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April 21, 2009 — 285 words

TorrentBoy Collaborative Novel / Outlining Fun

By MCM

Over at the TorrentBoy Project forums, I've started a new sub-project to write a collaborative novel, currently titled "Camp Disaster!".  I've written the first chapter, and then other people can pick it up from there, until we get to the end.  It might work, or it might not, but I think it could be fun.

This morning I added a post detailing how I structure the books.  I'm possibly too analytical about these things, but to me, it's fun to see how you can break down a book into distinct movements that can be reverse-engineered by others.  Writing is still hard work, but once you know what you're trying to achieve, it's not nearly as scary as it could be.  To quote myself:

ACT 1 -
a) Start with something unrelated but simple
b) Lay the foundations for the Central Conflict,
c) but focus on Distracting.
d) Scatter some B-plot in there.
e) End with a major twist on the Distracting.

ACT 2 -
a) Play out the Distracting twist,
b) grow the B-plot.
c) Articulate the Central Conflict, but avoid it for now.
d) Have one major action set-piece.
e) End with another major twist on the Distraction again.

ACT 3 -
a) Resolve the Distraction,
b) re-engage the Central Conflict,
c) tie in the B-plot and
d) conclude with fireworks.
e) Wrap up with a punchline.

Check out the rest of the post to see how it applies to "Zombie World!", and if you want to help out with "Camp Disaster!", join the discussion!

April 21, 2009 — 834 words

Actual life

By MCM

Last night I was searching through my Twitter history to find a tweet relating to an upcoming RollBots sequence (it's here, but it won't make sense for a few months), but thanks to the silly AJAX-y setup, I was forced to re-read all my 580+ posts. And what I realized is that I used to talk about a lot more than books and TV shows, and I used to be funny. Or, well, I thought I was funny. I was drinking wine while searching, so... YMMV.

So I thought I should try some non-worky stuff for a bit, if only to escape my 24/7 schedule for a few minutes.

The first thing is this: I find it highly unfair that it takes me almost 30 minutes longer to take 10,000 steps than it does other members of my family.  See, a few months ago, my dad had a heart attack (he's fine now), and started a routine of walking at least 10,000 steps a day to stay in shape.  I decided to do the same, if only to avoid similar heart attackiness in my future.  I believe he hits the 10K mark at twice around the block, but I practically have to walk to Tofino before I crack 5,000.  It's horribly unfair.  Also, my feet hurt.  Also, I can't find the Nike+ doodad for the bottom of my iPod.  Etc etc.

And now for something completely different: TV watching.

My wife and I are bad people these days.  We're so sick of losing a TV show mid-season that we basically give up on any series that seems on the bubble, expecting we can catch up later if we need to.  I assume a lot of people are like this, which probably explains why so many shows die young.  We gave up on "Kings" after two episodes, "Unusuals" after one, and have PVR'd "Castle" just in case.  We only watch "Dollhouse" because of its heritage, because otherwise it hits too many of our "drop" flags to bother with.  My wife is still horribly bitter about "Pushing Daisies".

That said, we watch an absurd amount of Japanese TV.

The best show I think I've seen in some time is Zettai Kareshi.  It has the most absurd premise (so much so that I wanted to give up after the first episode), and a not-so-fantastic leading actor... but the execution is so genius that it sucks you in and makes you CARE about the characters by the time the series wraps.  Whoever picks (lead actress) Aibu Saki's projects is obviously brilliant, because she also starred in the excellent Utahime, with a similarly silly premise that turns amazing in the last few episodes.  Highly recommended.

On the other end of the scale is Bloody Monday, which is like a Japanese "24".  It stars a freaky-looking teenaged hacker trying to save Japan from a bio-weapons attack by a religious cult.  There's danger, drama, death, and funny hacker action ("I've cracked their security protocol!" --- oh really?  it looks to me like you just gzipped your home directory) ("The attack was successful!" --- uh, dude, you DO know you just finished pingflooding 127.0.0.1, right?).  And there are main characters who die, just like in "24".  But the thing that makes the series unwatchable is the fact that the good guys NEVER SHOOT ANYONE.  There are many examples, but the worst is a sequence where there's a Tarantino-style face off with the bad guys in a diner, except the cops outnumber the bad guys almost 2-to-1.  The bad guys have a hostage, but then quickly let him go, and continue to back out of the diner while the cops (who all have cover and clear shots) just watch and grunt a lot.  Not a single shot taken.  The bad guys escape.  And you're left thinking: if this is the elite supercop team for Japan, they're utterly screwed.  I'm not a proponent of mindless violence, but I seriously dislike false drama.  The writers had themselves in an interesting predicament, and they chickened out.  It ruined the series for me, and I couldn't take it seriously from then on.  Watch this only if you want to grumble unhappily.

