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I Got the Music in Me

Yanno, I play a bit of guitar, and while I’m not deluded enough to think anyone really cares, I do believe fervently that there’s no point in creating something unless you at least put it out there for people to experience in some way. So, here are four songs I’ve recently composed in my little home studio, otherwise known as the tiny, cat-filled office I work in. Enjoy?

Song882

Song883

Song898

Song902

Enjoy!

SKIP INTRO is Why I Live in the Future

If you have a Netflix subscription (or are borrowing someone else’s), you’ve likely noticed the new “Ship Intro” option whcih allows you to, say, not watch the goddamn credits sequence for Friends for the 5,000th time. There have been some think pieces about this new feature that lament the loss of credit sequences, noting that a few such sequences (Bojack Horseman is mentioned as an example) actually make watching the intro worthwhile.

Hogwash. The SHIP INTRO feature is the greatest thing invented this week.

I grew up in the era of Awful TV. I had four channels as a kid, didn’t get cable until I was 14, and our primitive VCR was a top-loader. If you don’t know what a top-loader is, or what a VCR is, or what cable is, you are one of the blessed, move along. My point is, when I was younger I not only had to watch the fucking credits, I had very little control at all over what I watched. It was pretty terrible.

The people who think SKIP INTRO is a bad thing are the same people who wish Times Square in New York City was still filled to the brim with prostitutes, drug dealers, porno theaters, and garbage. I remember taking a bus into New York while in high school and being propositioned by male prostitutes, so people who have affection for the old-school Times Square are idiots. I don’t care how awful the modern version is (and it is awful) I still wouldn’t go back.

SKIP INTRO of course still allows you to watch the damn intro if you have a reason to. It’s just that now you have a choice. You don’t have to watch the same scenes repeated over and over again, endlessly. It’s a glorious time to be alive, and I for one am very happy that the world’s greatest technical minds aren’t wasting time on cancer cures but rather finding ways to make my streaming video experience slightly more pleasant. More of that, please.

The Intruder

WHY ARE YOU RUNNING AWAY???

My brother Yan and I meet up once a week to have lunch and drink beer, and insult each other savagely:

ME: Still older than me, I see. My goodness, you look like a zombie.

YAN: Still calling me Yan, huh? The creative writer can’t think of a better pseudonym?

Yan and I both like a bit of beer variety; when I was a youth I spent a long time drinking Coors Lite, the Silver Bullet, and I still feel a strong urge to do penance for that. So we usually try to find a bar that offers a decent selection of beers on tap. We also like our bars much like we like our souls: Empty. I’m an old man, so shouting over EDM is undignified, and we both just prefer a bit of space and the ability to actually get a bartender’s attention. Crowded bars are a young man’s game.

Empty bars have there own problems, of course. On the one hand they tend to go out of business, seeing as they’re empty all the time. On the other hand, when you’re the only people sitting at the bar, it leaves you vulnerable to The Intruder.

It Follows

The Intruder is that guy (and it is always a guy) who has nothing better to do but wander into bars on his own (because he is always alone) looking to have a conversation with … anyone.

Yan and I were sitting at the bar in this absolutely empty place, insulting each other, and The Intruder walked in, taking the form of a pudgy middle-aged guy in a bowling shirt. He made a joke about the place being empty when he walked in, and Yan and I made polite responses because we’re not, you know, animals.

The Intruder then tried to make conversation with the bartender, but lady bartenders are well-trained in shutting down eird guys who try to chat them up while they’re working, and she made short work of him. So he sat down right next to Yan and began his attempts to intrude on out conversation. Yes, the bar was empty. And he sat down next to us. As far as I am concerned that makes him a monster of horrific proportions, undeserving of mercy.

I was facing The Intruder, and in my peripheral vision I could see him repeatedly stare at us in a clear posture of wanting to make a comment and insert himself into our conversation. I began drinking faster.

Look, I know what some people might say: He’s lonely. He’s a lonely guy just out looking for some human contact, why couldn’t we include him in our conversation? First of all, fuck you. Second of all, he’s not lonely, he’s a monster. Third of all, in my gentler youth I did in fact sometimes treat Intruders kindly, and all it got me was a lot of conspiracy theories, conservative political diatribes, and, oddly enough, resentment. Plus, experience has taught me that the Intruder will never leave or stop talking. Once he latches onto a host, he will extract all of your garmonbozia, believe me.

