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“Lifers” & “The Shattered Gears” in Print on B&N

The Shattered Gears Omnibus

The Shattered Gears Omnibus

Lifers_cover

Lifers

You may or may not be aware that Barnes & Noble has moved to compete with Amazon‘s Createspace program with a print component for their own Nook Press. That means that self-publishers can offer print versions of their books through B&N’s website as well (and there are supposedly some limited opportunities for self-pub books to get into brick-and-mortar stores, but I’m not focusing on that right now).

Anyways, the point of this post is simple: My two self-pub efforts, my first novel Lifers and the Avery Cates Omnibus The Shattered Gears, are now both available as print books through either Amazon and B&N.

The good news is, they’re both cheaper on B&N, so if you’ve hesitated to buy either because you didn’t want to pay $8 for Lifers or $14 for The Shattered Gears, you can get both $2 cheaper over at B&N.

LIFERS

B&N Nook | B&N Print | Amazon Kindle | Amazon Print

THE SHATTERED GEARS

B&N Nook | B&N Print | Amazon Kindle | Amazon Print

(You can also buy both books at Google Play and Kobo if you’re so inclined!)

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For Sale: Baby Shoes. Never Worn.

The Good Old Days.

The Good Old Days.

Writing Short Stories is Crazy

I wrote my first short story when I was about 15 years old—that is to say, the first story I consciously set out in the form of a short story. Ridiculously enough, I wrote it solely to join my high school’s literary magazine, one of my most shameful moments. I mean, seriously. The fucking literary magazine. I can now safely say that this is perilously close to being my worst decision ever, right up there with gaining twenty pounds when I was thirteen and getting an English degree instead of something useful, like contacts in Russian organized crime.

The story was titled Bricks. I still have it. In about 1,000 words I tell the story of a family in the future where everyone lives underground because of a plague, and their son’s decision to leave home and go topside. It ends with the son wondering what will happen to him as he takes his first breath of fresh air on the surface.

Oh, it’s not good. It’s derivative, but it’s derivative in that special way you get away with when you’re fifteen and not named Mozart: People are so impressed that you wrote something that superficially resembles a real story they forgive all sorts of shit. I wrote it on a Commodore 64 in an application called Kwik-Writer I got from some friends; my friends and I were running a serious underground software piracy operation in grammar school, and I had thousands of stolen applications, and Kwik Writer was one of them. It was kind of awesome and terrible at the same time, which basically describes almost all of the applications available for the Commodore 64.

Since then, I’ve written about 500 more short stories. Bully for me. Getting them published isn’t easy, though there are more difficult projects in the world (self-surgery, perhaps, or tunneling under your house to the nearest mountain range) but the real challenge, as anyone will tell you, is getting paid for them. So why write them? Because I love short stories. Writing them and reading them. And, to be honest, selling them when I can—and I’ve sold quite a few over the years, with a few more on the way.

I write a lot of them, and since the chances of ever selling one are slim, it’s kind of a crazy waste of time. Plus, let’s be honest here, 99% of every short story ever written deserves to stay right in the notebook it was scrawled into, because most of them are terrible, and as luck would have it that goes twice for mine. Even the ones that I think are not terrible aren’t easy to sell; I recently had a story rejected very reluctantly by one market, which sent me a very sad note all about how great the story was and how distressed they were to not be buying it. I immediately submitted the story elsewhere in a frenzy of optimism—after all, this was obviously one of my better efforts.

The next market rejected it within 18 hours.

Writing and trying to sell short fiction sucks. Still, I write a lot of it.

Part of it is an exercise. You get some crazy ideas for stories after a few drinks, and while most of them are awful, some of them ain’t bad, but if you don’t put some flesh on them they disappear. So to keep them alive, I write them, even though most are pretty stillborn.

So, let’s see: Failure and no market, obviously these are fantastic ways to spend my time and mental energy. Then again, I’m an author; futility is what I eat for breakfast.

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“The Stringer” is Out!

Stringer.jpg The Stringer, The Ustari Cycle #3, is out — 99 cents for a great story that returns to the world of Lem Vonnegan and Pitr Mags.

