Category Archives: blog

the return of the infamous clown sweater

Longtime readers of the blog are probably familiar with the Infamous Clown Sweater, and the strange role it’s played in my life for over ten years.

I don’t know what happened to the actual sweater, and I’ve never heard from its owner since that one fateful night at DNA Lounge so long ago, but for a few of us* it is a silly thing that makes us happy. It’s sort of an inside joke that we share, and I love that.

So, today at shirt.woot, you can get your own version of it, designed by me and my pal Rich Stevens. If you’re one of the few, you may want to pick one up. In fact, I hope you will, so that we can coordinate some massive picture at GenCon or something like that, where a bunch of us are wearing it … because people need help with their nightmares.

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*probably a few thousand, but still, a few

status

Hello, World.

I am not dead, I have just been very busy with the travel and the secret projects and etc.

I have many stories to tell, and they will be told as soon as I have the time to properly tell them.

Until that time arrives … COMMERCE!

The new Humble Bundle has a bunch of really great books, and one of them is mine! My book The Happiest Days of Our Lives is available in ePub and MOBI formats for the very first time, as part of this bundle.

You can also get Steven Gould’s JUMPER, the Zombies vs. Unicorns anthology, Scott Westerfield’s Uglies, and even more.

The whole thing is pay-what-you-want, but if you pay at least $15, you will get the audio version of Cory Doctorow’s HOMELAND, read by me. I’ve done a lot of audiobooks in the last few years, and I can honestly say that this is one of my favourites. I’m intensely proud of the work we did on it, and I want everyone who enjoys my audiobook performances to hear it.

Okay, before I go help Anne with a thing, a picture of me being classy in a sequined bow tie:

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this is my script. there are many like it, but this one is mine

Wil Wheaton Big Bang Theory Script

On Wednesday last week, I picked up my script in my dressing room, and in the upper right corner, it said that the script was for Will Wheaton, playing the part of Will Wheaton.

I picked it up, and walked into the stage. I found one of the assistant directors, and told him, “I think there’s been a terrible mistake. I’ve been given someone else’s script.”

I showed him the name. He looked mortified. “Oh god I’m so sorry. We’ll fix that right away.”

I laughed. “It’s not a big deal, and I can fix it myself right now.” I grabbed a pen and turned the superfluous Ls into little boxes, like I’ve been doing my whole life. “I really don’t care. I just thought I could make a joke about it, and I’m easily amused, so…”

He laughed with me and apologized again.

“I’m not a prima donna,” I said, “and people have been doing this my whole life.”

He spoke into his walkie. “I have him here, and we’re walking.” He turned to me. “They’re ready for you, sir.”

We walked around the back of the stage and along the space that separates the audience from the set. Today, that space is filled with cameras and equipment, but on rehearsal days, it’s empty and quiet.

“When I was in grade school, I went to this really authoritarian parochial school, and they were all about conforming to the rules. One of my teachers — I’m pretty sure it was my third grade teacher — used the dreaded red pen to add an extra L to my name for the first few days of school, until I got really upset about it and asked her to stop.”

“Jesus, she really did that?”

“Yeah, it was not a particularly awesome time for young me.”

We arrived at Howard and Bernadette’s apartment. “So I learned early on that it’s important to not be too precious about it, and now it’s funny to me.”

Later that day, after our rehearsals were finished and the script was updated to reflect changes the writers made, I got a new script, and it was actually mine, because it had my name on it and everything.

We’re shooting some scenes without the audience today, because there are something like 16 scenes in this episode, and if we shot all of them in front of the audience, it would make for a very late night.

Tomorrow, we’ll shoot almost the entire show in front of the audience, including the scenes that I’m in, where I play Wil Wheaton. He’s just this guy, you know?

a few memorable moments on the set at big bang theory

A sharp knock on my door, seconds before it opened. The assistant director poked his head into my dressing room and told me they were ready for me on the stage.

I closed my book. “Here I go!”