(Wow, I sure can ramble on about Japanese TV, can't I?  I'll try and vary my topics next time I do a post like this.

I feel better now.  I am not so one-note anymore.  I think I'll do this more often, if only to break the monotony.

And now I have to go back and write another 5,000 words before sundown.

April 16, 2009 — 681 words

RollBots PreCap: 110 “The Do Right Module”

By MCM

This week, I'm trying something different by giving you a PREVIEW of the upcoming episode, rather than recapping at the end. I won't be giving away spoilers, but it'll give you some fun things to watch as the episode airs. This Saturday's episode is one of mine called "The Do Right Module", which should have an acronymmy subtext that many of you will enjoy.

The episode's idea is this: Mayor Aria gets the Tensai to build chips that keep people from breaking the law.  A very strict interpretation of the law, with a few extra tidbits thrown in (you can't talk back to power).  The FCPD are going to be beta testing the chips, which puts Spin and Penny in the thick of things: they get powerful electrical shocks when they do things "unapproved" by the Mayor.  It backfires badly when Botch and Macro start committing actual crimes, leaving Spin and Penny helpless to stop them.

Even before I wrote The Pig and the Box, I had this story idea in my head.  It was actually supposed to be the season finale (when we had just 13 episodes for the season), and was going to deal with Spin being forced to cope with the chips.  In the end, he decides to quit the FCPD rather than put up with it anymore.  When I had that idea in my head, we were working with instructions to be light and fluffy (and without any series arc at all), so it quickly got watered down into what you see here.  I really liked the idea of Spin quitting the Kei'zatsu tribe to take a stand, and loved the cliffhanger ending (although not as good as the season 2 ending, which is now our season 1 ending).  Especially because he quits over this issue.  But it was not to be.

That said, I think it's still my most subversive script of the season.  The Do Right Module (DRM for short) prevents lawful people from doing lawful things, which causes more trouble than it's worth.  Noble intentions, maybe, but it's still a bad idea.  It's one of the core theories of any good childhood education, yes?

Some things of note in this script:

  • The two Tensai (geek bots) are named Zilla and Bug.  They're in charge of QA for this project.  Nobody got that joke but me.
  • When the Mayor says "proud beta testers" and Bug interrupts with a cough, he's saying "Alpha!", which may not be audible.  It was hard to explain to the actors what I meant by it.
  • There's a moment where Spin is talking to Zilla and Bug and trying to diagnose his problems, and they act like a call centre... there was a very tense moment where an unnamed contributor suggested giving Zilla and Bug Indian accents, to complete the effect.  Maybe funny in some ways, but morally iffy to me.
  • There was a rewrite in the leica/directing stage where the responsibility for the DRM was put on the Tensai, rather than the Mayor.  You see it at the end where everyone glowers at Zilla and Bug.  I just want to say that I did not approve of that.  In my version, the Mayor makes a very calculated retreat and tries to blame the Tensai, and everyone glowers at HER.  There was a concern that we were promoting a distrust of authority, so someone switched things around.  I personally detest anti-tech messages in pop culture, so this still bothers me.

In short, if you only watch one episode of RollBots this season, make it this one.  And the next one.  And, well, the last six are really good too.  But this one teaches your kids an important lesson, so make it the #1 episode for April.  Yeah, that works.  For April!

NOTE: Next week is my last episode until the final 2, in which we meet the Zurasho tribe, which was originally called the "SlashBots".  THAT one is filled with in-jokes, let me tell you...

April 15, 2009 — 294 words

The source of 99% of my guilt

By MCM

Many moons ago, I wrote a little joke article on

I honestly didn't think anyone would take it seriously.