A frequent question is, Hey Jeff, why is The Stringer number 3 in the series? This is confusing as hell and now I’ve spent my last dollar on ice cream instead of your book.

First of all, I get that: Ice Cream is goddamn delicious, bro. Second of it, here’s how the numbering in The Ustari Cycle works:

1 – Trickster

1 – We Are Not Good People

2 – Fixer

3 – The Stringer

4 – Last Best Day

5 – The Boom Bands

The reason We Are Not Good People is both 1 and 2 in the series is because it was originally going to be two separate books (Trickster and Fabricator), but was combined into one. And Fixer, although it’s officially numbered as #2, is a prequel that should probably be considered 0.5. And we’re blessed with a confusing series numbering system as a result. Yay!

Now go buy The Stringer. Also, We Are Not Good People is still just $1.99 for eBooks.

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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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Writing: Watch Out for the Forgotten Character Detail

POOOOOTTTTSSS

POOOOOTTTTSSS

So, Roadies, the new show on Showtime from Cameron Crowe is proving to be a Master Class in How Not to Write in many ways. The show doesn’t lack some charm, and the world of a tour crew with a major band is kind of interesting to see, but it’s amazing how far Crowe—who once had a golden ear for dialogue—has fallen in recent years. When was the last time Cameron Crowe made something people talked about in a positive way?

Roadies is populated by likable actors, which is the only reason, really, it’s watchable. And every episode offers an object lesson in writing mistakes. The example we’ll pull comes from the pilot episode, which of course has to do a lot of work to introduce the premise, the characters, the setting, and the season-long conflicts and storylines. And Crowe makes a fundamental, if minor (but irritating) error when he introduces the Quirky Character Detail What is Forgotten Immediately and Never Mentioned Again. This is an error that a lot of writers make in their stories and novels, so it’s useful to take a gander.

I AM QUIRKY AND ADORABLE, DAMMIT

In Roadies, Imogen Poots plays Kelly Ann, who has a junior role with the roadie crew. She’s supposed to leave for school in the pilot, but of course is seduced by the love and sense of family she feels with her co-workers to eschew higher education in favor of an adventure on the road—fair enough, a believable if not particularly inspired bit of motivation. Poots is, of course, adorable, and she plays Kelly Ann with a bit of measured intelligence; her expressions of doubt and suspicion whenever someone tells her something do a lot to make her character at least seem interesting.

Now, creating and defining characters is hard. It’s very easy to reduce every character down to a trait, or an ethnicity. In fact, a lot of writers start off with little more than that, and add in the details later. And sometimes, in an effort to establish a character before you’ve done the hard work with dialog and action to define them, it’s common to attach weird little details.

Now, weird little details can be inspiring when they react with dialog and action. The way Heath Ledger licked his lips as The Joker in The Dark Knight was inspired; combined with his statements, actions, and appearance, it was a wonderful little tic that underscored his squirrely energy. But this goes wrong when it’s the only thing that differentiates a character—but it also goes wrong when you immediately forget all about that quirky trait after introducing it.

In the Roadies pilot, it is established that Kelly Ann eats off of other people’s plates, a mildly rude yet quirky (oh god quirky) little tic. It’s mentioned explicitly as a reason another character doesn’t like her, and then there is a moment when Kelly Ann does it in a very obvious and ostentatious way, to drive the point home.

It’s easy to imagine that Crowe, faced with a character he’d made blonde, beautiful, young, and smart, needed some way to make her seem, you know, interesting. So he gave her this totally innocuous trait, and made sure we noticed it. And then he completely forgets all about it and the behavior is never mentioned again in subsequent episodes. And that’s annoying. It’s a dumb detail, but if you’re going to go through the trouble of putting a flag on it and making certain we notice it as a way of making the character interesting, then you have to remember it. Otherwise it distracts.

So, when writing, keep that in mind: Giving your character a gonzo detail to give them shape and a memorable aspect is fine. Just don’t forget you did it when you start Chapter Two.