We walked into the stage together, and I continued on into the set where we were rehearsing this particular scene. Kaley and Johnny were already on there when I sat down next to them.

“You should never take that hat off,” Johnny said to me.

I looked at him to see if he was being sincere, or giving me the business. Before I could figure out which one it was, he said, “it looks really good on you.”

I smiled. “You are one of my fashion heroes, so that really means a lot to me.”

Inside, I secretly felt cool for almost three whole seconds.

“I mean it,” he said.

“Thank you. That was very kind.”

Kaley dramatically put her script down. “WOULD YOU TWO GET A ROOM ALREADY?!”

I gave Johnny a sly look that he did not return. “Do you want to just sit on that couch together?” I asked.

We all laughed together, and the director called for quiet.

We ran the scene, and I killed a joke*. We ran it a second time, and I nailed the beats I needed to nail. I felt calm and focused and — for the first time I think, ever, since I started working on the show — like I really and truly deserved to be there. I’m not gonna lie to  you, Marge: it felt really good.

I thanked the director for the notes he gave me, and returned to my dressing room where I waited to be called back to the stage, to bring Evil Wil Wheaton (who is decidedly less evil than he used to be) back to life.

Later, I saw Melissa and Kaley waiting to run one of their scenes. “Let’s take a picture for the Internet,” I said.

“I really like that hat on you,” Melissa said.

“Thanks,” I said, “I was just lazy this morning and didn’t want to do my hair, because it’s just a tiny bit too long and I can’t get it to behave. But I’m getting compliments, which is pretty awesome.”

I held out my camera, and we took a silly picture that I put on Twitter.

The writers all came into the stage, and we ran the entire episode for them. Everyone laughed really hard in all the right places, and it’s pretty clear that this episode works. I can’t wait for the audience to see it on Tuesday, and I am so grateful that I get to be part of this wonderful experience.

 

*Note that this means I wrecked the joke, because I delivered the line poorly. This can be confusing to normal people who hear us talk about comedy, because when a joke works, we say that the joke “killed”. So: killing a joke is bad, but making a joke that kills is good.

Comedians are obsessed with death, I guess, or at least dying on stage.

midnight highway

The second song on the Kill Bill Volume 1 soundtrack is a fantastic rockabilly number called That Certain Female. It has this great thick guitar riff with a lot of echo and delay and, for me, it conjures up images of Route 66 under a new moon, windows down and radio blaring as a ’58 Chevy puts miles between its mysterious driver and Chicago as fast as he can lay them down.

This music fills the dark and bug-spattered spaces between Amarillo and Tucumcari, staccato white lines flashing by in the headlights, the smell of exhaust and old tobacco swirling with dust.

Is he running toward something or away from something? Or is it a she behind the wheel? What’s in the trunk? What’s in the backseat? When we see the driver’s eyes in the rear view mirror, briefly lit by the glowing cherry of a cigarette, are they determined? Resigned? Afraid? Tear-stained? Vengeful?

Maybe they are all these things.

The road goes on.

 

 

Guest Post by Will Hindmarch: The Record

Will Hindmarch is @wordwill, a writer and designer of games, fiction, and more. He blogs at Gameplaywright and wordstudio.net. 

This is both a plug and a confession. Wil Wheaton is back on dry land, so I’ll make this quick. I’m terrible at interviews.

Almost ten years ago, at the foot of an unfinished Atlanta high-rise, I interviewed architect Turan Duda for Atlanta magazine. My assignment was for a one-page spotlight on creative people doing exciting work in the ATL — one page including a picture of the skyscraper. So it was more like one column of text.

I kept Mr. Duda trapped in that interview for an hour.

We talked about spatial design, about his history and his vision, about Atlanta in general. It was a good talk for the first 35-45 minutes, before I realized how long we’d been talking. Before I realized, I didn’t know how to end an interview. (Spoiler: It’s easy. End it like a conversation, maybe.)

