Tuesday, July 26, 2022

A Graveside Chat with Tim Waggoner

Tim Waggoner is a prolific author, with a hefty catalog of original novels; media tie-in novels for Supernatural, Grimm, The X-Files, Doctor Who, A Nightmare on Elm Street, and Transformers; and novelizations for the films Resident Evil: The Final Chapter, Kingsmen: The Golden Circle, and Halloween Kills. He has been a newspaper reporter, magazine editor, and copy editor, and he is currently a professor of English at Sinclair Community College in Dayton, Ohio. Tim’s writing has won numerous awards, including three HWA Bram Stoker Awards. So, Tim, a big welcome to this edition of A Graveside Chat!

AGC: A fair portion of your published work is media-related — tie-in novels and movie novelizations. You clearly have worked in some popular and highly entertaining franchises. Beyond the requisite paycheck, what drew you to pursue this particular creative outlet? Have you pursued writing for any of these franchises due to your own personal interest, or was it more a matter of opportunities being available and you happened to be the right writer for the job?

TW: I’m 58, and when I was a kid, there was no cable TV, no video rental stores, no Internet, no social media, no YouTube. The only way for us to experience more adventures of our favorite movie and TV heroes was in media tie-ins — novelizations, novels, and comics. I read the old Gold Key Star Trek, Lost in Space, and Dark Shadows comics, and later I started reading novelizations, a lot of them by Alan Dean Foster, as well as Dungeon & Dragons and Star Trek novels. Not only did I enjoy getting to read more about these properties, the writers were able to tell stories they couldn’t in TV and movies, going into more details, and — my favorite part — letting us know what the characters were thinking and feeling.

When I started writing seriously, with the intention of making it my life’s work, I decided to try writing different types of things to increase my chances of success, and one of those things was tie-in novels. At first, I pursued tie-ins for properties I was interested in — such as novels in various D&D game settings (I wrote and published seven of those). Sometimes I still do that, but other times publishers approach me about doing a tie-in, and those may be for properties I’m unfamiliar with or wouldn’t have thought about trying to write, but I’ve enjoyed those as much as any others I’ve done. I still haven’t got to write a Star Trek novel, damn it, even though I’ve tried to snag a Trek gig on and off for years!

You’ve written numerous nonfiction articles and books, such as Writing in the Dark, about the process of writing. Is it safe to assume you are as passionate about sharing your knowledge of writing as you are about storytelling? What would you consider the first and best piece of advice for someone looking to test the waters as a writer?

TW: I fell in love with writing about writing when I first started reading Lawrence Block’s columns on fiction writing in Writer’s Digest in the early 80s. I found his advice warm, encouraging, and entertaining, and it really helped me grow as a writer. I’m a college writing teacher in my day job (composition and creative writing), so sharing knowledge and helping others is a key part of who I am.

As for advice, I’d say learn to write vivid fiction, fiction written from a clear, specific viewpoint, making sure to include the five senses, as well as what characters think, feel, imagine, etc. Too many beginning fiction writers write like they’re watching a movie. That’s a passive experience, with us as an inactive audience watching from a distance as someone else does something. The only senses we have stimulated are sight and sound, and we have no idea what’s going on in characters’ heads unless they tell us in dialogue. Fiction writers need to put themselves into their characters’ places and imagine what they might be experiencing — mentally, emotionally, and physically, then use those details to create a vivid experience for their readers. The strength of prose fiction is that it does things no other medium can do — it makes readers active participants in creating the story as they read it, and writers need to give them the details to stimulate their imaginations to do so. Writing vivid fiction helps us do this.

In your blog, “Writing in the Dark,” you frequently delve into the relevance of horror — and fiction in general — in today’s world. Your first novel, Dying for It, came out in 2001. In the intervening years, the world of publishing — not to mention the world in general — has evolved (or perhaps devolved, in some cases) by leaps and bounds. How has this ongoing transformation impacted the process and content of your writing?

TW: When I first started out, the common wisdom was that novelists would write their first book, get it published, and then since editors knew you were a pro, you could sell new novels to them on the basis of a short pitch or outline, maybe with a few sample chapters if they requested them. All the novels I’ve sold for the last twenty years have been on the basis of pitches and outlines. (Tie-ins are always done this way since you’re working with other people’s IPs, and they need to approve what you do every step of the way.) Over the years publishers have gotten more conservative in the risks they’re willing to take. A big part of this is that now the sales force has to approve a book — they have to believe they can sell it to the public effectively — before the editor can make an offer. Those people aren’t typically creative people, so the decisions they make will be based solely on financial concerns. So mass-market editors don’t take chances on as many weird, quirky, original projects as they used to. They’re also not issuing contracts based on outlines from pros, even if you have a long track record as a novelist. If they haven’t worked with you before, they want to see an entire finished novel, just as they would from someone just starting out.

Since I like to write weird stuff, I often sell to small-press publishers, who are more interested in the artistic aspect of publishing than money. There’s not a lot of money in the small press, so if I tried to make my entire income from my writing, it would be disastrous financially. Many mass-market publishers have been swallowed up in mergers, so there are fewer places to submit novels, and the midlist — where most writers made their living — has all but vanished. In horror, thankfully, the small press is strong and offers a lot of opportunities for writers, both new and established.

Where do you see yourself heading creatively in the coming days, months, and years? Do you have any projects on the horizon you’d be willing to talk about?