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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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Man Baby

Artist's Rendering of the Author

Artist’s Rendering of the Author

When I was a young’un, I was never, you know, the Cool Kid. I didn’t exactly have a tragic childhood or anything, but I was definitely aware in grammar school that I was a pudgy, glasses-wearing mascot for a lot of kids. I had friends, this isn’t a tragedy or anything, but there it was.

I got invited to a birthday party one weekend. I don’t know about you, but when I was like nine or ten getting invited to a birthday party was like the Social Event of the Season. Making it onto some other kids’ elite list was thrilling, and I was excited. It was in the summer, there would be a pool, and it was like 1,000 degrees out. My Mother, naturally, insisted I wear Church Clothes. I was mortified, but Mom insisted. No child of hers was showing up at someone’s house in play clothes.

Cut to: Jeff, the only kid wearing long pants and a dress shirt and shoes, sweating profusely. I didn’t get invited to a lot of birthday parties. I can’t swear that was the reason why, but … that was the reason why. That and the cursing and the habit of breaking into liquor cabinets.

Anyway, I digress. Cut to 2016, and I am a middle-aged married man (MAMM) and my wife, The Duchess, and I make plans with another couple to have dinner at a fancy shmancy restaurant. And the following conversation occurs:

DUCHESS: You’re not wearing … well, I assume those are clothes.

ME: Why not? They’re street legal.

DUCHESS: This is a nice place. Don’t you have anything pressed?

ME: … I do not know what that word means.

Needless to say, The Duchess, much like my Mother thirty-five years before, insisted on Church Clothes. I registered my vehement protest, but if the evening was going to end with me drinking Scotch and ordering a $50 appetizer, Church Clothes it had to be.

We walk over to the other couple’s house, and when the other husband walks out, he is also wearing Church Clothes. We share A Significant Look and spend the trip to the restaurant grumbling. Naturally, we walk in and the place is packed with very comfortable and happy people wearing shorts, T-shirts, and the like. We each turn to our wives and glower darkly, and spend the rest of the evening drunkenly threatening to take off our pants right there in the dining room.

This of course leads to the inevitable moment when we do take off our pants and are chased out onto the street, where we call an Uber and

What’s my take-away from this? It could be

  1. I really have no idea how to dress. There is much evidence that this might be the case, including three open indictments against me in several states, or
  2. The Duchess learned her Rules of Polite Society in the 1970s Texas Hill Country, which is like the 1870s everywhere else, or
  3. I need to burn all my clothes except what I’m wearing right now so as to have no other options (except that won’t work because a) The Duchess will just march me to The Gap for a shopping spree and b) that means I’ll be wearing Superman Underoos to all my fancy literary events), or
  4. I am a Man Baby and need constant supervision.

Actually, I don’t need to know. Thank you for your time, please forget this ever happened.

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The Most Interesting Scene in “Mr. Robot” S2E1

ursoscrewed.png

ursoscrewed.png

I remain absolutely riveted by USA’s Mr. Robot. It’s like a slow-motion horror movie—like literally if you took a horror movie about a man losing his mind and slowed it to like 1/8th speed, you would have Mr. Robot‘s episodes. Then a brilliant fan theory starts going around online that makes me appreciate what the show is doing even more. I mean, there simply isn’t another show out there operating on Mr. Robot’s visual and atmospheric level right now.

The show’s not perfect, of course, but every episode offers something, usually a sequence that is simply a brilliant mini-movie. This got me thinking about a sequence in the season two premiere that isn’t getting a lot of heat, but I think should: the hacking and takeover of Susan Jacobs’ smart house.

It’s no secret that Mr. Robot often films its episodes like a horror movie instead of a techno thriller or a story about hackers who actually kinda sorta resemble the real thing instead of the Hugh Jackman speed-typing sort you usually get. The lighting, framing, angles, and music all combine to offer up a tableau of dread that is very effective. And this scene is like a mini-horror movie without a payoff—or perhaps a delayed payoff to come.

Mild spoilers to follow if you care about spoilers.

Susan Jacobs is very rich woman, counsel to E Corp. She has a very nice townhome. It’s got a pool, a spa-like bathroom, and a “smart home” system that allows Susan to control everything via iPad. It’s kind of awesome, until she comes home and everything is misbehaving. The alarm won’t stop going off. Music blares at unbearable levels. Her shower is burning hot and the air conditioning has the place at 40 degrees. The TV won’t shut off.

