Why Should You Go to PodTales?

On Sunday, October 20th at the Lunder Arts Center at Lesley University the first ever PodTales Festival will take place. A festival dedicated solely to audio drama and fiction podcasting.

“Our heart will always be like that little mouse logo;

small and cute, but happy and powerful.”

by Alex C. Telander

Something special is coming to Cambridge, Massachusetts: on Sunday, October 20th at the Lunder Arts Center at Lesley University the first ever PodTales Festival will take place. What makes PodTales special is that it’s the first of its kind: a festival dedicated solely to audio drama and fiction podcasting, and before you ask, yes, this does include RPG podcasts too.

PodTales is an arts festival, not a professional conference; it’s about the work itself and learning how people do it, whether you’re a fan or a creator (or both, as many of us are). PodTales’ goal is for you to walk out with a whole list of new shows to check out.

Now, why should someone attend the PodTales Festival, other than its free admission and it being the first convention tailored exclusively to audio drama? Well, I had a chance to ask a couple of the organizers behind PodTales all about the festival and what their hopes, fears, and dreams for it are: Alexander Danner is the festival director and Jeff Van Dreason handles exhibitor relations and the IndieGoGo campaign, which runs through July 14th. And yes, these are the guys behind the terrific audio drama, Greater Boston.

Where did PodTales come from and when was it conceived?

ALEXANDER: The Boston area is rich in active fiction podcasters, making it one of the geographic hubs of the form, so I’ve long thought it would make sense to have a major community event here. There was also a particular model of show I’ve been hoping to attend, but which doesn’t really exist—one more similar to an indie comics festival, where new and established artists intermingle, where the act of creating within the form is celebrated no matter the artists level of experience.

My biggest inspiration is MICE, The Massachusetts Independent Comics Expo, which was founded by my friends Shelli Paroline and Dan Mazur. There’s a palpable joy in celebrating the craft in how MICE is run, and no con anywhere that ever made me feel as valued as an exhibitor as MICE does. That’s what I want for exhibitors at PodTales.

And we wouldn’t be here without MICE for more practical reasons as well. I had mentioned to Shelli just in passing how I wished there was a local show for fiction podcasting like MICE. And she came right back with, “Actually, we’ve got a second space available every year that we don’t use. And we’re already looking for a partner show to put there. You want it?”

That was too clear an opportunity for me to resist! And with MICE and Lesley University providing the festival space, creating PodTales became much more financially viable. At the same time as PodTales is holding its first ever show, MICE will be holding their tenth anniversary show in the building immediately next door. It’s going to be an amazing weekend for celebrating storytelling!


Alexander Danner

Did you come up with the name early on?

ALEXANDER: No! I spent months trying to come up with a name I liked. I tried to create an acronym based name, something rodent themed that would parallel MICE, but I couldn’t find anything that worked well. And finding a “storytelling” title that wouldn’t work equally well for a festival of non-fiction podcasts was equally difficult. When I hit on using “Tales,” that actually captured a bit of both those goals in a way that sounds fun. I know a lot of people are kind of hoping the prefix “pod” will die, but for the time being, it still communicates what we’re about with clarity, which is more important to me.

What are you hoping to achieve with PodTales?

ALEXANDER: I’m hoping PodTales will become a community event for fiction podcasters, as well as a contact point with their audiences. My experiences at PodCon suggested to me that our community really wants something like that, an event that brings us all together to share our admiration for each others’ work, to make new connections and form new collaborations, and to just get to know each other in real life. I think the strong sense of community our form has historically shown has been vital to the growth of our art form, but with the rapid growth we’ve seen recently, it’s getting harder to maintain a connection with the fullness of that community. I think having a physical world community event will help with that.

JEFF: We want to celebrate the incredible talent of audio fiction creators, in addition to highlighting the awesome possibilities that come with independent audio fiction as a genre. It’s a growing genre that deserves more exposure. It doesn’t necessarily frustrate me that many people automatically associate podcasting with nonfiction shows, but it is unfortunate. PodTales is our small attempt at trying to change that, in addition to making audio fiction podcasts on our own, of course.

What were your first steps in putting it together?

JEFF: A lot of this came from conversations Alexander had with the directors of MICE, whom he’s been involved with for years. Alexander has connections with the independent comics world (especially web comics) and his comics friends involved with MICE have seen how much audio fiction podcasting has taken off lately. They all see a lot of similarity between genres and audiences, and we feel it just makes sense to build off an already existing showcase of independent artists. We’re hoping the audience for MICE might also be interested in learning about PodTales, and vice versa.

So after those initial conversations, our first steps were figuring out how to do it. We had some meetings via Skype to plan who was going to be responsible for what. The thing with this kind of event is even the strictest, carefullest planning gives way to unseen problems popping up, and there’s more work that goes into this type of thing than I think anyone can realize ahead of time. Hopefully it doesn’t seem like a lot of work to anyone who isn’t actually working on it, though.

Jeff Van Dreason

How did you go about putting a team together, who does your team consist of, and what are their respective roles?

ALEXANDER: My team is pretty much self-selected. Anyone who offered to help out, I wasn’t going to turn down the help! But those people have been fantastic. Jeff Van Dreason, of course, I have plenty of history working with, and always like to have him involved in anything I’m working on. He’s taken charge of the IndieGoGo, and is doing a fantastic job. Amanda McColgan is our social media manager, and is just blowing me away with her ability to keep people excited about the show, keeping so many people engaged with us months before the show even happens. And more behind the scenes, my key advisors have been Jordan Stillman and Alex Yun. Jordan has been working with MICE for years, and is organizing their tenth anniversary festival, but she’s also been a huge supporter of PodTales from day one, and has made herself constantly available to share resources and her experience in running a similar festival. And Alex is just brilliant. At one point, Jeff scolded me for waffling on one of Alex’s recommendations, saying, “Look, if Alex gives you advice, just take the advice.” And I’ve learned that lesson, because it’s true: Alex is always right.

Where did the logo come from?

JEFF: The voice of Leon Stamatis himself! Braden Lamb designed that cute little mouse. In addition to being an excellent voice actor, Braden is an incredibly talented artist, and he’s been a comics artist for years now. In fact, his partner Shelli Paroline, is the co-director of MICE, so there’s already a solid foundation of crossover talent extending from MICE to PodTales, and given that we’re spinning off from MICE, it makes sense to have our mascot be a fiction podcast rocking rodent, right?

