Tim Pratt
SF and Fantasy Writer

Archive for December, 2011

2011 Was

Saturday, December 31st, 2011

I am a great fan of the symbolic. For whatever reason, the symbolism of New Year’s — an arbitrary moment chosen to begin anew — is profoundly powerful for me. A year is a good unit of time: short enough to be measurable and memorable, but long enough to get a sense of trends and developments. It’s a time to make course-corrections, and to see if my life is where I’d like it to be — and, if not, to figure out what actions are within my power to bring my dream life into line with my real life. (Of course, there’s no fighting the external and the unexpected, and conversely, no use fretting over such things: I do my best these days to worry about things I can, loosely speaking, actually control. Or at least influence.) It’s also a time to celebrate achievements, assuming I had any.

So, as always, a look back at my past year, with a particular emphasis on writing stuff, because that’s where most of my energy goes.

I wrote about 370,000 words of fiction and non-fiction (that doesn’t count blog posts, e-mails, or the thousands of words I write monthly at my day job — just books, stories, articles, reviews, etc.).

Most of those words went toward novels. I completed a pseudonymous work-for-hire novel in the spring; wrote the entirety of my roleplaying game tie-in City of the Fallen Sky over the summer; completed my new Marla Mason novel Grim Tides this fall; and have written about 50,000 words of another pseudonymous book this winter (though this one is original, not a tie-in or work-for-hire). I didn’t quite manage to write four entire novels this year, but it was a near thing. I also did revisions and copyedits and so on for various novels written previously, including Venom In Her Veins and Briarpatch.

I wrote some short stories which I subsequently sold: “The Carved Forest” (forthcoming in an anthology); “We Go Back” (an original commissioned by Escape Pod); “The Secret Beach” (published in Fantasy Magazine); “Ill Met in Ulthar” (forthcoming in an anthology); and “A Fairy Tale of Oakland” (an audio original commissioned by Drabblecast.) With my wife Heather Shaw I co-wrote “The Ghost of Christmas Possible” (audio original commissioned by Podcastle.) I also wrote “The Haunted Mech Suit,” which isn’t sold yet, but is out on submission.

I sold other books, too, most notably an anthology called Rags and Bones, co-edited with the marvelous Melissa Marr, which should be in bookstores in 2013. I also sold audio rights to my self-published novels Broken Mirrors and Bone Shop to Audible, which is awesome — especially since they commissioned original covers by Daniel Dos Santos! Also sold a couple of those work-for-hire books. Maybe my best year ever in terms of books sold. (I tell you, my career has really taken off ever since it crashed and burned after I got dumped by Random House. I’ve been really busy since I became a failure.)

I published a few things this year. The big one was my novel Briarpatch, which has been very well-received critically, to my great pleasure. (The book means a lot to me.) In addition to the stories mentioned above, I also published “A Void Wrapped in a Smile” in Basement Stories; “Antiquities and Tangibles” in Subterranean; “The Alphabet Quartet” (suite of 26 flash stories in collaboration with Jenn Reese, Heather Shaw, and Greg van Eekhout) in Daily Science Fiction, published one per week from January – June 2011; “Hell’s Lottery” in Bull Spec; “Little Better than a Beast” in Those Who Fight Monsters; “Shark’s Teeth” in Daily Science Fiction; and “Our Stars, Our Selves” in Welcome to Bordertown (that was kind of a dream come true, as I loved the Bordertown series as a teen). My poem “Lion Heart” appeared at Apex magazine — the first poem I’ve published in ages.

A bunch of my stories were reprinted (or rather published in audio form) at assorted podcasts — “Terrible Ones,” “On a Blade of Grass,” “Hart and Boot”, “From Around Here”… others I’m forgetting, too, I suspect. Podcasts have become a huge part of my career, and many of them reach audiences larger than those of the major genre magazines. The future is an odd and wonderful place. I sold some print reprints, too, though not as many.

Remarkably, there were even developments at my day job (I’m senior editor at A Certain Magazine). I wrote a few book reviews, after a couple of years of not reading much SF/Fantasy at all. I conducted a couple of interviews for A Certain Magazine, solo, which I’d never done before — I sat down with Nick Mamatas, and with Sarah Pinborough. (You’ll be able to read both interviews next year.)

I ran a Kickstarter campaign to fund my Marla Mason novel Grim Tides, with a goal of raising $6,000. I raised over $11,000. My fans are the greatest people in the world.

I got into self-publishing some more, putting up a bunch of single stories for sale in various e-book formats, mostly. Thanks to Jenn Reese of Tiger Bright Studios for doing a bunch of awesome e-book covers for me. Keep her in mind for your cover designing needs; she rocks. At my agent’s prompting, I looked into the ACX audiobook exchange, where authors can connect with producers and narrators to create audiobooks, and we made a deal with the amazing Mary Robinette Kowal to narrate an audiobook of my debut novel The Strange Adventures of Rangergirl. With luck, it’ll be available next year.

