Category Archives: My Work

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.

Behind the Scenes: For Honor, For Waste

My story, “For Honor, For Waste,” went live today at Podcastle, elegantly read by the fierce Nadia Niaz.

When the call went out for the Women in Practical Armor anthology, nearly everyone I know sent me the link and told me to submit a story. I realized that I didn’t have any stories that fit the theme, so I thought about women who were defined by their armor. By their equipment. The world has a dire lack of stories about the power of older women, much less older WOC women — so I knew I wanted to write a story about sexy, badass, post-menopausal veterans.

I read about a festival celebrating a goddess’s menstrual cycle, which had me thinking about purity, and how religions pick different standards of virtue. Then I came across a documentary about early engineering in Moorish Cordoba, and the setting started to take shape.

What if these three women — these seasoned veterans — were asked to sacrifice themselves to a goddess. They’ve been through a lot. They’ve been failed by the bureaucracy, but were good enough at their jobs to both stay alive and rise to power.

In my head, these three looked at each other, looked at the sacrifice orders, and said, “…this is bullshit. Why don’t we kill her instead?”

And the story began.

In the beginning, the animosity between Kejra, Nouli, and Rohnaq was much more reserved. Rohnaq collected Kejra from a bar, and Nouli didn’t show until much later. You could tell that they loved each other, and their banter was closer to ribbing than cutting. You can see, through their body language, and the way they finish each other’s sentences, how close they are.

Once Rohnaq revealed the things she’d done in the name of her principles and career, the rift between the three went deeper. The tension ramped up. 

In my experience, friendship forged between martial artists, (and possibly between veterans) is defined by the fact that we play rough. We push each other hard. We’ve suffered together, and taken pride in it. My little brother and I met as pre-teens and absolutely hated each other. He’s made me bleed, and I’ve broken his nose — but I wouldn’t want anyone else at my back in a crisis, because I know what he’s capable of. I was there. I put him through it. We are better because we were rough on each other. We trust each other’s strength because we’ve witnessed it. Whatever happens, we’ll handle it. We won’t crumble. We won’t disappear.

To outsiders this looks like abuse, but it’s not. Because of our context, it is respect, love, and trust. Rohnaq hits hard; but Kejra and Nouli know her, and know why she did what she did. Their history begs the question of whether or not such a bond can be repaired — and that’s when the story went beyond its action-adventure inception. This story didn’t make it into Women in Practical Armor, but after a few more revisions it found a home.

This is the first scene I wrote of the first draft, which I call the story’s “baby photo.” I was very sad to cut the bit with the mirrored dish, but ultimately it didn’t fit. 

 

For Honor, For Waste
(1st scene, 1st draft)

Hannot, Johannes; Still Life: Fruit and Oysters on a Table; Manchester Art Gallery; http://www.artuk.org/artworks/still-life-fruit-and-oysters-on-a-table-205166

Hannot, Johannes; Still Life: Fruit and Oysters on a Table

Kejra tossed her walking stick at an attendant and collapsed onto a cushioned chair. She pushed the stopper from the bottle with her thumb and it dropped to the table, bounced, and rolled off while she took a swig. “A fine honor, to be sent to our death as a gift for Manaph!” She leaned forward on the table, stabbing it with her index finger. “When we took the Lejine Span, we made an effort to learn their language so that the tax laws could be enforced with compassion. Those barbarians would sacrificed the most beautiful, most talented girl and boy to the river to prevent it from flooding. The custom of shared ways enriches and stains in equal measure.”

Nouli made a beckoning gesture and Kejra passed her the bottle. She sat gracefully and without a sound, taking the time to pour a measure into a glass. “And if we are not to fight each other for this honor, what shall it be instead?  Poetry?”

“Oh we’ll fight,” said Rohnaq. “But… not each other.”

Kejra arched a brow at the city commander. “The oligarchs won’t put up with that sort of thing. If we don’t fight, our provinces will be punished. Our families will lose their holdings.”

“That’s their aim in the first place. Don’t you see? Between the three of us we run the military. General Vesher had her day when he united the peninsula fifteen years ago and since then she’s been sitting on her wealth. The oligarchs still pay her prettily but she’s left the day to day running of the city in my hands. It’s the same with you and the archers, isn’t it, Nouli? And you Kejra? When was the last time you received more than perfunctory orders regarding the infantry? Problem in Lejine, take care of Tarjine, rebels in Affojine. That’s not leadership. We haven’t been chosen by Manaph, we’ve been offered up by a threatened general.”

“Perhaps you seek insults where none exist,” said Nouli. “We perform our duties as ordered. Lack of specificity indicates Vesher’s faith in our ability. I never liked being loomed over while I work.”

“Then you plan to take the honor according to the proper performance of Manaph’s rite?” Kejra asked.

