Podcast Review #29: Cybrosis

•17 May, 2010 • 14 Comments

Title: Cybrosis
Author: P.C. Haring
Genre: Science Fiction
Released: 1 January 2010 – 14 May 2010
Located: Author’s SiteiTunes
Formats available: podcast only
Rating: PG-13 for violence and a bit of language (always listen before sharing with your family, we might have different views)

This has been a very busy spring. I’m having a hard time remembering what was going on January 1st. I believe I was ramping up to listen to Nathan Lowell’s highly anticipated Ravenwood when a heretofore unheard of podcast, Cybrosis, was brought to my attention. I might be able to lay the blame with Richard Green (a.k.a Mainframe) or perhaps Thomas Reed (a.k.a. trreed) but I might just as easily stumbled up on it on my own. Regardless, the author, P.C. Haring was a name I was familiar with from my Twitter circle (@pcharing). He seemed like a good enough bloke, and there are really few scifi productions in the podiofiction realm at the moment, so I decided to give it a shot.

So, on to the review.

Synopsis: Cybrosis is a cyberpunk action adventure novel filled with conspiracies, betrayals, and surprises. When a simple mission goes wrong, CNSCP Agent Ciris finds herself falling through a rabbit hole and into a conspiracy that threatens everything she knows about the cybernetic technology that keeps her alive. (Stolen and mashed up from iTunes and the author’s site.)

Production: I don’t know what Mr. Haring does for a living (I think he’s mentioned accounting, believe it or not (tax seasons over… lay off the poor guy)), but this production really is top notch. He makes appropriate use of consistently good production techniques and has paid attention to his mentors.

Several production notes. I have said previously that I was going to stop mentioning the story so far except when I had something to add to previous statements. This is one of those times.

Mr. Haring did something I haven’t heard before. He had guest voices introduce the episode (which was nice), but then had a consistent voice presence for TSSF. While I haven’t changed positions on the use of the device, I really liked this way of going about it. This is an example of good production. Repetition lets the audience know what is coming and draws us in from the very beginning.

Secondly, though Mr. Haring is far from the first podcaster to do this, I always appreciate the added touch of redoing the lead in on the final episode to signify the final episode. It just seems to me to be a mark of pride on the creators part that I can’t help noticing. Podcasters, I don’t know if I’m alone, but I DO notice these things.

Cast: The cast from Cybrosis, which truly is a full audiodrama (not the silly 3 or more people stipulation either -poke poke) has a cast that most first time podcasters would kill for. However, I will say that I had never heard Heather Welliver in the lead role before, and she truly and honestly nailed it. Her star is on the rise folks, and you heard her in Cybrosis early on.

Story: Cybrosis starts out with a high adrenaline chase scene and never backs down. I don’t know if I’ve ever heard a work of podiofiction that kept the pulse pounding rate going through as much of the story as Cybrosis did. If you mainline this one, the twenty episodes are going to fly by.

Verdict: Cybrosis is a great science fiction podcast that should have great and long lasting appeal. It isn’t “high art” perhaps, but it is great fun and would make a great summer blockbuster movie. I always looked forward to the weekly drops (which happened very regularly and according to schedule) and will miss having this one in my feed.

Unless you’re philosophically opposed to fun, cyborgs, splosions or strong female characters, stop hesitating and go subscribe. Now.

Disclosure: I have never met P.C. Haring, although I do follow him on Twitter. I was not asked to provide this review. Mr. Haring DID  ask me a question about mix levels early on, but that was the only input I ever provided during the release, other than an occasional “hurray”.

T. M. Camp: How I do it

•12 May, 2010 • 2 Comments

T.M. Camp is an all around good egg and the author of the novels “Assam & Darjeeling” and “Matters of Mortology” both of which are available as free audiobooks on iTunes along with his latest podcast The Gospel of Thomas.

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 majority of the time, I let things evolve. I spend a lot of my downtime thinking about what I’m working on, so there’s a fair amount of informal story development and outlining that takes place in the back of my head. But that’s more like rehearsal than outlining.But the story is in charge. No matter how much planning I’ve done, I invariably find that the story needs to go in a different direction, characters are doing things I hadn’t expected . . . and those discoveries are always better than what I’d planned. Also, it’s much more fun. I’ve been a playwright for about twenty years now. Writing prose is a lot like working with a director and actors. The script serves as a blueprint, all sorts of dimensions to the story get discovered when you have other minds coming together to build it out. When writing, for instance, “Assam & Darjeeling” I had my own ideas about the story. But it didn’t take long for the characters to take me much further and in different directions than I’d expected. Even to the point where characters I hadn’t anticipated showed up, leaving me to wait and see who they were and what their role would be. I didn’t know who Juniper was until the first draft was nearly finished. Looking back through the text I found lots of little clues that someone had left there, but it certainly wasn’t me (at least, not my conscious mind). Once I put them all together, it was obvious.When I’m writing — and I mean this sincerely — it truly feels like there’s more than just me working on the story. Imposing my own outline on that (on them?) doesn’t just seem a bit selfish, it also has a hint of sacrilege to it. And the results are rarely satisfying.

