing well, that’s going to help you, too, in the long term. We’re not playing a zero-sum game where we hoard resources and attention. There’s plenty to go around.”

Here’s a link to Freidman’s full blog on the subject:

(And if you don’t regularly read her blog, receive her newsletter, or read her books about publishing, you need to fix that. She’s an expert in up-to-the-minute information on changes in the writing and publishing world.)

What’s great about the literary citizenship model is that it works whether you’re a person who believes in helping others or if you’re a self-centered, heartless bastard out only for yourself. The phrase “a rising tide lifts all boats” applies here. And I believe this is even more true in these days of constant social media interaction, where we have countless ways to connect to – or alienate – an audience on a daily basis. Regardless of whether or not you’re an asshole, practicing good literary citizenship makes you seem like you aren’t one. It’s an essential professional survival skill in a world where so many thousands of books are traditionally or indie published each year, and it gets harder and harder for any one book (or author) to snag readers’ attention. It would be nice if all we had to do was sell our product, but we need to sell ourselves, too. That’s the social aspect of social media. It’s just as important to consumers who they are buying from as what they’re buying. Maybe more.
So here are some tips to becoming a better literary citizen:

1) Accept that you’re part of a literary community – and figure out which one it is.
Of course, you don’t have to be part of anything if you don’t want to be. Bentley Little’s first novel was published in 1990, and he’s been publishing books regularly ever since. He’s famous for being something of a recluse. He has no online presence of any sort, and he doesn’t attend conventions. Has this hurt his career? Damned if I know. My guess is he’d have more fans and more sales if he didn’t keep to himself so much, but his career is his, and if he’s happy with it, then good for him.
Being part of a literary community is a way to more effectively network. Networking is more than just being known by writers, editors, agents, and publishers. It’s not about what others can do for you. It’s what members of a community can do for each other. To put it in starkly transactional terms, helping others is how you pay for the help you receive from them. Networking is how you learn about publishing opportunities, sure, but it’s also helps you mentally and emotionally survive the all-too-often crushing up and downs of an artistic life. I’d argue that this last part is the biggest and most important benefit of literary citizenship.

And while it’s easy to identify the basic literary community where you’d best fit – science fiction, fantasy, mystery, horror, romance, literary, children’s, YA – there are subgroups. Horror can be separated into literary, weird, extreme, realistic, supernatural, bizarre, and more. There’s a lot of overlap between the subgroups but discovering to which subgroup you belong can help you more effectively target an audience who’ll enjoy your work and build a network of like-minded writers. It also helps you better target your social media posts and commentary.

You can belong to more than one community. I identify as a horror writer, a media tie-in writer, a fantasy writer, a short story writer, a novelist, a writing teacher, and someone who writers about writing. In horror, I identify as a writer of weird, pulp, literary, and extreme fiction. Would it be more effective in terms of the business side of writing if I focused on one subgenre? Maybe. But I love exploring different types of horror, and that’s not something I plan to change anytime soon.

2) Be a contributing member of your community.
Given the caveat that none of us can spend all our time posting online or mentoring others (we have to get our own writing done sometime), do what you can to contribute to your community. Join a writers’ organization, post on their Facebook page from time to time, contribute occasional material for their newsletter or blog. Engage other writers and readers on social media and talk about topics that are of interest to the community – without constantly promoting yourself and your work. Interact with the people of your community as a human being. Engage in conversations that aren’t about writing and publishing. Support other members of the community when they’re going through a hard time. Celebrate their accomplishments and cheer their victories.

3) Start conversations instead of making statements.
Instead of making empty, thoughtless pronouncements on social media – “I just saw Hereditary, and my dudes, that ending SUCKED!!!” – try to start quality conversations. “I just saw Hereditary, and while I enjoyed the film for the most part, I’m not sure about the ending. What do you all think?” (For the record, I loved the ending.) People want to talk, not be talked at. In many ways, all Art is a conversation between creators and audience (and that audience includes other creators). Learn to listen as much – if not more – than you speak.

3) Promote others (and by doing so promote yourself).
Promoting the work of others benefits you in a number of ways. It makes you seem like a positive force in your community, you add to the conversation about art that I mentioned above, people like reading recommendations for books and films that they should check out, you build good will among members of your community, and you don’t seem like a 24/7 self-promotion machine. Honestly, no one gives a shit about your self-promotion, and if that’s all the social media content you have to provide, no one will pay attention to what you have to say. Promote others a good portion of the time, and people will be more open to occasional sales messages from you.

4) Share resources, insights, and advice.
People want to know what you can do for them. Share links to submission calls, share your experiences with writing and publishing – what’s worked for you and what hasn’t – and provide advice on writing and publishing (without coming across as a know-it-all). Not only will this build your audience, other writers will share their tips with you. Give your readers a behind-the-scenes perspective into your own work as well. Talk about where you got the idea for your latest story, what your inspiration for a fan-favorite character was, etc.

5) Try to be positive.
While there will always be a certain number of people who love it when writers shit-post, hate-watch (or hate-read), stoke controversies, engage in literary feuds, or just plain bitch about whatever’s irritating them at any given moment, these behaviors drive away more people than they attract. And while there’s no way to prove whether the people who thrive on negativity will respond to your sales messages, my guess is they won’t. Supporting a writer is a positive thing, and people who thrive on negativity online aren’t there to be positive. They’re deeply cynical (or at least come across that way), and cynical people are most likely to resist a sales message simply to prove how cool they are. (And I admit I may well be grossly oversimplifying and stereotyping here. I’m just sharing my impressions for whatever they may – or may not – be worth.)

Being positive doesn’t mean you have to agree with everyone or everything in your community, of course, but you can do your best to disagree civilly, without indulging in personal attacks. And if you think you can’t, you can also just keep your mouth shut. You’re not required to comment on every damn thing that comes across your social media feed.