I got to see the first film adaptation of my work, a short film by Israeli director Shir Comay, based on my story “Impossible Dreams” (it’s fantastic). I optioned my short story “Morris and the Machine” to an indie filmmaker. My beloved producer and friend Anne Rodman renewed her option on the Marla Mason series (and those wheels are still turning, though Hollywood is a strange and vast place full of dangers, so I expect nothing).

Okay, okay, non-writing things!

My three-year-old became a four-year-old. Fatherhood continues to be pretty awesome. His glaucoma is under control — and he’s old enough now that he doesn’t have to be anesthetized in order to have his eye pressures checked, which is huge and good. He got stitches for the first time, after getting a cut over his eye. (He’s precocious; I was seven years old before I got stitches.) The kid swam with dolphins! He learned to count to 100! He can spell his name! He is generally fantastic. Such a great kid. One of the best parts of my life.

My wife started working full-time at A Certain Magazine (as a bookkeeper, mostly, though like everyone there, she does various things). Having her at my workplace is awesome, and our financial terror has gone from constant to intermittent (mostly around quarterly tax payment time), which is a nice change.

I did a bit of traveling. I went with my wife and kid to Southern California, as I was invited to be on a panel at the Literary Orange festival at UC Irvine. (The opportunity to take the boy to Disneyland, accompanied by our dear friend Jenn, may also have been a factor in our decision to make the trip.) I went to Worldcon in Reno, and later to the World Fantasy Convention in San Diego, both with my wife and kid. I got to meet a few of my editors (James Sutter and Fleetwood Robbins and Brett Savory and Sandra Kasturi) in person, which was great.

I took a week-long family vacation to the Big Island of Hawai’i (though it was partly a research trip for Grim Tides), and it was marvelous, except for my kid’s ear infection and my wife’s strep throat…. Other fun things that involved leaving my house: the Solano Stroll (my kid loves a street fair); the Eat Real Festival (my favorite annual excuse to wander around eating everything that looks yummy); reading at the LitCrawl portion of LitQuake; doing a talk about self-publishing and crowdfunding for a college class; a couple of memorable special occasion dinners with my adorable wife.

I sure like video games. I started the year playing a ton of The Elder Scrolls: Oblivion, and the end of the year playing lots of The Elder Scrolls: Skyrim. It’s pretty much the perfect series for my tastes as a gamer. Portal 2 was also super fun.

I got seriously into making popsicles over the summer. Both boozy popsicles and non-boozy. My chocolate popsicles are awesome. This is not arrogance; this is merely fact.

I read around 175 books (that’s approximate — I lost my list of books read when my computer hard drive dramatically died. Didn’t have a backup of that file for some reason, so I’m reconstructing from my library account history, etc.) That sounds like a lot, but it includes a ton of comic collections/graphic novels, which I read fast, and more re-reads than usual…. I had some nostalgia for old favorite books this year, and dipped back into some Stephen King and Terry Pratchett favorites.

All in all: a pretty great year. Too much work, and not enough play, but I’ll keep adjusting the ratios.

Lately, my kid has been talking a lot about what he wants to be when he grows up. He’s asked me what I wanted to be when I was a kid, and I told him: a writer. Which is what I am, despite taking a few knocks along the way. I really am living my dream life. Oh, there are bad particulars — I’ve had some unpleasant experiences this year in the publishing business (some at least partly my fault, some the fault of others), and there have been illnesses I could have done without, and certainly a fair share of simply bad days — but the overall arc of my life is moving in a good direction. My usual wish at the beginning of a new year is a line from that old Counting Crows song: “Maybe this year will be better than the last.” But this time, I’d be happy if this year is merely as good as the last.

Hark! Christmas Stories!

Tuesday, December 27th, 2011

I have two holiday stories for your holiday listenings! In audio even! The first, “The Ghost of Christmas Possible,” is co-written with my lovely wife Heather Shaw, and is online at PodCastle. This is our “A Christmas Carol”/Ghost-finder mash-up, in which Ebenezer Scrooge seeks the assistance of a young occultist to save him from the Three Spirits.

The second is “A Fairy Tale of Oakland,” written solo, and online now at The Drabblecast. Technically, it is not a Xmas story. It’s actually a Krampusnacht story.

Go, listen, may your hearts be merry and bright!

Twelve! Twelve!

Monday, December 12th, 2011

I turned 35 today, thus falling out of the coveted 18-34 demographic age bracket, which means my opinions are no longer of interest. I expect video games, film, and all other media to begin sliding away from my preferences immediately. Drat.

