Strange Horizons launched at Worldcon 15 years ago. It would be impossible to overstate the impact the magazine had on my life. They published some of my earliest short stories, and certainly the first story of mine to get any attention, “Little Gods,” my first major award nominee. I published some of my best work there — “Artifice and Intelligence,” “Living with the Harpy,” “Another End of the Empire” — as well as heaps of my poetry (including my Rhysling Award winner, “Soul Searching”) and even some of my reviews, and they were for a long time the magazine I thought of as my “home.” (Here’s everything of mine they published over the years.)
I haven’t published there in a while, largely because I almost never send out stories on spec anymore, but I wouldn’t have my career without it.
Also, and rather more importantly, I wouldn’t have the life I have without it, because Strange Horizons led directly to my meeting my wife Heather Shaw. She worked for SH, and the magazine held an event for Nalo Hopkinson at Heather’s house in Oakland way back in 2001. Founder Mary Anne Mohanraj was kind enough to invite me (I was living down in Santa Cruz) and as soon as I saw Heather, I was hopelessly smitten. (She didn’t much notice me then. She had an event to help run, after all. But I wooed her.) A few months later we were living together, a couple of years later we were engaged, and four years later we were married.
Like I said. Impossible to overstate the importance of the magazine to me. It’s also one of the most long-running and dependably fantastic publications on the internet, and has helped launch the careers of more amazing writers than I can count. It’s been around so long I think people take it for granted. Well, don’t. Take a minute to think about how fantastic they are, and if you haven’t read much there, be delighted: you have 15 years of archives to explore.
Jay wasn’t one of my closest friends in the SF field — a lot of people are feeling his loss today much more keenly than I am, and have lost a much larger part of their hearts. Jay and I were friendly enough to make a point of hanging out and getting a bite if we were in the same place, and talked on the phone occasionally, but I think the reason his entirely expected death has hit me harder than I would have anticipated this morning is because he’s been part of my life in science fiction since almost the very beginning.
He reviewed some of my very first publications, back in 2001. He went to a workshop with my wife when she was still just my girlfriend, and she came back with all sorts of stories about him. He was in the first issue of Flytrap (and a couple more, and last year after we had dinner with him and a bunch of other folks at the Nebulas I told him I hoped we’d see something from him for the Flytrap revival, but he was too sick to write soon after). He published me in his anthologies. We fought a three-way duel with pool noodles at Wiscon. He beat me soundly when we were both up for the Campbell Award. We stayed up late and talked in hallways at conventions. We wrote stories for each other. He was bigger than life, a man who loved to perform and did well in big groups, but I always valued the smaller moments — his visits to the Locus offices, and those smaller dinners where we could really talk about craft and inspiration and romance. He could always write circles around me — I used to think I was prolific, until I met Jay, who back in the day wrote a story a week, many of them marvelous. I reviewed his first novel. I watched him write a story live in a bookstore (and it was a good story, too). As recently as last year we were talking about collaborating on a project, and I’m incredibly sad that didn’t work out.
And this morning when I saw he’d died, all those memories cascaded through my brain in a rush, and I had to sit there crying for a few minutes.
But now, I’ve got a novel to finish, so I need to get to work. I knew Jay well enough to know he’d approve.
Here’s an MP3 of Jay reading story “The Lizard of Ooze,” from Flytrap #4. It was good to hear his voice.
Looking back over 2013… it’s been a good year. One of my best years, honestly.
After thinking a lot about my levels of happiness, and what I could do to increase them, I made some pretty big changes this year, and have actually stuck with them for the entire year, which makes me think they might become habitual.
One was taking better care of my body, since I put on a lot of weight in 2012; I did not enjoy weighing one-eighth of a ton, so I started eating better and exercising more. I dropped about 40 pounds in 2013 — okay, after excessively rich holiday food it’s more like 35 right now, but I’ll get back there — and I feel vastly better. More energy, my clothes fit better (indeed, whole heaps of old clothes in the back of my closet fit again), and I’ve rewired my brain sufficiently that looking upon a plate of immensely greasy fried food no longer fills me with intense desire, but rather with queasiness. (I still have a weakness for ice cream, which I do indulge — because life is for living — but I indulge rather less frequently than I once did.)
