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Writing Excuses 7.6: Behind the Marshmallow

Writing Excuses 7.6: Behind the Marshmallow


Key points: marshmallow jokes, Howard's lack of pants, and were-cuttlefish are always suitable topics. It all started with a radio play. No filler, just the advice. Brandon asks questions, then explains why they are wrong. Just a tagline? No, it's a haiku, too! Mixers and lavalier mics. High profile guests at conventions! Recording on a couch? Epic Gaming Table on the way, with miniatures, role playing games, and recording all at the same time! The puppetry episode changed the game. Mary analyzes what she is doing. Everyone in the same room or to Skype or not? Sponsors... and a radio play/audio book of Schlock? Stay tuned...

[Brandon] This is Writing Excuses, Season Seven, Episode Six, Behind the Marshmallow.
[Howard] 15 minutes long.
[Mary] Because you're in a hurry.
[Dan] And we're not that smart.
[Brandon] I'm Brandon.
[Dan] I'm Dan.
[Mary] I'm Mary.
[Howard] I'm Howard.

[Brandon] Mary, you wanted to start us off?
[Mary] Yes. So you guys kind of constantly make marshmallow jokes...
[British Dan] These marshmallows are delicious.
[Mary] I don't know what they are. I don't know why...
[Brandon] I don't know why, either.
[Mary] So the idea behind this podcast is something that someone asked us on twitter. They wanted to know how Writing Excuses got started, and kind of how things happened. Since I'm new, still... You have in-jokes. Can none of you...
[Brandon] Yes. You are new, Howard is often nude.
[Howard] No, no, no, no. See, that's...
[Mary] That's not true. He still has his shirt on.
[Dan] Yet another one of the many, many in-jokes that we have on this podcast... Of Howard's pants.

[Mary] Okay. Marshmallows? Can none of you explain the marshmallows?
[Howard] Dan can explain the marshmallows.
[Dan] You did... I can explain part of the marshmallows.
[Jordo] I can explain the whole thing.
[Mary] Oh, wait.
[Brandon] Okay. Producer Jordo. By the way, this is Producer Jordo. Who rarely casts with us, but he's always here.
[Jordo] Yep. So the marshmallow thing came because one time... And it's actually... You can hear a lot of this dialogue on one of our bonus episodes. Of...
[Dan] Which you can get on the DVD.
[Jordo] Which you can get on the season one through five DVD set. Okay. So I came over, and Brandon had gotten a bunch of junk food from either Tor or Joshua, one of those people.
[Brandon] Oh, yeah, it was a Christmas present.
[Jordo] So I came in, and Howard and Dan were sitting on this big couch that Brandon has, just eating away on this food. We started talking about a specific episode. I can't remember which one it was, but I'd have to go... But they started getting into it, and all of a sudden, Dan starts going into a British accent.
[Brandon] Yes. It's very realistic.
[Dan] [garbled... Therefore?]
[Brandon] British accent.
[Jordo] If you go and you listen to one of the Writing Excuses After Darks, where you can hear a lot of this stuff, it's where the were-cuttlefish came in, too.
[Dan] That's right, the were-cuttlefish. I forgot about that.
[Jordo] Dan was eating a chocolate covered marshmallow treat, and just started smacking his teeth. Because you are talking about, "Oh, are we going to record while you guys are eating?" Dan just starts smacking his teeth on those marshmallows. [Accent] These marshmallows...
[Brandon] There you go. Do it for us, Dan.
[Dan] [British Dan] These marshmallows are delicious. [/British Dan] I used to be able to do a fairly good actually colonial British kind of old man with a big mustache kind of accent. Now I can't, because every time I try, it comes out as the marshmallows in his mouth version. [Laughter] So I've lost that accent. I can't do it anymore.
[Howard] It's Colonel Stay-Puffed Marshmallow.