My wonderful wife took me out to Pizzaiolo, one of my favorite restaurants, on Friday night, and we feasted and made merry. And I drank bourbon. She made me a cherry pie last night, served with great heaping scoops of vanilla bean ice cream. Why pie? Because I looooove cherries, and I don’t really like cake. Carrot cake is okay, but mostly because of the cream cheese frosting. Cake is just… sweet bread. Eh. It’s not offensive or anything, but neither does it delight me. Generally speaking, creamy is my vice, not sweet — fat yay, sugar meh. So, yay for ice cream!

Tonight, my actual birthday, I’ll open some presents and eat a cheeseburger and probably watch a horror movie. I’m a simple man of simple hedonic tastes.

Saturday, while my wife and kid went to a party, I neglected fun in favor of work. I dove back into my half-written novel-in-progress, which stalled utterly while I was on vacation. (It was an intentional stall, but I found it difficult to get back on track.) I had, fortunately, figured out my plot while on vacation, though now I have to do some retrofitting to make that plot actually work out. I got to write an attempted murder scene, at least, so that was fun. And soon I get to write about tentacled river monsters. I’m still a bit panicked about getting it all done by the February 1 deadline, but I think it’ll work. I know where I’m going now, at least.

Sunday was more fun. I took the boy out for about five hours in the morning, just wandering around Berkeley, doing some Christmas shopping, going to the playground, eating cinnamon rolls at the coffee shop, eating ice cream cones in the cold wind, and so on. I love spending time with that little guy. I did some work on the novel, too, figuring out how to hack apart the structure to insert a new section early on. For the rest of the night… I pretty much watched TV and played Skyrim. It was awesome.

Terrified Flailing

Friday, December 9th, 2011

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 Seven

Sunday, December 4th, 2011

(Just realized I never posted this. It was written on the Sunday after we got home.)

Really just a half-day. The kid and I went for breakfast — Heather was still so ill she could barely get out of bed. After that, we returned to the room and worked on packing everything up.

I was afraid we wouldn’t have time to get in a last swim before check-out time, but we hurried, and managed to get an hour or so in the pools. River bravely went over to one of the waterfalls, which had terrified him, and found the splashing to be delightful. I got a last tropical drink — lava flow, yum — and we played and had a great time.

We dragged our myriad bags to the lobby, and got the car loaded up, and drove toward the airport. We had some free time before the rental car was due back, so we hit a beachside park. Heather pretty much stayed in the car, still feeling lousy, but River and I roamed around and looked at tidepools and waded in the surf for an hour or so. A nice, peaceful final few moments.

Then began the misery of modern air travel. River gets his own seat on the plane, so he gets his own carry-on and personal item, which makes packing easier — but he’s too little to actually carry his bags, and though Heather did as much as she could, she was sick, so I found myself extremely over-laden. (Plus we have the stroller, and the car seat the kid uses on the plane since he’s only 36 pounds, and etc.) The only way to carry everything is to elaborately arrange things on the stroller in a very specific way, but it all has to be disassembled for the security scan, and then reassembled, which is annoying. And, because it’s Hawai’i, we had to assemble and disassemble again for the agricultural scan, to make sure we weren’t smuggling fruit.

We finally got on the plane. River was good for an hour, cranky for an hour, and slept the last couple of hours. Thank goodness for that last. I listened to podcasts after he went to sleep, and read some of Cassandra Clare’s Clockwork Angel — I really like it. I’ll have to read her Mortal Instruments series.

We landed in Oakland just after 11 p.m. local time. The kid was remarkably cheerful when we woke him up — with all our bags, we couldn’t carry him, so he had to regain consciousness and walk. We took the shuttle to long-term parking, got our car — which seems terribly mundane after having a convertible for a week — and drove home. It was a fair bit after midnight before we were actually in our own house, but the kid went to sleep in his own bed easily, fortunately.

I scarfed some food — it didn’t feel that late, since we’d been on Hawaii time — and did some Tivo gardening until I got sleepy around 2 a.m. Luckily, the boy remained on Hawaii time, and didn’t wake today until around 8 a.m. We hung out and played for a while, and then his aunt came over around 9 to take him away for the morning. I have to write a story today, and Heather needs another day in bed to recover, so she couldn’t do any childcare. Thank heavens for sisters-in-law…

Here we are. Back in real life. The vacation certainly had its share of unpleasant moments, but we had a couple of very good days, and all the days had good parts. I hope that as time goes on I’ll only remember the good things, and the bad bits will fade. I just wish I felt more rested.

