Thursday, May 26, 2022

Why Horror (Still) Matters

In the aftermath of 9/11, horror writers went through an existential crisis. “How can we continue writing horror fiction,” they asked, “when the world is filled with real-life horrors that are so much worse?” Was it even moral to write horror fiction in the face of terrible tragedies? Were we mocking them? Worse, were we somehow contributing to them?


After the recent mass shooting at Uvalde elementary school in Texas – in which an eighteen-year-old gunman took the lives of nineteen children and two adults and injured seventeen others – writers of dark fiction are doubtless asking themselves the same questions that they did when the towers fell. I know I am.


If you feel you need to step away from writing the dark stuff for a while, I get it. If you feel you need to take a longer break, maybe even a permanent one, I get that too. But even in a world which contains such true darkness in it, I think horror fiction, film, TV, and games still play an important role, maybe even a vital one.


I wrote about the importance of horror fiction to humanity in the first chapter of Writing in the Dark, which I’ve posted below.



Originally published in Writing in the Dark, 2020


Years ago, a student asked me why I write horror. “You seem like such a pleasant person,” she said.

            I looked into her eyes and smiled a slightly wicked smile.

            “Writing horror is what keeps me pleasant.”

We all have a dark side that whispers to us, a side that we struggle against and ultimately need to make peace with if we don’t want it to destroy us. In many ways, that’s probably the most primal story of humanity. Horror fiction gives us a safe way to explore and – hopefully – come to terms with our dark side.

Horror stories allow us to confront our deepest fears through the buffer of fiction. Wrestling with the darkest questions of human existence – why is there violence, pain, cruelty, and death? – can be emotionally overwhelming. These questions can be too intense to deal with directly. Like an eclipse, the only way to safely view these aspects of life is indirectly. Horror allows us to do this. Horror can serve as a buffer in another way. It can distract us from the horrors of the real world, all of which are far more terrifying than any story about a ghost or vampire. Horror writers are like dark clowns that caper in front of our readers, making grotesque faces in the hope that the audience won’t look over our shoulder and see the true darkness of existence behind us.

Not that most readers think that deeply when they pick up (or download) a horror book. They’re looking to be entertained, and probably even more so with film and television horror. They want to enter a dark dream and experience the delightful frisson that comes from feeling they’re in mortal danger, when in reality they’re perfectly safe. It’s the same for people who enjoy a trip through a carnival spookhouse. It’s a fun experience that gets the blood pumping, that jolts people out of their everyday existence and – if only for a short time – makes them feel alive. And if this was all horror did, it would still be important. Who doesn’t want to feel really alive? But even when it entertains, horror can do so much more, be so much more.

Horror is as much, if not more so, about an individual character’s experience than it’s about whatever dark force confronts them. There’s an old saying that an adventure is someone else having a hell of a tough time a thousand miles away. Any type of fiction can teach us more about ourselves and our fellow humans by showing us how particular characters deal with conflict – both external and internal. But horror turns up the conflict all the way to eleven. How do characters deal with the unknown, the impossible, the nightmarish? How do they deal with being exposed to – or tempted by – evil, whether demonic, mundane, or symbolic? What would we do in those situations? Would we be smarter, braver, more resistant to corruption? Would we be smart enough not to go into the dark basement, to resist opening the Necronomicon, to not invite the vampire into our house? Could we hold onto our sanity in the face of the awful things we encounter – or become? Psychologists suggest that reading and watching horror allow people to develop stronger survival skills. We engage in fictional scenarios to explore what we would do in dangerous situations. How many of you have spent time arguing with friends about the best way to survive a zombie apocalypse or how you’d react during a home invasion by a Michael Meyers-like serial killer?

All fiction can make people more empathetic by simply dropping us into a character’s life and allowing us to experience how he or she tries to deal with problems. But horror fiction allows us to follow characters pushed to the absolute limits of human experience and beyond. The more pain – of all sorts – a character experiences in a story, the greater our empathy for that character.