[Dan] But the point of all this talk of marshmallows is that we decided to take you guys back through the creation of the podcast. So let's start at the beginning and tell this story.
[Brandon] Okay. The beginning is actually with Producer Jordo as well.
[Mary] [background theme music]
[Brandon] Beginning many years ago, Producer Jordo was in classes at school. He was taking a multimedia class. Am I right?
[Jordo] Yep. I was taking a podcasting class. Me and Dan were trying to do a radio play.
[Dan] We did an old radio play that was kind of like this swashbuckling 1920s kind of adventure guy.
[Brandon] Just for class, right?
[Jordo] Just solely for the class.
[Brandon] Yeah, and...
[Mary] Do I want to hear this?
[Dan] It was really kind of fun. My wife did this just ridiculous kind of tawdry from Little Shop of Horrors type sound. It was awesome.
[Brandon] We should put it up on the liner notes.
[Jordo] I think I still have it.
[Brandon] Yeah. Let's stick that one up in the liner notes, so you can hear.
[Dan] So anyway, we finished that. It was like six episodes. We wrote this little serialized story, and we thought it was really fun. Then Jordo said, "You know, this is way easier than we thought it was." He went to Brandon and said, "Let's actually do a real one that has a point." Brandon said that sounds good...
[Brandon] Well, first I was really skeptical. I was actually very skeptical at first.
[Jordo] It took me almost the whole semester to convince you.
[Brandon] Yeah. Because I think he actually wanted to do a radio drama. He wanted it to be scripted.
[Jordo] I did. I started out, I wanted to do a scripted radio drama.
[Brandon] I said I don't... Doing something scripted...
[Jordo] Because at the time... This was years ago, no one was really doing those, podcast wise.
[Brandon] I said there's just no way. [Sneeze] There's no way I have the time to do a scripted radio show. So I, at the time was actually starting to listen to some podcasts. The one I actually listened to was Scott Kurtz's one that he was doing... About webcomics.
[Howard] Webcomics Weekly?

[Brandon] I think it might have been before Webcomics Weekly. Didn't he have one earlier? That was just him and Christopher sitting around... Anyway, he did some early things, and I liked them, but I found that they were like an hour of filler and 15 minutes of advice. They'd start with the topic saying we're going to talk about how to do this, then they would talk about movies they had seen recently, and the shopping trip they'd gone on, and all of these sorts of things. I actually listened to a few other podcasts, and a lot of them really rambled. Kind of like we're doing on this podcast, but... That's okay.
[Dan] Well, a podcast like that has its place.
[Brandon] Yes, it does.
[Mary] Yes.
[Dan] But what Brandon initially decided is that let's just cut out that extra stuff and do the 15 really meaty minutes and nothing else.
[Howard] Well, and I...
[Brandon] Yeah. I liked what Grammar Girl was doing, because her's were so short and concise. I liked trying to do something that was Crossfire... Like one of those news shows. Where I envision myself throwing questions quickly at a panel of experts... Like a World Fantasy panel or a WorldCon panel, but with me in the moderator seat, trying to condense the whole panel into 15 minutes...
[Mary] I have to say, that that's what it feels like, especially having come in after you guys have worked out most of the kinks, is that it does feel like being on many panels.

[Jordo] Well, that's why Dan's brother, Rob, always described the podcast as Brandon asks you a question and then he corrects you, because that's how those TV shows are anyway.
[Howard] Brandon asks Dan a question. Brandon asks Howard a question. Brandon explains why both of them are wrong. Brandon asks the next question. That was the way Rob described it. Brandon, I think it was you came to me and invited me to be on the podcast. I, at that point, did not know Dan Wells from Adam. I've had...
[Dan] I remember those days so fondly. Yes.
[Jordo] Yes, Brandon had to convince me.
[Howard] Yes, and now I know him dressed like Adam.
[Jordo] Because he's like, "Yeah, we should get this Howard Tayler guy, and we should put Dan in." I'm like, "I want to put Dan in, but he's not published, so what's the good of that?" But it worked out great.
[Dan] Well, the way it was presented to me was, I'm going to do this podcast because I have these books. We're going to bring in Howard because he's really successful. At the time we started, Howard was by far the most famous of the three. Then let's bring in Dan because he can make jokes.
[Howard] That amuses me no end.
[Brandon] Yeah. Actually, I really envisioned it as me as the straight man and you two being entertaining. Because you are very entertaining guys.
[Mary] Which is how it worked.
[Jordo] Originally, you wanted me to be in more often.
[Brandon] I did.
[Jordo] If you listen to a couple of the early ones, every once in a while, I'd pipe in because I'd actually have a mic. But we just realized that it would pull you out so much because I'd make a quip. I'd be outside the conversation, and then all of a sudden, I would be in. It just didn't work.
[Brandon] I actually initially envisioned you kind of like the guy... You guys ever listen to Imus in the Morning?
[Jordo] Like Bernie?
[Brandon] The producer is like always chiming in and things. I imagined Producer Jordo that way. But it didn't work because of the condensed format. We were just snap, snap, snap.
[Jordo] Then when I actually came up with something, it would be...

