I should have seen it coming. Last week was a very busy week—hustling hard to finish a short story and a beta read, novel edits, starting another short, plus assorted dayjobbery. I battled hard all week long—late nights, terrible food, too much coffee, the usual—and then I crashed.
Hard enough that I’m still catching my breath. It brings back a perennial dilemma: the fine balance between pacing and striving, taking it easy and putting in the hard work, being kind to yourself and getting your butt in the chair.
Around the same time, I saw a post from my dear friend Tee Morris…
Sometimes, as a writer, you have to make a tough call. There’s what you want to do, but that sometimes has to take a backseat to what you need to do.
Is writing a hobby or a profession? Which walk are you going to walk?
When you have to step up, step up. Otherwise, it’s a waste of time and energy.
Completely different context, posted for completely different reasons, but coming at a point where my nerves were pretty shot anyway—I’ll admit to feeling kind of bad about myself. I’m a professional. I’m an artist. Writing is my job. Why was I making myself mussels and binging on Desperate Romantics?
Because recovery is part of discipline. Think about Repetitive Strain Injuries. When you use the same muscles over and over, they get stressed. You need to allow them time to recover. You also need to change things up every so often: using different muscles, or performing a different movement. That’s how muscles actually develop. Otherwise, you end up getting all sorts of fun strains, tears, and sprains that can put you out for a good while.
Now, it’s easy to bash through things on brute strength. Similarly, it’s easy to stay on the couch and let those muscles atrophy. In either case, it’s inertia. Once you’re on a path—either one of motion or stillness—you tend to stay on it.
What’s hard is moving between the two. What’s hard is balance. What’s hard is swallowing your weird pride that you’ve stayed up until 2:00 am every night (and seriously, how messed-up are we that this makes us proud?). What’s hard is not comparing yourself to others: others who may be working harder, longer, faster.
As I see it, discipline in anything—writing, exercise, music—is about long-term habits and growth. Hence the focus on consistency and getting into habits—think of the Magic Spreadsheet, or NaNoWriMo. These things are great. As we said, inertia: it’s hard to get the ball rolling, at first.
But for that long-term growth to be…well, long-term, you need to not kill yourself in the process. Here’s what I’m slowly learning, as I navigate this early career stumbling-about:
…there are two parts to the writing life.
There’s the active part: the butt in chair, the striving, the late nights.
And there’s the passive part: the consuming other art, the walks in nature, the sleeping.
And you need both.
If you’re only passive, you’re not producing. If you’re only active, you’re probably producing crap. The Oatmeal had a wonderful comic about a similar experience, likening the creative process to breathing in and out.
You need both. In and out, yin and yang, night and day. That’s the real key. And it’s much, much harder than going full-tilt, one way or the other. What does your balance look like?
What I’m Listening To This Week
It’s been an old nugget: Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata.” I love the range of emotion in this piece—from the sombre, almost funereal opening melody (around 0:30, I’m thinking rain, not moonlight), to the aggressive arpeggios in the third movement (listen to the runs of notes starting around 11:20—just listen!).
And yet it all hangs together. *swoon*
I need to eat my words, I’m afraid. Last week, I said:
I want [SFWA membership]. I want this so badly. It’s a long game: I doubt very much I’ll be strolling into the Nebulas next year. But you keep going.
You should still keep going. Always. But the same day I posted the above, I checked the rules for membership to the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America more carefully. Authors are eligible for Active Membership with, among other things…
One Paid Sale of a work of fiction (such as a novel) of a minimum of 40,000 words to a qualifying professional market, for which the candidate has been paid at least $3,000 as a non-returnable advance before or at the time of publication ($2000.00 if sale made on or before 12/31/2014).
“Wait,” quoth I. “When did I sign the contract for Yeti’s Parole Officer?”
Turns out I made the sale on 08/20/2014. Which means that I’ve actually been SFWA-eligible for over two years.
So after a little head-shaking, I sent in my paperwork, and received my approval a few days ago. I’m in! Huzzah! And…it looks like I will be strolling into the Nebulas next year, at least to take in the atmosphere and meet people.
A lot can happen in a week.
When I was a wee sprogget, I wanted to be published by the time I was 25. I have vivid memories of my first year of university. February in Toronto is an interminable stretch of grey, cold, and slush. It’s when you fear that spring will never come. So I plodded along, miserable, these newfangled “podcast novels” trickling through my headphones.
I wanted to be in that world so badly. So very badly. I ached for it, slogging to class. I wanted to go to conventions, and I wanted to collaborate with other writers, and I wanted to be part of it all. Ideally by 25, though I knew that was a long shot.
I’m 25 now. When I look at how much things changed in seven years—well, first of all, seven years? What??? But also—holy frak, nothing is the same.
