They say no good deed goes unpunished. Just look at Tinker, the main character in Wen Spencer’s urban fantasy series of the same name, who saved an elf’s life, and ended up in the middle of something for her trouble. But what’s bad for Tinker is good for anyone who wants to read about her adventures. In the following email interview, Spencer discusses the latest of these, Harbinger (hardcover, Kindle), including what else she might be putting Tinker through.
For people who haven’t read any of the Tinker books, who is Tinker, what does she do, and what are the Tinker books all about?
Tinker is an eighteen-year-old mad genius of a girl who lives in a modern human city that was shifted to a world of elves and magic before she was born. She runs a junkyard, fixes cars, and invents odd machines that use both human tech and elf magic. One of these inventions was a hoverbike, which is a motorcycle that can fly. Well, kind of fly; it hovers, as the name implies. She and her friends then invented hoverbike racing, which the local underworld crime boss turned into a professional sport. She was living a fairly normal life when a pack of magically enhanced monsters chased a high-born elf into her junkyard. She saves his life and thus gets caught up at the center of a war between the elves and a secret third world: the world of the oni.
As I understand it, the Tinker books take place in both Pittsburgh and in a realm called Elfhome. First, why Pittsburgh as opposed to Philly or New York City or West Orange, New Jersey?
I grew up in a small town just north of Pittsburgh. I don’t know much about the cities you mentioned, but what I always thought that lent went to the novel is that it’s very much a full rustbelt city isolated in the middle of farmland. For a long time, its expansion was limited by the hills, so there were apple orchards within five miles of downtown.
And then what is Elfhome like, and how is it different from Pittsburgh?
I riffed on the multiverse idea, so Elfhome geologically is much like Earth, it just has magic that has impacted the flora and fauna much differently. Then elves discovered how to use magic to do bioengineering and experimented on making certain creatures into weapons of war, so there are walking trees, river sharks, frost breathing wolves, and dragons.
This brings us to Harbinger. What is Harbinger about, and how does it connect, both narratively and chronologically, to the previous novel, Wood Sprites?
The novel Tinker started with third world, Onihida, being unknown to the humans. The oni had been using Earth as a bridge to secretly build up an invasion force. The onset of war brewed in the background of Wolf Who Rules and Elfhome.
Tinker had been born via in-vitro fertilization and a surrogate mother. It wasn’t something she thought much about growing up, but it becomes important in Wolf Who Rules as she meets her real mother. Unknown to everyone, there were six other embryos created at the same time as Tinker, stored in New York City. In Wood Sprites, we meet Tinker’s mad genius little sisters, who were two of the embryos which were stolen and used eight years after Tinker was born. Their novel starts with them discovering that they have four more siblings on ice, scheduled to be disposed of. While they’re focused on saving the frozen embryos, they accidently get caught up in the war via the oni on Earth.
I also did a collection of short fiction called Project Elfhome. This introduces other characters who are caught up in the war. Law Munroe forages for fish and wild herbs for the elves. Jane Kryskill directs the local TV show Pittsburgh Backyard And Garden, that shows people who to deal with the dangerous wildlife of Elfhome that might show up in their backyard. Olivia is a pregnant teenage runaway wife, illegally sneaking onto Elfhome to flee her dangerous husband.
Harbinger is a massive weaving of all the characters reacting to the fact that the oni are taking the fight to open warfare on the streets of Pittsburgh.
I assume, like the other Tinker novels, that Harbinger is an urban fantasy story…
Yes, it’s an urban fantasy story. I originally planned to do something like [Emma Bull’s] War For The Oaks, but I ended up going more Tolkien elves than Seelie fae.
Are there any writers, or maybe specific stories, that had a big influence on Harbinger but not on anything else you’ve written, especially the other books in the Tinker saga?
No, not really. The first book had some roots in borderland stories published prior to 2001, but the story has organically grown away from that genre. The second book was a result of running out of time on the first one that was already over long. (They’ve grown in length with each book, Harbinger being nearly half again the length of a regular novel.) Elfhome picked up Tinker’s cousin, who uses the nickname of Oilcan, as a point of view. I had met with some fans and they wanted to know more about him. I got to thinking about him and the book was the result. Wood Sprites started after I had a vivid dream and woke up realizing that the process that created Tinker probably resulted in other embryos who might have been born after her.
What about such non-literary influences as movies, TV shows, or games? Did any of those things have a particularly big influence on Harbinger?
No, not really. I did think about how disaster movies are structured so I could have a frame work to deal with, but Harbinger is really what the series has been building toward since I realized it wasn’t going to be one stand-alone book.
Speaking of which, I get the sense that this is an ongoing series, as opposed to one with a set number of books, like a trilogy or whatever a 9-book series is called.
Yes, it’s an ongoing series as I’m focused much more on the entire city of Pittsburgh instead of just one small set of characters. Tinker’s story might wrap up after another book or two, but there are other characters that could pick up with a completely different storyline.
So how many more books do you think there will be?
Honestly, I don’t know. I don’t think that way. I’m what people consider as “a writer that writes by the seat of their pants.” I know that all the characters can’t be completely resolved in just one or two books — I have nine point of views in Harbinger — so there will probably be more. And more characters might pop up, ones that never made any of the books yet. I’m currently working on a short story to promote Harbinger and it features a totally new character.
Earlier I asked if Harbinger had been influenced by any movies, TV shows, or games. But to flip things around, do you think Harbinger — and by extension, the rest of the Tinker series — could be adapted into a movie, show, or game?
I would love seeing it done as a TV series. I doubt that it would be, though, as Hollywood likes stories that feature thirty-year old males who lets their fists and guns do the talking. I lean more toward stories of young women who network with others to solve problems. Not that guns don’t end up involved. Hell, I have Jane shooting an auto cannon in one scene; a twenty-three-millimeter caliber gun being fired two hundred rounds of minute. I have fight scenes, but I also have all the female characters sitting in a hot tub comparing sex to peanut butter and the different ways to enjoy it. Peanut butter on a spoon. Peanut butter on raisin toast. Peanut butter pie. I just don’t tell stories the same way as anyone else — which is great for having a brand but bad for getting picked up for by a network.
But if one did, who do you think they should cast as Tinker and the other main characters?
The problem with this kind of talk is that I write young characters, so anyone I mention now would be too old by the time it got made. Dream casting at this moment would have [Euphoria‘s] Zendaya as Tinker. The elves are supposed to be tall; I suppose they could use anyone and use movie magic to make them taller.
I did consider making it a D&D-like game, but I ran into the problem that I would think everyone would want to play the domana caste elves. They’re the ones that can cast the most powerful spells because they have a genetic tweak that lets them pull magic from Spell Stones. The harbingers of the title are a set of domana caste elves who fought in the Rebellion and are known for their scorched earth tactics. They’re really walking howitzers of their race. While I have them in my stories, I usually end up focusing on the low-born people and I don’t think people would want to play them in a game.
Finally, if someone enjoys the Tinker series, which of your other books would you suggest they read next?
I tend to bounce around, so I have a wide range of novels. Endless Blue is a space-opera about a pocket universe filled with spaceship crashed into an endless ocean; Eight Million Gods is about a young woman living in Japan who discovers that her horror novels are actually recording real events and her book in progress is about a war between the Japanese gods; while Black Wolves Of Boston is a teenage boy who discovers he’s the lynchpin in a coven of Witches taking control of the Boston werewolf pack.