Author Tim Morgan

Write and Author is interviewing Tim Morgan, author of WITCH CITY: CARDINAL.

Tim Morgan is an indie writer and filmmaker who spends his days masquerading as a software developer. Tim holds a Master's degree in English, his screenplays have won or placed in a number of screenplay contests, and in 2015 he served as a Shriekfest screenplay judge. His latest novel, WITCH CITY: CARDINAL launches a paranormal detective series.


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Is this your first novel?

WITCH CITY: CARDINAL is my third indie published novel. I started in late 2012 with THE TRIP, a coming-of-age story set against the backdrop of a zombie apocalypse. In 2014 I followed up with IC9: A CYBERPUNK DETECTIVE STORY, where a hacker-turned-cop squares off against another hacker who kills using a video stream.
 
How long have you been writing screenplays?

Longer than I want to admit. Seriously, I dabbled back as far as fourth grade. My parents had an old Underwood typewriter, one of the chunky manual ones; I would use it to write scripts on notebook paper. They were fun to write and my friends enjoyed reading them, but we couldn’t do anything with them. This was back in the 80s, before affordable consumer camcorders existed; my father had a super 8 camera, but it didn’t have sound and film was really expensive for a fourth grader with no job. I got one pack of film, messed around a few hours, and went on to the next shiny thing.
 
I got back into it in high school – one of my teachers, I think it was my junior year English teacher – said I wrote visually. She strongly suggested I get into screenplay, so I did. I just played with it back then; the format was off, I was doing things you’re not supposed to do in a screenplay, like writing what people are thinking. It was more like a hybrid between a script and a novel. It was fun, and second semester of senior year I spent most of my time in the library working on a script.
 
If I had to pick the inciting incident, I’d say it was the movie Alien. I was too young to watch it when it came out, but I was fascinated by the monster and collected every magazine featuring that thing that I could get my hands on. I read the novelization in eighth grade but didn’t watch the movie until I was in high school. I think was right after I saw Aliens, to be honest.
 
When I was younger horror movies freaked me out; over time screenwriting and film became a way of understanding this powerful medium and mastering what terrified me so much. Now that I’ve been doing it long as I have, reading the scripts I have, working behind the scenes on movies and talking to other filmmakers – they don’t freak me out anymore. If it hits me emotionally I reverse-engineer it and try to incorporate what works into my material. When it doesn’t, I learn what to watch out for.
 
What is your favorite writing resource?

I’m a huge podcast fan. Most that I listen to run between 10 minutes and an hour. The good ones have valuable information you can immediately put to use. Two writing podcasts I highly recommend are The Creative Penn (Joanna Penn, business and craft advice) and On the Page (Pilar Allesandra, screenwriting). They’re both free on iTunes and worth a listen.
 
If you write genre – I work mainly in horror and science fiction – you must listen to the Odyssey Writing Workshop Podcast. These are excerpts from a writing workshop that runs a couple towns over from where I live. I first heard about it in a book – I think it was Orson Scott Card’s How to Write Science Fiction & Fantasy. For some the experience is so intense they stop writing.
 
The podcast is free, usually under 20 minutes, and if I’d known about it in 2003 I may have thought twice about graduate school. It’s that good.
 
Why did you decide to go indie?

I finished The Trip in late 2009/early 2010 and started marketing it. I got some positive feedback on it and I was encouraged, but couldn’t land a sale. I marketed aggressively until 2011, when my mom passed away and creativity ground to a halt for a while.
 
As I came out of the funk it was 2012, which was when I felt print-on-demand (PoD) really matured. This was about seven years after grad school; I remember a bunch of my classmates turned their noses up at the thought and called it vanity publishing. But my mentor stood in front of the class, quietly listening to these comments, and just replied, “You should keep an eye on this.”
 
I did some research and found the books printed through the good PoD vendors were indistinguishable from those printed by “real” publishers. And I’d retain the full rights to the work – so if I wanted to write a sequel, I could write a sequel. If I wanted to write a screenplay, I could – and did. I produced an audiobook and I’m neck deep in producing an animated movie based on The Trip, which if I had gone traditional I couldn’t do all this.
 
It’s a lot of work, but there are passionate people out there who will help you. I’ve had professionals donate their time to my projects because they want to be part of something they believe in. If you know where to look and approach them the right way you’d be amazed what you can accomplish.
 
In the end I’d say I believed in my story, I believed in my training, and I believed in my talent – and technology had finally reached a point where this was possible.
 
What is the hardest thing you have gone through as a writer?

There was a time when I walked away from it. I got a job at a big company, I was making good money and it was a kind of prestigious job, and all around me were programmers. I tried to fit in but felt like the proverbial square peg in the round hole.

