SO, I’ve written a book, and the contracts have been signed, and barring extinction-level event between now and 2018, The Unconventional Novelist will be published by Writer’s Digest next year. Huzzah!
My pitch was, in a nutshell, hey I do everything wrong and generally approach my writing career like a drunk guy approaches riding a bicycle down a mountainside, and yet here I am, nine novels in and making a living writing. And the editors took one look at my disheveled appearance and then one look at my surprisingly robust list of writing and publishing credits and decided that they could make some hay with this.
The book will be chock full of the wisdom I’ve accumulated during my lengthy and unusual writing career, most of which goes against received wisdom and, you know, the usual way of doing things. There’s this illusion that there’s a “right” way to get published and make money from your writing, and I am living proof that this is bunk. Also, there are more hilarious footnotes in this thing than is probably wise.
I’ll keep y’all updated. I’ve set up a blog over at https://unconventionalwriting.wordpress.com where I’ll be posting nuggets of drunken literary wisdom and other things, so if you want a sense of what the book will be like, there you go.
I’m not one to play along with all those memes about how 2016 was a terrible year and how ALL the celebrities we love are dying and all that. Time is a fundamental thread of the universe, but our perception of it is artificial and, to use a scientific term, bullshit. 2016 was a collection of moments, just like any other, arbitrarily assigned to a grouping so we can all type out jokes about who should die next.
Well, it’s going to be over soon, and if you’re the sort to assign some kind of significance to this purely superficial changeover, it’s as good a time as any to assess and reflect, and to look forward to the year to come.
NEXT YEAR IN SOMERS
Since you’re here and you read those first two paragraphs yet you’re still reading, I can safely assume you’re interested in the things I write. That’s troubling for you, frankly, but since we’re here, now, in this moment together let’s soldier on. What can you expect from me in 2017?
January 9, 2017: THE BOOM BANDS (Ustari Cycle #5)
The final novella in the most recent Ustari Cycle books drops from Gallery Books on 1/9/17. You can order it at the usual purveyors of eBooks: Amazon, B&N, Google, iTunes, Kobo. Here’s the description:
“For blood mages, the twenty-first century means hiding in the shadows, keeping society unaware of their incredible powers. The power-hungry sort plot quietly to manufacture tragedies bloody enough to give them the gas they need to cast monumental spells. Lem is a little lower down the ladder than that, bleeding nobody but himself, skating by on small Cantrips, cons, and charms.
Lately though, his days have taken a strange turn, always the same and yet minutely different. Since hooking up with this group that wants to utilize his uncanny ability to write and alter spells for their Big Heist, Lem’s constantly feeling like he’s forgetting something, like something is calling to him from the beyond. Perhaps most bizarre of all, his best friend Mags is nowhere to be found—and the police seem to want to help Lem locate him. The po-po being helpful to a Trickster like him? Now he knows something is up.”
No one asked me if using the word “po-po” was okay. It’s not. Such is the ways of marketing. Anyways, here’s a trailer for you:
January 10, 2017: MECH: AGE OF STEEL
The very next day, this fantastic anthology featuring one of my stories is set to go, though I’m not 100% sure of this release date. Here’s the description from the publisher:
“MECH: Age of Steel is a collection of 24 mecha-inspired short stories in the spirit of Pacific Rim, Macross, Transformers, Robotech, Gundam, Evangelion, and more. MECH features a vast array of tales featuring giant, human-piloted, robot war machines wreaking havoc in blasted cities, or on dystopian landscapes, or around space stations and asteroids against a cosmic backdrop, or wherever, you-name-it! MECH is anchored by authors such as Kevin J. Anderson, Ramez Naam, Jason Hough, Jeremy Robinson, and Jody Lynn Nye. This anthology features illustrations for every story and is the perfect companion to its sister title, Kaiju Rising: Age of Monsters. So strap in. Activate your interface array. Let’s rock!”
