December 20, 2005

3 Questions: Tamara Siler Jones

Tamara Siler Jones knows how hard it is to break into traditional publishing probably better than anyone---heck, she created her own genre. Hey, it's harder and harder to get a debut novel picked up by a publisher, so sometimes a girl has got to do what a girl has got to do. Threads of Malice, the second in her series of "Forensic Fantasy" novels featuring Dubric Byerly, is still warm from the presses, and Jones, who won the Compton Crook Award for the first book in the series has a growing fan base as more and more folks decide to give her "forensic fantasies" a try. I sat virtually down with Tamara and asked the obvious question, and then I asked two more.

JJ: What on earth is a forensic fantasy?

TSJ: It’s a forensic murder mystery that just happens to be in a fantasy setting. Unlike most traditional fantasy novels, the mystery’s the main focus, not the fantastical elements. There is some magic, but it’s essentially illegal and not very common. There are no dragons or elves or great epic battles, just a rather gruesome murder mystery with a paranormal bent – the main sleuth, Dubric Byerly sees ghosts – in a pre industrialized world.


JJ: What authors (forensic or fantastical or both or blended) influenced you to head off into this rather uncharted direction?

TSJ: With my first novel, Ghosts in the Snow, I just wrote the story I wanted to tell and let it find its own home. There really weren’t any influences in either arena, let alone a combination. Many people, including established writers, told me that to set out to sell a fantasy-murder mystery-thriller was impossible. There’s a lot of established history that the way to go is with a single-genre base. I find that too restrictive, and breaking my own path seems to work for me. In Threads of Malice the same group of investigators return to solve a new-and-separate crime and that, too, is evidently unique under the fantasy umbrella. Many fantasy series follow one right after the other to tell a single tale (like Lord of the Rings, for example). There are some story threads that continue through my books, but each mystery and the story around it stand alone so you can read them in any order. Sort of like an Agatha Christie mystery, only Miss Marple changes a bit each time someone dies. And they’re a lot gorier. And scarier. Off the top of my head, I don’t know of any other speculative fiction writers who are doing stand alone serial fiction like that. Lots of mystery and thriller writers do, though, so I have the best of both worlds.

JJ: A lot of writers read this blog, for them, can you explain how having a sort of HYBRID of genres helped or hurt you as you tried to market your book.

TSJ: Starting out, I think it hurt. I mentioned the cross-genre nature of the book in my agent queries and, with the established niche-marketing premise firmly in place, I believe that made it a tougher sell, made it more difficult to be taken seriously because everybody knows you’re supposed to pick a niche and write to fit it. One agent asked for a peek, and he signed me less than a week later. He only approached top-tier publishers and some of them, too, expressed concern about the hybrid nature of the story, but we soon found a very happy home at Bantam.

Bantam has been behind the books 110%. From the very beginning they’ve touted it as something new, a blend of mystery, fantasy and horror with a splash of romance, and I’ve had an amazing amount of advertising and marketing push for a brand new author. I’ve also had pretty decent sales and a rapidly growing fan base. So, now that the books are out, I think that the hybrid genre concept is a plus. It’s unique, and can appeal to a lot of different readers. Regular mystery readers (who wouldn’t touch fantasy with a 10-foot cattle prod) enjoy them, traditional fantasy readers enjoy them, paranormal readers, even some folks who prefer literary. They’re good stories with heart and depth and they’re accessible to anyone.

Posted by joshilyn at December 20, 2005 7:15 AM

Sounds really neat.

Posted by: Heather at December 20, 2005 10:22 AM

Ohhhhh, TSJ. How cool. Wish I'd thought of a forensic mystery fantasy tale. Looking way forward to reading this one.

Thanks for sharing her with us, JJ.

Posted by: Edgy Mama at December 20, 2005 6:04 PM

Just goes to show that if you put your mind to something, it can happen. Thanks for sharing with us!

Posted by: Tiff at December 21, 2005 9:49 AM

I love the Lord Darcy books, so I'll definitely have to pick these up!

Multiple genre books are my favorites. Much more fun, IMO, than the standard sword and sorcery template.

Posted by: Jensgalore at December 21, 2005 11:22 AM