The other significant change was fighting against my natural hermit-like tendencies, as I’ve come to recognize that spending time with other humans, especially if I’m drinking beer or playing games or taking part in other pleasant diversions with them, is crucial to my mental health. It is no longer entirely accurate to say I never go places or do things. I’ve made new friends and managed to spend more time with old ones, and it’s been great. Now if I go a week without drinking beer with people on a patio somewhere I get stir crazy, which is a huge change from my past mindset, when I was so introverted I barely interacted with anyone besides family and co-workers in the real world unless I was at a convention.
I was worried that socializing more would cut into my writing time or reading time, but mostly it’s replaced my video-game-playing time, so that’s a trade I’m happy to make.
Other adventures in 2013: Helping to run the first annual (we hope) Dragon’s Lair writing retreat up on the Russian River. Really, Heather did all the heavy organizing, so I mostly just got to hang out with awesome people and cook a lot of food and sit in a hot tub and talk about writing and, oh, yes, actually do some writing, too.
We took the kid to Disneyland in the spring (and went to Wondercon, since it was right down the street). We also made it to the Nebula Awards weekend in April down in San Jose (highlight: a dinner with Jay Lake and various other writerly types), and I went to local convention Convolution in November and babbled on some panels. The only other substantial travel was an epic trip to Missouri to visit family with my son in July, which involved an unscheduled three-day stop in Chicago on the way home because of a plane crash at the San Francisco Airport causing our connecting flight to be canceled. The lovely Mary Anne Mohanraj put us up in her beautiful home in Oak Park for the duration of our stranding, and Chicagoan Holly McDowell took us to lunch one day, so as far as travel disasters go it was pretty fantastic.
I actually saw a bit of live music this year, after a few years of not going to shows. Heather wrote a haiku for a contest and won VIP tickets to the huge Outside Lands music festival in Golden Gate Park, which was amazing. Nine Inch Nails and Paul McCartney and lots and lots of other bands, and also foooood. Later I saw Sean Nelson and the Long Winters play a great show in San Francisco with a friend.
Other highlights that involved leaving my house: The family went to the Boardwalk in Santa Cruz in the summer, always a delight. We attended various festivals, notably Eat Real and the Berkeley Kite Festival. We went to a weird cool art thing, the Lost Horizon Night Market, which briefly sparked a desire in me to do weird cool art, which fortunately passed.
My kid got a bicycle for Christmas in 2012, and learned to ride it in January, and we spent much of the summer going on rides pretty much every weekend, tearing up and down trails all over the East Bay, some of the most fun I’ve ever had with my kid (which is a pretty high bar). The boy started kindergarten in the fall. Insert the usual stuff about how they grow up so fast, etc.; which is cliche, but so very true.
Our friend Dawson visited twice, for Heather’s birthday in January and for our son’s birthday in November. Heather had an amazing birthday cocktail party where we drank loooots of sidecars. At the other end of the year, in December, I had a birthday party (weird, but see above re: being more social) where I drank ridiculous quantities of bourbon. The boy’s birthday party involved many many bounce houses. We all celebrate in our own way.
There was some writing stuff too.
I published some books. My collection Antiquities and Tangibles and Other Stories came out in January, and I’m so proud of it. My banter-filled sword and sorcery novel Liar’s Blade was published in March, and it’s one of the most fun books I’ve ever written. The middle-grade spy novel I co-wrote with Andy Deemer, The Stormglass Protocol, came out in September and has picked up some great reviews. Anthology Rags & Bones, co-edited with my dear friend Melissa Marr, appeared in October and has been getting a fantastic reception. The e-book of my latest Marla Mason novel Bride of Death came out this fall, and will be available in print in January.
