Monthly Archives: February 2012

An Insatiable Appetite for Audio Fiction

I’ve finished listening to another podcast novel: Predestination and Other Games of Chance, the first book in J. Daniel Sawyer’s Antithesis Progression (highly recommended if you like science fiction and political thrillers). Those who know me well are quite aware of my fascination with the podosphere – Mur Lafferty’s I Should Be Writing introduced me to the concept of audio content delivered over the internet (I’ve been listening to ISBW for so long that I remember when the tagline was “A podcast for wannabe fiction writers by a wannabe fiction writer!” How times have changed…) while Tee Morris’s Morevi showed me a new world of storytelling.

Simply put, I got hooked.

For those of you unfamiliar with podcasts, think of it like a radio show, only you can download episodes to your device at any time. Similarly, podcast novels (a term I prefer to “podiobook” for reasons unbeknownst even to me) are essentially a cross between a radio play and a book on tape. Some are simply the author reading their book aloud; others are fully-scored productions with music, voice actors, and sound effects. All fully-fledged podcast novels are serialized: typically, each chapter is one episode. That being said, there are some short-story podcasts (the trifecta of Escape Pod, PodCastle, and PseudoPod comes to mind) in which each episode is a complete short story.

So why podcasts?

As I’m learning while working on my podcast, podcast novels are a unique animal, and have their own tropes and conventions. Though technically still “literature,” the simple fact that they are read aloud means that the novel crosses the line from “book” to “performance.” The relationship between reader and podcast novel is thus inherently different from the relationship between reader and print novel. I think the medium appeals to me so much because it occupies a midway point between conventional fiction and theatre – really, you get the best of both worlds.

Are all podcast novels created equal, though?

Well… no. As a unique genre, podcast novels have unique challenges, specifically the interrelationship between production and story. Now, by production, I mean the music, sound effects, acting, narration… all the “extras” you don’t get in a print novel. By story, I mean the actual writing: plot, character, themes, writing style… essentially, everything that would appear in the text itself.

As noted, some podcast novels are simply the author reading their work. These podcasts are on the “lower” side of production. Some have all the bells and whistles – they’re on the “higher” end. But more production isn’t always better, and less doesn’t mean “weaker.” I might stick with a story that I don’t actually like if the acting’s strong enough, but I will grumble all the way through. Conversely, if the writing is strong, I’ll listen through almost any technical glitches.

The Pod-Quadrant

Really, the level of production depends on the story you want to tell. Figuring out the balance between the two is part of working within this particular medium. For a story like Christoph Laputka’s Leviathan Chronicles, huge production values made sense. In my opinion, Christiana Ellis made an excellent decision when she chose to voice all the characters in Nina Kimberly the Merciless herself, because it fit the feel of the story. The more appropriate the production is for an individual story, the stronger it is for that particular story.

I could go on. I haven’t even touched on the community and collegiality within the podosphere, nor podcasting’s effect on the independent and self-publishing trends we’re seeing now. Unfortunately, that will have to wait for another time.

I’m about to start Matthew Wayne Selznick’s Brave Men Run.

By Different Stars

Trawling through the various social media sites this morning, I see many people’s status updates are something like “Great night at the Baa!” (One of the many friendly neighbourhood pubs in Dunedin – the name is funnier if you think about how Kiwis say “bar.”)

Mine?

“OMG Orion is upside down!!! I can see the Southern Cross and Milky Way!!! Sooooo cool!!!!”

It was a great night at the Baa. But it was also the first really clear night that we’ve had since I got here, and as I was walking home (a grand distance of about three blocks, for those of you concerned), I finally saw the Southern Hemisphere stars.

Oh my God.

There’s a lot less light pollution in Dunedin than in Toronto. I’m sure the view would be even better if I got out of town entirely, but as a city girl, I’m not complaining. I know my way around the Northern sky; the main constellations are all well-known friends, I’m acquainted with a few smaller ones, and I can name a handful of individual stars. So it was bizarre – amazing, but bizarre – to find myself under an alien sky. All the signposts were gone: no Ursa Major, no Cassiopeia that I could see. There were a few really bright stars that must have been something, but I didn’t have the names or stories for them.

And  overhead, like a swathe of gauze draped across the heavens, the Milky Way. I’ve seen the Milky Way before, but only while up north, never in an urban setting. The longer I stared at it, the more stars emerged from the blackness, until I couldn’t believe I was seeing this from my back yard.

Northern Hemisphere (credit: http://www.astrosurf.com)

Then I turned, and I saw one familiar sight. Orion, a summer constellation here, was high in the north.

And upside-down.

That is when I had a major geek-out. It’s lucky that I was alone, because whomever was with me would have been subjected to a full-blown rant about why it was upside-down, how cool it was that it was upside-down, how Betelgeuse was at the bottom now and, incidentally, is a red giant that may or may not have already gone supernova, and how you could just make out the tiny fuzzy dot that was the Orion nebula… above Orion’s belt.   

