Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Steampunking Jeff Somers

If you've watched the Disenchanted & Co. book trailer, then you know something of the wicked marvel that is author Jeff Somers (because he produced it.) I've described Jeff as being like Steinbeck with an attitude problem, but on the page he's much more hands-on and in your face than old John. In fact I don't think I've ever read a more darkly humorous or mercilessly skilled writer of urban fantasy noire.

Whether he's writing about a grim post-Apocalyptic SF near future or a seedy underworld of magic grifters or any of his other unapologetic universes, Jeff Somers knows how to grab a reader and hang onto their imagination. And while he's not an author I recommend to the timid of heart, or those who only wish to visit Fictional Villages of Clean, Virtuous Happy People Who Always Do Nice Things, I think his stories offer something very rare. In the midst of the worst nightmares, under the most impossible circumstances, even when you're convinced it's utterly hopeless, Jeff reminds us that there is still hope. It might not be pretty, or packaged perfectly, but hope persists.

I persuaded Mr. Somers to be our next author to steampunk, and he delivered with his usual hilarious panache:

1. If you could replace one piece of current technology with a steam-powered equivalent, what would you swap out, and what would you call it?

The coffee maker. My coffee maker right now is basically Star Trek: It uses those little pods and it’s like you insert this obscure plastic thingamabob and then coffee is dispensed. For all I know the plastic pods are the currency of aliens who accept my sacrifice and give me coffee in return.

What would be awesome is if I had to turn cranks and pull levers and put on special goggles every time I made coffee, and this would allow me the opportunity to shout things through an old-fashioned tube-based communication system like The Beatles do on Yellow Submarine. Maybe also donning a lead-lined apron when I do. And all sorts of steam would fill the kitchen and pressure gauges would jump into the red zone and I’d get to scream She’s gonna blow! and the house would shake and neighbors would call the police and steam would start leaking out of the windows and the chimney and the fire department would be dispatched and first-responders would take axes to my doors and smash in my windows and teams of burly men with ridiculous waxed mustaches would rush in and grab me and rush me out of the house football-style.

And then, a small shot of coffee would be dispensed. THAT WOULD BE AWESOME.

2. The Psychic Powers Fairy has picked your numbers for a one-wish lottery. What power do you wish for, and why?

I could get all meta on you and ask for the power to make modern-day gadgets steam-powered, but that seems mean.

So: I could ask for the power to mind control people. I mean, I’m assuming here I can’t get like sweeping demi-god style Akira-type powers, right, you know where I could destroy cities and warp space/time with just my thoughts. I’m assuming. If I’m wrong, say the word and that is what I wish for.

Otherwise, the power to mind control people. I mean that would also result in the end of the world as we know it, it would just take a bit longer, e.g.:

STEP ONE: Acquire Mind Control Powers acquired via watery tart throwing a sword at me or some such.

STEP TWO: A series of poorly-thought out decisions.

STEP THREE: Cities in ruins, roaches suddenly evolving superintelligence to take over.

So, instead, perhaps telekinesis so I could stop all this laborious walking.

3. If you could live in any other time period prior to 1913, which would you choose, where would you live, and what would you do for a living?

Can I answer this with a DO NOT WANT? I like living in the 21st Century. The past was, by and large, a horrible place. Plus, have you ever seen those posts where people dig up like 8th-grade exams from a hundred years ago and challenge you to pass them? I would not pass. If I found myself suddenly in 1900, or 1655, or 1000 I’d be surrounded by intellectual giants who would be declining Latin in their spare time and devising new ways to measure velocity or something like that – OR surrounded by terrified ignorant peasants who would decide to burn me alive because my accent was odd or because I didn’t speak Old Norse or something.

If I had no choice, I’d select the year 1912 and I would naturally wish to be President of the United States and my first act would be to suspend the Constitution and launch terrifying warfare across the globe.

4. You stumble through the Writer Way-Back machine, which means you can spend a day hanging out in any time period with any author of your choice. Who do you go see, and how do you spend the day?

