Category Archives: Books

You want to accept Anorak’s Invitation. Trust me.

I love narrating audiobooks, because it gives me a rare opportunity to combine my love of reading with my love of performing into something that hopefully entertains people, and gets the Bursar at Ryan's college off my back for another month.

I did a few when I was much younger (Huck Finn, Tom Sawyer, and and Why I Left Harry's All-Night Hamburgers), then nothing for about ten years, when I did an audio version of Just A Geek, and then The Happiest Days of Our Lives. I guess someone liked the stuff I'd done recently, because I was invited to perform a story in METAtropolis: Cascadia, and that led to doing a bunch of books for Scalzi, which eventually led to the point of this post: Ernie Cline's upcoming book, Ready Player One.

I first discovered Ernie's work about ten years ago, when I heard him performing his sensational spoken word piece When I Was A Kid. I loved it so much, I submitted it to Fark, where it was greenlit, resulting in fives of album sales for Ernie (You're welcome, Ernie).

Years went by. Ernie wrote Fanboys. I wrote some books, too. Then, on a magical, unicorn-filled day earlier this year, my manager called and said I'd been asked to perform a new book called Ready Player One, by an author named Ernest Cline. I didn't even need to know what it was about; I knew it would be rad because Ernie wrote it, so I said yes right away. I had an incredibly good time reading it, marvelling every day that I was getting paid to read and perform a book that I loved. I counted down the days until August 16th, because that's when it would finally be released.

Knock Knock, Motherfucker: tomorrow's August 16th, and Ready Player One comes out in both print and audio editions. You can hear a sample of me doing my thing right now, though, because that's how we do things around here.

Ready Player One was in the New York Times this weekend, and I urge anyone who is on the fence about the book to go read it. Here, I'll make it easy and all linky.

Seriously? You're still here? Fine. Here's a taste:

With its Pac-Man-style cover graphics and vintage Atari mind-set “Ready Player One” certainly looks like a genre item. But Mr. Cline is able to incorporate his favorite toys and games into a perfectly accessible narrative. He sets it in 2044, when there aren’t many original Duran Duran fans still afoot, and most students of 1980s trivia are zealous kids. They are interested in that time period because a billionaire inventor, James Halliday, died and left behind a mischievous legacy. Whoever first cracks Halliday’s series of ’80s-related riddles, clues and puzzles that are included in a film called “Anorak’s Invitation” will inherit his fortune.

The world Ernie created for Ready Player One will blow your mind, and alternately make you wish you could live there, while being really glad that you don't. You'll want to meet the characters, and challenge them to a game of Galaxian (though they'll probably kick your ass. Damn kids in the future, I swear to god.)

It's already been bought by Warner Brothers, and will eventually be a film. I'm doing my best to call dibs on playing Halliday, but even if that doesn't work out, at least I got to play Wade in the audio version. Which you should totally go buy, because it is awesome.

 

all dressed up with nowhere to go

The audiobook I performed last week is called Ready Player One, by Ernest Cline. I don't know how many of you reading this today were around in the old days of WWdN (lots, I hope!), but if you were, you may remember when I linked to Ernie's spoken world on Fark. Ernie told me in an e-mail that he was so overwhelmed by the enthusiastic response, it gave him the courage to start the outline that would eventually become Ready Player One.

So that's kind of awesome.

Ernie wrote on his blog about the process of choosing me to perform the book, which says so many nice things about me, I can't quote it without feeling weird … but I'll happily link to it, in the hopes that at least some of you will explore the rest of his website, because it's full of really great stuff. And, hey, Hipsters? You want to familiarize yourself with Ernie's going to blow up when this book comes out in August, so you can tell everyone that you were into him before that happened. Also, his work is just fucking brilliant.

===

I wanted to take a moment and thank the guys at UPS in Phoenix who worked so hard to find my books when they were lost during Phoenix Comicon. A bunch of drivers stayed after hours to dig though packages looking for it, and the shipping manager there worked when he wasn't on the clock to track them down. A lot of people put in a lot of effort to correct an epic failure, and I didn't find out until after the fact that they weren't in there because I was some guy with a blog, or some guy who is on TV; they were in there because I'm some guy who does a lot of work with the Child's Play charity, and one of them (who probably wants to remain anonymous) has a child who directly benefited from the things Child's Play does.

