More Shit I Gotta Do

The Perils of Podcasts

LET ME TELL YOU ABOUT MY BOOK HE-YAW, HE-YAW!

LET ME TELL YOU ABOUT MY BOOK HE-YAW, HE-YAW!

As you may or may not know I am likely the most incompetent self-promoter in the universe, which is problematic when you live in the age of the Shrunken Publishers who basically buy your novel and then then wave vaguely at the wide world and wish you the best of luck promoting your book. Part of my incompetence is in the planning, certainly; I have never claimed to be skilled at or even knowledgeable about marketing or PR, and I literally often have no idea what I should be doing. Or not doing. So far all I’ve figured out is

SHOULD BE DOING: Wearing pants.

SHOULD NOT BE DOING: Cursing at people on the assumption that they have not bought my book.

That’s it. But I’m also incompetent on the doing of self-promotion as well. For example, I recently did a promotional thing and broke all the rules of a good live reading and interview appearance: I was not prepared, I got flustered, I got out of breath and spent the entire forty-five minute experience sounding like someone had recently kicked me in the groin and about a second or so away from passing out.

Once you lose your breath under pressure, my experience tells me, you’re screwed, because you need a few minutes of calm in order to get yourself under control, which means a few minutes of dead silence while the person or audience listens to you breathing (and possibly sobbing, or glugging down booze, or possibly all of those things).

Which brings me to the lesson here: Be prepared? Sure, see how that works out for you. No, the lesson is to always be drunk when doing any sort of appearance.

I am not kidding. In the words of Professor Jennings from Animal House: “I’m not joking. This is my job!”

Now, I’m not talking about being ripped, staggering about shouting. I’ve done that, and it is not effective promotion. Back before The Electric Church was published, I was invited to a launch party by my publisher. I’d recently been asked to consider writing sequels to the book, and so I thought: Jebus, this is it, I will henceforth be rich and famous and adored by millions and able to leverage that adoration into an income the likes of which has never been seen! Or something to that effect. I’d already written about half the sequel, and was really full of myself. So I got really, really drunk and began shouting all sorts of things I now regret. I can’t forget this because The Duchess reminds me of it any time we go out to an industry party, with the implication that she will knock me unconscious if I try to repeat the performance.

No, what I mean is: Have a drink. Sit for twenty minutes with a scotch, or a glass of wine or a beer and relax. Have two! Then stop, because your goal is a nice buzz, not staggering around in Hulk Jeff mode as described above.

I’ll never get this particular appearance back, and maybe it wasn’t as bad as it felt at the time (it was). My sole comfort is that no one is paying much attention to me anyway, so very few people will notice this when it goes live. Which means I might as well not wear pants and get horribly drunk anyway, right?

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The Lazy Writer’s Problem: Wikipedia

Tell you what ... you do it.

Tell you what … you do it.

The conundrum is classic: They tell you, as a young writer, that you should always “write what you know.” The idea is sound enough: If you stick to things you know something about from personal experience — be it people to base characters on, or outlandish stories that actually happened, or the infinite details of a trade or hobby — then your writing will always ring true. It was shimmer with that special realistic gravity that sucks people in.

There are limitations, of course. Say you’re halfway through your novel and the plot problems would be solved if someone, say, joined the army. Great! Except you’ve never joined the army. In fact, uniforms, exercise, and weapons — the three main ingredients of military service, peppered with humiliation, violence, and busy work — are so not your thing. You wind up facing the horror that Lazy Writers everywhere fear most: Research.

The Bad Old Days

Of course, in the Bad Old Days, research generally meant either hitting the books at a library or actually doing the thing you needed research on. The former, while affordable and possible no matter your circumstances, was often deadly dull. The latter was only possible if you were a Gentry Writer living off the fumes of a trust fund or something — the rest of us, proles all, were forced to work Day Jobs and do our research on the margins.

Ah, but then the Internet! Suddenly, Lazy Writers like me could just look stuff up. Need to know what a street looks like in a small town in France? Try Google Street View. Everything is out there if you dig hard enough, and you don’t have to put on pants and walk out into the sunlight to the library, or book a flight to France just to snap some photos.

The Bad Old Now

However, disaster looms for we Lazy Writers, because, as usual, Trolls are ruining everything. Wikipedia has always been a dubious place to do real research — you would never have used Wikipedia as the basis for anything serious. Novel research, however — why not. After all, 90% of a novel is made up anyway. Wikipedia was filled with misinformation and politically-motivated edits, yes, but for quick, basic stuff you could at least use it as a starting point.

