Guest Post by Stephen Toulouse: Sometimes the Words Hide

This is a guest post by Stephen “Stepto” Toulouse. Stepto has worked for HBO, is the former banhammer at Xbox, and knows a thing or two about online communities and computer safety. 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.

Sometimes the words hide.

At first, I didn’t know what I was looking at. In my lower field of vision was dark blue, in the upper third a soft taupe. In the middle, in my near field, a round spot of black surrounded by tan, with a beautiful ring of light brown inside of it. Something pink, and I could hear breathing? Wait. I had just been in a shuttle hadn’t I? Atmo was out along with gravity and I was struggling to orient myself in freefall to get to a control panel. Was that the breathing?What was I looking at?

Those wisps of sleep-thought dissipated instantly, wiped into my brain’s incinerator with one swipe of a dog’s tongue across my face. My dog, Basil Hayden. It was morning, he was at the side of the bed expectantly looking at me. Important dog things needed doing with my supervision, and I dared be slow to wake, and ponderous.

The dream clung at me somewhat, staying with me even as with each waking moment it became more ephemeral and shifty. I was in trouble? Was it in space or an airplane? I could remember feelings even as the details left. I went through my morning routine twisting over it.

There were words there, I kept thinking, there was a story there. Just the thing I needed to break through some fog I had been having around tying up a variety of writing.

We all get writer’s block in some form. Sometimes nothing comes. Sometimes writer’s block can take the form of lots of things get put on paper but none good or satisfying.

Sometimes the words hide.

Every writer has their way of dealing with it. You can play their game and go looking for those words. You can sit on the couch, watch a film and refuse to give into their demands to be found so that they  come crawling back to you. You can bribe them, be stern with them, even attempt a “no strings attached” hang out with them. But they will, in the end, do as they please.

Our terror is that they are gone forever. Like an insomniac who fears they will never sleep again we push that fear back, knowing that adrenaline will only make the problem worse.

My words had been hiding lately, that morning when I got up. I’m more of a “I refuse to play your game” type of writer and am content to wait in panicked patience for them to shuffle back. When they came back I dutifully stopped what I was doing and gathered them around me.

“Don’t hide again!” I said. “I need you!”

“We won’t.” they replied, “until next time.”

Guest Post by Will Hindmarch: Written Word, Spoken Word

Writer, designer, and producer Will Hindmarch (@wordwill) wrote about games and storytelling for Jeff VanderMeer‘s marvelous writing guide,  Wonderbook.

Almost twenty years ago, while I was in high school, I hosted a community radio show called The Difference Engine. I played a strange mix of genres and spoken-word tracks that amused me. Weezer’s original blue album was new, back then, and I played it alongside current mega-hits by NIN,  local Chicago bands like The Drovers, jazz classics from Louis Armstrong, and the occasional monologue excerpt by Henry Rollins or whoever, hand-bleeped in real time by me to keep us from getting nasty mail.

As a community-radio DJ and a community-theater actor/director/techie, I’d had some light vocal training, which served me well while I was alone in the booth with the mic, producing my own show. All the joys of having a soapbox and a mixtape, an audience and a mic, with none of the eyeballs or lenses staring back. Good stuff.

This past month, when I set out to produce and record the audiobook for my new poetry collection—Pregrets—all those memories, all that training fell away like a floor. I was here and they were over there, across a chasm of time, rusty from the sweat I’d left on them and the care I hadn’t taken to maintain them. As I sat, trying to edit the audio I’d recorded at home of me reading my own poems, I discovered something: I’d forgotten how to pace, how to pause, how to breathe—but not how to spot all those errors and recognize the genuine lousiness of my recordings.

Yikes.

Inside the sound of my own voice, reading my own words, is a terrible dread that rots the pillars of the pier and drops me in the saltwater.

All of it’s exacerbated by the dreaded art of comparison—of weighing my work against others. While recording my poems, I studied readings by Billy Collins, by Mary Robinette Kowal, by Henry Rollins, and discouraged myself right the hell out.