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’ve spent most of my professional life writing during my day job. And then most of the rest of my free time is spent, well, writing. With a pretty busy life, kids and family, it can be tough to nail down a routine . . . but that’s certainly what I try. I write every day, but it might not always be according to a routine. Sometimes I steal little scraps of time here and there when I can — slow time at work, on my lunch break, sitting in my car outside my daughter’s ballet lesson, etc. I work in Advertising and we track out time in fifteen minute increments for billing purposes. I think that focus on productivity has helped me in my writing by making the best use of the time I’ve been given, even if it’s brief.But most days I do have a set writing time, once the house has calmed down and everyone’s gone to bed. Usually that’s around 10:30 in the evening (sometimes it might be a bit later before I can get started). I try to go for as long as I can. Because I write most of my first drafts in longhand, there’s always a point in the process where I come back to those pages and I can see myself drifting off in mid-sentence. When I was in my twenties and thirties, I could stay up until three o’clock in the morning without feeling it too much the next day. Once I got to forty, it seemed like midnight was the shut off point. Recently though, I’ve been trying to moderate my diet and schedule to get back into shape. Right now I’m edging back up around one o’clock and I’m hopeful i can get back to two o’clock.

3. What is your writing environment like? (cats, music, computer etc.) How has this evolved/changed?
When I first started writing back in junior high, I had an old Royal typewriter I’d found in a junk store. I used to pound the hell out of that thing until my dad would come in and tell me to keep it down. Eventually I inherited an electric typewriter from somewhere, which increased my speed and noise at night. It must have sounded like a tommy gun. Fortunately, my parents were pretty patient.In college, there were these things called computers that you could write on, but they were clunky things that somehow got in the way of the writing itself. Once I discovered the Macintosh, however, I was hooked.These days, I find myself using different tools depending on what the project is. For formatting reasons, I find my plays flow much better if I stay on the computer. Poetry is always pen and paper, and I’ll go through draft after draft until it feels like it’s right. Once I get the final one done, then that gets entered on the computer.With prose, the first draft is almost always done in longhand. I’ve been writing with a fountain pen for a number of years now, and that has become a big part of how I work. Longhand has it’s own rhythms that work well for me. And I enjoy the tactile action of the pen against the paper much more than the keyboard/screen. I like the subliminal effect of the ink drying behind me as I’m writing. And the ink I use (Private Reserve) has a faint, unique odor to it as well. Those things might be more than a bit fetishized for me, but they help get me there. I don’t need them to write, of course. I can quit anytime. Ahem.Music has always been a big part of what I’m writing as well as the process itself. There might be a song that stays with me or an album that serves as the perfect background for what I’m working on. On longer projects, I’ll sometimes put together a playlist. (For what it’s worth, the playlist for my novel “Assam & Darjeeling” is online here http://www.tmcamp.com/2007/03/the-music-of-chance/).Years ago I wrote a play over a period of a few months, listening to one song over and over again the whole time: Artie Shaw’s “Stardust”. A few years back, I started lighting a candle at the start of a writing session. Also incense is often burning. My writing is very much tied to my spiritual life and beliefs, so these things just feel right somehow. We have cats and I like having them sitting there, sleeping while I work. But despite what they seem to think, their editorial opinions on anything in progress are not welcome.

4. Do you write anything, or have you, that is solely for yourself? (no intention of sharing with a large audience)
Not to be disingenuous, but I feel that way about most of my work. Everything I write, first and foremost, is for myself. That other people are nice enough to show some interest and read it — well, that makes me very happy.But there are other things that aren’t likely to ever be shared with anyone else. I keep a semi-regular journal of my dreams, going back fifteen years or so. No one sees that but me, although I often find elements and images from them creeping into my writing. Sometimes one of those things is the trigger for a story, as with “Matters of Mortology”.And over the past twenty years, I’ve been adding little memories and reflections to a document on my computer. It’s very incomplete, just a collection of scattered scraps of memory from my past. It might stand dormant for months and then I’ll add a few more entries. Moments from childhood, mostly. I don’t expect it will ever be seen by anyone else, it isn’t being written for anyone else at least.

