Today I am very excited to introduce another horror author who’s agreed to be interviewed here on my Haunted Eyeball. James Pratt writes horror fiction and his work gives an interesting and skewed view on familiar genre conventions. He also has a knack for bringing an otherworldly twist to some treasured childhood memories.
Part 1: Writing Process
James Pratt likes to create realistically flawed but basically decent characters and have them cross paths with serial killer angels, redneck vampires, slithering horrors from other dimensions, and the end of the world. He also likes to write stories that demonstrate how the ever-present darkness threatening to wash over the world like a wave of endless night can be held back with a little courage and a big shotgun (assuming one hasn’t already used both barrels, of course). Some take place in the distant past, others in the far future, and still others somewhere between eight minutes ago and twelve minutes from now. Whether sci-fi, adventure, or straight-out horror, the running theme is that the universe is very, very big and we are very, very small.
Part 1: Writing process
Haunted Eyeball: Hi James and welcome to the Haunted Eyeball. When did you first start writing?
James Pratt: As far back as I can remember I’ve always had ideas for stories and characters, but I didn’t try writing full-fledged stories on a regular basis until I turned 40. Maybe it was a midlife crisis kind of thing.
Do you have a writing routine? How do you fit it in with the day job, etc?
No routine. I just try to write at least a little bit every day, the goal being 1,000 words before bed. Between work and kids I usually only have a couple of free hours each night. If I haven’t started by 10 p.m. on a given night, chances are I’m not going to get any writing done.
Do you listen to music while you work?
Occasionally. It does seem to help so I should probably make a habit of it.
Where’s your favourite place to write?
Anywhere that’s relatively quiet where I can stretch my legs and get comfortable.
Does Writer’s block ever hit? How do you deal with it?
I’ve been hit by writer’s block so many times I have a concussion. That’s why it’s important to take advantage of those rare moments when the creative juices are really flowing. One thing I’ve found that helps when things are going slow is switching from laptop to a plain old notebook. That way I’m less tempted to obsess over every sentence and instead just write down whatever pops into my head. Even when I’m running on empty there’s still plenty of editing and revising to be done. And I’ve found that “sleeping on it” actually works pretty well. I’ve gone to bed plenty of times wondering how to finish a scene and woken up the next morning with a perfect ending. All I had to do was let my subconscious work it out.
Is there anything you wouldn’t consider writing about, such as genre type, political issues, sexuality etc, and why?
I would only write about the things that interest me, and those things happen to be monsters, doomsday scenarios, and alien demon-gods. That said, even though a story might have a fantastic setting or supernatural overtones, it can still contain a moral, make reference to classic literary themes (religion, philosophy, etc.), and act as a metaphor for the tragic comedy that is the human condition. I just find those topics more interesting within an unconventional framework. I don’t have a problem with more conventional topics like politics or sexuality, I’m just not interested in writing about them.
How long do you allow for research? Is research overrated?
No matter what the genre, I’ve found research extremely helpful. When I write a sci-fi tale, I want it to be at least partially based on real world science or at least speculative science. That means reading up on what physicists have to say about the actual possibility of time travel, teleportation, parallel universes, and other staples of science fiction. And even when I’m writing a weird western or fantasy tale, I still want the non-fantastic elements to be as accurate as possible. And since I don’t know anything about guns, siege weapons, or medieval architecture, those types of stories also require a fair amount of research. There’s no such thing as too much research.
Whose writing advice do you really listen to?
Anyone and everyone. You can learn something from everybody, even if the lesson is what NOT to do.
Are there any books on writing and creativity that you’d recommend?
Writing Fiction: A Guide to Narrative Craft by Janet Burroway and Elizabeth Stuckey-French.
What’s your golden rule of writing? Any tips for new writers?
Characters are the most important part of the story and also the hardest part to pull off. No matter how intricate your fantasy world or alien civilization, it’s only as interesting as the characters that populate it. Characters are how you generate an emotional investment in the story, or lack thereof. And you can’t make a character interesting through simple exposition (ex: “Handsome yet tragic, cynical yet romantic, he was a vampire haunted by his past.”). You have to show the reader why that character is interesting. Demonstrating what a character is feeling is much more powerful than simply letting the reader peer into the character’s mind. For example, having a character smash a chair against a wall is much more effective than simply saying “He was really mad.”
Before you write, read. A lot. And read outside your favorite genre(s). Sure, The Great Gatsby doesn’t contain any robots or ninjas (unless they were REALLY good ninjas), but it’s a powerful work by a master of the craft. Take the lessons taught by the classics and put them to work in the genre of your choice.
What’s the best/worst advice you ever had?
“Amateurs copy, geniuses steal”. -Anonymous
“Start as close to the end as possible.” –Kurt Vonnegut
“That shirt looks really good on you.” –The girl at The Gap
Thank you, James. Part 2 of this interview, about Inspiration, is coming up tomorrow!
Also of interest:
James Pratt’s work has already been reviewed right here on the Haunted Eyeball!
Other Author interviews: