Monday, November 28, 2022

The Last Christmas Present


I was going through some of my old papers the other day, and I ran across a yellowed newspaper article that contained my first published story. Since it was a Christmas tale, I thought I’d share it with you here on my blog as the holiday season ramps up. The story was published in 1982, only a few days after my eighteenth birthday. The picture above is my senior class photo, and it accompanied the article. (Did I really used to have that much hair?)


I wrote this story for my creative writing class my senior year in high school, and even though it’s not a horror story, it was inspired by a story I read in one of Warren Publications horror magazines, Creepy or Eerie (I can’t remember which). That story was about the last surviving Christmas elf, but he was a crazed, grotesque thing who killed an abusive parent as a gift to the two children being abused. The idea of the last Christmas elf trying to keep Santa’s legacy alive fascinated me, but I thought the original story wasted the premise. What would it be like for the last elf? What would he think and feel? What would he do with himself? How could he keep on going? I wrote “The Last Christmas Present” to explore the answers to these questions.


I was more than a little worried that I was plagiarizing the original story, but I told myself that while I took the basic premise, I went in a very different direction with it. Besides, there’s that old quote from T.S. Eliot, “Good writers borrow. Great writers steal.”


Mrs. Vagedes was so impressed by my story that she decided to read it aloud to the class. She didn’t name me as the author. She said whoever the author was could reveal him or herself if they wished when she was finished. I was very proud that Mrs. Vagedes read my story, and when she was finished, I wanted to tell the class I was the author, but I couldn’t. A lot of kids in school thought I was weird, and I was afraid they’d view the story differently if they knew I’d written it. I wanted them to appreciate the story for what it was. Stephen King once said, “It’s not the story. It's he who tells it,” and while I believe that’s true, I wish I’d have enough confidence back then to claim my story in front of the class. Still, when the story was published, maybe some of my fellow students saw the article and realized the truth.


When Mrs. Vagedes read the story aloud, she couldn’t bring herself to say the word Dammit. I forget what she replaced it with. Darn it, probably. She later apologized for the substitution, saying that the original word was appropriate for the story, but she didn’t feel right saying it. I told her I understood, and I did – mostly. I figured it was probably a religious thing for her, but I didn’t ask.


Not long after the story was written, I discovered I’d been named Writer of the Month at my school, which surprised the hell out of me because I’d had no idea that we even had a Writer of the Month. I suspect that I might’ve been the only one that year, and maybe the only one ever.


I’m not sure how, but a reporter for the Miami Valley Wednesday News – a paper I’d never heard of (the town newspaper was The West Milton Record) – called my house and said her paper wanted to publish my story and that she wanted to interview me for an article to accompany the story. So not only was this my first published story, it was my first interview as an author too!


I was supposed to drive to her house for the interview. (Can you imagine anyone doing that now? They’d want to meet the interviewee somewhere in public if they didn’t have an actual office.) I had no idea how to dress, but I figured it was an important occasion, so I wore my three-piece brown suit. God, I must’ve looked ridiculous to the reporter, but she was kind enough to show no reaction to my outfit.


I don’t recall the reporter’s name, and she didn’t receive a byline when the article was published, which is a shame. I’d love to try to track her down and tell her how this one published story grew into a (so-far) forty-year career.


The article and story were originally published in the Miami Valley Wednesday News, March 18, 1982, and I’ve reproduced it below with only minor changes. I fixed a couple tense errors and made a clearer indication of the scene break.


What do I think of this story after all these years? I’m pleased to see that I wrote with an immersive point of view and included a strong emotional core, both things I still strive to do to this day and try to pass on to my own students. Did I choose the name Tommy because it was close to Tim? Maybe, I don’t recall. At the time I wrote the story, I had no intention of being a teacher, but I’d always been fascinated by the different ways teachers taught, so I suppose it was inevitable that I eventually became one. Did my experience in Mrs. Vagedes’ class – the only creative writing class my high school offered at the time – inspire me to go on to teach creative writing? It was a piece in the puzzle, that’s for sure, and when I dedicated Writing in the Dark: The Workbook to all the creative writing teachers I’ve had throughout the years, I made sure to include her. So in a way, I guess this article and story represents my beginning as a creative writing teacher too.





Tim Waggoner, a senior of Milton-Union High School who plans to attend Wright State University where he will major in theater, has been named writer of the month by the high school English department in connection with a program designed to enhance student writing abilities.