Mr. Duda was very generous, obliging, and impressive to this newbie interviewer. I learned a lot that day about architecture and interviews … and almost none of it helps me when I’m interviewed myself.

Interviews with me make me nervous, whether they’re in person or in text. I’ve done a few interviews lately for my new tabletop RPG, Dark. (The Kickstarter ends today!) I talked online with the Misdirected Mark podcast and I was interviewed via email for this piece at The Escapist. I ramble and I talk too fast and I’m concerned that I’ll say something — something insipid or casual or thoughtless — that will undo or overshadow a work that I’ve spent a long time crafting.

John Updike once put it like this to Terry Gross:

Once you’ve put yourself on record in an interview, and you’re sort of thinking fast and saying the first thing that pops into your mind, basically, anything to fill up the air time or the reporter’s time, it’s a little disconcerting, when you’re younger than I, to realize that these remarks which you toss off, once they’re in print, have an equal weight with all the words that you’ve labored to polish and make come out exactly right.

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Part of it, for me at least, is my Impostor Syndrome. Why should anyone be listening to what I think, right? Who the hell am I?

Here’s what helped me out: the live-lit storytelling scene. I co-produce a show in the Story Club series and we have an open-mic component to our events. It’s never been wasted. Everyone has stories to tell —  I’ve known that for a long time — and I think everyone should get a chance at a mic to talk about their passions, their projects, their past, and their plans. Some of these mics are mics, some of them are blogs, some of them are Twitter, some of them are cameras — whatever.

If you get the chance to tell your stories, take the chance. And if you get a chance to interview someone, to help them tell their stories, try it out. Ask your friends friendly questions. When you meet people, politely ask about them. Let’s get more stories told, more perspectives shared, and more voices at the mic.

It’s like what Wil did this week. He invited people to speak in his absence. He shared stories he might not have been able to tell on his own. Thank you, Wil.

Speaking of which, he’ll be back any minute and I’ve got to clean up. Think he’ll notice if I use his 3D printer to replace all the beer we drank?

 

Guest Post by Shane Nickerson: Old and Stinky

Shane Nickerson is a father of three and a TV producer. He occasionally writes at Nickerblog.

At night, my dog slinks into the living room and jumps up on the couch with me. He’s a whippet mix that we adopted from a rescue fair in 2005. Max. He came with the name.

He’s a gentle dog, eternally happy that we saved him from a lonely life lived, abandoned and sleeping underneath parked cars in South Central Los Angeles. He showed no signs of abuse, but he was found with no tags and covered in dirt and oil stains. When we met him, we immediately liked him. My two year old ran up to him before we could stop her, and he licked her face gently. In the hectic hot sun of a park filled with excited dogs waiting for new humans to please take them home, he was panting and scattered; flitting back and forth on his leash, desperately trying to make sense of the unusual crowded mixture of people and animals around him. We struggled for a moment, still grieving the loss of our previous whippet mix, but his gentle spirit and perpetual smile won us over. After some discussion, we took home our new friend.

It’s become more difficult for him lately. He has arthritis in his right hind leg, and the boundless energy we used to curse has become a casualty of his age. He still gets after the squirrels every morning, but in the same way an old man tries to keep up with the grandkids. The desire is still there, but the pep is waning.

He liked me best, almost right away. We lived in a two bedroom rented beach cottage in the South Bay, and he’d lay with his head on my lap every night as I fell asleep watching TV in our tiny living room. The back yard was an exceptionally large one for Manhattan Beach, and there was nothing he loved more than chasing the tennis ball on a rope that I’d throw endlessly across the yard. When I ran out of energy, he’d stay outside and race around in the overgrown thicketed lot until panting exhaustion. A single abrasive bark was my cue to come let him back inside. It’s one of those barks that’s impossible to ignore. Grating. Unpleasant. It’s incredibly effective at getting me off of the couch.

