Saturday, November 29, 2008

I think it's high time you knew

Yet another blogmeme via matociquala:

Put your music player on shuffle, and write down the first line of the first twenty songs. Post the poem that results. The first line of the twenty-first song is the title.

Additional: I skipped instrumental tracks, but kept duplicate artists, since many of them were a cappella groups covering others' songs. And the twenty-second song is the title of this post.
    This savage is different to me now

    I've got a girl and Ruby is her name
    Not another drugstore not another town
    Do you have that run-down feeling?
    I'm gonna do all the things for you a girl wants a man to do

    What a fool I was, what a dominated fool
    A key in the door, a step on the floor
    Because you and I were in love
    When in the springtime of the year

    You don't have to be beautiful
    Eleanor Rigby picks up the rice
    Gotta get my old tuxedo pressed
    I feel the night explode when we're together

    Puerto Rico, you lovely island, island of tropical breezes
    I've got a theory that it's a demon
    In every heart there is a drum that beats
    The case was pulled from under the bed

    A world of cheeses, deliciously made for you and me
    Just about the time the shadows call
    Just you wait, Henry Higgins, just you wait
    Magic moments, when two hearts are caring

Thank you, iTunes 8.0.2 on Party Shuffle. Source tracks:
  • Ruby Baby (The Drifters) - The Stanford Fleet Street Singers
  • Not Another Drugstore - The Chemical Brothers
  • Jeremiah Peabody's Polyunsaturated Quick-Dissolving Fast-Acting Pleasant-Tasting Green and Purple Pills (Ray Stevens) - The Stanford Fleet Street Singers
  • I'm Gonna Make You Love Me - Diana Ross and the Supremes
  • Without You (My Fair Lady) - Julie Andrews
  • Shoe Box - Barenaked Ladies
  • Love Song - The Stanford Fleet Street Singers
  • The Mummer's Dance (Loreena McKennitt) - USC Sirens
  • Kiss (Tom Jones) - Prince
  • eleanor rigby vs in my head (mashup) - team9 vs the beatles
  • Lulu's Back In Town (Fats Waller) - The Stanford Fleet Street Singers
  • Tell It To My Heart - Taylor Dayne
  • America (West Side Story) - Marilyn Cooper, Chita Rivera, Shark Girls
  • I've Got a Theory (Once More, With Feeling) - Cast of Buffy the Vampire Slayer
  • When We Were Kings (Brian McKnight and Diana King) - Harvard Opportunes
  • Another Nail For My Heart - Squeeze
  • Cheese Roll Call (Animaniacs) - Pinky and the Brain
  • One Sweet Love - Sarah Bareilles
  • Just You Wait (My Fair Lady) - Julie Andrews
  • Magic Moments - Perry Como
  • Cup Overflowing - GrooveLily
  • Love Machine (Smokey Robinson and the Miracles) - The Richter Scales
And yes, as a matter of fact, I am a proud resident of Coverville.


67,118 words

Finished my NaNoWriMo 2008 novel tonight. I had been shooting for 75,000 words, but I reached a natural and satisfying endpoint for the story I was telling at just over 67,000.

I considered going back and inserting a few chapters from another character's point of view, to beef up the word count, but I'm not sure that's what I want. There are already two or three other big things I'll have to fix in the second draft, so I want to mull over all the changes before mounting a single, combined assault.

Meanwhile, I've plenty of other things to do. I'm on the hook for rewriting and submitting my "American Gothic" story from Viable Paradise tomorrow. After that, I need to start organizing my notes for the 512 Words flash fiction pipeline.

I've got a lot of ideas and fragments scattered throughout Google Docs and my PalmPilot notes. There's no shortage of ideas in the world, but I've already outlined some of these premises, and it'll be good practice in finishing what I start. Even if it is a decade later for some of them.


Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Hello Stanford

Friend-of-the-blog Loren mentioned that my Class Notes made it into the current issue of Stanford Magazine. If you got here from there, welcome! You can find tales from our summer road trip (featuring Bayla and Jasper) over at Travels With Our Cats.

