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“10 Cloverfield Lane” & The Oldest Trick in the Book



So, there will be spoilers in this essay. Like, seriously. Like, this essay will be about 88% spoilers. So if you plan to see 10 Cloverfield Lane at any point in your life and you want to do so unspoiled, this essay is not for you.

So: 10 Cloverfield Lane. Good movie! Not like revelatory or anything, but solidly constructed, inventively plotted, well-acted, and frequently surprising. The premise is tight: A young woman named Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), fleeing a bad relationship, gets into a bad car accident and wakes up chained up inside a bunker-cum-bomb shelter owned by a man named Howard, played by John Goodman. She’s terrified, but he assuages those fears: He’s not a crazy pervert, he tells her he’s saved her life because the Earth has recently been attacked by aliens using some sort of gas weapon, and everyone outside the bunker is dead.

And off we go. 10 Cloverfield Lane has a lot of fun with expectations, zigging and zagging several times as it fools the audience, and it does so using the oldest trick in the book: The film literally tells you exactly what’s happening in the first twenty minutes or so, but the audience dismisses the information because of the batshit, unreliable character who delivers it. Namely, Howard, who Goodman portrays as violently deranged even when he’s being quiet and plaintive. Because Howard is so obviously nuts, when he tells us aliens have attacked, we dismiss it. Guess what? That’s exactly what’s happened and Howard is 100% correct!

That was unexpected for me, because I fell for the oldest trick. I tried to be smart, because I like leaning over to my wife and telling what’s going to happen in movies five minutes before it does happen, but I got fooled this time, because Howard couldn’t possibly be right. I figured something weird was going on, of course, but I also figured it couldn’t be an alien gas attack, because that’s what Howard said it was.

Of course, Howard also turns out to be a deranged pervert just as Michelle feared he was, which is more complicated because Howard also specifically denies that. And yet his unreliability didn’t fool me there–nor was it intended to–because, again, Goodman plays him as the Creepiest Survivalist Ever from his first appearance on screen. His behavior negates his denial over his motives for rescuing/abducting Michelle, and thus we’re not fooled, whereas his behavior makes his statements about alien invasions seem crazy. The great part is, he’s lying about one thing and telling the truth about the other and we’re completely wrong about which is which.

The reason his secret motivation for saving Michelle remains a bit of a twist though is because it turns out to be aliens. When Michelle makes a desperate grab for his keys and gets thisclose to escaping the bunker, she’s stopped by the revelation that everyone outside is, in fact, dead of some horrible chemical attack, and that she is, in fact, safe in Howard’s bunker. And so the audience forgets all that stuff about Howard being a weirdo perv, because suddenly he’s a hero who’s been telling the truth this whole time.

It’s a nice pair of tricks, and they elevate the movie significantly. And they remind us that sometimes the best way to fool your audience is also the simplest.


The Awful Miracle of the Post Office



My wife hates the Post Office with a white-hot passion. This has nothing to do with politics or economics or anything rational; she just believes every single interaction she’s had with the post office has been horrible, terrible, no-good, and thus it should be burned to the ground and the ashes made into a delicious, nourishing tea.

Me, I have a more complex relationship with the Post Office. As a long-time zine publisher and a lifetime short story submitter from wayyyy back in the days before the Internet, I’ve spent a lot of time in post offices. And frankly, I am amazed that I can spend less than 50 cents and have something arrive halfway around the country in a few days. It’s like modern magic.

So, all respect to the beleaguered postal workers of the world (and they are beleaguered, trust me, baby), but stepping into the post office is often like stepping back into 1995. Which might have been the last time the PO was financially stable thanks to our friends in Congress, but let that drift. In other words, have you ever tried to mail something to Canada or (god help you) another country form the PO? Jebus.

Okay, so first you have to fill out a form CN-22 declaring what you’re mailing. Well, first you have to locate a CN-22 somewhere, and that can be a quest of some magnitude. And no, you cannot fill them out online or anything without special permission. How do you get that special permission? I have no idea, because my job is not “learn about obscure postal regulations.”

So you fill it out and then you show up and wait in line, and then you hand the person behind sixteen inches of bulletproof glass your package and your CN-22 and they proceed to type everything into their computer system by hand. I am not shitting you. You stand there while the beleaguered (and they are beleaguered) postal worker laboriously types in everything you just hand-wrote on the form. MY FUCKING GOD.