We can’t always see those changes, is the thing. Sure, sometimes, there’s a big milestone. Selling a novel. First time on a convention panel. Landing the agent. But more often, there’s all these tiny little steps that accrete, almost without your realizing. Those little steps provide the foundation for those big milestones. So, I suppose, while it seems like things can move very quickly, there’s a much longer process happening under the surface. Yeti’s Parole Officer came about, indirectly, through Hapax and my scriptwriting.
So maybe a lot can happen in a week. But none of it happens without the seven (or five, or ten, or fifty) years preceding.
What I’m Listening To This Week
Ola Gjeilo once again, returning to an old favourite: his “Northern Lights” piece, which uses an absolutely gorgeous text. I mean, listen to this:
Pulchra es amica mea,
suavis et decora sicut Jerusalem,
terribilis ut castrorum acies ordinata.
Averte oculos tuos a me
quia ipsi me avolare fecerunt.
Thou art beautiful, O my love,
sweet and comely as Jerusalem,
terrible as an army set in array.
Turn away thy eyes from me,
for they have made me flee away.
How wonderful is that? A great and terrible beauty, much like the aurorae themselves. *swoon*
I love conventions. They’re exhausting, they usually involve consistent forays beyond my comfort zone, and I absolutely love them. You’re packing several hundred like-minded people into a hotel for three days and talking about the things we love. What’s not to like?
This was my first Can-Con, and Marie Bilodeau, Derek Künsken, and their army of committee members and volunteers put on one heck of a party. Honestly, I’m so used to being the token Canadian in the room that it was wonderful to spend time with writers from my neck of the woods. You don’t have to explain yourself, in a funny way.
It’s impossible to distill conventions down into 500 words. So, in a nutshell: the programming was stellar, the other guests and attendees hugely welcoming, and it was a great time. I saved five Six Stories, Told at Night beer coasters for future giveaways…the rest found their way into the hands of Can-Con attendees. The reading/performance also went well—thanks to everyone who came out! I met/chatted with a ton of fantastic people (here’s looking at you, SM Carrière, Nicole Lavigne, Sheila Williams, Jay Odjick, Fanny Darling, Eric Choi, Krista Walsh, Lesley Donaldson, Gillian Clinton, Madeline Ashby, Tanya Huff, and many, many, many more). I caught up with old friends as well.
Contented sighs all around.
Beyond the sheer enjoyment, I come away from Can-Con 2016 thinking about three things in particular:
It gets easier
Marie caught me looking a little overwhelmed the first night. Somewhere like Balticon, I can walk into a room and know more people than not. Can-Con was different, because I only knew a handful of people.
But then I remembered: my first Balticon was actually super awkward, because I only knew a handful of people. My first Dragon*Con was super awkward, because I didn’t know any people.
The first time at any convention is awkward, because it’s the first time. But here’s the thing I’m noticing: these situations are getting less awkward as time passes. Partly, I’m accreting a more solid, wide-ranging bedrock of people I know. And partly, I’m better able to deal with the initial butterflies.
The second night felt like Balticon: that same comfort and good vibe. Having awesome people helps, of course—but also, it gets easier.
This is where I belong
Connected to the point above. There’s just something when you hang out with other writers. You’re on the same wavelength. Attending this con brought that home even more.
I’m young, and new, and relatively inexperienced—but this is where I belong.
It’s the long haul
Being young, and new, and relatively inexperienced, it can be easy to look at all the mountain still ahead and wonder if you’ll ever make it.
But then you keep going. Always, you keep going.
On the Sunday, Can-Con held a meeting about joining SFWA. It was a great opportunity to chat with writers further up the peak, and it stoked the fire in my belly.
I want this. I want this so badly. It’s a long game: I doubt very much I’ll be strolling into the Nebulas next year. But you keep going. Always, you keep going.
If we want it badly enough, we don’t really have a choice, do we?
That was my Can-Con 2016. Thank you very much to the organizers, con committee, hotel staff, panellists, vendors, volunteers, and attendees. Your hard work is greatly appreciated, and you should be very proud. I can’t wait to come back next year.🙂
What I’m Listening To This Week
“Falling Slowly” hails from the musical Once. Unusually for me, I preferred the movie to the stage version (the medium fit better, I think—the visuals just work better on film).
Anyway, it’s a wistful little piece, perfect for continuing to ride the wave of wistfulness that is Six Stories, Told at Night. Enjoy!
It’s not Monday! What am I doing here?
I’m getting ready for a con, that’s what! More specifically, I’m heading to Ottawa for the Conference on Canadian Content in Speculative Arts and Literature. You can see why it’s up my alley.😉
This is my first Can-Con, and I’m stoked. I haven’t been to Ottawa in years, and I’ll be spending the weekend with really wonderful writers – the Canadian contingent, if you will.
Everything on my schedule happens on Saturday…which will make for a very busy day, but it’ll be much easier to keep track of everything!