These days, he goes outside to sniff the air and do a quick patrol around our much smaller yard in the Valley, but within a few minutes, he’s at the back door firing off that same annoying bark. Old man Max.

My kids want a puppy.

(All kids want a puppy.)

They put together a presentation for us on why we should get a brand new puppy. It was cute, but I had to pass on their proposal.

“Max is our dog,” I told them, “and if he could talk, he’d tell you he’s not interested in a new puppy roommate.”

“But puppies are so cute,” they persisted, “and Max is old and stinky!”

A fair point.

“We can talk about a puppy after Max dies,” I mistakenly told them.

“So we can get a puppy after he’s dead?” they asked eagerly.

Oh no.

“We can TALK about it,” I said.

“Yay! As soon as Max dies, we can get a puppy! As soon as Max dies, we can get a puppy!” they sang.

I’ve inadvertently made my children excited for the death of our family dog. Great work, me. Pretty glad Max can’t speak English.

He’s old and stinky, it’s true. But he’s the most loyal, gentle, patient dog I’ve ever lived with. He’s endured three children in all stages of their mayhem. He’s been colored on, had his hair pulled and eyes poked, had his tail yanked and ears gouged, and he’s never so much as nipped at them. He still sleeps with me on the couch for as long as he can endure the discomfort of his arthritic leg. When I come home from work, he’s still as excited as the first day we brought him home.

So yes, maybe someday we’ll get another dog.

But for now, this old stinky one is the only one we need.

A guest post from Brad Willis: A field full of lightning

Brad Willis is a writer, reporter, and aspiring author. His personal blog is Rapid Eye Reality. He is @BradWillis on Twitter.

When I was in grade school, we played outside at recess. Hilldale Elementary had a small playground and a forever-scape of dirt and grass that we turned into our warzones, dragon lairs, and Super Bowl gridirons. A dormant but deep sinkhole sat on the north edge near Highway EE, and that’s where I was headed when the lightning cut out of the clouds. It was one of those bolts that carried its thunderclap on its nose, and for the noise it made, a bomb might as well have dropped on my head. Instead, because I was a pre-teen doofus, I jumped in the air, pulled my knee to my face, and knocked my nose sideways. My nose is still crooked, and I still know lightning doesn’t have to strike on target to hurt like hell.

LINDA

Something looked different about Linda.

It’s been more than a decade since she started handling my finances. We handle most things online. I see her this time every year to settle my business and personal taxes. When I went to her office yesterday, I was struck by a niggling suspicion that something was wrong. She’d stopped coloring her hair. She looked tired.

I was distracted, worried about how much I was going to have to pay, whether I could get in a run before dinner, and every other silly thing that goes along with life as an adult. She asked if my family was planning any big vacations for the year. I babbled about my finances, and then asked her what she trips had planned.

“We usually go somewhere after tax season, but I don’t think we can this year,” she said. She drifted off and looked at my returns on her dual monitors.

“Why not?” I said.

I heard the words leave my mouth just as my brain figured out what was different about Linda.

She had no breasts.

“Oh, Linda,” I said.

Three months ago, she went to the doctor for an ear infection. Something seemed off, and her doctor sent her to a cardiologist. That doctor found a mass, and together they elected for the surgery.

“Don’t go to the doctor for a ear infection,” she said with a half-smile, and then went back to working on my K-1.

MONSTER IN THE FIELD

Last week, police say a man named Craig Wood snatched a ten-year-old girl named Hailey Owens from a neighborhood street on the west side of Springfield, Missouri. Wood, a stranger to Owens, then allegedly shot her in the base of the skull, put her in a bag, and hid her in a plastic tub. When I wrote about it, I took a modicum of comfort in the fact that such crimes were exceptionally rare. I called them lightning strikes without a god to blame for them.

The crime shook the Springfield community in a way few have. Thousands of people took to the streets in the hope of finding some peace in the kind of rare crime that will haunt a city forever.

