Circadian Arrhythmia

You're DEAD to me!No two ways about it, the past two weeks have sucked. I think I left the apartment only once the entire time, my days and nights have gotten completely reversed, and each day I’m looking more and more like a mugshot of Ted Kaczynski.

The key difference, of course, being that he managed to get some writing done. I did finally finish a first draft, but I can’t remember when I’ve had such a hard time getting something, anything, written. This wasn’t the typical NaNoWriMo-style procrastination and distraction; this was full-on Barton Fink level staring at a big blank sheet of white and not being able to think of a single thing.

Complicating things is the fact that I can’t do all-nighters like I used to. It may be just because I’m old, but I think the resolutions had something to do with it. I mentioned I swore off caffeine a while back, and I’ve also finally weened myself off of sodas in general. I’d estimate in the past month I’ve had three (and that just because I was at Disneyland, and it was force of habit), when in the old days three in one day would’ve been a “healthy” day for me. And I have to think that no longer having a steady flow of sugar is a big part of what makes me drift into unconsciousness right when I most need to be awake.

In the past, I’ve thought of the hours between midnight and three AM as some kind of “magic time,” the time when I feel like every line of code I write is brilliantly and elegantly crafted, and every joke I write is the pinnacle of western humor. That’s almost never the case, of course, but the “magic” is that it feels like it’s true.

Lately, though, it’s been like a constant flat-line, with an occasional blip where I get an idea and then forget it or lose interest less than five minutes later. And I haven’t been able to push things an hour later over the course of a couple weeks to gradually get off-kilter. Instead, I’d be at the computer around 4:30 AM and then suddenly find myself in bed with all the lights turned off at 4:45, without remembering exactly how I’d gotten there. Which is going to make it even more difficult to switch around to sleeping on the same schedule as normal humans. I’d always assumed that Coke was my master, but apparently it’s been Sleep all this time.

I’ve got to spend most of this week down in LA for meetings with my other job. I’m actually looking forward to it — not being in LA, but finally leaving my apartment and talking to other people.

One minorly interesting thing tonight: on the way back from class, I saw two things I’d never seen before in San Francisco — lightning and hail. There was a cold, very light rain as I was walking back to my car. When I pulled out of the garage, the rain had picked up a little bit, but still wasn’t very severe. All of a sudden, there was a bright flash of lightning, and the thunder sounded as if the strike were very close. Then a downpour of hail, so much and so hard that I thought it was actually going to do damage to my car, landed directly on top of me and on the street all around. By the time the traffic light changed, it was all over. This place has the weirdest weather.

Lovely Golden Ointment

Still buried under work at the moment, but for the sake of updating:

I’d heard about TV cook Nigella Lawson, and how her schtick was basically food as barely-disguised metaphor for sex, but I had no idea how intense it was until I saw this clip of her making Chocolate Hot Pots:

By the time she says, “It’s warm, but I know I have pleasure ahead, so I’m willing to bear the pain now and dive right in,” I’m at her mercy, as if she were some Chocolate Pot-bearing Mata Hari. I’d be willing to divulge state secrets. I suspect if she made curry rice, I’d be willing to shoot one of my countrymen. Even when she talks about a “carapace with all this goo underneath,” it still somehow sounds unspeakably sexy.

The bit at the beginning says it’s rated “TV G”. I think not!

Oh, do we have a clip?

Abe Lincoln Must Die!I’ve been sequestered in my apartment for the last week, and I think I can finally say what the project is. I’ve been helping out with Telltale’s Sam & Max adventure games. The first episode I worked on, “Abe Lincoln Must Die!” is coming out on Gametap this Thursday, and then on Telltale’s site March 8.

This is very cool for me for two reasons: first, because I’ve wanted to work on a Sam & Max game for at least fifteen years now, ever since I first read the comics in the LucasArts Adventurer magazine. And this one’s actually going to get released! I did get a chance to work with Steve Purcell (translation: I got to listen while Steve came up with some great ideas) on a game a few years ago, but the pitch never got a publisher. On this series, Dave Grossman and Brendan Ferguson, two of the designers at Telltale, come up with the game design, puzzles, and situations, and I just came in for the last three episodes to write dialogue.

The second reason is because I haven’t played it yet. I always liked how on talk shows, an actor could come on and say that he hadn’t seen the movie he just worked on; there was always something admirably phony and pretentious and too-cool-for-school about it. I’ve only seen one scene from episode 4, a musical number that I have to say worked out a lot better than I’d expected it to. And I have played episode 1, and since I had nothing to do with it, can objectively and honestly say that it’s pretty hilarious.

I’ve worked on a few adventure games, but I have to admit that I’m not really a fan of adventure game puzzles. I play adventure games for the dialogue exchanges and the art and the cutscenes. So I think Telltale has managed to strike a good balance of puzzles that are just interesting enough to keep you engaged, but not so much to get you stuck and frustrated while you wait for the next cutscene. In other words: you want to buy all six episodes right now!

There’s a cool trailer for episode 4 on the Telltale blog. If you’re too lazy to click, here’s a lower-quality YouTube version:

Writer's Workshop: Pacing

I’m currently under contract to get paid money for stuff that I write, which means that I am a professional writer.

And when you’ve been a professional writer as long as I have, you know how crucial it is to master pacing. It’s a tricky concept to explain to you amateurs, so here’s a simplified example of the craft, from my most recent work:

  1. It’s 9 AM. You went to bed four hours ago. Time to wake up! There’s still a lot of work to do, and more importantly, some guy is outside using a high-pressure hose on your windows. You couldn’t sleep if you wanted to! But you don’t want to, because now it’s time to write!
  2. In the shower, think of a brilliant dialogue exchange for that crucial moment in the opening scene. Your Muse can strike at any moment, so be receptive!
  3. As you brush your teeth, realize that the reason that brilliant dialogue sounded familiar is because it was a snappy one-liner delivered by Natalie to Jo on “The Facts of Life”. Your Muse is Nick at Nite’s TVLand, and she is a fickle mistress. Spit.
  4. Turn on the computer. Open your mail and RSS feed reader. Get dressed (optional).
  5. Go outside and light a cigarette. Pace back and forth in front of the apartment, deep in thought. The casual observer must believe that you are deep in thought about your writing project, and not simply trying to remember how many girls were in the original cast of “The Facts of Life.” Writing is about guiding the perceptions of the observer, so this is important.
  6. Pour a glass of orange juice. Set it down beside the computer.
  7. Pace into the living room and open the window. Watch the woman jogger go from one end of the block to the other. Writing exercise: imagine her life story. Has she been jogging for years, or is there some recent incident, a health scare, that compelled her to start exercising? Extra credit: imagine her topless.
  8. Pace back to the desk. Drink the orange juice. Check e-mail. Are there any non-spam messages? No? Good. That means you’re on track.
  9. Open Word. This is your home, your sanctum sanctorum as a professional writer. Stare at the fresh digital page of possibilities. Consider whether it’d be easier to use a text editor.
  10. Check one (1) feed’s latest posts from your RSS feed reader. Begin posting a clever reply to a comment. Lose interest and move on.
  11. Pace back into the living room. While standing, read a section of the comic book that is source material for your writing project, for “inspiration.” Become dejected when you realize that you’d inadvertently stolen a joke from the source material during an earlier writing project. Hope that people will believe it’s a clever in-joke or callback.
  12. Pace back to the desk. Re-read the design document. It all seems so simple. This is going to be easy.
  13. In Word, write — excuse me — professionally write a character’s name, followed by a colon. Clever dialogue will go here.
  14. Go outside and light another cigarette. Pace back and forth in front of the apartment. Question: can the earlier inspiration be salvaged by removing references to Mrs. Garrett?
  15. Back to the computer. Type the one-line summation taken directly from the design document. It can be “fixed up” later, and made 1000 times more interesting and funny. The goal here is to get something on the page. Once you’ve got that inertia, insert a newline, then write the next character’s name, followed by a colon. This is where the craft becomes professional art.
  16. Realize that the process would flow much more easily with a larger monitor. Go to the Dell website and do price comparisons on the 24″ and 30″ monitors. Use Google to search for monitor reviews. Click to add a new monitor to your shopping cart. Go into the living room and grab your wallet to get the credit card number. Have second thoughts.
  17. Go outside and light another cigarette. Pace up and down the apartment steps, watching the movers hauling furniture across the street. Haven’t there already been two families moving off of this block this week? Remind yourself to check online if there have been gas leaks or violent crime on this street.
  18. Back to the computer. Check up on the latest webcomics, a valuable source of inspiration. Lose interest after two.
  19. Pace into the living room. Stare in the mirror. Do you actually have more gray hair than you did last night? Is that even possible, outside of stories on snopes.com?
  20. Pace into the bathroom and shave. (Optional — for the ladies, shave your legs or read fashion magazines or call your girlfriends and compare ex-boyfriends’ junk sizes, or whatever the hell it is you people do).
  21. Back to the computer. This is the crucial part of the writing process; once this line is done, the rest will flow in a never-ending creative torrent. Essential here is frequently looking off into space, chin in hand, keeping those synapses firing, making connections that will yield the crucial bit of inspiration.
  22. Realize you missed a spot shaving. Go back into the bathroom and finish the job. Reconsider the possibilities of using “Just for Men” hair coloring, and how you could get away with it. Maybe take a two-week vacation to an island with mysterious hair-darkening properties? Claim you were part of a stem cell research project?
  23. Go back outside, light another cigarette. Pace back and forth in front of the apartment. Consider whether an interesting blog post could be made from this process. Decide to write one anyway.
  24. Back to the computer. Write the next line of dialogue. Then another! The process is working! This is professional writing!
  25. Open the web browser again.

By now, I hope it’s clear the importance of pacing. It turns what should be a simple, easily-accomplished professionally-contracted task, into an agonizing ordeal of self-importance and self-doubt and suffering for one’s art.

Next up: the first draft. Does putting a towel under the door really work?1

1. Hackneyed Jokes to Avoid at All Costs, Bennett Cerf et. al., 1952.

Me gusta la música

Merry ClaytonThe best performance in pop music is Merry Clayton’s solo in “Gimme Shelter” by the Rolling Stones. The part where her voice cracks may be the best moment in pop music history.

And there you go. I don’t know from writing about music. You want Lester Bangs, go to a different blog.