Tim Pratt
SF and Fantasy Writer

Archive for February, 2011

Having a Ball

Monday, February 28th, 2011

Got a bit of writing done over the weekend — a couple thousand words — but mostly enjoyed myself. I’m taking another vacation day (Wednesday) to do nothing but write, so I could afford a bit of goofing off. So goof I did.

Heather bought a jumbo fun ball at CostCo. (Wow, it gets crappy reviews there. Huh. Ours is fine so far, though most of the kids who played in it were well under the weight limit, which may be why.) It is essentially a giant hollow faceted spheroid you can cram full of children. We took it over to the park on Sunday and I spent half an hour or so pumping it up — it has a zillion different nozzles, which is annoying, but I guess it means if one cell pops, the structure doesn’t collapse. River looooved it, and rolled around inside for hours. It was like the pied piper for all the kids in the park, too, and for most of the afternoon he had a flock of insta-friends taking turns spinning around inside, helping to roll it, etc. (Mostly I ran alongside to make sure they didn’t run over any picnickers.) Pain in the ass to blow up, and equally a pain in the ass to deflate, but he enjoyed it enough to make the annoyance worthwhile.

Also: we had a picnic with good sodas and chips and mac & cheese and chicken fingers and such. Immensely pleasant.

I did a bit of reading, too — the Witches volume of Fables (good), and the Crown of Shadows trade of Locke and Key (awesome). I went to a comic shop — Dr. Comics, in our old neighborhood, since Comic Relief has closed and not yet been reborn in its new incarnation — and picked up the first few issues of the Keys to the Kingdom arc of Lock and Key, because I love it so madly. I’m almost through the wonderful A Book of Tongues by Gemma Files; can’t believe I waited so long to read it.

I played some Elder Scrolls: Oblivion (because the joy of getting an Xbox 360 years later than anyone else is having awesome older games available for cheap), and I like it a lot. I seem to be tending toward thievery and skullduggery in my play style, which comes as no surprise at all.

Life is good.

8K Day

Thursday, February 24th, 2011

Yesterday I took a rather impromptu vacation day so I could get some work done on the current book project. (Also because the cable guy who came for our Tuesday appointment didn’t bring the necessary equipment, so I needed to be home to meet a different cable guy yesterday afternoon. Yes, we got cable again, after almost a year without it — not that we stopped watching TV, we just got by with network shows and streaming Netflix. There was a good, cheap special cable deal going, though, so we figured, why not. The Song of Ice and Fire series is coming in a couple of months after all, and we want to see that.)

Anyway, I didn’t do much yesterday but write, and I managed about 8,300 words. Not my best day ever, but in my top ten, and knocking out nearly a tenth of the novel in a day is certainly satisfying. I’m planning to take another vacation day next week (I have more vacation than my wife does, so I have some days to burn anyway), and if it’s just as good, I may even find a couple of weeks to revise the novel before the April 1 deadline. The book stands at around 48,000 words. Halfway home.

Also, I went out for lunch and had a cheeseburger with a fried egg on top. Oh the deliciousness! And I didn’t write in the evening, which was a rare treat. I’ve often wondered what it must be like to just have one job, leaving me with evenings and weekends free for fun and chores and errands and such. Seems incredibly decadent. Don’t suppose I’ll ever know firsthand though.

Read a couple of books on, hmm, Tuesday night: The Burglar in the Library by Block, which was fun, though I never quite love Block’s work — the obligatory funny banter between his characters never seems all that funny to me, and in truth I find it kind of grating. Which is a shame, because I like the characters well enough, banter aside. I enjoy his Keller hitman novels, and keep wanting to get into the Burglar series — there are so many of them, and so highly praised! — but this is the first one I’ve made it through. (The one series of his that doesn’t seem to have funny banter, the Matthew Scudder books, is by contrast too grim for me, based on the book or two I read. I guess I’m hard to please.) I may make another run at the earlier books in the series.

