miércoles, 19 de diciembre de 2012

Interview with Tim Pratt (Part 1)

Update: The second part of the interview is already online.

Tim Pratt is one of my favorite authors (you may have noticed if you usually read this blog). Thus, I'm extremely happy that he kindly accepted to answer my (numerous) questions about The Constantine Affliction (which I reviewed recently) and his work in general. Since the interview is rather long, I've decided to publish it in two parts, the first one today and the second tomorrow. I think that this is one of the most interesting interviews we've had in Sense of Wonder. Hope you enjoy it!

Odo: Your latest novel to date, The Constantine Affliction, shares some themes and tropes with Steampunk but also has, in my opinion, influences from classic works such as Frankenstein, The Phantom of the Opera or Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes novels. How did you come with the idea for this story?

Tim Pratt: I joked a few years ago with a friend that the perfect commercial novel would be steampunk with zombies. (This was before Cherie Priest very beautifully combined those two things in her Clockwork Century books.)

I began to think about how I could write such a book, and conceived of the world of the Affliction. The zombies ended up being a smaller part of the story in the end. And there's basically no steam (some alchemy, though, and other fringe science ideas that actually work in my world). So I mostly call it gonzo-historical, or "steampunk if you squint."

I wanted to interrogate some of the problematic aspects of fiction set in Victorian era, particularly societally-enforced gender roles, which is where the notion of a sex-changing plague came from.

I thought it would be interesting to combine the hard-drinking, troubled private eye archetype -- Matthew Scudder, Jack Taylor -- with the aristocratic detective a la Peter Wimsey.

And I also love the works of Kim Newman, and Alan Moore's League of Extraordinary Gentleman, both crammed with references to literary and historical figures. While I cannot aspire to their level of expertise, I did have a little fun with Doyle, Woolf, and Shelley references, among others.
Odo: Although The Constantine Affliction clearly stands on its own, I think that there is room for sequels or even a series of stories with Pimm and Skye as the main protagonists. Will you revisit this world in the future?

TP: I like the characters a lot, and I would like to revisit their world, to explore issues of class that I wasn't able to dig into very much in the first volume. But I have a lot of projects coming up, so I'm not sure when or if I'll be able to come back to their world. I might write some stories set in the same series, at least. I'd love to do some standalone pieces about the character Winifred.
Odo: You have written The Constantine Affliction under the pen name of T. Aaron Payton and you are known to have used other pseudonyms (some of them still undisclosed) in the past. How and why do you decide whether to write a novel or story under you own name or using a pseudonym? Will you some day reveal all your pen names?

TP: Oh, it's never really been my decision -- I'm vain, and would love to have all my books appear as "Tim Pratt." It's just marketing. For the Marla Mason series, the marketing department suggested I write under the gender-neutral pseudonym T.A. Pratt, because there was some concern that readers wouldn't pick up an urban fantasy with a female protagonist if it was written by a man. (I have no idea if that's true or not, but they knew more about the subject than I did.) The publisher for The Constantine Affliction wanted a pseudonym for branding reasons -- the book is a radical departure from my other
novels (it's steampunk-ish, it's a historical, etc.), and I was happy to go along with it. They're not really secret names.

I do have a couple of "secret" pseudonyms. One for my erotica/porn writing (kept secret mostly because I don't want my son Googling my name and finding those stories and being horribly embarrassed!), and one for a couple of work-for-hire books I did. Those two were cases of me executing an editor's vision, and were written under what was essentially a house name -- there may be other volumes under the same byline by other writers. I've got no plans to disclose those pen names, but I'm sure it'll all come out after I'm dead, if not sooner.

I care more about writing books than publishing them, so I never mind much if a publisher wants to use a different name to brand me separately or whatever. I'm just happy to get the books out there.
Odo: In many of your stories and novels, especially in the Marla Mason series and in Briarpatch, the use of magic imposes a strong cost (both mental and physical) on those that practice it. Do you see magic as a metaphor for power and do you think that absolute power corrupts absolutely?

TP: I try not to think about symbolism, unless I'm literally writing an allegory, which I seldom do. I think symbolism is more powerful if it infuses the work organically and unconsciously.

