Monthly Archive: October 2011

Friday is Guitar Day

Epiphone Les Paul CustomSince there has not been, to date, any cohesive attempt to try to stop me from posting songs (though I worry that Occupy Wall Street will ultimately be revealed to have this as a goal) I figure I will go on and post a slew of new geetar songz. Hot damn! Free amateur music! This is truly a great time to be alive.



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.

EDITING: Have You Heard of It?

The AbyssHas this ever happened to you: You wake up in a Mexican mausoleum, wearing a white linen suit, missing you wallet and one kidney — wait, not that. I’m thinking of something else entirely.

Has this ever happened to you: You’re reading a book or watching a movie, and really enjoying the story as it sets up, and then suddenly it all takes a left turn in a strange direction and becomes a completely different movie? Usually this starts off as a more or less straight genre story of some sort and then zig-zags into SFnal territory, and it is almost always a disaster, because invariably the non-SFnal aspects of the story were much better than the SF stuff.

The first time I ever experienced this kind of dizzying letdown was with The Abyss, James Cameron’s 1989 film starring Ed Harris, Michale Biehn, and Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio. The film spins out a nicely tense set-up: A US submarine sinks to an extreme depth, marines led by an unstable CO are sent down to a deep water oil platform to team up with the civilian divers who live on the platform. The extreme pressure can have some side effects on certain folks, and the marine commander appears to be one of them; he grows increasingly paranoid, acquires a nuclear warhead from the sunken submarine, and things get interesting.

And then aliens show up, and the movie goes straight to hell.

Now, to be fair, there are other problems with The Abyss (if you’ve never seen it, watch it and look for the scene where Ed Harris brings his wife back to life apparently through sheer force of will), and the aliens were almost certainly the point of the movie from the get-go. My point here is that as a storyteller, Cameron should have recognized that his story without the aliens was actually very, very good, and very interesting, and he should have deleted the aliens and kept going towards the paranoid, tense climax the film was begging for. He should have edited that bastard. Not editing in the film sense, but editing in the sense of cutting your story down to what works.

From Dusk Til DawnAnother example of this is the early Tarantino/Rodriguez collaboration From Dusk Til Dawn (Rodruiguez has a big problem with editing in this sense). Certainly it was a gonzo idea to begin with, taking two stories and melding them together. The problem is that Taratino’s story about the Gecko brothers taking a family hostage in order to sneak into Mexico and evade justice is compelling, funny, and interesting.

And the vampires show up and the movie goes straight to hell.

Again, there’s some fun in that vampire sequence. But it isn’t a great movie, and the characters established in the first half of the film cease to exist and become just actors fighting vampires. The first half of the story is pretty damn good, and I wanted to see what happened to the Geckos and their hostages. The vampire side is just bullshit.

And that’s usually the problem: Melded genres like this are sometimes (certainly not always) just gonzo exercises — someone says hey wouldn’t it be something if aliens showed up here and whether due to inebriation or writer-block desperation, someone else says yeah! and a terrible movie is born. Once you introduce the gonzo element (aliens! vampires!) [gonzo only in context, because the story up to that point was not in any way fantastic] the story actually stops dead, the characters cease to exist, and everything just becomes a fun mash-up to play with. This can be entertaining, but it is often a bad story.

Planet TerrorThe most recent example I can recall right now is Rodriguez’s half of the Grindhouse experiment, Planet Terror. Again, I know the whole point of the film is to get to the zombie storyline. I get that. but the set-up involving Marly Shelton and Josh Brolin as unhappy married doctors is really fun and interesting. From their bizarre son and his “I will eat your brain and steal your knowledge” line to Marly’s running mascara and Brolin’s air of menace, these are fun characters. I would have loved to see a story that actually followed Brolin’s growing insanity as he realizes his wife is planning to leave him, leading him to incpacitate her with drugs and lock her in a supply closet. I would have loved to follow her as she manages to escape despite being partially paralyzed. There’s good stuff in there. You can even keep the part where she’s menaced by <something> and leaves her son in the car with a loaded gun, and the marvelous reaction shot when she takes about two steps away before the gun goes off.

But then zombies show up and the movie goes straight to hell.

Now, this doesn’t mean that when writing a H/SF/F story you should never create interesting characters with interesting backstories, or if you do accidentally create such interesting things you should immediately surgically remove the H/SF/F aspects. It just means that sometimes your H/SF/F aspects do not mix well with a more reality-based story you’ve created as set-up, and sometimes, when that happens, your set up is better than anything else you’ve got and you should trim back and follow those lines instead. Recognizing which situation you’re in can be difficult, but it can have tremendous payoffs.

