Category Archives: Books

buy the ticket, take your turn

It’s another one of those round up posts, like in the Before Times! Also, my silly choice to do that outrageous 90s theme (I bet you are all going to miss the dancing baby) has served its purpose, and now we are back to something a bit more readable.

Let’s get started with this thing from my Facebook:

So the phrase “you have too much time on your hands” came across my event horizon, as a response to a silly thing I did to amuse myself. I’ve heard this for my entire life, and every few years, I write a post like this about it. This is a slightly edited version of my response.

I doubt very much you mean to be hurtful when you say this. It’s just a silly thing you say, like “tell us how you really feel”. It doesn’t mean anything, it’s just a little joke.

About that. This is one of the most insulting, degrading, things a creative person can hear. We have all kinds of fun making something, and we put it into the world, and “you have too much time on your hands” devalues our creative experience. It’s another way of saying “don’t you have anything better to do?” Actually, dad, I don’t. This is exactly what I wanted to do with my time and energy.

I had exactly the right amount of time to make whatever the thing is. I choose to invest my time in doing something amusing, or silly, or whatever. “You have too much time” implies that this was a waste of the time I have, time that should have been spent doing something else, rather than the thing I chose to make, because it made me feel good to do that.

I am so confident that most people who say this don’t mean to be hurtful, and if you’re one of them, I hope you’ll hear me, as a creative person who has been dismissed like that his whole life, when I tell you how hurtful and insulting these words are. Don’t take my word for it, listen to all the other creative people who will reply to this, if they choose to share their experiences.

I’m not calling you out. I’m not putting you on blast, and I’ll ban anyone who brigades or attacks you. I’m just taking this moment to share this for you and anyone else who doesn’t want to be hurtful in the future. A teaching moment.

We don’t have too much time. In fact, nearly every creative person you ever talk to will tell you that we don’t have enough time. Please don’t dismiss us or the stuff we make.

Thanks for listening 🙂

NB: Facebook is bad for civilization. There is a future coming where someone researches and produces data which will show how absolutely destructive the whole damn thing is. There is a future where social media as it exists today is looked at the way my generation looks at DDT. We cannot believe it was ever a Thing, and the people who were poisoning us knew it all along. Facebook and Twitchan are a catastrophe for democracy and marginalized people. I can’t wait for the day to arrive when all of social media is regulated like tobacco and alcohol, and gets broken up into some parts that are less predatory and dangerous.

I just want to amplify my dear friend who is not here for anyone’s bullshit:

Okay. Let’s step out of that place and into something more fun!

I’ve wanted to round up some of the TV I’ve been watching:

Holy shit The Last Of Us is perfect. Flawless. Worth the entire subscription.

Netflix’s 1899 went from “interesting, compelling” to “steampunk LOST” so fast I gave up halfway through. The era of “weird for the sake of being weird, style over substance, vague hints of story instead of real character development, and we’ll sort of loosely wrap it up eventually” cannot end fast enough. Honestly, it should have died with Charlie. RIP Charlie.

Conversely, I had to force myself to not binge Wednesday, Brand New Cherry Flavor, The English, The Recruit, and Sandman. Highly recommend all of them.

This morning, I read a horrifying story of AI being used to determine child welfare cases in Pennsylvania.

The Justice Department has been scrutinizing a controversial artificial intelligence tool used by a Pittsburgh-area child protective services agency following concerns that it could result in discrimination against families with disabilities, The Associated Press has learned.

The interest from federal civil rights attorneys comes after an AP investigation revealed potential bias and transparency issues about the opaque algorithm that is designed to assess a family’s risk level when they are reported for child welfare concerns in Allegheny County.

[…]

Algorithms use pools of information to turn data points into predictions, whether that’s for online shopping, identifying crime hot spots or hiring workers. Many child welfare agencies in the U.S. are considering adopting such tools as part of their work with children and families.

Though there’s been widespread debate over the moral consequences of using artificial intelligence in child protective services, the Justice Department’s interest in the pioneering Allegheny algorithm marks a significant turn toward possible legal implications.

Supporters see algorithms as a promising way to make a strained child protective services system both more thorough and efficient, saying child welfare officials should use all tools at their disposal to make sure children aren’t maltreated. But critics worry that including data points collected largely from people who are poor can automate discrimination against families based on race, income, disabilities or other external characteristics.

