Tim Pratt
SF and Fantasy Writer

Archive for December, 2010

So Much Can Happen In a Decade (and a Bit)

Friday, December 31st, 2010

So how was 2000-2010 for me? (I know, the decade was 2001-2010, but the transition is more striking if I start a year earlier.) Well, you know, it’s kinda when my adult life began…

In 2000 I was 22 years old. I’d graduated college and subsequently attended Clarion the year before, and was full of the fire to be a writer, but I’d only sold three stories, to ‘zines and e-zines that paid maybe $20 a pop. I was still writing poetry very seriously — indeed, I was more successful as a poet. I’d published twice as many poems as stories, and it’s expected that poetry won’t pay much, so that was okay. I was working in the in-house advertising department of a big company, writing sales copy about objects. (By local standards it was a fantastic job — indeed, I’ve never had a day job that paid so well since, even living in vastly more expensive California — and if I’d kept on working there, I’d have a nice house in the mountains of North Carolina by now, probably.)

But I wasn’t happy, so in August 2000, I kissed my girlfriend Meg goodbye, loaded up my silver Nissan Sentra, and drove to Santa Cruz to crash with my friend Scott and figure out what to do with my life. Got a job at a disability advocacy company, hung out in coffee shops a lot, ate good Mexican food frequently, and had a nice if somewhat lonely life. So ended 2000…

In the decade since then I:

Wrote my first published novel, The Strange Adventures of Rangergirl; sold two story collections and a poetry collection; produced (by a conservative estimate) about 2 million words of fiction, non-fiction, and poetry; wrote 11 more novels; sold four books in an urban fantasy series, which was subsequently optioned for film and has been continually under option since then (I just had lunch with the producer on Tuesday); had that series dropped by my major publisher; despaired; self-published a sequel, which turned out pretty well; sold a bunch of work-for-hire and small press novels; sold my first anthology; spent nine years and counting working at Locus magazine, where I’m now a senior editor (I never thought I’d have the same day job that long); reviewed hundreds of porn movies and dozens of science fiction books (for, er, different venues); sold well over a hundred stories, many to pro markets I’d been reading since I was a kid, and about 40 poems; got reprinted in heaps of year’s best anthologies, including twice in The Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror, which I’d always read religiously; worked as a poetry editor for two publications (Speculon and Star*Line); co-founded and co-edited and closed a ‘zine called Flytrap that ran for 10 excellent issues; attended my first science fiction convention and many more subsequently; got to attend professional invitation-only writing workshops; rode the coattails of the podcast revolution, with more than 30 stories and/or poems (original and reprints) adapted for audio, bringing me to a whole new audience; published many well-received chapbooks by myself and other, more awesome writers; won a Hugo Award, a Joshua Norton Award, a Rhysling Award, an Asimov’s Reader’s Poll, a Romantic Times Reviewer’s Choice Award; was a finalist for a Nebula Award, World Fantasy Award, Sturgeon Award, Campbell Award for Best New Writer, a couple of Gaylactic Spectrum Awards, a Stoker Award, and a Seiun Award.

But more importantly than the writing and career stuff: Met my wife (through mutual acquaintances in science fiction), fell in love with her, moved in with her in Oakland, proposed to her, married her, honeymooned with her in Hawaii, had a child with her (and became a father! Whoa!); and had an ongoing awesome life with her, my favorite human, my very own Person of the Decade: Heather Shaw.

It makes me hopeful for the next ten years. It’s a long time. A lot can happen. And in 2020, I’ll only be 43. I have time.

Year in Review (Subset: Writing Stuff)

Friday, December 31st, 2010

I love the end of the year and the start of a new year. I know as milestones go it’s all rather arbitrary, but if I didn’t believe symbolic things had actual power, I probably wouldn’t be a fantasy writer. 2010 was problematic in many ways, but vastly better than 2009. Let’s hope 2011 continues the upward trend.

Here’s what I accomplished in 2010, in literary terms anyway.