In my own work, when I have a straight set up that suddenly veers into the fantastic, it’s usually because I’ve run out of ideas, and dead-dropping some magic or monsters into the plot gives it a charge of energy. This often works because on the other end of things, when I get the idea for a fantastic story I often race to get the premise figured out but neglect the characters or plot. So on the one hand I have characters and half a plot that peters out. on the other I have a fantastic idea but no characters or plot. Mush them together, and theoretically you should have something resembling a finished novel.

Naturally, this never works.

Still, if I let every failed project stop me from writing the next one, I wouldn’t be flogging this blog, would I? Failed projects are The Wheaties of a witer’s life, the breakfast of champions. So, I sympathize with folks who go whole hog into this and produce films or other stories that veer off in crazy directions after setting up something interesting but, perhaps, unresolvable in the first two acts. I feel their pain. And if someone wants to pay me a few million bucks to put my literary horrors up on the screen, I’d be more than happy to do so.

From the Zine


by Jeff Somers

FRIENDS, I am usually the last person in the universe to adopt any given technology, catchphrase, or trend. This is because I am stupid and cowardly, and while everyone is running around shouting about how great something is, I’m sitting in my room drinking liquor and grumbling. Then, five or six decades later I stumble on it and say wow, this is cool, hey everybody, lookit this! And everyone sneers and calls me a Luddite.

Add to this a healthy dose of misanthropic hatred for people in general, and you can only imagine my general attitude to things like Facebook and Twitter. Not only are these new-fangled technologies, but they both fall into the general category of social-network applications, and that means they connect me to people. Horrible, dirty, stupid people. Not people like you, of course. Everyone else. All those other people, whom I hate. Not you.

Enthusiasm for these applications, therefore, was lacking.

Still, being a desperate mid-list writer with some books on the shelf, a need for more, more more! whiskey, and a perpetual fear of never publishing anything ever again ever, I’m always pondering how I can take over your brains and force you to buy more of my books, and I’ve been told over and over again that Facebook and Twitter can be great tools to connect with fans and potential fans, so I opened accounts on both. And since everything I do ends up in this zine, filtered through the Bullshit Wacky Japanese Island of Wacky, here’s an article about my experience so far.

How sad: 1996, articles about me being drunk and being a wedding gigolo. 2009, articles about fucking Facebook. Is this what a midlife crisis tastes like? ‘Cause it burns, motherfucker.

Ask Jeff Anything 10-13-11

Well, here we are again: Answering questions from the teeming masses for your entertainment. I actually enjoy this stuff more than I care to admit. YouTube keeps telling me I should monetize these videos, but I can’t imagine I’d actually make more than a nickel on these things, so it doesn’t seem worth it. But if anyone wants to send me some money to guarantee I don’t start running ads on these, that’d be swell.

This time around, the question is from the infamous Miss Snark, and involves my storage techniques for the eleventy billion manuscripts I’ve written in my lifetime.

Now, doesn’t that make you want to tip me? I accept money, booze, and interesting stones.

What Guitar Reminded Me About Writing

As some of you know, I’ve been playing guitar for a few years now. And, yes, posting my terrible, terrible songs to the Internet. You cannot stop me from posting my terrible songs to the Internet. Because I am not a guitarist, so I cannot be shamed on this point. I’ll continue to steal beats from led Zeppelin and riffs from AC/DC and posting the results here.

Learning how to play guitar has reminded me of my earlier years as a writer. As in, my adolescent years. Like just about everyone in the universe, I first started writing when I was a kid, a wee lad of about 10. So I’ve been writing for a loooong time, bubbas, and forgotten what it was like to just start out, y’know?

Learning and playing guitar has reminded me though, because there are parallels. I like to flatter myself that I have some ability as a writer, whereas the guitar is just for fun, but they’re both creative experiences and the path is similar, sometimes. Here’s a couple of things learning to play the guitar has reminded me about writing:

1. When everything is brand new, it’s easy. Every time I learn a riff or technique on the guitar, it’s an exciting moment that unlocks a lot of immediate ideas. BAM, I’m working on a song using those ideas. That’s how it was in the beginning when I wrote: Everything was new, so writing new things was easy. Thirty short stories a year? No problem. Every story I read, every class I took gave me new things to use. The work I was doing wasn’t very original, but it felt original to me, because it was all new stuff. I read Ulysses and spent the next six months writing stream of consciousness like I’d invented it.

2. Stealing Is How You Do It. The meager skills I have on the guitar are the result of a few things — some lessons, practice, and most importantly learning other songs. Every time I learned a riff or a solo from an old song, I immediately began plotting to steal it. The earliest of my songs reflects this pretty baldly, as you can literally hear badly-played riffs from classic rock songs brazenly arranged in my own fumbling style (which is charming, right? RIGHT?). These days I’m better at taking a riff as inspiration, playing with it, adjusting it, putting it into a new context and running with it.