(bolding is mine)

This was timely, as I just watched this short from Aperture about Algorithms a couple days ago.

tl;dr: algorithms are inherently racist, classist, and not at all neutral because the data used to train them is largely drawn from a system that has elevated the opportunities and privileges of CIS white men. It’s appalling.

Let’s stay at YouTube for a minute, because I said this was going to be fun.

I didn’t know about The Electric State until I saw this video. I bought it, and Tales from the Loop, immediately. If you like the things I like, I know you will be entranced by this video and the book that it talks about.

It’s going to be a movie? I just saw that when I looked for a link to the publisher’s page. Hmm. I hope they do it justice. I hear they missed the mark with Tales from the Loop, but I haven’t watched it yet so take that with a grain of highly radioactive 236 U.

We are so lucky to be on this planet at the same time as John Green.

Also, I noticed a Still Just A Geek coffee mug in the background of one of Hank Green’s videos and I’m not gonna lie: I squeed with extreme delight.

One last YouTube mention. I can’t get enough of CGPGrey. I don’t know anything about them, except that their brain is amazing.

This video is about choosing a theme for yourself, like “my theme for this month is reading.” or “my theme for this month is mindfulness.” The idea is to help us build on little successes that fit into a broad theme, rather than setting a single goal and feeling like a failure if we don’t complete it to our liking.

My theme since I turned 50 has been self care and gratitude. I’m spending all kinds of time working on healing my cptsd and trauma, and I’m showing up for myself every day to support that. I’m making a choice to work on specific things in therapy (EMDR has changed my life), and then do the hard work in between sessions to build on the insights I’ve gotten from my therapist.

I felt this fundamental shift beneath my feet last week. This HUGE thing changed in me. It’s so big, I can’t see all of it, you know? Like, I can just see this small part of it that I let go of, and until I get farther away from it, I won’t know what all of it is. I feel so good, so unburdened, that I have spent substantial time being suspicious of it. I legit wondered if I was manic, but after talking with my therapist, I’m pretty sure what I’m feeling is the lack of generalized anxiety that has defined my life for so long I didn’t realize it was there. “This is water,” as they say.

If you only take one thing away from this post: work on your shit. It’s worth it. YOU are worth it. And I’m going to tell you something that’s going to be upsetting: all your friends know you are lying to yourself, and to them, about your mental health. We can’t do anything to support and help you until you choose to be honest and do that incredibly hard work that is so terrifying.

In the land of music, I can’t believe how much I like Miley Cyrus’ new song, Flowers. I love her smoky voice and “fuck you I’m fabulous” attitude.

If you love 90s ambient like I do, I have a happy place for you to visit.

I’ve been listening to Alkaline Trio, Taking Back Sunday, Get Up Kids, Ataris, and all that fabulous early 2000s stuff we all associate with Warped Tour. Yes, I made a playlist at Spotify.

Speaking of, I had no idea that Spotify used so much shitty compression, until my son pointed it out to me with a side by side comparison to Apple Music. The difference between the two is astounding. Real quick: I hate Apple. Their UI is the worst. Their design is stupid and non-intuitive. Oh, how I hate iTunes. And Apple’s refusal to use open standards in messaging can get fucked.

But Apple Music is remarkable (The Linux client, cider, is amazing). The lossless sound is so much better than the over compressed shit Spotify squirts into my ears, and I had no idea until I put them side by side. Spotify is like putting a wet paper sack over your speakers, by comparison. Once you hear the difference, it’s real hard to go back.

Too bad Spotify didn’t invest in sound quality like they did in centering and spotlighting a conspiracy theorist. This is the year I let my membership expire.

Okay, last thing: I searched high and low for a really solid RSS reader that wasn’t full of crap. I eventually settled on Fluent Reader. You can grab the Appimage here, if you’re a Linux user like me.

Oh look the morning is behind me and now I’m late for work. Which will happen in a virtual desktop two clicks over, where I’m writing a brand new thing.

a Dream comes true at the world’s end

A person who follows me on Tumblr expressed some lovely and positive things about my performance in Act III of Audible’s The Sandman.

