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Writing for the Wrong Reasons

One Monies, Please

One Monies, Please

Friends, I’m not a very smart guy. Oh, I have a head filled with trivia, which in these low times often passes for smarts. Being able to win your local tavern’s Trivia Tuesday (increasingly difficult, let me tell you, when you’ve been banned from most of the local watering holes due to ridiculous and oppressive “must wear some form of trousers” rules) doesn’t mean you’re intelligent, it just means you absorb a lot of useless information very, very quickly. A skill, to be sure, but not the most useful skill.

Being able to write clear, well-constructed sentences about compelling stories and characters is also a skill I sometimes claim, but it also doesn’t make me smart. A lot of very dumb people make good livings writing words, and I am also very afraid that I am secretly one of them. Any time I start to think I might secretly be smart, all I have to do is gaze upon my works and despair, though. By which I mean any time I start to feel smart, I just look at some of the terrible novels I’ve written when I wrote for anything other than inspiration.

Take This Job and Shove It

The term “working writer” either sounds ominous or exciting to you. If it’s ominous, it’s because you’re smart and you know that the “working” part probably means you’re writing 300 catalog descriptions of sex toys at $1 a pop. If you’re excited, you’re like me and you imagine yourself lazily writing novels when you’re not busy cashing extravagant checks from publishers—not check for anything, just gifts of money they send you in the vain hope that you’ll choose to publish your next book through them.

Anyways, every now and then I get this idea in my head that part of being a Working Writer is trying to write something commercial, in the sense of writing something that will be easy to sell to a publisher because its part of a broad trend or somehow marketable. Don’t get me wrong—I want all my books to sell like hotcakes and I have no snobbery when it comes to genre or category. It’s just that sometimes I think I have to try a little harder to be, I don’t know, mainstream or something. So I’ll work up a story and write a novel not because I’m excited about the idea, but because I think it’s going to be an easy sell.

I am always wrong. And it is always a disaster.

Some writers might be able to pull this off, but whenever I’ve written a book for anything but pure inspiration and excitement, it doesn’t work out so well. Oh, as novels they’re fine. I’m usually fairly happy with the story, the writing, all that jazz. But there’s always something missing, some soul or other ineffable thing that means the novels fail. They look like novels, they tell a story that I like, and yet they fail. Whenever I try to be smart and engineer a book because I think I know something about selling books, the end result is a manuscript everyone reads and shrugs over. Meh, they all say. It’s not bad. But we can’t sell it.

The lesson here is obvious: Writing for anything aside from inspiration doesn’t work for me. The good news is, a lot of the books I write because I want to have sold. So one wonders why I think I need to change up my approach in the first place. Aside from the fact that I am, you know, not smart.

Celebrating “Mad Men”‘s Least-Celebrated Character

Paul Kinsey’s Very Bad, Super No-Good Life

Since this blog has become a receptacle for posts about Mad Men and other so-called “peak TV” shows plus a smattering of self-promotion posts about my own writing … let’s lean into it.

There’s often a sense that old TV shows should be buried and forgotten, as if there’s shame in discussing a show like Mad Men a certain time after it’s ended. Hell, we still discuss novels written centuries ago, so why not a TV show that’s less than a few years gone? But when we talk about Mad Men—and, remarkably, we still do, an awful lot—there’s a tendency to focus on the flashy main characters, naturally enough. But we have enough essays about Don Draper, I think. As writers, we tend to focus on Don, because he’s so obviously like us: Creative, tortured, stymied by the very instruments of his success.

Forget Don, though, and let’s contemplate a character that doesn’t get much attention in any serious way: Paul Kinsey. Because, writers, in many ways Paul Kinsey is us.

The Failed Writer

Kinsey doesn’t get a ton of screen time on the show, and what he does get is used mainly for comic relief, but as usual Weiner and company shade the character with plenty of good writing. We know, for example, that Paul is from New Jersey and attended Princeton on a scholarship, where he lost his joisoy accent and learned how to dress and talk and fondle a pipe like his richer classmates. At the beginning of the series, he’s one of a group of young men at the firm, all of whom are more or less equal despite being in different departments. He’s a copy writer, though, while his peers are in accounts.

And Paul is not talented. What he’s good at is superficial mimicry, which is why he does well enough at first when his immediate boss is the alcoholic and incompetent Freddie Rumsen. But Paul is weak and likes to think of himself as smarter than everyone else, so he dabbles. He dabbles in the Beatnik movement, the Hippie movement, the Civil Rights movement. He feigns an appreciation of the finer things, but he uses this appreciation as an excuse to let everyone know how worldly he is.

