Writing Excuses 8.24: Project in Depth–Kiss Me Twice

Mary’s story “Kiss Me Twice,” is a murder mystery featuring an artificial intelligence using Mae West as an avatar. It appeared on the ballot for the 2012 Hugo Awards in the Best Novella category (our early discussion to the contrary, we totally did NOT air this episode in time for 2012 Hugo voting. Yes, we recorded this episode a full year prior to airing it.)

Mary walks us through the process of creating the story, and then cutting it down from novel-length to the novella-length at which it currently appears, as well as a bunch of the work that went into creating a compelling, character-driven mystery with an A.I. as a critical character. We also get a fun “what-if” argument as the cast talks about what we liked best about the story, and how we’d change it if it got bigger.

Public Service Announcement: Voting is now open for the 2013 Hugos. The ballot can be seen here. If you purchase, or have already purchased, a membership to LoneStarCon 3, you are eligible to vote on the 2013 Hugos, and will have access to the entire Hugo Voting Packet — a collection of all nominated works. Voting closes on July 31st. (Obligatory disclaimer: Brandon and Howard are on the ballot in the Novella and Graphic Story categories, respectively, and Writing Excuses Season 7 is on the ballot in the Best Related Work category.)


Pick your favorite actor or actress, gather your favorite quotes from them in their films, and string them together in a single character’s voice in a new context.

Empire State, by Adam Christopher, narrated by Phil Gigante

20 thoughts on “Writing Excuses 8.24: Project in Depth–Kiss Me Twice”

  1. Great podcast. It illustrated a few things things for me.
    First, an enlightening glimpse into story creation process from Mary at the beginning.
    Second, a wonderful example wonderful of group brainstorming.
    Third, it felt like a dramatization of what went wrong with my first writing group. I write Urban Fantasy, but everyone else in the group wrote SciFi. In this podcast it felt like the guys were hijacking Mary’s story and trying to make it the story they would write. Very well intending, and Brandon hung a lantern on it a few times. But in my group the others were not aware of what they were doing and I was too new to feedback to push back. I almost quit writing due to a failure to express my writing in a way they would ‘get’. In hindsight, they were great, well-meaning people, but the wrong audience. As to this podcast, I’m sure Mary is strong enough to take what works for her story and politely disregard the rest and the others expect her to do this–I’m much better at this now as well.

    I love Writing Excuses and thank you all. You were a big part of my inspiration to get back on the horse.
    PS- I quasi met Mary at a speaking engagement in DeKalb IL. It was like finally meeting a long-term pen pal–for me, since it was naturally one sided :)

  2. Thanks for a great podcast as always… I found particularly interesting the contrast between how Mary was planning to expand the story as an author, and what the others would have liked to see.
    It’s very instructive to explore this process, and to see how the author decides between all the different paths that a story could follow.

  3. I have a question: You guys have mentioned before (a lot) that you could tell that something was too big or too small for a specific medium, be it novel or short story or what have you. Also, in your “Brainstorming With —” episodes, you’ve asked how long the author in question wants the short story to be. So here’s my question: how do you know what kinds of ideas are novel-length or short-story length, and how do you plot with a specific length in mind? That is a skill I would like to have.

  4. Hi guys

    This is off topic for this weeks podcast but I can’t remember which episode I heard this in. Recently Howard mentioned that with his early web cartoons he had to stop himself from going back and updating them to the level that he currently publishes. I can understand this logic.

    I have been publishing a chapter a week for a while now on http://lifefamilymagic.wordpress.com it’s what I call a ‘book-via-blog’

    I’ve developed as a writer since the first chapters and I am constantly going back and editing the early chapters. Simple things like typo’s and spelling slips. But should I let myself edit them more deeply? I am worried that some chapters might be giving me as a writer a bad image.

    Would you suggest I leave these chapters be, ‘own it’ as I currently do or should I be worried about making these chapters as perfect as I can?


  5. –Arnold Schwarzenegger in the kitchen, cooking lobster, the largest he named Sully.–

    Arnold begins chopping vegetables furiously. A carrot rolls away as if in fear. He frowns at it.

    Arnold: “Get to the choppa!”

    He puts the carrot back in the pile and keeps chopping. He then gets a phone call.

    Arnold: “I’ll be back”

    He leaves to go pick up the phone.

