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The Shocking Truth

How long can I keep up the conceit that I’ve been locked in a hotel room by my cruel, intolerable publisher? Years, baby. You should see the conceits I’m still keeping up on my other web sites.

You know, I don’t know about you, but when I was younger I used to imagine that published writers were, if not rich in the Bill Gates sense, at least comfortably well off. The truth is, most of us aren’t, at least not when it’s our first book. It’s shocking, I know, but I think the percentage of authors who have day jobs is pretty high. Then again, some people don’t require the quantities of Scotch and televised baseball that I do in order to survive, and thus can do with less.

It wasn’t that I thought writing as a gig was so damned lucrative–to be honest, I didn’t really think of writing as a job, really, when I was ten years old and trekking into Manhattan every week to buy paperbacks in Barnes and Noble. I just figured writers did a lot of sitting around writing, maybe drinking and screaming at the walls the way I always imagined Jack Kerouac did it. It just seemed like a magical kind of thing.

Now of course, I know the truth: Books are written on computers at day jobs, in coffee-stained notebooks on the subway, on cocktail napkins, on greasy palms and in blood on your forehead–there’s nothing magical about it. Even if you’re writing the book that’ll change the world, you’ve got bills to pay. In my case, massive liquor store bills. People sometimes doubt I drink as much as I say in my writing, but trust me, babies: The Somers machinery runs on booze.

So, the lamentable Day Job. My job doesn’t exactly pay a lot. Plenty, of course, to survive on, but I am not exactly earning a fortune. But it pays the mortgage–or part of it, anyway–and keeps me in liquor and hot dogs. What more could you want?

Recently, My Other Corporate Masters decided to close their New York office, and offered their NY employees the opportunity to work from home. Which is great, of course, for someone like me. Because at least now I can pretend to be one of those stay-at-home writers. Sure, I’ll be doing my job instead of writing*, but it’s one step closer to the dream**.

Now, of course, I have to battle my urge to just sit on the deck and drink beer, see how long I can collect a paycheck before someone notices. My guess is 3 weeks, actually, which ain’t bad. But the wife will be less than amused, and that will probably end up with me having to get another office job. Never! Anyone know where one can buy some Oompah Loompahs for the performing of one’s own job duties?

*Writing, of course, includes all sorts of activities that are not actually writing at all, like drinking. Or watching TV. Or napping. That’s the beauty of writing as a profession–everything counts as ‘research’. If you walk in on me wearing a tutu, dancing around to Soviet Army Marches and smoking clove cigarettes, I can just glare at you and say “It’s research for my next book!” and all is well.

**The dream includes a lot more drinking than you’d imagine at first.

The ARCs are Out

After weeks in this hotel room, forced to blog by my corporate masters, I think I am experiencing Helsinki Syndrome with the bathroom, which is all marble and expensive tile. Plus, it has a seat in the shower, which is my definition of luxury.

Word is trickling in from my vast network of vaguely-embarrassed supporters that Advance Reader Copies (ARCs) are being received across the land. People who actually know of me already are sending word. Lord knows how people who have no idea who I am will react–probably better. The people who know of me know me as a grubby, pantsless zine-publisher, frequently drunk and somewhat belligerent. Everyone else will simply be wowed by the amazing cover art and might even be fooled into reading the whole damn thing.

I got the following email from an old acquaintance who is going to try and review the book in one of the periodicals foolish enough to associate with him:

“What I was going to do, see, was go to bed early. I’m back on the “eating ight and exercising” bandwagon. . .So now I’m trying to be healthy and exercise and eat regularly and well, which is something that I can do and have done, and part of that is getting a decent night’s sleep and getting up early to do things when I’m freshly awake. So my plan last night was just that: go to bed early, and then get up and run for a while. . .

Then I got to the third or fourth chapter of The Electric Church. The one where the Monk decides he wants Nad and ends up chasing Avery. Next thing I know it’s 2 in the morning and. . .I was forced to sleep in.

All this to say that I’m *really* enjoying your book so far. Also, I’m glad you went with the blurry author photo.”

There you go, an unsolicited opinion by someone who is not merely me pretending to be someone else. Rock on.

Time to Make the Zines

I woke up this morning to discover that during the night most of the furniture had been removed from my hotel room. Apparently my publisher feels I’m being distracted by cushions and upholstery, impacting my blog-output.

It might also be because this blog gets about 4 readers a day, 3 of whom shrug vaguely and move on after just a few sentences. The fourth is actually me.