Paul is increasingly aware that something is off. Late in Season 1, a play he wrote is discovered in his desk and his co-workers stage it as a drunken, cruel prank. Paul eventually leans into it, directing the play with enthusiasm, but it’s clear the play is terrible. Meanwhile, Ken Cosgrove actually publishes short stories in real magazines, and slowly Paul sees his peers outpacing him. Pete and Ken and even despicable, harebrained Harry Crane move up the food chain, making more money and gaining status. Paul remains a Copy Writer, and not a very good one.

And then, in the middle of Season Three of the show, Paul Kinsey has an epiphany and realizes he is not a good writer. Because Peggy Olson is a good writer, and you can almost pinpoint the moment he realizes he’s not one to episode 10, The Color Blue. In that episode Peggy and Paul compete to come up with the best idea for a telegram advertisement. Peggy does the work studiously, and doesn’t come up with much of any value. Paul drinks, masturbates, and has a flash of inspiration–which he forgets to write down. We’ll never know if that idea was actually any good, because Paul shambles into the meeting later with nothing—and watches, stunned, as Peggy takes a throwaway line he used to explain his problem and runs with it, producing a decent if not world-changing concept on the spot.

At that moment, Paul knows he’s mediocre. In episode 13, when Don and the rest of the executives steal all the accounts and form a new company, Don personally recruits Peggy. No one recruits Paul. When Paul realizes this, its confirmed: He’s not good at his job.

The Downward Spiral

We don’t see Paul again until Season 5, when he appears as a member of the Hare Krishna’s, looking ridiculous and pathetic and lost with a shaved head. Like most failed writers, he hasn’t given up on his dream. Like anyone who has ever been voted off a talent competition show, he has decided that we haven’t heard the last of him, so he’s still writing.

Paul’s spec script for Star Trek is the sort of awful SFF idea that still gets written every few weeks by flailing writers, the sort of terrible idea that will always be written by flailing writers. Worst of all, Paul seems to know that he doesn’t have talent, as he has pinned his hopes on Harry’s TV connections to get the script considered. Paul has descended to a low point: No longer in the ad business, he’s not even getting paid for his second-rate creativity. He’s got nothing, and yet he’s still plodding away at terrible stories.

That could be any one of us. Even if you’ve published, and published widely, you can’t be certain it’s not just luck, that history will slowly rub your face out of the picture until no one is quite sure who you are, and no one remembers the stories you told. In just 40 episodes and probably a collective hour’s worth of screen time, the writers of Mad Men made Paul Kinsey into a well-shaded, sad individual, and he ought to be the patron saint of anyone who joined their high school literary magazine and thought they were special because they wrote stories.

Pitch First, Think Later

When you’re a writer in 2017, you spend approximately 109% of your time thinking up clever things to Tweet in the vague, vain hope that about forty million people will Retweet it and thus declare you Cool. I’m not 100% certain how being Cool = $$$, but I am assured by everyone it can happen, and so I keep doing it.

Recently, I sent out this Tweet:

WISDOM

It got some play, and I was contacted by writers who thought this was a pretty incredible suggestion. What happens, they wondered, if you sell the pitch but can’t actually write the piece? What if you can’t support your thesis?

Look, freelance writing can be exhausting in the modern age because we’re writing short, punchy Internet essays with a short shelf life. And our corporate masters are insatiable, always eager for more content with which to attract those sweet, sweet clicks. Pitching fast and furious is the only way to make a living; I probably wrote about 500 freelance pieces last year alone, each and every one of them (with perhaps a dozen exceptions) stemming from a pitch.

That kind of volume means you can’t dawdle about wondering if a pitch idea is good (your editors will do that for you) or possible. The best way to pitch is to pitch first and think about it later, and here are three reasons why:

  1. The Doubt. If you think of a great idea for an article but pause to wonder about its feasibility, you will talk yourself out of it. You’ll convince yourself it isn’t that clever, that you’ll never find any supporting information or examples, that no one will return your phone call or email. And then a month later you’ll see a similar idea on another website and you’ll kick yourself. I’ve talked myself out of great ideas and I have always regretted it.
  2. The Speed. You are not the only person furiously pondering things to write about, and great ideas for posts and articles have an odd way of popping into many heads simultaneously. In other words, while you’re researching whether you can even pitch this idea, someone is pitching this idea.
  3. The Challenge. Don’t play it safe. Yes, freelance writing is for profit—but it should be for fun, too. Got a crazy idea you convinced an editor to buy? Have fun trying to make it work.

