Friday, December 23, 2022

Time in a Bottle (or in My Case, a Box)

My papers – notes, drafts, correspondence, page proofs, copies of published work, etc. – are going to be archived by the University of Pittsburgh Library System Horror Studies program. You can check out the program here:

It’s a great honor to have my work preserved at a university – and how cool is it that the University of Pittsburgh has a Horror Studies Program? I’ve spent the last few weeks going through forty years’ worth of material, printed as well as digital, packing it into cardboard boxes and getting ready to ship it. It’s been a real trip down memory lane, and I was surprised by how much unpublished stuff I’d saved that I have little to no memory of writing. I created shipping lists for each box, and while some items were self-explanatory, such as copies of published novels I’ve written, other items required some explaining. For example:


Nonfiction: “Shop Smarter, Not Harder,” Columbus City Scene, Summer 1999. This was a weird situation. I wrote an article for a small company that employed freelance writers and then marketed their articles to publications. I was assigned to write an article about the Tuttle Crossing Mall in the Columbus area. The company used my opening paragraph, but they cut the rest, then had someone else write an entirely different article. They still used my byline, and they never paid me.


I included the magazine because it counted as published work (sort of) and because it says something about the bizarre publishing situations writers encounter sometimes. Will the university library want it? Who knows? But I sent it anyway.


In an email, one of the university’s Archives and Special Collections librarians said that the purpose of archiving my work is so that it will be “preserved and made available to students, teachers, scholars, historians and fans.” Do I truly believe that future generations will pore over my work and find some manner of divine enlightenment in it? It’s a great honor to have my work collected and preserved by the university, but I don’t have that large an ego. I think it more likely that my work will end up housed forever and never looked at again, much like the Ark of the Covenant at the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark. But by sending my work to the university, I’ll create the possibility that it might have some type of positive impact in the future. That’s better than my family tossing it all into a dumpster after I die, or worse, dragging it around with them until they themselves die, and someone else finally decides to get rid of it. It’s a message in a bottle, which you could say about anything writers write, I suppose. Sometimes I feel as if soon after birth, I was thrown into a dark, bottomless pit, and I’ve been falling ever since. And as I fall, I’m writing as fast as I can and hurling the pages upward in hopes that they’ll make it out of the hole and someone will find and read them.


So why did I feel it was time for my work to be preserved like this?


This March I’ll be 59. That’s the age my mother was when she died, so it’s not surprising that I’ve been thinking about my mortality a bit more than often lately. (I’m a horror writer; mortality is always on my mind one way or another.) And I’ve been in two serious car accidents in the last year – both at the same section of highway and at the same time of day. (I’m going to avoid that stretch of road from now on!) While both of my cars were totaled, I was fortunate not to have been injured either time. But the thought that I could’ve died each time wasn’t lost on me. I’ve written a lot over the last forty years, and along with copies of my published work, I have a ton of notebooks filled with text (I handwrote my first drafts for years), along with printed material from the early days of my career, when everyone printed things out as well as saving them digitally. That’s a lot of junk for my wife and daughters to deal with if I suddenly died, and I didn’t want to saddle them with that responsibility.


A few months ago, I created a file folder of information I titled Tim’s Death Stuff for my relatives. It contains a list of all my passwords, contact info for my agent, my web designer, my publishers, etc. It also contains an author’s will, as well as a book for an author’s heirs to tell them what they need to know after their loved one’s death. Compiling that information got me thinking about what else I needed to do to prepare my family, and finding a home for all my writing-career materials seemed like the next logical choice.


What did I learn from packing those sixteen boxes for the archive?

1)       I used to give up on my work way too early. I already knew that I often gave up on stories or novels after a couple rejections, but I was surprised by how many novels and stories I gave up on before finishing – or which I did finish but for some reason never submitted to publishers. I’m sure some (maybe a lot) of those stories were better off never seeing the light of day, but others might’ve been successful if I’d given them more of a chance. Legendary science fiction editor John Campbell once said, “The reason 99% of all stories written are not bought by editors is very simple. Editors never buy manuscripts that are left on the closet shelf at home.” But on the other hand . . .