Well, it’s June. Has been for a few days now, and that means it’s time to put out a new issue of my zine, The Inner Swine. The zine is not usually the first subject I introduce into conversation, to be honest, because people generally greet it with either disdainful disbelief (“You spend your time and money on what now exactly?”), complete disinterest, or insane enthusiasm (“That’s so cool! Can I write for it? Can I subscribe? Here’s some poems I have in my bag, would you print them?”). Every now and then someone completely misunderstands the term zine and starts quizzing me on the economics of it, wondering how much I make in advertising and subscriptions and all that, based on the assumption that nothing is worth doing unless you make money at it.

The weird part is, those people are hard to convince that there’s no money in zining at all. That it’s actually a negative cash flow kind of thing. This concept just blows their minds.

Zines are cash black holes. You put money in, and nothing comes out. Trust me on this. My zine started off in 1993 with three friends and I deciding to put out a magazine. We had fairly grandiose plans in the beginning–something on the order of The Village Voice, except done by. . .us. Which translates to lazy, unfocused college kids. Which meant nothing much happened. We wrote quite a bit of material, argued a bit about how to put it all together, and 2 years later it was just me and all the stuff I’d written. So I decided to just take everything I had and put out an issue, what the hell, to the best of my ability. Which wasn’t very good, but hell, it got done.

That’s kind of the motto of my life: It ain’t great, baby, but it got done.

And it’s still getting done, four times a year, like clockwork. Well, almost like clockwork. These days I shoot to get each issue out the door in the cover month, instead of in your hands in the cover month. If I can say I mailed the issues on 6/30, then dammit, that’s the June issue. I got other things to do, like drink beer and complain. And that is the DIY way.

Big-Assed Famous

I have a PR person.

Well, not me personally; the publisher has assigned one to the book. This is a strange place to be; I’m used to doing everything myself–DIY. I publish a zine, for god’s sake, and except for one novel, I’ve basically been a self-publisher. Hell, even the first novel was more or less self-published, considering the smallness of the publisher and the fact that they went out of business after a year or two.

In short, having a publisher actually spend money on me is disconcerting. Makes my palms sweat.

Back in 2002 my wife and I organized the Big-Assed Famous Tour to support my first novel, Lifers, and a collection from my zine I’d put out through Tower Records called The Freaks are Winning. We did all the legwork: We put together press releases, contacted bookstores and local media, mailed stuff out, and cajoled friends and fans into showing up. Sometimes this worked great–in Philadelphia the Philly Inquirer did a review of both books that came out the day I read there–and sometimes it didn’t–absolutely no one showed up at Olsson’s Books in Washington D.C. when I read there (I read anyway, and my friends were saints for not pitying me). It was a lot of work for a very small payoff, but I was pretty proud of my little tour, to be honest.

Ah, but now everything is coming up Zoidberg for me, and about damn time. I’m done setting these things up myself, like a sucker. I think I just realized my entire inner monologue is culled from Simpsons and Futurama scripts. That can’t bode well for a writer, can it?

Of course, when I met with the PR person she wanted to know if I had any media contacts they could use, or if I had any ideas or suggestions. I stared blankly at her and then feigned unconsciousness until she left. I got nothin’, which is problematic. I mean, how do you turn someone like me into a sensation? I tend to drink too much, sweat heavily, and mumble when in public. My hair is an ongoing disaster. I’m about as glib and charming as a junkyard dog, and I am vaguely embarrassed about begging people to buy my books.

Yep, this is going to be a disaster. Come watch the fun!

Holy Crap, I Actually Have Readers

Who knew? A few hearty souls are actually reading this blog. And one of them had some questions for me in a comment.

Jim Lemon said, and I quote:

“Help us be famous like you. Watch out! The paparazzi is right behind you!”

Let me stress that I don’t actually want to be famous, at least not in the sense of being recognized on the street or what have you. The chances of that happening are slim anyway (not much paparazzi market for fleshy, boozy writers unless they fake their memoirs), but if it is an option, baby, I don’t want it.

“How did you land an agent?”

The old-fashioned way: I sent out tons and tons of cover letters, sample chapters, etc. Most of the agents I sent to were culled from The Writer’s Market and various on-line resources.

“Where do you work?”

You mean like, geographically? Manhattan, New York City.

“Boxers or briefs?”

Those bizarre boxer-briefs. Best of both worlds, buddy.

“Heinz or Hunts?”

Store brand.

“Once I get my advance, can I quit my job?”

Only if you can live on tuna and tap water and have someplace rent-free to live. First-time authors don’t get much. Even fairly well-published authors don’t get much.

