Tag Archives: Podcastle

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.

SFF Short Fiction 101 (from a slusher)

**THIS POST DOES NOT REPRESENT THE OPINION OR METHODOLOGY OF ANY ANTHOLOGY OR MAGAZINE I HAVE WORKED FOR. ALL VIEWS ARE MY OWN.

Hello new writers! Welcome to the game.

Here is some stuff I’ve learned about short fiction submission (and hopefully sales) in the Science Fiction and Fantasy genres. I expect that some of this will be wrong, or not true in all cases. If you’ve had stuff published before, you probably know all this.

My credentials: I write mostly fantasy, and have slushed for the Upside Down anthology released by Apex Magazine. I currently slush (am a first-reader) for Escape Artists, specifically Podcastle and Cast of Wonders. I also have written a small number of spotlights (tiny interviews based on short stories) for Lightspeed.

Why am I writing this: I tweeted something re: short fiction submissions, and discovered some people saying the process is opaque. Hopefully these 9 items will shed some light on what happens to your story.

1. What is a slusher? Why should I listen to you?

When a short story gets sent to a publication (sometimes called a market), it enters a queue. The first round of readers, called slushers, read through the stories and decide which ones to pass up to the editor. This is sometimes called a “bump.” If the story doesn’t quite match the publication, or the prose isn’t quite there yet, it will be rejected at this stage. More on that below.

The word slush comes from back in the day when people would submit their stories by printing them out and tossing them through the mail slot. You can visualize how a thick pile of white manuscript paper resembles a chunky, half-melted snow drift.

Why listen to me? You don’t have to listen to me, there are lots of posts by much more successful writers, editors, and agents — but after about a year of being a slush reader, I’ve observed a few missteps that are pretty easy to fix. You know. If people know about them.

2. My story is done, and revised, and ready to go! What next?

Are you sure it’s done?
Have you gotten feedback on plot, sentence structure, pacing, plausibility?
Have you checked for common tropes that might be overused?
If no, go back and fix it.
If yes, read on.

Do not skip the revision step. Once you send a story to a market, you cannot re-submit it. Consider that bridge, for that story, burned.

But you can always submit different stories.

There are lots of places to submit your story, and new markets and anthologies pop up all the time. My go-to search engine is the Submission Grinder.  There I can search not only by subgenre and length, but I can also search by the pay-level. Around 3cents a word is semi-pro, and around 6cents per word is considered a pro-rate.

Pay rates matter if you care how much money you’re making, and they will also qualify you for membership in organizations and guilds like Codex and SFWA.

Why join a guild? Friendship, news, and some resources. You’ll need to make at least one sale at 6cents/word in order to qualify for either of those.

3. How do I know if my story is what that market is looking for?

Well… you don’t. We don’t either. That’s why “don’t self reject” is common and good advice. However, here are the elements at play in a decision.

  1. You have to learn that market. Read the magazine. Listen to the podcasts. There are many styles within a genre. Some fantasy markets want old-school Conan adventures. Some fantasy markets are deeply committed to beautiful, understated language that cut to the emotional core.
    1. Subbing to a market without a broad sense of their taste is like going on a date with the editor and only talking about yourself. Hard to make a meaningful match that way.
  2. Is your story the best story in the pile, at the time? Sometimes we’ll get five stories in a pile that we absolutely adore, but we only have two slots available.
    1. I’ve had one friend get rejected because their story was similar to one that was recently purchased. They waited a year, the editors changed,  they resubmitted, and sold the story.
  3. Taste is subjective. The stuff I like, the stuff my fellow slushers like, and the stuff my editors like might not match exactly. My editors have been kind enough to let me know if I’m going in a different direction from them, and I’ll adjust. If I don’t click with a story, but I recognize that the writing is really good, I leave it for someone else to judge.

4. I found a market I want to submit to. What next?

Check their web site for submission guidelines. That includes file type, formatting instructions, and cover letter content. I can’t speak for all magazines/markets, but most cover letters for short fiction should be brief.