When you have a career in news, desensitizing yourself to tragedy is a survival skill. You learn to turn off your heart to the daily earthquakes humanity inflicts on itself. I don’t know how many dead bodies I saw in my day, and I’m grateful for that. I moved away from Springfield more than 20 years ago, and I still felt my stomach clench every time I saw a new part of the Hailey Owens story come out.

As children, we feared bogeymen who would snatch us off the street. As adults, we fear what might come up from our guts, attack our insides, and confuse our brains. The rest of the time, we think about how those same invisible creatures might take our friends away from us.

Last month, in the span of a few days, the following things happened: a person I know committed suicide. A guy who went to my high school was arrested for murder in a Texas ghost town. Two of my friends died of cancer. It felt like a veritable field of lightning where every strike tore holes through my eardrums and shook the ground at my feet. It made me wonder which was worse: the fear of losing someone to a monster, or the sadness that inevitably follows.

And then I went to finish my taxes.

TAXED

Linda is worried about the chemo. Six years ago, her mother struggled through it.

“I don’t want that,” she said, shaking her head.

The doctor has convinced her the chemo treatments have improved and that they could save her life. It’s tax season, though, and this is when she has to work. She literally can’t afford to be sick.

“I’ll do chemo on Fridays,” she said, but then as if just thinking of it herself, “but I do returns on Saturdays sometimes.”

She nodded again, as if saying to herself, “I’ll get through it, because I have to get through it.”

“I’ll be thinking about you,” I said when I left. Linda smiled and thanked me. I haven’t stopped thinking about her since. She was handling her cancer with a southern woman’s strength and poise that I couldn’t help but admire. It was like the lightning had struck, and she had managed to grab it with her hand and hold it tight.

COURAGE NONETHELESS

There is a certain freedom in being a child. You’re expected to run with abandon, be careless, and live like tomorrow is as sure as today’s sunrise. That’s how it should be, no matter how dark the sky gets.

As adults, however, we know the dark skies mean more than hidden sunshine. We know they’re  going to slam down on the people we love, and then eventually crush us, too. It scares us, this existential indifference and inevitable end we’ll all meet.

We leave the playground, and as adults we bandy our responsibilities while keeping a close eye the rolling gray in the sky. We worry about taxes, careers, schools, mortgages, and retirement plans. When something starts to look odd, we pretend like it’s something else, sometimes until it’s too late, and, too often, we do it alone.

I think about the people who’ve been struck around me: Frank check-raising with a weak flush draw, Texas Scott donning a tiara and laughing like a loon, Chris clipping coupons and proudly getting 60 cents off on chicken breasts. They were people I played with beneath the clouds. Their deaths have shaken me, but they also remind me of the power of childhood. Maybe life is not so much in its potential or its end, but in how much of its games, music, art, and friendships we can harness. Maybe that’s the only shield that can protect us.

Back on the playground at Hilldale, we grabbed hands and pulled each other into the field. Even as the teachers yelled at us to come in from the storm, we sprinted and laughed and dared the sky to explode. It was a child’s courage, but courage nonetheless. Maybe that was how it was meant to be.

Linda believes she is going to be okay. I’m going to believe that with her. To not would be to disrespect the bravery she’s discovered in a place I’ve not yet found.

* Linda’s name has been changed to protect her privacy.

Guest Post by Stepto: I’m tryin’ to get down, to the heart of the matter.

This is a guest post by Stephen “Stepto” Toulouse. Stepto currently works at HBO and is the former banhammer at Xbox. He is an author, comedian, and leader of The Steptos.

He made a comedy album you can get on Bandcamp (cheapest option), iTunes or Amazon and wrote a book called A Microsoft Life. He blogs at Stepto.com.

I’ve noticed a disturbing trend among the members of my tribe who are my age. We really know how to hold a grudge. Especially if it’s borne out of the Internet or Internet culture. I’m seeing more and more people refusing to forgive even in situations where they should and I wonder if we’re setting a bad example.

