Letters from America: Coffee Mermaid Slut

a series of occasional emails sent from Los Angeles in the past
originally posted 18 may 2004

So there I was in Starbucks the other day, drinking my coffee and thinking about nothing in particular, when I happened to glance at the logo on my cup.

It’s a woman, with long hair covering her breasts. She’s smiling, and wears a crown.

And what’s this to one side of her? A fish tail.

Ah, so it’s a mermaid.

But what’s this on the other side? Another fish tail.

Oh, I see. So rather than having one tail, she’s got a tail in place of each of her legs.

So those things in the gap between her body and legs must be her arms…

Which means that she’s holding her legs spread wide apart with a huge smile on her face.

Just for you.

Letters From America: Dining by Candlelight

an occasional series of emails sent from los angeles in the past
originally posted 10 May 2004

I generally eat at table.

Apparently that’s quite unusual these days.

I was raised to have dinner with the family. We would sit down and eat together at the end of the day, and talk about things. My day at school, mum’s day at work, the state of the world. Anything and everything.

We’d often have candles on the table.

I think that candlelight is something special. It lights a room differently to electricity, no matter how low or cunningly designed the electric light. Candlelight makes a dinner special. It helps you to talk and think about anything and everything.

In a way, this is because it *is* so different to electric light.

Eating by candlelight sets dinner aside as a special time. It puts you in a different place. Gives you a time to think, and put yourself aside from the day-to-day world.

Changing the illumination changes the feel of a room. Allows some types of thought and discourages others. The conversation you have under a neon tube is different to that under moonlight.

In our culture at large, it seems that candlelight stands for romance. A couple of times I’ve cooked for male friends of mine and lit candles for dinner. They said “Are you trying to seduce me?”

(Interestingly, none of the female friends that I’ve cooked for have said this. Perhaps they just assumed that I was.)

In the US, I’m dining on my own most days. And sometimes I’ll eat an easy meal in front of the television. Eating rubbish in front of the television is fun. I thoroughly enjoy it.

But most of the time I eat at table, and light a candle for myself.

Letters From America: Typical

originally posted 6th May 2004

First, the good news:

I’ve got a read.

An agent has agreed to read my spec scripts.

From a cold call.

To say this is extremely lucky is to understate things by at least an order of magnitude. You don’t get reads from cold calls. You get reads from friends-of-friends, from calling in favours, from knowing people, from living in this town for several years. And now a WGA-registered agent has agreed to read my scripts.

This is quite extraordinary. People with much better industry contacts than I are unable to get agents to read their work.

So I sent the scripts off. They stand on their own now. It’s all down to whether the writing is good enough. I think it is, but I don’t know. I can’t be sure. Until this agent gets back to me and says whether she likes it or not.


I’ve emailed her the scripts – I’d already put them in the post, but that wasn’t soon enough, she wanted to read them Right Now, and who am I to disappoint her? – and after hitting send I happened to glance across my local copy.

Page One.

And somehow – somehow, despite checking this a hundred times – I’ve managed in my final revision to put the wrong location in THE VERY FIRST SLUGLINE.

So the crew of the Enterprise start their adventure in COMPLETELY THE WRONG FUCKING PLACE.

So the question is, which makes me look more like a total idiot – calling up and saying “Don’t read my script, PAGE ONE IS FUCKED UP,” or hoping that she’s so caught up in the story that she doesn’t notice?

I’m keeping quiet.

Wish me luck.

Letters From America: Jobs for the boy

originally posted 2nd May 2004

Well, my second spec script is finished.

As with the first one, we’re having a table read in my apartment block next Sunday. A bunch of actors and writers will come over, sit around our ping-pong table, and read my words aloud.

During this, I get to see where it sucks most, and fix it.

I’m pretty happy with the two scripts that I have now, so after the read-through and a final dialogue pass to remove any words that the actors have problems with, it’s time to go into phase three of the plan.

For the next two months I’m going to be job-hunting.

This will basically involve calling and/or writing letters to a) agents and b) producers which basically say this:

I write. I’m very good. I’m professional enough to know that I need to show you two specs, and to be working on another now. Would you like to read my stuff?

If they do (oh, and that’s a big if), and they like it, then I get either a) representation or b) a meeting.

Meetings are good. Meetings let you put a face to people so that you can interact properly when you call them up next and try to sell them stuff.

I need to get meetings.

Letters from America: Words, words, words.

originally posted 11th April 2004

So I attended the Game Developers Conference in San Jose a couple of weeks ago.