I'm sure corporate and the UPS PR department wanted this to be resolved, and I'm not going to pretend that that didn't matter, but I also know that the guys who dug through trucks in the Arizona heat on a holiday weekend were the ones who eventually got it done.

So I wanted to publicly say THANK YOU to all of them.

===

One last thing before I go (I'm supposed to be on Internet-vacation until next Saturday): my brother is frakking hilarious.

UPS shipping fail – updated (see end of post)

I shipped two boxes of books to Phoenix on Wednesday, to arrive here by 1030 this morning. I paid extra for this, like you do. As 11am rolled around and my books still weren't here, I got a little nervous, so I checked online to see where my packages were. It turns out UPS fucked up and "incorrectly routed" them, so they won't be delivered until Tuesday afternoon.

I'm sure the more astute observers among us have realized why this is a problem.

I called UPS, talked to everyone I could, explained over and over again that I need these packages today, that people are counting on me having them today, and I got the same answer from them all: there's nothing we can do, and we're very sorry.

Yes, I'm sure UPS is very sorry. What I want to know is how a business that does one fucking thing only manages to fuck that one thing up, and has no backup plan to ensure that they correct their mistake at their earliest opportunity, instead of four fucking days later.

There's a small chance that my packages will successfully complete the treacherous 2 hour journey from California and arrive today, so I can get them tomorrow. Unfortunately, UPS doesn't have the ability to flag a shipment, so that when it's scanned in upon arrival here in Phoenix, the facility can find out that this is an extremely important shipment that needs to get to its destination right fucking now because we fucked up guys. I have to keep checking with UPS, and just hoping and wishing and clapping for Tinkerbell so my packages arrive today, and UPS does the fucking thing I paid them to do and delivers them by tomorrow.

I haven't felt this angry and helpless since I got felt up by the TSA at LAX.

If you're coming to the Phoenix Comicon and hoped to leave with one of my books, I want you to know how sorry I am. I have 20 Complete Works DVDs, some Guild Season 4 DVDs, and a bunch of pictures, but no actual books. If this changes, I'll update this post, as well as Twitter.

UPDATED 5.29: A friend of mine knows someone at UPS Corporate, and offered to make a call on my behalf. It's a long story, worthy of its own post when I'm not so exhausted from a weekend at a con, but the short version is that several people went to the shipping center in Phoenix, went way above and beyond what I ever expected, and worked like hell to find my packages. Late Saturday night, they were delivered, and I was able to get a fair amount of books into customers' hands today.

I haven't been able to read all these comments (I was at a con) but I understand that a lot of people reached out to UPS on my behalf, including my friend. Thank you for helping me get a huge corporation's attention, and thank you to all the UPS employees who worked so hard to correct this mistake.

More later in the week, when I have some time (I'm doing an audiobook Monday to Friday, so it may be a few days.)

My 2011 Phoenix Comicon Schedule

This weekend, I will be at the Phoenix Comicon. I think this is my third or fourth year attending, so I've been able to watch the con expand (the vendor's area this year could hold the entire con the first year I attended) without losing its soul, or all the things that make it awesome.

I am quick to point out that conventions reflect the personalities of their organizers. If a promoter wants to get as much of your money as possible, then a con's going to feel that way, no matter who the guests are or what the programming is. If a promoter wants to make sure everyone has a really good time, gets the most for their money, and can't wait to come back next year, then you'll feel that, too.  After about four hours at my first Phoenix Comicon, I knew that I was going to like whoever promoted it (Matt, with whom I've become pretty good friends), because the show was awesome. Same thing with FedCon, same thing with PAX, same thing with Emerald City.

Anyway, I'm really looking forward to going to Phoenix this year, and if you're coming out to the show, I hope you'll say hello to me so I can thank you for reading my blog.

Last year, I committed to far too many panels and things, so this year my schedule is a lot easier for me (and hopefully, I won't succumb to major conSARS when I get home due to exhaustion like last time.)

Here's my schedule this year:

Friday 7:30pm – Storytime With Wil. Come join me as I perform some of my favorite stories for you. I'm bringing some unreleased bits from Memories of the Future, Volume 2 that I can't wait to share, and there will be a particularly dramatic performance of The Last Unicorn (Pegasus Kitten).