TW: I have two finished horror novels in the pipeline at Flame Tree Press: A Hunter Called Night and Lord of the Feast. They won’t be out until 2023 and 2024, though. I have a trilogy of urban fantasy/horror novels coming out from Aethon Books. I’ve submitted the first one, called The Atrocity Engine, but I don’t have a publication date for it yet. I still need to write the next two books in the series. I’m also trying to branch out a little, and in the last year I’ve written a thriller novel, a middle-grade horror novel, and I’m currently working on a fantasy novel. Since these are fields I’m not known for writing in, and because I’d be working with new editors, I’ve written (or will write) the entire novels before sending them out, instead of trying to sell them on a pitch and an outline, as I used to. I’m also trying to write work that’s less strange and bizarre and more marketable, which I hope will appeal to mass-market editors. We’ll see how it goes.

AGC: What’s the best piece of advice you have for someone who wants to start writing horror specifically, or who wants to write better horror?

TW: My advice is to write stories that come from your own fevered imagination — stories that are original and not just tired retreads of well-worn tropes such as vampires, haunted houses, vengeful ghosts, etc. (At least not without putting an original spin on such tropes.) A huge part of what makes horror work is a sense of the unknown, of mystery and suspense, and there’s little that’s unknown about a stereotypical zombie outbreak story. But if you write a story about an old person who grew up during a zombie outbreak that’s been long over, and they miss it for some weird reason and want to restart it, then you have an interesting story idea. Plus, this idea will have a strong emotional core because the central idea comes out of a character.

Write down your fears, your obsessions, your nightmares. Pay attention to the wonderfully bizarre world around you and write down what you see. Look over all these notes when it's time to write a story or a novel, pick several, combine them, add a strong emotional core, maybe one drawn from your own experience, put them all into a blender, mix them together, then pour them out onto the page. The story that results will be completely yours, not like anyone else’s, and it’s stories like these that have the best chance of getting published, and — more importantly — having a lasting impact on readers.

AGC: Thanks very much, Tim!

Visit Tim on the web at

Monday, July 25, 2022

NECON 40: It Was the Best of Times...

Old Dude and Joe Lansdale his own self

Twenty-six years. That’s how long it’s been since I’ve attended Necon, the official “summer camp for horror writers.” During the Deathrealm days —1987–1997 — Necon was foremost among my annual conventions of choice, and I missed a scant few during that decade. In those years, Necon was held primarily at Roger Williams College in Bristol, RI (once, at least for me, at Bryant College, in Smithfield, RI), in what was considered “primitive” surroundings: fairly rank college dormitories, bathrooms full of slugs and bugs, cafeteria food as our daily fare, a dearth of air conditioning... you know, the somewhat spartan environment of most college campuses. But those were some of the best con days I’ve ever experienced, and — almost amazingly — Necon is still going strong, although COVID-19 put the kibosh on it these past couple of years.

Thursday, July 21, 2022
Thankfully, this year, Necon 40 went off as planned, and Brugger and I took off to be there. We headed out before the ass-crack of dawn on Thursday, 7/21, from Piedmont Triad International airport. Happily, our Delta Airlines flights (GSO to LGA to BOS) went without a hitch (not so our American Airlines return flight). At the airport, we met friend Samaire Wynne, of Black Raven Books; picked up a rental car; and — after a brief stop for some staple items — made our way to the Umass (University of Massachusetts) Lowell Inn & Conference Center, in Lowell, MA, about 45 minutes out of Boston.

We had been hoping that, once settled in the traditionally temperate New England climes, we might find relief from the oppressive heat that has been roasting us here in the Southeast. Nope. Holy shit, it was even hotter there than down here! Thank Yog the hotel innards maintained a generally comfortable temperature; had we been ensconced at Roger Williams, we’d have all been baked into some kind of reeking horror writer soufflĂ©.

Over the course of the afternoon, the influx of horror writers, artists, and aficionados picked up steam. Simply by way of the fact I have been unable to attend many conventions over the past couple of decades, many, many of the regular Necon campers were unfamiliar to me, other than by way of social media. Still, I soon began to see friends and familiar faces from those treasured days of yore: P.D. Cacek, Nicholas Kaufmann, Darrell Schweitzer, Craig Shaw Gardner, James A. MooreJoe R. Lansdale, and others. Before things got rolling too fast and far, I decided to go after a nearby geocache, at which point I ran into Tom “Almost the Nicest Guy in Horror” Deady (see below), whom I’d met for the first time at Scares That Care in Williamsburg, VA, in 2019. He was out running an errand, but we did spend a few minutes in the oppressive heat shooting some enjoyable shit. Necon 40 was off to an excellent start.

Social media has certainly played a role in facilitating friendships, and, after returning from geocaching, I was thrilled to finally meet Tony The Nicest Guy in HorrorTremblay, whom I’ve known online for something like a couple of decades. He offered me a cigar, which I accepted since, at one time, I was known to partake semi-regularly of these naughty things. It was really good. We didn’t spend too much time with this first meeting of the minds, but we rightly figured we would see each other aplenty over the course of the long weekend. As evening fell, the temperature finally dropped to merely sweltering, so a good many campers gathered outdoors. Some excellent company by way of  Elizabeth Blue, Mike Burke, Mike DeadyKristin DearbornShannon GrantOgmios Lieberman, Thad LinsonThom LyonsPaul McMahon, Michael PhillipsWicker Stone (a.k.a. Steven LaCroix), and others added to the quality mix.

