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WestWorld May Be Too Clever for Its Own Good

Marsden is Either Bored or Constipated

Marsden is Either Bored or Constipated

So, I’ve been watching WestWorld on HBO. This enrages my brother, Yan, who more or less believes that all remakes, reboots, and reinterpretations are bullshit. The moment he learns that a remake is looming, he goes off on a rant about how no one writes new stories any more.

He’s not wrong, but he’s not right, either. HBO’s version of WestWorld is entirely different from the original film. Everyone has a lot of affection for the original, mainly because of Yul Brynner’s classic performance as the Gunslinger and because every young man who watched that film in the 1970s and 1980s immediately began thinking about Sex Robots.

There are plenty of Sex Robots in HBO’s WestWorld. There’s also a lot of video game stuff, because some clever bastard obviously thought that a place like WestWorld would basically be an IRL video game. So when a guest arrives in town it’s like being in a sandbox-style video game, where you have a main storyline, but there are endless side-quests you can get sucked into that add content and depth (and playing time) to the game. That’s all well and good. That’s interesting and quite clever for a modern reboot of the concept.

The downside? The god-damn Non-Player Characters (NPCs) and the god-damn cutscenes.



Not These Pants

Jorts Are Pants Too.

Jorts Are Pants Too.


Friends, the worst part about advancing age is easily the self-awareness. Oh, what I wouldn’t give to be back in my dullard youth, completely and blissfully unaware of what a massive asshole I could be. I had some good times back then, believe me, secure in the myopic knowledge that I was awesome.

Today, I can’t fool myself so easily. I’ve seen too many repeated patterns, and too many poor results. After a while, you either have to admit you’re doing it wrong or accept the fact that your existence is going to be an increasingly awful existential hell of your own making. So, I am finally ready to admit it: I am not easy.


In my youth, which is to say up until a few years ago when someone accidentally spilled paint thinner on my Dorian Grey painting and I melted like the Nazis in Indiana Jones, I thought I was the easiest guy in the world, because I didn’t give a shit about a lot of stuff other people seemed really worried about. Like, what a group of us did for fun at night. Or what did I want for dinner. Or what I wore. I prided myself on being easy, like Sunday morning: Just tell me what we’re doing, and I’ll wear whatever I have lying around, and anything is cool for me for dinner.

When something becomes part of your self-image, it’s hard to shake. For a long, long time I was convinced that I was Easy. Everyone else complicated things, stressed over unimportant stuff, and wasted time. Case in point, the first time The Duchess ran her yellow eye over me and decided I needed new pants.

ME: What’s wrong with these?

HER: We will dub them the So-Called Pants and their fame will be eternal. Now drive me to Old Navy.

ME: Yes’m.

I can now admit it: I am not Easy. I am, in fact, a royal pain in the ass, because my ideal is always whatever I’ve been doing. When it comes to pants, I like the pants I have. Any attempt to replace those pants will be met with petulant resistance and passive-aggressive plotting to undermine you as a person. It’s not that I don’t care what pants I wear, it’s that I want the pants I already have.

This extends to every other aspect of my life. I used to think I was easy, but now I realize that not having a strong opinion about anything actually makes me an enormous pain everyone’s ass. And this sort of personal epiphany is going to serve me well as a writer, because it’s exactly what the characters in your stories ought to be dealing with.


Nobody likes characters that are too woke, too self-aware, perfectly in tune with themselves. They come off as flat and obvious, and they resist character arcs, because they have nothing to evolve from. In real life, of course, no one is 100% self-aware. And just like when you write dialog and have to find some artificial patois and rhythm that seems realistic without being at all how people really talk, when creating a character you want the semblance of real people.

An essential part of that is a lack of awareness about their limitations or annoying traits. Think of it this way: We all go around thinking we’re pretty cool, that we’re the heroes of our own narrative. We usually aren’t, but we think we are. Your characters have to have things about themselves that they are unaware of, at least at the start of your story. They can have epiphanies as the tale goes on, but saddling them with things they don’t know about themselves is powerful, and feels natural.