She’s lost control.

The whole sequence is filmed like a horror movie and so it should, as the idea that by bringing these technologies into our homes we’re giving control of some of the most essential aspects of our lives—our shelter—into the hands of a) unseen corporate interests and their drones or b) hackers is kind of scary. By the time we get a smash cut to Jacobs, wearing a winter coat indoors and screaming into the phone that she can’t unplug anything because the wires are buried in the walls, we know she’s totally screwed. She schedules a service call, calls a car, and flees to her country house because of course she has a country house. And literally moments later, F Society shows up, turns everything off, and takes control of the house. They set everything to go crazy just to drive her away. Now they have weeks of using this awesome house for free.

Clever, but what’s really clever about it is how this sequence underscores something interesting: The hackers aren’t the heroes of this show. There are no heroes on this show. The hackers are just as menacing and destructive as the evil corporation. The hackers managed to erase the debts of millions, but this supposedly Robin Hood-like move has destabilized the world, and regular people are shown having to deal with the negative side of this Fight Club ideal: Sure, their debts have been erased … but so has all evidence that they paid those debts in the first place. As a sequence showing a woman desperately trying to convince the bank that she is up to date on her mortgage show, erasing all that data won’t cause the banks to shrug and say well, we can’t prove you owe us money so we guess you don’t! Instead, the more likely scenario is that we’d all find ourselves forced to prove the negative: That we don’t owe them money.

The theft of the smart house should be a chilling sequence for anyone who has a Nest installed and is thinking about an Internet-enabled lock or something. It should also serve as clear evidence that the show doesn’t think there’s really any difference between the hackers and the corporations. They both steal whatever they want, and the people who don’t understand the complex systems they administer—computers and the Internet Vs. money and finance—are doomed to be the victims of the people who do.

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The Stringer Official Trailer

Hey, I have perhaps mentioned that I write things for a living. Sure, I’d write even if no one paid me, but since people DO pay me, I like to promote the things I write because mo’ money means mo’ liquor and a much greater chance of dying the way I’ve always dreamed: pantsless in a hospital under the name John Doe with a liver the size of a football.

Towards that end, here’s the shiny new trailer for The Stringer, an Ustari Cycle novella set after the events of We Are Not Good People that y’all should read:

About the novella:

Learn the Words. Get the blood. Rule the world. A stand-alone short story in the Ustari Cycle.

Most people never learn what a Stringer is—and their lives are better for it. Lem, however, gets to learn about them and possession by alien intelligences the hard way. A must-read in the gritty supernatural series that includes We Are Not Good People from the “exhilarating, powerful, and entertaining” (Guardian) storyteller of the Avery Cates series.

For blood mages, the twenty-first century means hiding in the shadows, keeping society unaware of their incredible powers. The power-hungry sort plot quietly to manufacture tragedies bloody enough to give them the gas they need to cast something monumental. Lem and Mags, down-and-out bosom buddies to the end, try to be good, bleeding nobody but themselves, skating by on small Cantrips, cons, and charms.

So when the siren song of easy money comes their way in the form of helping out a friend, clearly no good will come of it. Blood mages are not good people. And neither are Stringers—alien intelligences that can take over a body and run it ragged. Stringers: they aren’t subtle, aren’t content to skulk in the shadows, and aren’t a houseguest anyone wants. Lem is about to learn what a possession hangover feels like—if Mags and his more tentative allies can figure out how to stop the demon without killing him.

Go on BUY IT. DO IT. DOOOOOO IIITTTTTT.

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Smug Bastards Can Go Pound Sand

OH NOES SMUG BASTARDS!

OH NOES SMUG BASTARDS!

I’ve never been what you would call a “hip” person. Or cool. I’ve never had my finger on the pulse, as it were; I tumble along, more or less lost in my own thoughts (you folks I’ve walked past on the street while you shout my name to no effect know exactly what I mean) and only occasionally surface to note the things around me. I’m more or less one step from living in my own fantasy world, and the only thing keeping me rooted to reality is probably whiskey.

