Thursday, November 18, 2021

Writing Characters From Diverse Backgrounds


Before we begin, the topic for this blog is about the changing ways I’ve explored gender, sexual, racial, and societal diversity in my writing throughout the years. Just in case this post attracts the attention of hate-trolls who are against all those things, let me make something perfectly clear. Racists, sexists, homophobes, transphobes, antisemites, Islamophobes, Nazis, MAGA-heads – anyone who doesn’t believe that all human beings are equal, that difference should be celebrated instead of vilified, that what unites us is more important that what divides us, that we can all make a better world if we work together – should fuck off into the sun. I don’t give a shit what you think about anything, least of all what you think of this post or what you think of me.


Now that that’s out of the way . . .


I’m a fifty-seven-year-old cishet white guy who grew up in a small town in Southwestern Ohio, I lived in Columbus – the state’s capitol city – for nine years, and before that briefly in Illinois and Indiana. But I’ve always considered SW Ohio my home, for better or worse, and I live in the region today, and have for the last couple decades. You probably won’t be surprised to learn that there wasn’t a great deal of diversity in my hometown when I was growing up. One of my classmates was Asian, but her parents were white, so I assumed she was adopted. One of my best friends was gay, but he didn’t come out to me until we were in college. (My favorite cousin was gay too, but I didn’t learn this until I was well into adulthood.) There were only Christian churches in town, and either you attended one or you didn’t. (I didn’t.) That was the extent of religious diversity. All of the teachers I had were white, and the only thing that clearly set them apart from the majority of people in my town was the fact they’d all gone to college.


It wasn’t until I went to college myself that I experienced real diversity, meeting people from many different backgrounds and cultures. My bachelor’s degree is in secondary education, and I student taught at a high school with a predominately African-American population. After I got my master’s degree, I began teaching college writing classes as an adjunct, and my colleagues and students were diverse, and it’s been that way for the last thirty years of my teaching career, the last twenty-two of which I’ve spent at an urban community college.


From the moment I began college, I’ve lived in a diverse world, and I’ve attempted to reflect that in my writing. But the discourse in the writing community about how and when to incorporate diverse characters in fiction has changed a great deal over the years. These changes have prompted me to think more deeply about how I deal with diversity in my work or, because I am a middle-aged cishet white man, if I even should try.


I don’t remember the first time I consciously decided to include elements of diversity in a story. It probably was sometime in my twenties. I wrote a short story about a character encountering God, who manifested as a young African-American boy with a prosthetic leg. In the end, the boy gives his leg to the main character. Why, I’m not sure. I remember that the ending was supposed to be symbolic, but damned if I can remember symbolic of what, exactly. I purposely chose this manifestation of God by contemplating what a majority white society might least expect an all-powerful deity to be. Someone young, disabled, from a race that wasn’t regarded as fully equal by a white majority, I decided. The story wasn’t very good, and I don’t think I ever submitted it anywhere.


I started out writing fantasy novels set in imaginary lands (all unpublished), so real-world diversity wasn’t an issue for me then. I attempted a couple mystery novels that were also never published, but I don’t remember consciously thinking about diversity when I wrote them. It was sometime in the mid-nineties when I wrote The Harmony Society that I first began purposely creating a (slightly) diverse cast of characters, and I continued doing so in the books I wrote from that point on. I portrayed diversity simply back then. I began alternating the genders of the main characters in my stories. Since over half the human race are women, I decided I should reflect that in my work. Characters’ additional backgrounds might be indicated by description or by their surname, or perhaps by a comment they made, but I didn’t go into great detail about issues related to their race, gender identity, sexuality, religious beliefs, political affiliations, etc. My stories were about people encountering bizarre and dangerous things, and I wrote my characters as individuals focused on dealing with those things. I wasn’t writing in-depth character studies. Online discourse was in its infancy back then, and if my readers had any thoughts about how I handled diversity in my work, I never knew it.


