Ellen gets nominated for a VGA award, Part 3: Into the belly of the beast.

Into the gates of Sony Studios!

Okay, first let it be understood that award shows are to Hollywood as Hollywood is to normal human behavior.  That said, it was still really bizarre.  The thought that kept going through my head the whole evening was, “Reality has LEFT the building.”

As most adventures do, ours started unremarkably, I mean, unremarkably for an event where you all climb into a limousine with your wife dressed to the nines.  I was dressed to somewhere around the six and a halves, but the other Valve guys were exquisitely indifferent to the demands of fashion . . . or were they???  Each had on a sport coat from beneath which sprouted the untucked shirt tails of the devout west-coast proletarian innovator/entrepreneur and the blue jeans legitimized  by billionaire nerds.  The statement they made was unmistakable: We actually do things.  We don’t need to look important, we are important. They made me feel like a counter-revolutionary in my black slacks and moderately expensive belt.  The conversation on the way was laced with sentences like, “Does anybody know what we’re supposed to do when we get there?” and “I hope we’re not too early.  I don’t want us to look desperate.”  All these thoughts were predicated on the assumption that the People in  Charge had a Plan.

As we rolled through the Art Deco gates of the fabled MGM Studios (now owned by Sony) I think we all knew that we weren’t in Kansas anymore.  The driver started to look for other limos and someone in a hat motioned us down a narrow alley lined with what anywhere else would be described as shabby warehouses but were actually sound stages.  They were all painted pristinely white, which made them look like shabby warehouses painted pristinely white.

The Red Carpet!

A crowd of people filled the pavement ahead and we knew we had arrived.  Climbing out of the limo I saw a white inflated archway that made me think of the bouncy rooms they blow up for kids at state fairs and strip mall parking lots, but this portentous portable portico led to the Red Carpet!  Which was white, too.  They seemed to have a thing for white.  It was lined with ravenous paparazzi dressed in black who exhorted us to “Look right in here!  That’s it!”  Ellen and I were the focus of dozens of lenses each owned by someone hoping to make a sale to some gaming mag or show biz tattler.  As we moved down the carpet we were guided by a friendly woman toward various people who wanted to interview the voice of GLaDOS.  Ellen was her gracious self, answering questions with freshness and humor sprinkled with her bell-like laughter.   I was very proud of her but not at all surprised.  As we moved toward the end of the carpet our contact with Spike TV found us and reminded us that Ellen was going to be interviewed on the carpet at 4:35, “because (keep this quiet) you’ve won.”  That’s how we found out.  Just kind of standing around on the white Red Carpet with a bunch of other people who were just kind of standing around.

It was 3:10.  Where could we go while we waited for the interview?  Well, kind of nowhere.  We couldn’t go into the studio because we couldn’t get back out.  We couldn’t wait in the Green Room because that was just for paid presenters.  We kind of had to hang there at the end of the white Red Carpet for the next 80 minutes.  So we got to know a couple of the security guards pretty well.  One of them brought a folding chair for Ellen to sit in.  As we watched other people go in it began to become apparent that it was only 58 degrees outside.  I gave Ellen my jacket.  Paid Presenters started to arrive.  I swear I did not see more than three women with inseams shorter than 40 inches or hips larger than 22.  It was like being on an alien planet.  And the shoes!  Nobody and I mean NObody with two x chromosomes was wearing anything shorter than a six inch heel.  These stratospherically-legged women felt the need to enhance their limb length by donning fashionable prosthetics.

Ellen receives her Vector Monkey, the VGA for best performance by a human female

Over an hour and several celebrities later (Ellen had her pic taken with Mark Hamill and got a great shot of Hulk Hogan’s back) we were summoned to a raised circle where she would be presented with her award.  After holding it for a ninety second chat with a couple of attractive young people who presented it to her she had to present it back (not on camera).  Her actual statuette would be engraved with her name and shipped to her at a later date.  The award was just a prop that was used over and over to each person who won.

But we could finally go inside!  We made our way into the cavernous sound stage that was already rockin’.  In the techno-rock din and chaos our seats were not to be found.  We figured, since Ellen had won best actress they’d want her pretty close to the front.  Nope.  Not even the middle.  Friendly but hurried ushers guided us up to the bleachers in the back to sit and wonder how Ellen was going to make it back down to the stage.  We told people that she was a nominee.  They


replied that they had a plan if she won (we still weren’t supposed to tell anyone).  So we sat and ate some very unfortunate food and avoided drinking Jim Beam and Dr. Pepper in plastic cups (no kidding) while we watched what everyone at home watched: a two hour commercial for future video games with only the briefest and rarest interruptions to present an award.  I believe only three awards were actually presented during the show.  Even though Portal 2 won best PC game, best Multi-player, best performance by a human male, best performance by a human female and best Downloadable Content, a total of five awards, no one from Valve ever took the stage.  No acceptance speeches, nothing but a five second clip in which all the awards Portal 2 had won were listed.

