Prank to Work It In

By | July 30, 2014 | 0 Comments

I handed my license over to the pretty young receptionist with a flirtatious but mild grin, despite my guess that she could be my granddaughter.

“My HDPT number is—”

“I’m sorry, Mr. Hemming,” she interrupted perkily, “but we have a new policy. I’m afraid you must submit to a Pin Test. We no longer accept HDPT as proof of coverage.” She smiled prettily, eyes twinkling.

I frowned. “I’ve always used my HDPT number. I’ve been a patient here for six years.”

She smiled again, nodding. But I could see her grin grow just slightly brittle. “I know, sir, and all the doctors apologize. But we experienced some security concerns recently, and for the time being we are forced to employ stringent security. We do apologize for the inconvenience.”

I considered. I knew I seemed like a typical whining rich asshole, and she—being at best a Class II or IIA employee—probably hated me. But I disliked DNA traces. The government had enough information on me as it was, and I paid plenty to keep it that way. As far as I knew their last update on me was seventeen years old—but that would change in seconds if I submitted to a Pin Test.

Then again, I had a rattle in my chest that made me nervous.

“Oh, all right. Sorry to be a bother. I know you’re just doing your job.” I held out my hand.

She softened a little. “You’re no bother, at all, really. Some of our patients are real horrors, you know.”

She said this in a mock-conspiratorial tone that made me think she didn’t hate me after all. “That makes me feel better. Maybe you’d care to tell me some stories? Over dinner, perhaps?”

Not pausing in her swabbing and pricking one finger, she glanced up at me. “I’m not supposed to be overly friendly with the patients.”

“I see.” I didn’t want to push things, it was so easy to be misinterpreted when your credit rating outclassed everyone in the room. “Well,” I winced as she quite professionally drew blood from one finger, “I’ll consider that my loss.”

She smiled again as she inserted the samples into her desk workstation. It chimed pleasantly almost immediately. “Very well, Mr.—” she glanced at the screen unnecessarily “—Hemming, you can go right in.”

I nodded and turned for the door.

“Oh, Mr. Hemming?”

I paused and turned back to her.

“Happy birthday! One hundred thirty; that’s impressive!” There was nothing nice in her eyes.

I glanced around the room in a reflexive shame reaction. “Thank you.” I managed, hating her. I hesitated, watching her cheerful smile slowly turn quizzical. “Do you know who I am? Why I get to be here?”

Her smile was carefully plastic. “No,” she admitted.

Nor, I could see, did she care. I turned back to the entrance, hating her. just as she was undoubtedly hating me, for still being alive.

(more…)

Categories: Free Short Stories

Plotting “We Are Not Good People”

By | July 28, 2014 | 0 Comments

webWANGPThis coming Saturday (8/2) I’ll be standing in a room giving a presentation on plotting novels (pantsing Vs. plotting) at the Writer’s Digest Annual Conference (details here and you should totally sign up). I just informed my harried agent that I will be wearing a clown costume and plan to communicate via honking a horn and making sad faces, and she seemed to support me.

Why am I qualified to teach people how to plot a novel? Likely I am not. But someone has to give these presentations, or else middling successful novelists like myself would have nothing to do. You don’t want me wandering the streets, unmoored.

I’ve occasionally posted essays about plotting novels here to both promote my new career as the Novel Whisperer (I plan to stop writing them and spend all my time charging people huge sums of money to coach them in their own creative endeavors) as well as the novels themselves. Because, you know, I offer these books for sale as a way of avoiding real work. And you are part of my secret plan.

Next up in the plot analysis? My upcoming novel We Are Not Good People, publishing in October (a free prequel, Fixer, is available for free download right now!).

Plotting WANGP

Yes, the acronym for this novel is WANGP and that pleases me to no end.

Plotting this novel was an exercise in pure, joyous Pantsing. As with most of my novels, I started off with an initial image — an old apartment that had been sealed up decades before and left undisturbed, based on a true story I heard about a place on the Upper East Side of Manhattan that had been closed up for the season in the 1940s and then abandoned, the bills paid, the doors locked. I imagined rustling around in there, then saw a dead girl in a tub, and then saw two grifters who used small spells to help their scams. I had no idea what the story was going to be. I just started writing.

