Friday, September 29, 2023

Variations on a Theme

Let Me Tell You a Story Released Oct. 5th!


My next volume in the Writing in the Dark series for the good folks at Raw Dog Screaming Press is called Let Me Tell You a Story, and it’s scheduled to come out Oct. 5th.


Here’s a description of the book from RDSP’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.


You can find order links for Let Me Tell You a Story later in this entry.


I learned a lot from analyzing my stories, reflecting on their creation, and viewing them in the overall context of my career. One of the things I noticed was various themes that recurred in my work, and that got me thinking about different ways to make theme work for authors. And that, in turn, inspired the following article.


Recurring Themes


(This article originally appeared in my Sept. 2023 newsletter.)


In 2002, I read David Morrell’s Lessons from a Lifetime of Writing (which in 2008 was reworked and re-released as The Successful Novelist). One of the things Morrell talks about in the book is identifying your major theme(s) as a writer – which often appear subconsciously in your work – so that you can consciously strengthen them. He said that after much thought, he realized he wrote about fathers and sons the most (whether literal or figurative fathers and sons). I found that fascinating, so I decided to see if I could identify my own theme(s). Duality was a big one, as was water as a symbol of cosmic horror (I almost drowned in a lake when I was nine). Transformation was another theme. A couple more: Not being able to fully trust those closest to you and not being able to fully trust that reality is what it appears to be. I’ve also had themes for different stages of my life. When my daughters were young, parental fears featured prominently in many of my stories. Now that they’re both grown and I’m getting older, aging is starting to become a recurring theme.


It helped that I’d written a fair number of novels and short fiction by that point. I had plenty of examples to compare. I don’t remember doing anything more than looking back on my bibliography and thinking about the stories and novels that I’d written. I suppose if I needed a more structured way to approach this analysis in the future, I could go back through my work and list the various story elements. Then I could compare them and note which ones showed up the most often.


What’s the benefit from identifying your themes? You can delve into them more deeply because you can do so consciously. If like me you have several, you can start mixing and matching them in ways you haven’t before. If you find that you’re repeating the way your express your themes in your work – for example, I discover I’m using too many lakes in my stories – I can find other ways to use water as a symbol. Rain, a waterpark, a shower that won’t turn off . . . And if I feel too hemmed in by my recurring themes, or that I’m repeating myself too much, I can purposely avoid returning to those themes. Hey, this is another water story! DELETE. Not relying on my usual material will help me stretch and grow as a writer. Recurring themes can also give you a focus for short story collections. My collection A Little Aqua Book of Marine Stories was centered on – surprise! – my water-themed tales.


You can research your themes in order to explore them further and get different ideas or find new ways to approach old ones. I did this recently for a story when I researched fear of water. Aquaphobia is fear of water – which I knew – but I learned about different variations and ways to treat it. I also learned about thalassophobia, fear of deep bodies of water. That phobia would go well with my water as cosmic horror symbol theme.


Some artists prefer not to analyze their own process and work at all, afraid that by doing so they’ll become so self-conscious they’ll freeze up and stop producing work. I think this is a real possibility, although it’s not something that’s ever stopped me. But I naturally tend toward introspection and self-analysis, and I’m always looking for ways to grow, both as a writer and as a person. But if you’d rather not gaze behind the curtain of your imagination for fear that you might ruin the magic, that’s cool. But maybe a general awareness of your themes won’t hurt?

Maybe explore and little and see what happens. You might find whole new worlds of imagination opening for you.


If you’d like to buy David’s book, you can do so here:




Order Links for Let Me Tell You a Story


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!

But if you’d prefer to order from Amazon or B&N:


Amazon Paperback:


Amazon Hardback:




Barnes and Noble Paperback:


Barnes and Noble Hardback:


Lord of the Feast Also Available for Preorder


My next novel for Flame Tree, Lord of the Feast, will be out April 16th, 2024. My editor Don D’Auria says it’s “Incredibly original, great characters, compelling plot...  Basically a damn good book.” This is the tenth book that Don and I have worked on together since 2005.


This novel is set in Oakmont, Ohio, the same town where The Mouth of the Dark takes place. It’s not a direct sequel, though.




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:




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.





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