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My name! In a PodCast!

Apparently, while I toil away in here without air-conditioning, my corporate overlords–who have to wear sweaters to work because the AC is cranked so high–are busy pimping me out as well.

I heard from the awesoma Lili Saintcrow (whose web site has just been redesigned, and which you should check out post-haste) that we’re both mention in the latest Adventures in SciFi Publishing podcast by Shaun Ferrel and Sam Wynns. You can listen at their web site or download the whole thing.

I think my name flutters by at around the 3-minute mark. She sounds truly psyched to find out more about the book, which is cool, and hearing someone talk about you is always pretty exciting. At least to me. But then I’m pretty excitable.

Working for the Devil, by Lili SaintcrowAs I may have mentioned, Lili Saintcrow edited The Electric Church back before it was cool to edit The Electric Church, and she actually introduced me to her editor, who bought my book. So aside from being a talented writer (check out the cover of the first book in her Dante Valentine series here) she’s also a very cool gal.

Now go listen to my name being spoken by someone who, unusually, is not me.

I Am a Short Story Whore

They can lock me in a hotel room and force me to Blog for food in order to shift more units of my book, but they can’t stop me from selling my words to other people. I am unstoppable.

In other words, I sold a short story yesterday to GUD Magazine. It’s called closer in my heart to thee; I don’t yet know what issue it would appear in or any of that. Hell, I’m still waiting on the contract, so this might be yet another alcohol-induced fever dream. I love selling stories, not just because of the (minimal) money they generate, but just because it means someone read something I wrote and thought it worth some time and effort, and now people might actually read it.

The money really rarely factors into my decision to submit to a magazine or other market–I will literally sell anyone a story. I am a short story whore. Though I do restrict my submissions to paying markets; I mean, you have to offer me something. Papa’s got booze to buy, and all that. But if you think about the money too hard, you realize that selling short stories is just a ridiculously difficult way to earn money.

I kind of remember reading that some famous author–maybe Vonnegut, maybe Asimov–once made a living by selling off 10-20 shorts a year back in The Day. In this phantom essay, which I cannot recall with any accuracy and which I may have made up wholesale in my mind, the author was lamenting how that could no longer be accomplished. Since I’ve never made more than a few hundred bucks for a short story, I can see how that works. I mean, even if you make an eye-popping amount for every story you sell, your chances of selling 20 a year are slim.

Hell, the first short I ever sold—Glad and Big, to a defunct magazine called Aberrations—netted me a princely $7.50. If I sold 20 at that level, I’d have enough for a modest dinner in Manhattan.

Still, I love short stories. I write one a month as an exercise, penning them longhand in a notebook I carry with me at all times. Most of these stories suck, usually because it’s the end of the month and I scrawl out some garbage ending at 11:59 because I have a low-level OCD problem and I must finish a story a month. I tell myself I can always go back and revise the damn thing, but I’m not sure I’ve ever actually done that. Cannibalized a bad-ending story for a new one, yes—but gone back and revised? I doubt it.

I think the one-a-month exercise has value. It forces me to keep putting ideas on the page, it forces me to end things instead of leaving them wide-open for months, getting stale. Of course, it’s also generating a lot of really bad shorts, but on the other hand I’ve written a few I think are good enough to show, and a few of those have sold, so it can’t all be a waste of time.

GUD Magazine’s got a weird payment plan; they pay a minimum for the story up front and then you supposedly get a share of every issue that sells once they satisfy their printing and shipping costs. In other words, you get a tiny minimum for the story and will probably never see another dime. That’s okay–I knew this when I submitted, and in theory it might even work out.

Anyway, back to knocking softly on the walls looking for hollow spots. Someone slipped some packets of tuna under the door yesterday, and I have a sinking feeling this is my monthly food ration. I’ve noticed that when I blog more, I get more tuna, so I might try posting some gibberish later and see what happens.

TEC in Kirkus Reviews

Hola!

The Electric Church just got covered in Kirkus Reviews Sci Fi/Fantasy special issue.

The review/interview actually makes me seem intelligent and witty, which is a wonder of editing. Interviewing me is like trying to form coherent sentences out of thousands of hours of random words recorded off the television–laborious and usually not worth the trouble. But in this I actually sound interesting!

From the lazy man’s friend Wikipedia: “Kirkus Reviews is an American book review company founded in 1933 by Virginia Kirkus (1893-1980); it serves the book and literary trade sector, including libraries, publishers, literary and film agents, film and TV producers and booksellers. It is published 24 times annually and reviews, three to four months pre-publication, approximately 5,000 titles per year. Kirkus has long been a respected, authoritative pre-pub review source within the literary and film industries.”

Ye Olde Interview

A couple of years ago I was interviewed by a guy named Frank Marcopolos, who published a zine called The Whirligig. It was part of a series of audio interviews he did with other DIY-type writers. He’s reposted the interview on his blog, apparently under the misapprehension that I am in some way interesting.

If you’re curious, surf on over to Brooklyn Frank and listen to my stammering, half-baked thoughts!

I Will Eat Your Brain and Steal Your Knowledge

They shut off the water to my room yesterday, leading me to suspect I may have actually misread the boilerplate in my contract, since I can’t blog for my corporate masters if I die of dehydration.

I’ve survived so far by drinking water from the toilet tank, which is a little rusty and. . .brakish, but that won’t last forever. I’ve been wracking my brain trying to decide if I’m being punished and, if so, for what. I have to admit the contract was lengthy and I was sleepy and didn’t read it very closely. I may be required to do all sorts of things.

I’ve been keeping myself busy by making copies of my zine, The Inner Swine. This is pretty involved. I have stacks of photocopies of the innards of each issue, and stacks of the covers. I also have a long-necked stapler, Put a cover on top of the 15 double-sided pages of each issue, staple twice in the middle, fold, and voila! One issue of my zine, ready to be stuffed into an envelope and mailed to the handful of people who cared enough to mail me some sweaty dollar bills in the mail. It’s a beautiful thing.

It’s also kind of labor-intensive. The Helper Monkeys used to help, once I’d trained them using my patented beer-no-beer system, but the Helper Monkeys long ago escaped, and even if I wasn’t trapped in this hotel room, forced to blog, the wife wouldn’t allow them in the house anyway.

It used to be worse. My zine used to be distributed by Tower Magazines within Tower Records stores, as well as an outfit called Desert Moon Periodicals, and I was at one time making thousands of copies. By hand. Using the fold-and-staple technique. With Helper Monkeys doing more crapping and flinging of crap than actual zine-making. This took forever, as you can imagine, but the upside was that my zine was showing up in stores all over the world and I actually got little checks in the mail that helped pay for everything.

Today, however, both Tower and Desert Moon have gone bye-bye as the world discovered recently that it is impossible to actually make money by selling zines, and I don’t have to make nearly as many copies each issue. Still, a few hundred is pretty tedious.

Why do it? Well, the zine will always be a place where I can be as dumb and ridiculous as I want, which is pretty damn dumb and ridiculous. It’s also a place where I can dump lazy, unrevised writing filled with terrible grammar and bad spelling, poorly researched opinions and bad, superbad poetry, and no one can complain. Or if they complain, I can then make mean fun of them in the next issue! Plus, if I didn’t, I’d just spend all that money on more liquor, which I think we all agree would not be good for Jeff. Insofar as you have any opinions on what’s good for Jeff in the first place.

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.