“Did Ted Bundy steal your glasses when you were a kid?”

No one ever stole my glasses. Despite being a pudgy nerd, I was fucking badass, thank you very much. No one dared touch me.

“Who do you think would play you best in a movie? Please don’t pick a Baldwin”

Jason Bateman. That man is a genius.

“Paper or plastic?”

Paper.

“Mets or Yankees?”

Baseball. I don’t root for teams. I just love the game. Seriously. I’ve been to both Mets and Yankees playoff/World Series games. Once at the same time.

“I’ve got a million questions more – well, maybe ten or twenty, if you are interested.”

Fire away. I am always willing to answer questions with lazy sarcasm and ignorant jibes.

Get down! I’m a Macaroni!

It’s been, what, three weeks in this room? Blogging? My publisher promised me that if I generated some media attention for the book, they’d let me out of here. The way things have been going, I’ll be here forever.

I’m not cool. I’ve never been cool. Maybe, at one point in school I got so uncool I actually passed through the event horizon* of uncool, becoming so uncool I was actually cool. For a brief, ironic moment back in the early nineties when irony was hip. But in the traditional sense, no, I have never been cool.

Of course, in order to blog, you have to have a healthy appreciation for your own personal greatness, right? I mean, you are imagining that on some level total strangers want to know what you’re thinking, what you’re doing, maybe even what you’re eating, wearing, and muttering to yourself.

The answers for me: Scotch, an ancient pair of khaki shorts and nothing else besides a thin film of sweat, and goddamn you all to hell over and over again.

See? Not cool. And yet I must blog. For I have a book to sell.

That’s the sad truth of it–blogging is not natural for me. I didn’t see WordPress or Blogger and think, damn, this is what I should be doing with my time. I felt an overwhelming sense of boredom and woke up in Mexico without my pants. Again. But when you’re walking that thin line between being a total gacking sellout flogging your book like the unit-shifter it is, and maintaining some of the dark integrity you still gloat over under the covers with a flashlight, you pick your battles. A blog is a marketing tool these days, just like viral videos and Alternate Reality Games, but at least it’s a marketing tool where I get to be as uncool and lame as I always am.

I mean, I’ve been uncool for so long it’s comfortable. If I landed in some lame Disney movie about an uncool guy who finds a device that makes him cool, I’d run the other way, natch. I like being uncool. It’s part of my skin. When I was a little kid, I displayed zero athletic talent and yet insisted on playing Little League baseball to the mixed horror and amusement of my neighbors. When I was a little older I actually played Dungeons & Dragons. I got good grades. I wore glasses–ridiculously oversized plastic glasses, in fact. Look:

Me.

How I did not grow up to be a darkly muttering psycho, I have no idea. The liquor helps, I think.

And now, you lucky people will be exposed to my raw and unedited internal monologue! A RIVER OF UNCOOL WASHING OVER YOU LIKE AN INCOMPREHENSIBLE WAVE! Oh, it will be ever so much fun.

*Been reading Frederick Pohl and that’s my Phrase of the Week right now

Jeff’s Ongoing Fugue of Pain: An Autobiography

Jeffs Ongoing Fugue of Pain

A History of My Life

By Jeff Somers

 

 

PART ONE: in which I eat dogs and become acquainted with Jesuit cruelty.

 

Where to start? I was born in Jersey City, New Jersey to an Irish-German family of thirteen: six brothers, five sisters, two parents. Only four survived the great bratwurst famine of 1974, two of them being my parents, who mourned the deaths of my siblings by dumping the surviving kids in private school and taking a cruise around the world. In private school my brother Yan and I learned to sing songs from The Sound of Music and tap dance, skills which have saved my life on more than one occasion. After the cruise, my parents went on an extended tour of Europe, from which they have yet to return.

As a result, Yan and I returned from the 1981 semester at school to find the house abandoned. A pack of wild, rabid dogs had broken through the screen door on the back porch and made it their home, and my poor brother Yan was mauled quite badly before I could Tap the dogs to death. I set about nursing Yan and scavenging our ancestral home for foodstuffs and potable water. It was, after all, a long summer. We survived it by eating carefully salted dog meat and drinking rainwater which had so much lead in it I went temporarily color blind in August. When Yan had regained enough of his strength, we set about repairing our ancestral home and plundering my father’s abandoned stocks of pornography. The summer passed quickly, then.