Hunter S. Thompson. We spend the day exactly the way he always did:

3:00 pm rise
3:05 Chivas Regal with the morning papers, Dunhills
3:45 cocaine
3:50 another glass of Chivas, Dunhill
4:05 first cup of coffee, Dunhill
4:15 cocaine
4:16 orange juice, Dunhill
4:30 cocaine
4:54 cocaine
5:05 cocaine
5:11 coffee, Dunhills
5:30 more ice in the Chivas
5:45 cocaine, etc., etc.
6:00 grass to take the edge off the day
7:05 Woody Creek Tavern for lunch-Heineken, two margaritas, coleslaw, a taco salad, a double order of fried onion rings, carrot cake, ice cream, a bean fritter, Dunhills, another Heineken, cocaine, and for the ride home, a snow cone (a glass of shredded ice over which is poured three or four jig¬gers of Chivas)
9:00 starts snorting cocaine seriously
10:00 drops acid
11:00 Chartreuse, cocaine, grass
11:30 cocaine, etc, etc.
12:00 midnight, Hunter S. Thompson is ready to write
12:05-6:00 am Chartreuse, cocaine, grass, Chivas, coffee, Heineken, clove cigarettes, grapefruit, Dunhills, orange juice, gin, continuous pornographic movies.
6:00 the hot tub-champagne, Dove Bars, fettuccine Alfredo
8:00 Halcyon
8:20 sleep

5. I noticed you have a nice list of free short stories on your web site. If you could pick for me, which story would you want me to read first?

“In This Slowly Rising City, So Bereft of Company” ( Written in the late 1990s and published in the zine The Whirligig back in 2002, this is still one of my favorite stories. I just like the pragmatic way everyone accepts what’s happening, and the sad tone of it all, if I do say so myself.

Thank you, Jeff, for making me laugh so hard I had to recode this post four times (and I want to mention that Jeff's latest release, Chum, is hitting the shelves on September 18th. While we're waiting on that, I have a giveaway of Jeff's books and some fun geeky-themed prizes to go along with them:

The winner of the giveaway will receive:

-- Unsigned paperback copies of Jeff's complete Avery Cates series along with Trickster, the first book in his new series
-- The Writer's Lab by Sexton Burke
-- Writing the Paranormal Novel by Steven Harper
-- How to Tell if Your Cat is Plotting to Kill You
-- The Geek edition of Magnetic Poetry
-- A typewriter-shaped notepad
-- The Predict-a-Pen
-- Handy bookmarks
-- A brand-new black and denim O'Neill backpack

And to give you a look at the prizes, here they are heaped on my office chair:

If you'd like a chance to own all this stuff, in comments to this post name the author (living or gone) with whom you'd most like to spend a day by midnight EST on Friday, August 23, 2013. I'll draw one name at random from everyone who participates and send the winner the whole pile. This giveaway is open to everyone on the planet, so please join in.


  1. I've developed a Tee Morris and Pip Ballantine addiction, so really even though I had lunch with them a few days ago I want them all to myself for a day. They are such a kick!


    I want to meet Diana Gabaldon and just... bask in her glow.

  3. Wow, what a great giveaway, I'll have to add Jeff to my TBR list. I think I'll have to choose Georgette Heyer as my author. I've loved her books since I first started reading "grown up" books back in 1972 and I re-read them all every 3-4 years.

  4. As someone who's had the chance to meet Jeff Somers a few times, I'd have to choose HIM as the author I'd like to spend a day with (please don't kill me, Mrs. Somers!).

    Also, I'm thinking of doing a Kickstarter to raise funds to PREVENT Jeff's mind-control plans. If we raise enough money to keep him well-pickled, we'll have no trouble. :)

  5. I'd love an opportunity to spend a day with Sharon Lee. Or if I was also given the ability to speak the person's language...back in time to Jules Verne!

  6. I'd have to say Jeff Somers too.
    It would give me more time to pick his brain on writing in first person perspective. Of course that would have to be before the obligatory scotch began to flow. I'm fairly certain my tolerance would be no match for the well seasoned liver he has nurtured and trained over the years. Alas it would be fun all the same.

  7. I'd like to spend a day with Sir Arthur Conan-Doyle, try my hand at Bartitsu and persuade him to crack the secrets of Moriarty

  8. I would like to spend a day or more with Mark Twain. What a memorable and unforgettable day that would be.

  9. My wish is for the chance to spend a day with Sir Winston Churchill, author, statesman and individual extraordinaire.

  10. Well, Lynn Viehl. O.O LOL. Also, I bet Mark Twain, like petite said would have been an amazing companion for a day.

    I've got the Writer's Lab book... it's fun.

    Don't enter me... just swinging by from PBW.

  11. I,d love to spend time with Kahill Gibran. I "discovered" him while I was in high school and can pick up any of his works and find something new and inspiring every day.

  12. Ooooo. Very cool prizes!

    Well, the unfun answer is my Grandpa who was a technical writer and my mentor. Although it would be sad to only have him back for a day.