Getting a POV character to convey things to the reader that they themselves are not aware of? That‘s where the old chestnut about “show don’t tell” comes into play. For example, years ago when some girlfriend took me shopping for pants, I thought I was being Easy. My inner monologue was filled with self-congratulations on how chill and easy I was being. BUt anyone watching would have been aware of how difficult I was within moments. That’s your job as a writer.

So, don’t say my pants have never done anything for you.


Newsletters Are the New Black

newsletterThe 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:

  1. Launch Newsletter
  2. Lure people into signing up
  3. ????
  4. Profit!

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
  • Stringer.jpgFor 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.




“You’re the Worst” & Subtle Unreliability

It's Not Funny

It’s Not Funny

Used to be, things like unreliable narrators or breaking the Fourth Wall on television was a bold and uncanny thing to do. It shocked viewers who had been trained to rely on the narratives and narrators TV offered up. But as TV shows have gotten more and more novelistic in their approach, the Fourth Wall is getting demolished. And unreliable narration is almost assumed.

Novels, after all, don’t have a Fourth Wall. When you read a book the narrator’s voice is in your head, addressing you. You’re basically there, following everyone around. So when a TV show like Mr. Robot or Fleabag deletes the Fourth Wall, it edges closer to being a novel in visual form. When those narrators prove to be unreliable, it can still pack a punch, but often it’s easy to see. Who, after all, was at all surprised when Fleabag or Elliot turned out to be unreliable? No one who was paying attention. It still worked, it just wasn’t a surprise. Which is neither a good thing or a bad thing.

Another show that transcends typical TV comedy work is You’re the Worst, which could be a dumb show about trying to disgust the audience as much as possible with how truly terrible the characters are, but is just smart enough to back up off that level of depravity. The characters on You’re the Worst are in fact terrible people, but there’s just enough decency sprinkled in to keep your attention.

It’s also a show playing with unreliableness, which might come as a surprise, as it isn’t a show with a fixed POV or narrator, and always seems to be presenting these awful people more or less as they are. But the show has been revealed to be subtly unreliable because of S03EP05, “Twenty Two.”

Shitty Jimmy & Company

So, You’re the Worst, like most TV comedies, has a core cast who play specific roles. The main characters are Jimmy and Gretchen, two awful assholes living and striving in L.A. In their orbit are some friends: Shallow, monstrous Lindsey, her milquetoasty husband Paul, and Jimmy’s odd roommate Edgar. Other characters orbit at increasing distances from these. This is a pretty standard comedy setup: Main folks, second-tier characters, and a diaspora of decreasingly important characters.

What’s interesting about comedies is that there are funny folks and straight people. Straight people are often used to bring context—and in the case of You’re the Worst, the straight person is usually Edgar. Edgar has PTSD after his service in Iraq, and lives with Jimmy in exchange for acting as a cook, housekeeper, and general servant. In the past he regards Jimmy as his friend, but he is always somewhat disturbed by the callous and terrible nature of the people around him. His character serves as an important contrast, because he’s fundamentally decent, always means well, and registers his hurt when Jimmy and the others treat him awfully, which they always do. Without Edgar the show would be 100% assholes, and as anyone can tell you, a show that’s 100% assholes is Seinfeld, or Veep, and that only happens once a century or so.

So, Edgar’s usually not the funniest person on the show. He reacts, and sometimes he’s in funny situations, but he’s not actually all that funny. In fact, the show puts a button on this by having Edgar become involved with Improv Comedy, and be more or less terrible at it. He’s not funny, because he’s not the main character of the show.

Which becomes very interesting in “Twenty Two,” which is the first episode of the series from Edgar’s point of view. And it’s not really a funny episode. It barely has any jokes. Because suddenly we’re seeing it fro Edgar’s point of view, and the people around him aren’t hilariously callous—they aren’t hilarious at all. They’re just terrible people.

What If You’re Just a Character in My Sitcom?

This is interesting because it forcibly reminds the audience that in the previous episodes of the series, they’ve been seeing everything from the main characters’ POV. From Jimmy and Gretchen and Lindsey’s POV, everything is hilarious, because they’re the center of the show. Their POV dominates everything. Yes, they can sometimes see the pain and suffering of others, but it’s marginalized, distant, and easily ignored.

