After having published two posts in the past months re: speculative fiction podcasts (I’m not done with the general overview yet, but there’a lot to cover), I decided it might be a good idea to run some interviews with the amazing people that make them happen. So, I start this week the series “Seven Questions with your favourite SFF podcast editors” and this time we’re having Kevin Frost from the Gallery of Curiosities (which I have already featured here). Here we go:
Please describe (1) what your podcast is about. What makes it special / different compared to others? And (2) Why / how did you decide to start it?
I’ll try not to get too TMI. Back in 2010 Gabrielle Riel was doing a Sunday evening show on Radio Riel called ‘Radio Riel Players Present’ which was readings of short works in the public domain. She knew I was sitting on a recording of Horror of the Heights (the original air-kraken story from 1913) which Vic Mullins had recorded, and said she wanted it. That gave me the motivation to work on it. It was the first thing I had ever mixed. I had absolutely no idea what I was doing. This lead to a series of public domain horror stories called ‘Tales from New Babbage’ which were horribly awkward and self-conscious things never intended for a wider listenership. The Christmas shows were my own whimsy, it amused me to have an annual broadcast from a city that didn’t exist drifting out over the airwaves. Everyone looked forward to them. We’d build a set and throw down a bunch of couches around a campfire out in the snow so we could all log in together to listen. You have to understand that New Babbage was a profoundly silent place, so hearing the voices made it special.
After a move and a lifestyle change the shows started thinning out, and searching the public domain archives for good material was dismal work with little to show for it. I remembered a dinner conversation I had had at a convention where we were both grousing about mediocre steampunk fiction. There had to be more to the genre than X-Files in Waistcoats, right? That was about three years ago. I think things have improved since then. So to get to the end, while I was listening to the 2015 Christmas show I decided it was time to change the format to appeal to a broader audience, and start buying stories. I found some start up funds and put my name out there, and the stories started coming in. And they keep coming.
Don’t tell them I’m a math major.
3. Which particular brand of speculative fiction do you publish in your podcast?
We want steampunk stories, or stories that we think will appeal to steampunks. “Steampunkish” is the term we use on the log sheet, which will also include historical/vintage horror and less steamy versions of retro-futurism. Less than 30% or our submissions are hitting that target. We’re not exclusive in our preference. A good Weird Tale has a timeless quality about it, even when it is set in current times.
4. Tell us something about your target audience.
I’m hoping the puffy shirt crowd is listening. We’re romantics. We wear silly clothes and pad our lives with the little artifacts to help keep the real world at bay. Contemporary horror really doesn’t work, and that would probably be the bulk of the submissions we get. The way I’m told that these stories work is that you have to spend a lot of time describing ordinary everyday characters going about their ordinary everyday lives so that you will care/identify with them enough so that when the horror starts, it’s going to be horrible. But it’s not. It’s dull and mundane with some squick at the end. If anything, we’re routing for the monster to kill them in the worst way possible. I assume our listeners our doing something else while they are listening, like driving a car or making stuff.
5. Which qualities /characteristics you are after in the pieces you accept for publication?
That’s like asking what makes a steampunk story steampunk? You’ll get as many answers as the folks you asked. I think the easiest way to approach it is just like our artwork, we take what we need from other genres and turn it into something else. As far as what sort of stories I pick, I think I am more likely to choose cool world-building or an adventure that takes me to a time that never was than for other qualities. I like the literary stuff, but some of it does not translate well to audio format, and the endings are often less than satisfying. Reading is a more intimate and contemplative experience than listening. For audio, I think I have a higher expectation to be entertained.
6. Which ones among the pieces you have published you would recommend to people?
“Ring a Ring o’Roses” by Simon Kewin was the first story we got that was just so cool that the editors said they would hurt me if I didn’t buy it. I was very happy to stumble on some music that fit the mood of that one. There’s another coming up about a mechanical city that I got very excited about, especially after rejecting the first story that was submitted in that world, and a cape&cowl piece that was lifted right out of a freshman art history text that is going to be difficult to produce. I’m surprised at how much the old format shows are getting played. “Horror of the Heights” by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and “The Story of the Inexperienced Ghost “by HG Wells always have high download ranks. I don’t know if that is for the stories, or because folks enjoy listening to Vic’sScottishh brogue. He is our most popular reader, and he is rumored to have been trained by the BBC.
7. Anything else you would like to say?
Mm, how about the background music? At first it was to cover up the noise from less than perfect home recordings. Now that I have better clean-up software, that is not as necessary as it used to be. I’m the sort of person that has a hard time listening to audiobooks because the drone of a human voice puts me to sleep. And I have a very long history with insomnia. There is a well-known horror podcast that pays pro rates that I will put on when I’m really having a bad night. It puts me out every time. The music keeps me more involved with the story, and yes, purists will say that is cheating, that a good story doesn’t need crutches. It takes more time to produce stories with backgrounds and raises production costs, but I think it is worth it. I suppose I will start using less as time goes on, much like some other shows did.
Many thanks to Kevin for this. You can reach the Gallery of Curiosities here, and happy listening!