The other day I was discussing my budding writing career with a friend when she suggested I talk to one of her writer friends.
insert eye roll here
We all have those friends who know "writers." Right? Except my friend tends to know really cool people…
Imagine my surprise when she said her friend was Tim Pratt.
Wait, the Tim Pratt? Who has a Hugo award, has written over twenty novels, and edits ? The one who just released a collection that includes a short story about polyamorists? (That would be Miracles & Marvels: Stories) Yes, that Tim Pratt.
I spent the next few days fan-girling over Mr. Pratt before asking him if he would share some of his knowledge and experience with my INK friends. He kindly agreed, and allowed us to share his answers publicly.
Now, let’s get down to business, shall we?
What was the moment when you felt like a successful author? Was there a defining moment for you?
I don’t always feel like a successful author now. A writing career is a roller coaster, and sometimes the roller coaster plunges deep underground and becomes a subterranean mine cart, and I’ve had lots of ups and downs and middles, including a couple of spectacular career crashes. I do remember some significant moments. My first story sale, back in 1999, to a small press. The first time I had a piece in Asimov’s (a poem!) in 2000. My first sale to a pro magazine, in 2003. The publication of my first novel in 2005. My first hardcover. The first time I had a book earn out. They all felt like I was hitting new levels, which is always nice.
You run a Patreon. What do you feel the role of Patreon or similar programs are for the modern writer? Do you think it is something most writers should work towards?
The mantra of the freelancer should be “multiple revenue streams.” If you have only one revenue stream, you can be financially ruined when an editor gets fired, a magazine shuts down, a department gets rearranged, or whatever. Patreon is one of my streams (and one I enjoy very much.) I’m lucky enough to have developed a following of a couple hundred people who are willing to give me money every month for short stories. If other writers have a following, and have the necessary temperament to produce work regularly to keep that following entertained on an ongoing basis, sure, they might as well try it. But if you’re just starting out, it can be tough to do something like Patreon. You can’t crowdfund without a crowd. With Kickstarter, a suitably high-concept idea can stand in for a following, but that’s harder if you’re doing a short story Patreon.
You self-published The Nex, but most of your other books have been published through traditional publishing houses. How would you compare the experiences?
You made me go count. I’ve published 29 novels, seven of them self-published (or more often I crowdfunded them, published the ebooks, and partner with a small press to do the print editions). Seven collections, four of them self-published. I’m a hybrid author. Some projects work well with traditional publishing. Some work better self-published. (Like, collections tend to be published by the small press, and don’t pay much, and so recently I’ve crowdfunded them, as I make more that way. Or doing books in a series that got dropped by a bigger publisher, that’s a good reason to self-publish. Or The Nex, which adult publishers said looked like a middle-grade book and middle-grade publishers said looked like an adult book with a young protagonist. I believed in it so I published it myself.)
Trad pub gets you a bigger audience. Self pub gives you more control. I come from DIY/zine culture so I’m happy to do self pub for the right projects, but it’s a lot more work, of course, as you’re a project manager and art director as well as a writer.
Grim Tides is probably my favorite, because the antagonist is my favorite character I’ve ever created, chaos magician/trickster god Elsie Jarrow, and it was great to let her shine. My most successful in terms of copies sold is probably Heirs of Grace, which is arguably also my best book. Briarpatch is my most personal and ambitious book.
Do you have any short stories that you love and you keep submitting but just can't get anyone to accept? Please tell us a little about them.
No, I sell everything I write, eventually. I guess it’s possible some of my Patreon stories wouldn’t sell if I submitted them, but even before I started the Patreon it had been years since I’d written a story I couldn’t sell somewhere.
You're trapped on a desert island and find yourself with only a copy of "50 Shades of Gray" and "Twilight" to keep you company. How do you escape?
Don’t be a snob. Twilight brought thousands of new readers to fantasy fiction. Anything that gets people reading is fine by me. That’s not the only reason to celebrate such books. 50 Shades made so much money that the publisher who produced it gave everyone from senior executives to the janitorial staff four-figure bonuses. Hugely popular books make heaps of money for publishing houses, which give their editors the freedom to buy strange ambitious works by authors who are less commercial. I would not have sold my deeply peculiar and non-commercial debut novel if my publisher hadn’t been flush with money from George R.R. Martin novels. And while Twilight and erotic Twilight fanfic aren’t my particular thrill, I devour the Jack Reacher novels, which also don’t tend to be ambitious in a literary sense, but nevertheless deliver ample pleasures.
Are there any particular personal experiences that come to mind that you feel have shaped the topics you write about, and the way that you talk about them?
Being raised by strong, independent women means I write a lot of them.
Have you ever taken a poem and turned it into a story or vice versa? If so, how did it turn out?
Sometimes the same idea appears in different ways. My poem “Soul Searching” has a lot in common, thematically and in terms of magical elements, with my story “Life in Stone.” It all draws from the same well.
You are a writer of both prose and poetry, and award-winning in both. How do you feel your skills in one complement the other?
At my absolute best, I’m an okay poet. At my absolute best, I’m a great story writer. I chose to focus on the thing I could occasionally excel at, as opposed to the thing I could occasionally do pretty okay at. As a result I don’t write much poetry anymore, and what I do, I seldom bother to try to publish. That said, poetry and short stories are both about choosing exactly the right detail to evoke a larger feeling and imply a larger world, so the skills are transferable to some degree.
Do you have any advice for new speculative poets on how to get themselves established?
