Writing

The Writing Bona Fides: Software

The Page Cannot be Displayed by Jeff Somers

The Page Cannot be Displayed by Jeff Somers

I’m a lazy, lazy, lazy man. I mean, just writing that sentence exhausted me, and I had to go and have a shot of whiskey to regain my energy and lust for life.

I’m also an easily distracted man. I can’t remember what I used to be like pre-Internet, but with the Internet sitting on my desktop, I am a cocaine monkey.

So, to recap; I am lazy and have the attention span of a small fly. And yet I am a professional writer of some success. Let’s not quibble on what the precise meaning of success is in this context. Or professional. Or quibble. Let’s just say I have sold some books and make a living with words, and yes, there are plenty of teachers in the Jersey City School System who would be very amazed to discover this.

When interacting with folks who want to be writers themselves, I get a couple of standard questions. You can probably guess a few of them — what’s my process, will I read their manuscript, will I please give them back their cocktail, which totally wasn’t mine to just grab off the bar — but a couple always confound me, especially questions about the software I use when writing a novel.

I usually respond by grabbing them by the lapels and screaming are you going to buy me a whiskey or what until they flee. But the questions stick with me, because whenever I answer I feel like a fraud.

The Stipulations

First, a stipulation. This is important.

I am a moron.

No, seriously — I’m an idiot. A charming, handsome, well-spoken, pantsless idiot. I am frequently ill-informed, I sometimes have trouble hearing people and pretend I understand what they’re saying, I parrot opinions all the time and am easily confused and defeated in rhetorical competition. In short, for god’s sake my experiences are my own and mine alone and nothing I say here is meant in any way as a proclamation. In other words, there are many, many paths to writing a novel or having a freelance writing career. If your experience differs from mine, that’s great! I am a moron.

The Edumacation of Jeff Somers

The software question mystifies me, because writing a novel is the most straightforward thing you can imagine. You have an idea. You tell a story. It’s literally a process of putting one word after another until you have, oh, 80,000 of them. That’s it. It’s that easy. That’s one reason I aspired to being a writer in the first place, because it’s easy.

Of course, not everyone thinks it’s easy. I can understand that. Because it actually isn’t all that easy — the process is easy. The intellectual effort of creating characters, premise, action, and coherent narrative is hard. But writing is and always will be the act of putting one word after the other. Until about 20 years ago, I wrote novels on a manual typewriter. On paper. I still have drawers stuffed full of hardcopy manuscripts. When I grudgingly switched to writing on a computer because no one wanted to receive 400 pages of typescript covered in coffee stains, correction fluid, and shocking pornographic doodles, I used an open source, free word processor and still do (Libre Office, currently).

And that’s it.

The idea of using complicated software to track plot arcs, characters, and other minutiae frankly mystifies me. The idea that any App or software is helpful in any way is mystfiying to me. I’ve never felt the need for it, and can’t see the benefit, and that alternatively makes me feel smug and triggers my Imposter Syndrome.

Imposter Syndrome

Sometimes the accoutrements of a profession, the jargon of a profession are comforting. You might not be at the top of your profession, but at least you know how to use the super secret tools that the rubes don’t even know exist. At least you know the passwords. So when people ask me about the tools I use to write fiction and my answer is literally “Uh: words?” and they give me that look I know so well from all the times I have emerged from pub restrooms without my pants, I wonder if maybe I am fooling myself. Can you be a professional if you don’t use any tools?

At other times my answer to that last question is fuck yeah you can. But the use of specific tools can make you feel like you’re at least part of the club. When I’m on panels or in informal gatherings and a writer starts talking about the complex array of tools they use to write their novels, I do start to feel a little like the Slow Cousin, and I wonder, if only briefly: Would my work be better, or would there be more of it, or would it sell better if I started using some kind of magical software?

And then I am usually distracted by alcohol and forget all about it.

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Writing Lessons from Assholes

I WILL CUT A BITCH

I WILL CUT A BITCH

I was an indifferent student, because I am the Laziest Man Ever Born. To this day the fact that I actually earned a college degree is kind of amazing, not because I’m dumb, but because it’s difficult for 2016 Jeff to believe that College Jeff actually performed the bare minimum of work in order to achieve a BA in English, which is the Do Nothing Bitch of college undergraduate degrees. Most of my memories of my college days involve a television, so the degree thing is a mystery.

