Starla Huchton: How I do it!

Starla Huchton currently lives in Monterey, California with her husband, three children (minion v1.0, v2.0, and v3.0) and FAIL DOG, the black lab. She is currently pursuing a degree in Graphic Design. Her other part time job consists of live shows over streaming internet radio, where she sings jazz standards and modern tunes for venues in the virtual world of Second Life. She is very talented, if she does say so herself. Samples of her melifluousness can be found on her MySpace musician’s page here.

Ms. Huchton has been writing off and on since she was itty bitty, but completed The Dreamer’s Thread in late 2008 under the insane pressure of National Novel Writing Month to propel her. With the encouragement of her family and friends, she pushed forward with her obsession with sharing her stories with the world.

Previous to her present situation, Starla was enlisted in the United States Navy as a Lithographer (a glorified name for someone who runs a Xerox machine all day). She lived in Keflavik, Iceland for four years where she discovered her passion for design, and Sasebo, Japan for two, where she actually had a real job as a designer. After returning to the United States, she resided near Seattle, Washington where she discovered a love of pad thai and an unnatural abhorrence to PTA meetings. Despite all this moving, however, she calls Grapevine, Texas her home. HOOK ‘EM HORNS! [ED note: stolen from her site, I have no particular affiliation with any Texas team] [Go Cowboy Joe! (look it up)]

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?
Outlines are for sissies!

Only kidding. But no, I plot develop as I write. There’s something I love about discovering the story as the characters do. I find that once I’ve written down notes about where the story’s going and decided how it ends I’m not really inclined to do the actual writing anymore. Creating a new world is an adventure that is best enjoyed through the eyes of the people in it. I can put myself right there with the characters and feel what they feel as the events unfold. That’s one of the magical qualities of the written word.

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.
Pardon me for a moment. I’m too busy laughing to answer this question seriously.

(Ahem) If I were getting paid to write, maybe. As it is, at the moment I’m typing with one hand and holding a baby with the other. So, really, I just squeeze in time when and where I can.

3. What is your writing environment like? (cats, music, computer etc.) How has this evolved/changed?
Ideally, peace and quiet and my laptop are the only ingredients I need to get some words out. But with the scarcity of peace and quiet, I substitute tea and chocolate instead. If I need audio distractions, I’ll put on something instrumental that’s appropriate to the scene/project. Nothing with lyrics, because I’ll just start singing along and nothing gets done. It’s like musically induced ADD. My time as a dedicated writer has been pretty short-lived, so there’s not been much in the way of evolution of that setup. The key is to be flexible as I also move every couple of years.

4. Do you write anything, or have you, that is solely for yourself? (no intention of sharing with a large audience)
I’ve got piles of bad poetry from when I was an angsty teenager that I don’t generally inflict on other people, but aside from that, there are no finished bits of writing hiding out that I’m keeping for myself. I’ve got notebooks and files of unfinished projects I may someday use or finish. Those go unshared because they’re more or less dead projects.

5. How has social media played a role in your writing?
Social media has furthered my writing in ways I never thought. Before, it was just my lonesome self dabbling in creating stories, but with the introduction of Twitter and podcasting and SecondLife and all the rest, I’ve come to know other writers who do it “for real”. This has changed my views and dedication to writing a hundred fold. Being able to bounce ideas off other authors and getting feedback from them makes all the difference. Without social media, I wouldn’t have the pleasure to know half of the people I’ve met in the last year. It also would have resulted in a much different cast for TDT, or no cast at all. So there’s that too.

Podcasting Questions

1. What type of OS do you prefer? Linux? Mac? Win? What are your machine’s specs?
It’s Mac or nothing for me. I’m currently running Snow Leopard on my Intel duo core MacBook, but it’s several years old so I’m planning an upgrade this summer… to a new Mac, of course.

2. Would you please describe your current studio? How has this changed? (What did you start with?)
My “studio” as you could loosely call it, also doubles as a baby nursery. I don’t have the luxury of setting up anywhere else in the house, so this is it. My own little corner. Literally, a corner. And for anyone who’s heard the blooper reel of The Dreamer’s Thread podcast, they’ll know that I have no insulation from outside traffic/airplane/woodpecker noise and I curse this regularly. My equipment consists of an Alesis 8-track mixing board (though this is overkill as I only use 1 track), a Shure PG58-XLR microphone, a boom mic stand, pop filter and my MacBook. I do my recording in GarageBand (please no throwing tomatoes!). After trying a few other programs, it was just the easiest to use and does everything I need it to. I hit record and begin reading from whatever script I’m working on that day. Easy peasy.

