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Hello, fellow listeners!

Welcome back to Audio Dramatic! It's April Fool's Day, but there's no fooling in this newsletter. I went to AWP this past week -- that's the Association of Writers and Writer's Programs conference -- and ended up listening to a lot of brilliant people talk about things like magical realism, criticism, and speculative fiction from BIPOC (that's Black and Indigenous people of color). It was inspiring in so many ways (you better believe I'm already planning on how to get fiction podcasts to AWP 2020) and so, in this newsletter, I'm going to talk about one of the many topics that is swirling around in my brain.
CASTING IT BACK - MINI-REVIEWS
Kalila Stormfire's Economical Magick Services, Case Fourteen: Taking Criticism (episode 2.1): The second season of urban fantasy witchery starts with a bang in the way only Lisette Alvarez can do. It picks up a year after the end of the first season, which makes for the new relationship between Kalila and her shadow a fascinating way to bridge the gap and drag listeners right into a new storyline. Best of all is the overt, impactful weaving in of the outside world into Kalila's inner one, expanding the universe and the potential for conflict. [22:07]

Love and Luck, We're Here For You (episode 76): This romantic magical soap opera style podcast has been a delight to witness blossom, especially as it always takes care of its characters and listeners. This episode drives home the point that family is made of the people you choose to have, whether inherited or otherwise, and real family will always be there for you. Bring the Kleenex; the Love and Luck team bring home the tears in this one. [14:14]

Dreamland, Jackie (episode 1): Set in a noir-feeling Hollywood, private investigator Lorien gets tasked with finding an impersonator, who has wrapped a stuntman up in a strange movie with a directing job offer that seems too good to be true. Dreamland's first episode nails the nervous, frenetic energy of Hollywood's lifestyle, as well as the atmosphere of what happens in the shadows between the neon lights, while following parallel storylines that will clearly intersect--the question of where and when is one of the elements that keeps me interested. [17:27]

Centered, Shavasana Part One (episode 1): Featuring Jerrika Hinton (Grey's Anatomy), this dramedy follows Selah Copeland, a college graduate who works in her mother's accounting business, as she has a personal revelation at a yoga retreat. In turn hilarious and heart-wrenching, this new podcast centering the lives of women of color is a touching exploration of family dynamics, both exploitative or loving ones, and personal growth. Creator Beandra July knows exactly how to get into your heart and take root early on. [17:07]

The Deca Tapes, The Doctor (episode 4): Ten people in a space, locked together, and their only knowledge of themselves are the papers that have been given to them--the Leader, the Cook, the Cleaner, so on--and they're starting to crack, definitively. The in-universe metanarrative of who they are and why they're trapped, starts building to a peak in "The Doctor", providing moments that warps the experience of a taped-entries found footage story and the approach listeners might have to the characters. It's a limited series, a cold, chilling take on trapped amnesiacs. [21:44]

Marsfall, ANDI (episode 2.6): If you listen to Marsfall, it's a decent bet that you love ANDI. Marsfall writers do not shy away from digging into what it means to develop and design artificial intelligence, and what it means to be "artificial" through the voices and philosophies of ANDI and Faye as they argue. They have succeeded in making this like trying to follow an argument and debate between two entities that think so much faster than humans, while making it comprehensible; a triumph of sound design and performance that brings a bit of an ache to all of our hearts. [29:26]

Fan Wars: The Empire Claps Back, Yoda's Sex Life (episode 5): This hilarious romcom keeps tumbling through the relationship of Jackie and Steven as they argue about Star Wards (vehemently, usually), politics, their own lives, and whatever else they can manage. Kristen Bennett and Eugene Young have a vibrant, adorable energy in audio, and this episode keeps the momentum going as they each get a closer look into their personal lives and friends. [07:45]

Lonesome Pine, Rumor Milltown Radio (episode 2.1): Every season of Lonesome Pine is a separate, unique story focused on the myths, long-buried stories, and cover-ups in the history of the small town. The second season takes off with focusing on a radio host and her friend, the producer of the radio station, who dig into the strange stories coming out of Lonesome Pine. It's just the right level of low-key weird, with a sweet friendship that cares about each other's health and well-being even when investigating takes off live. [21:29]

Flyest Fables, The Heart that Shields Our Stories (bonus episode 1): To get us all ready for season two later this year, Givens sets up this small bonus episode set in the Kingdom of Orleans. Bonus episodes are excellent ways to flesh out characters or the world, and this bonus episode is not just a romp in the park. In less than ten minutes, Givens lifts hearts up from a deep sadness with lightness, family, and song, while sparking the mind with possibility for the future of these stories. [09:03]

Victoriocity, The Palace (episode 2.3): Victoriocity's return is as darkly and sardonically humorous as its first season, bringing not just new characters to the front but developing side characters that we loved, like Fleet's boss and Julius Bell. The world of Even Greater London sprawls magnificently in this episode, not just outward but downward, and it's easy to build ten different conspiracy theories in between every cameo. An unsolvable kidnapping, magicians, twists that you don't see coming; it makes it hard to not find the second meaning or importance of every observation or description. [40:36]
CASTING LIGHT: CRITICISM
small metallic confetti stars - pink, blue, and gold - scattered across a marbled blue floor.
Ma'ayan Plaut, from RadioPublic, wrote what I consider to be one of the best go-to articles for handling criticism, not just as a podcaster, but as a listener.  In it, she doesn't just give a list of do's and don'ts, but she also digs into what exactly it means to be critical. Let's take a peek at that definition:
 
“Criticism” sounds like it’s all bad, but the best kind of criticism is one that closely examines what is there (and what is not) and uses what they’ve heard to build their own creation: a response of love, of care, and of appreciation. Constructive criticism helps creative work reach new heights never seen before, based on a close collaboration between a consumer and a creator. 

