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The words "Audio Dramatic" on top of the logo, of a pair of headphones with a pen across them, against a sparkly daytime sky with peeks of skyscrapers at the bottom edge
Hello, fellow listeners!

I spent all weekend at the H.P. Lovecraft Film Festival, watching cosmic horror movies, one live show of an audio play, and buying horror books. As such, I did not spend the weekend prepping the newsletter like I usually do. But you'll be pleased to discover that this is an Audio Dramatic Spooktacular! There's horror, mysteries, creepy atmospheres, and spook-adjacent stories in the mini-reviews, something even for those who don't like scary anything. I love October.
CASTING IT BACK - MINI-REVIEWS

Aftershocks, An Ending (episode 12): Aftershocks is one of my favorite things coming out of Midnight Disease Productions, and one of the few horror audios that has actually made me tense up and pull blankets up to my chin. This is was the kind of finale I'm looking for even in my horror: a little hopeful, somewhat ominous, but most importantly, it feels complete. It doesn't feel like the creators are looking for an excuse for season two, and more like they have a plan.

Six Stories, Told at Night, The Seventh Story (episode 2.8): To my sheer delight, a few days ago, K.T. Bryski dropped this surprise onto the feed: the seventh story, which was created and recorded as their live show GoFundMe unlocked reward. This podcast is all Canadian folk tales told through the voice a woman looking for her missing friend, backed with haunting original music tracks and soundscapng, and this episode has all that original charm, that haunting storytelling voice from a brand-new and much-longed-for perspective.

The White Vault, Coaxing (episode 2.1): If there's one horror podcast we've all been waiting for, it's the second season return of Fool & Scholar's White Vault, which picks up immediately after the events of the first season finale. Listening straight through from season one, the tension stays on target, especially with Caster's rasping and desperate vocal quality opening up the episode. And that 'outside in a raging Arctic storm' foley is a real mood setter, well mixed and designed.

Archive 81, Are we going to have a problem here? (episode 3.10): Archive 81 completed their third season last week, and this finale is the cherry on top of a phenomenal season. This episode had that same season finality I love, with the overt promise of more planned. It's satisfying, with the Archive 81 grotesque sounds that I could never imagine how they're made, even when Powell describes it. The finale was satisfying, in every way, and in an ongoing, sprawling universe, that kind of season finale is critical.

The Leap Year Society (episode 3): Terry Miles has teamed up with Unknown 9 in their multimedia launch. If you've been craving something that reminds you of Rabbits, this podcast is about investigating secret societies, through that familiar PNWS lens where the boundary between real life and fiction isn't clear. It's pretty slow going, since it contains more historical backgrounding than I expected for the first few episodes. Some characters are pretty clearly scripted, not yet comfortable with the script, and I'm hoping for a ramping up in the sound design and plot tension soon.

Adventures in New America, The End (episode 1): Sardonic Afrofuturism from Stephen Winter and Night Vale Presents, I spent pretty much this entire episode either gasping in laughter or grimly agreeing with the extremes the political satire has gone to. A buddy comedy of a lonely man desperate to get arrested so he can get health care and the bombastic sneak thief he meets partway through, it's rare that I'm so entertained that I stop doing anything else. The voice actors are skilled, experienced, and completely embody their characters as the world around them demonstrates exactly how wild Winter's imagination can get.

The Lost Signal Society, Do You Know the Mushroom Man? (episode 1):  Listen, I knew from the title what I was getting into and I was still icked out and grimacing. An anthology loosely connected by the written framework of someone collecting strange radio transmissions, the first story basically just had me waiting for that moment when the mushrooms came out to play. I wasn't expecting certain angles, which made this more novel than other horror stories surrounding the fungal family, and a podcast to watch.

The Hidden Frequencies, A Killer Script (episode 2): In a Twilight Zone-style anthology, with a host that guides you through what to expect for each episode, they dropped five episodes at once with a kind of confidence that I think they've earned. I haven't worked my way through all of them yet, but in this episode, this team has brought to life the kind of classic movie-set horror that in normal universe would be cheesy, and avoided out of place laughter. They've circumvented it with some genuinely phenomenal actors and immersive sound design: the slick, sharp sound of a knife was realistic enough for me to jump in broad daylight.