3. If you were able to build your dream studio, what would it include? Be as specific as you wish.
For what I do, my current equipment is just fine, but it would be lovely to have a soundproof booth to hide in. External noise is the bane of my existence. No dream studio would be complete without a built-in audio engineer to do the editing for me! Fortunately, I was lucky enough to have a good friend, Jamie Jordan, do the production for The Dreamer’s Thread, so I guess I’m halfway there!

4. Other than a computer, what piece of HARDWARE would you recommend to a new podcaster?
There are so many options out there, and I don’t know too much about them to make that call. I like what I’ve got, so I’d recommend that, but other than that I’d tell them to do lots of research and figure out what’s going to work best into their budget and audio needs.

5. What have you had to learn for yourself that you wish someone could have warned you about?
Actually, I feel like I was pretty well-informed about everything. There weren’t any huge issues that blindsided me. Maybe I was just lucky, but I think that’s due mostly to all the great advice other folks gave me before I started and working with someone that had done podcasting before (Jamie produced Mur Lafferty’s Playing for Keeps podcast as well). The community is surprisingly supportive of newcomers, which, I suppose could take you by surprise. Warning! Helpful people ahead! Shocking, I know.

6. What would you consider a “beginner’s mistake” you’ve either experienced or hear others making?
Audio quality! Listen to other podcasts and see how they sound. Listen to LOTS of them! When you’ve done this you can easily judge where your audio falls on the quality scale. This is much more difficult to be consistent with when doing a full-cast production as other people’s equipment isn’t necessarily the same or as good as yours. Ah! There’s something you can put under the last question! All mics are not created equal!

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)
With a full cast production, it takes much, much longer to put together a thirty minute podcast than it does when only one person is doing the speaking. It takes me roughly two hours to do the recording for the main narration, but then it went on to production where Jamie had to clean up not only my audio, but cast lines as well before integrating them into the main track. And then there’s inserting the music and building the intro and outtro… well, depending on how many character lines there are that week, it can take two or three days to complete. And that’s for a week with no missing audio files or other issues. It’s pretty time intensive.

Casting Questions (answer if you can)

1. What is the hardest part of putting together a casted podcast?
I wouldn’t say there’s a hardest part, as it’s all pretty challenging. First you have to find the right voice for each character (and pray you didn’t miss any!), then you have to send out the “throwing myself upon your mercy” emails to each individual (I hated that part. I don’t like asking people for things, especially strangers.), you have to portion out all the scripts and highlight each character’s lines, send out said scripts, hope you get all the audio in time (lucky for me I had a bunch of people who preferred to be early!), then there’s the sound quality issue sometimes, and files get lost. It’s all a HUGE undertaking and a big hassle, but the end product is so very very worth it. I can’t imagine my story any other way now. As a bonus to the great end product, I got to know some fantastic people too.

2. Do you provide the entire chapter to your talent, or just their lines?
I provide each person with the scenes their character appears in, but not the entire episode text. There are a few reasons for this. The first being practical purposes, as it’s just easier for the reader to not have to search through pages and pages of text if they only have a few lines in that episode. The other reason is so that even the cast members don’t know the whole story before the episode goes live. I’d like them to be able to enjoy the adventure as well. No spoilers!

3. Is instruction given to your talent on how you prefer the line to be read?
Yes and no. Mostly no. When they first sign on to do a part, I give them a character run down so they have an idea of how to play it, but after that, I let them have at it. Many of my cast members expressed surprise at this lack of direction, but I enjoy hearing how others see and interpret my characters. Each little bit of audio I get is like a new insight into the fictional people I created. It’s a fascinating process. Maybe I was just really lucky, but all the compliments I’ve gotten about what a great job (insert cast member name here) did speaks volumes for the talent of my voice actors. As many of them were writers themselves, I think that helps.

4. What do you do with all of that unused audio?
What unused audio?

Just kidding. Really, there wasn’t too much audio I didn’t use for TDT, but what oopsies I had went into the blooper reel that released at the completion of the podcast. Some of the talent opted to cut out their bad bits and only send us the usable lines, but I did get a few gems that made me chuckle.

5. What is the hardest part of putting together a “straight read” podcast?
Not entirely sure what is meant by “straight read”, so I’m opting not to answer.