  • Wrote a dozen stories. Short stories “Mommy Issues of the Dead”, “Cinderlands”, “Shark’s Teeth”, “At the Monkey Party”, and “Rangifer Volans”; novelettes “Antiquities and Tangibles” and “A Void Wrapped in a Smile”; and four flash pieces, “De Gustibus,” “Luminous,” and two pieces for the Alphabet Quartet collab. All but “A Void” were sold. (Well, “Monkey Party” was for charity, so not sold exactly.)
  • Wrote three books: Broken Mirrors, my Wizards of the Coast project, and my middle grade fantasy novel The Deep Woods, plus 55,000 words of a pseudonymous novel I started near the end of 2009 (and which was published earlier this year). Oh, and a 6,000 word detailed outline for a work-for-hire novel I just sold.
  • I self-published Broken Mirrors as a donation-funded serial online, and the support from readers exceeded my wildest expectations. I was stunned by the positive response, and it still makes me grin happily when I think about it.

  • As alluded to above, I sold some books. Broken Mirrors to Merry Blacksmith, which did the print version after I finished my online serial self-publishing experiment. That Wizards of the Coast book. Briarpatch to Chizine Publications. Another pseudonymous novel, and another work-for-hire book, both sold quite recently. And I self-published my science fantasy kid’s adventure novel The Nex. So, pretty good.
  • I saw some of those books published, and also saw publication of my first anthology, Sympathy for the Devil.
  • I sold some stories, too, though I can’t remember how many offhand, and was sloppy about keeping records for those this year. (I mean, it’s all in my e-mail somewhere….) I published very few stories this year, though — some flash pieces, reprints, audio originals, an anthology story or two. There are some stories in line for publication next year, though.
  • I dove into e-self-publishing, and have made decent money from Kindle editions (and pocket change from Apple and Barnes & Noble) for my couple of self-published Marla Mason books. Sales are now declining a bit after months of increases, but the e-books are still bringing in enough to pay my kid’s preschool tuition most months, so that’s awesome.
  • My total paying words for the year, including non-fiction: just a hair short of 370,000. I considered pushing it and hitting a nice even 400K, but frankly, taking the last two weeks of the year off writing has been a nice break. Video games are wonderful things.
  • I read about 140 books. (But maybe a quarter of those were collections of comics or graphic novels, which I read quickly.)

Mmm crunchy numbers. Some other highlights:

I wrote a poem for my wife for Valentine’s Day; it was subsequently read on Escape Pod and thus heard by tens of thousands of people. That was cool.

Did some good readings. I love doing readings.

I got nominated for a Theodore Sturgeon Memorial Award, which is awesome. Sturgeon’s my favorite story writer. I lost, but I’m used to that.

I worked on finishing the Alphabet Quartet, the series of 26 flash pieces written with my wife Heather and our friends Greg and Jenn, which will be published in both print and audio next year.

I’m sure there are other things. But I’m sleepy. This is enough. In a day or two I will probably revive the Tropism Awards, discussing Stuff I Liked in 2010. (I know; you wait with bated breath.)

tl;dr: I wrote a bunch, and read some stuff.

The Future, It’s All So Clear

Thursday, December 30th, 2010

2011 is already looking pretty crowded. I was recently commissioned to do a pseudonymous book, which is due in April. And just yesterday I got the greenlight to do another work-for-hire novel — this one will appear under my own name — which should be fun. (That one has been bubbling as a possibility for a while, but I was waiting to find out if the editor and publisher liked my outline; they do.) We’re still working out the due date for that one, but I expect it’ll be sometime in summer, which means I’m booked up for more than half of next year already. I’ll provide details when I can.

I’m delighted to have the work, but: wow. I didn’t expect to be quite this busy, and I don’t know when I’ll write the next Marla novel, or my standalone fantasy Heirs of Grace. But I wrote four books in 2010 (one, admittedly, was a short middle grade novel), so maybe I’ll manage something similar in 2011.

All this writing is going to cut severely into my Bioshock 2, Fable 2, and Batman: Arkham Asylum playing time, though…

Notes from the Dead Center of Dead Week

Wednesday, December 29th, 2010

(Dead Week is, of course, this strange in-between time, after Xmas and before New Year’s, when the world seems to hold its breath; not much business gets done, and there’s a sense — for me at least — of waiting for real life to begin again. Which is odd, since I’m going to work and writing in my offtime and generally going about my business… but still, there’s a feeling that the world is between breaths.)