Horror also allows for deep catharsis. The ending of the movie Jaws is a perfect example. After an entire film dealing with an implacable inhuman force, Sheriff Brody – clinging to the mast of the sinking Orca and literally in the shark’s environment – manages to kill the beast at the last moment. And the resultant explosion is a huge catharsis. When characters not only survive but triumph against dark forces, we feel relief. We also feel that if characters in a story can do it, maybe we can too in real life. But good horror isn’t predictable, isn’t safe. Maybe the heroes succeed in banishing the evil, maybe they don’t. Maybe they’re defeated by it, changed by it, become part of it. Or maybe they only believe they’ve won, but it’s a temporary victory at best because the evil returns in the sequel. (I contend this, aside from being a marketing tactic, reflects how we deal with darkness in our own lives. We can never banish it entirely. The best we can manage is a holding action or temporary respite until it returns, and it will keep returning until it finally claims us. How’s that for a cheery thought?) Uncertain outcomes like these keep readers and viewers on their toes mentally and force them to deal with the more complex and mixed emotions uncertain endings bring.

Horror also offers another kind of catharsis. We get the chance to experience what it’s like to be the monster, to not be constrained by morality or even our humanity. We can stalk, torture, maim, kill, despoil souls, destroy worlds, all without ever committing an actual act of violence in the real world. We can get in touch with our dark side, explore it, map it, acknowledge it . . . and once we do, it ceases to have power over us. Or at least, its power is lessened. We’re no longer afraid of thinking “bad” thoughts or imagining “bad” things. It’s like The Purge, only without all the blood, death, and screaming.

Horror can be deeply existential, too. How can we mere mortals hope to defeat all the things that make up Darkness with a capital D: death, disease, violence, temptation, degradation, insanity? What does it mean to be human in a world where the dead can return to life and seek to drain your blood or devour your flesh? What does it mean when otherworldly forces – infinitely more powerful than we are – seek to destroy or dominate us? What does it mean to be human when the monster is inside us, growing stronger every moment? The vast majority of audience members don’t think this consciously about the horror they consume as entertainment, but subconsciously? I believe they do engage with the existential questions horror raises on that level, just below the surface of everyday normal thought.

Horror can provide comfort for the weird ones among us. (And I count myself as a member of this tribe.) With horror’s focus on monstrous distortion – on Otherness – those of us who for one reason or another don’t fit into society’s paradigm of normal can find a place to belong. My wife once told me, “You talk about monsters as if they’re your best friends.” That’s because in many ways they are.

A lot of you reading this might be thinking that literature of any sort has the potential to do all the things I’ve discussed so far – and you’re right. This proves my ultimate point. Horror is literature, and it’s just as important and vital as any other type for the health and growth of humans and their culture.

This sounds cool and all, you might be thinking, but I like to read and write horror because it’s fun.

There’s nothing wrong with fun. If we didn’t have fun from time to time, imagine how miserable our lives would be. But I believe even popular fiction meant primarily for entertainment can fulfill a higher purpose, too. We all know that entertainment can provide an escape from our everyday lives, but it wasn’t until my senior year in high school that I truly understood what this meant.

There was a small bookstore in the town next to ours. (This was back in the pre-Amazon past, when such places still existed.) My dad and I were browsing the bookshelves, and I was happily surprised to see a new novel by Piers Anthony in his Xanth series called Centaur Aisle. I’d loved the first three books in the series and had no idea there was going to be a fourth. Dad and I went up to the register, and when he saw the book I was holding, he asked, “Do you mind if I read it first?” I was shocked. In my family, whoever bought a book was always the first one to read it. No exceptions.

My mother – who suffered from a number of health problems – was scheduled for surgery the next day. The procedure wasn’t a very serious one (or so my parents claimed), but I understood then that my father was worried, and he wanted something to distract him in the hospital during my mother’s surgery and recovery. I said yes, of course. And I realized then that popular fiction of all kinds – fiction written to be fun – has a profound power. It can provide comfort to someone who’s scared. It can take someone’s mind off their worries, help them get through some of the hardest times in their life.

Not only do horror writers work in a genre with a long and rich history, the stories we create perform numerous important functions for people as individuals and for civilization as a whole. So if anyone ever asks you why you’re wasting your time writing horror instead of “real” fiction, tell them, “Horror is as real as it gets, baby.” Then for good measure hiss and bare your fangs, then get back to work.

Thursday, May 19, 2022

Exploring Perception in Dark Fiction: Guest Blog byTori Eldridge


Exploring Perception in Dark Fiction

by Tori Eldridge

Every day, people make decisions that take them toward empowerment and righteousness or toward resentment, bitterness, and despair. Not all of these choices are clearly marked like forks in a road. Some creep up on us with insidious stealth, altering our perception and twisting the truth. The micro decisions we make every day can lead us to irrevocable actions that cause our own demise. They can also raise us from literal or emotional poverty and set us on a nobler path.