Nouli faced Rohnaq with her shoulders back and her chin held at an imperious level. Despite her challenging stance, her voice remained soft. “I have sons and daughters to carry on my clan and they have been well-educated to maintain our holdings for their children. If I am to be offered to Manaph, then I accept the honor.”

Kejra shook her head with a chuckle, taking her wine bottle back. Rohnaq pressed her palm on the mouth of the bottle, preventing Kejra from taking a drink.

“She’ll come to us at the offering ground,” said Rohnaq. “Between us three, we could drive her back.”

Kejra’s barking laugh caused the other two to wince. “You cannot drive back a goddess of love; never mind a blood-frenzied creature like Manaph. Managing a city takes intelligence, Rohnaq. It is a pity that your imagination has not been tempered by it.”

Rohnaq’s eyes slid to Nouli’s. “Surely you are not eager to die. Not when you could best fulfill your duty by remaining a marklord.”

“Sacrifice is–“

“Wasteful,” Rohnaq said, correcting her.

“Ah yes, wasteful,” said Kejra. “We can’t abide waste in the service, can we?”

“All war is waste,” said Nouli. “Wasted lives, wasted lands, wasted silver in poorly managed supply chains.”

“We can stop it. The three of us.” Rohnaq kept her eyes locked on Nouli. “You, Kejra and I. If we agree to take the honor as sisters-in-arms, out of respect for each other’s accomplishments, the oligarchs will be forced to send us all to Manaph. Then we can strike together. That is excellence.”

“They will think we have something planned. I will not have my husband and children threatened because you are afraid to die,” said Nouli. “Or have you forgotten what’s at stake for the rest of us? You foreswore family, property, and lineage when you became City Commander. You have nothing else.”

“Then you see why I cannot allow you to die.”

Kejra sniffed. Nouli averted her eyes. Rohnaq looked at the floor for a moment, and swallowed. Perhaps they were afraid. Rohnaq had thought she had become inured to the anxiety that frayed her resolve on the eve of battle; but this was something more. The admission of need, of family, of something to lose felt like a blood-letting; and yet it was the truth. It was accurate, and accuracy had saved them more than once. “The three of us have been together since we began. Even you, Kejra. You stuck with us even though you outranked us in the beginning. I am not afraid to die, but I prefer to live.”

“The warrior’s road leads to oblivion,” Kejra quoted, “to face each dawn in full knowledge that it will be the last; and feel no fear in certainty.”

“And you will be better able to protect your lands, your holdings, and your grandchildren if you return to them. You have fought so hard for so long to reach this point, my friend. You are too good to throw yourself away like this.”

Nouli fingered one of her iron-grey braids, still thick despite her years.

“Perhaps we have all grown sentimental in old age,” said Kejra, “But I think I would rather fight alongside you and Rohnaq than try to edge either of you out in competition; even if the prize is to be eaten by a goddess.”

“Then we’re agreed?” said Rohnaq.

“I was nearly twenty years old at the end of the Seeding Cycle and I remember her well. She’s as big as a house,” said Kejra. “And covered in armor.”

“Yes, I was seven when she last appeared. Her armor was segmented, and she had a face. Those sound like weaknesses to me.”

Nouli considered Rohnaq for a moment. “I will hear your strategy,” she said, folding her arms as her cloak draped back over her and nearly closed, like a priest’s. “Then I will decide.”

Rohnaq turned to Kejra, suddenly animated. “Remember the siege when Forlinnet came through the tunnel under the southwestern wall? Nouli, you weren’t there for this.”

Kejra straightened and knitted her brow to remember. “In Subaipo or…?”

“No, this was earlier. Remember? They filed in just between the two archers’ towers at the second wall?”

Kejra glanced at Nouli. “We don’t have enough archers to put Manaph in a pincer like that.”

Rohnaq shook her head. “We don’t need to. There’s only one Manaph. The point is, we’ll direct her toward one path, Nouli shoots her from above, and then you run in sideways and open her up to stab her heart. Surprise flank.”

“It won’t work,” said Nouli. “Manaph’s cave drops into the sea and she’s armored like a crushclaw. Crushclaws are solid on top so that the sea birds can’t attack them directly, my arrows would bounce right off. If her form even remains that way.”

Kejra upended a mirrored dish and fruit rolled from the table onto the floor.  She breathed on it, and then started drawing their positions on the fogged surface. “Then you’ll need to be in front of her. Especially if she rears. She’s got armor underneath also.”

“There’s no cover!” Nouli objected.

“How far can you shoot, a hundred strides?” asked Rohnaq. “Age must have taken your sight or your strength from you.”

Nouli scoffed. “I have lost neither. It doesn’t matter if she thrashes, I could hit her with thumbnail accuracy at two-hundred; but that’s not the question.” Nouli pointed to Kejra’s mirror. “The span of her offering ground is less than one hundred strides. The question is whether or not my arrows will be heavy enough to penetrate. It doesn’t make sense to bring a longbow to fight at middle-range. The oligarchs will expect me to have a smaller weapon if we giving the appearance of fighting one another. I don’t know if a smaller poundage would even harm her.”

