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Hello, fellow listeners!

It's been a seriously busy couple of weeks since we last spoke, especially in the quality and number of episode drops. I wanted to catch your attention about something really important first:

Michelle Nickolaisen (Unplaced, Serendipity City) has created this incredible resource for self-taught and solo podcasters. If you have no formal training past high school, or if you do 95% of the work on your podcast, or essentially want to start a podcast and have no idea what you're doing, then this is made with you in mind. You can read more about it here. There's a Discord group you can join, too!

Without any further ado, let's just jump right in!
CASTING IT BACK - MINI-REVIEWS
(I got asked for a slightly more in-depth review of Blackout, so here it is:)

Blackout
, Normal (episode 5):  This podcast follows what happens in Berlin, Ohio, mostly with a radio DJ, when what looks like a countrywide total blackout occurs. Some of the plotting in the early episodes was flimsy and predictable, but the application of tension and release creates a solid audio thriller by the time you hit "Normal", especially with these skilled performances. I could almost ignore the month-long leap in time in this episode. The switch between present and past moments is usually unclear, especially when switching perspectives, because they are almost all marked by the same beep which is sometimes subsumed by sound design. In action scenes, there tends to be a lot of sound design overlapping to the point where what's happening becomes unclear or far too loud. To be honest, I enjoyed El Gran Apagón's take on a total electricity blackout more than Blackout, so if you understand Spanish, I highly recommend it.  (Also, look, I never complain about ads in any of my podcasts, but there's definitely a way to cut to ads in a fiction podcast and have it be seamless and in tune with the podcast's atmosphere -- take a look at The End of Time and Other Bothers, Mission to Zyxx, or The Big Loop. This one takes its cues from TV rather than audio with incredibly dissonant music and editing; don't do that. Audio's strength is in its intimacy, and statistics show really high ad engagement for listeners, but you have to make them as carefully as the rest of the show). [22:37]

Among the Stars and Bones,The Key to Humanity's Future (episode 1): I love podcasts that take the solo narrator style and give it a twist; this one does that through multiple different solo narrators whose progress reports back to their supervisor carefully intertwine together, with the occasional appearance of other characters. This is a xenoarcheological sci-fi about a group of scientists who go to unearth and investigate alien ruins. It has been meticulously researched, with consultants from different academic fields, and incredibly performed and written--these academics don't just fall into an "academic" personality type, a trap I witness in a lot of writing. They're all distinct human beings brought to life by skilled performers. I highly recommend this podcast. [35:57]

The Haunted Hour, Lost Dog (episode 7): Following the supernatural investigations of some college kids in a town called Lantern, where the local market never seems to stay in one place, "Lost Dog" marks the next step in their second case involving werewolves. This is a really enjoyable urban fantasy romp, with a great balance between developing character relationships and action scenes tangling with the supernatural. [16:35]

Middle: Below, Finale (episode 10): The season one finale exemplifies Middle:Below's trademark feeling of sweet goofiness and serious tumbles with ghosts. And of course, it wouldn't be a finale without one final surprise. Middle:Below's finale produces genuine tension and a worry that bad things will happen, while retaining the hilarious turn of phrase that keeps it lighthearted for balance. [12:26]

SCP Archives, SCP-049: The Plague Doctor (episode 4): Karim Kronfli brings the Plague Doctor to life, both creepy and dangerous, surrounded by the grim and dark narration of Jon Grilz. The SCP Archives' endeavors to put to audio the writings of the SCP collective fiction repository. They've exactly captured the vibe of the work as a whole; "The Plague Doctor" is rendered with a narrow focus on Grilz' narration broken up by the doctor's observations. Every scene with Kronfli is chosen and delivered with care. [24:22]

Harlem Queen, Opportunity (episode 4): Set in 1920s Harlem, Harlem Queen is based on Madame Stephanie St. Clair, a famous gangster and numbers queen who never came under Mafia control. This is a wonderful historical fiction look into St. Clair's patronage and business, and the way she fought against racism and sexism at every turn, including indications to her later work as an activist for reform. It's a lovingly rendered work, with a main actress who clearly spent a lot of time digging into St. Clair's experiences, that doesn't forget the duality of St. Clair's life. [14:19]