1:00 pm – 1:55 pm: Stormtalons: The Second Setting in The Ed Greenwood Group (Ed Greenwood, Marie Bilodeau, many authors, Me)
Ed Greenwood introduces the second setting in his new publishing venture, with authors on hand to chat worldbuilding and suchlike!
3:00 pm – 3:55 pm: Readings (Madeline Ashby, Eric Choi, Me)
As this con has a Canadian-content focus, I’ll naturally be reading from Six Stories, Told at Night. Actually, I’m hoping to play audio from the first episode: Blythe’s accent is much, much better than mine.
8:00 pm – 8:55 pm: The Beer Panel (Me, Brent Nichols, Mark Leslie Lefebvre, Max Turner)
Only the coolest conventions have beer panels. Join us in the Con Suite to hear us debate and discuss our favourite beverage. I’ll have Six Stories swag on hand for this panel!
The rest of the time, I’ll be gallivanting, meeting people, and possibly frolicking. This is my only official convention this year (I was budgeting for Dublin, but I’m hoping to hit more in 2017), and I hadn’t realized until this week how much I’ve missed the con experience. I miss the energy, the excitement, the creative boost…which makes this weekend all the more welcome.
So come say hi, grab a beer at the bar with me, and let’s celebrate Canadian spec-fic, eh?😀
What I’m Listening To Today
I found a super cool vocal version of Beethoven’s 7th. The 7th is actually my favourite Beethoven symphony; this slightly updated version is nothing if not hypnotizing.
This is the last story.
Six Stories, Told at Night wrapped up last week. It’s been quite a ride, and a huge learning curve. The numbers keep rising – after three weeks, it’s performed better than I dared hope. You guys have been great, and I’m incredibly proud of what we accomplished.
And I have something I’d like to say.
This is the last story. Maybe if I type that often enough now, it won’t break my heart when the time really comes.
Six Stories, Told at Night is my last fiction podcast. Sure, there may be one-offs here and there—I’m still slated to write/produce a Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences story this fall, and Blythe and I are recording a wrap-up show tonight. While I’m happy to write for other people, this is the last major story, the last story that’s wholly mine, for a while.
Nothing has happened. There was no disaster, no sudden break. Six Stories, Told at Night was always conceived as my last, always planned as my “…gift, song, blessing, and also, farewell.” This is why I wanted the grant—why I wanted to hire artists for custom music and art, why I wanted to finally pay Blythe what she’s worth, and why I wanted to take home a little cash as well. This is my last huzzah: my swan song. I wanted to go out with a bang.
This is the story of two girls…They’re two friends, two modern-day girls. How modern do we want this from the start? Pretty modern, I would think, crossing and re-crossing the fairy tale boundary. Joëlle is older, of course. Probably 3-4 years older: enough that they can still be friends, enough that there’s still a gap.
This decision was not an easy one, but it’s been in the works for nearly two years. Coxwood, then a last Ministry piece, then the “Folklore Grant Project,” and then hiatus. That was always the plan. My personal plot arc has been building to this for a while; I’ve just not said anything.
The short answer: because it’s time.
The Storyteller is the folklorist, cataloguing the stories, collecting them, a little more cautious. Joëlle is the transmedia artist, podcasting, Kickstarting, making friends and hitting the town. And she wonders if she can get into Story, that shadowy place from whence it all comes.
The longer answer: when I started producing my first podcast back in 2011, I had clearly defined goals. I wanted to learn to tell stories through sound. I wanted to get my name out, build a platform, and meet people.
Five years on, and I have done these things.
“But why stop?” I hear people asking. “Even if you met your goals, why not keep going?”
Every podcast has to grow from the one before it. Otherwise, you stagnate. With every story, every piece, you should be doing something new, or there’s no point. For me, I’m at the point with podcasting where the next step—the next learning curve from this comfortable plateau—is to be doing audio dramas on the level of Bryan Lincoln. These are audio dramas that approach movie soundtrack quality. They’re really, really cool.
I don’t want to do those.
I don’t want to do those because then I wouldn’t write as much. Now, I love audio. It has taught me a lot and it’s a hell of a lot of fun. But at the end of the day, I’m not an audio artist. Not really. I’m a writer. Novels, short stories, and stage plays are where my passions truly lie. So if audio becomes a choice between stepping up and stepping back—well, I have to step back.
And the thing the Storyteller learns—Story is already inside of us. So to reach Jöelle, she needs to keep looking inside. To their stories.
So I got my name out there. I met people. I learned to tell stories through sound. I did some really cool things. Past this point, I suspect that anything I produce will benefit Blythe’s career more than mine.
“Oh no!” the podcasting community cries. “Did something happen between you two?”
Nah, we’re solid. Like all creative pairs, we scrap occasionally…but we’ve gotten good at it, and I love her like the big sister I never had. But look, in five years, we’ve done—
There isn’t a lot else I can do for her. Not with audio, anyway. We continue to collaborate very, very closely at our dayjob. There will be other projects for us – believe me. It’s a good partnership. No one wants to break up the band.
