2023 will mark the 20th anniversary of the publication of my first horror/dark fantasy novel, The Harmony Society. It was my second novel published. The first was a work-for-hire comedic erotic mystery called Dying For It, one of five novels published by the short-lived Foggy Windows Books, which came out in 2001. (But that’s a story for another day.)
In the late 1990’s I belonged to a writers’ group which counted the fantasy novelist Dennis L. McKiernan as a member. Dennis became a mentor to me, and I learned a lot from him. In addition, he was kind enough to recommend my fantasy novel True Thief to his agent, Jonathan Matson. Jonathan liked the book and called me on my thirtieth birthday to offer representation. Jonathan sent True Thief out to a number of publishers, but none ever made an offer on it.
While True Thief was out on submission, I decided to start working on another novel. I didn’t want to do a sequel to True Thief, but I had no idea what to write. Back then, I belonged to the GEnie network, a bulletin-board-based proto-social media site created by General Electric. (Hence the GE in GEnie.) Many other writers did too, including many well-known science fiction, fantasy, and horror authors. While I’d focused on writing fantasy novels for years, my short fiction tended to be horror, and I often hung out with horror writers on GEnie. On night during a live chat session, I mentioned that I didn’t have an idea for my next novel, and both Robert Weinberg and Tom Piccirilli told me to just start writing and see where the story took me. I’d always plotted out my novels before drafting them, but I decided to take Bob and Pic’s advice. I sat down at my computer and started typing. Years earlier, I’d had a dream of a dark angel imprisoned in a dungeon, kneeling on a stone floor, shackles binding his wrists, iron spikes driven through the backs of his legs and into the stone to hold him in place. I decided to base my story on this character, and I began with an image of the dark angel standing on a cliff, gazing down at a sea of razor-sharp silver feathers and these words: Nathan Bennett’s world first began to unravel with the death of the Dark Angel.
Since this was my first novel set in the real world (at least partially) I drew on my own experiences to create the story instead of writing about an imaginary medieval fantasy world. A couple years earlier, my first wife and I were living in Vincennes, Indiana, and one day we drove past a large stone building with columns, with the words THE HARMONY SOCIETY carved on the front. The structure was somber and imposing – it didn’t look harmonious at all – and for some reason I imagined the dark angel from my dream being imprisoned within. The Internet was in its infancy back then, so I couldn’t easily look up what the real Harmony Society was, but that was okay. I didn’t want reality to influence my imagination too much. Much later, when the Internet was more developed, I researched the Harmony Society, and you can read what I discovered here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Harmony_Society. I’m glad I didn’t know anything about the real Harmony Society, or else I might not have used it in my book.
I made the main character, Nathan Bennett, a community college professor like myself, around the same age as I was (early thirties), and gave him a wife not unlike mine. My wife and I had talked about having kids (we’d eventually have two daughters) and she was pregnant at the time, so I decided to make Nathan’s wife pregnant, too. They lived in the same type of apartment complex my wife and I did, and had similar relationship problems as ours, although I gave some elements of my personality to Nathan’s wife and some of my wife’s to Nathan, just to mix things up a bit.
I don’t recall how long it took me to write The Harmony Society. Maybe three months? That’s how long it usually takes me to write a book, unless I have a short deadline. (I wrote the novelization of xXx: The Return of Xander Cage in two weeks thanks to not sleeping and drinking copious amounts of highly-caffeinated coffee.) I was pleased with how The Harmony Society turned out. It was weird – even for me – but it was my weird, and I felt – or maybe I hoped – I’d found my unique voice as a novelist. I sent the book to Jonathan, and my wife and I had our baby and moved into our first house before he got around to reading it. He said he liked it and was going to submit it, and I was relieved. The book had been a major artistic risk for me, and I was glad my agent didn’t think it was a big pile of steaming shit.