I do have one memory that I like to tell people about because it a) makes me look smart and b) underscores the ridiculous nature of academics in general — and now I can add a third reason: c) there’s a lesson about writing in it. So let’s recount the glorious Moment Jeff Made a Professor Look Stupid.

The Glorious Moment Jeff Made a Professor Look Stupid

I was taking some laugher of a 200 level English course; I honestly can’t even remember what it was. Tortured Rhyme Schemes in Early 19th Century Poetry? Inscrutable Medieval Symbolism 203? Allegory for Potheads? I have no idea. It was a 200 level course so I can assume my strategy was to attend as few classes as possible and bring Other Stuff to Do when I did attend.

We had to write a paper at some point, with the stress that we had to cite original sources and all that usual drama. Again, I have no recollection of what the paper was supposed to be about. I know I hit up the library (my god if the Internet had existed I would never have had to leave my dorm room/apartment during college), wrote my paper, and handed it in. And when I got it back, I’d been given a big fat D.

Now, I was never very ambitious about my academics, sure, but this was fucking bullshit: A D? On an English paper? No fucking way. I wasn’t ambitious, but I had pride. So I scheduled an appointment with the professor and asked why.

The professor, as I recall, wasn’t a full-on professor (200 level class, remember) and might have been a grad student or something, possibly a homeless man recruited to watch us for an hour twice a week, who knows. Like I said, my memory is sketchy and very much like Homer Simpson’s habit of imagining himself in a tuxedo when he tries to remember his evenings. I had no curiosity about his status then, and certainly no memory of it now. I remember he had shaggy, thinning blondish hair and big moon glasses and a nervous tic that involved licking the corner of his mouth with his tongue. And he told me, in condescending tones, that I’d obviously plagiarized the paper.

I think my head almost exploded. You can accuse me of a lot of things and I won’t care. Say that I have poor fashion sense and hygiene? Fine. A tendency towards run-on sentences and semi-colon abuse? You may well be right. The musical talent of a wallabee? Fine. But suggest that I plagiarized something and Jeff Smash. So I asked him how he’d come to this conclusion, and he told me that the writing style was far too academic and elevated. I asked him if he’d found, you know, actual proof of plagiarism, and he said no, but he knew no one at my age could write the way the paper was written.

So I asked him if I could show him plenty of other examples of my writing that was at that level, would he change my grade? He said he would, so I brought him five boxes of manuscripts and papers from recent years. He took one look at the boxes, said he believed me, and changed my grade. The kicker? This paper that was so well-written he assumed it was plagiarized? He gave me a B. A FUCKING B.

Still. Angry.

The Writing Lesson

I think of this today because it actually points out one of the often-overlooked aspects of writing, in terms of that dreaded word craft: mimicry. Copying someone’s writing style is challenging, and while you certainly don’t want to steal someone’s style for your own, it’s a very useful exercise. Writing in a styler or voice that isn’t your own gives you an objectivity about word choice, phrasing, and other technical aspects of language that you sometimes get blinded to when it’s your own creative output.

I never realized how often I mimic what I’m reading until that unfortunate day when I came within seconds of murdering a pudgy teacher. Since then, I’ve been much more aware — I do it more or less without thinking about it. If I’m reading a book and really into it, I’ll start cribbing bits and pieces of the style, stealing tricks, and after a few weeks I’ll more or less be writing a pastiche of the style in question. Now that I’m aware of it, it’s a tool: I can indulge in it, learn something, work on something different from my normal stuff, and then keep whatever’s useful and incorporate it into my own evolving style.

And all it took to learn this was an awkward encounter with a smug teacher and a brief, passing interest in my own academic career.

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880

I GOT BLISTERS ON ME FINGERS

I GOT BLISTERS ON ME FINGERS

Ever have one of those moments when you think about something and realize some insane fact or statistic? Happens to me all the time. I’ve mentioned my casual relationship with time before; things just slip by me, and that also translates to being generally unaware of statistics about my life. Like how old I am. Or how many pairs of pants I’m currently wearing (the Margin of Pants Error is HUGE).

So today I was wondering how many freelance articles I wrote this year. Don’t why it occurred to me to think about it; generally I’m much more interested and concerned about how much money I’ve earned writing freelance pieces, as money can be readily exchanged for liquor, whereas vague reflections on the professional year that was usually cannot. So I sat down and counted them all, and the number is 880.