5. How has social media played a role in your writing?
When I was young, I would stay up late and write and look out my window at the night. It was a pretty lonely time but I enjoyed the quiet house, the stillness around me. And I always felt like there were others out there, doing the same. Now I know I’m not alone.I originally started exploring social media/networking with the purely crass intention that it would prove to be a good way to share and market my work. I saw these things — Facebook, Twitter — as odd little blips and fads, just more online novelties for people to waste their lives on. I’m not proud of that attitude, but it’s the truth. It’s where I started.But as anyone who knows me — online or off — can attest, my experience dramatically changed my opinion. The depth of a relationship that somehow forms in 140 character interactions astounds me. There are people on Twitter and Plurk (for instance) that I feel a real kinship with. I’m not entirely sure how that happened, but I’m very grateful for it.As I am for the community of writers out there, working late into the night just like me. The invocation of Seshat on Twitter just blows my mind, for instance. It’s like prisoners tapping out their little morse code, building solidarity and sharing tidbits of information under the nose of the warden. And it’s entirely true to say that any credit for a following or platform I enjoy as a writer is completely due to very, very nice people on social networking sites showing their support and enthusiasm for my writing and spreading the word even further. Oddly enough, that’s the by-product now and not the objective. I’m pretty glad for that shift in my own thinking as well.

Podcasting Questions

1. What type of OS do you prefer? Linux? Mac? Win? What are your machine’s specs?
I’m on a MacBook Pro running Snow Leopard and Garage Band.

2. Would you please describe your current studio? How has this changed? (What did you start with?)
My first recordings were done using an old Belkin mic. Eventually I rigged up a makeshift guard out of an old nylon stocking and a cunningly twisted coathanger. All of my recording was done in an open room, which is painfully obvious from the relatively low quality of the sound on my first recordings. Last year I finally got serious and bought a proper mic — a Blue Snowball and stand, with a professional pop guard. After looking around online, I built a recording box for myself using a plastic storage crate and some high density acoustic foam. The mic stays in the box and, I’m pretty happy with the quality overall. I got the idea from reading up on how reporters record voiceovers while on the road.I record in my office in the basement, so I still need to be aware of ambient noise. Most of my recording takes place when everyone’s gone or very late at night. Also, the water meter is in the corner of the room — so if anyone uses any water in the house, it sounds like a giant hamster is getting a drink. I’ve had to do a lot of retakes because of a toilet flushing somewhere.

3. If you were able to build your dream studio, what would it include? Be as specific as you wish.
I’m pretty happy with my setup overall. I wouldn’t might having an actual booth to record in, but that’s just a luxury. I wouldn’t mind adding another mic to the setup, though. I’m getting ready to record a few scenes from my plays, and the logistics of having another performer/reader is tougher than I expected.

4. Other than a computer, what piece of HARDWARE would you recommend to a new podcaster?
As I’ve discovered, a professional grade mic is crucial. And every amateur ought to build a soundproof box. The difference is so great that I’ve resigned myself to the fact that I have to go back and re-record “Assam & Darjeeling” this spring. The original just doesn’t hold up.

5. What have you had to learn for yourself that you wish someone could have warned you about?
Again, it’s all about the quality of the recording. I think there’s such a broad variance, that people’s standards can be pretty low. But when you hear something well done, it pushes you to want to do better. I settled for the lower hurdle early on and I regret it now.

6. What would you consider a “beginner’s mistake” you’ve either experienced or hear others making?
Apart from the quality issues I’ve been whining about, one of the big mistakes I made on my first podasted novel (“Assam & Darjeeling”) was separating each chapter into a separate episode. A fair number of those chapters are actually briefer than the intro/outro which is something else I plan to remedy with a new recording. No one’s really complained, but I imagine it’s irritating.

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)
While I’m working on my next novel, I’m podcasting a new anthology show called “The Gospel of Thomas” which consists of different shorter pieces, mostly stories and poems that have been sitting on my hard drive or in my file cabinet for a while. It’s a way to share some of those smaller pieces that might ordinarily get lost in between the longer works.

Each episode includes a free downloadable PDF of the text pieces from the show. So my first step in preparing a new episode is to select which piece I want to use and get it laid out and ready for the PDF. Once that’s done, I spend some time sorting through what else I want to say about the piece.

I’ll usually run through that a few times before I’m comfortable enough to record it. I’ve got a long commute and I spend about two hours on the road every day, which gives me plenty of time to rehearse and polish what I want to say. I made a decision not to try and script anything for the intro pieces, preferring the spontaneous and natural approach.