Vacation: Day Six

Saturday, December 3rd, 2011

Friday, our last full day of vacation, was largely spent driving around the island, and not for particularly fun reasons. I rose with the kid, and we took a morning constitutional once the sun actually came up. We rode the hotel’s trains around, and did some “exploring,” riding random elevators, etc. Then we reconnected with my wife for an exciting morning of doctor visits. We drove an hour to a clinic for her appointment. The kid fell asleep in the car on the way, so I stayed in the parking lot while my wife saw the doctor. The boy woke up soon after she went inside, and so I entertained him by showing him how cars work. He was fascinated, though he did want to know how the musicians fit behind the radio. The car was especially entertaining because it’s a convertible, so he was able to push the button to put the top up and down.

My wife came out in slightly less than an hour, armed with a prescription… that she had to pick up in another clinic across town. Sigh. Another long stretch of driving, then another wait at a doctor’s office. After that… we had to return the snorkel gear (which of course we hardly got to use). River was well and truly annoyed by then, so we grabbed some drive-thru food and hit the nearest beach for a picnic. My wife was fairly wiped out from the long day out, and the beach was too rocky for playing, so we headed back home.

After laying on the bed and moaning for a while — the kid got me up around 5 a.m., and I hate driving at the best of times, let alone on the last day of my vacation, so I was grumpy and exhausted — I forced myself to embrace life and all that. I took the boy and his inflatable dragon float over to the kiddie pool for more playing while my wife napped.

There was a little girl at the pool he’d played with the day before (not the 4-year-old, but a sweet 2.5-year-old), and they remembered each other. So they played together a ton, and I chatted with their parents, who were disappointed that we were leaving so soon, since the kids got together along so well. (We’d kept running into them in various places around the resort all day too.) They told me about a Christmas program in the lobby at 5:30, with a tree lighting, Christmas carols, and Santa, so River became suitably frantically excited about that.

We got him dried off and changed, and Heather decided to venture forth into the world. The little Christmas show was cute. Hawai’ian Xmas carols, little girl hula dancers, a ballerina doing the dance of the sugarplum fairies, and a quite Hawai’ian Santa. Very Mele Kalikimaka. We got pictures (including some of River and his little friend), and had a pretty good time, though it wiped Heather out again.

Dinner was a picnic on the floor of the room, since we had to use up our groceries. Hummus and sandwiches and chips and macaroni salad, oh boy! (My wife, of course, did not eat, really, beyond a few crackers. Vicious strep throat is a great recipe for weight loss.) We put the boy to bed, for his last overnight in Hawai’i. I considered going out for the evening… but I was wiped from such a long day. No final evening at the bar for me. I played a little Skyrim and went to bed.

But, you know, I sort of embraced the suck. The vacation wasn’t going to be perfect, or even necessarily good, but I tried to make the best of it, and enjoy the weather, and the conversation, and my son’s happiness, which is, in fact, pretty extreme — he’s had a fantastic time, and says he never wants to leave Hawai’i. I could learn something from him about finding joy in the moment.

Vacation: Day Five

Friday, December 2nd, 2011

Thursday was a day of solo parenting.

Heather started feeling sick late Wednesday night, and by Thursday morning, she was in a bad way — sore throat, nausea, headache, body aches, basically flu-like symptoms (though she did get a flu shot this year, leading us to speculate about exotic tropical strains). I took the boy out for a few hours in the morning, getting breakfast at the cereal bar (when else will he get cereal topped with gummi sharks?), hanging out by the fake lagoon, playing in the sand and swimming.

We returned to the room to change out of our wet clothes for lunch. Heather wanted to join us, and got out of bed, and got dressed, and got out of the room, and made it, oh, maybe a hundred yards down the path before it became apparent that she would not be able to continue. We walked her back to the room. River and I got a quick lunch and went to the little grocery store to get Heather some dayquil and such.

We got back, and she was sleeping. I didn’t want to go too far in case she needed us, so River and I went to the kiddie pool for the afternoon. He had a wonderful time — the water at its deepest there goes to his chin, so he can run all around the pool without assistance. He met another little four-year-old, a girl who is a member of the same fandom (they’re both devotees of Mickey Mouse Club House), and they played for a while. Rather relaxing.

Honestly, if not for the fact that I was worried about my sick wife, and run ragged from being in sole charge of an overstimulated preschooler, it would have been a nice day.

We came back to the room, where Heather was awake, but not out of bed. She’d called the doctor — at least with River’s ear infection, she had the opportunity to master out-of-state doctor’s appointments — and the advice nurse told her she probably has strep throat. Apparently it’s going around, and the symptoms fit. We got an appointment for Friday morning so she can get tested and, presumably, get some antibiotics, for what little good they do with strep.

If it is strep, she’s apt to be miserable for the rest of the trip, which means more solo parenting and escalating exhaustion, so basically: vacation is over. No more relaxing here. We go back Saturday afternoon.

I never want to leave my house again.

Vacation: Day Four

Thursday, December 1st, 2011

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.