Tim Pratt’s fiction has won a Hugo Award, and he’s been a finalist for Sturgeon, Stoker, World Fantasy, Mythopoeic, and Nebula Awards, among others. His books include three short story collections, most recently ANTIQUITIES AND TANGIBLES AND OTHER STORIES; a volume of poems; contemporary fantasy novels THE STRANGE ADVENTURES OF RANGERGIRL, BRIARPATCH, HEIRS OF GRACE, and THE DEEP WOODS; science fantasy THE NEX; steampunk novel THE CONSTANTINE AFFLICTION (as T. Aaron Payton); various roleplaying game tie-in fantasy novels; and, as T.A. Pratt, eight books (and counting) in an urban fantasy series about sorcerer Marla Mason. He edited anthology SYMPATHY FOR THE DEVIL and co-edited RAGS AND BONES: NEW TWISTS ON TIMELESS TALES with Melissa Marr. He works as a senior editor for Locus magazine, and lives in Berkeley, CA with his wife Heather Shaw and their son River. Find him online at timpratt.org.
For what age audience do you write?
I have published lots of adult novels and a couple of books aimed at middle-grade readers (age 8-12, more or less).
Tell us about your latest book.
It’s called THE DEEP WOODS, a novella (or short novel, depending on how you count) out from PS Publishing, a marvelous British small press. (The cover art by Galen Dara is fantastic. She’s so good.) It’s essentially a coming-of-age tale about a boy who gets lost in a mysterious wood full of supernatural weirdness, makes friends with another boy who’s trapped there, and tries to help him escape. With lots of fairy lore, video games, hairsbreadth escapes, jokes, banter, villainy, surprises, and sweetness. Suitable for readers from age ten on up, I would think. (My hope is that kids and adults will both find lots to like in it.)
Henry: I’m a huge fan of urban fantasy. This fall, my bedtime picture book, MABEL AND THE QUEEN OF DREAMS, will be published by Schiffer. It features the Fae Queen from Mercutio’s soliloquy in ROMEO AND JULIET. It’s like urban fantasy with training wheels. I’m getting young readers hooked so they’ll read your books as they get older. You’re welcome.
What do you hope readers will get from reading that book?
Pleasure, combined with an uncontrollable need to convince all their friends and family to buy copies.
Henry: Nice – working both the creative and business side of things with your answer.
What aspect of writing do you find most challenging?
I love drafting like I love eating ice cream or having sex; I love revising like I love doing logic puzzles; I love line-editing like I love perfectly organizing a bookshelf; I hate reviewing copyedits and the second round of proofreading because by then I’m getting pretty tired of my own words. They all have their own challenges, though.
Henry: I hear you. At less than 500 words, my picture books can sometimes have 20 revisions. I find the biggest challenge knowing when to stop revising.
What is a powerful lesson you’ve learned from being a writer?
The personal lesson is “I don’t know what I think about anything until I write it down.” A more universal lesson is discovering that stories are *really* important to people, and can really change the way they understand, and even live, their lives. As such, I don’t agree much with people who say “Calm down, it’s just a story.”
Henry: So true, particularly for young readers. I hear stories all the time about how books influence the path of people’s lives.
What has been a memorable experience that you never would have had if you had not been a writer?
I guess “nice meals with lots of writers” isn’t quite what you mean. I almost drowned in a hot tub at a writing workshop once after I had some drinks without accounting for how the high elevation would impact my tolerance.
Henry: Meeting other writers is a valid answer. Sure, blame the elevation on your lightweightedness.
What advice would you give to aspiring authors?
Write a lot, and read more than you write.
Do you have any favorite quotes?
There are certainly things I say when the situation warrants:
“The best way out is always through” (from Frost, though I usually misquote it as “the only way out is through.”)
“De gustibus non est disputandum.” (Latin for “there’s no arguing about taste,” basically.)
“Not my circus, not my monkeys.”