The audience of course always identifies with the main characters; we can’t help it. Even the Walter Whites of the world, we want them to succeed. To survive. It’s human nature.

So “Twenty Two” shifts away and offers us Edgar’s POV, and suddenly the people we’ve been laughing at and with, the people who we unconsciously regard as the protagonists of this story, are revealed to be braying, not-particularly-funny assholes. And Poor Edgar, rather than being a supporting player in a comedy, is the lead actor in a tragedy, and we’ve been watching him for dozens of episodes without a thought, and that makes us complicit assholes as well.

It’s a sobering, exciting moment. While Fleabag‘s cheeky glances and funny asides and Mr. Robot‘s paranoid lectures might be flashier and more obvious breakings of the Fourth Wall and reliability, You’re the Worst‘s is more powerful, because even as you watch it some time goes by before you realize you’ve just seen a complete shift not just of POV but of tone, inviting you to realize that your impression of the show has been carefully managed all along, and you’re part of it.

You’re always part of it.


Excerpt from “Last Best Day” (Ustari Cycle #4)

Last Best Day (Ustari Cycle #4)

Last Best Day (Ustari Cycle #4)

“Last Best Day” is out on Monday, October 3. To mark the occasion, here’s chapter 1 of the novella. You can buy the whole story at Amazon, B&N, Google Play, and Kobo for just 99 cents.


THAT HOT DOG SMELL. Lem said we could eat hot dogs for lunch, but Lem said that before and we didn’t. Lem is cranky. I don’t know why. He’s not Hiram cranky, but no one is Hiram cranky but Hiram. Lem is Lem Cranky, which isn’t screamy cranky, but glum cranky. I actually prefer Hiram Cranky, because with Hiram you at least know why he’s mad.

Exhaust and sweat, even though it’s cold. Everybody is always rushing, but people get out of my way. Lem says its because I’m big. I am big. Or things are small. Like toilet stalls. Too small. I get in, I can’t turn around. Took me a long time to remember to back in sometimes.

Lem buys the hot dogs.

He doesn’t get any. He just stands there smoking a cigarette and scowling. I don’t ask what’s wrong. Lem never tells me.



The Many Ways My Wife Tries to Kill Me

They Call Me Limoncello Jefe

They Call Me Limoncello Jefe

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.


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.


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
  • Pregnant ladies
  • Ladies with babies strapped to their chests
  • Everyone, basically

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.


Allora Andiamo a Italia



So, as you read this I am either on a plane drinking heavily or in Italy drinking heavily. Or possibly in an airport lounge drinking heavily. Wherever: Drinkin’. Because that’s what one does on vacation when that someone is: Me.

I am a man of various odd rules and requirements that often defy explanation, and one of those rules is that when I travel to a foreign country I must at least attempt to learn a bit of the language. This is partially because of an urge to be respectful to other cultures, partially because tourists who can’t speak any English at all irritate me so I would be something of a hypocrite otherwise, and partially because I very much want to be able to shout help me I am being eaten by a horde of mice when in foreign land. Also: no I am not an agent of the CIA stop electrocuting my nipples or please do not take my reluctance to eat that as an insult.

So, I’ve been trying to learn a bit of Italian. My efforts have been slightly stymied by general incompetence. I’ve wanted to learn a second language for a long time, and I’ve frankly been kind of amazed that I could have grown up in Jersey City, New Jersey and not learned a licked of Spanish. This general feeling of Fail Shame has been pretty oppressive, and whenever I meet someone who speaks English as a second language my jealousy and sense of inferiority is pretty epic.

Because it’s not like I haven’t tried.


I went to an all-boys Jesuit high school, so I took two years of Latin. Latin! Believe me, 14-year old Jeff couldn’t believe it either. Absolutely none of it stuck, of course; I was far too busy memorizing batting averages and masturbating to actually learn anything, which is the Basic Fail of all American education. If you ask me, school should start at age four, then take a break at twelve through, say, thirty, then pick up again. Under the Somers Plan we graduate at age forty, broken and ready to sit at a desk for the rest of our sad lives before being made into Soylent to sustain those who come after.