6) Don’t be afraid to call out bad behavior.
See a publishing scam? Warn other writers. See a writer harassing someone? Tell them to cut it the hell out. See someone posting racist, sexist, homophobic horseshit? Call them out. You can try to engage these people in the hope of helping them understand why what they’re doing is destructive, but it’s not your job in life to educate assholes. If you choose to engage, you can choose to disengage when interacting takes too much of your time and mental and emotional energy. Part of what a community does is build consensus on what it means to be an effective, contributing member of that community. These standards are fluid and can change over time, and this is a normal, natural process. But this consensus-building can be destructive when it becomes a mob mentality, an excuse merely to exclude or castigate others, or tribal Us vs Them behavior. Try not to be too quick to judge. Someone exhibiting bad behavior might be uniformed, ignorant, young (in terms of being a member of the community if not in actual age) or they might have been told that being “edgy” is the best way to get attention in an over-crowded marketplace. But while community-building is about making connections and offering support, yes, this doesn’t mean you have to put up with any shit you don’t want to. Trying to be understanding doesn’t mean giving everyone a free pass to be an asshole. You decide where the line is drawn and act accordingly.

7) Volunteer/Do pro bono work/Mentor.
It’s important for us to serve our community, and while we can’t spend all our time doing so (remember that writing thing we need to get done?), there are all kinds of ways to serve, not all of which require massive effort or investment of time. Volunteer to help out in a writers’ organization or at a con. Contribute an article to a writers’ organizations newsletter or website. Serve as a mentor to other writers, whether you simply answer questions they ask about matters of craft and publishing, provide feedback on their work, offer to blurb their work, or introduce them to members in your professional network. Do as much as you have time and energy for, and as much as you feel comfortable doing. Don’t make the mistake of allowing volunteering to become your life. Your writing and your career come first. The more successful you are, the more knowledge and experience you gain, the more you have to offer others.

8) Be kind.
When in doubt about saying or doing something in your literary community, ask yourself a simple question: Is this kind? Does it make a positive contribution? This doesn’t mean always being nice. If you block a racist on Facebook, they can no longer post on your threads, which prevents other people from having to read their racist comments, which ultimately is being kind to those people. If someone asks you to read a story of theirs and it has a lot of problems, you need to be honest in your feedback. It might not be pleasant for the writer to hear about those problems, but it’s ultimately kind. At the very least, try to think like a doctor: First, do no harm.

9) What about politics, religion, etc.?
You have to do you, and if you’re passionate about ideals and causes, and you want to use your platform to champion them, go for it. You may gain a following of like-minded people, but you may drive away people who don’t agree 100 percent with you. Not only might this decease your overall audience – and sales – but it might further foster divisions within your literary community. In the end, you’re only going to be talking into an echo chamber anyway. You’ll be preaching to the choir. There will be no one of differing points of view listening, so there will be no minds to change. I’m not conservative or religious, but I don’t unfollow people on Facebook who are. I do, however, unfollow people who are cruel to those who don’t share their points of view. For example, the author Larry Correia is a well-known conservative who, by all accounts, is a lovely man in person but who is savage on social media to people who aren’t conservative. I used to follow him on Facebook, but I got sick of his constant tirades and belittling of non-conservatives – including personal attacks against people – and I stopped following him. I also have no intention of supporting his work or his career. (He has such a gigantic following that I doubt he’d lose a second of sleep over this.) Am I hurting myself professionally by cutting out a potentially useful contact from my network? Maybe, but I don’t give a damn. I can’t stand vitriol and personal attacks, and that’s that.

I tend not to be an aggressively political person anyway, so I don’t post many political messages on social media. There was a time when I tried to post messages in support of women writers and writers of color, but several people sent me private messages saying that while they appreciated the effort, I was merely talking into an echo chamber. Besides, talk is cheap. You want to help us? Then help actual people. Introduce them to editors. Blurb their work. Mentor them. I’m grateful for those people reminding me that activism is about taking actual, substantive action, not about simply posting ultimately empty messages on Facebook. They helped make me a better citizen of my literary community.

Being an effective literary citizen takes time, thought, and effort, but the payoff can be huge. Not only will you be helping your own career, but you’ll be helping the careers of others and having on impact on the overall health and growth of your genre. To me, this is at least as important a legacy as the number of works I publish before I die, and in the end more meaningful.

In the spirit of this blog’s topic, I’m going to promote work from people other than myself, AND since it’s Women in Horror Month, I’m going to feature work from my sisters in darkness. They are all wonderful writers, and I urge you to check out their work.

Alma Katsu’s The Hunger was one of the best novels I read last year. Highly recommended!
Evil is invisible, and it is everywhere.

That is the only way to explain the series of misfortunes that have plagued the wagon train known as the Donner Party. Depleted rations, bitter quarrels, and the mysterious death of a little boy have driven the isolated travelers to the brink of madness. Though they dream of what awaits them in the West, long-buried secrets begin to emerge, and dissent among them escalates to the point of murder and chaos. They cannot seem to escape tragedy...or the feelings that someone--or something--is stalking them. Whether it's a curse from the beautiful Tamsen Donner (who some think might be a witch), their ill-advised choice of route through uncharted terrain, or just plain bad luck, the ninety men, women, and children of the Donner Party are heading into one of one of the deadliest and most disastrous Western adventures in American history.

As members of the group begin to disappear, the survivors start to wonder if there really is something disturbing, and hungry, waiting for them in the mountains...and whether the evil that has unfolded around them may have in fact been growing within them all along.

Effortlessly combining the supernatural and the historical, The Hunger is an eerie, thrilling look at the volatility of human nature, pushed to its breaking point.

I just picked up Melanie Tem’s gigantic collection Singularity and Other Stories. Tem’s an amazing writer, and you need this collection in your life!

Singularity gathers award-winning writer Melanie Tem’s most important short fiction, highlighting her diversity and mastery of her art.