After a so-so buffet dinner in the inn’s restaurant, Brugger, Samaire, and I made our way to the quarters of the nefarious Richard Dansky, whom I had met in the flesh for the first time at my Fugue Devil: Resurgence book release party here in Greensboro back in early June. Like a number of writerly types, Richard is a connoisseur of scotch, so we hung out with him, as well as several others who dropped in, to sample a few high-end brands. It is safe to say that these were the best examples of scotch I’ve ever tasted, and I’d love to try more of them (although my budget and I will never come to a satisfactory agreement on this).

We stayed up till the wee hours, leaving a first and very satisfying day of Necon behind us.
The view from our room window
And so it begins. Checked in, badged up, and ready to wreak havoc.
The scotch begins to flow, with Richard Dansky, Mike Phillips, Old Dude, and Samaire Wynne.
Brugger, of course, is behind the camera.
You might expect some of the nice would rub off from Tony “The Nicest Guy in Horror” Tremblay,
but you would be wrong. 
Friday, July 22, 2022
Morning came early, for I had to set up the dealer table reserved for Black Raven Books in the dealers’ room. I had expected Samaire to bring some of her own books to sell, but she had not, so I set out not only copies of Fugue Devil: Resurgence but a few of Blue Devil Island, The Monarchs, all my Ameri-Scares titles, and a handful of issues of Deathrealm (one of which sold before I had even finished setting up the table). Over the course of the weekend, I moved the majority of the books I had brought with me; not that this lightened my load for the trip home because, for every book I sold, I bought at least one from some other writer or vendor.

After a quick lunch, Brugger and I took a walk in the heat, mainly to do a little sightseeing and hunt a nearby geocache. We ended up walking a fair distance, but we returned to the hotel before heat exhaustion overcame us.

At 4:00 p.m., I played moderator on a panel called “Golden Memories: What It Was Like to Work During the 80s/90s Horror Boom.” Until I arrived at Necon, I was under the impression someone else had been designated as moderator, but... nope. I was able to make a few quick notes of things I thought worthy of presenting to the panelists — Lori Perkins, Craig Shaw Gardner, Darrell Schweitzer, Melissa Ann Singer, and Joe Lansdale. All in all, it went pretty well, despite my being only marginally prepared. Now, I could talk all day about my experiences during those years but that’s not the moderator’s job, and who’d want to hear all that anyway? Happily, as with most good panels, the discussion took on a life of its own; as it was, I kind of had to pull the plug on it to keep things from running too long.

I was glad to get that behind me, and from that point on, I was able to relax a bit more. Worked in some quality time with new and old friends, including Patrick FreivaldMarianne HalbertNick KaufmannJohn Langan, Hansi OppenheimerCat Scully, and many more. Although our meals at the conference center were pre-paid, Ms. B. and I decided to walk to a nearby Asian restaurant, called Blue Taleh, just to find a bit of variety. I can’t say it was the world’s best Thai food; on the other hand, it was much, much better than eating dirt. Afterward, we enjoyed a couple of refreshing beverages at a nearby joint called Trend.

Once again, Rich Dansky’s room opened for scotch-related business. I happily partook of the available fare and contributed what I hope was a decent offering to the stock. Drink-wise, especially since Brugger and I had gone out and about, my consumption for the evening ended up being fairly substantial. However, I drank slowly and spaced out the drinks so I ended up not getting shitfaced. It’s fair to say that not everyone in the place could make that claim. Haha.
The “Golden Years” panel, starring Lori Perkins, Craig Shaw Gardner, Darrell Schweitzer, Old Dude, Melissa Ann Singer, and Joe Lansdale
Nick Kaufmann and John Langan plotting to rock.
John Foster and Patrick appear pleasant yet menacing.
Scotch... and so much else... flows at Casa de Dansky. 

Saturday, July 23, 2022
John “Mac” McIlveen mugs for the camera

Once again, I was up and at ’em early to man the dealers’ room. Somewhat to my surprise, Samaire ended up taking the day to handle other business elsewhere, so I held down the fort as capably as this old man can. Book sales were a bit slower than on Friday, but still respectable. Again, midday, Brugger and I went for a longish walk, I to hunt geocaches, she to visit a nearby art supply store that had caught her interest. In the end, we put in a full four miles (in fact, we averaged four miles of walking each day at the con); however, this day’s heat damn near did us in. Before the dealers’ room closed, I called it a day and crashed for a spell in our room.

Once again, we opted out of dinner at the hotel and walked to a nearby establishment called Warp & Weft (a reference to Lowell’s once-prevalent textile industry). She found the best burger she’d had for ages, and I killed a sizable turkey burger, which probably wasn’t as good as her Angus cow, but I did find it bloody satisfying. Well, it was bird, so it really wasn’t all that bloody. Good fries too.

