Fifteen minutes long, because you're in a hurry, and we're not that smart.

18.01: Twenty Twenty-Three, By Way of Introduction

Your Hosts: Mary Robinette Kowal, DongWon Song, Erin Roberts, Dan Wells, and Howard Tayler

We begin 2023 with some big changes, and in this episode we’ll discuss those, starting with some changes to the core cast. DongWon Song and Erin Roberts are joining us as permanent cast members, and Brandon Sanderson is stepping aside with “emeritus” status.

But the episode isn’t just announcements. We each talk about where we are career-wise, what we’re working on, and what we’re excited to bring to the podcast this year.

Credits: This episode was recorded by Marshall Carr, Jr., and mastered by Alex Jackson.

Homework: What do you want to re-invent with your writing this year?

Thing of the week: The Lost Metal, by Brandon Sanderson.

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As transcribed by Mike Barker

Key Points:  Where is everyone? Mary Robinette is now a mid-career writer, focusing on science fiction and fantasy, with a heaping teaspoon of theater background as an influence. DongWon is a literary agent, who has worked as an editor, and brings the industry perspective, along with a deep interest in craft. Erin is an early career writer, in various formats, including tabletop role-playing games and audio narratives. She also is a teacher. Dan is starting to work as the vice president of narrative in Brandon Sanderson’s company. Howard is a cartoonist who hasn’t been cartooning for a while, and is finishing up the Schlock Mercenary 20 year run, and doesn’t know what comes next. So, metaphorically, everyone re-introduced themselves, and there’s a lot of reinventing going on! Stay tuned to see what happens next!

[Season 18, Episode 1]

[Mary Robinette] This is Writing Excuses.

[DongWon] Twenty Twenty-Three, By Way of Introduction.

[Erin] 15 minutes long.

[Dan] Because you’re in a hurry.

[Howard] And we’re not that smart.

[Mary Robinette] I’m Mary Robinette.

[DongWon] I’m DongWon.

[Erin] I’m Erin.

[Dan] I’m Dan.

[Howard] And I’m Howard.

[Dan] Welcome to 2023. This is our very first episode of the New Year, and of our new cast and format. We decided that it was time, after so many years, a decade and a half, to shake things up. So, let’s start first by giving a fond and loving farewell to our founding and now emeritus member, Brandon Sanderson. He’s been kind of unofficially stepped away from this show for a while now. He still comes in for a few episodes a year. He has now moved on to other things. So, farewell, Brandon.

[Mary Robinette] Yeah. He’s been very supportive about the transition and about welcoming our two new hosts.

[Dan] Yeah. So we’ve got two brand-new core hosts this year. We’re going to spend the whole 15 minutes introducing all five of us, actually, but DongWon and Erin, welcome to the show. New core hosts, new Writing Excuses wonderful people. We’re happy to have you.

[DongWon] Thank you. I’m super happy to be here.

[Mary Robinette] I really wish that we had done this while we were on the cruise ship so you could hear the thunderous applause in the background. You can just imagine it though. Because we did introduce them to our… To the people on the… Who come on the Writing Excuses workshop and cruise. Who know both DongWon and Erin very well, since they been with us for several years on those.


[Mary Robinette] So part of what we realized was that with Brandon stepping away, we were looking at wanting to expand the cast, and we also were like we would like people who are younger than we are…


[Mary Robinette] But who also have different perspectives than we do. Who are at different places in their careers or who are coming at it from a different angle. So…

[Howard] By way of clarification, when Dan said we want to introduce you to our new hosts this year, it is not our new hosts for this year, it is our new hosts, as of this year.

[Mary Robinette] Yes.

[Howard] This is not just 2023. This is time immemorial…


[Howard] Until something terrible happens or you quit, both of which are kind of the same thing.


[DongWon] We are bound to this forever.

[Mary Robinette] That’s right.

[Dan] So, DongWon and Erin, as Mary Robinette said, they been with us on the event side for years now. DongWon’s been on almost every cruise we’ve done. Which is wonderful. Erin has, for the last couple years, been helping us run all of the events. We’re incredibly excited to have all of them now core hosts on microphone. Going forward, it’s going to be cool. So what we want to do with this episode is introduce them in more detail, but also kind of reintroduce all five of us. What do we bring to the table, what kinds of things are you going to hear from us throughout the year, where we are in our career, what kind of things we’re working on, what skills we’re trying to develop. So let’s take some time to dig into that. I would actually love to start with Mary Robinette. Tell us what you’re doing and what kinds of things you are working on and what perspectives you’re going to bring to us this year.

