Charles Tan interviews Tim Waggoner

Tim Waggoner is the author of Shirley Jackson Awards nominee The Men Upstairs.

Hi, Tim. Thanks for agreeing to do the interview. First off, what was the most challenging part when it came to writing The Men Upstairs?

Writing a novella is always challenging because of the form. Sometimes you need to use a short story technique, sometimes a novel technique, sometimes a technique that’s a strange fusion of the two. This challenge is a huge part of what makes writing novellas so much fun. The most challenging part of writing The Men Upstairs was probably balancing the different types of horror — sexual, psychological, surreal — so that the story didn’t seem like an ill-fitting, patchwork mess but instead something the reads (hopefully) like a seamless, organic whole. In my horror I often try to create stories that are both grounded in reality and darkly dreamlike. Finding this balance is always challenging, but it’s also what I love about writing horror.

What made you decide to juggle elements of desire, sex, and appetites in the narrative?

The story developed from several incidents in my life. One was observing a woman crying in the lobby of a second-run movie theater. Like everyone else, I walked by her at first, but when I thought to go back and see if she needed help, someone else had stopped to speak with her. I thought that incident would make a great opening scene for a story. A second incident was having a strange group of men move into the apartment directly above mine. A third element isn’t a specific experience, but rather a series of them. Over the years, I’ve come to know several people who’ve suffered sexual abuse, so when I decided to begin the story with a woman crying in a movie lobby, then added in a group of strange men she was fleeing from and the man who was trying to help her, sex and desire — both the positive and negative aspects — arose naturally from the combination of these various elements. A more general answer is that desire, sex, and appetite are all very primal aspects of the human experience, and the more primal a need is, the more powerful it is. It seems to me that the most effective horror fiction deals with such primal elements.

When did you know that this story would be a novella? How did it end up getting published by Delirium Books?

Shane Ryan Staley at Delirium invited me to a write something for his novella series. Not a very interesting answer, but it’s the truth! So when I cast about for ideas, I decided to combine the story elements I mentioned above because I knew they would allow me to write a long story, but one that wouldn’t be too long. Sometimes when you write, you can let the material find its own form and length. But when you purposely set out to write a short story, a novella, or a novel, you need to make sure your idea — on combination of ideas — will suit the task. Sometimes the dog wags the tail, sometimes the tail wags the dog, but in the end, all that matters is you deliver a good story.

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