I often — but not always — write this way, just pouring on words. I got a little stuck after a few chapters, which also happens a lot: Once I’m done establishing a universe and characters, I sometimes stall wondering what exactly they will do. Then I read a book by someone else, and there was a sequence I enjoyed so much I decided on the spot to steal it, and worked a variation of it into the work in progress, and that got everything going.

Pantsing, for me, generally means imagining my characters as real people and wondering what they would reasonably do in reaction to each other and plot events outside their direct control. The answers are usually very obvious once I start thinking about it. Meanwhile, pantsing leaves me free to steal any ideas I come across, repurposing them into my story – which makes telling one a lot of fun, and very exciting, as I’m not sure where it’s all heading myself.

Does any of this make sense? Probably not. Anyone who tells you the act of creation should make sense is lying.

Sliders: Blood & Splendor, 18 Years Gone

By | July 24, 2014 | 2 Comments
It's real. And it's SPECTACULAR.

It’s real. And it’s SPECTACULAR.

SO, where were you in 1996? I was living in Jersey City, and a few years away from publishing my first novel. My friend and former room-mate Jeof Vita was also in Jersey City, working at Acclaim Comics. It was a primitive time, offering dial-up Internet connections and no such thing as Netflix or HBO GO, and you had to take the science fiction TV series that you got. What we got was Sliders, a show about alternate earth’s and the madcap group of misfits who got trapped into ‘sliding’ between them and having adventures as they struggled to find Earth Prime.

Acclaim Comics had the comic license for the series and was publishing “lost episode” comics, which were supposedly scripts from the show that were too ambitious or expensive to produce. They came up one short, so Jeof suggested we gin up a concept and sell it. And we did! So we wrote the script for what became Sliders: Blood & Splendor which published in January 1997. I got $1600 for it. I spent it all almost immediately on liquor and colourful outfits.

The other day I was thinking about this experience and I imagined an alternate world where Jeof and I became famous because of this comic book. An alternate world where I didn’t have to spend the next decades dancing in clubs for sweaty dollar bills, where Jeof didn’t have to scratch out a living as a rodeo clown. A world that saw our genius and celebrated Blood & Splendor as the work of genius it … well, wasn’t, but could have been if Jeof and I had spent more than a few hours writing it in-between playing video games and ordering take out.

So, I did what anyone would have: I made a documentary about an alternate earth where Sliders: Blood and Splendor was a sort of pop cultural event on par with Thriller. And I got a bunch of people to help me with it, including Jeof Vita himself. And it is hilarious. And you should watch it immediately.

Categories: BAM!, Videos

Mrs. Muse: My Wife Thinks She is a Rich Vein of Material

By | July 21, 2014 | 1 Comments

This article originally appeared in The Inner Swine Volume 15, Issue 3/4, Winter 2009.

My Main Reference Material

My Main Reference Material

“You should write about this.”

I hear this phrase pretty often, usually when I am complaining about something The Duchess is making me do, like watching terrible reality television or following her from store to store in an endless shopping mall. My hell, I am convinced, will be an infinite shopping mall filled with women’s clothing stores. I used to think my hell would involve dried up beer taps and indoor league football, but now I am older and wiser and the ways of the universe are clearer to me.

At first, early in our relationship, she only used The Line when she truly believed that what she was putting me through was Inner Swine material—like most people, she thought at first that being mentioned in my zine would be kind of cool. Everyone gets quickly disabused of that notion, trust me, and it wasn’t long before she demanded her name be obscured in all issues so no one might Google her and discover her secret shame: That she is married to: Me.

Nowadays, The Line has a new function for The Duchess: She uses it as a way to justify any activity, no matter how torturous I find it. No matter how horrified I am at the turn my life has taken, I am assured that it’s all right because I can write an article about it.

