Writing Excuses 7.6: Behind the Marshmallow

Poor Mary. Even after recording an entire season with Brandon, Dan, and Howard, she still scratches her head sometimes and asks herself “why?”

“Why does Dan say ‘these marshmallows are delicious’ in a funny voice? And why do Brandon and Howard think it’s funny?”

“Why” indeed.

In this particularly self-indulgent episode of Writing Excuses we take you behind the marshmallow. We explain the origins of the ‘cast, and offer you rare insight into what makes this show what it is. We talk about how the show evolved, how our equipment came to be “borrowed,” and how Mary came to be involved.

And throughout the discussion we abandon our typically tight style and talk all over the place (and each other.) Will this help you with your writing? Maybe. If the knowledge that we are silly allows you to relax a little bit concerning your own secret goofiness, then maybe this episode has instructional merit.

It may be, however, that it’s just a warning.

Liner Notes of Dubious Pedigree: As promised, here are the class projects from Producer Jordo which served as proof (to Jordo, anyway) that we could actually do this: Cecil Episode 4, and Cecil Episode 5. Also, here’s a link the mixer we currently use: Zoom R16 (this is the one we own, not the one we totally need to return to its rightful owner.)


Give us a story with an old, colonial British type eating marshmallows. For extra points, set it in the Schlockiverse. (Note: no actual points will be awarded.)

Our stuff! Alloy of Law by Brandon Sanderson, Shades of Milk and Honey by Mary Robinette Kowal, (and lots of things narrated by Mary), and Dan Wells’ John Cleaver trilogy.

42 thoughts on “Writing Excuses 7.6: Behind the Marshmallow”

  1. Fun episode.

    And yeah, I think the chemistry/camaraderie is a big part of what makes this podcast so good.

  2. Well, that was thoroughly enjoyable and hilarious.

    So what happened to the “You’re out of excuses, now go write”?

    So what was it Tracy Hickman called Jordo? It’s a bit indistinct.

    Also, do you record every week, or do you do batches (aside from conventions and the like – I know you do several in a row for those)? The bill for flying Mary out every single week would add up, not to mention being a significant imposition on her weekly schedule.

  3. Tracy Hickman was quoting Dan Ackroyd from Saturday Night Live’s “Point Counterpoint” segment in 1975, when he called Jordo an “ignorant slut.” In-joke for old people.

  4. So how do I go about finding that mythical DVD you’re talking about? And on a related note, when will the version with season six added be available?

  5. Ooo…is Brandon getting a Geek Chic table? I don’t think they get any more epic.

    I have done podcasts (and radio) in the past but I’m still interested in the tech specs. I’m always toying with the idea of getting back into it. I struggle with podcasts with poor audio quality. I gave Rob a little grief (just a little!) about using direct Skype recording for the first few episodes of The Appendix. Which I miss, by the way.

  6. A Fifteen Minute Episode of the Schlock Mercenary Radio Drama

    (Intro Music)

    (Background noise of pinging bullets)

    Nick: (Shouting) Come in Touch-and-Go! This is Nick. The client and I are trapped behind a couple of recycler bins by at least four of those green-headed guys. We need air support!

    Tagon: (through communicator) We can’t drop a bomb in the middle of a civilian center, Nick, but we’re on it.

    (Gunfire sounds intensify)

    Nick: Please hurry, Sir. All I have is one of those dinky civilian-issue handguns.

    Tagon: Hold on, Nick. We’re dropping Schlock on them.

    Nick: You’re dropping Sergeant Schlock on them?


    (beat of silence)

    Nick: They dropped Schlock instead of a bomb?

    Client: That wasn’t a bomb?

    Schlock: (lip smacking noises) Man, I have got to learn to eat people before they get scared.

    (End Music)

    Old Colonial British Gentleman: That was another exciting episode of the Schlock Mercenary Radio Drama brought to you by Mustachio Marshmallows: They taste like people before they get scared.

    The Cast
    Tagon: Howard Tayler
    Nick: Dan Wells
    Client: Brandon Sanderson
    Schlock: Mary Robinette Kowal

  7. I was wondering if we could get a podcast on things that diminish or ruin a story. I know there are probably millions of things you can do wrong, but I would like to know how to avoid most of them. For instance I remember reading once in a book the exact speed someone was running in a fantasy setting, and it diminished the experience for me.

    Now, I can avoid things that just make no sense like that, but I want to know some of the other pitfalls. Other things I’ve noticed myself that ruin or diminish a story are poor acting, and things that are in bad taste — like weird sex, or explicit material. I guess there are also annoying things — I know you’ve mentioned Jar Jar Binks a few times. But I really want to know things you have noticed in books, movies, anything that diminished the experience for you. I know opinions can vary widely on such a subject, but it might be possible to come to some sort of consensus or general guidelines or something.

