Tim Pratt
SF and Fantasy Writer

WhiskeyHorror: Devil’s Pass

August 7th, 2014

WhiskeyHorror report:

I made this, basically: http://www.rachaelraymag.com/recipe/bourbon-and-peach-sweet-tea-punch/

Only it was extra-fruity because I used mango ceylon tea. Oh, and brown sugar simple syrup as sweetener, because the brown sugar goes well with bourbon. There are THREE CUPS of bourbon in that stuff, out of nine total cups of liquid. I had a glass, and Heather had a glass, and we were in the backyard going all WHOOOO. It is subtle but powerful. Katrina had some catching up to do when she arrived. (Even after drinking all night, I’ve got a couple cups of the stuff left in the pitcher. That’s an afternoon nap in liquid form.)

The film was Devil’s Pass (2013), a found-footage movie inspired by the Dyatlov Pass Incident (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dyatlov_Pass_incident), which has always interested me as a student of the inexplicable and the weird and the Fortean. It was a great improvement over Wrong Turn 2.

Pretty snowy mountainous locations, and a clever plot, even if it doesn’t entirely hold up under scrutiny. I am happiest when a story does something I don’t expect, but the unexpected thing has to reasonably grow from the premise and arise organically from what came before in terms of character, milieu, etc. — random incomprehensible non-sequiturs are surprising but not satisfying. This one, for me, went in directions that were unexpected but made sense, and so I was a happy horror viewer. The acting was pretty uneven, but you can get away with some of that with a found-footage cast of twenty-somethings. The special effects, when they arrived, were not fantastic, but there was good use of scuttling in the darkness, always a favorite of mine, and lots of creepy tunnels. And mysterious doors. I’m a sucker for mysterious doors.

We also watched the antepenultimate and penultimate episodes of American Horror Story season 2 — I’d forgotten how much time they devote to falling action/tying up loose ends/resolving the frame story, but I rather like it.

Next week: I dunno. Maybe The Last Exorcism? And I was thinking of buying some single malt…

WhiskeyHorror: Wrong Turn 2

August 1st, 2014

WhiskeyHorror report! (Why am I doing a WhiskeyHorror report, when I usually don’t? I don’t know. I feel like it.)

We drank bourbon and cherry vanilla cokes, and manhattans.

Wrong Turn 2 was… well. The writing wasn’t as good as in Wrong Turn, which is saying something. Everyone’s favorite mutant cannibal hillbilly, Three-Finger, doesn’t even hoot in this one, and his hooting was the best thing about the original. (He was played by a new actor in this one; perhaps that actor lacks the original’s hooting prowess.)

There were far too many very clear shots of the cannibal mutants (wait, are they cannibals if they eat non-mutated humans? I guess so, I don’t think their differences amount to a difference in species), in very clear light, rather than brief shots in shadow, so they looked less menacing and more like…. people in prosthetics and make-up. (Mostly, they looked like The Saddest Possible Ferengi.)

I don’t think there was a single plot development that either I or Heather or Katrina didn’t call in advance. I mean, we’re all pretty good plot predictors, but I like there to be something that’s not totally foreseeable.

The mutant baby was pretty impressively disturbing. Henry Rollins was fine, though he mostly seemed to be inhabiting an entirely different movie. (I kinda would’ve preferred to see that movie.) Making fun of it had entertainment value. But generally I prefer a movie that’s less entirely mockable. I don’t think I’ll be chasing down future installments in the franchise.

Neoyuckicon

July 13th, 2014

You know, I really like Alan Moore’s comics, and I really like the Cthulhu mythos (hell, just yesterday I bought the quite pricy boardgame The Doom that Came to Atlantic City, mostly because of the lovely resin figurines of the Great Old Ones, though I look forward to playing it, too). So when I saw Moore’s police procedural Lovecraft graphic novel Neonomicon at the library on Thursday I thought, “Oooh, been meaning to read this,” and eagerly picked it up.