The RPG gaming company White Wolf had been publishing tie-in fiction based on their games for a few years, and they decided to branch out into publishing original horror/dark fantasy fiction. When I saw their submission guidelines, I was thrilled. They were looking for new, original takes on horror, and I thought The Harmony Society might be right up their alley. I asked Jonathan to submit it to White Wolf, he did, and I was thrilled when they made an offer. The advance they were going to give me was low – only $3000 – but it was $1000 more than what their guidelines said they offered, so as you might imagine, I was fine with that.
Then a few weeks later, White Wolf contacted my agent and pulled their offer, saying they were “no longer comfortable with the book.” When I asked my agent what that meant, he said, “Who cares? A no is a no. We’ll just send it somewhere else.” I’m not sure he ever did, though. Over the years I’d send Jonathan books and I never knew if he submitted them or not. They got published because I found publishers for them, or they were tie-in deals I arranged and brought to Jonathan. He negotiated better contracts for me, but I stayed with him much longer than I should have. I really liked him, and we spoke often. I learned a hell of lot about publishing from him, but I should’ve found a more proactive agent – which is exactly what my current agent Cherry Weiner is.
I’d been striving to become a professional author since I was eighteen, and I was severely depressed by having my first novel deal fall through. I wrote about the aftermath of White Wolf canceling the contract in a previous blog, which you can read here https://writinginthedarktw.blogspot.com/2012/04/one-that-got-away.html?m=0 if you’re interested. I wrote Clive Barker and Harlan Ellison asking if they had any advice where I could send a weird cross-genre novel like The Harmony Society. They were kind enough to reply – Clive via letter, Harlan via phone – and both were apologetic that they couldn’t help me. It hadn’t occurred to me that they were so established and famous that marketing their work to publishers wasn’t really something they had to do. I deeply appreciated their responses, though. I went on to other projects but kept an eye out for places where I can could submit The Harmony Society. In the meantime, I decided to put together my first story collection, one focused on my horror fiction, and I called it All Too Surreal, a title I thought fit my brand of weird fiction well. Author Steve Saville had started a small press called Prime Books, and I submitted All Too Surreal to him. He enthusiastically accepted the book, but before it could be published, he sold the company to Sean Wallace, and Sean was the one who eventually brought out the collection. I decided to see if he’d be interested in bringing out The Harmony Society as well. He was, and the book finally found a home. Author Gord Rollo edited the manuscript, together we picked out a cover, and The Harmony Society came to life. Back then, small presses were experimenting with giving authors a higher share of royalties in lieu of advances, and Prime was one of them. I didn’t think this approach would pay off for writers, but I decided to give it a try. It turned out I was right, but at least my collection and novel were out in the world. Later, when the rights to The Harmony Society reverted to me, Dark Regions brought it out in 2012, and it’s still with them today (and it continues to regularly bring in money for us).
Despite how The Harmony Society fared, I felt I was on to something with the approach I’d taken with the book, and I wrote Like Death, which would go on to be published by Leisure Books in 2005, and which started my personal and professional relationship with editor Don D’Auria, which is still going strong. I didn’t initially conceive of Like Death as belonging to the same world as The Harmony Society, but the protagonists of Like Death cameoed in Pandora Drive, and the chief antagonist of The Harmony Society – Brother Nothing – was the catalyst for the events in my third Leisure novel Darkness Wakes, so I decided all four books were connected, if only in some small ways.
Darkness Wakes was my last novel for Leisure, due to low sales, and while I was sad, I was happy to have had three books published with them, and happy to have met, worked with, and got to know Don, but I decided my surreal horror wasn’t something most readers wanted, so I abandoned it. (Being let go from Leisure turned out to be a blessing because when they started to tank, I was able to get the rights back to all three of my books before the company went bankrupt. Other writers had a hard time getting the rights to their books back after that.)
I concentrated on writing tie-ins and urban fantasy novels for a time, most of which had a horror element to them but weren’t as batshit crazy as my previous horror novels. (I still continued to write surreal horror in short stories, though.) I wouldn’t return to “Tim Waggoner” horror in novel length until 2014, when I sold my surreal zombie apocalypse novel The Way of All Flesh to Don at Samhain Books. This book wasn’t specifically connected to my burgeoning mythos, though. It wasn’t until I wrote Eat the Night for DarkFuse Books in 2016 that I returned to my mythos, and added to it by creating the entropy-fighting organization called Maintenance.