The sixty stories collected here range from "Sitting with the Driver," a western with a dark woman at its center, to "Little Shit," a contemporary tale of a woman who uses her deceptive appearance and psychic power to trap those who prey on the helpless. The child in "Corn teeth" longs not only to become a part of an alien family, but also to become an alien. And in the title tale, a man studies singularities and strin theory to both understand and blind himself to the truth about the woman he loves. Although the story is not science fiction, its exploration of physics is as rigorous as that found in the best sf. Here you will find no triumphant warriors, no powerful and beautiful protagonists, no monsters from beyond the dark cold void or madmen bent on conquest.

Tem's characters are mothers and siblings, orphans and lonely seniors. Her stories are often about family, and always about relationships. Even though Kelly is the only character in "Iced in," the bitter truth that lies at the story's heart is that she is doomed by her failure to maintain relationships. Melanie Tem's stories are often haunted by ghosts and monsters, ghosts and monsters revealed as all too human. In Singularity, she explores the love and terror that lie deep within all of us.

Lucy A. Snyder has an excellent new collection out called Garden of Eldritch Delights.

Master short story author Lucy A. Snyder is back with a dozen chilling, thought-provoking tales of Lovecraftian horror, dark science fiction, and weird fantasy. Her previous two collections received Bram Stoker Awards and this one offers the same high-caliber, trope-twisting prose. Snyder effortlessly creates memorable monsters, richly imagined worlds and diverse, unforgettable characters.

Open this book and you’ll find a garden of stories as dark and heady as black roses that will delight fans of complex, intelligent speculative fiction.

Lee Murray’s latest novel, Into the Ashes, is a fantastic dark fantasy/adventure tale. Coming soon from Severed Press.

No longer content to rumble in anger, the great mountain warriors of New Zealand’s central plateau, the Kāhui Tupua, are preparing again for battle. At least, that’s how the Māori elders tell it. The nation’s leaders scoff at the danger. That is; until the ground opens and all hell breaks loose. The armed forces are hastily deployed; NZDF Sergeant Taine McKenna and his section are tasked with evacuating civilians and tourists from Tongariro National Park. It is too little, too late. With earthquakes coming thick and fast and the mountains spewing rock and ash, McKenna and his men are cut off. Their only hope of rescuing the stranded civilians is to find another route out, but a busload of prison evacuees has other ideas. And, deep beneath the earth’s crust, other forces are stirring.

Gaby Triana recently released City of Spells, the latest in her popular Haunted Florida series.

When a mysterious old gentleman enters Queylin Sanchez's trendy new age shop, she hopes he'll buy incense, sage, maybe a nice rose quartz pendulum for his wife. Instead, the man enlists her help getting rid of La Dama de Blanco, a ghostly woman in bloody white dress who's been haunting his 100-year-old Palmetto Bay estate.

But Queylin's rituals and spells uncover terrifying secrets hidden in the walls of the estate when she realizes La Dama de Blanco is only the beginning of the haunted home's evil legacy.

Tori Eldridge’s kick-ass novel The Ninja Daughter in available for preorder.

The Ninja Daughter is an action-packed thriller about a Chinese-Norwegian modern-day ninja with a Joy Luck Club family issues who fights the Los Angeles Ukrainian mob, sex traffickers, and her own family to save two desperate women and an innocent child from a violent land-grab scheme.

After her sister is raped and murdered, Lily Wong dedicates her life and ninja skills to the protection of women. But her mission is complicated. Not only does she live above the Chinese restaurant owned by her Norwegian father and inspired by the recipes of her Chinese mother, but she has to hide her true self from her Hong Kong tiger mom is already disappointed at her less than feminine ways, and who would be horrified if she knew what she had become.

But when a woman and her son she escorted safely to an abused women’s shelter return home and are kidnapped, Lily is forced to not only confront her family and her past, but team up with a mysterious―and very lethal―stranger to rescue them.

J.H. Moncrieff’s creature-feature novel Return to Dylatov Pass is recently out from Severed Press.

In 1959, nine Russian students set off on a skiing expedition in the Ural Mountains. Their mutilated bodies were discovered weeks later. Their bizarre and unexplained deaths are one of the most enduring true mysteries of our time.

Nearly sixty years later, podcast host Nat McPherson ventures into the same mountains with her team, determined to finally solve the mystery of the Dyatlov Pass incident. Her plans are thwarted on the first night, when two trackers from her group are brutally slaughtered.

The team’s guide, a superstitious man from a neighboring village, blames the killings on yetis, but no one believes him. As members of Nat’s team die one by one, she must figure out if there’s a murderer in their midst—or something even worse—before history repeats itself and her group becomes another casualty of the infamous Dead Mountain.

P.D. Cacek’s novel Second Lives is available for preorder from Flame Tree Press.

When four patients unexpectedly wake after being declared dead, their families are ecstatic and the word “miracle” begins to be whispered throughout the hospital. But the jubilation is short lived when the patients don’t respond to their names and insist they are different people. It is suggested all four are suffering from fugue states until one of the doctors recognizes a name and verifies that he not only knew the girl but was there when she died in 1992. It soon becomes obvious that the bodies of the four patients are now inhabited by the souls of people long dead.

Autumn Christian’s new novel Girl Like a Bomb is available for preorder from Clash Books.

Autumn Christian's third novel is a dark journey of self-discovery. An existential labyrinth of love, sex, and self-actualization where the only way out is through.

When high schooler Beverly Sykes finally has sex, her whole life changes. She feels an explosion inside of her that feels like her DNA is being rearranged, and she discovers a strange power within. After chasing that transcendent feeling and fucking her way through the good, the bad, and the dangerous boys and girls that cross her path, Beverly notices that all of her ex-lovers are undergoing drastic changes. She witnesses them transcending their former flawed selves, becoming self-actualized and strong. Beverly gives herself over and over to others, but can she become who she is supposed to be, with the gift and curse that nature gave to her?

