Podcasts and Diversity: 3 Points on Fiction’s Future

Photo credit: http://www.nicolassolop.com

Not so long ago, radio was a staple of the entertainment industry. You had your talk radio, your morning DJs, your rock n’ roll stations on FM, and so on. And to be fair, you still have them aplenty. But now, we’re seeing a massive upswing of Internet-based radio. Like podcasting. All of it ranges from NPR-style news programming to comedy shows where 4 people sit on a couch and make jokes for an hour and a half.

And thanks to podcasts like Welcome to Night Vale and The Black Tapes, audio dramas are now a thing. We can tell so many new stories in so many ways, all by using the freedom of the Web. It’s why I think (for the reasons listed below) that what we see in podcasting today is what we’ll see more of in fiction in the future.

More inclusive casting.

When I say that a show or a story is more “inclusive,” I mean that it takes a chance on telling stories from more than a standard or “safe” point of view. When we watch a TV show or a movie, we might find it remarkable that someone in a leading role is non-white, non-straight, or female. But because of the audio-only format, a podcast story can make it so very, very easy to erase those distinctions. I don’t think anything out of the ordinary when I hear Jasika Nicole (an African-American woman) playing a trucker in Alice Isn’t Dead, or when I hear Joshua Ilon voice a detective (who happens to be bisexual) in The Penumbra Podcast.

The more we as an audience grow comfortable with this kind of casting, I think the more likely we’ll see such changes in our visual medium, too.

More audience interaction.

Compared to traditional media, podcasters are a lot more open and acknowledging of what their fans can contribute to their productions. While you might have read about how authors and studios are still hating on fanfiction writers and YouTube uploads that use their content, fans of audio drama have been a major support to their creators. Whether it’s creating artwork or merchandise, running blogs and Tumblr pages to support their shows, or even participating in contests and live shows as part of the act, the audience comes first to every podcaster’s priorities.

More radical ideas for storytelling.

At a certain point, both the film and television industries have come to offer a very standard approach to how they want their stories told. Screenwriters have to abide by a very traditional set of beats, or else they’ll lose a network executive’s interest before they can ever find an audience to engage.

However, that’s not the case for podcasters. As Night Vale Presents has shown, it’s possible to tell a story however you choose, so long as the episode isn’t overly long or boring. Want to tell the story of a dystopian nightmare as a series of cassette tapes promoting relaxation exercises? Done. Want to add some surreal horror as the CB radio broadcasts of a lone trucker? Go for it. Want to resurrect the radio variety show as a genre? Hey, why not.

The point is, as good as many movies and TV shows are today, they do still have a follow a traditional format for delivering their stories, from the Three Act Structure to the Hour-Long Drama. But not podcasts. They can be as wild as they want, and they’ll still get their audience.


So, all of this should give you a pretty good idea of why I love podcasts. Now, it’s your turn. What are some of your favorite things about podcasts and audio dramas? What characters or concepts do you love in shows like The Black Tapes or Welcome to Night Vale, and why?

Wolf 359: Far From Home, But Close to Danger

Wolf 359
Logo design by Sasha Lamb.

Podcasts are a great modern media for storytelling. I’m actually looking to get into the business myself. But until that day comes, let’s pause and have a moment to enjoy a nice science fiction series about the good folks crewing a space station in Wolf 359.

The story takes place on the space station Hephaestus, set in orbit around a red dwarf star designated Wolf 359. Doug Eiffel, our narrator and protagonist, is the lowly Communications Officer assigned to the station against his will. He attempts to pass his shifts with tons of pop culture references and a constant sweep of the outlying star systems for radio chatter (and possible signs of extraterrestrials). Meanwhile, Eiffel contends with the tough Commander Renee Minkowski and the elusive Dr. Alexander Hilbert, whose lives he sometimes complicates with his lack of professional standards. Eiffel finds solace in his chats with the station’s artificial intelligence, Hera, and occasionally he proves useful whenever a crisis hits the station. Which is often.