A few notes, in no particular order:


  • One of my novels got on a Year’s Best list, but it was written under an undisclosed pseudonym, so I can’t brag. (Well, except insofar as I’m doing so here.)

  • Bioshock 2 is fun. I keep thinking I should be thinking, “This is too much like the first game, not different enough, not enough innovation,” but I don’t really think that; it’s got all the stuff I liked from the first game, plus spear guns and drills that freeze people.

  • Happy birthday to D, my loyal friend and confidante. We’re the same age again, numerically speaking. It was fun being older than you for 17 days, though, and I hope you benefited as always from my wisdom while I was your elder.

  • I was recently commissioned to write another (pseudonymous) book, which is requiring me to do some research, including books I am unwilling/ashamed to be seen reading in public. (Given that I’ve been known to read non-fiction about decomposition, arguably obscene graphic novels, and erotica anthologies in public, that’s surprising — but there it is.) Writing the book should be fun, though, and with luck, the money will arrive in time for me to give pretty much all of it to the government in April, the cruelest month. I’ll reveal the truth about these secret books in my memoirs, which will be locked in a vault until 100 years after my death, then published in time to become a big Christmas bestseller — or so I assume. It worked for Sam Clemens.

  • The Nex is nearing the end of its run. Only one week left to go. I’ll miss checking in with Miranda every week. She’s one of my favorite characters — and The Nex is the only first-person novel I’ve ever written, because I was so enamored of her voice. (It’s also my least successful novel. Perhaps there’s a lesson there. The next few book won’t be first-person, anyway. That’s not the right voice for any of them.)

  • Next few books? Well, the aforementioned commissioned work, due in April, which will be published late next year, I think, not that you’ll hear about it from me. That Wizards of the Coast book — I’m waiting to find out if the editor wants changes or not. Perhaps I’ll be able to reveal its title soon. Possibly another work-for-hire book under my own name; it depends on whether the editor likes the outline I did. And Briarpatch, my contemporary fantasy coming next summer/fall from Chizine Publications. I’d like to write another Marla serial — something called Home Again or Home Free or Murder Island maybe — and also have plans for a standalone fantasy called Heirs of Grace. It’s good to have plans.

  • Making epub files is fun. Making epub files from novels is dead easy too. It’s just heaps of text, and well suited to the limitations of most e-readers. Making epub files of A Certain Magazine is rather more challenging, as there are a lot of images and weirdly-formatted bits and bobbles… but it’s still fun, if also exhausting. We’ll be offering digital subscriptions starting next month.

  • My kid is cute. My wife and I got him to recite — by giving him a phrase at a time to repeat — the To Be or Not to Be speech; “The Red Wheelbarrow”; “Do Not Go Gentle Into that Good Night”; “Fire and Ice”; bits of “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”; and “Did Jesus Have a Baby Sister.” After each recitation we would clap, and he would say, “Thank you, thank you,” very modestly.

  • Confronted with a refrigerator of leftover turkey and potatoes and stuffing on Monday night, I chose instead to make huevos rancheros, because there’s only so much traditional holiday carbs a man can ingest. Even a man such as myself.

There. You have now rifled through the contents of my very mind. I hope you found it delicious and filling.

The Haul

Tuesday, December 28th, 2010

Christmas was fairly epic. The boy rose at a semi-reasonable hour. I made the traditional massive pan of scrambled eggs, cheddar cheese, and sausage for breakfast. (And some meatless eggs for my wife.) My sister and mother-in-law and nephew came over and we had a pleasant hour tearing open packages and oohing and ahhing.

River loves opening wrapped gifts, so we got him lots — though many were of the Dollar Store persuasion, acquired so he could have more boxes to unwrap. He got many many legos, and a Thomas the Tank Engine train that drives itself around following a special light you can shine on the floor (the future is weird), and a toy vacuum, which was rather inexplicably his MUST HAVE toy for the season. (When he met Santa and asked for a vacuum, Santa was rather bewildered, but the fat man came through in the end.)