The Marathon Man

Now, my wife is a fascinating, intelligent, feisty girl who is endlessly entertaining, and if I did not live in abject fear of being punished by her (she is stronger, faster, and in better shape than I ever will be; she runs marathons and works out and eats healthy—I drink gallons of booze and the last time my heart rate went up I was watching a baseball game and almost had a stroke) her antics and adventures would make admirable material for this zine.

This is a compliment. The more interesting you are, the more likely you will eventually be in this zine, albeit sometimes obscured.

Since this zine is primarily about me, I leave it as an exercise for the reader to determine what this says about my healthy and possibly delusional self-image.

However, this is getting out of hand when she starts justifying just about any mistreatment of her husband with the assurance that someday I will be able to use it as material for this zine. I make shit up for this zine; I don’t need material. I can walk to the grocery store, buy a loaf of bread and walk home, and make that entire experience into an article for this zine. Actually, I don’t even have to leave the house; I can just sit on the couch and stare at a wall and six months later there’s an article in this zine called Staring at the Wall: I Am Old and Dulled by Liquor which will be just six pages of me insulting myself in clever ways. See how this works? No actual experiences needed. It’s like Sir Laurence Olivier said to Dustin Hoffman on the set of The Marathon Man when Hoffman showed up to film a torture scene looking like hell because he’d stayed up 48 hours straight in order to be suitably exhausted for the scene: “My dear boy, have you tried acting?”

WAYS THE DUCHESS USES “THE LINE” TO JUSTIFY CRUELTY

1. Bad Television. I’ve complained before about the quality of the television programming The Duchess enjoys. I don’t mind sharing a little TV time now and then, and the fact that she favors shows I don’t much care for is just the way things are—she doesn’t like most of my choices, so it’s fair. But there are some shows that are just so terrible, so awesome in their terribleness, that I try to wriggle out of my husbandly duties to watch them.
And then she hits me with The Line, suggesting that I should watch Two and a Half Men and then write about how horrible it is. And it is. Horrible. It is.

2. Shopping. I’ve already defined my new vision of hell for you. Believe me, I get to live it every now and then, and my wife actually apologizes to me whenever she lures me into a store these days. Then, after apologizing, she suggests that my many sufferings at her hands in the retail world would be perfect fodder for an Inner Swine article. Do you see what I’m up against? I’ve taken to carrying a flask with me everywhere just in case it turns out we’re not going to the local Beerfest as promised, but instead to a sample sale.

3. Travel. My childish aversion to exploring the world is famed, and I’m sure some folks feel badly for The Duchess in that she has to beg and plead to get me to leave the comfort of my own house. Whenever I find myself in some godforsaken part of the world, going rapidly broke and—adding insult to injury—usually being led into some sort of foreign mall in order to purchase shoes, The Line is invariably tossed out as an impromptu justification for my treatment.

You can see, I’m sure, why it is that I drink. When any kind of horrifying shit can be justified as comedy material, you’re doomed.

Of course, The Duchess only wields this power in order to educate and improve me—and, actually, since I am now using all of these experiences to create content for this zine, I suppose, in the end, she’d been right all along.

Categories: Bullshit, The Inner Swine

We Are Not Good People Giveaway & Trailers

By | July 18, 2014 | 0 Comments

I’ve been informed that my publisher will be giving away copies of We Are Not Good People at Comic Con in San Diego next week – stop by Booth #1128 and ask about it.

They’ll also be running some of my trailers for the book on video screens at the booth:

Trailer #1:

trailer #2:

Trailer #3:

Hopefully they can turn the volume so loud people will come, zombie-like, to the booth to see what all the cool fuss is about.

#gettheblood: The Scar Under My Eye

By | July 16, 2014 | 2 Comments
I almost went half blind. WHO DO I SUE?

I almost went half blind. WHO DO I SUE?

SO, when I was little, I wanted a dirtbike. A black Huffy dirtbike, to be precise. My family was sort of amazingly typical middle class, I think: We had a house and a car and me and my brother wanted for nothing, but luxuries like brand-new bikes for your birthday required immense, D-Day levels of financial planning.