But I digress.

I also took two years of Spanish, which should have been great, but I left school speaking less Spanish than when I started school. As a high school freshman I had a large complement of curses and insults in Spanish, when I graduated I knew nothing. At one point a teacher tried to convince me that my name would be Gofredo in Spanish, which was confusing; isn’t your name just your name?

So, after four years of letting some kid named Ian do my Latin homework and responding ¡No es bueno! to every exam question, I somehow graduated, but with no usable language skills at all. I can only conclude that I was a pretty cute kid.

Tais-toi, Chien Américain!

The Duchess is determined to travel the world despite the fact that the world is a terrible place, and despite the fact that I do not want to travel at all. I don’t even want to leave the house. I am so in charge of my own destiny, in fact, that I have traveled to several foreign countries despite my oft-stated desire not to do so.

We went to France once, and I spent months trying to learn some French. I worked at it, man, and by the time we arrived in Paris I was confident I had the sort of pidgin French that Americans have been relying on for years. Here’s how every single interaction went:

JEFF: French french french french french.

FRENCH PERSON: <sigh> Want to speak English?

Every. Single. Time.

Now, no doubt my French was awful. No doubt their English was excellent. Still, I remain enraged by these interactions. What’s the point of the immense weight of privilege I drag around with me everywhere I go if I can’t insist on speaking my half-assed French whenever I wish, forcing the poor citizens of France to adapt to my feeble communication skills?

SImilarly, when we were in Florence a few years ago I made an initial attempt at Italian, and upon arrival at our hotel I proudly introduced myself to the owner in Italian, or at least I thought I did. He smiled broadly, and said “Very good! Now we will speak in English.”




Day Breaks, Mind Aches

Paul stumbled over the curb and caught himself just in time, his briefcase a counterbalance. Without looking up he kept going, hoping to leave behind whatever minor embarrassment there was. He craved coffee. He thought it was almost a palpable sensation, his cells crying out for caffeine and threatening to afflict him with headaches if he didn’t supply it, and soon. He looked up from the steady scroll of sidewalk beneath him and blinked around: it was a bright, sunny day, ice cold and crisp. He could see his usual coffee cart off in the distance, a shiny tin box that gleamed in the squinting sunlight. Glancing at his watch, he calculated the line of four people waiting their turn at the cart and figured he wouldn’t be too much later if he stopped to get a tall cup, instead of choking down the cheap crap they brewed at the office.

Paul had a theory on lateness, one which he had developed over the years through extensive first-hand research. He’d concluded that lateness fell into several defined categories, and that within each category was a lot of wiggle room, so that once you passed from one category into a worse category, it didn’t matter whether you ended up in that category by a hair or a mile. For example, he’d determined that the first stage was actually not even lateness, it was Later On Time, and was basically defined as anywhere up to fifteen minutes past your appointment. If you were supposed to be in by nine in the morning, anywhere from 9:01 to 9:15 was considered Later On Time–that was, not exactly late, but certainly not quite on time. It was a grace period, really. Once the clock on your bosses desk clicked past nine, however, you were in that first category of Later On Time until it clicked past 9:15. Which meant that once you passed nine, you might as well relax and take your time and get there by 9:14 or so–your category wouldn’t improve no matter what you did, then.

He’d refined this theory extensively. 9:16–9:45 he categorized as merely Late; 9:45–10:00 was Very Late, and 10:00–10:30 was Egregiously Late. After 10:30, he turned around and went home and called in sick instead of struggling onward like a beetle tied to a pin. He’d also mapped out all of his standard routes and movements and knew how long it took him to accomplish every task and every leg of his commute. He knew how long it took him to buy a newspaper, depending on which stand he went to. He knew which buses got him where and when, on average. He had memorized the subway schedules and had timed his stride, so he could estimate new times when his usual routes were blocked. This allowed him to determine, with a high level of accuracy, exactly how late he was and how much later any deviation from the norm would make him.

