A couple years ago I picked up The Electric Church on a whim, I tore through the book in mere days. Ever since that day I have been pushing the book like a cheerleader at a prep rally. Warning: I do NOT look good in a cheerleader’s outfit. So when I had a chance to chat with Avery Cates author Jeff Somers I jumped at the chance.
It has been said you made the transformation from an observational essayist into a science fiction writer. What prompted you to make such a transformation and does that transformation require a spell or device of some sort? Why Science Fiction?
My goodness, who says that? I will fight each of them in some sort of mixed martial arts cage match. The fact is, I started off writing sword-and-sorcery type stuff. High fantasy, riffing off of Tolkien, and then morphing into riffing off of Stephen R. Donaldson and Jack L. Chalker. I pretty much wrote sci-fi and fantasy until college. College is a dangerous time. You get drunk a lot and have deep conversations with people about the universe and then you decide to stop writing about cyborgs and start writing about your father, and then you spend 10 years drunk and crying. That sad era lasted until I was about 28. That’s when I dug up The Electric Church, originally written when I was 19, and started revising.
The essays came in-between; I started putting out The Inner Swine in 1995. Since I was not immediately arrested or shamed, I kept doing it. So far very few people have noticed.
I think stories are stories. Sure, in SF/F you have certain tropes, certain constructions, but honestly I always just consider it all writing. Have fun. Tell a story I’d like to read. I was never conscious of any deliberate transformation.
There has been a lot of comparison from your books to Phillip K Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep (Blade Runner). How do you respond to such comparison?
Jebus, it’s flattering. Although I think most people, when they make this comparison, are referring to the film and not the novel. My book is not nearly as complex as Dick’s novel, but there is a superficial resemblance between Blade Runner and the world Avery exists in. I almost certainly had the movie in mind while writing. Or perhaps on endless loop. That’s possible.
On the other hand, I keep hoping to have a stroke or a vision or a psychotic break like Dick did. It sounds fun. It also sounds like the sort of thing you can use as an excuse to spend twenty or thirty years wearing a bedsheet and eating Doritos instead of getting a Day Job.
You’ve never shied away from language and brutality in your Avery Cates series. Did you run into any difficulty with your editor/publisher over the mature content in your book? If so how did you prevail?
No on both counts, actually. I will admit to a bit of exhilaration while writing The Electric Church, just throwing caution to the wind and making the language as salty as god intended. I actually assumed someone would eventually suggest I cut it back a little bit, but consistently everyone who read it found that to be one of the book’s charms – well, to be fair, some folks eventually declared their dislike for the perceived overuse of profanity in the books, but for the most part people seemed to think the language was setting-appropriate and enjoyed it.
No one at the publisher ever suggested I change that, actually. It was mentioned quite a lot, but more in an admiring, I can’t believe you fit that many F-bombs into a book kind of way. It did sort of become a Thing, though, something that people mentioned all the time and made jokes about. Sort of like my drinking problem.
What is the F-Bomb Project?
Speaking of F-bombs … The F-Bomb project was a fun way of underscoring, lampshading the amount of profanity in the books. Every review seemed to mention the amount of profanity, so I thought, let’s have some fun with this. I suggested to readers that they make short videos of them reading their favorite passages in the books that contained the word fuck. It was a lot of fun! I took all the submitted videos and edited them together into a trio of super cuts. You can view them at http://www.avery-cates.com/fbomb/ if you’re feeling weird.
What’s next for Jeff Somers? Are there plans to ever return to the Avery Cates universe?
Right now, I have a two-book series with Pocket Books starting in 2013. The first book is called Trickster. I’m working on edit notes and revisions right now. It’s set in a dirty noire-y version of New York, and involves ritual murder, dark magic, and self-mutiliation. Not necessarily in that order.
As for Cates – you never know. I have a synopsis of a new story that might work for him. He’s alive at the end of the series, after all, even if most of the world isn’t. I suspect there are a lot of dark little machines left humming under the surface of our ruined future, which an aging Cates could stumble onto. However, at this precise moment I have no immediate plans to continue his tale. Someday, though, I think I might.
What is your favourite book/author? Why?
I don’t have one! I do have writers I am hatefully jealous of, and would kidnap, Misery-style, at the first opportunity. But I should probably not implicate myself in any future mysterious kidnappings of famous authors, so let’s change the subject. To your original question. Which I suspect you are impatient for an answer to. I just ended that’s sentence with a preposition. I am a horrible writer. Yes, I’m a little drunk.
There are writers who have a book or two I think is absolutely genius, and then other books that aren’t so good. Plus, my opinions of books changes over time. A book I thought was my favorite of all time back when I was 15 might seem a bit silly now. So I avoid those kinds of categorizations.
When I was a kid, the Narnia books were absolutely my favorite. I read those over and over again. When I was a teenager in High School, I was reading everything Jack L. Chalker ever wrote. In College I started reading noir detective novels and thought Dashiel Hammett ought to be carved onto Mount Rushmore and wrote personal essays about how The Glass Key and the film Millers Crossing were related. Most recently I’ve been going back and reading things that aren’t famous or on course syllabi, but seem interesting, like the short stories of Robert Louis Stevenson or Cast the First Stone by Chester Himes.
I bought the A Song of Ice and Fire books but I’m afraid to read them because I’m afraid George Martin isn’t going to survive long enough to finish writing them, like Robert Jordan.
What is your most memorable comic trade/graphic novel? Why?
The Prisoner: Shattered Visage. I’m not hugely into comics and graphic novels, but I was a huge fan of The Prisoner. Spent a lot of time discussing it and trying to make sense of the final episode, which I now figure was a waste of time. But it’s one of those things where I always wished the show had continued or had a sequel. I even wrote a bit of fan fiction about it. So when I saw the graphic novel I was all over it. And it was fantastic. The art was haunting, and I thought they captured the sense of paranoia very well.
No, you cannot read the Prisoner fan fiction.