That’s some august company. Here’s an essay I wrote about the inspiration for my story, “The Bonus Situation.”
March 1, 2017: THE KENDISH HIT: AN AVERY CATES SHORT STORY
What can I say? I love me some Avery Cates. Hopefully some of y’all still do, too, or else I’ll have a lot of digital copies of this one lying around. “The Kendish Hit” is a short story set about ten years before the events of The Electric Church. I haven’t set up the pre-orders yet because I’m incompetent (the cover shown here isn’t final-final, either), and I haven’t created a synopsis either. Most of that will be coming first week of January.
The story involves Avery’s first attempt to promote himself from street rat to Gunner—a promotion that puts him in touch with someone who will become a vital ally in times to come, and tests Avery’s commitment to his chosen profession. It rocks.
I’ll update this post when the pre-orders go live.
In August, another anthology bearing one of my stories will become reality. This year I worked with the awesome Stephen Blackmoore on a story in Urban Allies, which saw urban fantasy writers pair up their characters and universes; our story “Crossed Wires” was a lot of fun and stayed true to both our universes. Urban Enemies isn’t a collaborative anthology; my story “Nigsu Ga Tesgu” is all mine, and is part of the Ustari Cycle. Let’s just say if you’ve ever been curious about the inner life of Mika Renar, this story is for you.
Here’s the description of the anthology, coming from Gallery books:
“Villains have all the fun—everyone knows that—and this anthology takes you on a wild ride through the dark side! The top villains from sixteen urban fantasy series get their own stories—including the baddies of New York Times bestselling authors Jim Butcher, Kevin Hearne, Kelley Armstrong, Seanan McGuire, and Jonathan Maberry.
For every hero trying to save the world, there’s a villain trying to tear it all down.
In this can’t-miss anthology edited by Joseph Nassise (The Templar Chronicles), you get to plot world domination with the best of the evildoers we love to hate! This outstanding collection brings you stories told from the villains’ point of view, imparting a fresh and unique take on the evil masterminds, wicked witches, and infernal personalities that skulk in the pages of today’s most popular series.
The full anthology features stories by Jim Butcher (the Dresden Files), Kelley Armstrong (the Cainsville and Otherworld series), Seanan McGuire (October Daye), Kevin Hearne (The Iron Druid Chronicles), Jonathan Maberry (Joe Ledger), Lilith Saintcrow (Jill Kismet), Carrie Vaughn (Kitty Norville), Joseph Nassise (Templar Chronicles), C.E. Murphy (Walker Papers), Steven Savile (Glasstown), Caitlin Kittredge (the Hellhound Chronicles and the Black London series), Jeffrey Somers (The Ustari Cycle), Sam Witt (Pitchfork County), Craig Schaefer (Daniel Faust), Jon F. Merz (Lawson Vampire), and Diana Pharaoh Francis (Horngate Witches).”
I’m working on a few projects that might not actually show up in 2017, but I’m working on them, so I’ll vaguebook them a little here. One I can’t mention because the contract’s not signed—it’s a book, though not in a genre I’ve published in before. There should be an announcement of sort about that in January or February.
The other projects aren’t books, and also aren’t guaranteed to come off. If they do, you’ll definitely hear more. If they don’t, I will never mention them again, edit this post to remove this information, and pretend I have no idea what you’re talking about.
So that’s what I have cooking in 2017 (so far). Watch this space for further details.
The mysterious and ever-changing formula for riches in the writing world apparently skews heavily towards newsletter signups. How this works, exactly, is mysterious to me. So far I’ve figured this much out:
Lure people into signing up
Still, I have a newsletter now, and to avoid the ignominy of having said newsletter descend into chaos and dormancy, to avoid having my writer peers point and laugh at me and whisper behind my back have you SEEN his newsletter? Poor fellow hasn’t sent one out in ages and has a tiny mailing list! I’m going to have to keep thumping it.
So, if you haven’t yet signed up for the Jeff Somers Rocks You Like an (Email) Hurricane newsletter, why should you?