How is PodTales different from Podcon or PodX?

ALEXANDER: I haven’t been to PodX, so I can’t compare as accurately. But PodTales is going to be a much smaller show than PodCon. Our entire physical area could probably fit inside PodCon’s exhibit hall three times over. So I think it’s important that people with experience at other shows know going in that we’re working at a much smaller scale. It’ll be a much more intimate sort of show.

But also, we’re really inverting the balance between programming and exhibition. The big draw at PodCon was clearly the programming, which was plentiful, and full of well-known podcasters. And that’s great—the programming at PodCon was wonderful, and it was terrific to have so many options to choose between!

By contrast, the exhibition hall will be the heart of PodTales. By numbers, PodCon 1 had 15 exhibitor booths total, five of which were podcasts. PodTales currently has more than 50 exhibits lined up, every one of them representing a podcast or podcast network. The tradeoff, of course, is that we won’t have nearly as much programming, probably only two or three tracks. Though, with fewer programming events, we are going to work hard to make sure those events are entertaining and substantive! Our programming will also be built around our exhibitors, primarily highlighting the same people who are giving the exhibit hall life.

What do you hope attendees get from attending PodTales?

ALEXANDER: First and foremost, I want attendees to leave PodTales with a long list of new podcasts they plan to check out! Discovery is at the heart of our mission—we want to facilitate creators and audiences finding each other. But also, I want attendees with ideas of their own to leave PodTales feeling empowered to pursue their creative ambitions, and supported by a creative community that will help them find their way there.

JEFF: Discovery. Especially independent artists. New and exciting ideas and stories. We want people who’ve never heard of audio fiction podcasting to fall in love with the genre. We want people who do love audio fiction podcasts to find their new favorite shows, meet and learn from creators they know and love, and new, up and coming people as well.

What has been the hardest part of putting PodTales together?

ALEXANDER: Fundraising is always a challenge. Jeff has handled the IndieGoGo beautifully, while I’ve been working on cultivating partnerships with sponsor organizations. It’s a lot of searching for hard-to-find contact information, trying to pitch PodTales as an event various companies would benefit from advertising at, and negotiating mutually beneficial contracts. It can take a couple dozen attempts to cultivate one promising lead, and then weeks or months of discussions before an agreement is signed. Lesley University was with us from the start, which is great, and RadioPublic is a perfect partner for us. We’re close to signing a couple more sponsors, but this is an ongoing effort. But it’s also very important to meeting our aims for the show—we want to keep admission free and exhibitor fees low, but that means finding our funds from other sources. The more successful we are at working with sponsors, the more accessible we can keep the show for attendees and exhibitors.

JEFF: For me, the hardest part has been balancing how much to be involved. I love helping out, especially with something as exciting as this, and I’ve already committed to more than I thought I would originally, but I also need to step back from it soon. My personality sometimes pushes me to try to do too much, which I’ve been actively trying to change because it’s gotten me into a bit of trouble. I don’t have the time to co-run PodTales, unfortunately. But I set up and I’m running the Indiegogo campaign, and I’m helping with our exhibitor list and exhibitor relations, which I’m really excited about.

There’s also been a hard time just planning everything and getting the word out. Everything has to happen at once and it takes a lot of organization and coordination. There are only so many of us trying to do a huge thing, so things take longer than we’d like, but there’s not much we can do about that, unfortunately.

What has been the easiest?

ALEXANDER: Filling our exhibit hall! Starting a show like this, we’re taking a big gamble on whether there are enough people who see exhibiting at a festival as worth their time, especially since it’s not really an established facet of our process. But there was an abundance of interest, and we filled every seat we had available, then went back to our floor plan and rearranged to squeeze in a few more! And I’ve still got a few people on our wait list. This has really been one of the most encouraging outcomes we’ve had; it’s incredibly gratifying to know so many people are excited to show their work at PodTales!

JEFF: Working with exhibitors and our incredible featured guests. I’m really excited about everyone who is coming, and every single person has been a pleasure to work with.

Do you hope to make PodTales an annual podcasting event?

ALEXANDER: Yes! We’ve still got a long way to go before we’ll know if that’s feasible, but I’m definitely trying to build the show in a way that will make the process of doing the next one easier. If possible, I’d like to expand the show to two days as well. We’re keeping the scale small this year because this is our learning experience. But our hope is to grow from here.

What do you want to get out of PodTales?

ALEXANDER: I’m really hoping that this festival will contribute to spreading enthusiasm for fiction podcasting in general. Given our central location, free admission, and partnership with MICE, I’m hopeful that we will have a significant audience of people who are discovering fiction podcasts for the first time at PodTales. It’s really all about celebrating the art itself, and showing just how much we have to offer!

JEFF: I want it to be fun, diverse, informative, and safe. I want people to come and feel safe and celebrate our fabulous genre and have a great time. That’s it. I’d like it to grow and be sustainable too, but I would also like it to be sustainable in a way where I’m not as involved as much as I am now. I do a lot of the type of work that it takes to put on PodTales with my real job, and between my real job and this work, there’s not a lot of time left over for the type of creative work I cherish. So I’m really missing that right now, and we have two more seasons of Greater Boston to do, not to mention whatever comes after that. So I want PodTales to last forever, and I’ll always want to be a part of it. Maybe just not as much of an integral part as I am right now.

Five years from now, after this festival has exceeded goals every year, what does PodTales 5 look like for attendees?

ALEXANDER: Well, I’d certainly like PodTales to be a two-day show, and I’d hope to be able to move into a larger event space that can accommodate more exhibitors and larger audiences at our panels. (Probably the same space that MICE uses, once we’re ready to go out on our own.) But there’s a limit to how big I want it to get—I want to stay true to the missions of focusing on indie creators and keeping the show financially accessible to as many people as possible. This is an arts festival, not a large convention, and that’s how I want it to stay.

JEFF: I’ve gone to MICE for years and it’s absolutely grown, to an extent, and only gotten better every year. But it’s also been surprisingly consistent in its nice, niche, small, independent qualities too. I’m interested in seeing PodTales grow in terms of sustainability, kind of what I was speaking about before. And I always want more and more people to discover audio fiction podcasting, But I’d be lying if I said I wanted record breaking attendee numbers out of this thing year after year. I want people to come and be excited about this genre, and I’m involved because I love audio fiction podcasts and I want more people to discover them. But I also love how MICE is a small little show celebrating a unique type of independent art, and I’d never want PodTales to become this huge thing that feels like it exists solely for networking and business. That’s not to say that industry conversations aren’t important, they are, but I also don’t want to lose that independent spirit. So no matter what happens in five years, ten years, or fifty, I hope we just remain consistent. And I believe we will.

