Archive for June, 2009


Bones and Boats and Experimental Publishing

A few weeks ago, Catherynne M. Valente (Tiptree winner, onetime featured poet in my ‘zine Flytrap, master of nested narratives) announced a new project: she would publish a YA novel, The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making, as an online serial, updated weekly.

She explains why, but the gist is that her partner was unemployed longer than they’d expected, and money was running out, and even though she’s got some books coming from big publishers in the pipeline, they needed money now; and, so, she was asking for reader donations to support the book.

I spread the word when I heard about the project, and I gave (a pitifully small amount, all we could afford) myself, and when I told people about it, I usually said, “Help if you can. This could just as easily be any of us.”

Two weeks later, it was us. My wife was laid off unexpectedly last Tuesday afternoon. I also lost my regular freelance writing gig (which I did for her company). Our income was suddenly diminished by three-fifths, and my wife (and our son’s) health insurance goes away at the end of July. We have a little savings. We can pay rent next month. But after that… After that, things get dicey.

So I thought about what I could do, to make money for health insurance, mostly. (Doing without isn’t an option; our son has congenital glaucoma, and gets examined under anesthesia at least twice a year; he’s had a few surgeries so far, and willl likely need more in the future.) I’ve had a lot of fans vocally clamoring for another book in my Marla Mason series, and have been telling them all that the future is uncertain; my editor has proposals for two more books on her desk, but the publisher hasn’t yet decided whether or not to go forward. But, maybe, if I could give them something…

I had the idea many months ago to write a prequel novella about Marla, to tell how she developed into the sorceress, badass, crime boss she eventually became. I’ve touched lightly on her past in the existing novels, mentioning certain events, and the idea of fleshing them out appealed to me. I also saw how I could include some genuinely surprising revelations about Marla, things that nobody knows — and I saw a way to do it without making it seem like I’d been unfairly withholding important information in the already-published books.

But it was a back-burner project; novellas are hard to sell, and the couple of small presses I queried about it weren’t interested. So I never wrote it. Until…

My wife was laid off. And the need for money soon became pressing.

Last week I announced Bone Shop, a reader-supported serial novella about the early life of Marla. Yesterday I posted Chapter One, and the response so far has been very gratifying.

We writers are all trying to make our way in a rapidly changing commercial landscape. I don’t know if experiments like Cat’s and mine (and various other authors before us — we didn’t invent this approach!) will work out in the long run, or become the new normal, or come to seem quaint and strange. But, pragmatically — and, like Marla, I try to be pragmatic — I don’t care if it’s sustainable or heralds a new age, not at the moment. It’s bringing in some money right now, and allowing me to write something I’m passionate about at the same time, and that has to be enough.

(Though if anybody knows of good jobs or juicy freelance gigs, let me know. My wife has been a catalog copywriter and retail buyer for the past 7.5 years, and also has office manager/admin experience. She’s awesome and any company’d be lucky to have her.)

-Tim Pratt


Learning to fly solo

I never thought of myself as a workshop junky. Not that I have anything against workshops or workshop junkies. I might have been very happy to have gone to Clarion or Clarion West, but my life and my writing development never coincided in such a way that it  made sense to go, and by the time I’d reached a point where a six-week workshop might have been beneficial, I was enmeshed in a full-time job that I quite liked but didn’t afford me six weeks of leave.

Instead, I went to Viable Paradise, the one-week workshop held every year on Martha’s Vineyard. There, I made good contacts, got great writing feedback at a time when I was pretty sure I knew how to write sentences but sucked at stories, and my first professional story sale resulted from that workshop. Viable Paradise obviously had a big impact on my life.

But the workshop that’s given me an even bigger boost than VP has been Blue Heaven, a peer-run workshop founded by C.C. Finlay focusing on novels. I’d written a little practice novel before coming to Blue Heaven, but that was after giving up on the novel I’d really wanted to write, which was Norse Code. Preparing for Blue Heaven three years ago, I decided to give Norse Code another try.  Eleven other writers told me everything that was wrong with the book. And they also told me what was right about it. And they helped me find the hard little raisin stone my faith had become and filled it with liquor and juice and turned it into a big moist plum, and by the time I stepped off the ferry from Kelly’s Island, OH, I was ready to tackle Norse Code again.

I’m streamlining  a little here, because there were some other bumps and curves, but that’s the gist of it. Before Blue Heaven, I wasn’t a professional writer. Now I feel like I am. I’m not talking about sizes of advances or whether or not I’m in SFWA (I’m not). I’m talking about being someone who can write books and get paid for them and do it more than once. Not the pinnacle of professionalism, but it’s a start.