Eyeing the coffee cart a block away, he decided that assuming one more person got on its line before him, it would add four and a half minutes to his walk to work, which would get him there by 9:23. Since not stopping for coffee wouldn’t shave off enough time to lower him from Late to Later On Time, there was no reason not to.

Blinking, he glanced up and shaded his eyes from the sun. It seemed huge, yellow and cold. Certainly, it seemed much larger than usual. But his head was a little fogged with a hangover, and he figured a good cup of coffee would reduce the size of everything in his perception. He walked more purposefully, intent on getting the day going, and thus getting it over with. He had his evening planned out: a dinner of leftovers, a fresh bottle of bourbon for some cocktails, a good movie on television. He wanted to erase days, scrub them off him. His memories of the night before were vague, and the night before that were gone completely. He had a constant sensation of floating bodilessly through time and space, and he liked it that way. It was a form of immortality.

Calm and satisfied, his mind blank, he got on the end of the short line and resigned himself to wait. Some people made chit-chat with the proprietor of the cart, some people just thrust money at him and barked demands. Paul figured it all evened out, time-wise, and didn’t worry overmuch. He calculated that with the volume of pedestrians on the street that morning (heavier than usual) he was probably about ten minutes away from work. Eight if he trotted, but his head didn’t feel like trotting, and so vetoed the concept.

The line moved forward by one, and Paul noted how the shadows on the ground seemed to be moving, circling around them as if clouds were moving rapidly across the sky. Frowning, he glanced up at the sky, shielding his eyes from the light. He froze in place.

From behind him someone said “What the fuck?”

The sun was obscured, he thought at first, by a bunch of black dots. Things flying between him and it, or maybe some weird optical illusion. After a moment of squinting up from under his hand, however, he realized that it was the sun itself.

“Holy shit,” he muttered to himself, backing up to gain a better view. He blinked and looked down, and the world seemed darker, the shadows deeper, the air cooler against his skin. He looked back up, and the dots were spreading, slowly, encompassing the whole of the star.

A woman’s scream pierced his attention, and he whipped his head back to the street around him, and sound came rushing in: screams, shouts, car horns. Chaos, everywhere around him. For a moment he was frozen in place, staring alternately at the sight of the sun going out, one minute piece at a time, and at the darkening world around him, gloom growing around him, fooling his eye and making him imagine that it was thick and edible, impossible to breathe. He didn’t know what to do, where to go. It couldn’t possibly be what he thought it was, that was impossible. And yet, there it was: the sun dimming, right there, turning black like a piece of fruit on high-speed film.

People pushed past him and he let them spin him about. He didn’t understand where they were going, what the point was. If the sun was…if the sun was going out, there was nothing to do. He knew it took light from the sun eight and a half minutes to reach the Earth. Eight and a half minutes after whatever cataclysm was occurring out there in space finished, the last rays of sunlight would touch the Earth’s surface, and everything would be cold and darkness and the irrefutable forces of the universe tearing themselves apart.

Eight and a half minutes. He guessed people were struggling to make it to their loved ones, to seek some sort of safety, maybe just to find out what was going on. But he knew there wasn’t time for any of that, even if radiation wasn’t already ruining radio and television signals, even if the satellites orbiting the Earth had not already been dosed with lethal rays. Even assuming they were not all going to come down with some Andromeda-Strain sunburn from whatever was happening up there, there wouldn’t be time.
He dropped his money on the sidewalk, coffee forgotten, and started to run.

He went against the tide of people because he was running towards his job. The Seventeenth floor in a charmless building with not enough windows and too many walls, and he had never, ever run towards it, even when he was slipping into Egregiously Late.

Most people were running the other way, and he ticked off the seconds that running against the stream was costing him. He looked to his left and dodged diagonally, amazed that no one thought to run in the street despite the fact that traffic had slowed to a crawl, with several accidents already clogging the ways. In the bicycle lane he made better time and adjusted his calculations, but then in the clogged intersection of Flagg and Marble streets someone hit him like a linebacker and knocked him to the street. Before he knew what was happening, hands were on him, pulling at him, and a red face staring down at him.

“What’s going on?” the face demanded. “What’s happening?”