Want to subscribe to my newsletter?
Get updates on my work, exclusive content, and writing tips! Sign up here:

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Sun's Getting Low

I’m currently in Virginia, visiting a childhood friend of my wife’s. The woman’s husband died unexpectedly in September, leaving her with three young children, and we’ve come to do what we can to help her get through the holidays. My wife and her friend are about the same age, and they both married divorced men a decade-and-a-half older than they are. And the friend’s husband and I share the same birthday, just one year apart. My two daughters are adults, and my current wife and I have no children together, so the parallels end there. I can’t imagine what my wife’s friend is going through, and I know that while she appreciates us being here, we can’t really do anything to relieve her pain or shorten grieving. So given the situation, you can understand why mortality is on my mind.

I read on Facebook recently of the death of author Paul Dale Anderson. He was in his seventies and suffering from advanced cancer, so his death wasn’t entirely unexpected, but as I read the various tributes to him that people had posted, I began thinking about what it means to have a literary career – and what, if anything, becomes of that career after we die.

If you’re not familiar with Paul or his work, you can check out his website here:

I saw Paul at a couple conventions over the years, maybe was on a panel or two with him. I can’t remember. I know we didn’t spend much, if any, time in private conversation, so I can’t claim that he was an acquaintance, let alone a friend. I first became aware of Paul through an article he wrote for Mystery Scene magazine in 1989 or thereabout. In those pre-internet days there were no author websites or social media accounts to follow, so if you were an aspiring writer like me, you had to read essays by and interviews with authors in print media. Mystery Scene, as you might guess from the title, covered the mystery field (and still does to this day), but back then it also covered the horror genre, although to a lesser extent. Paul’s article dealt with how he found his authorial voice. He’d published a supernatural horror novel under a pseudonym – I can’t recall the book’s title – but he’d recently taken a turn toward writing about human monsters, novels that were as much psychological thrillers as horror. The first book in this new direction was Claw Hammer, and it would eventually become the first volume in his Instruments of Death series.

After finishing the article, I decided to check out Paul’s work, so I bought Claw Hammer and its follow-up, Daddy’s Home. I started to read Claw Hammer, but I couldn’t get into it, so I put it aside, figuring that I’d give it another try someday. I didn’t even start Daddy’s Home. I never got around to reading either book, and eventually they went off to a used bookstore during one of my I-have-too-many-goddamned-books-in-my-house purges. I didn’t hear anything about Paul for years. It wasn’t until we were at a con together that I learned he was still writing and publishing with the small press. I was glad to discover he was still in the game, but I was a bit sad the new direction he’d taken with Claw Hammer hadn’t resulted in a bigger career for him. When I learned of his death, I bought the ebook version of the re-release of Claw Hammer from Crossroad Press and started reading it. So far, it’s a decent piece of entertainment, and I’m enjoying it.

There’s a large used bookstore in the town where I’m currently staying, and last week I decided to check it out. They have a huge horror section, but they didn’t have any of Paul’s books. They did have a few of mine, and I of course dutifully signed them. Perusing the books, I was struck by how many of their authors I’d gotten to know in real life over the years, and how many of them had died since I began writing in the early eighties. And then it occurred to me that the shelves were a graveyard for dead fiction, with the books themselves serving as their stories’ headstones.

Occasionally in interviews, I’m asked how I see my legacy as a writer. Sometimes I say I hope that I’ll have contributed to the genre I love in some small way. If I’m in a snarky mood, I say I don’t expect to have a legacy. Once I’m gone, I don’t expect anyone to remember me or my work. Both answers are true. Any artist would love for his or her work to outlive them, for people to continue enjoying it long after they’re gone, for it to maybe change the art form itself. But the used bookstore tells a different story. So many of those books have been forgotten – if they ever made any impact at all – and they’ll remain on the shelves, unbought, until eventually they fall away to dust. And yes, I know digital versions of books can theoretically exist forever, but that doesn’t mean anyone will actually read the damn things. The files may be archived somewhere and never accessed again.

So for the vast majority of writers, the best we can hope for is that a few people will read and enjoy our work when it comes out, and we might get a few dollars to pay a couple bills as well. Our work is as temporary as that of an ice sculptor. When you’re younger, it’s easier to ignore the impermanence of things. Young writers are focused on honing their craft, finding their voice, reaching an audience, on making it. But when you’ve been writing and publishing for almost forty years – as I have – you are quite aware that time is passing at hyperspeed, and there aren’t as many years ahead of you as there are behind. You’ve probably settled into a career, the same way you’ve settled into the rest of your life, and you know it’s far too late to be a wunderkind, that you’ve likely had whatever impact you’re going to have on the field, that you’re not going to be getting larger advances, and you damn sure won’t become a bestseller. Not only is it too late to become an overnight sensation, it’s too late to become a sensation of any kind. If you think too much about these kinds of things, it can make it damn difficult to start a new project. After all, you already know the end result of writing a book: a moldering collection of yellowed pages resting on a used bookstore shelf somewhere, forgotten. Not exactly a motivating image, huh?

I used to wonder why so many writers stopped producing work as they grew older. I thought maybe they’d simply lost the energy and drive – the hunger – of youth. Or maybe they’d decided to make more time in their lives for family, friends, and other interests. All of this might be true, but I also suspect that many writers realize that they’ve taken their writing as far as they can, and once they know this (or at least think they do) it becomes hard to keep going. What’s the point of attempting to continue a journey when you know no matter what you do or how hard you try, you’re unable to take another step forward, and may, in fact, start taking steps backward?

Pretty fucking depressing, right?

But as much as I’m tempted to quit writing some days, I’m a stubborn sonofabitch (it’s a Waggoner family trait), so what can I – or you – do when the mid-to-late career blues start getting you down?

1. Get (or stay) involved. Share what you know. Volunteer.

Paul Dale Anderson didn’t just write. He was an active member of HWA, SFWA, the Authors Guild, the International Thriller Writers Association, and Mystery Writers of America at different points in his career. He taught creative writing at the University of Illinois and for Writers Digest School. He also attended conventions and served on panels. And from the Facebook tributes I’ve seen, Paul mentored younger writers as well. Not everyone is a joiner, of course, but as with many things in life, it feels good to be part of something larger than yourself. It helps create meaning in our lives, and meaning is what keeps us going.

