P.C. Haring: How I do it!

P.C. Haring is the author and creator of Cybrosis, a cyberpunk action thriller starring many of the big names in podcasting today. He lives in Naperville, Illinois and besides being a writer is an accomplished musician with his primary instrument being the viola. And this is how he does it.

General Writing Questions

1, Before you begin writing, do you script out the general outline of plot and characters or do you let these situations evolve as you write?
The quick answer is ‘Yes” When I first started working on Cybrosis, the outline was very much an exercise in “what happens next” . I wrote chapter 1, asked “What happens next” and the answer became chapter 2. Rinse wash repeat. It wasn’t until I got into the last five chapters of Cybrosis that I actually started to sit down and plan out the rest of the book This is not a method to which I intend to return.

For all my writing since Cybrosis, I figure out what kind of story I want to tell and then go about building a world which will allow me to tell that story. I keep the world building fairly basic. Characters, settings, locations, technologies, major historical events, etc. Once I have enough of a grip on it in my head, I’ll then go and start outlining. I tend to outline only a few chapters ahead of where I’m writing. This gives me the structure to know where I’m going and the points I want to hit, but at the same time the lack of a full outline, leaves me the freedom to let the story evolve and grow without my worrying about straying too far from the outline and having to go and re-do it all.

2. I’ve heard repetitively that writers should deal with writing as any other job. Do you have a scheduled or structured writing routine? Please detail.
Ideally, yes I do. I try to write at least 1,000 words per day as a rule. This hasn’t been happening recently as personal issues have been demanding a lot of my time, but I plan to get back on that schedule this summer. I’m fortunate enough to have two very understanding supervisors at my day job who are very supportive of my writing. With that in mind, during the week I can be most prolific during my lunch hour at the office. On the average day, I can write 600-800 words in that hour, though my personal best for any given lunch hour is sitting around 1700. Once things settle down this spring, I do plan to re-evaluate my routine and see how I can make it better than it presently is.

3. What is your writing environment like? How has it evolved and changed?
I can’t write in a silent box, but like most others if there’s too much distraction, I also can’t write. Writing in my office is actually pretty good on its own. There’s enough activity to keep me from going nuts, but usually not so much activity I can’t concentrate. When I’m at home and writing, I try to reduce visual distractions. I turn off the television, skype, twitter, other social media networks. I usually add music from a dedicated “writing” playlist to the mix and listen to it at a reasonable level either through my computer speakers at home, or on my earbuds when I’m on my laptop at work or elsewhere. It really hasn’t evolved or changed all that much over the years. That said, one of the things happening this spring is I’m moving to a new place, so I’ll be interested to see how things evolve when I get settled in.

4. Do you write anything, or have you, that is solely for yourself?
Typically, I do not. Putting fiction aside, I have been known to write very blunt, aggressive rants directed towards specific people and circumstances. When I do that I usually share them with at least one other person, a friend or family member as that sharing helps me to release frustration over an event I can not control.

That said, there are two scenes in my current draft novel that I wrote but have no intention of sharing. The first scene was one I’d written to get a series of mental images out of my head. It was fully tangental to the plot or the point, and it was not a scene I felt belonged. I wrote it to excise it from my brain so my mind could focus on other things. Two minutes after I finished writing the scene, I deleted it. It was very therapeutic.

The second scene I wrote that I will not share was written as an extension to a scene that remains in the draft. I did this primarily for consistency sake. In terms of the narration, there is an event that occurs, but the motives for that event are not what they seem to be on the surface. The public draft will see that scene end and cut away about halfway through the content I’d written. This is to build suspense and to give me the opportunity to litter in our characters reactions to what the reader will NOT see as I continue the story. Ultimately the reader will know what happened in that second half, but they will NOT see it verbatim. Yet I felt the need to write it so I could get into my characters heads, and know for certain what was and was not said and done for when it comes back to haunt them.

