We Might Not Come Back. Drink Anyway.

I’m moving away, and I’d like to talk about The Tavern.

Scene: Adventurer’s tavern. Night. The bar is full, and the old friends, gather at the same table. Again.

*FELIMIR
Well twas long, long ago, back when the trees were talkin’

KNIGHT FERGUS
T’was only yesterday.

FELIMIR
Yes, yes, I’m getting to it, there’s a formula you know.
Where was I?
A long time ago, long ago, so long ago that no one can remember and no tree can remember and no rock can remember, a place so far away beyon’t that –

KNIGHT FERGUS
It was last night across the river. Now tell the fighty bits.

FELIMIR
Alright, if you’ll have all the heart taken out if it.

Moving is the most stressful thing a human can experience. It’s loss, change, and the elimination of all points of reference. It can also be incredibly rewarding. I’m moving from Oakland, CA to a red state, and true to form, I’m all set to inject drama into this situation where perhaps there was none.

When I left New York, there were parties, yes, but there was also crying, gnashing of teeth, and “don’t go!” conversations.

When I moved from Seattle to San Francisco, only two friends came over to help me load the U-haul. There was no pomp or circumstance. We chatted and taped boxes as though it were any other Saturday afternoon, and parted with a “see ya.”

The lack of drama surprised me a bit.

I don’t typically keep friends for longer than five years. A friend once told me that your friends aren’t people you share values with; they’re the people you do stuff with. That made me think that friendships end because interests change. Another told me that when we move, we create a self-shaped void in the lives of those we left behind — but our life becomes a giant mass of voids (where do I hang out? Where’s the grocery store, place to watch the sun rise? Dojo? Job? Hospital? Coffee shop? Diner?). We get stressed, while everyone else is fine. The world rolls on without us, and the place we left disappears.

The last time I visited familiar places in New York, it felt like wearing a sweater that was too small. License plates were a different color. People had grown physically and emotionally. Items from my childhood that should have been dear sparked nothing in me. I was so unmoored from the things that were supposed to be meaningful that I felt the foundation of my identity crumble.

Because of those experiences, I anticipate losing people as soon as I meet them. The impermanence of relationships looms large in my brain. This fear became self-fulfilling. I freaked out with my New York friends, and tried to keep everything the same with an obsessive fervor. You can guess how badly that ended.

Since that time, I’ve tried to accept that paths diverge. My interests change, so do others’. People drift apart, so that’s ok.

The problem is that I’ve applied the same obsessive fervor to ACCEPTING THAT PATHS DIVERGE so I pull out the scissors as quickly as I once pulled out needle and thread.

It’s not the drifting or the grasping that’s destructive; it’s the fervor. 

Leaving my core group in California will be hard, just like it was hard to leave my core group in New York. These relationships have been special and illuminating — supportive and challenging. They’re all very different people, with different specialties and perspectives I would never have had access to. I felt sad, not that I was going to leave them; but that I was going to lose them.

When I mentioned this to one of them, they responded with an eye-roll.

“I’ve always taken some issue with your idea about paths diverging and not diverging and all that.”

“In what way?”

“In every way. You’ve been asking if we’re about to diverge since the second time we met.”

Even in my writing, the opening paragraph is usually this is the story of how it all went wrong. I’m so scared of the ending that it colors the beginning.

My friend said, “I see us on different adventures, constantly meeting in the tavern between quests, and then setting off on new ones in the morning. You’re my brother forever and I’ve been fucking loving you across the current of you asking me if our paths were diverging for, like, seven years. Calm down.”

Which brings us back to the tavern. It’s got a million names. It’s The Winchester, The Bronze, Ten-Forward, The Hanged Man, Cafe Solstice, Cafe La Boheme. Facebook. Twitter.

“This may be the last time we drink together in this tavern,” Felimir gloomed into his tankard.

“Dude,” said Fergus, “you get like this every time. Drink your fucking mead, we’ll be back in two days. Chill.”

Tomorrow morning we all have to get up and fight dragons, my friend said. I get that we’re all nervous about it, and we all have our own way of coping. Maybe you’re right, and it won’t be the same. That doesn’t mean it’s over. For fuck’s sake, just drink.