Our heart will always be like that little mouse logo; small and cute, but happy and powerful.


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Vast Horizon Review

Space. The final frontier for humanity, but one of the very first frontiers for podcast writers. I mean honestly, you can’t throw a blue yeti without hitting an entertaining, original, scrappy young podcast set in space.

Vast Horizon Review

By Lex Scott

Space. The final frontier for humanity (other than the depths of our own oceans anyway, but that’s a whole other article), but one of the very first frontiers for podcast writers. I mean honestly, you can’t throw a blue yeti without hitting an entertaining, original, scrappy young podcast set in space. Some of them are truly excellent (lookin’ at you Girl in Space), and some are tragically lacking in one or two key areas while still being excellently mixed and produced. Most though, unfortunately, simply fall into the broad category of “pretty good”.

Don’t get me wrong, pretty good is a damn hard target to hit. I would sacrifice a lot to elevate some of my previous work to the level of pretty good (Quest Academy, oh what you could have been if I’d been competent or had experience…), and because my subscription list isn’t very large by most standards pretty good will often keep me thoroughly entertained in lieu of the same 100 songs I’ve got loaded onto my phone.

But pretty good won’t make you stand out. People tend to remember three kinds of things: their favourites, (coloured by personal experience so it’s a different beast), the greats, and the worst. No one ever remembers those movies that were just okay, the ones you went to because it was hot and you needed to kill a few hours. It is to this category unfortunately we have to relegate Vast Horizon, the newest entry from Travis Vengroff and K.A. Statz’ Fool & Scholar Productions.

Vast follows the now standard “Girl in Space + AI” set-up, though of course with it’s own twists: Dr Nolira Eck (an agronomist, not an MD) suddenly and painfully wakes up on The Bifrost, a massive colony ship that is mysteriously deserted but for her, a mysterious and as yet un-”seen” bipedal presence, and a dry AI that has lots of trouble with context clues.

In terms of set-up it’s rather economical. Once the story gets going we establish very quickly Nolira’s position, location, and lack of memory (another well worn but useful trope for easing an audience in: making the main character need just as much hand holding as the audience), while also doing a good job of presenting and explaining what will be one of the shows primary sources of tension: Nolira’s bionic limbs.

We also establish that the AI is unable to provide Nolira with any concrete answers as to why she was unconscious, where everyone is or even what happened to the ship, due to lost or corrupted data. The pair need each other, Nolira to physically go places and manually do things, the AI to provide her with in-the-moment info and a general plan on how to proceed if they’re going to take control of their situation.

Like I said, it’s a pretty solid premise that has a lot of potential. Unfortunately it consistently fails to hit the mark in most areas of production.

The show’s strongest area is definitely the sound design, which for the most part does an excellent job of setting up and presenting an audibly tangible world for us to immerse our ears in. But, it’s lacking in certain cues that would help convey physical action (a character apparently falling, which I didn’t realise until she was struggling to escape a hole), or time passing while an action is taken. Little things that would complete the picture for us and really sell the story and presentation. It’s the kind of thing that would be so easy to miss for anyone not a professional but as a listener is so jarring, and always takes me out of the moment.

The show’s weakest area I hate to say is probably writing, though the issues with the writing are also tightly bound up with similar issues in directing and editing.

Somehow, and I cannot figure out why, the overall pace feels simultaneously both too fast and too slow. Now, this is obviously a problem with the writing, as overall pace is something that’s present in the script from the very first draft: the speed at which plot moments happen one after another will always be right there on the page first (and it’s the hardest thing to manage I think, especially for a new writer), and that’s where you always have the most control to change it.

But, editing together a finished product is essentially doing a final draft of the script, so it’s a problem with editing too. And while directing you need to be aware of what the scene needs and coach that performance out, so it’s also a problem with the directing.

From line to line the dialogue itself is quite flat, though this has to do with delivery as well as actual writing. There are some lines that are just too wordy and clumsy, as though when they were written no one ever said them out loud to test them, and there are several instances where the clearly british-accented actor is pronouncing words with a distinctly american intonation (mom being the most egregious, please let your actors just say words in their native manner).

There are also several instances where Nolira’s actor just doesn’t quite reach the emotional heights required for a scene, though I would be hesitant to put the blame for that on her. It’s the directors job to coax the necessary emotion into a performance, and a good casting director will always be looking for the range an actor is capable of. Then once an actor is cast, a good writer will tailor lines and emotional beats to a performer, leaning into their strengths and being aware of their abilities. When everyone is working in harmony, every moving part compliments the others, and actors will never fail to amaze you with what they’re capable of. But if you don’t take your choices into consideration, if you just plow ahead without fine tuning your team and the new circumstances, it will always ring hollow.

The actual plotting of the narrative, and the “this therefore that” manner in which it proceeds is actually quite well done. The episodes so far have been 38, 38, and 28 minutes respectively, with not too much time taken up by pre and post show housekeeping, and each one makes good use of that time to progress events and throw obstacles in our protagonists path. Which is why it’s so odd that in the moment each episode still manages to feel both too slow and too fast.

Overall, I think this is a lackluster show from a team that should know better. The main actor, Siobhan Lumsden, is clearly skilled but just as obviously miscast in the role, while the writing and directing are well short of what I would expect from a team with at least six other shows under their belts. The story is well-trod territory, the tropes are well established in audiences minds at this point; fertile ground for a more creative team to subvert expectations, here a bland and muddy path for people who just want to rehash what’s gone before, minus the character or charm.

And again, although the sound design is overall pretty good, given the breadth of their experience I would expect them to be able to avoid the pitfalls they’ve fallen prey to here.

So, I would say feel free to skip this one unless your queue is empty and you’re in desperate need of a new show.