The first time I encountered someone telling me that I couldn’t write from a character’s viewpoint because of my background – in this case, my gender – was in a grad school creative writing class in the late eighties. I’d written a story called “Huntress,” about a succubus who finds herself no longer able to regard humans as merely food, and who will eventually starve to death. I wrote the story in first person, and at one point, the narrator explains that she can manifest as either gender, but taking on the appearance of a woman generally makes it easier for her to attract prey. After I read the story aloud to the class, one of the other students – a woman whose name I can’t remember – told me that because I was male, I couldn’t write from a woman’s point of view. That my character was a genderless inhuman creature evidently didn’t matter. I didn’t dismiss my classmate’s comment, though. I spent the next week thinking about the issue. Then during a following class, the student read a story she’d written from a boy’s viewpoint. When I asked her why she thought it was okay that she write from a boy’s perspective when she believed men shouldn’t write from a woman’s perspective, she said, “I’m a woman. We’re so sensitive that we can understand anyone’s point of view.”


It would’ve been easy for me to dismiss her comment on “Huntress” after that, but I didn’t. I thought about it from time to time. Such a comment inevitably brings up the issue of whether writers can ethically write anything but strict autobiography. Fiction is lying (although since it’s labeled as fiction, it’s lying without intent to deceive). But how far can an author ethically go beyond their own lived experience when writing fiction? There is no easy answer for this, of course. But it’s a question that I’ve returned to over the years, both as a writer and teacher of writing.


Several years ago, I began seeing people commenting on social media that it was the responsibility of white cishet male writers to use their platforms to promote diversity, that by doing so we would be doing our part to help make the world a better place. I had no illusions that I would have any great impact by doing this. I’m a minor writer (if that) with a small audience, but I’d already been working to promote diversity in my work, and naturally I wanted to do my part to make the world better, so I decided to strengthen the ways I portrayed diversity in my stories. I began making the cast of characters in my novels more diverse, and while I didn’t base stories on their backgrounds, I began allowing their backgrounds to become part of the story. In The Forever House, for example, one of the characters is bisexual, and her husband struggles with this, fearing he can never be enough for her emotionally or sexually. Another character is a MAGA type, but he’s married to a woman of Chinese descent and they have a biracial daughter. He’s absolutely blind to how he’s still racist even though he loves his wife and child.


The next novel I wrote, Your Turn to Suffer, also had a diverse cast, but the plot focused more on the main character and her experience, so the other character’s backgrounds didn’t figure into the story much. Her ex-boyfriend was bisexual, cut currently in a “guy phase.” Her current boyfriend was Asian. Another character was trans, but since she was transformed into an evil being during the course of the story, my editor asked me to make her cis to avoid appearing as if I was implying that trans people were evil. There was only one line in the story that indicated the character was trans, and since her gender identity wasn’t integral to the plot, I cut that line. I thought my editor might be being overcautious, but the online discourse regarding diversity issues at the time was often incendiary, so I couldn’t fault him for his caution.


At this time, the advice for authors wishing to write diverse characters was Do Your Research. Talk to people from backgrounds you want to write about. Read articles and blogs written by them, read novels they wrote, learn as much as you can so you can write your characters from a place of knowledge and respect.


So that’s what I tried to do.


The next novel I wrote after that is the one that’s coming out from Flame Tree Press in July 2022. We Will Rise is the story of what happens when ghosts suddenly appear all around the world and begin killing the living. (The cover is at the top of this entry, in case you didn’t notice.) I was still seeing people online urging white cishet male writers to use our platforms to support diversity, so I decided to make my cast of characters even more diverse this time. My characters included an African-American mother who recently suffered a miscarriage, a teenage transman whose fundamentalist Christian parents are struggling to understand him, a young Muslim man in college, and a woman paramedic of Vietnamese descent. The story focuses on them trying to survive the ghost apocalypse, but their backgrounds are, to a greater or lesser extent depending on the character, part of the story.