Now, imagine you have, oh, six or seven packages going to Canada. And one to Germany. OH MY FUCKING GOD you just lost like forty minutes of your life.

How is this the process in 2016? How? For the love of all that is holy, how?

Now imagine you walk into the Post Office at 10:30AM and it is empty. And as you stand there while the postal worker tries to figure out if you really meant 0 instead of O in that postal code, slowly a line of about thirteen people forms behind you. And all you can do is stare straight ahead and do subtle limbering exercises so when they jump you, you’ll be ready.

And yet, in a few days, people will be receiving things from me in other countries. And that still amazes me.


An Evening Out



A Play in One Act

Jeff and The Duchess meet a friend for dinner. They arrive early at the restaurant and sit at the bar.

JEFF: A whiskey, please.

THE DUCHESS: And chips! And guacamole! And a bottle of wine!

The BARTENDER pours Jeff a whiskey roughly the size of the ocean. Imagine a bottle of Scotch, poured entirely into a tumbler the size of Jeff’s fist, and you have some small, meager idea of how deep this pour was. In the history of heavy-handed bartenders pouring deep drinks for you, this one ranks as possibly the deepest pour ever known to man. If Dylan Thomas had drinks this deep poured for him he would have died after three, maybe four.

JEFF: <sizing up drink> Yes, that seems about right.


BARTENDER: Another, hon?


BARTENDER (the true hero of this play) proceeds to pour another entire bottle and perhaps a bit of a second bottle into the tumbler. JEFF’s eyes grow wide and his whole body begins to tremble.

JEFF: <whispering> As it was prophesized …

<TIME PASSES. JEFF and THE DUCHESS meet their friend and are seated at dinner. JEFF finishes his second whiskey and begins to work on the bottle of wine>

THE DUCHESS: What do you think?

<JEFF smiles beatifically at her. One eye is apparently focused just over her shoulder>


THE DUCHESS: We were discussing politics, and you need to tell your friend here that he’s wrong.

JEFF: Bizzurp. Fonda! MINGUS!

THE DUCHESS: Oh, dear.

JEFF: <standing up and tearing off trousers with one motion> MIIIIINNNGUUSSSSS!

And: Scene.

The lesson here, my friends, is that you’re never too old to be a jackass. Also: The Drink is good. But the Drink is Chaotic Neutral.


This Is Not For You

Vinyl on HBO

Vinyl on HBO

The combined age of the main forces behind HBO’s new original series, Vinyl, is 200. That by itself means nothing, and lord knows when I am 73 years old, like Martin Scorsese is, I hope I am half as spry and mentally nimble as he is. Same for Mick Jagger at 73, and even Terrence Winter, the relative child here at the ripe old age of 55.

Watching their new show, however, you get the sense that it does matter, at least a little. Not simply because it’s a period piece set in 1973, or even because it’s a period piece that reconstructs certain events in a slavishly worshipful way that implies these events meant something to these men, in a personal way. But because the story they’re telling, at least through two episodes (as I write this) is one of those stories that seems pretty bare-naked in its psychological underpinnings, which in this case seems to strongly imply that these three old white guys are firmly looking backwards at this point in their lives. Because while there’s certainly an exciting story in the American music scene of the early 1970s, with the Summer of Love years in the past and punk rock bubbling under like acid, what Vinyl mainly is is a bubbling pot of clichés involving midlife crises, rock n’ roll as mystical energy binding the universe together, and, as Richard Hell put it, Scorsese’s “relentless framing of life as nothing but competition among men for power — represented by money, willingness to betray and kill, cocaine, and pussy.

This is Not For You

Privilege is awesome, let me tell you — you simply must try it someday — but it can really fuck with your head. When you’re younger and moderately affluent, everything seems like it was made for you, because it was. And even the stuff that isn’t made for you seems like it ought to be, or at least seems like you should be able to just wander over and get into it. And then you get older, and the world shifts, and things stop being aimed directly at your pleasure centers. They throw you over for a younger crowd, or a more diverse crowd, or just a different crowd, and there you are: Middle aged or thereabouts and confused. Why are people so excited about this new thing that you don’t get? It’s maddening!

