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On Food Cannibalism in Commercials

Eat me.

Eat me.

Let’s stipulate that two of the more disturbing things in this world are A) advertising in all forms and B) eating other living things for sustenance. Stipulated. Now, put those things together and generally speaking you’ll get some of the most insane, soul-killing stuff ever committed to paper or video, and anthropomorphic food is definitely at the top of the list. Every time a hot dog dances onto a movie screen singing about treats, I think about that fucking hot dog screaming in horror when someone eats him. The upcoming film Sausage Party gets this, since the entire film is all about anthropomorphic food that thinks being chosen at the grocery store is ascending to paradise, only to be completely horrified to discover what it really means.

So, as with most dark stuff, there’s humor there. Even so, sometimes there are commercials that are so ridiculously strange they make an impression—but what really makes you wonder if you’re living in a computer simulation created by aliens with an imperfect understanding of humanity in general is when the strange commercials all have the same weird, disturbing thing in common.

For example, food eating itself.

You’re Eating Yourself, You Don’t Believe It

Now, on the one hand anthropomorphic food eating itself—eagerly—isn’t necessarily evidence of anything beyond the fact that people working in advertising and marketing are the Worst People in the World (this is a fact, go look it up). I mean, if we imagine that Mrs. Potato Head actually exists as an intelligent, sentient being, then if she chooses to grind up her fellow potatoes and fry them up into delicious chips and then eat them, well, maybe sentient potatoes have different traditions and religious beliefs.

Dig the Trump Hair

Dig the Trump Hair

Or if our breakfast cereal spends its free time chasing its fellows around so it can literally tear them apart with its teeth (teeth?) and eat them alive while they flee in fucking terror, then who am I to say otherwise? Again, maybe sentient cereals have developed a different standard of morality.

I see this in my nightmares, now.

I see this in my nightmares, now.

These are just two of several advertisements for awful processed foods that apparently believe that cannibalism, terror, and the complete and total breakdown of society is an aces way to sell you horrible things. There are the M&Ms commercials, of course, which are not so much cannibalism as simply the predatory consumption of sentient, thinking beings who are completely aware that we all wish to consume them. I mean, seriously, this is a shitshow of psychological horror centered on convincing us to eat food we should never, ever actually eat. (Although, to be fair, Lay’s chips are fucking delicious).

My conclusion is inescapable: As I have long suspected, you all want to eat me.

I Am Delicious

Here’s my unbreakable logic:

  1. Advertising firms have the resources and motivation to get to the bottom of the human psyche. If they can crack the mind-control codes that stumped the CIA during the MK-Ultra years, they can make us give them our money for things like shit cereal that will 100% give you diabetes within a few years.
  2. Thus if all the trends in food advertising use cannibalism and the violent murder and consumption (usually raw) of sentient beings, the Advertising Illuminati must know this will appeal to you. Because you—yes, you—are a horrifying animal who secretly wants to murder and kill me.

I think I’ve proven my point: If you buy Cinnamon Toast Crunch, you’re a murdering cannibal. Or could be a murdering cannibal. Either way, I don’t want to be left alone with you. You can just mail me my Ph.D. in Thinking, I’ll just be sitting here drinking whiskey and watching far too many television commercials about predatory cannibalistic food.

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Weekly Recap June 24, 2016

recapSo, this will be a new thing I do at least until I forget about it sometime in the Fall: A weekly recap of things I’ve posted, announced, linked to, complained about, or otherwise referenced in my social media, private out loud conversations with myself I could swear I transformed into a blog post, or other communications channels.I may be stealing this idea from someone, but since theft is the foundation of all my online promotion, why stop now?

So, this week you may have missed

  1. Infographic Porn 4I wrote an article titled “I Asked Novelists How Hard It Is to Write a Novel” that is pretty much what it says on the tin, and which includes fascinating facts such as the fact that 52% of all published authors admit to the use of black magic to get their publishing deal.
  2. sewer_ratTechnically this was last week, but that fits the general theme of incompetence I wallow in, so I’ll allow it: There’s a new Avery Cates short story coming, but you’ll have to be signed up for my newsletter in order to read it, which is some flat-out illuminati stuff, brah.
  3. snowcountryI wrote a new piece for Barnes & Noble about novels that inspire vacation destinations, including A Fine Balance, one of the best books you’ve never read, Ulysses, and one of the best books you’ve never heard of, Snow Country. Read it here.
  4. rebellionI wrote a piece for About.com touting some of the most patriotic bestselling books you can read in order to celebrate the upcoming 4th of July with a modicum of American literary spirit while you drink a beer that’s literally been renamed America. Read it here. I also wrote a piece for B&N about books that were written in prison, because making the act of writing a novel seem exciting is not easy. Read it here.
  5. A lot of cat-related photos, like this one.