I finished the novel in the winter of 2020, and around that time the online discourse regarding diversity issues in fiction changed again. Some people said that writers shouldn’t write about any characters who differed significantly from themselves, that by doing so you were appropriating someone else’s story, one that – because they came from a specific background – they were far more qualified to tell. Some went so far as to say that you shouldn’t write about any characters who were different from you in any way (at least in terms of major characters). Much of this discourse was aimed at white people. White people appropriating others’ stories was, they said, continuing a long, damaging, and traumatic tradition of colonization. People began talking about Own Voices stories, fiction written by authors who shared an identity with the characters or were part of the culture they were writing about. Own Voices stories came from a place of deep authenticity, they said, making them more effective works of art. Some white people argued that writing fiction relied on imagination and empathy, and that a skilled writer could write about anyone or anything. Artists of any background should not be limited in the stories they were allowed to tell, they said. In response, some reiterated the points I’ve already mentioned, while others pointed out that, if a white cishet writer included an African-American trans main character in a novel, the company that published the book could claim they’d brought out a diverse work, as if they’d fulfilled their current quota for diversity, and they would have no need of another for a while. This book would be published, possibly taking the place of one that had been actually written by an African-American trans writer. Since the number of novels by white cishet writers far outnumbered those published by writers of other backgrounds, white cishet writers should “stay in their own lane” and not take opportunities away from others.


Just like the feedback I’d gotten from my classmate in grad school, I took in all this discourse and thought deeply about it. I considered pulling We Will Rise from publication. During the course of my career, I never consciously attempted to tell a story about someone from a background different than mine that delved into what it meant to be a person from that background, a story that was about their identity and experiences in society. And while I didn’t go into that kind of depth in We Will Rise, the characters’ diverse backgrounds are part of the story, and I worried that maybe I’d gone a bit too far. I informed my editor of my concerns, and I hired a sensitivity reader. She thought I’d done a good job with my characters in We Will Rise, so I submitted the book. I figured if there were any problems, my editor would let me know. I haven’t gotten editorial feedback on the book yet, but I should soon.


Am I nervous about how We Will Rise will be received? A little. But it’s the book I wrote, and once it’s out there, I’ll accept whatever consequences may come my way for writing it.


I wrote five more novels after We Will Rise, three originals and two tie-ins. I’d continued thinking about the best way to deal – or not deal – with diversity in my stories. The selfish, fearful part of me wondered if I should just write about cishet white people from Southwestern Ohio from now simply to avoid being attacked on social media and labeled a cultural appropriator. The less-selfish, less-fearful part of me wondered if that by writing only about people like me, I’d make more room for Own Voices writers to get published. I wanted to do the right thing, but what was the right thing?


One point I saw made numerous times online really got me thinking. Paraphrased, it went something like this: “We appreciate you trying to help us, white cishet folks, but it’s important we speak for ourselves. The best thing you can do is stay quiet, step aside, let us speak, and support us while we do.” Was my urge to help born from a place of privilege? By trying to help, was I unknowingly patronizing others? White savior to the rescue!


I decided to write my next original novels with less emphasis on diversity and see how I felt about how they turned out. I didn’t emphasize diversity other than indicating background by a character’s surname, and only very occasionally by appearance or something they said about their identity. (I couldn’t bring myself to cut out all indications of diversity from my work.) The three novels I wrote this way feel emptier to me than my previous ones. Lesser, somehow. But that may just be my perception of them. It’ll be a while before any of these books are published, so it’ll be some time before I see how readers respond to them. Or if they notice the toned-down diversity at all.


So if I were to advise writers – especially those of similar backgrounds to mine – how to deal with diverse characters in their work, what would I say right now?


It’s your story.


Write whatever you want in whatever way you want, and to hell with readers’ potential response. But if you do, don’t be surprised if some folks react negatively to your stories.


Don’t be an asshole.


Don’t deal with diversity in a purposefully negative way in an attempt to gain attention for yourself as an “edgy” writer. You’re not being edgy. You’re just being a hateful jerk.


Artistic freedom is real, but . . .


But so is artistic responsibility. We can create in a wild, white-hot frenzy, but once our work is finished, we should look it over with a cold, appraising eye and make sure it says what we want it to. And more importantly, that it doesn’t say things we don’t want it to.


Ask yourself these vital questions.


Is this your story to tell? Why do you want to tell this story? Can someone else tell it better? What benefit is there to you telling this story instead of someone else? (I saw a number of people posting these questions online. I’m not sure who originally came up with them, and a Google search didn’t reveal the author. Just know I didn’t develop them.) As a middle-aged white guy, I might become fascinated with telling the story of what it’s like for a Hispanic preteen lesbian to grow up in modern-day Miami, Florida. But could someone else tell that story better? Of course they could. I would never try to tell this story because it’s centered around a very specific lived experience, one I do not and could not ever have, and no amount of imagination or empathy on my part would help me do a good job writing it.