I recall back in the days when Anthrax and Public Enemy were vibrant parts of pop culture, and their collaboration was Big News. I went to see them play a gig at the New Ritz (or maybe it was the Old Ritz, who the fuck can remember) and being super excited. The place was crowded with Public Enemy fans who were not in the least interested in skinny white kids like me, desperately trying to mosh around, and I got a bit roughed up when PE left the stage and half the crowd simply walked out rather than stick around for Anthrax. They weren’t friendly. It wasn’t for me, but I’d been convinced it was.

Anyway, Vinyl. Vinyl is the story, so far, of successful record producer Richie Finestra, who started off like everyone in the record business by screwing over a poor black artist and in 1973 is principal shareholder and CEO of American Century Records, a record label in trouble. Richie is struggling to stay sober, hates half the artists his company has on its roster, and is destined by the end of the first episode to have the sort of violent epiphany that only happens in fiction. Vinyl is a smorgasborg of things you have heard before, including the rather ancient saw about how Rock n’ Roll is some sort of primitive energy superpower that can change your life as long as you don’t lose sight of it.

I mean, seriously. This is 2016. Rock n’ Roll ain’t what it used to be, but here’s another story about how a moribund musical genre was once the most powerful force in the universe. But what it really is Scorsese, Jagger, and Winter looking back on a time when everything was, in fact, meant for them.

The Good Old Days

Most people have those moments when an experience kicked you in the ass. And for a lot of people — myself included — many of those moments included a discovery of music. Whether it was the first song you heard that really made you feel something, or a soundtrack to a special moment, we’ve all been there. So there’s nothing wrong with the way Winter and Scorsese pepper Vinyl‘s narrative with hallucinations of famous rock stars performing — Bo Diddly suddenly appearing at a birthday party, Jerry Lee Lewis turning up in an office, Karen Carpenter singing along to her own song on the radio in a car sailing down the highway. These moments are self-indulgent but passably interesting.

The thing is, Rock n’ Roll is no longer the magical culture-changing power it was in the 50s or 60s or 70s or, god help us, the 80s or 90s. We can argue about exactly when Rock n’ Roll stopped being a magical force that changed lives — some might argue it never was, of course — but the fact is any story that is predicated on just how powerfully transformative music can be is a snooze. What Vinyl represents is the recollection of people for whom Rock was personally transformative. We’re supposed to believe it because they can scrounge up the budget to have someone impersonate The New York Dolls and then film a nicely edited sequence where the sheer power of Personality Crisis brings a building down on Richie’s head and he walks away with that dazed look of wonder that truly powerful music can inspire. You know, the sort of music that makes buildings collapse. Because it’s so powerful.

Buried in that tired narrative, however, is something else: The constant refrain in the show’s first two episodes that popular music is crap. So far, characters on Vinyl have slagged just about every dubious rock artist of the era, from Chicago to ABBA to Emerson, Lake, and Palmer to Donny Fucking Osmond. With the smugness of hindsight, all the cool characters know this music is shit, and the music they love — old jump blues, the Dolls, Black Sabbath, burgeoning punk rock — is the real good stuff. But what they’re really saying, I think, is that today’s music sucks. Because it’s not for them. They can have someone on the show disparage Jethro Tull because it’s 2016 and seriously, no one can believe that Jethro Tull was a thing. But under that is the implication, I think, that if Richie were to wake up in 2016 he would be horrified at what’s happened to pop music, because, I suspect, Scorsese, Jagger, and Winter are horrified.

That Last Grasping Moment

Time leaves us all behind. I think people of a certain age who grew up with Rock n’ Roll’s first wave could wrap their heads around punk rock and heavy metal and grunge because they were just permutations, evolutions. They were even at times a return to roots, to a simple chord structure and insistent beat and personal lyrics. You could go from Jerry Lee Lewis to Television in just a few hops.

By 2016, things have changed. Rock is in such serious decline the only time you hear about a guitarist is when they wheel someone like Joe Perry out onto the stage to lend some hot licks to the goddamn new Pitbull song. If the last time you thought you had your finger on the pulse was when CBGB’s was still booking acts, it sure must feel like everything’s gone to hell, and telling a story about a coked-out record executive whose life is changed by The New York Dolls seems like a bold statement. It isn’t though. It’s just kvetching that not everything is for you.


