|Illustration by Luke Spooner, © LVP Publications|
Welcome to The Pulp Horror Author Interview Series. Today's interview is with Tim Waggoner who explores the fear of insanity in his short story "A Touch of Madness" in The Pulp Horror Book of Phobias.
LVP PUBLICATIONS: What draws you to horror, both as a writer and as a reader? Who is your favorite horror creator? Who are your inspirations or influences?
TIM WAGGONER: Horror stimulates my imagination in a way that no other genre does, including fantasy and science fiction. It’s not about what’s right in front of your face but rather what lurks in the shadows, what’s hiding inside your mind, what might lie on the other side of the fragile illusion we call reality. Horror is all about dark possibilities, and the genre engages with some of the most difficult issues humans face: injury, disease, death, violence, cruelty, madness… The situations in horror stories test characters like in no other genre, and by seeing how they respond to the threats they face, we can safely get a sense of how we might respond, too.
I don’t think I have a favorite horror creator. I don’t really think in terms of favorites, and I can never come up with a top five or top ten list of anything when asked. I’m usually focused on what works interest me at the moment, what I want to explore and learn from. My childhood influences include horror movies from the 1930s to the 1970s, horror comics, and horror magazines. As I entered my teens, I began reading Stephen King, and from him I learned about characterization, setting, and storytelling. After that, it’s a long list of horror creatives who I’ve learned from: Thomas F. Monteleone, Ramsey Campbell, Ray Bradbury, Gary A. Braunbeck, Clive Barker, Shirley Jackson, Dennis Etchison, Laird Barron, Bentley Little, David Lynch, H.P. Lovecraft, John Langan, Edgar Allan Poe, Paul Tremblay, Franz Kafka, Steve Rasnic Tem, Charlee Jacob, Robert Aickman, Allison Littlewood, Jack Ketchum, Caitlin R. Kiernan, Mike Flanagan, Thomas Ligotti, Richard Laymon, Richard Matheson, and so many more I could name.
LVP: What were your biggest fears as a child? Do you have any current phobias or fears now as an adult?
WAGGONER: I was afraid of the dark as a child. Terrified, in fact. Now, at the age of fifty-five, I find it soothing. My biggest fear currently is that consciousness continues after death. One of the things that keeps me going is knowing that eventually my busy mind will get to rest. But if consciousness continues, my painful memories will endure, and I’ll make new ones, perhaps an eternity of them. The idea horrifies me.
LVP: Horror has a million sub-genres, from psychological to splatterpunk. Which sub-genres have you written in? What's your favorite flavor of horror?
WAGGONER: One of the things I like to do in my horror fiction is blend as many different types into a story as I can. This is much easier in novels than in short stories, of course. I view the sub-genres as different colors, and as an artist, I’ll use whichever color I need to create the effect I want. I also like to blend the sub-genres because it keeps readers guessing. Good horror should never be safe for an audience, and that includes their expectations of what kind of type of horror story they’re reading.
I’m very eclectic when it comes to what I love in horror as both a creator and an audience member. I love cheesy monster movies and slasher flicks as well as surreal and arthouse horror. I read horror novels and stories written for pure entertainment and literary horror meant to challenge readers. It’s all wonderful!
LVP: Is there any sub-genre or area of horror that you won’t go anywhere near? Any one area that is completely off-limits?
WAGGONER: There’s no sub-genre I won’t explore, but sexual assault against women or children is a story element I usually avoid, and if I do use that element, I’m extremely careful how I do it. I have friends and family who’ve suffered sexual abuse/assault, and I know how it’s affected them. I don’t think any story element in horror (or any genre for that matter) should be used without conscious intention, and it shouldn’t be used merely to shock or demonstrate how “edgy” a writer you think you are.
LVP: In your opinion, what is the scariest or most terrifying thing you’ve ever written?
WAGGONER: In my novel The Mouth of the Dark, a father is searching for his missing daughter. The idea of one of my loved ones going missing, perhaps never to be found, terrifies me.
LVP: Have you ever had an idea for a story so scary or disturbing that you couldn't bring yourself to write it down? Tell us about it.
WAGGONER: Years ago, I was working on a suspense novel about a couple teenagers who were in love. One of their fathers disapproved of their relationship and began stalking them. For research, I watched a documentary on serial killers, and one of the killers that was interviewed spoke in the most matter-of-fact terms about a young boy he killed. The man was an absolute emotional void, and even though the villain in my novel wasn’t exactly like him, I decided that I wasn’t ready to explore that particular dark abyss right then. I never did finish that novel. I prefer my horror to have at least a slight bit of unreality to it that provides a mental and emotional buffer for me when I read, watch, or write it. That documentary was too damn real.
LVP: Are there any ways that your interest in horror bleeds over (so to speak) into other areas of your life? Do you throw legendary Halloween parties, do you dress like Alice Cooper when you go grocery shopping, do you have a pet albino snake named Nosferatu?
WAGGONER: Not really. Horror is everyday life for me, but it’s more internal as opposed to outer. I’m not into the theatrics of horror — dressing up, projecting a dark persona, decorating your house with horror paraphernalia, etc. My home office has some horror figurines and such, but that’s about it.
LVP: What advice would you give to someone who wanted to try dabbling in horror writing for the first time?
WAGGONER: Remember that horror stories are about people. Make sure your stories have a strong emotional core. Remember that horror stories aren’t about the monster/evil force; they’re about how characters react to that force, how it impacts them, challenges them, changes them. Avoid well-worn and overused horror tropes. They lack power. Horror is about fear of the unknown, and there’s nothing unknown to audiences about vampires, werewolves, zombies, etc. If you are going to use a trope, find a way to put a fresh spin on it.
LVP: What would you like your legacy to be? Or alternatively, what should your survivors engrave on your tombstone?
WAGGONER: I don’t think in terms of legacy. I focus on the story I’m currently writing, with an eye toward the one I’ll write next. I’ve taught college writing courses for the last thirty years, and I hope I’ve managed to help some people be better writers. I hope I’ve written stories people enjoy. I hope I’ve made some small contribution to the genre I love.
LVP: Anything else you'd like to say or add? Any final thoughts?
WAGGONER: I view horror as one of the most versatile genres because you can combine it with any other type of story. Any other genre, any story situation, any character, any idea can be explored through the lens of horror. Plus, it’s a hell of a lot of fun, too!
~ Tim Waggoner writes horror, dark fantasy, and media tie-ins and has published over forty novels and five collections of short stories. He’s won the Bram Stoker Award and been a finalist for the Shirley Jackson Award and the Scribe Award. He also teaches creative writing and composition at Sinclair College in Dayton, Ohio. Visit him on the web at www.timwaggoner.com