I think such rants are one of the occupational hazards of working at a living history museum.

Southern Hemisphere (credit http://www.aboriginalastronomy.blogspot.com)

When I was in Costa Rica a few years ago, I saw Orion tilted 90 degrees on its side (since Costa Rica is on the equator). Now, I’ve seen it rotated all the way. It is the coolest feeling when a phenomenon you’ve seen in textbooks materializes right in front of you.

 

Accents are Awesome

I love accents.

Part of this has to do with my inner word nerd – I love figuring out how certain vowels got shifted, or how different forms of a language diverged from each other. Things like Grimm’s Law and Verner’s Law fascinate me, explaining things like how the Latin piscis becomes fisc (Old English) and then fish, but pater developed into fader (Old English “father”) instead of faþer.     

The other reason I love accents is much more pedestrian. Accents sound really cool. Funnily enough, I’m particularly enamoured of the Kiwi accent. New Zealand English has a beautiful sound to it. I’ll admit that I got really excited while watching the Air New Zealand flight attendants boarding in Vancouver, because it had fully hit me: I was going to a country where almost everyone speaks like this all the time.

Being an international student, I hear other accents, too. There’s a girl from Norway who has a very sweet one, and I’ve been hanging around a group of Americans. Interestingly, I’ve been hearing the American accent a lot more. Usually, it’s so close to the Canadian that I only notice it if they’re from the Deep South or the Bronx. It’s subtle, but I feel like their speech is more direct and forceful somehow, while I’m discovering that Canadian English almost has a slight lilt to it.

Of course, in this environment, I have an accent, too. One of my new American friends told me that he can hear my Canadian accent really strongly, though admittedly, I sometimes put on an exaggerated Bob-and-Doug-Mackenzie-backwoods-hoser accent while joking around with them. Still, I find that really interesting – I know that no one really hears their own accent, so I’m intrigued by the notion of what other people hear when I speak.

I wish I could do more accents, but honestly, I’m not that good. I used to be able to pull off a passable British one, and I learned a Texan accent for a play, but both seem to have been subsumed by my attempts at learning the New Zealand. I have so much respect and admiration for people who can do convincing (and multiple) accents – besides the New Zealand one (which I’ve been told sounds more Australian, anyway, despite my efforts), all I’ve got left is a 1940s Movie Accent (according to my roommates).

I wonder if I’ll return with a touch of New Zealand in my voice. Though it may be problematic for podcasting purposes to have some stray Kiwi shining through every so often, I hope I do… though I’m sure my lifelong Canadian-ness will prove pretty durable, eh?

The Frosh Look

Frosh. Freshmen. Freshers. First-years.

No matter what you call them, every university has them.

O-Week (Orientation Week) has finally started here at Otago, and I’m finding myself in a strange, in-between place. I am not a first year. I put in my time as a frosh nearly three years ago, thank you very much, but I’m as new to Otago as any of these kids clutching their free posters and giveaway tote bags.

Here’s the difference, though.

Frosh have a certain look.

They’re wide-eyed and trying to look in every direction at once. Their smiles are just a little too bright, their laughter a little too shrill thanks to that edge of nervousness. They travel in clumps, checking their new compatriots a little too frequently, obviously in that awkward phase of making friendships through happenstance.

I’ve been in New Zealand for just over a week, and I can pick them out.

Now, I was a first-year once, too. I know I had the very same look. We all did. The first week of university is vital for meeting people, and I’ve been trying to remember how I did it the first time around. Unfortunately, I can’t. All of my university friends seem to have just… grown into my life. Little by little, chance encounters turning into anticipated meetings, until it seemed like they had always been there. Even now, you can tell that’s happening with this crop of first-years.

Now that I’m old and jaded and cynical, I’ve apparently stopped sending the “I’m-so-desperate-for-friends-please-come-talk-to-me” vibe that first-years all broadcast to each other. The fact that a pair of them asked me for directions seems to suggest that I look like I know what I’m doing. I’m not one of them, and yet, as a “new kid,” I am.

The first week of university is one of those experiences that can’t really be recreated. There are some events on offer for exchange students, like the coffee hour I went to this morning. There, we smiled, asked and re-asked the dreaded three questions (“What’s your name? Where are you from? What are you studying?”), but it wasn’t the same. I suspect that these friendships will be more like the ones I’ve made in my various places of employment: not so much growing as building, the foundation laid brick by conscious brick until one day you realize how solid the structure is.

Only on exchange can you simultaneously feel like a mature student and the Über-Frosh.

Same “Stuff,” Different Country

When I arrived at my flat here in Dunedin, the first thing I did was to pull out my laptop, connect to the Internet, and let my family and friends know I wasn’t dead.

New Zealand has funny plugs

After my “Kiwi Host” arrived and took me on a whirlwind, now-barely-remembered tour of the surrounding area, I figured out New Zealand’s plugs, got my laptop charging, and…

Continued with the same editing I’d been doing in Canada.