In short, I’m blissfully unaware of most things.

My memory is also famously awful; my brain lives in the present, bro, and the past melts away and the future has no meaning. The memories I do retain tend to be powerful enough to gain some traction on the smooth, wrinkle-less vastness of my brain. One of the memories I came still summon up dates back to when I was about ten or eleven years old, and I just started to become aware of my social status. Up until then my identity had been wrapped up in my grades and the fact that my teachers thought I was adorable, and the opinions of my fellow children never really mattered; in my neighborhood I could beat all the kids in a footrace and thus considered myself King of the Block.

But then something shifted, and I realized I wasn’t King of the Block, I was a pudgy, glasses-wearing nerd. And this troubled me, because who wants that? So I began an incompetent and lazy campaign to make myself seem cooler, and part of this campaign involved the classic Jeff Somers strategy of pretending to be very knowledgeable about things all the other kids considered cool. And so, when challenged by a bullying classmate to name my favorite rock band — because this was back when rock bands were still cool, you see, which if you carry the two and divide by pi will reveal just how fucking old I am — I said Led Zeppelin, because I had vaguely heard the name before. Unimpressed, the kid demanded I name a favorite song, and, my knowledge of rock music exhausted, I was humiliated.

Now, since that day I’ve rectified both my knowledge of Led Zeppelin (favorite song: Black Dog) and my need for approval (somewhat) and am happy in my slightly obtuse existence. I have accepted myself and my limitations, even though this means I don’t get a lot of stuff. Like Pokémon Go. I barely understand what it is and have no desire to play it.

But, to paraphrase Voltaire, I will die to defend your right to play it.

The Smug Bastards

You know them: The killjoys who can’t stop announcing what they refuse to enjoy, or don’t consider interesting, or are mystified by. It might be Pokémon, it might be Game of Thrones. It might be Star Wars or sports or whatever — the only defining characteristic of the Smug Bastard is that they don’t share your enjoyment of something, and they wish — oh god how they wish, they wish hard — to let you know this fact.

The classic example has always been and will ever be the Person Without a Television. These days you could update that to The Person Without Any Sort of Screen. These folks have been waddling about for decades, proudly announcing that they are certainly not stupid and lazy enough to waste their time watching programs. They prefer reading books, collecting stamps, listening to the opera or some other Smug Bastard Approved form of entertainment.

These days, with pop culture fragmenting, Smug Bastards, much like bedbugs, are proliferating. It’s easy to fall into the trap; someone says “Hey, I love that show!” concerning something you’ve never heard of, and a cursory investigation reveals a cartoon whose premise seems silly to you. So you dismiss it. Now, you’re not required to like or even know about anything in this world. If you choose not to partake, no worries. It’s when you decide you have to let the rest of us know, in awful, horrible detail why you don’t care for it that you become a Smug Bastard, living in the damp, dark creases of the Internet.

The Dark Creases

Resting. Smug. Bastard. Face.

Resting. Smug. Bastard. Face.

The Internet, of course, is where most of the Smug Bastards thrive. The disconnect, the digital wall between you and everyone else — plus the other Smug Bastards who rally around you — makes it seem almost okay to shit all over someone else’s enjoyment. You meet Smug Bastards in real life, of course. People who will dismiss all of rap music, for example, as unworthy of their attention, or people who love and praise the worst movies made before 1970 but despise everything since. But it’s on the Internet where the Smug Bastards thrive, clogging up your Facebook feeds with smug declarations that what you enjoy is stupid, or less worthy.

Fuck ’em all.

I’m just as guilty of Smug Bastard Syndrome as anyone else. In fact, where some folks have a Resting Bitch Face I often have a Resting Smug Bastard Face, and my kneejerk reaction to just about, well, everything is bored, superior disinterest. But you know, at least I don’t post it on the Internet or walk around announcing it. When with my fellow humans, when something like Pokémon Go comes up, I smile and feign polite interest.

Because that’s what you do in a society.

So, to repeat: Fuck ’em all. Have a good day.

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