2)      I’m glad self-publishing wasn’t as easy in my early career as it is now. I finished my first novel in 1983 when I was 19, and if Amazon had existed back then, I’d have uploaded that motherfucker to their site seconds after typing THE END. I would’ve continued writing, and I would’ve hopefully continued improving, but I wouldn’t have had the same impetus, the same drive to improve if I wasn’t working toward the goal of placing my work with traditional publishers. I don’t mean to pick on any indie writers reading this. I just talking about myself. I may not be a famous bestseller, but I know I’m a better writer because of the highly competitive nature of traditional publishing. And after looking over some of my earliest work, I’m grateful it wasn’t published! If you’d like to check out on of my earliest stories – and one with a holiday theme – and get an idea of how far I’ve come in the last four decades, You can read "Scary Christmas” toward the bottom of this post.

3)      I explored a lot of different types of writing. Early on, I wrote science fiction, fantasy, and horror short stories, some serious, some humorous. My first novel was a fantasy adventure (inspired by Piers Anthony’s Xanth books), my second was a science fiction adventure (inspired by Doctor Who), and my third was an urban fantasy (although we called them contemporary fantasies back then), and it was the most original of the lot. In college, I wrote a science fiction play, a horror musical (without any music – I’m no composer) inspired by The Rocky Horror Picture Show, and an absurdist play which I produced and directed for a class. I also worked for a local weekly newspaper writing articles, and during my senior year I served as the editor for the campus literary magazine. In grad school, I wrote a couple more fantasy adventures and various SF/F/H stories, and after graduation I wrote three humorous fantasy novels – one in which God was a computer and Satan was an embodiment of entropy, one about a realm where all the gods of humanity co-existed, including modern ones like Freud, Darwin, and Einstein, and one where all the bizarre tabloid stories that appeared in publications like the Weekly World News was true. After that, I wrote a couple more traditional fantasy novels, I focused on writing nonfiction and humorous articles for a while, and I wrote a couple mysteries. All of these were the works I completed – there were more that I started and never finished. As time went by, publishers and readers responded most favorably to my horror, so I started focusing on that, trying to come up with my own unique subject matter and style. The point is I never stopped moving. I was always in motion as a writer, always exploring, always trying this or that. Was this good? I’m not sure. I had a lot of fun trying my hand at different kinds of writing, but I always got depressed when I didn’t much a great deal of success at any of them (until I focused on horror, of course). I’d like to think it made me a better writer – maybe more suited to writing media tie-ins which can be in any genre – but this wandering about may have delayed my development of a professional career. I’m really not sure.

4)      Nothing I’ve ever written was wasted. As I began assembling my work – so much of it unpublished or unfinished – I realized that all of it was material that I was using to create my archive. It all had a place ultimately, one I couldn’t have imagined when I started writing seriously at 18. And of course this reinforced the truth that every word I’ve ever written has led me to where I am now as a writer, regardless of whether it was ever published or not. It all had purpose.

5)      My career isn’t over yet. As I’ve been cruising steadily toward my 60’s, I’ve started feeling like maybe my writing career is winding down. I’ll be retiring from my teaching job in six years, and I guess I started thinking about retiring from writing too, without really realizing it. And I am weary of the never-ending push-push-push of a writing career – the dozens of novel proposals I’ve written that haven’t sold yet (most of which will likely never sell) but which my agent keeps sending around, the constant marketing of my work on social media (and feeling like all I’m being is an annoyance to people), editors who now ghost me or my agent (a comparatively recent development in the publishing world) . . . But as I worked on gathering and collating my archive materials, I saw that the first twenty years of my career were my early development as a writer, and my second twenty years were my development as a working professional. If I’m lucky, I’ll live for a while longer – maybe even another twenty years or more. I don’t know what the next stage will be for me, or if there will even be a next stage, but I’m more determined than ever to keep telling stories and writing articles.

