HALLOWEEN KILLS: Tim Waggoner writes the book on Michael Myers

cover of Halloween Kills by Tim WaggonerAfter a long, COVID-prompted delay, Michael Myers is set to once again stalk movie (and television! ) screens in Halloween Kills, the sequel to the 2018 reboot/sequel Halloween.

Being the literary types that we are here at Cemetery Dance, we’re just as excited for the novelization of Halloween Kills as we are for the film. I reached out to author Tim Waggoner, the man tapped by Titan Books to pen the novelization, to see if he’d take us inside the process of bringing the Boogeyman to life on the page, and he was glad to oblige.

(Interview conducted by Blu Gilliand)

CEMETERY DANCE: Before we dive into Halloween Kills, tell us a little about yourself.

TIM WAGGONER: I’ve published over fifty novels and seven collections of short stories. I write dark fantasy, horror, and media tie-ins, and I’m the author of the acclaimed horror-writing guide Writing in the Dark. A three-time winner of the Bram Stoker Award, I’ve also been a multiple finalist for the Shirley Jackson Award and the Scribe Award, and a one-time finalist for the Splatterpunk Award. In addition to writing, I’m a full-time tenured professor who teaches creative writing and composition at Sinclair College in Dayton, Ohio. I’m 57, married, have two daughters in their twenties, have lived in Ohio most of my life, been a SF/F/H fan since before I can remember, and according to my wife, I have too many Funko Pop figures in my home office.

How did you end up writing the novelization for Halloween Kills?

Titan Books is the publisher for the novelization, and I’d written a number of tie-in novels for them before. An editor at Titan contacted my agent to see if I’d be interested in writing the novelization for Halloween Kills, and as a lifelong horror fan, I jumped at the chance.

In the movies, Michael Myers is a character that we don’t know much about. He doesn’t have a character arc, and we aren’t privy to his inner thoughts and motivations. How do you approach him as a character in the novelization?

There are a number of scenes in the novel written from Michael’s point of view, but as you said, the audience is never let inside Michael’s head in the films, which is important to keeping him an enigmatic figure of terror. I wrote him not as a person, but rather as a force of darkness, and I concentrated on stimulus and response –– what attracts his attention at a given moment and what does he do then? I wrote him in much the same way I might write about a nonhuman predator like a shark. Sharks don’t think. They are what they do. It’s the same with Michael. Those scenes were some of my favorites to write, and I hope readers enjoy them.

How challenging is it to have the character that, arguably, everybody comes to the table for, be the one that you learn the least about, or spend the least amount of time with?

The challenge was one of balance. Writing from Michael’s point of view was a balancing act because of all the things I said in my answer to your last question. I also had to be careful to balance his portrayal. He’s both human and nonhuman, a serial killer and the boogeyman. Symbolically, he’s the mystery and power of Death embodied in physical form, natural and (perhaps) supernatural at the same time. That balance is the most fundamental aspect of his character and has to be maintained without ever coming down on one side or the other. At his core, Michael is an enigma and must remain so.

Take us through the process of writing this novelization. What material were you given to work with?

When writing novelizations, all you’re given is a script. You don’t have any idea whether it’s the final shooting script or an earlier draft, but it’s the one you have to work with, so you base your novel on it. I watched both the 1978 and 2018 movies again to get a sense for specific details –– what people and settings look like, how characters talk, etc. I also wanted to get a sense of the overall atmosphere of the films so I could create the same sort of atmosphere in my novel. I read John Passarella’s novelization of the 2018 Halloween so I could make my novel mesh with his (as much as the script would allow), and I scoured the Internet for interviews with the writers and director, as well as images from the film that had been released.

When I write a novelization, I type all the dialogue into a Word document, then I go back and fill in more detailed scenes around it. I try to include as many descriptions from the script as possible, since I view writing a novelization as a collaboration with screenwriters, and I want their voices to come through in the book as well. I had a short time to write the book –– about a month –– and I powered it out. I wrote it in March of 2020, during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, and I actually had COVID during the time I was writing. Luckily, my case wasn’t severe, but I appreciated having a cool project to take my mind off my symptoms! Once I finished a draft I sent it to my editor. She suggested revisions, I made them, and then the revision went to the studio for a representative to read and offer more revision suggestions. I made those, the studio approved them, and I was finished. There were copy edits to go over later, but they went fast.

Right before the studio decided to postpone the film’s release by a year, they announced a novelization would be happening, but they didn’t announce me as the writer. So for that year, I couldn’t tell anyone I’d written the book. It was fun watching Halloween fans speculate on the Internet about what would be in the movie, and I’m glad no one knew I’d written the novelization, or else people might’ve contacted me, asking me to divulge plot details, which –– since I signed an NDA –– I couldn’t do.

Were you able to have conversations with screenwriters David Gordon Green or Danny McBride or Scott Teems? Were you able to see any footage from the movie?

Nope. As I said earlier, when you do a novelization, you get a script and that’s it. The only exception I’ve experienced was when writing the novelization for Kingsman: The Golden Circle. The director decided I needed to seen the final film before finishing the book, so I was flown out to LA and shown the movie. I got to take notes, and I was able to make my novelization as close to the finished film as possible. But as I said, that was an exception. As a rule, writers of novelizations never get to see any film footage ahead of time.

Who provided feedback as you worked on the project?

My editor at Titan –– Joanna Harwood — and whoever at the studio was assigned to read and comment on the manuscript. Those comments were passed on to me by Joanna, so I don’t know exactly who at the studio read the book.