    The more fun answer is JR Tolkien. Although I'd probably have to have some sort of disguise or identity that would allow me to talk with him, since I have a feeling he was grumpy and wouldn't talk with me even if I stalked him all day. Oh, and if he hung out with CS Lewis sometime during that day it would be awesome. :)

  13. What is their incentive to talk to me? I wonder...I think I'd like to spend a day with Jack London, preferably in bars or at a fight, nowhere fancy. I think Percy Bysshe Shelley and Mary would be an interesting day.--LIV

  14. Great interview. I've been eyeing the Avery Cates series for ages. :)

    I work at a bookstore and have been to several conventions, so I'm fortunate enough to have met (or seen from a distance) several of my favourite authors, including the man who got me reading fantasy in the first place, Terry Brooks.

    So I'd probably go back to the Middle Ages and talk to Chaucer or the author of Beowulf. Someone whom I could ask about the period in which they live, their ideas on literature, for Chaucer, what order the Canterbury tales were supposed to be in (manuscripts differ so there's uncertainty about it), etc. Of course, no one would believe that my autographed copy is legitimate when I return. But I could live with that.

  15. So many names come to mind, but I'd love to meet and have tea with Frances Hodgson Burnett. I loved her books as a child; I reread several in the last year and they're still beautiful. "The Secret Garden" is one of my favorite childhood books.

  16. would like to meet Abbi Glines

  17. I'd love to talk world building with C.S. Lewis. But I wouldn't mind hanging out with you, either. (We could invite Shiloh to join us because I love her books too.) You could teach me to quilt. We could go to the steampunk flea market, and I could meet Mama Bird.

    (Don't enter me. I have most of the books.)

  18. There are quite a few I would like to spend some time with. Right now, I think it would be fun to spend a day with Carrie Vaughn (of Kitty and the Midnight Hour) at a Sci-Fi/Fantasy Convention. Just for the cosplay and general geekery (which we definitely both are), as well as I think it would be cool to know better where the voice of her characters come from, which is a strength of hers.

  19. Just one author? Gee... Um....One?

    Kim Harrison

  20. Tolkien. I would love to have been alive for one of his lectures on one of my favorite things...words. Sigh. I think if he'd have been my teacher I would have paid attention to English class.

  21. Good thing I wasn't drinking while reading this, as I would've had a few spit takes from laughing. And instantly my mind went: "Can you imagine Avery in the 19th century? He must create Cates's steampunk alter-ego. MAKE IT SO." Ahem.

    I would probably want to hang out most C.S. Friedman, so I could fan-nerd about the Coldfire Trilogy.

  22. Hmmmm. . . just one is hard, but I am going to have to go with Richelle Mead. The one time I met her, she seemed like a riot and she was wearing a very cool Jem and the Holograms T-shirt.

  23. One author? C.S. Lewis. It seems cliche, but Narnia books are really what got me started on this whole writing idea.

  24. Sherrilyn Kenyon I am so fond of her writing.

  25. I'd love to chat with Shakespeare and Tolkien as far as dead authors. Living writers: I'd love to meet Rob Thurman, Joss Whedon (I'm counting scripts here as writing), Jim Butcher, and Lynn Viehl (or course!).
    I think my head would explode if I had to pick one and only one of my favorite folks!

  26. Lord Byron, Jane Austen, Lynn Viehl, Oscar Wilde, Neil Gaiman, Richard Kadrey, to name just a few. There are so many great writers I would love to spend a day with.

  27. I would choose Elizabeth Peters, who sadly just passed away. She was simply brilliant, both as a writer and as an Egyptologist, and is one of my favorite authors.

  28. Oh no, Carissa, Barbara Michaels died? Man, go away on vacation and things always happen... Now I've forgotten who I was going to say... Barbara Mertz, of course. And Lucy Maud Montgomery. I love lots of other authors, but I would so enjoy spending the day with those two, just talking about writing.

  29. Not at all possible to pick just one, but I can probably keep it to fewer than five.

    Living: Rick Riordan (just how did he come up with the baboon that only eats foods ending in O? Huh???)

    Recently dead: Isaac Asimov or Arthur C. Clarke

    Not so recently dead: Twain or Doyle

    (Okay, five exactly. I tried.)

  30. Actually, mine would be Lynn Viehl. I've enjoyed her books, blogs and pictures so much! (no, I'm not sucking up; it's true!!)

  31. Haha! My husband would love his coffee machine to involve more levers and steam. I swear he is most happy when he is tinkering with the thing.

    Let's see... I would love to spend a day with Piers Anthony. I love the way he plays with words.