I don’t know if I’ve talked about that here, so here’s what I said to them.

The work I got to do in Sandman Volume 3 for Audible was a dream (ha Dream) come true for me.

I have been a Sandman fan since day one. I got it the day it dropped (still have that issue) and never looked back. When I was in my teens, I hoped so hard that I would somehow get to be part of the Sandman universe someday, but I honestly didn’t see how it would ever be possible. I’m the wrong age, I’m American, and when I looked at the map of my potential future, I just couldn’t find a place on the road that even got me close to Neil’s world.

And then, literal decades after I made the wish, it came true. Neil emailed me and asked me if I would voice Brant in The World’s End.

You know that moment in the movies when someone wins a thing, and they have to look back at the telegram or the bingo card or whatever, many times, because they can’t believe it actually happened? It was like that.

So I said yes, did my best to play it cool and not slime Neil with my excitement, and about a month later, I was in the booth.

The World’s End is one of my favorite parts of The Sandman. I love a good retelling of The Canterbury Tales. I haven’t listened to it, yet (I’m still in Act 1 as a listener) but it was some of the most satisfying acting I’ve done in a long, long time. I just remember how completely and thoroughly I enjoyed it. The words coming out of me, the feeling of them resonating in my chest before they came out of my mouth … knowing that my body was an instrument I was playing to bring music Neil wrote to life … wow. It was so much more than I expected, and it was something I’d been dreaming about (there’s that joke again) for over 30 years.

I can’t say more without spoiling the story. What I will obliquely refer to is a moment when a lot of important characters take a walk, and Brant tells you about it. That is in my top three moments of my entire career to this point.

When you watch The Curse, you are watching two children who were abused and exploited daily during production. No adults protected us.

I had a wonderful time at Steel City Comicon this weekend. It was my first time at this particular con, so I didn’t know there was such a huge contingent of horror fans, creators, and vendors who attend.

I love horror, and I was pretty psyched to be in the same place as John Carpenter and Tom Savini, across the street from the Dawn of the Dead mall. Pittsburgh feels like one of the places horror was invented, at least to me.

A number of these horror fans came to see me, and asked me to sign posters and other things from a movie my parents forced me to do when I was 13, called The Curse. I had to tell each of these people that I would not sign anything associated with that movie, because I was abused and exploited during production. The time I spent on that film remains the most traumatizing time of my life, and though I am a 50 year-old man, just typing this now makes my hands shake with remembered fear of a 13 year-old boy who nobody protected, and the absolute fury the 50 year-old man feels toward the people who hurt him.

I told this story in Still Just A Geek, and I’ve talked about it in some podcasts I did on the promo tour, but I’ve never put it out in public like this, in its entirety.

I suspect someone at the publisher would prefer I tease this and hope it drives book sales from people who want to read all of it, but I honestly don’t want to have another weekend like this one where everything is awesome, except the few times people who have no idea (and why should they) put that fucking poster in front of me, and all the fear, abandonment, and trauma come flooding back as I tell them that I won’t sign it, and why.

To their credit, each person was as horrified as they should have been, told me they had no idea (if they didn’t read my book why would they), and quickly put the poster away. They were all understanding. I am grateful for that.

But I really don’t need to tell this story over and over again, so here it is, with a child abuse and exploitation content warning, so I can just tell people to Google it.

Continue reading… →

I’m narrating Randall Monroe’s What If? 2, but you didn’t hear it from me.

I’m generally not meant to talk about what I’m working on without explicit permission, so earlier today, I posted this on Instagram:

Workin’

You know, like I always do when I’m working on something. It’s fun, and I enjoy having this easily searched archive when I want to pull a memory out of storage.

A little bit later, I added

Be cool and don’t narc on me. Snitches get stitches.

Then I went back to work and didn’t notice until I got home a bit ago that stupid fucking Instagram was like “Hey, how about I crop your image to ruin your joke? I’ll cut your name off the bottom so none of this makes sense lol. Now watch all these reels from people you don’t follow. You’ll see your friends’ posts in … the future.”

So here is the uncropped image which I TOLD Instagram to upload.

See? Narrated by me. I didn’t tell you, thus revealing a secret! You just read an unrelated screenshot. Ha! Ha! Ha!

Have I over explained the joke enough? Find the nearest dad to pick up the baton from me if not.

I’m always told not to talk about what I’m working on, so the publisher can make announcements and do PR at their pace, on their schedule. I always wait and then just amplify their messages. I know lots of professionals do lots of hard work, and I don’t want to step on it or make it harder for them, just to amuse or promote myself.

So, here’s the timeline on this job:

The day the book was announced way back in … I think winter, early in the year? I started getting asks from people if I’d narrate it, since I’d already narrated the first one, it was kind of in my wheelhouse, etc.

At that time, I hoped I would be asked, because I freaking LOVE Randall Monroe’s work, it was a blast doing the first one, and How To, and I loved the idea of getting the team back together (same director and studio) to do it again.

But like months went by and nobody called us, so I presumed they’d decided to use a different narrator. Oh well. Sad trombone but life goes on, long after JCM’s record has stopped playing in the last little pink house that hasn’t been destroyed by climate change.

Then! Then I got an email from my agent about 6 weeks ago, asking if I would narrate What If? 2. I replied something like, “Yes. I don’t even need to read it first. Just close the deal before they change their mind!” And that was that.

I still couldn’t talk about it (or at least chose not to, as expressed above), and when someone asked me if I was doing it, I always said that would be super cool, but I couldn’t say one way or the other.Then like two weeks ago, maybe three, I searched my name on Audible to find a link to one of my NUMEROUS AWARD WINNING NARRATIONS flex and saw that this one was on the list! HO HO! I don’t have to wait! They’ve already put it online!

Which brings us up to about 5 hours ago, when I posted what I imagined was clever, but was missing what I believe was/is vital context.

Thank you for coming to my TED talk.

I wrote fan fiction for my job and got paid for it and everything.

A few months ago, an editor at IDW reached out and asked me if I’d be interested in contributing something to their 400th issue of the Star Trek comic. I told her I was VERY interested, but wasn’t sure how much time I had in my schedule.

I offered a few options, presented in order from easiest (and least desirable for me) to most time-consuming, but most exciting for me to do: I could give them an essay that already exists, I could write a short, new essay, or I could write an entire new story.

She was like, how about that new story?

So I pitched something, and told my team that I was going to be working on this for a couple of weeks. One of them wrote back that I didn’t have time to do this. I told them I was creating time out of thin air to work on it, because it was that important to me. And that’s what I did.

My pitch was accepted, and I set my brain upon the task of developing it. It came in little pieces, out of order, until I woke up in the middle of the night about a week in, with an idea that was orders of magnitude more interesting and challenging. I got out of bed, transcribed what my brain was delivering, and hoped it would make sense in the morning. When morning came, I saw the shape of it, and I saw The Thing that I really wanted to do, The Thing that makes the whole story worth writing. (For shorts, there is always A Thing I want to tell in the story, and that’s why I write it. When The Thing revealed itself to me, it happened to be about 4 in the morning. It happens like that pretty frequently.)

We had to get approval, but time was already short. So I got to work before I even had permission and hoped for the best. I was fortunate to get broad approval, and the notes ended up being about small things that didn’t affect the narrative arc.

So a lot of the process to bring this together was watching and consuming Star Trek (thank you for your thoughts and prayers at this difficult time) so I was steeped in the universe. Think of living abroad for so long, you have to relearn what your cultural and language norms are before you go home.

It was the most fun I have ever had writing something. From the very beginning, I just had fun. I didn’t second guess myself. I didn’t worry. I didn’t let my anxiety or the relentlessly critical inner voice of the man who was my father speak up and distract me. I worked hard and without fear, and it was the best thing, ever. I have no idea how this will be received by the audience. I hope other people like it as much as I do. But even if they don’t, I love this story and I loved writing it. That’s all I care about, and WOW let me tell you what an incredible feeling that is!

I’m so grateful I learned how to separate the joy of doing the work from the anxiety of how it will be received. The rest of this post is collected from daily posts I made on Facebook as I tracked my progress.

July 11

I am having the BEST time writing this thing that’s due on Friday. I love EVERY SECOND of this process, even the parts where I don’t feel like I’m making progress the way I want to. I’m still making progress, and I’m learning to embrace that process so I can enjoy it more.

I’ve been at it all day, and I want to keep writing SO MUCH, but I am just totally out of gas and it’s time to go play NHL 22.

I love this. I love this so much. I love being a writer and a storyteller. I am so grateful for this life.

July 12

It’s another day on this project that’s due Friday. I’m on pace to wrap up tomorrow, have Thursday to polish it, and turn it in on time.

I think I’ve overwritten it (I usually do) and I may have to lose a substantial chunk, but that’s cool with me. I’ve learned how to save things, how to let go of my original idea when the collaborative process begins and the work starts to develop into its own thing. It’s pretty great.

I’d love to keep going, but just now, in the middle of a sentence, I ran out of gas. It happens, and I’ve managed my time responsibly enough to go ahead and call it for the day.
I’m still having the best time doing this, and I’m super excited to release it into the world.

July 13

I’ve been working on this thing that’s due on Friday for about a month, but I didn’t start actually writing it until last week, because WOW HAVE I BEEN BUSY.

I just finished the first complete draft, and I’m walking away to let it breathe until tomorrow, when I’ll rewrite. I am exhausted, but this has been so much fun. It’s going to kill me when I have to cut at least half of it, but I’m actually going to make this deadline, like I’m an adult and a professional, and everything.

July 14

So that thing that’s due tomorrow? Finished it and turned it in a couple hours ago. For the first time in my career as a writer, I actually got something in AHEAD of a deadline.
It wasn’t easy. This morning, while I was working on rewriting, tightening it up, raising the stakes, and all that, I hit The Valley of Despair. This is a part of my creative process, very close to the end, when I feel like everything I’ve done is terrible, I’m the worst writer in the world, they’re all gonna laugh at me, and I should just give up and quit right now.

When that happens, I know I’m close to the end, but too close to be objective and see the words among all the letters. (This took many painful years to learn.)

So I reached out to a friend I respect deeply, who has EXTREMELY relevant experience, and asked for notes. They gave me notes, some INCREDIBLE ideas that I absolutely LOVED adding, and they got me across The Valley of Despair. Once I was on the other side, everything came together so effortlessly, it was kind of rude.

It’s so interesting to me that I can struggle for so long to see where the cuts need to happen, never seeing them, feeling like each precious bit is too precious to cut, right up until the moment they are all suddenly so obvious, I don’t know what I was thinking when I wrote them, and I never miss them when they’re gone. I cut a lot of stuff today that I enjoyed making up and writing, but I don’t miss it at all. The story didn’t need it. I’ve heard some writers talk about that stuff as the scaffolding they use to hold the thing together while they work on it. I like that metaphor.

Maybe the Valley of Despair is what happens when I take the scaffolding down. That’s a neat metaphor, too.

I don’t know when I’ll be able to get into details about this. Until then, I’m going to stay safely vague. But I’m super excited for this to be a thing in the world that all of you can read. It was really fun to imagine.

July 20

So I turned this thing in on Thursday last week, knowing it was overwritten and needed deep cuts that were going to hurt. That’s okay. It’s part of the whole creation process.

On Monday, I made some deep cuts. The manuscript sank into the swamp. Then I made more deep cuts yesterday. THAT sank into the swamp. I just finished ANOTHER round of extremely deep cuts today. If it follows, it will burn down, fall over, and sink into the swamp. BUT the next one will stay.

It’s fascinating to watch this happen in front of me. When I see the cut bits behind the green “cut this” suggestion thing, I REALLY miss them. But when I accept the cuts and read it all without the stuff I’ve cut, it still works and I don’t miss it at all. That is so WEIRD.

But it is so much fun, and so satisfying, to play with these toys. I still can’t believe I get to do this for my job.

Also, could someone get that guard a drink of water?

July 21

That thing I’ve been working on? That I couldn’t get specific about?

Well, now I can.

“IDW Publishing is celebrating 400 issues of Star Trek. This September, IDW will release the oversized Star Trek #400 one-shot featuring new stories from across the Star Trek universe. The stories include a brand new Star Trek: The Next Generation by series star Wil Wheaton, who recently reprised his role as Wesley Crusher in Star Trek: Picard’s second season finale. “

I think this drops in September, around Star Trek Day. If you want to get one, tell your local comic shop so they can order it for you.