Latest Posts

Walking the Walk

Kids, I like to walk places, which makes me a little weird in modern-day America, where people apparently think walking three blocks to a store is pure insanity. One of the things I love about Hoboken, my home town, is its walkability. I don’t own a car currently, and don’t need one; literally everything I need is within easy walking distance, as long as you define “easy walking distance” as the distance that a normal adult in good health should be able to walk without complaining, passing out, or falling into some sort of storm drain. For me, that’s about 3-4 miles.

Now, some folks react to the fact that I walk 3-4 miles every single day with a bit of incredulity, as if spending hours at the gym working with machines is much less weird than simply walking around for exercise, but that’s okay. My brother, Yan, actually walks a lot more than I do. He often spends entire days just walking around. The man could use his legs as Jaws of Life in crash situations. So I’m not the weirdest Somers, which has always been my only true goal in life.

I like walking, what can I say? And when you walk around town every day like I do, you see some shit.

Some Shit Jeff Has Seen

ON my merry perambulations, I’ve seen

    • Many, many fancy people with umbrellas in the sunshine. Now, I know the sun is bad for you. I am sure my own skin is so damaged from the sun I will someday look remarkably like Tommy Lee Jones. Still, the number of folks I see parading about in the sunshine holding cheap, regular CVS-style umbrellas over themselves is remarkable. So I have remarked upon it. I wonder if these folks maintain their low-rent fanciness in other scenarios as well; perhaps all of their cans of diet cola at home sit on fancy white doilies?
    • Men walking about in 90-degree weather wearing long pants and jackets. Look, not everyone likes shorts. Some people think the world is far too casual, and some people just don’t like to expose skin. Fine and all, but … the jacket? I’ll be walking about in a constant puddle of my own sweat (and believe you me, I am wearing shorts in these scenarios and would go nekkid if I could) and some middle-aged dude will stroll past wrapped up like he’s recently teleported from the North Pole. And I can only think about the swampy nature of his nether regions.
    • Neighbors who live on my block getting out of cars approximately 3 blocks away from their house. It’s certainly possible they drove from another, distant location. But I wouldn’t be surprised to discover they drove from their house to the Chipotle, because walking 6 blocks there and back is obviously not what god intended them to do.

GEESES

  • A lot of geese, because we have a lot of geese living on the river here in Hoboken. They make me unreasonably happy for some reason, similar I suppose to the Tony Soprano Swimming Pool Ducks.
  • A lot of Stoop Sitting. I dunno about where you live, but here in the NYC metro area people of the older generations are still very fond of setting up shop on their front porch or stoop (or on the sidewalk if there’s no other choice) and … sitting there. All day. Just watching the world go by and engaging in conversation with anyone who wanders by. It kind of creeps me out, to be honest. My Mother once told me that when she was a young girl in Brooklyn, no one had air conditioning, so stoop-sitting was a consequence of their apartments being like ovens during the day. It’s possible these folks don’t have A/C either, but I am dubious.

Walking is about the only exercise I’m willing to engage in, because I am a strange and wonderful being filled with secrets. That’s me; if you prefer a gym or yoga or jogging, more power to you. I’ll just keep walking, and making mental notes about the terrors that await us on the streets.

Another Blog: Writing Without Rules

You may have noticed that I haven’t been terribly active at this here blog, which is as much a tragic story of authorial incompetence as anything else. One reason I’ve been distracted is the other blog I’ve set up: Writing Without Rules.

WWR is where I’ve been posting all my genius, sodden, slightly warped writing advice (craft and career). The main reason I’ve set this blog up instead of simply continuing to dump my writerly thoughts here is because I’ve sold a book:

BAM!

It’s not out until 2018, so let’s hold our applause. But since you can’t start promoting something too early, I’ve set up a companion blog centered on writing. I’ll be posting thoughts on writing novels, short stories, and other things, as well as my half-assed ideas about promotion and marketing. If you’re an aspiring writer and you’re under the delusion that you can learn something from me, please do surf on over and leave me some insulting comments. And mark your calendars to buy this book when it comes out, as I guarantee you will be a hundredaire after putting it’s concepts into action.

On Strike Against Blackouts

The time has come to make a stand. There are many possible stands I could take. I could decide that flavored whiskies must be destroyed in the marketplace. Or that haircuts are a form of oppression. But the stand I have chosen to make is to protest against the Blackout Ending.

What’s a Blackout Ending? It is often referred to as The Sopranos Ending. You know, where everyone was on the edge of their seat waiting to see if Tony was going to get shot in the head while eating onion rings with his family, and then the screen cut to black and David Chase basically stuck his thumb into your eye? Here’s a screenshot:

I especially love the blocking in this shot.