The Truth, The Body Genius Part I (episode 105): This darkly comic murder mystery is both weirdly touching and weirdly grotesque, using the close relationship between trainer and actor to highlight the horrific murder of the actor later. We follow the trainer's eye to solving the murder, who's not exactly Sherlock Holmes, but he's got drive to show he's innocent and his heart's in the right place--that's really all you need, right? The humor here will sneak up on you suddenly, making you laugh out loud. [29:38]

Station to Station, Buy-In (episode 2.1): The return of Station to Station--an espionage-wrapped science-fiction about missing scientists on a research ship--is long-awaited, and they haven't failed to disappoint. This episode eases listeners back into the mindset of missing memories and off-kilter relationships with Luther's trademark exasperation with everyone around her and Simmons' inability to act natural. Once again, a slow creeping dread features at the end of this episode, planting the seed for season two with finesse.  [23:34]

Still Lives, The Others (episode 5): Proving that the post-apocalyptic genre is nowhere near done, Still Lives is a pastoral take on the world thirteen years after the apocalypse. Five people on a farm, unknowing of anyone else existing still in the world, meet The Traveler when he knocks on their door one night. They've found a larger farm full of people, and even thirteen years after the fact, uncertainty and mistrust runs rampant, and plants winter seeds for danger in the future. [30:18]

Oblivity, A Cyborg Meets His Maker (episode 2): A war hero is posted to a remote science research station on Pluto in this comedy science-fiction. These characters and their dynamic is dysfunctional, but endearing, especially as they pull no punches in digging into who they are and who they can become.  But they do all that with some very classic, hysterical, sarcastic and tongue-in-cheek humor. [37:44]
CASTING LIGHT: TIPS & TRICKS
a hand holding a fountain pen against graph paper

In the interest of supporting fiction podcasters, I've decided to dedicate today's Casting Light to a few tips and tricks that I've learned as helpful for producing fiction podcasts. It's going to cover just some of the things that I think aren't talked about enough in public resource spaces (and you may see longer articles on some of these subjects int he future!).

Community-Oriented Casting Calls: Casting calls are a staple of multi-voice audio fiction. When designing them, creators need to keep in mind that this is a call to a community to join the project; you're essentially pitching your project to a big, somewhat nebulous audience (rather than pitching to one reporter, one outlet, or one particular network). That means:
  1. Always make sure the audition deadline and whether this is a paid project is somewhere visible. Include an estimated time commitment for each role.
  2. Have a specific format for people to follow when submitting (whether it's what to include in the email or how to title the audition reel).
  3. Always tell actors to include their pronouns in their audition submission email.
  4. Encourage marginalized groups to apply specifically in the introduction, especially QTPOC (queer and trans people of color).
  5. Consider writing some characters to be specifically marginalized folks, open those roles only to people who have those identities, and then make sure to give the actors input on how to portray these characters if it's an identity from outside your experience. This, along with #3, are a tangible, actionable ways to create a safe and welcoming space for often silenced people. Don't do it for the diversity points, but do it because it will give your world a fuller, more realistic, more complex feeling for listeners, and give some people representation they have not had before. (The default is white and straight--there's no use beating around that bush. Fight against it, and write against the default.)
  6. Consider planning in a callback, especially if you have more than one potential option for a role. If you do, be specific about it in the instructions.
Callbacks: Callbacks are kind of like "round two" of an interview. You might sit down to talk with actors about their vision for the character, or have them read a different set of lines that are more crucial than the ones in the open casting call, or ask for two actors to sit down together with you and do a table read so you can check on their energy and chemistry. They're not final decisions, but they're very important to actors, so be gentle and be clear about what callbacks mean for them!