6. As far as cast goes, what would you like to try, but haven’t so far?
After the TDT cast list was filled, I heard a whole gaggle of new voices I wish I could have used for that project. Also, there were some folks I would have liked to use more extensively, but as it was my first foray into podcasting/novelling, I didn’t feel comfortable asking some of the busier people to voice larger parts. Next time around I don’t think that will be as much of an issue, so prepare to hear more of some familiar voices (yeah, I’m talking about you, Mr. Morris. ;P).

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)
As I didn’t put TDT together myself (that Jamie Jordan magic touch really made it shine), it wouldn’t really be right of me to put a price tag on his services. He says it would vary from project to project, and I think that’s a good answer. Also, as my cast members all donated their time and talent, I couldn’t really ask them to do so again if I was getting paid. So, when you add up voice talent + audio production costs… well, it might get pricey.

2. Do you podcast as part of a larger plan, or because getting your content out in some manner IS your plan?
Getting it out was really the plan for this book. Would I like to be picked up for publishing? Of course. That’s a given, but for me it was more about sharing the story with others. What’s the point of writing fiction if it just sits there and no one ever gets to enjoy it? The Dreamer’s Thread will eventually be available in print on demand and ebook versions, as some have requested it, and I’ll be querying agents and publishers as well. You’ll never know what can happen if you don’t try.

3. What is the nicest compliment you’ve been paid or what keeps you coming back?
The compliments that really make my day are the ones I get from other writers I admire. Of course, it’s always a treat to hear good things about TDT from anyone and I don’t want to belittle those other comments. Just knowing that more than my mother is listening to the podcast makes my day. And I’m not gonna lie, I’m an attention whore. Podcast feedback feeds my “LOOK AT ME!” addiction. LOL

4. How important are numbers of downloads/subscribers to you? Do you keep track?
Any podcaster that tells you he/she doesn’t keep track of downloads/subscribers in a general sense is lying to you. Having proof that people are listening is what keeps you in the game. If the podcast is a work of fiction and really successful (or even moderately so), it can be a good point to include in a query letter to publishers. It might not translate directly to sales, but it’s proof that the content is marketable.

Huge numbers aren’t my all-encompassing goal, but I do check in at least once a week to see my stats. I like to have a general sense of how things are going. My definition of success may not be the same as another podcaster’s, but I’m quite satisfied with how I’ve done to date.

5. How important are reviews left on Podiobooks/iTunes/other venues to you?
It’s more important than people think. I’ve started listening to podcasts because the description sounded good, but abandoned them soon thereafter because something about it put me off; started slow, narrator’s voice was too annoying, sound volume was inconsistent, etc. If there were reviews to check out before I downloaded, I might have known about those issues and been prepared or not wasted my time if it was a bad podcast. That’s as a listener. As a podcaster, good reviews are a huge ego boost, and bad reviews a challenge to do better next time. Whatever they are, I try to take them positively, and not too seriously. Perspective is important.

6. If not answered previously, how do you read your manuscript while recording (hard copy, teleprompter, etc)?
If you’ve listened to the blooper reel on The Dreamer’s Thread, you’ll know I read off of a Microsoft Word document on screen as I record. I curse it routinely, but for the most part it works just fine.

~ by odin1eye on 19 May, 2010.

6 Responses to “Starla Huchton: How I do it!”

  1. I’m commenting on my own interview! YAY! LOL.

    Thanks so much for asking me to participate in this series of yours! Really enjoying the other posts!

    Just as an added note, folks can find me @riznphnx on Twitter. 🙂

    • Thanks for commenting on your post. How could I not be honored that you chose to participate. And yes, I was remiss for not letting people know where to find you in the hallowed Twitter lurking grounds.

  2. I do / have done a lot of work with differing qualities of audio, that I try not to make all sound the same. The reality is that I want them to sound a little different because they are from different people. That was is one of the reasons for GreatHites that I did not offer to read other people’s work. As I head into a couple of new projects and look at the prospect of doing at least some audio production that will require all the voices to sound as though they come from the same equipment, I find these interviews very helpful Thank you again Odin and than you Ms. Huchton for your very informative answers to these questions.

    • I’m glad you are enjoying them! If you haven’t listened to Starla’s excellent “The Dreamer’s Thread” podcast, it is one I would recommend specifically for you.

  3. thank you I certainly will check it out

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