Saturday 4:30-5:30 – Jaime Paglia's Eureka. Season 4.5 of Eureka is right around the corner, and you'll finally get to know my character, Doctor Isaac Parrish, as the season unfolds. Jaime and I are here to tell you what we can, and answer your questions about this awesome show.

The rest of the con, I'll be signing books and pictures and other cool things in the vendor's hall. I will have copies of MEMORIES OF THE FUTURE VOLUME ONE, The special expanded edition of THE HAPPIEST DAYS OF OUR LIVES, THE DAY AFTER AND OTHER STORIES, and SUNKEN TREASURE. I will also have a bunch of 8x10s from my various shows and characters. As always, there is no charge for an autograph if you bring me your own thing to sign.

Oh! Oh! Oh! If you missed this on Twitter or Tumblr: Joel Watson and I made this T-shirt. We love it so much, I'm bringing a small number prints to the con that I will sign and number.

I know, right? I love it.

Finally, because it was such a hit at Emerald City Comicon, I'm bringing a set of The Complete Works of Me, Wil Wheaton (being an incomplete collection of the audio, video, and textual works of me, Wil Wheaton).

If you're wondering what that is, and can't be bothered to follow that link (and who can, really? We're all very busy these days), here's a little cut-n-paste that I did just for you:

A bunch of my friends who are musicians release their entire catalogs on a USB drive (Paul and Storm, and Jonathan Coulton are two who you probably know), which lets people get a whole bunch of stuff on something that's small enough to fit in their pocket, and has the added bonus of being a nifty USB drive that can be used for TOTALLY DIFFERENT THINGS once the files are copied off of it. I know, right?! Isn't the future amazing?!

I have a bunch of work that's in multiple formats, including text, audio, and video, so I thought I'd collect as much of it as I could and offer my own USB drive thingy at cons, w00tstocks, and maybe as a big old honkin' zipfile at Lulu or something later this year.

I'm not sure anyone wants this sort of thing, though, so I haven't invested in the number of USB drives I'd need to purchase to make it cost-effective. I'm testing the waters at ECCC with an extremely limited number of DVDs containing something I'm calling The Complete Works of Me, Wil Wheaton (being an incomplete collection of the audio, video, and textual works of me, Wil Wheaton).

It's pretty much what it sounds like. Here's the README I created, which will make people who write and rely on actual README files twitch a little bit:

Congratulations, dear sir or madam! You are now in possession of a truly remarkable collection, guaranteed to restore even the most ill-humoured man, woman, or child to gaiety and mirth.

Included in this delightful volume are three separate collections. They are as follows:

Text: For the gentleman or lady who wishes to escape the hum drum modern world, we offer these portals to the past … and the future! These turgid tales of mirth and marauder can be read off an automatic teletype device, or given to a reputable printer for conversion to portable paper format.

Audio: Voices and music appear, as if drawn by magic from the aether itself, or perhaps from a more sinister locale beyond! A warning to the faint of heart or soft of spirit: some of these recordings are of a most uncouth and ribald nature! Let the listener beware!

Video: Pictures that appear to magically move, transporting the viewer to locations mundane and fantastical. 

The buyer is cautioned that these files are for personal use, and unless expressly and explicitly noted, are not to be reproduced for commercial or personal gain.

All files are copyright 2010-2011 Wil Wheaton. Some files are released under Creative Commons Attribution-Non-Commercial-Share-Alike license. For more information, please visit creativecommons.org

There are three different directories, described thusly:

Audio

This directory contains the following:

Audiobooks:

Just A Geek

This is an audio performance of my first book Just A Geek. It is the super-bonus-holy-crap-is-it-really-nine-hours-long version because my friend David and I ended up including a lot of asides and what I called “audio footnotes”. You could think of it as the Director’s Extended Cut That Runs in Parallel With The Regular Cut, if you like.

The Happiest Days of Our Lives

I was so happy with Just A Geek, David and I got together again to do this one. It’s similar to Just A Geek, but David added in some nice interstitial music between each chapter. You know, for kids.

Podcasts:

Memories of the Futurecast Episodes 1-13

In the weeks leading up to the release of Memories of the Future Volume One, I started a promotional podcast. Each week, I read an excerpt from the book, and added some of my own comments. I’m especially proud of this podcast, and if you enjoy it, you’ll certainly enjoy Memories of the Future, which is in the text directory. All the shownotes and links are at http://memoriesofthefuturecast.com

Radio Free Burrito Episodes 0-4 and 9-31. 