Henry: I think Churchill said, “If you’re going through hell, keep going.” Your last one reminds me of John Bigboote from the movie Buckaroo Bonzai – “I’m not from this planet, monkey boy.” I always loved the idea that an alien would use an evolutionary slur to insult a human. And that he’d be particular about how his human alias was pronounced.
Do you have any strange rituals that you observe when you write?
I am opposed to rituals. I fear they would burn cognitive paths I would have trouble escaping. I like being able to write on buses or waiting rooms or bars.
Henry: Or drunk in Jacuzzis? The cognitive path less taken.
If you could have one superpower, what would it be?
The ability to stop time, because then I might finally have enough time to do everything.
Henry: That is the most popular answer to that question. Usually writers mention it as a way to help meet manuscript deadlines.
If you could have three authors over for dinner, who would it be?
I get to dine with living authors fairly often, so I’ll go with the dead: Joanna Russ, Theodore Sturgeon, and William Faulkner, who all hugely influenced me in different ways.
Henry: Hello and welcome to Dining with the Dead. I’m your host, Tim Pratt. That reminds me of the old Steve Allen TV show, Meeting of the Minds. Wikipedia helpfully offers:
“Joanna Russ was an American writer, academic and feminist. She is the author of a number of works of science fiction, fantasy and feminist literary criticism such as How to Suppress Women’s Writing, as well as a contemporary novel, On Strike Against God, and one children’s book, Kittatinny. She is best known for The Female Man, a novel combining utopian fiction and satire.”
“Theodore Sturgeon, born Edward Hamilton Waldo, was an American science fiction and horror writer and critic. The Internet Speculative Fiction Database credits him with about 400 reviews and more than 200 stories. Sturgeon’s most famous work may be the science fiction novel MORE THAN HUMAN (1953). MORE THAN HUMAN won the 1954 International Fantasy Award (for SF and fantasy) as the year’s best novel and the Science Fiction Writers of America ranked “BABY IS THREE” number five among the “Greatest Science Fiction Novellas of All Time” to 1964. The Science Fiction and Fantasy Hall of Fame inducted Sturgeon in 2000.”
William Faulkner – Shame on you, if you haven’t heard of him.
What is your favorite creature that exists only in literature?
The fauna of mirrors, which are rooted in Chinese mythology but were made more widely known in Borges’s BOOK OF IMAGINARY BEINGS (which inspired China Mieville’s fine short novel THE TAIN).
Henry: Great answer. The mirrors remind me of the “veil” often used in urban fantasy to separate our world from the world of the Fae. Once again, Wikipedia to the rescue:
“The Chinese myth suggest that an alternate universe exists beyond mirrors. Upon entering the fauna of mirrors nothing is like the world has ever seen. No color, shape, nor size is the same. The creatures that dwell within the fauna are not like any creatures that inhabit the earth. Once the fauna was open, and creatures from both dimensions could pass through freely. There was always harmony between the both worlds, but one day that harmony was disturbed and the worlds came to be at war with one another. In turn, the portal had to be closed to avoid controversy.”
What do you like to do when you’re not writing?
Work at my day job, play with my kid, hang out with my wife, drink whiskey, read books, watch horror movies, drink beer, eat cheese, wander around the Bay Area.
Henry: I’m looking you up the next time I’m in the Bay Area for an evening of whiskey, cheese and horror movies. We will stay well away from Jacuzzis.
What would you like it to say on your tombstone?
He Was Not Particularly Frightened By Goats
Henry: Nor Did Sheep Perturb Him… Though Pigs Vexed Him. I admire a man with realistic goals.
Where can readers find your work?
Bookstores, with luck, and all the usual places online. There are details at http://www.timpratt.org. Oh, and I have a Patreon, where I send a new story each month to supporters, so $1 a month gets you 12 stories a year: https://www.patreon.com/timpratt
Henry: Thanks for joining us, Tim! This interview is also posted on the San Diego Children’s Books Examiner.