Please introduce yourself and your book(s)!
My name’s Jeff Somers (http://www.jeffreysomers.com/), and I hold a number of world records, including (but not limited to) the most number of cats cohabitating in someone’s home, the most whiskies consumed during a best man’s speech at a wedding you weren’t even invited to, most consecutive days wearing the same pair of pants, and longest time lived without jumping out of an airplane. I reserve the right to break more records if the mood strikes me. I’ve also published nine novels and one book about the craft of writing, plus lots of short stories, most of which I got paid for.
What is/are the story(ies) behind your book(s)?
For most of them, the story is that I purchased a box full of manuscripts from an old man living in my apartment building decades ago, paying him with a jar of homemade white liquor and a vague promise to someday take him to lunch. Then I discovered that the manuscripts were mostly straight up gibberish mixed with several hundred letters of complaint written to various government agencies. Penniless and desperate, I was forced to start writing for money. The result was my nine published novels (Lifers, The Avery Cates series (http://avery-cates.com/) [The Electric Church, The Digital Plague, The Eternal Prison, The Terminal State, The Final Evolution], We Are Not Good People (http://wearenotgoodpeople.com), and Chum), the novella The Ruiner, and dozens of short stories. I later expanded The Avery Cates series with a series of novellas that collected to form the novel The Shattered Gears.
Chum was the book my agent signed me on, but it took 10 years to sell, so it was actually my 8th published book. One day in 2016 I was having drinks with my agent and she suggested I write a book about writing, since it’s actually the only thing I’m qualified to write about. So I did, and in 2018 Writing Without Rules (http://www.jeffreysomers.com/WWR) was published. I was paid in free drinks and a small bag of interesting stones. I subsequently lost the bag of stones, and so I launched a career freelance writing, and currently write about books for Barnes & Noble and ThoughtCo and about writing for Writer’s Digest, as well as many other things I am not proud of, but a man’s gotta eat.
What inspires/inspired your creativity?
Alcohol, mostly. Plus also desperation. Sometimes a dash of simmering resentment towards other, more talented authors whose ideas I covet. Very, very often the discarded ideas other writers leave on the workshop floor. I pick them up and nurture them into my own stories, exploring plot threads and character tics that that other writer neglected. I’m kind of a writing vampire that way, I guess. But sexier than normal vampires.
How do you deal with creative block?
What are the biggest mistakes you can make in a book?
Not finishing the book. Everything else is fixable, but if you haven’t finished it nothing else you do matters. Finishing stories is a skill that more writers need to cultivate. You should finish all of them, or as many as possible, even the terrible ones. Maybe especially the terrible ones, because you can’t start un-terribling them until you finish them.
Finishing stories isn’t as hard as it seems, you just have to keep working at them until you get to an ending. Then you can put it in a drawer and forget about it until you suddenly realize you have a mortgage payment coming up and desperately need money, so you pull it out of that drawer, add a sex scene and maybe an assassin character who’s secretly a time traveler and oh! something about cryptocurrency and throw that sucker up on Amazon for some quick cash. Call it FUTURE BITCOIN ASSASSIN and you’ll be a bestseller.
Do you have tips on choosing titles and covers?
Here’s an excerpt from Writing Without Rules about titles:
I am terrible at titles. Absolutely terrible.
You don’t realize how important titles are until you start submitting fiction, at which point selecting a title for your novel is like naming a child: More difficult than it seems, and subject to public scrutiny and abuse. Titles are also one of those things that are impossible to quantify: Why do some titles work and others don’t? What’s the line between clever and pretentious? Why can’t I title a book after a Dave Matthews Band song?
That last one was just for fun. Dave Matthews Band songs are poor choices for just about anything.
For a long time I thought I was a genius at titles. My titles tended to vacillate between pithy and brutal or portentous and poetic. The first non-genre novel I ever wrote I titled Shadow Born. The book I eventually published as Chum was initially titled In Sad Review, which made my agent laugh-cry in torment before she ordered me to change it.
Actual conversation: AGENT: This title is terrible. ME: Terrible good or terrible bad? AGENT: <ugly crying>
I always felt like the title should reflect the mood and tone of the novel itself, and since my younger self always thought my novels were dramatic, important works the titles I chose were, of course, self-consciously (and, in hindsight, hilariously) dramatic and important.
Usually, I need an outside intervention to get me to change the title of a novel or a story, and it’s usually my agent, Janet, who takes me out for a whiskey and explains to me that I can’t call my latest novel The Unfathomable Sadness of Jeff or something like that. In fact, these days I purposefully put awful titles on my manuscripts when I send them to Janet because I know it will trigger a free cocktail, and like all authors I will literally do anything if it results in something with the word “free” in front of it or “cocktails” anywhere at all.
How do bad reviews and negative feedback affect you and how do you deal with them?
I have a medical condition that results in me hearing constant applause in my head, at all times. I’m not joking. It’s really destroying my life. But it does mean I can’t perceive negative feedback or bad reviews.
No, seriously, I don’t read reviews or pay much attention to feedback, good or bad. I write for myself and assume anyone who doesn’t like my work is just not My People. It really is just that easy.
How has your creation process improved over time?
It actually hasn’t changed since I was nine, which is to say I still jump up, tear off my (metaphoric) shirt, and shout AVAST! before diving into an unknown. I don’t plot, plan, or worry overmuch about making sense in a first draft, and then course-correct as needed. I’ll leave what that says about me as an exercise for the reader.
What were the best, worst and most surprising things you encountered during the entire process of completing your book(s)?
Best: Someone will actually pay you to do this!
Worst: They sure don’t pay you a *lot*.
Most surprising: Drunk writing like you see in the movies is neither as enjoyable or as creatively productive as they make it seem.
Do you tend towards personal satisfaction or aim to serve your readers? Do you balance the two and how?
I write 100% just for my own entertainment. My advice to all writers is, write the book you want to read. You may not represent the largest audience in the world, but you represent some of the audience. For example, I represent lazy pseudo-intellectuals with a fondness for brown liquor and cats. It’s a bigger audience than you might think.
Do you have any creativity tricks?
Steal. Steal ideas, techniques, and everything else not nailed down from other writers. Read a lot of books and stories and plunder them like a literary pirate. The trick is to run everything you steal through your own imagination and sensibility, which is like money laundering, except not nearly as lucrative.
What are your plans for future books?
I’m putting out The New World, a novella kicking off a new Avery Cates novel (a direct sequel to The Shattered Gears), on May 15th, 2019, and we’re developing a follow-up to Writing Without Rules that isn’t quite ready for prime time yet.
Tell us some quirky facts about yourself
I am sleek, yet rugged.