Paul just stared up at the man, speechless. He wanted to say he didn’t know, he wanted to tell the man that no one knew, that if anyone knew they’d have warned the world, but then he thought, maybe not. If he’d known, maybe he wouldn’t have said anything, because it was terrible to think of the world ending like this, in chaos and terror. Better, he thought, that it end in ignorance, with everyone peaceful, and quiet.

The man dropped Paul and ran off, and for another few seconds Paul lay, dazed, and reconsidered again, thinking that maybe a week’s or a day’s warning would have given people the chance to contemplate, to meditate, to consider how they would leave this life. Maybe that would have been best.

Like a stopwatch, the time intruded upon his thoughts, and Paul pushed himself up, recalculating based on his delay. Then he deftly threaded his way through the traffic of people and continued running, his sides burning, his clothes too much now, too hot and scratchy. His building bobbed and weaved ahead, deceptively far away, but Paul ate up the blocks, the press of people thinning blessedly, for some reason. The pounding of his feet became the only sound and rhythm he was aware of, the beat and timing of his life.

The office building was a chaos of people, most of them just standing in the lobby peering out the glass doors at the sun as it rotted right before their eyes. Paul pushed through them and decided to skip the elevators entirely, smashing through the fire doors and bounding up the stairs. His breath burned, his heart was pounding, but in his mind his countdown had reached three minutes, and he knew he didn’t have any time to lose, or to catch his breath. Energy surged through him, crazy, meaningless energy that made him giddy. On the fifth floor, with spots flashing before his eyes in time with his pounding heart, with the dusty air choking him, he found himself shaking with laughter. As he bounded up the landing between the fifth and sixth floors, he let out a choked whoop, a war-cry that echoed off the green walls.

The world was ending, and Paul rushed upwards to meet it’s doom.

Landings swept by, downwards, barely noticed. His vision narrowed to the steps before him, his whole body was slicked with sweat, and gritty from the dust he was kicking up. Ominous creakings and groans floated around him in the dimness, as if the building were about to fall down on him, but he pushed himself further up and further in, laughing painfully the whole way in-between chest-busting gasps for air.

He went past his own floor, kept going up. He’d been a smoker, earlier, and had always hated having to exit the building just to smoke a cigarette, so he’d found his way up to the roof and knew that the door was always easily opened, the lock was old and rusty and snapped open with some gentle coercion. Paul bounded from the stairs in the utter darkness of the service corridor and attacked the door, counting off time in his head. By his estimates, he had thirty seconds. He threw himself against the metal door and heard a satisfying creak, but the door held.

“Come on, you prick,” he panted, backing up and wiping his hands on his pants, ridiculously, before launching himself against the door again. He crashed into it, and it snapped open so violently he sailed through the doorway and crashed onto the roof, tearing up his clothes and hands on the rough surface. Laughing, bleeding, he struggled up onto his knees and looked around.

The weather had turned violently; the wind was roaring and lightning flashed in the nearly-black sky. The sun was being engulfed by the sky, eaten, sucked dry. Rotting, right before him. Below, muffled by the wind, the city was delirious. Paul threw his arms out, unable to explain or even pause to consider the jolly, happy energy that burned through him.

“Come on, then! Come on!” he roared into it, trembling.

The sky disappeared, everything disappeared, and for one incomprehensible moment there was just a sudden freezing cold and the roof beneath him, and his own laughter, and then the frozen blackness reached down and found him.


A Drop of the Dull, Hard Stuff

I Miss Typewriters

I Miss Typewriters

When I was pup, sipping small beer and learning all my curse words from VHS tapes, I imagined the Writing Life to be pretty leisurely. I’d sell a novel, be recognized as a genius, and spend my days tapping out words while publishers delivered a steady stream of gifts in order to win my favor.

It didn’t exactly turn out that way.

