Monthly Archive: May 2010

I Got Nothing

Since I find myself without any enraged opinions to post here, it’s time for another slew of my songs. Because exactly no one asked me to post more music. That’s how it works: Ignore me and I just keep coming back. It’s how I got published in the first place, actually. We Somers’ just bang our heads against walls until one of us is dead. It’s our Way.

So, without further ado:


The usual disclaimer: 1. I admit these are not great music; 2. I claim copyright anyway, so there; 3. No, I cannot do anything about the general quality of the mix, as I am incompetent.

TDP Review in the San Francisco Book Review

The new mass market editions of the Avery Cates books are garnering a second wave of reviews for the series, and naturally I read them all and plot revenge as necessary. No revenge needed this time, as I note the San Francisco Book Review loooooves The Digital Plague:

“Somers is an incredible storyteller whose creativity never wanes. There are more twists and turns in one of his books than in three or four works of other sci-fi authors. He also depicts a future police state filled with all sorts of high tech gadgets and weapons that is both thrilling and terrifying. With three Cates novels already under his belt, one can only hope that Somers is hard at work on a fourth.”

Yowza. You heard the man: Buy that book!

Never Show the Monster

What will I write about now that Lost is over and done? Especially since I think Lost may have scared me off of episodic TV with overarching mythologies forever. The Prisoner didn’t do it, Twin Peaks didn’t do it, The X Files didn’t do it. But I think Lost will be the show that convinced me to never waste my time on any sort of entertainment that has longevity as a goal. In short, if the creators have a stake in making as many episodes as possible, I think I’ll wait for the DVD set. If the consensus is that it was handled well from beginning to end, I’ll take a chance.

Because, frankly, the finale of Lost almost ate my will to live.

I won’t go into gory details about how I despised that ending. Some of you might have enjoyed it, but really, for me it was terrible. Despite the dangling plot points and unanswered mysteries everyone is complaining about (which now pretty clearly were simply cool plot twists they threw in without any idea of how to resolve them), I don’t think the problem with the final season was too little explanation. It was too much explanation. They gave us two supernatural, godlike beings: Jacob and Smokey. Immortal. They each have distinct abilities and oppose each other. Despite the fact that both seem to lack a certain value for human life, one is painted as more or less ‘good’, whereas Smokey is painted a evil evil evil, with it plainly stated that if he got off the island he would destroy the world at large.

And that’s where the explanation should have stopped. Every detail we got about these two beyond that set up was a mistake.

It’s like a bad horror movie: You’re vaguely intrigued and possibly scared as long as the monster stays off-screen. Horrific details and people screaming for mercy while their entrails splatter the screen is all you need to get into the mood of the movie. Then they give you a nice lingering shot of the monster, and it’s a guy in a rubber suit with chocolate syrup all over him, and you can never take the movie seriously again. If they’d kept Jacob and Smokey vague, elemental-type characters – good and evil, one trying to escape to the world, the other trying to prevent him, with the castaways simultaneously providing Smokey with a way off and Jacob with new acolytes – the story would have been stronger, and there would have been a lot more time to explore the other aspects of the mystery. And I’ll guarantee the climax would have been tighter and made more sense.

When they tried to clarify Jacob and Smokey, things got silly. A golden light. A donkey wheel. Two squabbling brothers. Meh. In the back of my mind their back story was pretty awesome and badass, which it would have remained if it had been allowed to stay in the back of my mind, instead of replaced by the insipid, cheaply dressed scenes they gave us. I mean, they’d established the basics very early on: Jacob, Smokey, the Others – all they had to do was have Richard, the other immortal character, explain that Smokey was trying to escape and needed, somehow, to trick the castaways into helping him, and the rest of the story is a thrilling one about people choosing sides, making deals, double-crossing each other, and finally having a kickass confrontation to settle everything. Instead, we got bogged down by a golden light, a stone cork, and an alternate universe that was just Jack’s purgatory or dying hallucination or similar such bullshit.

And all, I am convinced, because they made the terrible decision to show the monsters.

I Didn’t Win. Again.

In a week where all of my posts are centered on me and my writerly activities engaging in competitive literary pursuits, with a severe lack of Deep Thought pieces, I once again am here to report that I did not win anything last night at the Moby Book Trailer Awards.

