Monthly Archive: July 2009

Friday Randomness

Okay, I’ve pondered this and contemplated and I am now ready to state that I think the publisher’s decision to change the color of the cover for the trade paper The Eternal Prison from skin-burning orange to rot-inducing green was the right one. I look at the three books side by side and I think the orange would have been too much on that end of the spectrum:


The green pops when you have all three on a shelf. Which I assume you all have.

DON’T FORGET: I’ll be tweeting an Avery Cates Short Story over at starting on 8/5. I’ll tweet each section at noon every day. Sign up to follow me there and enjoy/be irritated by fiction at 140 characters a pop!

Someday maybe I’ll start writing Avery Cates short stories that are 140 characters in total. That would. . .be interesting.

THE ETERNAL PRISON is now being shipped from Amazon, so it’s going to start appearing everywhere soon. Sales are brisk, so get yours now. We’re cooking up some web fun to go along with the “official” release date of 8-12-09, although we might move that up by a week since the book’s shipping, eh? Keep an eye on until then.

CAT UPDATE: The cats are better, thanks, though no more happy about their medications. Our cats weigh 17, 17, 19, and 9 pounds. Carrying Guenther down the stairs is like carrying a bear cub. Jeff needs power bars and rest. And perhaps an exercise regimen, eh?

I’m trying to think of promotion ideas for TEP as well. Do you think people would want to fly me to their cities at their expense to have “Beer Summits” with them? Hmmmn? And then they could buy 50 copies of the book and I’d sign them in an increasingly drunk and incoherent way. Which, you will note, does not guarantee that the first signatures won’t be incoherent too.

Think about it. I could be passed out in your bathroom!

Have a great weekend.


i know the mechanics of death better than anybody

From The Inner Swine

From the June Issue of The Inner Swine

Pig In Shit #55: WOULD NOT JOIN ANY CLUB That Would Have Someone Like Me for a Member

AH, to be young again. Not really. I’d saw my own leg off before I went back in time to relive some of my younger years. Don’t get me wrong, I had a great childhood, a fun adolescence, and a fun and educational college experience. My first job was filled with drunken, Melrose Place-style drama, and my mid-to-late 20s were a blast. I enjoyed my youth, friends, and as a result I am pop-eyed horrified at any thought of traveling back to a time when I still thought a mullet was a good idea[1].

No, I’ve always been pretty happy with whatever my age is at the moment. When I was ten, I liked being ten—I thought the lack of responsibility and the ability to run at full-on supersonic speeds for hours at a time was pretty cool. I used to win all the races in my neighborhood and even though I couldn’t hit worth shit because of still-undiscovered farsightedness, I ran fast and so always got picked in wiffle ball just to be a designated runner. I loved being ten. When I was sixteen, I’d gotten fat and dopey, sure, and I was wearing a pair of glasses so large and thick they occasionally set my hair on fire when I wasn’t paying attention out in the sun, but I still liked being sixteen. I could drive, for one, had recently discovered alcohol, which would of course turn into the second most important love affair of my life, and I had a group of friends who made me laugh constantly. When I was twenty, I was rocking college, and even though I’d temporarily given up booze and didn’t get laid nearly as much as I’d expected (movies, in short, had lied to me), I still had a great time. When I was twenty-five, I’d come into my own, spending most nights in a bar getting drunk with friends, and finally able to afford things because of my tiny publishing industry salary[2].

A few years later I got married, bought a house, and sold a novel.


You’re Doing it Wrong

This week The Somers Compound is rife with sick cats. Not terribly sick; intestinal parasites causing, um, some unfortunate events. This resulted in Your Humble Author hauling ~75 pounds of cat to and from the vet this week, and now I spend all my time trying to get 4 cats to eat pills twice a day. Have you ever tried to pill a cat? I might as well be building a time-machine with nothing but a Schwinn bicycle and some paper towels. It’s exhausting.

As a result, this post may ramble a bit. Or maybe the rambling is old age: Yet another birthday next week, after all, one more inevitable step towards the day my doctor tells me I can’t drink anymore or my liver will explode.

Or, maybe my doctor will tell me I’m a prime candidate for a Google iLiver, because, folks, we’re living in the future, and don’t ever doubt it. All the trappings of a Sci-Fi future are here or getting there, with the possible exception of those fucking flying cars we’ve all been waiting for. Although if you told me Dick Cheney was zooming around Colorado in a flying car, I’d believe you. DAMN YOU CHENEY.