I’ve written a bit over 300,000 words of fiction and paid non-fiction this year. That’s mostly three full novels written in 2013: Bride of Death, an as-yet-untitled sequel to my book City of the Falling Sky, and contemporary fantasy Heirs of Grace (which may be the best book I’ve ever written). I wrote a few stories, too: “Bastard, Sword”; “Secret Storage,” with Greg van Eeekhout; “The Retgun”; “Revels in the Land of Ice”; “Batman and Wife”; “Seasonal Disorder”, with Heather Shaw;”Happy Old Year; and “Those Who Hunt Monster Hunters.” Most of those are out, or coming out, except “Batman and Wife” which I wrote to perform at a reading, and “Those Who Hunt…” which is on submission. The rest of the wordage consists of miscellaneous essays and reviews and such.
I sold some books, including two of the three I wrote this year, and another Pathfinder Tales novel I need to write next year. For someone whose career crashed and burned in 2009, I keep fairly busy.
Heather and I decided that, since our kid is a bit older now and we find ourselves with the occasional bit of free time, that we’d relaunch our ‘zine Flytrap, this time mostly as an online entity (though we’ll produce a limited number of print issues), paying professional rates for fiction. (Though SFWA just raised their rates, so we’re not paying pro rates by their definition anymore; oh well.) We did a Kickstarter to fund the magazine, and the new issue — Whole number 11, or Volume 2 Number 1 — should be out in February with great stories and art and non-fiction and poems.
I also ran a successful Kickstarter for Bride of Death, the new Marla Mason novel. It was, like, the fifth most successful publishing Kickstarter of all time for a little while there (though I’m sure it’s fallen drastically in the rankings since then, as there are more and more great projects funding every day). Still: I got paid about as much for that book as Random House used to pay me, which was pretty amazing.
I did some fun readings, including a really cool one at Brick and Mortar in San Francisco to launch publisher Freemade SF, which included an amazing “pop-up supper club” meal and live musicians playing onstage along with the readers. The Litquake event at SF in SF was also fantastic.
Lest this seem excessively pollyanna-ish, I’ll note there were of course some bad bits too, though nothing all that drastic. The IRS still seems to think we owe them thousands of dollars (they are mistaken; they failed to record a check we sent, though they succeeded in cashing it), and has been sending us letters for most of the year promising to research the matter in the next 45 days. (We get those every six weeks or so, funnily enough.) That’s been intermittently stressful. We’ve endured the occasional clogged drain, overflowing washing machine, or — just this week — plaster falling from the bathroom ceiling, which also made life annoying, but hey, we rent, and the landlord fixes things promptly. I had some wisdom teeth removed, and then a bone spicule worked its way partially out of my gum, causing much discomfort until my orthodontist filed it down. (Gross, sorry.) Occasional bouts of illness. But nothing epically bad.
Basically: I ate many fine meals (buffalo burgers! rabbit liver mousse!) drank many fine beers (Death and Taxes! Coffee and Cigarettes! Bony Fingers!), did many fun things, made delicious popsicles, read wonderful books, watched good TV, played amusing games, and generally fulfilled my general ongoing goal of making my life revolve around love and art and sustainable hedonism.
The busier life gets, the less time there is to chronicle my life, so the only time I seem to reliably write about what’s happening to me is when there’s not much happening to me. I’m not going to pretend that I’m breaking the cycle, here — this post will go up and it will doubtless be weeks before I manage another. Mostly when I feel the need to crack wise or bloviate, I do so on Twitter (or facebook), but occasionally it’s fun to go on at greater length than 140 characters, so here we are.
The weekend was cool! My wife, the lovely, talented, and all around wonderful Heather Shaw, entered a haiku contest and won, getting us VIP tickets to Outside Lands, the big music festival in Golden Gate Park. We went this weekend, and it was awesome. Paul McCartney was hilarious and played wonderfully, Nine Inch Nails was badass, and we also saw some good other bands, some comedy (the latter in a Spiegeltent! As Eugene Mirman said, “Comedy is best performed in a hot wooden tent in the middle of the afternoon”), and lots of drunk/high people having the time of their lives. (I was only moderately drunk.) Also there was lots of good food and booze. I ate a lamb burger and sweet potato fries topped with bacon and marshmallow sauce and drank good beer and a great rye manhattan. Huge thanks to our friends Drew and Nicole, and to my sister-in-law Holly, for the heroic acts of overnight babysitting that allowed us to stay out late dancing in the misty rain.