[Howard] The thing that I'm proudest of, is when we were sitting around talking about the podcast, and you explained that you wanted to do this condensed format. I came up with the tagline. 15 minutes long...
[Brandon] Yeah. In like 30 seconds. You're like, "Here's a great tagline."
[Howard] 15 minutes long, because you're in a hurry, and we're not that smart.
[Dan] [garbled... As a tagline?] Whereas now we realize it's a perfect haiku, which is brilliant, by accident. The first thing we did is, we got together and we talked about the things we would like to do. Then we...
[Jordo] Recorded a really bad episode.
[Dan] Recorded one or two episodes just... That we knew we would never air, because we just wanted to see what it was like... To see if we could get the kind of rapport that we wanted.
[Howard] I think it was just the first one we never used.
[Dan] It was only one?
[Jordo] It was the first one. The second one you guys recorded, and you're all like, "This was actually really good. Let's just go ahead and run with it."
[Dan] Well, awesome.
[Jordo] The first one we've never aired, but it is bonus content on our DVD.
[Howard] Which always seems a little unfair, because we're charging you for stuff that wasn't good enough to give away for free.
[Brandon] But we're charging them for the stuff we're giving away for free, too.
[Mary] Oh. Whoops!
[Jordo] Oh, crap. They know our secret.
[Brandon] Well, you know.
[Dan] Pay us money for the things you've already heard.

[Brandon] It bought us a new mixer. So that... This is why our sound sounds good. In fact... The mixer story... We actually borrowed... Stole a mixer off a mutual friend.
[Jordo] I don't think we've given it back to him.
[Brandon] I don't think we've given it back.
[Dan] We still have that in a closet somewhere?
[Brandon] Seven seasons.
[Jordo] Half the mics we use are his, too.
[Dan] That's fantastic. So we got this from a sound guy...
[Brandon] Thank you, Scott. He listens.
[Jordo] No, he's not a sound guy. He's just a programmer.
[Dan] He's just a programmer?
[Jordo] He bought this so he could record...
[Dan] He had this stuff, and it worked pretty well. It was kind of onerous in a lot of ways, particularly for traveling.
[Brandon] Yeah, it was really big.

[Dan] One of the things we quickly discovered is that if two or whatever of us were at a convention, we could very easily grab some high-profile guests and do some very cool guest panels. Which I think is become one of our kind of hallmarks, because of [inaudible -- contacts?]
[Brandon] We weren't originally planning to do that. We just did it on the fly at WorldCon.
[Dan] I think it was at Worldcon in Denver the first time. We're like, "Well, there's Moshe. Let's put him on."
[Jordo] You guys came back with all these episodes.
[Howard] Yeah, we got Moshe, we got Phil and Kaja Foglio, we got Patrick Rothfuss, we got Steve Jackson...
[Dan] And Lou Anders.
[Brandon] I think we got Joshua, too.
[Howard] And we got Joshua.
[Dan] So the more we did that, the more we realized we needed something that was a lot easier to work with. So we found a new mixer.
[Jordo] That didn't require you guys to be trained in the software I was using for it, too.
[Howard] The other problem is that that mixer was mixing everything down to two channels and dumping it on the computer.
[Jordo] It was analog.
[Howard] What we're doing now is dropping five... In this case, five raw channels to the card, so that we can actually mix after the fact.
[Dan] If some of you out there are interested in doing a podcast of your own, we can put some of our technical specs into the liner notes, so you see exactly what kind of mixer we have.
[Howard] I'll take care of that.
[Dan] And those kind of things.