In the fall we matriculated into high school. Our parents maintained a long arm and enrolled us in St. Peter’s There But For the Grace of God Academy, which was a pseudo-religious-slash-military establishment stressing Latin and self-mutililation. We awoke one fine September day to find the ancestral home surrounded by Jesuit Commandos, who piled us into an armored truck along with several other frightened boys. Yan and I cheered our fellow kidnap victims by singing The Sound of Music (Yan’s voice indistinguishable from Julie Andrews’) and we plotted a brisk escape from the truck; but once the rear doors were thrown open Yan and I were inexplicably ratted out by our fellows. My brother and I entered St. Peter’s as prisoners, and spent our first weeks there being beaten on a daily basis by a burly priest named Father Hump, until we could speak perfect Latin, although we could no longer remember our own names.

(more…)

I’ve Got Nothing to Say, I Hope You Have a Nice Day*

Quite frankly, I’m boring as hell.

People like me should not have blogs. I have few opinions. I let my life wash over me like an incomprehensible existential nightmare. I aspire to make shit up for a living. I’m a comfortable white guy living an easy life, and there is very little about me that is controversial or thought-provoking. Unless a fleshy mid-thirties guy drinking whiskey and reading a lot of books is your idea of thought-provoking, which it shouldn’t be, especially since I forget about 95% of what I read in those books. I’m like the guy from that movie Memento, except without the angst. And the dead wife.

Good blogs, blogs that I actually heave myself off of my digital ass to read, have one of two things going for them, I think: Either they have a central point, a subject to focus on in which the blogger is at least a self-styled expert, or they have an attitude–you know, blogs that exist just to stir shit up. Either way once you get some Technorati traction you start getting traffic, and then fights break out in your comments section, and all is good in the world. Then, one glorious day, one of your posts is greeted with a comment that reads, in full, “first!” and you know you have arrived.

Sadly, I am none of these things. I am an expert in nothing–I am your classic, classic Jack of All Trades and Master of None. My bizarre attention span has led me to become vaguely acquainted with any number of skills–baseball, French, chess, computer programming, guitar–before wandering off to do something else, usually involving whiskey. I can write authoritatively about nothing that does not personally involve me, so I don’t do it, for fear of being mocked. Your mockery wounds me.

I’m also not much of a shit-stirrer, largely for the same reason. When you recognize your vast ignorance and lack of life-mastery, it undermines the confidence, which makes it difficult to flatly call other people morons. It’s too bad; angering thousands of people would do wonders for my traffic.  If anyone out there wants to be my personal shit-stirrer, posting terrible things under my name in order to drum up attention, please contact me. The pay is terrible, but I’ll buy you beers.

*Name that reference and I will send you a cookie.**

**No cookies will actually be sent.

This Writing is Making Me Thirsty

They delivered a mysterious box to the room today. Unmarked, just addressed to me.

Naturally, I stared at it suspiciously for some time before opening it–my publisher can be a cruel, inhuman organization, and there’s been an awful lot of mind games so far. The liquor bottles emptied and refilled with tea, the phone calls in the middle of the night, the deliveries from restaurants with nothing inside the foam boxes. They are trying to break me down, but I am strong. Or at least frequently drunk, which is just as good.

Of course I opened the box; I am far too weak to resist things like opening mysterious boxes. And you know what? Inside were Advance Reader Copies (ARCs) of The Electric Church. Whoo hoo! They are like real books except uncorrected and unpolished. Like most of my writing, so who’s complaining?

I’ve never gotten ARCs before. My previous published book, Lifers, was published by a company so small they actually sent me a bunch of sales receipts so I could peddle the book myself when I went out to readings and such. I did get a bunch of copies for myself, of course, but nothing advanced, you know? Actually, I still have about 200 copies of Lifers in my mother’s basement. Poor Mom. Poor me. Literally–anyone want to buy a copy, cheap? I’ll sign it. Suggestively, for a little extra.

But I digress: These are my first ARCs, and it’s pretty amazing to think that this is what the actual book will look like. It’s heavier than I expected, it’s got a heft to it. I like that. I hate to admit that my own book buying often includes the tactile sensation of the book–if the cover feels rough, if the paper is brittle, if it doesn’t have a good heft to it, I am mysteriously turned off. I know that’s not supposed to be why we buy books, but it’s part of it, at least for me.

Believe it or not, folks, soon you will have to contend with my book. In actual book form. In actual stores.

