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Category: the unspeakable horror of the writing life

Jenn and Mary

Deadline Season continues apace! But I get to take a little break from work this weekend to hang out with Jenn Reese, who’s going to be in Berkeley for her Above World book tour. She’ll be reading at Mrs. Dalloway’s on College Age. this Friday night at 7, and she’ll be at the “Celebration of Children’s Literature and Literacy” on the UC Berkeley campus on Saturday. (She will also spend a certain amount of time asleep on the couch in my house, but that part isn’t open to the public.)

The wonderfully talented M.K. Hobson (Mary to her friends) is running a Kickstarter to publish her novel The Warlock’s Curse, third in her Veneficas Americana historical fantasy series (the first two were published by Spectra, which longtime readers may recall is the same imprint that dropped my fantasy series after four books — we had the same editor, too, so I feel a kinship). I’ve published Mary (back when I co-edited a ‘zine), and have admired her writing for years. Frankly I am disappointed in us, as a culture and a society, because this Kickstarter wasn’t funded a day after it went up, so go over and lend your support!

Twofer Tuesday

So it turns out that with the day job, fatherhood, husbandhood, and the busiest Deadline Season of my life, this journal is one of the things that gets left undone. (Other things include: basic hygiene, exercise, cleaning my house.) I am managing to twitter near-incessantly, so if you’re simply dying for my company, follow me at

I had a pretty great day on Tuesday. In the morning, I got word that I’d sold a short novel/long novella to a publisher I’ve wanted to work with forever. I don’t want to be more specific until I have a contract (lest it turn out to be a cruel, cruel joke), but I will say it’s a book I loooove and am so happy to send off to a good home. That means I have at least one book of fiction coming out in 2014, so that’s nice.

Later on Tuesday, another of my editors got in touch to ask if I’d be interested in writing a sequel to one of my books, to which I replied, “Yes, please,” so that will also likely see print in 2014, assuming all goes to plan.

I’ve sold two stories on the same day before, and I’ve sold two books to the same publisher on the same day before, but I’ve never sold two books to two different publishers on the same day before. One of those little achievements it never occurred to me to even wish for. (Granted, “sold” is a bit of a stretch for the second one, since it was more of a, “Hey, are you interested in doing this?” and won’t even see a contract for many a month, but I’m counting it anyway.)

I celebrated with ice cream. Perhaps I should stop celebrating things with food. But it’s the habit of a lifetime.

Chaos and Trains

I worked a lot this weekend, writing the first chapter and a half (and a synopsis) of the current novel, a work-for-hire job I think I’ll just call “the spy book” here for now. So that’s off to the publishers — let’s hope they like it, so I can continue to zoom onward in the same vein. I had a conference call with the main guys running the project last week, and told them my ideas for the storyline, and they were super enthusiastic, so I have high hopes. We seem very much on the same wavelength about how this book should go.

There’s a new chapter of Grim Tides up: “Meet Elsie Jarrow”. This is the chapter that properly introduces my favorite villain of the entire Marla series — probably my favorite of any antagonist I’ve ever created.

My wife and I have a reward system for our son. If he behaves, does his (largely symbolic at this point) chores, is helpful, etc., he earns points on a chart, and when he gets enough points, he gets a reward. Last night he cashed in a bunch of points to get a “movie night,” in which he was allowed to stay up a bit past his bedtime and watch a movie of his choosing with us on the couch. He picked The Iron Giant, which my wife had never seen, so that was fun. He was pretty good, too — engaged with the movie, and had a lot of questions, and was also quite rapt during some of the spectacle parts, and laughed a lot at some of the funny parts. I don’t think he entirely followed the plot, but he got the gist. We’ll do it again sometime.

In a couple of weeks I’m taking a train down to LA. I know, wacky, but on such short notice it’s cheaper than flying, and I can work on a train more comfortably than I can on an airplane. Besides, I’ve never been on a train trip, really (commuter trains don’t count), and the Coast Starlight route is supposed to be quite beautiful. I’ll be staying with my dear friends Jenn and Chris, who are letting me invade their guest room for a week of intense writing. Friends like them are a great help when one has a short deadline. It’s much easier to focus on writing if I’m not in my own home/town, where it’s too easy to get distracted by running errands, cleaning up, playing video games, etc. (And, yes, I’m cruelly leaving my wife as a solo parent for a week. But it’s okay — she’s doing the same thing to me later this year. We’re nothing if not equitable.) I’m excited. With luck I’ll be able to get half or two-thirds of my first draft done that week.