Let me save you some searching: I never did an episode 2, and for some reason skipped straight to episode 3. I’m not sure exactly why, that’s just how we did things back in those days.

I left out Episodes 5-8 because the really, really suck. If you are determined to hear them, they are online. After Episode 9, though, the show starts to come together as I get comfortable and have more and more fun each time.

In addition to almost all the RFBs, I included Lakeside Shadow as a stand alone track, and Radio Free Burrito’s Mixtape (Volume One).

All files are .mp3, except for RFB episode 9, which is an enhanced podcast that apparently only plays on Apple devices. Sorry about that; I was young and foolish then (I feel old and foolish now). Just for shits and giggles, another short original tune I made, JazzyJazzJazz is also included. Don’t ever say I never gave you something for shits and giggles, kids.

All the shownotes and other neat-o things can be found at: http://radiofreeburrito.com

W00tstock from Los Angeles

This is an audience recording of the third w00tstock we did, at Largo. I think it’s hilarious and awesome, and I hope it inspires you to come see us to w00tstock in person whenever we come to a town near you. More information about w00tstock is at http://www.w00tstock.net

The Criminal Minds Production Diary

In July 2008, I worked on Criminal Minds, in episode 404, titled Paradise. I played serial killer and all around Very Bad Man Floyd Hansen. I keep a diary during production, which was printed in Sunken Treasure. I recorded it as a standalone audio thingy, with my usual asides and additional comments.

Video

Moments With Wil

One day I got it into my head that it would be amusing to make these little 30 second videos where I did something stupid, and then thanked the viewer for “spending this moment with me.” The problem was, they just didn’t work on their own, and I ended up showing the 15 I made to a few friends, before forgetting about them.

When we were putting together w00tstock, and the decision was made to include some short silly films, I knew that Moments With Wil had finally found a home. This is the first time all of them have been collected into one place and viewed by anyone who doesn’t also live in my house.

Stupid Cellphone Videos

While working on Eureka in 2010, I had one of those days where I was called in early, but ended up not working for almost seven hours. Sure, it was nice to earn a paycheck for sitting around and playing Plants Versus Zombies all day on my iPad, but I eventually got bored … and these stupid cellphone videos were born. It’s basically the Moments With Wil concept, without the fancy-smanchy titles and credits. As of this collection, there are 14 of them.

Text (which I wanted to call Text-eo, but didn't, because I'm apparently a chicken)

This directory contains nearly all of my writing, with the notable exception of Just A Geek and Dancing Barefoot, to which I sadly do not own the electronic rights. The Happiest Days of Our Lives is also absent, because a decent electronic version simply does not exist at the moment.

HOWEVER! What is here is pretty swell:

The directory HUNTER contains three different formats of my short tale Hunter (see how that works?), which is a short sci-fi story, set in a dark and desperate world. 

I have also included several chapbooks. They are:

Sunken Treasure – Wil Wheaton’s Hot Cocoa Box Sampler. 

This is just what it sounds like: a sample collection of all the different types of writing I do. I often suggest this book to people who are unfamiliar with my work, as it gives them a chance to find out if they’re going to like my work, and if they do, where they’d like to go next.

Games Matter

This is a collection of gaming-related essays and stories. It was prepared for GenCon in 2010. I’m really proud of this little book, and I plan to give it a wider release in 2011, with some additional material, including my two keynotes to PAX and PAX East.

Memories of The Future Volume One

Part memoir, part episode guide, part behind-the-scenes, all told from the perspective of a guy who is looking though his high school yearbook, facepalming and declaring “I can’t believe I thought that was cool.”

Volume One covers the first season of Star Trek: The Next Generation from Farpoint to Datalore. Volume Two, which goes from Angel One to The Neutral Zone will be released in 2011.

The Day After and Other Stories

A short collection of short fiction, originally released as a chapbook at PAX in 2009. In order to get over my fear of writing and publishing short (and eventually longer) fiction, I released it as a print book in December 2010 for just 10 days, then released it as an eBook in January 2011. It is presented here in PDF and pub formats.