Today I was reminded to check my Google Analytics report, and I saw that while 1889.ca has had fairly steady growth for the last little while, PTTBT had a MASSIVE spike a few days ago. So I followed the link back, and found this:

According to this report, a teenager in the UK managed to discover this egg, the classic Mac game “Dark Castle”, in its entirety, available on the iPhone and iPod Touch. Activating this game is a bit complicated but, here are the directions.

TechCrunch fell for it. And they're not the first. This article gets so much traffic for PTTBT, it's completely nutty. The next closest is how Radiohead bought Facebook. The mind, it boggles.

All of this is to say: if you ever see my Dark Castle article featured somewhere on the web some day, please tell people it's not real. It was never meant to be real. And I feel sorry that so many people worked so hard to verify it.

That said, I'm not takin' it down :)

April 14, 2009 — 1,572 words

Useful tool for writers: tag clouds

By MCM

I'm probably very late to this game, but I'll write it anyway. I was reading this wonderful post about common mistakes people make while writing, and began thinking about word frequency in my books. I know I have word crutches that I fall back on regularly (even in bloody blog posts), so I want to try and kill them off with stunning efficiency. That made me think of tag clouds, which usually show you the frequency of the use of website "labels" for a particular site. But one service, TagCrowd, lets you do it for any old text:

created at TagCrowd.com

That right there is the cloud for The Vector, as it stands right now. I think a good rule of thumb is: anything that isn't a character name should not be too big on the page. So I've got some work to do... sigh...

April 11, 2009 — 476 words

Nearly-Mid-April Update

By MCM

Want to know why free books are great?  I'll tell ya: today, there's a revised version of TorrentBoy: Zombie World! out.  I call it 1.1, and it's 100% thanks to kdnewton, probably the most consistent and persistent contributor to the project.  Thanks to his keen eye, I was able to fix a bunch of typos and other glitches that needed fixing.  The PDF and .epub downloads you get are now fully patched, and ready to go.  If you happen to buy a paper copy before the new version is integrated at Lightning Source... congrats!  You've got a limited-edition version of the book!

It's not a bug, it's a feature.

In other news...

12 Books Delay: Due to uncontrollable glitches in the functioning of the world, I am going to be delaying the next book in my schedule.  I think TorrentBoy needs more attention, and splitting my resources is making me less able to concentrate on making Percy's Perch the best picture book ever.  I'm hoping to release Percy in late May, then the secret project AND Fission Chips in June, and we'll be back on schedule for at least a little while longer.

Marketing Day: I've had a bit of success with getting reviews of my books on Amazon and other places, but I still need more.  So I'm thinking of making a contest out of it.  Maybe giving a free limited-edition RollBots Mosaic poster (it's made up of 1600 production stills and development sketches) to whoever writes the most entertaining review for each title (while still referring to the actual book... so you don't get a prize for writing a funny BAD review).  Reviews would have to appear by the end of April 23, and I'd pick the best of the best by the end of the following week (if not sooner).  I'll have to investigate this a bit more, but I think it could be fun.

Character Designers: If anyone out there knows a really good character designer, please pass along their info (mcm@1889.ca).  Character designers are people that can draw really well and can make up new things with enough thought and detail from multiple angles.  So if you're really good at drawing but have no precise "character designer" experience per se, that's good too.

No Worries: In case you haven't seen it, I made a little side project called No Worries, where you can send your daily stresses to a Twitter account (@nowuri) and it displays them in a very... er... relaxing way.  Check it out.  It's fun.

April 11, 2009 — 520 words

RollBots Recap: 109 “Two Left Feet”

By MCM

Every week, I’m going to try and give you some inside information about episodes of RollBots, so you can see the things that went into producing each story. You should probably watch the episode first (probably won’t have a choice, since these posts won’t go live until after the episode airs).

109 is one of those episodes that I dreamed up early in the production process, when I was trying to imagine what kinds of silly problems RollBots could get in to. Initially, the idea was to have OddBall misplace a leg and drag Spin on a sleuthing trip around the city, trying to retrace his steps. The only idea I really had was that OddBall went to some pretty freaky places on his way to the FCPD, and that would give us a bit of comedy.