Also read Quarry in the Middle by Max Allan Collins, the only Quarry book I’ve read. (Indeed, I’d never heard of the character until I picked up a copy off the paperback mystery spinner at the library. It was under the aegis of Hard Case Crime, which is generally all I need to at least try a book.) Anyway: good gritty occasionally funny hitman novel. The protagonist really objectifies women, which isn’t that uncommon with such books, but it did make it harder to like him. Then again, he’s a professional killer, so who’s to say he should be likable? He did have some chivalrous moments, though it can be argued that chivalry is just another side of sexism…

Linkadaisical

Wednesday, February 23rd, 2011

My story “Hart and Boot” is up at Podcastle! (This is probably my best known story outside genre circles, because it appeared in a volume of The Best American Short Stories some years back. It was basically a hangover from writing my novel The Strange Adventures of Rangergirl — I’d done all this research about the old west, but there were bits of the research that didn’t fit in that novel, which were, nevertheless, too good not to use. So I used some of them here.)

There’ve been a couple of entries in The Alphabet Quartet since last I wrote: “E is for Excrement” and “F is for Forever”, and “G is for Graven”. That link up there will take you to the main compilation page at Daily Science Fiction where the stories are being added weekly. You can play the Guess Which Writer Wrote Which One! game at home. But Greg and Heather and Jenn and I will never tell. (Unless we do.)

Maureen Johnson has a great manifesto here on social networking and the folly of “branding.” Excellent stuff, which I couldn’t agree with more.

One of my favorite places online in recent months is Theodora Goss’s blog. She’s been updating daily (or very nearly so), with poetry analysis, bits of fiction, personal musings, thoughts on science fiction conventions and auctorial constructs — all sorts of juicy things. Never fails to make me think.

Books (Pictures Optional)

Tuesday, February 22nd, 2011

I’ve been reading. (I’m pretty much always reading.) Caught up on the trade collections of Kirkman’s Invincible comic, which I still enjoy, though it can be rather mind-blowingly gory — dudes getting their internal organs punched out through their backs, etc. And there was a bit where a cute little kid dies that was rough for me. Used to be, when I read stories where cute kids died, I’d think, “Okay, plot manipulation lever activated, whatever.” But now that I have a cute kid of my own, I find them hard to read.

Also read the first volume of the complete Peanuts, and — besides being a beautiful book — what an amazing achievement. Schulz was so good, from the very beginning. Wow. I think Peanuts contains the entirety of the human condition. The first volume of Bloom County (also beautiful) was a lot rougher going to start, but it settled into the comic strip I so loved in my youth pretty quickly, irreverent and wacky and energetic and biting.

In truth I’ve read a zillion other comics this year — Batman stuff, Superman stuff, Marvel Zombies, the lovely Good Neighbors graphic novels by Holly Black, The Tale of One Bad Rat — whatever looks interesting on the shelf at the library really.

I’ve also been reading books that don’t have pictures. The Serialist by David Gordon was fun and amusingly meta, about a hack writer who stumbles into a murder mystery and half-assedly solves it. As someone who’s written both porn and pseudonymous horror/paranormal novels, the narrator’s experiences with such things didn’t quite ring true for me, but I don’t wanna be one of those readers — like the military history buff who complains that the buttons on the uniforms of the soldiers in a novel were made of the wrong material or whatever — so I’ll leave it at that.

K.J. Parker’s Scavenger trilogy was good. Brutal, of course, and rough going at times, but I liked it, and it prefigured a lot of things Parker did better later (in the Engineer trilogy in particular). Parker is famed as a writer of “fantasies without magic,” but the early books (Fencer trilogy, Scavenger trilogy) actually do have a fair bit of magical (or magic-ish) elements, from reality-altering dream-states to telepathy, with hints of vaster supernatural machinations as well. Those elements are always treated very grittily and realistically, though, and magic is never really a solution to anything — magic either makes things worse, or operates more like a natural disaster than like a system people can manipulate.

I also liked Expiration Date by Duane Swierczynski, a mystery with time travel elements and a likable loser protagonist. (I’m fond of those in novels.) The time travel system wasn’t intricately worked-out enough to delight hardcore science fiction readers, I don’t think — it was pretty weird and idiosyncratic — but I enjoyed it.

Now I’m reading Yu’s How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe, and it’s interesting and quirkily written, but I hope some events start to transpire soon. It’s a bit too much musing, philosophy, cute sci-fi and ontology jokes, and sitting in a time machine not doing much in particular for my taste. I’m always more fond of novels in which there are events.

Also reading Bill Bryson’s Home (mostly because I’m going to be writing a book that’s largely about a house sometime next year), and as always his voice is very pleasant and it’s crammed with interesting anecdotes and snippets of history, prompting me to annoy my wife by reading sections aloud.