Main Street Mythology Review

There is a certain elegance in knowing what you’re good at and then delivering just that; not trying to do too much or stretching yourself too thin. Like a singer that knows their range and nails a simple song within that range. The 5 episode mini-series, Main Street Mythology presented by Newton’s Dark Room, is fine a lesson in doing just that. A few narrators, reading short stories in a shared world that are spiced up with a bit of background music.

by Matthew William

There is a certain elegance in knowing what you’re good at and then delivering just that; not trying to do too much or stretching yourself too thin. Like a singer that knows their range and nails a simple song within that range.

The 5 episode mini-series, Main Street Mythology presented by Newton’s Dark Room, is fine a lesson in doing just that. A few narrators, reading short stories in a shared world that are spiced up with a bit of background music.

That’s the whole show. And I’ll tell you what, everything comes together nicely.

The premise for the story is quite simple: “What if our world was built by a pantheon of gods instead of people?” So the cities, the clocks, even the satellites in this setting were created by deities. There are immortals that overlook the trash, the streetlights, the internet; keeping watch over their domains and making sure everything runs smoothly.

These fables are brought to life by one of three narrators, Eleiece Krawiec (who has narrated for Escape Pod), Robert Ready (who does work as an audiobook narrator) and Mike Emling, and all are excellent, grounding this fanciful world and giving the podcast a professional sound.

The stories are accompanied by an original score from La Troienne. The mystical soundtrack provides an otherworldly ambiance to the tales, and the music does a tremendous job of adding to the immersion without ever being distracting.

The whole show is brought together by Talon Stradley; a writer, musician, and audio producer based out of Long Beach, California.

There’s not really an overarching plot to the narrative and that’s okay, you’re here for the worldbuilding. Each vignette runs 5-10 minutes long and is a story about a certain god or a certain event and everything weaves together to form a really cool quilt of a shared world.

The production team, Newton’s Dark Room, is even sort of a character in itself. Their description is kept a little enigmatic, adding to the mystique.  

“An otherworldly artist collective based out of Calisland. Our collection of unique members scour countryside and cosmiverse to bring you the best in multi-media storytelling.”

All in all, this is a great podcast to listen to if your in the mood for a bit of escapism and enjoy worldbuilding. I listened to it while driving and it was a relaxing experience. I kept on coming back for more peaks into the world of this show.

Newton’s Dark Room has done a great job of creating a simple fiction podcast. And in a world where so many stories are packed to the gills with action and high stakes, it’s refreshing to have a show that simply brings you to another world and keeps you entertained.

That in itself is pretty ambitious.

Edict Zero Episode 4

A Man in the Alley, a Man in the Elevator, and a Man with(out) a pan.

The Deep Dive Into…

Edict Zero – FIS

by Lex Scott

Welcome to part four of my deep dive into Edict Zero. If you’re new here make sure you check out my previous episode reviews (part 1) (part 2) and (part 3), before joining me for the rest of my journey.

And as always, spoilers ahead

Episode 4, Beautiful Lies

A Man in the Alley, a Man in the Elevator, and a Man with(out) a pan. A tactical unit commander acting as technical support, and a military presence despite the assertion that humanity (and the planet they occupy) are no longer divided into competing countries.

Continue reading “Edict Zero Episode 4”

Back to the Past

Let me take you back in time for a second. I know; you should be used to this now, since I write a show called Ostium all about time travel. But I’m going to take you back a couple of years, to the first month of 2017. The first two episodes of Ostium have been released and I’m feeling like I’ve got this podcasting thing just right and it’s all going to be smooth sailing from here on out …

Back to The Past:

Future Alex Has a Few Things to Say to Past Alex

by Alex C. Telander

Let me take you back in time for a second. I know; you should be used to this now, since I write a show called Ostium all about time travel. But I’m going to take you back a couple of years, to the first month of 2017. The first two episodes of Ostium have been released and I’m feeling like I’ve got this podcasting thing just right and it’s all going to be smooth sailing from here on out …

Continue reading “Back to the Past”

Lindsay

Lindsay is essentially an audio drama fan fiction of the 1998 film “The Parent Trap” with a supernatural twist and that is easily the best summary I can offer without going into too much detail. It comes from, Waks On Waks Off Productions and is what I can only assume is their first show, and from what I could garner from this, hopefully not their last.

Lindsay is essentially an audio drama fan fiction of the 1998 film “The Parent Trap” with a supernatural twist and that is easily the best summary I can offer without going into too much detail. It comes from, Waks On Waks Off Productions and is what I can only assume is their first show, and from what I could garner from this, hopefully not their last.

Lindsay is an easy listen at a mere six episodes with most not being longer than fifteen minutes and yet it manages to pack a lot of content and intrigue in its brief run time. Even the first episode had my jaw to the floor as the narrator shoots witty comebacks at a gross man she just met and the dialogue just rolls into the next scene with a sort of fluidness you almost forget that this all started with a moody monologue typical for the genre.

Given the third episode is in the listing is called “Private Pussy”, I wasn’t surprised at the number of teeth Lindsay has in its mouth, and just how many were barred from day one. A very take no prisoners kind of approach that I’ve found in things like Rover Red and SAYER but with more subtle takes at the flimsiness of reality and the supernatural.

Above all Lindsay is just really funny and ballsy, and the small amount of episodes keep’s the momentum rolling the whole time. Though the main character has quite a mouth on her and she completely owns her role, she’s easily the best part and an amazing vehicle to see the lens of this world through.

It’s shows like this that really make me appreciate things like effective sound design, and all the difference it makes for letting scenes transition. The way the music and the voice acting blends together so fluidly, no hiccups or awkward cuts and yet they still keep the run time at a brief and breathable pace.

Some scenes might rub people the wrong way, and if that’s a plus or minus to the overall tone of the narrative, well that’s up for debate. It’s so honest and mature about topics of childhood innocence and the corruption of fame you’d think they were pulling some scenes off exclusively to amp up the edge, but no matter how off putting, the execution makes the surreal moments more surreal, and really strengthens the unhealthy mentalities of the small cast of characters.

There are one or two elements introduced in the beginning that we don’t get much elaboration on, or isn’t pushed as much use as it could have been, but that might just be the small amount of episodes to blame for that. Though I think the short length is a plus in certain ways, it does come at the risk of their being just a little less of Lindsay to enjoy.

Lindsay is amazingly polished with a solid narrative and a lot of wit and personality to a story that proves to be a compelling modern noir. It’s everything I didn’t expect and more, and ended up being all the things I could possibly seek in a satisfying story.

