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drying eyes, wasted breath

It had only been fifteen minutes, and Bob hated them all. He knew every detail of the elevator, from the three buttons which refused to light up when you pressed them to the minute design of diamonds on the worn, red and black carpet. He didn’t know the specific people he was trapped with, but he thought he knew their type, and was convinced, based on the slanting looks and curling lips, that they knew his. Jocular in familiarity, contemptuous, he snapped his gum cheerily, to annoy, and shifted his weight from foot to foot.

Softly, in the background, an instrumental Killing Me Softly played over the tinny speakers.

Bob had not been very surprised when the little door marked EMERGENCY had been opened to reveal loose wires where the phone should have been. None of the other people in the elevator evinced any shock either, but whether that was actual cynicism or an urbane facade Bob couldn’t say. They had all looked at each other and shaken heads, clucked tongues, no longer amazed, it was implied, by the incompetence of Other People. He thought it must have been the rarest of coincidences, that the Brain Trust of the World, the four most brilliant people in the universe, happened to all work in his building. One of the Brain Trust was now busily reading People magazine, slouching against the rear wall of the elevator with the bored insubordination of youth, the implication that he would not even attempt to somehow make the situation better, and that the rest of the Brain Trust ought to leave him alone.

The kid annoyed Bob the most. Probably about twenty-one or -two, he had INTERN written all over him, from the wrap around sunglasses he wore (still) even indoors to the loud music leaking out of earphones, to the combination of decent dress pants and shirt with unlaced sneakers and a worn denim jacket. His cool demeanor made Bob decide that if anyone was going to have to climb into the shaft in a heroic search for help, it would be the kid.

They were suspended between the fifteenth and sixteenth floors, the elevator having squealed and sighed and jerked to a halt a few seconds after the doors had shut on floor fifteen. Bob had accepted this turn of events with cheer and aplomb, because he was now about ten feet away from his floor, twenty seconds away from being off the elevator and into the warm current of a Typical Day. Now instead of floating along on the swells of things that happened every day, he was standing in a box with four strangers who were, if nothing else, not quite as tantalizingly close to a Typical Day.

They’ve got to know what happened. They must be working on the problem.”

Bob looked up in surprise, at The Librarian. He didn’t know what the woman actually did with her time, but the sharply angled glasses perched on her nose made him think of a librarian. She wore an affected shawl over her shoulders, too, and stood in the center of the elevator in a stiff-backed posture. She wasn’t looking at anyone, and he figured she was speaking just to comfort yourself. He snapped his gum a little louder and replied to the air

Sure, sure. That phone looks like it was attended to without delay.”

The Librarian looked at him, sniffed, and looked away.

Bob shrugged, chewing his gum. He leaned against the wall of the elevator and stared at the ceiling. He couldn’t even see an escape hatch, a maintenance crawlspace -every movie he’d ever seen that had involved people trapped in an elevator had involved a crawlspace, but he couldn’t see one here. He wondered if there was any way out of the elevator. Or at least one that didn’t involve the elevator splitting open after hitting the basement.

(more…)

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“The Shattered Gears” Reviewed at Pat’s Fantasy Hotlist

Avery Cates: The Shattered Gears

Avery Cates: The Shattered Gears

Patrick over at Pat’s Fantasy Hotlist has always been a fan of the The Avery Cates Series, and he’s put up a great review of the first Cates short story The Shattered Gears, which was released in December 2014:

“I was pretty keen to read it! And then the Holidays rolled around and I totally forgot about it. My bad, I know . . . If you are a long-time fan of the Hotlist, you may recall that I pimped Somers’ series as much as I could every time a new volume came out. And though it’s been four years since the last one, it was so much fun to be reunited with Avery Cates, if only for the duration of a short story.”