I see a lot of cover letters that are fluffed up into more details than this. To be honest, as a slusher (and kind of a jerk) I’m not interested. If your story is good, then people will like it, and they will like our magazine by extension. This is a business. There are no pity-sales.

If you don’t have previous publication creds, that’s totally fine. You can also list esteemed workshops and awards if you like, such as Clarion, Viable Paradise, or Taos Workshop. I don’t really care about that stuff, though. Mostly I will be envious you got to enjoy those experiences, and I haven’t yet.

I care about your story.

5. What about inclusion? Don’t you want to know if I’m non-binary?

This is the one exception to the above tweet. I do look for things that indicate the author has come from an underrepresented demographic, and I also look for notes on their occupation or other lived experience (i.e., refugee, Indigenous Cultural Advocacy, etc).

This does not include your feelings or intentions.

The reason I glance at this information depends largely on the topic and themes of the story. These qualities lend veracity to stories about those particular topics, but quality comes first, always.

I have also used this information to make sure I’m not misinterpreting unfamiliar language as “improper” language. Everyone slushes differently, and I’m still learning how to do this properly.

6. What if I get rejected?

There are a few kinds of rejections.

Form rejection – general, no details about your story. Either a poor fit, or the writing wasn’t quite ready.

Personal rejection – these are actually really great! The top 10% of rejections. They’ll tell you something specific about why your story wasn’t working for the editor. The trick is to go from being in the top 10% (personal rejections) to the top 1% (publication).

Rewrite request – “if you’re willing to make these changes, then we can send you a contract. LMK if that’s ok.” When I’ve been asked for rewrites in the past, I have done them — with the intention to revisit the cut material in other stories (if what was cut out was really important to me). It’s totally ok if you don’t want to make changes. No one will blacklist you for sticking to your guns.

Silence. Check the magazine’s website. Sometimes they’ll indicate how long you should wait to query. Querying is totally fine IF you do it during the time-span suggested (i.e., after waiting 3 months).

Regardless of what kind of rejection you get, it’s totally fine. It happens to most of us, all the time. Keep writing new stories, keep revising, and keep sending them out. It’s totally ok to “trunk” (put a way) a story if you’re not sure if it will sell. You should start the next one as soon as you can, though. If you have writer-buddies, this is how we keep our spirits up. If you don’t have writer buddies, check out some forums or Twitter or G+ and see if other people are looking. That’s a whole other post by itself.

7. What if I get accepted?

There will be a contract and a celebration, most likely. Possibly also dollars. Once the party’s over, start writing the next story.

8. You’re so mean! Why do you say you don’t care?

It’s not personal, it’s business.

That said, in light of privilege and intersectionality, there’s still a lot of work to be done. There are millions of stories not getting told, that really need to be. There are voices that aren’t getting their share of the spotlight, that really should be. All of our experiences are unique, as are our voices. You might have some insight I’ve been waiting my whole life to hear. I want you to keep writing, reading, learning, growing, improving… so that when it’s your turn, you’re bulletproof.

I don’t want you to miss out because your sentences are clunky. I don’t want you to miss out because you’ve been sending your military SF to urban fantasy markets. I want you to have every opportunity available, and I want you to not waste it by making small, fixable mistakes.

9. What if I have more questions?

Slushers are largely invisible because of the odd person who will respond to a rejection with an argument, or in some cases, a baseball bat. Never EVER argue. Ever. Don’t even send thank-you notes. By allowing slushers and editors a bit of professional distance, we have the spoons to do our jobs correctly, voting on each story on its own merits.

This is a business. We are more likely to do business with other people who treat it like a business.

If you really want to get back at us, or thank us, keep writing. Write something that knocks our socks off. Keep trying. You’ll get there.

In the end, all that matters is the story.