I created my mythos with no real plan. It just grew on its own over the years, and while both Bob and Pic passed away some years back, if they were still with us, I think they’d be pleased to know what they’re advice to just start writing led to over the course of a couple decades. I of course dedicated The Harmony Society to both of them.
Following is a list of places, characters, and concepts that are part of the Waggoner Mythos. It’s by no means complete. I tried to focus on the major elements, ones that occur in one form or another in multiple stories. I also tried to avoid including anything that would be too spoilery. The descriptions are from my own reference file, so there are few small bits of information that haven’t appeared in any story yet, but I don’t think any of it is spoilery either. There are some new major mythos elements in my forthcoming novels A Hunter Called Night and Lord of the Feast, but since these would definitely be spoilery, I’ve left them out.
My mythos isn’t about the struggle between good and evil. It’s about the inevitability of entropy, the eventual but certain death of all existence, and how humans deal with that reality and find ways to live with it (or not).
The Gyre is an immense black hole that sits at the center of all reality. It has been slowly devouring Creation since the dawn of time, and the Omniverse’s only purpose is to serve as its food. The Gyre is the ultimate expression of the concept of Entropy.
Godlike servants of the Gyre. Their purpose is to help break down reality for the Gyre so that it might be more easily and swiftly absorbed. They basically predigest the Gyre’s food for it.
The realm that exists between reality and nothingness. It’s the bleeding edge where reality is broken down and absorbed by the Gyre, and many strange creatures and beings – as well as some humans – dwell there.
A vast obsidian road which travels through a world of darkness beneath a starless sky. It circles the Gyre, somehow resisting being drawn into it. No one knows if it’s a natural phenomenon or was constructed artificially by some unknown race. There are many dangers both on and off the Nightway, but some beings have managed to make their home there. Since then, I’ve written seven novels connected to my mythos, with two more contracted for which I still need to write. Readers don’t need any previous knowledge of my mythos to enjoy my books, but for those who are familiar with it, I hope it adds another level of enjoyment for them.
THE HARMONY SOCIETY
A mysterious organization dedicated to one goal: domination of the Dark Angel, one of the last surviving Umbral. Brother Nothing is the leader. Other members are the time-traveling hitman Mr. Bones, the Pennyman, and the serpent-like Ssssister. Brother Nothing is one of the most powerful members of the Multitude.
A race of Dark Angels who were the Architects of the Omniverse. When they learned the truth about the Gyre – and what was ultimately going to happen to their creation – some of them became the first of the Multitude to help process the Omniverse faster and more efficiently. Only a few true Umbral exist now, and the Multitude are always trying to find them and “help” them understand the Truth – one way or another. The Umbral are in hiding and on the run and have been for trillions of years. The remaining Umbral are the ones who founded Maintenance. The world where the Umbral shed their wings to become the Multitude is the one featured at the beginning of The Harmony Society where there’s a massive sea of razor-sharp silver feathers.
A thin man in an old white suit that’s become yellowed with age. He is the head of the Harmony Society, and some say the other members are only manifestations of him. He is one of the Multitude, perhaps the most powerful of them all, and is the prime representative of Entropy in the Omniverse. Some say he may be an avatar of the Gyre itself.
An ancient organization of humans created to counter the Multitude’s efforts to speed up entropy. Their goal is to slow entropy as much as they can. There is nothing they can do to stop it. They see their role as slowing the Gyre’s mindless devouring of reality, making its meal more flavorful and last longer. Their motto: “Flavor to the feast.” They are overworked and underpaid, and given that they know their mission is ultimately futile, their morale isn’t exactly high.