It was also a lot of fun to return to write a return to Cates, frankly. Sometimes as a writer you get caught up in seeking challenges for your writing, breaking new ground, or worrying about your sales and your audience, and you forget to just enjoy writing. These Cates shorts, which will keep coming and eventually coalesce into a novel or three, are just a lot of fun!

You can buy The Shattered Gears over at

Amazon

Kobo

B&N Nook

Google Play

for 99 cents.

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WINNERS: “The Walled City”

Walled_coverToday we held the ceremonial Choosing of the Names here at The Somers Compound. Dressed in our ceremonial Choosing Robes, I handed my wife The Duchess a copy of the comments left by the hopeful who wanted a rare print version of The Walled City, the new Avery Cates short. She reviewed them, drank half a bottle of wine, watched some TV, and finally chose:

Winner #1 — MATT MCROBERTS

Winner #2 — SEAN P.K.

Congrats to you both! I’ll contact you via email to get delivery specs. For those of you who were not favored with the Random Hand of The Duchess, you can always buy a digital copy for yourself:

KINDLE

NOOK

KOBO

GOOGLE PLAY

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“Orphan Black” Has a Villain Decay Problem

Somehow made all cute and hilarious this past season.

Somehow made all cute and hilarious this past season.

That Orphan Black, the SF show about a woman who discovers she’s one of many, many clones produced by a secret and unethical experiment, has over the course of three seasons become almost insufferably complicated. What was once a fairly crisp story about a woman struggling to save herself and her child while dealing with the horrifying realization that she’s a clone has spiralled into territory familiar with anyone who has watched TV shows based on a “mystery” premise: The audience wants answers, but if you actually give them the show is over, so you pull a trick wherein you explain a mystery while setting a new one in motion.

This can work for a while, if you’re skillful, and Orphan Black, in fact, seemed to pull it off in its second season, expanding the world and complicating the mystery while delivering a continuously interesting story week in and week out. This past year, though, things have come off the rails a bit. There are still pleasures to be had, mainly in Tatiana Maslany’s incredible performances, but the story itself is slow-moving hogwash, to use a technical term. The main problem is that Orphan Black hasn’t met a villain it can’t destroy in a few quick episodes. In fact, the show has had so many it’s solution to the malaise at the end of the last season was to circle back and recycle a villain from the first season.

Villain Decay

In the beginning, there were the Neoloutinists, a cult that believed in “self-directed evolution” who backed the cloning experiment and sought to control the clones, manipulating their lives and monitoring them. There was also a religious cult that saw the clones as abominations, and trained one of the clones to be an unstoppable killing machine, Helena, who was basically a serial killer of clones.

But the clones managed to turn the tables on the Neolutionists, maneuvering one of their allies into a position of authority at the institute set up to monitor the clones and removing the evil clone who’d been working with the Neolutioninsts. Also, Helena, once depicted as a crazy and incredibly dangerous person, was turned into a cuddly if sometimes murderous piece of comic relief as she became affectionate towards her clone sestras. So a new threat was devised: A separate military project involving male clones, which caused a bit of trouble until, again, the female clones managed to completely neuter it and render it impotent. And so, in the third season finale, the show surveyed its field of limp and defeated villains and came up with the idea that the Neolutionists, seemingly defeated for a very long time, were actually embedded in all of these other organizations and running the whole show secretly.

Much of this seems to have been done in the service of surprise: Build up someone as a Big Bad, then shock everyone when they are defeated much sooner than expected. This kind of writing gimmick is like crack: It feels good, but has diminishing returns and leads to your show being canceled.

The problem here is twofold: One, it’s hard to take these villains seriously when all it takes, usually, is a few episodes for them to either be utterly destroyed or brought over as allies; two, the new villains are always just permutations on the conspiracy the clones have been fighting against since Day One. They’re nothing new, just new versions of the same enemy.