As a student enrolled in a creative writing class taught by Linnette Vagedes, Waggoner turned in a short story entitled, “The Last Christmas Present.”


Mrs. Vagedes explains “Tim’s paper was selected from all high school English classes as tops. It has a marvelous underlying theme which is so typical of Tim who always comes up with such creative ideas.”


The son of Mr. and Mrs. Orville Waggoner, Tim was field commander of the high school marching band this past season and is a member of the Milton-Union Drama Club. He has the lead role in that organization’s upcoming production of “A Thousand Clowns” to be presented March 26 and 27 at the high school. Waggoner plays the part of Murray Burns, an unemployed non-conformist in his late 30s.


Following is the text of Waggoner’s short story which he has given the Miami Valley Wednesday News permission to publish.





Sven closed the door in the face of the mounting snow storm. He stood for a second, staring at the ancient, splintered door and listening to the whistling of the wind as it flung particles of ice against the cracked window pane. He removed his tattered grey cloak, shook it once to remove the snow, and placed it upon a nail that had been driven into the wall for lack of a coat rack. Sven walked over to the small table in the center of the room upon which a candle, Sven’s last, burned, providing the only illumination in the small hut.


He stared at the candle’s flickering flame for a second, deeply inhaling the aroma of melting wax as it dripped onto the table, congealing into a molten mass that surrounded the candle. Sven rubbed his chin and began to speak softly, more to hear the sound of a voice than anything else.


“It’s been a long time, hasn’t it, Kris? Lots of things have happened since you died: new countries forming, bombs being made, world wars . . . I tell you, Kris, sometimes I wish I had gone with you.” Sven sighed and began to drum his fingers on the table.


“Two hundred and 50 years, Kris. I’ve stayed here, even after all the rest left. For all I know, I’m the last one. Do you know what it’s like to be alone for two hundred and 50 years, Kris?” Sven took a ragged handkerchief from his pocket and dabbed away a forming tear.


“And do you know what the kicker is, Kris? It’s Christmas Eve. We used to have the best Christmasses in the world, didn’t we? Maybe we never made it around the earth in a night like the stories say, but you always made sure that those who needed it the most got it, didn’t you Kris? After the others left, I tried to carry on, but without them and, most importantly, without you, I just couldn’t. You were Christmas, Kris; and when you died, Christmas died for me. For the others, too, that’s why they left, but I just couldn’t. Too many memories tied to this place: memories I couldn’t leave.” Sven sat quietly for a second, listening to the howl of the storm.


“I don’t have anything left, Kris. My whole life was giving and I have nothing left to give . . . and no one to give it to.”


Sven suddenly wished desperately that he had another person to talk to. He took his cloak off the nail and bundled it around himself as he once again braved the blinding snow storm. He went to the stable, which had seen many animals in its time, but was now the residence of one lone, old reindeer. Sven opened the door to the animal’s stall.


“C’mon Star, let’s go.”




Sven stood on the rooftop of an abandoned warehouse. The moon shone down on the pristine blanket of snow which for a time, disguised the filth, the snow just made it easier to ignore. Sven had given Star her freedom after she had borne him to this city. He realized she might not see another Christmas and wanted her to spend her remaining days with others of her own kind, if she could find them.


Sven heard noises coming from a nearby alley. He looked down and saw a young boy, perhaps only 12 or 13 years old, rummaging through a garbage can. Sven descended the fire escape and in moments stood beside the boy, whose head was buried in another trash can. The boy turned and saw Sven watching him.


“Are you gonna hurt me mister?” asked the frail, toeheaded youth.


“Who me?” answered Sven. “Do I look like a mugger?”


“Well, you are kinda short,” replied the boy. [NOTE from Old Tim: I have no idea what the hell this is supposed to mean!]


“My name’s Sven, what’s yours?”


“Tommy,” answered the youth and shook Sven’s outstretched hand.


“Tommy, what’s a nice kid like you doing going through garbage cans on Christmas Eve?”


“I’m looking for something to give my mom and my little sister.”


“Why don’t you just buy your gifts like everyone else?”


“Can’t. I only make enough to feed us. Well . . . it’s almost enough.”


“Why, doesn’t your father work?”


“He died last year. Tonight in fact.”


“Just like Kris,” thought Sven.


“Well, I gotta get going now. Mom’ll start worrying if I’m gone too long. Wish I woulda found something for them.”


Sven watched as Tommy turned and walked away, not sure whether to cry or to scream with rage and unable to do either.”