In the end, Lindsay is something you can breeze through in a day while being deeply invested in an overarching plot. You get a lot of engaging content for so little episodes and I look forward to a possible sequel about the inside story of “Mean Girls”.

So You Want to Make an Audiodrama?

Many new podcast listeners decide to become creators and make their own shows, so we’ve taken a look at a couple of courses that will help you get off to a flying start.

By Alex C. Telander

Podcast listeners like to brag about the size of their ‘to listen’ list, how they’re not sure if they’re ever going to get totally caught up, because they keep finding new shows to subscribe to. There are new audio dramas debuting every week. Part of the reason for this is because many new listeners decide to become podcast creators and make their own shows. They either listen to a type of show they would like to try and make, or are encouraged in hearing so many great shows and want to make that idea in their head become a podcast reality.

But wanting to make an audio drama and actually releasing one are two very different things separated by a great divide. There is A LOT that goes into making a podcast, depending on what sort of show you want to make, and how much time and energy you’re willing to sacrifice to make it. Most creators end up sacrificing more than they can afford and steal from things like sleep and doing anything fun.

Let’s quickly list the steps to making a single episode of a show:

1. Write the episode.

2. Revise the episode until you’re happy with it.

3. Cast actors for the episode.

4. Have actors record for the episode, either together or separate.

5. Mix voice acting and dialog.

6. Add sound effects.

7. Add music.

8. Mix everything together so it sounds how you want it to sound.

9. Get podcasting host.

10. Release episode to the world.

So that’s just ten steps in making a simple episode off the top of my head. Yes, it’s a lot of work. For a lot of people – especially those being creative for the first time – it’s daunting and at times seemingly insurmountable.

If only there were some guide available for would-be podcasters to learn how to do it all and get lots of advice?

Well, there is. Actually, there are two amazing guides: Audio Fiction 101 from the Fear of Public Shame team, and Sarah Rhea Werner’s Podcast Now masterclass.

On August 14th, 2014, the first episode of an audio drama called Wolf 359 was released and podcasts were changed forever. As each episode and season was released, the show grew and grew in popularity, and it is now one of the most popular podcasts around, up there with Bright Sessions and the Black Tapes, boasting a five-star rating on iTunes with 2,150 reviews. The show dropped its last episode on December 26th, 2017.

Zach Valenti

Since then, the people behind Wolf 359 — Zach Valenti, Sarah Shachat, and Gabriel Urbina – have released a mini-series, Time:Bombs, under the name of Fear of Public Shame. In late 2015, the trio started talking about the idea of doing an online audio fiction course, then they put it on hold until fall 2018 when they started planning and in November they kicked it into high gear. Their goal is to impart some of their knowledge and experience in making an audio drama for those looking to make their own show. After a number months and a lot of hard work, the result is Audio Fiction 101.

Sarah Shachat

It doesn’t matter what level you’re at, whether you’re a complete novice at writing audio dramas, or have been doing it for some time, Audio Fiction 101 will have something for you. Now, it’s important to note that this online course is not about sound design, engineering or anything related to working with sound in podcasting. Audio Fiction 101 is about writing and storytelling and honing your craft when it comes to creating and writing an audio drama. It’s about knowing the advantages but also the pitfalls and hindrances of this genre of podcasting. It’s goal is to give you all the tools you need to make a compelling and popular audio drama.

Gabriel Urbina

The course is told through a series of videos over three hours in length, divided into three units. Unit One covers how writers think about storytelling: “Understanding the objectives narrative, shaping audience expectations, and what makes audio unique among storytelling mediums.” It consists of eight videos including: “The Science of Storytelling,” “The Art of Control,” and “The Limits of Imagination.” The introduction video is available for preview.

Unit Two gets into the details: “How to construct settings, write for sound effects, plot and structure, do effective world-building in audio, and more.” The unit features fifteen videos giving full coverage from the strengths and weaknesses of audio dramas to “Designing Great Radio Characters” to “World-Building in Audio.” If you want to check it out, a couple previews are available on the site.

Unit Three is all about getting you ready to start making your show: “How to outline effectively, strategies for getting a first draft of the ground, how to even come up with ideas, and more.” It features ten videos with interesting titles like: “The Fear of Public Shame,” “Outlines Are Your Frienemies?” and “It’s Not Over Till It’s Over.” There’s also a preview video for “Revising and Improving” to give you an idea what this unit is like. In addition to these three units, there are also appendices with resources on “inspiration and writing software choices.”

The practical side to the Audio Fiction 101 course is that all the videos are relatively short, in the five to ten minute range, making it a very versatile course: you can watch videos on your commute, or just before going to bed at night. You can do one a day or one a week and apply what you’ve learned; or marathon a bunch of them together unit by unit. The price tag isn’t too bad either: the whole course for $75, or four monthly installments of $20. There’s even a scholarship option available for those who can’t really afford it.

If you consider yourself an audio drama fan, then you’ve very likely come across the great show Girl in Space and its writer and lead voice actor, Sarah Rhea Werner. You may also know Sarah from her popular writing podcast series Write Now, featuring writing advice and author interviews. Sarah is also one of the few podcast entrepreneurs who has turned all her work into a full-time and successful job. She has been featured in Forbes and had her very own TED Talk. Now she’s going one big step further and offering everything she has learned and experienced in podcasting to you with her very own online course, Podcast Now.

Sarah Werner

The 12-week masterclass “will guide you, step-by-step, through the entire podcasting process – from strategy to launch and beyond.” What’s neat about this is you can choose an audio drama track or a nonfiction podcast track. It features eight modules with 52 video lessons. There are also downloadable worksheets to be completed and help you along as you complete each video lesson. Throughout the course Sarah will also offer weekly live office hours where you can “ask [Sarah] literally anything you want. No holds barred. Not kidding.”

The course covers the entire process of making your podcast beginning with ideas and plotting and writing, to recording and editing, to eventual publishing and marketing, using a “step-by-step action roadmap” and achievable goals so you won’t get lost along the way or become overwhelmed. As an extra aid, you’ll also get access to the private Facebook Mastermind Community group where you’ll be able to receive personal coaching.

Pricing for this immense and comprehensive course has an estimated value of over $4000, but is currently on offer for the special introductory price of $1500. An installment plan is also available with 12 payments of $150. Enrollment for the course will open once again for the second time June 3rd through the 7th and begin on June 10. After that the course will not be offered again until October when the price will likely increase.

