writing

"The Things You Learn From a Llama" by Shashana Pearson-Hormillosa

I just saw a llama walk into my kids’ school.

On its feet were tiny anklets, tinkling bells made of brass. Each step it took, it tinkled, until the tinkle became a ring. The ring kept right on ringing, until the singing was the thing.

And then that llama spit.

Nailed me right between the eyes. And looked at me with such disdain, I felt that I should cry. Why a llama would hate me so, when we've never even met, is the mystery to beat all mysteries, and one I never will forget.

He saw me walking toward him, as I moved my mouth to say, “We have no space for llamas here; will you please be on your way!”

He must've seen it coming, must have known the awful truth. That deep inside, I was seized with pride, and my heart was closed—poof!

“You’re not wanted. You’re unwelcome. What business have you here? We have no need for llama things, for heedless, needless, drama things. We have no space for your tinkling things…won’t you please just go AWAY?!”

But that llama did not move. Did not bat one single eye. Did not turn and walk away. And I began to cry.

I did not mean to do it. I meant to hold my ground. But that little llama looked at me as if he knew my soul. I couldn't help myself; the tears began to flow.

His disdain was just reflecting my broken, crooked heart. They way I kept myself together by tearing others apart.

The spit came next, then a softening—a reckoning, so to speak. The llama wasn't the stranger one; it was I who was the freak.

My heart had known its share of trouble, of loving things too soon. And so to keep it safe, I’d built a heart cocoon.

The walls were made of ice, forged from the strongest matter. But, I failed to realize that my wrapped-up heart inside was actually very shattered.

The waterworks began as the ice capades got started. And all that melting made me grow far more tenderhearted.

I knew the time was right to pull myself together. I softened my approach and asked instead about the weather, “How goes it in the tropics of Lima, Peru? Is it just as hot as here? Is it hot enough for you?”

He seemed to understand my change, though he uttered not a word. And as he sauntered past, the singing ringing from his bells could once again be heard.

Shashana Pearson-Hormillosa is a current student at DCH. She spends her days wrangling children, avoiding housework, and hustling for acting or writing gigs. One day she’ll make her life easier by changing her name to Shashana O’Shanahan.

(Photo credit: Jennifer Vanek)

My Comedy Writing is Better Than My Comedy Speaking

John Cleese I recently got a note in a rehearsal. It was great advice: “You need to get your initiation out more quickly. You stalled for a little too long there.”

I completely agree. However, it often seems like my mind is going so fast that my mouth can't keep up with my thoughts. I’ve been known to “um” and “uh” and “wait, I lost my train of thought,” stuttering and stammering. Maybe it’s anxiety, maybe it’s undiagnosed ADD. Either way, performing improv is a challenge for me because of this.

Before I graduated from improv classes, every single class was the same for me: We would get a suggestion, and my thinking process started rattling off ideas like machine gun fire. BAM BAM BAM! Which one was the B thought and which one was the C thought? Why are there subsections and footnotes? How come all the feelings just happened rather than just one feeling? Whatever, I thought. I’ll try to work around this because it's improv. Just don’t go in with all this information, KC-Face. Then I step out to establish my part of the scene when my new scene partner establishes the truth of the scene first. The metaphorical machine gun process re-loads and brand new bullets shoot off in my brain. By the way, I know nothing about machine guns... or guns... I don’t like guns.

Then I started Sketch Writing I, and we’re using our improv comedy skills. And suddenly, I find myself able to keep up.

The class is using improv to serve my writing. We spend most of the class writing various monologues and scenes, 10 minutes each. This is what Buffy writer Jane Espenson calls "writer sprints," an allotted amount of time to write without stopping. It’s also used in The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron, but that’s meant for first thing in the morning, and who can do anything pre-caffeine? My hand keeps up with my thoughts much better than my face-hole ever could. You can still see the speed at which the mind can go, though. Whether I’m writing by pen and paper or computer processor, I can look back over what I just wrote and find typos, forgotten participles, and horrible, horrible grammatical mistakes. But the fearless stream-of-conscious nature that improv teaches you makes you less critical of what you put on the page. Plus, writing improvisationally gives me the opportunity to go back and revise and edit, allowing me to really sit with a character and figure out who he or she or it is. It’s something that is both wonderful and sad about performing improv—it is birthed in a flash, but you don’t really get the chance to explore that scene.