A Glimmer of Hope

It’s possible that the bloodbath that was the Season 3 finale was a purposeful clearing of the decks, bringing back the original villains who will now be coherent and focussed. Instead of more and more variations on the “someone is secretly making and modifying or killing or spying on clones!” riff, we might get a real purpose to everything, and perhaps a single face for the enemy. That would go a long way to excusing Season 3’s disastroys meandering. Only time will tell.

The TL;DR version for writers is simple: When you’ve got a mystery-driven storyline, do two things immediately: a) have an exit strategy that involves and overall explanation for everything, and b) don’t give in to the temptation to destroy your villains on the regular just for the story shock value.

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Win a PRINT Copy of “The Walled City”

Walled_coverIf you’re a fan of Avery Cates, you already know, most likely, that The Walled City, a short story that picks up where the previous story, The Shattered Gears, left off came out last week on Amazon, Nook, Google Play, and Kobo–in short, as a digital-only story.

Well, if you’d like to actually have a print copy of this story, I’m giving away two. Just two–signed any way you’d like, and mailed directly to your door.

How do you get you mitts on one? Just comment here, and I’ll pick two random comments. I’ll announce the winners on Friday, June 26th.

Get commentin’!

OR, buy a digital copy for yourself:

KINDLE

NOOK

KOBO

GOOGLE PLAY

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I Was a Teenage Script Kiddie

For a brief, glorious moment, I was King of the Nerds.

For a brief, glorious moment, I was King of the Nerds.

When I was eleven years old, my parents bought me a Commodore 64, which at the time was the most amazing thing ever invented, built, or sold retail. It was also kind of pricey for my family, and I have no doubt they justified the expense by telling themselves it would help inspire me to become a computer programmer and thus be rich.

That never happened: Math is hard. Let it drift.

However, they hedged on the budget by opting to buy just the computer itself, with no storage device. That meant that I was limited to what I could do with the computer – I could type in a program, but with no way to save it the moment I turned off the computer it disappeared. After spending weeks typing in a program listed in a Commodore magazine, I successfully lobbied for a storage option, but we went for the cheapest option: Magnetic tape.

Tape worked, but it was slooooowwww. I had one game: Telengard, and it took about five minutes to be read in from tape. This was not a game that actually deserved five minutes of my time for loading, but it was all I had. And at least I had a place to store programs and other things, although if I’d been stuck with that tape drive I would likely have gotten very, very tired of my Commodore 64 very quickly.

Thankfully, we got robbed.

A No Good, Very Bad Day

My grandmother came to live with us when I was maybe ten or eleven; my memory, as always, is vague. Nanny was strict and somewhat mean-spirited, or so it seemed to us kids; she was always grousing that we were lazy and messy. Later in life she went through a bizarre period when she claimed to be unable to swallow food, and wasted away to the point where she couldn’t get out of bed despite the fact that doctors could find nothing wrong with her, at which point my Mother apparently went in, close the door, and told her she would be put in a nursing facility if this bullshit didn’t stop.

Nanny got better.

Anyways, when she did eventually pass away, we went to the funeral only to come home and discover our house had been robbed; thieves had obviously scanned the obituaries and noted the date of the funeral. Our neighbors had noticed the busted window but done nothing but stand around and cluck nervously, so it was up to us to call the cops.

The house was a mess. Drawers had been turned out, everything pushed out of place. They took some jewelry that wasn’t worth much, missed all the cash my mother had hidden around the house, and stole the Commodore 64.

My parents, exhibiting a crafty sort of self-serve justice I’d never seen before and never did see again in them, listed a disk drive on the insurance claim form instead of a tape drive. It was a little shocking, to be honest with you, to see them indulge in some minor insurance fraud. But I got my 1541 single 5.25” disk drive to go along with a new C64, and I was off to the races.

Floppies

The 5.25” floppy disk was an amazing thing. It stored 170 kilobytes of data, but you could cut a notch into the side that would allow you to flip it over and so each disk was instantly doubled, although this did increase the wear and tear a bit.

