David Steffen is a writer and editor and software engineer and a voracious consumer of podcast fiction. He’s the founder and editor of the fanzine Diabolical Plots, run with Anthony Sullivan. Diabolical Plots provides the free writer’s tool The Submission Grinder which helps writers track their submissions and find markets for their work. You can find his bibliography on the DP site. Besides writing and editing, David is writing a text adventure, gaming, and cross-stitching, among other things. When David grows up, he plans to do ALL THE THINGS.
by David Steffen
This is the first of a series of articles about fiction podcasts. In this one I’m just going to talk about why audio is such a great medium for fiction, and how you can find fiction podcasts to listen to. In the next article, I’ll list out the current podcasts I listen to and some that have stopped producing but still provide their backlog of episodes.
I started listening to fiction podcasts in 2009, when I made my very first fiction sale to Pseudopod and decided that I should listen to some of the back episodes and see what this venue was actually like. I grabbed the most recent episode at the time which happened to be Pseudopod 153: “The Hay Devils” by Colin P. Davies. From Alasdair Stuart’s intro, to the story itself, to Alasdair’s always-insightful comments after the show that time on, I was hooked.
Before that I’d been vaguely aware of audiobooks and even more vaguely aware of podcasts, but I’d always thought of both mediums as being fine for other people, but which I personally had no interest in. After all, with corrective lenses I’m not vision impaired. Why would I want to have a story read to me, when I could use my own eyeballs to read it myself? But after sampling it, audio is my favorite medium for fiction.
First, hearing a story in audio is just inherently different than reading it in text. It lights up different parts of the brain. It has different associations, like my parents reading books to me when I was a child and me reading stories to my parents when I was old enough to do so. My dad has told me stories about listening to Lone Ranger stories in the barn on the farm when he was doing chores out there with his own dad, and I always thought that was cool. I had even lamented that the days of radio fiction were dead. Those days aren’t dead; it’s only the distribution method that’s changed.
An audio story has at least one more layer of creative contribution than a story in text. The voice actor has to make their interpretations of inflection and tone and emphasis which can change everything. Some podcasts may have other effects added like sound or music that also change the experience. Even when you’ve read a story in text, hearing it in audio can be a completely different experience.
Second, there are a lot more times in my average day when my ears are free to listen to a story than when my eyes are free to read a story in text. I have a daily commute of about thirty minutes each way, which is often enough to finish a story in each direction, during time which would otherwise be spent doing nothing but cursing at idiot drivers. Washing dishes, vacuuming, yard work, running, picking up milk at the grocery store, these are all things which require your hands and your eyes but which can be done while you listen to a story. I sit down and read text for maybe fifteen minutes a day, but I consume much more in audio.
SF podcast aficionados might be wondering why I’m only talking about fiction podcasts, not nonfiction podcasts like SF Signal’s podcast, or Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy, the SF Squeecast, I Should Be Writing, or the like. I have nothing against audio nonfiction, but I focus on audio fiction in my own listening because that’s my primary interest, and so that’s what I know.
First and foremost, the next section of this article would be a good place to start, so you’re in the right place! Based on all of my listening, I also have written up many “Best Of” articles about the podcasts I’ve listened to.
Like I mentioned above, the first podcast I came across was Pseudopod, which I’d found first as a writer while browsing for fiction markets on a market listing site. I had more than a hundred backlog episodes of Pseudopod to listen to, so I listened to them back to back to back. Their shows mentioned their two sister podcasts Escape Pod and Podcastle, so by the time I was finished with Pseudopod’s backlog I had two other backlogs to plumb. Other episodes mentioned the Drabblecast, which is not a sister podcast to them, but more of a weird and creepy uncle. Fast forward to five years later, and I’ve listened to 18 different podcasts, and have kept up with almost all of them on an ongoing basis, 12 of which are currently producing regular episodes.
Word of mouth and shared talent is how I personally found my way from one show to another. I’ve found the fiction podcasting community is an extraordinarily friendly group. Podcasts run promotions for other podcasts. Voice talent, production talent, writing talent, often moves freely from one podcast to another. Audio production is time consuming, so you’ve really got to love it to devote that kind of time to it. That love really shows through in the final product.
Searching on iTunes is probably the easiest way to find podcasts of any kind, including fiction podcasts. I personally prefer not to use iTunes to retrieve the podcast episodes because I find the interface for podcasts quite frustrating. I generally download individual episodes from the podcast’s website instead and sync them to my player as though they were songs in an album.