That’s the same way to write. read good books and stories. Burn with jealousy against them. Drink yourself into a stupor because you’ll never manage anything nearly as good. Wake up in a ditch. Get washed up, eat something, take a nap. Then trudge to the word processor and steal the idea/technique. Keep stealing it. Steal it until it’s just part of your repertoire, until it’s natural to you. Then it starts slipping into stories without being showy, just another tool you use to tell a story. byt the time you sell something that utilizes the stolen element, it’s no longer stolen, it’s learned, and its yours.

3. Do it for fun. No one cares if I play guitar or how well I play, so there’s no pressure. I play because I enjoy it, I make my ridiculous songs because I enjoy them, and I post those songs because that’s what we needy, attention-whoring creative types do. The same goes for writing: Do it for fun. The writing, that is. The publishing should be for money, or some form of compensation, but the writing itself has to start off as pure enjoyment. Whenever I’ve spoken with a writer who writes from an income point of view, it’s always pretty depressing.

The ultimate point is, try new things. Learn new things. You will always enter that period of pure discovery and fun (suddenly I can hear Willy Wonka singing Pure Imagination in my head), once you get past that dreary initial period of frustration and Fail. Or am I the only one who had periods of frustration and Fail? Smug bastards. You’re all lying.

The Unappeasable Host

This was originally publish in Bare Bone #5.

The Unappeasable Host

by Jeff Somers

IT WAS hot, was all he knew. Hotter than he’d ever imagined it possible, dozing on a couch in his apartment, sullenly sweaty when the city temperature hit eighty. Eighty! He prayed for eighty degrees, now. He thought it must be at least 125 degrees. He thought he must be melting, slowly, some horrible former man, running away like candle wax. He supposed he was knee-deep in culture and ought to be absorbing something meaningful, but all he knew was that he was hotter than he’d ever been in his life. He didn’t think there were numbers to describe the amount of kinetic energy in the air.
He swabbed his forehead with a rag and stared around at the rest of the group. He was on an elephant. The whole tour group was riding the huge beasts. They smelled, he thought, like rotten beef jerky.

“Where are we going again?”

Pong, their guide, turned his small, tan head slightly, and said something in his language of marble-mouthed vowels. Then he turned away again. “We go to visit the Hill Tribes.” he said. “These people still live by ancient tradition.”

These people still live by begging from tourists, he thought icily.

In the tour literature, this part of the trip had seemed admirably fascinating. Over beers and burgers with his friends, that part had seemed the best part. On elephants! In the jungle! Visiting tribes that clung to thousand-year-old ways and rules!
He looked around sourly. He was melting onto an elephant and would have the pungent scent of sweated-on rotten beef jerky following him into the afterworld. He swatted at flies and took a drink from his water bottle, wishing he’d stayed in the hotel today, played sick, and just laid on his bed with the ceiling fan on high, misering his strength.

The other members of the tour seemed to be enjoying themselves, as far as he could tell. He didn’t see how it was possible, but they were chatting and laughing, awkwardly perched on their own elephant couriers. An elderly woman noticed him looking at them all and waved.

“Having fun, Harry?” she called out.

He managed a small smile and waved back. “Can’t wait to meet the Hill People!” he sang back, thinking She’s fucking eighty years old and she’s bouncing along on an elephant in 1000-degree heat. She’s senile. When he was eighty, he planned to spend most of his energy devising new ways to get things from the fridge without getting up from his bed. Still, he had to admit, privately, that she was amazing. She looked fifty, and had more energy than most of the others, who were all easily forty years younger. Her enthusiasm, though, annoyed him. He just wanted to go home, and it felt like she was single-handedly pushing them all forward, into the Hills, carrying ridiculous gifts for the beggar children who would swarm them.

“Christ,” he whispered to himself. “I’ll bet a game’s on channel five back home, right now.”

Pong turned to grin at him. “You want to go home, Mr. Harris?”

Mistah Harrie, he pronounced it. Harry still couldn’t tell if their guide was making fun of him or was just having trouble with consonants. He gave him a neutral look and shook his head. Pong was smart, so Harry suspected he was being made fun of. He knew he had a reputation as the dead weight of the group, the sourpuss. It embarrassed him, because the trip had cost so much, and so much effort had gone into its planning – to come and be so thoroughly unhappy made him feel like a whiner, especially since he was alone in his unhappiness. That had made him grit his teeth and stick with it  -though he could have simply kept his hotel and plane reservations and left the tour. That would have meant more money after what he’d spent on the tour, though.

“I’m just as happy here.” he asserted to Pong, who nodded amiably and turned around.

Harry sagged in the saddle behind their guide. Elephants! He hadn’t expected elephants, though everyone said it was right there in the brochure. He supposed it had been. It didn’t mean he’d expected it.