  8. I love the episode where you guys get way off topic, though! Hey, by the way, will these dvd/cds you guys keep mentioning be available for purchase at LTUE, or do I need to get them online or something?

  9. Te fact a that Mary made the Wayne’s World flashback sound makes me like her even more.

  10. Poor punctuation clearly diminished my request. Sorry, I should have read through it before posting. Hopefully, that will be a lesson learned.

  11. As a long-time listener, I thought I’d finally chime in here. The banter and chemistry is great, but on top of that, it’s the insights, the consistency and the no-filler format (an excellent choice from day one) that keep me tuning in week after week. A hearty thanks to all of you.

  12. Heck, I want them to record it! We have the script, we have the people, and Jordo probably has the technology… we can rebuild… Come on, guys, do it for the fans?

  13. Since this is kind of a no-content episode, I’ll chime in with my favorite episodes of all time, in no particular order.

    The episodes where you’re doing various stages of editing on old unpublished works that you guys wrote.

    The episodes with Rothfuss and Lou Anders were my favorite guest episodes (honorable mention to the puppetry episodes with 4th of 3).

    Any and all “brainstorming” episodes.

    Did I miss the episode where you discussed Hero with a Thousand Faces? I remember being instructed to read it in one podcast and that it would be discussed later.

    Great work, and thanks for the podcasts. I listen to them repeatedly on my long drives around the Southwest US.

  14. Thanks for an episiode that clues the audience in to your process. As creative people ourselves it’s always interesting to learn how somebody else works.

    I was particularly interested to hear how the 15 minute format was developed. It seemed very familiar that many podcasts go on too long. I’ve tried sooooo many shows only to abandon them 45 minutes into their “breaking news” segment.

    The short form actually helps to retain me what was discussed and gives me time to think about it. It feels almost like genre fiction. You may not know the topic or the details when you press the play button, but it follows conventions of form that you can depend on.

    Thanks for being reliable.

  15. Another enjoyable show, as always, and I found the insight into how the show got started fascinating.

    On another note, should that Schlock Mercenary Radio Drama ever come to fruition (yes, please!!!), allow me to preemptively offer my services as both music composer and voice actor. (The former being something I’ve always wanted to do…)

    Let me know!

  16. Indulge away – these wind up being some of my favorite episodes (though, yes, the puppet ones were pretty awesome, too). I’d like an episode just of fake ads and outtakes. :-) And it was nice to hear from Jordo again – I like his quips.

    I enjoy these for the information, but I also enjoy them just as entertainment. Something to look forward to while facing Monday mornings at work. A friend of mine tried to listen while she’s at work, and she had to stop because she kept laughing.

    I’d love to hear one about how you all come up with the episodes, too.

  17. This was indeed a fun episode and having seen you all record live at various signings and conventions, I always picture those times in my head and laugh! Please be self-indulgent a few more times..please?!

    Will there be a Summer episode where shorts are worked in as a pun, since Dan has the whole “pants” motif he enjoys referencing?

  18. My writing group Skypes, and I think it works great. Especially since we all live in different states.

    Thanks for another great ‘cast — I laughed a lot.

  19. As someone who’s been listening since (I think) the first podcast I have to say I loved this episode. Thanks.

  20. I suppose when you do seven seasons of a show it is inevitable that you begin to go down the road more traveled. I don’t think this is a bad thing. We all keep learning, all the time. Old subjects can benefit from new insight.

    I’d like to see the gang diagnosing/critiquing listener prose. Though I know this is unlikely as it would turn you into slush pile readers.

    At any rate, I’m grateful for what you all do.

  21. You guys talked over Mary a lot in this episode, and I really wanted to hear what she had to say. Either way though it was very informative and entertaining.

  22. Hahahhahaa… is that Brandon in the Cecil drama as the French professor with the Penguin-y laugh? Excellent!

  23. The behind the scenes was great, thanks guys. Believe it or not, I actually do find podcasts/topics like this helpful, if simply because they’re so damn motivational. I’ve been listening since the start of season 2 (and went back and listened to all of season 1 to catch up), so I was actually very familiar with many of the in-jokes. I also agree that Mary’s podcast was a stand-out and really started to get you guys thinking outside of the box for both topics and guests to bring on the show. It’s been years now, and I still wait patiently every Sunday night for an update (even if I do usually wait until I have three or four backlogged and listen to them on my commute to work once/twice a month). I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: You guys have really been inspirational in my learning and my writing and I can’t thank you all enough for taking time out of your busy schedule and recording these podcasts. Here’s to several more seasons of excuses.

  24. G’day all,

    A suggestion for some ‘casts: Why is the fabulous book Xxxx so good.