Final note…

The writers that are loudest about process advice tend to also be the newest (and not successful, yet). Don’t worry too much about finding the right path into the industry. Write and read, write and read.

When trying to figure out who to listen to, check their publication credits. How many books do they have out? Are they selling well? What awards to they have?  Are they regularly invited to speak at conventions? Have they been interviewed or published in trade magazines like Locus?

Spoiler alert: I have done none of these things. So if you have the opportunity, become a slusher yourself. You’ll see what it’s like out there.

Free Hugs!

If you’re not familiar with the Escape Artists family of print & podcasts, you should check them out immediately.

Podcastle
Pseudopod
Escape Pod
Cast of Wonders
Mothership Zeta

This fantastic group of human beings bring nothing but love to their work, their authors and narrators, and to listeners and readers. When I found out they also have t-shirts, I had to, um… decorate one. It was too good, and quite frankly, not that far off from what they’re all about. I would have made the letters much messier, but I didn’t want to obscure the logo.

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.

Sober-dialing my peeps, becaus Alyx Dellamonica knows what’s up.

Holy fuck. Girl, I don’t know you, but I wish I did.

In response to all the partisan insanity gripping the SFF world, here’s my addition to the conversation.

Mary Anne Mohanraj, you are the kindest badass on the planet. You are in the trenches calling out for justice and humor every day, and I admire you even more for sharing with us your family stories, your cooking, your garden, and your confrontation with motherfucking cancer.

Juliette Wade you brilliant woman you. I remember the day we met and thought you were some kind of untouchable pro — and in no time at all we’re sharing rack of lamb made by your fabulous husband. I love that you share knowledge on every level; from intersectional issues to rock-climbing adventures.

And on that fateful day I met Jon Del Arroz — oh my god! You are the absolute best, because we sit so squarely at opposite ends of the table and the discussions never harm our friendship. You’ve opened my eyes to so much about the way we talk about contentious issues. Plus, like, puns and drinking, and (oh my god, where are the frigging humor mags?). I honor and treasure you. I hope more people like us figure out how to do the same.

Griffin Barber, you too, man. There’s so much we’ve talked about that we can’t say publicly, because we understand how ideology can shape a conversation for ill. I am so grateful for your perspective, and your service, and your example to keep on keepin’ on even when the whole world blasts your kind.

One way to get to know someone fast is to take a road trip with them upon first meeting, right? Kevin Andrew Murphy, you are the shiniest goth I’ve ever met. I don’t think there’s any topic I could name that you don’t have knowledge of, from table settings and obscure poisons, to the literary context of cultural icons. If anyone has reminded me that you have to keep working, keep studying, and keep a healthy mix of curiosity and skepticism, it’s you.

Dave Thompson, for breaking it down, for believing in so many people, and providing a space for everyone to step up and tell the story behind the story.

David Gerrold, and Eric Flint — you guys are anchors in rocky seas. I love you both for holding our community to a higher standard of behavior, and making us laugh even while you scold us for behaving badly.

Lillian Csernica, Patricia H. MacEwen, Arley Sorg, Effie SeibergFrancesca Myman (a benevolent Lucrezia Borgia–I’ll always remember that description of you) and Vylar Kaftan — you connectors, you bridge-builders, you friend-makers. Thank god for you. Thank godlessness for you.

Who did I miss? Everyone, I’m sure; but this is just the beginning. We have more in common than we have in difference, so in deference to difference, I defer to you. High five. Read, digest, pass it on.

water

Burying the Coin on Podcastle!

My short story, Burying the Coin, is now available as a podcast!

Steampunk is about costumes and intricacy, alternate histories, inventions and boundless exploration that characterized the Victorian era. The costumes lead to gatherings, gatherings to shops and music, and finally to conventions and a revival in literature. Learning to write for this subgenre has been a fascinating challenge. I’ve learned about airships, 19th and early 20th century artillery, and a bit about how modern empires rise and fall.