Do no harm.


At the very least, artists should try to avoid causing harm with their work. Does your story perpetuate harmful stereotypes? Are you appropriating someone else’s story? Are you taking the place of a writer better equipped to tell this story because of their cultural background and lived experience? If you make a mistake that results in harm, own up to it, apologize, promise to do better, and – most importantly – keep that promise.


Be a good casting director.


If you were making a movie, and there were roles in the script that could be filled by actors from any background, you could cast people in those roles, and their diversity would be visually apparent, even if it has no bearing on the actual story. You can do the same in your fiction. Maybe your main character is named Robert Martin. Any reason why he couldn’t be Robert Xi or Robert Vasquez or Roberta Martin? As long as the story isn’t about diving into issues of racial, gender, sexual, cultural, and religious identity, then many of your characters could be “played” by an “actor” of any background. A story like John Carpenter’s The Thing would remain the same regardless of the gender or race of the characters. All that matters is that the characters are human and must deal with a horrible situation.


The conversation is ongoing. Keep listening.


The discourse about how writers should approach issues of diversity in their work is ongoing. Listen to the conversation. Resist the temptation to be defensive, to jump in and mansplain, whitesplain, cishetsplain, or do any splaining of any kind. Listen, think about what you heard, and make changes to how you approach your work accordingly.


There is no right answer and there never will be.


People on social media love to state points in melodramatic absolutes. If you don’t do exactly what I say you should in exactly the way I think you should, you’re an evil monster and you should die choking on your own blood. Of course, people would like to have easy answers and clear direction when it comes to navigating complex issues, but there aren’t any. We can only do the best we can at a particular moment in time, and be open to further change the more we learn and grow.


So what are you going to do in the future, Tim?


At the moment, I have three novels I’m contracted to write, all part of a dark urban fantasy series about a secret organization dedicated to slowing the inexorable progression of entropy. (Trust me; it’s more fun than it sounds.) The employees are diverse, but because of the kind of story it is, their backgrounds don’t matter to the plot. Therefore, I can act as a casting director and have my characters be anything I want in terms or race, gender, sexuality, etc. Their personalities and the actions they take when fighting the bad guys are what matter the most. This casting director approach is one that I intend to keep using in my fiction.


Will I ever write a novel like We Will Rise again, one that delves into the characters’ backgrounds more? I don’t know. As I said earlier, the conversation is still happening, and I’m still listening and thinking.




We Will Rise


Curious how I handled my diverse characters in this book? Then you’re in luck, as it’s now available for preorder! Here’s the official description along with ordering links:


In Echo Hill, Ohio, the dead begin to reappear, manifesting in various forms, from classic ghosts and poltergeists, to physical undead and bizarre apparitions for which there is no name. These malign spirits attack the living, tormenting and ultimately killing them in order to add more recruits to their spectral ranks.


A group of survivors come together after the initial attack, all plagued by different ghostly apparitions of their own. Can they make it out of Echo Hill alive? And if so, will they still be sane? Or will they die and join the ranks of the vengeful dead?


Amazon Paperback




Amazon Hardcover


Barnes & Noble Paperback




Barnes & Noble Hardcover


Halloween Kills: The Official Novelization


My novelization of Halloween Kills came out last month, and so far, readers seem to dig it. If you loved the movie – or if you hated it and want to see if the book is better – snag a copy!


Amazon Paperback


Amazon Kindle




Barnes & Noble Paperback




Planet Havoc: A Zombicide Invader Novel


This is an original tie-in adventure set in the Zombicide Invader universe. If you like action-packed stories of mercenaries and soldiers battling ravenous zombie-aliens, this is the book you’ve been waiting for! It comes out in April, and it’s available for preorder.