“Dammit,” he thought, “that’s exactly the kind Kris always helped. The Lord helped those who helped themselves and Kris helped those who couldn’t. Why can’t I have anything left worth . . .” And then Sven heard it. The sound. He looked up and saw Tommy standing in the middle of the street, transfixed by a pair of headlights that bore down upon him. With the nimbleness of his kind, Sven bounded across the alley and into the street. Sven reached Tommy just before the car did. He pushed Tommy out of harm’s way. Tommy tumbled into a snowdrift, unhurt, as the car roared on into the night. Sven wasn’t so lucky. Tommy ran over to the small crumpled mass of limbs and bent down. Sven looked up into Tommy’s eyes and smiled. He whispered something and died.


Tommy wasn’t sure, but he thought it sounded like “Thanks Kris.”





A Hunter Called Night Up for Preorder

My next novel for Flame Tree press, A Hunter Called Night, is available for preorder. The book will be out on May 9, 2023. Here’s a synopsis:


A sinister being called Night and her panther-like Harriers stalk their quarry, a man known only as Arron. Arron seeks refuge within an office building, a place Night cannot go, for it’s part of the civilized world, and she’s a creature of the Wild. To flush Arron out, she creates Blight, a reality-warping field that slowly transforms the building and its occupants in horrible and deadly ways. But unknown to Night, while she waits for the Blight to do its work, a group of survivors from a previous attempt to capture Arron are coming for her. The hunter is now the hunted.


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Writing Tie-Ins Panel


I was honored to participate in Con-Tinual's panel on writing tie-ins, along with

Jonathan Maberry, Chris A. Jackson, Susan Griffith, James P. Nettles, Harry Heckel, and Bobby Nash. Check it out!


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Friday, November 18, 2022

If You Can't Say Anything Nice . . .


The other day while cruising social media I ran across a post from a writer I was unfamiliar with. This writer posted an image of a page from a well-known and quite successful author’s work, with a specific paragraph highlighted. The poster commented how terrible the writing in the paragraph was, then in a follow-up post said that if the author saw the post, he should know that “you’re a terrible writer and we hate you.” A number of the poster’s friends piled on about how awful the writing in the paragraph was, and how they hated the author for being a SJW, blah, blah, blah, you get the picture. I didn’t see a damn thing wrong with the paragraph myself. I didn’t jump to the author’s defense, though. For one thing, the author is perfectly capable of defending himself if he wishes, and I learned a long time ago that Internet trolls are gasoline just praying someone will throw a match at them. They desperately want you to engage, and it’s rarely a good idea to do so. It’s just a waste of your time and emotional energy.


I made a social post about this situation myself. Here’s what I said:


Saw a post today from an edgelord taking a potshot at an established writer. I've been in this game for forty years, and I've seen dozens of wannabees who think they can make a rep by trying to knock down a pro. It never works. They just look like insecure assholes.


I didn’t name names because, as I said above, no need to give the edgelord the attention he was seeking, and why drag the author the edgelord was attacking into the situation unnecessarily? As I said in my post, I really have seen this type of edgelord before (although we didn’t call them that in the old days – usually just dickheads or douchebags or something similar). My first reaction on reading the edgelord’s post was “Not this guy again.” Not because I recognized the poster, but because one edgelord-dickhead-douchebag is pretty much the same as another. They’re usually males in their late teens to mid-thirties trying to establish a rep for themselves by attacking someone farther along in their writing career and who’s well known. They’re like a young gunslinger in a Western who wants to go up against a legendary shootist and make an instant reputation for themselves by gunning them down. I suspect a lot of these would-be gunslingers don’t write much, and instead like playing at being a writer on social media for whatever attention they can get. If they’re serious about making a career as a writer, being a would-be gunslinger is a terrible way to do it. No one thinks they’re funny or cute (except others who get off on mocking people), and unless they’re absolute geniuses, no agents or editors will want to work with them, and no readers will want to read their stuff. Mockers put out a too cool for school attitude and attempt to project a rebel persona, and all they do is try to tear everything and everyone else down in order to make themselves look big. It. Never. Works.


Plus, it’s just bad marketing. People buy products from other people (or companies) they like. Why would anyone want to spend their money on an edgelord-dickhead-douchebag? (Or someone who’s playing that role in public.) I bet the edgelord’s friends who chimed in with mockery of their own have never read a word the edgelord’s writing and never will. They sure as shit won’t spend money on it. Plus, mockers turn on other mockers all the time. You never know when it’ll become your turn to be a target.


