Author Archive for Tim Pratt


New Forces for a Better Tomorrow

I’d like to take this opportunity to welcome a slew of new denizens to the Magic District. We the Founding Few have become increasingly busy, and most of us have, shall we say, slipped a bit on our original update schedule. We decided an infusion of new blood would be welcome — both by us, as we’re happy to expand our ranks and lighten the load, and by you readers, who’ll get to enjoy loads of new rants, meditations, observations, leaps of logic, leaps of illogic, and other such bloggy goodness by a whole new slew of up-and-coming fantasy writers. Now, play yourself a little mental fanfare, please, and I’ll introduce the new writers:

Kelly Gay

Jeannie Holmes

Michele Lang

Lisa Shearin

Kalayna Price

M.K. Hobson

Seanan McGuire

Paul Crilley

Some of those names may be familiar to you already, and some of them will be. We’ll begin a more robust update schedule soon (though I wouldn’t expect too much from us in this, that last dead week of the year as reckoned by the barbarous Western calendar… but 2010 will be a different story).

I, myself, have little of import to impart, but I thought I’d take a writerly look back over this long year.

Despite having my novel series dropped by my publisher, I continue to work a lot — I’m in the midst of a work-for-hire pseudonymous novel, which is due in a couple of months, and is about halfway done. It’s a great gig, since within the specific premise I’ve been tasked to write, I have near-total freedom to do whatever I want; the result is something that very much resembles a Tim Pratt novel, though my name won’t be on the tin. (I’ve auditioned for other work-for-hire jobs where I was literally given a scene-by-scene description of what to write, for the entire book, so this is a nice variant.)

My anthology Sympathy for the Devil is done and delivered (and has cover art). Editing an anthology was both a lot harder and a lot more fun than I expected. Putting it together and talking to authors was awesome, but some of the logistics of securing rights was difficult… I’ve never been on the editor side of that dynamic before. It was a useful and good experience, and I think the book is very cool.

Earlier in the year I published a bunch of short stories, had several reprints in various markets (podcasts, foreign magazines, etc.), got nominated for a Stoker Award, serialized a short novel for donations online (for pretty decent money, even), sold a couple of novels overseas, and had other nice things happen.

I revised a middle-grade novel, which my agent is now shopping around, and did a synopsis and sample chapters for a very cool project which she’s also shopping around, so I’ve got a lot of irons on a lot of fires. Let’s hope one of them heats up sufficiently sometime next year, shall we?

2009 was a hard year for me and a lot of people I know, a bad year in publishing and a bad year personally. And while the turnover to a new year is technically arbitrary and has no cosmic significance, I find that it does have psychological significance, and if enough people think 2010 will be a better year, then a sort of collective magic could indeed be worked in our personal lives, our industry, and our economy. Such is the might (and weakness) of consensus reality. So act as if we’re in the early moments of a better tomorrow, won’t you?

-Tim Pratt


Christmas Stories

There’s a new Christmas story by Charles Stross, set in his Laundry universe of secret-agents / institutional government bureaucracy / Lovecraftian indifferent cosmic monsters: “Overtime”. Reason for rejoicing!

Other Christmas/fantasy/science fiction stories I adore (and read yearly):

Greg van Eekhout’s “In the Late December”, also listenable at Escape Pod.

Elizabeth Hand’s wonderful novella “Chip Crockett’s Christmas Carol,” from the late lamented Sci Fiction, but still available serialized on Hand’s journal: Part one, Part two, Part three, Part four, Part five, Part six, Part seven, Part eight, Part nine, Part ten, Part eleven.

I also re-read Connie Willis’s “Miracle”, my favorite of her many fine Christmas stories, which I don’t think is (legitimately) available online.

Got any favorites you’d like to share? (I’ll also accept Solstice stories, Mithras/Invictus birthday stories, Hanukkah stories, Kwanzaa stories, Winter Festival stories, etc. etc…)


The Horror, the Horror

The other night, while my baby was hollering at 4 a.m. (we think he had a nightmare, and we soothed him and changed him and so on, but after a while we just had to let him cry himself back to sleep), I was laying in a semi-awake state, thinking about the difference between horror stories and fantasy stories.

Specifically I was thinking about a story involving a magical door, a scary door through which potentially scary things might emerge into our ordinary world, and trying to think of a good way to end such a story. It seemed to me, in my trancelike state, that the moment in which the doorknob on the scary door began to rattle — the moment when something on the other side was on the cusp of emerging, with the mortals on this side watching in wide-eyed dread — would be a good place to end.

And, for a horror story, it wouldn’t be a bad ending. Much horror is rooted in the unknown. When you can see the monster, it’s almost always a let-down; the unseen monster, the monster implied, is far more frightening than the monster revealed.