While not technically a part of new business this week, let’s all take a moment to pre-order the upcoming Ustari Cycle novellas: The Stringer, Last Best Day, and The Boom Bands,which are coming to blow your mind very, very soon, plus the anthology Urban Allies which contains my short story co-written with Stephen Blackmoore that combines my Ustari Cycle universe with his Eric Carter universe. And finally, don’t forget The Shattered Gears: Omnibus is just $2.99 right now!

Enjoy your weekend. I plan to drink a lot and complain.

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Authoring is Hard Work

Cats Ate My DeskIn 2002, a year in which otherwise almost nothing I can remember happened, the New York Times reported that “a recent survey” confirmed the worst fears of many Americans: 81% of the country thought they could write and publish a book. Eighty-one percent. Considering there are about 319 million people in the U.S.A. alone, that means about 258 million people figure that someday when they have some spare time they’ll bang out a novel. Or, more accurately, they’ll go find a writer friend they know, drunkenly explain the story idea with helpful doodles on cocktail napkins as visual aids, and then let that writer friend write and publish the book while splitting the profits 70/30.

At first blush, the 81% number seems high, especially when you consider that the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics counts just 129,100 authors and writers in the country as of 2012. Although, when combined with the explosion of self-publishing in recent years, that seems like a dubious number too, especially when you learn that the Bureau also claims the median income for authors and writers is $56,000 a year when most writers are constantly Googling “how to boil shoes for dinner” or “how long can I eat nothing but Ramen before getting scurvy”—although to be fair when you include people like James Patterson or Stephen King or E.L. James in the calculations, that median is going to shoot up quickly.

However, when you think about how many people participate in things like NaNoWriMo every year (more than 300,000 according to the website) and how many people are publishing novels—more than 750,000 traditionally and self-published books annually in the United States alone—it starts to seem like that 81% number might make sense after all.

In reality what this means is that an enormous number of people think they can write and sell a book, but less than 25% of them actually do, one way or another. That’s a big gap, even if we remove those helpful folks who are always offering up brilliant ideas for novels and seeking to split profits and restrict ourselves solely to people who would, you know, actually be willing to write a book. As an author myself, there’s only one explanation for the this discrepancy that makes sense: writing a novel is hella hard. Selling a novel is even harder. Black magic may be involved.

(more…)

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New Avery Cates Story

bey_lord_omniIf you’ve been paying attention, you know that over the last 1+ years I’ve put out six novellas continuing the story of everyone’s acerbic, desperate Gunner, Avery Cates. Those six stories were compiled into an omnibus edition (The Shattered Gears) which is currently just $2.99 as an eBook, and it was received pretty well by fans, and there was much rejoicing across the land. Eventually I have 2 more novels in this narrative to write, though I don’t know when that will happen.

Still, I can’t quit Avery. He’s just so much fun to write for, and it’s always intoxicating to have an excited reader base. So, I’m working on a new Avery Cates short: The Sewer Rat. Here’s a work-in-progress cover for it:

sewer_rat

Now, this is just a short story, and while it fits into the continuity of the new Cates stories, it’s meant to be more or less standalone, meaning it’s not essential reading for continuity’s sake.

To read it, though, you’ll need to be one of two things: 1. Signed up for my newsletter, or 2. Friends with someone signed up for my newsletter.

Wait, Jeff Has a Newsletter?

Do I ever! You can sign up for it with the form on the right:

lookiehere

The newsletter is an informal affair where I’ll announce news, giveaways, and that sort of thing. It’s also where I’ll be sending out The Sewer Rat, a free Avery Cates short story, in July. If you want to read it, sign up for the newsletter and prepare to be amazed. Or start buttering up someone who’s already signed up.

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Admitting Defeat

Dear Mr. Manuscript: BURN IN HELL

Dear Mr. Manuscript: BURN IN HELL

SO, a few months ago I had an idea for a novel. It was a little outside my usual light cone, so it was a little scary. But sometimes the best thing to do when you’re not certain about an idea is to steer into it and see what happens, so I leaped in. 80,000 words later I had something that resembled a novel, and “resembles a novel” is the best I can ever hope for, honestly.

I was meeting with my agent, the also-frightening Janet Reid, doing a check-in kind of thing and I mentioned I might have a new novel for her to read. She asked for the elevator pitch, and I started laying out the premise, when she interrupted me.

“I love that,” she said, “as long as the next words out of your mouth aren’t X, X, or X.”

(Note that “X” here represent tropes, concepts, or buzzwords).

“Well,” I said, abashed. “Actually, it is X, X, and X.”

Janet attempted and failed to appear cheerful. “Well, who knows! Maybe you pulled it off.”

