Round Table Podcast

Round Table Podcast

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?”

<crickets chirping>

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.


  1. This may seriously be the most pretentious phrase I have ever typed in my life.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
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SkullCosm

SkullCosm

SkullCosm

I frequently have vivid dreams that involve quite elaborate plots that, on occasion, stick with me after awakening. Unfortunately, almost as soon as I start thinking about the day ahead — the minute my eyes open — the wistful vapors of the dream vanish and the ideas are gone.

I also tend to get writing ideas at times when my brain is otherwise disengaged, but my body is doing something habitual. The two main times this happens are when I’m driving and when I’m showering. If it weren’t for driving and showering — in addition to me being a social pariah and being unable to work — I’d have virtually no ideas for writing.

The third time my disengaged brain offers ideas up to me is in those few minutes between when the sleep monster begins to immobilize my body and when I drift off into unconsciousness. The sheets are so nice and soft, the blanket so snug, the pillow supports my head just right . . . and then blam, an idea pops into my head. A really good idea.

For that scene that I can’t seem to finish, or to end the story I’m having trouble with. And my brain whispers to me, “Don’t worry. It’s a great idea. I’ve got this.”

Because my brain is a lying bastard. It never remembers. Never. Oh, it remembers that I had an idea, and that it solved that sticky problem I was having, and that it was a beautiful, shining idea that would set animated animals to singing and dancing around me if I could only . . . remember . . . the actual content of the idea, and not that there was an idea. Of some sort. That was good.

Oh, well.

So I decided that I would keep a notepad next to my bed. One of those big, yellow legal pads, and a pen.

I need to back up for a moment to explain that I have this . . . medical condition called Recurrent Corneal Erosion. You can Google it if you wish, but suffice to say, it means that I have to put ointment in both eyes every night before sleeping or I have a very good chance of tearing the cornea of one or both eyes when I wake up in the morning. I’m not telling you this to squick you out or to elicit medical advice — believe me, if you can think it, it has already been thought by me or suggested by others. The ointment works great, usually about 99% of the time. About once per month or so, I’ll end up tearing a cornea and have to miss a day of work. It’s just . . . a thing that happens, and has been happening for the better part of twenty years. But my telling it serves to explain some of what is about to be related.

The ointment is thick and has the texture of petroleum jelly, and is opaque, so it impairs my vision almost completely. I can distinguish light from dark, and vague shapes. That’s about it.

I kept the notepad by the bed for quite a while. I’d wake up with a dream or an idea, and I’d write as much of it down as I could, but since I can’t actually focus my eyes on anything because of the ointment, my handwriting is . . . sub-optimal.

So I guess you could say it sort of worked. And as I got used to having the notepad next to the bed, I’d retain more dreams and ideas just long enough to jot something down before burrowing back under the covers and getting more sleep.

And then it happened.

I woke up out of a sound sleep. I had had an Idea. Not just an idea, mind you: An Idea. The best, shiniest, most magnificent Idea in the history of Ideas. It would make a fantastic story.

And it was so singular an Idea (to borrow vocabulary from H. P. Lovecraft) that a single word — as from the Oracle at Delphi — would suffice to remind me of the entirety of this beautiful, blossom-like Idea.

Squinting in the general direction of the notepad, brain clamoring for more sleep, I grabbed the pen and scribbled down this singular word that was absolutely sure to bring back the entirety of the Idea to me upon waking.

Smiling the smile of the satisfied, I put down the pen and the pad on my night table, put my head back on the pillow, and slept for several more hours, content in the knowledge that all was saved.

The alarm went off later that morning and I awoke, as usual, remembering that I had had An Idea. That it was a very, very excellent Idea, and that the story that would spring, Athena-like, wholly and beautifully formed from my mind upon seeing the word that appeared on the notepad would practically write itself because it was Just That Good.

I quickly stumbled into the bathroom and using a clean towel and warm water, cleaned the ointment out of my eyes, then hurried back into the bedroom.

I approached the table, giddy with anticipation. I could see that there was a single word on the pad, in crude, blue letters, blocky and spiky, diagonally scrawled across the yellow paper.

I picked it up.

I looked at it.

And thought, “What?”

The word that I wrote that night was this: SkullCosm

Just that. SkullCosm. Three syllables, capitalized exactly like that.