5. How has social media played a role in your writing?
I could spend 10,000 words on that answer alone. Social media has exposed me to many other authors, most of whom are in the same boat I’m in right now. I have relationships with other authors I would never have dreamed of in the past. The support network we’ve developed, not just from writer to writer or podcaster to podcaster, but writer to listener and listener to listener, is quickly becoming invaluable as it’s given me a much larger pool of talent and perspective I can work with and draw from. Whether I’m podcasting a full novel, or sending an excerpt of a new draft to a friend, or reviewing the same from another, social media is, in part a writers workshop that’s always open where the attendees are always revolving so the perspectives change, and I couldn’t be happier for it.

Podcasting Questions

1. What type of OS do you prefer? Linux? Mac? Windows? What are your Machine’s specs?
Hands down I prefer Mac OS X in any of it’s versions. In the three years I’ve been on the Mac side of computing, the hardware and software has proven itself far more stable and reliable for my needs than windows and Microsoft have over the previous decade. My primary production machine is an Apple Mac Mini on a 1.83 Gig Intel Core Duo processor with 2 gigs of RAM

2. Would you please describe your current studio? How has this changed? (What did you start with?)
Interesting question since Off the Deep End Studios is presently in a state of pending transition. Cybrosis was recorded my current configuration; a ‘den’ in my soon to be previous apartment. It’s large enough to support my desk, recording equipment, office drawers, a few book shelves and still have some room to spare. It’s a very boxy, very live space that’s made recording a challenge, one I’m not sure I’ve successfully met. My first recording environment (I won’t even call it a studio) was very much dormitory room style. Wherein my bedroom, studio, office were all in the same room. That was a far smaller set up with just a basic logitec USB microphone plugged directly into the computer itself.

3. What would your dream studio look like?
It’s funny. I started writing the response and the more I thought about it, the more my opinion changed. A little bit of context, because I’m in the process of moving, I’ll be re-designing Off The Deep End Studio. In it’s current conception, OTDES 2.0 will be created from a converted clothes closet (non walk in). I’ll be putting up studio foam along the back wall, sides, and maybe I will extend the side walls into the room a little with a piece of removable plywood or two to help create that recording booth feel. I’ll also be adding a second microphone, designed for instrumental recording.

At this point, this is as close to my ideal setup as I can envision. The only other change I would prefer would be to make the closet instead of the nook in the wall design with folding/sliding doors, to make it a full walk in that I could set up and then go in and close a door with the computers and everything else outside.

4. Other than a computer, what piece of hardware would you recommend to a new podcaster?
I know there are podcasters who will disagree with me, but my first recommendation would be a decent microphone. It’s a tough thing to select a microphone. There are so many varieties out there with varying price ranges, options, bells and whistles. But at it’s core all microphones are the same -they they detect sound waves and transmit them to a recording device. Different microphones will make a user sound different even if all other variables are consistent. So it’s important to find one that makes a podcaster sound the way that podcaster wants to sound.

I’ve yet to find a “try it before you buy it” program from reputable dealers of microphones, but if you can find one I’d highly encourage it. Contact the podcasters you listen to and find out their recommendations. If you can, borrow microphones and test them to see how you like working with the unit. There are a lot of good options out there whether you are looking for a studio Mic that requires a mixer or pre-amp, or just want to pick up an easy USB plug and play microphone. These options don’t have to break the bank either. The microphone I use sells for between $100 and $150 so while it is a little more expensive than you might like to spend, one needs not spend $700 for a mic, either.

5. What have you had to learn for yourself that you wish someone could have warned you about?
Narrative delivery and the ‘dramatic read’ In truth, I actually did receive a couple of warnings about this walking into Cybrosis, but it’s not a lesson that can just be taught like the next math problem, but rather something the podcaster has to develop on his/her own. The initial tendency, when reading from copy is to read too fast. I know my words and I’m trying to narrate a story and pull the reader into my world. But at the same time if I move too fast I’ll lose my listener. On the flip side, if I move to slow, I’ll fark up the pacing. It’s like that high school or college professor you had…we’ve all had one of these…who just stands up at the podium for the entire hour and begins his lecture and doesn’t stop speaking even long enough to take a breath before they move on to the next topic and it’s just like this for the entire hour as the prof drones on and on and on and you are trying your hardest just to stay awake to say nothing about actually comprehending or absorbing the content they’re trying to teach.

