Tim Pratt
SF and Fantasy Writer

2019 in Review

2019 certainly was a year. Here’s a little (okay, a long) review of mine. Probably of interest mainly to me, but I do like to look back and take stock, consider setbacks and relish victories, and think about any necessary course corrections.

Reading

I read about 125 books this year. My favorite new-to-me books were Sarah Gran’s Claire de Witt novels, which are sort of mysteries, sort of literary fiction with a mystical bent, and totally great and absorbing. I started reading Tana French’s Dublin Murder Squad books and really enjoy those too; such a deep and character-driven approach to what could be kinda standard police procedurals otherwise. Read a bunch of Ruth Ware, too, the best of which was probably The Turn of the Key. Read some Ruth Reichl, which led me to finally reading all of MFK Fisher’s books (I’d only read How to Cook a Wolf before), and developing a new appreciation for oysters.

I also read a ton of science fiction, and started a whole lot of books I didn’t finish, because I am on an award jury this year, and had to read strategically: if it wasn’t impressing the hell out of me within a couple chapters, it wasn’t gonna make the cut, and since I had 70 other books in the pile, I had to move on. Ones I particularly enjoyed were Ninth House by Bardugo, Raven Tower by Leckie, This Is How You Lose the Time War by El-Mohtar and Gladstone, The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Harrow, Gingerbread by Oyeyumi, Exhalation by Chiang, Middlegame by Maguire, Black Leopard, Red Wolf by James (maybe “enjoyed” is the wrong word for that one; it was a rough read in parts but very ambitious and impressive), Wounds by Ballingrud, The Pursuit of William Abbey by North, and Songs for the Unraveling of the World by Evenson. (I liked lots of others too, but those are my tops.) (Lincoln in the Bardo by Saunders wasn’t a 2019 book but it’s marvelous too.)

Read a bunch of comics, too, including the on-my-list forever Achewood, and Waid’s Irredeemable (so dark!), and all of Simone’s Secret Six comics I hadn’t read yet.

Writing

It’s been an eventful year. Early on I did a little writing retreat in the lovely Marin home of my friends James and Ysa, where I drafted the majority of The Forbidden Stars and only went slightly insane with loneliness (the hot tub helped morale). I was Principal Speaker (guest of honor, basically) at Philcon in Philadelphia (well, Cherry Hill NJ, but basically) in November, and my wife Heather Shaw was special guest, and that was super cool. I also went down to Monterey and talked to writing classes and did a reading at Monterey Peninsula College (and went to the aquarium and wandered around the cuteness of the town with Aislinn), and that ruled. I took part in Litcrawl in San Francisco, emceeing a fun event at Public Works. I was also in the line-up for the inaugural Parallel Lit East Bay reading series organized by Meg Elison. I appeared on a few podcasts, including a fun one run by Stephen Aryan, who I met in London last year. I talked to my kid’s class during their “fantasy fiction” unit, and that was fun. Fifth graders ask good questions.

The Dreaming Stars earned out in its first royalty period (whoo!), and The Forbidden Stars came out to great reviews and appeared on a couple of bestseller lists (ibooks, Locus). I ran a kickstarter for new collection Miracles & Marvels, and it came out in the fall to positive reviews.

I’m on track to hit 250,000 words of fiction this year (I’m a bit short, but plan to write a bunch this weekend), which is a big bump from last year’s 170K and the year before’s 150K. It’s almost back to my hustling-desperately-for-grocery-money-years output levels. I didn’t mean to write that much, but see, I took a gig writing some interesting tie-ins I can’t tell you about yet, the first of which is due in late spring, and as a result, I had to move up the schedule for drafting my next original novel (which is also due in late spring, and which I also can’t tell you about, but I can soon!) to the end of 2019 instead of the start of 2020. Writing an extra novel pretty much accounts for the increase in wordage.

The rest of my output was stories, most for my Patreon, some commissioned: “Comfort and Joy,” (it’s coming out soon), “A Grace Family Christmas,” “A Door Is the Difference Between Outside and In,” “The Bodies,” “Nick and Will and the Door in the Hill,” “The Sleeping Warrior,” “This Is Your Lot,” “Six Ways Without You,” “Sunday Drive,” “The Murder Closet,” “The Zipper,” “A Champion of Nigh-Space,” “Blood and Sleep,” “In the Dungeon of Heart’s Desire,” and “The Door of Sleep.” I also wrote three little pieces for Pathfinder Tales for their Tales of Lost Omens series of vignettes: “When It Rains,” “The World Expands,” and “Far from Heaven”. (You should join my Patreon, and get a new story every month, plus access to that archive of three years’ worth of existing stories: www.patreon.com/timpratt). Some of them are among my best work. “A Champion of Nigh-Space” in particular got a lot of buzz when it was reprinted in Uncanny

I also collaborated: on a story with Sarah Day called “Celestial Shores” that we’re shopping around, and the usual Podcastle holiday collaboration with Heather, this year with help from our son River, who got his first byline on “River’s Giving.”