I have a full-time teaching gig at a community college. When I retire (ten years from now, but who’s counting?) I’ll find other ways to work with writers. Maybe I’ll volunteer as a writing tutor or start teaching my own fiction-writing classes online. Maybe I’ll become more active in the writers’ organizations I belong to. I already mentor writers through HWA’s mentorship program as well as informally. I plan to keep this up and hopefully expand those efforts. You don’t have to do a ton of things, and you don’t have to wait until retirement to get started. Just get involved somehow.

2. Try something new. Challenge yourself.

I majored in theater education for my undergrad degree. I wrote a couple plays back then, but I hadn’t written any since. The last several years I’ve felt an itch to write a play again, and I finished a short one-act horror play called The Chaos Room a few weeks ago. I’m not sure what to do with it yet, but hopefully I’ll figure out something. But even if The Chaos Room is never staged, the challenge of writing it – the fun – recharged my creative batteries. Write a poem, an essay, an article, a song. Write for kids, write erotica, write comedy, write whatever. Try experimenting with different narrative techniques. Collaborate with someone.

3. Make a BIG change.

If you’re a fiction writer, try focusing on nonfiction for a while. If you write horror, try writing a thriller, a romance, a mystery, or tackling that dream project you haven’t gotten around to yet. Maybe you’ll end up with a whole new career. John Jakes and Dean Koontz wrote SF before going on to write historical fiction and hybrid horror/suspense respectively. Thomas F. Monteleone also wrote SF before moving on to horror/dark fantasy. Lawrence Block started out writing soft-core porn and lurid pulp crime novels before creating the various mystery series he’s famous for. It’s okay to change lanes when you’re an artist. Reinventing ourselves from time to time can keep us creatively young, if not literally so.

In the end, the doing of our art, the now of it, has to be enough, and the connections we make with others through our art – with audiences, peers, students and mentees – have to be enough. What we learn, how we grow by making our art and walking in the world as artists has to be enough. Because those are the things that we have control over. The only ones that are (more or less) guaranteed to be achievable. And if you want to get more abstract, know that by writing and sharing your work, you’re participating, even if only in a small way, in the great conversation that is Art. Know that your actions in the writing community – however you define that community – can create ripples that spread out into the world, affecting many others. And your words will create echoes, which in turn will inspire more voices to speak. In this way our words can, in a sense, be eternal.

Author Lawrence C. Connelly once told me that the world will decide how we’ll be remembered. We all create a legacy, whether we know it or not, but that legacy is not ours to control, at least not entirely. So focus on today’s writing, plan for tomorrow’s, and let Time and the World sort out the rest.


Coming Soon

I’ve got a couple books up for pre-order.

My next horror novel for Flame Tree Press, They Kill, is due out in July.

What are you willing to do, what are you willing to become, to save someone you love? Sierra Sowell’s dead brother Jeffrey is resurrected by a mysterious man known only as Corliss. Corliss also transforms four people in Sierra’s life into inhuman monsters determined to kill her. Sierra and Jeffrey’s boyfriend Marc work to discover the reason for her brother’s return to life while struggling to survive attacks by this monstrous quartet. Corliss gives Sierra a chance to make Jeffrey’s resurrection permanent – if she makes a dreadful bargain. Can she do what it will take to save her brother, no matter how much blood is shed along the way?

My latest tie-in novel, Supernatural: Children of Anubis, is due out in April.

Sam and Dean travel to Indiana, to investigate a murder that could be the work of a werewolf. But they soon discover that werewolves aren't the only things going bump in the night. The town is also home to a pack of jakkals who worship the god Anubis: carrion-eating scavengers who hate werewolves. With the help of Garth, the Winchester brothers must stop the werewolf-jakkal turf war before it engulfs the town - and before the god Anubis is awakened...

I’ll also have a new creature-feature novel called Blood Island coming from Severed Press in 2019, but I don’t have an official release date yet. In the meantime, here’s a synopsis:

The Mass, an island-sized creature formed entirely of mutated blood cells, has drifted across the world’s oceans for millions of years. It uses sharks – the most efficient predators the planet has ever produced – as extensions of itself to gather food. For the most part, the Mass and its Hunters have avoided contact with the human race, but now it’s entered the waters off Bridgewater, Texas, where a film crew is busy shooting a low-budget horror film called Devourer of the Deep. The Mass is about to discover something called human imagination, and the humans are about to learn that battling a monster in real life is a little harder than fighting one on screen.

Here's a link to my author page over at Severed Press in case you want to keep an eye out for Blood Island – or buy my previous Severed Press novel The Teeth of the Sea. Blood Island isn’t a sequel to The Teeth of the Sea, but they take place in the same world and there’s a bit of overlap:

Short Stuff

I have several short stories and an article that have appeared in anthologies lately.

“In the End There is a Drain” appears in Tails of Terror: Stories of Cat Horror from Golden Goblin Press:!/Tails-of-Terror-Digital-Format/p/116311665/category=14026709

“Voices Like Barbed Wire” appears in Tales From the Lake Vol. 5 from Crystal Lake Publishing:

“The Deep Delight of Blood” appears in Fantastic Tales of Terror: History’s Darkest Secrets also from Crystal Lake:

My article “The Horror Writer’s Ultimate Toolbox” appears in It’s Alive: Bringing Your Nightmares to Life again from Crystal Lake. (Those guys love me!):

If you haven’t signed up for my newsletter yet, you can do so here:

Until next time, keep writing!

Saturday, September 22, 2018

You Never Forget Your First

 This March will mark the twenty-fifth anniversary of my first professional fiction sale. My story “Mr. Punch” appeared in the anthology Young Blood, edited by Mike Baker, and published by Zebra Books in 1994. Before that, I’d placed a half dozen stories in small-press magazines, but this sale was the biggie, the one that by the standards of both the Horror Writers Association and the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America counted as my first pro sale. I’ve published over 40 novels and 150 stories since then – with more to come, the dark lords willing – but whenever I’m asked in an interview which of the stories I’ve written is my favorite, I always say “Mr. Punch,” and while there are many reasons why that tale is so near and dear to my shriveled black heart, the fact that it was my first pro sale is a big one.

