Saturday, August 26, 2023

The Things We Leave Behind


Years ago, an interviewer asked me what I thought my legacy as a writer would be.

“I don’t think in terms of legacy,” I said. “I don’t expect anyone to care about my stories after I’m dead.”

I’m almost sixty now, and as you might guess, my feelings about legacy have changed somewhat. I’ve long held a mental image of myself falling down a pit toward the ultimate darkness, rapidly writing as many stories as I can and hurling them upward before I hit the bottom. (Horror writers are cheery folk, aren’t we?) It occurred to me that preserving my work for the future would be the same as throwing my writing out of the hole – although this time I’d be hurling all of my work, forty-something years’ worth so far. And while I don’t expect future writers and scholars to pour over my stories, drafts, and correspondence in order to glean enlightenment from my genius, if my materials aren’t preserved, there’s no chance they can ever be of use to anyone.

I also thought about my wife and daughters. I didn’t want to leave piles of manuscripts, notes, and author copies lying around for them to sort through after I’m gone. They’d have no idea what to do with that mess, and I don’t want to leave them with that burden. My mind changed about legacy when I began to think of it as something practical as opposed to merely an expression of my ego.

My legacy planning took two paths: 1) creating an archive of my work and 2) providing information for my heirs so they can do as much, or as little, with my writing as they like after my death. Here’s how you can do the same.

Let’s start with the archive.

What’s the purpose of your archive?

First determine who and what your archive will be for. I wanted my material to contribute to the horror genre now and in the future, so I decided to send my papers – notes, drafts, correspondence, page proofs, copies of published work, etc. – to the University of Pittsburgh Library System’s Horror Studies Collections. When I asked them if they’d like to house my work, I expected them to politely decline since I’m not an especially important writer, but luckily for me they said yes. Here are some different purposes for archives, not all of which are mutually exclusive:

·                 For heirs. Your archive can be solely for your family to remember you, and maybe inspire some of them to follow in your artistic footsteps. All you need to do is decide what to include in it. organize the materials, and find a place to store them, perhaps in your home office if you have one, a spare room, the basement, etc. Maybe one of your relatives would like to store it at their place.

·                 For libraries. Ask any libraries you have an affiliation with if they’d be interested in housing your archive. (Don’t feel bad if they decline; libraries – especially smaller ones – don’t have a lot of extra space.) Check with your hometown library, your local library (if you live somewhere else now), your college library, etc. Find out how much material they can house. They might only be able to host a portion of your archive.

·                 For schools. Check with your high school, any colleges you attended, and any local schools that you may not have attended but which are part of your community. Not only do they have libraries that may want your archive, they have English departments that might want some or all of it.

·                 For local historical societies. You’re a writer, and that makes you a local celebrity wherever you live. If your town has a historical society – or maybe a small local museum – that might love to house your archive.

·                 For fans and other writers. You can create a digital archive of your work housed on the web. You’ll need someone to maintain it after your gone, but the advantage an online archive has is that it can be accessed by anyone at any time.

What should you include in your archive?

·                 Anything that might be of interest to fans, writers, and scholars in the future. How do you determine what’s “archive-worthy”? It’s up to you. Maybe you’ll prefer an archive that covers the highlights of your career, or maybe you’ll want to document everything, from your humble beginnings to the lofty heights you currently occupy. The people who will host your archive can help you decide, since they maybe only have room for a certain amount of material.

·                 Notes. Include written notes that you used to develop your drafts.

·                 Drafts. Include any printed drafts. If you compose solely on the computer and work with one file, revising it as you go, you may not have anything but a final draft.

·                 Page proofs. Physical page proofs editors have sent you to make one last check for typos and mistakes. Mine usually come to me as PDF’s these days, but I could print them out for my archive if I wish.

·                 ARC’s. If your editor – or you, if you’re indie – prints advanced reading copies, those make great additions to your archive.

·                 Correspondence. Rejection letters, acceptance letters, editorial and agent correspondence, correspondence with other authors and with fans . . .You might not have physical correspondence, though. I started writing in 1982, and I have plenty of letters – up until the early 2000’s. After that, all my correspondence has been digital.