Heather’s big gift for me was four pieces of beautiful old Fiesta dinnerware — cups and mugs in assorted colors. I’m not a serious collector by any means, but I have a few nice Fiesta pieces, and now I have EVEN MORE.

My mother-in-law got me an Xbox 360, of all things, much to my astonishment and delight. (It was a combined birthday/Xmas present, but still!) So she’s to blame for any major drop in my productivity in 2011… Heather conspired to make sure we had games, too: Bioshock 2 and Fable 2. I’ve already begun killing drug-addled maniacs with drills and lightning. Fun. (The nice thing about getting a gaming system years after everyone else? Many awesome games available for cheap. Any recommendations? I’m not much for playing with others; I prefer solo experiences. I like stealth action games and survival horror and the occasional weird puzzle game…)

I also got the final volume of the collected Theodore Sturgeon, completing my set. Looks very nice on my shelf. Still my favorite short story writer. I got lots of other goodies, too — clothes, books, wind-up dinosaurs, and an awesome print I need to hang on the wall soon.

Then we had the big dinner. I made turkey, mashed potatoes, gravy (best gravy I’ve ever made), cranberry relish that turned out a bit boozier than intended; but that’s okay. There were many, many casseroles. Heather did stuffing and two pies, apple and chocolate. Yum yum yum yum yum. My sister-in-law’s boyfriend joined us for the meal. Very pleasant. The afternoon passed in a languorous stupor, except for the kids, who were in a toy-fueled frenzy. We watched White Christmas and drank wine. Pretty mellow.

And on Boxing Day, we cleaned up. All good things have their price.

Christmas Stories

Monday, December 27th, 2010

Are you unable to cope with the fact that Xmas is over? I can help you prolong that holiday feeling. Or something.

My story “Rangifer Volans: A Very Cryptozoological Christmas” is up at the Drabblecast. (Along with a Lovecraftian version of “Twas the Night Before Christmas” and an excellent flash piece by Mur Lafferty, “Zuzu’s Bell” — she worked wonders with exactly 100 words.)

If you missed it last week, you should know Podcastle did an amazingly good audio version of “The Christmas Mummy” by me and Heather Shaw, read by Rish Outfield.

Though of course, my own favorite SFnal Xmas story is still and always Greg van Eekhout’s “In the Late December”. (Also available in audio form.)

Listen, and/or read, and recapture some glimmer of that holiday feeling before 2010 leaves us forever and always.

Happy Happy

Saturday, December 25th, 2010

YAWN. Happy Christmas. The boy got up around 7 a.m., and found a pile of gifts to dazzle him. We’re not doing present-opening and so forth until my sister-in-law, nephew, and mother-in-law get here later this morning, but we let River open a couple of things from Santa to appease him. He’s been waiting a looooong time for Christmas — this is the first year he really understood the holiday in a way that allowed for anticipation — and he’s pretty much a squealing mass of pure delight.

My turkey is trussed and awaiting the kiss of flame in the oven; potatoes are chopped and wait only to be boiled and mashed and made creamy; and cranberry relish and gravy can wait. That’s all my culinary responsibility for the day… apart from the massive artery-clogging breakfast of sausage, eggs, and cheese I’m about to compose. A world of yum.

Happy day to all, whether you celebrate something or not.

Wise Men

Monday, December 20th, 2010

I had the great good fortune to read an advance copy of Patrick Rothfuss’s novel The Wise Man’s Fear, second in the long story begun with The Name of the Wind. (We got a couple of review copies at the office, and I read one very quickly before it needed to be sent off to a reviewer).

I loved Name of the Wind and I’ve been excited about the second book for ages, especially since sitting in on Pat’s interview with A Certain Magazine at WisCon earlier this year. It’s as good as I’d hoped. I won’t spill any spoilers, but I’ll say it deepens and enriches the story of Kvothe, also adding some darker layers, and answers a few questions while creating even more mysteries. It’s one of those wonderfully immersive reads, providing a world that feels big and fully-realized. A book you can fall into.