Some other writers who saw the edgelord’s original post commented that it was a shame that people should be able to freely criticize another author’s work on social media without any negative reaction, and I got the same comment from a follower in a DM. But the edgelord’s post wasn’t criticism. It was simple, vitriolic mockery directed at someone more accomplished in the hope of gaining attention. None of the edgelord’s friends posted any criticism in reply, only more mockery. Saying “This shit sucks and you suck too!” isn’t criticism. It’s a childish attack. Criticism is more thoughtful, and it’s about the work. It's supposed to provide insight, help people reassess their opinion of the work and hopefully view it in a new way. Regardless of the specific opinion offered on a work of art, criticism in and of itself is positive because it adds to the overall conversation about what makes art good, what makes it meaningful, how does it contribute to the artform itself as well as to society. You don’t have to write a 100-page thesis, though. Even a simple statement like, “This writer used some interesting metaphors in their story, but there were so many, one after the other, that I sometimes lost track of what exactly was happening” is effective criticism (and it’s short enough to post on Twitter!).


One of my professors in grad school said, “Good criticism isn’t supposed to be correct. There’s no such thing as right or wrong when it comes to opinions on art. Good criticism is meant to be provocative.” The professor didn’t mean provoke a reaction, as the edgelord was trying to do. He meant provoke thought, provoke ideas, provoke questions, provoke you to offer your own criticism of the work in order to expand the conversation and keep it going. “Your writing sucks, you suck, and we hate you” doesn’t do any of these things.


And everyone is free to make any comment about writing (or anything else) they want on social media. What they aren’t free from, however, is other people seeing their comment and responding to it. If you put something out on Main Street you need to be prepared for whatever reaction might come your way. You aren’t having a discussion with a friend about a book in a restaurant booth. You’re posting a message where potentially anyone in the world can see it. So you either make peace with hurling your opinions around right and left and letting people respond however they will, or you think about what you’re going to post and whether it’s a good idea to do so at all. You want to chat in private with a few friends about a work of art? Do so via DM’s, email, Zoom, text, phone, or – gasp! – getting together in real life. There is no such thing as privacy on the Internet.


But regardless, writers rarely offer any negative criticism about other writers’ work in public (and often not even in private). Not because they’re cowards, but because they don’t want to put other writers in an awkward position. It’s why we never ask someone if they’ve read our latest story or book. Odds are they haven’t (and we likely haven’t read theirs). We’re all so damn busy writing our own stuff to read much, and we know so many other writers that we can’t keep up with all their work even if we did nothing but read 24/7. We know what it feels like to get a bad and sometimes downright scathing review. Why would we want to make someone else feel like that? And it’s difficult to build a professional network with other writers if you say negative things about their work. Why would they want to have any relationship with someone who’s trashed their latest opus on social media? By doing so, you’re damaging that writer’s reputation, especially if you’re a fellow writer. Plus, as a writer, you risk looking like you’re badmouthing the competition, whether from jealousy or to purposefully harm their business for your benefit. Plus, what if some of your readers like your stuff and the stuff your competitor writes? You risk alienating those readers. And other writers may start to wonder what you think about their work, and what you say about it to others when they’re not around. If you post a lot of negative criticism, you’ll start seeming negative in general to people, and you’ll end up driving away readers and making agents and editors wonder if working with you is a good idea.


Basically, the old adage “People in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones” applies.


On the other hand . . .


All writers started out as voracious readers, and we still love to talk about books – the things we liked, the things we didn’t, the things that amazed, confused, or angered us. We want the freedom to have such discussions with other readers. Plus, you can make a good case that such discussions are important for the overall health of an artform, that they encourage artists to clarify their thoughts and feelings about different subject matter and techniques. Such discussions help artists grow. So it comes down to a simple question: Which matters more to you: tending to the business concerns of your writing career or being free to talk about things you dislike in the works you read? Do whichever matters to you, but be prepared for the cost either way. You can also try to strike a balance between the two that works for you, and – as I’m sure you’re not surprised – I have a few thoughts about how you might do this.

·         Talk about the writing you love and why you love it. Primarily talk about what worked for you in a piece of writing, and then maybe mention one or two things that didn’t. If the positive outweighs the negative, most writers and readers will view your discussion as primarily positive.