I still love improv, and it is teaching me how to slow down verbally. However, sketch is a great avenue for me mentally, especially considering that, in addition to being encumbered with too many thoughts for me to grasp, I am also known to be too analytical sometimes. Wait… stutterer? Analytical? Am I all the Rick Moranis characters?

Oh crap, I’m all the Rick Moranis characters...everything makes sense now.

KC Ryan is a DCH graduate and a Sketch 1 student. An office worker by day, she spends her nights writing, improvising, recording podcasts, and having existential crises. She’s a co-host of Parsec Award-nominated podcast Anomaly Supplemental about general sci-fi and fantasy topics. Her greatest achievement so far is convincing her husband to watch Project Runway.

Podcast Rec No. 8: Writing Excuses

Writing Excuses PodcastDo you like writing? Me, too! Do you hate the act of writing but love having written? That is a more accurate interpretation of my feelings on the general question I asked a moment ago!

I love anything regarding the creative process, which I touched on in my last podcast rec for Magic Lessons. I particularly enjoy reading and hearing about the writing process because it is so varied from daily rituals to structuring story. However, the problem with many of these materials is that they act as the foremost authority. And I have issues with authority. Well, quiet, stifled issues--I don’t like authority, but I also don’t want authority to be mad at me.

This is why I like Writing Excuses, which lives by its tagline: “Fifteen minutes long because you’re in a hurry and we’re not that smart.” The show is hosted by a roundtable of genre authors including Mary Robinette Kowal, Brandon Sanderson, Dan Wells, and Howard Tayler. The set-up of each episode flows like this: introduction to topic, discuss circumstances of topic, how a writer might handle the topic, and a writing exercise for the listener. So simple, but also informative and entertaining.

Recommended episode: 10.1, "Seriously, Where Do You Get Your Ideas?"

Season 10: Master Class is my favorite of the show because it follows the arc of creating a book from start to finish. Obviously, you want to start with an idea. Which is why I suggest this episode. However, the author hosts break down what makes an idea interesting and finding new elements that will elevate it. And then once this episode is done, keep listening for additional advice and tips. Does every single step work exactly? Not in my case, but I am learning that I have a different process from the typical prose writer. I’m already planning a re-listen to the whole season because I loved the information that much. However, I will add an addendum to their suggestions: Advice is great and can be applicable, but you do you.

Running time for each episode: 15 to 20 minutes.

KC Ryan is currently a Level 5 student at DCH. An office worker by day, she spends her nights writing, improvising, recording podcasts, and having existential crises. She’s a co-host of Parsec Award-nominated podcast Anomaly Supplemental about general sci-fi and fantasy topics. Her greatest achievement so far is convincing her husband to watch Project Runway.

Nick and Noa Wrote a Book and You Should Buy It

Imagine a world in which you have five days to save the universe. The only thing you have to do is buy a book. Easy-peasy. Nick NoaThat's right, at this very moment, on May 27, you have exactly five days to help fund a book that two Dallas Comedy House (DCH) performers have written. You may know them as Nick Scott and Noa Gavin, improvisers par excellence, and now you shall know them as Nick Scott and Noa Gavin, authors par excellence.

Their co-authored book, Practical Applications For Multiverse Theory, is currently listed on Inkshares, where it's going through funding in order to be published. If the book is in the top five sci-fi/fantasy pre-sales on Inkshares by Sunday, May 31, the book will be professionally edited, designed, and then published (sold on Amazon, Apple, Google, and shipped to independent bookstores and Barnes & Noble).

To help you know more about the book, I sat down with Nick and Noa in their Aspen, Colorado, writing cabin for a short interview.

Give me the elevator pitch. What's the book about in 30 words or less?

Nick: Two high school students who hate each other must stop all possible universes from converging on their high school and thus ending existence as we know it.  Was that 30 words or less? I’m too lazy to click on “Word Count.”

Noa: It was 41, Nick. You’re a failure.

What is this book's genesis?

