Paul E. Cooley: How I do it!

Born during the witching hour within hours of the winter solstice, Paul Elard Cooley has been writing and slamming down keys on a computer since the ripe old age of 12. He has seen more than his share of bad horror movies, read more than his share of great horror novels, and generally learned to loathe humankind (unless they’re his fans). When he’s not writing, tweeting, or podcasting, he’s usually developing enterprise software for companies that lay him off all too often. At present, his job title reads “professional horror hack” and job description includes “other duties as assigned.”

Paul is the author of the Fiends collection, Tattoo, and his newest novel, “Closet Treats.” All his work is available at, iTunes, and

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?
Writing for me is usually a bit of a discovery exercise. I get an idea for a story, but usually it’s just a kernel, a nugget of an idea. The story itself has to be teased out from my brain until I have enough information to really begin working on the rest of the tale. But once I get about 10k -20k words in, I have to start outlining on the longer works. In order to properly get the plot working and the characters, it takes a full outline which I then may or may not follow. Books are more difficult than short stories. Short stories happen fast and usually without too much effort. But novellas and novels are more involved. Much more involved.

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.
I try and write in the morning. When I wake up, I have 3-4 hours before my brain wakes up and decides it wants to get logical. Once that time in the morning disappears, writing can take an awful lot of work. It doesn’t flow very well and can be very frustrating. There are times, of course, when this is not the case. Basically, I try and write at least 1k words every day. But that has to be tempered by the other insanity in my life (of which there’s been a lot lately).

3. What is your writing environment like? How has it evolved and changed?
I can’t write without music. Usually serious industrial, metal, techno. Something with a nasty horrid beat and lyrics that make virgins blush and the religious run to their churches. I use two screens, one for writing, and the other for a browser when research is necessary. I write using xemacs in the console mode or Scrivener in full screen mode. Both have black background with green text. I try and hide the rest of the OS and all other applications at all times. This helps a lot.

My fuzzies (two cats and a HUGE dog) usually keep me company. At least one of the cats ends up in my lap at some point in the day. It’s just the way it happens. Since I started writing again, things are pretty much the way they started, only that since my Linux box died, I’m a mac-only person now.

4. Do you write anything, or have you, that is solely for yourself?
There are many stories I’ve written (not finished) that started out only for myself, but ultimately needed to be released for some of the series I’m working. I’m afraid to admit it, but I’m a bit shy when it comes to writing about sex, but some of the stories I want to write, I’m going to have to really delve into that subject. I haven’t shared them yet, but they’re in the near future. And although those stories start out just for me, they’re all going to end up out there in the ether. At least the ones I can finish.

5. How has social media played a role in your writing?
Social media is a huge time sink. If I’m not careful, I end up spending all frackin day on twitter and facebook. Really have to struggle to keep that from becoming my day. However, it does sometimes pay off. My novella, Tattoo, only exists because one of my listeners, Pons Matal, told me about something he’d read. Canvas, one of my short stories, caused him to relate this incident and that ended up giving me my most popular work.

Also, social media has kept me writing. Most people are shy about leaving comments in the forums, but they do send me DMs or messages via Twitter to tell me what they think. That kind of support is difficult to replicate without social media. I have to say that during my most vulnerable moments, when uncertainty and doubt creeps in, the social media aspects have managed to keep me going.

Podcasting Questions

1. What type of OS do you prefer? Linux? Mac? Windows? What are your Machine’s specs?

I use a little Mac-Mini to do everything now. I used to write on my linux box, and podcast with the mac mini. But as of now, I only use the Mac. It only has 2gigs of ram and is the older 2ghz model. Basically, it’s a hamster computer. But it does what I need to do…for now.

2. Would you please describe your current studio? How has this changed? (What did you start with?)My studio has always had:a: Behringer XENYX 1204

b: AKG Perception 220

c: 15 year old pair of Sony Studio Mixing Headphones.

My setup cost me about $200.00 all told and has been worth every damned penny.

3. What would your dream studio look like?
Oh, for the want of some serious cash.

The only things I would change:

a. soundproofed room. I MEAN SOUNDPROOFED!

b. Mac Pro with lots of RAM and SERIOUS firepower under the hood for crunching and editing audio

c. Logic Pro for editing and mixing.

d. new set of studio headphones (LOL)

e. better mic boom

4. Other than a computer, what piece of hardware would you recommend to a new podcaster?
The BEST Mic you can get your hands on. My AKG Perception 220 condensor mic gives me a MUCH better voice than I deserve. It warms it and makes me sound somewhat like a pro. But it’s VERY sensitive. But while you can use Audacity and GarageBand and god only knows what else for recording and mixing, you can’t fix a shitty mic. So make sure that’s what you aim to ultimately have.