Amazon Paperback




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Saturday, October 30, 2021

We'll Fix It in the Edit


I’ve been traditionally publishing my writing for nearly thirty years now, and in that time, I’ve worked with a lot of different editors. I mean a lot. It’s not always fun. I think most writers would like to submit their work to an editor and be told that not only is it going to be published, it’s brilliant and perfect and doesn’t need a single thing changed. (I know I do!) But a good editor can make your work better, what a friend of mine once referred to as “polishing the diamond.” A bad editor, though, can be a nightmare to work with. Luckily, almost all of the editors I’ve worked with over the years have been good ones, and even the ones that were less-than-good weren’t that bad (although it may not have seemed that way to me at the time). Let’s talk about the different kinds of editors you might encounter in traditional publishing along with strategies for working with them. (I suspect much of this information will also apply to self-published writers who hire freelance editors to get their work in shape, but as I’ve never gone that route myself, I don’t know for sure. So if you’re a self-published writer, take the following information for whatever it’s worth.)


First off, traditional publishing is a collaborative venture. The writer collaborates with a publisher, and together they bring the writer’s work to the public for mutual artistic and commercial benefit. Both parties have a vested interest in making the work the best it can possibly be, but they don’t always agree on the ways to accomplish this goal. Every editing experience is an artistic negotiation, and compromise is necessary on both sides. If you’re going to go the trad publishing route, you need to accept this. You’re choosing to collaborate, and if you’re not okay with that, then self-publishing is a better path for you. Collaboration does not mean an editor is your boss and you have to do everything they say, but the reverse is also true. Editors are not your employees. You’re partners, and you both need to approach the writer-editor relationship as such.


The vast majority of editors I’ve worked with have helped improve my work, in ways both large and small. In my experience, a good editor should possess the following qualities:

·         A deep understanding of narrative and how different narrative elements work together in a story.

·         Expertise in the genre of a writer’s work.

·         An ability to understand what the writer is trying to accomplish with their story.

·         An ability to figure out the best way to help the writer accomplish their goals.

·         Strong language skills. (Although much if not all of the grammar and sentence-level editing may be left to a copyeditor.)

·         An ability to balance the writer’s concerns with those of the magazine or publishing house.

·         A clear understanding of the dividing line between the writer’s job and theirs.

·         An ability to communicate clearly and succinctly about what they think should be changed in a manuscript.

·         Knowing how not to be overly prescriptive. If they think there’s too much exposition in a scene, they’ll say “Cut back on the exposition here” and leave you to figure out exactly how to do that since you’re the writer.

·         Having realistic expectations of how much work a writer can accomplish in a given time.

Here are some different types of editors I’ve encountered during the course of my career. Although maybe I should say different editor experiences, since my working relationship with a specific editor could’ve been very different from that of a different writer. Also keep in mind that an individual editor can fit into multiple categories.

The Non-Editor

This is an editor that doesn’t do anything with your manuscript. It goes straight to a copyeditor or, sometimes, straight to print without any editing whatsoever. This may sound great – no changes to make! – but this editor isn’t helping to improve your story, and your work may be published with errors, some small, some large.

The Minimalist

This editor only makes a small number of suggestions, and they’re often on the micro level, dealing with small plot and character inconsistencies and unclear phrasing. If they spot a big problem, they’ll let you know, though. Maybe this editor is too busy to do a more in-depth edit, or maybe your story is just that good!

I’m the Editor So I Have to Suggest Changes, Whether or Not They’re Needed

This type of editor suggests changes because they think they have to, regardless of whether a manuscript needs those changes. They feel they have to do this to justify their job. These suggestions are often arbitrary and don’t necessarily make the story better, just different.

The Brainstormer

This editor believes a story should be a joint creation of theirs and the writer, that editor and writer are true partners. They like to collaborate in the early stages of a story’s creation, helping to shape it, but after that they’ll step back into a more traditional editorial role. This is especially true with media tie-ins, which by their nature are more highly collaborative.

The Would-Be Collaborator

This type of editor is also a brainstormer, but they continue trying to be a co-writer on both macro and micro levels throughout the entire process of getting a story ready for publication. This can be super frustrating, especially when the two of you have different ideas of how the story should be written. The worst version of this type of editor is the one that actually rewrites some of your prose without asking permission or even telling you that they’re doing it. Luckily, this extreme type of Would-Be Collaborator is rare.