So, we speed drank and called for the bill. The Intruder tried to start a conversation literally as we were walking away from him, but we employed the friendly-wave technique and just kept walking. We went to another bar down the street (one of the joys of living in bar-infested Hoboken) and continued our conversation in peace, and the Intruder, I assume, consumed several less savvy people that afternoon, growing large on their souls and offal.

The lesson? My brother and I are unfriendly assholes, certainly. But also that the Rules of Polite Society should be sacred, and one of those rules is: If people are having a private conversation, you should not intrude on it.

Why Jon Snow’s Stupidity Matters

Derp.

Note: This is discussing the TV show Game of Thrones specifically, ignoring the books.

Far be it from me to drag on people who are selling millions more books than I ever will, or attracting millions more eyeballs than anything based on my books ever will (unless I finally do my Pantsless Dancing exercise video, in which case: Watch out, world!) but it’s time to talk about how astoundingly dumb Game of Thrones has gotten in its later seasons—specifically the character of Jon Snow—and why it matters from a writing point of view.

We don’t know how close to the books the show is right now; Martin may have a much better handle on the story and the characters, and it’s been discussed to death how Game of Thrones is on an accelerated pace right now in an effort to finish the story before we all get collectively tired of it. I can forgive, therefore, the compressed and nonsensical time frame; after all, no one wants to have six episodes of Jon Snow slowly making his way to meet Daenerys in a damned rowboat, passing the time by chatting with Ser Davos about their unhappy childhoods and fighting sea monsters. Okay, maybe the latter, a little.

Side note: How is it possible there are no sea monsters in Westeros? For serious.

The time thing doesn’t bother me. Sure, it’s shitty storytelling, but there are economic factors pushing them, and I can still enjoy the show despite them. No, what bothers me is that Jon Snow is fucking stupid. And not in a defensible way.

Da King In Da Norf

Jon is a major character in this show (again, the future books may be different [and thus, better]), and might even turn out to be the ultimate hero/survivor in all of this. And the problem isn’t so much that he’s stupid, but that his stupidity would not exist in any slightly realistic universe. IN a realistic universe someone as stupid as Jon Snow would have choked on something as a child and died, or possible fallen down a hole and starved to death, or maybe have accidentally stabbed himself with a dagger. Here’s a few quick rundown of the disastrous decisions Jon Snow’s made in recent episodes, going back to the end of last season:

  • Allowed himself to be baited into a solo charge at the Battle of the Bastards, setting his army up for annihilation (prevented only by the fortuitous arrival of Sansa and Littlefinger)
  • Abandoned his kingdom to go personally visit Daenerys, bringing just a small honor guard
  • Allowed that honor guard to be immediately disarmed, like without even a shrug
  • More or less allowed himself to be a prisoner with no reason to believe it would work out aside from having copious amounts of Plot Armor
  • Came up with this absolutely shit idea that they needed to have a wight on hand to prove to people that the Night King for reals, yo
  • Decided that he had to manage this task personally
  • Then brought about a dozen people with him on the raid despite having a fucking army at his disposal, without bothering to tell his sister what he was up to as she sits in Winterfell ruling in his stead (this despite the fact that apparently he can send Ravens like super fast anywhere he wants)

I could go on. Should I go on? No.

The simple fact of it is that this is shit writing. Even if we assume for a fun moment that getting a wight to show off to the doubters is necessary, any sane King in the North would delegate the task to a trusted lieutenant (Tormund, we’re looking at you). There is simply no need for Jon Snow to actually be in the north personally. And we’re supposed to believe that Jon is a smart, solid choice to be King of the North. His entire character arc is a guy who was and literally knows nothing to the one woke bastard in all of Westeros who sees the true threat. So he really shouldn’t be this terrible at the job.

There is, however, a plot need for Jon Snow to be in the north. The showrunners want Jon to be the badass, they want him to be the one to put together the puzzle pieces for defeating the Night King, and they wanted to demonstrate the growing and completely icky and nonsensical love affair brewing between secret cousins Daenerys and Jon. So they sent him up there despite the fact that it’s dumb. In short, since Jon’s arguably the main character at this point (or at least the focal character for the moment), he needs to be in on all the major plot developments.