140 – The Stupid Twitter Book

I had this idea to make a short, small book, like the little Tao and Zen books you see in card stores and car washes. It would contain 140 of my stupid little Twitter things that made me laugh. I spent the better part of a day putting it all together, and then realized that Lulu, where I do most of my self-publishing, was going to charge something like $60 per copy, because it was a full color printing process for some strange reason. I didn’t think it was worth $60 (or anything more than $5, really) so I shelved the project. It’s not the same to read it as an eBook, but it’s still funny, and I think it’s kind of cool. For the moment, you’re one of 31 people in the world to see it, which includes the 10 people who bought this DVD at Emerald City Comic Con and my wife.

 

I really, really, REALLY hate DRM. Especially when it screws honest people.

I'm sure that many of you know that I hate DRM so much, it makes me want to punch babies. I have promised that I will never knowingly infect anything you buy from me with DRM.

So you'll probably be as surprised as I am to learn that Lulu put Memories of the Future, Volume 1 into the iBook store and into my Lulu shop (yay! awesome! Memories in a native eReader format!) but put that horrible, intrusive, disgusting, annoying, stupid Adobe DRM bullshit into the files.

I've heard from a non-zero number of readers who legally purchased MotFv1, and were (rightly) furious that they had to install some bullshit software they didn't want, just so they could read something that they paid for.

For example:

Adobe Digital Editions doesn't run on Linux and Lulu, like most companies who sell digital content (*cough* audible *cough*), doesn't care.
For Linux users like me there are three options:
a) Find a Windows machine or Mac at work or with friends, then install
ADE there (thereby also using one of my six devices I'm allowed to read
on for someone else's computer)
b) Spend hours getting it to work in wine on my Linux machine
c) Bittorrent it.

I think it's pretty obvious which one is the least work. If I'm inclined
to buy another ebook I'm much more likely to bittorrent it and the
donate on the author's web page than buying over Lulu.

I completely agree with this email, and others like it. This is the sort of thing that drives honest people to piracy, because the pirates are providing a better end user experience for them than the legal alternatives.

I tried to revise the file so that there is no DRM, but I can't do that without uploading an entirely new file. I tried to download the file Lulu made (which, other than the DRM bullshit is really nice and well-formatted; I would totally use their conversion service again in the future, if I was given the option to do it without DRM) so I can convert it to a non-DRM'd version and re-upload it, but it keeps telling me that there's an error with the file — yeah, no shit, that "error" is what I'm trying to eliminate! — and since I'm leaving for FedCon in just a few hours, I don't have the time to keep banging my head against the wall trying to fix it.

So: I want readers and potential readers to know that I'm aware of this problem, it is not my fault, and I'm doing everything I can to fix it … it's just going to be a week or so until I can.

The silver lining in all of this is that I was able to do a really neat .mobi conversion that I uploaded to the KDP store yesterday. If everything goes according to plan, you should be able to buy Memories of the Future, Volume 1 for your Kindle by the weekend.

shameless self promotion

It is said that an artist's works sell as well as the artist promotes them.

I struggle with this reality, because while it's simple and enjoyable for me to link to my wife's friend's store, or my friend's wife's Etsy shop, it feels weird and kind of gross to me when I promote my own stuff.

But I have a kid in college, and people frequently ask me where they can get my books and things, so it seems like a good idea to have a post I can point to (or reprint) from time to time that answers that question and pays his tuition.

So here you go, infrequent interrogator! Thanks in advance for your support.

Books

Here's my virtual bookshelf.

Here's my author page at Amazon.

Here's my storefront at Lulu.

Kindle and eBooks

Audiobooks

Clothing

Most of these Jinx designs will be discontinued very soon, if you care about that sort of thing:

Other Neat Stuff

I think that's everything. Wow. It's kind of cool that I've had a hand in making so many things! I love that.

It’s Wednesday, so here’s a post about comic books

When I was a kid, I was a DC Universe guy all the way, with rare forays into the Marvel Universe to read a few X-Men books, and the occasional Silver Surfer 100 page spectacular (remember those? I loved those oversized one shots in the 70s and 80s.)

I realized last week, though, that the bulk of the DCU does absolutely nothing for me these days, and I’ve stopped reading DC books, even Batman, which I don’t even recognize at the moment.

The Marvel Universe, however, has been blowing my mind and pleasing me greatly for at least the last year, mostly because Brubaker, Fraction and Gillen all write Marvel titles, that kick all kinds of ass. I’ve been reading Captain America, Uncanny X-Men, Invincible Iron Man, Secret Avengers, Thor, and Osborn, and I eagerly anticipate every Wednesday with an excitement I haven’t felt since I was a teenager.