[Mary Robinette] So when I started the podcast… And this is part of why we wanted to kind of reintroduce ourselves… I was a very early career writer. I am now a decade into my career. More than that, actually. That’s alarming. Anyway, I have 10 books out in the world. 10 novels. A children’s book, two short story collections. I am a professional puppeteer and a voice actor. So the… My views on writing have shifted. There’s a lot of things that… About the way the industry has changed since I came in that I’m excited to talk about. Also, as I have been moving through my writing process, I’m constantly having to… The shape of my imposter syndrome shifts. It never completely goes away, but the battles that I’m fighting are different each time. So you’re going to get to hear from me a lot of stuff about what it’s like to be a mid career writer. You’re going to get to hear about the differences between writing science fiction and fantasy. You’re going to get to hear about how my theater background influences the way I approach writing.

[Howard] Briefly, I’d like to take a moment and say that in our episode pie, Season Three, Episode 14, Mary Robinette came on as a guest and took principles of puppetry as they applied to writers. The whole episode, Dan and Brandon and I were just floored. Jaws dropped, being school. In that moment, the first thing we learned was, wow, it would be cool if Mary Robinette could always be with us. We didn’t make that change for another couple of seasons. The second thing that we realized, kind of belatedly, is, wow, other people’s perspectives can be just mind blowing, just based on a simple change to background. Sure, we’re all trying to write, but we’re all so danged different. Mary taught us that.


[Dan] Let’s also point out as you were enumerating the accolades of your resume, Mary Robinette, you failed to mention that in the time since you started on our show, you have won pretty much every award this industry offers.

[Mary Robinette] Oh! Um…


[Dan] You’re incredibly accomplished successful and wonderful writer. So…

[Mary Robinette] Thank you. That’s right. I should probably say that. I do have four Hugo awards, a Locus, a Nebula, and… Yes. I do that. Let’s talk about DongWon.

[DongWon] Hi. I’m DongWon Song. I’ve guested on a number of podcasts in the past, so some of you have heard me before. I’m a literary agent by trade. I’ve been in the traditional publishing industry since 2005, so 17 years now, which is terrifying. Pretty much my entire adult career has been in this business. I’ve been an agent for seven of those years. I’ve worked as an editor at a big five house, I’ve worked in a digital publishing startup, so I have a pretty wide range of perspective. Really what I’m bringing to the podcast is a little unsurprisingly that industry perspective. I can speak to what’s going on on the bookselling side, on the publishing side, what agents are looking for. Really coming at it from a perspective of not just how the writing process happens, but what happens once that gets into the hand of the industry. What are the business perspectives around that? Right? I’m someone who cares very deeply about craft, and I love talking about craft as well, but I can sort of blend that with that other perspective and bring in a little bit of context of what’s happening out there on the business end of things. I really love talking about these issues. I love sort of educating people on how the business works. I love teaching craft things as well. So this is a true delight for me.

[Dan] That’s great. Can I ask you for a very quick resume? When you were an editor, what kind of books people might have heard of that you worked on? Now, as an agent, who do you represent? Just so people can kind of place you in the industry.

[DongWon] Yeah. When I was an editor, I was an editor at Orbit, so I’ve done science fiction and fantasy primarily my whole career. As an editor, I acquired and published the first two books in The Expanse series, by Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck under the name James S. A. Corey. I published the Mira Grant books, the Feed series, under the name Mira Grant. I’m sorry, that’s Seanan McGuire writing under the name Mira Grant. I’ve worked with Walter Jon Williams, Greg Bear, a really wide range of writers doing science fiction and fantasy in different forms. Now, as a literary agent, I do primarily science fiction and fantasy, but I also do middle grade and YA and some graphic novels as well. On the science fiction and fantasy side, I work with Sarah Gailey, Amal El-Mohtar, Max Gladstone. So they did This Is How You Lose the Time War. I’ve worked with Dan Scott Lynch, who is obviously a very well-known fantasy author. Arkady Martine, who has won two Hugos for her first two novels. On the young adult and middle grade side, I work with Mark Oshiro, who is co-authoring the next Rick Riordan book. Carlos Hernandez who has two really lovely little grades out from the Rick Riordan Presents line. On the graphic novel side, I work with Harmony Becker who has a memoir out by the name of Himawara House and Shing Yin Khon who has a wonderful graphic novel by the name of The Legend of Auntie Po for which they won an Eisner and were nominated for a National Book Award.