It’s usually on that commute that I try to nail down what I want the bumper music to be. There’s a local music group called GeniusCar that’s given me permission to use their work, which is about 15 different albums of material at this point. So I’ve got a lot of variety to work with.

When I feel like I’ve got all the components lined up, I wait for a time when I’ll have a quiet house and get everything set up to record. The Snowball mic goes in the box and the box goes on the table in my office. I sit down in front of it and start recording. I’ll typically start and stop once or twice during a session, but I save all of it just in case I want to piece things together later. Once I’ve got the intro recorded, I move right into a reading of the story or poem for that episode. I print out the story or poem for that episode ahead of time, reading off of the paper resting on a small document stand to the left of the mic.

Everything is organized and edited in Garage Band, with each component recorded on its own track (intro, music, story, closing). I spend a fair amount of time tweaking timing and cutting out dead air. Once I’ve got a fairly strong rough cut, I’ll leave it alone for a while. Usually this means overnight and I’ll give it a listen on the way to work the next morning. If I hear anything that needs fixing, I’ll take care of that over my lunch break so I can post everything later in the evening.

I kick out a couple of different file formats (MV4 for iTunes and MP3 for RSS subscribers) and upload those to the server along with the PDF. I manually manage the XML file for the podcast, so I spend a little time adding a new listing and description for the latest episode. Once I get the files out there, I update the http://www.gospelofthomasonline.com website with the new listing and hit the iTunes ping address to refresh the feed.

And then I pour myself a drink.

But to answer your actual question, I probably spend two to three hours on every 30 minutes of finished recording.

Casting Questions (answer if you can)

6. As far as cast goes, what would you like to try, but haven’t so far?
I haven’t done a casted show yet, but I’m planning to do some scenes from a few of my plays in The Gospel of Thomas. I have some opinions and ideas that i’m looking forward to trying out, but I can’t really answer these from experience at this point.

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)
First of all, I’d be so honored that I’d probably forget to charge them. If they insisted on payment, I’d probably ask somewhere around twenty dollars an hour. Part of that depends on how long the piece is and how much time I’d need to devote to it. It would have to be worth my while to do it, since I’d be taking time away from my own work in progress.

2. Do you podcast as part of a larger plan, or because getting your content out in some manner IS your plan?
I started with the “just get it out there” idea, but over time I’ve developed a formal strategic plan for sharing my work through a variety of formats/media. My approach to podcasting has evolved to fall more in line with that broader plan.

3. What is the nicest compliment you’ve been paid or what keeps you coming back?
I think one of the nicest things I hear is people asking where they can buy a copy of the book. That’s a real validation of all of the work I do.

I get a handful of e-mails from listeners each month. That someone took the time to listen to the entirety of “Assam & Darjeeling” (for instance) and then took the time to let me know how much they liked it, that makes my day.

4. How important are numbers of downloads/subscribers to you? Do you keep track?
I use Feedburner to monitor the activity. It’s hard to know how accurate those numbers are, but I try not to read too much into them. I think that it’s easy to make stats the only measurement of success, putting quantity over quality.

5. How important are reviews left on Podiobooks/iTunes/other venues to you?
Again, I really appreciate that someone took the time to listen and then went that extra steps to review or rate it as well. Even if they don’t express undying love and devotion for my creative genius, I always appreciate them circling back to participate in the process as a reader. I think it’s great.

6. If not answered previously, how do you read your manuscript while recording (hard copy, teleprompter, etc)?
For “The Gospel of Thomas” I rely on a hardcopy, but that’s a pretty short format. For the novels, I open up the document and read it off of the screen. One of the big discoveries I made getting “Assam & Darjeeling” ready for printing/publishing was that I’d broken up the text a great deal during the recording process — which made it optimized for reading aloud but rather difficult and disjointed to read on the printed page. I ended up having to tighten everything up again in the final draft.

Podcast Review #28: Hoad’s Grim

•10 May, 2010 • 6 Comments

Title: Hoad’s Grim (sorry, no graphic available)
Author: Jack Kincaid
Genre: Creature Horror
Released: August 2008 – March 2009
Located: iTunes, Author’s Site
Formats Available: podcast only at this time
Rating: Really and truly ADULT… STRONG R for violence, language, adult situations (read “sex”) and strong horror elements

Every so often, I ask for recommendations when I’m running a bit low on podcast material. I did this a while ago and Dan Rabarts (@rabarts on Twitter) recommended Hoad’s Grim. Being up for something different, I went looking for it. It wasn’t an easy find, but upon finding it, I FINALLY was able to download and eventually subscribe to this podcast (yes, in this case, two separate processes.) To be truthful, I was just feeling stubborn that day I think and decided I WAS going to listen to this story.