No more; the Trolls have ruined it. A decline in working editors, an ever-expanding and torturous set of rules in an increasingly insulated Wikipedia, and a growing amount of bullshit going uncaught in the online encyclopedia has put the nail in it: If you want to be a Lazy Writer, you’re screwed.

Worse, a recent experiment found that small errors purposefully introduced to Wikipedia lingered for very long periods of time, meaning that your chances of picking up a detail you think makes you sound smart will actually make you sound incredibly stupid. This, of course, is the fear of the Lazy Writer.

So what does it all leave us with? A lot of novels about being sad, mildly-employed alcoholics, because now all of us Lazy Writers have to Write What We Know.

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America’s Next Idiot Model: I Spent a Day Wearing Scrubs

Yes, I was beaten several times for being too pretty.

Yes, I was beaten several times for being too pretty.

This originally appeared in The Inner Swine Volume 19, Issue 3/4.

So, 1:30PM on a Sunday and I’m a plastic surgeon’s office in Manhattan, wearing hospital scrubs and eating a free lunch. I’ve been here since 9AM, along with approximately six thousand other people: A photographer and his assistants, a wardrobe person, a producer, three professional models and many extras, of which I am one.

How I wound up here is unimportant. Suffice to say I didn’t seek out a one-day career as a model, it was thrust upon me. By The Duchess. Need I say more? Probably, but I won’t.

Hurry Up: Wait

I will say this: Modeling, even the half-assed form of it I engaged in wherein I was basically a warm body needed for background shots, a piece of human staging and decoration, is fucking hard work. Obviously not “hard work” in the sense of, say, working in a mine or sewing shoes for Nike in some unventilated Chinese factory, but hard enough for a pudgy boy like myself, used to frequent marinating in liquor and lots of nap time.

First of all: The waiting. You have to show up on time, natch, but then there is a lot of sitting around while they get their shit together or work with other people. So I sat there all morning writing. Not a bad deal, if you’re getting paid – sit around and work on a novel, go home with a check.

But if anyone out there has ever had to put in some serious waiting, you know it’s actually hard work. Reality distorts around you. You begin eating everything in sight. You watch the battery drain on your laptop in despair. After after being somewhat productive for a few hours, you find you just can’t work any more and goddamn you just want the photographer to call your name and ask you to do something. Anything. This is how people are lured into pornography. They hire you to ?model’ and make you sit around for hours and hours until you snap and when they say “Hey, wouldn’t it be fun if you took off your top?” you think God yes ANYTHING to relieve the boredom and six weeks later you’re starring with Lindsay Lohan in The Canyons 2: Electric Boogaloo and weeping in public toilets.

But I digress.

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Why I’ll Never Be an Actor

A face for radio!

A face for radio!

So, the other day I was recorded reading a brief excerpt of We Are Not Good People for The Author’s Corner, a public radio program. When I was initially approached for this, I was excited, of course, and also pretty confident. I’ve done a fair share of readings, after all, and I think I have a good sense of what works in a reading and how to read my own work so it’s a little entertaining. I’m fairly confident in my voice; while I don’t think it’s some sort of Saruman-like instrument, people don’t run screaming when I start to read some fiction. Or, more commonly, when I stand up in a tavern and begin to recite The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock from memory, as I am wont to do.

As usual, life noticed me being cocky and confident, and decided that Somers boy needs to be taught a lesson.

First, the first twelve or so excerpts from the book I submitted were rejected. We only had about a minute to work with, so the excerpt had to do a lot of work: Be entertaining, be coherent, have an arc and a point, not be too gory or profanity-laden (that last one, from a book written by me and involving blood magic, was a doozy). Finding the ideal piece to read was a struggle, and just when I thought we’d failed, I hit on the perfect excerpt: The very beginning of the book.

Triumph! We were both happy with that choice. So I sailed into the offices of my redoubtable lit agent and met the producer of the show. He unpacked his equipment and created a mini-studio in an unused office, and we started working on a very brief introduction. This was harder than expected, too, but we finally nailed it down and I commenced reading. And discovered I could never be an actor.

Which I guess I knew.

Take after take, the producer gave notes. Good notes, really. Smart notes. And while I always considered myself at least modestly facile with performance — see my leading man-caliber performances as part of Two Men Have Words, for instance — even I knew that I wasn’t really nailing it. I knew what I wanted to do, how I wanted it to sound, and yet when I read it I would lose the thread of what I was hearing in my head and it would be … not so good.