Eight hundred and eighty.

Now, more than half of those you won’t see my name next to, as they were ghost-written. And thank god. A lot of freelance writing is like doing porn: You’re not ashamed, per se, because it takes skills most people don’t have and you got paid for it. But it doesn’t mean you want the relatives looking it up online when you come home for the holidays. But that does leave more than 400 essays and articles that do bear my name, and at any rate 880 is just a big number. And December just started. It’s possible, though unlikely, I’ll hit 1,000 before the year’s out.

At any rate, even if I got hit by a bus tomorrow and couldn’t write good no more, I’d still average more than 2 articles a day, and since I spend my weekends in an alcoholic haze that means I actually average much more on a typical work day. That just makes me sleepy. Who was this energetic, motivated person cranking out these writings? Not me, certainly. I like to sleep in, nurse my hangovers, and read essays about Doctor Who Easter Eggs online.

In-between all that freelance writing, I also wrote one novel, got about 50% through two other novels, wrote a number of essays for other websites in the spirit of self-promotion, and 24 short stories with one more about 90% finished as I sit here. And submitted 23 of those stories to markets, selling exactly one. And that doesn’t even count blog posts — oh so many blog posts. I am, without meaning to be, one busy motherfucker.

What’s my point? Aside from once again underscoring the fact that my sole skill in this life is tapping a keyboard in creative ways, it goes to show the value of putting your head down. I didn’t start the year with a stretch goal of 1,000 freelance articles plus assorted fiction. I started the year thinking about writing one piece that day to make a certain amount of money. It’s the same with a novel or a short story. Start with the first line, go from there. Don’t think about how many you’ve piled up. Word count is useful, but distracting: Ignore it until you need to know what it is (i.e., when you’re sending it somewhere for submission or evaluation).

I am suddenly exhausted, so my stretch goal of improving the Margin of Pants Error has to be deferred until 2016. I’m sure you understand.

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You’re the Worst Gets Authorin’

What is this thing your people call "shame"?

What is this thing your people call “shame”?

There’s a pretty-good-to-great comedy on FX right now called You’re the Worst. The premise is simple: It’s an anti-romcom, a story about two more or less immature, selfish assholes who get into a relationship and have to deal with the fact that they’re basically assholes, as are their friends to a large extent. It can be intermittently hilarious, as the show so far has walked a fine line between depicting its characters as believably monstrous without turning them into monsters. In short, I can often see the seeds of real human behavior that isn’t often depicted on your normally feel-good, stupor-inducing television in here.

But who cares about that, because clever TV shows are the norm these days (seriously, I am still recovering from the emotional black hole that was the Rick and Morty season two finale). I am not here to lather faint praise on You’re the Worst because it occasionally makes me giggle. I am here to lather faint praise upon You’re the Worst because it may be the first TV show in history to realistically portray what it’s like to be a published author who isn’t a bestseller. It’s so good it hurts.

(more…)

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How Do You Deal with Your Encroaching Death?

UNDOUBTEDLY how the universe sees my demise.

UNDOUBTEDLY how the universe sees my demise.

I get antsy whenever I don’t write much. I don’t deal with word count much, as word count is a stat porn for people who like stat porn (i.e., people who somehow think that a steaming pile of words is somehow an accomplishment in and of itself, or people who enjoy measuring the coffee spoons and afternoons of their life as if any of it aside from the finished product means anything at all) but I like to close out every day feeling like I’ve accomplished a lot of work. This is all I have, after all; no one is going to be talking about the way Jeff Somers revolutionized chess or how he re-invented the modern cocktail or that one classic guitar riff he wrote.

Chances are they also won’t be discussing my writing, sure, but it’s the only chance I have.

So, I get really freaked out any day that I don’t make progress in whatever projects I’m working on. It all has to do with my absolute terror of death, of course. As a man with no faith, no spirituality, and a liver the size of Maine, mortality is more or less all I think about. It’s all that drives me.

It makes sense; in school and when I had a day job I was that guy who left everything to the last minute, then did like 5 weeks worth of homework and project work in one evening, wild-eyed and desperate. And somehow pulled through with a decent grade or performance review, because I am a genius at skimming by. A fucking genius. Deadlines work for me, so why shouldn’t the Ultimate Deadline work more or less to motivate me to write in a constant panic? And also to drink heroic amounts of booze, yes. No doubt when death finally appears in my office, it’ll go like this:

DEATH: Jeff Somers, your time has come!