This should also forever be known as the only time anyone will ever be allowed to do this in the age of Prestige Television, by dint of being the first to do it. And also because I believe Chase did the heavy lifting in the editing and construction of that final sequence to earn his Blackout Ending. You can sift through the cuts and actually make a case for what happened, so I am inclined to give him a Mulligan on this and allow it.

Everyone else who’s done it since? Fuck you, you lazy writers.

The Lady? Or the Tiger?

The ending that isn’t an ending, or the Anti-Ending, isn’t new. The most famous example is probably The Lady, or The Tiger? by Frank Stockton, published in 1882. Anyone who attended at least one decent school probably read this story at some point. If you didn’t, it’s time to reflect on the terribleness of your education. But, that said, it’s not a good story. It’s well-written, but its fame comes from its non-ending, when Stockton basically asks the reader what they think just happened. It cuts to black. It’s bullshit. It was ever bullshit, and it ever remains thus.

Since The Sopranos, other shows have tried this trick, most recently Fargo on FX, which ended with the villain and the hero sitting in an interrogation room, arguing over what was going to happen next. Cut to credits, and we never found out. There are a lot of arguments that this is a perfectly acceptable way to end a story. That it encourages people to come up with their own endings, to study the episodes before and decide what happened.

This is what Literary Scientists call bullshit.

Yes, those arguments are valid enough. And some people like these sorts of endings, arguing that anything the writers came up with would be disappointing. And certainly a lot of endings are disappointing—most notably endings that just cut to black like that. But

  1. The Sopranos gets a pass because it was the first TV show in the modern era to pull this trick. Points for surprise.
  2. The Sopranos gets a pass because, as mentioned, Chase put the work in to seed that sequence with clues that, taken together, point towards a reasonably certain conclusion

Every other show since then is just giving up and saying ¯\_(?)_/¯ as an ending. Listen, I have approximately 5,001 unfinished novels on my hard drive. If this is what we’re doing, I can publish about 5,000 of them immediately. I’ll just cut off the last chapter mid-sentence and let you all bastards figure out what happened.

Childhood Melodrama

I was possibly inspired to run away because they put this sweater on me, but I can’t prove it.

I had one of those annoyingly cheerful childhoods, for the most part. We weren’t particularly poor or rich, and my brother and I were allowed to wallow in our imaginations as much as we liked. We were fed and clothed and had a lot of toys, with efforts at giving us a spiritual background that were just half-assed enough for us to shrug them off. I’m not saying my childhood was perfect—there was, I think, a normal portion of trauma, body horror, and emotional ruination (my people are Catholic, after all). But in general I had a great time building immensely complicated things with Legos, playing Pac Man, and eating elbow macaroni in meat sauce, a dish my Mother called Slumgolian.

So, being generally a very happy child up until the usual age when happiness becomes impossible (around 12), I naturally had to try and manufacture my own drama. Why should all the children of divorce get all the sympathy?

Attempt One: Hiding

Children are as a class of citizen pretty convinced that they are taken for granted. We figure out early on that we were brought into this world (purchased, most likely, probably from a catalog called TINY SERVANTS) solely to perform chores and other grunt work for our lazy parents. What about our needs? Those televisions aren’t going to watch themselves, after all.

So at some point every single child in the universe hatches a simple plan: I will disappear, and when my parents realize I am missing there will be much sadness and tearing of clothing and regret. Or possibly a revelation that they aren’t human at all, but rather disgusting slitherbeasts from another dimension, which would explain a lot.

So, feeling unappreciated one day, I hid.

My master plan was not very masterful. I hid in my parents’ bedroom closet, for one, and they could probably hear my pudgy breathing in there. For two, I brought no provisions or entertainments. This made the hour or so I crouched in there seem much longer than it actually was, which in turn made the lack of reaction from the house more alarming and infuriating. I mean, I was missing. What the fuck were my parents doing?

Of course what they were doing was being completely unaware of my absence. I eventually gave up and sulked back into society, most probably because I needed a snack.

Attempt Two: The Runaway

Some times after the closet debacle, I hit on an improvement to my plan to inspire my parents to, you know, regret treating me like I was some sort of insufferable little prick of a child. I would run away, which had the extra dimension of actual absence I thought would push this plan over the top. I would go on an adventure, and when the police brought me home a few days later my parents would have learned a serious lesson.

Looking back, it’s obvious that lesson would have been send this kid to military school immediately, but at the time I had high hopes for a later bedtime and a higher cookie ration. Yes, my childhood was terrible.