Actors, I imagine, have to go through something like that. Being told their performance was just not … quite right, do it again. And then that the version they gave five minutes ago was 98% right, but this most recent one was only 60%. And then you finally nail one bit that was problematic, and feel great, only to hear that there are 15 more things to tweak. It’s exhausting. It didn’t exactly make me think that actors deserve the tens of millions of dollars they get for their films, but it drifted me a little closer to that conclusion.

In the end, I got it right. For about eighty total seconds of audio we worked for an hour and a half. It’s probably the longest I’ve gone without a drink in years.

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Jeff’s Guide to Reading Good

Jeff at Noir at the Bar NYC 10-5-14

Jeff Struggling Not to Faint at Noir @ the Bar 10-5-14

So, in support of my new novel We Are Not Good People (you may have heard me mention it one billion times so far), I’ve been doing more public appearances than usual. Which is to say: More than none public appearances. I like meeting people who like my books, and enjoy conversations about books and such (especially if the conversation skews towards how awesome I am), but I also fear people and often feel very awkward with my fellow humans, so I don’t do a lot of public stuff.

But, when you have a novel you need to sell, you get out there and shake your awkward, slightly hairy ass (slightly?). I trooped to the Brooklyn Book Festival, I did a reading at Shade in Manhattan with some MWA peeps, I did a very short radio reading that I assume will go live at some point soon … I went to New York Comic Con this year as a guest speaker. All the public speaking got me thinking about it, and about book readings in general.

Jeff’s Guide to Reading in Public

I’ve done my share of book readings at this point. I’ve read in bars, in bookstores, to crowds and (literally) to no one. I’ve done my work. And so I have a few simple guidelines that I think work well for me. And, since I’ve also been an audience member at all these readings, I also think these rules of thumb would work for other writers as well.

The disclaimer is, your mileage may vary, and my limitations are not necessarily your limitations. So feel free to ignore my advice here. These are my general impressions after having been involved in a ton of readings over the years – take my advice or leave it.

  1. Don’t read dialogue. A section where two (or, god help us, more) characters are speaking can be really, really confusing to the audience. Your ability to do voices is probably not nearly as good as you think, and reading each line in the same nervous monotone makes figuring out which character is speaking really tough.
  2. Don’t read for more than 5-10 minutes. And lord, skewing closer to 5 is better. Time yourself at home. Trust me when I say no one wants to hear you drone on for 20 minutes, and if you’re sharing the night with other writers going long is just rude.
  3. Practice. I am always amazed when an accomplished writer with a lot of success publishing their work gets up, flips to a page in their book, and staggers through a section like they only recently learned to read, much less like they themselves actually wrote the words. You may think that because it’s your prose you’re golden, but trust me: Read it out loud a few times before the event rolls around.
  4. Edit. When you’re reading, you’ll probably hit a few moments when you stumble because reading out loud is different from reading in your head. Don’t be afraid to edit slightly to make it easier on yourself and easier for your audience to follow.
  5. Have fun. You’ll trip over words anyway, or mispronounce things, or trip over sound wires or something. Don’t worry. Just have fun, and remember this: Very few people will leap up from their chairs and rush out to buy your book based on a 5-minute reading. You’re there for the camaraderie and the exposure, not to start a cult.

Finally, try to choose a scene in your book that captures tone, but doesn’t require everyone know the plot – stopping to explain things just drags everything down.

Those are my thoughts. You are, of course, free to completely ignore me or even show up at my next reading and heckle me until I cry. At which point my wife will beat you up, so be careful.

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Noir at the Bar NYC

The Authors Right before The Fisticuffs.

The Authors Right before The Fisticuffs.

So, last night I participated in a reading at Shade bar in New York City – Noir at the Bar NYC, to be exact – organized by Thomas Pluck. I joined Tom, Sj Rozan, Cathi Stoler, Tim Hall, Rob Brunet, Albert Tucher, and Angel Colón in reading from our work and giving away copies of our books to the audience, and it was easily one of my fave reading experiences.

I read, of course, from We Are Not Good People and implored everyone to buy a copy on Tuesday like a good little author (Kirkus Reviews calls the book an “insistently entertaining novel”!!). I think it was a pretty good performance, albeit not my best. I did manage to be just drunk enough, which is a fine line when it comes to public speaking.