I was twenty-nine when I wrote “Mr. Punch.” I’d first started writing seriously with an aim toward professional publication when I was eighteen, and the fact that ten years passed before I wrote “Mr. Punch” should tell you something about a writer’s learning curve (or at least mine). I’d written a ton of stories and maybe a half dozen novels, and only a few of the stories had seen print at that point, and those in small-press markets. During this time, I didn’t write horror exclusively. I wrote fantasy primarily, and humorous fantasy at that. I wanted to be the next Piers Anthony, author of the long-running Xanth series. But horror was my first love – I’d been a horror fan since I was a child – and I explored the genre in my short fiction now and then. I’d begun to think that maybe I should focus on my horror more, but it wasn’t until I read Ramsey Campbell’s excellent collection Alone With the Horrors that I felt I was beginning to get an understanding of how to write a really good horror story.

I’d been trying to develop a style of fiction that was mine and no one else’s – trying to find my voice, in other words – for several years by that point. Now I was ready to let go and follow my artistic instincts wherever they might lead me. My future ex-wife and I had recently gone to a small renaissance fair held on the Ohio State University campus, and we’d watched a Punch and Judy show, the first one I’d ever seen in real life. An idea popped into my head: what if there was a serial killer who thought he was Punch? I liked the idea, so I did some research into the history of Punch and Judy shows and read various scripts for them. One of the versions of Punch and Judy ended with the Devil coming for Punch, but Punch kills the Devil and then says, “Now we can all do what we please!” I was fascinated with the idea of Punch being pursued by the Devil, and so I began writing.

The writing went well at first. Better than well – it was the best I’d ever done. I could feel it. And that’s when I choked. I became afraid that I wouldn’t be able to pull off this story, that if I kept writing, I’d ruin it. So I stopped about three quarters of the way through. I didn’t stop for long, though. I told myself to suck it up and get back in there and finish the goddamned story. (Quick aside: I’ve since discovered that other writers have had the same experience when they wrote their first professionally published stories. It makes me wonder how common this experience is for writers, and how many of them never find the courage to return to their stories.)  

I was in a writers’ group at the time with professional writers Dennis L. McKiernan and Lois McMaster Bujold, and I also regularly exchanged stories for critique with a friend from college. I mailed a copy of my story to my friend (email wasn’t a standard thing in those days), and I read my story to my critique group. Lois had moved to Minneapolis by then, but Dennis was still there, as well as a number of would-be writers, of whom I was one. The story ended with a strangely surreal twist that felt right when I originally wrote it, but which I’d since come to doubt. When I finished reading the story, I immediately said, “Okay, what’s wrong with it?” And everyone said, “The ending.” They weren’t sure what to make of it and suggested I try rewriting. I went home and did just that, writing a new, more realistic ending that sucked bigtime. I knew how bad it was, so I said to hell with it. I was going to trust my instincts and go with my original ending, even if no one else understood it. Hell, I didn’t understand it. I just knew it was right.

I’d read a submission call – probably on the old computer network GEnie, an early precursor to social media sites like Facebook, but I don’t remember for sure – for a horror anthology called Young Blood. The premise of the anthology was that all the stories in it had to have been written by the authors before their thirtieth birthday. The name authors who would appear in the book – Poe, Howard, Block, Campbell and King – had been under thirty when they’d written their tales, but the rest of the anthology would feature new young writers. I’d figured this was a great market to try. I was under thirty, and the age limit would cut down on the competition, right? I’d already written and submitted a piece of shit called “Yggradsil,” about a murderous tree, which the editor Mike Baker had rightly rejected. I decided to try “Mr. Punch” on the editor, printed out a fresh copy, popped it in an envelope, and headed to the post office. Baker accepted this story, and as you might imagine, I was thrilled. And I felt more than a little smug that my story had succeeded with its original ending. I felt smug again – and more than a bit sad – when not long after this my friend from college sent my manuscript back to me with red ink on every page and told me my ending was terrible and that I had to change it. That was the last time I sent him a story to critique, and when Dennis moved to Tucson soon after, our writers group fell apart, and I’ve never used one since.

When Young Blood came out, I didn’t want to wait for my contributor’s copies to arrive, so my wife and I went to a Little Professor bookshop to buy a copy. I still remember seeing the book on the stand, remember what it felt like to touch it, what the damn thing smelled like. I opened the book and looked at the table of contents to see the title of my story and my name listed alongside legends like Poe, Howard, Block, Campbell and King, and alongside names I recognized from small-press magazines or from the message boards on GEnie. There were a lot of names I didn’t recognize, though, and that was cool, too. I couldn’t stop grinning as we walked up to the counter and paid for the book. I still remember the little brown paper bag the clerk slipped the book into, and I remember the feel of that bag, with the weight of the book in it, as I carried it outside to the car. I’d done it. I could now legitimately call myself a professional writer.

“Young Blood” got mentioned in several reviews of the book, and I was pleasantly shocked when Ellen Datlow chose it as one of her Honorable Mentions in the next edition of The Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror. Ellen has chosen a number of my stories for honorable mention in the years since, but none was as special as that first time.

My first pro sale wasn’t an entirely positive experience. Mike Baker never paid any of the contributors, a fact I kept to myself when I listed “Mr. Punch” as one of my three qualifying sales to apply for full membership in both HWA and SFWA. I decided to forget about the money and move on, but years later I met another contributor at a World Fantasy Convention who was still upset at never having been paid for his story. There was supposed to be a Young Blood 2, but for whatever reasons it never happened. Mike Baker died before I could meet him. I have a vague memory that some disease took him young, but I’m not sure that’s how it happened.