6)      There is no one path. I’ve known this for years, but working on my archive reinforced it. Every writer creates his or her own path as they go, and no two are exactly alike. One of the dangers of social media is that you can be fooled into thinking something is wrong with your path because it isn’t exactly like that of someone else whose posts you read. I have a much better sense of my particular path now, and I can see myself in it. In some ways, my path might be my ultimate creation. Same for you.

Thinking about preserving your own writing legacy? Here are some resources that can help.

·         Here are all the things in my Death Stuff folder so you can create one of your own: A signed document called Last Wishes For My Literary Estate After My Death that spells out how my literary executors are (my wife and two daughters) and exactly what I want to have happen with my work when I’m gone. A document called Info for Heirs that lists all my various passwords and info on online accounts, agent contact info, etc. A complete Bibliography in case my heirs wish to republish any of my work, along with a list of awards and my author bio that they can give to publishers/media. A copy agreement with the University of Pittsburgh Library System Horror Studies program.

·         I also have a copy of a book in my Death Stuff file: The Author Heir Handbook: How to Manage an Author Estate by M.L. Ronn. Ronn also wrote The Author Estate Handbook: How to Organize Your Affairs and Leave a Legacy, which I bought for myself (which is where I got the ideas for what to put in my Death Stuff File).

·         The Author Estate Handbook: How to Organize Your Affairs and Leave a Legacy:

·         The Author Heir Handbook: How to Manage an Author Estate:

·         Neil Gaiman created a great template for an author will a while back. You can find a link to a PDF of it here, along with some good advice from Neil:


(Written at age 18)


Jerry panted as he hid in the dim alley. Rats and roaches vied for what little food they could get out of the filth that filled the metal and plastic garbage cans that lined the alley walls. Jerry hoped with all of his might, which was considerable for a sixteen year old, that no one heard the old man scream. The last thing that Jerry needed was to spend Christmas Eve in jail on a murder rap. His heart pounded in his head, the world blurred for a second and Jerry realized that he was crying. Shit, why the hell was he crying over an old drunk? The dumb sonofabitch was asking for it, stumbling out of the bar like that, singing at the top of his lungs, and waving all that money around. Hell, the old man probably had wanted to die; why else would he make himself so conspicous in the middle of the night in this part of town unless he had a death wish?

Jerry froze when he heard the sirens. Seconds became moments and moments became Little subjective eternitites as the sound grew and peaked, only to fade away. Jerry released the breath that he had been holding and watched as the winter cold made it visible.

He ought to be far enough away by now, Jerry thought, and he took out the crumbled wad of green that had, only a few minutes ago, been in the wallet of a merry old drunk man. Jerry had taken a few seconds to remove the money from the wallet instead of panicking and running with it like so many others did. That was how you got caught. No, Jerry was much sharper than that, much more calculating. If they found the wallet on the body without money they would be suspicious, but Jerry had left a twenty there to throw them off. Twenty dollars was not an unreasonable amount of money for a man to have left on Christmas Eve after spending the night in a bar; indeed, it was more than most left with. Jerry had been careful to move the wallet around in the snow with his shoe to remove or at least blur, his fingerprints. He then used on old pedce of newspaper to return the wallet to its proper place in the old man’s coat pocket. Jerry knew that all this would have been mere foolishness on his part if he had actually gone through with his plan and bashed the old geezer in the head with the hunk of pipe that he carried for “insurance”. As it was, the drunk was frightened enough by Jerry when he leapt out of the alley that the old man’s heart did all the work for him. Not that he thought that the cops wouldn't be able to pin it on him somehow. Not if they knew that he had been there, which Jerry hoped, they never would.

Jerry couldn't believe it. When he finished counting he knew that he was now the proud owner of roughly 350 dollars. What that dumbass had been doing with that much money around here Jerry would never be able to figure out...not in a thousand years. A considerably less amount of time on earth than he had left.