But if you can’t afford a damned good mic, Invest in a ZOOM H2 for podcasting. It’s a good enough mic and is self contained so you don’t even need a hardware mixer. I’ve used it for a couple of “mobile” casts now and I’m very happy with it. Although it will never replace my AKG mic.

5. What have you had to learn for yourself that you wish someone could have warned you about?
I think I was actually warned pretty well, LOL. After listening to Scott Sigler and others talk about how much work it was to do this, I was well prepared. If anything, I wish someone would have warned me about just how much work it takes to edit and make an episode sound professional. I never would have guessed it could take a freakin’ hour to record ten minutes of audio, mix it, and then send it to the internet. Sometimes it’s daunting just how much of your life can be spent getting one freakin’ paragraph sounding better than shit.

6. What would you consider a ‘beginner’s mistake’ you’ve either experienced or hear others making?
a) I’ve listened to many podcasts that sound like they’re recorded inside of a tin can while a garbage disposal of static fills the background. This makes it very difficult to concentrate on the words and such. Also, and I was guilty of this too, being too lazy and repeat a phrase that you stumbled on. This can really break the flow of the story. It’s not a good practice to get into.

b) For god’s sake, do not read your work off of paper! No matter how hard you try, you’re going to have to get the shuffling, crinkling of paper out of your cast. Either invest in a damned lectern, or read it off the computer. There’s no damned reason to watch your audio record, so read it off the damned screen. Crinkling, shuffling paper sounds very unprofessional and is the sign of someone who hasn’t really thought about what they’re doing.

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.
A 30 minute podcast. Ugh. Okay, so here’s what I do for an episode of Closet Treats:

a. Record a chapter as its own file (3-15 minutes + time for repeats [this can take 45 minutes if I really suck that day]).

b. Edit the individual file and make sure it sounds good. This requires listening to the entire chapter.

c. Export the file out as a VERY high quality AAC file.

d. repeat a-c until I have all the chapters done for the episode.

e. Create a new garageband project. Put in the “intro.” Bring in each individual file into the new project. Add chapter breaks (“Chapter X”) and transition sounds. Add outro music.

f. QC entire episode to ensure I didn’t miss anything in the “a-c” section.

g. Export file to AAC high quality

h. Use levelator on entire episode.

i. Edit ID3 Tags.

j. Put on the web.

So a 30 minute podcast? It can take HOURS. It depends on how many chapters there are and how much I SUCK at reading that day. But I’ve gotten the rest of it down to a pretty good flow. It took a long time to get into the routine, but every episode gets easier. You can’t make audio crunch faster (without a faster machine). More importantly, you can’t rush the QC portions. However long it takes, is however long it takes. There’s no way around it.

Casting Questions

1. What is the hardest part of putting together a casted podcast?
Up to this point, I’ve only ever had one other performer in my works. But this is a serious freakin’ pain in the ass. They record their lines, and then you have to chop up your reading, insert/edit their audio files to fit. It can be a very very long process whereby a simple 3 minute conversation takes an hour to edit. There’s a reason I don’t do this very often. It can make for a great audio drama, but it keeps you from writing. And that’s always a BAD thing.

2. Do you provide the entire chapter to your talent, or just their lines?
Talent gets the entire story or entire chapter. I think it’s important that the other actors know the context of their lines. Otherwise, it can get very difficult for them to figure out their character.

3. Is instruction given to your talent on how you prefer the line to be read?
I’ve been blessed on this. Working with Andrew Richardson, I simply gave him the idea, a little bit of an idea, about how I saw the character. He read Nigel from Tattoo in a way I’d never even dreamed. It turned out better than I’d expected and made the character one of my favorites. It’s difficult to direct someone from miles and miles away. And without being there live to help them figure out the line, it could take DAYS to get the audio you want. So I try not to be a fascist director. I don’t think it’s helpful and I certainly don’t have time for it. I like to let people use their imaginations and bring to the production exactly how they see the character.

4. What do you do with all of that unused audio?
Unused audio? I FLUSH IT! I’ve often thought of making a blooper reel, but the majority of my f ups end up going to data heaven.