The only problem was that there was absolutely no conflict to it, and it felt like a side-story.  You can't have an episode without conflict, so something had to be done.  The first idea Vito (the writer and story editor) had was to make one of the bad guys go around stealing limbs from bots, and that turns out to be what happened to OddBall.  But in the end, we decided it was important to have an element of danger to the story, so Vito came up with the Massive Power Siphon.  If Spin doesn't get on top of things fast enough, the entire FCPD is toast.

One of the best parts of this episode is the evolution of OddBall... I had no clear idea in my mind about how he should sound, but Vito gave him the most insanely-constructed dialogue.  More than that, Gary Chalk's voice works wonderfully (especially when you consider he's also Captain Pounder... two characters not at all alike).  I don't know if the words he's speaking are grammatically correct (or even real), but they sure are fun to listen to.

Below, I've stuck a YouTube clip of the fight sequence, starting with our leica version, and then the fully-rendered one.  It's interesting to see how things evolved.  You may notice some not-real voices in the leica... that's what happens when the directors come up with cool lines after the voice record is done (the voice record typically happens a week or two before the leica is cut).  So Spin and Manx get to trade up their voices temporarily, and then the actors pick those up later.

Next week is "The Do Right Module", one of mine, and I think I'm going to try switching to a PreCap schedule for a bit.  Today's recap is late due to unforeseen difficulties with children and vomit, and I don't want to be accidentally late again.  So yes.  Stay tuned, and keep telling your friends to watch!

April 9, 2009 — 683 words

On Agents and Publishers

By MCM

Recently, I was asked how much I hated agents (the literary kind), given my self-publishing tendencies.  I think I was supposed to rant for a while, but I didn't.  I was actually pretty supportive of agents.  And it got me a stilted reply.

Here's the thing: I think agents are probably largely useful.  A lot of people think they're parasites, but that doesn't really fit.  You have to look at this objectively: agents make money when you make money.  To make you make money, they will push you towards writing stuff that will sell.  When they negotiate all the details with the publisher,  you'll get paid, and they'll get paid, and the world is a better place.  If you think you can read the publishing industry tea leaves better, or you think you can negotiate a contract better, then you don't need them.  But I doubt most writers can (or want to).

I actually have no direct experience with literary agents, but in a lot of ways they seem like producers in TV-land.  I can go to a producer with the best idea in the world, but if "nobody's buying action series right now", then the idea stops dead in its tracks.  What's the point of proceeding if nobody's going to pick it up?  (side note: two years ago, I had a pitch for a supernatural teen comedy series that died on the shelf... two months ago, with Twilight in every TV exec's mind, it's suddenly a hot property.  But I wouldn't know that if it weren't for my producers).

The thing about agents, for me, is this: I don't need one.  If an agent is getting a cut from the money I make selling to a publisher, then being a self-publisher, I have nothing to offer an agent.  Not just in revenue, but in Things To Do.  There are no deals to broker, no contracts to work out... it's all just me.  In a lot of ways, I'd love to have an agent who could tell me what the market is after at any given moment (if only so I could consciously buck a trend), but I don't think you can get that kind of advice for free.

I think the ultimate self-publisher human resource would be a hybrid of an agent and a publicist, or an agent and a marketer.  Someone who has their finger on the pulse of the industry, but can also get your book places you couldn't otherwise go.  I'm not sure how the business relationship with such a person would work... if you think about it, agents only get paid if you get paid, but most book marketing companies charge you up front, putting the burden on the writer to subsidize the endeavour (and removing the "succeed or die" motivation that drives a typical agent).  I wonder if there isn't some business model in here for book marketers... select certain self-publishers and guide them to success for a cut of profits...

For my TV work, I'll probably look for an agent soon, because my TV work is usually very commercial, and as Trent Reznor said in his Digg Dialogg this week: if you're aiming for American Idol, you need to stick to the entrenched industry, because they do it best.  If you're going the Indie route (as I do with my books), then you have a lot more freedom.  And the price of that freedom is that you don't get a good guide like an agent.

In other words: if you're a self-publisher, don't even get into the agent discussion in the first place.  It's irrelevant to your experience.  If you're aiming to be the next literary superstar, then stop complaining about parasites and the like: a good agent is going to tell you how to get in print.  They don't make the reality of the publishing industry, they just know how it works.  Getting mad at them for saying your writing is a bad fit for the market is like shooting the messenger, and it's just silly.