·                 Unpublished work. I started writing at eighteen, and it took me almost ten years until I started selling my work regularly. I had a number of unpublished stories and novels in printed form to include in my archive.

·                 Promotional, publicity, and appearance material. Any material from conventions where you were a programming participant. Posters/advertisements for bookstore appearances, readings, and literary events. Materials from workshops you’ve given.

·                 Pivotal career/learning/change-of-direction moments. Any material that shows an important moment in your career where you leveled up. For me, these are things like my first published pro short story “Mr. Punch,” which appeared in the anthology Young Blood in 1994, or the email I received from Don D’Auria after pitching Like Death to him at The World Horror Convention in 2002.

What about material containing contact info?

·                 Other people’s personal info, such as addresses, phone numbers, and email. No one wants their private info stored in an archive where anyone can access it. You can choose not to include it or redact such info. The librarians at the University of Pittsburgh’s Horror Studies Collections won’t let anyone see such information unless it’s a special circumstance and they sign a non-disclosure agreement.

·                 Contracts. Most publishing and agent contracts specify that their terms aren’t to be shared with others, so you’ll have to either redact certain information, not include contracts in your archive, or only allow people to see them if they sign an NDA.

Copies of your work

·                 Print. Books, stories, nonfiction, poetry. etc., regardless if they fall into your main writing genre or not. I included print copies of newspaper articles I wrote back in the late eighties in my archive, as well as copies of scholarly articles that appeared in journals like Teaching English in the Two-Year College.

·                 What if you only have one physical copy? It’s up to you whether to keep it or archive lone copies of your work. Since I didn’t want my heirs to have to deal with too much material after I die – and because I had an ODC-like need for my archive to be complete – I sent copies of everything, even long out-of-print books that I’d have great difficulty replacing.

·                 Save digital copies on flash drives or an online account. Check to see if the place that’s going to host your archive can also take digital materials. Many of the contributor’s copies I receive these days are PDF’s, as are proofs and, of course, correspondence. I haven’t done so yet, but I plan to save such material to flash drives and then ship them to Pittsburgh.

Online material to archive

·                 Links. To interviews with (text and video), your blog. your Patreon, your YouTube Channel, podcast appearances, etc. Consider backing up material that might not remain available on the Internet after you’re gone.

·                 Physical awards. I didn’t send any of my awards or nomination certificates to Pittsburgh. I want my wife and daughters to have them as keepsakes if they wish, but if they decide they don’t want them, then I’ll include them in my archive.

Whether or not you decide to create an archive of your work, you should consider getting your literary affairs in order to make life easier for your heirs. This means recording your final wishes and making them known.

Leaving a legacy for your heirs and loved ones

·                 Collect copies of your published work. For heirs to keep or sell, depending on their preference. If you care exactly what they do with your work, make your desires clear. Me? When I’m dead, I’m dead. My family can do whatever they want with my books.

·                 Create an author’s will. It’s important that you spell out everything you want done with your literary estate once you’re gone. Neil Gaiman has a wonderful template for a writer’s will posted online. You can find the link at the bottom of this article under Resources.

·                 Choose an executor for your literary estate. Select someone who doesn’t mind the responsibility and who will carry out your wishes. I’ve made my wife and two daughters equal executors. This way, they can decide which of them wants to deal with my estate or they can divide up the responsibilities.

·                 Record your accounts and passwords. I’ve made list of all my various accounts – email, social media accounts, etc. – and their passwords so my heirs will have access to everything.

·                 Social media/websites/blogs. Let your heirs know if you want your online presence to continue or if you want it all shut down. If you want to leave this choice up to your heirs, and that’s okay with them, that’s fine too.

·                 Agent info. I have old work represented by a former agent’s company and new work represented by my current agent. I’ve made sure my heirs have all the contact information for both agents, along with the work each represents. This way, if my heirs want to republish any of my work, or if any editors approach them about republishing stuff, they’ll know who to talk to make it happen. Plus, I want to make sure my heirs get any royalties that my work may earn after I’m gone.