I wasn’t planning on attending, due to a lot of circumstances involving previously made plans and a very, very, insanely early wake up for me today, but at the last minute Alex over at Orbit emailed saying the orbit crew were attending and would purchase for me alcoholic libations if I attended. So I rallied The Duchess, reorganized our plans,  threw on a jacket and headed into the Meat Packing District for the event. It was held at The Griffin, which is a snazzy place. We had to wait on line outside and give our names to security in order to get in. All very swanky. My editor Devi and the extremely talented Creative Director Lauren P. showed up as well, and Alex bought me a couple of whiskies.

The “ceremony” had an air of slapdash about it, but was a lot of fun. The Duchess and I only stayed through my category, and I think everyone felt bad for me when I didn’t win. Heck, I felt bad for me. But all in all: Free booze in a swanky locale? Win. Don’t cry for me, Orbit Books.

Literary Upstart Recap

UPDATE: They posted a short slideshow of pics from last night. I am here. That’s me dressed in my Super Cool Author costume, reading my story Rust on the Tongue.

Short version: I did not win. Medium version: I had a great time, got a little drunk, got to see my agent and her lovely, not-yet-ground-down-by-lit-life assistant, and did not win.

Long version: The Duchess and I arrived at The Slipper Room at about 6:50pm, and there was already a long line of people waiting to get in, which is always a good sign when anything resembling a literary reading is going on. But I’ve done readings in bars before, and I know how it goes: The majority of the people are a) lured in by the drinks specials or b) there as friends of some other writer. You end up shouting over the belligerent drunks until, being slightly and belligerently drunk yourself, you crowd-surf, throwing punches and curses until you find yourself staring up at the sky lying in a puddle of your own urine and blood out back by the dumpster.

Luckily, I had The Duchess with me, which meant my own physical danger was lessened. She’s a formidable woman.

We opted to have a slice of pizza beforehand, mainly because I’d been talking about whiskey the whole walk over and The Duchess was getting nervous about managing me later, and wanted food in my stomach. While we were eating, one of our neighbors from Hoboken walked in. I stared at him and he stared at me; neighbors so rarely show up in your real life it’s strange when you run into them. It was a bit awkward. Made worse when we found out one of his friends was reading as well, and he was there to support him. We made conversation for a bit and then he backed out of the restaurant and made for the bar. Now whenever I see him around the block we will have to made awkward conversation about running into each other at Literary Upstart. I may have to move away.

Inside the bar, there was a roiling crowd already. $1 beers will stir up some passion. I introduced myself to the MC and he explained the basic process: Five of us would read our stories, and we’d remain on stage while the other read. Then there would be an intermission, then trivia, then we would all assemble on stage again to have our stories critiqued by the judges and then a winner would be announced. This sounded horrible. Critiqued on stage while I had to stand there, grinning? I am not a brave man. I started ordering whiskies. Normally, I like to go in the middle of a pack of readings. Gives me time to get drunk, to judge to mood of the room, to chant internally superstar in an effort to convince myself that I am, indeed, a superstar. I had barely finished three double Jamesons, neat, when I was announced as the first reader of the evening. Staggering up to the microphone, I had one of those moments where you feel like you’ve swallowed something awful and large: I was sweating, out of breath, nervous. I still read pretty, well, I think. At any rate, I did not pass out, vomit, or have my pants fall down with some ridiculous cartoon whistle in the background, and these are all good things.

The other readers did well, too, although only one story really grabbed me and made me jealous.  One of the authors was visibly shaking as they read, and I thanked Jamesons for sparing me that.

During the intermission, I had a few more drinks and told the other authors they were geniuses. They told me I was a genius too. Except one, who just nodded, accepting the compliment as their due. I started to get angry, then wished I had that kind of crazy confidence, and got depressed. The Duchess sent me to the bathrooms so as not to cry in front of all the hipsters.

The bathrooms in The Slipper Room are amazing. As long as your definition of amazing includes mold, damp, narrow bathrooms you cannot turn around in with locks on the doors which are theoretical at best. The toilet seats were always down, forcing me to touch what appeared to be the filthiest surface in the universe. If I die of some alien flesh-eating bacteria tomorrow, you will know why, and avenge me. While I was using one bathroom, a girl walked in on a guy using the one next to me, and there was such a flurry of screaming and activity I wondered what in the world he’d been doing in there. Another bathroom had no sink, and various people had scrawled sink-related graffitti, like dude, where is the sink? and seriously, what happened to the sink? The Duchess, upon hearing this, wondered who brought Sharpies into the bathroom with them.

