Monthly Archive: June 2011

Writing & Superstition

The Mighty PenYou know, I try to be levelheaded and rational. Sure, there are crying jags for no reason. Drinking binges. Days when I build a fort out of my couch cushions here in the Fortress of Somers and refuse to emerge for days at a time, sulking. But, you know, rational. As they say in Singin’ in the Rain: “Dignity. Always dignity.”

In truth, though, I am riddled with horrifying superstitions. The problem is, writing is a semi-magical experience. I have no idea how this thing works. It’s like someone bequeathed me a speedboat in their will and had it delivered to my driveway. The controls are in Chinese and there does not appear to be an engine, yet every time I step inside I somehow get the thing started and magically end up coasting on the water. And, since I am burying myself in an awkward and unnecessary metaphor, let’s also say there is Unicorn on board who is my first mate and speaks English and who can make bottles of Scotch appear magically!

In other words, I have no idea how it works. As a result I live in constant fear it will just … go away.

Every artist in history has that moment, when you look back on their careers objectively, when they lose “it”. When their new work doesn’t have the spark of their earlier efforts. When they start to be boring, repetitive, uninteresting. No one sees it in themselves. There is no warning. It just happens.

This kind of complete lack of control over your own brain chemistry and the ongoing massacre of cell death in my brain makes me superstitious. I write in certain ways, at certain times, using certain materials not because of any real physical advantage, but because it’s how I’ve been doing it since I was 11, and if I change it up now, I might destroy this fragile mysterious thing that keeps giving me ideas.

I have made adjustments from time to time; I’m not completely insane. Just partially insane. I used to write all my long pieces on an old Remington manual typewriter that dated to the 1950s, but I haven’t used it at all in about 7 years, finally bowing to the modern world and using a word processor for longer pieces. I still write my short works longhand in a notebook, however. Although recently I did do the unthinkable and switch pens.

That’s right: I switched pens. And sweated the consequences.

For years, I used a Paper Mate blue pen. White body, blue cap. I bought them in packs of 10 and invariably the last two or three were more or less useless by the time I got to them I could only write my short stories using these pens. Why? Because those are the pens I chose in High School when I started writing short stories out longhand. For 25 years, I used those pens, despite the fact that, frankly, they suck. They dry out fast, are inconsistent regarding ink color and smoothness, and hurt my hand when writing. But the unseen and possibly imaginary gods of writing that I feel staring at the back of my neck required these pens, so I stuck with them … until about 6 months ago, when I switched to Bic Velocity Gels.

Still blue ink, of course.

You may laugh at me and wonder at a grown man who worries about such things, but frankly I was pretty sure the ideas would stop immediately, and I’d have to go into my plan B career: Rodeo Clown. I had the Clown College application filled out and everything. But so far, so good. Lord knows we won’t know if any of these stories are any good until someone else actually reads them, but I’ve written six of them so far with the new pens, and that’s something. Don’t mock me.

Dear Magnificent Bastard…

The Final EvolutionYou know, you write books, you manage to sell them to a publisher, and then sometimes all you get back are reviews and royalty statements (and if you’re lucky, actual royalties). And then once in a blue moon a reader writes you a note that makes you tear up in a manly way. One such email came from James Mulholland today after he’d read The Final Evolution (which has been available in the UK for a few weeks now [minor spoilers here for those who have not read the book yet]:

“Dear magnificent bastard:

Thank you for the Avery Cates books. Sincerely.I read a lot of sci-fi from a variety of the popular authors of the day, nothing compares with the Avery Cates books in terms of sheer ease and joy of consumption. I do not mean ‘ease of consumption’ in a derogatory way at all, there are some complex themes and ideas in there. I mean it in terms of raw, “it’s 3am and I’ve been reading for how long!? Holy crap, I consumed it whole in two days!?!”, page-turnability. Yes, I’m inventing words now.

Rip-roaring, roller-coaster-ride, page-turnability.

That’s how I describe your work to those friends of mine I beat around the head to purchase your books.

I’ve been following Avery’s adventures since I stumbled upon a copy of The Electric Church not long after its UK publication on a windswept trip, to the windswept Scottish coast, in a windswept Scottish towns one small windswept Scottish bookshop (the scifi section consisted of a grand total of 2 shelves. Short on choice, high on quality it would seem!