It will make us best friends. Benefits of being my best friend include:
always being able to stop by for a whiskey;
free pass to pet any of my cats (you can even take one home if you like, we got plenty);
right to refer to me as “my friend Jeff Somers” and to create and wear T-shirts, buttons, or other paraphernalia referring to me as such
You’ll get free short stories, essays about writing, and other content that no one else gets. This includes previously unpublished writing, early or alternate drafts of books, and other arcana.
I promise no spam, political rants, religious theorizing, or personal opinions that are not hilarious, about whiskey and baseball, or other harmlessly entertaining things. No one cares what I think about politics, and I am eternally grateful that this is so.
Ask Jeff Anything. I’ll answer any question you have, sometimes on this wee blog, sometimes via video on my YouTube channel, occasionally by showing up your door to drunkenly yell at you.
Free stuff! I’m planning to offer a giveaway with every newsletter. These will be determined randomly, usually in a panic moments before I have to send out the newsletter. The possible giveaways include:
Signed books (likely you’ll be able to request which book)
Rare print versions of eBook-only publications
Random stuff from my pockets or desk drawers
Cash, if I’m desperate enough for attention
For example, the next newsletter will be out in November, and I’ll be giving away five super-rare print copies of the Ustari Cycle novella The Stringer, which you can only buy as an eBook right now. Giveaways will be open to every subscriber, but you do have to subscribe to be in the running.
So! Why not join the Super Happy Best Friends with Jeff and Other Benefits Mailing List? I mean, if you can’t be bothered to click the DELETE button just four times a year, to hell with you.
So, pass it on. And send me questions. Or demands. I’m open to anything, really, as long as we get more signups. You can find the simple, easy signup link in the right-hand column of this blog, or here.
As every married person knows, the main goal of your spouse will always be to kill you. This isn’t malicious—they married you, after all, so chances are they have some affection for you—it’s more of a game. A fun, sexy game.
Every spouse is different, so the Death Game takes on different forms. My wife, The Duchess, for example—I used to think she was trying to kill me by shocking my system with Homeric feats of shopping, but I was wrong. As our recent trip to Italy taught me, she is trying to kill me by taking me on long, innocent hikes through the wilderness. The Duchess claims that in the “wooing stage” of our relationship I offered to go hiking with her as a way of proving my ardor and manliness. This doesn’t sound like anything I would say or would be able to say convincingly, so I have trouble believing it ever happened.
A QUICK FLASHBACK
As some of you may recall, a few years ago The Duchess and I took a fateful trip to the White Mountains in Vermont to hike with some friends. It was a cold, cold day and some shit went down. You can read the full story here, but the TL;DR version is that my knees hurt, we became disoriented and lost in the woods, and The Duchess came thisclose to just leaving me to be eaten by a bear.
At the time, I thought this was just a result of my own frailness and The Duchess’ tendency to panic when bears are rumored to be nearby. But after our Italian avventura, I’m not so sure. I think she’d trying to kill me.
YOU’RE NOT SUPPOSED TO HIKE ON VACATION
Now, there are many acceptable and fine things to do on a vacation. Drink heavily, for example, secure in the knowledge that you don’t have to wake up early (or at all), and that losing your pants and running through the streets shouting SONNO MACARONI! is perfectly acceptable, or at least tolerated. You can eat until you pass out, you can lay around a beach, shop, see museums—you get the idea. The one thing you’re not supposed to do is work, or exercise, because if you do you’re not on vacation, you’re working. Or exercising. I mean, this is obvious.
Not to The Duchess, who planned our trip to Italy based around the idea of hiking. A lot. In fact, she planned to Go Ham on this hiking thing.