We know a lot about engendering emotion through novels and films. While telling a story in a game uses different methods of presentation (via cut-scenes and in-game dialogue, for example), we don’t need new theories to talk about how to make characters and story affect people.

Most of the writing presentations at the conference were concerned with emotion through story and character, but one looked at the emotions you can experience through gameplay itself.

The speaker was Nicole Lazzaro, President of User Experience Research company XEODesign. If any of you are thinking of developing games any time soon, I highly recommend you get in touch with her.

A large portion of the talk covered the emotions that you probably know about already: anger, frustration, wonder, awe, excitement, relief, amusement, and schadenfreude. All can be brought in via gameplay or design rather than story or character.

In a way, she’s proved that it’s simply not necessary to have a compelling story to have an emotionally involving game. But I guess those of you who’ve played Tetris or Solitaire already know that.

The most important things I took away, though, were two words.

Fiero and Naches.

Fiero is an Italian word. It’s the emotion you experience when you finally overcome adversity, or solve a problem. It’s the thrill you get from filling in a clue in a crossword puzzle, or beating the end-of-level boss. It’s the moment when you clench your fist and say: “Yes!”, or throw your arms above your head.

Naches (the ch is pronounced as in chutzpah, or reich) is from the Yiddish. It’s the emotion of pleasure or pride at the accomplishment of someone you’ve helped or trained. It’s the feeling you get as a parent, teacher, or mentor, when someone is able to succeed because of what you’ve shown them.

Now the point is, we’ve all experienced these two emotions.

But before now, I had no way to talk about them. I had no way of defining these emotions, or discussing them with other people. I had no way to consider how to analyse or engender these emotions, no way to understand or discuss them.

Without these words to define the concepts, I had no way to even *think* about them.

Today I can do things that I couldn’t do before, have thoughts and experiences that I simply couldn’t have a fortnight ago, just because I know two new words.

And now you can too.

Letters From America: Rubber, Drugs, and PVC

originally posted 26th March 2004

So, here I am in San Jose for the rest of the week.

The day before yesterday, I read a post on a screenwriting message board. It said “I have free tickets for the Game Designers Conference. Who wants some?”

So I said yes, emailed Susannah to check that I could crash at hers, and jumped in the car.

About an hour down the freeway, there was a loud bang and the car started shuddering. I made it to the side of the road safely, and started checking to see what had happened. Turned out my left rear tyre was shredded.

At this time a Highway Patrol officer pulled up and, after telling me to take my hands out of my pockets and return to my vehicle, asked me who I was and if I was transporting drugs from Los Angeles to San Francisco.

Fortunately, he seemed satisfied when I told him I wasn’t.

After limping on three wheels to the nearest garage I found an entrepeneurial member of the rescue services who offered to take my tyre away and have it fixed for the bargain price of $200 (down from $260). Having a rough idea of what a tyre costs, I drove slowly and carefully for another 14 miles and got it fixed for $40.

It’s an interesting environment at the conference. There are about 9,000 games developers here: programmers, designers, artists, suits, and even a few writers.

The general opinion of the writers is that writing in games gets no respect and Something Must Be Done. That’s about as far as they’ve got, though.

So there I was in the hotel bar speaking to the representative from the BBC (turns out I know him) when a little man came up and said:

“You don’t want to be drinking here. Why not come across the road to the PlayStation party, where all the booze is free? Use this to get in.”

So we did.

It turns out that a party sponsored by PlayStation is – well, just about exactly how you’d imagine.

Huge paper sculptures, coloured lights flashing all over the place, delicious food, free bars all over, and a fashionable band.

The band was called “Crystal Meth”, or perhaps “The Crystal Method”. An orbital-a-like. I know they were good because a) I liked them and b) Young People around me kept calling friends on their mobile phones and saying “Dude! You won’t believe this, but Crystal Meth are on stage, like, *fifty feet away*!”

But my favourite part of the evening had to be the fact that when the band weren’t on stage, there were Asian girls in short PVC dresses, fishnets, boots, and chokers dancing in cages for no good reason.

Fair made my evening, that did.

Letters From America: A good day, on the whole.

originally posted 8th March 2004

Draft Zero of the Enterprise spec is finished.

It’s not a First Draft. It’s not at that level yet. What it has, is enough words to fill fifty pages in screenplay format.

Now that the final “Fade out.” has been typed, I’ve printed it out and read it end-to-end for the first time.