Course Comparison

The obvious big difference between the Audio Fiction 101 course and Podcast Now course is the price tag. But the scope of the two courses is different: Audio Fiction 101 focuses on writing and putting together an audio drama with a series of short videos, while Podcast Now course helps you make your podcast, whether its audio drama or nonfiction, from initial idea to creating your show, to making it a success. If anything, both courses compliment each other relatively well, and if you can manage it, taking them both would provide you everything you could possibly need to turn your inkling of an audio drama into a popular and well-rated show.


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Hadron Gospel Hour: A Love Letter of Sorts

Comedy podcasts are no rarity in the audio drama community, and this is helped along in no small part by the multitude of improvisation shows that pop up the second you search comedy on your average podcast listening app. During my time in high school, when I was listening to ILLUSIONOID and on the fence about the level of devotion necessary to get invested in The Thrilling Adventure Hour, one show that I was always at the beck and call of no matter what mood I was in was Hadron Gospel Hour, a long-form science fiction comedy made by two long time friends.

Hadron Gospel Hour: A Love Letter of Sorts

By Podcake

Comedy podcasts are no rarity in the audio drama community, and this is helped along in no small part by the multitude of improvisation shows that pop up the second you search comedy on your average podcast listening app. During my time in high school, when I was listening to ILLUSIONOID and on the fence about the level of devotion necessary to get invested in The Thrilling Adventure Hour, one show that I was always at the beck and call of no matter what mood I was in was Hadron Gospel Hour, a long-form science fiction comedy made by two long time friends.

Richard Wentworth and Michael McQuilken star as the main characters in a multidimensional love letter to Douglas Adam’s inspired sci-fi romps, where our heroes travel from place to place trying to fix a fractured universe. The opening narration will gladly inform you about how the effects of a science experiment gone wrong ripped a hole through space and time, and provides the groundwork for a number of weird things to happen to weird people.

The central plot does follow a grieving Dr. Oppenheimer wallowing in his failures and trying to piece together his shattered wife whose existence was scattered over multiple dimensions, upon his failure to study the “Hadron Effect” the show credits its name to.

When rational IT worker Michael Wilkinson gets dragged into Oppenheimer’s plan purely by accident is where the show properly begins and does a decent job of setting the central tone of random chance conflicting with personal interest. This is where the buddy-cop aspect comes along and makes up the primary comedic dynamic, ensuring that as long as these two are around, there is plenty of comedy to spare in between the bouts of tragedy.

Hadron Gospel Hour is one of the most creative story-driven podcasts to have come out in 2014: A scripted series, but still not short of the sort of wit and charm that an especially interesting DnD session may have. There’s a variety of locations, great narrative pacing, and a number of characters and gags that add to the chaotic nature of a fractured setting.

Hadron Gospel Hour may be all fun and games but it has an excellent underlying theme of sticking to your guns in even the toughest of scenarios, and finding the best qualities in the strangest of people. It’s a story about compromise and unlikely encounters, forgiving yourself for your mistakes while also pursuing a life of self improvement. Hadron Gospel is never pointlessly cruel to its heroes and always finds a way to make the most bizarre of problems joyous and comedic.

And yet, Hadron Gospel Hour isn’t just a science fiction show: it’s every possible kind of science fiction show. There are bizarre creatures and races, super computers and supernatural powers, and hilarious body horror. There’s an episode entirely about troubling romantic relationships, with a twist so excellent I won’t spoil it, and a battle of the bands plot in what I think is one of the best episodes ever put out in any fiction audio drama in general.

Hadron Gospel has very long episodes (for a scripted podcast), some pushing past an hour, but they really do ensure each and every second isn’t wasted. The amount of creativity on display could only be possible by two friends with ambition and a shared devotion to their craft, to make the best possible piece each and every time.

Weird for the sake of weird is something I’ve had my fair share of ever since pursuing this hobby, but not many other audio dramas have also charmed me like this show has. The character writing, it’s ability to be equal parts episodic and story driven, the miniature arcs that are satisfying and never drag on… t makes for an experience you can sink your teeth into and still laugh about.

It’s definitely the kind of experience that’s highly unique, and I think that’s due to the solid chemistry of the creators and can be easy to get wrapped up in once you get acquainted with its likeable cast. It’s still in something of a niche category even given its quality, but how much it has to offer has made it my immediate go-to for recommendations in comedy podcasts.

When the show makes its joyous return for what will likely be a series finale, I not only look forward to how this all wraps up but what new adventures Wentworth and McQuilken might have in store in different dimensions.


Angel of Vine Review

Let’s start out by saying that The Angel of Vine is one of the best audio dramas out there. Produced by Vox Populi, it has accrued 651 iTunes reviews worldwide, with a 4.8 average star rating at the time of this article’s writing. So it’s fair to say it’s popular, as well as high quality.

The Angel of Vine Review

By Matthew William

Let’s start out by saying that The Angel of Vine is one of the best audio dramas out there. Produced by Vox Populi, it has accrued 651 iTunes reviews worldwide, with a 4.8 average star rating at the time of this article’s writing. So it’s fair to say it’s popular, as well as high quality.

The first thing you’ll notice is the all-star cast (especially by audio drama standards), with Joe Manganiello in the lead as Hank Briggs, Camilla Luddington, Oliver Vaquer, (who also wrote the show and plays the NPR-style journalist host) Misha Collins, Mike Colter, Alfred Molina, Khary Payton, Alan Tudyk, and Constance Zimmer. Veteran voice actors Travis Willingham, Matthew Mercer, and Nolan North round out the cast.

For those of you who haven’t heard it yet, here’s the official synopsis:

The Angel of Vine is a noir tale told in true crime style. The “podcaster,” a journalist named Oscar Simons (Oliver Vaquer), is fascinated by cold cases. One of the most infamous is “The Angel of Vine,” a gruesome murder in 1950s Hollywood. Young aspiring actress Marlene Marie Evans was found in a parking lot, her body mutilated and posed, with evidence either nonexistent or destroyed when she was discovered by a stampede of curious onlookers.

The police gave up with no leads, and the case would never be closed… or would it? Ex-cop and private detective Hank Briggs (Joe Manganiello) may have solved the case, but he never told a soul. It’s up to Oscar to search through Hank’s mountain of tapes and clues from more than 60 years ago to uncover the killer.