In Dance Among the Flames, we meet Serafina Olegario at a vulnerable time in her life. Born in the stilt-shack slums of São Salvador, Brazil, sixteen-year-old Serafina takes her newborn son to meet her married politician lover. When commanded to do the unthinkable, she finds her strength through a supernatural force that changes the course of her tragic life. From this moment forward, every choice she makes pushes her toward the light or the dark. How the readers perceive her evolution is up to them.

It’s these gray areas of human behavior fascinate me the most.

I have yet to meet a person who is a hundred percent in the right or in the wrong. Nor have I met anyone who always acts in the best interest of others or even themselves. Although we might aspire to the most noble course of action, our past experiences and beliefs can lead us astray. Everything we have seen, heard, thought, or been taught; every joy, heartache, failure, and success; every suffering, privilege, or injustice leaves its mark and alters how we perceive.

Dark fiction takes on on a journey of discovery without judgment and let’s us see the world and ourselves in a whole new way.

“Purity was a lie made up by weak people without the guts to face the truth. There was no good or bad: There was only context and conditions. View something as bad and it was. View someone as evil and they were. Spend your life bemoaning your fate and you suffered.”

 —Thoughts from Serafina Olegario in Dance Among the Flames

Could we spiral into the darkness like some of the characters we read about or write? Dark fiction gives us the privacy and context to ask: Where are the lines in the sand after the tide rises and ebbs out to sea?

Our perceptions about everything change slightly—or sometimes dramatically—from one moment to the next. This is one reason why I aspire to write every day. I never know what creative ideas my new perceptions will bring.


From the national bestselling author of the Lily Wong thriller series comes a “stunningly original novel” (F. Paul Wilson) about a desperate mother who rises from the slums of Brazil to become a powerful wielder of Quimbanda magic. Across forty years, three continents, and a past incident in 1560 France, Serafina Olegario tests the boundaries of love, power, and corruption as she fights to escape her life of poverty and abuse. Serafina’s quest begins in Brazil when she’s possessed by the warrior goddess Yansã, who emboldens her to fight yet threatens to consume her spirit. Fueled by power and enticed by Exú, an immortal trickster and intermediary to the gods, Serafina turns to the seductive magic of Quimbanda. Passion. Horror. Betrayal. It’s dangerous to dance in the fire. But when you come from nothing, you have nothing to lose.

“Eldridge masterfully navigates the nuances of Brazilian religious syncretism and takes a deep and daring look into the issues of colorism, class, generational trauma, and physical, sexual, and emotional abuse. Spanning decades and generations, this is both a page-turner and an emotional powerhouse.” —Publishers Weekly (Starred Review)

Tori Eldridge is the national bestselling author of the Lily Wong mystery thriller series—THE NINJA DAUGHTER, THE NINJA’S BLADE, and THE NINJA BETRAYED—nominated for the Anthony, Lefty, and Macavity Awards and winner of Suspense Magazine’s Crimson Scribe Award for Best Book of 2021. Her shorter works appear in the inaugural reboot of Weird Tales Magazine and other horror, dystopian, and literary anthologies. Her short story, “Missing on Kaua‘i” appears in the 2022 Mystery Writers of America anthology, CRIME HITS HOME. Her horror screenplay THE GIFT, which inspired DANCE AMONG THE FLAMES, earned a semi-finalist spot for the Academy Nicholl Fellowship. Born and raised in Honolulu, Tori’s deep interest in world culture and religions has prompted her to visit nine countries, including Brazil.

Monday, April 4, 2022

How I Try to Avoid Racism in My Writing


I wrote the following in the latest edition of my newsletter, which went out yesterday. I thought I'd post it here as well.

Recently, a small-press horror publisher posted the back cover copy of one of their forthcoming books. The story revolved around a terrorist plot to exterminate the world’s white people using a plague genetically engineered to only affect Caucasians. The plague succeeds, 98% of white folks die, and world civilization collapses. The premise seemed more than a little problematic, and the plot description made it sound even worse. When I first read it, I thought, “This sounds racist as fuck!” And I wasn’t the only one. On social media, many horror authors were appalled by the description and said so. Some vouched for the author (a white man), saying he’s a wonderful guy, has been very supportive of upcoming writers over the years, and is by no means a racist. Besides, some added, people were wrong to judge a book by the publisher’s description! Others said, “Uh, dude, that’s what cover copy is for – to help a reader decide whether or not to buy a book.” The writer and his supporters were baffled that anyone might view the premise and plot description as racist, and the publisher, perhaps unwilling to deal with the fallout over the situation, decided to close shop.