JEFF: Dude, I’ve been waiting. Have a toast with me!

DEATH: <examining the Jaba-like form of Jeff Somers> Hmmmn….I hadn’t counted on your liver being quite so … large. And glowing. And … hot? Is it hot? How does that happen?

JEFF: I got a deal on some Russian whiskey made in the general Chernobyl area.

DEATH: Hold on. I’ll need to call in some help. Do you know anyone who owns a truck and might be near death? A smoker, maybe?

If they ever invent immortality — and jebus, let’s hope they do — then I don’t know what I’ll do. Aside from procrastinate, probably by watching all 37 seasons of Rick and Morty over and over again and, yes, drinking. And I don’t understand people who don’t spend all their free time tapping at keyboards (or playing instruments, or shorting stock markets, or murdering people, or whatever it is that brings you joy) and just sort of hesitate. Like, I know a writer who has been working on one book more or less his whole life. It’s never ready, never done, and yet he hardly works on it. HUge swaths of time go by and he doesn’t touch it. It’s horrifying.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to spend the next few hours working on three manuscripts and making my way through a bottle of Russian whiskey that has an odd blue glow to it. Vashe zrodovye!

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What Do You Do for Money, Honey?

Jeff doing freelance writing research.

Jeff doing freelance writing research.

So, I decided to become a freelance writer, which is a story I’ve told before. Writing is my only marketable skill, after all. Despite our modern ways I have yet to find someone to pay me to drink copiously and utter drunken bon mots, and the idea of a Kickstarter or Patreon just doesn’t sit well with me. Nothing wrong with it, of course, but I don’t like the sense of obligation. I much prefer to write what I want when I want and then randomly publish it and beg for money in return. I don’t like promising a monthly delivery or something like that. It’s a road to trouble, for me. I’d wind up just passive aggressively hating all my supporters, writing stories about their gruesome deaths and creating temporary email accounts in order to send them drunken threats. So the whole crowdfunding thing is out.

But, sadly, writing novels hasn’t turned into the golden highway of money I was promised, so I need to hustle a bit, and so: Freelance writing. Today I’m having a pretty good time with it, writing about books at Barnes and Noble and About.com, writing about my hometown at Life in Hoboken, and doing a few other projects here and there. But in the early days of my freelance career things got dark, fast.

(more…)

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Single-Serving Culture

Somery has nothing to do with Somers.

Somery has nothing to do with Somers.

It’s a funny old life, ain’t it? There was a time when I bought albums — old-school, long-form recordings with a bunch of songs. I often bought albums by bands I loved without having heard a single song from them. I’d buy older albums from before I discovered some band, and if they came out with a new one I’d buy it immediately.

I used to love the weird candy-like smell of a new cassette.

I bought new albums by AC/DC and NOFX the moment I could, excited to hear what they had for me.

Sure, sometimes I’d be a little disappointed. I’d discover half an album was just complete bullshit. Or I’d realize I’d paid $5.99 or whatever for an album that was thirty minutes and eight songs long, four of which I didn’t care for. But usually if I bought an album blind there was a reason for it. And sometimes I’d be blown away by the unknown. I bought Exile in Guyville based solely on what I’d heard about it, and was instantly — and more or less permanently — glad I did.

Those were the days. This week I purchased The Most Lamentable Tragedy by Titus Andronicus and realized it was the first album I’d bought in a long, long time. Usually, I just buy single songs as I hear them, because I had that epiphany: Most of the albums I’ve bought over my lifetime were at least 20% filler, some as much as 80% filler. And when I converted my old analog collection to digital years ago, I shed a lot of albums, keeping just the songs I liked and actually listened to. My decision to buy the new TA album had everything to do with the first two songs they released from it: Dimed Out and Fatal Flaw are perfect songs, and it gave me a giddy moment of optimism. For that moment, I was fifteen again and my faith in the long-form was restored.

It’s a rare moment. Albums just seem unnecessary to me these days: If I like a three-minute song, why in the world would I buy nine more I’ve never heard? And if I end up liking all ten songs and overpaying for the album, it evens out on all the other songs I don’t waste money on, I figure.

