More Shit I Gotta Do

Writer’s Digest Annual Conference Appearance

Writer's Digest Annual Conference

Writer’s Digest Annual Conference

So, I’ll be participating in this year’s Writer’s Digest Annual Conference. This will be my third year in a row at this event, and I’m pretty jazzed.

Unlike the last two years where I presented my patented Take Off Your Pants and Write: Plantsing! seminar, this year I’m just popping in for the cocktail hour and a panel:

The Art (and Science) of Worldbuilding in Science Fiction and Fantasy

With Debbie Dadey, Elizabeth Bear, and Matthew Kressel

Sunday, August 14, 10:15am — 11:15am

New York Hilton Midtown
1335 6th Ave
New York, NY 10019

If you’re planning to attend, shoot me a note and buy me a drink, not necessarily in that order.

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Weekly Recap 7-22-16

recap Here we are at Friday again. This keeps happening. Luckily for you, I am a driven man who continuously puts out new writings just for your entertainment.

On the Wee Blog
I wrote a few articles on this here wee blog because that’s what you do when you have a wee blog:

1. “Man Baby” in which I discuss that peculiar feeling when you’re a middle-aged man and your wife doesn’t think you can dress yourself.

2. “The Most Interesting Scene in Mr. Robot S2E1” in which I discuss one scene from the season premiere of the USA show.

ON Other Wee Blogs
I get paid to write for other people for whom writing is a mysterious, dark art. Here’s a few things that published this week:

1. “The Art of the Deal: Bestselling Ghostwritten Books” in which I discuss some bestselling books that were totally not written by the people on the cover.

2. “5 Writers Who Shouldn’t Have Survived to Write Their Classics” in which I discuss a few great writers whose lifestyle choices should have killed them long before they wrote anything.

Writer’s Digest
I have been steadily contributing to Writer’s Digest for the past year, and they recently released a few things including some of my work:

1. Their Yearbook issue on Novel Writing, which includes my piece on Plantsing.

2. “There are No Rules: 4 Tips to Improve Your Writing Instantly” which includes some of my wisdom.

The Ustari Cycle
Stringer.jpgMy novel “We Are Not Good People” is still $1.99 in eBook form, kids, and the next one in the series, “The Stringer” is out in August. So my publisher is pushin’ things:

1. $1.99 still too much for you? You could win a copy of WANGP!

2. BookReels named WANGP as their staff pick as well!

 

Photos
What would these updates be without some multimedia dazzle?

WANGP Super Fan is either at Target buying groceries or about to do some murderin'

WANGP Super Fan is either at Target buying groceries or about to do some murderin’

Spartacus spent all his allowance on a copy of WANGP and now needs liquor monies.

Spartacus spent all his allowance on a copy of WANGP and now needs liquor monies.

Well, that’s it for this week. Hopefully next week I’ll have more stuff for you to completely ignore and make me cry over.

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Let’s Contemplate Death, Want To?

Death Becomes Me

Death Becomes Me

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

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

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

####

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

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

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

####

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

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

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

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

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The Tipping Point

I recently Tweeted a few thoughts on tipping, making a joke about how I use tipping to enforce my will like a modern day Caligula. That’s half-true. I also use tipping to reward good service, like a normal human being. And while there are scenarios where I’d celebrate the end of Tipping Culture (as discussed in Think Pieces here, here, and here) in general I’d likely still tip even if the person’s hourly wage was adjusted up to compensate for a theoretical lack of tips. Because I like tipping.

You Sure, Brah?

Not me. I'm cuter.

Not me. I’m cuter.

One weird artifact of tipping is when you’re a big tipper, as I like to think of myself, sometimes, and society recoils in horror. For example, my barber.

I hate getting haircuts. This is known by the Internet, which is collectively subjected to my whining about it on a regular basis. The reasons I hate haircuts have nothing to do with hair or style, and have everything to do with having some Rando touching my head and talking to me while I am forced to sit there in mortal fear as they wield sharp objects near my jugular. So when I find the Platonic Ideal of barbers—someone who doesn’t chat, who simply gets to work cutting my hair in a silent, businesslike manner, I want to reward that person. I want to tip like 50% and reinforce that urge to not talk, to not ask me what I do, to not pretend that we’re somehow friends just because I allow them to touch my head.

And every time I try to tip some ridiculous amount, the software at the POS machine always pauses and makes me confirm the amount. It’s essentially a message that says, whoa, brah! that’s a lot of coin. You sure?

It’s 3PM on a Thursday, motherfuckers. I’m sober-ish. I am fucking sure.

The Public Shaming

There is an idea that tipping is like a limited resource you should only parcel out in tiny sips, as if you might someday exhaust your personal supply of tips. That every transaction is a complex equation where you weigh millions of pros and cons, each worth, like, a penny or something, and end up with some bizarre number like $23.64. That awarding some peon a tip is like Caligula waving an imperial baton and granting clemency to a gladiator. Like leaving a tip is equivalent to pissing out a kidney stone or having a child: painful and difficult and only to be done with lots of down time and rest in-between attempts. When you attempt to tip in a more freefall, fuckit manner, you get a lot of pushback in the form of calls from fraud services on your credit card account or, as with the barber, robots demanding that you certify you haven’t been day drinking since 11AM and are tipping your barber $25 because they’ve slipped you some Roofies or are holding a straight razor to their throat.

In short there’s an assumption that being generous is by default a mistake, and that’s troublesome.

And that’s likely because rather than a reward for good service, tipping is supposed to be a form of control, a way of making people jump through hoops. Giving someone a bit of kosh because they treated a haircut like the grimly uncomfortable horror that it is seems like I might not quite understand the capitalist system, and thus must be discouraged. Fact is, most of the barbers I’ve met treat cutting your hair like an opportunity to make a new best friend, or possibly to recruit you into their Amway cult. They talk, they ask the same questions every time (because they don’t actually remember me from the last time) and they try to upsell you on hair product.

You’ve seen me. Do I look like a man who uses hair product? Note, not a man who needs hair product (because, obviously: yes) but one who actually uses it. The answer is no. Trying to upsell me hair product while I am writhing in awkward discomfort in your barber’s chair is just dumb.

So, my current barber: A glorious woman who speaks exactly ten words during the entire experience:

Hi Jeff.

Same as last time?

See you next time!

A glorious woman who gets to work, doesn’t waste time, and doesn’t even ask me what kind of shampoo I use, or whether that smell is me, or if I am in fact wearing pants made of cocktail napkins and duct tape, possibly cobbled together in a public restroom after waking up pantsless in a dumpster. She just does the job, takes her pay, and we both move on. And whether the robots like it or not, I am going to keep tipping her as heavy as I can.

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The Awful Miracle of the Post Office

DIRTY MAGIC

DIRTY MAGIC

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.

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

lookiehereUPDATE: The giveaway is over, folks!

Look, 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.

DO IT.

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POB Adventures

Back when The Duchess and I moved in together (when I still put out a print zine), I got myself a PO Box here in Hoboken. At first she was puzzled; The Duchess has always regarded me as far too lazy to conduct a successful adulterous relationship, so she couldn’t figure why I would need a separate mailing address. I told her the truth: The Zine generated a lot of seriously random, seriously weird correspondence. Back in those halcyon days when The Inner Swine was being mailed all over the world by the thousands, I got some weird-ass shit in the PO Box all the time. I figured The Duchess didn’t want the sort of people who made zines and wrote ten-page letters about them (so, basically, me) to know her home address, and once she saw some of the stuff I hauled home from the PO Box, she heartily agreed, and to this day ranks it as one of the Five Good Decisions Jeff Has Ever Made (#1, naturally, is marrying The Duchess).

(Of course, I also used to get tiny sums of cash there as well as folks sent me anywhere from $2 to $50 for single issues, lifetime subscriptions, and other zine-related stuff, which was sort of great)

Today, the PO Box is a desolate wasteland, because I’ve stopped putting out the zine. In fact, the weird/cool correspondence dried up alarmingly quickly once I stopped mailing out the zine. But every now and then I get treats there. Today was one of those days. Here’s what I got.

Never Been to Mars by Larry Gent

Never Been to Mars by Larry Gent

A signed copy of Never Been to Mars by Larry Gent. Larry and I have corresponded a few times as he tries to lure me to various events, and he was kind enough to send me a signed copy of his new novel. Here’s the BCC:

Benedict hasn’t been the same since he returned home from Iraq. He’d seen horrifying things, had his leg pumped full of shrapnel and watched friends vanish before his very eyes. To make matters worse he returned home to find he’d developed psychic visions that he can’t control.

Now he lives his life alone in his house, hobbling to and fro on a cane, doing little else but watching endless streams of TV and movies. He doesn’t want to talk to people, he doesn’t want to see anybody; he just wants to be left alone with his TV until reality develops a laugh track.

But when his nephew goes missing, and the FBI starts calling it a kidnapping, Ben hobbles into action and uses the powers he loathes to save his family and find himself in a seedy world of other with powers, child kidnappings and murderous celebrities.

He already misses his TV.

Xerography Debt #37A copy of Xerography Debt #37. Full disclosure, I write a column for this zine-review zine (with the nifty title It Means Its Wank), so I get a contributor’s copy, and am naturally not very objective about its value. Basically, XD has been a mainstay of the zine scene for a long time, and it’s a great place to start if you’re at all curious about the many, many self-published DIY publications that fall under the banner of “zine.” Fiddler's Green September 2015There are columns, as I mentioned, from folks with some connection to the zine world, as well as a plethora of reviews of zines of all kinds. That means every issue offers you a glimpse of hundreds of interesting, weird things you might otherwise never know about. Which would be sad. Also, I write a column, have I mentioned that? Worth the price of admission alone.

A copy of Fiddler’s Green, a pamphlet/magazine published “occasionally” by Wonderella, with a focus on “art and magic.” It’s truly a unique publication, beautifully designed and printed and ideal for languid afternoons spent day drinking and imagining you’re living another life.

There was also a freelance check in the POB, which I used to purchase this

DAY DRANKIN UNLOCKED

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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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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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