Real Magicians: Interviewing the Editors of Podcastle
The thing is, I love Podcastle.
I can’t help it. I love theatre and oral storytelling, I read a lot, I listen to audiobooks myself; I love big collaborative projects that involve massive influxes of talent, that are broad-minded and multi-faceted, that promote both exciting new voices and the old classics. Podcastle — with its podsisters EscapePod and Pseudopod — does all that.
Every time I hear a story over at Podcastle that guts me or makes me fly a little, I want the whole world to hear about it. I only wish my voice were louder.
So, one day in the not too very distant past, riding on some Podcastle story high — maybe a Tim Pratt or a Leah Bobet — I asked the editors, Dave Thompson and Anna Schwind, if they wouldn’t mind doing an interview for Black Gate magazine. Like most collaborations (especially the ones I’m involved in, oops), this took more months than anticipated, but — also like most collaborations — was ultimately worth it.
Ladies and Gentlemen, may I introduce you to the movers and shakers of the Fantasy Podcast?
An Interview with Dave Thompson and Anna Schwind of Podcastle
Conducted and transcribed by C.S.E. Cooney, February 2012
BLACK GATE: I guess the first question is, how did you get involved with Escape Artists? Did you have your choice of fantasy, sci-fi or horror and did you gravitate toward fantasy? If so, why fantasy?
We both came in as listeners to Escape Pod — back before PodCastle or Pseudopod had been created. We were both fairly active on the forum over there — I’d asked Anna to crit some of my stories and stuff. A couple years after PodCastle started, we were asked by then-editor Rachel Swirsky to help out with behind the scenes stuff. Pretty quickly, we realized we were being set-up to inherit the keys to the kingdom. I love fantasy. I think out of those three genres, it’s the most versatile. And we work pretty hard to take readers to all the borders of fantasy. I personally love the really weird stuff, the stuff where it’s all blended in together.
I slushed at Escape Pod for Jeremy Tolbert before beginning to work at PodCastle. I like almost anything speculative, but fantasy is where they had space for me and Dave, so that’s where I went.
What’s your first memory of having a book read aloud to you?
Hard to say, my parents are very big readers, and they always read to me. I’m told Richard Scarry was something I got very excited about — particularly searching for Goldbug. I do have some very fond memories of my dad reading Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time to me. I’m pretty stoked about being able to read that to my kids when they’re a little older.
Are You My Mother? is the first one I can clearly remember having read to me. Although I have a special soft spot for Hand, Hand, Fingers, Thumb which may indicate it, too, was read to me frequently. However, the coolest thing that happened to me in terms of reading aloud, and one which I hope parents do with their children, was the first time my parents asked me to read something to them. I was twelve, I think, and we were on a road trip, and it was before audio books were quite so available, and my dad was driving and my mom gets car sick and they asked me to read to them. We read Watership Down. Tough read, but kickass.
What’s in your audiobook stack right now?
Hmm. I have an audiobook stack? I can barely keep up with my podcasts.
My audiobook stack’s becoming like my TBR pile — a thing of nightmares. I just finished listening to M. John Harrison’s Viriconium, which was incredibly cool to go back to. When I originally read it, I didn’t quite understand some of the reputation that it had. And it’s rad to see lightsabers that existed prior to Star Wars. I’m listening to John Scalzi’s Little Fuzzy, and am kind of astonished by how engrossing and moving it is. I’m also trying to listen outisde my SF/F box, so I’m about to dive into Steig Larsen’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, and also Sebastian Junger’s War. I’m considering giving Kerouac another shoot soon. See? A thing of nightmares!
Is there an audiobook you keep returning to, or a narrator (like me with Barbara Rosenblat, say) you’ll hear read anything just for the sound of their voices?
I am really looking forward to re-listening to Gene Wolfe’s Book of the New Sun sometime this year. Jonathan Davis reads it, and he’s just amazing. It’s an insanely difficult book — one I’m not even sure should work in audio, but Davis really nails it. Every time I hear him now, I think, “IT’S SEVERIAN!”
But really, the best thing about running PodCastle is that we buy these stories — most of them are reprints — and then we try to figure out who out of volunteer narrators would make it awesome to listen to. And there are quite a few stories we’ve bought just so I can listen to them over and over and over again.
Ditto what Dave says. Sometimes, when the reader and the story are perfectly paired, I can listen to it over and over and over again. Dave has a real gift for imagining who the right reader will be, too.