This last part, the cracking apart of empire, resonated with me much more than the gorgeous clothes and sumptuous feasts. As lovely as those aesthetics are, it begs the question: who made this?  What kind of world produced this, and at what cost? I’ve always been fascinated by the why of things, and what lies beneath the mask — how did a person come to be the way they are, and what are they hiding?

Enter Karelia Nayar.

If this story’s world could be said to have a swath of people similar to the variety found in southern India, Karelia would be one of them. The world Karelia lives in is a kind of earth after the fall and rebirth of humanity — a far future, rather than a recent past. This might preclude the story’s classification as steampunk, but I’ll leave that up to you guys. Racism and sexism pop up occasionally; but they are absolutely dwarfed by the classism which is the beating heart of empire. There are other problems as well, but we’ll save those for the novel. That said, keep an eye out for the First Family of the Skies. They’ll be back in a big way.

I spoke a little about Karelia here, and in an interview with Fiona Skye. I wanted to write a swashbuckling, womanizing captain, who was also a woman. When I asked Karelia (or Kar to her friends) why she was so carefree, she told me it was because she never wanted to feel anything ever again. That led to this short story, Burying the Coin, where we learn how Kar earned her own ship, who taught her to fight and sail, and the events that made her close her heart forever.

My infinite thanks to Dave Thompson of Podcastle, and Amanda Fitzwater whose voice brought this story to life.

This short story is available in Podcast form, which you can either stream online or download from iTunes. Head over to Podcastle.org to hear it and the work of many other brilliant and insightful authors.

 

“You can’t truly hate a man without loving him first, and there’s always a trace of that love left over.”
— Joe Abercrombie

 

locket

Excellent podcasts and other resources for Audio Books

I love podcasts. They’re fascinating, entertaining, inexpensive, and at an average length of 45 minutes, perfect for the daily commute. As a novelist, I find them immeasurably helpful as self-guided lessons on how to write short stories. The format is such that I can study, practice and be thoroughly entertained while I’m cooking, doing push-ups, or heading to a friend’s house.

Even within the scope of one subscription, you’ll hear a wide variety of styles and dozens of authors, so you can get a feel for craft as well as structure and pacing. It’s amazing how many laughs, tears, and terror these writers can fit into such a small space.

Once you feel confident enough to start earning ‘cred,’ write your own! Many of these podcasts are also open to submissions.

I listen to several of these regularly, and others have been recommended to me by colleagues outside my genre. I have linked their web-sites, and you can also find them in the iTunes store. Many of these are free, and if you can’t donate, please boost the signal.

Science Fiction & Fantasy
Podcastle : Fantasy, hosted by the wonderful and charming Dave Thompson
Escape Pod : Escape Artists’ science fiction branch, edited by Norm Sherman
Beneath Ceaseless Skies : other worlds and other times, SF&F, including Weird West and Steampunk. I’ve discovered new favorites here, including Seth J. Dickinson
Tor.com Story Podcast : Great science fiction & fantasy from one of the industry’s most well-known magazines

Horror
Pseudopod :  Horror, hosted by the hilarious and insightful Alasdair Stuart
Nick Gisburne’s YouTube Channel : Includes original poetry & prose, as well as readings of HP Lovecraft’s work. (His voice. I’m telling you. You won’t regret it.)

General Fiction
Dunesteef Audio Fiction Magazine:  General Genre, specializing in innovative stories and commentary. I have a friend who reads slush for these guys
The Classic Tales Podcast: Great reading of classic novels and short stories
The New Yorker Short Story Podcast : Great general fiction

Free Full-Length Audio Books
Podiobooks

Did I miss any? Leave a note in the comments.

**Addendum:  Thanks to Twitter, a few other resources have popped up!

Apex Magazine: Hugo-award nominated F/SF magazine’s podcast, edited by Sigrid Ellis

Synthetic Voices: A speculative fiction podcast featuring short F/SF stories, recommended by BCS staff