Some will argue that albums are discrete works of art, and need to be listened to and experienced as intended: As a set, a collection, a sequence. Some albums are this, yes, and even then your mileage will vary. For every Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (and there are still two songs on that one I skip every single time) there will be a Kilroy Was Here, an album I almost bought when I was seventeen because I was going through a strange Styx fascination. In other words, just because some musician thinks I ought to listen to their songs in a certain sequence doesn’t mean I give a shit.

So, it’s mainly single-serving songs for me. And it’s weird to realize that my listening and buying habits have changed so drastically over the years. Some of this is simply the freedom that new technology affords me: MP3s and digital platforms have made it possible to sample entire albums and decide ahead of time if you want to actually own every single track on the album. This is a superpower for someone my age; back in The Day the only way you got to sample an entire album was a) if a friend of yours already owned it or b) if a local record store had a listening station, or maybe c) if your library stocked albums to borrow. In other words, it wasn’t easy, and frankly if a friend owned the album and was willing to lend it I probably just dubbed it onto cassette anyway.

The Pale: An Avery Cates Story

The Pale: An Avery Cates Story

I am thinking about this, actually, because I’ve been writing these Avery Cates Digital Shorts. These short stories are all about 10- 15,000 words long, and will combine into a standalone novel eventually. But they’re also single-serving. In other words, while they tell an ongoing story about everyone’s favorite beat-up, aging future assassin, they’re also standalone. You can read them out of order and while you might miss some details or callbacks to the others, you’ll also get a distinct standalone arc in each one. So, like today’s music, you can wait to buy the whole complete book or just sample the stories that sound interesting.

Will it work? Define “work.” It’s a slightly different way of writing a book for me, but the end result will be an Avery Cates book. If some folks buy the first one, The Shattered Gears, and decide not to proceed, that’s too bad for me, but it’s great for the reader, because they got to spend one dollar and realize this is not their cup of tea, as opposed to eight dollars. And if they wind up buying each story as they come out, in the end they’ll spend as much as if they bought the book whole, so it’ll be a wash financially.

And in the meantime, I’m having fun writing like this, with a tighter focus on each individual section of the overall story. It’s a single-serving universe these days, after all. Why fight it?

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Need to Explain “Show Don’t Tell”? Watch True Detective Season 2

We also get the TV show we deserve.

We also get the TV show we deserve.

So, True Detective season 2 has ended, and bow howdy it wasn’t very good. There are of course plenty of bad TV shows every year and few of them rate the amount of attention that TD2: The Failuring has gotten; this is largely a result of the outsize praise season 1 received, of course. After “Time is a flat circle” briefly made up 90% of all Internet traffic, the second season was doomed to disappoint. It’s just the scale of the disappointment that’s surprising.

Because True Detective season 2 is complicated. It was terrible, don’t get me wrong, but also prestige television. It was pretty poorly written, but also delivered at least a handful of well-written lines. The acting was all over the place, and the direction was lackluster, and the plot overly complex with a weak payoff, but there were still tantalizing moments when it seemed poised to transcend these issues and become, if not great, at least watchable.

Ultimately the problem was a simple one, a fundamental one, a problem all writers struggle with: How do you handle showing and telling? And how do you ensure you earn your characters’ fates? That’s where TD2: Electric Mustache Review went wrong. It told. It told everything in an effort to be cagey, and it told it badly.

Vince in the Basement

Vince Vaughn’s character Frank Semyon is the perfect ur-example here. In an early episode, Frank had a soliloquy about his father locking him in the basement as punishment and then getting drunk and arrested, leaving little Frank to fend off rats in the dark for several days, starving. Vaughn delivers the speech with a blank-faced lack of affect that might have been poor acting or might have been batshit direction, but either way the speech lands flat because it’s all Tell and no Show. People think Telling is when you write something like

FRANK: I am a broken man because my father was a drunk who abused me.

But the fact is, Telling isn’t so much about declarative statements that are better left for the reader/viewer to figure out on their own. It’s about subtlety. It’s about understanding how real human beings act and speak. Who in the world lies in bed with their partner in the morning, staring up at water stains in the ceiling, and tells a five minute story about being locked in a basement by their father for no other reason than to let the invisible audience know these crucial details about themselves?

