[Editor’s Note: A while back, SF Signal published a Mind Meld feature on Tomorrow’s Big Genre Stars. Patrick at Stomping on Yeti has been profiling these writers and has agreed to cross-post them here.]
This week’s Keeping An Eye On Interview is with none other than Tim Pratt. Tim is one of the more established authors of the SF Signal’s watchlist, having published genre work since 1999. Over the past 10 years he has slowly put together a very respectable writing career publishing 5 novels and 2 short story collections. If you’ve been reading these interviews, you know the drill. Lots of reprints in Year’s Best Anthologies, award nominations (among a few wins) and other praise. I’m running out of ways to say it but it’s more of the same with Pratt. High quality writing, and lots of it. If you don’t take my word for it; take Neil Gaiman’s. Pratt beat Gaiman for a Hugo (2007 Hugo for short story “Impossible Dreams”. That doesn’t happen. You could write a short story where Gaiman doesn’t win an award but you’d have to shelf it in the genre section: cause you’re writing fantasy.
But Pratt did the impossible. Let’s see what else he’s been up to…
SoY: If we are keeping an eye on you, what should be looking for in the near future? What have you been working on recently?
TP: I’ve been publishing a series of urban fantasy novels about a character named Marla Mason (the latest, Spell Games, came out this past spring), but that series has come to an end (the publisher’s choice, not mine). I am, however, publishing an online serial novella called “Bone Shop” set in the same world, at my website: marlamason.net/boneshop
And it’s always possible, though not likely, that some other publisher will want to continue the series. Time will tell.
Apart from that, I have a couple of finished novels out to editors, and a couple of proposals I’m polishing up to send out to more editors, and I’m hoping some or preferably all of them will be published sometime. And there are always more short stories coming out, including an SF novelette called “Troublesolving” that will appear in Subterranean magazine sometime and a new Marla Mason story in an anthology next year.
SoY: If a reader has never heard of you before reading this, what is the one single piece of work of yours (novel, short story, etc.) would you like them to read?
TP: My most famous story is “Impossible Dreams”, my Hugo winner from a couple years ago, which can be listened to in podcast form at Escape Pod.
Or else “Little Gods”, which can be read (in glorious texty form!) at Strange Horizons.
Both are pretty representative of my short work — that is, if you like these, you might like my other stuff, and if you don’t, maybe you won’t.
SoY: As you most likely mentioned, you are currently writing an Urban Fantasy series centered around sorcerer Marla Mason. Can you tell us more about the series? Is it a set storyline or open-ended? What makes the Marla Mason novels distinct in the world of Urban Fantasy?
TP: It’s an open-ended series, with each novel intended to stand alone, though the characters do develop and change a bit as the series goes on. The books follow the adventures of Marla Mason, the brusque, tactless, violent chief sorcerer (sort of a cross between a mob boss and a superhero) of an East Coast city called Felport. She contends with various menaces, supernatural and otherwise.
As for what makes the book distinct… people tell me Marla differs from many UF heroines in that she doesn’t have much of a love life (or even a sex life, really), doesn’t suffer from low self-esteem, and doesn’t spend much time angsting; there’s not a lot of distance between her thoughts and her actions, and she’s almost always sure she’s right… even when she’s wrong. One reviewer described her as “the world’s bitchiest superheroine,” which I liked.
SoY: I’m generally critical of the Tramp Stamp Sex Warriors that shame the covers of a disturbingly high percentage of Urban Fantasy novels. Your Marla Mason covers are very stylized and much stronger than the typical book. Who does the covers for your books? How did you manage to escape the UF curse?
TP: I had zero input into the covers, really (most authors don’t get a say, so that’s not remarkable). I don’t know how I got so lucky, but I had amazing cover karma with Daniel Dos Santos. He did all four covers. I named a character in Spell Games in his honor — Danny Two Saints. Dan’s a super nice guy. I have a big framed signed print of the art from Poison Sleep hanging over my desk. All credit goes to the good people at Bantam Spectra who brought him on board.
SoY: What authors would you describe as your primary influences in developing your personal narrative style?
TP: When I was young I read a lot of Stephen King, Charles de Lint, Clive Barker, and Jonathan Carroll, and I think they influenced me a lot, in obvious and subtle ways.
SoY: Some of the other up and coming authors I’ve interviewed have mentioned how hard writing a novel is compared to their experiences writing shorter fiction. What did you find hardest about making that transition? Has it gotten easier with time?