(Since I originally wrote this post, I've learned the publisher wrote the synopsis and posted it on social media without showing it to the author first.)

I’m not going to name the author, book, or publisher. If you don’t already know who they are, a couple minutes of digging on social media or Google will fill you in. I will say I’ve been acquainted with the author for years, he’s always been supportive of me, as well as many other writers. I’ve heard him described more than once as an elder statesman in horror. But does this mean he can’t be unconsciously racist? Or at the very least be tone deaf to racial issues?


Of course not. If you’re a white person raised in America – like me – you’ve grown up in a culture steeped in racism, and because this culture has been designed to privilege you, you can never be fully aware of how it’s shaped you and your attitudes. And if you decide to write about racial issues in your fiction, you’ll do so from a perspective of privilege, and even if you have the best intentions, there’s an excellent chance you’ll screw it up. We may never be able to fully transcend our acculturation, but that doesn’t mean we can’t try to learn, grow, and do better.

What can you do to try to deal with these issues when it comes to writing and being part of the writing community? Some thoughts . . .

·         I wrote a previous blog entry about dealing with diverse characters when writing fiction. You can find it here:

·         I live in a diverse world, and I want my fiction to reflect that, but I won’t tell a story that’s not mine to tell. I won’t write a story that centers on the identity of someone from a different background than myself. I feel totally comfortable writing characters that aren’t cishet white guys like me, but only when their race/gender identity isn’t central to their role in the story.

·         I examine my ideas for possible racism (and any other -isms, for that matter). If I write anything that has racial elements to it (or gender elements, LGBTQ+ elements, disability elements), I ask myself why do I want to write about these elements, what purpose do they serve in the story, and how might they be perceived by readers? My intent as a writer is important, but my execution of these ideas is far more important. It doesn’t matter what I tried to do, only what I did do. If I have any doubts about my ideas, I seek out beta readers who can let me know if my execution is flawed.

·         I try to read the damn room. Thanks to years of Trumpism, racial, sexist, homophobic, transphobic, and anti-intellectual attitudes and tensions in America are high. Any story I might write which deals with these elements is likely to cause strong reactions in readers right now. I try to be mindful of this and proceed accordingly. Maybe I’ll decide to not write the story. Maybe I’ll rework it to minimize or avoid any potential negative response. Maybe I’ll write it but tread carefully.

·         I listen to readers, especially people of color. This one’s more of an intention right now, since so far I haven’t received any negative feedback on my portrayal of non-white, non-cishet characters. But even if I feel I did a good job, if readers don’t think so, I intend to listen to their criticisms without being defensive. If I agree that I’ve made a mistake in my portrayals, I’ll apologize, work to repair whatever damage I may have done, and actively work to do better in the future.

·         I try to be a good literary citizen and lift up people of color (and others too). All aspects of American culture have been designed to privilege white people (and straight men and abled people), so I do what I can to help level the playing field. I do this in simple ways, by sharing people’s posts on social media, by mentoring people, by being available to answer questions or blurb books, and by treating all writers – regardless of background or level of experience – as colleagues. And I’ll keep looking for ways to lift others up as long as I live.

If you’d like to see how I do with diverse characters, some of the main characters in We Will Rise (out this July) include a black woman, an Asian woman, a Muslim man in his early twenties, and a teenage trans man.

Saturday, April 2, 2022

Sample Newsletter

 I thought I'd post the Feb. 2022 edition of my newsletter here for folks who'd like to see what they might be getting before they subscribe. If you like what you see, you can subscribe to my newsletter here:

Welcome to the latest edition of Writing in the Dark! This time, along with all the Tim Waggoner news you can’t live without, I’ll be talking about writing tips I learned in acting class, my evolving views on content warnings, and one of the things I hate most as a reader of horror novels. Let’s get to it!




Kind of an odd one this time. For Christmas, my wife got me a Bram Stoker Funko Pop figure. Trouble is, I already had one. My extra Bram needs a good home, so I’ll send it to the eleventh person who emails me at US residents only for this one.


