Posted on August 5, 2010 by Eric Pollarine
OK folks, I have been a little busy, well, not really busy but more like really, really lazy. And the last few things that I have written were pretty standard, and lacking an essential “Ericness,” but with this interview with author Jeff Somers, I think that I have somewhat recaptured, with the help of the masterful author himself, the spirit that I started out my career at Flames Rising with.
So, if you don’t know who Jeff Somers is, or have never read the Avery Cates novels (The Electric Church, The Digital Plague or The Eternal Prison) then you, dear reader haven’t been reading the right Science Fiction. So without further delay I present to you the hilarious and informative interview with Jeff Somers, whose most recent novel “The Terminal State,” will hit bookstores in paperback this upcoming August.
First off let me say thanks to you Mr. Somers for letting me interview you.
Jeff Somers : Thank you for the interest!
First let’s start with, well the most logical place, “The Electric Church.” I am picking up a lot of Dystopian, anti establishment sort of dark, cyberpunk themes in your books but certainly the most telling, the most dark- is “The Electric Church,” what lead you to create the world of the Avery Cates novels? Is it a hallucinogen induced prophetic state you are able to enter into, macabre ceremonies in your study, whiskey or something else?
Whiskey, definitely. You wake up pantsless a few bus stops from home often enough, and your sunny disposition and faith in the world is easily shaken. Plus a healthy dose of distrust for authority and governments, organized religions, and everyone in general. I just believe the natural state of the universe is chaos—it takes a lot of work to maintain any kind of order, and it’s a lot easier to let things devolve into chaos and disco.
The literal inspiration for the Church came from a Douglas Adams novel that featured an Electric Monk that was basically an appliance that believed things for you. And I thought, damn, I could steal the hell out of that, which is, I believe, the rallying cry for great authors everywhere: Damn, I Could Steal the Hell Out of That.
With the level of technology interspersed in your novels did you do any research on actual technological advances, or tech trends to fill out that aspect of the books or was it just taking the usual tropes and pushing them further?
I took two statements and decided they were both true: 1. Scientific advancement as far as practically applied technology would continue pretty steadily, and 2. The more advanced things are, the more repair and maintenance they need. I pictured Cates’ world as amazing in one sense, but crumbling, the infrastructure dangerously corroded. Mostly its little details: The escalators in everyone’s building that never work, all the people living in primitive conditions while the most amazing gadgets are at work around them.
I wanted to keep the technology somewhat in the ballpark of what could realistically be extrapolated from current technology, but some of it was driven by other elements: Hovers, for example, came from my desire to have the System Police descend from the heavens while the mopes were stuck on the ground.
Avery Cates, who is he to you?
A character! Cates is just a voice in my head, a figment who is a lot of fun to move around and script dialog for. He doesn’t speak to me, or visit me, or anything like that. He’s inspired by some of the old noir detective characters like Phil Marlowe or The Continental Op. He kind of sprung fully-formed onto the page in the first draft of The Electric Church, which was written in 1993 or so.
The telltale influences question, the mark of every bad interviewer but here we go anyway: who are they for you and why?
A kid named Corey, who taught me to drink Blackberry brandy when I was about twelve. Ramon, who taught me who to hotwire – wait a sec, you mean literary influences, don’t you?
Well, you have the aforementioned noir writers like Chandler, Hammett. You have Jim Thompson, and Patricia Highsmith. That’s for characters and setting, ambiance. The story certainly owes a debt to William Gibson and Neal Stephenson, and to a steady diet of 1980s-era mass market paperbacks by people like Jack L. Chalker and Frederick Pohl. And The Gap Cycle by Stephen R. Donaldson: damn.
You have your own magazine, “The Inner Swine,” what prompted you to put out your own magazine in a time when, well, print is certainly under fire from digital, if not nearing dead?
I actually started putting out The Inner Swine in 1993, which was, unbeknownst to me, plum in the middle of a Golden Age of Zines. Me and three friends had the idea in our college days—I was moaning about not selling any fiction, and my friend Rob said, dude, why not put out our own magazine? And damn if that’s not what we did.
If that conversation had happened today I’d probably start a Blog, honestly, but I enjoy putting out a print zine. I do whatever I want, my fiction that I can’t sell has a place to go, and while incredibly expensive it’s very satisfying. I may someday take it digital in some way; I don’t actually think print is necessarily supreme for any particular reason. Print has advantages, but digital can be almost the same experience these days. So who knows; The Inner Swine might someday be a PDF file.
The now quintessential question for our vapid and hollow society: What is on your Ipod/preferred Mp3/listening device?
iPod? Bite your tongue. Apple can suck it.