Table Reads: A table read is when actors, writers, and directors get together to read through the script out loud; this helps actors get to know characters and writers to identify any lines of dialogue that sound unnatural or unfit for the character. They're crucial to having a good flow, but complicated to handle if you're casting remotely. Remote casters should try to get actors together on a conference call to do a digital table read if possible. If your actors are all in wildly varying time zones, break the script into scenes that certain actors share and do several smaller table reads so that actors can practice with each other and learn how to the other people portray their characters in scene (this will help with their delivery). If push comes to shove, writers and directors should try to schedule one-on-one table reads with every actor so that they can be directed using knowledge from the other table reads.

Beta Recording: One of the ideas Amanda McLoughlin highlights in her More Pre-Pro, Less Problems article is the concept of creating a pilot that you then send to beta listeners. I'd recommend creating a beta pilot of the first episode, or the first couple, to send to some trusted people for feedback as well, before you and your actors jump into recording everything. Do it after the table read, build it into the time commitment, and make sure you have an idea of what kind of constructive feedback you're looking for to send to your beta listeners.

Press Releases: Getting the word out about your podcast is a tricky business, especially in indie podcasting. Create a press release--that's a document that announces your debut which contains all the necessary information in short form (blurb, creator's name, contact info, date of release, artwork, links)--and send to the press. Find reporters or outlets that may be interested in hearing about your work. They may not review you, but you're putting yourself on their radar. Keep that title and e-mail subject line catchy, and remember people may only see the first five or so words in their email inbox.

Social Media Calendar: Social media is a necessary, but evil beast. Choose which platforms work best for you (Twitter and Instagram both have enormous audio fiction followings) and create a calendar to follow to promote your show, talk about what you're listening to, post episode updates, and so on. It'll make handling the social media monster a bit easier, and be a relief for your workflow.

Online Community Engagement: Make sure you're doing more on your social media than just talking about your show! Interact with other podcasts; give other podcasts a listen and talk about what you love about them. Find some useful hashtags to follow and join in on (like #AudioDramaSunday/#AudioFictionSunday or #audiofictionlove), and use them responsibly. Don't just drop your iTunes link in the replies unless you are specifically asked to do that, because it's annoying. Don't just put podcast handles in a giant list when you want to recommend them; people will just mute it if they're on the list and others will just scroll right on by. If you want to recommend a podcast or a creator, explain why! Wax poetic about their work. It'll get people more engaged.
PODTALES FEST

PodTales is a new one-day festival launching October 20th in Cambridge, MA. This festival is all about audio drama and fiction podcasting! They've teamed up with the Massachusetts Independent Comics Expo at Lesley University.

Entry to the festival is free. Come and celebrate the newest boom in independent storytelling. You can find more details at their website.
 
PodTales logo; a small mouse with a headphone jack for a tale and a play button in its center
ARTICLE HIGHLIGHTS
sunlight through a large yellowish crystal
March Debut Fiction Roundups!
The Far Meridian logo; purple tones, a lighthouse shadow on a grassy hill against a starry sky revealed through purple slashes.
Analysis/Review of The Far Meridian
If you want to see more reviews, interviews, and other articles from me, you can support me over at my ko-fi account! 
Ko-Fi Support
NEWS CLIPPINGS
 
What's the Frequency? is crowdfunding for their second season! If you want more weird, experimental, engrossing noir audio, go support them (and get a cool keychain!).
Zoo, a podcast about cryptid mysteries, is crowdfunding for their next season! Give them a little nudge up to the meter.
RECOMMENDED READING
Some of the best must-read writings happened in Twitter threads for me, so I'll be linking to them here.

Lucille Valentine analyzed the copy and world-building of fiction podcast Transgenesis, and how it is harmful to the trans community. (Transgenesis has since delayed release to work on fixing the problem.)

Shenee Howards tackles the problem of insularity within the audio fiction community with proposed solutions, and opening up the floor to discussion for other solutions and ideas. We must all be activiely working on dismantling privilege inherent in the systems we work in.

Tau Zaman talks a bit about constructive criticism, and how to actually deliver it in an ethical and helpful way to the artist.
BY THE WAY,

If you'd like to ask me questions or comments, you can reply to this newsletter (it goes directly to my email!) or reach out to me on Twitter.

Happy listening,
Ely
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Copyright © 2019 Audio Dramatic, All rights reserved.


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