Where do you gather with your friends? A living room? A cafe? A chat box, or a number on speed-dial?

Where’s your tavern?

*Excerpt from: The Sorrows, or Deirdre From The Legend Kills Herself In Every Version But That Doesn’t Mean You Always Have To, currently under development through Custom Made Theater’s Undiscovered Works Series.

Narrating Outside My Comfort Zone

PseudoPod 537: A World of Bones by Brian Trent went live on April 7.

When you audition to be a narrator for Escape Artists, we ask for a bit of information. Experience, languages, and dialects are all important; but so is knowing which material you’d consider off-limits. Forcing a performance sucks, both for the narrator and for the audience — and we’d never want our narrators to read anything they feel uncomfortable with. Some narrators prefer not to read sex, some graphic violence, some prefer to stay away from particular themes, and some are down for anything.

I generally decline graphic content, but this story gave me a chance to push those boundaries out a bit. Brian wrote a great, evocative tale, and I’m grateful to him and PseudoPod for giving me this chance to grow as a performer. Turns out I’m far more convincing as an ancient creeper than a heroine.

Shocking, I know.

While I am proud of this one, I will not be telling my parents about it. Lame, I know, but it’s a big step for me.

Here is some of my other voice work. I’ll keep updating the Narration page.

 

Beneath Ceaseless Skies

StarShipSofa

KatanaPen

Pseudopod

Escape Pod

PodCastle

Heavy Gear? Knight vs Soldier vs Firefighter

Demonstration of relative mobility issues of a modern soldier, a firefighter, and a knight in full kit. There are some obvious differences in the ages and fitness/stamina level of the participants, but this should give some indication of agility and fighting ability of knights in armor.
 

Visit to Pseudopod Tower

For Escape Artists’ annual Artemis Rising event, I had the pleasure of guest-hosting The Lady With the Light by Mel Kassel at Pseudopod.

Pseudopod is a short-fiction horror podcast, and they’ve been going strong for over a decade. If you’re new to horror, podcasting, short fiction, or any combination of those things — check out this list of thirteen stories that show the strength and diversity of their offerings.

I have a story in GdM Issue #11

I just found out I’m sharing an issue of Grimdark Magazine with Brent Weeks.

This is a bit of a special moment for me.

When I was studying sword in rural China, I got sick. Coughing-blood sick. The only way to get medicine was through an IV, and I was set to go home in a few weeks, so I tried to tough it out.

Sifu took me aside one night and said if I didn’t go to the hospital and get the medicine, I’d die. At the time, it felt like a choice between dying now, or dying in ten years from something on a dirty needle.

I stayed up most of the night trying to decide, and struggling to breathe.

I did wind up going to the hospital, and was on an IV for three days. The Night Angel trilogy kept me company while I recovered, and took my mind off whatever consequences I’d have to face for my decision*.
When I got back to the US, my little brother mailed me a copy of his new favorite book, The Way of Shadows.

Everything turned out fine.

*(and my ignorant notions about country hospitals)

gdm11

GdM Issue #11 is up for pre-order, dropping on April 1.

FICTION
– Cry Wolf by Deborah A. Wolf
– Devouring the Dead by Laura Davy
– The First Kill by C.T. Phipps
– For Honour, For Waste by Setsu Uzume (reprint)

NON-FICTION
– The Odd Hopefulness of Grimdark by Matthew Cropley
– An Interview with Anna Smith-Spark
– Review: Mark Lawrence’s Red Sister
– An Interview with Brent Weeks
– Review: Sam McPheeters’ Exploded View

Pre-order now on:
Amazon.com: https://goo.gl/Gl3SsX
Amazon.co.uk: https://goo.gl/GCi3YA
Amazon.com.au: https://goo.gl/yyqhYl
Amazon.ca: https://goo.gl/9P2sBB

Or, sign up for your subscription now over on their Patreon page. You’ll get the issue delivered a few days earlier through here, too: https://goo.gl/jJUm2r

Add this issue on your Goodreads feed here: https://goo.gl/F0YjfM

On Narrating – Metals, Meats, Feels.

I started doing short-fiction narrations in 2015. Here are some things I’ve noticed since I started.