“I know! I’ll spend 24 hours getting to the other side of the world, and then do the exact same thing I was doing in my room!”

My mom Julie Bryski expressed some surprise when I mentioned I’d been trying to edit or write a bit every day. This is the “adjustment” period after all; aren’t I stressed enough? Well, weirdly enough, it’s reducing any stress I have. I am a workaholic – I don’t do well without something to do, which means I tend to make work if it’s not available. Hence my decision to spend my six weeks between terms producing a podcast.

The continuity of working on the same things also helps with the feeling of being uprooted – no matter where I happen to be in the world, the world of the story remains the same. And, since this is a story that’s been knocking around for quite a while, I’m finding that editing it gives me a good shot of familiarity in an entirely unfamiliar environment. Plus, it makes me feel productive and in control: two excellent feelings in a place where I don’t know how things work and I don’t yet have classes to fill my days.

I know my world. I know my characters. I know my story.

It’s very nice to know something. 😉

New Zealand: The First Few Days

Kia ora!

Today is Friday in New Zealand. I left Toronto on a Friday (which I suppose was Saturday in NZ), and got here on Sunday morning, NZ time. I did not have a Saturday, which was sad for the two kids on my flight from Vancouver-Auckland who missed their birthdays as we crossed the international date line.

Confused yet?

There’s been lots of confusion over the past few days, but also tiny, grimly triumphant steps towards feeling at home here. I was incredibly fortunate to already have contacts here: last term, I met a girl who was on exchange at U of T, originally from Otago. We got to know each other over the term, I took some of her stuff with me to NZ, and she picked me up at the airport.  When you haven’t slept in God knows how long, you’re lugging all your earthly possessions (or most of them, anyway), and you’re whipping through a mental list of documents, addresses, and names, it is so wonderful to be greeted by a familiar face, rather than an airport shuttle. Especially when that familiar face has a car, and can help you find/settle into your flat.

I can find my way around the Otago campus pretty well now, and I can get through Dunedin’s city centre without getting hopelessly lost. Orientation Week doesn’t start until next week, but the few extra days to acclimatize and get over the jetlag have been hugely beneficial. Sure, there are moments of homesickness, and it’s a major transition into a new school, country, and (hopefully) friends, but I think this is where I need to be right now.  

To finish then, a few observations and first impressions:

  • The Vancouver airport is gorgeous, and also has way better Wi-Fi than Pearson, Auckland, or Wellington.
  • The University of Otago handles course selection far more humanely than U of T. Instead of constructing a timetable yourself and attempting to access a database so loathed that it’s been personified by the entire student population (I hate ROSI), you go talk to a “study adviser.” Face-to-face. And then they take their pens and sign you into courses; courses which, I might add, have no cap on enrolment, and so, no waitlisting.
  • Coffee in New Zealand is delicious, but expensive.
  • Dunedin is cold. People smirk when I say this, because I’m Canadian and “should be used to it.” To be fair, the coldest it’s been has probably been about 10 degrees C. The problem is that homes in NZ don’t have central heating. You’re outside, and you’re chilly. You get home, and you’re still chilly. Because you never really get to warm up, you just stay cold. Bring on the sweaters and fleeces!
  • People here are so, so friendly and willing to help. When I collected my bedding pack from the Flats Office, the staff were offering me rides back home, because it was “so far to walk!” and the pack was “so heavy!” (Really, a 7-min walk with a pack that was bulky, but not too heavy. Still, it warmed my heart).
  • Being away from home makes you realize just what “home” is to you. Yes, I miss my family, and I miss my apartment and roommates. But I’ve been realizing lately that the two places where I feel happiest and “safest” are the pioneer village, and choir. And so, those seem to be the two places most on my mind in the wee hours of the morning.

Overall, though, things are good, and I’m adapting well. I can’t wait for classes to start, so I can feel even more settled. Plus, it’s been over two months since I was last in school. I think it’s time.

Obligatory Awkward First Post

Hello.

This is the obligatory awkward first post. I don’t much care for these. It’s like writing the first letter to a pen pal, or the first conversation with a new roommate – what do you say?

Hi, my name is ____. I’m from ____. I like ____. Oh Lord, please fill this silence with something.

So…

Hi, my name is K.T. Bryski. I’m from Canada, though residing in New Zealand for the next six months, which means there will be six months of “travel blog!” thrown into the mix here. I like writing, science fiction/fantasy, and eclectic periods of history. My first novel, Hapax, will be published by Dragon Moon Press this October, and will be available as a podcast sometime around Septemberish (though it’s not for a while yet, I figured I ought to be up front about it – save the date!).

Well, now we can move into the fun stuff. Alas, it shall have to wait until next time – I’m on my way to dinner with my new flatmate, her friend, and other international students. Yay, socialization!

Cheers!