Jay Z / NOFX / Beastie Boys / The Beatles / Pavement / Suicidal Tendencies / AC/DC / Too Much Joy / mashups mashups mashups. Mashups are slowly taking over my music collection.
Humor in the Cates saga is a pretty dark affair as well, is that a personal preference, one that simply suits the world you’re creating, or is it that you just have a gift for bleak humorous prose?
Certainly it feels right that Cates et al would be a little bleak in their outlook, and they’d be breaking balls all the time, playing little head games. Dark humor is fun, and a lot of it comes naturally – a lot of it, frankly, is the lines I wish I had the presence of mind and/or balls to say in my own real-life situations.
I don’t think about or work at the humor too much; it just happens naturally. I think if you try to make something or a character funny, it usually fails, but then maybe that’s why I don’t get paid to write jokes for people.
You’ve hinted at the Avery Cates novels potentially being optioned for a film, do you have further info, or anything you can add to the rumor mill at this time?
The series was definitely optioned and Sony has it in development. That means nothing. A lot of books get optioned and start the development cycle. The option’s up in a few months, which means they either have to buy the option again, or let it lapse. If it lapses we can sell it to someone else. Hell, some books have been in development on and off for decades without a movie being made. I’m not holding my breath.
9. Do you have any specific plans for the Avery Cates novels, are they coming to an end, or can we expect more from everyone’s favorite gunner?
There’s going to be one more Cates book for sure, The Final Evolution, due out next summer (2011), which will close out the major arc for the character. After that, who knows? I am prevented by threat of Ninja attack from revealing any details.
Orbit books, they seem to be making it their business to put out fantastic genre fiction, like your novels, Feed by Mira Grant and more-was it an active choice for you to go with Orbit, or simply the best deal?
Orbit wooed me. They showered me with champagne, expensive gifts, and compliments. They assigned a live-in Fun Coordinator to me who followed me around planning fun things for me to do. They sent me a new bottle of whiskey every evening. They hired singing telegrams to sing praises to me, literally. I was so drunk, overfed, and exhausted I signed the contracts practically in my sleep. The next day, my house had been robbed clean and burned to the ground, and I now receive my editorial instructions via court-order.
No, no, really: Orbit was first on the scene, but their response was so enthusiastic and smart I had little trouble deciding to sign with them. And it was a great decision: I love my editor, and I’ve enjoyed the whole experience.
(Lightening round, ready …GO!)
Four cats: Pierre (fat, the Alpha Eunuch), Oliver & Guenther (brothers, timid, sweet), and Spartacus (tiny, aggressive, aggressively cute—we flew him from Texas when he walked into our hotel room one night, demanding pastries).
Favorite Drink, alcoholic or otherwise?
Whiskey in many forms: Bourbon, Rye, Scotch. My goodness, I’m drunk right now.
Wait a second: They make nonalcoholic drinks? This changes everything. I had no idea.
Would you ever wear flip flops?
Never in life. I don’t even want to look at my hideous, whiskey-pickled toes.
(Lightening Round is over)
That was exhausting.
How do you work, quiet time, out and about, sitting at Starbucks lording success over struggling authors, maybe something more sinister?
My Future Self arrives via explosion and arc lightning and hands me a completed manuscript. He’s often extremely drunk, belittling, and sarcastic, calling me Little Man. Sometimes the manuscripts have bloodstains on them, but I am afraid to ask about that. I’m given very specific instructions on when and how to submit them. To be frank, it’s all very mysterious.
I write pretty constantly, actually, though in short, ADD bursts. I can work anywhere but I tend to sit in my office in the house, at my desk. I work on laptops when I travel, and also write short pieces in longhand in a notebook, so I can work wherever I happen to be, even in places without electricity. I actually used to work on an ancient manual typewriter up until a few years ago. Sometimes I write a lot, sometimes I struggle to pop out three words all day. I don’t worry about it, or keep a schedule, and I don’t need any sort of ideal environment to work in.
I ask this of every author I interview, is there any advice you would like to give or can give to writers out there that are still struggling out there?
Perfectly seriously: Learn to divide your business from your art. Write what you want to write, write what you would want to read. Worry about selling it after you’ve written it. I know some writers can think about the market and tailor their output for what’s selling, but I think that’s a loser’s bet.
Last let me say thanks so much for the interview, and the novels, I hope to keep reading Cates novels for many more years to come!
Thanks! Any time.
So go get your copies of the Avery Cates novels and join in on one of the best science fiction series of the last decade!