Reading my own work felt like it was sucking the life—the many different possible readings—right out of some poems. Pregrets is all about how the line breaks mislead, revise, question, and doubt. My readings felt like they put the kibosh on all that, saying “This is how this poem’s supposed to be read.” Which is, pardon me, bullshit in this case.

In contrast, I think back to the lovely, atmospheric podcast series called PleasureTown (on SoundCloud, too), and the first time I heard the story I wrote for the ninth episode of its first season.

Inside the sound of strangers’ voices, reading my own words, resides a peculiar magic. They imbued those words with so much, enriched them, opening them up for lots of wonderful characterization — and interpretation. Voices and words, like winds and kites. Words can lift up and be lifted, all at once … if you handle them right.

So I’m going to get past it, work through it, finish that audiobook (for the sake of the two people who want it made), not so much in spite of it being difficult … but because it’s difficult. I want to be good at this, better than I was back when, and see what I can make next with what I learn.

Onward.

(PleasureTown is a transmedia collection of short tales and linked characters set in a sordid town of hedonist-philosophers in the early 20th century. Season 2 of the podcast launches May 6th with 12 new episodes produced by my friends, Keith Ecker and Erin Kahoa. Even now, new minisodes are rolling out, written by fans and podcasters from Reading Out Loud.)

Guest Post by Will Hindmarch: Guess the Guest Posters Who Guest-Post by Being Guests and Posting

This guest post comes to us from writer and designer Will Hindmarch, co-founder of Gameplaywright Press and author of RPGs, fictions, and other things.

At about three o’clock this morning, I was walking home from an event highlighting D&D and beers, where I DM’d a table of nine players through a short session of D&D new 5th edition. In orbs of light, clinging to street lamps and glowing in the gloom, I saw snow falling on an angle in the wind. Most of the neighborhood was under an inch or so of snow and it flicked off the toes of my boots as I walked, but I passed a monk shoveling paths on a local sidewalk. By the time I woke up later this morning, tree branches balanced three or four inches of snow on their tops.

So I’m pretty far removed from any Caribbean cruise, right now.

But! I’m in good company, because although we don’t have a literal boatload of nerderati here, we have a global information network in reach, which I hear the JoCo Cruise somehow lacks. So I can google pics of boats, play JoCo’s music on my computer, and—best of all—sneak onto WWdN to keep us all distracted (I won’t go so far as to say entertained) until the One True Wil Wheaton returns.

Good news for you: it’s not just me! Three other weird cohorts are around this week to share guest posts with us and, title of this post be damned, you don’t have to guess who they are…

  • Stephen “Stepto” Toulouse writes fiction and non-fiction, excels at games, and is funnier than I am by a factor of ten.  He has a URL named after him.
  • Shane Nickerson is a producer, writer, and actor who is funnier than I am by an order of magnitude. We have the same birthday, Shane and I, but he’s better at it than I am. This URL was named in his honor.
  • Ryan Wheaton is a writer we all know for some of the best, funniest tweets to appear via @wilw, which makes him an approximate fuck-ton funnier than myself.

Some of are Wil(l)s, some of us are Wheatons, but we are none of us Wil Wheatons. Still, this week, we’re going to try hard to make Wil Wheaton proud. When we fail at that, we’re going to try hard to make Wil Wheaton laugh.

Either way, we’re in it together now, so let’s do this.

I’m on a boat!

Well, not at the moment. At the moment, it’s dark and I’m sleepy and I’m at my desk drinking coffee while I try to wake up.

BUT!

I’m going on the Jonathan Coulton Cruise for a week, so I’ve invited my very favorite guest bloggers to come back and do their thing while I’m gone. Please be nice to them, and each other.

the writer’s dilemma

Last night, I slept as deeply and undisturbed as I have in months. I woke up this morning much later than I’d planned, my body heavy, and unwilling to move on its own. Seamus slept against my hip, Marlowe was curled up next to me, her little face resting against my head.

I took my time waking up, and coaxed myself out of bed.