Yesterday, via Reddit, I came across this article at Platypus Robot: A Marvel Universe Primer. It gives some basic history of the Marvel Universe, and suggests some starting points for new readers. If you or someone you know is interested in reading some amazing stories but don’t know where to start, check this article out; I think you’ll find it quite useful.

What are you reading these days? Who's that artist or writer you will follow to the ends of the multiverse? And where are those pictures I ordered? Is Don on the phone?

The Day After and Other Stories – Kindle edition

My very short collection of very short stories, The Day After And Other Stories, is now in the Kindle store for $2.99 (prices slightly higher outside of the US. This is beyond my control.) It's DRM-free, because DRM makes me stabby.

Here's the description thing I wrote for it:

In The Day After and Other Stories, Author Wil Wheaton explores the tenuous bonds that hold us all together. Also, there's zombies.

The Day After – Tim is an angry and scared 18 year-old, trying to decide if surviving the zombie apocalypse is worth it.

Room 302 – Something is very wrong with this picture.

The Language Barrier – Sometimes it takes someone who doesn't speak your language to fully understand you.

Poor Places – Eddie used to be somebody, but now he's a guy who plays poker and takes a lot of pills.

You can grab your own copy in the Kindle store, and you can still get the pdf version at Lulu. Eventually, I'll make ePub versions for nook and other readers, but I'm going to take a break from the digital-edition-making business to get back into the writing-original-stuff business first.

For those of you keeping score at home (and not using AdBlock,) here are some spiffy links to my original works in the Kindle store:

  

Yay!

Sunken Treasure joins Hunter in the Kindle store.

Kindle readers! You can get your very own DRM-free copies of Sunken Treasure and Hunter directly from the Kindle store.

Sunken Treasure is $2.99, and Hunter is 99 cents.

You can get to Sunken Treasure and Hunter by clicking those links, or you can use these snazzy clicky-image-buying-the-book things (which you won't see if you're running AdBlock):

 

Neat!

From the Vault: see this place where stories all ring true

This morning, while driving around town, Anne and I heard Green Grass and High Tides on the radio. It was part of a set of songs with "green" in the title, on account of it being St. Patrick's Day. It's a stretch, but any excuse to play a great song on the radio — especially a song that's nearly 10 minutes long — is fine with me.

After a minute or two, I said, "it feels kind of weird to just listen to this song, and not feel worried about failing out of it before it's over."

"Is this that song from Rock Band?" She asked.

"Yeah."

"I totally remember you and Ryan playing it over and over a couple years ago."

"Well, it's –"

"and over and over"

"I know. It's a really great song," I said, "it's just so … evil … at the end."

We drove on and just listened to it, until there were about three minutes left in the song.

"This is where it gets brutal," I said. In my mind, I could see the bar on the left side of the screen turning yellow, then red. I kept my hands on the wheel and resisted the urge to reflexively activate Overdrive, which we will always call Star Power, no matter what music game we're playing (even DJ Hero, which doesn't make any sense at all.)

I realized that my heart was beating harder than it should have, and I felt flush.

"Oh my god," I said, "I'm getting stressed out! It's like I have Rock Band PTSD!"

"Nice," she said. "You want to slow down?"

"What?"

I looked at the speedometer and realized I was going … a little too fast for the street we were on. I took my foot off the gas and gently applied the brake.

"Whoops."

Speaking of Rock Band and Green Grass and High Tides, here's a story I originally wrote about it in 2008, which is included in the Chapbook I did for GenCon last year, called Games Matter.

Ryan goes back to school in just under 2 weeks, and I've been bugging him to play the Endless Setlist with me on Rock Band before he leaves.

If you're unfamiliar with Rock Band's multiplayer thing, the Endless Setlist is the last thing you unlock in the game when you're playing as a band. It is exactly what it sounds like: a concert featuring all 58 songs that come with the game. It takes about six hours to play if you don't take any extended breaks.

Today, Ryan and I tackled it on expert. He played guitar, and I played bass. It was awesome. We got five stars on pretty much everything for the first 20 or so songs, including three gold stars. I got the authentic strummer thing and 99% on about half of them.