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With near perfect production values, acting, and story, there is very little to complain about. It seems they have achieved a new gold standard for audio drama production. I could wax lyrical about how great the show is, and I feel like most reviews have been doing just that. But, I do still have a few nits to pick.

Now, the dialogue is mostly good. I can see how some people call it stiff, but that’s sort of the point. 1950’s noir is sort of stiff. But the dialogue didn’t pop the way it does in, say, Double Indemnity, and I was never surprised or felt as if I was listening in on a conversation. It felt as if I was listening to the main character uncovering the plot points and nothing more.

For example, in the first six minutes of Episode One, when the daughter describes going to the house where her estranged grandfather had been living, she suddenly starts describing the old car in the driveway in graphic detail for some reason:

“Old car. Not a classic car. An 83 Cutlass Ciera. Hadn’t been maintained in years. A fender was rusted. Cobwebs around the hubcaps. The felt from the interior ceiling was sagging.”

This might play into the “film noir” style they’re trying to affect, but it felt too much like a school report to me. “I’m describing the setting here! Aren’t you immersed?”

The character development also could’ve used a bit of work, as the main character Hank Briggs, is a little too one dimensional.

I get that it’s a noir, but characters, especially lead characters, need to be more nuanced: he’s into poetry (which feels a little shoehorned into his character), we’re told multiple times that he has a great sense of humor, and he had scenes with his daughter where he shows a tender side.

But overall I just couldn’t shake the feeling that it was directed with the words, “Okay, you’re a 1950’s Brooklyn tough guy, fugettabout it!” in pretty much every scene.

At the end of the day, maybe it was for the best, because when he’s confronted with the gruesome climax, he is truly shaken and that’s what shakes us. We hear him crack, so what he sees must be really bad. So, from that point of view, I really can’t fault the choice.

But the good far outweighs the bad.

Oliver Vaquer had the unenviable task of making something that sounds both conversational and journalistic, set in the modern day and in mid-century LA. In the end, I feel like I took a tour through old-school Hollywood. That’s a hard trick to pull off.

The writing does a skillful job of using the audio drama format, with the conceit that the main character was always carrying a recording device with him. And the descriptions of the crime scenes will send chills down your spine (no pun intended). I’ve even heard it said from multiple people that it took them awhile to realize they weren’t listening a true crime podcast.

The acting is one of the key things responsible for that. Vaquer as the journalist is very believable, and the genuine performance convinces you this is a real cold case investigation. Alan Tudyk is incredible in his role as Samuel Tensch. I didn’t feel like he was an actor at all, rather a living breathing character. And Alfred Molina has acting superpowers. His character, Leonard Shaw, is so over the top awful, but he delivers the lines so perfectly that when he later starts talking about his health problems, you somehow start feeling sympathy for the guy. My goodness.

That said, I wish there was a better female part. The players are largely male, and the story could have really used a femme fatale type. There are a lot of women in the cast, Constnace Zimmer and Camilla Luddington are given 2nd and 3rd billing, respectively, as a mother and daughter pair, but they aren’t given much to do. (I can’t even really remember anything the mother says or does, besides constantly sounding a bit tired.)

And how fantastic is that theme song? I mean, seriously, I could write a whole article on that. A modern take of a 1946 song “Angel Eyes” that really sets the mood and makes you feel like you are in old-school LA.

There are ads tucked into the show, as most podcasts do, but one particular Johnnie Walker ad blew my mind. Not long after a Johnnie Walker Blue Label ad, the characters in the show sit down for a drink of Johnnie Walker Blue Label.

“I think it’s the perfect way to mark the moment,” the character Beth Turner says, somehow quoting the slogan perfectly.

Production isn’t really my area, so I don’t have an insider’s perspective, but to my ears, it’s more or less perfect. The sound effects were immersive and never pulled me out of the story. They do an amazing job at making the old sound old and the new sound new.

This is definitely a show I would recommend, without hesitation. It is excellent in almost every area, but I had one major issue with it, which unfortunately pertains to the ending. So…

MAJOR SPOILERS from here on out: (I mean, if you haven’t listened to it already, what are you doing? Go and download it immediately.)

First off, the story endings feels flat and unsatisfying.

We go through this whole investigation to try and figure out who killed the Angel of Vine, and in the climax we finally learn that it was Samuel Tensch – the man who was paying Hank Briggs to investigate the crime.

Then we get the explanation as to why he committed the grisly murder and it was because… he was crazy!

And that’s pretty much it.

The thing about a mystery is, when it’s finally solved, you are supposed to go: “Ahhhh, of course, I should’ve seen that coming. All the pieces fit together now” not: “Oh, uh… okay, I guess.

As soon as I heard the last episode, where we learned Samuel Tensch was the killer, I went back and re-listened to the previous episodes, to see if I missed anything – any bit of foreshadowing, or clues, or any hints that this character is maybe hiding something.

But nope. There’s not really anything.

There’s a brief mention of a mysterious fire, where his mother figured died, and we later find out he killed her and he caused the fire to dispose of her body. But there are no motivations, no clues, no nothing. We just find out he was disturbed and used his victims blood to make paintings.

Um, okay.

I know real life serial killers and murderers don’t always have a satisfying motive, and the pieces don’t always fit together into a nice coherent narrative. This could be the show paying homage to such unsatisfying endings in other popular true crime serials, but we expect our stories to be better than that. Especially mysteries.

Despite all this, the Angel of Vine remains a can’t-miss podcast. I just wish the writing was a little stronger. But they left the story open to interpretation: either the killer is still at large… or Hank killed him. We’re probably going to be getting more seasons to find the answers.

And that’s definitely a good thing.

Now ‘scuse me while I pop open this bottle of unbranded, not-paid-to-advertise bottle of whiskey, the perfect way to mark the moment of finishing off a review.

♫ Oh, where is my Angel Eyes?

Excuse me while I disappeeeeear…♫


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The Stories We Tell

The podcast ‘The Stories We Tell’ launches with a double-shot of the first two episodes next Tuesday (23rd April 2019), so to celebrate I got together with Paul Sating and Natalie Aked, creator of ‘Horrible Writing’ and ‘A Breviloquent Challenge’ respectively.

The Stories We Tell

by Dōhai

Back in October 2018 the Horrible Writing Writers Support Group on Facebook launched a fun monthly 500 word flash fiction event. The Founder of the group, Paul Sating, was so inspired by the event, he developed the idea into a podcast that features the best of these short stories.