Nick: That’s a good question. I think I was the one that approached Noa about writing something together. Writing is a lonely process, and I thought it would be fun to do something where I wasn’t alone. As far as all the ideas and whatnot, everything is so intertwined I don’t remember who came up with what or how the premise came about anymore.

Noa: Nick sat down with me on the brown couch in the old DCH lobby and said, “Would you...would you want to write a book with me?” And then he didn’t mention it again for six months.

Also, yeah, coming up with the plot and ideas, that was both of us. It all kind of snowballed.

How long did it take for you to write it and how many drafts did you go through before listing it on Inkshares?

Nick: Probably a lot longer than it should have. Our goal was to do a chapter a week. But we both went through break-ups and sketch shows and all kinds of stuff during the process, so it ended up taking like a year or two to actually get the first draft done. We only had the rough draft when we put it up on Inkshares. We’re in the process now of revising before (hopefully) submitting it to professional editors. So just one draft. Unless you’re counting the draft where Noa had to email and say, “Hey Nick, this isn’t a chapter, this is just you listing reasons you hate your ex-girlfriend” as a separate draft.

Noa: It was just a year, because at one point we just said, “SCREW IT JUST BURN THROUGH THESE LAST FEW CHAPTERS.” Stephen King was right: first draft is for the author, it’s about figuring out how the world works, so you include a lot of unnecessary details. We had a LOT of fun figuring out how the world worked, so we took forever. The first ¾ of chapters are really long, because we kept writing dumb jokes for the other one to find. Really dumb jokes, that we will most likely leave in, because we are not good people.

That was a real fun chapter, the Ex-Girlfriend list. Nick was not in a good place.

Since it's bi-authored, what kind of writing guidelines did y'all follow? For example, did one of you only write Scott's story line and the other Davey's?

Nick: Yeah, I wrote Scott’s chapters, and Noa wrote Davey’s.

Noa: No spoilers, BUT ALSO THERE’S A CO-WRITTEN CHAPTER WHERE THEY’RE BOTH IN IT. That was a spoiler. We also tried to be the most true to our character’s story. Sometimes the chapters are equal length, sometimes one is much longer or shorter than the other’s. Different people, different stories.

Nick Noa bookHow does improv influence your writing process?

Nick: Really, the whole process for this book was like a hyper version of the “Yes and” drill. We had a basic idea for a story, and the basic idea for the ending, but everything else was discovered on the fly. Noa would have no idea what I was going to be writing and send to her one week, and I would have no idea where Noa would take the story when she sent me her chapter the next week. Just like in an improv scene, if one of us said something or set up a rule for the universe in one of our chapters, it was immediately part of the reality. This was as close to improv that writing a book can be.

Noa: That’s really what made it so much fun to write. We had a really bare outline (we knew the school layout, we knew the three biggest characters, we knew the open and the close), and the rest was just us having as much fun as possible with our plot and our characters. It led to some really cool moments of group mind where we’d come up with the same thing, and just as many instances of, “Oh wow, that’s a really amazing scene/idea he came up with.” Now we have the fun ability to go back and look at a "scene" and then frame it into the best possible, most fun version of itself.

What have you learned about yourself by writing this book?

Nick: That I remember high school much too vividly. Also that I probably I find violence involving school supplies more hilarious than a normal, sane person would.

Noa: That I was much more angry in high school than I thought. That given the chance to fight or make a joke about it, Nick and I are vastly different in choice. I will always fight, preferably with the most Evil Dead-like weapon.

Nick: I think in real life I would probably fight as well, but the character I wrote in the book would definitely just make a joke and then run away as fast as possible.

You describe this as a sci-fi, horror, comedy young adult book. Who are some authors from those genres that influence your writing?

Nick: I think the most favorable comparison we’ve received is to that of David Wong, who wrote John Dies at the End and This Book is Full of Spiders. But all kinds of writers influence how I write: Stephen King, Christopher Moore, Neil Simon, Woody Allen, Kevin Smith, John Scalzi, etc., etc. Oh also Kim Kardashian. That book of selfies she just released provided a lot of uhhh...inspiration.