But the next morning I found the notion of ending the story there a bit disappointing, perhaps even a bit craven. After all, the real leap of imagination would necessarily come when the door did open, and I had to create something on the other side worthy of the build-up, worthy of that sense of dread.

It seemed to me that, at that point, it would almost have to cease being a horror story, because I would need to explicate, explore, reveal — and have my characters somehow process and engage with whatever they saw. At that point, the central evocation of fear would be pushed aside in favor of other effects, and it would cease to be a horror story (in the sense of a story designed to invoke horror in the reader). Both horror and fantasy are rooted in the consideration of Mystery, but they approach that Mystery in different ways.

I was reminded of one of the widely-agreed-upon differences between a technothriller and a science fiction novel: in a technothriller, the status quo is restored at the end, while at the end of a SF novel, the world is changed.

And so my idea for a very short horror story turned into an idea for a rather longer fantasy story — albeit one retaining elements of horror, and several horrific moments; but not engineered for a horrific end.



I’m solo parenting this week while my wife Heather Shaw is off at the beautiful Blue Heaven writers’ workshop in Kelleys Island, Ohio, getting her fill of both critiques and beer (she’s there along with Magic District contributor Greg “The Keg” van Eeekhout, among others). My wife and I usually take turns getting up when the baby wakes, so we only have to risk a pre-dawn waking every other day. But with her out of town, I’ve been on my own, and the baby’s been getting up on the early side of his range, so after three days of rising before the sun I’m feeling pretty sleep-deprived. (Perhaps if I went to bed earlier… nah, it’d never work.) So I’m just going to drop in a couple of links here, in lieu of any original content:

Jon Armstrong (author of the weird and wonderful fashionpunk novel Grey) has a podcast called “If You’re Just Joining Us” (he interviewed me there once), and the latest installment features the wit and wisdom of literary agent Ginger Clark, who represents me (and Jon, for that matter). Much of the interview is given over to confirming or denying various myths about agents, and it’s a funny, fun interview.

I have a new story online today, written when I was less sleep-deprived and overall more lucid, so maybe go read that, it’s pretty short: “Silver Linings”, which is my first (but I hope not my last) publication at Great illustration by Thom Tenery, too; I can see why SF authors like writing about airships so much, when you get pictures like that! There’s also audio of me reading the story, which (let’s put this politely) privileges authenticity over polish.

Also, my online serial novella Bone Shop, um, accidentally became a novel this week, crossing the magical threshold of 40,000 words that (according to SFWA) separates very long stories from very short books. It’ll be another 15 or 20 thousand words before I’m finished, too, firmly in novel territory, which means I’ve still never written a novella, damn it. I thought I’d finally accomplish that. Sigh. Apparently if you let me get longer than a novelette I just can’t rein myself in, though in my defense the story turned out to be bigger than I originally expected.

Well, get going. Nothing more for you here, unless you like seeing a grown man fall asleep in his chair while a baby throws chunks of watermelon at him.


Outer Alliance Pride Day

And on an unrelated note: it’s Outer Alliance Pride Day! I am a proud member of the Outer Alliance. Anybody who’s read my fiction knows I often include characters who are queer in various ways. Why? Because it reflects the world I live in, and because I’m tired of fiction that doesn’t seem to acknowledge the existence of many of the kinds of people I know and love. So: yay for the Outer Alliance!

The group’s mission statement: As a member of the Outer Alliance, I advocate for queer speculative fiction and those who create, publish and support it, whatever their sexual orientation and gender identity. I make sure this is reflected in my actions and my work.


Mad Props

As I mentioned before, my Marla Mason series is kaput, and since I won’t be writing more of those books… it’s proposal time!

It’s a peculiar thing about being a professional writer. The first novel you sell, you almost certainly had finished before you sent it out — it’s a rare writer who can sell a debut without having a completed manuscript, and for good reason: the publisher needs to know you can finish writing a book.

But, after you’ve sold a book or two or three based on finished manuscripts, you get enough credibility that you can try another approach: selling based on some sample chapters and an outline/synopsis. The sample chapters are there to give editors a sense of the writing style, the voice, the tone, and all that stuff, and the outline/synopsis is to show you have some idea where you’re going.

Here’s a little secret though: you can usually deviate pretty widely from the outline without anybody getting upset about it, as long as you don’t, like, totally change genres or something (though individual editors will doubtless vary in their tolerances for deviation). Hell, the sample chapters I included in my proposal for Poison Sleep were cut entirely from the novel when I rewrote the whole beginning! But my editor didn’t mind, because I made it better.