And we’re friends. Above all else, we’re really good friends.
This is also my last chance to push Blythe’s voice and range as far as it will go. Which means A) ALL the emotion. If it’s not there in the text, she can’t bring it out. And B) Sam has to have some of that flash and fire…but she also has gentleness and support in a way I’ve not done yet.
I’d like to be quite clear about something, though:
While I’m focusing more on prose fiction and stage plays, that does NOT mean that I am abandoning this community. Podcasting brought us together, and it has been so wonderful to see us all grow into our creative lives – whatever form they take. I’ll still be around at cons. I’m sticking around social media. I love my jaunts south of the border to visit you all.
None of that is changing. I’m still here, still part of you. The only reason for this very public goodbye is – I don’t want people to wonder at the silence. I don’t want a year, two years, five years to pass without explanation. I don’t want people to think, Oh, she never pulled it together again. Another pod-fade. No. I want to go out on my terms.
And never say never, right? I don’t plan to pursue audio fiction further, but if ever the stars align and the perfect project strikes at the right moment – I won’t refuse for reasons of pride. The door’s closed, but it definitely isn’t locked. Who knows? Maybe I can do a non-fiction podcast. I’d love that. It’d balance my love of audio with my rapidly diminishing time.
The last story is the first story…But what is this story? Is it a story that loss sucks and then you grieve? No…no, I don’t think so. I think it’s the story of how this wonderful, transformative friendship made our girl who knew no stories become The Storyteller.
So I have many thank you’s to say. Thank you to everyone who listened, everyone who shared, everyone who encouraged us. Thank you for welcoming me into this community in the first place. And thank you for your unbridled enthusiasm for this swan song.
With Six Stories, Told at Night, I have accomplished what I wanted to do artistically, and said what I wanted to say. It is a nice feeling to end on – to know that I’ve written the podcast that justifies me, and the immensely talented partner with whom I work.
I think it’ll be cool. I think so. I hope so. Maybe even beautiful in parts. We’ll see.
It was. Every bit of it – all these five years.
Thank you, all.
What I’m Listening To This Week
We’ve heard the “Ashokan Farewell” here before, but this version has lyrics. They are appropriate to this week, and I have been bawling every time I hear them.
So I assume we’ve all seen the WIRED article, right? This one: the one really excited that podcast fiction is “finally” a thing?
Evidently, they’ve overlooked that podcast fiction kicked off in 2005, and that 2007-2009 was arguably the Golden Age of the Podcast Novel. In fact, the origins and development of the genre were the topic of a massive essay I wrote at Stonecoast. I suspect others will be doing overviews of podcasts from 2005-2012, so… I’d like to share a different portion of my essay, one that proposes a new means by which to classify the genre.
II. Parsing the Parsecs: Proposing a New Taxonomy of Podcast Fiction
Despite the genre’s significant development over the past decade, few attempts have been made to rigorously classify podcast fiction. Nevertheless, there is a generally understood difference between “full cast podcasts” and “straight reads.” A “full cast podcast” generally refers to a fully scored and produced podcast novel featuring the use of numerous actors, as in the case of Morevi, Chasing the Bard, Murder at Avedon Hill, Metamor City, et al. By contrast, a “straight read” features a single reader and minimal production. Mur Lafferty’s Heaven series is thus a “straight read,” alongside numerous audio fiction magazines such as the Escape Artists’ triumvirate—Escape Pod, PodCastle, and PseudoPod—and the Clarkesworld podcast.
However, the distinction between “straight read” and “full cast” is ultimately limiting, particularly within the field of “full cast” podcast fiction. “Full cast,” as it appears in general usage, obscures the distinction between fully-produced, fully-casted podcast novels, and fully-produced, fully-casted audio dramas. Adhering strictly to a straight read/full cast binary, both Morevi and We’re Alive could be considered full cast podcasts. However, Morevi was originally released as a print novel, and relies heavily on narration to tell the story. As such, it undertakes a fundamentally different approach to storytelling than does We’re Alive, which instead lies primarily on dialogue, performance, and sound, with minimal narrative segments.
This difference between podcast novel and audio drama is recognized by the Parsec Awards for Excellence in Speculative Fiction Podcasting. There, the primary distinction amongst podcasts is not between straight read/full cast, but rather between “story” and “audio drama.” According to the Parsecs’ 2015 category descriptions, a story “…uses narration as its primary means to convey scene and action,” whereas in an audio drama, “Storytelling is effected through the dialogue of its characters and sound effects/scenery presenting action and scene as it’s [sic] primary mechanism.” While these categories differentiate between the two major approaches to storytelling within podcast fiction, they also have certain limitations. Specifically, there is perhaps insufficient nuance in the “story” category.