The Monster Hunters, The Discotheque of Nights (episode 1): This isn't a new podcast, but they've joined the team at Definitely Human with a refreshed look and new feed, and rereleased their first episode this past week. New listeners, rejoice! For we've got some ridiculous 70s British monster hunters, comedy noir horror at its finest. I'm pretty amused again by the conversation about these two complete hopeless men trying to figure out how to talk to women ("what if I treated her like a mystery instead?") while looking for vampires.

Palimpsest, Unseelie (episode 2.3): Hayley Heninger continues to marvel and hypnotize as Ellen in Palimpsest's second season. She talks with Saoirse, the strange woman she's enchanted with and working for, and I am haunted by that ending scene. As ever, Ridenhour delivers a dreamlike monologue with fairies interwoven through that still makes statements that listeners may have implicitly understood as realities of life, but he makes explicitly clear with a few simple lines, such as the idea that comfortable and familiar are not the same.

CASTING LIGHT: GENRE DISCUSSION

Content Warning: I’m talking about mental illness and its depiction in horror (as someone with a mental illness); as such I make mentions of ableist language, various symptoms, and gamifying mental illness.

I spent all weekend at a horror film festival, mostly dedicated to media that is based on Lovecraft’s horror or can be centered in cosmic or weird horror genres. Unsurprisingly, it means that today I’m thinking about the horror genre in audio fiction, and what we’re getting right that more mainstream or other forms of media are not, and what kinds of gaps we should think about. And probably again unsurprisingly for someone who just spent three days surrounded by Lovecraft-influenced horror, I was thinking about the close-linked ties to mental illness that we find inside the genre as a whole. None of this is a small subject by any means, but let’s do a bit of a primer and a look at audio horror fiction.

Lovecraft’s horror was based in a deep-seated, paranoid, racist fear of The Other, and very specifically, of the ‘co-mingling of the races’ and related issues, an act which to him often resulted in a now-familiar early 20th century caricature of madness and insanity. People writing in chalk or blood on walls in small sanitorium cells, raving eccentrics wandering the haunted halls of their giant empty mansions, the transformation of humans into not-so-human and not-so-sane as the children of these unions far on down the bloodline. And on, and on. It’s exhausting, it’s stigmatizing, it’s narrow-minded, and unfortunately, also had an enormous influence on horror media.

Mental illnesses of various kinds--usually completely indeterminate, as though ‘madness’ is a monolith and everyone suffers from the same effects like hallucinations of blood dripping down walls--is either a debilitating and standard ending to encountering monsters or some kind of superpower that transforms people into something more than human. It’s a game mechanic on a single axis where you’re either sane or moving away from sanity, and then the world glitches.  It’s an exoticized and eroticized entertainment tool that stomps all over cultural issues that are interlinked. Horror-based entertainment is its own nightmare; I find myself vetting horror films via friends before watching them, or bracing myself for the 'magical madness' to come from nowhere.

Here’s the thing about audio fiction podcasting, and you’ve heard this before, so bear with me: it’s majority indie creators, creating without financing houses that would impose creative decisions upon the writers, and it means they are freer to fold their experiences into their work. The gatekeeping bar is different than in other forms of media, and it's the kind of different that also enables creators, performers, and producers who have disabilities, mental health diagoneses, or are neurodivergent, to be able to access podcasting. 

I’m consistently impressed, for instance, by the work of Vin Ernst and the Midnight Disease Productions team with Aftershocks. It takes place in a mental health rehabilitation facility, with a main character who is grappling with schizoaffective disorder, another character who has Tourette Syndrome, and in general, a variety of teenaged characters who are trying to figure out the best way to live their lives. The portrayals are both gentle and accurate, not stigmatizing nor demonizing. Not every medical professional is a demon, either--there are nurses and doctors who are genuinely invested in the wellness of their patients. Riley, the lead, grapples with hallucinations as part of her schizoaffective disorder and her mental illness is not a superpower. She’s still sick, and she still needs help--the horror comes mostly from people, and what they are capable of believing and doing, and from the unsureness of what’s really a hallucination and what’s a ghost that others can see and witness--and nothing will magically cure her. This kind of portrayal is especially important to me, especially in a world where people shout at you to do yoga and smile more and you’ll be cured of depression.