So I’ve been proposal-ing. I have ideas for three novels I really want to write, all with sequel potential. I decided trying to do all three would kill me (not to mention overwhelm my agent) so I settled on the two that seemed to have the most commercial potential. Both are sort of divergences for me: one’s a fantasy in an alternate-historical milieu, one’s an epic fantasy (though a quirky one). For each, I needed about 10,000 words of sample chapters (50 pages or so), and synopses.

The epic fantasy isn’t that tough to write. I spent a long time working on the characters, the plot is quite solid, and the world is well established in my mind (I’ve given glimpses of it in my stories “Another End of the Empire” and “Over There”). Since I know that one will be easier… I did the other one first.

The thing about writing a historical book, even one with a pretty radically-altered history, is that it requires research. I didn’t want to do hundreds of hours of research for a first 50, because it would be basically a lot of wasted time if the novel doesn’t sell, but I picked a time I knew a bit about anyway, got a few books from the library, and poked Wikipedia and other corners of the internet fairly vigorously. If I wind up doing the whole book, I’ll have to research more, of course, but I got enough to make the first 50 work, I think. I polished and revised that first fifty a few times, then turned to the dreaded synopsis.

After years of hating synopses and finding them mysterious and terrible beasts, I’ve hit on an approach that works for me: I write the synopsis like I’m telling a friend everything that excites me about my novel (albeit in a slightly more organized fashion, with fewer digressions). It’s kind of informal. I do my best to make the synopsis itself an entertaining document, rather than a dry recitation of events. If I can match the tone of the novel somewhat in the tone of the synopsis, so much the better. In short, I try to write synopses that don’t make me want to gouge my eyes out with boredom. Does this produce perfect synopses that editors find irresistible? I dunno. But it’s the only way I can actually force myself to write the things, so it’s what I do.

I got that proposal/synopsis done and sent it off to my agent a couple of days ago. As for the more epic fantasy piece… that’s what I’m working on the rest of the day. It needs another 4,000 words or so of fiction and, then, the dread synopsis. Wish me luck.


What To Do When The Sky Is Falling

I know I haven’t updated here in recent weeks; the Worst Year Ever continues to eat up my life. I mentioned the death of my boss a few weeks back, and we’re still sorting out the consequences of that at work, though we’re also managing to get the magazine finished on time, which is the important bit.

The latest blow was the cancellation of my urban fantasy series. See that book cover over on the right, that says Spell Games? That’s going to be the last Marla Mason novel, at least from that publisher. A combination of the crappy economy and not-so-great sales = the end. Not sure where we’re going from here — my agent will see if other publishers want to pick up the series, and if not, I may write a fifth book anyway and self-publish, or do it as an online serial (like my ongoing novella Bone Shop), or something wacky like that. It’s still a story I want to tell.

This does give me the opportunity to address the question: what do you do when your career crashes into a wall?

If you’re me — and your wife was just laid off a few weeks ago and you lost your steady freelance work and making money is a priority — you hustle, hustle, hustle. This past month I wrote auditions for two different work-for-hire projects, one my agent chased down, one that fell serendipitously into my lap. I already got turned down for one of them — though they’re paying me a nice hunk of dough for the proposal I wrote, even though they’re not using it, and seemed to like me in general, just not for this project, so we’ll see what the future holds. It’ll be a while before I hear about the other one, but if it comes through: money, for pretty fun work. Here’s hoping.

I’m also writing short stories — those, at least, I can still sell without much trouble — and more actively pursuing reprint sales. There are lots of secondary markets out there, especially in the podcasting world, that pay pretty well, particularly considering the fact that I’ve already been paid for the story once when I sold it the first time…

I’ve gotten into the editing side of things too. I’m doing an anthology of reprint stories about the devil (Sympathy for the Devil) for Night Shade Books, and an original anthology of SF stories about artificial sex partners (not erotica, though, mostly) called The Naked Singularity for the new small publisher Fugu Press. Neither will make me rich, but it’s cool, interesting work I’m excited about, and it swells the coffers here in the PrattShaw house.

Plus I’m writing book reviews, which I haven’t done in years, and am quite rusty at, but it’s ultimately a way to get paid for reading books and having a few organized thoughts about them, so it’s not a bad deal.

The upshot is, despite wandering in the desert novel-wise, I’m still pretty busy. I haven’t even pushed the limits of work I could churn up — I’m still just doing stuff I like. If I get really financially desperate there are other ways I can make money by generating copy… it just won’t be very fun copy to write. Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that.

In the meantime, I’ve got a couple of completed novels out on the desks of various editors, and am writing proposals for some original fiction projects I’d love to write, even if I do have to start over under a pseudonym (one even more pseudonymous than T.A. Pratt!).

See, I’m a writer. So what I do is, I write. Even when the sky is falling.