The trivia portion of the evening was drowned out by drunken conversation. This is what happens in bars. When the friends of the event organizers try to shout down the people who just came out for a few drinks and some conversation, I wonder if they’ve ever been in a bar before, and if shouting down loud drunken people has ever, in the history of booze, worked. I suspect the answer is no, and it did not work that night either.

Back on stage, I had to stand and listen to the judges’ critique of my story. They were gentle and humorous. At one point the mood of the story was compared to Kafka, and my agent, bless her, suddenly howled in laughter as if this was the funniest thing she’d ever heard. I pretended to be outraged, but my agent is wise to my tricks and simply ridiculed me more, which is really how I need to be handled.

I didn’t win.

As we got ready to leave, people came up to me to tell me they really liked my story. While waiting in line for the bathroom again downstairs a guy slapped me on the shoulder and told me I’d been great, and asked if I knew I was going to be critiqued like that. He seemed like someone who’d come to get drunk on a Monday night and accidentally attended a literary reading, but had enjoyed himself. Strangely enough, so had I.

Reminder: Literary Upstart Tonight

Just a quick reminder that I’m reading at The L Magazine’s Literary Upstart event tonight:

WHEN: 7pm, Monday, May 17

WHERE: The Slipper Room, 167 Orchard Street, New York, NY 10002-2214, (212) 253-7246

WHY: Because I’ll be there, soaking up free drinks.

Come on by and heckle me until I burst into boozy tears on stage!

We Is Nominated!

Well, blow me down: Our litte video The Electric Church in One Minute has been nominated for a 2010 Moby Award, for “Best Low Budget/Indie Book Trailer”. Hot damn. I’d like to thank all the little people, and Jebus, and … oh, yeah, I guess we have to actually win before we make that speech. To ourselves in the bathroom mirror with tears running down our face, bottle of Jack Daniels clutched in one claw-like hand.

Anyways, here’s the video in question, actually more than a minute (that’s part of the genius!):


Writing: Necessary Laziness

Folks, I am a lazy, lazy man. Unless it involves booze, I don’t like to put much effort into things. Take grooming, for instance: Haircuts, shaving, dry cleaning your clothes, all generally too much effort for Your Humble Author here. If I could find a way to combine booze with those activities – booze for me, mind you; I don’t need some drunk bastard cutting my hair – I’d be a happy man. And probably rich once I sell the franchise rights.

About the only thing I’m usually not too lazy about is writing, but this is because writing has always been fun and easy for me, pretty much in the same category as drinking – hey, if only I could combine those two NO NO NO that way lies madness. Sometimes when writing, though, you have to be lazy, kind of on purpose, you know? LEt’s face it, real life is a pretty huge dataset. The number of details that go into just one person’s every day experience while wandering this globe searching for free drinks and tasty sandwiches is staggering, and if you actually tried to capture all of those details in a story, even a story that takes exactly one minute of time to unfold, your story would like be about twenty-seven volumes long.

Thus, laziness. A great example is the popular-with-the-kids-these-days Zombie Apocalypse story, which almost always focusses on the whole thing about killing zombies and rebuilding civilization while calmly ignoring the fact that you’d probably starve to death long, long before the zombies broke down your door. Zombie stories are lazy about the food issue because it’s the only reaction that makes sense – no one wants  story about the urgent need to find a can opener, say, or the moral quandry of murdering your dog in order to eat him. So, Zombie Apocalypse stories usually have abandoned supermarkets filled with foodstuffs for our survivors to gorge on, when in reality every time it rains more than two inches here in Hoboken the local supermarket is an empty, ransacked shell. I mean, seriously, if the news started reporting a zombie fucking apocalypse the supermarket would be completely devoid of edibles within about twenty seconds. Or, the story will have the survivors hunting and farming like in the good old days, which makes a lot more sense, except for the lazy convenience of having your survivors – almost always in a major metropolitan area – know how in fuck to hunt, skin, and butcher animals or farm anything. Not a terrible stretch, but I for one would be found dead with two cans of tuna in my hands and bloody fingernails before I figured out how to grow something in my backyard.