So, on to the review.

Synopsis: A synopsis is not provided for this podcast, or “audiobook drama” as the production repetitively refers to itself, so I will be forced to do something I’ve never done before, provide one of my own making (points subtracted).

Chad the handyman is charged with removing a freezer from the property once inhabited by the Hoad family. He does so. The next day it has returned. So begins a recurring series of disturbing occurrences, including suicide, murder, abduction and man ghouls and monsters. (Now you know why I don’t do synopsis.)

Production: I encourage you to look back two weeks at my review of Dan Sawyer’s Down from Ten at this point. I held that podcast up as the epitome of what production could be. I still do. Hoad’s Grim comes close at times though. If there is a difference, it would be in the fact that I believe that Hoad’s Grim was outsourced while Mr. Sawyer definitely was responsible for Down from Ten. Does this make the productions values less, or detract from the story in anyway? Of course not! This podcast really was created as an audiobook drama and contains NO metainformation. What you get is story, and only story.

Cast: According to the author’s site, all the voicework for this podcast was provided by four voices. At least four are all that are credited. None of these names were ones I was familiar with. Mr. Kincaid was included as one of these voices as well. Let me state that whether you like the character’s voices or not, they are done EXCEEDINGLY well. I don’t know if this was a paid cast or not, but the result does indeed sound very professional. (I will also say, that no, I DON’T enjoy all the character’s voices. They all are a bit overdone, but they do tend to grow on you. Even the narrator, which sounds like a European Vincent Price on crack.)

Story: This is definitely a unique story and one that reminded me greatly of a feature length story from The Night Gallery, Outer Limits or possibly The Twilight Zone if written by someone like Steven King.

I am not a huge horror fan. I like a good story, but I’ve rather overdosed on horror lately. I’ve got one or two more in the pipe, but for the most part I will be looking at other genres soon. Hoad’s Grim takes some work to like, or rather, at least it did for me. I will say I had to listen to approximately 3/4 of the eps before I was hooked. This might have been a bit due to the ebullience of the actors, but truthfully, I think it is more the story itself. I’m just not a big fan of King and similar writers.

After having said that, however, I will say that after I hit that 3/4 mark, I mainlined the rest of the eps and was really looking forward to seeing how the story ended. This podcast DID take me almost six months to complete, but I am now glad that I made the effort.

Oh, and by the way, let’s briefly talk about effort. The only place you’re going to find all the eps in one place is on the author’s site. And then only in download form. If you go to the RSS link, or iTunes you won’t be able to find the first 11 episodes. This really is inexcusable. I completely understand anybody that would give up on a story, regardless of ANYTHING else, when the author doesn’t make an effort to make the content available. (If the error is somehow on my part, I humbly and profoundly apologize, but after HOUR’S of annoyance, I don’t think it is.) That being said, I am glad I made the effort.

Verdict: Do you like Steven King? Gremlins and ghoulies? Blood and gore? Gross out images that really play with your mind? If so, Hoad’s Grim is for you and Mr. Kincaid’s has your number. If not? Run from this story like all the demon’s from hell are chasing you.

Disclosure: I do not follow Mr. Kincaid on Twitter. I don’t know if he’s even ON Twitter. I had previously never heard of him and have never heard of any members of the cast of Hoad’s Grim. Since I began doing podcast reviews, I’ve never reviewed a podcast I knew less about.

Jeffrey Hite: How I do it!

•5 May, 2010 • 8 Comments

Jeffrey Hite is the creative genius behind the weekly Great Hites story contest. He is also a frequent contributor and an encourager of writing at all levels.

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?
I used to try to outline or script, but my work always ended up being too stilted.  I have found that my best writing is when I  let things to flow as free as possible.  Most of the time when I start a story I have no idea where it will end up, even when I do have an idea about where it will go, it does not end up there.

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 don’t know that I have what it would take to be a professional writer, not that I don’t want to be just that I don’t.  I write 3/6 times a week, I try to write for a an hour or so at a time.  When I do write, again it is best not to have aplan about what I am going to write.  Some times I just play with ideas until one strikes my fancy.   My normal time to write is over lunch time, for hour I have for lunch.