I’ve got a book due in September (another Pathfinder Tales novel, I think my best one yet, unless I blow it before I finish writing), so I had to do some work over the weekend, too. I managed to get a decent number of words in on Saturday before we hit the park, and I didn’t go to the festival on Sunday (my wife went with her sister instead). I was solo parenting and watching my nephew on Sunday, but in practice that meant the kids played together and entertained themselves, so I got a ton of writing done — I managed to write about 12,000 words for the weekend, which is more than I’d gotten done in the previous two weeks. The plot is really starting to click along now, too. I’ve gotten to the part of the book when all I want to do is write. Which is good, since I still need to get a lot more pages done in the next three weeks.
I read and enjoyed Scott Lynch’s new Gentlemen Bastards novel, Republic of Thieves, and am almost done with Daniel Abraham’s new Dagger and the Coin novel The Tyrant’s Law. (In which bankers are a force for good in society! So you know it’s a fantasy novel!) I recommend them, though in both cases you should read the previous two books in the series(es) first.
To write my story “Antiquities and Tangibles” (about someone who finds a little magic shop and tries to buy happiness there, with predictable levels of success), I did a lot of research about happiness, from the philosophy of the ancients to popular self-help to theories in neuroscience to sociological studies. Since I’ve got a personal interest in being happy, too, as a human being, I took note of things I thought might help my life. There’s broad agreement that social connections are key to happiness, and since I spend a lot of my life sitting in my house alone making up stories about imaginary people, I decided to overcome my essential introvert-ness and at least try to see people in the real world more often. After a few months of that, I’m willing to call the experiment a success (though I’m spending more money on beer than I used to). I’m still an introvert with hermit-like tendencies, but going out once or twice a week and seeing people, or having people over, has improved my outlook on life significantly. There were a few years there when I felt like my life was nothing but work-write-parent-repeat, and having things start to open up again is good for me.
Other things of note!
The Kickstarter to revive our ‘zine Flytrap was a success! We’ll be opening up to submissions soon, and our first issue should come out early next year. We’ve already got some great art and non-fiction lined up. Details will be along.
There’s a trade paperback of my gonzo historical novel The Constantine Affliction, out tomorrow, technically, but it looks like you can get it today at your favorite online bookstores and possibly even places in the physical world as well.
As part of the Kickstarter rewards for Bride of Death, I promised to do a monthly advice column from my main character, cranky sorcerer Marla Mason. The first installment of Auntie Marla’s Good Advice is up now. I think it’s pretty funny, but then, I would, wouldn’t I?
I think I mentioned this before, but I started a tumblr to collect various quotes/dialogues/etc. from my son (known to twitter as officeboy), just to have them all in one place: The Officeboy Dialogues. The initial flurry of posts has died down as I’ve posted most of the best stuff, but I’m still updating it as he says new hilarious/smart/weird things. Like yesterday when he made some insightful comments about my hair.
First, there is now an audiobook of The Strange Adventures of Rangergirl available for your listenings! Narrated by Marguerite Croft, and with a great cover by Jenn Reese. Go, download, listen, enjoy. (And go ahead and get some of my other audiobooks while you’re at it.)
I have begun a Tumblr to collect all the various Officebaby/Officeboy quotes that have appeared in scattered places online for years: The Officeboy Dialogues. I’ll update it somewhat regularly with new and classic utterances until he stops saying cute things or gets old enough to be annoyed by the site, whichever comes first.
My Pathfinder Tales novel City of the Fallen Sky is a finalist for the Scribe Awards in the Original Novel category. Very cool, especially since I’m writing another book about those characters this summer.
In other news: I’m 65,000 words into Bride of Death, and expect to have a complete first draft by the end of the month. It’s going really well now; I’d rather be writing it than doing most other things, including those actions necessary to maintain life. In June some other deadlines will begin racing rapidly toward me, so it will likely be September before I can revise the novel. Then there’s copyediting and proofreading to do, so I’m planning for publication in November, most likely. The e-book at least will be out by year’s end for sure, barring unforeseen catastrophes. Onward, ever onward!