·                 Web designers. If you don’t run your own website, make sure your heirs know your designers’ contact info (as well as which service hosts your site) so they can maintain it or shut it down, depending on your wishes.

·                 Create a Death Stuff Packet. I’ve got both a print-out of all the information my heirs might need along with a digital copy on a flash drive. I put all of this into an accordion folder and labeled it Tim’s Death Stuff, and I stored it in my office and showed my family where it’s at. I also included a copy of book that’s a guide for writers’ heirs (it’s listed under Resources). I’ve also emailed copies of all the info to my wife and daughters. You know, in case the house ever burns down. (There’s that cheery horror writer optimism again.)

·                 Any final wishes for your literary estate. This could be anything. Do you want to endow a creative writing scholarship at the high school or college you attended? If you don’t have heirs, is there any person or organization you’d like to donate the rights of your work too?

No one likes to think about dying. Well . . . that might not be exactly true for horror writers. But planning for our own death isn’t fun. I hope I have a lot of healthy and productive years ahead of me, but now that I’ve finished creating my literary archive and my author’s will, I know that when it is my time to take the last train west, I can do so without worrying about what I leave behind – because I know it’ll be in good hands.


·                 The University of Pittsburgh Library System’s Horror Studies Collections:

·                 Neil Gaiman author’s will template:

·                 The Author Estate Handbook by M.L. Ronn

·                 The Author Heir Handbook by M.L. Ronn



Let Me Tell You a Story

My next book on writing will be coming out soon from Raw Dog Screaming Press, and this one’s a little different than my previous ones.

From the publisher:

In Let Me Tell You a Story, Tim Waggoner continues what he started in the Bram Stoker Award-winning Writing in the Dark (2020) and Writing in the Dark: The Workbook (2022), both of which focus on the art of composing successful horror fiction. This latest guidebook takes a different approach, foregrounding Waggoner's prolific, decades-long career as a professional author. Partly autobiographical, partly tutorial and diagnostic, each chapter features one of Waggoner's stories followed by reflection on the historical context of publication, insightful commentary, and exercises for writers who are just learning their craft and who have already made a name for themselves. As always, Waggoner's experience, wit, and know-how shine through as he discusses and re-evaluates material from 1990 to 2018. Let Me Tell You a Story is a vital contribution to his evolving nonfictional oeuvre.

Preorder Links

Amazon Paperback:

Amazon Hardback:

Barnes and Noble Paperback:

Barnes and Noble Hardback:

eBook Links: Still to come.

Moth to the Flames Podcast Interview with Marie Lestrange

I had a wonderful conversation with Marie Lestrange on her Moth to the Flames podcast a couple weeks ago. You can check it out here:




Beyond the Book Festival. Sept. 30th. 9:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. The Starke County Public Library. Knox Indiana. For more info:


Butcher Cabin Bookfest. October 18th. 5pm – 10pm. Pivot Brewing, 1400 Delaware Ave, Lexington, Kentucky.


Scarelastic Book Fair 2. March 2nd. 12pm – 6pm. Scarlet Lane Brewing. 7724 Depot Street, McCordsville, Indiana.


StokerCon 2024. May 30th to June 2nd. San Diego, California.






Wednesday, August 2, 2023

Avoiding Ableism in Horror


The character above, Gunther, is the villain from the 1981 horror film The Funhouse. His features are explained in the movie as the result of birth defects.

Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary defines monster as “an animal of strange or terrifying shape,” “a threatening force,” and “a person of unnatural or extreme ugliness, deformity, wickedness, or cruelty.”

Since our earliest days, probably long before we could be called human, we’ve been afraid of monsters – a sabretooth tiger, a fierce lightning storm, a person infected with a terrible disease . . . A terrifying animal, a threatening force, a deformed person. All monsters to our ancestors.


It makes sense that our species was – and still is – afraid of physical and mental differences. In nature, these differences could indicate the presence of disease or, in the case of injury, a danger that could befall us as well. And our ancestors likely viewed these differences as a sign of the gods’ disfavor, or perhaps an indication that the afflicted had been cursed by evil powers. Modern humans know better (or at least we should), but subconsciously, these primitive reactions are still part of us. This is why physical and mental differences can be so effective in creating villains and monsters for stories. But this also means that if we portray physical and mental differences as dark and evil in and of themselves, we’re perpetuating ableism.