Let me praise the Berkeley library system, and in particular their LINK system, which is essentially interlibrary loan for a bunch of neighboring library systems — but unlike the Oakland system’s interlibrary loan, LINK is free. It’s enabled me to get all sorts of nice things, and just wander a few blocks to my local branch to pick them up.

The Sky Is Fallen

Monday, February 21st, 2011

Wow. I fell off the blog-updating wagon there for a bit, didn’t I. But I have an excuse! You see:

I’m writing a book.

(Yes, yes, and trees are producing oxygen and the sun is transforming hydrogen into helium, I know.) It’s a pseudonymous work-for-hire book, so I can’t say too much about it, but it’s been rough going in a lot of ways. Short deadline. Required a fair bit of research. And I have a thoroughly unlikable main character, which is the right choice for a lot of reasons (and I hope pretty funny), but it’s not very nice spending so much time with this person, living in their head. I think I’ve finally picked up some momentum this week, though.

For the first time in my life, I’m really working from an outline, which is weirdly helpful. If I have no enthusiasm to write? I drag myself over to my chair, look at what’s supposed to happen next in the outline, and just make it happen. I learned long ago that, in terms of the end product, it doesn’t matter if the book flows forth from my fingers with invisible ease, or whether I have to hack every single word out of the living rock: the final work is indistinguishable to readers. So I don’t worry about that much anymore, at least. If I can keep working on this thing a little every day (and a lot on weekends), I should make my April 1 deadline.

My next book under contract — a roleplaying game tie-in for Pathfinder called City of the Fallen Sky — is also extensively outlined. (A detailed outline was required before I got a contract, actually.) Which is interesting, because it means the editor has already been in touch about what the cover art might look like, and what the characters should look like at a certain point in their story, etc. — because they know the story! (I have some wiggle room to improvise, fortunately. I’ve signposted where I’m going, but I have some freedom for how I get there.)

I’m still using Scrivener, and, yeah, for these projects, it works really well. For my usual free-form vague rambling — or let’s be fancy and say “organic” — approach to writing novels, I’m not sure Scrivener would have a benefit over really any other text editor or even a notebook and a pen, but it is very helpful for more schematic works. But I confess Scrivener would in fact serve perfectly adequately for those books, too, being a lovely text editor with some good features, so, sure: consider me a convert.

I didn’t quite break 40,000 words on the book-in-progress this weekend, but I will in the next day or two. It’ll all be over in six weeks or so. Then I’ll take a few weeks, write a couple of short stories I’ve promised people, and race onward to the Pathfinder book. It’s nice to be gainfully employed.

non est disputandum

Friday, February 4th, 2011

I was home sick yesterday. Just a cold, but nasty and energy-sapping. Home with the kid, which was extra-tiring, but not as tiring as a full-on officebaby day would have been. I managed to do some work, though — writing up most of a step-by-step how-to for converting A Certain Magazine to epub. It’s a rather involved process. I’m up over 2,000 words, and I still need to add some screenshots. But it must be done. If nobody else knows how to do it, then I can never take a vacation again, and that wouldn’t be fun.

Some news! My story “The Carved Forest” will appear in Under My Hat, and anthology of YA witch stories edited by Jonathan Strahan. Very happy to be part of that project, and I think it’s one of the better stories I’ve written in recent years.

Charlie Jane Anders of io9 interviewed me about my forthcoming novel Briarpatch, so if you’re curious about the book, go see some of my blather about it. (The novel should be out in September, I think.)

“D is for De Gustibus” went up at Daily Science Fiction this week, latest in The Alphabet Quartet. Just think — 22 letters left to go! Such wonders await!

I revised my middle grade book last week, so my agent will be sending that off soon. Fly away, little manuscript; write home when you find work.

I downloaded the Scrivener beta for Windows, and I can see the appeal. My current project and my next one are both heavily outlined and require a lot of research notes, and I can see how Scrivener’s organizational capacities (both for text and for research materials) will be useful for them. So consider me a cautious convert, at least for some books. It violates my format-agnostic approach — that I can write novels with any tool, be it a computer, or a pen and a notebook, or a sufficiently thick stack of index cards and a sufficiently sharp crayon — but I’m not immune to the appeal of better living through technology.