This past weekend I returned from Starry Heaven, a workshop modeled after Blue Heaven. It was a tremendously good and useful time. I got valuable feedback from my colleagues, and I connected with old friends and made new ones in the pleasant thin air of Flagstaff, Arizona. I’m very happy I went, and I’d certainly do it again. I loved being there. I’m so happy to have had the privilege. But I realized I’d be writing the book with or without the workshop. Did I need the workshop? Do I need Blue Heaven? I’m starting to think that maybe I don’t any more. I think, maybe, I could get this job done without the workshop stage. I think that’s normal and healthy. I think it’s a natural part of my growth.

Which is not to say the workshops don’t still fulfill a very critical need for me. There’re still workshop deadlines to motivate me and feedback to help me avoid suckage and help me untie knotted storylines. But honestly, if I never went to another workshop, I’d still get these books written. I couldn’t say that three years ago.


How long?

by Diana

I had my first signing for Mark of the Demon yesterday, and there was one question that I heard over and over: “How long did it take you to write this book?”

There really isn’t a simple answer to that.  So, here’s the complex answer:

I started writing it in the fall of ’06, and finished the draft about six weeks later. I set it aside for a couple of months, and then when I picked it up again (and decided that it wasn’t completely horrible,) I spent about four to five months revising it.  After I found an agent, he had me do another round of revisions which took a couple of weeks. After it sold, my editor asked me for more revisions, which took about three weeks to complete. After that, we ended up going through another round of revisions, which took about two weeks. And, finally, there was the copyedits, which took about a week. By this time it was January 2009 (or thereabouts.)

So, maybe there is a simple answer: two years and four months. 🙂


Taking the plunge

This last weekend, my husband and I made a pretty big decision. After careful consideration, I decided that, once I leave my day job to have my baby, I’m not going to return. I will instead be staying at home, writing and looking after the kid.

This is a  huge, scary change for me. I’ve always been very work minded and aggressive in pushing my career. The idea of being a housewife terrifies me for reasons I don’t really understand, though it probably comes from being young and impressionable during 80s new wave feminism and the demonization of housewives as oppressed women being kept from their dreams. Of course, I wouldn’t be doing that. I’d be writing more hours than ever before, and still sharing all housework with my husband. I’d still have a job, I’d just be at home.

I tell myself it’s silly to be nervous about this. My life long dream has always been to quit my job and write full time, but the idea of actually doing it scares me shitless. I’ve always had a job, I’ve got professional skills that I’ve worked really hard to obtain and perfect. The idea of just leaving that to do something as famously up and down as writing feels so… reckless. My husband and I, we’re not reckless people, and even the thought of us doing something like this has a hard time finding a home in my brain.

But still, for us, it makes sense. We live in Athens, GA, a college town in the middle of nowhere Georgia famous for alternative music, great food, and cheap living. We can get by very well on not a lot by virtue of where we live and our embarrassingly cheap tastes (paperbacks and videogames instead of cable, it’s awesome). Also, my staying at home means avoiding childcare costs, which are astronomical even in Athens, more time spent cooking and thus less spent eating out, and all the other benefits of having someone putting a couple hours of quiet work into the house every day.

But more than all of this is the simple issue of time. I already don’t have enough hours in the day to work my day job and write books that are any good. Add a baby to that equation and we’ve reached the realm of the impossible. I know there are TONS of authors who balance kids, work, and writing (including this very blog!), but whatever angle I come at it from, I just can’t seem to make it work. Maybe it’s the way I write, maybe it’s my job, but something, baby, writing, or job, has to give. And since I’m stuck with one, and another’s my great dream, it looks like job is out the window, which really kind of sucks, because I’m lucky enough to LIKE my job.

This isn’t to say I’ll never go back to day work. If my Eli books tank (possible) or my kids get older and I find I’m going insane not having a job outside the house (more possible), I can always go back. My day job won’t disappear so long as people need websites to look pretty. And I think it’s that knowledge, knowing that I leave no smoldering bridges behind me, that actually gives me the courage to cowgirl up and take the plunge.

So, the numbers are run, the stakes are set, and come December, I’m jumping into the life of writer-mom-housewife.

In other, unrelated news, a cold front has just hit hell. Fifteen inches of accumulation are expected; bring your snowshoes if you’re planning a visit.


How Much Magic is Too Much/Not Enough?

Wow — book launches, weddings, babies; my fellow Magic Districtians have been up to so much cool stuff lately! (Congrats to all!) My own recent projects are pretty minor by comparison, but I guess I’ll talk about them anyway.

I experimented with voice acting recently, doing a reading for the fantasy fiction audio ‘zine PodCastle. I read the excellent story of fantasy writer Alaya Dawn Johnson, called “Shard of Glass”, which first debuted in Strange Horizons; check it out. Doing the reading was a lot of fun, although apparently the sound quality is a little iffy and my voice is too slow/soft. (Sorry ’bout that. My first time.)
Continue reading ‘How Much Magic is Too Much/Not Enough?’


