The life of the PhD student: Comprehensive Exams

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These aren’t all of the books, of course

Tomorrow, I begin the journey of Comps.  There are 4 questions, over 4 days, and I have 4 hours to answer each of them.  It’s sort of the marathon of test-taking.

Last week I turned in a 7000 word historical research paper about the rural purge.  Maybe I’ll adapt that into some sort of much shorter blog post eventually.  I also helped two groups of students write research papers and ran their statistical analyses for them.

I still have another long paper about my visit to the Supreme Court to edit down and turn in.  I’ve written a lot of words, but they are not edited at all.

I also had to do a final proof of my article that’s going to be published in CrossCurrents about the relationship between religion and atheism and white-male dominance.

I am also in the middle of planning my move to DC (in one week).  Trying to find an apartment and a job.  Anyone in DC want to hire a super awesome person to do super awesome things?  I’m available…

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From inside my head

And I’m recovering from surgery to remove cysts from my head.

I’m also debating whether I should audition for The Voice, because it appears to be my stepdad’s favorite TV show, and whether I should start spending more time writing fiction.

I’ve got 54k of a young adult fantasy novel in the Terry Pratchett sort of style.  I also have a screenplay (Bible Con – Comic Con for Christians) I feel I should adapt into a novel, because I think atheists would maybe buy it.  So many projects.

Would you buy a novel from me?  Maybe I’ll post an excerpt from one of my projects at some point.

So all in all, it’s a bit chaotic and thank FSM for Kate.

I’m Excited

This is a list of my Top 10 Films. My Top 10 is not the 10 movies that I think are the best movies ever made, they are the 10 movies I would sit down and watch at any time, anywhere and love as much as the first time I saw them. They aren’t in any particular order.

  1. Dr. Strangelove
  2. The Princess Bride
  3. Die Hard
  4. Silence of the Lambs
  5. Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back
  6. The Shining
  7. The Labyrinth
  8. Blazing Saddles
  9. Beauty and the Beast
  10. Gone with the Wind

Someone who produced one of the movies in my top ten list is reading something I wrote. Holy Awesome!

ScriptSavvy Feedback

I sent the second to newest draft of Bible Con into ScriptSavvy for their April contest.  I got my feedback back, I got 56/60 which is on the low end of what their winning scripts normally score (I didn’t win).  Based on the feedback, I don’t know that I can get it much higher than that, it’d just be luck of the draw in terms of who the reader was.  Still that’s an 8 point (or 13%) improvement over the previous draft I sent in, which could be good for the Nicholl this year as well.  There are other things going on with maybe getting it made, but I’m reluctant to even consider those as feasible until they happen.

I’m just going to share many of the lovely things that were said about me.

This “mockumentary” proves to be a very strong concept for a script. It takes a relatable topic and, in a very Christopher Guest kind of way, pokes fun at it without being too mean or snide. The writer does a nice job of building personal relationships in to the overall spoofish story, giving the audience people to cheer for as well as something to laugh at.

The dialog throughout the script is sharp, clever and really well done. It sounds so real and natural that it just pops off the page. The characters have unique voices without going over the top with accents or colloquialisms. It’s really nice to see how wonderfully the writer crafted the dialog to make subtle but distinct differences in the main characters. Any exposition, such as the events of last year’s convention, is stated through natural and usually very humorous dialog.

The writer does an excellent job setting the scenes with vivid but concise descriptions, like Mary’s room, “…looks like a normal teenager’s room. Only Jesusy.” It’s a great shorthand way to tell us all we need to know to fully imagine the scene.

The scenes are very tightly constructed, cutting in and out at exactly the right moment. Even awkward pauses for added humor are very clear and effective. The rhythm is consistent with a bouncy feel as the script jumps from one storyline to another. The pacing is energetic without coming on too strong, giving the script that slightly slow feel of a spoof-worthy documentary. The use of supers for the characters and labeling the days of the convention is a nice touch to give the movie a suitably pompous kind of feel that fits the genre perfectly.

Many times writers misuse the device of having each paragraph be only one sentence long. This writer really nails the beauty of how to make that work with the scene on page 19 with Mary jumping on her bed. It’s a great flow to give each action it’s own paragraph, creating a visual rhythm for the reader that adds to the scene.