Ahem, anyway, the rest of it’s coming: Dick Tracy two-way wristwatches? Pretty much done. The wired-up house that talks to you? Years away, tops. Cure for Cancer? Dunno, but again, if you told me that Dick Cheney. . .well, you get the idea. I picture Cheney in an underground bunker dressed like Blofeld from the Bond movies, playing with his water engine.

Of course, some of this stuff is already here and has simply taken on a form we weren’t expecting. Cyberspace, for example, did not arrive as a semi-physical place we could enter and fool around in like little godlings, or at least it hasn’t yet. But there is a cyber-space of sorts: Social Networks and the Internet. Sure, we’re not riding Tron cycles around and hacking world governments with our bare hands or at least digital simulacrums thereof, but we are, increasingly, living a lot of our lives online in these virtual communities. This isn’t news to anyone. Whereas when I was a kid in college we sat around our dorms all night drinking terrible beer and trying to top each other in misery, today you can do that without ever leaving Mom’s house.

Of course, like everything else, I am doing it wrong.

Social Networks are supposed to bring people together in a convenient way, right? The idea being that you can stay in touch with friends and family who are far away and, presumably, far too busy to stay in touch with you physically. What I actually use it for is passive entertainment, snarky comments on people’s activities, and an excuse to never actually contact anyone, since I can just leave a 10-word insult on their profile and run away, giggling.

You’re also supposed to use things like Facebook for self-promotion, natch. Plenty of readers have friended me on Facebook and I’m happy to have them – all you have to do is tell me you like my books, and I’ll friend you immediately and then ask you for a loan. But I don’t do that right either, because I never post anything there or have any useful materials up there for folks.

I am forever doing it wrong. This is not new. Folks who know me well are just shaking their heads in resignation. Even twitter, which is 140 characters of simplicity, I’ve managed to do wrong: All I post are insane monologues that, read out of context and split up, must look like the deranged mutterings of an inmate.

And now I must stop as a cat is sitting on my keyboard, looking stern.

Das Katze-Haus

I’ve made a mini-resolution to update this blog more often. I was doing better for a while, and then fell back into my old lazy ways, but I know the world is a better place if y’all are informed about my various and sundry doings.

Part of the time suck is the dovetailing of the writing of Cates #4 (The Terminal State)  and the publication of The Eternal Prison (watch that space; things will be happening there soon), which means I’m writing chapters while trying to think of ways to convince an uncaring world that I am cool enough to pay attention to – which is difficult when you’re sort of genetically not cool, you know? The worst part of promotion is the sense that you’re dancing around with a sandwich board and a cowbell and no one is paying any attention.  I mean, can’t y’all just buy my books without being convinced? Jeesh. Work with me here.

On top of that, I have four cats. Four. They march into my office all day, smelling of varying levels of food and litterbox, sit on my keyboard, wrestle with each other while making loud screaming noises, and generally distract me to no end. You think the Internet is distracting? Try four cats.

I might comment on the cats more. Folks seem to like that. I could be the Junior Scalzi of the Cat People demographic!

And on top of that, I am finally getting the latest issue of my zine, The Inner Swine out the door. It’s the June issue, which gives you an idea of the delay. The zine is always a delaying factor in my work life, as it’s ~20,000 words four times a year (or, soon, ~40,000 words twice a year) which means I’m more or less writing a book-length project every year in addition to everything else. I do it for love, but, as with the cats, even things you love you sometimes want desperately to kick halfway across the room*.

On a less whiny closing note, I’ve just discovered that there will be a German translation of The Electric Church and, presumably, the subsequent Cates books. Cheers! The translator contacted me with some questions about the German characters in the book and other language points – which I always welcome – and was kind enough to assure me that the German dialogue I included in the book was perfectly understandable, if not perfect.

I enjoy chatting with translators. It’s fascinating to hear what they find challenging, and the decisions they make to translate your jokes/references/allusions into another culture, not just another language.

That’s it for this meandering post. Have a great weekend all, and pre-order The Eternal Prison, please. Papa needs liquor monies.

*No cats were actually kicked. Who do you think I am?


I have these:

Thus there is joy here in the Somers Compound. You will be able to get one for yourself soon. in the mean time, some chaotic things are gonna happen, some of which are still secret.

Not secret: I’m gonna be Tweeting an Avery Cates short story over at starting on 8/5, through 8/12. 8/12 being the official pub date of the book, and also when the main web site ( goes live (right now it’s just a placeholder). If you’re on Twitter, follow me and get a free story!

Other things will be happening, but for now they’re under wraps. And I am tired, and the cats are wrestling because they’re hungry. G’night.