If you haven’t read Name of the Wind, give it a try; if you like it, you’ll want to get the follow-up when it goes on sale in March 2011. And if you have read Name, you’ve probably been waiting impatiently for this book anyway, and to you I say: yeah, worth the wait.

The Alphabet Collab

Thursday, December 16th, 2010

Some years ago Greg van Eekhout and Heather Shaw and I started working on what we called our “alphabet collab,” conceived as 26 flash fiction pieces, one for each letter of the alphabet. (You know — “A is for Airport,” “B is for Banyan Tree,” “C is for Caltrops,” like that.) The vague plan was to compile the whole set and try to sell it somewhere, but that never quite happened, mostly because we never wrote all the letters. We did however perform some of the pieces often at readings, to general delight — they’re short, and often funny, which are good things to be at a reading. After a while we all ended up selling some of the individual stories — my own published ones include “Caltrops,” “Fiddle,” “Uchronia,” and “Incubus”. Greg even expanded some of his into longer stories.

Then, several weeks ago, something cool happened: Jonathan Laden, an editor at Daily Science Fiction, which published one of my flash pieces from the alphabet collab, asked if we’d be interested in letting him publish the whole set — assuming we could write new pieces to fill the gaps where we’d sold the original stories. About the same time — maybe a day later? — Dave Thompson of Escape Artists (which does the Escape Pod, Podcastle, and Pseudopod fiction podcasts, which have published many of the original alphabet collab pieces) asked us if we’d sell him the whole set, to offer as special downloadable content.

Greg and Heather and I were happy to oblige… except we needed to write new pieces. Lots of them, since most of the originals had been sold already. So we drafted Jenn Reese — who excels at flash fiction — to help us compose new letters. Then we talked and worked for about a month.

The result: The Alphabet Quartet, over 15,000 words of swift fictions, coming to you soon from Daily Science Fiction and Escape Artists. DSF will start publishing them, one per week, in January 2011, starting with the longest story in the bunch, “A is for Arthur”. The Escape Artists edition — which may be a paid download featuring audio versions of every story, or a subscriber gift, or something else — will probably be available a few months after that. EA is also planning to publish B-sides, variant letters, reprints of the original letters, and etc. as teasers and treats.

So there you go: half a year of stories by me, Greg, Jenn, and Heather. It’s awesome. I’m thrilled. This is one of the coolest projects I’ve ever been involved in.

It Was the Best of Birthdays, It Was the Worst of Birthdays

Monday, December 13th, 2010

My Birthday Weekend Spectacular was more crappy than spectacular, really, but it had high points. Friday night our friend Amelia kindly babysat for us, enabling my wife and I to hit the town. For her birthdays, we tend to do fancy restaurants; for mine, we went to a brewpub and drank a pitcher of stout and I ate a burger as big as all outdoors and a plate of chili fries. We strolled around downtown Berkeley a bit, got some gelato, and then went to see Black Swan, which was pretty good. (Heather loved it; I thought it was a good horror movie except for all that dancin’. I’m a Philistine.)

Then we came home and collapsed unto unconsciousness. I was sick on Saturday. (Initially I just thought I’d finally gotten too old to eat a whole plate of chili cheese fries without consequences. It was soon apparent that I was way sicker than that would account for, though. Readers with long memories may recall I was sick last Sunday and Monday as well. That bout was less virulent, but still, getting sick twice? In a week? On my birthday week? You suck, universe.) Heather did courageous solo parenting while I was useless.

I managed to make an appearance at a holiday party on Sunday — I sorta had to, as they had a birthday cake for me! — doing my best to avoid human contact for the benefit of all. (Though many of my friends and acquaintances have been ill in recent days, without apparent common contagion vector, so I think it’s just going around). Mostly I just lolled around home, though, and attempted to rehydrate, which is an ongoing process. My wife got me some nice gifts: new pants, and an awesome new jacket, two things I desperately needed. And, being a wonderful wife, Heather said we can reschedule my birthday for next weekend! So I might get my beloved celebratory cherry cheesecake after all.

At this point, I’d settle for feeling human again, though.