Start a Newsletter, They Said. Give Away Signed Books, They Said.

lookiehereLook, self-promotion is mysterious. I don’t claim to understand it. Sometimes posts or things I create that I think are hilarious and/or brilliant get zero traction, and sometimes throwaway ideas I spend zero time on get thousands of shares. I have no idea what I’m doing when it comes to promotion, let’s just put it out there.

So when my agent Janet appears in a swirl of purple smoke and prods me awake with her bedazzled halberd and orders to me to start up an email newsletter, I do it.

Take a gander over at the sidebar (see image). See that? It’s a sign up for my newsletter! YOU SHOULD SIGN UP FOR MY NEWSLETTER. The first 30 folks who do so will get

  • A signed copy of Trickster or We Are Not Good People.
  • A couple of bookmarks or other promo-type swag-things
  • My enduring gratitude (worthless, really)
  • The newsletter, which will be hilarious and offer news about upcoming releases, appearances, giveaways, and anything else I can think of to amuse and astound you

What’s to lose? All you have to do is sign up, and then I’ll email you to confirm you’re one of the first 30 and you tell me where to send your swag (and the inscription you want, if you have a preference). IT’S THAT EASY. My GOD, it’s so easy I can’t believe you haven’t done it already.

Plus, if you push me over 2,000 subscribers, Mailchimp will start charging me, which will make me sad, so there’s that as a goal in case you secretly hate me.



And We’re Live …

bey_lord_omniOkey dokey, kids: The great Avery Cates Short Story Experiment has come to a close (for now). Parts 5 and 6 of the digital shorts, The Bey and The City Lord are live as eBooks:


The City Lord: KINDLE | NOOK | KOBO | PLAY

The Omnibus edition, which is all six novellas combined into a standalone novel, is also available as an eBook for $6 on all platforms — as well as a print book through Amazon for $14 if you so desire. I wanted to keep that price down, but it proved impossible.

The Shattered Gears Omnibus: KINDLE | NOOK | KOBO | PLAY | PRINT

And that’s all she wrote! Or, all I wrote, for now at least. I’ll be taking a little break from Cates for a while, but I’ll get back to this new story eventually, in some form or another.

To everyone who bought these books, sent me encouraging notes, posted reviews, or otherwise showed love for Avery — thank you! I truly hope you’ve enjoyed these new works. Keep your comments and reviews and thoughts coming!


Upcoming Releases

It’s tax season, which here in the Somers Compound buried deep under Hoboken (and we do mean buried, as the city removed the entrance/exit long ago) means that we’re slowly being crushed under 1099 forms and other tax documents (delivered via pneumatic tube). When you provide 45% of the Internet’s book-related Think Pieces, you accrue a lot of 1099s. Add on the statements from your agent, your DIY publishing endeavors, and your many Defense Department contracts for the Superweapons Based on Cats project, and it gets kind of cluttered.

Naturally, we’re aiming to make this year even more complex. Aside from writing even more book-related freelance articles to gain more of those precious 1099 forms, we also have a number of fresh, piping hot stories scheduled for 2016. This is all part of my plan to keep the pennies and nickels trickling in so I can fill the underground pool with filthy coins and swim around in them. Which is a lot harder to do than Scrooge McDuck makes it look.

So, here’s a breakdown of everything Somers coming at you this year, so you can plan accordingly and start polishing those nickels and pennies for me.

Avery Cates

The experiment of writing a novel in novella-sized chunks was a lot of fun, but all great experiments must end, so I’ll be releasing Parts 5 & 6 (The Bey & The City Lord) as well as the omnibus edition containing all 6 parts, The Shattered Gears, on 2/15. I originally said they’d go up for pre-order on that date, but now I think I’ll just release ’em. I wanted to keep the print version of the omnibus to $6 or so, but as it turns out that was drunk talk, as the cheapest I can make it is $14.

The Beycity lord_coverThe Shattered Gears Omnibus

The Ustari Cycle

There will be new additions to my other series, The Ustari Cycle, which began with 2014’s We Are Not Good People (technically, with 2013’s Trickster, but that became Part 1 of WANGP). I have four novellas/short stories scheduled for 2016 from this universe. Three of them will be published as eBooks from Pocket Star:

  • The Stringer (August 2016) (Pre-order now!)
  • Last Best Day (2016)
  • The Boom Bands (2016)

And one short story, Crossed Wires, is a collaboration with Stephen Blackmoore for the anthology Urban Allies, out in July, combining my Ustari Cycle characters with his Eric Carter universe in an explosive (and cuss-filled) adventure.