When I say I'm a critic, sometimes I have to keep from cringing, because I'm worried the person I'm talking to is immediately going to associate that word with negativity and dragging people's art through the muck. I'm associated with the grumpy person leaving baffling one-star reviews on iTunes or Yelp. But it is is known that critics and formalizing a language of criticism in any field are necessary parts of legitimizing and validating a field, and helping it grow and prosper and to reach a wider audience. This can get dicey; my work often results in one of the biggest comments I get is that I'm part of "cheerleader culture". (What a fun term! It means to be uncritical and never examine the flaws or gaps in a work, whether due to personal association or just being "too kind".)

There's a balance that must be struck in podcasting, whose criticism scene is decidedly nascent still, between 1) podcasters developing the skill to deconstruct critique, even that written by strangers on iTunes, 2) podcast listeners learning how to give kind, thoughtful critique that supports and encourages creators, and 3) podcast critics (at all stages of their critic experience) figuring out where and how to best deliver critique, in a way that is kind, helpful, and also examines their own biases, hopefully before they even publish it anywhere.

These are some pretty tall orders! It's a lot of practicing radical empathy, which always makes room for improvement, and a lot of practice (and faith in humankind, which may be considered a dwindling resource these days). Plaut's article goes into superb detail on all kinds of tactics podcasters and listeners should be employing; I'm going to create a couple of lists here specifically with points that I heard at AWP 2019, some of which came from experienced critics who have been doing this for way longer than I have, that I think are invaluable not just to people publishing critique professionally, but to anyone writing a review anywhere that could impact the audience and the creator.

Podcasters:
  1. If it's obviously racist, sexist, homophobic, what have you, throw that part in the trash. These aren't people you want to spend time on. If it seems to be having a severe impact on both your audience or your own mental health, find reviewers who may be accepting pitches, or even reach out to a trusted colleague. Get some feedback you can trust.
  2. Remember that there is some difference between a critique published in a paper or an outlet and a more casual review elsewhere. They should be treated differently. Primarily, casual reviews on social media will require a lot more picking apart; these are generally reviews that start with "I like/dislike/hate/love", and that means you have to dig deep.  If someone says "I love this character", that could mean your writing and acting have paid off for this person, and you should think about what it is you've done that's made it lovable. If someone says "I really don't like the addition of [a plot element]", that could mean something's gone wrong with its introduction or the way its been folded in to the story. If it's "I can't understand this person", it's time to figure out if it's because they're being kind of racist with an accent, or if your sound quality needs improvement.
  3. Ask questions! You may get details you didn't ever consider. Ask for improvements, and also the great things you should never get rid of. You may discover something people love that you didn't even think about as an element to keep.
    1. Caveat the First: don't bother people incessantly and keep a boundary between you and your listeners. Don't slide into their DMs. I totally recommend a survey.
    2. Caveat the Second: consider alternatives if this doesn't jive with the way you want to make your art. It's your art. If you want to check in with your intended audience, find a way that works for you. If you want to just make your art, make your freaking art; I'm not here to impose the structures of capitalism on you. Just remember that your audience is working within the bounds of capitalism for the most part, and you may want to consider what that means for how you gain and retain an audience.po
  4. Practice. Go to reviews you've already received, and think about them. Pull out what's important, what's salient, and what's actionable. Be honest with yourself, but also be kind to yourself.
Reviewers and Critics:
  1. Consider the impact of your words. Plenty of critics at AWP19 agreed that panning a debut novel, for instance, helps no one--so why would you pan a debut podcaster? Just don't do it. There are people on the other end of that thing.
  2. Be specific. If you just say things like "I didn't like [x]", that's not actually helpful! Say why. If you're uncomfortable with explaining why you don't like it, consider why that is. There may be a bias there that you're not consciously aware of or ignoring.
  3. Don't open your review with negativity--unless they really deserve it, a phrase from one panelist who was indicating how we should respond to racist, sexist, ableist, and homo/transphobic works. Opening a review for a work that's clearly a first, a new endeavor, with "this isn't the best" or "this wasn't great", especially when you then go on to describe later that it's all flaws that are improved through practice and time, alienates audiences unnecessarily. (I never do that, because I never want to assume, especially on the internet and in the age of the digital hustle, that someone has the time to read through my entire review and hasn't just skimmed it).
How do you deliver constructive criticism? In the digital realm, knowing where it's acceptable to do that, and when it isn't, has become even more complex. Make sure you're putting it somewhere expected if you haven't been specifically asked. How do you receive criticism? It's never fun to get negative notes, but it's imperative to improving your craft. Set up trusted colleagues or friends to listen to your work before your publish, to read it before you record, and that way you can catch the glaring errors or the things you can work on for next time. Ma'ayan Plaut's article has been one of my guiding stars; I recommend it for you as well!
ARTICLE HIGHLIGHTS
a train clock hanging from ornate metal, that says PADDINGTON STATION with the roman numerals for numbers. It is slightly before 11:20.
"The 12:37"is a time-traveling train that cares about its characters
galaxy of stars stripping down a night sky, gradient from dark blue to light blue close to the horizon of low hills.
An interview with Tau Zaman, creator of Weird Western CARAVAN
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
RECOMMENDED READING
I loved reading this article from Eddie Feeley that groups quotes from a bunch of podcasters and journalists about how they consume podcasts, focusing on the culture of marathoning.

This is an in-depth long-read about podcast advertising and where it's taking us, via a conversation from Helen Zaltzman, Hernan Lopez, Krystina Rubino, and Matt Gehring (moderated by Ashley Lusk, one of the editors at The Bello Collective). It's an instructive and intriguing read.
 
BY THE WAY,

You are loved. Go forth into the world and bring your empathetic self into it, but not without being kind to yourself.

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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