Wednesday, September 13, 2023

The Story Behind Let Me Tell You a Story


My next volume in the Bram Stoker Award-Winning Writing in the Dark series for the good folks at Raw Dog Screaming Press is called Let Me Tell You a Story. It’s scheduled to come out Oct. 5th, 2023,  and I thought I’d post the foreword here on my blog to give you a taste of what the book is about.


As of this writing, Let Me Tell You a Story is available on NetGalley, so if you’d like to review it – and I hope you do – go snag an early copy!


Description from Raw Dog’s Website


In Let Me Tell You 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.


Review Quotes


“Tim’s writing voice is like that of a teacher who really cares about his students and their writing journey—however far along you may be.” —Sadie Hartmann, Mother Horror, 101 Horror Books to Read Before You’re Murdered


“Offering sensible, actionable, and invaluable tips for developing craft, Tim Waggoner’s Writing in the Dark guides feature on my list of must-read texts for all students and teachers of writing. Scarily good advice from a master of horror practice.” —Lee Murray, five-time Bram Stoker Award winner, co-author of the Path of Ra series


“You can trust Tim to teach you not so much how to write, per se, but how to think like a horror writer. This basically means that you’ll instinctively know how to chill someone with a disturbing idea, outsmart them with an outrageous twist ending, or caution them with a clever moral lesson, and it will all come naturally to you. He’s a masterful educator on the dark side.”—Michael A. Arnzen, Bram Stoker Award-winning author Play Dead






After Writing in the Dark, I swore I’d never do another how-to-write book. Once I finished it, I thought I’d said all I had to say about writing fiction in general and horror in particular. Sure, as the years passed and my knowledge (hopefully) increased, I might feel inspired to do another how-to, but for now, I figured my blog posts and newsletter articles about writing would be more than enough.

Then I wrote Writing in the Dark: The Workbook.

One of the things readers liked most about the first volume was the exercises that appeared at the end of each chapter. That got me thinking . . . Could I write an entire book of horror-writing exercises? I wasn’t certain, but it sounded like a fun challenge – and obviously there were readers who’d like to have such a book – so I decided to give it a go. Writing in the Dark poured out of me like water when I wrote it, and I was surprised to find that the workbook did so too. But when I finished the workbook, I vowed that I wouldn’t write another follow-up – at least for a while – and I fully intended to stick by this.

I’ve been writing about writing for decades. In my late teens, I began reading Writers’ Digest religiously, and my favorite part of the magazine was Lawrence Block’s monthly column on writing fiction. (This is why I dedicated Writing in the Dark to him.) I became fascinated by the art of writing about writing, and after I began selling fiction and articles professionally, I decided to give it a go. I published a number of how-to-write articles over the years, and when I started a blog over a decade ago, I decided I’d use it as an outlet for writing about writing.

Still, I wanted to do my own how-to-write book, so I wrote various proposals and gave them to my agent to send around, but no publishers were interested. Then I came up with the idea of writing a horror how-to, and John and Jennifer loved the idea, and the rest is history. I told my agent to forget about the previous how-to-write proposals I’d sent her, and I went back to writing fiction full-time. A couple years passed, and my agent – who hadn’t deleted my old proposals – remembered one for a book called Let Me Tell You a Story. I’d originally intended it to be an overall volume on writing fiction, but I’d incorporated so much of that kind of material in Writing in the Dark, I abandoned the idea of writing a generic how-to. My agent sent the proposal to Jennifer, who liked it, and offered a contract – for a book I had no intention of writing.

I’ve been writing professionally for too long to immediately turn down a publisher’s offer without at least thinking about it. And my previous two experiences working with Jennifer and John were wonderful, so I was excited by the prospect of working with them again. But what the hell would this new book be about? I knew I couldn’t write the generic how-to-write book I’d originally envisioned for Let Me Tell You a Story, but there was nothing about the title that suggested a way to turn it into a third volume on writing horror. I decided I’d figure something out eventually, so I signed the contract.

Days, weeks, months passed. I worked on other projects, but I kept thinking about Let Me Tell You Story and wrestling with what the book should be. More time passed. The deadline for turning in the manuscript approached, and I still had nothing. This was very unlike me. Usually when I’ve contracted to do a book, I finish it early. But not this time. I told Jennifer, and she kindly understood and gave me an extension, but I was afraid I’d never figure out a way to move forward with Let Me Tell You a Story. If I couldn’t, I’d have to back out of the contract, which was something I’d never done before. But, as so often happens in my writing life, when I thought all was lost, an idea popped into my head.