Not sure what ableism is? According to the Center for Disability Rights, Inc., “Ableism is a set of beliefs or practices that devalue and discriminate against people with physical, intellectual, or psychiatric disabilities and often rests on the assumption that disabled people need to be ‘fixed’ in one form or the other.” And in Horror stories, a monster can be fixed (for example, a werewolf can be cured), but usually it’s defeated, which most often means it’s killed (but may come back to life for a sequel).


I’m focusing on ableism in Horror in this entry because it’s the most pervasive type of Othering in the genre. Ableism in Horror goes back thousands of years in myth and folklore, and because it is so pervasive, people have come to view it as normal for Horror. People don’t think twice when Jason Vorhees’ hocky mask is knocked off and his deformed face is revealed. Jason is a monster, and monsters are supposed to be ugly, right? But much of what I write about here can be applied to any type of Othering in Horror: tropes based on sexism, racism, homophobia, transphobia, ageism, etc. – as well.


Social media has helped create awareness of so many harmful tropes in fiction – which is a good thing – but it’s also resulted in confusion and uncertainty for writers. If ableism in Horror is bad, then shouldn’t we avoid portraying any threatening/villainous/monstrous force as physically or mentally different? Shouldn’t all disabled characters be portrayed positively? (The same questions apply to any type of Othering trope.) People want so much to do the right thing, and because of this, they want clear-cut rules to tell them exactly how to do it. But it’s easy to take the concept of avoiding “bad” in art to the point where no negativity of any sort – including story conflict or physically or emotionally difficult things happening to characters – should be avoided. But if we make our stories too nice, too safe, they won’t be interesting for readers, and they won’t help readers engage with the darker aspects of existence that we all need to come to terms with in this life (something that Horror is especially good at). I think Horror writers need to find a way to balance writing about the monstrous with not being ableist as much as we can while still telling an interesting, impactful horror story. Each of us have to decide what that balance is for us, and often it may be different from one story to another.

So let’s talk about ways to avoid ableism in Horror while still being able to write stories about the monstrous.


Fear of the Unknown


Horror relies on fear of the Unknown. If something is known, even if it’s a threat, it can be understood, dealt with, and conquered. But if something is unknown, it can’t be understood, at least not easily. We don’t know what it is, what it can do, what it wants, or how to stop it. The Unknown equals uncontrollable, and loss of control is at the heart of Horror.


Fear of the Other, of Difference


Horror also relies on fear of the Other. The Other is anyone or anything different than you are. Technically, anything living that’s NOT you can be classified as Other. The Other’s background, beliefs, motivations, moral code, and abilities are all unknown, and because of this, we don’t know how to regard or deal with the Other.


In Horror fiction physical and mental distortion are regularly viewed as monstrous in and of themselves. As I said earlier, this attitude goes back to some of the most ancient beliefs of our species, when disabilities, injuries, and illnesses were thought to be punishments inflicted by the gods, and people with mental illness were viewed as possessed by demons. In children’s fairy tales, heroes are beautiful, villains and monsters ugly. In these outdated views, one’s outer form mirrors their inner nature.


Examples of Ableism in Horror


They’re everywhere: Frankenstein’s Monster, the Phantom of the Opera, Quasimodo, burn victim Freddy Krueger, the physical distortion of Jason from Friday the 13th, the zombie virus, the disease in Cabin Fever, many Disney villains, the urban legend of the maniac with the hook hand, and the thousands of violent, depraved mentally ill killers – who often have physical deformities as well – slashing their way through fiction and film.


Must Horror Inevitably be Ableist?


No. While fear of the Unknown and the Other might rise from our own prejudices and discomfort (or through observing those of others), how we present these elements in our fiction to readers and viewers doesn’t have to perpetuate harmful stereotypes. But we don’t have to avoid the monstrous in our work. There is power in fear of distortion and fear of the Other. We don’t want to give up this power, but we can try to find more responsible – and creative – ways to use it.