No scotch room for us on Saturday night, as the con events included “All Hail the Popcorn King,” a lovely and hysterically fun documentary about Joe Lansdale. Then... for me, probably the highlight of the evening, if not the con as a whole: a nice long sit-down with Ms. B. and Tony Tremblay, which was simply among the best, most meaningful conversations with one of my peers I can remember. We talked life, love, writing, books, business... lord have mercy, to me it meant the world. After a time, we broke for the last of the evening’s official events: the traditional “Saugy” roast — hot dogs aplenty — and still more great conversations with several other distinguished attendees, such as Peter Dudar, Sephera Giron, Scott Goudsward, Tim Huguenin, Michelle Renee Lane, John MacMcIlveen, Erick Nunnally, Charles Rutledge, L.L. Soares, and many more.
Scott Goudsward and Jack Cullen peeking out from a wee portion of their wares
Lord knows how many cups of coffee at this point.
Sunday, July 24, 2022
Ms. B. doing her best Fugue Devil impression

Our flight out wasn’t till later in the afternoon, which meant we didn’t have to get up at the ass-crack of dawn to leave. Still, I got up and going promptly for the 9:00 a.m. opening of the dealers’ room. Lo and behold, Samaire was back from her excursion, and we quickly sold a few more books. At 11:00 a.m. we attended the traditional Necon Town Hall Meeting, which consisted primarily of con business, including a substantive input session from attendees, particularly the newbies. Afterward, Samaire and I spent several minutes yakking with the legendary Linda Addison. Shortly afterward, I ran into Bracken McLeod, whom I’d not had much chance to interact with. We managed a very nice little visit.

In all, this long weekend was a memorable, invigorating experience, considering I haven’t been to Necon since the dawn of man. One of the things I mentioned in the town hall meeting was that so many of the giants in the field who were the heart and soul of Necon (“back in my day!”) — such as Charlie Grant, Rick Hautala, and Dennis Etchison — are no longer with us. I figure the current generation has some mighty big shoes to fill... and my thought was that they have, so far, done an admirable job of it. Since the earliest of Necon days, it has evolved into an altogether different animal, with just enough common threads to the past to still feel like — for me — a long-awaited homecoming. My hat is off to everyone who has worked like hell to make Necon a long-running and respected tradition in our chosen field of endeavor.

Immediately after the meeting, it was time for us to break down the dealers’ room, pack up, and hit the road. It was at that point, that things (not just us) kind of went south.

Samaire rode with us to the Boston Logan Airport, though she was on a different flight back home. It was only when we arrived at the airport that I realized I hadn’t brought everything I had come with from the conference center. This was a rather heart-stopping moment. A call to the hotel (which kept me on hold for a disturbingly long spell) at least gives me some reassurance that this issue can be solved more or less painlessly. One can hope.

But that was just the beginning. We headed out on American Airlines on time — 4:30 p.m. — bound for Reagan National in DC. Just as we were leaving, I got a text that our connecting flight from DCA to GSO was delayed about an hour. That would have been no big deal since it gave us time to have a leisurely dinner and some drinks. However, over the course of the afternoon, I received no less than 13 texts indicating our flight time was delayed, changed back, delayed further, and on and on. As it turned out, we didn’t even have a plane to board until almost 11:00 p.m. Then we had to wait half an hour for a ground crew to push us back from the gate. Then we apparently received a flight plan that “didn’t work,” so a new one had to be created and filed. Finally, we got off the ground and made the 45-minute flight to Greensboro with no complications.

Until we landed, a little after midnight.

As we were taxiing to the gate, the pilot informed us that, due to another plane suffering some mechanical mishap, we had no ground crew to man our designated gate. So, we had another half hour of waiting on board the plane. So close, and yet so far...

Eventually, somebody pushed some stairs up to the main cabin door. Thus, we disembarked, trekked across the tarmac, and headed to the baggage claim. Here, we found a couple hundred people crowded around the baggage carousel — passengers, we discovered, from two earlier flights, whose baggage had yet to appear. They had been waiting for over an hour, with nary a word from the airline about the hold-up. Only a single American Airlines employee could be found in the baggage claim office, and she didn’t seem particularly motivated to address the problem in any fashion. For the next hour or so, the conveyer kept circling, so we saw the same three bags coming around time after time after time.

By 1:30 a.m., tempers were beginning to flare, particularly among those who had been waiting far longer than we had. One woman went pounding furiously on the door to the handling area, to no avail. One young fellow mounted the conveyor and disappeared through the portal to the handling area. Brugger and I were kind of hoping, just for our amusement, to see him circle back through, along with those three presumably abandoned bags, but we never did. For all we know, he may have ended up in baggage claim jail, although I don’t think there was anyone back there to lock him away.

At 1:45 a.m. a couple of baggage handlers arrived on the scene and, 20 minutes later, a few bags began to appear on the conveyor. At last — at 2:15 a.m., precisely 13 hours after we left the UMass Inn & Conference Center — our checked bag emerged, thankfully in good condition. We arrived home at 2:45 a.m. and dropped into bed, wholly exhausted, around 3:15 a.m.

The thing about all this is, to my mind, the AA rep simply coming out to explain the situation, to offer some possible solution should our bags not appear at all before dawn or some such, anything to maintain a semblance of customer service would have gone a long way. It was not so much the obvious staffing shortage as the total silence from anyone at the airline that bred a red-hot cauldron of simmering acrimony.

So, it was a weird and exasperating conclusion to an otherwise wonderful convention experience. I can hardly express how great it felt to hang with dozens of old friends I hadn’t seen in years as well as to meet a whole new crew of creative souls I have only known — or known of — by way of social media. As it stands, I am determined to make attending Necon an annual priority.

I am already very much looking forward to Necon 41.