Anyways, I walked out of the house to embark on my bold plan, then realized something I’d failed to take into consideration: I was not allowed to cross the streets alone. In order to officially run away, I would have to actually cross the street. The only time I’d crossed the streets was when playing stickball with the older kids in the neighborhood, who prized me for my speed (hard to believe in my current state of dotage, but true in 1979), and I always dreaded hitting a double and being stuck on second base, in full view of my back door, where Mom could emerge at any time to call me home for some reason.

The difference was, sitting on second waiting to be batted in was a temporary scenario. Running away was a commitment to disobedience I was, ironically, unprepared to make. Which didn’t stop me from running away. It just meant I ran around the block.

I don’t quite remember how long I remained out there, suffering, without food or shelter. Possibly an hour. Possibly and hour and a half. What became clear to me was that if I was going to elicit the dumbfounded sorrow of my parents over their treatment of their youngest son, I was going to have to find a new approach. One that kept me in potato chips, video games, and socks fresh from the dryer.

Looking back, it’s easy to see how my lifelong dislike of things like effort and planning have shaped my entire life. But things are easier today, of course, because if I’d had Facebook back in The Day, I could have simply informed everyone that I’d run away, and achieved everything I wanted without leaving my room. Truly, we are living in the future.

Avery Cates Doodle Winner

For the last Jeff Somers Rocks You Like an Email Hurricane email newsletter, I had a little contest and asked folks to send me doodles of Avery Cates. The doodles didn’t need to be great, or artistic, or anything. Just, you know, doodles.

(Didn’t know about the contest? Sign up for the newsletter, kid.)

The winner is Paul Surgenor, whose doodle of Avery’s eventual fate is pretty hilarious:

Still dangerous. Even as a brain in a jar…

Congrats to Paul, who wins an autographed copy of the audiobook CDs for The Eternal Prison.

“Fargo” and The Relativity of Evil

One of the best tricks I get asked about when I talk to aspiring writers is how to make a despicable, perhaps even an evil character likable. This is usually in reference to Avery Cates, who is an assassin and a guy who uses casual violence, even against his friends, to assert himself. Cates is sometimes charming, or funny, or sympathetic, but he’s also always an asshole, so it can be challenging to make readers like him.

There are two main ways to accomplish this. One is to punish the character. Avery is a Bad Actor, but he gets tortured, imprisoned, beaten, and screwed over so often his violence never actually gets him anything aside from short-lived triumph. This makes him a little more sympathetic.

The other way is a slower burn, and it’s something that Noah Hawley is doing in the third season of Fargo on FX: Make everyone else worse. Spoilers be comin’.

The Relativity of Evil

In Fargo, Mary Elizabeth Winstead plays Nikki Swango, a hard-edged ex-con who takes a practical approach to getting by. Nikki has genuine love for her Parole Officer, Ray Stussy (Ewan MacGregor), and she isn’t such a terrible person. But she does encourage Ray to commit several crimes in pursuit of some stake money, setting in motion some awful events—and when one of Ray’s plots brings a dimwitted, violent man into their lives, she doesn’t hesitate for even a second to murder him via air conditioner.

You read that right.

Death by Air Conditioner is No Way to Go.

Nikki’s not a nice person. She’s a schemer and a murderer and a bit of a grifter. But by episode 7 of the season, Nikki is a character you feel sympathy for. She’s been brutally beaten. Her fiancé is (SPOILERS) dead. She’s been falsely accused of the murder and an attempt was made to assassinate her. All of this helps you to put aside the fact that she dropped a fucking air conditioner on someone.

But what really works to put Nikki’s crimes into perspective are the other villains on the show. Mr. Varga and his henchmen are truly evil, terrifying people who have very little empathy or value for human life. Compared to them, Nikki Vango is not so bad. Her violence is only unleashed to protect herself or her lover, and while I would not, say, want to be in business with Nikki (or living next door to her) she’s not an inhuman monster (or a force of nature, a concept Fargo likes to play with) like the others.

So, air conditioner or not, Nikki has become one of the people you wish survive the story—a feat any writer ought to be able to pull off.

Why I Haven’t Watched the New “Twin Peaks”

It’s 1989 all over again.

I can only assume you all spend about 104% of your time watching entertainments, because otherwise I have no idea how you’ve all already watched everything. I mean, seriously: These TV shows require hours and hours of your time. Are people really bingeing through 10 hours of a show and then shuffling to work at the Emergency Room, where they sew a few sponges into my abdomen and nod off during lunch?