Then I read it, and I kinda wish I could excise large portions of it from my brain. I liked the overall concept, actually — taken as a Mythos short story, it has a clever twist at the end and some cool moments, and I like Johnny Carcosa and the bits with the mural and the banter between the FBI agents.

But… it’s a four-issue miniseries, and the bulk of one of those issues involves graphic depiction of a woman being repeatedly raped by a Deep One (this is after she was raped by cultists in the previous issue). I just… I could have done without the graphic fish-monster rape, is what I’m saying. For purposes of plot, some fish-monster/human sex had to happen, but pages and pages of monster fish cock terror… I think “gratuitous” as a criticism is generally overused, but yeah, that shit was gratuitous. It just went on and on. The art, by Jacen Burrows, is pretty good — which makes it that much worse, honestly. It’s meticulously-drawn nightmare fuel.

I get that Moore was trying to make the “sex is gross and vaginas are scary” subtext inherent in Lovecraft’s work into over-the-top text, and he definitely did that, but I barely made it through the comic. (Let me calibrate this for you: I actually like Garth Ennis’s ultra-gratuitous, grimmer-than-grim, circus-of-depravity, all-kinds-of-violence-including-sexual superhero series The Boys – and those issues of Neonomicon made that series seem tame.)

Jay Lake

June 1st, 2014

Jay Lake is gone.

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.

April Appearances

April 7th, 2014

April is a busy month, with no fewer than THREE opportunities to see me sign books and/or read things out loud in public.

On Sunday, April 13 from 2-3 p.m. I’ll be signing and chatting with people at game store Endgame in Oakland, as part of their “Intro to Adventuring” one-day gaming mini-con devoted to the Pathfinder roleplaying game. (I will, I imagine, mostly be signing my Pathfinder Tales books, though who knows, surprise me.) I’ll likely be loitering in the vicinity a bit before and after, too — the event starts at 10:30 a.m. and runs until 7 p.m. There are a couple of great beer bars in that neighborhood, so I’ll probably wander off for beer sometime if anyone’s interested in joining for that.

On Saturday, April 26 at 3 p.m. there’s a (somewhat belated) Flytrap launch party at Borderlands Books in San Francisco. I will be there with my co-editor and wife Heather Shaw and quite a few of our contributors, so I won’t be talking too much there, but you should come, it’ll be awesome, I’m gonna bring cookies. Confirmed contributors attending include Jessica May Lin, Nick Mamatas, Dominica Phetteplace, and Sarah Grey (we’re hoping some others can make it, too). We’ll be selling copies of the ‘zine, and even a few copies of the illustrated bonus story chapbook that’s otherwise available only to Kickstarter backers.

On Sunday, April 27 at 6 p.m., I will be taking part in a FreemadeSF Launch Party at Brick & Mortar Music Hall in San Francisco, with food, live music, and readings from people like Vylar Kaftan, Mike E. G., Mark Pantoja, and… Nick Mamatas and Dominica Phetteplace again. I’ll be seeing a lot of them that weekend. I did their first event last year and it was one of the most interesting and fun and delicious events I’ve ever done. I’m excited to be invited back.

I’m going to be hermit in terms of public appearances for a while after this, so come gaze upon the author while you can.

Lady of Misrule Kickstarter

March 10th, 2014

I’m running a Kickstarter crowdfunding campaign for my next Marla Mason novel, Lady of Misrule. A $10 donation gets you the e-book, and when you give more, you get… more!

There are nine days left on the campaign as I write this, and it’s already funded, so the book’s definitely going to happen. I’m so close to hitting the stretch goal that will allow me to hire Lindsey Look to paint original cover art!

If you can give, or spread the word, I’d appreciate it greatly. It’s going to be a fun book, full of monsters and violence and banter.

Heirs of Grace: One Week Away

February 11th, 2014

My next novel, contemporary fantasy Heirs of Grace, is available for pre-order. I think it’s my best novel ever. It’s a serial, to be released digitally in five weekly installments beginning next Tuesday, then published in a collected edition. The whole thing only costs $1.99. If you’re capable of reading Kindle e-books, consider pre-ordering, hmm? Look at the gorgeous Galen Dara cover and be moved:

2013 in Review

December 27th, 2013

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.