It’s easy to see the reusable dynamic between our main cast members. Doug Eiffel plays the snarky, down-on-his-luck protagonist, sometimes by his own schemes and sometimes not. Commander Minkowski is the straight man to Doug’s antics, no-nonsense about each job, but also carrying a heart of gold for everyone on board. Dr. Hilbert varies between eccentric in his mad scientist stereotype (complete with wacky Russian accent!) and downright threatening when the plot kicks in. And Hera, the station’s AI, is ever cheerful and happy to serve… except when she’s not and something is going horribly wrong. Which, again, is often.

I realize that some listeners got tired very quick of this gimmick, and I can see why. I mean, it is a gimmick. In my opinion, it still works for the show. These common roles are good at both comedic and dramatic moments, whether to set up a running gag or to play out the tension of the latest crisis. Much like Welcome to Night Vale, Wolf 359 has several small narrative arcs that serve to deepen the ongoing danger of the environment, without losing too much of the original humor and charm that attracts its audience.

Sure, sometimes the conflicts feel as though they’re setting up for a very obvious resolution. And sometimes they’re not, with plenty of curious twists and upsets. I do think, though, that some of the show’s deeper moments aren’t so much about Doug or Minkowski or Hilbert (the human characters) as they are about Hera (the AI). Her shifts in tone and her evolving personality quirks have yielded some of the most nerve-wracking tension in the entire series, and remember, this is a podcast that features a space station that’s frequently lost orbit and almost fallen into a red dwarf star. Hera’s storylines owe a lot to the writers’ talent and to Michaela Swee’s acting.

I know that Wolf 359 doesn’t have quite the small town horror that a popular podcast like The Black Tapes or Kings Fall AM has, but it does have a charm unto itself. It’s equal parts comedic and tragic, and it never fails to leave me smiling.

New episodes of Wolf 359 are available through their official website, iTunes, and SoundCloud.


Bibliography: Wolf 359 (podcast). Created by Gabriel Urbina. Written by Gabriel Urbina and Sarah Shachat. Produced by Gabriel Urbina and Zach Valenti. Perf. Zach Valenti, Emma Sherr-Ziarko, Michaela Swee, Cecilia Lynn-Jacobs, Zach Libresco, Noah Masur, Michelle Agresti, Scotty Shoemaker, and Ariela Rotenberg. Music by Alan Rodi. Kinda Evil Genius Productions. Broadcast:

I’m Writing a Podcast This Year!

Photo Credit: Erica Zabowski (Flickr)

Hey, gang! Good news: In this Year of our Lord, 2017, I’ve decided to get off the mat and work on my very own podcast. To be specific, I’ve written a pilot script for an audio drama series called Magic Hunters.

What is Magic Hunters, you ask? It’s an urban fantasy series, set in the fictional small town of Atlas City. We meet two teenagers, Chris and Rebecca, who find themselves in waaaay over their heads when they uncover a world of monsters and dangerous magic. Fortunately, they’ve got an ally: Sunny, the tall, blonde elf warrior and expert monster hunter. She’s sworn an oath to protect every world from such terrors, and she’ll take any help she can get.

So, how can you help? Well, in any number of ways, of course! I’ve got a script ready, and I’ve experimented with audio editing software like Audacity. You can hear my not-so-great vocal and music test track on YouTube.

However, this isn’t a project I can put together by myself. At this time, I’m putting out a call for the following interested people:

  • People with experience recording and editing voice actors and SFX
  • Voice actors of all ages and genders
  • Artists who can help me come up with a distinctive logo
  • Writers who want to contribute to a modern-day fantasy series

If you’re interested, please email me at rhapsodistchat@gmail.com. We can discuss rates, compensation, and scheduling from there.

It’s been an interesting year so far. Here’s to making it a little more pleasant and meaningful with creative works like this.

And, as always, thanks for reading.