In Event of Emergency

All well and good, that sense of adventure and the swagger of pitching without fear, but in all seriousness—what do you do if you brazenly pitch a weird idea, get the green light, and then realize you can’t find much information to work with? WHAT THEN, SOMERS YOU ARROGANT ASS?

First off, that rarely happens. If you can conceive of a pitch idea, then it’s within the realm of the possible. And part of writing anything, on any subject, is creativity. If you’re having trouble digging up material for your pitch, get creative. If you can’t get creative in these situations, freelancing may not be your ideal career.

If that doesn’t work:

Widen your search. Don’t be afraid to get a little loose with your interpretation of your own pitch. Look back further in time, or allow for a bit of inconsistency in your examples.

If that doesn’t work, tweak. Contact your editor and see if you can twist the pitch a little to fit what the research is telling you, or just go ahead and tweak the premise. Usually small deviations aren’t a big deal.

Now, don’t get me wrong; a big caveat here is not to pitch wildly insane ideas—you should have some expectation that you can back up your pitch. “Pitch First, Think Later” simply means you don’t need to do all the research and legwork first.

Things To Come 2017

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.”

AMAZON | B&N

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.

AMAZON | B&N | GOOGLE | KOBO

August 1, 2017: URBAN ENEMIES

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).

AMAZON | KOBO | B&N | iTUNES | GOOGLE

MYSTERIOUS MYSTERY PROJECTS

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 2016 Short Story Report

Artist’s Representation of My Literary Career

It’s December—which is kind of amazing, as it was March just yesterday—which means its time to soberly contemplate my life and lifestyle choices, assessing how much good I’ve done in this world. Just kidding. I don’t do anything “soberly.”

No, it’s time to contemplate our short story submission game. As anyone who reads this blog knows, I love writing short stories. And, having written them, I love selling short stories, which ain’t easy. Just about every year I hear that short stories are making a comeback, and this past year the signs do seem optimistic. I have stories in four anthologies in 2015-2017 (Hanzai Japan, Urban Allies, and the upcoming Mech: Age of Steel and Urban Enemies), my story Howling on for More appeared over at Black Denim Lit as well, and Great Jones Street bought a reprint of my story Ringing the Changes (that appeared in Best American Mystery Stories 2006). Not too shabby.

The four antho sales and the reprint were solicited, meaning someone actually contacted me and asked for the story/rights. It’s easy to sell a story when someone has already decided to buy one from you. How did I do with the submission process?

Hell is for Short Story Writers

Last year I submitted 33 stories, and sold 1. This year I will have submitted 51 stories by the time the end of the year comes around, and I have 2 “maybes” to show for it—meaning two markets contacted me and said hey, we like this story, but we’re not sure yet, we’ll hit you up later.

That might seem like a grim statistic, but for me it’s pretty normal. Maybe some writers are more careful with their submissions, or simply better at choosing markets, or, of course, are better writers in general. For me, the most short stories I ever sold in one year is 4, which I accomplished twice, in 2002 and 2006. And in 2002 I submitted a whopping 107 stories in order to sell those 4.

What can I say, short stories is a tough market. I’m told that they’re coming up in the world, as the success of adapting stories into TV and even films is a-booming. And there does seem to be more markets paying a decent per-word rate for fiction. And submitting stories is pretty easy, these days; everyone takes them via submittable or email or similarly simple mechanism—it’s a long way from the days when I had to buy double postage and stuff envelopes. Man, those days sucked.

The Trouble with Tribbles

Of course, I wrote 14 new short stories this year; I manage at least 12 a year. Most aren’t that great, but there’s usually one I like well enough to submit, so I have a steady batch of stories cluttering my hard drive. So I don’t mind submitting. And submitting. And submitting. Because what else am I gonna do with these stories? Aside from give them away, of course.

What about y’all? Do you write/read short stories? Are you happy to pay for magazines/websites/anthos that publish them?

Skipping the Boring Parts

Your Novel about Intergalactic Reverse Vampires Whose Language is Comprised of Re-Enacting Old Star Trek Episodes Bores Me.

Your Novel about Intergalactic Reverse Vampires Whose Language is Comprised of Re-Enacting Old Star Trek Episodes Bores Me.

Elmore Leonard once famously included in his Ten Rules of Writing “Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip.” The hard part for a writer, of course, is to figure out what those parts are. The first volume of In Search of Lost Time by Marcel Proust spends a lot of time noodling about remembering how a specific cake tastes and ruminating on things like sleeping habits—and if you haven’t read it, trust me when I say you spend the first few dozen pages or so wondering how in the world you got suckered into reading it. And then, IMHO, it clicks into place and you begin to really enjoy it, but there’s a bit of a hump to get over, and that hump could very easily look like he included a part that people skip.