Magic in most of my books, when wielded by people, is essentially the act of using your will to change reality. That's something we can do anyway -- you can change the world if you will it to be changed, and are willing to take the necessary steps and bear the necessary costs, which can be considerable. Any great act of change comes at a cost -- to yourself, or to others. Magic is just a flashy, cool, interesting way to enact such changes. I think it makes for a better story if there's some trade-off, some suffering, some pain. If a character can make a wish or wave a wand and change the world with no negative consequences, where's the tension?

People seldom mention the second part of Acton's quote about power corrupting: "Great men are almost always bad men." The desire to change the world in a significant way necessarily means changing the world for the worse for some people; and it means ignoring individuals to focus on larger things. That's certainly one of the themes of the
Marla Mason novels.
Odo: You have (very) successfully used crowdfunding for some of your latest projects. How was this experience for you? Would you recommend crowdfunding as a way for new authors to fund their work? How do you think ebooks and self-publishing will transform the publishing industry in the next few years?

TP: Crowdfunding has been great for me. Direct engagement with readers is fun. I work in publishing and do book design and e-book conversion and so on, and I come from a DIY/'zine background, which means I'm comfortable dealing with all the necessary back-end, non-writing aspects of self-publishing/crowdfunding.

I would not recommend crowdfunding for new writers, really, because in order to successfully crowdfund, you need to have a crowd. I wouldn't be able to get two or three hundred really devoted fans to support a new book in my Marla Mason series if Random House hadn't published the first four books and gotten them into the hands of tens of thousands of readers. They laid the groundwork for my career, and I thank them.

E-books are already transforming the industry. In some genres, e-book sales are exceeding print sales for some titles. But for me, it's just another format. I read in print, and I read e-books, and I really don't distinguish much between the two -- it's all the same to me, just delivery mechanisms for words, unless we're talking about art books, or physical books as beautiful objects.

As for how it will change the industry in coming years, who knows? Publishing is always dying, but it never quite dies. I'm certainly keeping busy enough myself. I will note that it's easier now for writers to make money -- maybe not a living, but something -- writing for a small, niche audience than it ever has been before.

Odo: Marla Mason seems to be one of your more popular characters (and she certainly is a big favorite of mine). What are your plans for this series?

TP: I'll keep writing Marla for a while, I think. I'm not done with her yet. There are, what, 7 books now, counting the short prequel novel Bone Shop? The next novel, Bride of Death, which I'm planning to try and crowdfund in the spring, will be a departure, in some ways. She's failed as chief sorcerer of a city, pretty much failed as an "occult detective," but she may have finally shed the last of her baggage from that old life, and she's ready for a new beginning. Marla's life changed utterly in the prior two volumes, and she's starting a new stage -- traveling the world, trying to make up for the bad things she's done by doing some good, and screwing things up in the process. I may write the next novel in first person, because it would be fun to have Marla herself as an intensely unreliable narrator.
Odo: The Marla Mason series is often classified as urban fantasy. What is your opinion on the paranormal romance and urban fantasy genres? What other subgenres and authors of fantasy and science fiction are you interested in?

TP: I don't read a lot of current "urban fantasy," though I've always been a fan of what used to be called urban fantasy, and is sometimes called contemporary fantasy: books like Charles de Lint's Newford series, Emma Bull's War for the Oaks, Jonathan Carroll's novels, Megan Lindholm's Wizard of the Pigeons -- the interaction of the modern world and magic always interests me, though. I do like a lot of Kelley Armstrong's work, and C.E. Murphy does great stuff in that genre too.

I like to read things I don't write as much. (When I read the kinds of things I do write, I can get way too analytical, and spend more time dissecting a story than enjoying it.) So I read the dense secret histories of Tim Powers, grimdark gritty fantasy like George R.R. Martin and Joe Abercrombie, fantasy-without-(much) magic like K.J. Parker, and lots of crime and mystery novels, the more brutal and hardboiled the better.

(You can also read this interview in Spanish/También puedes leer esta entrevista en español)

2 comentarios:

  1. The T.A. Pratt tidbit is very interesting. I often read about female writers hiding their sexes to avoid male biases, but not so much about the other way around. Have audiences who got to know you given you any feedback about first impressions and how they adjusted?

  2. Hi John. No one has ever remarked much about it one way or the other, so I really can't say how much it matters. (Though there was someone online who claimed they'd met T.A. Pratt at a convention I never attended -- and that she was very nice.)