If you want to read more of what I'm writing, especially science fiction, check out 512 Words or Fewer (also available in podcast form) every Friday, or see my complete bibliography at Stories By Curtis C. Chen.


P.S. Sorry you lost the axe on Saturday.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Lowered Expectations

I started this year's NaNoWriMo with the goal of reaching 100,000 words, but with ten days left and a current total of 42,717 words, that's probably not going to happen.

So I've revised my goal down to 75,000 words, which is still 15,000 more than my previous high score of roughly 60,000 and will be a non-trivial challenge. All the weekends this month have been useless for writing, but I've still got ten days, and 4,000 words a day is totally doable. I just need to sort out the story in my head. Typing is easy. Plotting is hard.


CKL+D Go To OryCon

OryCon 30 starts tomorrow!

You can view our tentative schedule on Google Spreadsheets. We also hope to meet up with our friends Ken & Cera and Kevin & Steph at some point during the weekend. And find a couple of hours somewhere to help out behind the scenes.


Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Me and Ken Levine

I spent last weekend at Sitcom Room 3, where for two days I got to experience a simulation of the glamorous life of a TV comedy writer. (See? You're laughing already.) As shown above, I was delirious happy enough after the experience that I didn't attempt to do physical harm to our captor host, Emmy Award winner Ken Levine. (Insert Stockholm Syndrome joke here.)

Hats off also to Dan O'Day, who handled the lion's share of logistics for the event.

Here's a brief summary of the weekend.

Thursday: I arrive in LA, go to dinner with my parents (at an eerily uncrowded Chinese restaurant--we were the only diners there all night), tweak their wireless router (my dad upgraded to FiOS), do a little writing, then go to sleep.

Friday: We drive up to Santa Monica and meet my sister for lunch at Riva. Traffic reminds me why I don't live here anymore. Parents drop me off at the LAX Hilton. Walk down to corner gas station for some Coke (cheaper than the $3 hotel vending machine). Meet some fellow Sitcom Room attendees for dinner in the cafe.

Saturday: Wake up bright and early. Realize I didn't bring any bowls or utensils for my in-room breakfast of instant oatmeal, but make do with a couple of lowball glasses and wooden coffee stirrers. Meet some other folks, then get an earful from Ken about writing TV comedy. Walk to Carl's Jr. for lunch. Watch actors perform a ghodawful scene from a fictitious sitcom, get notes from "network" and "studio," break into teams to rewrite. I'm on Team C, the first to finish at 12:44 AM, having survived a logistical curveball two hours into the process and a lot of mediocre Chinese and junk food.

Sunday: Reconvene to watch actors perform the four scenes that each team rewrote. I'm pleasantly surprised by how well our scene works, how many laughs it gets, how little Ken has to say about fixing it further. We break for lunch and another 90 minutes of rewrites, but my team mostly just shoots the breeze. Finally, the weekend ends with a panel of writers talking about the industry and answering our questions. Scatter drill. I enjoy a quiet dinner of pasta, wine, and Heinlein.

Monday: I fly back home. While waiting in the airport, I run into a former co-worker, then watch Strange Brew. Those events are unrelated. I also watch the "Do-Over" episode of 30 Rock, which had been name-checked during Sitcom Room. It's pretty good.

Now, as promised, a few comparisons.

I went into Sitcom Room expecting it to be a lot like a Richter Scales retreat: lots of vulgar humor, lots of brainstorming for concert skit ideas. It was all that, but more focused and productive. I'm not saying the Scales aren't good, but they're not professionals. It's different, being in a room with four other people who all care deeply about good storytelling.

We spent most of our nine-plus hours working through story problems, talking about characters and motivations and the reality and logic of the scene. Very little time was actually devoted to coming up with jokes. Analyzing comedy is hard, but the fundamental truth is that it comes from characters and situations, not jokes per se. And that is even harder to write well.