It’s also Telling (and bad writing) because it’s meant to stand alone. We learn very, very little about Frank (or the other characters) over the course of the show, but specific events in their past are supposed to stand in for actual knowledge. Frank and his basement story. Ani and her rage and her knives and her promiscuity. Ray and his wife’s rape and the murder of her supposed rapist. Paul and his closeted homosexuality and his time with the military contractors. We never really get much else about these people: These single events define them absolutely (and are often only vaguely outlined — we know Paul is troubled by his experiences “in the desert,” but we have no idea why or what he did). Frank’s basement story is Telling because it is supposed to be everything we need to know about Frank: He was locked in a basement and fought off rats in the dark, and therefore he is Frank Semyon.

Yeah, it makes no sense. Telling is like that.

And then Frank’s death is like a cluster bomb of Telling. As he staggers through the desert, bleeding from a belly wound after a final betrayal, a few million in diamonds in his pockets and vultures literally following his trail of blood, it’s almost a great scene. Frank came alive a little in the final 2 episodes, and his reversion into a scrappy gangster who takes down his enemies and negotiates his way — almost — to freedom was kind of fun. And watching him refuse to give up, watching him force himself to stagger onward despite the clear odds, could have been affecting if his character had a little more development and backstory before this moment.

Instead, as if the show was fucking with us, it chooses instead to Tell us again, using the worst mechanics of any freshman-level writing workshop: The mysterious hallucinations with no context. We get his father, who has never been personified before in the show, abusing him in a generic way, his speech the sort of thing you’ll find in any  piece of crap about an abusive, one-note father. We get a group of black kids taunting him for being tall and white and gawky. We get a man Frank presumably killed over a debt, begging for his life. This all sketches out a potentially interesting story of how Frank Semyon went from terrified kid to small-time gangster, but it does so in the final five fucking minutes of the character’s story, in a rushed, awkward sequence that treated Frank like a hero, when he isn’t one. Instead of last-minute hallucinations, we could have gotten Frank’s backstory over the course of the season, instead of the endless stilted conversations about a land deal no one gave a shit about.What really hurts is that in the final moments of the scene, when Frank is dead and yet having a sort of Owl Creek Bridge moment, Vaughn stops limping and grimacing and for thirty seconds he turns on a Charm Ray so powerful you almost forgive him. Those thirty seconds as Frank realizes he’s dead are great, and it demonstrates the possibilities.

It demonstrates what they could have Showed us.

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My Day at #WDC15

Jeff's Il Duce Pose

Jeff’s Il Duce Pose

This year I was once again invited to give a seminar on plotting a novel at the Writer’s Digest Annual Conference held in New York City at the rockin’ Roosevelt Hotel. Sure, I’m a cheap date because I live in New Jersey and thus can be booked for this conference for the cost of two drink tickets, but that’s actually kind of true no matter where your event is being held. Am I saying that you can have Jeff Somers giving a speech in your living room for the price of two free cocktails? Yes, I am saying that. But it better be top shelf. We will not tolerate any of that Early Times bullshit.

Anyway, I digress. I gave the same seminar I gave last year: Take Off Your Pants and Write: Pantsing Vs. Plotting a Novel. It’s all about plotting your story and the two main techniques most people naturally gravitate towards, and how you can get out of blocked situations by using a hybrid approach. It’s rather brilliant. I’m hilarious. I even wore pants!

Unlike last year, this year we will refer to the WDAC as The Year of Competence, because with the help and guidance of The Duchess I was pretty much an adult the entire time, which, as we all know, is unusual.

I Need a Stinkin' Badge

I Need a Stinkin’ Badge

JEFF’S TIMELINE OF COMPETENCE

6AM: I am actually awake, despite consuming a lot of whiskey and some wine over dinner the evening before. Yes, my way of prepping for a big day of public speaking is to drink heavily. What of it?

8AM: I am actually on a bus, showered, sober, and dressed like either a published author or a middle-aged schoolteacher, I’m not sure which. I actually had all of my props and a backup of the presentation on a thumb drive. I make a mental note to drink more, as it obviously helps me wake up early, clearheaded and organized.

8:45AM: I am actually at the hotel and have my badge and know where my seminar is being held. This is unprecedented. The year before, I was racing around this hotel like a maniac, wide-eyed and sweating freely.

8:55AM: The Duchess, concerned that I do not know how to make my Power Point Presentation appear on the screen, stomps to the laptop and starts touching things. The screen goes black. The Duchess turns away and resumes her seat and refuses to discuss what we should do next.