Terrified Flailing

I haven’t worked on my novel much this week in terms of adding word count. I made some good progress in November pre-vacation, but the week away gave me some perspective on things that weren’t working. The stuff I love about the book wasn’t taking up enough space in the book, basically, and I was flying pretty blind in terms of plot. (When you don’t actually know the ultimate goal of your principal antagonist? That’s a problem.)

So I’ve spent the week thinking, and jotting notes, and now I know why the antagonist does what he does. And once you understand the motivations of your characters, and the conditions of their situations, the plot pretty much comes automatically. This makes actually writing the book and getting all the weird cool scenes I want vastly easier! I’m going to go through the 40,000 words or so I’ve written and make some changes, add some scenes, shuffle things around, and generally make the beginning fit the ending I have in mind. Then I’ll be able to write the back half. A lot of work ahead of me, though. It’s going to be a busy weekend. Still: it’s a great comfort to know what I’m doing, after a certain amount of terrified flailing.

My wife is taking me out for a birthday dinner at Pizzaiolo today. (I turn 35 on Monday.) One of my favorite restaurants, with one of my favorite people! Life is good.

Vacation: Day Four

The day began with dolphins. There’s a dolphin lagoon here, and for exorbitant sums one can swim with the dolphins. Heather booked River for a short meet-the-cetaceans session, and he got to go with her and a trainer into shallow water, meet four dolphins, feed them fish, pet them, and so on. He found it delightful, of course — who wouldn’t? One of the dolphins steadfastly refused to do any of the tricks the trainer prompted her too. I was very proud of that dolphin. (I have mixed feelings about the whole captive-dolphins-dancing-for-our-amusement thing, obviously, but River thought it was magical, and the trainers seem to love the animals, so I can’t come down squarely against it.)

Checked my e-mail. It had bad news. The day before, my e-mail had stressful news. I resolved to stop checking my e-mail on this vacation, and I haven’t looked at it since. I’ll deal with whatever additional crap the world wants to shovel onto me when I’m back in Berkeley. I was stressed out most of the morning, though.

The wind has finally died down here, so we rented a paddleboat and pedaled around the lagoon. River was the captain, directing us to and fro, under bridges, near the fake waterfall, over to the pool where the mullet hang out, the huge fish often leaping a few feet into the air. Most pleasant.

We spent most of the rest of Wednesday at Hapuna Beach, one of the most beautiful stretches of coastline around. Perfect for playing in the sand, building sand castles and sand cities, and great for swimming. Not terribly exciting for boogie boarding (very gentle surf) or snorkeling (the water’s very clear, but there are only a few places with coral and lots of fish, as it’s mostly sandy), but immensely pleasant all the same, and perfect for River, who was disappointed in Tuesday’s rocky beaches.

We left to get dinner near sunset, choosing a place on a whim and some Yelp reviews, and it turned out to be awesome (if rather fancier than we’d realized): Roy’s Place. River was very well behaved (never a given that late in the day, when he’s tired), and the food was amazing. Heather got a “mixed plate” sampler of three different fish dishes, and each portion was big enough for a meal. I got the meatloaf, and it was easily enough for two dinners. (I did eat it all, but skipped dessert. That kind of restraint is rare for me, but I was stuffed.) The booze was first-rate, too, yummy cocktails and generous pours. After eating too often at the painfully mediocre and even more painfully overpriced resort restaurants, a great meal at a restaurant no more expensive than a similar place would be back home? A revelation.

Then it was back home, for reading and lolling around and digesting. I re-read Carroll’s Land of Laughs. I always remember it as being creepy, but I always forget just how creepy.

As the evening progressed, my wife felt sicker and sicker. That would prove to be a theme for Thursday. But I’ll tell you about that next time.