And, certainly, many thousands of people have indeed skipped reading Proust, much to their delight and relief. And loss.

One common question I get when talking to writers at conferences and events and occasionally when I come home to find them hiding in my closet with a roll of duct tape and a bottle of chloroform is “does every scene and line need to be dramatic?” In other words, how do you tell a story that feels real if you don’t offer up the sort of mundane details that Leonard seems to be advising you to skip? You can’t tell a story that is 100% people fighting, saying witty things, and blowing things up. Or, sure, you can, but it would just be … well … kind of awesome, actually. But! Not really a story. So how do you write about characters who feel real without including some of the boring bits that we all deal with?

The answer’s surprisingly simple in concept, although complex in execution: You’re not supposed to skip the boring parts, you’re supposed to find a way to make the boring parts not boring.

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(Don’t Fear) the Routine

XXIX

Yes, That’s Volume 29 of Handwritten Short Stories.

FRIENDS, when you have achieved the summit of midlist author success (or, like me, if you’re stranded at base camp coughing up blood but insisting you’re going to make the ascent any day now), you get asked a lot of questions. One of the most popular questions that writers get in interviews or when buttonholed outside the restroom at conferences concerns process. Everyone is curious about the disciplined, specific routine and schedule you follow in order to produce sellable wordage (did I just coin that phrase? can I sell T shirts with SELLABLE WORDAGE on them?). How many words do you write per day? How many hours? What’s your routine?

My answer is, I don’t really have one.

Which is strange, because I am a man of habits. Of routines. Of deep, deep ruts. If you followed me around for one day you would know precisely what I’m doing the next day, and the day after that, because I deeply love a routine. And yet, when it comes to writing, one of the most important things in my life, I have no routine.

Oh, to be fair, I do keep regular working hours for my freelance writing. That stuff is usually on a very short deadline, and I don’t get paid until I turn it in, so I’m inspired to work regularly on that stuff. So yes, every day between certain hours you can usually find me working on a freelance project. But when it comes to fiction, there’s no schedule or routine whatsoever, and it’s because I didn’t start writing seriously until college.

“my parents became alarmed at my mediocre grades and apparent belief in a benevolent god who would always take care of me”

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Announcing Our “Stringer” Giveaway Winners

Stringer.jpgAs anyone who has signed up for the mighty mighty Jeff Somers Rocks You Like an Email Hurricane newsletter already knows, I recently ran a newsletter-only giveaway offering up five rare print copies of my Ustari Cycle novella The Stringer, which is only available for sale as an eBook right now.

I plan to do a giveaway like this every time I send out a newsletter, and I’ll be doing about 4 newsletters a year. So if you haven’t signed up for mine yet, do the math and sign up immediately. I’ll be sitting here, staring at my MailChimp dashboard, waiting.

Anyways, it’s too late for you to win The Stringer because that ship has sailed without you. But I can now reveal the winners!

THE STRINGER CAPTION CONTEST

The contest was simple. I included this photo:

Unimpressed Cat is Unimpressed

And asked folks to offer a caption. I received a couple dozen entries, which I anonymized and sent to my wife, The Duchess, to choose 5 of the best. Here are her selections, the lucky winners:

  1. “Thumb monkey I demand string. This is unacceptable.” — Terry Moody
  2. Sorry, you can only give away four copies. I chewed on this one a little bit. — Jesse W
  3. “Hey! So, where’s the string?” — Colin D. Smith
  4. Attached are my revisions. — Emerson Dameron
  5. I wanted to play with string and the drunk gives me this. It’s just insulting. — Jason Falter

Personally, #4 is my favorite for no reason whatsoever, although #5’s reference to alcohol is always a winning strategy with me.

Congrats to the winners!

Writing Necessities: Bad Books

THE BAD WRITING, IT BURNS US!

THE BAD WRITING, IT BURNS US!

A writer’s life is pretty much nonstop glamor. For example, today I cleaned out litter boxes, drank three beers before lunch, and fell asleep with cats on my chest and half a sandwich on my head. The glamorous life indeed.

The fact is, writing is kind of an interior existence. When Hollywood needs to dramatize writing, they usually make us look like computer hackers, pounding away at keyboards with intense expressions on our faces. Sometimes we drain a tumbler of whiskey really intently, or smoke cigarettes, or sweat profusely. But let’s face it: Writing a book is just typing, for a long time. Easy? No. But also not, like, working in a salt mine.