The Frustrated Writer

This type of editor tells you how they’d write the story rather than helping to improve the story you’ve already written. This is because they’d rather be a writer than an editor, and they may eventually leave editing to give writing a shot (while perhaps still freelance editing as well). This is one of the worst types of editors to work with because they aren’t acting in an editor’s role. Instead, they’re trying to force you to accept them as a co-writer, or worse, as the “boss” writer to whom you must defer. I don’t believe these editors are consciously aware of what they’re doing, but that doesn’t make them any easier to work with.

The New Editor

This is someone so new at their job that they don’t have a clue what they’re doing. They’re learning as they go, experiencing growing pains along the way, and you get to experience those pains along with them. There’s not much you can do except have patience. New editors won’t tell you they’re inexperienced. They want you to have confidence in them, and they don’t want you to ignore their suggestions because they’re new, so you may have to figure out for yourself that you’re working with someone who’s new to the job.

The Editor with Unrealistic Expectations

“I need you to rewrite the entire book from beginning to end. Can you get a new draft to me in two weeks?” This could be the sign of someone who’s a new editor and doesn’t have much, if any, experience at how long major revisions can take. Or it can be a sign of an editor that pushes writers to get revisions in as fast as possible to make their job easier.

The Overworked Editor

This editor is doing the job of three or more people. While they want to give you their best efforts, they’re exhausted and their focused is scattered. They may give you only a cursory edit and take a while – maybe a long while – to get to you about questions.

The Editor Who Takes Forever to Give You Feedback and Needs Changes Tomorrow

This could be because they’re also an Overworked Editor, but it could be that they’re simply a procrastinator or not a good judge of how much work they can accomplish in a specific timeframe, and they’ve gotten behind. Or they might be having personal issues that have slowed their productivity. Whatever the reason, they wait until the last minute to get changes to you and push you to finish them ASAP.

The Editor Who Gives You Contradictory Feedback

For example, I was once working on a pitch for a novella about a beloved TV character. The editor told me they liked the character to be portrayed somewhat humorously, as he sometimes was shown in his series. When I sent in a proposal, the same editor told me that the character should be portrayed seriously, and I should rework the proposal. At that point, I was out. Contradictory feedback from an editor is a huge red flag for me. I don’t want to waste my time giving an editor what they say they want only to have them turn around and tell me that wasn’t what they wanted in the first place.

The Editor Who Changes Their Mind

This editor makes a suggestion, you implement it, and then once they see the new text, they decide that change doesn’t work after all and want to you revise it again, a different way this time. If they do this a lot, it can mean a great deal of rewriting on your part. I once pitched a proposal for a Star Trek novel to an editor. They loved it but asked for revision after revision after revision, until the story concept bore little resemblance to what I’d originally pitched, and then they decided the new concept wasn’t working and cancelled the project.

The Editor Who Can’t Make Up Their Mind

This can be an editor who’s very indecisive by nature, or they can also be an Editor Who Gives Contradictory Feedback or an Editor Who Changes Their Mind. These editors can’t effectively guide writers because they can’t decide where they want to take the manuscript.

The Editor Who Doesn’t Know What They Want

This editor knows that something about your story should be different, but they’re damned if they can tell you what it is. They may ask you to take another pass at the manuscript in the hope that you’ll somehow magically fix what’s bothering them, but of course there’s no guarantee it’ll work.

The Editor Who Thinks They Are the God of Literature

These are editors with ego, people who consider themselves experts on literature and storytelling, and who believe they could write your story better than you, if they were to lower themselves to actually produce writing. They often look upon writers as lesser beings who only exist to provide raw, rough material for them to shape into a sparkling masterpiece. I’ve managed avoid working with editors like this so far, but I know they’re out there. Hopefully, I can manage to keep avoiding them for the rest of my career.

The Editor That Doesn’t Get Your Work

I can write some damn weird stuff, especially in my short fiction. A lot of this work is experimental in nature and can be very surreal and symbolic. I’ve occasionally had editors commission a story from me, but when they get it, they don’t understand it. (This always makes me wonder why they asked me to do a story for them in the first place. Weren’t they familiar with the kind of weird-ass horror/dark fantasy I often write?) These editors try to get me to turn my bizarre story into an ordinary prosaic one with clear cause and effect, etc. Sometimes making a few strategic changes satisfies them, and when it doesn’t, I offer to write a new story. I won’t turn one of my weird stories into a mundane one for them, though. I’ll look for a different market for it.