For your amusement, here are screenshots of the endless stream of texts I received from American Airlines regarding flight changes.*
*Today, thanks to my polite but very firm letter of dissatisfaction to AA, I did receive a $50 voucher to apply to the cost of a plane ticket, good for one year. To me, the money is no big deal. It’s about the breakdown of even a reasonable semblance of customer service at the airport.

Tuesday, July 19, 2022

Content Warning!

The title is not necessarily a warning about this post; it’s more me ruminating about the need and/or usefulness of "warnings" for works of fiction, particularly horror fiction. I've recently seen a few good discussions on the subject — not heated, dig-in-your-heels, double-down types of discussions, but respectful and thoughtful exchanges. These have prompted me to consider the prospect in a somewhat different light.

Initially, I felt such warnings superfluous, since horror — extreme horror, in particular — has never been in any way a "safe" subject. To my mind, it seems that anyone going in to read a book bearing the "horror" label will be treading on thin ice, as far as emotional security goes. That not-so-novel notion has always seemed to be a given. That said, and this has been a topic of discussion since time immemorial, "horror" is not limited to the genre; it's a potential component of any genre, of any facet of life itself. It's a handy label for books about cosmic monsters, the supernatural in general, psycho killers, et. al., but it also goes far beyond that.

The term "trigger warning" for books gave me (and still gives me) an ugly sense. For right or wrong, it seems a term that implies emotional weakness, putting those who might truly become disturbed by something in a piece of fiction, particularly as a result of past trauma, in a needlessly defensive position. I've seen the suggestion that "content warning" is more neutral, giving the creator the opportunity/responsibility to better target the appropriate audience. I find myself gravitating toward this, especially having read so many accounts of negative emotional reactions from people who've suffered specific traumas. Maybe it's a tiny change in wording, but this goes to the significance of word usage itself.

Certainly, most or all of us have suffered severe physical and/or emotional trauma to varying degrees; but just as we all deal with grief in our unique ways, so we deal with trauma. Truthfully, whatever I have suffered in this life, I can't find anything in fiction I could honestly consider a "trigger." I can find things that unsettle me, even mess up my mind to an extent. But then I realize that I deal with grief, which I have suffered in the past couple of years, quite profoundly, in very different ways than others. So, looking at the question of warnings from this perspective — and, as I mentioned, reading so many accounts of how certain topics, and their depictions, in fiction can and have truly triggered some readers, I'm finding myself far more open to the idea of "content warnings" than I was not terribly long ago. Perhaps, as some other proponents have noted, the term "Advisory" might be more apt.

I also feel educating myself on such concepts is paramount to remaining an active participant in the business I've chosen. I may be an old fart, but I do make every attempt not to be a stagnant old fart. Because that stinks.

Thursday, July 7, 2022

A Graveside Chat with Kathe Koja

Kathe Koja’s name hit the heights early in her writing career, with the release of her acclaimed first novel, The Cipher (1991, Dell-Abyss) which showcased her fresh, unique voice as well as a distinctly dark tone. Since then, she has written numerous novels (her latest is titled Dark Factory), YA novels, short stories, and essays — and has added director and producer to her credits. Her work has won the Shirley Jackson Award, Bram Stoker Award, ASPCA Henry Bergh Award, and the Deathrealm Award, among others. Through her company, Loudermilk Productions LLC, she stages immersive events with musicians, visual artists, dancers, fire performers, and scent creators. Kathe is based in Detroit, thinks globally, drinks coffee, and dances to techno whenever she can.

Photo by Rick Lieder

AGC: Your first novel, The Cipher, attracted significant attention, both with critics and with readers; Josh Malerman has called it “a stone-cold landmark of the genre.” Since then, you have been an author (or perhaps “creator” is a better term) to reckon with. Your distinctive prose tends to have a vivid, organic flow; one might say an overwhelming sense of immediacy. Can you pinpoint any specific influences or inspirations for your style?

KK: Style is voice, right, it’s as unconscious and integral as speech, we don’t consider how we speak, we just talk to each other. I remember wondering, years ago at Clarion Workshop, if I had a style, and was assured by Kate Wilhelm that I did. And Shirley Jackson’s brief, masterclass essay, “Notes for a Young Writer” assured me that stories should move, that nothing should be on the page that doesn’t absolutely belong there. You go a lot faster when you throw out the deadweight.

As a reader, I’ve always sought out and reveled in writers — like Anthony Burgess, like Angela Carter — whose relationship with words is headlong and exuberant, so my work tries to do that too, keep the play in wordplay.

AGC: Many of your works involve marginalized, “misfit” characters, who seek, knowingly or unknowingly, to transform themselves. Can you identify any specific factors — social, personal, political, or dramatic — that shape the identities of your characters? Do you have any characters to whom you relate more personally than others?

The first thing I see before I write anything is a character, and it’s that character who forms the nucleus of the narrative. So I relate to them all, I feel for them — even the ones I don’t “like,” even the ones no one likes, like Nakota in The Cipher — or else I couldn’t write them, I’d run the risk of them becoming cardboard markers just moving that narrative along. I do have favorites, though. (Remember when your mom said she didn’t have a favorite kid? She lied.) In my newest book, Dark Factory, it’s Ari Regon — he’s up for anything, he’s anything but introspective, he’d be huge fun to hang out with — though Ari is a different kind of rebel: he pushes things further and farther, seeks transformation, out of pleasure, not pain.