Or, take Lost for example (no spoilers here, don’t worry). The most recent episode, which gave us the extended backstory of Jacob and Smokey, was set in some undefined past, and the characters were all dressed in a sort of rustic ancient style by way of Luke Skywalker in Star Wars Episode IV. The costumes are cheesy and vague, and evoke exactly no culture or historical period ever in the history of ever. They are the laziest costumes I’ve ever seen in my entire life (the whole episode annoyed and disappointed me, but that rant is for later, after the series ends and I have a better perspective). But, I can see why, maybe, that decision was made: Because a) the story is maybe meant to be a parable and not taken literally, or b) because they don’t want to distract us with questions about whether, say, ancient Romans or Egyptians would do something. Keeping it vague gives them latitude to do whatever they want. Thus, the lazy costumes are necessary.

Or, maybe just lazy. Figuring out what’s a necessary laziness and what’s just lazy is not easy, even when you’re writing. I’ve had plenty of moments where an editor hands back a manuscript and tells me I need to spend more time and energy on a sequence, and when I lok back on it I can see pretty clearly that I was impatient to get past that spot and glossed over everything too quickly. It’s easy to be lazy when you can see everything clearly in your own head, and forget that people can’t read you mind and see all the details as clearly as you do.

Now, all this talk of booze has made me hungry. The food not so much. To paraphrase Gene Wilder in Blazing Saddles, food just makes me sick.

Gamer, or Why Do They Hate Us

Continuing in my apparently ongoing series of posts wherein Jeff Watches Lame Recent Sci-Fi Movies and Complains About the Writing, I watched the truly, awesomely terrible movie Gamer starring Gerard Butler, who talks like he’s got golfballs in his mouth and obviously needs a new agent. Not many folks bothered to catch this one in the theaters, which speaks well of humanity as a whole, but I was mildly intrigued. This was definitely one of those movies that I knew would not be good but hoped to find some intriguing kernel of delicious smarts somewhere under the bloated Hollywood bullshit. I was sadly disappointed.

Well, okay, there was one moment of demented genius, but we’ll get to that.

The basic plot: In the future, the prison system is on the brink of collapse as there are so many criminals the USA can’t find the money to support them. Enter this guy (I do not have sufficient respect for this movie to remember character names) who has invented nanotechnology that allows people to be remote-controlled via the Internet. Basically, they get loaded with nanobytes that mutate their brain cells and then accept wireless commands. He first creates a “game” called Society which is basically Second Life except the avatars are real live people who are paid to be controlled, and where folks remotely act out their fantasies. Then he creates Slayers, where he takes the entire US prison system off the hands of the government and death-row criminals can volunteer to play a First-Person Shooter type game as the actual avatars, or as unarmed “collateral damage” type people programmed to just wander aimlessly while everyone is shooting. A Slayer gets freed from prison if he/she survives 30 games, a collateral-damage person gets freed if they survive one. People log in remotely, select their “avatar”, and get to kill real-live people.

Naturally, there are secrets. Butler plays the most popular Slayer, who is ‘owned’ by a rich teenager. He’s been wrongly imprisoned, of course, and his wife has lost custody of their daughter and been forced to work in Society as, basically, a whore. Players select her as an avatar, dress her up any way they like, then prance her around Society until some other avatar decides to fuck her. Very sad and dystopian. Butler has secret knowledge, of course, which he makes absolutely no reference to throughout the film until other characters explain it to him, meaning his character is either the Stupidest Man Alive or the nanotech causes some severe brain damage, take your pick.

Anyway, that’s all you need of the plot. This entire movie is an example of Buzz Word Script Writing. BWSW is when a story is constructed from poorly-understood terms or phenomena the screenwriter doesn’t know much about; they watch a few YouTube vids, read a few Wikipedia articles, make a list of buzz words, and then tell whatever crapass story they come up with, sure to sprinkle the buzz words everywhere to give it a sheen of currency. Someone heard vaguely about Second Life and First-Person Shooters, and over some good drugs one night they had one of those “Dude, what if the people in Second Life were, like, real fucking people.” and there was a moment of stunned silence. Then everyone began snorting coke and drinking tequila, and three hours later there was a script.

I swear to you: That’s how these scripts get written.