5. What is the hardest part of putting together a “straight read” podcast?
A straight read podcast requires you to make a decision: come up with your own voices for each character, and figure out how to make the changes between voices enough for the reader to grab it. I don’t go as crazy as Scott Sigler, but I try and give each character their own voice. Female voices ARE THE WORST! I don’t do them very well and enunciation is VERY difficult.

6. As far as cast goes, what would you like to try, but haven’t so far?
Next year, when I tackle “The Day The Town Died”, I’m going to have to have at least 4 voice actors. That is going to be hell, but it’s the only way I can properly do the cast. So, I guess that’s going to be the “I haven’t done this yet” but doesn’t fall into the “I want to do this” category. 🙂

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?)
Eek. This is difficult Guess it would depend on how many voices and etc. But IF I was going to charge for this, I think $30 an episode is fair. Yeah, I’m cheap.

2. Do you podcast as part of a larger plan, or because getting your content out in some manner IS your plan?
I podcast because I love doing it. But also, yes, it is part of the larger plan. I’m building a fan base. I’m starting a business. I’m becoming a professional writer. And without an audience, there’s very little reason for me to keep writing. Without an audience, there is no feedback. Without podcasting, there is no audience.

3. What is the nicest compliment you’ve been paid or what keeps you coming back?
“I just listened to one of your essays. You made of brilliance.”

“I finished an episode last night and couldn’t sleep. When’s the next one coming out?”

“Can you please give two episodes a week? I can’t wait an entire week for the next one!”

“You scared the hell out of me.”

Comments about how good my writing is and how much they enjoy the characters come rather infrequently, but they definitely keep me writing and podcasting. I love what I do. Hearing from people who are enjoying it make all the expense in both time and money worth it.

4. How important are numbers of downloads/subscribers to you? Do you keep track?
I have obsessive compulsive disorder when it comes to watching subscriptions and download numbers. I check them at least 5 times a day: I can’t stop myself. Sometimes it can be a little depressing because I want instant gratification: 200+ downloads the first day, for instance. But I’m getting used to it taking a while. A lot of my listeners are on very different schedules and like to pile up a whole bunch of episodes before they download them. I understand this behavior. But it’s taken me a long time to get used to it. A LONG time.

5. How important are reviews left on Podiobooks/iTunes/other venues to you?
Comments and reviews are awesome. They’re great. But I know how fickle people can be. When I see some great reviews, I usually know the person already from Twitter or Facebook. I see their username and know instantly who it is. Tattoo has a review on iTunes from someone I’ve never heard of before, and what they said means a lot to me. Seeing 5 stars on iTunes for your cast and your stories is great, but when there’s only ten reviews or so, it seems a bit…well…false. But they’re important because they might be the thing that brings another potential listener or fan to the cast. Therefore, they are very important. But I’m a realist. I’m not in the big leagues. I’m not a JC Hutchins, Scott Sigler, Philippa Ballantine, or Phil Rossi. It’s going to take a long time for me to build that kind of audience and therefore, I have to be patient. It will come. And I’ll just keep writing and trying to get better with every episode.

6. If not answered before, how do you read your manuscript while recording?
I said before, I always read it on the computer. A long time ago, I tried using hardcopy, but, man, it sucks. I hate it. It doesn’t work for me. So the computer is the only way I do it now.

~ by odin1eye on 28 April, 2010.

6 Responses to “Paul E. Cooley: How I do it!”

  1. In short: “I put on my pink fluffy bunny slippers, sit down in my plush chair, cause in pink and fluffy bunny mode it’s easier to kill off people :)”

    Even though I missed every mention of your bunny slippers, a very interesting read!

  2. Paul, this describes exactly what I have in mind about you when I listen to your work. You must live in a very soundproof environment, however, if you listen to the earsplitting music early in the am. Or do you use headphone? Huh? What did you say??? There is one thing that I did have in mind, however, that you have disproved here, writing with a tumbler filled with whisky next to your hand. A small sip every few minutes would seem to increase the skills needed to kill people off. I see it with you in a robe, a tiffany lamp over your typew.. I mean computer. Or is this to much of a generalization of horror/mystery writers? LOL

    • A tiffany lamp? A robe? LOL…Thanks for the comment!

    • That is a terrible generalization! Horrible. I mean… It’s not like I go into a story with the modus operandi of killing… Oh who the hell am I kidding. I smoke crack while carving horrible gashes into my arm and then paint blood on the screen. It’s my process.

      • LOL… that is so very cool. I love it when I get participation from those involved… Thanks sir!

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