April 4, 2009 — 590 words

RollBots Recap: 108 “Crontab Trouble”

By MCM

Every week, I’m going to try and give you some inside information about episodes of RollBots, so you can see the things that went into producing each story. You should probably watch the episode first (probably won’t have a choice, since these posts won’t go live until after the episode airs).

Those of you know know what a cron job is will probably get the meaning of this episode right away.  For those of you who don't I'll refer to the Wikipedia definition...

cron is a time-based job scheduler in Unix-like computer operating systems. 'cron' is short for 'chronograph'.

In other words, it has to do with scheduling and time.  You can have certain tasks repeat themselves.  You see where this is going.

Now, granted, when we started work on this episode, nobody but me really understood what the hell I was talking about.  For the longest time, everyone was calling it "contrab" instead of "crontab".  At first, you try your best to explain the mechanics of crontab files and how they work in a Unix environment... but after a few weeks of that, you say "screw it" and just shorthand it to: "It's a time travel episode".  Everybody loves time travel.

This is the first episode that was rendered in any way, so the earliest teasers and rough renders you may have seen on the web in years past all seem to feature the inside-the-Hub battle sequence from the second act.  This was the first time we saw any of the characters in action... Pounder doing his punch, Spin and the cuffs, Manx's flares... all brand new when this ep was done.  We were all so giddy that we had the best ep ever, we wanted to show it to anyone who we could pin down for a few minutes.

Unfortunately, as you may have noticed, this episode isn't really a good representation of the series.  For one, it's a time travel episode, which immediately gives the wrong impression.  What's worse, because of a lot of exuberant cutting at various stages of production, the storyline doesn't entirely hold together.  There are moments where Spin refers to remembering something from a previous go-through... except we'd never seen that go-through at all.  It moves quickly enough to distract you, but WOW... if you really try and map it out, it's utterly loony.

That's not to say that Mark Leiren-Young's script isn't amazing.  Best line of the season, I think, is "we'll be changing your name from Spin to Spun".  Captain Pounder is teh funny.  Again, Mark did an incredible job.  And while this isn't quite a story arc episode, there is one sequence that gives you a major hint about the future of the series.  I won't say where, but it gives a lot away once you know to look for it.

(You may also notice the exterior shots have a very dark and moody sky to them, because this ep, again, was done early in the production, before we'd really figured out exterior shots.  If you're following at home, it's basically 101, 107, 103, 104, 102... I think, anyway.  The order isn't as linear as you'd expect.)

We've only got a few more episodes to go before things start to unravel a bit for Spin and the FCPD, so be sure to keep watching.  And tell your friends to watch too.  I just saw a rough cut of the last episode, and trust me... you're going to want to see a second season after this ending :)

April 1, 2009 — 301 words

TorrentBoy Update: Coding is Hard

By MCM

Stupid feature creep.

I'm building a system for managing TorrentBoy creations right now.  It's a pretty simple beast, but the theory still makes my head spin.  While it take a break from breaking things, I will give you a quick rundown: from now on, creators upload their work to the site by filling out a form.  As part of it, they define a royalty value for the work, which is IN ADDITION to the 20% the Project takes.  So when you're looking to make a shirt, you can browse the list of images in the system and see how much each one will cost you if you use it.  You'll be able to sort the list by cost and other criteria, which should give everyone what they want.  The process will be fully invisible to seller, though: they pay a single royalty to the Project, and the Project pays out to the individual creators.  Win for everyone, especially if the royalty rates are kept low.

It's a start, anyway.  I just have to finish making it.

Lots of cool stuff in development from various quarters, including an exciting (for me) creation by an artist I greatly admire.  Not sure about timing from anybody, but I know things are moving.  Yay!

Internationalizations are a funny topic for the project.  I don't expect anyone to translate "Zombie World!" any time soon (if you want to, be my guest... but seriously, that's a lot of text).  But you can very easily create your own non-English TorrentBoy content.  I'll have to see about giving the wiki some multilingual support.  In the meantime, here's the Japanese wordmark, which is a polished version of a draft sent to me earlier today...