Naturally, of course, they don’t really understand the appeal of either, and they are so far removed from the user bases of either that they assume, stupidly, that the people who play FPS games or who get involved with stuff like Second Life are assholes. Basically, they assume the potential audience for their movie are assholes and proceed to insult them through the course of the entire film. The FPS gamers are represented by an obnoxious teenaged kid of privilege. The Society players are represented by a grossly fat man in a motorized chair who is your typical Hollywood Gross Fat Guy (HGFG), which means he apparently doesn’t wash and has no moral basement whatsoever, because Hollywood thinks fat people are not simply unhealthy or unlucky, but rather EVIL. That’s how the film’s producers/writers see y’all: You play with computers, therefore you are either vapid and shallow, or gross and fat and unloved by society.


The movie is made of fail, but there is one part of the story that is really badly handled from a writing standpoint: The secondary villain. The hero of the piece is, naturally, a Badass. He’s survived dozens of these games because he’s ex-military and of course has a noble goal (getting out, clearing his name, regaining his family) so of course he’s the toughest guy in the room (and inexplicably world-famous; this movie makes the classic mistake of trying to convince us that the Slayers game and its main characters are HUGE worldwide celebrities, while showing us a game that is about as interesting and exciting as watching Gerard Butler swallow those golf balls in his mouth). That’s fine. The main villain is the exact opposite: Nerdy, decadent, rich and powerful financially and politically but weak physically. That’s fine, too, and makes for a classic, if slightly tired, combination. About halfway through the story they introduce a secondary villain who the main villain plants in prison to finally kill the hero, and he’s introduced on a video screen as a sweating, trembling black man, all bulging muscles and barely-contained anger. They fill the screen with his ominous, hate-filled face and linger on his muscular, aggressive body. One of his first acts in prison is to murder someone just for the hell of it and then taunt the hero about how he’s going to kill him and then rape his family.

And then: The secondary villain does absolutely nothing worth nothing. He’s the worst villain ever in the history of bad movies. He just fails and fails and fails, and very quickly is reduced to a joke. If I thought this was perhaps the whole point of his character, that would have been OK, I suppose, but they clearly introduce him as a genuine menace, and then couldn’t figure out how to have him be actually menacing without ruining their shaky, barely-there plot, forcing them to, you know, think about plot mechanics and such. So they give this guy a huge buildup, make you think the hero’s in for it now, and then … nothing.

Finally, we do have one bright moment. The main villain, as you recall, had mind-controlling nanotech injected into all these people, and when the hero arrives at his mansion for some revenge – worst plan ever, as HE IS FILLED WITH MIND-CONTROLLING NANOTECH – ahem, he encounters the villain and about a dozen other death-row inmates. Instead of simply launching his puppets at the hero (OR, SAY, SIMPLY USING THE MIND-CONTROLLIN NANOTECH TO FORCE THE HERO TO KILL HIMSELF) the villain begins a song and dance number with the inmates as his mind-controlled backup dancers. I kid you not. A little silly, yes, but also kind of brilliant: He’s a rich genius bent on taking over the world, and for months in the story he’s had complete mindfuck power over all these people. It makes sense that he’s batshit, and cruel. It’s a fun scene, like finding a cheeseburger still in the wrapper in a dumpster outside a Johnny Rockets.

Whew. I’m exhausted.

Literary Upstart and Moi

I Can Only DO It OnceIt’ll be THUNDERDOME!

Or, well, probably not. Those crazy kids what run The L Magazine run this thing called Literary Upstart, where authors submit works and, if chosen, read them live to a bunch of drunks and then a winner gets chosen. Because this sounded like exactly the sort of thing I do for fun (usually uninvited, just standing up on a barstool and starting to read from my tear- and beer-stained notebook), I submitted a story of mine (Rust on the Tongue) and I’ve been chosen to read at the May 17th event. THERE WILL BE NO PRISONERS TAKEN. I intend to win, even if it means performing the Daffy Duck Gasoline Trick that can only be performed once.

WHEN: 7pm, Monday, May 17

WHERE: The Slipper Room, 167 Orchard Street, New York, NY 10002-2214, (212) 253-7246

WHY: Because I’ll be there, soaking up free drinks.

Not sure of the rest of the details, but you don’t need no stinkin’ details, right? I’ll be there. Reading a literary gem. Be there or be square.