When I was a kid, I was a huge Twin Peaks fan. Yuuuugggggee. I can still remember the moment Dale Cooper had his first dream vision, and I was god-damned mesmerized. I can also remember watching the Season Two finale with some friends in a rented house at college; there was a storm raging outside and I was white knuckled terrified during that ending sequence. Twin Peaks was ridiculous and overwrought and deeply silly, but damn it was good stuff.

I haven’t watched the new version on Showtime. Because life is short.

Down to My Final Trillion Seconds

As far as I know, I’m going to die someday. And based on my functional alcoholism, that time is likely much closer than I might like to think. Which means I have to use my time wisely, which means, put simply, that I no longer make time to watch things live. I DVR them, I order them on-demand, I download them from the Internet. And I only do that if the reviews and think-pieces make it seem worthwhile.

So, maybe the new Twin Peaks is great. Maybe it’s terrible. Time will tell, and I’ll be waiting until it does, because I only have so much time to spend on fictions and entertainments. And considering that we have this power—to vet our entertainment before we spend/waste time on it—why don’t we? Just seems foolish to commit 2 hours to Twin Peaks Mark 2 before I even know if it’s any good.

I could be spending that time drinking, is what I’m saying.

It’s Not Impostor Syndrome if You’re Actually Faking It

Jeff, I think you know why we’ve called this meeting: You absolutely must start wearing pants to the office.

AS AN author, I hear about Impostor Syndrome a lot. This syndrome, if you have somehow lived this long without encountering it, is when perfectly capable, competent people believe their own success (or lack of failure) is the result of sheer luck and circumstance—that they are, in fact, frauds.

Writers are easy marks for this kind of corrosive self-doubt; no matter how successful you are as a writer, of course, there will be a group of people who consider your work to be terrible, and most writers wind up in that Twilight Zone of mid-level success: A few publishing credits to your name, but no significant sales breakthrough, meaning you make a few pennies and get some recognition, but you’re still working a day job and still hustling every minute of the day instead of lounging by the pool of chocolate pudding in your tropical estate. Or something; your fantasy of being rich and wildly successful may vary.

So when you sell a story or a novel, it’s easy to think you just got lucky, and many of us do just that. I often have that urge to mutter joke’s on you, suckers! as I sign a book contract, so I’m no stranger to Impostor Syndrome. The thing is, while I’m not an impostor as a writer, I certainly have been an impostor throughout much of my adult life, because I am a firm disciple of the Fake It Til You Make It religion of sleeping in and not doing the research.

The Miracle 18

Up until a few years ago, I had a Day Job. In a sense, I still do; I’m not a full-time novelist, I’m a full time writer, which means a lot of what I write I do in order to earn a living. But writing as a Day Job is a perfect fit for me, because I’m good with the words. What I did for 18 years of my life in a professional capacity was not a good fit, because it required three things I do not possess: Attention to detail, organization, and the ability to wake up in the morning.

So, if I was terrible at my job, how did I keep it for nearly two decades? Here’s a timeline of events that hold some clues:

  1. When I got my first job in the industry, I was a chubby, tow-headed kid of 23 who wore enormous glasses and whose clothes were always 2 sizes too large (that is not a joke) and so I firmly believe my bosses during the first 3 years or so simply took pity on me.
  2. Over the first 5 years or so, the company I worked at went through several mergers and re-organizations, and I had about 6 bosses over that time, so no one ever had the chance to appreciate my incompetence and apathy.
  3. At some point my bosses realized I was the only person in the office who could write a Visual Basic script, and I had a shadow career creating toolbars and widgets . At one point, despite this having nothing to do with my actual job description, I probably spent 75% of my time doing this.
  4. By the time I was forced to actually focus on the core work my job demanded, I’d had a decade to more or less memorize the basic shortcuts, which meant that as long as the other people I worked with were competent, I could fake it.

Eventually, of course, the whole house of cards collapsed. Looking back, I’m impressed that I was able to fake it for as long as I did, and I have to say that making a living doing something I’m actually good at is an incredible feeling. Some people have been feeling this their whole lives! That seems incredible, but it’s true.

What’s the moral of this story? Sometimes that creeping feeling that you’re not very good at something isn’t Impostor Syndrome, it’s reality knocking on your door. Of course, I was lucky that my incompetence applies to something I didn’t want to do in the first place, and that sheer luck or the power of my charm (which is potent) kept me employed.

Or possibly the moral of the story is that if you work hard enough you can in fact earn a living without wearing pants.