Hey, the Antiquities and Tangibles e-book is available for sale! There are links in the sidebar over there on the left to a couple of popular online bookstores. The print version will be along soon, from Merry Blacksmith Press. (Actually it seems it’s already available from Amazon. I haven’t gotten my copies yet, but I’ll send ’em out to Kickstarter backers as soon as I do.)
Big excitement in the PrattShaw household. My wife Heather Shaw, who has been working 44 hours a week for the past couple of years (one full-time job and one part-time, which is brutal to sustain — I don’t know how she did it on top of her freelance writing/editing), has quit her part-time job. That will give her one free day a week, which she’s going to use to focus on writing fiction. (Those of you who’ve read her fiction know that’s reason to rejoice.)
Of course, this does mean our income is taking a bit of a hit; it was a part-time job, but a well-paying one. So I’ll be hustling up some extra writing work — and I hope you’ll all help me spread the word when I launch my Kickstarter for the next Marla Mason novel, Bride of Death, next month. (Speaking of: very exciting. I am doing research and writing notes and jotting down scene fragments and bits of dialogue. It’ll be fun.)
Today is my 36th birthday. (Yes, on 12/12/12, I turn 36, the sum of 12 + 12 + 12 — the more numerologically savvy among you will have to let me know if that has any significance.)
It’s been a good week. I sold a novel — my 19th novel sale, and my 26th book overall, counting collections/anthologies — and sold audio rights to one of my other novels. (I also had a story rejected, but you can’t win ’em all.)
Last night we secured a babysitter and Heather took me out to her favorite beer bar, and we hung out with friends and drank many fine strange beers and chatted with the bartender (a SF/fantasy fan). Afterward we got good Mexican food with a couple of friends and then wobbled home. I am only moderately hungover this morning, as I exercised a modicum of restraint, knowing I’d have to go to work today.
But even here, my boss provided savory ham/cheese/onion morning buns as a birthday treat for me — excellent hangover food. I give my 37th year on Earth a tentative positive rating so far.
I didn’t write last night — it was my kid’s birthday! My wife and I picked him up from school and met his aunt and cousin for dinner at Jupiter. (Some kids choose Chuck E. Cheese for birthday pizza. My kid chose the brewpub with the wood-fired pizzas. I win.) The grown-ups drank beer, the kids drank lemonade, various excursions were taken to look at the fire fountain downstairs, we all ate pizza, and there was much merriment. (Bordering on mania for our son, as it was rapidly approaching his bedtime and he was way overstimulated and very excited about it being his BIRTHDAY.)
After dinner we came home and he opened a few presents — a board game, a puzzle, and a how-to-draw book, all prevailing passions of his. He also got new shoes and the big surprise: a red ukulele! (He’s wanted a guitar, but we figured a ukulele was a good place to start, and a better size for five-year-old hands.)
So no writing, but a big birthday (as my agent wrote on the card she sent with his birthday gift, he’s “a whole hand” now, and he’s been saying “I’m a whole hand!” ever since), and I call that a successful night.
I should probably write today though. I’m home with the kid (no school for him today, or Monday), which makes writing difficult, but maybe he’ll give me a little time.
Word count (for what it’s worth): For the day: 0 Total: 10,472.
Notable Line(s): N/A
My son has been in public school for about six weeks now. He likes it a lot, and is doing really well. His teacher seems great, and he’s even got electives (or “enrichment”) classes in his after-school program — science, tee-ball, art. (He loves science.)
The weirdest part for me has been having my Thursdays free.
Many years ago I went to four days a week at my day job so I could get more writing done. Then, after my son was born, that day off became our “River-Daddy day,” which we spent together every week. We’d go to playgrounds, run errands, hit the library, museums, day trips into San Francisco, and just generally have various adventures.
Now, of course, he’s in school on Thursdays, and it’s left a weird emptiness in my life and disrupted all my routines. Running errands alone is way easier, but also more boring. Some Thursdays Heather takes him to school and I don’t even have to get out of bed at any particular time. (Sleeping in until I feel like getting up is quite bizarre. To think, before I was a parent, I used to do it every weekend. Incredible.)