3. What is your writing environment like? (cats, music, computer etc.) How has this evolved/changed?
My writing environment is as chaotic as my writing style.  I like to listen to music but some times is distracts me.  We have a couple of couches at work that were left over from the former owners and if I write during lunch, I usually sit there.  If I am able to write a home, I write usually at the kitchen counter.  I do occasionally hand write stories but, my hand writing is so bad i often have a hard time reading it, so although I like the feel of pen on paper, I don’t do that all that often.  the long end short of this is that I write when ever I have a moment and in whatever form I have available to me.  I have even written a few stories on my ipod.

4. Do you write anything, or have you, that is solely for yourself? (no intention of sharing with a large audience)
I don’t keep a journal or anything like that.  I have kept travel diary that I only planned on sharing with my wife and kids, but no I don’t write things just for me.  I look at the whole writing experience as for me, as I do it because I need to / have to other wise the stories in my head would drive me nuts.

5. How has social media played a role in your writing?
Socical media has given me an outlet for my writing that I didn’t have before.  I feel good sharing my work with people, and I think that is the one thing that has helped me the most.  Even if my writing only reaches a few people, they are people that would have have read it before, and hopefully some one likes it

Podcasting Questions

1. What type of OS do you prefer? Linux? Mac? Win? What are your machine’s specs?
This is a more difficutl question that is sounds like.  I am not a windows fan but, my knowledge of Windows pays the bills so I guess I like it in that way.  But for podcasting it is a MAC, macbook (white) (a couple of years old now.)  My web server and my data server / backup webserver / and fire wall are all linux, Fedora core all the way man.

2. Would you please describe your current studio? How has this changed? (What did you start with?)
Studio?!?! My office (the little room that holds the servers is where I do most of my recording, but I will record wherever I can find a quiet spot.   I started recording in the front seat of my car, moved to a  small room at the office, then moved to my wife’s closet, but when I came back from y last business trip I found that my recording would wake the baby so I have moved to my office.  I shut down the loudest of the servers and play with the mic unit it can’t “hear” them.

3. If you were able to build your dream studio, what would it include? Be as specific as you wish.
I am too much of a geek for this question.  I would want all the best, sound proof walls, a lacky to run some sort of mixing board and check levels and wonderful microphones.

4. Other than a computer, what piece of HARDWARE would you recommend to a new podcaster?
A decent Mic.  You can’t go wrong with buying a nice mic to help you with your sounds quality.  I have had a couple, but each time I upgraded I wondered how I tolerated the last one I had.

5. What have you had to learn for yourself that you wish someone could have warned you about?
How to use the filtering software.  I had to play with so many of the settings and experiment with them with figure out what sounded best for quality.  I wish I could have sat down with someone to show me what each of the setting did and have them explain to me which ones were good for me and which one would hurt my quality.

6. What would you consider a “beginner’s mistake” you’ve either experienced or hear others making?
I feel like I am too much of a beginner to make a comment about this one, remove the log from your own eye before remove the splinter from your neighbors.

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)
My podcast requires that I listen to three or four stories, when decided how they should go together.  That usually takes a hour or so.  Then I put them all together and record intro for the podcast (yup different for each one) and intro for each story, my reaction to each of them and then an outtro for the whole podcast.  Total time, for a 30-40 minute podcast probably 3 to 4 hours.

Casting Questions (answer if you can)

1-4 No Answers

5. What is the hardest part of putting together a “straight read” podcast?
I read like a third grader.  I usually read the story three or four times to myself before I read it to record, and it still sounds like I don’t know how to read.  So the short answers is editing my own reading.

6. As far as cast goes, what would you like to try, but haven’t so far?
Not answered

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)
Would I do it. Yes, I don’t know what a good rate is.

2. Do you podcast as part of a larger plan, or because getting your content out in some manner IS your plan?
That is my larger plan, just getting people to see what I have written, I don’t care if I get paid for it.

3. What is the nicest compliment you’ve been paid or what keeps you coming back?
That Great Hites was someones EscapePod replacement. [Editorial note… I seem to remember that comment being made on Twitter]

4. How important are numbers of downloads/subscribers to you? Do you keep track?
I keep track, and them mean something to me, but I am not sure what.  Obviously the larger the numbers the better, but honestly I think it bigger numbers make me happier for the other writers than for myself.

5. How important are reviews left on Podiobooks/iTunes/other venues to you?
I like them, but since my podcast is about writing practice and other peoples writing I find that constructive feed back is more important.

6. If not answered previously, how do you read your manuscript while recording (hard copy, teleprompter, etc)?
I have tried reading on my computer screen, on paper and on my iPod.  I think right now I like reading it from my ipod best because it makes so little noise.