I got my dirtbike. For three days I pedaled up and down the block on training wheels, and on the fourth day two kids came by. One knocked me off the bike, and the other pedaled that fucking thing away so fast I was momentarily too shocked by this defiance of the laws of physics to make a scene.

Then, of course, I made a scene. But because of the aforementioned D-Day levels of planning, there was no way in hell that I was getting a replacement bike. My parents made that very clear to me as i sat there weeping openly. There would be no other shiny black Huffy dirtbike. I may be imagining this, but I think my Mother threw her arms open and shouted WELCOME TO JERSEY CITY, MOTHERFUCKER!

My parents weren’t heartless, though. They began working back channels, and a few weeks later secured a used Schwinn Ten Speed for me. It was kind of beat up and always felt like it was about to fall apart, but fuck it, it was a bike. When I was kid, a bike was like a car to an adult. You had to have one. So I learned to ride that bike and I rode it around and after a while I forgot about that Huffy. Except, obviously, I didn’t. I hope that kid got hit by a car two blocks away and got part of that dirtbike shoved up his ass.

ANYWAY, a few years on I took that Ten Speed to college with me. During the summer between my Junior and Senior years, I worked at a Student Center on another campus. I had a choice of taking the slow bus, walking about 2 miles, or riding my bike. Despite the fact that riding my bike required me to ride a thin-wheeled Ten Speed off road a bit, I chose to ride the bike. You can see where this is going: One day, while riding down a wooded path, the chain popped and I went flying. I landed more or less on my face, crushing my glasses, which stabbed into my face just below my eye, and I still have a divot there to this day.

I was a bit in shock, but I calmly got up, put the chain back on, and rode the rest of the way to work. I must have looked pretty bad because upon arrival everyone freaked out and for a few moments I was smothered with attention as first aid kits were broken out and I was assured I could just sit and relax for as long as I needed. Then, I just went back to work. It wasn’t until later that I contemplated how close I’d come to literally poking my eye out. In all the times my Mother had admonished me that things would poke my eyes out, my own glasses had never been on the list.

####

Twenty years later, give or take, I write a novel where people are covered in scars because they’re constantly bleeding themselves to fuel magic spells, which require fresh blood to work. We Are not Good People is out in October, and the prequel Fixer is available as a free eBbook right now. Check ‘em out, and then send me your own scar stories – the bloodier the better, so e can #gettheblood.

Announcing the Mystery Box Giveaway

By | July 14, 2014 | 3 Comments

Kids, you may not know this, but as a published author it sometimes seems like you’re paid in free copies of your own books (sometimes literally: I received 1/3rd of my advance for my first novel Lifers literally as a bunch of free books). Then, sometimes, a publisher goes out of business or lets a book go out of print and then offers to sell you your own book stock for some ridiculous price, like a quarter a book, and so you buy approximately 500,000 of them because you can’t sleep at night thinking of your precious books being mulched.

End result? I have a lot of books that I wrote sitting around here. So, let’s give some away, want to? Here’s how it will work:

EVERY WEDNESDAY for the time being, I will send out a Tweet that says “Book Giveaway” (just those two words). The FIRST person to respond to that tweet will win a Mystery Box of books. It’s that simple. I’ll DM you for your address, and in a few days you get a Mystery Box of books.

What’s in the mystery box? IT IS A MYSTERY. It could be one book or five, and lord knows what the books will actually be. All that you can know is that they are all by me, and I’ll sign them, and there might be bookmarks and such included. I cannot even guarantee they will be in English, as I have a surprising number of German-language Avery Cates books lying around.

But you can’t choose which books to get and therefore you may be bitterly disappointed when you receive your Mystery Box and be moved to come to New Jersey and burn my house down. Which is fine, as it would be free publicity as I am filmed in front of my burning house holding five cats with tears streaming down my face. I believe that would be a recipe for INSTANT PITY BOOK SALES, so have at it.