I sat heavily on the bed, wracking my brain. What could it mean? It was clearly some kind of cyberpunk thing, right? A cosm, or ‘world,’ inside a skull, or the mind.

But . . . I don’t read cyberpunk, or even much enjoy it. Much less write it.

Nothing. Not a single thing remained from that fantastic Idea I had but the single word I found scribbled in blue ink, as though written by someone not looking at the paper.

To this day, I have no clue. None. Zero. Zilch. The place in my brain which should be occupied by whatever marvelous Idea that, in a perfect world, would have been recalled in toto by the word SkullCosm has so far remained a void, filled only with the sound of a soul-crushing wind blowing through a desert of pain.

Well, that’s a little melodramatic, but you get my point.

I’ve carried the word around with me for years, now, playing around with it in my head, seeing if the shape of it fit any of the incomplete puzzles in my head. It’s never a good fit. The puzzle from which SkullCosm was left over was obviously constructed using non-Euclidean geometry.

I’ve tried on two occasions to force a story using SkullCosm as the seed word. To no avail. The non-Euclidean edges of the word are too hard to focus on clearly, and they keep causing the rest of the puzzle to warp and collapse.

In a last-ditch attempt to get some use of the word, I sent it to Len Peralta when he was doing his Monster By Mail campaign to raise money after the birth of one of their children. Just to see what an artist accustomed to drawing monsters would do with it.

I think he mistook ‘cosm’ for ‘plasm’ based on the picture I received back, shown above. But I like it, and it captures perfectly my frustration upon knowing that SkullCosm should but ultimately fails to trigger the memory of that perfect, shining story Idea that my brain cruelly forgot.

So if you ever see me mention the word SkullCosm, you’ll now know to what it refers.

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Last Night I Had the Strangest Dream

Pressure Guages by wwarby, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License  by  wwarby 

A few days ago, a friend—actually, two separate friends who don’t know each other—sent me links to two different articles on how the human body reacts when exposed to the vacuum of space without the benefit of a space suit.

I have strange friends. Or, reworded: I have friends who know me, perhaps, all too well.

So I read these two articles and filed them away for future reference in case I might need to know for some future writing project.

Apparently, something about the articles got into my head and stuck there. And swirled around for several days.

Then, last night, my brain supplied me with a truly lovely dream. Really.

I was on a space station with a bunch of people. Some of them are co-workers of mine, some are friends, some are writer-friends, others were “extras”. What gamers would call NPCs.

And this space station—or perhaps it was a space ship a la “Star Gate: Universe”—was traveling along merrily until . . . you guessed it, explosive decompression. Basically a slow leak.

But this is a dream world. So in my dream world, the “slow leak” resulted in me and others being able to stand, sans space suits, in corridors that were open to the vacuum of space as gale-force winds blew past us into the void. Never mind that, were this to actually happen, the air supply on the ship/station would be expelled in toto and those of us standing in the corridor would have soon also been attempting to breathe vacuum.

So I watched as, one by one, my friends, co-workers, and fellow writers were blown (not sucked; the articles were clear on that point) into the vacuum.

And, thanks to those articles, my dreaming brain knew precisely what to show me as each of them died. A puff of frozen breath as the lungs forcibly expelled the last breath, then started to draw oxygen out of the blood. The icing over of the mucus membranes: the nose, eyes, and mouth. Saliva boiling on the tongue. The skin turning blue with bruises. The dawning horror as they realized what was happening to them. The unconsciousness in maybe fifteen to twenty seconds. The seizures. And finally, the stillness as the body slowly releases its heat while the heart still continues to beat deoxygenated blood to the starving brain for a while. All in all, not a very pleasant way to die. But at least it’s over quickly.

Sometimes, it really sucks to have both an imagination and a desire for scientific accuracy in one’s science fiction.

At several points during the dream, I woke up to turn over, and then went right back to the dream. During all this death and decompression, the ship was literally breaking apart. But at one point, me and some friends went to the mess hall (cafeteria) to have a nice, leisurely meal . . . while the air gushed out of the hull breaches.

A very strange dream. Finally, I was able to take control and lucid dream a rescue before everyone died.

And then the alarm went off and NPR regaled me with stories about the recent shooting in Colorado.

Hello, Monday.

In other news, don’t be surprised if this shows up in a story at some point. :)

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