Being informed that your big idea isn’t nearly as original as you thought isn’t uncommon, and being blithely unaware that your big idea has been done to death isn’t uncommon, either, at least for me. I’m full of myself enough to ignore such advice when it suits me, however, so I decided that the way I’d approached the concepts set my novel apart. I polished it and sent a draft to my wife The Duchess for a read-through, as she is uncommonly smart.

A few days later, The Duchess reported on progress. “I’m halfway through, and I was really, really loving it until the end of Part I. Then I read the next chapter and it was X, X, and X, and you know I hate X, X, and X!”

So, friends, at this point as a writer who is at least trying to appear professional, you have three choices: One, assume everyone else is crazy and just barrel ahead with your lame novel; two, put it in a drawer and forget all about it, along with the dozens of other set-aside lame novels; or, three, accept that your original idea wasn’t so great and come up with something better. I went and had a whiskey and thought about it, and almost immediately thought of something better. I’ll have to rip out 40,000 words and start in the middle from scratch, but damn it’s a better idea. Much better than X, X, and X, anyway.

None of this means it’ll sell. It may yet wind up in that Drawer of Dead Novels. But at least for once I didn’t just put my head down like Juggernaut, because I have a tendency to ignore good advice. Even when it’s repeated several times, from different people. There’s still no guarantee that this novel will be successful, or sell, but at least it will be better.

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Let’s Contemplate Death, Want To?

Death Becomes Me

Death Becomes Me

My brother and I have an old routine where we discuss how we’d like to die, if we had our druthers. He always defaults to this fantasy of being diagnosed with some sort of movie disease like a Brain Cloud and having an idyllic six months to live, wherein he will feel more or less normal and have all his faculties, and then simply drop dead. The idea is he’ll have the time to liquidate all of his assets and fly out to Vegas, there to live like a modern-day Caligula until he simply keels over in a hot tub filled with prostitutes and, I presume, whiskey.

While I salute my brother’s dream of drinking himself to death when the last moments come, I deprecate his plan for the obvious reasons: None of us get that kind of warning, I don’t think. Or at least a vanishingly small number of us do. Most of us will either have a bus dropped on us without warning, or our last memories will be do I smell toast? or we’ll have a long, grinding road of misery and pain until we just sort of enter a new state of existence known as barely there.

In short, I haven’t known much death in my time, but I do know this: There is no such thing as a good death.

####

Writing often means you have to concoct good deaths for characters. The closer I hue to reality when it comes to death, the less satisfying people find my stories. People like to see just desserts, noble speeches, epiphanies, and deathbed confessions. They like to see death matter in fiction. I strongly suspect this is because almost always death doesn’t mean anything in life. It just is.

####

I think this topic has been on my mind (more than usual, anyway) because my agent, the Redoubtable Janet Reid, recently suggested that I take steps to set up a Literary Executor, someone who would be empowered to handle my Empire of Words after I’d died of acute alcohol poisoning (or, possibly, something else). Now, when your agent suggests you start looking towards a Post-Life Strategy, it makes you think. As in, I thought, Do I look like I’m fucking dying? It seemed like just a few years ago we were chortling over whiskies at Old Town Bar, plotting my eventual literary domination! Now we’re gently pushing my funeral barge into the water, the scent of lighting fluid all around me.

I’m no Stephen King or Nora Roberts, but I get royalty checks, which means my books sell and someone is making money from them. I’m the last stop on the Money Train, it’s true, but it’s still money. So, sure, when I die of (probably) drinking a fifth of bourbon and wandering into traffic whilst singing Irish folk songs, someone’s gonna have to make some decisions. And if I don’t designate someone, who knows what the hell happens. For all I know I signed a bar napkin a few years ago promising some rando they could have my literary empire. I mean, it’s entirely possible. I sign a lot of things.

####

On the other hand, you can’t think too hard about death when you create stories and universes. You have to be like god: eternal and unblinking, otherwise why bother? I mean, when I think about all the stories and novels I have planned for the coming years, I kind of assume I am eternal and ever-living, like Mumm-Ra. You can’t think, oh, I’d like to write this seven-book Sci Fi series, but … you know, chances are I’ll be dead tomorrow, probably from drinking grain alcohol with a lit candle nearby. Better safe than sorry!

So on the one hand, I have to plan for my own demise, when I will likely find myself on trial with every fly, roach, and cow I’ve ever murdered standing in judgment in the afterlife. On the other hand, I have to pretend I will live forever, like the aforementioned Mumm-Ra, or I will produce nothing. It’s kind of a mind fuck, if you ask me.

If anyone is thinking they might be the ideal choice to be my literary executor, I’m sorry to report the post is filled by The Duchess, who will not be amused if you make any attempts to seize control after my unfortunate death from beer poisoning.

And if you are one of the few who find references to Mumm-Ra, The Ever Living entertaining, y’all are my people.