A few weeks after getting one, a kid at school introduced me to a program called Copy Quick. This was an amazing moment, because it opened up the world of software piracy. From that moment on, I never bought another program, because there were kids at school to trade with. Want a copy of Beach Head? Go find Hector and offer him a copy of Blue Max for it. Get turned down, because no one wanted Blue Max.

It was a whole subculture. We all had lists of the software we owned and we would pore over them and cook up trades like real wheeler-dealers. When someone got their hands on a hot or rare program, it was chaos and excitement as everyone tried to pry it out of their undeserving hands.

None of us thought it was wrong, or illegal. None of us really understood any of it, either. We were early versions of what you might call Script Kiddies: The kids who don’t actually know much about programming but download software and use it. I had no idea how my 1541 disk drive worked. All I knew was that if I wanted to copy a game, I would try a succession of copy programs until I found one that worked: Copy Quick, Fast Hack’Em, dozens of others. They were themselves copied.

By the end of grammar school, I had thousands of games and utilities on floppies. And despite lots of reports that the 1541 disk drive was unreliable, mine worked like a charm and may still be in working condition today, who knows? I still don’t know how any of it actually works, really, despite sporadic attempts to read about programming and hardware and teach myself a few things. But I do sometimes wish I could play some of those old games on the original hardware, especially the mysterious games I never figured out.

Non Comprendo, Compadre

You see, when you copied a game (often from a copy of a copy already) you didn’t get the manuals, and every now and then I got a game in a trade that I simply couldn’t figure out. It would load and appear to work properly, but I would have no idea what to do, what the rules were, how the controls worked. Sometimes you could figure it out. Sometimes my innate idiocy and lack of brains would assert themselves, and the game would remain a mysterious presence, ominous and filled with potential. Combined with the Internet, I could look up those games and totally rock them today.

If I ever invent time travel, that is exactly what I’ll do.

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The Walled City Available

Walled_coverHey all: The new Avery Cates short story, “The Walled City,” is officially available. If you didn’t pre-order it, you can straight-up buy it any time you want, like a boss — even on Nook, which didn’t allow pre-orders for some bizarre reason.

Continuing Avery Cates’ story from “The Shattered Gears,” “The Walled City” sees the aging Gunner tangle with a psionic who has set himself up as a City Lord in the crumbling remnants of civilization.

Here: read an excerpt!

KINDLE

NOOK

KOBO

GOOGLE PLAY

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The Power of a Classic Lack of Choice

Visual Representation of Most People's MySpace Pages.

Visual Representation of Most People’s MySpace Pages.

MANY BOTHANS DIED TO BRING US THIS INFORMATION: So, over at US Weekly (don’t ask how I came across this) they did a little piece on Kim Kardashian’s old MySpace account. You can Us Weekly on KK’s MySpace Monstrosity, and view the pink horror of Princess Kimberly and her 856 MySpace friends. This was in 2006, two years before Facebook arrived on the scene, so people can be forgiven for having a MySpace page. However, I think there’s a lesson here for writing and writers — no, seriously, wait, where are you going? Come back!

So, here’s the thing: Forget Kim Kardashian, just look at that hot mess of a page. Then compare it to Facebook. On the one hand, MySpace should have been the more popular. People can customize their pages, changing colors, adding graphics and music. Facebook is like the Dystopian government of social media: You get one shade of blue and one shade of white and fuck you if you don’t want to see promoted shit. And yet, Facebook is dominant and MySpace … well, people are generally confused to discover that MySpace still exists.

The lesson here for writers is: When it comes to worldbuilding, classic and clean is usually better.

See, back in 2006 you might have been forgiven for assuming that the world of social media and online profiles et al would go the way of MySpace: Increasing customization, increasing personalization. People had some hideous, hideous and horrific (but very personal) MySpace pages back in the day. Don’t believe me, just Google “ugly MySpace pages” and see them in their eye-straining glory. But if you were trying to imagine the kids using the intrawebs back in 2006, or trying to envision what the Super Internet of the future in 2015 would look like back in 2006, you might have used MySpace as a jumping off point and imagined a world where everyone had complete and awful control over the aesthetics of their social media.