“If she hungers, she can be killed,” said Rohnaq, grimly.

“So that leaves you and I to open her armor,” said Kejra.

Rohnaq picked up a grape, an almond, and a broken square of hardcake, placing each one on the mirror. “Nouli, this is you.” She placed one finger on the purple grape, rolling it back and forth at the far perimeter of the span. “I will be here,” she placed the almond in front of the smudge indicating Manaph’s cave, with the sharp tip pointing toward it. “Then Kejra, here, at her flank. Your spear will be able to prize her open.”

“Mighty Rohnaq, controlling the funnel.” Kejra laughed. “I hope age has taught you more grace. I still remember your face when tried to free your sword from Forlinnet’s spine. Messiest beheading I’ve ever seen.”

Nouli stared down in silence, offering no argument.

“It’s settled, then.” Rohnaq picked up the almond in one gloved fist and swept the mirror clean, spilling the grape and cake-crumb to the floor. She popped the almond into her mouth and chewed. “Try not to get in each other’s way.”

2012 Poem (Salis)

‘Better invent than suffer: imagine victims
Lest your own flesh be chosen the agonist, or you
Martyr some creature to the beauty of the place.’
–  Robinson Jeffers

~
Salis, 2012

Euphoriate and complicate
Eviscerate and bury me
And deep within the grave
I’ll still be smiling
At your memory
So filled with all your poison all that venom
Tasted sweet to me
While all the little pieces of my broken mind would atrophy
Annihilate, humiliate
And grind me into powder so I
Blend
With
The earth

When all my blood and all my veins
Decay and nurture seeds to life
I’ll still hold close the distant dream of
One day becoming your wife
And though I swallowed lies and always knew what you
Would take from me
The little seeds, drunk on remorse,
Will rise above my
Unmarked
Resting
Place

It never ends
It never ends

Long ago you let me go
And never turned to look at me
There were no words to say goodbye
Just one quick slice, then agony
So many men I’ve taken down
Yet you destroyed my armory
I ponder blunted daggers, rusted chains
and petty
simple
bypassed locks

To keep you out
To keep me in
To keep you in
To keep me out

The trees and grass are swaying
Underneath the rays of summer sun
When autumn comes you’ll walk along
And laugh beside another one
And though you will forget we met
When beauty found her grace in death
The trees will still remember
Hunger burning, weeping, yearning
From
Your
Touch

It never ends
It never ends

Fear the Children – New Pseudopod Podcast!

Flash On The Borderlands XXVII: What’s The Matter With Kids Today? just dropped, featuring three pieces of flash fiction read by…

  • the indomitable, Andrea Subissati, who co-hosts of the Faculty of Horror podcast, a monthly show examining the academic side of horror movies
  • the incorrigible Big Anklevich who co-hosts at the Dunesteef Audio Fiction Magazine
  • and the irascible me, who lives here, and needs no introduction.

I sent two versions of this recording to Pseudopod, one that played the letter as perfectly normal, and another that cranked up the obsessive, manic pride of motherhood. They went with the second version.

Head over to Pseudopod, and ignore that thing scratching at the window.

I narrated a story! Spirit Forms of the Sea

Bogi Takács is a neutrally gendered Hungarian Jewish person who wrote a story about archers, shamans, and questionable pacts with Cthulu-like monsters. It was exciting to learn the Hungarian words.

If you would like to hear me narrate this tale, please proceed to the castle.

Spirit Forms of the Sea, by Bogi Takács.

Narrated by Setsu Uzume.
Produced by Podcastle.

Unfortunate Demonic Incident No. 271 (Redux)

It’s here! It’s here!

In this “Buffy” vs. “Office Space” style radio play, Kara is about to lose her job because she was born with a demon attached to her soul. Now she must choose whether to cut him down, or cut him free.

Original show: blogtalkradio.com/rithebard
Author: Setsu Uzume – katanapen.wordpress.com

Featuring:

Sarah Rudd……………………Kara, a hapless maiden
Charlie Floyd………………….Marron, a hapless demon who lives in Kara’s brain
Everett Robert………………..Gerard, Kara’s boyfriend, rather full of hap
Tonia Carr……………………..Kara’s Grandmother, who makes her own hap happen
Sherri Rabinowitz…………….Bendersen, Kara’s boss
Jennifer Ripley……………….Crescent, manager of Headfiend
Don Logan……………………..Bumperstyle, performer, Headfiend
Carson Beker………………….Polly, performer of Headfiend
Katie Bowerbank…………….Tiffany, Kara’s colleague
Levi Werner……………………Ted, Kara’s colleague
Carrie Sessarego……………..Tina, Kara’s colleague