[Dan] Awesome. Cool. Thank you very much. Very excited to have you here. We are going to take a break for our thing of the week. When we come back, we will hear from Erin.

[Mary Robinette] I want to talk about The Lost Metal by Brandon Sanderson. I have been a fan of the Mistborn series since the moment I discovered them. It’s really exciting to watch the ways Brandon keeps evolving this world. So many times when you go into a fantasy world, it’s like one era and there is very little that changes. This goes through a huge evolution in the way the magic system works, in the way the characters work, and it is… I find these books so exciting. So, The Lost Metal just came out. It’s the fourth and final book in the Wax and Wanes series, which is the second era of Mistborn. I recommend starting if you have… You can actually just jump in with the Wax and Wane books, but it’s also really a lot of fun to go through the whole journey. I realize that I am telling you to read seven books, and I’m comfortable with that. I know what you’re familiar with when you think of Brandon Sanderson. These are short for him. So I highly encourage you to pick up The Lost Metal by Brandon Sanderson.

[Dan] All right. Thank you very much. Now, Erin. We’re so excited to have you with us. Tell us about yourself.

[Erin] So, I have to say, after these first couple of introductions, I feel like the person on the Star Trek show that’s there to make the audience feel like they can relate to humans.


[Erin] So I… Which is a nice way to say that I’m sort of taking the 10 years ago Mary Robinette early career writer kind of slot… Plot… Slot. I don’t know what that is. Or perspective, and bringing that to the table. So I am an early career writer. I’ve had a few short stories published in places like Asimov’s and Clarke’s World and The Dark. I also like to say that I get around a bit. Which is to say that I like to write in a few different formats. I also write for tabletop role-playing games. So I have had my work in Dungeons and Dragons official books, and Pathfinder, Starfinder, all those kinds of fun tabletop games. I’ve also written interactive fiction. I’ve written for audio narrative… The audio narrative thing, Zombies Run. If you know it, you know it. If you don’t…

[Mary Robinette] I love Zombies Run so much.

[Erin] So, yeah.

[Mary Robinette] Very fun being chased by zombies.

[Erin], I guess, and try out different things and see what kind of writing works in what kind of setting. I also love teaching. I teach at the University of Texas at Austin and warp the minds of the next generation. Now I’m here to do the same to you.

[Mary Robinette] The first time I saw Erin teach, I was like, “Oh. Oh, you’re really good.” It was… So I should also… I also want to say that Erin first came on the Writing Excuses cruise as a scholarship recipient.

[Dan] Yes.

[Mary Robinette] We have basically been impressed by her since we met her. So I’m really excited. Every time we talk, I’m like, “Oh, that’s really smart.” So, no pressure. No pressure at all.

[Erin] It ends here.

[Mary Robinette] Yes, well, because we’re not that smart. Sorry about that. We have done that to your career.

[Dan] We’re going to ruin everything now. Awesome. Erin, so excited to have you here. Thank you also for the Star Trek reference in your introduction. Back when Howard and I had a Twitch D & D show, we spun it off into a Twitch Star Trek show, and Erin was our captain on that. So… DongWon also. Actually, Mary Robinette, you’re the only one that was never a cast member on our Twitch show. Sorry.

[Mary Robinette] You never invited me, so…

[Dan] I know. We should have.

[Mary Robinette] I guess I know where I stand now. Thanks.

[Dan] We’ll have to resurrect that whole thing. Anyway, let’s…

[Erin] You can be a Tribble.


[Mary Robinette] [squeak]

[Dan] All right. So it is my turn now. I also am… I have… I’m in the middle of a big career transition. About a month and a half ago, I started working full time as the vice president of narrative in Brandon Sanderson’s company. So a lot of people are wondering what that means. What it mostly means is that I’m doing the same thing I used to be doing, I’m just getting paid slightly better for it now.


[Dan] I’m still writing books. I am only a year or two further into my career than Mary Robinette is. I think I have 19 books published. What I’m doing right now is mostly audio. The last several years, the Zero G series was audio originals which I wrote as scripts rather than as prose. Those I did eventually put into kind of prose format for e-book and print books, and you can find those out. Audible original Ghost Station was my brief and unsuccessful foray into historical fiction.

[I loved it]

[Dan] I’m a huge fan of that, and I tried to write one. I really like the book. All 12 people that have read the book really liked it. But it’s my least successful by far.

[Mary Robinette] It’s really good.