I also traded books with a few folks (the bartender won a copy of WANGP and was really, really excited about it, which I’ll take as a good sign) – including snagging a copy of Tom Pluck’s Blade of Dishonor, and I actually won a copy of Tim Hall’s Dead Stock:

IMG_20141006_135250

Nestled inside of Dead Stock, in fact, was a signed original page from the manuscript!

IMG_20141006_135323

In other words: I won the night. I even got home with a public urination summons, for a change.

Thomas Pluck also read a story of his that I thought was easily the best of the evening (with a close second being Tim Hall’s piece), and told him so, which is rare as I usually only like my own stories. So his must have been good! All in all, a great event. If you missed it, it will likely feature on your list of regrets on your deathbed.

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Upcoming Events!

October 7, 2014

October 7, 2014

I’ll be showering, putting on pants, and showing up in public twice in the next week or so, kids, and you should make plans to come, buy me drinks, and tell me how well I’m doing with the whole pants thing.

Noir @ the Bar: I’ll be reading from We Are Not Good People on Sunday, October 5th, at Shade Bar (241 Sullivan Street, NY, 212-982-6275) at 6:30pm. I’m one of several writers showing up, and I’ll also be selling copies of WANGP and giving away bookmarks and stickers if anyone wants them. Also, probably weeping. Definitely drinking. Possibly running out on a bar bill.

NY COMIC CON: Whoa nelly, I’ll be back at NYCC again this year. At 1:15pm on Friday, October 10th, I’m participating in a panel called Playing with Magic along with A.M. Dellamonica, George Hagen, Gordon Andrews, Ilona Andrews, Kim Harrison, Sam Sykes, and Steve Saffe, moderated by Lev Grossman.

THEN, I’ll be at the Pocket/Gallery Booth (Booth #1828) to sign copies of We Are Not Good People for anyone who dares to show up. Be there to comfort me or insult me, I don’t care, I’m numb to it all now. I mean, yay!

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Brooklyn Book Festival

October 7, 2014

October 7, 2014

When people live in New Jersey, the borough of Brooklyn is viewed with much anxiety and excitement, because it’s relatively unexplored by we Jerseyans. Myths and legends abound, but there’s is precious little actual information. We hear tales of men with outrageous facial hair and people amassing small fortunes via Air BnB, but when you go there it’s pretty much just like every other urban area. When I was given the opportunity to spend an hour signing We Are Not Good People at the Mystery Writers of America‘s table at the Brooklyn Book Festival recently, I agreed because so far wishing very hard hasn’t resulted in anyone paying attention to my book, and because I am always looking for ways to defy the various restraining orders that bookstores have on me.

It was a sultry day. So sultry I almost swooned several times, and had to be resuscitated by my friends Ken West and Sean Ferrell, who showed up demanding I pay them monies I owed them, then stuck around on orders from The Duchess, who feared I would slip away without supervision to the nearest bar.

Ken offers me a quarter for my book while Sean laughs uproariously, delighted at my humiliation.

Ken offers me a quarter for my book while Sean laughs uproariously, delighted at my humiliation.

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Upcoming Events

October 7, 2014

October 7, 2014

SO, I have a book coming out. A book you should totally buy! TOTALLY. If you need a reason, here’s the review of the book from Publisher’s Weekly:

“Somers conjures a riveting setting that bends and breaks time and again, each iteration raising the stakes for his accidental hero.”

In service of promoting this book, I have committed myself to several public appearances which will either be exciting moments of Beatlemania-esque euphoria or me slowly getting mean drunk, sitting alone and undisturbed at a table piled high with books.

For your convenience, here’s a rundown of my forays into the public sphere so you can mark your calendars and start haranguing your friends and family to come out to see me.

SUNDAY, 9/21: The Brooklyn Book Festival! I’ll be there, floating around until 4:30PM at which point I will be at the MWA table (#624) selling/signing copies of We Are Not Good People and giving away some stuff.

SUNDAY, 10/5: Noir at the Bar – I’ll be appearing at Shade Bar in NYC (241 Sulllivan Street) as part of this amazing reading series, along with several other crime/thriller writers. 6PM – 8PM, and I’ll have copies of WANGP as well!

FRIDAY, 10/10: New York ComicCon! I’ll be loitering around the Gallery Books/Simon & Schuster booth, being shooed away every now and then by security, and I’ll do a book signing there at some point. Then I’m participating in a panel moderated by Lev Grossman: Playing with Magic at 1:15PM. After that, probably being ejected by security.

Come by, and get an early copy of WANGP with the added bonus of getting me to sign it – or, if you prefer, making me cry with personal insults. The choice is yours!

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