AAAAACK!!!!!! The action never stops at the VGAs!!!

But don’t get me wrong, we had a great time.  We truly did.  It was very entertaining in a sort of apocalyptic-end times-we-don’t-know-what-to-do-but-we’re-gonna-do-it-loud-and-frenetic kind of way.  It was a wonderful, exciting, and absolutely weird experience and I’m so thankful that Ellen and I got to go.  To spend time with our friends at Valve and peer into the heart of Hollywood and the bowels of the entertainment industry was thrilling, unique and unforgettable.  We’re so glad to be back home.

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Ellen gets nominated for a VGA award, Part 2: On to L.A.!

Off to Los Angeles!  We flew down with Erik Wolpaw, Jay Pinkerton and his wife and Josh Weier and his wife, all Valve denizens who were up for awards, too.  Party plane!  Well, not really.  I mean, it was a 737.  You could barely make your way to the bathroom to avoid disabling the smoke detector.  And we’d been up since five a.m.

Valve (Ellen, Jay Pinkerton, Rhiannon and her husband, Josh Weier) head for Los Angles Century City Intercontinental! (Not pictured: Erik Wolpaw and Jay's wife, Karla)

But they met us at the airport in a Stretch Limo!  With a bar!  And twinkly lights in the ceiling!  And a deferential driver who smelled of tasteful cologne and said things like, “Certainly,”  “No problem,”  and “Right away”.

We climbed in and headed for the hotel which was on, get this: The Avenue of the Stars!  Go, Ellen.  Go, Ellen.  It’s your birthday.  Go, Ellen.  Palm trees swayed past outside as we discussed who was probably going to win what and why they really shouldn’t, because, let’s face it, Portal 2 was the best game EVER.  But the consensus was that Ellen had a real shot at going home with a statuette.  The guys had drawn lots as to who was going to have to make a speech if this or that award was won.  Valve was up for Best Studio and Portal 2 was up for Best Game, Best XBox 360 Game, Best PC Game, Best Multi-Player Game, Best Song in a Game TWICE (Exile Vilify and Want You Gone), Best Original Soundtrack, Best DLC (I don’t know what THAT means), Best Performance by a Human Male TWICE (Stephen Merchant as Wheatley and J. K. Simmons as Cave Johnson) and, drum roll please, ELLEN MCLAIN AS GLaDOS FOR BEST PERFORMANCE BY A HUMAN FEMALE!!!!  The conversation was a wonderful balance of excitement, high spirits and a kind of profound befuddlement that a bunch of esoteric artists from Seattle would be wandering around in the Great Cultural Wasteland.  (L.A.: Get over it.  You’re the GCW.  Everybody knows it.  Let’s talk about the elephant in the living room.)

The entrance to the Los Angeles Century City Intercontinental

But boy do they know how to build a hotel!  The outside looked like it should be inside and the inside was FABulous.  If there’s anything that makes Ellen happier than staying in a fancy hotel I’ve yet to find it.  But we didn’t have long to enjoy it because we had to get changed for our walk up the Red Carpet!!!!  Ellen had decided on a beautiful outfit that I had bought her consisting of an ankle-length straight velvet dress overlayed by a beadwork chemise and a carved velvet jacket with ornate fringe on the hem and sleeves.  She wasn’t going to be dressed even remotely like any other woman there.  She looked incredible. (Yes, that’s right.  I, the voice of The Sniper in Team Fortress 2, can successfully appreciate, select and purchase haute couture for my wife.  Advice to young male gamers who nurture the hope of having offspring: learn this craft.)  She topped it off with an incredible amber and silver necklace, which I also bought her.

The only important thing about award shows: the outfit!

We all met in the lobby and walked out the door.  It was time to head for Sony Studios and the VGAs!

Elegant, understated and FABulous!

Stay tuned for Part 3!  Into the Belly of the Beast!


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Ellen gets nominated for a VGA award! Part 1

My beautiful and talented wife, Ellen McLain, was nominated for Best Performance by a Human Female at the Video Game Awards this year for her performance as GLaDOS in Portal 2.  This was fun news to receive.  I mean, how many times do you get news like that?  Not often.  Rarely.  Almost never.  Like, this was the first time for us.  Have any of you received news like this?  Let me know if you have.  How did you handle it?