Eleven and a Half

NaNo: Not a single word written yesterday. I worked from 8:30 am to 8 pm yesterday at the day job, with a lunch break during which I was unable to write — it was a particularly brutal deadline day at the magazine — so, yeah, I was pretty much done working by the time I got home. I drank a couple of glasses of wine and played a lot of Skyrim instead.

As I’ve mentioned once or twice, we’re going on vacation soon. (We depart a week from tomorrow.) In the interests of not working while I’m on vacation, I have to do a lot of work before then. I got my editorial letter for City of the Fallen Sky, which my editor would like as soon as possible, ideally before I leave. I need to do a last pass through Grim Tides (which needs at least one new scene) to send to my copyeditor before I leave, so she can actually read the thing and send me corrections before I start serializing the book on January 2. I have to write dust jacket copy for a book that’s coming out early next year. And I’d like to get another 18,000 words or so written on the current novel-in-progress.

I am confronting the sad realization that I might not get everything done. My aim is to get as far through Grim Tides as possible today. My wife and I are dividing up childcare — she’ll watch him half the day so I can work, I’ll watch him the other half so she can (she’s got a freelance writing gig). And I guess I’ll try to get some NaNo words tonight after the boy goes to bed. It’s a work party… and nobody but me is invited.

Crawl Before You Can Walk

It is a cornerstone of my personality that I don’t like to go places or do things. (This is not entirely true; I like going to brunch, and Hawaii, and I enjoy doing readings occasionally, but mostly, I’m hermitlike by nature and action.) So this was a very eventful weekend for me. On Saturday I did a mini-panel discussion with recent Clarion West grad Mark Pantoja at CIIS in San Francisco, talking to a class of writers and artists about Kickstarter (the professor has been talking to the class about “autonomous practices” for artists lately; basically now to succeed outside the existing publishing infrastructure, engage with readers directly, etc.). It was a good class with smart questions, and we had an hour and a half, so it was even possible to move beyond the very broadest strokes and get into nuances a bit.

After the class I came back home to give my wife a little childcare break. (She heroically took the kid to a farm/pumpkin patch for many hours in the morning.) The boy and I spent most of our time exploring the back yard, playing “archaeology” (burying toy dinosaurs and digging them back up again), looking at spiders, and so on. Four years old is a great age. (Well, he’s actually still three, but only for three more weeks.)

In the evening I hopped on a train back to San Francisco to see a bit of LitCrawl. I hit Borderlands and saw Richard Kadrey, Thomas Roche, and Naamen Tilahun read (alas, Ray Garton was ill, and couldn’t make it). The store was packed and hot as a blast furnace, but the readings were good. Afterward I headed next door to the Borderlands Cafe, which I had never seen before (see above re: not going places or doing things) — what a fantastic space! It’s gorgeous. Specialty store + awesome cafe = Tim Pratt’s Ideal of Heaven.

Best of all, the spot where we read had open windows, through which a cool breeze blew. No monster-heat! My fellow readers were Steve Boyett, Seanan McGuire, and Kirsten Imani Kasai, who all did wonderful work. By the implacable rigors of alphabetical order, I read last, and rather than subject the audience to a fragment of my new novel, I read a bunch of short pieces — “Scientific Romance,” “Bacchanal,” “My Night with Aphrodite,” “Soul Searching,” “Ghost” — lots of fun, and the audience seemed to like it. I’d vaguely intended to go to the afterparty, but ended up hanging out at the cafe talking to my friends Chris and Maggie for an hour instead. It was immensely pleasant, and probably the right choice, as the alternative would have almost certainly led to me being hungover Sunday morning.

Of course, all that socialing meant falling behind on my writing for the weekend. I did manage to do what I think is the last revision pass on the Christmas Carol/Ghost Finder mash-up story co-written with Heather Shaw, and responded to editorial queries on my new story “Ill Met in Ulthar”, but I had to knuckle down and buckle down on Sunday to work on Grim Tides. My mad goal is to have a complete draft by Halloween, which means producing 30 to 40K words in the next two weeks. So, uh, that’s what I’ll be doing.