Breakin’ the Law (in D&D)

FRIENDS, I have never claimed to be cool. I was a portly kid with thick glasses, and so I was doomed to be the mascot of every class (spiced with occasional good old-fashioned bullying) until I hit college, when somehow my combination of sarcasm, bad hair, and even thicker glasses alchemically made me, if not cool, at least not uncool. Still, despite my chronic uncoolness at every stop along my journey through life I’ve managed to do two things: Have a lot of fun and toss all the rulebooks out the window.

Now, I don’t mean to imply that I’m some sort of brilliant iconoclast or rebel. Far from it; I’m the sort of guy who gets mildly upset if I don’t get my coffee at the same exact time every day, because what this world needs is MORE ORDER; in other words, I love following rules in general. But I am that classic jackass who looks at a book of rules and thinks, jeez, that’s a lot to read and so I don’t read them and I just sort of wing it and make shit up as I go. This is why all my Ikea furniture looks like torture devices from Isengard, and why I spent six years lost in Canada, refusing to read a map. Yes, I’m that jackass.

A Level 35 Demigod

12-year Old Jeff Said HOLY CRAP ITS GOT A DRAGON ON IT, DUNNIT!

Back in my grammar school days I played a bit of Dungeons & Dragons, although I’ll admit I only glanced at the rules. I probably read the Basic Module, or mostly read it, but as we got deeper and deeper in I could never be bothered to read the more advanced rules. D&D had a pretty neat system there, starting off simple and then adding in layers of complexity, but this seemed an awful lot like work, so my friends and I just sort of absorbed the basic concept and then set about just making up whatever we wanted.

Since we were nearing full-on puberty, there were a number of pornographic adventures involving lots of lusty barmaids, witches, and female monsters. Things got … weird. After things got weird, we went full-on acquisitive; the rules for D&D were painfully slow. You started off with nothing, a Level One Thief or Elf or what have you, and you were supposed to slowly make your way through adventures where you would slowly gain experience and level up and slowly discover magic items that would augment your abilities and slowly, slowly, slowly.

One advantage to not reading any rules was the ease with which you could simply decide fuck that, let’s become demigods. So we did.

Acting as Dungeon Masters, we created adventures specifically designed to level up our characters as quickly as possible. We awarded experience points like candy, we littered the adventure with spectacular items gleamed from the Dungeon Master’s Handbook from the Advanced version of the game, and by the end of it we had characters who could basically do anything.

Look on My Works, Ye Mighty

Of course, the game was ruined. Once you have a demigod for a character all you can do is pit them against each other, rolling the dice to see whose obscure and ultra-powerful spell would shatter whose ancient magical shield. That didn’t matter, for me it was a teachable moment, because I realized something very important about myself: I love stats.

Statistics were why I got interested in D&D in the first place (that and the aforementioned pornographic possibilities of role-playing games), just like stats lured me into baseball fandom. The neat rows of numbers, all meaning something, all representing abilities and achievements—I loved them like children. I could calculate an ERA in my head and I instinctively knew the odds of my fireball spell working, and more than anything else I loved the back of a baseball card where a player’s stats were listed and I loved my D&D character sheets where their stats were all laid out.

The same kids who I played D&D with also played in a computer baseball league with me on our Commodore 64s. Microleague Baseball was a marvel; it ran on stats. It came with pre-compiled teams, but you could enter your own and then manage the team in real time. We played entire seasons, made trades, had playoffs and championships. And it was half numbers, half strategy, and not so different from D&D in some ways, although we didn’t cheat much in Microleague. We cheated a little, of course, but not much.

To this day, I don’t read the manual or work too hard to understand the rules. This is why many video games enrage me and also why the washing machine turns on when I play the radio—who has time to pay attention to electrical codes or wiring diagrams?

“Black House” is Live

Chapter One of Black House, a novel featuring my character Philip K. Marks, has gone live over at theblackhousesite.wordpress.com, and you should go read it! I’ll be posting new chapters every day this month until the whole novel is up. Then it will stay up until June 15th, and then I’m deleting the site. Why? I’m not entirely sure. Let’s see what happens.

The novel is an experiment for me; I was inspired by an old puzzle book that was a house in the form of a maze, so I wrote a novel that is really a maze. It’s kind of trippy and strange, but I really like it, and hope you do too.

The book release schedule is basically 1-2 chapters every day, so you can check the website every day and find at least one new chapter, often two. I’d encourage you to let me know what you think as the story progresses—it’s be interesting to hear what y’all think in the midst of reading it.

And don’t forget—June 15th, I’m, deleting it. If you want to save the chapters for future reading, do it before then.

Enjoy!