What made it infinitely more fun was Valve (the company that made Portal 2) emailing us and offering to fly us down to L.A. for the award show!  Yay!  Right?  Yay!  Good news!  Happy news!  Champagne and fireworks!  Dancing in the streets!  Calloo, callay for e’er and a day!  Get this: Ellen didn’t want to go.  She’s surprisingly shy at times and compulsively ethical.  I mean it.  It’s a sickness.  If our representatives and senators felt a tenth the ethical compunction Ellen does we would probably all drive cars that run on pure goodness now and live in a society that produces no waste at all, only a pink cloud of effluvia that congeals into unicorns and laughing babies.  She had a Christmas concert rehearsal that day.  She simply couldn’t let her choir director down.  I suggested that perhaps her choir director would be excited for her and want her to go.  She didn’t want to risk bringing it up to him.  No, no, no.  We weren’t going to go.

Not only that, we had a book reading at Third Place Books in Seattle for my novel, Dancing with Eternity, the Friday night before the Saturday when the awards show was.  (For those of you who have had much better things to do and haven’t gotten the word, I’m an author now and my first sci-fi novel released this September.)  We would never be able to squeeze in a trip to L.A.  I suggested that in these tempestuous times people travel in jet-propelled aeroplanes that transport them a thousand miles in a couple of hours.  No dice.  Wasn’t gonna happen.  The Christmas concert rehearsal, the book reading.  It was all Too Much.

We went out to do some Christmas shopping while I pondered the state of things.  Ellen was just bummed.  Purely and simply bummed.  She works her whole life as an actress and is finally nominated for a prestigious award and she can’t go to the award show because we have to do a reading of MY book and SHE has a choir rehearsal.  Bummed.  Totally.  I thought of what all the announcement had said: the show started at 5:00, the Red Carpet (RED CARPET!!! Just like the Oscars!!!) started at 2:30.  As we perused some books at Magnolia’s Bookstore (and checked how many copies of Dancing with Eternity they had left) an idea came to me.  I walked over to her and said, “I’d just like to see you on the Red Carpet.  That’s all.”  And walked away.

GENIUS!  I could immediately see the gears turning in her head as her over-inflated super-ego warred with her id.  By the time we left the store a plan was being formed whereby she would approach her choir director and test his flexibility in the face of good news.

Of course he was thrilled.  She simply had to go.  The choir would be fine.

Stay tuned!


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Geek Media Expo in Nashville 2011!!!

Just one example of the wonderful talent that we found at GMX

October was a busy month, so I’m a little behind on my blogging.  Ellen and I visited three major cities, Portland, OR, Atlanta and Nashville, TN, Ellen’s home town.  The most recent visit was to Nashville for Geek Media Expo, an excellent FanCon that was hilarious fun.  It was only GMX’s third year of operation, but they had somewhere between 1200 and 1600 very energetic fans there and they partied like it was 2011!

Ellen and I got to participate in a live Portal 2 party where Ellen supplied the live voice of GLaDOS and I got to improv as Wheatley!  Total gas.  We also sat on several panels talking about the voice-acting business and the computer game world.  Everybody seemed to get a lot out of it.  We also judged a costume contest and talked to about a gazillion fans about GLaDOS, The Sniper and my new book, Dancing with Eternity!

I was also asked as a newly published author of a science-fiction novel to sit on panels discussing writing, publishing and world building for sci-fi.  I met several very talented authors including M. M. Buckner, a Philip K. Dick Award winner and resident of Nashville.  Everyone was very nice to work with and I think we gave some good information to everyone.  The discussions were lively and the questions were intelligent and interesting.  Once again I was struck by the level of talent exhibited at these cons.

The final highlight of the con was at the closing ceremonies, where all of the guests got up on stage and sang a ‘We Are the World” version of Still Alive with Ellen taking the lead and me lending my support on the banjo.  All in all, a wonderful Con and a wonderful trip!

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Seigecon Atlanta 2011!!!!

Ellen and I just got back from Georgia where we took part in a great con!  It’s designed to help students and young people who are interested in designing games meet professionals in the industry and learn how it works.  It’s called SeigeCon, and if you are someone who wants to get into writing, 3d modeling, level design, character modeling, programing, sound design, composing or acting in computer games I highly recommend it.  It was very well run and everyone had a great time as well as getting to hear from professionals involved in every discipline involved in making computer games.