    He comes back into the room a minute later and finishes the vegetables. He then looks to the lobsters in the lobster tank. He thinks for a minute, frowns, and grabs the largest one, named Sully.

    Arnold: “You remember Sully when I said I was going to kill you last….I lied.”

    He tosses the lobster into the boiling water.


    -End Scene-

  6. Hey all, thanks for doing Writing Excuses. I love listening to your podcast and eagerly await each week for the next episode. That being said, I didn’t find this particular episode very helpful. It seemed to me like this podcast was just a recording of you having a conversation that you might have had in a living room when visiting each other. By this i mean it did not feel (to me) as though you were trying to help or inform the listener in any way. Generally, I feel like you do a good job of relating the subject matter to suggestions, advice, or sometimes actual lessons for the listeners to use in their writing. I realize this is just my opinion but i thought i would share it in hopes that you consider it if nothing else.

    Thanks, Frank.

  7. Not only was this the best Project in Depth episode so far, I feel it was the best brainstorming episode as well. We got to look at a project that has taken multiple forms and discuss the merits and pitfalls of each. We got to listen to the writer weigh the strengths and weaknesses of future paths to take the work in. We got to listen to three readers give their perspectives on what direction they’d like to see it take. We got to listen to the creative process of four writers really engaging on what they wanted to see from this project. Gotta disagree with Frank–this episode was great. Though I am often a little disappointed when I see a project in depth or brainstorming episode, this one was proved me wrong.

    Speaking of right and wrong: the boy are right, Mary. Seeing Meta Prime’s viewpoint–though it might be super cool–takes away from the mystery of what is happening to Meta Prime. Could Meta Back be suffering from the effects of the hack on Meta Prime? Could we see it through her viewpoint as a reflection of the destruction being visited on/the survival techniques being employed by Meta Prime? Is that how Prime is feeding clues? By corrupting its own backup?

    Keep up the good work. Some day I hope to write a book good enough to get me a guest spot on your podcast.

  8. This podcast was very helpful for me as well. I have a novella I want to whack down to novelette length, and figuring out how to cut it even more than Howard suggested at the retreat is making me pull my hair out. When I’m ready to take the cleaver to it, the way Mary did it with “Kiss Me Twice” has given me things to think about and ways of coping.

  9. The Project in Depth episodes are always fascinating, thank you all for sharing them. I wish I could describe it better, but listening to talk about Mary’s projects always make me feel delightfully nostalgic, even though I’m just getting into her work now! It feels like these are works that I should have already read (which is in no way a diminishment of the excitement I have to read them in the future)

  10. Er… I feel like a jerk… I wrote that whole long post without saying: Good luck Mary! We’re all pulling for you. Kick some booty and take some Hugos!

  11. I understand that the novella is available on Mary’s web site but is there some where I can either get a physical copy or download to read on my iPad? This is one of my favorite episodes and I intend to listen to it again.

  12. So glad to have found this podcast. As a traveling salesman who fancies himself a writer, this motivated me to write in my hotel room at night instead of watching whatever mindlessness is on TV.

  13. Yet another awesome podcast. I love hearing how you guys get your ideas and how you go about forming them into great stories. I learn so much from everyone here, so thank you.

  14. Cool to hear that professional writers are doing nanowrimo. I tried that last year, but when you have literally over fifty pages of academic reports to write (I totaled them up), there just isn’t a good opportunity to do fiction. Anyway, I’ve never Metta virtual world story that didn’t have the potential to be super interesting.

    By the way, have any of you read The Princess Planet? It seems kinda like Brandon’s sense of humor, since it’s got a ton of puns and wordplay and a lot of the gags come from looking for literal loopholes around magic powers…

  15. One thing about this story I really commend Mary for is how well she works the Mae West quotes into the text and dialogue. Too many stories fail at working quotes into dialogue like that. Lev AC Rosen did okay with it in All Men of Genius, but a few cases didn’t work. There’s also another series out there quoting Oscar Wilde left and right where it seems like most of the dialogue is just a setup to be able to toss out another Wilde witticism, and it just doesn’t really work for me. (However, it may be worth considering that I don’t know Mae West’s quotes very well–I could tell when Metta’s dialogue was a quote, but maybe it worked better because I’m not that familiar with the source. But until I know otherwise, I’ll credit Mary’s talent.)

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