Too Many Editors

It’s rare, but sometimes you get multiple editors working on your manuscript. This is especially true when writing tie-in fiction, when someone representing the IP holder also weighs in on your work. The different editors can have different opinions about what changes to make, and you may end up with a lot of suggestions and no idea which ones to take and which to reject.

The Editor That Can’t Clearly Communicate What They Want

This editor knows what they want but they are unable to state it in a way that is 100% clear. If you ask for clarification, they usually can give it to you, though.

The Editor That Can’t Succinctly Communicate What They Want

This editor will write you a long, detailed paragraph to tell you that you should delete a sentence in your manuscript. Sometimes it’s difficult to tell exactly what the editor wants when you read these unnecessarily detailed suggestions.

The Editor that Overcommunicates and Overwhelms

This editor bombards you with so much feedback that you may not be able to figure out what to do with it and may feel overwhelmed. This type of editor is often one who also can’t communicate clearly and succinctly, and they’re often new at their job. They haven’t learned how to be clear and succinct yet (and maybe they never will). I’ve had a few editors like this, ones who will send me a long bulleted list of changes, numerous track changes comments in the manuscript, and long, chapter-by-chapter breakdowns of what needs to be fixed. It can be a nightmare trying to sort through this mess and figure out what you need to do to revise your manuscript.

Tips for Working with Editors

·         Everything’s negotiable. Editors make suggestions; they don’t deliver commandments. If you don’t agree with an editor’s suggestion, you can try to find a different way to solve the problem that’s been identified. Or you can try to brainstorm a different solution together.

·         Don’t ignore suggestions because you’re lazy or stubborn. No one told you to traditionally publish. You sought out such a relationship. You wanted to work with an editor, so work with them.

·         Don’t assume an adversarial stance. The editor isn’t your enemy (even if it feels that way sometimes). The editor is your ally, and they care as much about your story as you do. (At least, they should.)

·         Pick and choose your battles. I had a friend who once had a knock-down drag-out with an editor over the use of a semicolon in a story. You don’t want your working relationship with an editor to be one of constant conflict, especially over small stuff. If you have to dig in your heels and refuse to make a change, it should be over something important to your story, something you feel will significantly damage the story if it’s changed.

·         Ask for clarification. If an editor’s suggestion isn’t clear, ask them to explain it more fully.

·         Try to figure out what they’re really saying. I had a tie-in editor once tell me that fantasy novels shouldn’t contain humor in them. I knew this was bullshit, but I also knew the comment had to come from somewhere. Eventually, I figured out that two characters I created for comic relief were too silly for the editor. I toned down the silliness, and the editor was satisfied. Always look for the comment behind the comment, one even the editor might not be aware of.

·         Don’t procrastinate. It’s too easy to put off revisions because then you don’t want to do them. It’s like being a student who doesn’t want to start working on a paper. Get started on your revisions as soon as you can and work steadily on them until you’re finished.

·         Figure out how not to be overwhelmed and stressed. Make a revision plan for yourself. Work on making the easiest changes first. Keep your revision sessions short. Take breaks (especially if you find yourself starting to get frustrated and angry).

·         Don’t make your editor’s life more difficult. Don’t make your editor miserable by constantly arguing with them, and don’t constantly bug them for more feedback and clarification. They have other work to do besides babysitting you as you revise.

·         Accept reasonable deadlines for revision. If the revision deadline the editor requests doesn’t seem doable to you, try to negotiate a different deadline. Both of you might have to compromise, but hopefully together you’ll find a deadline that will work.

·         Don’t submit changes too early. If you do something fast for an editor, they’ll expect it just as fast the next time, if not faster. Turning in revisions at the deadline is fine. Turn them in a day or two early if you want, but don’t turn them in weeks early, even if you can get them done in that time.

·         If you need more time to do your revisions, ask. You might not get it. Maybe your book already has a place in the publisher’s production schedule. But it never hurts to ask. Just don’t wait until the last minute to ask for extra time. Ask as soon as you think you may need an extension, but be prepared to finish your revisions by the originally deadline if necessary.