In the mean time, I have so many writing projects I’m going mad. Most aren’t even paying me, which is really sad, and between the day job–which is paying me–and the zine (100,000 words a year) and the short stories (one a month come hell or high water) and the web columns on www.innerswine.com (precious few these days) and the columns in Xerography Debt and Brutarian and the sequel to The Electric Church and this damned blog, I’m spread kind of thin. I know writers who only work on one project at a time, and who sometimes take years to finish a single short story. I’ll never understand. There’s always time for revision (though with my drinking habits and tendency to step into moving traffic, maybe not) and I’d rather spend my time having fun and writing.

Oh well. In the mean time, I have to devise a way to escape from this hotel room using only the newly delivered books, the bedding, and the small number of roach traps I found under the bed. Wish me luck.

Send down a hogshead of whiskey

I suspect the hotel may be on fire. At any rate, room service doesn’t respond and I’ve been reduced to collecting rainwater outside the one window I can pry open–the gap is too narrow for me to make an escape through, though.

My whole life revolves around beverages. I’m not sure how this happened, or if this is a writer thing, since writers have been stereotyped as hopeless alcoholics whose talents run proportional to their liquor intake. All I know is that my days are loose chunks of time defined by what I’m drinking at the moment. The fact that many of these beverages are alcoholic in nature is just coincidence, don’t you think? Right? Hello?

In the morning, it’s Our God Coffee. I’d like to be one of those mysterious, intellectual writer types who drinks obscure Moroccan drinks whilst sitting on their veranda, thinking deeply, but the fact is I have the palate of a junkyard dog. Just about everything in the food and beverage world pleases me, and the subtle differences of quality people talk about elude me. I’ve never met a bottle of wine I didn’t like, and the while I can’t quite say the same thing about coffee–there is bad coffee in the world, Virginia, and I’ve had it–I am still pretty easy about coffee. The only real rule is, no Starbucks. I have nothing particularly against Starbucks as an evil corporation sucking the life out of the world, they can oppress the workers and rip off the consumer all they want. No, it’s their terrible, over-roasted coffee that offends me. That shit could be used to remove paint.Coffe Cart

So where do I get my coffee? I live near and work in Manhattan, fans, which means one thing: Coffee Carts run by Arab Men. Used to be $1 a cup for a large, now the evil of inflation has raised it to $1.25. It’s the best damn coffee in the universe, bar none.

The cart has been run by a series of Arabic men for years. They tend to work there for a few years and then disappear, without explanation. I assume there is a steady stream of family and friends coming into this country, getting jobs in the coffee cart empire, and then moving on when they’re established, but maybe it’s just the sort of job you can only take for so long before you go mad.

After coffee, nothing much happens for a very long time, and then there’s lunch. At lunch, I start working on a huge bottle of water. Now, I feel like a chump buying bottled water, I do. Water is water–at home I drink it from the tap, without any filters, and generally speaking I’m easy about the water. But any time I’ve tried to avoid buying the bottles, I’ve been frustrated, most probably by my weak brain and spineless tendencies. The water out of the tap at my office is deadly–when I did drink it for a week or so, I got sick every single day. Not sick enough to go home and call for lawyers in order to make my will, but nauseous nonetheless, and nothing makes a shitty day spent at work worse than nausea. Unless it’s suddenly realizing all that snickering talk around the water cooler is about you. So I’ve been stuck with bottled water, like a sucker.

After work, there is a beer when I get home–nothing heals like an ice cold beer, my beautiful babies. Whenever there is no beer in the icebox because of my incompetence, there are tears and recriminations, breast-beating and despair. Because I am an American, I’ve been drinking Yuengling. I completely agree with Homer Simpson, who once said of beer (well, he was actually talking about women, but he was using beer as a metaphor) “They smell good, they look good, you’d step over your own mother just to get one! But you can’t stop at one.”

Ahem. I must stop here before my wife or agent has me forcibly committed to a 12-step program.

After dinner, there’s more water. Hoboken water! Best water in the world. Of course, I’ve never been anywhere, so Hoboken water might suck for all I know. I mean, no one is pumping water out of Hoboken and bottling it, are they? Then again, from what I hear about bottled water, maybe they are.

Later, before bed, it’s a glass of good whiskey. I’d like to say that I sit and think deeply on the world’s problems while sipping some good 40-year old Scotch, but there’s only one thing true about that statement: I am sitting. The Scotch is  usually a little younger, and my thoughts generally focus on baseball scores and whatever is itching me that evening. Now you know, and you are no better for it. Maybe I should maintain a little more mystery on this site.

I don’t remember what my point was going to be. So I will simply stop typing, before making things worse. Bon soir, people!