I haven’t forgotten my friends elsewhere in the world, though. For any non-US residents, I’ll send an electronic copy of my how-to-write horror book Writing in the Dark. I’ll send a copy to the first three people who email me. And tell me which format you prefer: Mobi, PDF, or ereader.



I usually don’t have copies of my books for sale, but sometimes people send me books to sign (with return postage, of course) and I’m happy to do this. I’m also happy to sign stickers that you can place inside a book and send them to you. Email me at if you’re interested.




Planet Havoc: A Zombicide Novel

Review copies of my forthcoming novel Planet Havoc: Zombicide Invader are available at NetGalley! I’d appreciate it if you’d give the novel a look and leave an honest review:

Speaking of reviews, early ones for Planet Havoc have been good, and Jonathan Maberry was kind enough to read an advanced copy and provide a blurb!

“PLANET HAVOC is the best of all worlds –space adventure, military SF, snarky humor, and zombies! Tim Waggoner brings the pain and all the jolts in this rollicking action horror thriller!” – Jonathan Maberry, NY Times bestselling author of the Joe Ledger thrillers and KAGEN THE DAMNED

Planet Havoc is due out in April and is available for preorder. Here’s a synopsis:

Scoundrels and soldiers band together to survive the onslaught of alien-zombies spreading across the galaxy in this riotous adventure.

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 horror novel is due out this July from Flame Tree Press!

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?

You can preorder the book here:

Flame Tree Press:

Amazon Paperback


Amazon Hardcover

Barnes & Noble Paperback


Barnes & Noble Hardcover

Writing in the Dark Workbook

This is my follow-up to Writing in the Book, and as the title implies, it focuses on exercises that will help you improve your horror writing. The book’s been edited and the layout is finished, and it’s scheduled to come out in June. You can read more about it here:

Writing Poetry in the Dark

One day when I was exchanging emails with Jennifer Barnes, my editor at Raw Dog Screaming Press who brought out Writing in the Dark, I suggested it might be cool if they brought out a book on writing horror poetry. A couple months later, Jennifer said they were indeed going to produce such a book, and would I mind if they use Writing in the Dark as part of the title. (Writing in the Dark started as the name of my blog, then became the name of this newsletter, and finally the title of my how-to-write-horror book.) I said sure, and thus history was made. Stephanie M. Wytovich, award-winning writer of poetry and fiction, edited the book, which contains essays on the craft of writing horror poetry from the best practitioners in the business such as Linda D. Addison, Michael A. Arnzen, F.J. Bergmann, Carina Bissett, Leza Cantoral, Timons Esaias, Jeannine Hall Gailey, Claire C. Holland, Jim and Janice Leach, Donna Lynch, Alessandro Manzetti, Jessica McHugh, Cynthia Pelayo, Saba Syed Razvi, Marge Simon, Christina Sng, Lucy A. Snyder, Sara Tantlinger, Joanna C. Valente, Bryan Thao Warra, and Albert Wendland.

I’m not a poet, but I appreciate good poetry, and I was thrilled when Stephanie asked me to write a foreward for the book. You can read more about the book at the link below:

A Little Aqua Book of Marine Tales eBook

This originally appeared in a limited hardcover edition as one of Borderland Press’ legendary Little Book series, but now it’s available in a more affordable eBook edition!



Sales to Apex and Night Land

After years of trying, I finally sold a story to Apex Magazine! It’s a horror story called “In the Monter’s Mouth.” I don’t yet know when it will appear, but I’ll tell you when I do. I was thrilled to sell a story reprint to Japan’s Night Land Quarterly for translation. “Cast-Offs” originally appeared in the anthology Cutting Block Party several years ago.

Kolchak 50th Anniversary Graphic Novel

When I was a kid, I loved the Kolchak, the Night Stalker TV series. Cark Kolchak was a dogged everyman reporter who fought paranormal creatures only because no one else would. Kolchak’s fiftieth anniversary is coming up, and I was thrilled to be asked to contribute a story to a graphic novel celebrating Kolchak. My story depicts Kolchak’s encounter with a family of wererats. It’s called “The Nest,” and it’ll be illustrated by Clara Meath. She’s an awesome artist and you can see some of her work here:

This is a double bucket-list item for me. I’ve always wanted to write a Kolchak story and I’ve always wanted to write a script for a comic book. Now I’ve done both in one go!

You can learn more about the graphic novel at its Kickstarter link. There’s going to be an open submission period for prose stories about Kolchak too, and you can learn more at that there as well.