Some of the advice about "room writing" given during Sitcom Room echoed sentiments about critiquing I got from Viable Paradise: Don't take things personally. Anyone can pitch a bad joke or a bad story idea. In fact, if you do it long enough, pretty much everyone is guaranteed to suggest a few stinkers. The important thing is to keep going. Your first duty is to the story, not your own ego.

The environment of the writing room felt a lot like Game Control, in that we had a problem to solve, and the problem seemed to keep changing. It wasn't as bad as running a Game, since we only had one really big external issue to deal with--all the rest was just us working through revisions of the story.

In other ways, it felt more like a conference room puzzle hunt, because we were trapped in a single room having to work through problem after problem with no end in sight. It was easy to get punchy, but in this case, it could actually be helpful. Riffing about animal husbandry can help generate jokes, but it almost never helps solve puzzles.

Ken and Dan made the rounds all night, periodically checking in with every team to see if we had questions, and I'm particularly proud of our first couple:

"Do we have the budget for a couple of sheep?"

"How do you feel about Hitler?"

Yes, we are the team, as mentioned in Ken's write-up, which agonized over whether to put in a Hitler joke (final verdict: no). We found out on Sunday that two other groups had also discussed it, but none to the extent that we had. We are also the team that used a mirror for a marker board. (Team C: The "C" stands for "Creative!" Or maybe "Crazy." Would you believe "Crunchy?")

All in all, it was a great experience, and I'm glad I did it. I plan to keep in touch with my fellow Sitcommers--two of them live in the Seattle area, one is in London (where D and I may be stopping next June, on our way to Jeff and Marina's wedding), and others are just a Facebook click away.

Would I ever want to make a living as a TV writer? I don't know. But it's on the short list.


Sunday, November 16, 2008

Why I wasn't writing this weekend

Actually, I was writing; it just wasn't noveling.

I just finished two days in Ken Levine's Sitcom Room, which he gleefully and accurately describes on his blog as "hell-arity!"

My excellent writing team consisted of this motley crew:
  • Gary, a college teacher who travels the world to go surfing;
  • Erica, an art educator who once worked at the Getty Museum;
  • James, a Londoner who understands the fine distinction between "stupid" and "ignorant;" and
  • Jeff, who "looks like a fat George Clooney" (his own words, I swear).
I'll post more details later, including a few photos and comparisons between this and my Viable Paradise and Game Control experiences.

For now, let me just say that I did not expect rewriting ten pages of comedy to be this exhausting. I managed about 1,600 words of NaNoWriMo output after dinner tonight, but my brain is fried.


Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Why I wasn't writing last weekend

This game was called Ghost Patrol. The conceit was that we were hunting and exorcising ghosts. Slime was involved. There was an entry fee, but all the money is right up there on the screen, as they say. I saw - and I only lasted 11 hours - a specially made kung fu DVD, names carved on grains of rice, specially doctored Frisbees, rubber chickens with clues somehow sealed inside, special coinlike objects with words written on them (these were buried in the sand near Crissy Field) and photographs of tombstones with apparent ectoplasm blurring certain words.

Plus, there was a brand-new invention called the SharC, which was a GPS-based range finder thingie (sorry to be unclear - as a friend said, explaining the Game is sort of like explaining the Internet), special software to be loaded into a laptop, plus an extensive handbook that included a list of I Ching ideograms, a Chinese calendar, the periodic table of the elements, descriptions of all known ghosts with "photographs" of same, a color wheel, a Morse code chart and ever so much more.

-- Jon Carroll, "Forget it Jake, it's the Game," San Francisco Chronicle, November 12, 2008

Team Snout had a great time playing in Ghost Patrol, which was a well-run Game by any standard.* The fact that it was put on by a first-time Game Control (lowkey, Desert Taxi, and many helpers) makes it even more impressive, and speaks to the increasing strength and camaraderie of the bay area Game community.