A crimson-robed group of men and women, all of whom are mutated to one degree or another. They inhabit the Vermilion Tower, located on the Nightway, and their purpose it to maintain the balance between Shadow and reality on Earth. They’ll do anything it takes to fulfill this purpose, no matter the cost.
A bookstore specializing in mystic and arcane tomes. It exists in all realities and may even be found in different towns on the same Earth. Owned by an enigmatic being known as the Proprietor or sometimes The Bookman. The Proprietor also collects humans that have been turned into books, and he keeps these in his private collection.
THE STYGIAN MARKET
An interdimensional market where all manner of things may be sold or purchased. It’s gigantic but it’s often accessed via a portal in a smaller structure, such as a barn or abandoned house.
THE BLACK TRUST
A worldwide consortium of businesspeople who trade in items and services of the darkest nature. Their goods come at an extremely high – and often hidden – price. (This will make its first appearance in The Atrocity Engine.)
The Book of Oblivion, The Book of Masks, The Book of Depravity, The Book of Madness (also known as The Insanitarium). Every use of these books breaks down reality to a greater or lesser degree, and that’s why they were created by the Multitude and sent to Earth. A member of the Multitude sacrificed themselves to become each book. The books cannot be copied word for word, but they can be imperfectly copied
FICTION IN THE WAGGONER MYTHOS
The works in the following lists all take place on the same Earth. The novels The Way of All Flesh and We Will Rise exist in the same Omniverse as the other stories, but they take place on different Earths.
The Harmony Society (2003), Like Death (2005), Pandora Drive (2006), Darkness Wakes (2006), Eat the Night (2016), The Mouth of the Dark (2018), They Kill (2019), The Forever House (2020), Your Turn to Suffer (2021), A Hunter Called Night (2023)
Forthcoming: Lord of the Feast, The Atrocity Engine, The Book of Madness, The Desolation War (These last three novels are a trilogy.)
The Men Upstairs (2012)
Featuring psychologist and occult detective Ismael Carter: “The Grabber-Man” (2017) and “The Empty Ones” (2019), both in Occult Detective Monthly.
I consider a number of my other short stories as also belonging to my mythos, at least thematically, but I haven’t clearly established them as such.
DEPARTMENT OF SHAMELESS SELF-PROMOTION
My Mythos Work
If you’re interested in reading any of my Waggoner Mythos fiction, here’s a link to my Amazon author page: https://www.amazon.com/stores/Tim-Waggoner/author/B001JP0XFM?ref=ap_rdr&store_ref=ap_rdr&isDramIntegrated=true&shoppingPortalEnabled=true
Your Turn to Suffer
The ebook edition of Your Turn to Suffer has been on sale for 99 cents for a week or so. I don’t know how much longer the sale will last, but it might well be over soon, so if you’re interested in snagging a cheap e-copy, do it now! (I’m writing this on 12/18/2022, so if you’re reading this an significant length of time past this date, the sale is likely over.)
Synopsis: Lorelai Palumbo is harassed by a sinister group calling themselves The Cabal. They accuse her of having committed unspeakable crimes in the past, and now she must pay. The Cabal begins taking her life apart one piece at a time – her job, her health, the people she loves – and she must try to figure out what The Cabal thinks she’s done if she’s to have any hope of answering their charges and salvaging her life.
“This story reads like one of those nightmares you wake up from only to learn you're still sleeping and experiencing a nightmare...except that it just continues like a Russian nesting doll of nightmares within nightmares. The narrative paints a distorted and dreamlike allegory, showcasing how guilt, even (or especially) when associated with long-forgotten – or suppressed – memories can weigh heavily on us.” – Domus Necrophageous
Scarelastic Book Fair. Scarlet Lane Brewing. McCordsville, Indiana: February 28.
Authorcon 2. Williamsburg, Virgina: March 31-April 2.
Stokercon. Pittsburgh: June 15-18.
Where to Find Me Online
Want to follow me on social media? Here’s where you can find me:
Hive: @timwaggonerYouTube Channel: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCZEz6_ALPrV3tdC0V3peKNw