We met some wonderfully talented young people and took part in three panels: Superstars of Game Audio and How They Got That Way, Secrets of Getting into Game Audio, and Rickwood Music Presents the voices of Portal and Team Fortress 2.  Jesse James Allen, Bryan Higa, Chris Rickwood and Watson Wu joined us on the first two panels — all of them wonderful composers and sound designers.  Together we were able to present the various challenges of getting into all aspects of game audio, from music composition and sound design to writing and acting.

I was also able to show off that I was the author of a new novel, Dancing with Eternity (available now on amazon.com! Check it out!) and Ellen and I signed copies for fans.  They were really stoked to meet us and excited that I’d written a science fiction novel.  We were able to spend a good amount of time with each person there, counseling them on how we got into the biz and what they should have to improve their chances.

All in all it was a great weekend and we had a marvelous (read ‘exhausting’) time!  I brought the banjo and we had a GLaDOS hootenanny, with Ellen singing both “Want You Gone” and “Still Alive” by Jonathan Coulton.  For those of you who have been visiting other universes for the last couple of years, those are Ellen’s hit songs from Portal and Portal 2.

Keep snipin, mates!

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Fantasy Book Critic calls Dancing with Eternity one of the top ten novels of 2011

Stellar debut; this is science fiction at its best Dancing with Eternity … the first mind blowing 2011 science fiction novel I did not previously know about … superb world building … pitch perfect … (A++, top 10 novel of 2011) a stellar debut that shows why science fiction is still the most interesting genre of today.–Liviu Suciu, Fantasy Book Critic

            Liviu Suciu, Fantasy Book Critic

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Magnolia’s Bookstore

In nice company

Magnolia’s Bookstore is a wonderful little place down in the village of Magnolia next door to another of my favorite haunts, the Upper Crust Bakery.  Magnolia’s Bookstore is even more wonderful now, because they have Dancing with Eternity on sale!  Signed copies, right on the shelf!

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A great day in Gig Harbor



On the shelves!

Ellen (GLaDOS) and I had a wonderful time yesterday at Mostly Books

in Gig Harbor, WA. The historic downtown section of Gig Harbor is a beautiful, quiet village on a picturesque inlet filled with sailboats and surrounded by wooded hills. Mostly Books is a cozy bookstore on the main drag owned by Jo, who is as picturesque as her surroundings. Ellen and I read excerpts from the book and signed copies for customers. Our friends Catherine, Nancy, Marie and Stephanie came by and we spoke to many other people as well. If you’re in Gig Harbor, stop by Mostly Books and buy a copy of Dancing with Eternity!

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Doing the work and getting there

When you talk about something like creating a space-faring civilization it can seem so daunting, so massive, that it literally seems like pie in the sky: just not reasonable to contemplate.  But when you compare it to bringing just one person out of the abyss of emotional pain and injury, teaching just one person how to play a musical instrument or understand mathematics, or even just cleaning the house, you see that it’s not daunting at all.  Various things need to be accomplished in a certain order.  Little things that add up to big things.

There are people in my life now who continually teach me the extent of human resilience and creativity.  People who have been hurt so badly that you’d think they could never be healed, but they are healing.  Healing in little steps, little increments.  Moving forward some days, falling a little back on others, but ultimately getting better, answering questions, becoming healthier.

We are so durable, so persistent, so stubborn.  We refuse to give up and we keep working the problem.  What is a more unreachable goal?  A terraformed Mars or mental health?  As horrific as the things we do to each other are sometimes and as tragic the consequences, we never stop fighting back, rebuilding, struggling to get better.

We can create a beautiful garden in a mind that was once filled with pain.  And we can create one on a barren world that will be a new home for us.  Not just for people, but for all of the life that now lives only on one tiny planet in a vast universe.  As we garden Mars we will learn more and more how to tend our garden on Earth.  As we live on two planets tens of millions of miles apart, we will learn how tiny our perspective is, for if we can live on two planets, we will know that we will eventually live on many, many worlds circling many, many stars.  Not Star Trek, not action heroes, just us.  Regular old us embracing the galaxy, exploring, homesteading, gardening.  Who knows?  Maybe even meeting someone new.

Dancing With Eternity comes out on September 1st, less than two weeks away now.  A novel I wrote because I was in pain over people who were lost to me.  Those people have been found and my novel is being published.  Compared to those accomplishments moving life out into the cosmos seems almost pedestrian.  Let’s keep working the problems!

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Who would like to see GLaDOS and me at Powell’s Books in Portland, Oregon?

If you live in the Portland, OR area and would like to see Ellen (GLaDOS) and me (The Sniper) in person reading my novel, give them a call!  Send them an email!  Their website is: http://www.powells.com/portland/  You can find contact info there.  Let them know!

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