Podcast Review #27: Earthcore

•3 May, 2010 • 14 Comments

Title: Earthcore
Author: Scott Sigler
Genre: Science Fiction/Horror
Released: 25 March 2005 – 26 November 2005
Located: iTunes, Podiobooks
Formats Available: podcast only at this time
Rating: As is true for all Sigler stories, this is an adult only ride.

One of the first author’s I found when I started listening to podio fiction was Scott Sigler. I’ve listened to all of his podcast fiction, some with a greater interest than others. The stuff of his I’ve liked, I’ve really really liked, the others, meh. (The plaid tanks will soon be rolling down my street, I know. Oh well, truth is truth.)

Having previously reviewed Tee Morris’s Billibub Baddings and the Case of the Singing Sword, and Mark Jeffrey’s Max Quick The Pocket and the Pendant, I decided it was about time to include the third jewel in the triple crown of founding stories and let everyone know what I think about Scott Sigler’s Earthcore. I often forget that Earthcore was Sigler’s entry into podcasting, because I listened to Ancestor first. A fact which I have had to be corrected on more than once.

So, on to the review.

Synopsis: Deep below a desolate Utah mountain lies the largest platinum deposit ever discovered. A billion-dollar find, it waits for any company that can drill a world’s record, three-mile-deep mine shaft. EarthCore is the company with the technology, the resources and the guts to go after the mother lode. Young executive Connell Kirkland is the company’s driving force, pushing himself and those around him to uncover the massive treasure.

But at three miles below the surface, where the rocks are so hot they burn bare skin, something has been waiting for centuries. Waiting … and guarding. Kirkland and EarthCore are about to find out firsthand why this treasure has never been unearthed.

Production: if you have ever listened to a Sigler story, I’ll simply say this one, even though the first, really isn’t much different. He does a straight read while giving each character a unique voice and keeps everything very easy to listen to. I realized a while back that, for me, if you’re not going to do a full cast podcast audiodrama, Sigler is the man to emulate. (If you disagree, feel free to share your favorite.) I really believe Sigler captures the essence behind “less is more” with his production in Earthcore.

Cast: The cast is huge for this story, just as it is for all Scott Sigler novels. I can hear you now, “WAIT.. what are you talking about, Scott always does a straight read!” Yup, you’re right, and Earthcore is a straight read too with only Mr. Sigler behind the mic. However, I figure when you’re the FDO™, you are in actuality a cast of millions. Unfortunately, in Mr. Sigler’s world, all women sound remarkably similar and very manly (Still, better than I could do). Another realization for me. When I listen to a single voice podcast, I prefer characters to have as different of a sound as the author can give them naturally as opposed to electronically manipulating those same voices. Even if they do sound like Sigler’s women. (Don’t know FDO™? Give any of Mr. Sigler’s stories a listen, and you will.)

Story: Earthcore is by no means my favorite story. It isn’t even my favorite Sigler story. However, it is a decent story that kept me interested and and kept me guessing until the end. I will also say that if you’re an observant listener, you’ll definitely see some crossover among Mr. Sigler’s stories. Something I personally enjoy. Especially since you must be an observant listener.

Verdict: I enjoyed Earthcore enough to recommend it. Mr. Sigler was still very much an emerging author when he released Earthcore. That being said, I prefer it over the Infected books. (Yes, I said it. Disagree? Why?)

If I’m correct in my recollections, I believe Earthcore had initially been picked up to be published, but then through buy outs and consolidations missed it’s release. This is truly sad, because it is a much better story than most of books ive read in the genre. I know I’m not the first to make this comparrison, bu if you enjoy the works of Michael Crichton, I suggest you give Mr. Sigler’s Earthcore a try.

Disclosure: I do not follow Mr. Sigler on Twitter (@scottsigler), although I’m sure many of you would chastise me for this. I did not receive anything as recompense for this review, nor was I asked to make it.

Paul E. Cooley: How I do it!

•28 April, 2010 • 6 Comments

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 Shadowpublications.com, iTunes, and Podiobooks.com.

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.

Podcast Review #26: Down from Ten

•26 April, 2010 • 14 Comments

Title: Down from Ten
Author: J. Daniel Sawyer
Music by: Danny Schade
Genre: um…..
Released: 21 June 2009 – 18 April 2010
Located: Author’s Site, iTunes

Formats available: podcast only
Rating: Strong R or above

After having listened to J. Daniel Sawyer’s first podcast novel, Predestination and Other Games of Chance, I knew that I would automatically be giving the next thing he produced a chance. Down from Ten is that next thing. It was that simple.

So, on to the review.