Since then, the publication of a new Cates novel has gotten a spot on my calendar and a pre-order at the bookshop, without fail.

While I lament the loss of Mr Cates and his delightfully grizzled, hilarious and fatalistic ways (I suspect the narrative arc may have run its course with the final book, although I of course live in hope) I am grateful for having been along for one hell of a ride on the way.

So Mr Somers, I suppose that’s all I really have for you; thanks and unsolicited praise from a fan.

And while I lament that Avery Cates may not be back to shit-kick another day (or, for that matter, doom what’s left of his own species again) I am happy and excited to read any and all material you produce in the future; be they set in this universe or any other you chose to concoct.

Congratulations on creating a fantastic (and wonderfully bleak) universe, which contained compelling, relatable and intriguing characters and all took place across a fantastic story arc culminating in what I think is your best work to date.

I particularly liked your treatment of Wa Belling. After years of Avery stewing and plotting this once willy, powerful, master-manipulator and living-legend is finally brought low by simply running out of years (not to mention mutilation at the hands of his insane once-ally)… All of this is viewed and filtered through Cates’ increasingly tired and aging perspective.

I found that more poignant, satisfying and relevant to Cates’s character than any protracted (roon-based) gun battle or simple revenge fantasy could ever be.

To paraphrase, the “Fuck, well after all that, do I even want to kill this worn out geezer anymore…?” moment was just perfect.

P.S: First ever fictional character to inspire me to pause mid-read, fetch a glass of malt, and toast as a result of his inglorious demise: “Fuckin’ Grisha!” *Glug*”

Emails like that make my month. Thanks, James!

Every Great Band Should be Shot / Before They Make Their “Combat Rock”

Selling Out, Then and Now
by Jeff Somers

From The Inner Swine Volume 17, Summer 2011, out soon.

IN thinking about this issue, whose vague theme is “the past”, I tried to think of things that really are different today. I mean, I’ve been sentient for several decades. I’ve lived through some shit. I lived through Vanilla Ice and I’ve lived through Space Shuttle Disasters. I should have some wisdom.

Wisdom’s a bitch, though.

Cultural changes are always nebulous and subtle. It’s one thing to take post 1950’s America and compare it to, say, pre-1850’s America and see the stark, obvious differences. Ladies voting, generation gaps, race-relations—they’re all strikingly different. Much more difficult to examine 1950s America and 1960’s America—the differences are a lot more subtle. Change is constant, and accrues slowly, over the course of years, and in the process a lot of it is forgotten.

Take blue jeans: Back in the 1950s, when kids started wearing jeans it was in imitation of workers and undesirable elements in society—it was rebellion. It was a fashion statement. Today, of course, jeans are standard wear for almost any occasion. I’ve seen people go to funerals in jeans. This kind of evolution took years, and now the origins of jeans’ “cool factor” are forgotten by most folks, and people like me only know about it from reading about it.

So thinking back over the last few decades and trying to pick out something cultural that’s changed isn’t as easy as it sounds. I mean, I could bloviate about cell phones and gadgets, but I’m not sure if they’ve really changed the world so much as simply augmented existing behaviors. Things like cell phones or iPads or Kindles are easy to talk about because they’re concrete, and come with definite dates to point to. We here at The Inner Swine never take the easy way out. We work, baby.

And then I saw a commercial.

It was Fergie, unfortunately, shilling for Dr. Pepper. Well, I know it was Fergie (of the Black Eyed Peas, the worst band ever in the history of ever) because a title on the commercial told me so. It doesn’t look anything like any human being I’ve ever seen, frankly:


Anyways, what occurs to me suddenly is that not so long ago, as in clearly within my limited memory, rock stars or actors who wished to be taken seriously never did commercials. Sometimes they would do commercials in Japan, with the expectation that no one in the US would ever see them. I can clearly remember, in college, being outraged whenever some singer or actor I thought had some integrity would show up in a commercial—they were dead to me. My friends and I would be amazed, and sad. It was the sign that your career was in the shitter, frankly.

Now, everything’s different. Somehow, in the course of a few decades, product placement and shilling for corporations has become cool. It has, in fact, become a way to become cool.