The First Line

Friends, I don’t exactly live a life of suspense and international intrigue; I don’t think that shocks anyone. A little writing, some booze, some ambitious guitar playin’ – this is what passes for excitement around here. A fine example was this weekend: A nice dinner, renting Marley and Me with the wife (a movie which made me suicidal; I spent Saturday night alone in the dark in the bathroom with a bottle of rye) and a great deal of puttering. This is a good thing, because I’ve reached the Age of Honesty with Yourself, and I know I am no John McClane in secret. If I were to stumble into Die Hard, I’d be one of the extras who gets machine-gunned for no reason, probably standing by the buffet with a cheese puff halfway to my mouth.

Anyway, one of the other exciting things I did this weekend was try to watch the first episode of Syfy‘s* new show, Warehouse 13. I figure it’s a SF show, so I might as well take a gander, as you get few decent SF shows to watch. Also, Syfy’s offering it as a free on-demand show in my cable neighborhood, so why not? So one night while stalking cats through the house I put it on. For five minutes.

I can’t really say this show is bad, or good, or anything. All I can tell you is the first five minutes were so leaden and cliched I couldn’t go on. You know the old chestnut teachers pass on to writers in workshops and classes, “Grab the reader with the first line”? Well, it’s a good piece of advice (though, as with all advice, your mileage may vary and you should never hesitate to ignore it if you’re sure of yourself) and it applies to TV shows too. The first five minutes of Warehouse 13 were plain old boring.

Let’s see: Beautiful but cold and businesslike female agent? Check. Handsome and rakish male agent who breaks the rules but is a genius, and also too sleeps with more women than Hugh Hefner? Check. An adversarial relationship between them that includes sexual tension and grudging respect? Check. And you know immediately that they’ll be forced to work together despite their sincere pleas against it? Oh, I’m sure: Check.

I don’t know if the story itself was interesting, because I almost passed out at that point, contemplating the well-run rut of these character types. Sweet lord, I can even pinpoint season three, episode seven when they’re forced to share a hotel room on a rainy night and he sees her stripping out of her wet clothes and their eyes meet. I mean, really, is this the best they can do? If this were a book this is the equivalent of making the first line an instruction to go read other, more interesting books first.

Maybe the story was fascinating. Maybe it was the best SF concept in years, well-written and well-filmed. Who knows? I may never. Every time I even relive that opening scene in my head I start to feel sleepy.

There would have been six million better ways to open the show or draw the characters. Almost any other concept would have been better. Even simply switching the sex roles and making her the sexually irresistible playgirl and him the uptight perfectionist would have, if nothing else, made me give the show ten more minutes to at least find out what the premise of the episode was going to be. As it is this might as well have been sketched out by one of those script-writing programs, which it may well have been. And it reinforces my suspicion that the folks who run Syfy think that SF fans will watch anything as long as it a) has monsters, b) has aliens or ghosts, or c) has a passing resemblance to The X Files.

The lesson here is that you’ve got to put some effort into the opening of any story. You can’t expect folks to wade through a large amount of boring rubbish to discover a bit of genius on page 35, or after the first commercial break. Like I said: I don’t know if W13 is a good show or not. I may yet give it another chance, but right now I’m not inclined to do so, because why? I feel like I know exactly how the characters will behave, I feel like I could write the first twenty minutes of this show without a single note from the producers. Maybe there’s a shocking twist, maybe if I’d given it five more minutes I would have been rewarded with an interesting inversion or a great play on my cynical expectations. Maybe. And maybe I’m a boor for not having the intellectual fortitude to hang in there a few more minutes and see. Anything’s possible.

On the other hand, they could have simply made the beginning more interesting, and I wouldn’t have to wonder.

*Web site title: “Imagine Greater” WTF? Is everyone at that channel a moron?

Alternatively Speaking

I have as a secret ambition – one of many, right beside record a number one hit record and drink an entire bottle of Bourbon in one hour without dying – to see a fictional universe of mine become so successful that I can actually publish an alternate history version of it. Like, let’s say, the Avery Cates books blow up into Harry Potter squared, and writing an alternate history of The System wouldn’t be self-indulgent nonsense. Which, as things currently stand, it is.

Alternate History is a genre of Skiffy that doesn’t seem to get a lot of press, for some reason. I wonder if some folks regard it as something of a cheat – your characters are already there, and if inspiration fails you can always just bring back the True Timeline for a bit in a shocking twist. Or maybe it does get a lot of respect and I am sadly out of touch with the world – this would surprise no one.