Welcome to Night Vale and The New Storyteller’s Style

night-vale

Podcasts are to radio what modern streaming sites are to TV: the next step forward in the medium’s evolution. And just like with Netflix and Amazon Prime, the ability to string together stories for binge cycles or in bite-sized pieces is a key selling point for anyone looking to jump into a podcast. They’re perfect for when you’re on-the-go or when you’re looking for something to fill the background while you work.

And few podcasts have grabbed the Internet’s attention quite like Welcome to Night Vale. Set in a fictional desert town in the American Southwest, Night Vale is a comedic radio show about the bizarre events that transpire in that region, where every myth, monster, and conspiracy theory is not only true but competing with one another for total dominance (if not something worse than that). It is a terrifying yet familiar blend that resembles, as blogger Eileen Maksym puts itLake Wobegon meets H.P. Lovecraft.”

With that said, what is it about Night Vale that speaks so profoundly to its audience?

A collection of our greatest fears and dreads.

Night Vale is home to a vast and unyielding cornucopia of terrors, from the visceral to the existential. It’s the perfect breeding ground for your classic Cosmic Horror Story, where humanity is nothing more than a witless mutation gibbering in the dark of an uncaring and alien universe. The best parts are where everything is more unsettling than gory in its description, like a face that isn’t quite right or anything said by Cecil to make you question your memories and your significance in the world.

Black comedy at its finest.

Cecil Palmer has the perfect voice for casually dropping hints about mass casualties at the latest PTA meeting or packs of rabid dogs attacking schoolchildren (who defend themselves with shadow government-issued assault weapons and nerve gas). Something about Night Vale taps into that part of our brains where we’re not always sure whether to laugh or shudder in terror. So we usually do both (or at least, dear reader, I do).

A magnificent sense of continuity.

If there’s one thing I enjoy as a writer, it’s seeing other writers follow up on their previously established jokes or characters. Hearing Cecil come up with something new and vicious to say about Steve Carlsberg, or filling us in on the fate of the barber who once dared to cut Carlos the Scientist’s “perfect hair,” never gets old. It’s not just mining for jokes, but the way that they give the audience a sense of the passage of time. And in a story where eldritch abominations and ancient conspiracies lurk in plain sight, Time weighs heavily on the small town.

A real sense of community.

The writers and producers of the show have done their job when it comes to creating a fully fleshed-out, All-American small town. Cecil’s descriptions of the various residents, both human and horrific, are oddly charming. Not to mention the fact that he has several in-depth relationships himself, including with Carlos the Scientist, Dana the Intern, Khoshekh the Cat, and the Faceless Old Woman Who Secretly Lives In Your House.

Is Night Vale for everyone? Not necessarily. Some people enjoy a more suspenseful or grittier kind of horror, with lots of gory details, so this wouldn’t be their cup of tea. However, I find this kind of colorful lore engaging and I recommend it for anyone who wants some good listening material. It’ll make you laugh, cry, cringe, shiver, and think deeply about things you probably never wanted to consider.

Welcome to Night Vale is a podcast available on iTunes and for streaming on Libsyn. Learn more about the series at its official website.

Listen to My Interview in “Stories and Voice,” A Brand New Podcast

Hey, all! I’ve got some good news to share.

For the last 5 months, I’ve been attending a series of writer’s group sessions with Write It Up! Burbank, which has been fantastic for killing my writer’s block. And it was here that I got to meet the lovely Laurie Weaver, a talented writer and voice actress in her own right.

Laurie and her husband Mark invited me to their home, where I had the privilege of conducting an interview for Laurie’s new podcast, Stories and Voice. Not only am I the first interview for the show, but one of her voice actor friends, Greg Sais, recording an amazing rendition of my first story that I ever wrote for Write It Up! Burbank, titled “Find Your Fairy in Aisle 27.

Episode 1 of the podcast is available here. You can also subscribe to the podcast on iTunes and Android.