Comedies like this are popular with a very niche audience. The appeal isn’t as wide as perhaps a standard romantic comedy but would work well as a smaller, art house movie. However, it’s well written enough to attract the attention of meaningful talent. It would probably also play very well on the festival circuit, gaining some attention from distributors as well as critical notice.

The writer gives the script a very polished look by using professional formatting throughout. Well done!

The script has great spelling, grammar and punctuation. The writer clearly carefully proofread the script and the effort pays off.

My favorite compliment may have been the formatting/grammar bit. Not really, though. Maybe a little. And “suitably pompous”.

New draft; Weblebrities

Not a totally new draft, just a tweaked one.  I have a hard time doing rewrites immediately, I need time for things to gestate.  I think I’m different from most writers in that I’d rather spend a lot of time thinking and write in a mad dash than to write a little each day.  I think a little most days, and then write 10-20 pages a day for a week.  I think this is absolutely not the way they recommend doing it.

I think about 30% of it is a procrastination thing*, it’s hard to write without deadlines, but most of it is about the fact that in the rewrite stage I need to get away from the previous draft enough that changing it doesn’t feel like I’m betraying the truth of the story.  Because when you write something down it becomes sort of solid; while it’s floating around in your head, changes are easy, but once it’s on the page it’s just a little bit harder to change.

*Writing is tough when you’re at work 50hrs/wk and you have other stuff you’ve got to do.  And there’s the internet.

In other, unrelated news, I met Mr. Deity on Friday!  So in one week, I’ve met Michael Shermer, PZ Myers, and Mr. Deity.  Only slightly related, UPS was supposed to have delivered my new business cards on Thursday, but even though I left them the signed thing saying they could just leave it, they didn’t.  So I don’t have them and I am frustrated because I spent hours (maybe like an hour) designing new ones and I could have had those on me at the time.  Oh well.

In other other news, I spent all of Saturday (14 hours) ACing on a spinoff series of Gold.  They’re shooting for four days, but 28 hour weekends is a lot when you’re not getting money or an above the line credit, so I did yesterday and probably will help out a little next weekend.  It was an interesting day, they’ve got different directors working on the project, but two different people were directing different bits, so it was interesting to see how differently it went with the two of them.

And, we were shooting in the garage, and the garage door fell off.  And I thought that was hysterical, which I think is allowed because they fixed it.

So, go watch Mr. Deity or Gold

My Dinner Date with PZ Myers

I have no camera, but I do have an iMac.  Apologies for any legibility issues, it says, “Notice: No Squid!  This is Bullshit!  PZ Myers.”

That’s the Gideon Bible what I stole and kept because it was green.  I stole it because that’s generally my MO in hotels, but I didn’t throw it away because it was green and I didn’t have a Bible to desecrate reference.  I got it signed because I had the brilliant idea at midnight when talking to a friend who was super jealous he couldn’t go.

I’ll probably do a separate post about the whole conference thing, but the dinner was really neat.  Firstly, there was someone else wearing the Squid vs. Noah shirt, and there was a very cool and interesting guy from Anchorage/Irvine/England who was wearing lime green.  I have forgotten his name.  There was also Phil Zuckerman and a cute blonde guy in glasses, who were sitting a bit down the table but occasionally joined in.

But dinner was really cool because it was basically just hanging out with some really interesting smart people who enjoyed snark.  And I learned new things about PZ.  We hit a broad range of topics but I’ll give the highlights.

We talked about his experiments with zebrafish.  Apparently fish in captivity are really dumb, and fish in the wild are really clever.  I’m not sure how much to talk about because apparently some jerkface stole something about the zebrafish experiments from PZ’s blog and published it so I don’t want to spoil anything.  Suffice to say we spent a long time talking about zebrafish and it was pretty interesting.

We talked about Neanderthals.  I asked how do we decide that Neanderthals are a different species from us since we could interbreed, to which PZ gave the witty reply that they are all dead, that’s how.  I’m fond of Neanderthals because they had red hair.

We talked about the Uncanny Valley and the creepy proportions of the Shroud of Turin.  And how the fingers look like they’re made of rubber.  Funny Alaskan said they were tentacles, and I made a jab about Onanism with tentacles for fingers and PZ drifted into a reverie for a moment or two.