Forget the timeline. Forget the fact that the Night King has been marching his wights for about six months and is still miles away from the Wall. This is the problem: Shit writing. Shortcuts in the service of smart plotting I can forgive, but shit writing that ignores the rules of decent storytelling deserves to be mocked.

Of course, I’m still gonna watch the show, because watching dragons burn the everliving shit out of wights is fun, dude. Bad writing can be entertaining. It’s still bad.

As you were.

 

Room 104 and Bad Writing Decisions

Psychotic Breaks for Everyone!

I’m okay with the Duplass Brothers. I don’t love everything they do, but they’re interesting, usually surprising, and always kind of smart about their projects. Even when they slum in crappy movies or TV shows, they’re interesting. So, okay.

Room 104 is an anthology series created and largely written by the Duplass bros. Anthologies with conceits like this—every story takes place in the same nondescript motel room, at different times and eras—usually wind up being quite a mixed bag, but since it’s the Duplasses I figured, let’s check out the first episode, Ralphie.

SPOILERS. Oh, so many spoilers. I’m gonna, like, completely discuss the entire plot. So if you care about spoilers (you shouldn’t though) and want to watch this, stop reading … now.

The Story

These episodes are only 30 minutes, so the stories are going to be short and sweet. In Ralphie, a single dad calls a babysitter to Room 104 to watch his son, Ralph, while he goes on a date. The babysitter makes awkward small talk with the Dad while he gets ready to leave, Ralph won’t come out of the bathroom, the babysitter offers to show the Dad her references but he’s like, no need, babe, you look totally sane and cool.

After Dad leaves, the babysitter coaxes Ralph out of the bathroom. He’s a sleepy kid with a flat affect, and he warns her that Ralphie is in the bathroom and will come out and mess everyone up if they’re not careful. The kid is creepy, and when he claims she “woke” Ralphie, he runs into the bathroom. A moment later a kid who looks just like him emerges from the bathroom, shirtless, wearing a yellow cape, and screams I’m gonna get you! as he goes apeshit on the babysitter, who runs in shock and terror. Then Ralphie goes back into the bathroom and Ralph comes back out, all innocent and asking if she’s okay—did Ralphie “get” her?

Things calm down, and babysitter tries to coax the kid to go to sleep. Ralph wants to tell her about the time his mother committed suicide, which freaks her out, and then Ralph says that was a joke—actually, Ralphie totally killed his mom, and now he’s terrified Ralphie will kill him. Babysitter is totally freaked, then Ralph claims Ralphie woke up again, goes back into the barthroom, and then … two kids emerge. Ralph, and Ralphie. Ralphie proceeds to go apeshit and strangles Ralph to death, then comes for the babysitter, exhibiting superhuman strength and nearly killing her before she gets the upper hand and strangles him.

Then Dad comes home, and there’s only one kid, and the babysitter totally murdered him. Except, the bathroom door suddenly slams on its own.

The Problem(s)

Stories are hard. And half an hour of screen time isn’t much. And sometimes you have a great idea for an ending or a premise and you lose sight of good storytelling to get there.

Based solely on the quick mention of her “references” that the Dad’s too horny to bother looking at, I think we’re supposed to assume that Babysitter is delusional, imagines Ralphie, and kills the kid for her own reasons. The problem? The show does no work to get us there. Babysitter is presented as nice enough, concerned, responsible, and timid—after all, when a small boy in a yellow cape attacks her, she doesn’t throw him across the room. She cowers behind the curtains.

Or perhaps there’s a supernatural element, but again there’s no work done to show how it affects Babysitter—she goes from kind of freaked out and unhappy to choking out a little boy in no time flat.

There are practical concerns, too. Ralphie apparently sleeps in the bathroom when he’s not murdering folks, which, okay; I can see a crazy kid coming up with that sort of “Superman” solution to his secret second identity. But didn’t Babysitter have to go to the bathroom at some point? Was there a kid in there or not? Or did she not hydrate at all that day and so sat for three hours without once needing to pee?

Nice Touches

This isn’t to say the story wasn’t entertaining. The tone and mood were creepy AF, and there were some nice grace notes—like the aforementioned references, the way the episode opened on the Dad sitting on the bed of the room with his head in his hands like he knows he’s living a nightmare, the mileage gotten from a closed bathroom door. This isn’t terrible, but it’s sloppy. It’s all sizzle and no steak.

Luckily, anthologies offer something new every week, so let’s keep watching and see what happens.

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.