Urban Allies Coming 2016








The Bonus Situation

Finally, a standalone short story of mine titled The Bonus Situation is scheduled to appear in Ragnarok Publications’ Mech: Age of Steel anthology. Technically, this is scheduled for January 2017, but what the heck. I’ve already typed all this, I’m not going to erase it now.









There you go: All the Somers fiction you can handle. Or not handle.


Aw, Man!

We'll take the hippies and the hipsters, but not the Irish!

We’ll take the hippies and the hipsters, but not the Irish!

For some reason today I realized that I have been using the word man as a general epithet, greeting, and acknowledgement since I was about ten years old — which was probably the last time it was cool, hip lingo. Not to mention the last time it wasn’t humiliating. Not to mention my probable emotional age. Let it drift.

I can remember my Mother admonishing me to stop using it in her presence because she considered it to be, I don’t know — smartassy? uncultured? simply annoying? But obviously her shaming me didn’t have much effect; when I’m not thinking I still call everyone man, as in “Thanks, man!” or “Hey, man!”

Today for some reason I suddenly found myself ashamed of this. I’m a middle-aged grown up, after all, but I call everyone man like it’s still 1975 in my head (I also have the wardrobe of a hobo unless The Duchess cleans me up for adult events, so what?). In many ways it is 1975 n my head; I still expect everything to cost fifteen cents, including gallons of gas and shoes, and get very cranky when presented with invoices costing more; just ask The Duchess. But that’s no excuse. Today in the grocery store I told the kid working the checkout line Thanks, man and he looked at me as if I’d turned to dust and crumbled away in front of his eyes.


Language gets embedded like that. We all need our go-to phrases and lines, the things we utter when we’re on autopilot, or don’t have time to think. Thanks, man just pops out, and in my head it sounds friendly and loose, casual in a cool way. Because that’s how it was when I first picked it up, a bunch of scurvy street kids playing Wiffle Ball with black electrical tape on our bats, doing complicated handshakes when we met up every day. Calling each other man because someone saw it on TV or something one day.

What bothers me is the lack of evolution and the lack of consciousness; I prefer to think I am captain of the S.S. Jeff Somers, this shambolic body I inhabit, and not merely a doughy-eyed passenger. A long time ago the word dude entered my lexicon about the same time it entered everyone approximately my age, and I spent a long time rooting it out and eliminating it, for the most part. Because dude may be the worst word ever invented, and must be burned from our minds. Once in a while I use dude ironically, and once in a while I regress 20 years in a moment and it slips out, but it’s rare. I won the Dude War. So the ongoing battle against Man irks me: Every time I utter the word I feel like a jackass.


Of course, what’s the alternative? I suspect man persists in my everyday speech because it’s egalitarian in its way. Take the boy at the grocery: What should I use to address him? Thanks, kid makes me feel like I’m 105 years old, or possibly in a old noir movie. I could go with just an unadorned thanks, but that sounds abrupt to my ear, almost rude. I could go full-on hipster and make up nicknames for everyone — thanks, Stretch; thanks, Noodles; thanks, Starscream — but somehow I expect that won’t solve my problem. Maybe this is why some people just smirk silently at everything. It saves them the embarrassment of calling someone Chuckles or something.

See, with Man, it’s levelling: Everyone is Man. You’re all my equal when I whip out the circa-1980 secret handshake and call you man (and yet if I said Thanks, woman to a lady I’d likely be entered into some sort of police database, or possibly a Future Cyborg Watchlist). On the other hand, man seems acceptable to me mainly because for one brief shining moment it was considered cool. I could say Thanks, person! and it would be just as universal, but because it sounds so robotic and nerdy, it just doesn’t have the same panache … panache that perhaps only exists in my tiny, booze-soaked brain.

So, man remains, like mild brain damage I can’t cure. So be it. If only I didn’t sound like such an idiot when I used it.


The Unbearable Whiteness of “The Intern”

Shiny Happy People

Shiny Happy People

Because I have committed terrible crimes in a past life, The Duchess made me watch The Intern the other day. Someday I will get myself hypnotized to discover what sort of child-killing Venetian nobleman I was in the past to deserve stuff like this, but for the moment I just accept my punishments as what I deserve.