So the trick is the dynamic read — Finding the proper tone of voice, the proper emphasis in the appropriate areas of the prose to deliver emotion without shouting into the mic, too slow down and speak a little more wistfully as the character recalls a pleasant childhood memory, but then to drive aggression and anger over the betrayal of their closest confidant all while not going so far over the top that you blow the listener away while you make sure the delivery is clear enough to be understood so the listener isn’t left questioning (or re-winding and re-listening), thus destroying the emotional aspect and the pacing. It’s a fine balance and one that every podcaster is constantly struggling. Developing this is not a learned skill so much as an art that continually evolves grows and changes.

6. What would you consider a ‘beginner’s mistake’ you’ve either experienced or hear others making?
I would have to say that the biggest beginner mistake I’ve seen has been starting before the production is ready. I can’t tell you how many podcasts I’ve listened to where one or two or three episodes have come out like clockwork only to have the production mired by delays, infrequent releases, and a general concern of whether the product is podfading. I believe this is because producers did not properly anticipate the demands on their time when they got their project started and/or underestimated their buffer. You’ll hear a lot of podcasters talk about a ‘buffer’ that fun ‘head start’ between the next episode of the podcast that goes live, and the number of shows after that you’ve got in the can. I’ve asked, been asked, and heard others ask “how many show do I need to have ready to go before I start?” Some people say five, others say ten, others say half. But I’ve come to realize that there’s no rule. But there may be a formula and I’ll use Cybrosis as an example as I walk through the way to figure it out—

How many episodes is your podcast novel going to be? 20.
How often will you release an episode? Weekly
Duration of the podcast — 20 weeks.

How long does it take you (on average) to produce an episode — 2 weeks.
Total production time 20 episodes * 2 weeks per episode. 40 weeks.

So with that in mind, if I plan to have ten episodes of the podcast ready to go before Episode 1 goes live, I should be able to complete the 20th just in time for it to go live, and do so without significant production delay. There are of course other factors to consider — Do you want to maintain a buffer of X episodes throughout? Are there big things coming up in your life that would delay your ability to produce? Are you going to have music elements added by a composer who needs time to work with your audio before the music can be written? Are you comfortable with delaying an episode a week or more if need be? It’s very easy to bite off more than you can chew in these projects, but a little bit of pre-planning, (sure we can call it being anal), can save a LOT of stress once that first episode goes live.

7. How much time does it take, once you have all the elements, for YOU to put together a 30 minute podcast. please describe your production technique.

Once I have all of the raw audio back from my voice actors and my narration recorded, it can take me anywhere between 3 and 8 hours to cut it all together and make it ready for the episode. I’m sorry I don’t have a more precise measurement, but there are a lot of variables in my production.

Once I have all the elements I’ll sit down with the script and press play on the audio project file. I let my narration run until either I screw it up, re-take it, or a line of dialogue is needed. When other dialogue is needed I’ll bring in their audio at that point, and begin the same process on a different track and I keep going through that process of listening to the line, pulling out the flubs, and the extra unused takes, cutting and timing together as appropriate. But as I said, there are a lot of variables— what is the quality of my narration? If I have two pages of solid prose and I have to re-take every paragraph four times for whatever reason, it eats more time to listen and screen takes out than it would if I was able to knock out the entire passage in just two takes. How many voice actors do I have to consider, and how many of them appear in the same scenes? I had once scene between 4 people in one of my early chapters. IT was a 2 minute scene that literally took me an hour and a half to pull together as I was listening to multiple takes on the same lines from multiple actors. Then I had to go back in and listen to the selected takes to see if the tone and delivery from one to the next seemed to flow in terms of a conversation that would be taking place were those 4 actors all in the same room and just chatting it up. But at the same time, one of the final chapters in Cybrosis, is primarily action. It’s 90% prose and narration and what little dialogue there is, is mostly one liners and quick comments that don’t require the feel of a flowing conversation that chapter ended up being 20-30 minutes of content, and took me two and a half hours to complete.