Taken On Grace

November 25th, 2013

Over the weekend I finished writing the first draft of Heirs of Grace, my twenty-something-th novel. (It’s probably the 21st novel I’ve written that’s going to actually be published. Or maybe the 20th, as my forthcoming The Deep Woods is right around 40,000 words, and could be considered a novella or a novel depending on which definition you use. I tend to think of it as a short novel. Which makes Heirs of Grace the 25th novel I’ve actually finished, since I have four trunk books that are complete but not really publishable. A perusal of my bibliography won’t allow you to come up with the same numbers I have here, since I’ve done a couple of pseudonymous work-for-hire books that aren’t listed there. Well. You see the confusion.)

I like this book a lot. It’s a contemporary fantasy standalone with some romantic elements — arguably what I do best, and certainly what I like doing most. I think it has some of my best writing, and jokes, and character stuff, and weird magic. I put everything I’ve got into this one. I hope when the time comes to read it in a few months, you’ll find it worthwhile.

Do people care about metrics? I find it interesting, to understand my own working habits, which are irregular and not really a model anyone should follow. I’m not sure why anyone should care about how anyone else works, though. It just seems to invite pointless comparisons. Most readers likely don’t care how you wrote a book — they just care about how the book turned out in the end.

But Heirs of Grace was a weird book for me, in many ways. I sold it as a serial to 47North, to be published in five novelette-sized chunks over successive weeks, then collected in a complete edition. So it’s a novel, but there are little mini-arcs to each individual section, too. Structuring it that way was fascinating, and gave a solid shape to what had been a somewhat messy book in my mind.

The deadlines were interesting, too. The first chapter was due at the end of September, and after that, I pretty much had a deadline every two weeks, so I was writing 15-20,000 words every couple of weeks — and revising them, so they were fairly polished when I turned them in. I blew one deadline because I got sick and needed a week-long extension, but managed to get the installment after that one done on time, so as a whole I hit my markers. I ended up writing 90,000 words or so over a span of about 50 days — not that I worked on it every day. I’ve always been a binge writer by preference. I like to take many hours at a stretch and produce many words, when time allows.

I stuck pretty close to my outline until this past week, when I realized my planned ending was stupid, morally reprehensible, and — worst of all — boring. I tried to think of a better ending, one that was earned and powerful. I talked out the implications of changing things with a friend at a cafe on Saturday, and I think I came up with something that works.

Those rolling deadlines and the tight time-frame — and the fact that this book is quite important to me, one of the most personal novels I’ve written since Briarpatch — gave my life a peculiar rhythm these past couple of months, and made me identify quite intensely with my characters. I find myself really missing them this morning. I’ll get to spend a few more weeks with them as I work with my editor on final revisions, but soon it will be time to move on to the next book.

I’m feeling happy and accomplished and bittersweet and melancholy today. So, you know. Like a human.

Books and Wonders

October 14th, 2013

I recently got a copy of Wonderbook (which you can order at Amazon and B&N and other places), a lavishly illustrated, weird, and delightful guide to writing imaginative literature, by Jeff VanderMeer. I contributed in a very small way with some text to make a “revision snake,” one of a series of informational diagrams in serpent form, detailing the revision processes of various authors for various books. Here’s the snake for my novel Poison Sleep, detailing the number of drafts I went through in that book, and some challenges I faced:

THIS BOOK IS FULL OF SNAKES and other wonderful things. It’s seriously one of the strangest, most interesting, and most browse-able books I’ve ever held in my hands. Check it out.

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There’s another book I should mention, too — my first middle-grade novel, The Stormglass Protocol, co-written with Andy Deemer, is out now. It’s a tie-in novel for a game about kid spies (appropriately called Stormglass, which Andy helped create), and I think it’s fun and fast-moving. It was a great experience, writing a book with twelve-year-olds in mind, though it might appeal to you grown-up types too. (It is not full of snakes. It is, however, full of bees.)