[Mary] Well, I'll say that one of the things that surprised me when I saw you recording the first time is that you use lavaliers. Most of the time when you're doing radio talk shows, you use a stand mic. So...
[Jordo] It's because these guys are all lazy, and won't sit at a table, and they like to move around.
[Brandon] Let's draw back that curtain. We sit on a couch. Why? Because... I mean, I write on a couch.
[Dan] Well, we sit on a couch now.
[Mary] It's comfy.
[Dan] The first two or three seasons we did in a kitchen... At your kitchen table.
[Jordo] We met at my kitchen table.
[Brandon] Yeah, we did. That's right.
[Howard] I actually felt like the energy on those episodes was dependent upon us leaning forward at the table.
[Brandon] Are you saying you don't want the couch?
[Howard] I'm not a big fan of the couch.
[Mary] Oh, the couch is so comfy.
[Dan] The problem with the couch... The transition to the couch from the table is that suddenly we weren't sitting in the same order, and it totally threw us off.
[Brandon] When my epic gaming table comes, we can try recording a few at the epic gaming table for you, Howard.
[Howard] I will totally put painted miniatures in the middle of the epic gaming table just for those sessions.
[Jordo] Wow, you guys could record and play War Machine at the same time.

[Howard] That sounds awesome.
[Brandon] Yes we could.
[Howard] So, Mary, I think one of the big turning points... And I mean this... For the podcast was the puppetry episode with you.
[Jordo] It really was.
[Howard] Because that... We'd kind of been in this comfort zone, where at least I felt like, you know what, we've heard it all, we've done it all, we're starting to recycle material. All of a sudden, that puppetry episode comes along, and you just knocked it out of the park.
[Dan] And made us all look like idiots. [Laughter]
[Jordo] It's the only time on the podcast that Brandon's been speechless. Literally like, "I don't want to talk, let somebody else here talk."
[Mary] I have to say that moment when you said, "I'm going to tell you something really embarrassing..." I was like, "Oh, no. Oh, no, what completely obvious thing..." Then you said very nice things instead. But I had this moment of horror in that pause.

[Brandon] Let's talk about bringing Mary on. We had been thinking for a while...
[Dan] For a very long time.
[Brandon] Very long time. That we needed a fourth podcaster, regular. The main reason being that basically we are three dudes living in the same geographic area, same gender, same religion, a lot of the same background. That's natural because we live near each other. We're friends. This is... You're going to find this in a lot of your demographic groups, too. But what it meant is that we didn't have enough perspective, I think, for the podcast to really grow. So we actually started auditioning...
[Dan] Secretly! Secretly.
[Brandon] Without telling them.
[Dan] We would invite... And we were specifically looking for a woman.
[Jordo] I hope none of them are listening right now.
[Dan] We would invite... So I apologize if any... None of them are listening. Because they're all too important to listen. So we would invite these people on, and see how they went. Almost invariably, we're like, "You know..."
[Brandon] Mary's so much better.
[Dan] She just wasn't as good as Mary.
[Brandon] We kept saying that.
[Dan] Which is not to say that those people that we brought on were not good or did not have good things to say, but that Mary, for whatever reason, fits right in. Interacts well.
[Howard] Everybody we considered for a fourth podcaster slot was really... Wasn't being compared to Mary. Was being compared to the puppetry episode.
[Mary] Oh... Whooh...
[Brandon] No, see... But this is...
[Jordo] We wanted someone that could fit in with the dynamic of bran... Especially Howard and Dan. Who could put up with us.