Noa: I loved that comparison of David Wong because I think his works, JDATE (really unfortunate acronym there) and TBIFOS, are some vastly underrated books. They’re incredible, go read them right now. I’m also influenced by King, but add in a healthy dose of Joe Hill, Margaret Atwood, Shirley Jackson, and Kelly Sue Deconnick. I preferred The Monster at the End of This Book to the selfie book. SLAM.

What kind of book would you like to write next?

Nick: Together? We have ideas for the two books to make this a Multiverse Trilogy. We also have another fun idea that we could write the same way and involves magic. Also a book of really sexy selfies.

Noa: The next two books get even weirder, so if this premise is too strange for you, STRAP THE FUCK IN. The magic book is going to be equally ridiculous, and we also have our own individual novels going (though those are much harder to finish). The sexy selfie book is the same format as The Monster at the End of This Book.

Remember, you have until Sunday, May 31, help fund this book. And as an incentive, every copy that you buy is an entry into a raffle drawing to get a character in the book named after you. Thank you for your support of Nick, Noa, books, and the universe.

Sports Fan Fiction: Goodell Covers for the Ref's Mistake

Welcome to Sports Fan Fiction, a weekly showcase of fake stories involving the real athletes and decision makers of the Dallas sports scene. Sports Fan Fiction logoLast week: The Dallas Cowboys defeated the Detroit Lions 24-20 to move on to the Divisional round of the playoffs. In the days since the game, fans of both sides have focused less on the win and more on the curious decision of head referee Pete Morelli to negate a pass interference call made by his crew mate. This has brought attention to a strange NFL regulation by which referee crews are inexplicably mixed up for the postseason. Many expect the NFL to adjust the program after the season, but here’s a fake account of what might happen if they did not.

Monday 1.26.15 [2:30 PM] NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell stands behind an NFL emblazoned podium to deliver his state of the league address.

Roger Goodell

Good afternoon, I’d like to start by thanking all of you for being here. This Sunday we will complete another amazing season thanks to the efforts of our players, teams, and most importantly, fans.

[The room full of reporters responds with courteous applause.]

Roger Goodell

Today I’d like to introduce some new rules that we know will help us grow football to the number one sport in the world.

[Additional applause.]

Roger Goodell

One of the biggest successes of this postseason was the call made by referee Pete Morelli to pick up a pass interference penalty flag. We feel Morelli was empowered to make his decision, because he was working with a fresh crew. It’s our guess that he was trying to impress his new coworkers. Therefore, we are going to expand that scramble program to the rest of the NFL.

[Murmurs of confusion fill the conference room.]

Washington Times Reporter

Does that mean that referee crews will be switched up every week?

Roger Goodell

Haha, no, that’s not what I meant; effective in 2015 we will scramble the roster of every team after the regular season. We feel the position of quarterback is very similar to that of a head referee, so we will completely change the lineup around each playoff quarterback after Week 17.

[Every reporter raises their hand.]

ESPN.com Reporter

Wait, what?

Roger Goodell

If Pete Morelli wasn’t leading a crew of referees that he’d never met, he would not have been able to make the correct call. We feel like allowing teams to do the same thing will only strengthen the game and our brand.

Profootballtalk.com Reporter

Is that the only change you plan on making?

Roger Goodell

Great question. Another reason we feel that our referees were so successful this year was that most of them are not even full-time employees of the NFL. Starting February 1, all NFL players will be considered part time.

[By now all of the reporters are fighting to get Goodell’s attention.]

Conde Nast Reporter

But that means that many players will have to get full-time jobs outside of the NFL to make ends meet. Not to mention the safety concerns.

Roger Goodell

We’re going to save so much money! That brings us to the change that I’m most excited about. Effective immediately, defenses will only be allowed seven players. If our referee crews are able to cover an entire field with only seven people, why can’t a defense of the best athletes in the world do it?

[More uproar, now booing.]

Roger Goodell

Oh come on, these are great ideas. And plus, what’re you gonna do, watch Arena league football? They’re so poor that if the forty reporters in this room tried to go to the AFL website at the same time, the damn thing would crash. The NFL is your only option.

[Silence]

Cleveland Plain Dealer Reporter

Mr. Goodell, any plans to change the domestic violence policy?

Roger Goodell

Nah, we’re good.