I’d sold out and for a while I was convinced I’d lost my voice. Right before I “sold out” I wrote my goodbye script, I was convinced it’d be the last one. I pulled that out, looked up Hollywood Scriptwriting Institute (their correspondence course was my first exposure to a real writing mentor; it was awesome and I was excited they were still around). I took that script and rewrote it in their advanced course. That script started my contest winning streak that lasted a few years.

That fall I went back to grad school and got a master’s degree in writing. My boss and some of my coworkers thought I was nuts; they tried to talk me out of it and said I should go get a computer science degree. Other coworkers would whisper to me how brave they thought I was and they wished they could follow me…that’s stuck with me.

Getting back to it was scary as hell, but I followed my heart and in the end I’m glad I did. Writing and programming are more alike than people who don’t do both realize. I’ve met a number of programmers who also write speculative fiction, so I know I’m not alone.
 
Why do you write?

This is usually my shortest answer – I think I’m just wired for it. From an early age I loved the creative writing assignments; so much I’d go home and lose myself in writing for hours. I’m happier when I do it. Putting words on a page, creating a world, seeing the reactions of the audiences… 
Part of it’s an escape for me, too. When you have a bad day it’s nice to have something to get away from it; even when you have a good day, it’s energizing and the words flow easier.
 
How often do you write and what is your process?

Ah, for some people this is as sensitive as politics, sports or religion.
 
I’m going to be honest – I don’t write every single day. I write most days – usually not much of a set schedule. Couple hours at a stretch or a goal of a few thousand good words. I know I can tweak later, but I also need to know I’m doing good work. I’m a craft brewer, not a conglomerate.
 
I try to get to a mental place where the world falls away and there is only the scene. There’s a zen-like focus when I get there, and it’s wonderful. Usually it involves a cup of tea or coffee and being up before anyone else, or a beer and staying up after everyone else goes to bed. I took a job where I spent 90 minutes a day on a bus and spent it judging screenplays for Shriekfest or writing Witch City: Cardinal. Three quarters of the book came together on the bus. Once the guy next to me fell asleep, put his head on my shoulder, and stayed there until he got off. I didn’t even realize it until he got up, I was so engaged in the chapter I was working on.
 
If you can find a way to get two or three hours of time to fully focus you’d be amazed how much you can get done.
 
Unfortunately, especially with difficult scenes on the journey, it takes a lot out of me emotionally. Some scenes will hit me hard and it can be a week before I work on it again, but if it’s hitting me like this I know it’s going to hit the audience. I understand the “it’s just fiction, nobody really dies” mentality, but I personally believe good writing begins with a strong emotional investment from the writer. Otherwise it’s schlock. You’ve got to work at it for it to be good.
 
What writing advice can you give?

When you start out, try to find a good mentor. A good one makes the process about you, not them. You want them to guide you, but they need to let you grow and find your own voice.
 
Back when I was an undergrad, one of my classmates took a creative writing course with an instructor that he spoke very highly of. I wasn’t a big fan of his style, but another professor guided me to this instructor after reading a short story I wrote.
 
Her advice was to take the science fiction out of my science fiction story. You should write about what you know, like delivering pizzas. Being a college student. I thanked her and didn’t take the class.
 
I took the same story, made no revisions, and sent it to Omni magazine. At the time they were publishing bleeding edge sci-fi and highly respected. They rejected me, but sent a personalized rejection. The first one I ever got. Being young and dumb I didn’t rewrite the story – I needed to work on something else. I don’t kick myself for it, but it was encouraging.
 
While I agree with the instructor’s point – you should be willing to push yourself, and you should try to seek out new approaches and ways to tell a story – taking away the very things that drew you to the story in the first place is terrible advice, especially to an emerging writer. My best mentors never coddled me: at times there were boots in the ass, but they never tried to change what made my stories mine.
 
The bottom line here: don’t be afraid to stand your ground. You need to believe in yourself, like nobody else does.
 
Can you create a short writing prompt?

Your best childhood friend – who everyone thought died twenty years ago – calls you. You’re told (s)he went into hiding from someone in the room with you. Write the scene.



cardinal_smWITCH CITY: CARDINAL
by Tim Morgan
 
The world is going mad.

At sixteen, Peter Cardinal is the sole survivor of a vampire attack that left his parents dead. His account is at first dismissed as the ramblings of a shocked teen, but he finds a sympathetic ear in his adoptive father. Peter sets his eyes on a career in law enforcement, vowing to avenge the murder of his parents.

"I solemnly swear I will protect the innocent at all costs."
With these simple words, Peter joins a once-secretive paranormal law enforcement agency known as The Program. Thrust into the spotlight on a tide of rising paranormal violence, the men and women of The Program are the last line of defense for the innocent.
Peter and his partner must race to find a missing teen before she becomes the next sacrifice to summon an unspeakable evil.

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