I have no real new routine yet. I spent a couple of those days off just doing absolutely nothing of note (in my defense, I was sick one week, and beating Arkham City was an epic accomplishment). I just wandered aimlessly in my house and yard, then went to pick River up from school early and went to the library and got ice cream, trying to claw back some of our old fun activities.
One week, there was a rare convergence of schedules that allowed me to have lunch with my wife (we ate at 900 Grayson, and I had the Demon Lover, which is fried chicken on top of a buttermilk waffle smothered in gravy; yum). Then I went over to a cafe we like, Uncommon Grounds, and did some writing.
One week I went into San Francisco and worked at the Borderlands Cafe (Yes, there are perfectly nice cafes walking distance from my house, and a 20-minute train ride into the city was hardly necessary. What can I say? I was drunk with freedom).
Last week I did a writing day with my friend Maggie, which helped overcome my general aimlessness; I was productive! And had someone to talk to other than the cats!
I have no idea what I’m doing this Thursday, beyond the fact that I should get a story revised.
So, there’s still no routine in sight, but I seem to be trending toward a day devoted to writing (and grocery shopping and maybe some housework), topped off with an ice cream cone with the kid. The upside of losing the day off with my son is that I can, in theory, get a lot of work done that day instead, freeing up my weekends to spend with him (instead of making his mom entertain him while I write for hours and hours). This may even work out to be a net win. If I can just find the right groove to settle into.
At least the boy is having epic weekends. Saturday he had swim class, then I took him to the Habitot children’s museum/playspace. Sunday we went down to Santa Cruz and hit the beach boardwalk (Santa Cruz in the month after Labor Day is so glorious; perfect weather, way less crowded than summer), had lunch at Cafe Brasil, and dinner at Saturn Cafe. Yesterday (being Indigenous People’s Day in Berkeley, and thus a school holiday), he went to a day camp and had a field trip to a pumpkin patch/petting zoo/hay maze in Half Moon Bay. So we’re making up for the lost time.
I hereby declare an official end to Deadline Season. There is much rejoicing throughout the land. Of my house.
The first half of this year (and a bit) were brutal. I wrote about a quarter of a million words, raced to hit deadline after deadline, and did a ton of other business-y stuff, revised a few books, did a few stories, worked on an anthology… all on top of day job, parenting, husbanding, etc.
But now the last novel I owe anyone this year has been revised and sent off. I am, admittedly, not entirely devoid of work — there’s still anthology editing going on, and I owe a few short stories over the coming months, and have promised a few reviews — but stories and editing are vastly easier than writing all those novels, which all had very tough deadlines (for various reasons). My nights and weekends are now no longer filled with endless work-work-work. I am so relieved and at peace. I wake up in the morning and feel psychically lighter.
Why, this past weekend, I actually went places with my wife and son! (Normally — for the past many months — my wife has taken him out of the house for at least a half day on Saturday and Sunday, sometimes a whole day, so I can get ungodly heaps of work done.)
We went to the Temescal Street Fair Sunday, and had a great time. Saturday I actually went and sat in a cafe by myself and read a book for a while! (And worked on a short story a little bit. Maybe I’m not so good at the not-working.)
I actually really enjoy writing. It’s writing under multiple deadlines, all of which I’m afraid I might blow, that stresses me out. And I’ve been working flat-out, doing three or four books a year, for… well, for years, honestly.
Which is why I’m taking things easy for the back half of 2013. I need a break — or I’ll break.
I’ll do this anthology work, write a few stories, some poetry. Maybe I’ll work on a contemporary fantasy novel I’ve wanted to do for a while (it is not stressful, as it has no deadline; the motivations are all intrinsic). But mostly I will hang out with my wife and son, see some friends, play lots of video games, sit in the yard and drink beer, do more cooking… Oh. I’m so happy, y’all.
My wife is going to be happier, too, since she won’t have to bear the brunt of childcare. And I am assured that I’m a pain in the ass to live with when I’m stressed, so she is already celebrating the return of the Tim Pratt of old.
Of course, my work schedule for 2013 is already filling up… But after a few months of downtime, I’ll be eager to work again anyway.