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The Ones that Get Away

shoplifters-beware-1444139-1279x862Every now and then someone makes a terrible mistake and assumes that because I have published a few novels and stories and such that I know something about publishing and writing. I don’t. Like Jon Snow, I know nothing, and generally go through life feeling like a confused and slightly dimwitted teenager.

One question that comes up relatively frequently concerns protecting your ideas. A lot of people seem to think that Idea Thieves are hanging around all the coffee shops and bars, soaking up any stray novel idea you slur out and rushing off to write that sucker themselves, cashing in for the millions of dubloons that should rightfully be yours. And I have to burst their bubble by telling them that this only happens after your idea starts generating those millions, and even then only very, very rarely. In general no one steals ideas, and any sleep you lose over it is likely misplaced, because there are literally no new ideas anyway.

Case in point: Designated Survivor.

(more…)

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Hermetically Sealed

Perfect

Perfect

Last week, under the commands of our hidden alien overlords beamed directly into our brain implants, The Duchess and I went to see Captain America: Civil War Why Not. This is not a review; the movie was fine for what it is, with my sole pedantic complaint being the incredible surveillance camera located on an isolated road in the middle of fucking nowhere that captured an assassination with perfect clarity, including several impossible camera angles. Other than that incredibly wonky detail, it’s a film with approximately 5,000 characters that somehow hangs together in something at least resembling sense, and for that I salute the filmmakers. Batman V. Superman had 90% fewer characters and plot threads (and laughs) and somehow made 100% less sense, so seriously, Civil War, congratulations on a job … done.

BUT! I have not come here to bury Captain America: Civil War, which if nothing else gifted me with the image of Paul Bettany in full Vision makeup dressed like Mr. Rogers on the Prowl. It’s just that as we walked to the movie theater I experienced what has become pretty typical anxiety, because seeing a movie in the theaters always carries a 50% chance that your audience will made up of Trash People and you will hate life for having joined them.

In other words, bring on the wall-sized TVs that never turn off, as long as they come with first-run movies on the same day as general release.

You All Terrify Me

In general I regard my fellow humans as potential murderers and suspected assholes. It makes my personal relationships fraught with drama. It also means I am always one step away from full-on Howard Hughesdom minus the money, which is the worst form of Howard Hughesdom you can come down with, my friends.

In my old zine The Inner Swine, I constructed a persona that was basically me in full-on Howard Hughes mode, swanning around an underground complex. This is, I have to admit, my ultimate retirement plan: To remain in my house at all times, preferably with blast shields down, and all personal contact with the unwashed masses conducted via video conference. Towards that end, please everyone buy 500 copies of my books immediately.

So, getting back to movies: The other day I was having a conversation about the appeal of going out to the movies, and my conclusions are that they mainly lie in the idea of getting out of the house and interacting with the rest of humanity — the social aspect, in other words. Yes, there’s still some superiority in the sound and vision department, as you don’t yet have the same sized screen at home, or (usually) the same sort of sound system. But we’re getting close, and, frankly, every time I find myself in a movie theater I invariably think you know what would make this even better? My house.

In other words, I picture myself sitting on my couch with a glass of bourbon and a remote control.

The $50 Question

Recently there was some news about a startup hoping to roll out first-run theatrical release movies (like, say, Captain America: Civil What the Ever Living Fuck) and charge people $50 for a 48-hour rental. And people went a little batshit about that price point; after all you pay Netflix somewhere in the $100 range (depending on when you signed up) and can watch as many movies as you like as often as you like. In that context, $50 a movie seems steep.

Others countered that four tickets for ~$20 apiece, plus popcorn and sodas made $50 seem like a bargain. For me there’s the extra, priceless bonus of not having to deal with the worst people in the world, a.k.a. everyone who is not me. Being able to put my feet up and get blackout drunk while watching? Worth it. Not having to listen to someone ask their date sixteen times who Ant Man is? PRICELESS.

So, to sum up, we all look forward to the glorious day when my personal resources and the available technology allow me to remove myself from society completely, including establishing my own distillery on the property so I won’t even need to truck in booze (food is not a problem as food just makes me sick). Until that heady day, my friends, I will continue to complain.

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The Ustari Cycle Novellas: The Stringer

I may have mentioned this several thousand times by now, but Pocket Star will be publishing three eBook novellas set in the blood magic world of The Ustari Cycle this year and next. The novellas are titled The Stringer (August 2016), Last Best Day (October 2016), and The Boom Bands (January 2017) and I am really, really excited for y’all to read them.

The covers are final, I think — or at least the cover for The Stringer is, because it’s up on all the store sites, so here you go:
Stringer.jpg
They’ve also revamped the covers for Fixer and We Are Not Good People to make the series cohesive, and those will pop up in due time. In the mean time, The Stringer and the other novellas are all available for pre-order, so why not go and, um, pre-order them?

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