New Blog Entries

I’ve posted a couple new Writing in the Dark blog entries since my last newsletter. “Like the Cool Kids” talks about the myth of author cliques that act as gatekeepers in traditional publishing, and “You Can’t Fire Me” discusses why writers might want to quit writing altogether and reasons why they shouldn’t. You can read the entries at the following links:

Creative Writers and the Community College

Here's a link to an article I wrote twenty years ago about creative writers finding teaching jobs at community colleges. Full-time college teaching positions may be a hell of lot scarcer these days, but much of the info still holds true, I think. So if any of you are thinking about teaching college writing courses, you might want to check it out:

The Literary Genius of Movie Novelizations

I was honored to be one of the writers interviewed for this article on writing movie novelizations.


I have sleep apnea and use a CPAP machine to help me breathe normally when I sleep. Recently, I was informed that my CPAP was recalled due to a cancer risk. My doctor told me to stop using my machine and a new one would be ordered for me. Unfortunately, that was several months ago. So many people need new machines that it’s taking a while for manufacturers to meet the demand. This means that my sleep isn’t so great right now, and during the day I’m often tired and fuzzy-headed. As you might imagine, my writing production has slowed because of this. I’m pecking away at The Atrocity Engine, the first of my new horror/urban fantasy trilogy for Aethon Books, and I have a couple stories for anthologies I need to write. Sometime soon I’ll get started on a new how-to-write book for Raw Dog Screaming Press. It hasn’t been officially announced yet, so I can’t tell you anything else about it. I’ve toyed with the idea of writing a middle-grade horror novel, but I haven’t done anything about it yet.

Send all the caffeine my way, please.


One of my pet peeves as a reader of horror fiction is when authors don’t take into account characters’ interest in strange/disturbing events. For example. I’m currently listening to Bentley Little’s The Bank on audio. I love Bentley’s fiction, and I’m enjoying the book quite a lot. But in the novel, nearly twenty people, all who work at the same bank, are found dead in a field outside town. (This happens early in the novel so my telling you isn’t really a spoiler.) One of the dead people has an obvious cause of death, but the others don’t. Weird, right? Well, not only don’t the townsfolk freak out about this much, they don’t think much about it or discuss it amongst themselves. And no one is texting back and forth about it or posting about it on social media. Worse, no news media shows up to cover this bizarre story – not even a reporter from the local town paper! I see this kind of thing happen a lot in horror. Writers seem so focused on moving their plot forward that they don’t fully consider the ramifications of the events they’re writing about. The townsfolk in The Bank would be upset about the murders and talk about them – in real life or virtually – a lot, almost to the exclusion of anything else (at least for a while). And reporters throughout the state as well as national and maybe even international media would quickly show up to cover the bizarre deaths. The media would be omnipresent in town, and they’d bug law enforcement and regular citizens alike to get interviews and sound bites. The media might not become a major aspect of the story, and they might even fade out of the story for the most part as the plot moves on, but they’d still be in background somewhere. But not having any media at all present – as well as no social media discourse about the murders – is extremely unrealistic, and their absence always throws me out of the story.

So how do I handle the issue of the media in my fiction?

·         Many of my novels take place over the course of a few hours, and there often isn’t time for news media to become alerted to the weird stuff going on.

·         My characters are usually so caught up in dealing with weird stuff that they don’t have time to post about it on social media.

·         The situation might only impact a few characters, so the incidents aren’t known – and maybe never will be known – outside their circle.

·         I might have law enforcement try to conceal the more bizarre/extreme aspects of an incident to keep news media from becoming involved (as long as they can, anyway).

·         I have news media show up for a scene or two to establish their presence, but they don’t play a big role in the story.

·         I’ll show someone post a message on social media or read one, send a text or receive a text, talk to someone on the phone, etc. about what’s happening. I’ll do this once or twice to show that people are upset about what’s going on, but I don’t make it a major part of the story.

·         Sometimes I’ll make the news media and social media a significant aspect of the story. I may do this by having one reporter be a supporting character or even a main character. This reporter stands in for all the other media that’s present in the background. I might have characters stay in regular phone/text/social media contact with friends or family during a story (although I’ll make sure not to overdo this).

So if you write fiction where anything newsworthy happens – especially something way out of the ordinary – consider using some of the techniques above to make your story more realistic, at least in terms of how reporters and social media are presented.