Jerry lived by himself in his mother's apartment. She had left six months earlier to move in with some black guy across town. Not that Jerry gave a shit. He hated the bitch anyway. He especially hated the demands she used to make of him...especially when he had hit puberty, but that was something that he didn't like to think about. Yeah, if anyone had asked him, he would've replied that he was glad that his mother was gone.        Jerry had stopped on the way home and had bought himself a bottle of whisky. A cheap bottle, but then Jerry would have been unable to tell the difference between good and bad whisky anyway. Besides it all tasted like shit to him. All he cared about was what it did to him.

Getting the booze hadn't been a problem. He knew the store owner well enough to know that the old bitch was terrified of him. Jerry, while not the most muscular boy in the city was enough to give people twice his age pause. He stood at six foot even and had broad shoulders, the kind which would've made him a good football player. That is if his school had a football team and if he still went to school. Jerry had just about finished climbing up the stairs when a rat, a particularly big and ugly one, which was saying a lot for the building in which Jerry lived, ran across his feet. Startled, Jerry dropped the bottle of whisky, which he had taken a few hits of on the way up the stairs, and watched as his plans for a merry, if numb, Christmas shatter and spill across the floor. He stared at the broken shards for a moment, wondering wheather or not to go back to the liquor store and try and scare the old bitch into giving him another bottle. It wasn't worth it, he decided...maybe next week. He still had a handfull of pills and a joint or two left in the apartment. He would just have to make due with them.


A few hours later Jerry was sleeping of the effects of his little private Christmas party. And in his sleep of stupor and numbness and short circuiting nerves, he dreamed.

He saw the old man's face, only this time it was frozen at the exact moment that his heart had decided to give out, and Jerry had the chance to study it in more detail. It was a round face; round and wrinkled. It kind of remined Jerry of a flesh colored orange. One that for some reason, had a nose, eyes, ears and a mouth. Something like a Florida version of Mr. Potato Head. The man's hair was white and stringy. In way it looked like someone had taken the orange-head and glued old white yarn to it. Jerry would've laughed at such a face, if it wasn't for the expression of pure animal terror that lit up the eyes. It was an expression that Jerry had seen before, in the eyes of his brother just before he had died from the knife wound that had sent their father to jail. It was the look that Jerry sometimes saw in rats when he had them trapped. They had that same look in their eyes when they saw Jerry's booted foot coming down on them. Things began to change in Jerry’s dream now. The old man was lying there, just like he had left him; stone cold dead, small piles of snow forming a kind of shroud around hm. Then the snow near the old man's hand stirred. No, the old man's hand that had stirred. Then before Jerry knew it, the old man was pushing himself, slowly and haltingly to his feet. He stood there like he was dazed or spaced out. Then Jerry saw the old man's face. It was white. Bloodless. Dead. And, if Jerry read the look in the old man's unseeing eyes right, it hated.

Jerry awoke with a start. he sat in bed for a second before he realized that he had wet himself. Jerry climbed out of bed and almost fell down. his head was still spinning, partly from the drugs, partly from the dream. Shit, but that had been one mother of a dream! If Jerry had been a little less cynical, he might have thought that the dream was caused from guilt. Jerry never felt guilt. . .not about anything. He stumbled out of one where an old mattress served as his bed and stumbled into the other, which served as everything esle. Jerry stumbled once more and this time ended up in a pile on the floor. Luckily he had landed next to what he had come in he looking for. He didn't own a television, but he did have a radio that he had taken from some punk or other. Jerry flipped it on. It was tuned, as it always was to his favorite station. They always played songs about sex and drugs and cars and all the other things that made life worthwhile, Jerry wondered if he had any pills left, then thought better of it. Better lay off for a while, especially after a dream like that! Jerry had seen things before of course when taking drugs. That was part of the fun of it, but somehow, nothing that Jerry had ever seen had seemed as real as that. Jerry dismissed such thoughts from his mind and instead concentrated on a song about girls with big breasts who happened to get off on a particular style of car.