How to Write the Monstrous Without Being Ableist


These same techniques can apply to any harmful Horror trope based on fear of the other/fear of distortion, not just those related to ableism.

·       Interrogate your own feelings about physical and mental differences. Don’t beat yourself up for having any ableist attitudes. You’re only human. But do your best to keep such attitudes from influencing your work in ways you might not be aware of. Make a list of physical and mental differences that bother you. Be honest. You don’t ever need to share this list with anything. And once you have a list . . .

·       Reread some of your previous stories and look for signs of ableism. In my story “Voices Like Barbed Wire,” I included a character who had a port wine stain on her face. The skin was pulsing, an indication that something wasn’t right in the environment. I included this character because I saw someone like this the day I was drafting that scene, and sometimes I toss random things I’ve observed into my fiction. Now I would change the description – and the color of the facial mark – to avoid naming it as an actual physical condition (which I did when including the story in my collection Dark and Distant Voices.)

·       Ask yourself why a character needs to be physically or mentally different. Does it serve the story? Will it perpetuate harmful stereotypes? If so, can you think of a different way to present that character that will still create the effect you want without being ableist?

·       Can you find a way to subvert the trope of physical or mental distortion, subvert reader expectation? The simplest way I do this, especially with mental illness, is to remind readers that the vast majority of mentally ill people are no harm to anyone but themselves. I also give mentally ill characters a specific, individual reason for their mental illness, such as a traumatic event they experienced earlier in their lives. I don’t think of them as mentally ill at all, but rather dealing with the aftereffects of an experience they had. You can also make a character who’s physically or mentally different the hero of your tale. In “The Backward Walking Man,” which appeared in the anthology Heroes of Red Hook, my main character is a young, high-functioning autistic man who’s a math savant. His mathematic skill is what allows him to ultimately defeat the Backward Walking Man, who’s attempted to unmake reality.

·       Dial up the monstrousness. Exaggerate physical and mental differences to the point where they’re no longer realistic. Slender Man isn’t just thin. He’s extremely thin, extremely tall, with extra-long arms, and a featureless face. I doubt anyone would regard Slender Man as an ableist take on a human whose body is much thinner than average.

·       Make the monstrousness unique. Instead of making your monstrous character overweight or wear a prosthesis or have an alternate personality, come up with something different. What if the character’s skin, muscles, and organs disappear whenever they exhale, leaving only their skeleton visible, and their body becomes fully visible again when they inhale? It’s a cool, creepy, body horror effect, but without any analogue in real life.

·       Can you find a way to balance the monstrous with realism and empathy? Frankenstein’s Monster is the best example of this. Not of scientific realism, of course, but emotional realism. The Monster is a rejected, abandoned, neglected child, and while we don’t approve of the horrific revenge it takes on its maker, we understand why the monster does what he does, and we can empathize.

A Final Word


We don’t have to sanitize our Horror so it’s safe and inoffensive, but as responsible artists, it’s important to avoid perpetuating harmful stereotypes in our work. By doing so, we can also avoid clich├ęs and can make our work more powerful and more interesting. You need to decide for yourself how to approach presenting the monstrous in your fiction, of course, but I hope I’ve at least given you some things to think about when it comes to dealing with ableism in Horror.


Resources for Further Learning


“The H Word: Mental Health, Ableism, and the Horror Genre” by Evan J. Peterson.


“The Monster in the Mirror: On Horror, Disability, and Loving Both at Once” by Emily Foster.


Writing the Other: A Practical Approach by Nisi Shawl and Cynthia Ward.




New Book on Writing: Let Me Tell You a Story


I’ve written a new volume in the Writing in the Dark series for the good folks at Raw Dog Screaming Press! It’s called Let Me Tell You a Story, and it’s scheduled to come out sometime this Fall. No cover to share yet, and preorder links aren’t available, but I’ll be sure to let you know when they are.