Now, I am an Eagle Scout. What this means in practice is that 30 years ago I did a fair amount of hiking; the longest hike I know I survived was either the Jockey Hollow trail, which is like 7.5 miles, or the time at Cub Scout Summer Camp our camp counselor got us lost and we walked for like 10 hours, so let’s say 100 miles because that’s what it felt like). And I do walk a lot in my everyday life. So I figured, okay, a little hiking infused with red wine, cheese, and pasta, no biggie.
We went to the Cinque Terre area of Italy, which is 5 old villages in the cliffs off the Mediterranean, linked by ancient goat trails. The distances aren’t horrific: 2 miles, 2.5 miles at most. Some people hike through all five towns in one day, in fact.
I have no idea how, because the one thing they don’t tell you about is the stairs.
My GOD, the STAIRS. On our first full day, we set out from the town of Vernazza to the town of Corniglia, about 2.5 miles. It actually wasn’t so bad; the stairs are just carved out of the dirt and set with rocks, which means they’re wildly inconsistent in terms of height and ease of scalability and kind of rough on your feet. And my delicate butt muscles didn’t appreciate them, but I did them, and when we finished the round-trip in the morning we sat down for a delicious lunch of pasta and wine.
And then The Duchess announced we would now hike to Monterosso, in the other direction.
The Vernazza-Monterosso trail is actually shorter, but it nearly killed me because the first portion is all uphill and is all stairs. Stairs after stairs after stairs. Already tired from the morning, my lunch turned into a ball of lead, I was forcibly reminded that alcohol is a diuretic, and my legs transformed into blocks of wood. It’s not a hard hike necessarily, but the steps were killer and I’d already hiked 5-6 miles that day. Plus, there were no taverns along the way, and The Duchess kept up a punishing pace, frustrated because as the day went on the trails grew crowded.
At one point, I realized I was being passed by a variety of people:
European men in sandals and flip-flops who bounded up and down the trail like it was a mildly dull bit of everyday exercise
Old people using walking sticks
Ladies with babies strapped to their chests
So, slightly humiliating. But as The Duchess bounded ahead I had flashbacks to the Vermont debacle and realized this was a long game plot to kill me. She wants me to have a heart attack and perish in the woods, be eaten by bears, and forgotten.
I survived. An hour later, we were seated at a bar in Monterosso and I felt that it was possible to keep on living. Like Popeye’s spinach, booze gives me strength. And now I know: Next time The Duchess plans a vacation that involves hiking, charge up the flasks. I’m gonna need ’em.
My brother and I have an old routine where we discuss how we’d like to die, if we had our druthers. He always defaults to this fantasy of being diagnosed with some sort of movie disease like a Brain Cloud and having an idyllic six months to live, wherein he will feel more or less normal and have all his faculties, and then simply drop dead. The idea is he’ll have the time to liquidate all of his assets and fly out to Vegas, there to live like a modern-day Caligula until he simply keels over in a hot tub filled with prostitutes and, I presume, whiskey.
While I salute my brother’s dream of drinking himself to death when the last moments come, I deprecate his plan for the obvious reasons: None of us get that kind of warning, I don’t think. Or at least a vanishingly small number of us do. Most of us will either have a bus dropped on us without warning, or our last memories will be do I smell toast? or we’ll have a long, grinding road of misery and pain until we just sort of enter a new state of existence known as barely there.
In short, I haven’t known much death in my time, but I do know this: There is no such thing as a good death.
Writing often means you have to concoct good deaths for characters. The closer I hue to reality when it comes to death, the less satisfying people find my stories. People like to see just desserts, noble speeches, epiphanies, and deathbed confessions. They like to see death matter in fiction. I strongly suspect this is because almost always death doesn’t mean anything in life. It just is.
I think this topic has been on my mind (more than usual, anyway) because my agent, the Redoubtable Janet Reid, recently suggested that I take steps to set up a Literary Executor, someone who would be empowered to handle my Empire of Words after I’d died of acute alcohol poisoning (or, possibly, something else). Now, when your agent suggests you start looking towards a Post-Life Strategy, it makes you think. As in, I thought, Do I look like I’m fucking dying? It seemed like just a few years ago we were chortling over whiskies at Old Town Bar, plotting my eventual literary domination! Now we’re gently pushing my funeral barge into the water, the scent of lighting fluid all around me.