A lot of writers, however, still think that way—that writing is all about being creative and creating and butt-in-the-seat and all that. Which it is, of course, Except there’s a lot of other stuff involved. Dull, boring stuff. For example, here’s what I’ve done over the last thirty days or so:

  • Written and revised a 15,000 word book proposal
  • Written a half dozen idea pitches for stories
  • Written a short story longhand
  • Transcribed a short story from longhand
  • Submitted a dozen short stories to various markets
  • Discussed a reprint of a previously published short story
  • Written a few dozen freelance pieces
  • Negotiated a reprint (in Sweden!) of an article I wrote
  • Completed a novel
  • Began two novels

Aside from the freelance stuff, none of this has an immediate or even certain paycheck; it’s all spec. And it’s a lot of work, between staying organized and awake (and sometimes sober). And that’s what a lot writing careers look like—a whole lot of hustle.

Now someone go buy one of my books so I’ll have beer money.


How to Survive the Crushing Inevitability of Your Own Death



Friends, you’re going to die.

As certain as you’re sitting on the crapper right now reading this, you’re going to not be here soon enough. Terrifyingly soon. Death is so pants-shittingly terrifying, in fact, that all of the world’s religions – and by extension all of the atrocities and wars that have been waged in their names – were invented with the sole purpose of making you feel better about it. You may think – or have been told – that religion is about philosophy, or morality, or some other aspect of life. You have been lied to. Religion is about telling you there’s a fucking purpose to all this and you will continue on as a mind forever voyaging after you croak.

You won’t.

Of course, I don’t know that, any more than you know you will. The universe is infinite and unknowable and for all we know we will be greeted by Cooter from The Dukes of Hazzard when we die, handed a Monster energy drink, and asked who we’d like to be reborn as. Why the fuck not.

Until we find out what’s going to happen, we have just one job: Keeping the faith that all this somehow, impossibly, matters. Otherwise, what’s the point?

That faith is powerful shit, isn’t it. Because no matter what you tell your friends, your wife, your therapist, your priest or your mullah, you don’t know anything about what’s going to happen to you or to anyone and so every plan you make, every precaution, is raw faith, isn’t it. The fact that you think you’ll still be here in five seconds is startlingly optimistic, my friend, considering the incredibly complex machinery inside of you, whirring and clicking and somehow hitting every beat.

But if you start to think about it, you start to realize that any thought that you might get of this life alive is just faith. And once you start down that rabbit hole, there’s no going back: Being conscious of your own demise is part of the human condition. It causes grown men to weep and everyone to ingest all manner of numbing substances, but the simple fact is, once you you realize you’re going to die someday, how do you keep going? Because what’s the fucking point?

Here’s how you keep going.

The Inner Swine’s Guide to Keeping on Keeping On in the Face of Certain, Doubtless Futility because You Yes You are Going to Die and Even if You Somehow Survive in Defiance of All Known Natural Laws the Sun Eventually Explodes and There. You. Are.

Step One: Denial

Difficulty Level: Infinite.

Reach down deep inside and find that part of you that is convinced that medical breakthroughs or wishes extracted from a Leprechaun or alien technology will save you and you’ll live forever or until you choose to stop flipping channels thousands of years from now and just die on your own terms.

That’s what it takes to handle your own eventual death, isn’t it? Faith that it won’t actually happen.

This might seem difficult, but of course if you think about it for a moment you’ll know that it is, in fact exactly the sort of faith you have every day when you get out of bed. Because when you get out of bed it is, apparently, with the expectation that you not be swallowed by a giant Leviathan, turned to pudding by a flesh-eating virus, or crushed beneath something so heavy it actually becomes a gravitational singularity and consumes the Earth. In other words, you’re living on faith already, my friend!

But you knew that. That’s why you chose to read this instead of making out a new will and getting your affairs in order.

Step Two: Booze

Difficulty Level: Molto Facile

Or, you know, whatever you’re used to using to cloud your sense of doom and make yourself feel better. Some people knit, or make their pets wear adorable little costumes and pretend to have tea with them.

Here’s the thing: Life is either short or infinite. Or maybe something very lengthy but not infinite somewhere between those two extremes, which is the same as short, so whatever. If life is short, best to enjoy your cocktails before your liver gives out, right? If life is infinite, then drink all you want, my friend, because why not?

So: Assuming you have enough faith to get out of bed in the morning, you might as well sit around day drinking. Really, nothing else makes any sense.

Step Three:

There is no Step Three.