When I look at the table of contents now, it’s a bittersweet feeling. Young Blood was supposed to make a statement: Here’s the future of horror! But it didn’t really have that kind of impact. It came and went without making much of a splash, as I recall. Some of the authors are still writing a quarter of a century later. Pamela Briggs writes the extremely popular Mercy Thompson urban fantasies. Barb Hendee (who with her husband J.C. published some of my first stories in their small-press magazine Figment) has published a number of fantasy novels, some in collaboration with J.C., some solo. J.F. Gonzalez went on to publish many horror novels – including the classic Survivor – but tragically, he died in 2014, a victim of cancer. Killercon has recently established the Splatterpunk Awards for extreme horror, including the J.F. Gonzalez Lifetime Achievement Award, and author Brian Keene is working hard to keep his legacy alive. Gordon Van Gelder went on to edit The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction and is now its owner and publisher. Brian Everson has gone on to write many well-regarded literary novels of dark and speculative fiction. Christa Faust went on to write crime and media tie-in novels, and while Poppy Z. Brite doesn’t write much these days, her work is still considered vital in the genre and continues to be reprinted and read to this day. And then, of course, there’s me.

As for the rest of the authors . . . I don’t know. I haven’t seen most of their names recently, and some I’ve never seen except in Young Blood’s TOC. Are they still writing? Are they creating in other literary genres? Did their lives take them in different directions? Have any others passed away in the last twenty-five years? I could Google them, and maybe someday I will. But maybe I won’t. Maybe I’m afraid of what I’ll discover. Or maybe I’m afraid I won’t discover anything about them at all.

I’ve continued to write the kind of bizarre, surreal horror that I first explored in “Mr. Punch,” and although I’ve written urban fantasies and media tie-ins, it’s this kind of horror that I think of as Tim Waggoner Stories. “Mr. Punch” allowed me to find my voice and its publication confirmed that I had what it takes to be a professional writer. And for that, I owe a great debt to Mike Baker.

Below is the table of contents for Young Blood. There are still used copies of the book floating around out there somewhere if you’re inclined to read it. If you’d like to read “Mr. Punch,” it appears in my first short fiction collection All Too Surreal, which you can currently purchase in ebook form from Crossroad Press:

You can also find “Mr. Punch” in the collection Cemetery Dance Select: Tim Waggoner, along with story notes for each selection:

Young Blood Mike Baker (Zebra 0-8217-4498-4, Mar ’94 [Feb ’94], $4.50, 349pp, pb)

Introduction · Mike Baker
Ms. Found in a Bottle · Edgar Allan Poe
Pigeons from Hell · Robert E. Howard
The Skull of the Marquis de Sade · Robert Bloch
Cold Print · Ramsey Campbell
The Mangler · Stephen King
Rattle Rumble · Michael Scott Bricker
Little Black Bags · Clark Perry
An Eye for an Eye, A Tooth for a Tooth · Lawrence Schimel
The Weepin’ Tree · Tia Travis
Hysterical · Pamela Briggs
Spooge Monkeys · Wayne Edwards
Bringing Home a Stranger · Barb Hendee
Anything for You · Lorelei Shannon
Fixing Mr. Foucher’s Fence · Todd Mecklem
Mr. Punch · Tim Waggoner
Playing the Game · J. F. Gonzalez
Pieces of Prison · Jak Koke & Jonathan Bond
Paper Animals · Christopher A. Hall
Something More · Gordon Van Gelder
Judas Window · M. Francis Hamill
Storm Warning · James C. Bassett
Hébé Kills Jerry · Brian Evenson
To a Mr. R. J. Guthrie, Edinburgh · Adam Corbin Fusco
Crawlspace · H. Andrew Lynch
Armadillo Village · Terry Campbell
Payday · Sean Doolittle
Momentos of an Only Child · Dominick Cancilla
Depths · Marc Paoletti
Saved · Poppy Z. Brite & Christa Faust


The Mouth of the Dark

My most recent horror novel is The Mouth of the Dark from Flame Tree Press, and it’s been getting some great reviews:

“Waggoner is imaginative and original, and The Mouth of the Dark takes readers to an entirely new world of monstrosities. It’s easily one of the most fantastic books I’ve read this year.” – The Ghastly Grimoire

“An eclectic assembly of everything macabre and terrifying, The Mouth of the Dark is a riveting read you’ll keep reading long after the sun has gone down.” – Splattergeist

Here’s a synopsis:

Jayce's 20-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.

The Mouth of the Dark is available in hardcover, paperback, ebook, and audiobook formats.

Dark and Distant Voices

My latest collection Dark and Distant Voices is available from Nightscape Press.

"Hell is other people," Jean-Paul Sartre tells us. "Especially the one we see in the mirror," implicitly says Tim Waggoner. Both give us the theme of Waggoner's splendid Dark and Distant Voices. Our children we don't quite recognize, colleagues not all that collegial, ghosts who silently speak the Truth ... They're all here and more in Waggoner's brilliant story collection. – Mort Castle, author of Strangers

"This is every card in the horror deck, played by someone who knows the game better than most of us ever will." – Stephen Graham Jones, author of Mongrels

They come to you at night.

The voices.

Spinning tales of blasphemous wonder, terrible wisdom, and unspeakable truth.

You try to shut them out, but you can’t.

For the voices you thought were coming from so far away come from inside you.

And they won’t stop screaming.


Nineteen stories of the bizarre and fantastic from the mind of Bram Stoker Award-winning author Tim Waggoner, “horror fiction’s leading surrealist” (Cemetery Dance Magazine).


