Archive for the 'Tim Pratt' Category

13
Oct
09

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.

15
Sep
09

Exhaust

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 Tor.com. 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.

01
Sep
09

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.

01
Sep
09

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.