That’s it. The Mystery Book Tweet could happen at any time between the hours of 8AM and 6PM EST on Wednesdays, until I announce the end of this thing I am doing. Good luck!

Briefing for a Descent into Freelance

By | July 9, 2014 | 6 Comments
This is why I drink.

This is why I drink.

ONE of the reasons I kind of hate doing “writerly” events is the repetition of small talk effect: You wind up making the same small talk with other writers and non-writers alike. I’ve had a variation on the following conversation roughly one billion times (some of the following may only have occurred in my head):

OTHER: So, are you published?

ME: Don’t you KNOW who I AM? I will smite thee with this old manual typewriter I carry everywhere!

OTHER: Cool, cool. Is writing, like, your full time job?

ME: I’m not wearing any pants. Do I look like a man who has income?

In other words, all these conversations quickly establish that the other person has never heard of me (indicating my book sales) and then requires of me some sort of financial disclosure.

Up until a few years ago I was one of the Day Job Writers, just like 99.9% of all of us. I wrote and was published (pretty well) but I had a day job. Then in 2012 my day job and I had a disagreement and we decided to see other people. The disagreement, I think, had something to do with the fact that I last paid conscious attention to my Day Job in 2009, but at least I wasn’t the guy who got fired from my company because he sat in on a conference call with his webcam accidentally switched on while wearing no shirt. True story.

But I digress.

After breaking up with my day job I hurriedly called my agent to ask whether I had coincidentally gotten rich in the last few hours. Being informed that this did not happen, I knew I needed to replace my day job revenues somehow, or my wife The Duchess was going to ask me to leave the premises. She’s old school, you see, and thinks men should have jobs. No matter how often I’ve explained to her that I am a Modern Beta Male who is 100% okay with being supported by his wife, she just boxes my ears and shoves a classifieds section into my hands.

BUT! I had a bold idea. The only skill I have ever demonstrated in my whole life, the only thing I can actually say I am good at, is writing. In fact, the list of things I am not good at is pretty much infinitely long. The list of things I am good at has, at most, five things, and four of them are curious physical abnormalities I’ve never been able to monetize. So I said, I could write freelance.

(more…)

FIXER

By | July 7, 2014 | 3 Comments
Fixer by Jeff Somers

BUY ME.

The prequel novella to We Are Not Good People, Fixer, is officially out today! You can download it onto your kindle at the cost of zero dollars. And here’s why you should:

  • I can momentarily pretend I am hugely successful when Fixer is ranked #1 despite earning me zero dollars.
  • If you don’t, this blog will quickly descend into weepy paeans to the Good Old Days when people loved me.
  • You will really enjoy it, and it will inspire you to purchase We Are Not Good People when it comes out in October. Or possibly to found a new religion based on my teachings. Either way, all good.
  • It’s free. Exactly how cheap do you have to be to not download a free book? Followup question: Are you not cheap at all and simply like seeing me cry? Because I’ll happily send you fetish videos of me weeping, if you want.
  • It’s just 10,000 words, so you can read it on the bus into work and be approximately 1% smarter upon your arrival. That 1% might be the difference between life and death, depending on the nature of your job.

If all that doesn’t convince you, here are the first few paragraphs to read. That’s right, this is a free preview of a free novella. The gods have gone crazy.

FIXER

It should have worked. It did work, right up until it didn’t.

You got your trained bear on a leash, Vonnegan?”

I looked up and stared at Heller, his shaved head flaking into drifts of off-white skin that settled on the shoulders of his black fur coat. The big oversized sunglasses were studded with rhinestones, some of which had fallen off. He looked like he probably smelled, but I wasn’t going to test the theory. He didn’t appear to be wearing a shirt under the coat, though I was fucking relieved to see pants emerging from under its hem. Two kids, Asian and skinny and smoking cigarettes, stood on either side of him. Heller didn’t go for muscle. Heller went for speed.

Next to me, I heard Mags literally growling. I reached up and put a hand on his shoulder. I was slowly starting to realize that Mags had somehow bonded to me in unholy matrimony, and I was beginning to make long-term life plans that involved him.