The Iron Wood

Life is quiet and good.

As I may have mentioned, my wife and I recently had our sixth wedding anniversary! (On October 1.) I got her this necklace, and she got me a very cool natural lodestone. (The sixth anniversary gifts are, traditionally, iron, sugar, or wood. We usually do variations on the traditional themes, because we think it’s fun, and we figured “metal” and “magnet” were close enough.) The real gift is this weekend, though — we’ve got an overnight babysitter for the kid, so we’ll go out on Friday and have a wonderful dinner and an evening all to ourselves. Should be delightful.

We’ve been trying to eat better lately (that is: not order so much take out), and have made some really yummy meals lately. Wilted arugula with balsamic fried eggs; marinated ahi with roasted tomatoes; green salad with peaches, grilled chicken, almonds, and blue cheese; omelets with good bacon and fresh tomatoes; and so on. Simple, quick stuff we can make after work, mostly, but when you start throwing around phrases like “balsamic reduction” it feels nice and fancy.

Otherwise, I’ve just been writing, and reading, and watching TV. Books lately include some of Grant Morrison’s Doom Patrol comics, and The Death Ray by Daniel Clowes, Matt Ruff’s next novel The Mirage, and assorted short stories. We recently watched the first season of Boardwalk Empire, and now that fall is here, the Tivo is full of new things every night. (We have a 3-year-old; we mostly can’t go out at night; TV is our entertainment mode of choice, apart from books.) We’re watching Ringer, mostly out of residual affection for Sarah Michelle Gellar. Persons of Interest is potentially interesting. We have that dinosaur time travel show saved but haven’t watched it, and mostly we hear bad things, so I dunno if we will. And there are various returning shows we watch, too. I’m sad that House won’t be set entirely in a prison this season (so many potential bad puns! The Jail House! The Big House!) but you can’t have everything.

The Rebirth of the Cool

There are so many cool things going on, but most of them are still in the early stages, so I can’t tell you much. But in coming weeks and months I should be able to share news of a couple book deals, and awesome cover art, and other fun things. I’m happy and crackling with excitement about so many things I’d have to make a list to count them all.

One of them that I *can* talk about is my Kickstarter fundraiser for Grim Tides, which I’ll probably launch in a few weeks (I’m thinking it’ll run from mid-August to mid-September). I really hope I get to write this book. I’ve been pacing around my house, talking to myself, and interrupting my wife in the middle of her phone conversations to tell her the ideas I’ve had. It’s like a bubble rising up from the depths of my unconsciousness, ready to burst on the surface and release a shower of awesome-scented awesomeness. (Sorry for that simile. I haven’t had much coffee yet today. The similes in the book will be better.)

Grim Tides will have criminally insane sorcerers, omnicompetent valets, fire dancers, terror snorkeling, occult detecting, a legion of supervillains, wandering genius loci (yes), and the fundamental underlying question of what makes a place your Home… It’s going to be such a cool book.

Sky Fallen, Everything A-OK

Late Sunday night, after a weekend consisting largely of marathon editing sessions, I turned in my Pathfinder Tales novel City of the Fallen Sky.

So… I’m done! No novels due for the next six months. No real fiction deadlines in the next few months at all, apart from a couple of short stories. I am faced with unprecedented-in-recent-months amounts of free time. (Naturally I’m tempted to start writing the new Marla novel, Grim Tides, except I think diving into another novel right away would kill me, or at least, damage my tender brain.) I’m thinking I’ll take it easy for a month or so. Read a lot. Hang out with the wife and kid. Play some video games. Try to remember what color the sky is in the real world. Should be good.

I don’t mind deadlines, but this summer has been an unspeakable nexus of deadlines, a configuration of brutal overlapping intensity, and now… the weight is lifted.

Tonight: beer and celebratory Chinese food. Not that I can afford Chinese food, really, but I turned in two novels in the past ten days, and those deliveries will trigger payments, and I signed a contract for another novel this week (can’t tell you about it yet), which will also lead to money in the near-ish future, so, screw it: I can splurge and order in.

Isn’t the writing life glamorous?