I really don’t know. I haven’t even tried to sell poetry in years. Back when I did there were heaps of markets, and a few of them even paid. Write a lot and submit a lot is evergreen advice, though.
Would you rather win a Rhysling or bathe in Riesling?
I have won a Rhysling. The other sounds rather sticky.
Please tell us a bit about the books on your personal shelf that are most worn and tattered and what they mean to you.
Joanna Russ’s The Two of Them expanded my notion of what a novel can be. Connie Willis’s novel Lincoln’s Dreams has one of the best gut-punch endings ever, as does Jonathan Carroll’s Voice of Our Shadow.
What do you use most to mark where you are when you're reading?
Bookmarks. I make bookmarks as kickstarter rewards sometimes. It’s not economical to print a hundred so I always have heaps of extras.
You write book reviews as well as being an author yourself. Some people say this is a bad idea for authors, but we have some members who were readers and reviewers before they were serious about writing. Do you have any advice for someone newer in the field about how to deal with playing both sides of the fence here?
It’s pretty simple: Don’t be a jerk. Review the book, and not the person. Don’t review people you’re related to or sleeping with or have some shared business venture with (because that’s gross). Otherwise, in science fiction and fantasy there’s a rich and many-decades-long tradition of being a professional writer and also reviewing books. I’ve never had any problems with it. Plenty of review publications publish reviews without bylines if you’re worried about it.
As both a writer and reviewer, can you still sit down to read "for fun" and turn off your critical side?
Stephen King wrote that once you’ve been a professional writer for a while you read everything with either “grinding envy or weary contempt.” It can be a problem, turning off the analytical part of the brain, though it’s easier when I’m reading things farther afield from what I’m writing. I tend to read for pleasure things unlike what I write myself; grimdark fantasy, horror, secondary-world fantasy in general, near-future science fiction. Much of my pleasure reading is comics, and crime and mystery novels. But I can still read things that resemble what I write with pleasure; it’s just pleasure with some analytical elements.
Assume you are the editor of a fine magazine and have just finished eating some exceedingly fresh duck eggs for breakfast. If the decisions of editors on what to publish could be made via gladiatorial-style combat, would you rather fight one suddenly quite angry horse-sized duck, or 100 really confused and ticked-off duck-sized horses?
Pretty sure I’ve answered this on some Reddit AMA or another, so I’ll demur this time.
On behalf of the INKlings, I’d like to thank Tim Pratt for taking the time to answer our questions and bestow on him the title of honorary Inkling. Sadly, someone stole the complementary cake. Again.
We really need to figure out a booby trap or something to prevent this type of incident in the future. We’re all writers. We should be able to come up with something. Right?
About Tim Pratt
Tim Pratt lives in Berkeley, California, with his wife, Heather Shaw, and their son River. His fiction and poetry have appeared in The Best American Short Stories, The Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror, The Mammoth Book of Best New Horror, Strange Horizons, Realms of Fantasy, Asimov’s, Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet, Subterranean, and Tor.com, among many other places (for complete details, see his bibliography). He writes a new story every month for patrons at Patreon: www.patreon.com/timpratt
His debut collection Little Gods was published in November of 2003. His second collection, Hart & Boot & Other Stories, appeared in January 2007, and was a World Fantasy Award finalist. Third collection Antiquities and Tangibles and Other Stories appeared in 2013.
First novel The Strange Adventures of Rangergirl was published in late 2005. It was nominated for the Mythopoeic Award, and won a Romantic Times Critic’s Choice Award for best Modern Fantasy, and an Emperor Norton Award (which has the coolest trophy ever: a bust of Joshua Norton).
Other standalone fantasy novels include Briarpatch (2011), Heirs of Grace (2014), and short novel The Deep Woods (2015). His gonzo-historical novel, The Constantine Affliction, was published under pen name T. Aaron Payton in 2012. He co-wrote middle grade spy novel The Stormglass Protocol with Andy Deemer (2013).
In October 2007 he began publishing a series of urban fantasies featuring ass-kicking sorcerer Marla Mason. The first was Blood Engines, followed by Poison Sleep (April 2008), Dead Reign (November 2008), and Spell Games (April 2009). He serialized a prequel, Bone Shop, online in 2009. The fifth book, Broken Mirrors, appeared in 2010, followed by Grim Tides in 2012, Bride of Death in 2013, Lady of Misrule in 2015, Queen of Nothing in 2016, and final volume Closing Doors in 2017. He collected stories set in that world in Do Better (2018). Visit MarlaMason.net for details.
His most recent novels are the space opera Axiom trilogy: Philip K. Dick Award finalist The Wrong Stars (2017), The Dreaming Stars (2018), and The Forbidden Stars (2019).
Some of his poems have been collected in If There Were Wolves, including “Soul Searching”, winner of a Rhysling Award for best long poem.
He has edited two anthologies: a reprint volume of stories about infernal creatures, Sympathy for the Devil (2010) and an anthology of original stories inspired by classic tales, Rags and Bones (2012, with Melissa Marr).
By day he works as senior editor at Locus magazine, where, among other things, he write the obituaries.
He won a Hugo Award (for “Impossible Dreams” in 2007), and has been nominated for a Nebula Award, Stoker Award, Theodore Sturgeon Memorial Award, a couple of Gaylactic Spectrum Awards, a Seiun Award, a Scribe Award, and two Ignotus Awards, among others. In 2004 he was a finalist for the Campbell Award for Best New Writer.
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