I’m no Stephen King or Nora Roberts, but I get royalty checks, which means my books sell and someone is making money from them. I’m the last stop on the Money Train, it’s true, but it’s still money. So, sure, when I die of (probably) drinking a fifth of bourbon and wandering into traffic whilst singing Irish folk songs, someone’s gonna have to make some decisions. And if I don’t designate someone, who knows what the hell happens. For all I know I signed a bar napkin a few years ago promising some rando they could have my literary empire. I mean, it’s entirely possible. I sign a lot of things.
On the other hand, you can’t think too hard about death when you create stories and universes. You have to be like god: eternal and unblinking, otherwise why bother? I mean, when I think about all the stories and novels I have planned for the coming years, I kind of assume I am eternal and ever-living, like Mumm-Ra. You can’t think, oh, I’d like to write this seven-book Sci Fi series, but … you know, chances are I’ll be dead tomorrow, probably from drinking grain alcohol with a lit candle nearby. Better safe than sorry!
So on the one hand, I have to plan for my own demise, when I will likely find myself on trial with every fly, roach, and cow I’ve ever murdered standing in judgment in the afterlife. On the other hand, I have to pretend I will live forever, like the aforementioned Mumm-Ra, or I will produce nothing. It’s kind of a mind fuck, if you ask me.
If anyone is thinking they might be the ideal choice to be my literary executor, I’m sorry to report the post is filled by The Duchess, who will not be amused if you make any attempts to seize control after my unfortunate death from beer poisoning.
And if you are one of the few who find references to Mumm-Ra, The Ever Living entertaining, y’all are my people.
I recently Tweeted a few thoughts on tipping, making a joke about how I use tipping to enforce my will like a modern day Caligula. That’s half-true. I also use tipping to reward good service, like a normal human being. And while there are scenarios where I’d celebrate the end of Tipping Culture (as discussed in Think Pieces here, here, and here) in general I’d likely still tip even if the person’s hourly wage was adjusted up to compensate for a theoretical lack of tips. Because I like tipping.
You Sure, Brah?
Not me. I’m cuter.
One weird artifact of tipping is when you’re a big tipper, as I like to think of myself, sometimes, and society recoils in horror. For example, my barber.
I hate getting haircuts. This is known by the Internet, which is collectively subjected to my whining about it on a regular basis. The reasons I hate haircuts have nothing to do with hair or style, and have everything to do with having some Rando touching my head and talking to me while I am forced to sit there in mortal fear as they wield sharp objects near my jugular. So when I find the Platonic Ideal of barbers—someone who doesn’t chat, who simply gets to work cutting my hair in a silent, businesslike manner, I want to reward that person. I want to tip like 50% and reinforce that urge to not talk, to not ask me what I do, to not pretend that we’re somehow friends just because I allow them to touch my head.
And every time I try to tip some ridiculous amount, the software at the POS machine always pauses and makes me confirm the amount. It’s essentially a message that says, whoa, brah! that’s a lot of coin. You sure?
It’s 3PM on a Thursday, motherfuckers. I’m sober-ish. I am fucking sure.
The Public Shaming
There is an idea that tipping is like a limited resource you should only parcel out in tiny sips, as if you might someday exhaust your personal supply of tips. That every transaction is a complex equation where you weigh millions of pros and cons, each worth, like, a penny or something, and end up with some bizarre number like $23.64. That awarding some peon a tip is like Caligula waving an imperial baton and granting clemency to a gladiator. Like leaving a tip is equivalent to pissing out a kidney stone or having a child: painful and difficult and only to be done with lots of down time and rest in-between attempts. When you attempt to tip in a more freefall, fuckit manner, you get a lot of pushback in the form of calls from fraud services on your credit card account or, as with the barber, robots demanding that you certify you haven’t been day drinking since 11AM and are tipping your barber $25 because they’ve slipped you some Roofies or are holding a straight razor to their throat.