And “misfit” can be taken as a compliment, right? To be unable to fit into something that’s wrong for you, that refuses to give space to you, is not a bad thing. And to have courage enough to play with and push those limits is not too shabby either.

AGC: You’ve published novels for young adults as well as for us older folks. Do you find writing for a younger audience appreciably different than writing for... shall we say... more seasoned readers? In your YA work, how much do you tackle what some might call controversial topics or particularly graphic imagery? Do you aim to write more books for your YA readers?

KK: I had the amazing good fortune to publish seven YA novels with a legend for an editor: Frances Foster of FSG, who modeled and affirmed the belief that YA is every bit the equal of any literature for adults. Because it is. And I found that I had to be even more economical and on point for younger readers, because they have less patience for bloat than adults.

And I made certain to be as honest — utterly, hopefully honest — as possible, even in novels that were very dark, like The Blue Mirror, that follows young artist Maggy as she confronts the inner darkness that blinds us, and Going Under, where siblings Hilly and Ivan are stalked and manipulated by an adult evil that hides behind a therapeutic smile (both horror novels IMO). Because younger readers, unlike some adult readers, are still able, and are fully willing, to take in new information that may change their minds and their worldview. If you’re talking to someone who’s listening, you make sure to tell all the truth you know.

And yes, I would love to write more YA!

AGC: Your immersive events and adaptations of classic as well as your own works look absolutely fascinating. How did you come to develop these events? You clearly have a very active role in their production; can you give us an idea of what audiences/participants experience during these events? (As an aside, the video I’ve seen of your Dark Factory book release really makes me regret I wasn’t in Michigan at the time.)

KK: Making the book trailer for Under the Poppy, my novel about Victorian puppeteers, got me involved in creating performances — I produced immersive events with artists, actors, dancers, musicians, fire perfomers, scent creators... So many amazing and dedicated creative people who wanted to play along in these worlds that we devised for our patrons. (We always said “patrons” instead of “audience,” because being a patron is more participative, less passive.)

And each one was different. My Dracula was structured as a dinner party in the basement of a historic mercantile building, where Dracula is interviewing Jonathan Harker, and patrons were at the table too, everyone moving down a seat, closer to Dracula herself as the night progressed. My Alice in Wonderland, called ALI<E, set the patrons loose in a preschool, where the Mad Hatter, the Red Queen, and the Carpenter brought existential questions to violent life — being menaced by the Red Queen is an experience in itself! And recreating Christopher Marlowe’s Faustus in a church put the patrons face to face with a devil and a pack of Deadly Sins, who all had a great time scaring, luring, flirting with, and interacting with those patrons.

I found that making these events, creating the script, directing and producing the performance, is really very, very much like writing a novel, only you get to watch how the reader reacts! Which is what led to Dark Factory, where I’ve combined a novel with the ongoing opportunity for readers to participate — via the site, or by entering one of the contests (the mask contest was wild), or by an interview with one of the characters, or on social media — so that anyone who feels moved to be part of the club can do that, can help create the Dark Factory experience. And fiction, the act of reading, has always been immersive, but now we can take it a step further. And Meerkat Press was such a badass collaborator in creating this experience, which takes the act of publishing a step further, too, expanding the idea of what a novel can be — and the preorder folks got a swag pack that was the first, as far as we know, to include condoms (play safe!). And we’re still extending the story, this time with an eye on VR... Because everything we make in the real world corresponds with something in the novel — the sparkling drink fountain and floating bubbles and masked DJ at the Detroit launch, the studio setting and blasting techno of the Atlanta launch — the novel and the real world hold hands, they dance, and together define a third reality.

AGC: Okay... whatever topic, have your say. Anything you want — or have wanted — to share, go for it!

KK: One of the great lessons of making — a novel, a story, a show, anything — is that life, and how we choose to live it, is supposed to lead us to joy. That’s almost a strange thing to say, now, a contradictory thing when we’re in such an awful moment of history — but maybe it’s the moment where we need joy most. Joy creates, joy bolsters, joy makes us whole.

AGC: Thanks for taking the time for A Graveside Chat, Kathe. Most appreciated, and I hope you enjoyed it.

KK: Thank you for inviting me!

Coming Soon at A Graveside Chat: Tim Waggoner,
and many more!

Wednesday, July 6, 2022

A Nightmarish Glance

TL; DNR: Buy my books.

The Long Version: I have related the inspiration for The Nightmare Frontier on this blog before, but the other day, when I was shuffling some shit in my office, I happened to look upon the 2006 Sarob Press hardback cover art (by Chad Savage). It brought to mind, very vividly, the vision that inspired it — truly, one of the most terror-filled moments of my adult life.

It was late evening, and I was drowsing on the couch in the living room, dark but for a few streamers of light filtering in through the Venetian blinds. I was aware that I was lying on the couch, yet peculiar images were beginning to waft up from my subconscious. As I lay there, I noticed a pool of warm, golden light forming in the corner of my vision. I shifted just enough to peer around the arm of the couch, and then I saw the source of the light.

Creeping across the living room floor, perhaps six feet away, there was a gigantic centipede, five feet long, its body glowing gold and red, as if a flame burned within it. Its head resembled a human skull. As I watched, the thing slowly turned toward me, and I became aware of a malevolent intelligence, observing me. The thing made no further move, but I jerked violently awake.