Something Old, Something New

It’s been an interesting week for me, short-story-wise. One of my newest stories — as in, I wrote it this past January, and it’s the newest-but-three of all my short fiction — went online at Strange Horizons: “Another End of the Empire”.

Also this week, Daikaijuzine posted a reprint of my first ever published story, which first appeared in a little ‘zine called Maelstrom back in 1999: “53rd Annual Mantis Homecoming Dance”.

Now, writers are poor judges and critics of their own work, and I’m not going to subject you to some compare-and-contrast essay here, but it occurs to me that there’s a cool decade between these two stories — more like eleven years between the time they were written, actually. Makes me curious about how far I’ve come as a writer, and how many things about my approach have remained the same.

First, “Mantis Dance” was derivative (in the best way), inspired a bit by the skewed weirdness of James Sallis’s story “53rd American Dream” from one of the Dangerous Visions anthologies. I wanted to capture the feel of that story, the sense that you’re in a recognizable world, but then things twist and reality undergoes a sudden shift away from the familiar. Vertigo, confusion, discontinuity; those are the things I wished to create in the reader. (Dunno that I succeeded, but that was the goal.) Other qualities I note in that story: the prose is pretty clunky, the characters are caricatured in the extreme, the violence is pleasantly gleeful, it’s about high school and was written when I was only three years out of high school, and the best line — “Take out their knees, and they’re on the ground. Once they’re on the ground, they’re meat.” — was stolen (er, borrowed, with permission, actually) verbatim from something my friend D. said to me once. It’s also a pretty painfully ham-fisted metaphor for teenage male/female relationships and the social dangers of high school.

As for “Another End of the Empire,” well, hell, it’s derivative, too — inspired by every fantasy I’ve ever read with a Dark Lord and a soulless totalitarian empire. But, in this case, my wish was to subvert, not to replicate, those prior reading experiences. At the same time, though, I wanted to pay homage to the things I like about those stories. I wanted to humanize the inhuman dark lord, I wanted to mess around a bit with notions of dire prophecy, and I wanted to both have fun and create something that’s ultimately emotionally affecting. I can’t speak to whether or not I succeeded, but I can say I was aiming a lot higher with this story, trying for a much more ambitious set of goals. And the characters, though dependent to a certain extent on stereotypes — my dark lord is referred to as Dark Lord Mogrash! — are a lot more well-rounded, with their actual characteristics playing against type. Also: the prose is a lot better. The metaphors are better integrated. There are some nice moments of whimsy. The descriptions are more robust. So, you know, good to see I became a better writer in the intervening decade.

But, more importantly, I went from attempting to copy (ineffectively) another author’s voice to developing my own. I did a lot of chameleon writing when I was younger — I’d read something I thought was cool, and would try to write something in that style. It was an important part of my development, but the copying was a means, not an end. It gave me more tools for my trade, more tricks in my repertoire, all on the way to creating my own voice. I learned to aim higher. I gradually developed a voice of my own. Both were necessary. Both are ongoing.

I’m not saying either of these stories is deathless prose that will outlive me, but I’m pleased with how far I’ve come in ten years. It gives me hope for the next ten.

-Tim Pratt



by Diana 

Now that the release of my book in the counting-down-by-the hours phase (yes, I am. Shut up) I’m going to hijack this blog today to give a special shoutout. As most of the readers of this site are aware, in this day and time (and economy!) it’s usually up to the author to do the majority of the promotion for his/her book. We’re told to have a website, start a blog, get a Facebook page, get on Goodreads, start Twittering…  all of which are okay, but seldom do much to actually drive people to your website or generate interest in your book.

However, there’s a certain subsection of the internet that (IMO) has done amazing things for the book world, and made it possible for authors to reach thousands of potential readers.

Therefore, I’d like to give a big shoutout to blogger-reviewers–the ones who make the majority of online promotion possible. These are people who don’t get paid for writing reviews or conducting interviews or hosting online events. At best they get advance copies, and are instead driven by a pure love of books. Seriously, I’m completely impressed, and I can easily say that if not for these people, I doubt that more than a few dozen people would know about Mark of the Demon.

So, big thanks to all of you book lovers who take the time to pimp our books!


The one that worked

Back when I was searching for an agent, there was nothing I obsessed over quite as single mindedly as my query letter. I wasn’t alone in this, everyone who had a book they wanted to get into an agent’s hands was freaking out over the things. They were the first test, the first blood on the sand, and, as someone who has great troubles with brevity, a personal agony that had to be conquered.

Of course, there are tons of sites for working on queries. I enjoyed Evil Editor and the late, much lamented Miss Snark in particular. But those sites particularly focused on what is wrong with a specific letter, so I thought I’d take a break from pontificating about writerly things and post my query letter as an example of a not-so-perfect missive that actually worked.