Good editors are worth their weight in gold, but even the best editors aren’t perfect. Remember your editor is a human being too, and do your best to find a collaborative working style that’s effective for you both. Don’t be afraid to stick up for yourself, though. Remember, the editor isn’t a boss and you’re not an employee. The two of you are creative and business partners, and you both should behave as such.


Halloween Kills: The Official Movie Novelization Out Now


My novelization of the latest movie in the saga of Michael Myers – Halloween Kills – came out in the USA this week. It’ll be another week or so before it’s available in the UK. For some reason, the Audible version dropped a week early, so some fans got a chance to check out the book early. I had a blast writing this, and after waiting a year-and-a-half for the book’s release, I’m anxious to learn what people think it of it. The film’s reviews have been mixed, but so far the response to my novelization has been mostly positive and enthusiastic. So if you saw the movie and loved it, this book is for you, and if you hated the movie, then the book is really for you, since it fills in a lot of the gaps in the story. Ordering links are below.


Minutes after Laurie Strode, her daughter Karen, and granddaughter Allyson left masked monster Michael Myers caged and burning in Laurie’s basement, Laurie is rushed to the hospital with life-threatening injuries, believing she finally killed her lifelong tormentor.


But when Michael manages to free himself from Laurie’s trap, his ritual bloodbath resumes. As Laurie fights her pain and prepares to defend herself against him, she inspires all of Haddonfield to rise up against their unstoppable monster. But as a group of other survivors of Michael’s first rampage decide to take matters into their own hands, a vigilante mob forms that sets out to hunt Michael down. Evil dies tonight.


Amazon Paperback


Amazon Kindle




Barnes & Noble Paperback




Planet Havoc: A Zombicide Invader Novel

 I just finished edits on this novel – an original adventure set in the Zombicide Invader universe – this week. The book will be out in April, and it’s available for preorder now. If you like action-packed stories of mercenaries and soldiers battling ravenous zombie-aliens, this is the book you’ve been waiting for!


Scoundrels and soldiers band together to survive the onslaught of alien-zombies spreading across the galaxy in this riotous adventure from the bestselling game, Zombicide: Invader


A deserted R&D facility tempts the hungry new Guild, Leviathan, into sending a team to plunder its valuable research. The base was abandoned after a neighboring planet was devastated by an outbreak of Xenos – alien zombies – but that was a whole planet away... When the Guild ship is attacked by a quarantine patrol, both ships crash onto the deserted world. Only it isn’t as deserted as they hope: a murderous new Xeno threat awakens, desperate to escape the planet. Can the crews cooperate to destroy this new foe? Or will they be forced to sacrifice their ships and lives to protect the galaxy?


Amazon Paperback




Barnes & Noble Paperback




We Will Rise


My next original horror/dark fantasy novel for Flame Tree Press is due out this July and is now available for preorder. No cover image yet, but I’ll share one when I get it. If you enjoy my dark surreal horror, you’ll like this tale of a city plagued by a ghost apocalypse. Here’s a synopsis:


In Echo Hill, Ohio, the dead begin to reappear, manifesting in various forms, from classic ghosts and poltergeists, to physical undead and bizarre apparitions for which there is no name. These malign spirits attack the living, tormenting and ultimately killing them in order to add more recruits to their spectral ranks.


A group of survivors come together after the initial attack, all plagued by different ghostly apparitions of their own. Can they make it out of Echo Hill alive? And if so, will they still be sane? Or will they die and join the ranks of the vengeful dead?


Amazon Paperback




Amazon Hardcover


Barnes & Noble Paperback




Barnes & Noble Hardcover


Writing Workshops


Want to take a writing workshop with me? A couple of my workshop presentations have been recorded and are available to watch on YouTube:


The Art of Suspense


Done to Death – Avoiding Cliches in Horror




Right now, the only face-to-face convention I’m going to is Stokercon in May. I’ll be doing a workshop or two for Horror University, although nothing specific has been scheduled yet, and I’m sure I’ll be doing some panels too. If you’re going, I look forward to seeing you there!


Stokercon. Denver, Colorado. May 12-15, 2022.




Want to follow me on social media? Here’s where you can find me:



Twitter: @timwaggoner


Instagram: tim.waggoner.scribe

YouTube Channel: