A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a post about how I’d recorded an episode of the Roundtable Podcast. (Follow the link to learn more!) Today, the first of the two resulting episodes is live and ready for you to listen!
This is Dave Robison’s and Heather Welliver’s interview with Kat Richardson about her background, writing, and processes. Good stuff!
Next Tuesday, the brainstorming part, with me, will go live. I’ll post then, as well. :)
As you may know, I adore podcasts. I listen to a lot of them. (There’s a not altogether up-to-date list, even.) They are my primary form of entertainment, learning, and news.
The Round Table Podcast has been around since early 2012, although I didn’t discover it until spring of 2013 or so. As I am wont to do, I started at the very beginning and worked my way forward.
RTP is hosted by Dave Robison and a “random” co-host. Dave, his co-host, and a pro-writer guest host invite a guest writer to come on with a pitch for a story. The guest writer pitches their story for five to eight minutes, and then, for the next forty-five or so minutes, the three hosts take the story apart, suggesting ways to make it better, where “better” is according to the needs of the writer. For instance, it might need more world-building, or better characters, or something exciting to put in Act 2. Whatever the guest writer is looking for, Dave, his co-host, and the guest host help, starting many phrases with “What if…” and offering up “literary gold.” (Or, as their disclaimer states, “complete bullshit.” I have found that disclaimer to be somewhat disingenuous, because even in the parts that don’t mesh with what the guest writer has in mind, there are nuggets of literary gold. If not for the guest writer, then for some of the listeners. :) ) The guest writer is involved, of course, answering questions, and clarifying any confusion on the part of the hosts.
It takes a while to work through the back episodes of a new-to-me podcast, because I have many podcasts I do the same thing with, simultaneously. When I discovered RTP, I put the first four or five episodes on in the car when me and my housemate were on the road to visit my mother a few hours away. I remember saying to her (the housemate), “I need to be on this podcast!” Listening to them brainstorm other people’s stories often gave me ideas for my own.
A couple of months into my catch-up activity, I noticed that no new episodes had appeared in iTunes for a while, and I went to their site to check and — Oh, no! They had gone on indefinite hiatus! (For good reasons, mind you.) I was heartbroken, because I really, really wanted to pitch my novel and be on the show. Crud!
After about a year (summer, 2014), they came back! I continued catching up. Again with the goal of becoming a guest writer in my mind, but not feeling like I knew enough about what my story was about to pitch it, effectively.
In February of this year, I decided to make my move. I had enough of an idea what my novel was about that I felt like I could coherently describe it to people. I started slamming episodes, listening to four or five of them at a time. Meanwhile, I went on their site and filled out the form to be a guest writer.
I got in! :) I won’t try to reproduce the sound I made when I got the email from Dave saying he was interested, but it resembled “squee,” and may have involved (since I was alone at the time) in-chair happy-dancing. I’m sure it was very dignified happy-dancing. You’ll have to trust me, as no video feed of the event exists.
We recorded my episode last Thursday night (4/12/2016). My “random” co-host was Heather Welliver and my guest host was Kat Richardson, one of my favorite writers in my genre (Urban Fantasy; her Greywalker series is very good and you should read all nine of them). She was one of two names I mentioned in my application under “Who would be your dream guest host?”
On Tuesday, May 31, an episode called “20 Minutes With Kat Richardson” will go live, and it will involve Dave’s patented stalkery introduction (which can go on for a good fifteen or twenty minutes) of Kat and then a forty- to forty-five-minute interview with her, with questions from both Dave and Heather. Then, a week later, on Tuesday, June 7, Episode 102, with me as the guest writer, will go live. Squee!
I invite all of you reading this to please go subscribe to The Round Table Podcast. It really is excellent. It’s basically a recorded session of “novel breaking” as practiced at Taos Toolbox and in the unofficial ‘free-time’ parts of Paradise Lost.
I got some really awesome suggestions. I’m still letting them swirl around in my brain to see what comes of them. I took roughly eight and a half pages of notes, and will end up archiving and listening to my own episode a time or two to get probably a couple more pages.
Now, a warning. Some people may or may not want to know the full plot of my novel, as they are expected to critique it at some point, and they won’t experience the twists if they listen to the episode and hear me outline the entire plot in 8 minutes. Assuming I don’t completely throw out my current plot based on what Dave, Heather, and Kat said. :) So if you’re among that crowd, just know that listening to the episode will spoil my novel. I’m not sure how badly, because after last Thursday, it may or may not end the same way. :)
<vague>. . . and not all of my characters may end up being the same people as they are currently.</vague>
As a side note: I’m a little miffed that I didn’t get to make my joke “on air,” as it were. Before the recording, co-host Heather remarked that we had three -sons on the show: Henderson, Richardson, Robison. Expecting her to make the same comment during the actual recording, I was ready to quip to Heather, “So, does that make you Fred MacMurray?”
Oh, no, you don’t! That was damned funny! And now only people who read this site will know the comedy gold they missed out on.
- This may seriously be the most pretentious phrase I have ever typed in my life.
- Until the extended hiatus, the co-host was almost always Brion Humphrey. After the hiatus, Brion had a new baby and other responsibilities, so now the co-host role is filled by different people in each episode, with a good bit of repeat “offenders.” ;) And “random” is in quotes because they’re selected at least partially based on the genre of the guest writer’s story.
- Oh, how wrong I was. Luckily, Dave is good at his job, and gave me some pointers to get my haphazard pitch streamlined and to focus on the parts that mattered, and damn! It worked. I couldn’t be happier with my pitch.
- Serially, you goofball, not simultaneously. But on 1.77x speed, which is the fastest I can listen and still understand and get anything out of it.
Pictured to the right are the attendees/students, instructors, and organizers of Paradise Lost 6, held in San Antonio, TX, from April 28 to May 1, 2016. I have been very slug-like in getting around to posting about it, in spite of the fact that it ended a week ago. But I’ve been busy. That’s my excuse.
That’s me on the left, peeking out from between Anna and Rosie. I loathe pictures of me, but everyone else looks fantastic, so I’ll allow it.
Paradise Lost is open to writers who have been to the Viable Paradise or Taos Toolbox writing workshops, or who are members of the online Codex writing group (which has membership requirements including juried workshops (such as Viable Paradise, Clarion, Taos Toolbox, Odyssey, etc.), or publication).
For reasons that remain opaque to most everyone who knows me, I decided to drive from Atlanta, GA to San Antonio, TX. It’s a 16-ish-hour drive, so, heeding advice from a good friend, I split it into two days and took it slightly easier. Both there and back.
Four other graduates from my year at Viable Paradise XVI (2012) were there. It was great to see them all again. I won’t do a lot of name-dropping here, because there were 20 others besides me there, and, frankly, it would take a long time to find and link all those sites. :)
The highlights: the lectures by the pros (one of which was an exercise about supply lines that actually made me think about something that needed to be thunk about in my novel, so yay!), the social times, the dramatic (some might say ‘melodramatic’) reading of Chuck Tingle’s Hugo Award Nominated Space Raptor Butt Invasion. It was . . . special. Very . . . special.
I pretty much can’t say enough positive things about this experience. If you have the means and the opportunity to go, do look into it. It’s four days of being around amazing people who are also all writers, story breaking, talking shop, drinking, playing games, playing music, dramatic readings of really bad erotica . . . I’m told there was even some actual writing that got done! :)
There are two “tracks”: a critique track and a retreat track. The critique track is just what it sounds like: you submit up to five thousand words of something you’ve written and (this year) two instructors/pro writers and six fellow workshoppers read and critique it. This year, the critiques for all seven manuscripts took place over two sessions (before and after lunch) on one day. The Milford method was used: the author stayed quiet while each of the critiquers got up to 3 minutes to hit their main points. It went in a circle, then the professionals each got . . . basically as long as they liked to make their points. There was a lot of dittoing and anti-dittoing. And bad puns. :) Then, at the end, if the author wished, s/he could briefly address any comments brought up during the critique. It’s a handy method, and one I’ve used before that works if everyone’s kind of on the same level, and there aren’t too many people in the group. :) As it was with seven authors per group, each person had to read and critique about 30,000 words in the two(ish) months leading up to the workshop. Not too bad.
The retreat track is there to just get away from all the big, hairy nonsense that interrupts their writing when they’re at home (kids, spouses, bills, work, laundry . . . life) and just write. I think next time, this is what I’m going to do. There was still puh-lenty of time to do all the social stuff and get writing done, or so I was told.
The best part for me was that two of my fellow Paradisians were able to give me some inside information on some things I need to know about aspects of my novel that I know nothing about: government and law enforcement. A bonus I’m over the top about, and which I was totally not expecting. This is why critique groups are so useful! People have a very particular set of skills, skills they have acquired over very long careers. Skills that make them a rainbow-farting unicorn-dream for people like me, who don’t have those skills, but need to sound convincing in my manuscripts. Or, as one instructor said, you have to do the research to know what you’re talking about before deliberately breaking the rules for the sake of story. (Paraphrased.)
Anywho, as I said, you should definitely give it a go if you can, and you write science fiction, fantasy, or horror. Or, to put it in Internet terms everyone will understand: A++++++++++++!!!!! Would attend again!!!!!!!
- Which means sixteen uninterrupted(ish) hours of podcasts I got to listen to. It barely made a dent in my backlog, but it was a nice start.
I hate my brain.
No, no. Don’t even try to defend that . . . that wrinkly, three-pound lump of fatty tissues! It and I are not talking at the moment.
On, you want to know why? Fine.
INT. GARY’S BATHROOM – NIGHT. BRIGHTLY LIT BY EIGHT (DOWN FROM TWELVE) CFT BULBS.
Gary brushes his teeth, then rinses his face and, especially, his eyes with warm, soothing water to relieve the slightly sandy, scratchy feeling. On Saturday, he tore his right cornea. On Sunday, his left. He has no patience for more cornea-tearing.
He applies copious amounts of the ointment he uses to prevent more-frequent cornea-ripping. He swirls his eyes around to spread the ointment, then makes his way across the bathroom, only able to make out bright and less-bright shapes. He makes it to the door of his bathroom, plots a path to his bed, then shuts off the bright bathroom light.
INT. GARY’S BEDROOM – NIGHT
Gary climbs into bed and spends several minutes getting comfortable. Pillows in just the right places. Blankie pulled up just to the right level. Breathing slows . . . he’s starting to drift off . . .
Gary snuggles into the pillow emphatically.
What do you mean, ‘no’? You don’t even know what I —
No! Whatever it is, it can wait until tomorrow. When I’ve had sleep. Remember ‘sleep’? You need sleep. My eyes need sleep. Otherwise, I’ll have a hard time staring at a computer screen tomorrow.
(in a disgustingly sing-song tone)
But you’re going to really liiiiike thiiiis!
Go. Away. I’m trying to sleep.
Brain vomits out the entirety of the remaining plot points of the novel Gary and Brain have been agonizing over for several months. In detail. With red herrings, false leads, and answers to all the difficult parts they’ve been butting against. With — BONUS! — motivations for the secondary protagonist.
Gary rolls over, opens eyes, stares blankly in the direction of the ceiling.
I loathe you. Why did you wait until — ?
Yeah, yeah. I love you, too.
Listen, you should probably write all that down.
Gary rolls over and closes his eyes, snuggling into the pillow once again.
I’ll remember it.
Gary gets out of bed, stumbles through blurry darkness to blurry slightly less-dark adjoining office. The night-light in the office is green, which casts eerie shadows on the walls. He moves the mouse on his PC. Immediately, bright light floods the office — and his bleary, blurry, ointment-filled eyes — with searing whiteness. He leans into the screen, locates the blurry outlines of the Evernote icon, clicks it. Types for about fifteen minutes, eyes closed, hoping he’s making some sort of sense.
You’ll thank me, later.
Gary makes his way back to bed. At least it’s still warm. He goes to sleep in less than five minutes.
So, yeah. My brain and I aren’t on speaking terms, today.
I know, I know. It sounds like I should be thanking my brain, doesn’t it? But, you see, what it did was, it waited until after I sent my first five thousand words off for critique at Paradise Lost 6 to supply me all this. Until after I wrote ten thousand or so words of the novel. Most of which now have to be rewritten. Or at least heavily edited.
Couldn’t it have done this . . . I don’t know, three months ago?
How can one be accidentally saved? That’s the question that pops into your head when you see the title.
*** MILD spoilers follow ***
Gracie Lee Eudora Abbott is ten years old. The summer is almost over, and school is looming ominously on the all-too-close horizon. So every single day is important! But her mother, Anne, makes her and her sister go to church every Sunday. They can’t even play all morning because they’ll get dirty, so it’s basically an entire day gone out of their busy schedules of being kids in the Mississippi Delta of eastern Arkansas in the early 70s.
Gracie’s father never goes to church with the girls and their mother. And that is totally not fair. If she has to go, why doesn’t he? Sure, he gets drunk (and mean) most nights after working all day on the farms. But that’s hardly an excuse.
So it’s only natural that Gracie would ask the preacher about it. Everything just . . . kind of got out of hand after that.
Boerner’s debut novel is full of wonderful prose, humor, and drop-dead serious situations that this plucky, curious, precocious ten-year-old girl has to navigate: school bullies, death, baptism, church camp, and the mysterious fate of the man in the gray house just down the street from hers. Did he really shoot himself? Is he all right?
*** END mild spoilers ***
I thoroughly enjoyed this novel, and look forward to Boerner’s future novels.
The writing reminded me a lot of A Painted House by John Grisham. It has a similar feel, and it’s also from the first-person POV of a child trying to make sense of adult situations. Highly recommended.
This is both an example of how my brain operates and how amazing The Internet is. And a writing lesson, but in a very left-handed sort of way.
Today on Facebook, a friend of mine made a post asking his friends to recommend a recording of a specific piece of music by Handel.
My brain instantly seizes upon the scene in a M*A*S*H episode where Charles Emerson Winchester, III, asks Margaret Houlihan for a specific recording, with the joke being that the recording doesn’t exist. (Or so I thought! Keep reading.)
Being the snarky person that I am (I’m sure you can’t tell that by any of my posts, here), I instantly responded by typing, “I recommend the 1923 recording by Shnobble” and then stopped. That’s not the exact line. But to get the exact line, I’ll need to know which episode it is.
I have a friend named Mike who is a huge M*A*S*H fan. As big as me. We have frequently talked for long periods of time about M*A*S*H and are able to recognize episodes based on a single line of dialogue or a fragment of plot. I knew it was a late-series episode, and that Margaret was asking a favor . . . but that’s all I had to go on. I asked Mike, and he recognized it, but couldn’t remember exactly, either, only noting that it was probably a 10th- or 11th-season epsiode. So I called up M*A*S*H episode guides and started looking through the titles and short synopses.
I immediately found one in the 11th season that looked promising: “Say No More.” But it involved Margaret coming down with laryngitis and not being able to make it to Tokyo for a probably romantic assignation, so Charles contacts the doctor and has him come to the 4077th, instead. An “uncharacteristic” nice gesture by Charles. But not the one I wanted.
A few minutes later, scanning backwards, I located another possible one in the 10th season called “The Birthday Girls,” which involved Margaret wanting to go to Tokyo for her birthday, but instead getting stuck in the godforsaken middle of nowhere, Korea, with Klinger in a broken jeep.
The episode guide didn’t elaborate, but I was sure that was the one. So I looked up the synopsis of the episode on a better site. It said that Charles asked Margaret for a particular recording in exchange for taking over her teaching duty that she had to miss in order to get to Tokyo, but didn’t reveal the name or the recording. Crap! I’d have to just watch the episode.
I break out my DVDs of M*A*S*H, locate the 10th season, find disk 2, and insert it into my computer. Where it was rejected. Several times. Drat! So I put it into my DVD player and played it on my big screen TV in the living room, fast forwarding to where the scene takes place. Captions on, of course, so I could get the names right.
Keep in mind that all of this is so I can make a one-line snarky comment on a friend’s Facebook post. Just wanted to remind you of that. :)
Charles says, “Lately, I have had a craving to hear the Beethoven Emperor Piano Concerto.” Margaret replies something to the effect of, “So that’s all it’ll take? I get you a record?” Charles continues, “Well, of course it must be the incomparable Artur Schnabel as soloist.” Margaret again replies about that being a snap. To which Charles qualifies, “Ah — And not the 1947 performance. It’s just tentative. On the other hand, the 1932 performance with its limpid runs. . .” Margaret replies that she’ll get it. “If I have to, I’ll find that Schnabel guy and bring him here to play it for you!” (or something like that).
And I had my quote. “I recommend the Schnabel performance, but not the 1947. It’s tentative. But the 1932, with its limpid runs…” Aaaaaand done. Research complete, I moved on.
I share the information with Mike, who in the meantime has also inserted disk 2 of season 10 and is watching it, and provided me with the exact wording of the entire conversation, as you see it above. (Charles’ parts only, which is why the Margaret parts are paraphrased.)
But . . . then I start to wonder who Artur Schnabel was. I’d never paid attention before to the name, because I assumed that because of the resemblance to the word ‘snob’ that Charles was just being a jerk and sending Margaret on a wild goose chase for a recording that didn’t exist, possibly by a piano soloist who didn’t exist. “Shnobble,” as I’d heard it before.
So I Googled Artur Schnabel. And discovered that not only was he a real person, he was quite famous for his recordings of Beethoven piano pieces, including a 1932 performance of The “Emperor” Concerto (The Piano Concerto No. 5 in E-flat major, Op. 73). Stunned, I went to YouTube. And sure enough, there it was. The 1932 performance. I listened. I don’t know what “limpid” means in terms of music, but I’ll be honest, it was quite a performance. I enjoyed listening to it.
. . . Then, I wondered, “Well, was there a 1947 performance?” and I went to YouTube again. By now you’ve probably guessed that there was, indeed a 1947 performance of the same piece, and . . . it wasn’t as good as the 1932. Again, I’ve no clue what Charles meant by “tentative,” but I will say I greatly preferred the 1932 performance to the 1947.
“Wait a minute,” said my brain. It says that a lot, actually. (Just between you and me, it can get quite annoying.) “What,” it demanded, “was the point of that whole conversation, then? If Charles actually gave Margaret a legitimate recording, then it makes him far less of a jerk in that scene.” Note: LESS of a jerk. Instead of sending Margaret on a wild goose chase for a recording that doesn’t exist, he’s now just making fun of her for her lack of sophistication and knowledge about “classical” music, and perhaps for not being able to find a 20-year-old recording of western classical music in Tokyo, Japan.
Basically, my entire understanding of that character has altered, based on this little research rabbit hole down which I found myself falling. Don’t get me wrong: I dove in head first, secure in the knowledge that I would fall into something very like Wonderland.
To bring this back around to writing (because, hey, this is my writing blog): writer Lee H. Grant, who wrote that episode of M*A*S*H, added this little tidbit of character building to this episode, and probably knew good and well that the vast majority of the people watching the episode (in 1982) would have never heard of Artur Schnabel, may or may not know what Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 5 in E-flat major, Op. 73 was, nor that it was also known as ‘Emperor,’ and nevertheless put it in there because the character, Charles Emerson Winchester, III, would know about it in 1952(ish), when the episode took place. Because Charles was a snob, was a music lover, and had a very wry sense of humor. Perhaps, the little smirk on his face after Margaret promises to “bring that Schnabel guy” back to the 4077th to play it for Charles in person was because Schnabel died in 1951, just a short while before the events of this episode would have taken place, and not because he was a supreme jerk who was reveling in the cruel joke he’d played on a friend.
What writer in his right mind would write something that obscure into his work?
Answer: A good writer, who knows his character, and wants to get the details right, that’s who.
What have I learned from this? Basically, that a good writer does his/her research, to get it as right as possible. “You’re an author. You know that borrowing of the real always gives a better foundation for fiction. There’s a rhythm and sense to reality that’s hard to fake.” This was said to me by Nick, the friend on whose Facebook post I made the snarky comment that started all this. :)
Thank you to Mike, Nick, and Lee H. Grant for making this little lesson in writing possible. And to the anonymous people who compiled the wiki articles about the episodes and the anonymous YouTubers who illegally ripped and uploaded the recordings of the music so I could hear them. They were “limpid” and “tentative.” Apparently.
Sometimes, we’re not able to see the patterns right in front of our faces, because we’re too close to them. One has to back up to see that there is, in fact, a pattern.
Lately, I’ve been trying to type up what amounts to a synopsis of my novel. It’s not written completely, yet, but . . . it’s for Reasons. That will become clear in the fullness of time. I was specifically trying to come up with what themes are included in my novel. I’m terrible at themes. A theme has to beat me about the head and shoulders with a dead fish before I notice it.
While I was working on that, I noticed something, and started looking at my other writing.
I have a distinct pattern. And it’s pervasive.
I shall give you a couple of examples.
A few years ago, I signed up for an eight-week writing . . . “course,” I guess? Kinda? . . . by local(-to-Atlanta) author David Fullmer. It was eight consecutive Wednesdays or whatever, and consisted of him giving us lectures, answering questions, and assigning homework, and us reading the homework aloud the next meeting. The first week, our assignment was to write a setting. To pick an interior or exterior scene and describe it so that others could see it. No dialogue. If characters are present, they’re ‘furniture.’
This is what I wrote.
I woke flat on my back and opened my eyes to complete blackness. Panicked, I struggled to sit up. Strange noises came at me from all sides, and I realized quickly that they were echoes of my own movements. I made a conscious effort to sit still and breathe normally. I listened, trying to gauge the size of the room. In the distance to my right I could hear the slow, steady drip of water into water. Plink! Plink! Plink! Plink!
“Hello?” I called, and it was redoubled and sent back at me in shards by walls an unknown distance away. I shivered in the still, icy air as the echoes faded away slowly. I was sitting on hard stone so cold it seemed to leech the warmth from my body. I felt around me with my hands, following the coutours of the rock as best I could, its surface rough and clammy against my skin.
Not my best effort by any measure, but it shows the pattern: David asked for me to make readers see the scene, and the only thing I wanted to write after that was a setting in complete, total darkness where seeing is impossible.
Another example. I have a time-travel novel that is currently trunked, waiting for me to come up with a better ending. The entire thing came from my saying, “Why is it in time travel novels that it always hinges on some cataclysmic event? Why can’t the event be something ordinary, but could only be done by a certain person?” (It is still trunked because I didn’t handle that premise as well as I wanted to.)
The very first self-contained short story I wrote was from the POV of a woman who was on the losing side in a battle against her second personality. Another was about an old woman who hires a vampire to cure her dying son. Another was the typical rookie-writer ‘Adam and Eve’ story where they were AI programs created sort of by accident on a limited budget by harried programmers. In my dragon and princess story, the dragon is the hero, not the knights. In my novel series, I wanted an Urban Fantasy specifically unlike most of the others that are popular: male cast, third-person POV, characters inside the establishment/law, magic is ‘out,’ no sexy vampires or werewolves, nothing sparkles, etc. Another story evolved from me saying, “If a psychic wants me to believe in them, they need to call me at home and say, ‘Gary, you’re in terrible danger!’ and then prove it.” And then writing that very scenario.
I think my pattern is that I look at the ‘rules’ and try to find a way to turn them on their heads, at least to some extent.
And, you know, I think all writers do this to some extent. But the fact that it took me this long to see it is kind of funny, I guess. How boring would it be to read the same characters in the same stories handling the same situations in the same way, every time? (It would be like re-reading the same book over and over again.)
Now, how does that answer the question about themes? It doesn’t. At all. I suck at themes. I may have mentioned that.
I unabashedly loved this book. It is full of humor and a lot of allusional gems to fairy tales and other works of beloved literature ranging from Oz to Narnia. And yet . . . it is not a frivolous story. These women (whom we would think of as Snow White (Bianca), Cinderella (CeCi), and Sleeping Beauty (Rory)) reveal real lives with real problems in their letters to their friend Zell (Rapunzel), who has recently upset their social structure by moving away with her husband and children to pursue her dream of raising unicorns. Her Pages (story) were done, so she was free to go “off-script,” as it were. In doing so, she allowed CeCi, Bianca, and Rory to dream of a different life after their Pages are completed.
But not every fairy tale ends with Happily Ever After. The friends have to find a new equilibrium as their relationships change, and yet fulfill their own Pages lest the very fabric of their reality (the Realm of fairy tales) is destroyed.
A wonderful read. I can’t recommend it highly enough.
There’s this memetic question that people ask from time to time, and it’s a fun exercise. The question: “What six people, living or dead, would you invite to a dinner party?” One assumes, here, that any dead people you invite would be alive, again, for said party. Because otherwise that would kind of be a party killer, whether they remain corpses or become zombies. So, I picture it as more of the kind of thing as in that Babylon 5 episode “Day of the Dead,” where the dead come back, but only briefly, and without all the rotting or brain-eating. But I digress.
I don’t know why it’s always six, and I don’t know why it has to be a dinner party. Let’s assume that bonding over food is a thing all humans share, and that seven (because I’m the seventh person) is the largest group of people who can have any sort of meaningful conversation without it splintering into sub-conversations. Yeah, let’s assume those facts (that I just made up).
My answer to these memes is usually something along the lines of “my current friends,” because it’s an easy answer that is also very flattering to the person asking, because they’re in that group. It’s also true. I mean, that’s why they’re my friends. But it’s also beside the point.
The most recent time I saw the meme was on Facebook. Thanks to a conjunction of that appearance of the meme along with some videos I’d watched over the last few days, I realized I actually had an actual answer! But I will not be artificially constrained to just one party. Because . . . well, because reasons, that’s why.
. . .
Oh, fine. I think it’s important with any dinner party that your guests get along with one another, have things in common, and get along with one another (it bears repeating). I mean, you wouldn’t invite your loudmouth, racist uncle Bob to dinner with your Jewish or African-American friends, right? That would be inviting disaster. And we’re dealing not with just friends and family, we’re dealing with people throughout history.
(This is what is called “setting up the premise of the post.” See how seamlessly I did it? You’re welcome!)
I’m always kind of amused by people’s answers to this question. “Jeanne d’Arc, Jesus, Cleopatra, Albert Einstein, Sir Isaac Newton, and Madonna” would be a typical, ridiculous answer. It’s asking for trouble. It would be the worst dinner party ever. I mean, come on. Cleopatra and Madonna would get in a sexy-off contest (possibly involving underwear and snakes) while Einstein and Newton argued physics in at least three languages and Jesus tries to convince Jeanne not to slay everyone else for being heretics. Talk about a party buzz-kill. But it would make an awesome YouTube video. Guaranteed for millions of hits. But I digress once more.
So I decided that I’d have to have four parties. Because I immediately thought of four people in vastly different categories, and was fairly sure they would not get along, in the very unlikely event of a Day-of-the-Dead-style resurrection just to come to a dinner party thrown by a total stranger. So even though I had to have them, it would be kinder to them to have them in related groups. </premise set-up>
Also, these are for me to selfishly sit and bask in the inevitably wonderful conversation(s) that would grow organically. Or I’d toss a few leading statements out there to see how they’d react.
Party the First: Teh Science
These guys are not only scientists, they are all excellent at communicating complex ideas in science to the lay public. That’s me! I’m so lay, I might as well rhyme! I have just enough understanding of physics that I could probably follow them if they remembered to speak down to on my level. All of them have books or podcasts or TV shows or some combination of the three. The reason I put Ann Druyan and Carl Sagan on the same line is that they were married until Sagan’s death in 1996. They’re kind of a package deal. :)
Also, one of the tracks that is on the Voyager space probe’s golden record is a representation of Ann’s EEG while she’s thinking about how much she loves Dr. Sagan. I literally tear up every time I hear or read the story. So even without Dr. Sagan, she’d be on my list.
Party the Second: Teh Funny
Do I even need to justify or explain this list? I didn’t think so. Also, I’ll add that if you’ve never experienced the comedy of Adam Hills, you owe it to yourself to look him up on YouTube and/or NetFlix and just . . . enjoy. He definitely fits (as far as I’m concerned) with the other luminaries on the list.
I could add so, so many more people to that list.
I would, of course, have a supply of oxygen on hand, and some medication to ease my aching jaw and abdominal muscles from all the laughter.
Party the Third: Teh Fanboy/Squeebait
I would challenge the last three to collaborate on a project and hire the first three to star in it. I might also suggest that it wouldn’t suck if the project also included Drew Barrymore and Neil Patrick Harris. Just saying. And I would sit and squee with (barely suppressed inner) glee while the six of them tossed around ideas and then probably die of happy with a smile on my face that no mortician could ever eradicate. Just the thought of it makes me hyperventilate a little. Maybe I’d need the oxygen from the previous party.
Party the Fourth: Teh World-Changers
Malala Yousafzai impresses the absolute hell out of me, and her cause (making education available for all girls/women) is arguably one of the most important causes in the world. The Gateses, Musk, and Carter are accomplishing amazing good in the world. You may or may not agree with any of their politics (or religious views), but it’s hard to argue against their collective net positive effect on the world.
And, frankly, any group of world-changers without Fred Rogers would be woefully incomplete. He may not have literally saved the lives of millions of people or negotiated with world leaders or used his billions of dollars helping humanity, but his simple message of “You are worthy just as you are” goes very quietly right along with what the others are doing. Teresa Heinz Kerry (wife of John Kerry) said of Mr. Rogers, “He never condescended, just invited us into his conversation. He spoke to us as the people we were, not as the people others wished we were.” And that was his magic.
So these are my “dream teams” as it were. I only included seven people, total, who are not living, and those all died relatively recently. The rest are contemporaries. No historical people like Shakespeare or Leonardo da Vinci or Billie Holiday. Don’t get me wrong: those people are great. I just want people who could relate to the current state of the world.
People who know me won’t be at all surprised by the first three, but might raise an eyebrow at the last one. Good. I like surprising people who think they know me. :)
I could easily add several more themed parties.
A lot of people who know me might be surprised that there is no ‘authors’ group in there. There’s a simple reason for that: I literally have a plethora of interesting, intelligent, talented authors around me so often, there is no way I could limit it to merely six.
Who’s on your dream team(s)? What six people, living or dead, would you invite to a dinner party/-ies?
- Disaster is one guest that’s never on my list.
- It’s a pun! On two very different meanings of the word ‘lay’! . . . Trust me, it’s extremely funny.
- The story is here. It’s worth reading. Search for “I had this idea” and read. Or, you can listen to NPR’s Radio Lab’s interview with Ann Druyan about the EEG here. About seven and a half minutes.
- He has so many oars in the water, I couldn’t find just one website for him, so I linked his Wiki page with links to all his endeavors.
This is a bit of a departure for this blog, but I figured, “What the heck?” and here it is. :)
Full disclosure: This was originally something I wrote on Facebook as a note. It was inspired by a comment on my friend Nick Falkner’s wall. I started to respond to Nick’s comment, and it got long, so I decided to create it as a note, instead. Another of my friends (Carol Cassara) liked it enough that she asked if she could host it as a guest post on her blog. I was (and am) quite flattered, and it ran on the 8th of December. I waited a few days to put it on my own blog so as not to steal Carol’s blog’s thunder. There may also be a few minor differences between what’s here and what’s on Carol’s blog and on my Facebook page. This is the “definitive copy.”
The characterizations herein are based solely on my personal experience with the sites. Sites I didn’t mention, I have no personal experience with. (Or I do, but couldn’t think of anything pithy to say.) Your mileage may vary, and that’s awesome. Feel free to comment with your own characterizations.
is my living room. I’m very careful about the people I invite in. I expect them to have a certain sense of decorum and to not leave garbage all over the place. I expect people I invite in to respect me and the other people in my home. Or if not respect, at least show tolerance. Or if not tolerance, just politely ignore me/them, or come back at a time when the others are not there. No one has to agree, but you don’t have to get in anyone’s face, either. I’m not always the most gracious host because I forget others are around, but I do at least try. If I overstep, I expect to be shown the error of my ways. I have certain rules, though, and if you break them, out you go. It is my living room, after all.
is the busiest train station downtown (the one where all the lines meet). Everyone is standing on their own soapboxes, shouting into the wind. Some of them use megaphones. A few people are gathered ’round some of the louder voices, listening intently, but most people are busy and hurry by without paying attention, occasionally looking up from their phone to listen for a few seconds, then moving on. Some people toss heart-shaped coins at speakers’ feet; others yell things at them. A lot of people are just animatronics blaring the same things over and over. A lot of people are just animatronics blaring the same things over and over. Other people just say the same things others are saying without contributing anything original. It’s kind of a mess to figure out which are which.
is the monorail station at Google HQ. Everyone is still standing on their own organic kale-boxes, but the only people listening are other geeks and nerds with the same cross-section of interests. Most everyone is wearing Google Glass, and some of them are tuning you out, even though they look like they’re in a circle around you. For some reason, a lot of people are intensely angry that they had to go through this station just to get to YouTube. It is an unnecessary stop . . .
is a bare-bones, designed community that has fallen into disrepair, and no one really goes there anymore, except on a dare. All the buildings look pretty, but if you examine them more closely, they’re all merely façades. They all say, “IN DEVELOPMENT” on the door. There are two people there, right now, wandering around on opposite ends of the subdivision saying, “Hello? Anyone there? Is anyone listening?” The guy who sold you the property led you to believe it was going to rival all the other communities, but now he’s nowhere to be found. Good luck getting a refund.
is looking at everyone’s boring vacation slideshow at the same time. Some of them are interesting, but most of the time it’s nothing anyone would ever want to see except your closest friends and family. The occasional celebrity shows up and everyone runs over to see their boring vacation slideshow. At least there are a lot of cats.
is looking at all of your great-aunts’ friends’ scrapbooks at the same time. All of them. They’ve all gone a little “off” and think they’re Martha Stewart, but deep down, they’re closer to Rod Stewart. You know they’re never going to try to do any of those things they put in their scrapbooks, and if they did, they’d never show the results.
is kiosks at Burning Man.
is the lunch room at the largest high school, ever. Everyone is so self-obsessed, it’s just a bunch of people standing around taking duck-face selfies and obsessing over finding just the right filter, while talking endlessly about themselves. There’s the occasional streaker, but they mostly seem to be looking at themselves, as well. No one stays for more than a few minutes, and then everyone forgets them, because me!
is the largest cineplex ever, and people just go from theater to theater, watching videos. Sometimes, you find yourself in a theater and wonder how you got there, but it’s OK, because the “safe” ones are just across the hall. Every time you turn a corner, you find another huge -plex of related content. The cat video -plex seems to be the most popular, but no matter what your interest is, if you keep looking, there’s a whole wing devoted to just that. Every once in a while, the RIAA or MPAA will send goons in and rip films out while they’re playing, but if you wander next door, someone already posted the same video. It’s probably in Portuguese with English subtitles, but it’s there. The films vary wildly in quality because it’s free to show them. In every theater is a group of 9-year-olds who shout ‘fat’ and ‘gay’ and ‘ugly’ and ‘go kill yourself’ and ‘first!’ because they’re at the age where they think that kind of thing is funny. Sit in the front with your bluetooth headset on and ignore everyone behind you and you’ll do fine.
is an infinity of iPads set up in an infinite theater lobby, each playing a six-second video that loops continuously. People wander from iPad to iPad. And then wonder where Tuesday went. Every six seconds, there’s an enormous laugh from the people clustered around the funniest clips.
is pretty big, like YouTube, but the theaters are all IMAX. You have to pay to get your videos on screen, so the quality is amazing, but other than that, it’s basically just like YouTube, only not as full of 9-year-olds.
is a diary that just happens to be public. You pour your heart out onto its pages, and other people copy it and share it without attribution, or draw a big pink heart on it to let you know they liked it.
is a break room full of water coolers where everyone you’ve ever worked with eventually shows up. Recruiters dash from cooler to cooler, desperately trying to get everyone’s attention. Every time someone gets a promotion or changes jobs, a PA announces it to the whole room. Everyone golf-claps. Occasionally, someone you barely remember shouts, “This guy/gal? S/he’s great at” some skill you don’t actually possess. You look around, embarrassed, and wonder who let them in. People you’re glad you no longer work with solicit you for recommendations and you have to pretend you didn’t hear them.
is a 70s disco. The people who are in there have no idea it’s not 1979. Don’t tell them. It’s . . . kinder, this way. ♩♪You should be daaaaanciiiiin’, YEAH!♬
is that apartment where you used to live in college, where all your friends were in and out at all times of the day and night, having lively discussions about anything. But then the Russian mafia took over the management right after you moved out. Now the security gate at the complex entrance is locked on more days than not. It’s too bad, because it used to be a really nice place.
is an infinite book store where readers and authors tear each other to shreds in public, while onlookers cheer with bloodlust, often turning on each other in the excitement. Meanwhile, in nooks scattered about, peaceful groups of readers and writers meet, ignoring the spectacle going on around them.
is a bulletin board in the rec room at a college dorm. People post all kinds of crazy stuff on it, and other people can move it around so it’s more (or less) visible. People hang smaller bulletin boards off the big one, but around corners so you have to go looking. Often, if you do, you find yourself scrambling back to the main board, wishing for eye-bleach.
Hope you enjoyed. I wrote it in about 20 minutes of inspiration, not giving a lot of thought to it, and it turns out to be one of the most popular posts I have made on Facebook. Go figure. Such is the fickle nature of humor. :)