The most disturbing thing at that moment was that I knew I was fully awake, yet I could see a circle of golden light on the floor, slowly fading. It vanished only after several seconds had passed.

It took some time before my nerves settled enough for me to drag myself off the couch and retire to my bedroom. By the time I finally drifted off to sleep again, I had a rudimentary plot in my head for the novel that was to become The Nightmare Frontier.

In the novel, you will encounter these critters. They are known as the Lumeras.

Tuesday, July 5, 2022

R.I.P. Teruyoshi Nakano, 1935–2022

Photo by Brett Homenick

I was saddened to learn today of legendary special effects director Teruyoshi Nakano’s passing last week. At G-Fest 2004, where Nakano-san was a guest of honor, I had the pleasure of meeting him face to face and, along with Brett Homenick, conducting an in-depth interview with him. It’s hardly a well-kept secret that I am a longtime special effects/daikaiju freak, particularly from the Showa-era Toho films. Little by little, time’s passage continues to claim the few remaining members of the generation responsible for those movies. Nakano-san was one of those select few I have met personally, and in that brief time, he left me with a wonderful and memorable impression.

Teruyoshi (a.k.a. Shokei) Nakano started with Toho — barely aware of Godzilla, kith and kin — in 1959 (the year I was born) as an assistant special effects director. As assistant to special effects director Eiji Tsuburaya, Nakano’s first effect work was in Submarine I-57 Will Not Surrender; soon afterward, he worked on Gorath, his first Toho science fiction film. From there, he assisted Tsuburaya on virtually all of Toho’s science fiction/daikaiju movies, from King Kong vs. Godzilla to Space Amoeba (a.k.a. Yog - Monster From Space).

In 1971, Nakano graduated to full special effects director, first for The Battle of Okinawa and then Godzilla vs. Hedorah (a.k.a. Godzilla vs. the Smog Monster). He continued in this position for the rest of the Showa Godzilla films (which ended with Terror of Mechagodzilla in 1975). In 1984, he worked on his final Godzilla film, Return of Godzilla (a.k.a. Godzilla 1985).

It goes without saying that, having personally spent time with him only at G-Fest in 2004, I can hardly claim to have known Nakano-san in any depth. Whether he would have even remembered me from Adam, well, who can say? Still, he made quite the impression on me, since I had followed his career from the day I was old enough to know anything about cinematic special effects. Above and beyond all, his passing is a reminder of how profoundly time giveth and time taketh away.

I hope Nakano-san was aware of how his life and work influenced and excited so many of us who have passionately loved special effects movies over the course of our own lives. Rest in peace, sir.

You can read interviews with Teruyoshi Nakano at Brett Homenick’s Vantagepoint Interviews blog here:

Friday, July 1, 2022

A Graveside Chat with Maurice Broaddus

Maurice Broaddus is a best-selling author, Afrofuturist, minister, teacher, and community organizer — among many other endeavors, magnanimous as well as fiendish. His work has appeared in Asimov’s Science Fiction, Cemetery Dance, Fiyah Magazine of Black Speculative Fiction, Apex Magazine, Black Static, Weird Tales, Fantasy & Science Fiction, and others. His books have been lauded by The New York Times and The Washington Post. And these accomplishments barely touch the tip of the iceberg. Maurice was kind enough to take some time to share his thoughts for this edition of A Graveside Chat. Buckle up and read on!

AGC: As an author, you have an impressive catalog of works under your belt (not to say you are overweight or anything). What drew you to become a writer — particularly about the most frightening side of humanity? Looking back, can you pinpoint any particular authors — or other individuals — who inspired you?

MB: I have been writing for as long as I can remember. In second grade — when our family arrived in the U.S. from England — my teacher didn’t know what to do with me. She had an overloaded class and I could be a handful since I was easily bored. So she put my desk in a corner, gave me a stack of paper, and just told me to “create.” I guess I’ve been doing that ever since.

My Sunday School teacher in fourth grade was probably my first nudge in the horror direction, as he was a closet horror and comic book fan (and in that church, you had to be in the closet if you were into “that demonic stuff”). Let’s face it, the story of Noah and the flood was my first exposure to a postapocalyptic story! The first story I remember writing was in fifth grade called “The Big Mac Attacker,” the tale of a burger being eaten… from the burger’s perspective.

It was my senior year in high school and my A.P. English teacher encouraged me to read Edgar Allan Poe after reading some of my (admittedly, angst-ridden) dark short stories. He kept introducing me to new authors to challenge me (he assigned me Bram Stoker’s Dracula), really encouraged me to think about writing seriously. I was pretty much locked in from there.

I was a huge comic book collector, with Neil Gaiman’s Sandman being a favorite. In college, I tried giving up writing, but after a few years, I came back to it. I did an independent study course and was randomly paired with a professor who, as it turned out, did his dissertation on Stephen King and Clive Barker. That’s when I knew I was on the right path.

AGC: You’ve been called (quite lovingly, I can safely say) “The Sinister Minister,” given your role in your church and in the Christian community. I know you’ve talked about this many times, but can you speak a little about your views on horror and religion, and how they are inextricably fused?

MB: Basically, I believe we’re in a Story, written by an Author, who is wooing us to connect with Him. It’s a tale of flawed people, who were created (in God’s image), for great things (to join in with that Author in a mission to redeem the world), who sometimes encounter things that interfere with their journey: sometimes themselves, sometimes others, and sometimes An Other.