We were seriously having a good time, striking the rock pose, putting our backs together while we jammed through epic songs, bonding through the power of rock.

Then, with five songs left to go, we got to Green Grass and High Tides.

For those of you unfamiliar with Rock Band, this is a fantastic southern rock song by the Outlaws. It's also one of the hardest in the game, and the longest, weighing in at around 10 minutes. It's a song that you don't play as much as survive, and it does its best to really beat you down. If a song could kick you in the junk, this would be it. If this song were a poker game, it would be Razz.

So, after already playing for 5 hours, (and not exactly conserving our energy) we started to play this rock epic, knowing it would be the greatest challenge we'd faced yet.

Our first time through, we failed at 84%. It was entirely my fault for holding my guitar too high and deploying our emergency overdrive when we didn't need it.

"Sorry about that," I said as we lost 360,000 fans. "I blame my guitar."

Ryan looked at me.

"Okay, I blame myself."

Ryan laughed and said it was no big deal. He was confident we'd get it on the next try, and when we started the song, I could see why. He was in the zone, nailing 97% of the first solo. I wanted to holler about how awesome he was, but I felt like it would have been the same as talking to my pitcher in the middle of a no-hitter, so I stayed quiet and did my best not to screw things up.

I screwed things up, and we failed the song at 96%. We lost another 360,000 fans, almost wiping out the million we'd picked up when we did the Southern Rock Marathon last week. Compared to the nearly 5 and a half hours we'd spent playing, that 18 minutes wasn't that long, but it sure felt demoralizing, especially because it was, again, entirely my fault we'd failed. See, there's this bass phrase that's repeated over and over and over, and if you're just a tiny bit off (like I was) you're screwed, and . . . well, you get the point.

I dropped my hands to my side and let the guitar hand around my neck. My arms were tired, my legs hurt, and my vision was getting blurry.

"I think I've identified the weak link in our band, and it's me," I said. "I'm really sorry."

"It's okay," Ryan said, "but I think I want to take a break."

"Good idea," I said. "Let's pause this, go out for something to eat, and come back later."

Ryan walked into his room and turned on his shower. I unplugged my guitar so we didn't have to worry about our dogs knocking it down and starting the game again while we were gone.

In my memory, the next few moments happen in slow motion:

  • I pick up Ryan's guitar, the wireless PS2 guitar from GHIII.
  • I hold down the button to get the control screen.
  • The dashboard comes up, and it gives me the option to cancel, turn off the controller, or turn off the system.
  • I click the strum bar to select "turn off the controller."
  • I set the guitar on the ground — carefully — and reach up to click the green fret button.
  • I hear the Xbox beep.
  • I push the button.
  • I realize that the beep was the strum bar clicking one more time when I set the guitar down, selecting "Shutdown the System."
  • The system shuts down, taking all of our progress with it.
  • Time resumes to normal. For the next 120 seconds, I use every curse word I know, until my throat is raw. It takes everything I have not to grab the guitar and get all Pete Townshend on it.

Ryan came out of his room.

"What happened?" He said.

I told him.

What happened next was astonishing to me: Ryan didn't freak out. He didn't get upset. Instead, he told me, "Calm down, Wil. It's just a game. We can do it again."

I was still really upset. It was an accident, yes, but it was my fault. In my head, I kept replaying all the different ways I could have powered down his guitar that were more careful. I really felt like an asshole, because I screwed up twice and caused us to fail both times. I felt like an asshole, because I screwed up and lost all the progress we'd made. Mostly, though, I felt like an asshole because I really wanted to accomplish this feat with my son. I really wanted to have that memory.

What I got, though, was better than what I'd hoped for. I got to see Ryan exhibit one of the key values I'd raised him with: he kept everything in perspective, and found all the good things in the experience, like the gold stars we scored, the fun we had playing all the other songs, and the time we spent together. He reminded me that it's not about winning, it's about playing the game.

If you've read my blog for any amount of time, I'm sure you can appreciate how great it felt to hear my words and my values come out of my son's mouth.

I don't write about my boys very often these days. Their friends read my blog, and they sometimes read my blog. They're not little kids any more and I feel like it's not cool to talk about everything we do together with the Internet . . .

. . . but in this case, I'm making an exception.

You can hear me read this story on Radio Free Burrito Episode 20, if you're into that sort of thing.