The first AH story I ever read was, I think, in the anthology Alternate Tyrants, edited by Mike Resnick. The title and author of the story escape me now (and my copy of the book is alllll the way upstairs, and I am lazy – and sure I still have it; I have every damn book I’ve ever bought, except one) but it involved the Prince of Wales in modern England conspiring to provoke a constitutional crisis and seize all the old lapsed royal powers and reestablish the absolute monarchy. Since I can recall almost nothing else about the story, it may not have been that great, but I loved the idea. And I’ve been a minor sucker for AH ever since.

The crowned king of AH, of course, is Harry Turtledove, and I can recommend his Worldwar series happily to any who are interested. I haven’t kept up with the prolific Mr. Turtledove’s every series, which is probably a mistake, but I’ve enjoyed everything he’s written, and AH continues to draw me in. That sort of willful ignoring of history, or things that actually happened, is breathtaking in its way. I get a charge every time I read something in the genre.

As far as I know, no one has ever written an alternate history of their own series or universe, unless we count comic books, which seem to reinvent their universe every ten years just so they can clean up the mess they’ve made. I like this idea, and gift it to the world: Wouldn’t it be cool if JK Rowling wrote an alternate history of Harry Potter? Or if Stephen King did an AH version of The Stand or something? Every story branches off here and there into new directions, but there are always other, darker, unexplored directions that get left behind. It would be like re-writing your work without trying to obliterate the original from the canon. And better to do it yourself than wait for some Hollywood Hack to settle down one night with a bottle of Jim Beam and a gram of coke to do it for you, bubba.

Now, currently I don’t think my Cates series has reached that level of cultural saturation where anyone would make sense of an alternate history of it. Because you have all failed me. Don’t think I don’t brood at night over a bottle of whisky, wondering how much it costs to mail a dead rat to everyone in America, despite the fact that I am assured by my agent and publisher that this would actually reduce sales. So we’re all safe from that for now, though I’m sometimes tempted to do something like that just for my own amusement. Then again, the things I do for my own amusement already take up far too much of my time, and I got drinkin’ to do.

Enjoy your weekend, kids.

Odds n’ Ends

Two things to mention today. I know that blogging’s been a bit dodgy of late, because I am frickin’ busy. Now, you may be imagining some sort of network-TV version of a writer’s life and picturing me dashing about in a tuxedo, solving crimes and cashing huge checks, but no, not that kind of busy. The boring kind.

First off: I should mention that longtime correspondent and pal Rob Tillitz has a book out that you should read:

Rob’s a fascinating guy with a style all his own, and his book’s already been optioned for a film. Check it out!

Second, I am not going to see the new Transformers movie. I saw the first one on cable and of course, as everyone acknowledges, it was batshit insane terrible. The sort of movie that takes your childhood memories and not only eats them, but then craps them out onto a plate and forces you to consume them again. If life was a horror movie, Transformers would be the ravenous brain-sucking alien that sucks out your brain. And if there was any doubt that the sequel is even worse, I have the fine folks at to clue me in.

But I don’t need cluing in. Science fiction movies have become more or less the new western;  mainstream and stripped of anything that might be too taxing for the general audience (which is not a jibe at the intellect of folks out there – a general audience hive mind is, by its very nature, bland and generic) and thus anything that might make it interesting or, damn it, science-fictiony. Transformers was about as SF as your average car commercial. Sure, it had robots. From space. I think. Their origin was never very well explained, nor was their ability to somehow look like current-model American cars, or anything, really. The dearth of actual ideas beyond BIG WHOMPING ROBOTS FIGHTING and MEGAN FOX HAS TEH BOOBAGE was pretty startling, even for a cynical summer blockbuster.

What is, after all, science fiction? Do you just need one big SF macguffin to qualify? Shouldn’t there be some speculative thought in there? Like, how is the world changed now that the Autobots live amongst us? Can their technology be adapted? Wouldn’t someone suggest capturing one and tearing it to pieces to steal their secrets? FOR GOD’S SAKE THERE ARE SENTIENT ROBOTS FROM SPACE. Who built ’em, and why? Or did they evolve, and what does that mean for the rest of existence?

Nope. At the end of Transformers I the world is exactly as it was when the movie began with the exception of a couple of sentient robots living secretly around us – if you call that living – and no one seems to worry about the Autobots and what they represent. Because Transformers was an action movie that happened to have robots, and none of the creative team involve gave a shit about those questions.

In short: Transformers was not a Sci Fi movie. And neither is T2, apparently.

So: Happy Fourth of July, Americans. Don’t blow your hands off with M80s, don’t get sunstroke after your fifth beer (I speak from experience), and don’t go see Transformers 2 unless you know exactly what you’re getting into.