TP: Eh, I’ve been writing novels since I was twelve. (Well, trying to, though I tended to stall out around 100 pages in those early days.) I actually finished my first complete novel when I was 18, and completed five more books, all failures and learning experiences, before I finished the first book I actually got published, The Strange Adventures of Rangergirl. Writing novels and stories are different, but I don’t find either harder than the other. Novels take longer, of course, but you return every day to write with characters and a world you’ve established, so that’s simpler in some ways — whereas, with stories, you have to invent a new world and new characters every time. They each have their own challenges and rewards. I love both. (But freely admit I’m better at writing short stories. I’ve written hundreds of them, though, so I’ve had more practice)
SoY: I’m calling you out on the gender neutral pseudonym. What are you feelings toward the importance of gender in Urban Fantasy (both for authors and characters)? Do you think its comparable to the relatively male dominated Hard SF market?
TP: My first novel, The Strange Adventures of Rangergirl, sold like crap. Thus, my publisher wanted the new books to appear under a different name so bookstores wouldn’t look at my existing sales record and refuse to buy any copies. Such renaming is a pretty common practice these days to deal with lackluster sales. They chose a gender-neutral pseudonym because the books were urban fantasy with a female heroine, and most such books are written by women. I had nothing to do with the decision, really, though it didn’t bother me. I don’t care what byline my work appears under, so long as I can keep publishing it. There are probably more pseudonyms in my future. That’s life in the midlist.
I know very little about the current hot trends in urban fantasy, honestly. After my agent and editor told me Blood Engines was UF, I read some of the popular stuff (Charlaine Harris, Kim Harrison, etc.) in the genre, saw the broad similarities, and decided I shouldn’t read much more lest it influence my own work!
I come much more from the earlier urban fantasy/contemporary fantasy/mythic fiction tradition that includes Charles de Lint, Jonathan Carroll, Emma Bull, Megan Lindholm, Terri Windling, etc. etc.
SoY: You and your wife edited a twice yearly ‘zine by the name of Flytrap which unfortunately was discontinued in November 2008 with issue 10. What was the hardest part of trying to maintaining a regular release schedule?
TP: Paying for the printing and forcing ourselves to do the tedious mailing.
Everything else was easy. My wife and I both have editorial/slush reading experience, and I do layout/production all day long at my day job, so it was only the logistical administrivial stuff that was difficult. We did delay an issue or two, due to impending childbirth and such unavoidable scheduling conflicts. The ‘zine was great, but with a kid and our own other writing commitments, we just didn’t have time to keep it going.
SoY: What are your writing habits like? Do you have any peculiar writing habits that somehow work for you but everyone else would find quirky (and/or insane)?
TP: I just write whenever I feel like it. Fortunately, I enjoy writing, so I feel like it often enough to produce a quarter million words or so every year. No rituals, no habits. Sometimes I write longhand in the park, sometimes I type on a laptop on the balcony, sometimes I type at my desk. I’ve been writing fiction since I was in third grade. It’s just a part of my life, no more remarkable than eating or bathing or napping.
SoY: Who wins in a fight between Harry Dresden, Sookie Stackhouse, Anita Blake, and Stephanie Meyer?
TP: Stephenie Meyer, since the other three are fictional, and real people usually have an advantage, being corporeal and all.
SoY: An incident occurs resulting in your removal from the list of up-and-coming genre stars. What is the most likely cause of that incident? Who do you nominate in your place?
TP: Oh, I suppose someone could notice that my publisher decided not to continue my urban fantasy series and decide I’m actually already a has-been.
I think Meghan McCarron and Alice Kim are too of the most interesting and exciting short fiction writers I’ve encountered in recent years.
SoY: Is there a difference between the genres you read and those you write? What are you favorite subgenres to read?
TP: I read SF of most varieties, fantasy of most varieties, and horror of most varieties, and lately I’ve been reading a lot of mysteries and crime novels. Crime novels are probably my favorite at the moment. Westlake/Stark, etc.
SoY: [Obligatory pimpage] Is there anywhere online that readers can follow you and your work? [/obligatory pimpage]
That’s it from Tim. Not to take anything away from any of the other authors but Tim was one of the friendliest and accessible authors I’ve interviewed (he ties for 1st with about 10 other authors). I hope to see more Marla Mason books in the future and I’d encourage all of my 12 readers to go check out his stuff.
I’m thinking of making October “Urban Fantasy Month” at Stomping on Yeti and Marla Mason might be one of my featured series. Hope to see you back here for more.