[Dan] Well, one of the things that makes Mary work...
[Mary] Is that I...
[Dan] Is that she thinks about writing in similar ways to us. Which is not to say she thinks the same things, but that she will force herself through the same kind of process that we use.
[Brandon] She'll analyze. Some of the guests we've had won't analyze their writing. You'll ask, "Well, why do you do it this way?" They'll say, "I don't know."
[Dan] Because it works.
[Brandon] They can be a great writer doing it that way. Fantastic writer. But explaining process is what this podcast is about.
[Mary] I think that actually... I was going to make a joke, but I think it's actually true, that one of the things that I do bring is that I don't just have a puppetry background, but I was in education. I was an art education major in college, then I trained puppeteers. That was part of what I did. That is breaking process down. That was breaking a nonverbal process down and having to translate it into words.
[Brandon] Right. Yep. That is... That's why it works. There's also the chemistry aspect. For whatever reason, we all laugh together more than we... Some of the guests we have are a little bit horrified... [Laughter] Just a little bit! Or maybe a lot, and they only show a little bit...
[Howard] Well, I remember at Superstars when we... We... Mary came out to Writing Superstars... Or what was it called? Writing Superstars?
[Brandon] Yeah. Superstars Writing Seminars.
[Mary] Superstars Writing Seminars.
[Howard] Superstars Writing Seminars. That's right. When it was here in Salt Lake. In... I guess it was about a year ago. Came out, and we said let's do a few episodes there. Mary, what was your reaction to maybe being on Writing Excuses again?
[Mary] Oh, my goodness! Yes. Please. May I?
[Jordo] Then she showed up and realized she made a horrible mistake.

[Brandon] Well, one of the things about... To get Mary on, we had to decide, we're going to be flying... The podcast is going to pay to fly Mary out. So that's what we do.
[Mary] Yeah. And...
[Dan] Well, I think it's important to note that we made this choice very specifically, choosing not to use Skype or some other form of webbing her in, because like Brandon said at the beginning, the rapport that we have and [Jordo mumbling in the background?] The kind of rapidfire, crossfire nature of this podcast, you have to all be in the same room. You have to be able to point at each other, and interrupt each other, and that doesn't work as well in any other format.
[Brandon] We consistently have suggestions, or offers, that we can get a guest if they'll Skype in. I always try to kill it. Because even... I feel this podcast... We do it live. We do it with the person live. We need to be able to see each other. It just... Otherwise, we don't have Tracy Hickman calling Jordan an ignorant slut.
[Howard] I remember the first few sessions...
[Jordo] That honestly is almost the highlight of my career as a podcaster.
[Howard] Was that Tracy Hickman?
[Brandon] Tracy Hickman.
[Dan, Mary] Yes.
[Jordo mumbling off mic...]
[Howard] I remember the role-playing game Big House...
[Jordo garbled... Skype...]
[Howard] Yeah, we tried to Skype one of the players in. I remember, we did, I think four sessions of that RPG...
[Dan] We did several.
[Howard] With somebody Skyped in. I could tell that it just wasn't working for that guy. He wasn't really part of the group. The moment we started doing it... I didn't say this to any of you guys... But the moment we started doing it, I told myself, "This is their way to say goodbye to their friend, slowly." Which...
[Dan] That's exactly what happened...
[Howard] Is exactly what happened. It took... What? Six or eight weeks?
[Jordo inaudible -- didn't you Skype into your writing group?]
[Brandon] We never tried it, after...
[Mary] I actually Skype into my New York writing group. I use Google Plus so that it's video, which is...
[Brandon] I think it would work with a writing group.
[Jordo inaudible]
[Mary] Yeah. With a writing group, it is a very different dynamic, because there's not that back and forth. Everybody takes turns. It's very ordered. If one of the heads is on the TV, it's not a big deal.

