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By Tim Waggoner

This Saturday, April 20th, I’ll be attending the Annual Ohio Author Day and Book Fair at the Hudson Library in Hudson, Ohio. The day kicks off with a panel called “Where Fiction Comes From,” and I have the honor as serving as one of the panelists. Not to denigrate the event’s organizers, but the panel title is just another way of asking “Where Do You Get Your Ideas?” I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been on that panel at various cons over the years, and while the panelists give the topic their best shot, the discussion usually begins with one of the panelists saying some variation of “If you have to ask, you’ll never know.” It may seem like a flip comment at best, and a cynical one at worst, but there’s a lot of truth to it. I’ve been coming up with ideas all my life. It’s as natural to me as breathing. (Now coming up with interesting, original, workable, and marketable ideas – that takes a little more effort.) I honestly don’t understand people whose brains aren’t constantly awash in ideas. I think people like me are normal, and despite my powerful and well-honed imagination, I have a difficult time understanding what it must be like to have a brain that isn’t a 24-hour-a-day idea machine. So what do I tell the good people at the Hudson Library on Saturday? “Well, the first thing you have to do is be born someone like me.” Fat lot of good that’s going to do them (and I have a feeling if I did say that, I wouldn’t receive an invitation to return next year).

Those Ideas

I’m sure I’ll come up with something to say, maybe pass along Henry James’ famous advice: “Try to be a person on whom nothing is lost,” maybe talk about keeping a journal. (I hate writing in journals personally; it’s boring as hell. I do jot down ideas on my phone’s notepad, though.) The idea generator inside my skull will spit out something for me to talk about when the time comes. It always does. But thinking about this upcoming panel made me realize that I often get a different version of the “Where do you get your ideas?” question. “Where do you get those ideas?”

I write genre fiction. It’s fun, creatively stimulating, and I enjoy working with boundaries and seeing where and how I can push them. It feeds my imagination in ways that other types of storytelling don’t. But if I’m known for writing any one type of story, it’s horror, and often a very strange, surrealistic kind of horror at that. So while people are interested in learning more about a creative person’s inner life, they are even more fascinated with learning about the inner life of what they view as a weird – or better yet seriously disturbed – creative person. They never voice any of this, of course. Never say “those ideas,” although I can always tell when they’re thinking it. People assume that you must somehow live the weird and the bizarre, because how else could you come up with those ideas? In a way, it’s insulting. Not only can’t people conceive that your imagination is strong enough to make up bizarre shit, but that it’s also strong enough to empathize with characters who are outsiders, and sometimes downright evil, monstrous, and alien.

I can’t tell you with any surety where I get those ideas. I’ve been fascinated with monsters and all things weird since I was a child. My dad reads science fiction and some fantasy, but only a little horror. Both of my parents watched horror movies on TV and let me watch with them (we’re talking in the 1960’s and 70’s when scary stuff on TV was tamer than it is today). But they watched all kinds of other films, too. My brother enjoys horror, but he’s like my parents. It’s just one item on a broader menu. I’m the only one in my family that really digs the dark stuff. So maybe genetics did play a role in making me what Stanley Wiater calls a “Dark Dreamer.

Dark Dreamer

My uncle – who in many ways was like a second father to me – died when I was nine. The sudden shock of his death hit me hard, and for several years I turned away from horror because scary movies weren’t fun anymore. Monsters hurt people. Killed them. Made kids like me feel awful when their loved ones were gone. I eventually returned to horror, but with a much healthier respect for the dark. Horror isn’t a game for amateurs. Plus, my mother was seriously depressed and agoraphobic, and living with her was hard in so many ways. So maybe a certain amount of trauma and sorrow in real life helps make a Dark Dreamer. (But I don’t recommend seeking it out if you haven’t experienced any!)

Tendencies toward introspection and depression are useful for Dark Dreamers. My therapist once told me that “If you aren’t depressed, you’re not paying attention.” (See Henry James’ advice above.) Human beings are naturally obsessed with difference. In the wild, differences in the environment, your food, your water, your air, your body can all lead to deadly consequences. If you want to survive, you damn well better pay attention. But Dark Dreamers don’t just notice deviation, and we don’t turn away when we detect it. We’re drawn to it. We want to understand it, and more importantly, understand the things it makes us think and feel inside. Sometimes we even see beauty in the dark stuff, and sometimes we learn to better understand the light by mapping the contours of the shadows it creates.

But if I had to sum up where I – and people like me – get those ideas, if I had to pinpoint where true darkness lies, I suppose I’d just smile and softly say, “It’s simple. All you have to do is look in a mirror.”


From Horror Author Tim Waggoner

Like Death by Tim WaggonerScott Raymond lost his parents in a bloodbath when he was only nine years old, but despite the occasional headaches and hallucinations, he’s managed to turn that trauma into moderate success as a true crime writer. The success doesn’t extend to keeping up the relationship with his estranged wife and son, however. Hoping to regain a sense of normal family life, he follows them to Ash Creek, Ohio under the pretense of writing a new book about a missing six-year-old girl.

There, he encounters a young woman who shares the missing girl’s name. She leads Scott into a world of psychotropic spiders, shark-toothed teenagers and the expression of nearly every dark desire.

Soon, he will need to use this world of cruelty and pain to face his past, his future, and what his life might have become. If he fails, it is only a matter of time before the nightmare that bloodied his childhood will reach out to ensnare his own son.

Order Like Death by Tim Waggoner

Tim WaggonerTim Waggoner’s novels include the Nekropolis series of urban fantasies and the Ghost Trackers series written in collaboration with Jason Hawes and Grant Wilson of the Ghost Hunters television show. In total, he’s published over twenty novels and two short story collections, and his articles on writing have appeared in Writer’s Digest and Writers’ Journal, among other publications. He teaches creative writing at Sinclair Community College and in Seton Hill University’s Master of Fine Arts in Writing Popular Fiction program. Visit him on the web at

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