    Choose a book you all love, give notice to the audience that you will be
    discussing it in a month’s time so everyone has the chance to read it, and
    do several shows talking about different aspects of the book (however many
    you record in a session). One on character, one on setting and description,
    one on plot and pacing, etc.

    Love the show. Thank Howard for putting me on to you guys. I saw him on one
    of the panels at Worldcon in Melbourne, Australia.

    Keep on podding!

  25. Dallan:

    My take is there’s no specific thing that breaks a book. I’ve read a few books that do break things horribly, often for very simple stylistic choices. Present tense, particularly when it’s first person, pretty much makes a book unreadable for me. So does abuse of strong language. I remember a few years back I was given an interesting-sounding near-future book for Christmas, read one page consisting of first person present tense narrative monologue containing an average of 5 curses per sentence, and promptly threw it across the room. (I was fortunate that it was a sturdy book and a sturdier wall – the bookstore took it back and there was no dent in the wall)

    Sudden genre changes are another possible killer. Janny Wurts’ Cycle of Fire is a pretty decent series, though I’d really have appreciated some foreshadowing of the science fiction aspect of the setting. Long story short, in the latter half of the first book, one of our protagonists goes from drifting up on the shores of an analogue of Avalon, to promptly being drugged unconscious and mind probed by the god-like AI that’s been directing the fate of humanity since the planet was …forcibly settled. I came very close to stopping, but managed to get over it and enjoy the rest of the series. Having such a twist makes sense – only one character living has any direct interaction with this AI being, and I think even he’s fooled into thinking it’s a spirit guide of some kind, and it does explain a great deal about the apparent inconsistencies about the setting (for one: why humanity exists in a world where there’s a powerful force of “demons” with far superior mental abilities hell bent on destroying humanity.)

    Jar Jar, for instance, works in the book. Why? Because we’re not subjected to ears flopping all over the place and the rest of his poor-puppetry. (He behaves like a 4-string puppet acting alongside live actors – no offense to Mary, but puppets only work alongside live action characters when they’re immensely sophisticated, like the Yoda puppet was.) The fundamental flaw of Jar Jar Binks was letting the animators play with modern technology too much. (He also works a lot better in the latter 2 movies, though that could be largely because he has very little screen time.) He’s still over-the-top comic relief, but it’s not over-the-top comic relief shaped daggers being thrust into your eyes in the book.

    Another example, for those who watch Criminal Minds, is Strauss (Hotch’s superior). She’s a character you’re supposed to dislike, but I found I disliked her so much that it detracted from my enjoyment of the show. Contrast that with Gaz in The Way of Kings, or Graendel and Moghedein in the Wheel of Time – all 3 are not in any way admirable characters (except physically, in Graendel’s case, but books don’t portray that very well), but they’re extremely effective characters. (Gaz is exactly the kind of bastard you’d put in charge of the bridgemen, Graendel and Moghedein are both beleivable roles for people Chosen by the Dark One – brutally effective in their means (Graendel hasn’t had much play up to where I’ve read (sorry Brandon – only recently got your two books in the series), but she’s kept Arad Domon in utter chaos and thus completely under her thumb at least since Falme, while most of the other Forsaken have completely lost control of their chosen regimes and ended up under Moridin), completely lacking in remorse, and yet containing just enough humanity that one could see someone becoming such a being (Having Graendel’s capacity for compulsion would corrupt a lot of people, I think).

    In short, what doesn’t work in a book is largely in how you spin it (well, as long as you’re not providing unnecessary detail and thus breaking tension, anyway – don’t mimic Tolkien in his elaborate descriptions of random scenery, for instance). Figuring out what you gave the wrong spin is part of what alpha readers do for you. If you’re just starting out like most of us, finding an alpha reader might be a bit tough, but if you have even one friend who likes to read, or one who’s also aspiring to become a writer, they’re likely good candidates.

    (My advice comes primarily from my experience as a reader, not a writer, and not a particularly adventurous reader at that, so it might be significantly harder to implement than I’ve suggested.)

  26. Thanks for the episode. It’s always cool to see some of the behind-the-scenes stuff. And thanks in general for the podcast. You’ve saved me a ton of time that I would have spent trying to figure out stuff on my own.


  27. It does occur to me that, given the current Schlock story line, out of umpteen million Gavs, perhaps there might be one walking in the background who turned out as a marshmallow-eating Colonial Englishman? And I put in another vote for a Schlock radio play. ^_^

  28. I totally want in on the Schlock audio fiction, as long as somewhere in there we bring in Professor Frink from the Simpsons. I do a good Frink.

  29. In martial arts, there are only some people who can both do and explain what they are doing. Most are either those with skills yet cannot explain how they got there or people who could explain it, but don’t have enough knowledge to be able to.

    That corresponds to people who can write but can’t make a novice writer better or up to their level. It’ sa different skill set.

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