I’ve written forty novels so far. If that number impresses you, you haven’t been writing long, as a lot of writers have rooms full of trunk novels hanging around their necks like the shrunken heads of their enemies. Out of those forty novels, about thirteen have been deemed (by me, at least) publishable, and nine have actually sold for American money (the one I sold for a small bag of interesting bottlecaps doesn’t count). That means that I’ve written twenty-seven novels—twenty-seven novels—that kind of suck.

And so it goes. Not only is this high number of terrible novel-length monstrosities not really a concern, I’ve recently come to think they’re necessary. Because when I look back in anger at my writing over the last 15-20 years, there’s a pattern: For every decent novel I’ve written, there are like at least five or six terrible ones. You have to write the shitty ones to get to the good ones.

The Pattern

I wrote six novel-like things before my first published novel, Lifers. One of these is really just a novella, and one was the proto version of The Electric Church, but this early draft is definitely juvenelia. After Lifers (written in 1997), I wrote the following novels:

“The Only Time” 1999

“Book of Days” 2001

Chum 2001

“The Night Will Echo Back at You” 2002

“The Weak Theory of Mike Edelson” 2002

“The Ancestral Home of the Malarchy’s” 2002

“Almost as Delightful” 2003

“Fallen Among Thieves” 2003

“The Hobo Obituaries” 2004

With the exception of Chum, which was eventually published in 2013, none of these novels are very good. In fact, a few of them are lost to my memory, and I can’t even guess what they’re about. Two of them have been re-worked into a new novel that took the best of each and discarded the crap. The others can’t be saved, I don’t think. Then in 2004 I wrote the revision of The Electric Church that sold.

That string of six stinkers in a row between 2002 and 2004 is quite a dry streak; I often have trouble giving up on projects and must continue to pound the keyboard until I somehow come up with an ending of sorts, just so I can call it finished. Lord knows my long-suffering agent has seen plenty of these:

AGENT: What in the great googly-moogly is this?

ME: A new novel I thought you could sell. We’re so hungry …

AGENT: This is not a novel. It’s a collection of gibberish and erotic doodles.

ME: They’re not meant to be erotic.

AGENT: … that is even worse.

The Purpose

But you sort of have to get these bad books out of your system. You can’t write the good ones unless you write the bad ones, for a couple of reasons:

  1. If you don’t get those bad ideas into a mockable format, you’ll never know they’re mockable.
  2. Sometimes you have to get obsessions out of your head so you can move on.
  3. Sometimes the only reason to believe a gimmick is a bad idea is to actually write that novel in the second person from the perspective of a cat (I just made that up I totally did not ever consider doing this nope not me)
  4. You can often generate some great stuff inside the boundaries of a bad book, material that can be later excised and re-used.

In short, your head will start to fill up with terrible ideas. Let’s face it, you’re kind of a bad idea machine. You’ve got to drain them out of there like pus out of an infected wound.

So, sometimes when I realize the novel I’m writing isn’t so great (something I just realized about what I’m working on tonight) I don’t give up. I push on. Not only will I get to mark a novel complete, I’ll have gotten a whole raft of terrible ideas safely into a file on my hard drive, where they will glow with evil power but never actually hurt anyone. Unless I choose to send them to my agent, which would just be mean-spirited.

JOE MORGAN SUCKS

Originally written in 2007. In honor of the World Series, I’m reprinting it here.

Mr. Morgan was a great second baseman. Not so much a great play-by-play man. I am not wearing pants.

Mr. Morgan was a great second baseman. Not so much a great play-by-play man. I am not wearing pants.

After lo these many years some of you may know me a little. You may not know what’s in my secret heart (hint: Teddy Bears and Whisky Fountains) but you know certain things: I like The Drink; I have three cats; I am frequently pantsless; I like baseball and no other sports, including sports which are not actually sports, like golf. It’s like we’re old friends, walking hand in hand along a moonlit beach.

So, you know about the baseball. As I write this, it’s early October, and that means it’s postseason time, which in turn means I’m pretty much parked in front of the television night after night, just like I have been for the past 25 years or so. There’s a lot of beer involved, a bit of screaming at the screen, and, naturally, some weeping. The weeping has nothing to do with local teams or anything—I think it’s neat when the Mets or Yankees make the playoffs, but I watched the entire 1991 series between the fucking Twins and the Braves, so I think it’s obvious I just like the damn game. I don’t know much, but I’ve learned a thing or two about baseball on TV over the years. Rule number one is, you’re better off listening to the radio. Rule number two is, Joe Morgan sucks.

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