The podcast Station Blue has Matthew in the lead role, who has bipolar disorder. He talks us through what it was like growing up, learning to manage it, and does all this while being totally isolated in Antarctica. This is a slow-burn horror podcast--the episode that scared me the most so far is still episode 5, “Shattered”, where Matthew gets stuck in an elevator and inside his own head. The horror here is in the silence, both around Matthew and inside him. The creator, Chad Ellis, is coming from his own personal experience here, as someone who also has Bipolar 2 disorder, and fuels his reasons why he made Station Blue the way it is. It's a wonderful example for healthy and accurate depictions of mental health.

Importantly, in both of these examples, characters are not just their diagnosed disorder, and the state of their mental health does not define them as a human being. I can expect a lot more care and consideration in the portrayal of mental illnesses in audio fiction, on the whole. I can expect beautiful metaphors for living with them, like in Unplaced, or the not-often-seen person of color engaging in positive therapy and grappling with trauma, like in Boom. And honestly, when it comes to what’s missing, all I can say is that I want more, and I want it to be better.

I want the clear distinctions of mental illness and neurodivergency, and where they converge. I want more people of color, who are often denied access to good mental health services through institutionalized social and political systems, depicted as finding therapy and help that works and to be practicing mental health professionals as well. I want more innovative metaphors and allegories to help people who do not have that particular disorder understand what it’s like to live with it. I want creators to consistently apply content warnings for their podcasts, in order to help their audience with triggers or mental health struggles.

I want kindness. I don’t want creators who struggle with these things to bear the onus for kindly and accurately portraying and writing these characters, just as I don’t want women to be the only ones to write well-rounded women characters. I want us to make the effort to understand, to hire sensitivity editors and consultants, and to always strive for quality over quantity. Audio fiction is such a safe haven, but we can always be doing better. When you’re listening to all your spooky audio this month of Halloween, keep those hearts and minds open and be critical, but do it kindly.

ARTICLE HIGHLIGHTS
A review of a live show adaptation of "The Shadow over Innsmouth"
An interview with creator Eli Barraza about magical realism and more
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!
Limetown is coming to a Facebook Watch video platform near you! With Jessical Biel in the starring role as investigator Lia Haddock, Limetown is about an invesitgative journalist trying to figure out what happened to a town of 300 people who simply disappeared. Facebook has ordered a 10-episode season adaptation of Limetown's season one. If you need more Limetown now, season 2 is coming on Halloween, distributed and monetized by Endeavor Audio, and there's prequel novel coming November 13th.

The Preserve This Podcast project is looking for podcasters to fill out this survey on how they are archiving and preserving their podcast. It's about six minutes, and you'll be helping a wonderful archiving project to create best practices and guidelines.
RECOMMENDED READING
I've gotta say, one of the most important articles for me recently was this personal essay from Calen Cross on unplugging from podcasts and curating your content consumption.

I'm going to give you some recommended watching today with Amanda McLoughlin's video on burnout. In a world where creatives are feeling the push of capitalism and the need to produce content constantly, I think this is a needed conversation to have and she provides a lot of marvelous insight.
BY THE WAY,

I hope you're enjoying fall! Keep your eyes out for more spooky, Halloween-appropriate content on my website this month. And, an announcement:

I'm going to the Austin Film Festival! I'll be covering the podcast track for The Bello Collective, and doing livetweets of the panels I attend on Twitter, and whatever else I can manage. If you're going, be sure to get in touch so we can talk fiction podcasting, the festival, and that excellent Austin food scene.

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 © 2018 Audio Dramatic, All rights reserved.


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