Metals:
Hardware, software, recording setup

  • Audacity is still my favorite for recording and editing voice. Other programs worth investigating include Amadeus Pro, Logic Express, Garageband, Parametric EQ, Adobe Audition, and RX 5 Audio Editor.
  • I made a sound recording box by lining a cardboard box with about two inches of foam (it’s a big box), and putting my Blue Yeti mic inside it.
  • The gain on the Blue Yeti mic (there’s a dial) is only at about 75%, and I make any other adjustments to the recording levels in audacity. This was meant to cut down on hiss, while still getting a loud and clear recording of my voice.
  • I got an even cleaner sound when I moved the recording box into a large coat closet, with the coats still in there for sound insulation. Glamorous, huh?
  • The sound box or sound insulation you create probably matters more than the microphone if you’re on a budget.
  • For narration, recording in Mono halves the size of the file. Stereo isn’t necessary.
  • It’s way easier to listen to all the versions and pick one take during editing, than to try to go back and insert something after the fact (see Feels for more).
  • Make sure you test your recording before you dive in. If there’s a technical issue midway through, you have to do the whole thing over again.
  • If you have a tablet or a smartphone, try reading off that. Paper rustles, mouses click. That stuff is a pain in the neck to edit out.
  • Meet your deadlines. You don’t have to be the best, but if you can deliver satisfactory product on time, that means a lot.

Meats:
Your voice, your body, your digestive system

  • Slow down.
  • I’ve gotten the best response from listeners when my voice was messed up, such as after being sick.
  • Warming up your voice gives you a richer and more consistent sound. If you decide to blow your voice out to make it gravelly, screaming is one option. My favorite band for warming up my voice is System of a Down (because they go really high and really low, depending on the harmony line you sing) and In This Moment.
  • If you have to stop recording — because you flubbed, or a car crashed outside, or the neighbor’s dog is barking — repeat the line at least twice. Sometimes the frustration of having had to pause is still in your voice. Your director ear will notice, even if your actor ear doesn’t.
  • Different accents happen in different places in your mouth. This can sometimes help you keep track of different characters during one recording session.
  • Similarly, different voices happen in different places in your throat. Pay attention to the physical sensation of a low voice, or the amount of air you’re using for a breathy voice. This is all muscle control, just like a pianist practicing finger position.
  • There’s a tendency for emotional stories or accented stories to speak in a monotone, or to rush over certain words to make it sound like fluency. I am guilty of this. Don’t do this, it sounds terrible.
  • Slow down.
  • There are resources for accent study, such as the International Dialects of English Archive (IDEA).
  • When I’ve had trouble pronouncing certain names of people (or rivers, or pastry), YouTube is a great resource. There are lots of interviews that begin with, “I’m here with Superstar Sportysport,” which will help you pronounce “Superstar.” This is also helpful when you’re dealing with unfamiliar spellings of familiar names.
  • Keep an ear out for foods that make your stomach growl. It’ll rumble when you’re hungry, and it’ll rumble when you’re digesting. The mic can pick that up.
  • For wet mouth, I’ve had some success with green apple slices. Several things can contribute to that ungodly clicking noise. Wet mouth is one, allergies can be another (the clicking can be up in your sinuses as well), and I’ve also heard that some of the clicks are caused by not opening your mouth wide enough when you speak. Avoid water, sugar, milk products, and coffee before and during a recording session.
  • Seriously. Slow down. For narration, clear enunciation will be more important than acting every time.