Do you have a favorite short story by a favorite author that you dream of producing? Who’d be your dream narrator? (This can be actors dead or alive, famous or infamous, from anywhere in the world.)
*Laughs* Oh, we have a few of those! I have this dream of getting Neil Gaiman to read a Susanna Clarke story.
There are any number of stories I’d love to run at PodCastle. I’m feeling superstitious about going into details. Do I jinx myself if I tell you about them? As for readers, I’m fascinated by those old recordings of authors reading their own works. I’m thinking Virginia Woolf, T.S. Elliot, Sylvia Plath, William S. Burroughs. Wouldn’t it be great to get them to read someone else’s stuff? Elliot reads N.K. Jemisin, say, or Woolf reads Tim Pratt.
What’s been your biggest geek moment about being Podcastle editor?
Unquestionably getting introduced to Gene Wolfe by you via email, and then receiving Gene’s permission to run his stories. Getting turned down by China Mieville was also kind of cool. I immediately showed the email to my wife. He was very nice!
Getting in touch with Gene Wolfe was pretty monumental… I’ve historically been a huge fan, and I think he’s a genius. I was pretty geeked when we ran the two Kelly Link stories too. She’s so amazing, and I knew that people who had never heard her before were going to, and that is crazy exciting. I’ve also been a big Elizabeth Bear fan, and have been glad to run some of her work.
Yeah, a lot of the people who comment on our forum weren’t too familiar with Gene Wolfe, and that made me insanely happy.
Are you both writers yourselves? If so, what do you write and where do you find the time?
Haven’t you read our stories? I thought that was the reason we were being interviewed! Kidding aside, we are both writers. Although finding the time is the trick. I actually asked Anna to take a month off of reading submissions so I could go back and focus on writing. It’s hard. I don’t have a lot of free time, so I’ve been getting up at 4 am (while my kids are still sleeping — if I’m lucky!) to write.
I’m nominally a writer, but honestly, I’m not doing it right now.
This one’s for Patty Templeton, who often asks questions like this when she interviews someone: Who’s your favorite band or musician? How does music influence or augment your love of fantasy?
Do I really have to pick one? U2, Bruce Springsteen, and Pearl Jam are my old standards. I’m really digging Okkervil River and The National, now. Anna is getting me into Janelle Monáe.
Oooooh, did I succeed with Janelle Monáe? Because if so, I’ve got someone new for you, Dave. Try Just a Band, particularly the song “Huff ‘n Puff.” Been loving that song for about two months now.
Claire, favorites is not a game I play well. I’m not very eclectic in my musical tastes, but I’m unabashedly promiscuous in them. Some musicians I love include Thievery Corporation, They Might Be Giants, The Pixies, and Poe.
When I was a wee writer, I used to claim I needed music to write. Back then I gravitated toward soundtracks and stuff like Vangelis’ Soil Festivities, which I’m just now reminded it has been too long since I’ve listened to. I have a “writing electronica” playlist that I usually listen to when I write (DJ Shadow, the aforementioned Thievery Corporation, and Tobacco are the main culprits there). I don’t generally listen to music while I read, but in things like movies and video games, the music definitely augments my enjoyment of the subject matter, whether it be fantasy or otherwise. I’m crazy about the Dragon Age soundtrack, for example, and The Lord of the Rings soundtrack.
I still do the playlist thing a lot – create a little playlist for the story I’m working on. Regarding how music influences or augments fantasy for me — I like rock n’ roll. I like the way it can make a stadium full of people go quiet, and I like how it can make a group of people in a small club bounce around off each other. I like it best when it has flash and hooks and makes me want to sing along because there’s something about it that’s deeper than what’s on the surface — something very, very human. And I guess I could say I like my fantasy fiction the same way.
What makes you proudest about Podcastle?
The opportunity to share stories is an enormous privilege. That people sometimes enjoy what we share, and sometimes almost as much as we do, is the thing that makes me proudest. Though I get a grin out of our Duotrope stats, too: our 100% response rate, our reasonable wait times, and so on.
Exactly what Anna said. I thank people at the end of every show for letting us share stories with them, and I am incredibly thankful that we have that privelege. I have this romantic image that when people are listening to us — whether we’re stuck on our commutes, or folding laundry, or exercising, or whatever — we’re all around this big campfire swapping stories. And the notion that we’re maybe making people’s lives a little bit more bearable, maybe even a little happier, by telling them stories — that’s about as good as it gets.