·         Punch up, not down (or sideways). Stephen King doesn’t give a shit about what you think of his work, and the odds of him ever seeing your review on social media are, not to put too fine a point on it, extremely fucking low. Say whatever you want about the work of famous writers. Don’t talk negatively about the work of your peers or of newer writers, though.

·         Criticize the work of dead authors. As much as Stephen King doesn’t care what you think of his books, Mary Shelley cares even less. Once a writer is dead, there’s no one for your opinions to hurt. Of course, you might piss off some rabid Mary Shelley fans, but that’s a risk you’ll have to take.

·         Criticize writing in other genres. If you’re a baker criticizing another baker a couple blocks over, you might look like a self-serving jerk to some of your customers. But if you criticize the grocer down the street, you might find your customers agreeing with you. Yes, you run the risk of the writer whose work you criticize running across your post, but you won’t be a writer in their genre, and that will (hopefully) cushion some of the blow.

·         Criticize other types of art. Talk about movies, TV series, documentaries, reality shows, comics, music . . . anything other than writing. However, a field like horror is kind of like one gigantic mutant family, and horror filmmakers and artists are still horror folk, so you’ll have to decide how close other types of art in your genre are to the writing in that genre.

·         Let readers (who are not also writers) criticize writing. Readers are perfectly capable of criticizing writing on their own. They don’t need writers’ help. Sure, writers offer a practitioner’s viewpoint on writing, which is valuable, but the art of writing will not wither and fade because you didn’t post your thoughts about why the new bestselling novel you tried to read to read and put down wasn’t so great.

·         Talk about books without naming the author or the title. Talk about the book in as much detail as you can without identifying it. Yes, this will hamstring you when it comes to criticizing, but if you focus on technique and artistry in general, you should still be able to get the important parts of your message across.

·         Find some privacy. As I said earlier, don’t post your negative takes on the Internet. Talk with trusted friends in private, maybe over drinks in the bar during a convention – just make sure you know who’s nearby and might hear what you say. If you’re going to write your thoughts – in emails, texts, whatever – only do so when you 100% trust the other person. You don’t want them screenshotting your comments and posting them for the world to see.

If you really want to post your thoughts about others’ writing– positive and negative – on social media, go for it. But if you want to do so without any repercussions, sorry, that’s not an option. The world will respond to what we put into it however it will – if it responds at all.

But whatever you do, don’t be an edgelord-dickhead-douchebag about it.


Ebook editions of We Will Rise on Sale for 99 Cents

The Kindle and Nook editors of my ghost apocalypse novel We Will Rise have been on sale for 99 cents for the last couple weeks. Why? Damned if I know. Nobody tells us writers anything. I don’t know how long this sale will go on. I’m writing this at 11:27 pm EST on 11/18/2022, and if you’re interested in snagging a copy for that sweet-sweet price, do so quick before the cost goes back up.



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Praise for We Will Rise:


This was visceral stuff and a highly entertaining fast-paced read which was a bleak exploration of the human psyche. – Tony Jones, Ink Heist


We Will Rise is a tense, emotional, scary ride and one of Waggoner’s best. – Zach Rosenberg, Horror DNA


Cover Reveal for A Hunter Called Night


My next novel for Flame Tree press, A Hunter Called Night, is available for preorder, and I finally got to see the cover – and now you do too! Ain’t it a beaut? The book will be out on May 9, 2023. Here’s a synopsis:


A sinister being called Night and her panther-like Harriers stalk their quarry, a man known only as Arron. Arron seeks refuge within an office building, a place Night cannot go, for it’s part of the civilized world, and she’s a creature of the Wild. To flush Arron out, she creates Blight, a reality-warping field that slowly transforms the building and its occupants in horrible and deadly ways. But unknown to Night, while she waits for the Blight to do its work, a group of survivors from a previous attempt to capture Arron are coming for her. The hunter is now the hunted.


Order Links


Flame Tree:


Amazon Paperback:


Amazon Hardcover:


Kindle: Link still to come.


Barnes and Noble Paperback:


Barnes and Noble Hardcover:


NOOK: Link still to come.


Book and Author Society Interview/Q&A


Last Monday, I was honored to do a video interview for the Book and Author Society. They’ve posted a recording on YouTube, and you can check it out here:


The Keenedom Rises


Twitter may die any day now, so Brian Keene started an old-style message board as a place for horror folk to gather when and if it does. Basically, he’s created a refugee camp for displaced horror Twitterites. I have a topic there, so come check it out and party like it’s 1996!


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