I’d written Writing in the Dark: The Workbook solely because of reader feedback I’d received on the first volume. Was there anything else readers liked about the first two books that might serve as inspiration for a third volume? Yes, there was. In each of the previous books, I included a short story of mine and critiqued it based on the principles outlined in the books. I talked about what worked, what didn’t, and what I might do differently if I had the chance to rewrite the story.

What if I focused an entire book on examining a collection of my stories, discussing their origins, my intentions for them, how well they’d worked, and what – if anything – I’d change now. Such a book would be an odd duck, part short story collection, part how-to-write, part memoir, and part career retrospective. The idea of working with a hybrid format like this appealed to me. And it wasn’t as if I hadn’t encountered similar books before. One of my favorites is science fiction writer Mike Resnick’s Putting It Together: Turning Sow's Ear Drafts Into Silk Purse Stories. In it, Mike presents several of his stories and shows how they went from idea to multiple drafts to finished version. The idea behind his approach was that any how-to-write book can tell you how to create developed characters, write engaging dialogue, etc., but by detailing his writing process, he could show you how to do it, or at least how he did it. And of course, Stephen King’s On Writing is a blend of how-to and memoir.

As I contemplated this new approach for Let Me Tell You a Story, I had some concerns. What if readers viewed the book as one long ego trip on my part? Check out all these fabulous stories! Aren’t I a great writer? What if readers didn’t give a damn about my fiction and only wanted how-to-write advice? What if, by being neither fish nor fowl – not fully a writing instruction guide or a short story collection – the book failed to find an audience? I’ve always enjoyed reading authors’ story notes in collections, though, and I feel I learn more when authors share specifics about how they create their work as opposed to offering generic advice, so I figured, what the hell? Why not go for it?

So I did.

How did I choose the stories included in this book? I decided to include stories that were pivotal in my development as a writer, stories where I learned important lessons or made mistakes that I only recognized in hindsight. I’ve arranged the stories in chronological order because that seemed simplest, and because that will hopefully create a portrait of my development as a writer as well.

In terms of the type of stories I’ve included, while I’ve written in different genres, I’m known primarily as a horror/dark fantasy author, so I stuck to those genres rather than put in a fantasy or science fiction story here and there. It seemed to make more thematic sense to me.

And after each story, I’ve included commentary/reflection, as well as a couple writing exercises so you can take the focus off my work and put it on yours, where it belongs.

You’re welcome to read and use this book however you wish, as writing instruction guide, as short story collection, or as an inside look at how one writer created his stories and what he thinks about them today. It’s as much a portrait of an artist as it is a how-to, and I hope whatever you came here for, you find the book both enjoyable and useful.





Tamaqua, Winter/Spring 1990. Reprinted in The Mythic Circle, Fall 1993.


“Alacrity’s Spectatorium”

Figment, Spring 1992


“Mr. Punch”

Young Blood, Zebra Books, March 1994.


Horrors: 365 Scary Stories, Barnes and Noble Books, 1998


“Keeping it Together”

Between the Darkness and the Fire, Wildside Press, 1998


“Ghost in the Graveyard”

All Hallows, June 2000


“Joyless Forms”

All Too Surreal, Prime Books, 2002


“Broken Glass and Gasoline”

Vivisections, Catalyst Books, 2003

“Waters Dark and Deep”

Masques V, Gauntlet Press, 2006


“Swimming Lessons”

Delirium Books website, 2006


“Long Way Home”

Thrillers II, CD Publications, 2007


“Sharp as Night”

My Bloody Valentine, Great Jones Street, 2017


“Til Death”

Don’t Fear – The Apocalypse. 13Thirty Books, 2017


“How to be a Horror Writer.”

Vastarien 2, Grimscribe Press, 2018




Let Me Tell You a Story Order Links


If you order the book at the Raw Dog Screaming Press site in either hardback or paperback, you’ll get a discount until Oct. 5th, 2023!


Amazon Paperback:


Amazon Hardcover:




Barnes and Noble Paperback:


Barnes and 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


No comments:

Post a Comment