For example, the 2014 category “Best Speculative Fiction Story: Small Cast (Short Form),” included both the stories “Why the Sea is Boiling Hot,” (author Michael Spence, podcasted on Tales from the Archives) and “Growth Spurt,” (author Paul Lorello, podcasted on Pseudopod). However, while both “Why the Sea is Boiling Hot” and “Growth Spurt” are indeed small cast, short stories, they function very differently. Despite being small cast, “Why the Sea is Boiling Hot” adopts the production values associated with “full cast” podcasts: music and complex sound effects to denote an aethergate are particularly noticeable. Conversely, “Growth Spurt” has a single reader, no music, and no sound effects.  Despite being in the same category, “Why the Sea is Boiling Hot” is essentially a “full cast” podcast with a very small cast, whereas “Growth Spurt” is a straight read.
Thus, neither a full cast/straight read nor audio drama/story dichotomy is sufficient to classify podcast fiction. The full cast/straight read binary obscures the artistic differences between audio book and audio drama (though again, this difference is understood in general parlance), while focusing on that distinction to the exclusion of all else overlooks the many variances in production amongst podcast stories.
As such, this paper proposes a new taxonomy for podcast fiction. Examining the genre broadly, it is evident that some podcasts (PodCastle, Clarkesworld, Jim Kelly’s Free Reads, Heaven) use audio primarily as a means of distribution, whereas for others (Hidden Harbour Mysteries, The Antithesis Progression, We’re Alive, The Leviathan Chronicles), sound is integral to the story itself—whether the podcast in question is an audio book or audio drama. Therefore, this paper proposes classifying podcasts not by “full cast/straight read,” or by “audio drama/story,” but rather, by “read fiction” and “performed fiction.” “Performed fiction” relies on the use of dramatic techniques to tell the story—that is, music, sound effects, and acting— while “read fiction” does not. The category of “performed fiction” can then be subdivided into “audio drama” and “audio story,” under the same criteria utilized by the Parsecs. This classification, therefore, combines both the commonly-understood distinction between straight read and full cast, along with the Parsecs’ observance of stories and dramas as separate genres.
However, this means of classifying podcasts is not intended as a strict binary. Rather, conceiving of podcast fiction as a spectrum more accurately reflects the vast array of podcasts that have been produced. At one extreme are those stories which are read by a single narrator, without music, acting, or sound effects. Indeed, such stories might not have originally been intended for audio distribution at all. In its submissions guidelines, Pseudopod states, “We do not discriminate between previously published and unpublished works…we encourage new authors to send their work to other markets first, and then send it to us for audio rights after the story has appeared.” Thus, the stories it solicits are not necessarily written with podcasting in mind, unlike We’re Alive or Hidden Harbor [ETA: Or Six Stories, Told At Night]. As such, the performance is not an integral part of those stories—they lose very little when experienced as pure text.
The shift from read to performed podcast fiction occurs as a result of the use of dramatic techniques. Music, sound effects, and voice acting are used to communicate setting, atmosphere, and character in addition to what is already suggested by the text. Thus, reading and listening to performed narratives are ultimately very different experiences. The key distinction between read and performed narratives therefore lies not in the amount of dramatic techniques used, but rather, in their importance to the story. For instance, it is fairly common to have musical interludes introduce and finish segments of audiobooks; however, they have little impact on the storytelling. By contrast, the now-removed podcast Weather Child had relatively light scoring and sound effects, and a cast of two. As these elements were integral, Weather Child was nevertheless performed. This is particularly evident when considering its use of voice acting to portray character.
The use of voice acting is the most telling characteristic of performed fiction. Acting necessarily denotes performance. However, it is misleading to deem a read narrative “performance” when the reader has simply used different voices to distinguish characters. Here, this paper draws a distinction between “reading with voices” and “voice acting.” While reading, the reader speaks like the character. While performing, the actor speaks as the character. Admittedly, this distinction contains a certain amount of subjectivity, but it is generally useful.
For example, the podcast novels Weaver’s Web (Philippa Ballantine) and Ancestor (Scott Sigler) are both read by a single voice. However, Ballantine offers performances of her characters—this is particularly evident in her portrayal of the Weavers. Sigler can affect accents and emotions effectively—as in the case of troubled geneticist Lu Jian Dan—but ultimately, the difference is one of kind rather than degree. While some allowance should be made for a reader/actor’s particular skill, the difference between reading and acting is ultimately one of intention rather than talent.