I admit, when Snout first started running Games, I was a bit possessive and even defensive about making our events "better" than previous ones in some way. Now that we've run a few Games and I have a bit more perspective, I'm glad that every new Game seems to be improving on its predecessors. A successful event is good for everyone involved, and trying new things and sharing those experiences allows all of us to learn. Think of it as evolution in action!

For that reason, and a few others, I'm very excited about next fall's Muppet Movie Game. It'll be interesting to hear from another GC as they're actually planning an upcoming event, and to compare how they do things with how we've done them in the past.

Now, though, it's back to NaNoWriMo for a couple of days, then off to The Sitcom Room next weekend. Life is busy. Life is good.


* By GC's own count, they only had 13 FAILs and one major hint line snafu. Read more in the GP Forum.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

The Day After

A selection of this morning's Twitter messages:

Damn it, I have a headache! I thought electing Obama would FIX THINGS!
-- John Scalzi (eater of Schadenfreude Pie)

Prop 8 passed. Goddammit. I will continue to fight for equality for all people, and stand up against bigotry.
-- Wil Wheaton

and at least 4 was defeated. Abortions for all, miniature American flags for others!
-- Michaela Schlocker

Everyone on the subway is making eye contact and grinning. But there's also this look of shock, like none of us trust the fortune.
-- Mary Robinette Kowal

To recontextualize a phrase: AMERICA: FUCK YEAH!!!
-- Chang Terhune

Michael Crichton died?! :(
-- Felicia Day

On a related note, I will continue to buck the growing trend of using LoudTwitter to feed one's LiveJournal. A bunch of text messages strung together is no substitute for a coherent sequence of sentences, paragraphs, and ideas. Better to let your fields lie fallow than sow them with salt.

And my friend Ammy has some encouraging thoughts on The Battle, Not the War.


Historic, Wot?

D and I watched the election results and speeches last night via BBC News's live Internet video feed. It was nice to get a more international perspective on the whole thing, and the uncooperative satellite connection to Kenya was amusing, but SRSLY, soliciting commentary from Gore "grumpy old man" Vidal and John "antagonistic blowhard" Bolton? Sometimes I feel like the British are still making fun of us.

The good news:

(image from Flickr, shout out to mschlock)

The bad news:

(Los Angeles Times)

I mean, come on. WTF, CA? Los Angeles county went yes on Prop 8? LA county? Where's the gay mafia when you need 'em?


Sunday, November 02, 2008

NaNoWriMo Has Begun

That's National Novel Writing Month to you. My current progress:

D and I got a head start at a midnight write-in on Friday, and an after-hours library write-in on Saturday night. Then we totally slacked off today and played Rock Band and watched movies and ate pancakes. Tomorrow, it's back to work.

It's going to be a bit of a crazy month. Since I've won NaNoWriMo the last three years--by writing at least 50,000 words during the month of November--I decided to challenge myself this year to write 100,000 words. There are also practical reasons for this upping of the ante; most novels run around that length, and my output is going to be a meandering, bloated first draft that will need to be cut by at least 25% to have any chance of selling.

(On a related note: this will probably be my last NaNoWriMo, at least as a participant. Since I'm spending the next two years working toward becoming a professional writer, pretty much every month should be a novel writing month for me. I'll likely stay involved to some degree, since the community is a lot of fun, but I'd feel like a bit of a ringer.)

Anyway. As if reaching 100k wasn't enough of a challenge, I've also booked every other weekend this month. Next week D and I drive down to the bay area for Ghost Patrol; the weekend after that, I go to LA for The Sitcom Room; then we fan out at OryCon 30; and finally, our friend Mike and his girlfriend Amy have invited us over to their house for Thanksgiving. At least the last two events are local.

But it's all in the NaNoWriMo spirit. As founder Chris Baty says in his book: "If you have a million things to do, adding item number 1,000,001 is not such a big deal."


Saturday, November 01, 2008

Creepy Gaiman

Three days ago, in Manchester, UK:

If you believe their blogs, Neil and Jonathan both enjoyed themselves.

I'm confident that Coulton will have similarly entertaining surprises lined up when we see him in Portland on January 24th.