I should pause here and let you know up front, I’m going to have to be a little vague in providing good examples for my opening sentence. This is Wil’s blog and thus (through no fault of his own) functions as a sort of orbiting Ion cannon for focusing opinion. I don’t want to name any names or provide concrete descriptions. So please bear with me as I navigate this topic with a tad less specificity than I might my own blog.

Here’s how the situation usually goes:

Person says or does something either on the Internet or at a con or industry event that’s objectionable to about 99% of normal people. In the grand scheme of crimes, “objectionable” isn’t high on the list. However the Internet allows us to elevate and publicize. For many topics that’s good! Because those topics are often ignored or normalized and thus need the shock value of a large mass of people saying “That’s not OK!”

Occasionally this out-sized reaction results in the person who committed the original offense saying they are sorry. Not “sorry you were offended” but “wow. I had no idea I was being that bad. I’m sorry.” Maybe they got fired from their job. Maybe they got hounded or received death threats. Maybe they lost sponsors for their YouTube channel. Whatever the reason, justice was served (sometimes way past the original crime) and they realized what they did was wrong.

Then the geek tribe welcomes the person back, pats them on the back, says ‘that’s OK glad you learned your lesson, maybe you should hold a panel or something on what you learned?” and everyone just gets on with their lives.

Oops that last part doesn’t happen.

Instead many of us assume a bizarre mantle, that of “Well they apologized but I simply can’t accept a person who would do or say such things to begin with!” I know a person who actually keeps a list of all the Internet people who have done something that offended them. They simply refuse to interact with those people ever ever ever. The list is at last count three dozen people, at least four of which I know personally who are not bad people at all just made a mistake and atoned for it.

I’ve carried a lot of hate or grudges in my life and let me tell you something true and strong: they are heavy. You don’t realize it when you pick them up, because the initial umbrage or anger gives you a kind of emotional +15 to STR. But forgiveness is like being morbidly obese then dropping 100 pounds at a go. Not to mention one crucial fact: there can be no salvation without forgiveness.

I want to be clear I’m not saying you have to forgive everyone, I’m not even telling you who to forgive. My fear is that people my age, those of us that grew up before nerd and geek culture resulted in number #1 rated prime time TV comedies, back when we were getting punched in the throat for drawing a dungeon on graph paper by Joey McJockBully or teased for being a girl who liked Super Mario by Susie McEasyBake, we formed an early skill at seething hatred. Sometimes we create a bad example for the younger set who are perhaps no less tormented but far more ingrained in the general culture.

Again, this is merely a concern of mine. I see it, and hey maybe I’m blowing it out of proportion. But what I have learned to do when I see the latest Twitter outrage is I might join the conversation or I might not. But I will watch like a hawk to see how the perpetrator reacts. I watch for actual contrition and regret. And I’m starting to see a lot more “An Open Response to X’s ‘Apology’” then responses to those responses then responses to those responses etc. etc. when maybe, just maybe, we pat X on the back and, if we truly believe it, say “try not to do it again, and share what you learned.”

Everyone says and does something stupid or hurtful at some point. The Internet allows us to do it in front of the Earth. If we’re going to set the bar for forgiveness as high as “some words on a forum or a hurtful comment on a panel are unforgivable crimes even in the face of true contrition*” then I fear for the future of our tribe.

Wil says don’t be a dick, my corollary is to steal from Bill and Ted and that we also should be excellent to each other. Some things really are unforgivable, it’s true. And it’s up to each of us to decide the baggage we want to invest in carrying. But I’m old enough to have inadvertently perfected the art of being a jerk, forgotten it, then reinvented it only to regret it all over again. For that, I am sorry. I have to forgive myself, because that’s what comes with age.

So there but for the grace of the flying spaghetti monster go I.

*While we’re at it let’s define contrition by intent not execution. I watched a guy apologize for his apology because his apology wasn’t apologetic enough (even though it was accepted by the original aggrieved party) and he still ran into the Internet umbrage buzz saw.