Having determined the importance of voice acting in distinguishing podcast works as performed fiction, it is now necessary to examine the distinctions between performed narrative and audio drama. As the name suggests, performed narratives are primarily told through narration, whereas audio dramas are told through sound. This paper agrees with the general definitions put forth by the Parsec Awards.  However, this paper maintains that performed narratives fall along a spectrum. Weaver’s Web lies at one extreme: it is a performance due to its use of voice acting, but relies almost entirely on narration. Conversely, Hidden Harbor Mysteries is explicitly presented as a 1930s radio play. Therefore, it is unquestionably a drama. Not only is there minimal narration, but the narrator himself is another character. Yet between these two extremes fall podcasts such as The Guild of the Cowry Catchers, Metamor City: Making the Cut, and The Antithesis Progression. Sound is more integral to the storytelling than would be the case in a strict narrative, yet there is more narration than would be incorporated into a drama.
Thus, using these distinctions and taxonomy, one might say that We’re Alive is a large-cast audio drama, Weaver’s Web is a solo performed narrative, and “England Under the White Witch,” by Theodora Goss, as read by Kate Baker on Clarkesworld, is a read short story.
 Bryan Lincoln, Episode 73: Straight Read vs. Full Cast, accessed March 26, 2015.
 “2015 Category Descriptions,” Parsec Awards, accessed March 26, 2015. <http://www.parsecawards.com/2015-parsec-awards/category-descriptions/>
 “2014 Parsec Award Winners and Finalists,” Parsec Awards, accessed March 26, 2015.
 Michael Spence, Why the Sea is Boiling Hot, podcast audio, Tales from the Archives Vol. III, edited Philippa Ballantine and Tee Morris, MP3, 24:30-32:30, accessed March 24, 2015. <http://www.ministryofpeculiaroccurrences.com/2014/03/25/tales-from-the-archives-iii-three/>
Paul Lorello, Growth Spurt, podcast audio, Pseudopod, edited Shaun M. Garrett, MP3, accessed March 24, 2015. <http://pseudopod.org/2013/10/25/pseudopod-357-growth-spurt/>
 Lincoln, Episode 73: Straight Read vs. Full Cast, 35:06.
 “2015 Category Descriptions,” Parsec Awards, accessed March 26, 2015. <http://www.parsecawards.com/2015-parsec-awards/category-descriptions/>
So I’m still not entirely sure where Six Stories, Told at Night falls…but since it’s performed, and uses a lot of narrative – a solo performed piece?
Also, Tee Morris and I made this awesome infographic detailing other fiction podcasts pre-dating Welcome to Night Vale’s 2012 launch. Check it out, and discover some other cool listens!
What I’m Listening To This Week
Sometimes, there’s a song that I don’t even remember stumbling across. Amy MacDonald’s “This is the Life,” for instance. I heard this first back in high school, and it’s popped up again. Not my usual style, but quite enjoyable!
With Six Stories, Told at Night merrily dropping episodes, I’ve been reflecting on two much earlier plays I wrote. This was ages ago, when I was all of sixteen/seventeen. I’d written one play about an author who falls in love with her character—he’s onstage, but only she can see/hear him, which results in much hilarity and absurd humour. The second was a play written in response to that first play. It was a very pointed criticism of art criticism, in which characters debate the meaning of an abstract statue, resulting in much hilarity and absurd humour.
Both were pretty clever. Even at the time, though, I had whispers in my ear saying, “There’s a difference between being clever and being good.”
Being sixteen/seventeen, I ignored those whispers and merrily churned out more clever writing. Most of it wasn’t very good. But what do I mean, about the difference between clever and good?
Clever skims the surface. Clever is slick. Clever is a neat idea—perhaps even an original idea—perhaps even a good idea—but it isn’t followed through as fully as it could be. That’s the thing about cleverness, you see. It’s quick—the flash of a firefly, bright for a moment and gone.
Clever gets you praise. Clever makes you laugh.
Good makes you think.
John Scalzi’s written about this very topic, as it relates to young writers. If I may quote him, he noted that, “There’s nothing wrong with being clever, and it’s possible to be clever and good at the same time. But you need to know when clever is not always the best solution.”
I think that an important difference is this: with cleverness, there is usually an element of showing off. Like we said—the flash of a firefly. It can be easy to get distracted by the surface show, and not realize that there’s very little of substance underneath. So when Scalzi says you can be clever and good at the same time, I suppose that means you’ve got both the shiny, slick exterior trappings, as well as something of greater depth.
It’s really hard to do. Again, I think this is partly because cleverness directs its energy towards itself—look at me, my smarts, my humour—whereas things that are good direct themselves outwards, striving to connect to something within the audience. In a way, then, good cleverness needs to be oddly unaware of itself.
Recently, I wrote a story with a clever ending…but something about it nagged at me. I heard Jim Kelly’s voice in my ear, whispering, “Yes, yes…you’re very clever, but this ending cheats the reader. Try again, and write something good.”
The same whispers I heard eight years ago—cleverness is a tendency I need to watch in myself—but this time, I listened. I wrote a different ending. We’ll see if it’s a good one.
But hey, we’re learning!