I did a couple of reviews, too, for Locus, and owe them a year-in-review essay that’s due any minute now.

I was once again the judge for the science fiction/fantasy section of the Publishers Weekly Booklife prize for self-published works, and the winning title, Pluto’s Ghost by B.C. Chase, will appeal to fans of The Martian and cranky old guy protagonists being engagingly cranky. I’m on the jury for another prize, as I mentioned, but it’s new and hasn’t been publicly announced yet; it’s cool though. Soon, soon.

People

I like people! (Well, some people, anyway. A select few.) My wife has been writing and sewing and sewing and writing, and is getting into playwriting in a bigger way. Our son River turned 12, and is still into video games (and games in general), and is now a full-fledged roller coaster enthusiast as well, racking up some impressive rides, including a trip on the world’s tallest coaster, Kingda Ka, while we were in New Jersey. He started middle school this year and is thriving there. All three of us collaborated to create a card game, Cyber Wreck, which is super fun, and we’re probably going to force our friends to start playtesting soon. We rode bikes and went swimming and went to the Museum of Ice Cream and the boardwalk and had other adventures.

I continue to benefit from a community of smart and loving people who inexplicably choose to put up with me. Ais is still right down the street, playing great music with her band Three Drink Circus and generally being a ray of light; she’s always up for a movie or a beer, and as a bonus she draws whatever weird stuff I ask her for (this year she did great illustrations for Miracles & Marvels). Amanda is teaching at Stanford and UC Berkeley these days, busy as busy can be, but we still carve out time to hang out and drink wine and watch romantic comedies, and this year we even managed a long weekend trip. Emily is up in Portland becoming a doctor, which it turns out is time-consuming, but I got up to visit her a few times, and she came to visit me a couple times, and we had so many adventures and ate lots of delicious things (Blue Hour! La Luna! Salty’s! Pine State Biscuits!). Katrina has also gotten super busy with work and life stuff (I perceive a theme) but we got together as often as we could for WhiskeyHorror booze-and-movie nights, which are always a highlight. I see Sarah just about every week, and we watch Letterkenny and play video games and talk about writing and feast and frolic; we took a cool trip this summer too, of which more below. (We also watched most of the Phantasm franchise, for which I deserve hazard pay.)

I see other local friends too when the world allows. I reconnected with Zoe, drank whiskey with Daryl, hung out with Katie, enjoyed Effie and Josh’s assorted glorious gatherings, had a great time at Erin and Paul’s legendary July 4th cheese party, got to enjoy two parties at James and Ysa’s beautiful house, had some long chats with Elsa, and enjoyed people’s company en masse at our summer barbecue and my birthday party.

I saw faraway friends a bit: Hung out with Jenn and Chris a couple of times up in Portland, and saw Molly Tanzer, who crashed at our place for a few days while she was in town to do events for her excellent book Creatures of Want and Ruin. My best friend Dawson is briefly in the States after literal years of international travel, and is coming to visit us for a few days next week, which I’m super excited for, especially since New Year’s Eve was our high holy day back in the years when we lived together. I am rich in friends.

Trips

2018 is hard to top for travel (since I went to a whole other country last year), but I did a bit this year too.

I popped up to Portland in February to eat delicious things and take snowy walks with Emily, and we played VR games with Jenn and Chris (Beat Saber!).

At the end of February I spent a few days in a beautiful house in Marin mostly typing and talking to myself.

In June I headed to Santa Cruz with Amanda, and we got goat cheese in Pescadero and went to beaches and vineyards and hot tubs, oh my!

Late June and early July was the epic family road trip: me, Heather, River, and multiple amusement parks: two water parks and a roller coaster park in three days. The last day at Raging Waters we had a cabana and hung out with our friend Beth  and her kids (who got along great with River), and it honestly ruled.

In July Sarah and I went up to Sea Ranch and cooked things and looked at the breathtaking views and walked on the sea cliffs and it was super restful and inspiring.

In October I went to Monterey with Ais to talk to classes (as mentioned above). We ate all the fish and took all the walks. My friend Susie came down from Santa Cruz, and we all had a nice dinner at Melville’s.