[Brandon] We do need to do a book of the week.
[Mary] Oh, that.
[Dan] We need to do like 15 books of the week.
[Brandon] Our book of the week this week. Mentioning... We like you guys supporting us. Thank you very much for supporting us. This is how we afford to fly Mary out. So we do appreciate audible supporting the podcast, quite a bit. This is why we do the books of the week. We actually... We started off actually having Tor sponsor us. It was almost kind of I think a favor to me, when Tor sponsored us. They did it for... Oh, like a four or five month period, I think. We did a book of the week with them. Then they stepped back, and weren't doing that anymore. For a while we just had random... Whoever we could grab...
[Howard] There was the company with the oatmeal blend!
[Brandon] Yeah. You liked that stuff.
[Dan] It was good stuff, but it was so hard to...
[Howard] I did like it. It was tasty.
[Jordo mumbling again]
[Dan] Because we were trying to pull in other forms of advertising, and it was so hard to promo anything that was not a book, without sounding like just a ridiculous corporate shill.
[Howard] Why the heck am I selling a packet of energy oatmeal to a bunch of writers?
[Jordo] That's why we have a lot of them on... We put some of them in episodes, but we have a lot of them on the bonus content, the After Dark episodes, where Dan is literally just making up advertisers.
[Dan] Some of our very best bonus content is "This episode brought to you by pants. You wear them... On your bottom!" We would just do... I kind of miss doing that, actually. But...
[Jordo] They are all filler, in case we didn't have an advertiser for a specific portion.
[Dan] We really like having audible as a sponsor, because, yes, they're paying us to advertise their site, but really it's just an excuse for us to talk about books that we genuinely like.
[Brandon] Yeah, it's really a great opportunity for us.
[Dan] Audible does not tell us which books to promo. We don't just wait for someone to do that.
[Howard] Oh, at one point, I think they suggested, "Hey, you know, this is a really big seller this week." We all looked at it and said, "Yeah. It's not genre fiction. It's not even fiction."
[Brandon] It's what everyone else is going to promo. But it's not...
[Mary] But they don't insist. That's...
[Howard] They don't insist. That's what's wonderful.
[Jordo] [garbled] recommendation if you need something.
[Mary] They're really supportive.
[Brandon] So this week, we will just promo our own books, right?
[Mary, Dan] Yes.
[Brandon] Let's just go down what we have going?
[Dan] Run down the whole list?

[Brandon] I have Alloy of Law out recently. Mary, what?
[Mary] You can listen to Shades of Milk and Honey, which I wrote and narrated. Or if you click on my name as narrator, you can see a bunch of other books that I've narrated, like Seanan McGuire's series. Want to hear me do a southern accent that's not genre? They're out there.
[Dan] My John Cleaver trilogy is up on audible. And in approximately 2... Three... Four weeks from the time this airs, my new book, Partials, will be up on audible as well.
[Howard] So, you all can head on out to Kick off a 14 day free trial membership and pick up one of these fine titles for free. The rest of them you'll still need to pay for.
[Jordo] Wai-wai-wai-wait.
[Howard] Or, if you actually want to support Howard...
[Jordo] I was going to say, what about your audio books?
[Howard] I don't have any audio books. That's where I'm going next.
[Jordo] I thought Brandon had them.
[Brandon] No, no, no. I want to do audio books for you, Howard.
[Howard] Oh, you want to do audio books for me?
[Mary] I so want to do a radio play of Schlock. I can't even begin...
[Brandon] We're going to do it.
[Howard] Okay. That's great, but for the time being,
[Jordo] We've gone full circle. We're going to end with radio plays. Right.
[Howard] There's all kinds of goodies that you can buy.
[Brandon] I totally want to do an audio book. Right. Mary wants to act it out. I...
[Dan] Howard, I would love...
[Brandon] Just want to be like, "Schlock's got a gun. He looks really happy. Oh, he's shooting some dude. You should totally see this. It's really awesome."
[Dan] Really great.
[Howard] You know what's sad is that...
[Dan] I want to do the drama, but you have to write in a character who's an old British colonial guy who eats marshmallows.

[Mary] Right. That, I think, is probably your writing prompt for the week. Write a story with an old British guy who likes marshmallows.
[Brandon] That's a great writing prompt.
[Dan] In the Schlock Mercenary universe.

[Brandon] Okay. Well, this has been Writing Excuses. I don't know what you thought.
[Howard] This has been a horrible, horrible indulgence on our part, but thank you for letting us lapse rhapsodic.
[Brandon] Yeah. I think people find this interesting. We may do this again, warning you, with talking about how we actually come up with episodes. But for now, we'll go ahead and let you go. Hopefully to audible. This has been Writing Excuses. Thank you sincerely for listening. You're out of...
Tags: couch, filler, haiku, lavalier, marshmellows, mixers, pants, puppetry, radio play, role playing games, skype, sponsors, tagline, were-cuttlefish

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