David Allison is a comedian based out of Dallas, Texas. You can follow him on Twitter @MrDavidAllison or keep up with his attempt to guess the jokes on Weekend Update @AlternateUpdate. He also performs regularly at the Dallas Comedy House, and this week can be seen Friday (1/9/15) at 10:30 p.m. with David & Terry and Saturday (1/10/15) at 9 p.m. with The Rift. Tickets at www.DallasComedyHouse.com.

Web of Laughs: Steamboat Bill, Jr.

We’re all comedy fans here. We all grew up on comedy. We all have our own personal stories of being a kid, staying up past our bedtimes to watch whichever generation of Saturday Night Live was on at the time. Memories of how you couldn’t wait to get to school on Monday to swap stories at the lunch table about everyone’s favorite sketch that your mother would most certainly not approve of. This is the comedy we all collectively share; the Saturday Night Lives, our millionth re-watch of The Jerk, your favorite uncle showing you Monty Python and the Holy Grail and it changing your world forever. Ever wonder what influenced your influences, though? How did we get to the point in comedy where Jim Carrey can walk into a wall, shake his head back and forth emphatically, and we all laugh hysterically? Comedy had to start somewhere, and its roots are firmly planted in the silent films of the 20th century. Most would consider Charlie Chaplin the pioneer of the silent-era of comedy, but I would argue that you can look to the 1920s and see the most influential man in comedy, especially modern comedy, in Buster Keaton. Buster Keaton

Keaton started making silent, short comedy films in 1917, and it wasn’t until 1923 that he made his first full-length comedy film. He’s usually grouped into the same silent film star category as Charlie Chaplin, Fatty Arbuckle, and The Marx Brothers, but Keaton had a different spin on the silent, physical style of comedy that really lends itself to considering him just as relevant in the comedy spectrum today. Full disclosure, I haven’t seen all of his films, since there are well over 100 (who has the time? I still have Friends reruns to watch!), but the one that has always stuck out the most to me is Steamboat Bill, Jr., made in 1928.

Steamboat Bill, Jr., is the story of a down-on-his-luck steamboat operator, aptly named Steamboat Bill, Sr., who receives a telegram letting him know his son, whom he hasn’t seen since he was a kid, has finished school, and is coming to visit him. Steamboat Bill, Sr., is ecstatic and can’t wait to reunite with his son, who he assumes must be as large, manly, and steamboaty as him after all these years. What he gets when his son, as played by Keaton, arrives is a seemingly incompetent, wimpy goof who can’t walk in a straight line without tumbling over, a trait I can painfully identify with. The plot that follows is really the first embarking on what is now a typical father-son comedy journey that can be seen time and time again in comedies since. A father is disappointed because the son is not turning out how he thought he had raised him, until the son does something remarkably surprising to the father, showing the father that his son is just fine the way he is. A great example of a modern comedy that uses this plot so well is Elf. Both films take an over-the-top son and juxtapose them against a buttoned-up father that has a very different lifestyle and uses their relationship to inspire comedic gold.

The most notable influence over modern comedy in general is through Keaton’s comedic performance. As is the case with most of the silent-era comedic actors, Keaton masters the typical slapstick style comedy and runs into walls/trains/doors/desks/small children with ease. One of the key differences between Keaton and his contemporaries, though, is his dead-pan physical delivery. He let his audiences discover that you don’t have to fall into a pie face-first then look up and smile as if you’re asking for a laugh, as several of his peers did, but that you can get tangled up in rope and tumble around without breaking a smile and your audience will never tire of watching it. Keaton’s deadpan style can be seen permeating through the history of comedic culture, I think most notably throughout British comedy, which lends itself to a very Keaton-esque mixture of physicality and dry, deadpan dialogue.

It’s hard to think of a comedy that Keaton’s body of work probably hasn’t influenced in some form. When you have a groundbreaking, new style that’s never been done before, essentially all works after it are going to be derivative. It’s refreshing to go back and watch films such as Steamboat Bill, Jr., and really get a closer look at where your favorite comedies got their inspiration and ideas from.

Jessica Dorrell is a graduate of the DCH improv program, and is currently enrolled in the sketch writing program. Her one wish is that some day she can have a Mogwai as a pet. You can see her perform every Thursday at 9:30 p.m. in the current Ewing show.