I got to be directly catty about the comments in favor of the genital nicking on the part of pediatrics.  I feel often that my comments are fairly ignored over there, which isn’t that big of a deal, comments seem mostly about hearing yourself talk anyway, but it was nice to feel heard on the issue.

I found out PZ’s opinion on Andrew Sullivan (nuanced), Episcopalians (relatively OK with), men hijacking any thread about women to make it all about them and their issues (aware of), Dr. Who (for), Macs (for), Linux (against!), PZed (against!), Australians (arrogant bastards insist on saying PZed), and steak (medium).

I also got to see the cover of his upcoming book which apparently needs to be written.  I give the cover a B+.  It has tentacles, an elephant and a great deal of purple, but it doesn’t have PZ and there’s something weird about the color scheme in general.  I suggested he get a quote from Trophy Wife TM and if that happens I’m just going to go ahead and claim credit right now.

I never quite figured out what he was vaguely irritated with Michael Shermer for.  Michael Shermer, by the way, looks eerily like Jonathan Pryce and has a weird arrogant swagger to him that is both compelling and a bit unsettling.  He was super nice when I talked to him and I got his newest book, so nothing personal there, just an observation.

I also saw PZ at lunch where he said he knew what his grandmother’s face looked like when she orgasmed, made fun of Utah and Mormons, and laughed heartily at my True Stories About Atheism.  I made my mother’s friend cry when I told her I was an atheist.  Hysterically she asked, “Don’t you want to get married and have a family?!”  I told my ex-Catholic mother when she was taking me to college that I was atheist and she said, “I’m so disappointed you don’t believe you’re going to Hell.  Wait, that came out wrong.”

There was lots more and I don’t remember it right now, but if I think of it, I promise I’ll add it.  It was totally worth the money.  And not just for PZ but for the other interesting people who also wanted to have dinner with PZ.  It was all very snarky and civilized.

I forgot to ask him if he’ll do a bit appearance in Bible Con, my script making fun of Christians and atheists, if it actually gets made.

EDIT: The rest of the story: http://ashleyfmiller.wordpress.com/2010/05/11/ocfa-conference-2010-where-i-met-pz/

Writing Insanity Cont’d – 2

So, the last 20 pages are all handwritten.  It may come in under page count, but that’s OK.  I think there are some formatting issues and underwritten stuff that a polish pass will probably add some length.  I’m going to type it up tonight and print it out tomorrow to start polishing through it.

I’ll let you know the official three day page count when I’ve got it all typed up, but it should be something like 60 pages in 3 days.  EDIT: 58 pages in 3 days, my therapist thinks I’m manic.

Writing Insanity Cont’d

Only 20 pages to go.

Up to now, the rough structure hasn’t changed too much, but the characters, tension, and absolute ridiculousness have been taken to their logical extreme.  This means that the dominos that have been set up for the farcical ending are totally different.  Hopefully, if the set pieces are good enough, it’ll all just fall into place naturally, but I’m still not sure how this ends now.  I seem to hit the wall at 20 pages a day, hopefully that means I’ll finish it tomorrow.

Maybe I need to listen to Benny Hill music in my sleep to subconsciously get it going.

Writing: Insanity

So, I’m insanely trying to get through a new draft of Bible Con by May 1st.  I decided to do that … um today.  And yes, it’s nuts.  Fortunately I tend to work really fast when I can focus.  So only like… 50 pages to go, so… yeah.  But today I wrote something that made me have a giggle fit, and that’s unusual.  I don’t generally giggle at my own stuff.  I think it’s because it’s really stupid and a little crass.

Anyone have a favorite Christian pickup line?

Back in L.A.

First day back from my extended vacation.  Thanks to my surgery, it was nice and long and relaxing, although there are several days that I can’t quite remember most of.  For those of you worried, it was Breast Reduction surgery, so not particularly dangerous, though scary with the frankenboobs.  But it’s cool.

They removed 1320 grams, which is just shy of three pounds.  Which is a lot.

Desperately trying to get through a rewrite for ScriptShadow by the 11th.  I’m only a third of the way through the script.  So… yikes.