The debate about whether to include content warnings – especially in horror novels – flares up from time to time on social media. This seems to me to be something younger readers (younger as in people who haven’t hit middle age yet) who interact a lot on social media want. The concept seems of more concern to indie and self-pubbed writers than it does to traditionally published writers as well. It’s been an issue in college classrooms too, although my sense is not so much as it once was.

Some small-press publishers include content warnings with their books, some leave that up to individual authors. Some self-published authors include them, others don’t. On Twitter, the people who believe in content warnings often do so with an almost zealot-like fervor, and they’ll condemn anyone who doesn’t agree with them 100% as completely devoid of empathy for their fellow humans. And some people who don’t believe in content warnings treat those who do as if they’re immature wimps and are very condescending toward them. My guess is that, as with most things in life, those at the extreme ends of the scale are the minority, but they are the loudest and therefore get the most attention.

I have no objection to anyone using or not using content warnings in their work or to any readers who desire content warnings or who don’t. To each their own. I’ve debated for a while whether or not to include content warnings with my novels. My horror fiction often contains extreme elements, and I certainly don’t want anyone to be traumatized by reading my books. But as a reader, I’ve never felt the need for content warnings. If I want to get a heads up before I choose to read a book, I consider a book’s genre, check any reviews I can find, look for social media discussions, check the author’s website, and do a general Google search to see what’s been written about the author and the book in question. The information I need is already out there, and – better yet – it comes from a variety of sources, not just the author or publisher. How do they know what I might find upsetting in a story? I also come from a generation (I’m almost 58) that believed individuals should deal with disturbing material on their own. We assumed if people found horror upsetting, they wouldn’t read it. And if they started to read it, and it proved too much for them for whatever reasons, they’d put the book aside and choose to read something else. Plus, as a teacher, I think it’s good for people to push past their comfort levels, at least a bit, if they can. It’s how we learn and grow.

But I also know trauma survivors who will literally have flashbacks if they encounter anything in a story that triggers them. These people are aware of their limits and avoid anything that might set off a flashback, but sometimes they read (or watch) something that unexpectedly sets off a flashback anyway, but they accept this. They took a risk, it resulted in a bad outcome, and they deal with it. But these people are in their forties and older.

So many younger people are so focused on being kind to each other – which is a wonderful thing! – that they don’t want to hurt anyone, intentionally or otherwise. And of course, they don’t want to be hurt either. Who does? So content warnings might seem to them as an absolute necessity. Movies have ratings and food has a list of ingredients. Why shouldn’t fiction? they argue. Some also suggest that not providing content warnings can hurt your book sales, but I suspect that goes more for self-pubbed and indie writers than for those traditionally published (but I don’t know for sure).

So, wanting to do the right thing, I read as much as I could on content warnings, read social media posts about them, and wrote a blog on my thoughts about them, which you can find here:

In the time since I wrote this blog, I continued reading and thinking about content warnings, and here’s where I currently stand.

My first principle as a human is Do No Harm. I thought content warnings might help me avoid hurting anyone, but since the advent of content warnings in fiction some years ago, a number of psychological studies have been done, like this one:

These studies have found that content warnings do not help people, and they can actually hurt them by centering trauma as a defining characteristic of one’s personality, making it more difficult for people to deal with their trauma.

So, given the current data, if content warnings serve no useful purpose and might actually cause harm, I won’t include them in my work. I understand that some readers really want them, and that not including them might cost me sales and lose me readers, but unless new studies provide different data, I won’t risk hurting any readers.

Again, I make no judgments about readers, writers, or editors who believe content warnings should be provided in books. Everyone must do what they think is best.

Including me.

If you’d like to include content warnings in your books, though, here’s a helpful source on how to do it:



Book Recommendation: Refuse to Be Done by Matt Bell

Matt Bell is a wonderful writer and teacher, and he has a craft book on revising fiction called Refuse to Be Done coming out in early March, and I highly recommend it.



Barnes and Noble


Matt also puts out a fantastic newsletter filled with writing tips and writing exercises. I highly recommend it as well:


Here are the cons I’m planning on attending this year, Covid willing.


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


World Fantasy Convention 2022, New Orleans. Nov. 3-6, 2022.



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



Twitter: @timwaggoner


Instagram: tim.waggoner.scribe


YouTube Channel:




That’s it for now. Thanks for reading, and if you have any questions for me or writing/publishing topics you’d like me to talk about in future newsletters – or you just want to get in touch with me – email me at