The wood floors of my house felt cool beneath my feet as I made my way into my kitchen and made the first of what will be many cups of coffee — not because I need coffee, but because I’ve figured out a way to make cold brew coffee that gives me the most delicious cup of coffee I’ve ever had.

Through the living room, I paused to kiss Anne good morning. I walked down the hallway into my office, sat down in front of my computer, and began my day.

I read emails, checked the morning news, glanced at Twitter, moderated comments here and at Radio Free Burrito.

Then I looked at a blank composition window, unsure where to begin. I looked into myself, tried to find something that needed to be recounted, a story that needed to be told, an amusing event over the last few days that was clamoring to be translated from memory and experience into narrative.

I found a single thing, but it’s actually too personal and painful to share. That one thing, though, once identified, starts to feel like a bug bite, demanding to be scratched and then itching more, asserting itself more, the more I scratched it. Though it is, in relation to everything else in my world, very small, it became the biggest thing, the only thing, pushing out everything else

And yet, I can’t.

So I begin typing, putting together images and moments from when I woke until when I began assembling them into words.

And when I get to that point where the thing asserts itself again, it holds me and will not let me pass.

And so I write it, but I don’t press publish. I put it away, in a document that is just for me, and I write this instead.

The War of the Worlds Rehearsal

In a few hours, I’m heading to the theatre for the final rehearsal for tonight’s performance of The War of the Worlds, as part of the 2015 Sci-Fi Fest.

I have the great honor and privilege of playing Orson Welles as Professor Pierson. It’s a bit of a dream come true for me, because I’ve been listening to the infamous 1939 broadcast of War of the Worlds since I got my very first cassette player in the late 70s. I can recite most of it from memory, but for tonight’s performance, it was important to me that I didn’t just mimic Welles’ performance. I need to make the character my own, and to do that, I’ve been reading and performing the scenes just like I would to prepare for any other character I was creating.

I thought it would be interesting to share some of my rehearsal process, so I recorded myself yesterday, and put the recording on my Soundcloud.

It’s about ten minutes long, and I think some of you may find it interesting, and maybe even entertaining. You can listen to it there, or push play here:

Tabletop Gag Reel: Stone Age

Agressive BreedingSometimes, YouTube stops to buffer and I get some pretty great Tablederp.

This week’s gag reel is one of my favorites in the history of the series:

it’s the year of the beard!

My friend, Atom, has an EPIC beard that is so epic, his wife commissioned a song from Molly Lewis to celebrate it. That song is called The Year of the Beard.

I have had a beard in some form or another since the writer’s strike of 2007, when it started out as a solidarity beard, and quickly grew into an NHL playoffs beard, and finally into a “I’m lazy and this saves me literally minutes a day” beard.

I like having a beard, though I’ve always kept it very neat and short, mostly because I’ve been working on camera in some way or another, and I’ve needed to keep a constant appearance.

See, always I’ve never been able to drastically alter my appearance in any meaningful way, because for most of my life I had to either look like my headshot, or stay in continuity for the show or movie I was working on. Sure, I’ve done colors and even shaved it (which was awesome and I’d do again in a second if I could), but I’ve never been able to even consider a mohawk or sweet juggalo tattoo on my neck or bifurcating my tongue and changing my name to HISSSSSSSSS.

But I’m not really doing anything on camera at the moment, and I’m primarily working as a writer and voice actor, so what I can do, and am doing at this very moment, is let my beard just grow until I feel like doing something about it. At the moment, I don’t feel like doing anything about it until at least after JoCo Cruise Crazy, and I may even keep it through the production of Tabletop’s RPG Show, because I kind of like the idea of having a big old GM’s beard for that show.

In which the author is bearding as hard as he can.
In which the author is bearding as hard as he can.

Some people think it’s great, others think it’s horrible. I don’t particularly care what anyone else thinks, though, because it’s The Year of the Beard and mine is almost big enough to hide stuff in it.

50,000 Monkeys at 50,000 Typewriters Can't Be Wrong

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