Once the voice work is cut together and the extraneous is removed from the project, I then go about scoring for a sound track. This is the other wild card in terms of time. Usually I get an idea of which moments I want to have music underscore and what, In general, I want that music to sound like. My primary resources have been digital juice and the mevio music alley though I do also collaborate with other composers if things work out. Listening to and screening music clips can be very time consuming. I usually can tell within the first 30 seconds to a minute of a clip, whether or not I think it’ll work for the specific moment I need. Digital Juice clips also have some additional customization options that I’ll tweak if needed. But after I’ve selected the cut, it’s just a matter of importing the file into the main project, and balancing it under the dialogue.

Once the music is done I declare the chapter ‘done’, save it and export it. That’s the end of my 3-8 hour estimate.

I’ll listen to it in the intervening weeks. Then, a few days before that chapter goes live, I mix the chapter into the episode which is where I insert the credits, the theme music, the story so far, the promo, and any announcements I make. Usually this final step takes me an hour depending on how long it takes me to record and edit my announcement segments.

Casting Questions

1. What is the hardest part of putting together a casted podcast?
Being cognizant of the fact that your cast has a life outside of your production. Deadlines are great and usually tend to work well. But we’re all human beings here and sometimes daily life means that the cast has to blow your deadline in order to tend to more pressing needs. This goes back to my comments about the buffer. I can ask my cast for a 2 week turnaround on a chapter, but if something happens and they end up taking 3 weeks or even a month…that needs to be a consideration. And sure, you can still cut a chapter together without an actor’s content and use temporary ‘proxy’ lines to leave the gaps needed and just slot their lines in later. But every voice is different, every person has their own unique pace and rhythm and every time I’ve subbed in my voice for a missing actor, there have been timing problems when I went back to put in the actors voice. The trick here is patience and open communication.

2. Do you provide the entire chapter to your talent, or just their lines?
Actually, I did one better than that. For my primary character actors, I provided them the entire manuscript, even if some of them were only in a quarter of the book. I did this for two reasons. First, to thank them for participating, and second so that if they wanted to read the book, and know what was going on during the intervening chapters where their character wasn’t present, but will have to react to in later chapters, they could.

When I delivered scripts to the actors, they got the entire chapter, even if they only had one or two lines in it. Again, this was so they’d have the bigger picture and be able to read the lines before and after to see what they’d be reacting to and so they’d have the prose that describes the way the line is delivered. In audio hearing me say “Ciris hesitated” followed by Ciris’s line doesn’t work. It pulls the listener out of the world. But if Heather reads in the script that Ciris hesitates, she can then deliver the line with a stuttering “I” or the sound of hesitation in her voice. If it’s an interrogation scene and the character is circling the table, it helps the actor to know what the character is doing as the line is being delivered.

3. Is instruction given to your talent on how you prefer the line to be read?
Absolutely. But in the grand tradition of Pirates of the Caribbean “they’re more like guidelines, really”

I use Word’s comment feature to highlight specific lines and leave specific notes. Whether they be to emphasize certain words or phrases, or things I see in my mind. I’ve also been known to give my talent some insight on what’s going on behind the scenes that the character would know about but the reader wouldn’t quite yet. For the most part, the voice actors have been receptive and appreciative for the notes.

4. What do you do with all of that unused audio?
It depends. If an actor has delivered a humorous out-take, I’ll spin it into it’s own track and save them for potential usage in a gag reel. If the unused audio is merely just another shot at a line that I didn’t select for whatever reason, I usually delete it from the project file. Removing the extraneous audio helps keep the file ‘cleaner’ and easier to work with. It also keeps the size of the file down as well. I keep all of the raw audio the actors give me in their original audio files so if I ever need to go back and reference something, I have the original source data available to me.

5. What is the hardest part of putting together a “straight read” podcast?
I did a ‘straight read’ for a short story about a year or so back. For me the hardest part was trying to differentiate the voices of the speakers. I’m not much of a voice actor and the piece in question called for me to approximate the voice of a young girl. I was…under impressed…by my results.

6. As far as cast goes, what would you like to try, but haven’t so far?
It’s hard to say. The production of Cybrosis required me to do a lot with vocal filters, transformations, and other post production effects and some of the future projects in my mind are going to require some different elements that I’ve not tried yet. I don’t want to speculate on what production needs I might have for my cast, but I’m looking forward to the challenge.