[Dan] Thank you. What I’m doing right now is I am still doing some of my own books. I’m working on a middle grade fantasy. I’m working on another YA horror series, but I’m also writing a bunch of Brandon collaborations. Our first one is called Dark One. Actually, the first thing you’ll be able to read from that or listen to is another audio series. It’s called Dark One Forgotten. I don’t know exactly when that is launching. Sometime this month allegedly. But then eventually down the road I will be doing a Cosmere series, and lots of other things. It’s been a very different experience for me to be doing. First of all, having a… What essentially is a day job again where I go to an office and I have coworkers. I haven’t had that in about 15 years and it’s very strange. But, yeah, I’m seeing a different side of the publishing industry. A kind of lower mid list author who is now working with the most successful fantasy author in the world, and seeing things from many different sides at once. So that’s what you’re going to get from me this year.

[Howard] Now it’s my turn.

[Dan] Yes.

[Howard] I’d just like to start by saying, “Erin, get off my lawn.” You’re not the one who is the every person, the human being. That’s been my job forever.


[Howard] I’m the not that smart. I was the not that smart for like five years and I still am. Not that smart. I’m a cartoonist. I say that with the joking self-confidence of I haven’t really done any cartooning in quite a while. Because my… And I’m going to use these words absolutely unironically… My magnum opus, the Schlock Mercenary web comic, ran for 20 years with… Daily, without missing a day, and is now complete. For the next year, we’re focusing on getting the last of the books into print, which is a project that I’m up to my eyeballs in, with my wife and collaborator and co-conspirator, Sandra Tayler. When that’s done, I’m not sure what comes next. I don’t know. What do I bring to the show? Based on what I’ve heard from listeners who come up to me at Gen Con and say, “Wait. Wait. I recognize that voice. Is Howard Tayler somewhere in this booth?” I think, “What the heck? How is that how someone’s rec… Can you not read? My name is in 1 foot tall letters right behind my head.”


[Howard] They come up and say, “Thank you so much for recasting these incredible things that everybody else says in dumb words that I get.” Mwah, okay. They’re not dumb words, they’re words that I get. If I’m a one trick pony, the trick is a metaphor. I look for ways to take the tools that I’m always learning from our cohosts, from our guests, and trying to cast them in ways that I can actually wrap my head around them and use them. The operating question obviously is will I actually use them? What will I use them for? What is coming next? I don’t have answers to those questions right now.

[Mary Robinette] But we will all discover those together.


[Mary Robinette] Thanks, Howard. Since you didn’t actually say your name. That was Howard Tayler.

[Dan] So, that is what you’ve got coming from us in the year to come. This episode has gone long because we wanted to make sure that you are getting a good introduction to us. Our format for the year is going to be kind of similar to this. We are going to take the time to dig into specific works and specific ideas that each of the cast members has. Then, let them teach us. Then, bounce new ideas around. We think you’re really going to like it. So, stay tuned for the rest of the year. This is going to be awesome.

[Mary Robinette] So, along those lines, one of the things that we’re going to be doing is we’re going to be taking a work in using it as the spine of a series of episodes that explore ideas. So you can think of this year as having a certain aspect of book club. The first book that were going to be looking at is in February. That’s… We’re going to be doing a deep dive on my novel The Spare Man. That’s going to be full of spoilers. Just want to be very, very clear about this. That we are going to… I am going to spoil the heck out of this book as we talk about the choices that I made and how. Then we’ll use that to talk about how you can use tension, how you structure murder mysteries. There’s going to be a lot of things that are going to come out of that, using it as an example. So, before you get to February, listen or read The Thin Man… The Spare Man by me, Mary Robinette Kowal. Then we’ll give you warnings about what the other books are well in advance so that you can be prepared for those. It’s not always going to be a book, don’t worry. Sometimes it’ll be a short story, sometimes it’ll be something on the internets that we are like let’s dig into this.

[Mary Robinette] All right. Now, homework?

[Dan] Yes.

[Mary Robinette] For your homework, as you’ve noticed, we have all been talking about who we are. Several of us, and the series, are talking about how we’re reinventing. What I want you to do is I want you to look at your work. This is the beginning of a new year. Look at your work, look at your process, look at where you want to be. Think about an aspect that you want to reinvent. You don’t have to reinvent everything. But, just one thing that you’re like, “I want to try something different, I want to try something new.” This is your opportunity to do that, so write that down. Then put it someplace where you can look at it every now and then, like this is a thing I’m going to try. All right. This has been Writing Excuses. You’re out of excuses. Now go write.