Why I Love Audio Fiction
Years ago, back during the time I wavered (week by week) between the right and wrong side of the poverty line, I gave up cable TV. I also hocked any DVDs and VHS tapes that the video store would take. I lost a lot of classic horror films that way, but I found these were less important than a roof over my head and food in the fridge.
It was the roughest time in my life. Stressful years. Back in those days, I had no ability to concentrate. Couldn’t really read for enjoyment. Writing? Out of the question. Life had just kicked me in the teeth (as it does most of us, at one point or another). The creative part of my brain had to shut down for repairs.
So I listened to the radio. NPR, mostly. In the middle of the night, the local station would switch over to the BBC World Service. Often, around three or four a.m., they’d present a reading of a short story. It wasn’t unusual for me to wake up then, and listen to at least half of it before nodding back off.
It provided me comfort during the hardest time in my life.
Fast forward about eight years.
Now my brain is back. I’m reading and writing regularly, and more and more people seem to be getting their short fiction fix via podcasts. (Seriously, if you look at the figures reported by the trade magazine, Locus, the numbers really are quite remarkable).
A couple of my stories now have been adapted into audio presentations. The most recent of these is “The Orchard of Hanging Trees”, which debuts today as Pseudopod Episode 277. I’m quite pleased with the way this podcast turned out. Reader Jonathan Sullivan provides a strong interpretation — intense where it needs to be, poignant where it needs to be, without overdoing it. He reads it infinitely better than I ever could.
I’m proud to be a part — however small, at this point — of the short fiction podcasting community. Podcasts like Pseudopod work under a novel business model: to the best of my knowledge, they’re completely dependent on the good will of their listeners. The story is provided for free, but listeners are encouraged to donate if they can. These donations are then used to pay writers.
Pseudopod does one thing — podcasted readings of short horror fiction — and they do it quite well. They have a focus I find admirable. (Unlike other publishers, they don’t have to divide time between a short fiction magazine and several, more lucrative, book projects. They do the podcast, and just the podcast.)
“The Orchard of Hanging Trees” is the second of my stories to be adapted for audio this year. The first was “A Catechism for Aspiring Amnesiacs” read by Juliana Quartaroli, who…again…reads it much better than I ever could. Her reading gives the story a dreamy, depressed vibe that I think connects with its emotional core. Later this year another story, “The Poet Acts”, is scheduled to be podcast at Cast Macabre.
Now, I love books — be they print or electronic — but podcasted fiction has a huge advantage over the written word: it reaches an audience where they are, on their iPhone or iPod or other electronic media device. You can listen to a podcasted story while running on the treadmill or mowing your lawn or during your commute to work. (Disclaimer: obviously, you’ll not get too distracted while doing so. You’ll exercise all possible caution, and will keep your eye on the treadmill/lawnmower/road during such multi-tasking. No gore-soaked lawsuits against Aunt Nickie, ‘kay?).
I’m not sure if we’ll ever reallly see a short story renaissance. Many readers will likely always prefer novels. But I am thrilled that so many people seem to be listening to podcasted short fiction. If you want to look at where the energy seems to be in speculative short fiction, I say don’t look at all. Listen.