The podcast ‘The Stories We Tell’ launches with a double-shot of the first two episodes next Tuesday (23rd April 2019), so to celebrate I got together with Paul Sating and Natalie Aked, creator of ‘Horrible Writing’ and ‘A Breviloquent Challenge’ respectively.

To tell the story of this podcast we first need to go back to July 2017, when veteran podcaster Paul Sating (Subject: Found, Who Killed Julie, and Diary of a Madman among others) launched Horrible Writing, a podcast with the aim of bringing ‘empowerment through candor’ to authors from all paths across the globe. It’s hard to believe it’s been nearly two years since the show launched, as I have been here listening since inception.

I asked Paul to give us a brief outline of the Horrible Writing show and its premise.

“I love listening to other writer’s take on the craft, but I couldn’t find a podcast featuring the affective side of writing. I need a pep talk from time to time, as many writers do, since this is such a solitary venture. But no one was doing it, that I found. I also believe that too many writers don’t open the closet and show our guests all the mistakes. That’s harmful to newer writers. They see a polished work and think, “I can’t ever do that.” So I did what I always do. If someone isn’t doing it, or willing to do it, I will.

I started the Horrible Writing podcast to document my journey, publicly, from know-nothing to published author. I wanted to serve that dual purpose of showing people the emotional journey alongside the reality that no one knows everything about ‘how’ to get published, and that’s it’s a constant exploration of learning.

Yesterday, I recorded the 83rd episode of the show and I realized there is so much I still have to learn. So, so much. And that’s okay.

By opening up to the public, with full candor, I believe–and the emails and reviews I receive can verify–other writers find it helpful and don’t feel so alone, so we all rise together.”

If you haven’t checked it out yet, and you have even a passing interest in writing, then this show should be on your playlist. You can find it here.

The Horrible Writing Writers Support Group launched on Facebook last August (2018) and has exploded with members from all walks of writing life, all of whom share support and resources to ‘raise all ships’ in the true spirit that this powerhouse was born.

One of the founder members of the team is administrator Natalie Aked, a blogger and short story writer. She has published a few books on Yuan Dynasty Mongolian food. In her own words:

“Mostly, I am a storyteller. I enjoy bringing the world to people in snippets of tales.”

Natalie introduced ‘A Breviloquent Challenge’ the monthly 500 word flash fiction event to the group so that they could have a bit of fun and flex those writing muscles. I asked her about her thoughts about introducing this challenge:

“I suggested the ABC to Paul because many of our newer writers were struggling with common problems. I hoped that flash fiction might help – writing is the only solution to writing problems in my book. I also hoped it would foster a solidarity within the group; and, maybe, start a conversation.

I think that the ABC is a positive force in the group. Not everyone participates, but those who do gain feedback and those who participate regularly are seeing improvements in their writing.”

Within a month of ABC being launched on the support group Paul and Natalie were in talks about a podcast.

“In late November/early December 2018, Paul broached the idea of the podcast. He admitted that he had been thinking about a podcast of stories and he hoped the ABC would be the venue to find those stories. I loved the idea!”

From initial idea to release has only taken a few short months. With (at time of writing) three episodes in the can I asked both Natalie and Paul if there had been any major hurdles, or even a few bumps in the road:

“Well, I have the easy job. I am responsible for the written stuff. Which basically means I set the challenges and the writers take it from there. Once the end date comes, I have a team of four judges who are AMAZING. They read and rank the stories. I collect the data and give it to Paul. Really, his job requires the most effort and he’s awesome at what he does. It’s been such an easy process thanks to everyone involved.” -Nat

“It’s been very smooth. Natalie is a champ. She was on-board with the idea from the very beginning. In fact, when I pitched it to her, we immediately started ironing out how it would work and what some of the potential tripping points were (things such as how we would keep it manageable for both of us and set the right expectations for everyone else. This was, honestly, one of the easiest joint efforts I’ve ever undertaken, credit to Natalie!” – Paul

One of the things I’ve noticed as a member of the group is the camaraderie: normally social media posts have a ‘look at me’ feel to them, but here they’re all about helping one another, has this bled over into creating the podcast?

“One of the most epic things about this whole process has been the community. Horrible Writing Writers Support Group has always been a nurturing environment, but when we added ABC I was blown away with the immediate response. Not only do the writers who participated read the other stories but they give constructive feedback. It’s also common to see comments from members who didn’t enter a story that month. It’s an awesome resource for the writers.

Now that we have linked the writing challenge to the podcast, we are seeing that community support again. Some of our writers are hesitant to read their stories. They may not have the equipment and time or they may feel that they can’t do the story justice. But the community just keeps giving.

This project has definitely cemented the ‘it takes a village to raise a child’ sentiment in my mind. The group has shown such support to one another.” – Nat

“This show truly is a community effort. It would be easy for people to post their story and move on, but that’s not what happens. In this wonderfully positive collective, what you see instead is the community reading each other’s work, providing encouragement and constructive criticism; and the narrators echo that.

I sent out a single initial call and was inundated with responses from narrators who want to be involved. We don’t have enough stories for the next five episodes to give to them, there are so many! Their eagerness to help is matched by ‘how’ they invest in someone else’s story. The narrators read other writer’s stories as if they are their own. This is truly a horribly wonderful community!” – Paul

I for one am looking forward to listening to the podcast and I wish it all the success. Being a part of it has not only helped me as a writer with technical aspects, but the community helps alleviate that impostor syndrome. Any final words from you both before I let you go?

“I’m super passionate about this project. I can’t wait to hear what listeners think of the podcast and read what our writers will come up with next. It would be great to see the participation grow. If there are writers out there reading this, come join us, please.” – Nat

“I’d really encourage people to give this show a listen. It’s a beautiful project because it is the manifestation of my Horrible Writing ideology, that we all rise together, that each and every one of us have stories to tell and we ‘can’ find an audience for those stories. Already, we have nearly 50 stories from dozens of authors to share with the world, and that’s only going to grow as we move forward. If someone is looking for fresh fiction from a variety of writers around the world, there is no other place to go than The Stories We Tell. It is a show for all voices, and all listeners.” – Paul

The podcast launches next Tuesday (23rd April 2019) and I hope you will join us here at Podern Times in celebrating the world of indie writing with the Horrible Writing Writers Support Group on Facebook and The Stories We Tell.


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