A pretty not-good comedy starring Robert De Niro as a 70-year old widower who participates in a “senior” internship program at Anne Hathaway’s ultra-hip startup based in Brooklyn, the film sparked an observation I make from time to time that drives The Duchess crazy: A Whiteness Analysis. And holy cow, this is the whitest movie I’ve seen in a long time.

Now, I don’t think every single cast has to be colorblind or forcibly integrated, and yes, there are also films with entirely black (or other) casts. But it’s easy to argue that an all-black film is a necessary correction against the overwhleming diversity problem in mainstream Hollywood, and many of those films also include at least a few white folks, because they’re set in something resembling the real world. Films like The Intern are set in a weird fantasy land where Brooklyn, New York is more or less a White Enclave. Literally no one with any sort of face time in the film is non-White (there might have been a few background characters who were black or another ethnicity). In other words, a film set in a borough of New York City that has

  • a population of 2.5 million people and which is
  • about 36% non-White (or, you know, nearly one million people)

doesn’t have any non-white characters.

As Gwen Stefani might say while she was appropriating even more Japanese culture to sell us her wretched things, that’s bananas.

The Opposite of Good

Now, I’m no paragon of racial virtue. I’m an asshole, and I walk about draped in my white privilege like some sort of King. But I grew up in Jersey City where my friends and schoolmates were of a wide variety of cultural and ethnic backgrounds, so my eye is trained to think that a lot of skin tones and accents and strange cooking smells that hit you in the face when you come over for dinner is normal. Bland Whiteness, on the other hand, freaks me out, even though I am quite bland and quite white.

None of that means a movie is good or bad. A movie can have a painfully white cast and still be amazing — and vice versa. It’s just that once I notice the absolute lack of black characters of any kind, it grates on me a little. Sometimes it’s justified due to the focus of the story or the setting, true enough. But not The Intern, as noted above, because it’s set in one of the most racially diverse places in America.

And let’s be frank, The Intern isn’t a good movie (er, spoilers here if you care, though I can’t imagine why you would). It’s not awful, but it’s that mythical story that lacks any sort of conflict. De Niro’s character is friendly, supportive, intelligent, and only mildly stymied by modern technology and slang. His fellow interns and the employees at the company find him charming and a font of wisdom. Anne Hathaway’s major problem is that the investors at her wildly successful company want her to hire a CEO. And yes, her husband is cheating on her — but, as it turns out, only because she has emotionally abandoned him, he totally still loves her he’s just a modern man struggling to find manliness while being a house husband. Or something.

In other words, there’s no villain, no conflict. Everyone is jolly. Lessons are learned. The movie feints at making Hathaway’s character a bitchy ageist who dislikes De Niro simply because he’s observant while being old, and resolves this ghostly image of conflict literally one minute after it surfaces. This is a movie where everyone apologizes immediately for every single mistake so that no drama can possibly sprout from the seed. In that regard its very much like Downton Abbey, another show where conflict goes to die in a field of muttered apologies and hugs. And also a very, very white show, but they have at least established that black people and Indian people, at the very least, exist in the Downton universe. Plus, as mentioned above, the focus and setting on that show justify the monochromism to some extent, even if there is absolutely no justification for the total lack of stakes or conflict.

Authorial Struggle

Are there areas of this country where literally everyone around you is white? Sure, of course. And maybe those audience segments get unsettled when they see a diverse cast, so maybe there’s a marketing aspect to this sort of casting. I know in my own writing I sometimes have to take a step back and ask myself if my characters are all essentially just me and people I know and am comfortable with, and sometimes I purposefully model a character on someone outside of my tiny circle of friends in order to break out a little. So I can see that if you’re a writer who has pretty much all-white friends and family (which is just a circumstance and does not mean they’re a virulent racist) they can unconsciously write characters who are all more or less familiar to them without thinking about how it all looks.

That can happen. You write what you know, and if you don’t have anyone outside of your own ethnic and cultural experience around you, that’s a thing that can happen. It’s still jarring to see it, whatever the ultimate explanation.

Of course, if I started writing characters based on only the things I interact with on a daily basis, all of my books would feature cats, and would basically be 300 pages about napping.