Synopsis: In early January, a group of friends get together for an annual retreat; eight artists, scientists, and authors cloistered together in a mansion in the mountains above Redding, California for ten days of games, conversation, exhibition, and hedonism, while isolated from the outside world. It might all have been quite pleasant, if it weren’t for the biggest California snowstorm in over twenty years. When the storm hits, the house is buried in an avalanche, leaving our heroes with no way to hike out. Instead, they must find a way to survive and stay sane while waiting for rescue – which becomes difficult when they all start having the same dream.

A comedy in the tradition of The Shining and A Clockwork Orange, a romance in the tradition of Clue and Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency, and a mystery in the tradition of Paint Your Wagon and Time Enough For Love, Down From Ten will thrill you a little, chill you a little, and tickle your fancy in ways you wouldn’t want your children to see.

Down From Ten boasts an original score, a full voice cast, and professional soundscaping.
Intended for adult audiences.

(Stolen from the author’s site.)

Several notes on the synopsis. Yes, I know I don’t usually comment on the synopsis, but I feel I need to in this case. First, the intended for adult audiences really isn’t a suggestion. It is notification. There isn’t a single episode that is suitable for the entire family. If you decide to listen, you should know this going in. Second, I have a feeling that there will never be a work of fiction Mr. Sawyer writes that will be easily classifiable, easily listened to, or easy to create a synopsis for. While Down from Ten is everything the synopsis states, it is also nothing at all like the synopsis. It is much more.

Production: Let me simply state here. I’ve never been much of a worrier about production. I am all about the story, and even more about the characters. If you’ve read any of my reviews, you probably all ready know this. Many times I’ve written something along the lines of, “The production isn’t great, but the story is, so the production never bothered me.” Not exact, but along those lines. I’ve also heard a few podcasts that I have complimented for their production. There are a few podcast author’s that spend great amounts of time and effort on the production, and that always shows through. I of course notice, and appreciate. I’ve always stated though that I would listen to a great story even if the production was pretty bad. However, I’ve stated the reverse too. No matter how great the production, I would never listen to a podcast that had a weak or bad story. Then came Mr. Sawyer and Down from Ten. This production is nothing short of absolutely amazing. If you listened to this without really listening to the production, please go back and listen to at least one ep again. Please. Each location within the story has it’s own sound. If you’re listening with headphones, you’ll notice where each character is speaking from in the room in regards to you, the listener. Mr. Sawyer is a professional in this line of work (seriously, check his bio) and it has never been more apparent than with Down from Ten.

Cast: The cast for Down from Ten reads like a freaking Who’s Who of podcast fiction. Tee Morris. Pip Ballantine. Nathan Lowell. Nobilis Reed. Christiana Ellis. Kitty Nic’Iaian, Miss Kalendar, Chris Lester, Gail Carriger and Spinderfly. Also guest viola playing by P.C. Haring. They each do an admirable job and together are amazing. Each and every one nailed their roles. Really, what more can I say? If you are familiar with most of their work, that should speak volumes.

Story: From the very first ep, I could tell Down from Ten would not be a podcast that I could just listen to casually. Some podcasts I can listen to while I do pretty much anything. Not Mr. Sawyer’s. If you have anything that is going to demand your attention more intently that reminding yourself to breathe, I’d say save Down from Ten for another time.

Down from Ten will not be for everyone. I don’t think Mr. Sawyer is necessarily trying to offend anyone, but I do believe he wants to make his audience think. If this requires a “shot across the bow” of conventionally held morals or beliefs, he’ll definitely attack with all cannons firing.

Verdict: I will say that all the characters were expertly written and acted. That is what happens when you have a great writer working with some of the best voices in the business today. I will also say that I didn’t really like any of them much. HOWEVER, they ALL interested me, even if it was because I wanted to see them beat to a pulp. Down from Ten is amazing in it’s scope and it’s detail. It has THE most surprising ending I’ve EVER heard in a podcast and I defy anyone to see it coming.

If you want something that is highly unique, lovingly and lavishly produced, challenging to conventional thought and with an ending that will make you want to relisten to see if there were clues you missed, don’t wait any longer.

However, if you’ve become upset or irritated when you’ve read something that contradicts your belief system, I suggest you might want to give this one a pass.

Disclosure: I have never met J.D. Sawyer, but have followed him on Twitter since beginning the Predestination podcast. He is not what I would call verbose in that setting, but will talk to you if you have something to say that interests him. I have not received anything from him in return for this review. (I wrote this disclosure for Predestination, and upon rereading it, I’ve decided I can’t do much better. In between the two stories I have conversed with Mr. Sawyer substantially more. He is a very interesting individual and one that I do admire.)