In November the family did our big Philly trip, with lots of convention stuff, and platters of cheese, and multitudinous whiskeys, and a visit to the Franklin Institute (best science museum ever) and to a roller coaster park, and 50 strangers singing “Happy Birthday” to my son at the art show reception. It was an amazing trip.

At the end of November I headed up to Portland one more time, just a brief whirlwind visit, but we drank great booze and did lots of holiday shopping at Powell’s and the Saturday Market and did some fantastic cooking and restaurant-ing (I had a bourbon vanilla milkshake with BACON in it).

Money

I’m here to pay off debt and chew gum and I’m all out of gum. My student loan is dead, and I just paid off another huge chunk of debt, too. I’m not out of the hole entirely yet, partly because of a big unexpected expense related to the car crash from 2018 (sigh), but even so I’m on track to reach zero by late 2020, barring the unforeseen. Things are way less tight than they ever have been in my life. If we need something, mostly we can just… buy it. In 2020 I actually have plans to put money aside for my child’s future, which was unimaginable before this.

Health

I don’t think I’ve had this category before; never needed to. I’ve always been absurdly robust. Alas, age and genetics are catching up with me. A few weeks ago I got some bloodwork done and my glucose levels were shockingly high. Type 2 diabetes runs in my family (this is something of an understatement; it’s probably easier to count my close relatives who don’t have it), so I suppose it was inevitable, especially since I have always eaten like a ravenous teenager: you can’t beat the combo of nature and nurture. After a couple of weeks of eating less bread and pasta and sugar and more whole grains (and being on the appropriate drugs), my levels are now fine and I’ve dropped a couple pounds. It’s annoying but manageable. I suppose I’ll enjoy cheeseburgers more now that they’re a rare treat, but this is a rough shift for someone whose answer to “what’s your favorite food” has always been “sandwiches.” (Earlier in the year I also had a horrible bigger-than-a-golf-ball-sized abscess in an inconvenient place that had to be lanced and left a teensy scar, but let’s not go into all that.)

Various Things, Good and Bad

We spent the whole year without a car, and you know what? It’s been fine. My commute is a brief train ride and a brief walk. Heather works a mile from our house. River walks to school (or grabs the bus if it’s rainy or he doesn’t feel like walking not quite a mile). Sarah kindly loans me her car when I need to do errands I can’t do on public transit, and when we want to take a road trip, there’s an Enterprise car rental place on the corner. I’m not saying I’ll never have a car again, but cars were mostly just a source of horrifying surprise expenses for me, and it’s restful not having one.

My kid was on a community center trip to a theme park when there was a shooter scare (no shooter, it turned out, but people thought there was, and the panic was certainly real), and he ran a mile with strangers and climbed over fences and stuff to get to safety at a nearby hotel. Sarah came over in a flash so we could borrow her car and race to pick him up. It was awful, but he was so brave, and now he knows that in a scary situation he won’t freeze up or panic, but will do what he needs to do. I was afraid it would spoil amusement parks for him or lock him up with fear but it did neither. He’s so great. Getting his phone call, when he was running in fear for his life, was the most scared I have ever been. Reaching him and seeing he was safe was the most relieved I’ve ever been.

I’ve been cooking a ton in the instant pot I got last year. Favorites include butter chicken, mojo chicken, and fancy mac & cheese, but I’ve also poached pears in port wine and made broth and assorted soups and warm potato salad. I also made a lot of no-knead bread you can proof in the instant pot, it’s so fast!

I played some games I really liked: Prey and The Sinking City and Far Cry 5 especially. My kid got an Oculus Quest for Xmas so we’ve been playing Beat Saber and Superhot and stuff with that. It rules.

Saw very little theater, but the production of Arcadia at Shotgun Players was magnificent (and we had the best seats in the house, literally on the stage), and my nephew was one of the leads in his high school production of Mamma Mia, and that was super fun. I saw some good live music, including Three Drink Circus and Yard Sale and Sidney Gish.

I went to the Eat Real festival (always delight, and I had the best peach cider I can imagine, it was summer in a glass) and the Los Altos Art and Wine festival. I love the Bay Area and its assorted outdoor funtimes.

Next year is looking like a lot of reading (another year on the award jury awaits), writing (a work-for-hire novel… or two… and some Axiom novellas probably), some fun travel (I am going back to Maui in the spring, and another actual vacation destination to be determined in the summer), and some work travel that will incidentally be fun also I hope (the LA Times Festival of Books seems plausible, maybe other things too). I’ll let you know how it turns out.

Happy new year, all. May it bring you joy and peace.

 

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