In short there’s an assumption that being generous is by default a mistake, and that’s troublesome.
And that’s likely because rather than a reward for good service, tipping is supposed to be a form of control, a way of making people jump through hoops. Giving someone a bit of kosh because they treated a haircut like the grimly uncomfortable horror that it is seems like I might not quite understand the capitalist system, and thus must be discouraged. Fact is, most of the barbers I’ve met treat cutting your hair like an opportunity to make a new best friend, or possibly to recruit you into their Amway cult. They talk, they ask the same questions every time (because they don’t actually remember me from the last time) and they try to upsell you on hair product.
You’ve seen me. Do I look like a man who uses hair product? Note, not a man who needs hair product (because, obviously: yes) but one who actually uses it. The answer is no. Trying to upsell me hair product while I am writhing in awkward discomfort in your barber’s chair is just dumb.
So, my current barber: A glorious woman who speaks exactly ten words during the entire experience:
Same as last time?
See you next time!
A glorious woman who gets to work, doesn’t waste time, and doesn’t even ask me what kind of shampoo I use, or whether that smell is me, or if I am in fact wearing pants made of cocktail napkins and duct tape, possibly cobbled together in a public restroom after waking up pantsless in a dumpster. She just does the job, takes her pay, and we both move on. And whether the robots like it or not, I am going to keep tipping her as heavy as I can.
My wife hates the Post Office with a white-hot passion. This has nothing to do with politics or economics or anything rational; she just believes every single interaction she’s had with the post office has been horrible, terrible, no-good, and thus it should be burned to the ground and the ashes made into a delicious, nourishing tea.
Me, I have a more complex relationship with the Post Office. As a long-time zine publisherand a lifetime short story submitter from wayyyy back in the days before the Internet, I’ve spent a lot of time in post offices. And frankly, I am amazed that I can spend less than 50 cents and have something arrive halfway around the country in a few days. It’s like modern magic.
So, all respect to the beleaguered postal workers of the world (and they are beleaguered, trust me, baby), but stepping into the post office is often like stepping back into 1995. Which might have been the last time the PO was financially stable thanks to our friends in Congress, but let that drift. In other words, have you ever tried to mail something to Canada or (god help you) another country form the PO? Jebus.
Okay, so first you have to fill out a form CN-22 declaring what you’re mailing. Well, first you have to locate a CN-22 somewhere, and that can be a quest of some magnitude. And no, you cannot fill them out online or anything without special permission. How do you get that special permission? I have no idea, because my job is not “learn about obscure postal regulations.”
So you fill it out and then you show up and wait in line, and then you hand the person behind sixteen inches of bulletproof glass your package and your CN-22 and they proceed to type everything into their computer system by hand. I am not shitting you. You stand there while the beleaguered (and they are beleaguered) postal worker laboriously types in everything you just hand-wrote on the form. MY FUCKING GOD.
Now, imagine you have, oh, six or seven packages going to Canada. And one to Germany. OH MY FUCKING GOD you just lost like forty minutes of your life.
How is this the process in 2016? How? For the love of all that is holy, how?
Now imagine you walk into the Post Office at 10:30AM and it is empty. And as you stand there while the postal worker tries to figure out if you really meant 0 instead of O in that postal code, slowly a line of about thirteen people forms behind you. And all you can do is stare straight ahead and do subtle limbering exercises so when they jump you, you’ll be ready.
And yet, in a few days, people will be receiving things from me in other countries. And that still amazes me.
Folks signed up for the newsletter got this link a few days ago, but the time has come to set the tone for your weekend with a brand-new Ask Jeff Anything, in which reader Jon Gawne asks me what might be in a Jeff Somers-themed “Loot Crate” kind of product:
$99 a year seems like quite a bargain, you ask me.