What would you like to see more or less of in your slush pile?
Thank you for asking this question! It’s tricky to answer, because people will misinterpret whatever you say, although I’ll mention I’m still waiting for my cold war fae story, or the one about Quetzalcoatl and the Sandinistas.
I’m a sucker for city stories, but you’ll lose me if they’re about New York. Because seriously: there’s a whole lot of other cities in the world. Bigger cities, grittier cities, more interesting cities. Send me one about Lagos, about São Paolo, about Prague. Truly, I want a kickass city story about São Paolo, one that will make me smell the sugarcane ethanol and taste the feijoada and watch the capoeira before you reveal the city’s soul and spirit and needs to me. And that same thing goes generally, for more than just city stories.
I’ve read a lot, and I’ve met quota on a lot. So I don’t need to read more generic stories about frustrated office guy, or court intrigue in a cookie cutter medieval setting, or yet another sword swinging hero what kills and then kills some more. And for all that you consider holy, please, please include sensory details. If there’s one thing that makes me cry, it’s a lack of sensory details. In fact, Dave sometimes executes a secret torture move, in which he tells me “There’s this great story in slush, you should read it” and then I’m weeping because I am walking around in a sensory deprivation chamber nominally called a story and I can’t smell or touch or taste or hear anything, but it’s all ok because there’s action! action! action! only it’s not ok and I’m sad. Very sad.
As Anna said, I have all the best ideas!
I would like to see less gladiator stories in slush. I have yet to be excited by one of them. I can never get enough pirates. Or goats. Maybe the Pirate Goats of São Paolo!
What do you envision for Podcastle’s future, near and far?
I envision running a totally kickass São Paolo city story… No, wait. Already said that, didn’t I?
We’re gonna do a world tour!
Seriously, though, I hope more and more people continue to listen. And something Anna’s been pushing for since we’ve started is getting it in our budget to pay our readers. They’re the real magicians at PodCastle. They make good stories great. And I think that’s finally going to happen this year.
When Dave Thompson isn’t staying up at ungodly hours to write and record host spots for PodCastle (or reading submissions), he writes fiction. His stories can be found at or is forthcoming from BullSpec, the Triangulation Anthology series, Murky Depths, Drabblecast, The Journey Into… podcast. He survives mainly off of podcasts, audio books, and coffee. He lives in the L.A. area with his wife and two children.
Anna Schwind entered the world in venerable New Orleans, lost her baby teeth in Buenos Aires and had out of body experiences in London. All of these (and more) are the places she loves. She hates Paris, though. Poor Paris.
Anna distrusts people who do not like animals. She works with children and has been told by her students that if she loves math so much, she should marry it. Unfortunately, her love is unrequited, though math makes the most steadfast of partners.
What a great interview! I was nodding my head at Anna’s story of taking turns reading aloud. I do that with my 14-year-old son now–we take turns reading chapters out loud. It’s fun.
Also nodding at They Might Be Giants and a story set in Sao Paolo! (<–but those two are unrelated). Please let someone write the latter!
I haven’t been much of a podcast listener up to now, but you completely wowed me with Patty Templeton’s story. SUCH an excellent story and *SO* well read. So I’m going to have to start putting things on my MP3 player and then listening on drives, because wow–great stuff. Keep it up.
And Ms Cooney, thanks as always for giving good interview!
I often think I WANT to listen to more podcasts just in general — there seems to be such a vast and expanding world of interesting things out there! But Podcastle is about all I can manage. And if one had to choose — why not choose the podcast that suits us best?!
I am looking forward to that Sao Paolo story — whether or not it has pirate goats in it. I hope one of our readers strides forth and writes it! I hope it kicks ass.
Thank you, Ms. Asakiyume, as always, for reading!
[…] Black Gate (C.S.E. Cooney) interviews Dave Thompson and Anna Schwind. […]
I am going to have to look at this site this weekend
The closest I’ve ever come to just listening to a ‘story’ is S.J. Tucker’s “Solace and Sorrow” album. I just love itunes. *lol*
@Shadowfox13: I wish you very happy trawling of the Podcastle archives!
Aww thanks 🙂 I don’t suppose the site has The Fall of Atlantis on it? 😀