I took a deep breath. “Listen—”

Heller held up a hand. “Save the bullshit, Vonnegan. You owe me thirty thousand fucking dollars, and you told me you’d have it tonight.”

I leaned back in my chair and let my hand slip off of Mags’s shoulder. I decided that if the big guy went nuts and killed Heller by accident, I would allow it. Around us, Rue’s Morgue flowed and buzzed, populated by a big group of slummers from uptown who’d somehow found the bar. The extra humidity and noise was straining the environment beyond its capabilities, and everything had become smoky and dense, the air getting thicker as more drinks were poured.

I’d never had much energy for bullshit. When I started a lie, it got heavier and heavier until I couldn’t hold it up anymore. So I just went for brutal honesty.

I don’t have it,” I said, spreading my hands. “I had a line on something, but it . . . didn’t work out.”

I pictured the ustari who brought me to this state, her and her lone Bleeder. She was a bottom dweller, going after her own kind. And that meant I wasn’t even a bottom dweller. I was fucking underground.

Heller smiled. His teeth were little green pebbles in his mouth, and I didn’t like looking at them, but I forced myself to smile back. We were equals, I told myself. I’d had ten years of apprenticeship that had gotten me nowhere, and a lot of the . . . people, the magicians, who hung out in Rue’s were way ahead of me, but I was learning fast. Heller acted like he was some sort of fucking Lord of the Shitheads, and I told myself that was an illegitimate position: No one had elected him.

I don’t give a fuck what worked out or didn’t work out: You owe me fucking money and you don’t have it.” He nodded, once, as if coming to a sudden decision. “Go touch your fucking gasam for it, right? Enough screwin’ around.”

Thinking of Hiram and his hot, musty apartment and his tendency to believe that verbal abuse was a fine motivator, I shook my head. Gasam had been one of the first Words I’d learned: teacher, Master. The implied bondage in the word hadn’t sat well with me. That should have been a sign it was all going to hell sooner rather than later.

I shot my cuffs and thought. Anything to not have to crawl back to that fat little thief and beg him for help. Anything. In service to the grift I’d even tried to improve my look by investing in a fifteen-dollar suit from St. Mary’s thrift store; it fit like it had been made for show and possibly out of cardboard. But thirty thousand dollars, I’d recently discovered, was a lot more money than I’d thought. It was turning into an impossible amount of money.

Keeping my smile in place, I shook my head and pursed my lips. “Isn’t come to that yet, Heller,” I said. “Give me a couple more days.”

Heller’s smile widened and he gestured, vaguely, in the air, with one hand. Rings glinted on its wiry fingers. I had a second of anxiety, then the weird sense of blood in the air. Then I was being pushed down into my chair by an invisible force, so hard I couldn’t breathe.

I could Charm ya out of it,” Heller said, stepping over to take hold of an empty chair and dropping it next to me. I could move my eyes but nothing else. Someone behind me, casting spells.

My heart was pounding. Next to me, I could hear Mags, caught the same as me, straining against the spell, trying to launch himself from the chair. I hated Heller, suddenly. He’d seemed vaguely ridiculous before, running his games, dressing like a porn producer from the 1970s. But now I owed him thirty thousand dollars, and I hated him. And I’d come so close to getting out from under him, too.

It should have worked. It did work. Until it didn’t.

 

#gettheblood Videos

By | July 3, 2014 | 0 Comments

As many of you know, I started a little #gettheblood hashtag recently as part of my increasingly desperate efforts to get everyone in the world to buy a copy of my upcoming novels Fixer and We Are Not Good People. I wrote some essays about scars I’ve gotten, since scars factor in the books, and people sent me some of their own scar stories.

I totally encourage this — email your scar stories to me and I’ll do something with them. Recently I’ve made two videos based on the scar stories folks have sent me. First up was Kent Bunn:

And today I posted a new one inspired by a story told by Matt Handle:

Got a scar story to share? Send it on and we’ll do something creative with it.

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