Jerry started when he heard someone call his name


What the fuck? Had Rico or one of his gang come around here to hassle him! That was just what he needed right now! Jerry got up haltingly and made his way to the door, picking up a ball bat on his way. If Rico wanted to fuck around Jerry would show him some fucking around! Right upside his skull. Jerry stopped and listened at the door.


Now that he was closer, Jerry wasn't sure that there was any voice at all. It sounded more like the wind...or something out of a dream. A dream. Jerry suddenly realized that he was sweating. And shaking. What the hell did he have to be afraid of? Jerry threw open the door, the bat held high. There was nothing there. He looked around for a couple of seconds , until he was satisfied that no one was there. Swearing he closed the door. Lousy dope...Just what until he got his hands on that little punk that sold it to him!

A rat stood in the middle of the bare room when Jerry returned. He smiled. Now this was exactly what he needed to take his minds off things! Jerry tightened his grip on the bat and ad vanced on the rat. He had met some pretty mean rodents in his life here, so he wasn't especially surprised when this one didn't run. No, this was one of the arrogant ones, the kind that liked to try and stare you down. This was just fine with Jerry. The more arrogant they were the better... all the more fun to watch the little peckers go squish. Jerry raised the bat. This was going to be good. But before he could bring the wooden bat down, the rat had attched itself to Jerry's leg and was gnawing away. Dark blood spilled into the rat's mouth and all over the floor. He screamed and swung the ball bat at the rodent only to connect violently with his Leg. Jerry howled as he hit the ground. The rat, who had leapt away at the last minute, went for his eyes. In seconds one eye was a mass of blood. Jerry clawed frantically at his face. He caught the rat and crushed it in his hand. He flung the handful of smashed fur and guts into the wall, where it stuck for a second before sliding to the floor. Tears welled out of the one good eye that he had left. His whole face had gone numb with pain.


There it was again, that damn voice!! Only this time it filled Jerry with a vauge sense of something that he would’ve once called hope. Whoever it was, maybe they would help him to get to a hospital, or at least call an ambulance. Jerry rose, slipped once on his own blood, and staggered to the door, leaving a trail of gore in his wake. He threw open the door, saying something about help.

No one was there... yet Jerry could swear that he still heard the voice. The hole where Jerry's eye had been was bleeding even more now, and the tears in his other eye obscured his vision.


There it was again! Jerry stumbled into the hallway, hoping and for the first time in his life praying, that someone, anyone, was out there. Hell, even Rico would help him now. He'd have to!!

Through his haze Jerry thought that he saw someone. Funny, he hadn't a second ago...that didn’t matter though. This person, whoever it was would help him. Jerry was sure of it. Jerry reached out imporingly.

"Help...m-me....” The person, the old man, smiled.

Jerry’s eyes cleared and he saw who it was standing in the hallway. Most of all, Jerry saw the eyes...the eyes from his dream. Dead eyes. Jerry turned to run, blood welling anew, splattering all over, filling his good eye. He turned and ran…

He bounced seven times before he died, and nine before he cam to a rest at the bottom of the stairs. The old man stood at the top of the stairs, smiling his grimace of a smile. He looked down at the twisted, wet mess at the bottom of the stairs.

            “Merry Christmas Jerry...and a Happy New Year.”


My Next Horror Novel Up for Pre-Order!

My next novel for Flame Tree Press is A Hunter Called Night. It’ll be out May 9, 2023, and it’s available to pre-order now!

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:




Barnes and Noble Paperback:




Scheduled Appearances


The Scarelastic Book Fair, Scarlet Lane Brewing Company, McCordsville, Indiana: February 18, 2023


Authorcon 2. Williamsburg, Virgina: March 31-April 2, 2023


Stokercon. Pittsburgh: June 15-18, 2023


Social Media Links



Twitter: @timwaggoner


Instagram: tim.waggoner.scribe


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