Feels:
Acting, vocal theater, seven roles in 30 minutes

  • If you’re cutting your own recording, you’re both the director and all of the actors. Give your future self something to work with, and remember your mistakes so you can figure out how to fix them. It’s a learning process, and we get better with practice.
  • Read through the story before you record it. You’re helping build toward the twist and the resolution. You’re in a position to plant seeds as much as the text is.
  • Old voices, young voices, gendered voices, and anything else that isn’t your natural voice risks becoming caricature. If you can hit the full emotional range in that voice without laughing or rolling your eyes (unless it’s in the script), you’ve got it.
  • People can’t see your face or your body language when you’re recording. However, you can still make faces and gesticulate if that helps you infuse emotion into your voice. When you’re listening to someone’s voicemail message, you can tell whether or not they were smiling, right?  Same thing.
  • During certain key moments (other than when I forget how words work) I’ll record a sentence or a piece of dialogue multiple times. This lets me work up to the right emotional pitch, and it gives me a chance to emphasize different words in the sentence to see what fits with the narrative, the characters, and the final ending. For example…
  • “We must forgive” could be read as, “WE must forgive,” or “we MUST forgive,” or “we must FORGIVE.” Each sentence is making a slightly different point.
  • I think the most recordings I’ve made of a single sentence was 26 times, because I couldn’t get my voice to crack quite the way I wanted until take 19 or so. Let the recording run until you’re back in the moment. Stay in the story; you can fix the recording later.
  • Speaking of staying in the story… I do want to kill my neighbor’s dog. Or at least tranquilize it. Unfortunately, both of these options are illegal (and will probably stress my neighbor out), so it’s been more handy to learn how to hold the emotional tension in my mind while waiting for the dog to stop barking, say the line again twice, and then continue with the story.
  • For emotional depth, acting chops, and bringing dozens of characters to life with vocal variety and consistency, my hands-down favorite narrators are Jim Dale (Harry Potter), and Tony Robinson (Discworld).

 

Whether you want to record short fiction, audiobooks, or be an anime or video game actor, short fiction narration is a great way to get your feet wet and make a little cash in the process.

For more in-depth details and lessons on voice acting from an experienced professional, check out Voice Acting Mastery, hosted by Crispin Freeman.

Interested in narrating for audio books? Check out the Audiobook Creation Exchange, where authors, narrators, studio professionals, publishers, and agents look for and showcase voice talent.

Interested in narrating for Escape Artists? Pseudopod, PodCastle, Cast of Wonders, and EscapePod are all looking for narrators to fit their stories. If you are a native speaker of a language or dialect other than Standard American English, we would love to hear from you.

I’m gender-fluid.

Gender-fluid is a gender identity which refers a dynamic mix of male, female, neutrois, or any other non-binary identity, or some combination of identities.

I’m gender-fluid. Here’s what that means to me.

My buddy and I went for a hike the other day, and back in their kitchen we got to talking about gender. They’re changing their pronouns in public for the first time, and they’re not sure if it will go over well, or smoothly, or if their self-description will accurately convey their being.

When I say I’m gender-fluid, here’s what I’m trying to convey:

As a kid, I was occasionally seen as a boy and told that the things I was interested in were boy things. I played a dude, as a dude, in a high school play. I sang with the boys for a few songs in choir. While I don’t feel un-female, I’ve come to understand that my stance shifts relative to the group I’m in and the role I take within that group. So now, when the vast majority of societal messages and cues tell me I do guy things, and act like a guy, I figure, “ok, I’m a guy. This is correct.”

Yet, the skin I wear fits, and I feel no need to change it.

I’ve met women that are tougher, harder, and butch-er that identify 100% as women. My experience doesn’t invalidate theirs, or vice versa. It’s a different mode.

For me, publicly identifying one way or the other helps set the tone. It contextualizes. It arranges for the response I want, and helps smooth interactions based on finding common ground.

That said, how you see me and what you call me has no bearing on what I am, which is why I’m not too hung up on pronouns… but I would feel like less if I were unable to shift. I would feel like less if I were asked to start, or stop, a particular gendered expression.

Identity is made up of a zillion categories and groupings, all of which have varying importance in someone’s life. Gender’s only one, like spirituality, or lineage. It’s not the first thing I’d mention when self-describing. Not because I’m ashamed, or not “out,” but because it’s not the most important lens through which I see myself.

It remains true, regardless.

If you feel like you’re this way, but didn’t have the word, now you do. If you feel like you’re alone in the way you are; you’re not.

While the language and the concepts might at first seem alien, or frustrating, or ridiculous, I appreciate that the conversations are becoming more commonplace. The more language we have, the more specific we can be — the better we’ll be able to understand, and be understood.

ar3-magazine-revised-final-web

This month, PodCastle, Pseudopod, EscapePod, and Cast of Wonders are running Artemis Rising 3, a celebration of female-identified and non-binary authors. Check ’em out.