Here’s a description of the book from RDSP’s website:


In Tell Me a Story Waggoner presents stories from his own publishing career and uses them to illustrate techniques and point out ways to improve. “In both Writing in the Dark and Writing in the Dark: The Workbook, I included a short story of mine and critiqued it based on the principles outlined in those books. Readers responded well to this feature, so I decided to focus a new book on critiquing stories drawn from throughout my career, discussing what worked, what didn’t, and what I might do differently if I had the chance to rewrite the stories. I hope readers will find Let Me Tell You a Story to be as interesting – and most importantly as useful – as its predecessors.”


There are fourteen stories in the book, five of which have never been reprinted after their initial appearances.


Lord of the Feast Cover Reveal

 My next novel for Flame Tree, Lord of the Feast, will be out April 2024 and is available for preorder. Check out that cover! I think it’s the best any of my Flame Tree books have gotten so far!




Twenty years ago, a cult attempted to create their own god: The Lord of the Feast. The god was a horrible, misbegotten thing, however, and the cultists killed the creature before it could come into its full power. The cultists trapped the pieces of their god inside mystic nightstones then went their separate ways. Now Kate, one of the cultists’ children, seeks out her long-lost relatives, hoping to learn the truth of what really happened on that fateful night. Unknown to Kate, her cousin Ethan is following her, hoping she’ll lead him to the nightstones so that he might resurrect the Lord of the Feast – and this time, Ethan plans to do the job right.


Order Links


Flame Tree Press Paperback and eBook:


Amazon Paperback:




Barnes & Noble Paperback:


Barnes & Noble eBook:


Short Story in the Current Vastarien

My story “Faithful Friend and Companion” appears in Vastarien vol 6 issue 1, which is out now. This is my second appearance in Vastarien, and I’m thrilled to be sharing a table of contents with such wonderful writers as Brian Evenson, Christi Nogle, S.P. Miskowski, and more. Shipping and handling for physical copies is free worldwide and Kindle/ePub editions are pay-what-you-can.


Order Link:


Shakespeare Unleashed Out Now

 My story “The Beggars’ Shadow” appears in the anthology Shakespeare Unleashed from Monstrous Books. The story’s about a very strange college lecture on Rosencratz and Guildenstern from Hamlet. The story was inspired by Tom Stoppard’s play Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead and John Langan’s short story “Technicolor.”


Order Links:




Amazon Paperback:


Amazon Hardcover:


Barnes & Noble Paperback:


Barnes & Noble Hardcover:


Short Story in Unioverse: The Reconvergence

 My story, “A Deeper Song,” appears in the anthology Unioverse: The Reconvergence, which will be out August 15th. The Unioverse is a very cool science fiction game setting, and I had a blast writing my contribution to the book! You can learn more about the Unioverse here:




In the year 2145 AD, Malcolm Orion, destined to go down in history as the Brave Traveler, made his historic jump through space, launching his consciousness across the universe. His arrival at an abandoned space station reawakened the Masson Zero—a vast system of instantaneous travelways connecting innumerable worlds, many inhabited by sentient life.


Now, centuries later, worlds long isolated from each other are once again connected. This anthology presents tales of this reconvergence. Set on richly imagined planets scattered across the cosmos but linked once again by near-instantaneous travel, these stories introduce you to characters—human and otherwise—navigating love and loss, alliance and intrigue, violence and betrayal, and, most of all, the joys and perils of exploration and scientific discovery. Accept the invitation. Step into a transpod of your own and slip through the Mass-O. You never know where you’ll end up.


Order Links


Amazon Paperback:


Amazon Hardcover:




Barnes & Noble Paperback:


Barnes & Noble Hardcover:



Scheduled Appearances


Beyond the Book Festival. Sept. 30th. 9:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. The Starke County Public Library. Knox Indiana. For more info:


Butcher Cabin Bookfest. October 18th. 5pm – 10pm. Pivot Brewing, 1400 Delaware Ave, Lexington, Kentucky.


Scarelastic Book Fair 2: March 2nd. 12pm – 6pm. Scarlet Lane Brewing. 7724 Depot Street, McCordsville, Indiana.


StokerCon 2024. May 30th to June 2nd. San Diego, California.


Where to Find Me Online


Newsletter Sign-Up:

Amazon Page:



YouTube Channel:


Twitter: @timwaggoner


Instagram: tim.waggoner.scribe


Link Tree: