Welcome back for this week’s author interview! Today, I’m thrilled to spotlight author Timothy G. Huguenin. Timothy is the author of Unknowing, I Sink and the forthcoming Schafer.
Recently, he and I discussed his inspiration as an author as well as how his home state of West Virginia inspires his work.
A couple icebreakers to start: when did you decide to become a writer, and who are some of your favorite authors?
Writing is the one thing that I can almost always remember wanting to do. In first grade, I got in trouble for Xeroxing all the pages of a Nate the Great book because I wanted to “make my own book”. That was my first lesson from my parents on copyright protection! Mom told me then, if I wanted to make my own books, I would have to write them. In second grade, I wrote and illustrated my first short story called “Tom and the One-eyed Dragon”. Dad kept it and we both forgot about it until our family moved when I was in high school and he had to clean out his office. To read it now, it’s pretty hilarious.
Stephen King is, of course, one of my favorite authors. And it’s not just his scary stuff—my favorite of his books is 11/22/63, which isn’t even a horror novel. Edgar Allan Poe introduced me to the genre when I was a teenager, and he continues to be an inspiration to me. I’m very interested in Appalachian literature, especially writers from my home state of West Virginia, which has produced some truly phenomenal writers who don’t get enough attention today. I’m thinking primarily of Davis Grubb (author of Night of the Hunter, among others) and Denise Giardina (her book set during the Mine Wars, Storming Heaven, is one of my favorite books of all time). Over the last few years, I’ve really been digging into the weirder side of the horror genre. In my opinion, Thomas Ligotti is one of the most innovative and unique horror writers of our time. I also really like Robert Aickman, though I haven’t read as much of him as I would like. Michael Wehunt has the perfect combo of weird horror and lyrical Appalachian prose. I love Greener Pastures, and I can’t wait for his next book.
Congrats on the recent release of your new novella, Unknowing, I Sink. What was your inspiration in writing this book?
Thank you! And congrats to you on Boneset and Feathers and your deal with Saga Press!
You know what, I can’t for the life of me remember where I first got the idea for Unknowing, I Sink. But I reckon the novella shows some influence from Ligotti and Aickman. I started it at the beginning of last year as a short story, but then it just kept going. And it took me quite a while to write, only making progress in fits and starts for most of the year. I was going through some pretty hard bouts of depression that year, which slowed me down a lot. But that dark season also informed a lot of the story and character development. It certainly wouldn’t have turned out the same if I was in perfect mental health the whole time. Still, I wasn’t able to make serious progress and finish the story until after I had rearranged my life and got a bit of a grip on my depression and anxiety.
Your book, Schafer, is due out in 2021 with Bloodshot Books. What can you tell us about your process in writing this one? How is it different from (or the same as) your previous work?
The idea for Schafer came to me while I was re-reading Poe’s “A Tale of the Ragged Mountains.” Though I ain’t sure Poe meant it that way, I found the concept of a personal hypnotist/physician very insidious, giving yourself completely to someone’s control like that. Nearly immediately, the character of Doctor Wolfgang M. Schafer entered my head, and I sat down and wrote the prologue. I don’t think a passage has ever come to me as fluidly, quickly, and completely as the opening of Schafer. Even after revising the novel several times, I probably changed at most two or three words of that prologue. In fact, I posted it on my blog soon after writing it, if anyone wants a taste: https://tghuguenin.com/2017/02/02/prologue-to-an-unfinished-work/
The rest of it wasn’t nearly as effortless, but still a lot of fun. I found out that Poe had a strong fascination with the then new “science” of mesmerism and animal magnetism, so I read the other stuff he wrote in that vein and incorporated more of his ideas into my book. None of the hypnotism in Schafer is scientifically accurate, far as I know; I purposefully wrote it as if the quackery rampant at Poe’s time was somehow true. As I wrote, I realized it was becoming something of a vampire novel, though without any literal vampires. I kept that in mind and leaned into it some as it developed.
Like almost all of my other work, Schafer is set in West Virginia—Augustus Valley, in fact, which is a fictional town that has shown up in some of my shorter works, including Unknowing, I Sink. Though I generally set my novels and short stories in the present, or some nondescript time period, Schafer is set in the early 1990s. It has a bit of a Stranger Things vibe, in fact, as the main characters are in high school at the time.
You’re located in West Virginia. How, if at all, does the area inspire your writing?
I grew up in Davis, West Virginia, and I’ve lived in several different parts of this state. WV is an extremely unique place, misunderstood and often neglected place by many people—you wouldn’t believe how many times we have to tell others we’re not a part of Virginia. We’ve been our own state since 1863, thank you very much. There is a particular sense of place here, an identity and loyalty West Virginians bear which I have not found to the same degree in most other places. I love these old hills and the people. That is a big reason I continue to set my fiction here. There are enough outsiders writing about WV who don’t understand us. I want folks to see my own take on horror and West Virginia, kind of like Stephen King with Maine. Also, West Virginia just drips with natural beauty, in every season. So description of the natural setting really shows up in my stories a lot.
Sometimes I tell people West Virginia is almost like another country. It is beautiful and quirky and mysterious and old and crotchety but not without hope for growth. I’m afraid that I could write about WV all my life and still not be able to paint a thorough and appropriately nuanced picture of her. But I’ll probably keep trying.
You’ve written short stories, novellas, and novels. How is your approach the same or different depending on the length? How do you decide whether a work will be short fiction or longer fiction?
Usually when I plan to write a novel, I’ll have maybe a general concept and a character or two and let them stew in my head a while until I think they got enough of their own life for me to start writing something. So far I haven’t tried to write a novel and had it become a short story or even a novella (though I have abandoned a couple novels). But like I mentioned earlier, I have started some stories I intended to be short and had them turn out much longer than anticipated. I usually take Stephen King’s advice: just let the story decide how long it wants to be.
If forced to choose, what’s your favorite part of the writing process: drafting new ideas, working on a first draft, or polishing up an almost-finished piece?
Probably the polishing part. As much as I love discovering a new story and new people as I write, ain’t nothing like having written something. I find a lot of satisfaction in the sense of completion I get after finishing a first draft, even knowing that I still have revision work ahead of me.
What projects are you currently working on?
Last July I finished another novel called Order of Worms. After that, I felt pretty emptied out for a while. Just this week I finished a new short story, currently titled “The Yellow Carousel”, that’s all I’ve written since Order of Worms. Other than that, mostly I’ve just been trying to get an agent for OoW.
I’m also letting a few bigger project ideas slosh around in my head until one of them gels into something I can work with. I’ve been wanting to try a screenplay for a while. I also want to see if I could write a few middle grade books. But I might play it safe and do another adult horror novel. Who knows?
Where can we find you online?
My website is tghuguenin.com. If you have trouble remembering how to spell that, you can also use mountainhorror.com. I love to connect with readers and writers! There is a contact form on that page that anyone can use to send me a note. I am also on social media, unfortunately. Here are links to all that:
I use those mostly begrudgingly, but I really do love email. If you want a sure way to connect with me, use my website contact form, which goes straight to my inbox. You can also use the address firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thanks so much!
Big thanks to Timothy G. Huguenin for being this week’s featured author!