The Final Evolution Excerpt

Over at Pat’s Fantasy Hotlist, you can read an entire chapter from the latest Avery Cates novel The Final Evolution:

Mutterficker!” Kaufman yowled, eyes going wide. “We canna let you go!” His voice had taken on a pitiable quality I didn’t like. “We fuckin’ sold ya, and took the yen already.”

Check it out and let me know what you think! And then buy many, many copies of the book.

I Wrote a Thing

Over at the Orbit Books Blog, I’ve written a little post about 5 near-future SF movies I think are great. Check it out!

“You know, when the Telegraph called my Avery Cates novels “an action movie in print,” my immediate reaction was, of course, anger and suspicion. What kind of action movie did they mean? Jean-Claude Van Damme? Dolph Lundgren? Surely not . . . Steven Seagal?!?!? Bastards. I would have my revenge, I thought.”

Friday Is Guitar Day

Epiphone Les Paul CustomYea, verily, despite the growing disinterest all over the world WRT my epic song writing skilz, here are, once again, some songs I made. Me, a guitar or two, and some software. I’m living in the future!



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.

A Morality Car Wash: A Trip to Las Vegas

from Volume 13, Issue 3, of The Inner Swine, September 2007

Here is an actual conversation:

DUCHESS: For my birthday, I’d like to travel somewhere for a little vacation.
ME: <incoherent weeping>
DUCHESS: Man up, weepy boy—we’re going.

This happens more than would be tolerable in my life if not for liquor’s sweet, forgetful embrace, and it never gets easier. My wife likes to travel, and I do not. This means we travel on a regular basis. Now, if you were to ask The Duchess if we traveled a lot, she’d laugh sarcastically and possibly harm you in some minor physical way. If you ask me, we travel far too much. Objectively, I find myself on an airplane about twice a year, heading somewhere I do not want to go (which is everywhere, because travel sucks). One of these trips is usually the annual pilgrimage to Texas to visit with my wife’s family, which is non-negotiable, and the other is generally a brief vacation-type trip that The Duchess plans for us. I always greet the news with weeping, and she always sedates me before dragging me to the airport because of my childish behavior when a trip is in the offing.

I know my wife is physically stronger than me, you see, so I have learned to resort to childish tantrums in order to try and hold down the number of loathsome planes I have to get on in a year. I’ll never avoid traveling altogether, I know, but The Duchess is like a river breaking through a dam. If you don’t do something, you’re going to get washed away. At least if you plug up some holes and make a go of it you can reduce your damage.

So, when she announced that she had a bizarre desire to go to Las Vegas, I sighed wearily, did my weeping, and then resigned myself to the trip. We had enough frequent flyer miles or something to fly first-class for free, and The Duchess tried to sweeten my reaction to the trip by reminding me, constantly, that you get to drink cocktails for free in first class.

Someday we will examine the fact that everyone in my life tries to make me do stuff by offering me free booze, but let’s not go there yet.



Lifers by Jeff SomersIt occurs to me that it’s been 10 years, more or less, since my first novel, Lifers, was published. Originally written in 1997, Lifers is the sordid tale of three young men who plot to rob the office where one of them works, more as a rebellion against settling into maturity than anything else. It’s not a very long novel. It doesn’t have a happy ending, really, though there’s no tragedy in it. I didn’t have an agent back in 1999 when I started shopping the book, so I went through The Writer’s Market and just mailed a query and/or samples to any publisher who would look at an unsolicited submission.

I heard back from an outfit called Creative Arts Books out in California, a small press. They sent me your standard subsidy-publishing ambush. Nowhere in their listings did they call themselves a subsidy/vanity publisher (and I believe for a long time prior they actually had been a traditional small press), but suddenly they were offering to “publish” my book for a fee. Despite being young and agentless, even I was not stupid enough to fall for that. This was actually the third time I’d been ambushed by subsidy publishers – twice before I’d sent a query off to a company that made no mention of vanity publishing, only to get what I’ve come to call the “In These Difficult Economic Times” letter, where they claim that it is no longer possible for a small press to publish new authors unless the author is willing to pony up part of the printing costs of the book. Sometimes they offer you a bigger royalty as a carrot in this deal, but the fact is once you pay for the printing of the book they’ve actually already made a profit off of you, and therefore have very little reason to market or even distribute your novel.

So, I told Creative Arts to fuck off. No, really, I did. I wrote them a letter back saying fuck off, burn the manuscript, you suck.