Before we go…you want to see some of this play, don’t you? All right. Fine. I’d say to bear in mind that I was seventeen, but…well, anyway…here it is. The sculptor’s uncle has run into a haughty art critic.
SAGE: Vince, Vince, Vince. Of course art should be enjoyed by everyone. But it should be commented upon and criticized by those who have the training for the job.
VINCE: What if commenting on art is part of the enjoyment?
SAGE: Your opinion does matter, just not as much as the opinion of someone who’s right. Now, if you’ll excuse me, they’ve erected another work by the south end, and I must see it.
VINCE: But wait, your write-up, it’ll be…
SAGE: A cutting exposé of the depraved messages infiltrating our cherished public spaces through rampant narcissism.
VINCE: Look, we can patch this up. Maybe… (He rummages in his pocket.) Maybe Queen Elizabeth can convince you to be a little kinder?
SAGE: What are you implying?
VINCE: (Looks through his wallet) Or maybe you can have a threesome with William Lyon Mackenzie King?
SAGE: Are you suggesting I have sexual relations with a dead prime minister and the Queen of England?
VINCE: No! All I meant was-
SAGE: Never mind family ties; this is why you so adore this monstrosity! Clearly, you are too emotionally immature to understand the wrongness of this statue… and you’re dependent on perverted fantasies!
VINCE: I was trying to bribe you, all right?
SAGE: Oh. That is hardly better! Sexual intercourse can be a wonderful and natural act, but money appeals only to the greed-driven, consumerist levels of the soul.
And then I had an elderly couple whose sole purpose was to wander onstage every so often and offer a dose of absurdity (they later partially resurrected themselves as Old Mabel):
ETHEL: George? Have you a sweetie?
GEORGE: Why, yes!
ETHEL: I like sweeties.
GEORGE: As do I.
ETHEL: Is it an orange sweetie, or a lemon sweetie?
ETHEL: Neither? Then… George, can it be?
GEORGE: Yes! It is a cherry sweetie!
ETHEL: Splendid! (Pause) George, have you only a single sweetie?
GEORGE: Yes, but I shall give it to you.
ETHEL: I couldn’t eat your only sweetie, heavens no. It would be terribly selfish of me.
GEORGE: Then I know what we shall do. We shall purchase other sweeties!
ETHEL: Sweeties are very nice to suck on.
GEORGE: They are. Do you suppose they make scotch sweeties?
ETHEL: Shall we ask?
GEORGE: I think we shall. To the shopkeeper!
They wander offstage.
What I’m Listening to This Week
Sigh…I do like Ola Gjeilo. This week, I’ve been playing a lot of “Unicornis Captivatur.” The text is a Latin chant from the Engelberg Codex, a compilation of chants from ~1400s Switzerland.
Basically, the wounded unicorn is presented to the court, it heals itself, there’s a lot of fairly conventional Christ metaphors, but also phoenixes and hydras eating crocodiles alive from the inside. (Listen for Idrus intrat crocodilum, around 1:45.)
Six Stories, Told at Night released its first episode yesterday! If you’ve heard it, you’ll know that it’s a strange sort of hybrid piece: it’s sort of like an audiobook, but it’s really more a one-woman play, and it’s really comprised of six discrete short stories, while simultaneously being one cohesive whole…
It’s weird. It’s wonderful, and I think we’ve hit on a really interesting form of audio fiction, and also, it’s weird.
Which is fine—I’ve joked that Submissions Grinder needs to develop a filter for fiction labelled “weird af,” since that seems to be what I write. Not intentionally, necessarily—it’s just that with every story, you need to find the best (or often, only) possible way to tell it.
Look at Six Stories: the story that emerged—this story of Sam and Joëlle, of loss and friendship—was always meant to be voiced by one person. That’s what it demanded—this story of stories within stories.
So, cool. An audiobook with extra bells and whistles, a straight read supplemented with sound effects. Right?
It IS a story that absolutely must be performed aloud. It loses a layer of meaning if you’re reading it on the page, the same way that scripts only spring to life when you get them on their feet. And I choose my words very carefully: performed aloud, not read aloud. There’s a difference in energy and intention. It’s subtle, but it’s there:
“If this was a regular stage play,” I told Blythe, “it’d be black-box studio theatre, with a minimalist set.”
“I treated it like I was onstage,” Blythe told me, after. “It was different than Heartstealer.”
So. Not quite an audiobook. But not quite a conventional audio drama, either. Basically, I took that lovely taxonomy I developed at Stonecoast and threw it out the window. We have something new, I think. A weird, hybridized, emergent art form.
Because that’s how this particular story must be told.
We instinctively make these choices when we start noodling ideas. Is it a play, or prose? Short story or novel? First person or third person? Linear timeline, or jumping all over the place?
Sometimes we only find out by writing. Sometimes we change our minds halfway through. Sometimes we change our minds at the very end, when we’ve given the draft a cold, hard look.