Instead, of course, Facebook came along. Like a stern older executive at your company, they don’t allow customization, really. Everyone gets exactly one shade of blue, limited control over what they see and who sees what they post, and generally a uniform and bland visual experience. And people love it. Or at least like it better than the nightmarish universe that was MySpace.

The Lesson

So, the lesson: Be careful when imagining where the world will be — and also when cherry-picking the details you use to establish time and place when your story is set in the present. If you published a novel in 2006 that went on and on about someone’s MySpace page, then welcome to that awkward moment when everyone in the universe will have a moment of eyebrow-raising disruption when they come across this nugget in your story.

Now, we all get things wrong, sometimes. And heck — you might use Facebook in a story today, feeling fairly confident that its 7-year reign of terror over us all will go on forever. But like Kubrick’s use of Pan Am in 2001: A Space Odyssey, even the most established and seemingly rock-solid organizations and corporations can fall, leaving your work sadly dated. This would argue for limiting such references as much as possible. After all, your reference to Facebook might lend your scene a verisimilitude today, and make it feel ancient and outdated three years from now. Keep it classic and clean — which means concentrating more on what your characters are doing rather than the corporate channels they’re using.

And, in case you’re wondering, no, I didn’t have a MySpace page. I actually thought I was too good for social media until 2010 or so, which might explain why I’m so unpopular.

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On Reading Everything

Holy shit this book is awful

Holy shit this book is awful

So, as many may have noticed, I’ve been doing a lot of writing about books lately over at Jeff Bloviating at Barnes and Noble and Jeff Bloviating at About.com. It’s a lot of fun, and since I am one of those people who lives in constant danger of being buried under his immense piles of books that he keeps around his house like some sort of over-educated hoarder, it’s a perfect fit. But it’s also a job, so I am often expected or encouraged to read outside my normal taste, including some things I frankly would not choose to read of my own free will. And you know what? It’s been fantastic.

Here’s the thing: Most books have something to offer. I really do believe that — even the books cynically created by marketing divisions to absorb cash from gullible morons, even those books have something in them that you haven’t seen before, or, if nothing else, are edifying in their sheer monstrous evil hollowness. Reading widely doesn’t mean reading an occasional book you haven’t heard of. It means reading shit you would rather walk on glass than read. It means reading shit by political commentators and authors who resemble corporations with divisions pushing novels out of the corporate colon several times a year and reading immensely popular phenomenon novels that appear to have been written by a drunk superfan of other overwrought phenomenon novels.

It means reading everything.

Not all this stuff is good, of course, but it’s all interesting if you find the right angle. And I’ve found myself reading a few books that I would never have otherwise read that turned out to be awesome and incredibly enjoyable books, and as long as that rate hovers somewhere above 0%, I’m pretty much winning.

The Rut

I’m a man of ruts and habits, deep, deep habits that tend to get ossified over time.If left to my own devices I would be reading nothing but classic novels, old science fiction, and old-school detective fiction, repeated endlessly. If I were to design an experiment to encourage me to read more widely, I might create something like this: One third paid assignments, one third rando recommendations from people, one third drunk shopping on BN.com. Maybe a bit more of the latter, depending on how drunk I am that week. Which, judging from past weeks, is typically pretty drunk.

Anything that breaks me out of my usual routines is a good thing. And reading everything — including some hair-raisingly bad books — and then figuring out a way to comment on those books intelligently (or so I kid myself) has been a blast, and will likely continue to be a blast. Some people act like reading a book they know is outside their wheelhouse and is also probably pretty badly written will somehow infect them and ruin their palette for good books. That’s ridiculous. Read the bad books. Think of something smart to say about them. It’s good for you.

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