The first act is pretty good, in my humble opinion. Unfortunately the other three-quarters of the script sucks big-style. Genuine queue-up-to-avoid-it type writing.

I read the whole thing for the first time a couple of hours ago. When writing the Zeroth Draft I try to not go back at all if I can avoid it – the temptation is too high to spend your life re-working the bits you know are wrong instead of finishing the damn piece.

But now, reading it end-to-end for the first time, I had my Editor hat on. And the *structure* is mostly there. It’s just the words that need changing.

If I was a showrunner who received this script, I’d fire the original writer and pass it on to the person on my team that was good at dialogue to straighten the damn thing out.

Unfortunately, I’m on my own here.

But I can see where the problems are. Looking at it now as a final piece, I can see what the original author is trying to do in the script. Despite the fact that everyone wears their hearts on their shoulders and baldly states their point-of-view.

So what I’ll be doing over the next couple of weeks is taking the scenes apart and attempting to re-build them with real characters instead of the cardboard cutouts currently serving duty as place-holders.

Then maybe it’ll be worth showing to someone else.

But having said all that, finishing Draft Zero is worth celebrating. It’s a cut-off point, a waystation, a milestone.

So I treated myself. Since I moved into this apartment building, I’ve had my eye upon the big switch in the elevator marked “Emergency Stop”, and I’ve been saving it for just the proper occasion.

Worth the wait.

Letters From America: Funny Man

originally posted 4th March 2004

Stand up comedy occurred last night.

It seemed to go down well, though it’s difficult to tell when you’re actually performing. I got laughs, and was told that it was excellent for a first timer, so it’s all downhill from here. I have one definite gig next week, then I’ll figure out whether I’m going to do it again. I suspect not (other fish to fry), but we’ll see.

Note for those attempting comedy work: Unless you have a talking penis, keep the microphone closer to your chin than your tummy. Or you won’t be heard at the back of the room.

It took less than two hours from stepping off stage to the first person saying: “So you’re a comedian, eh? Say something funny.”

Letters From America: Welcome to the 21st Century

originally sent on 24th February 2004

It’s finally happened.

Today, my Robotic Housemaid arrived.

OK, so unlike the robots we were promised in the 1950s it doesn’t do the dishes or make cocktails, but the Roomba is a fully-mechanised robot vacuum cleaner.

It’s about the size of a large dinner plate, and approximately four inches high. It has a little bumper on the front which tells it when it’s hit something, and a tiny dust collector which you need to empty after each room.

Some grainy pictures of the Roomba in action:

You set it in the middle of the room and press a button. It sings a jaunty little tune, and then starts cleaning by circling around in a spiral. After a few minutes it starts zig-zagging its way across the room, vacuuming as it goes. After about half-an-hour, it stops and sings a different tune to let you know it’s finished.

An overnight charge from a wall-socket gives you about ten vacuuming cycles.

One thing it’s missing is the ability to run to a wall-socket and re-charge itself when the battery runs low. To be honest, I’m surprised they didn’t do this – it’s perfectly feasible with today’s technology and would mean I had to spend even less time worrying about vacuuming than I do at the moment. (You mean I have to actually plug it in to the wall every so often? I want my money back!)

I’m still trying to work out how it ensures it covers the entire floor. My guess is that it’s got some fairly simple rules that it applies locally, and just relies on the fact that over a long enough time it’s bound to have covered almost everything. Have you hit something? Turn forty-five degrees right and move on. Hit something again? You’re on a wall. Head along it for a while.

Every so often it stops and does what I’m currently thinking of as “seeking” behaviour – doing a half-a-dozen spiral turns before heading off again if it hasn’t hit anything.

It also has some quite smart programming to stop it getting trapped under tables – after it had tried turning through 360 degrees trying to get out from underneath a chair, it used a curving path to escape.

Not only is it cheaper than a cat (over the lifetime) it actually cleans your room for you. The perfect robotic pet.

Now – where’s my flying car, god-dammit.

Letters From America: Good News For Comedy Fans

originally sent on the 19th February, 2004
the original URL now gives no information; replaced with the copy referenced at http://www.dibbukbox.com/

My name was not picked out of the hat this week. I shall return each week
until they damn well do.

In the meantime, why not draw up a seat closer to the fire – yes that’s
right, just there – and listen to the spine-chilling tale I like to call
“The Terror Of The Haunted Wine Cabinet”.


Don’t have nightmares.

Oh, all right then, do.