In the end, though, it always falls to the demands of that particular piece. “This is the only way I could think of to tell this story,” is a perfectly valid reason for making certain artistic choices.
Even when they’re weird af.😉
What I’m Listening to This Week
Cover reveal and podcast announcement! Huzzah!
Our new audio drama, Six Stories, Told at Night releases soon—Episode 1 should drop on Sunday, August 14th. There will be links aplenty once that happens, rest assured.
Six Stories, Told at Night has been generously funded by the Ontario Arts Council. What does this mean? It means that, after years of podcasting on a shoestring, I could finally afford to do things properly. Custom music, pro rates for voice talent (an actor AND a singer, oh my), and a gorgeous cover image.
Would you like to see this gorgeous cover image?
Of course you would.
It’s designed by Starla Huchton, after all.
Here it is:
I am so incredibly grateful to the Ontario Arts Council. Someone, please correct me if I’m wrong, but I think I’m the first fantasy podcaster to receive government funding? While that’s neat for my ego, it’s also highly encouraging.
You guys, the government funded an independent podcast. Not only that, the government funded an independent fantasy podcast.
Ten years ago, not many people knew what a podcast was. Not many people outside the community took them all that seriously. While podcasts have since grown more mainstream, this feels incredibly validating. It reaffirms that yes, podcast fiction is legitimate art. It shows that podcasts have changed the way we tell stories—maybe not quite the way we all imagined ten years back, but nevertheless.
And it reaffirms the legitimacy of speculative fiction outside its community. For those keeping score at home—earlier this year, a straight-up fantasy story about cannibal ice monsters won the largest short story contest in Canada. Now Six Stories and its fairy tales contribute to the arts in Ontario. It makes me feel very honoured, very blessed, and very humbled.
It’s been a wild ride. Blythe sounds phenomenal, of course—I think this may be my favourite vocal performance from her. I can’t wait to show you what we’ve been working on. See you next Sunday!
What I’m Listening To This Week
So here’s how I do this: I literally just find whatever song has been most played on my iPod over the past week. That’s it.
Sorry. Not sorry.
This song has acquired a very special poignancy for me. Music starts at 1:04.
I’m typing this somewhere over the Atlantic Ocean, on my way home after a week in Ireland as visiting choir at St. Patrick’s Cathedral (I wasn’t the entire visiting choir, don’t worry—there were close to 40 of us singing). Conveniently, Ireland was next on my “Want-To-Visit” list after New Zealand, so things worked out quite well.
After all, I have a lot of upcoming fiction that either draws from Irish history/mythology, or straight-out takes place in Ireland. So while the choir was there to sing, I used this as a research trip alongside.
Mostly, this research consisted of walking around and looking at things. Getting a feel for Dublin and its qualities of light; how the air lies against the skin; the smells and shadows and tastes. My pal Erin and I took some day trips as well, so I did the same heading north to the Giants’ Causeway, and then cutting across the country to the Cliffs of Moher.
It’s a funny thing. When you’re in this research-mode, you’re always hanging back a little. You take notes, mentally or otherwise. My phone is full of things like, “Horn spoons can’t be sharpened,” and “Mugshot mirrors,” and “Body-snatching cemetery near Kilmainham: jail visible.” It’s kind of like being a spy: silently gathering information as you move through the world.
Of course, you still enjoy yourself. It’s true: there’s something about the Cliffs of Moher that take the talking away from you. At the same time, it’s like having double-vision: gasping at the Cliffs of Moher because they’re really quite shockingly beautiful, while also saying, “Right…this is the contrast of grey-lilac cloud and bright green. This is how it looks.”
I think that writers are simultaneously hyper-engaged with the world, and standing apart from it. Constantly stroking the limestone (smooth, warm, grainy under the fingers), really paying attention to the salt on the wind (it gets on the lips), studying our bus tour group (that passive-aggressive woman insinuating that maybe the driver can stop at her hotel, not the official bus drop-off). You’re right there, but always saying, “So that’s how it is, I can use that.”
Really, though, you don’t need to travel to conduct this sort of research. Watch the people on the subway—the power dynamics over shared seats. Pay attention walking down the street—ears open, eyes wide, breathing deep.
It’s tiring. I don’t think anyone can do it all of the time. Sometimes, you can’t be standing apart, taking notes. But I do think I made the most of my time in Ireland. I understand it better; we’ve gotten to know each other a bit.
Now, of course, even more fun and hard work: taking those impressions and scraps and synthesizing them into good stories. 🙂
What I’m Listening to This Week
Ah, it’s been “The Wind that Shakes the Barley” (no, I’ve not seen the movie; yes, I want to). There was a lot of Irish history on this trip. There’s a wonderful crescendo about midway through this piece that cuts to a lot of grief—it’s given insight into a certain character.
I understand him better; we’ve gotten to know each other a bit.