General Questions

1. If Someone approached you with THEIR book, and asked you to podcast it for them for a fee, what would you consider a reasonable rate per episode? (The way YOU do it?)
It’s hard to say and I don’t honestly know for sure. It would have to depend on what the project was, how long it was, whether the author wanted to do a full voice cast or wanted just a straight read and what the production requirements would be.

2. Do you podcast as part of a larger plan, or because getting your content out in some manner IS your plan?

A little bit of both to be honest. I’m hoping that podcasting my work will help me find an audience and a bit of a following. There is a part of me that would like to see success with the podcast turn into success with a print run of my work. But, speaking from a stand point of pure statistics, it’s highly unlikely that Cybrosis or any of my other projects will see anything more than a slush pile in a professional market and if someone gets into podcasting their novels for the sole purpose of turing it into a print contract, I argue they’re doing it for the wrong reasons. Don’t get me wrong, as I said there’s a part of me who would love to have a print contract. But more than that, I’m very happy to have a wonderful audience of people who have found and enjoy my work. As a story teller it is my job to not only create stories, but more importantly, also to share them with others. Already I’ve succeeded in this with the podcast and I couldn’t be happier.

3. What is the nicest compliment you’ve been paid or what keeps you coming back?
I’ve received a lot of compliments since Cybrosis went live and many of them have amazed and surprised me. But I recently received a review where the reviewer suggested I might one day evolve into one of the greats. This coupled with another with a similar review about becoming a ‘household name in podcasting’, just blew me away. It’s these kinds of reviews that keep me coming back. It’s one thing for my family and friends to tell me they like what I’m doing when I ask them their opinion. But for a listener, who I don’t know and doesn’t know me beyond the podcast itself, to take the time and leave comments is a very validating experience.

4. How important are numbers of downloads/subscribers to you? Do you keep track?
I do keep track of subscribers and content downloads, but I do try to keep it in perspective and not place excessive importance on the numbers at this stage of the game. I don’t have an agent looking for numbers so they can pitch that to publishers. I don’t answer to anyone with my writing other than myself and my listeners. So while I do track it, I also try not to live and die by those numbers. I podcast to share stories and I believe that if I continue to do my thing, tell my stories, promote myself and my work, the audience will grow.

5. How important are reviews left on Podiobooks/iTunes/other venues to you?
Extremely important. If I don’t hear feedback from my audience, I have no way of knowing whether my writing is working for them. I have no way of knowing if that scene I was worried about works or not. I am very happy and eager to receive all constructive feedback, regardless of how critical they may be and I try to respond to all of it, even if not directly. The positive reviews help bolster my ego and give me an excuse to puff up my chest with pride. The negative or more critical reviews are just as helpful and give me something to respond and react to. As a content creator, I have neither the luxury nor the desire to directly debate with everyone who dislikes my work. But if their comments are constructive and have valid points to them, those critical reviews help shape future revisions to the project and deliver an invaluable learning experience to me as I work to develop my craft.

6. If not answered before, how do you read your manuscript while recording?
I read off of a hard copy bound in a three ring binder and propped up on a cookbook or music stand. This allows me to keep my hands free while I record as I tend to use body motion and gestures when I narrate. It also gives me the ability to make notes directly to the copy, whether I’m adjusting the manuscript, or leaving myself notes about the production itself. I’ve tried reading off of a computer screen, or even my kindle, but it just doesn’t work as well for me.

~ by odin1eye on 21 April, 2010.

4 Responses to “P.C. Haring: How I do it!”

  1. This interview is extremely thorough. I do a straight read for my podcast but if I ever decided to to a casted podcast, I would use this interview as a guide-a how to. I agree with his view on the mic, get a fairly decent one and it takes care of a lot of problems that are heard on headset mics like the act of our lifesaving breathing. Necessary but very noisy. Putting the script in a 3 ring binder sounds like a great idea! I use a music stand but would really like the stablility of the binder as well.
    Godd interview, thank you both for the questions and the answers.

    • I’m glad you enjoyed it! P.C. really did go out of his way to be thorough, didn’t he? I really love seeing the similarities and differences between the different podcasters. Thanks for the comment!

  2. These are really really interesting to read! Thanks so much for putting it together and sharing it with us!

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