April 14, 2015

Sweet Dreams and Psycho Clowns: an interview with Tim Waggoner, author of "Dream Stalkers"

About Tim Waggoners' Dream StalkersA new drug – Shut-Eye – has been developed in the dreamland, and smuggled into our world. It’s addictive, and dangerous, and Shadow Watch agents Audra and Mr Jinx are on the case, preparing new recruits to deal with the problem.

Meanwhile, a wave of ancient, bodiless Incubi are entering the dreams of humans in an attempt to possess them and live new lives. Only the criminally insane would ever risk a confrontation with them.

Thank goodness, then, for Mr Jinx: clown, Shadow Watch agent, psychopath.

Find it on Amazon.com or buy direct from Angry Robot Books.

I had the chance to ask Tim a few questions about his Shadow Watch series and his writing. Enjoy!

Gef: I could ask where you got the inspiration for the Shadow Watch series and the Maelstrom, but instead I'll just ask where you got the inspiration for Mr. Jinx?

Tim: When I first came up with the idea of a human partnered with her ultimate nightmare, I thought of how many people – including my oldest daughter – are terrified of clowns. They don’t bother me at all, but they really get to a lot of people. I decided it would be a fun archetype to play around with because a clown can represent chaos, and since you never know what they might do, it would add a fun level of unpredictability to the story. Plus, it would allow me to write all kind of crazy humorous bits associated with him. I was also inspired by an early scene in Who Frame Roger Rabbit? during which we see Roger drink alcohol and in reaction make a sound like steam whistle that’s so loud it shatters windows. It made me realize that wacky characters like that, if they existed in the real world, would be terrifyingly dangerous, and I so I combined scary clown with a maniacal toon, and Jinx was born!

Gef: What was it about this book, if anything, that you approached differently from the previous titles?

Tim: I explored the main characters’ pasts as Shadow Watch officers in the current book, and I developed the world of Nod as well as its mythology and spiritual beliefs in more detail. Audra and Jinx find their stock has risen considerably with the citizens of Nod since the last book, and they find the admiration they receive a bit baffling. This book has a larger scope that the previous one, so I had to be careful to keep a tight rein on the plot so it didn’t spiral wildly out of control (at least, no more out of control than usual!).

Gef: Is there much of anything that you need to do differently in writing with regards to a series as opposed to a stand-alone novel?

Tim: You need to make sure to maintain consistency with characters and events, of course. Plus, you need to make certain that new stories seem like continuations without being mere repetitions. You need to give the characters emotional arcs for each book – they need to grow and change with each story, so you need to find a different aspect of their personality that you didn’t explore in previous stories (or didn’t explore in much detail) to create a new emotional arc for them. You need to balance readers’ expectations for familiarity with their need for something new and make sure you tend to both – a tricky balance to maintain!

Gef: How intensive does the research process get for you? How much of a rabbit hole was it with looking into aspects of dreams and their influence?

Tim: I didn’t do much research for the Shadow Watch books. I’ve based most of the dream material that appears in the books on stuff about dreams I’ve learned over the years from books and articles, as well as on my experience with dreams and the experiences of other people – friends and family – who’ve told me their dreams. I find dreams fascinating. The idea that we live half of our lives in the real world and half of our lives in a very unreal world, where anything can happen. It’s no wonder humans have created so many myths and legends. We live part-time in a fantasy world!

Gef: When it comes to dreams, I suppose there is the temptation towards an "anything goes" attitude to what can and will happen in that world, but what kind of limitations or mechanics did you impose on this world, like a magic system you might say?

Tim: When I decided that the dream elements would be manifested in the physical world, it really helped me keep those elements grounded. For example, I decided that Incubi – the living nightmares – would only have special abilities during the night and that those abilities would be limited based on the kind of creature they are. They are all stronger and more durable than humans when in their night forms, but they are just as vulnerable as humans during the day. I treated them a lot like X-Men-type mutants. I chose an ability for them, didn’t make them all-powerful, and gave them flaws. Jinx can only do clown stuff – withdraw wacky items from his pockets that are also highly lethal. His flaw is that he’s insane and impulsive, making him equally likely to harm friend as well as foe.

Gef: What's the worst piece of writing advice you ever received? Or what piece of writing advice do you wish would just go away?

Tim: Write what you know. It implies that people should basically just write personal essays and not use their imaginations to create stories. Writing from direct experience is vital, of course, but writers can use real-world experience to create stories. For example, when I was four, I was briefly lost in a department store. My relatives found me, and all was well. I can use that experience of being lost to write a scene about a child lost in a medieval fantasy marketplace or a space station. I can use my memories to create a realistic emotional core to what is ultimately an unrealistic scene. I think “write what you know” has done more damage to beginning writers, and maybe derailed more careers before they could begin, than any other piece of writing advice.

Gef: What kind of guilty pleasures do you have when it comes to books or movies or whatnot?

Tim: I don’t believe in feeling guilty about any pleasures. I can watch a highly artistic film like Birdman one day and then watch a silly cheese-fest like WolfCop the next. As long as I find something of interest in a work of art or entertainment, something that I respond to, that provokes thought or emotion in me, that’s all I care about. I want to experience books and movies that feed me somehow, that provide fuel for my artistic imagination. High culture, pop culture, low culture . . . it’s all grist for the mill as far as I’m concerned.

Gef: What projects are you cooking up that folks can expect in the near future, and how can folks keep up with your shenanigans?

Tim:I have a short horror novel called Eat the Night that will be coming out from DarkFuse Publishing before long. I’m currently working on another horror novel called The Mouth of the Dark for Samhain Publishing, and I’m also working with the good people at Angry Robot to decide what novel(s) they’d like me to do next for them. You can keep tabs on me at www.timwaggoner.com, follow me on Facebook, or @timwaggoner on Twitter.

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