9AM: A nice technical person comes and fixes what The Duchess has wrought. She looks around and whistles nonchalantly.

9:01AM: I am actually giving my presentation, and it goes well. Last year I finished up with my prepared material 20 minutes into a 50-minute session, and had to soft-shoe, sing, and take questions for half an hour. This year almost none of that is necessary. Well, the soft-shoe isn’t strictly-speaking necessary, but I do it anyway, to thunderous applause.

10AM: After some gladhanding and chatting with attendees, we stalk my agent by following the scent of brimstone. I am hopeful that she will buy me alcoholic refreshments despite the time of day, but she is too clever for me: She leads us to the bar area, sits down and makes cryptic remarks about the state of my career, shouts HEY LOOK OVER THERE and when I turn back there is only a haze of purple smoke.

11AM: The Duchess and I go to lunch. I’m not sure whether managing to eat a burger and drink several beers without incident can be listed under my accomplishments for the day, as most people manage to feed themselves without trouble. But, as The Duchess is fond of saying, I am not most people.

NOON – 3PM: Lost time. I have no memory. I am still checking the news for mentions of a drunk white man taking off his pants somewhere.

3:00PM: We’re back at the hotel, and hit the bar, where I drink several whiskies while engaged in a war with a cloud of gnats who all intend to commit suicide in my drinks. After three of the little buggers die in my tumbler, I start drinking like I’m in prison, hunched over my glass and muttering and twitching. Or, you know, like usual. Yes, I drank it anyway. This is whiskey we’re talking about.

Jeff Merely Pawn in Game of Life

Jeff Merely Pawn in Game of Life

5:30PM: I am at my assigned spot in the ballroom for the cocktail reception-slash-book signing. Jacqueline Woodson is seated at the table next to me. Her line goes out the door. I have no line. I am sad.

But, because of this newfound competence, I stick it out and eventually my people find me. My people, I think, had their priorities straight: Getting to the bar first with their drink tickets so they could double-fist the booze as quickly as possible. I meet a few folks, sign some books, and have those curiously awkward conversations where you have to shout so much you’re hoarse. A few folks buy copies of We Are Not Good People and I fall asleep, and The Duchess carries me home.

So, here’s to a job: Done. Hopefully they invite me back next year so I can try the opposite approach: Total batshit incompetence. This would be for scientific purposes, of course, to see which approach works better.

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We Are not Good People & WDAC

This year at the 2015 Writer’s Digest Annual Conference, I’ll not only be offering up my presentation on plotting a novel (which was really well-received last year and which will be 150% more awesome this year because I plan to be sober this time) I’ll also be attending the cocktail reception and signing copies of We Are Not Good People (the plotting of which I discussed last year in a WDAC-related post). It’s my understanding that the conference is sold out, so this isn’t really me drumming up attendance (and yes, I fully expect to be sitting there alone, nursing a drink and weeping when absolutely no one buys my book to get signed).

If you’ve read WANGP, then you know the ending sort of folds back on the story, and the ending has been a divisive aspect of the story for some. It was very deliberate, though; Despite the fact that the whole book was more or less pantsed (that is, made up as I went, as opposed to being planned out) I did have the ending in mind as I wrote. As the story progressed, it became clearer and clearer to me that this was the only way the story could end.

One of the hardest things to come to terms with as a writer isn’t the people who think your works sucks and that you’re a terrible writer–every author will have those folks, and what can you do? No, it’s the people who love your work but hate one thing vehemently. When people tell me they loved We Are Not Good People but hate the ending, it’s difficult, because you feel like you disappointed Your People. These aren’t haters, they’re fans, and so their feelings about your work matter a lot more than the people who think you’re a Pantsless Wonder.

While writing this book, though, it slowly dawned on me that the whole point was really the friendship between the main character, Lem, and his nonsexual life partner Pitr Mags. This was a bromance, really, and Lem has nothing without his friend. As that friendship loomed larger and larger I realized, in the end, that Lem would do anything to save that friend–and thus that friendship. At a certain point, there was really only one way it could end. Sometimes plotting is like that: There’s only one possible ending, whether other people get it or not.

I’ll be talking about WANGP a bit during my Writer’s Digest presentation, and I’ll be ready to sign copies. Or sit there getting soused and muttering obscenities at people, whichever.

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