What kind of timeline or deadline were you on while working on this book?

As I said earlier, I had about a month to write it. I finished a draft in three weeks, worked on revising it, then sent it to Joanna by the deadline, hoping it made sense since I was sick much of the time while writing!

What do you enjoy about writing novelizations?

I like the challenge of collaborating with other writers that I’ll never get the chance to talk to. It’s an odd situation, building off the work of other people like that without consulting with them. I like fleshing out scenes that exist and adding my own original scenes. A movie script doesn’t contain enough material in itself to make a full novel, so you need to add quite a bit. It’s fun to write from characters’ points of view when in films, the audience is always outside the character, watching them passively. It adds a different dimension to the story. Best of all is that you get the chance to play in some pretty cool worlds that otherwise you’d never be able to write in.

cover of A Nightmare on Elm Street: Protege by Tim WaggonerYou’ve also written original books based on franchise properties — for example, A Nightmare on Elm Street: Protege. Do you have a preference between writing novelizations and original takes on franchises?

Novelizations are easier in the sense that so much of the story is already given to you. A script is like a massively detailed outline that you can work from, and for me, this means I can write the book much faster. Original takes are harder in that you have to come up with all the material yourself, and you have to satisfy the rights holder, so they’re more involved throughout, giving feedback on your initial ideas and drafts. Original takes give you a chance to explore aspects of a franchise that otherwise might not get developed. For example, in each of my three original Supernatural novels, I was able to add secondary stories featuring the brothers as kids just learning how to hunt monsters, and those were a lot of fun to write. I’d hate to have to choose between them, but if I did, I’d pick writing original takes because there’s so much more artistic freedom there.

Novelizations are notorious for deviating from the finished movie, often because writers are working from early drafts of the screenplay. Can we expect any major changes between your version of Halloween Kills and the finished movie?

I haven’t seen the movie, so I can’t say. I can tell you that the other three novelizations I wrote contained scenes which didn’t appear in the final films. Most of that material was character-centered scenes. Those three novelizations were all action films, and while the scripts had lots of character development in them, that material was cut from the final movies. One of the best things about novelizations is that those kind of scenes are included, and readers get a chance to experience them. They help make for a richer story.

Were you a fan of the Halloween franchise before taking on this project?

Yep! I saw the 1978 film in the theater when it first came out, and I watched all the other films in the franchise as they came out too. The 1978 film was the first scary movie I showed my oldest daughter (who loves horror films almost as much as I do), and Michael is still her favorite movie monster. I think the way Michael straddles the worlds of the real and supernatural, without clearly belonging solely to one or the other, makes him the best slasher of them all.

What’s your favorite film in the franchise?

The original. It’s one of the best horror films ever made, and I’ve seen it who knows how many times over the years. Halloween III is great because it’s so damn weird. Halloween 4 and 5 make an effective self-contained universe of their own, and I love Jamie Lee Curtis’ performances in Halloween H2O and Halloween 2018. I really enjoyed Rob Zombie’s films too, especially his Halloween II, as it goes in some cool, trippy directions. (Told you I was a fan of the entire franchise!)

Are there things that you would have done differently with the characters or story of Halloween Kills if this were your own franchise and creation?

Probably, but I don’t know what they’d be. I focused my imagination entirely on developing the story of the film for my novel, and I didn’t really think about any other alternatives while I was writing. Whatever I came up with, I don’t think it would be as effective as the story the filmmakers told. I think they took the franchise in an interesting direction in this film.

You said you haven’t seen the finished movie — do you plan to?

I’m going to see it as soon as it comes out. If the experience of watching it is anything like with my three previous novelizations, it’ll be weird. There’s a sense of déjà vu of course, since I know the script so well, but what I wrote was my interpretation of the script. What I’ll see is the filmmakers’ interpretation, and it’ll look and feel very different from what I imagined. And there are bound to be some changes between the script I saw and the final film, so they’ll be a bit jarring to watch. While I love writing novelizations, the bad thing about it is that you can never see the movie the same way everyone else does, fresh for the first time. But having a different perspective on the film — one that no one else in the world has, since I’m the only one who’s written the novelization — is very cool.

Will you be writing the novelization of the third movie in the trilogy, Halloween Ends?

I don’t know. Titan chose different authors for the first two novelizations, so perhaps they’ll go with someone else for Halloween Ends. I’d love to write the novelization, though. Everyone email Titan Books and tell them you want me to write it!

Do you read a lot of movie novelizations? Any favorites?

photo of author Tim Waggoner
Tim Waggoner

I don’t read many these days. I’m so busy writing and teaching that I don’t get to do as much pleasure reading as I’d like. I’m a big Star Trek fan, so I really enjoyed the novelizations of the Trek movies. And I read many of Alan Dean Foster’s novelizations back in the day. Back before movie rentals, cable, and now streaming content, novelizations were one of the only ways we could re-experience a film, and the extra material in them was like the special features that appear on DVD’s and Blu-Rays. They’re still fun to read now, but they don’t fulfill the same functions they used to.

What other upcoming projects can you tell us about?

I have an original tie-in novel based on the Zombicide: Invader game called Planet Havoc coming out from Aconyte Books in February, and The Writing in the Dark Workbook will be out from Raw Dog Screaming Press sometime in 2022. My next horror novel for Flame Tree Press will be out in July. It’s called We Will Rise, and it’s about a ghost apocalypse.

Leave a Reply