You can sign up for my newsletter here:

Social Media

Twitter: @timwaggoner                    

Instagram: tim.waggoner.scribe

Friday, August 31, 2018

On Dark Fantasy

My latest horror novel, The Mouth of the Dark, is out Sept. 6th from Flame Tree Press. Advance reviews have been good, but I’ve been surprised by how many readers refer to the book as a combination of horror and dark fantasy, or simply as dark fantasy. The term dark fantasy has been used in a lot of different ways over the years. Michael Moorcock’s Elric novels were considered dark fantasy, although that subgenre is referred to as grimdark these days. Charles L. Grant called his brand of quiet horror dark fantasy, and Thomas F. Monteleone uses horror/dark fantasy as a genre term. Dark fantasy was what urban fantasy was called before a separate designation was created for it, and when the horror boom of the 1980’s became the horror implosion of the 1990’s, writers began calling their fiction anything but horror to avoid using the dreaded H word: dark suspense, dark thrillers, supernatural thrillers and – you guessed it – dark fantasy. So dark fantasy has never seemed to me to be a term that referred to one identifiable genre. But what pleasantly surprises me about seeing the term applied to The Mouth of the Dark is that when I first started writing seriously thirty years ago, my goal was to create a fusion of horror and fantasy. It was, not to be too precious about it, my artistic vision.

I’d loved horror as a kid, but when I hit my teens, I started reading fantasy novels and comics. Horror was still part of my creative diet, but no more important to me than fantasy and science fiction. Comics were the first medium that showed me how different genres could be combined to make something new. One month Spider-Man might foil a mob boss, the next he might battle an alien, and the next fight a vampire. When I started writing fiction with a goal of making a career out of it, I wrote novels and short stories, trying my hand at different genres. By this point, I’d become sick of reading quest fantasy and starting reading what was called contemporary fantasy at the time. Charles de Lint and Robert Holdstock were two of my favorite writers of contemporary fantasy, and I especially liked how they used elements of horror in their work. But I was also frustrated by how the fantasy and horror weren’t completely blended and kept separate from the real world. I thought fantasy should allow writers’ imaginations to run wild, but most fantasy writers were very conservative in terms of the genre elements they used. The same for horror writers. The supernatural should’ve given them the opportunity to create highly imaginative stories, but their tales were just as conservative as those of fantasy authors. It seemed to me that these writers were missing out on an opportunity, and I began thinking of ways to create a true fusion of horror and fantasy.

I didn’t focus on this idea overmuch in my writing, though. I kept writing more traditional fantasy novels because I thought they were more marketable, but I had no luck getting them published. From time to time I mulled over my notion of fusing horror and fantasy, but when I finally began thinking about writing a horror novel, the horror boom died, and there seemed to be no point in trying my hand at a horror novel. But there was a strong small-press scene for horror short fiction, so I began writing and submitting those. My writing continued along these two tracks for a while. I kept focusing on fantasy for novels and horror for short fiction. Then I wrote the first story where I felt I had found the horror/fantasy fusion I’d been searching for. “Mr. Punch” became my first professionally published story, appearing in the anthology Young Blood from Zebra Books in 1999. (You can find it in my first short story collection All Too Surreal.) The first novel where I explored this horror/fantasy fusion was The Harmony Society, which came out from Prime Books in 2003. (Dark Regions has since republished it, in case you want to check it out.)  Since then, I’ve written numerous horror/fantasy novels and stories, and I’ve become known for writing such tales. When I refer to myself as a type of writer, I usually say I’m a horror writer just because it’s easiest. Still, seeing the term dark fantasy applied to my work pleases me and makes me think that maybe – just maybe – I’ve reached the goal I set for myself so long ago of taking full advantage of both horror and fantasy in my writing.

So what advice do I have for those of you who would like to try writing this kind of dark fantasy?

1. Don’t limit yourself to genre expectations.

Fantasy implies otherworldly forces – magic – and other worlds. There’s nothing in the term that says your story has to be set in a version of medieval England and follow the pattern of a quest adventure. Horror implies an emotional reaction to something awful that’s beyond the reality we know. This doesn’t have to be confined to one unnatural element invading the normal world – a ghost, a vampire, a serial killer, etc. Try to combine the core of both concepts – otherworldly/unnatural forces and imaginary worlds. These worlds might be separate from ours, overlap ours, exist as hidden parts of our world, etc.

2. Use nightmare images and logic.

Nightmares are individual to each of us, and they contain images and events that are often different from the usual tropes of horror and fantasy. Old, worn-out tropes have no power to affect readers, but images drawn from your nightmares – or your darkest daydreams – can be more original, and in their originality lies their power. The way events proceed in nightmares can make us feel out of control because we can no longer tell what’s real and what isn’t. We can’t trust our own senses and minds. Try to develop story situations that will create this state for your characters, and in turn, for your readers. 

3. Make the inner world outer.

Characters’ psychology – their fears, desires, obsessions – can be reflected in the unnatural presences or environment they contend with. For example, in my Bram Stoker Award-winning novella The Winter Box a married couple whose relationship is rocky is haunted by the ghosts of their dead love for each other, and the couple experiences nightmarish scenarios based on their shared past. In short, make your characters’ nightmares – their interesting, original nightmares – become real for them.

4. Look to the real world for inspiration.

Every day I see strange things in the world around me that seem to hint at a sinister, hidden aspect to existence. I know this is just my imagination at work (at least, I hope it is!), but I use these odd little observations in my fiction all the time. For example, I once followed a Kia Soul whose owner changed the logo on the car to read SOULLESS. The vehicle had a personalized license plate that read CUTTER, and the driver ended up in the parking lot of a restaurant called The Chop House. I haven’t used this in a story yet (so don’t steal it!), but if and when I do, I’ll ask myself what larger weirdness could that driver be connected to? What hidden part of our world – or perhaps another world – could he or she be part of?

5. Focus on your characters. They're the story.

All the weirdness of dark fantasy is fun, but it's meaningless unless it's shown through the perspective of your characters and has an impact on them. I write with a close point of view to keep the story grounded. The world and events my characters are confronted with may be surreal, but I make my characters very real. It's this balance that I think (at least I hope) makes my dark fantasy effective.


As I said earlier, my dark fantasy novel The Mouth of the Dark is out in hardcover, trade paperback, ebook, and audiobook, and reviews so far have been overwhelmingly positive. If you want to see how I write dark fantasy, it’s as good an example as anything I’ve ever produced. Check it out!