Faith is never easy, and I tend to have more questions than answers. I think that’s the most critical part of anyone’s spiritual journey — walking that line of tension between holding on during times of doubt and questioning. I think one of the best ways to explore that tension is in story. (The Bible does it too: the book of Job was probably the first book written, and it’s all about faith, doubt, and frustrated questions. And quite the horror story when you think about it.)

I guess you could say that in some ways, I’m working out my own spiritual journey in front of my readers. And sharing my nightmares.

AGC: You have been — and are — very active as a teacher and a community leader. Your writing clearly draws on your rich and plentiful experiences with these endeavors. Can you tell us something about any pivotal or memorable experiences that have evolved into your stories and books?

MB: This has been the case for me for nearly ALL of my work. I process my feelings and life in story. Probably the most personal example was my story “Bound By Sorrow” which was me processing the death of my sister and my father. But that’s simply my process, from my first published novels, the Knights of Breton Court trilogy, being loosely based on my time working for the homeless teen ministry Outreach Inc; to my current trilogy, Astra Black, based on my work in the community through the Kheprw Institute.

For a long time, I struggled with the notion that “I’m only a writer, what can I do?” But what it boils down to is empowering agency: start where you are with what you have. With my neighbors, with my students, whoever I meet, I try to see, learn, and love the person in front of me. Get to know the gifts and talents they bring to the community.

My community work informs my writing and my writing informs my community work. One of the things that I’m doing is mentoring young creatives to be the next generation of dreamers, storytellers, and vision casters. Because that’s the work of art informing community work and community work informing the art. The merger of art and social practices, artists and activists. In order to create radical change, we have to be able to envision it. So, we dream the possible future, cast a vision of what a better tomorrow could look like, and then start making steps, charting a course to get there. Being a resident Afrofuturist of a community organization represents a public statement of the attitude and mindset of the organization and community. It’s about creating desired future states in the present by constantly re-imagining the work and the way we move through the world.

Let’s look at my two most recent works. My latest middle-grade novel, Unfadeable, was inspired by my mentoring one of my former middle school students. My latest story in Uncanny Magazine, “Spirit Folks,” was co-written with another former student as a way to process some of the things she was going through.

AGC: What was the greatest piece of advice you ever got about writing?

MB: The following three pieces of wisdom:

  1. Writers finish things. This was something told to me by one of my high school teachers. He said what separates people who want to write/talk about writing from writers is the fact that writers finish what they start. Where this really helps me is in the fight against “the Shiny”: I constantly battle ditching what I’m working on to run with the latest shiny idea that pops into my head. Every time I have to remind myself that “writers finish things.” If you’re going to call yourself a writer, you need to take those ideas you have, get them down on paper, then get to “the end”. And it helps battle the imposter syndrome: did you finish what you started? Yes, then you’re a writer.
  2. Your angst won't pay the bills. Sometimes we attach a lot of romance to the idea of being a writer. We have to be inspired. We have to wait on our muse. This “advice” was given to me by my wife during one of my “my muse has left me” sessions as I stared down a blank page. She reminded me that my “muse” was now named Deadlines. This was a follow-up to our “exposure won’t pay the bills” conversation. (Her other bit of clutch perspective was “you can go to as many conventions as your writing pays for” which helped me not only guard against the temptation to give away my stories early on but challenge me to only submit to professional markets).
  3. Do that $#!+! This was told to me by fellow author, Daniel Jose Older. I was feeling anxious about a project I was working on. It was a novel that was plunging headlong into territories of race, class, and politics. I called up Daniel and that was the advice he gave me. Writers have to be bold and take risks. It can be scary sometimes (which is why it’s good to have friends who can nudge you). In the end, taking those risks, accepting those challenges, only makes you a better writer.

AGC: I was privileged to attend Mo*Con some years ago, and it was one of my most memorable — and enjoyable — gatherings of creative souls. Tell us a little about how Mo*Con came to be. I know that, for a spell, circumstances resulted in No*Con(!), rather than Mo*Con, but do you have plans to resurrect/continue this traditional (and I know, for you, surely physically and probably emotionally fatiguing) gathering in the coming days and years?

MB: Whenever there is a writer’s convention, there are always room parties at night, where people unwind, lower their guards, and have great conversations over food and drinks. Mo*Con is like that room party for a whole weekend. What also makes it different is that it takes place in a church. So we have all these horror, science fiction, and fantasy writers from various spiritual backgrounds who come together and hang out all weekend in a church. We have a couple of panel discussions ranging from spiritual issues to social issues to writing issues all over meals.

Mo*Con has evolved over time. We took a hiatus after year ten. I thought I was retired from it. After the first year of not doing it, folks wanted to at least gather. So we started “No*Con,” which basically meant “I wasn’t planning anything but if folks wanted to come by my house, we could hang out.” When fifty people showed up, we decided at that rate, we might as well do Mo*Con. We brought it back with more of an eye of being a community support: the art in the space done by black artists, food catered by different black caterers, and even having our own in-house vintner (who DEFINITELY was not used to folks who bought wine by the bottle... the MANY bottles). The pandemic brought another hiatus and this year we did another No*Con. But it’s looking like we’ll be doing Mo*Con again starting next year. It’s very much a time rooted in getting to know one another and one of the highlights of my year.

AGC: Thank you, Maurice. This was a pleasure!