So here it is, the query for The Spirit Thief that got me my agent:

Dear ,

In a world where everything has a soul, and an opinion, Eli is a wizard with an uncanny knack for getting inanimate objects to do what he wants. He’s also the age’s most famous thief, with a price on his head large enough to fund a small war. But that’s not nearly enough for Eli, he has a higher goal: earn a bounty of one million gold or die trying. Of course, “die trying” is exactly what Miranda Lyonet, the wizardess in charge of catching Eli before he ruins the reputation of wizards everywhere, would prefer he did. The Spirit Thief, complete at 80,000 words, is about what happens when magic, money, and a royal kidnapping gone wrong change the rules in the old game of cat and cat.

When Eli breaks out of jail by literally charming a door off its hinges and kidnaps the king of Mellinor, a country that has forbidden magic since its founding, there’s nothing the nobles can do. Fortunately for them, Miranda is right on Eli’s trail. But things get complicated when the kidnapped king’s older brother, Renaud, himself a wizard banished by Mellinor’s law, takes advantage of the confusion to make his triumphant return. But Miranda is suspicious, would a banished prince really stick his neck out for the younger brother who took his throne?

She gets her answer when Renaud sabotages the king’s rescue, cheating Eli out of his ransom and framing Miranda for the real king’s death. To clear her name, Miranda must take on the traitorous prince, and for that she’ll need help. Unfortunately, “help” means swallowing her pride and teaming up with the thief who started this whole mess.

I’ve included the first four pages and a synopsis of the entire work below. Thank you for your time and I look forward to hearing from you soon!

Rachel Aaron
(contact info)

Man, that doesn’t sound NEARLY as good as I used to think it did.  Just goes to show, the proof is in the pages!


Optimistic… Fantasy?

I’ve been hearing a lot of calls lately for optimistic, upbeat science fiction. There are at least two anthologies coming soon that want it, and apparently there was a minor fracas in the blogosphere recently over one author’s calls for an “ethical” stand against negativity. (Is negativity unethical? But I digress.)

I have to admit that I haven’t felt much of an urge to heed these calls for a number of reasons, but probably the biggest among them is that I just don’t get it. I don’t feel like I’m drowning under a swiftly-rising tide of vitriol and nihilism; really, I’m feeling more hopeful about the SF/F/H fiction genre lately than I have in a long time. In fact I had to think hard to remember the last “downbeat” novel I read (Peter V. Brett’s The Warded Man), and I’m not sure I could really consider it downbeat, because however ugly it got in the middle (and boy did it; PTSD-inducing tragedies happened to everybody in that book) I knew that by the end, good things would happen. (And they did, quite satisfyingly.) Not necessarily happily-ever-after, note; fantasy novels have no problem killing off major characters or invoking a bit o’ the old Armageddon. That said, there is a certain tendency in fantasy novels to “put the world to rights”* once the MacGuffin of Power is back on the Pedestal of Safety, and the Stoic Heroine has successfully landed a Stoic Hero in bed, if not at the altar. This happens even in dark fantasy, though with a bit of role reversal or moral relativism thrown in — the Dark Lord turns out to be a good guy with bad PR (e.g., Jacqueline Carey’s Sundering duology), or gets redeemed in the end (e.g., C.S. Friedman’s Coldfire trilogy), et cetera. It happens so consistently that I literally can’t remember ever seeing a true “rocks fall, everybody dies” ending in fantasy.

Which got me thinking: maybe 50% of what I read these days is fantasy. Could that be why I feel no desperate craving for optimism?

Maybe all these optimism-craving sciencefictionistas should just up their fantasy intake a bit, and then they’d feel better.

* There’s probably a lit-critty term for this, but hey — I majored in Psych, not English.


Armageddon married in the morning

I won’t have a post up next week, on account of I’m getting married this weekend.  Which explains some of my scatterbrained nature these last few weeks, as whatever originally passed for gray matter in my skull has since been turned into tulle and sparkles and vitally important questions like who’s taking care of the damn tablecloths.  (Answer: Why does it even matter?  They’re tablecloths, not important stuff like rings or licenses or making sure my bridesmaids don’t attach an ARE YOU LOOKING AT MY ASS sign to my back.)

I admit that when I thought up this post, I’d originally planned it as a long involved comparison between planning a wedding and writing a novel, ending up with some nice little platitude about the process being unimportant, so long as the ultimate result was good.  Only that’s not going to happen, because the two things are not at all alike.  Yeah, you can get them to match if you approach the metaphor in a Procrustean way, cutting off most of the details and stretching the remaining ones.  Do that, and the same comparison could apply to baking a loaf of banana bread as well.

So instead I’m going to just list a few things I’ve learned from fiction about weddings. Because that’s about what my brain can handle at the moment. Those who’ve gone through this already and those who just know what they’ve read/watched/thought up are invited to post more. Continue reading ‘Armageddon married in the morning’