Escape Artists

Rolling back the history reels to June of 2008, I received a recommendation for a good horror podcast from Hank Snider. He vastly understated the quality of the stories, narration, production value, and editing done on these stories.

The podcast was PseudoPod and it had just released its 93rd episode, a story called, “The Land of Reeds.” As I usually do, I downloaded the past 10 episodes and listened to them in order. I fell in love immediately, and ran through their web site downloading every episode. (Sorry for the bandwidth bill you had that month.) Many of the stories were hits with me, some of them didn’t quite hit the mark for me, but they were all entertaining and thought provoking. The story that, to this day, still has the most impact on me is “Flat Diane.”

I kept downloading episodes as they were released, and after burning through the 100-some-odd episodes in a massive binge-listen on my daily commute, I caught up. I felt, well, cold and alone in my car. Something was missing because I no longer had a massive backlog of stories to consume. Then Alasdair Stuart (the host at the time, who would become the eventual owner of Escape Artists) mentioned the sister podcasts called PodCastle and EscapePod. PodCastle was somewhere in the 30+ episodes, but EscapePod (the original started by Steve Eley) had hit high marks at around 170+ episodes.

All three of these live under the umbrella of Escape Artists, and I know my life would be a more empty place without the wonderful stories released into the world by everyone who tirelessly works (some without pay!) on each and every single episode.

I’ve mentioned my favorite PseudoPod episode. I’ll do the same for the other two.

The story PodCastle ran that hit me the hardest was one called, “Sundae” about a guardian teddy bear. Seriously. A guardian teddy bear. It’s not flippant. It’s not childish. It’s the rawest story of protecting another I’ve ever come across. The performance given by Dave Robison in this incredible story brought me to tears. I came near crashing my car on my commute no less than three times during the near-hour the story ran.

Now, picking my favorite EscapePod episode is more difficult because they just crested 500 episodes. Yep. You’re reading that right. Five Hundred. In the podcast world, a series is considered fairly successful if they can hit 50. EscapePod has ten times that amount. Holy cow! I’ve had to think long and hard about this one, and I’m going to pick Dave Thompson‘s reading of “Flowers for Algernon.” Again, my car almost ended up in the same physical space as another throughout the episode. The powerful narration at the end of the episode forced me to pull over in a gas station just so I could bawl like a baby without fear of running over someone. This happened to be while I was on a run to the airport to pick someone up for our annual Pikes Peak Writers Conference earlier this year. I’m pretty sure I had collected and composed myself before they got off the plane to meet me because they didn’t ask me if I was okay or anything like that. Perhaps they attributed the red, puffy eyes to the stress of helping run a conference.

To this day, I’ve listened to every episode Escape Artists has put out, except one. Alasdair was nice enough to put a trigger warning about graphic suicide at the start of an episode of PseudoPod. I skipped it. I had to. I apologize to the author of what I’m certain was a fantastic story, but that’s a little too close to home for me.

Now that the metacast (parts one, two and three) is released into the world, I talk about how incredibly thrilled I am to see Cast of Wonders joining the EA family sometime in the next 6-12 months. I just added it to my iTunes feed and will update my Podcast Page here in a bit to link to it permanently. In other news, EA is launching a new online magazine called Mothership Zeta, and it looks like it’ll be going live almost any moment now.

I’m going to close out by thanking everyone who has made EA great in the past, is still with EA, and I look forward to many more years of listening greatness.

Thank you.

I’m On The Round Table Podcast

I can’t believe it’s taken me almost two weeks to post about this! Many apologies to Dave, Terry, and Jake for the massive delays in getting this “out the door.”

A few months ago, I sat on the Skype-line with three fantastic gentlemen and scholars of the writing craft and pitched a story idea to them. They proceeded to throw tons of Literary Gold my way. I’ve caught most of it and crammed it in my pockets for later use on the story.

In this episode of The Roundtable Podcast these three wonderful people talk me through some difficult parts of my story, help me find a theme, and generate wonderful ideas for enhancing secondary characters.

Why am I just now remembering to post this? I listened to most of the “Twenty Minutes With… Jake Kerr” episode on the way home from work today. This means that interview will end while I’m on my way to work in the morning, and I’ll be able to listen to the recorded version of what I experienced live.

I can’t wait to see what new nuggets of wealth fall into my lap with a fresh listen. Gonna be cool.

The drive to work tomorrow is going to be very interesting, indeed.

Without Damage

FunctionalNerdsLogoI’m about a month behind in my podcast listening, so some of you may have already listened to the podcast I’m going to talk about tonight. If not, do yourself a favor and checkout episode 206 of The Functional Nerds. (Check them all out, actually. They’re really good!) In this episode, Patrick Hester and John Anealio brought Sarah Chorn to the podcast as their guest.

During the course of the interview, they talked about how many books Sarah reads in a year, her excellent book review site (see link above), and her regular column on SF Signal called Special Needs in Strange Worlds.

What I want to talk about is a phrase that John Anealio dropped in the middle of the conversation. I’m going to give you the phrase, and then the context. The phrase itself may seem heartless truth, but read on before sending hate mail to John. The phrase is:

No one gets out of this life without a little damage.

The context in this statement is that they were talking about John’s son, who is in the autistic spectrum, Sarah’s health problems, and the curve balls life throws at us. John spoke the phrase, not in the vein of “Dammit! Why the fuck does this happen to me?” but in from the angle of compassion. He knows the truth of life handing you things you may not want or in a way you may not prefer, and he thinks that community (any supportive community) is what bonds us together as people, not just human beings.

John hit the nail on the head. No one is perfect. No life is perfect. Between the time you’re born until the time you’re put in a grave, life deals you damage. There may be breathing room here and there where life takes it easy on you. Cherish those moments. Be thankful (this is a Thanksgiving Day post, after all) for the times in which the fellow with the baseball bat stops to admire his handiwork on your life. Those are the moments in which you thrive.

This is not to say that life is a downer. It’s most certainly not. This act of breathing and acting and reacting and moving and doing and creating and all that is wonderful. It’s to be cherished. It’s to be hold close and admired along with the community you choose to surround yourself with.

Just remember that those people around you (and those you push back out at a distance) are damaged as well. All of us have been hurt and pushed down in the dirt at some point. Some of us recover, but bear scars. Some limp along (usually emotionally) for the rest of their days. Keep that in mind when dealing with especially bothersome people. They are not without damage. Give them some compassion, and you might be amazed at what the outcome brings.

For all of you that struggle with your particular flavor (or flavors) of damage: You Are Not Alone. We’re all there in some way. There are people and places that truly want to help and see you succeed in your endeavors.

Be human. Be damaged. Be beautiful because of it, not instead of it.

Updated Podcast List

I do this from time-to-time. Last time was about a year and a half ago. You can see my past podcast listings here and here. Here’s my current list of what I listen to and why:

  • Adventures in SciFi Publishing
    • This is a great podcast packed full of interviews with the occasional recording of a live panel. The conversations are always engaging and well done.
  • Angry Robot Books
    • This seems to have podfaded as of late, but when there is an episode, the quick interview and Angry Robot news are very insightful.
  • Beneath Ceaseless Skies
    • Great fiction! This is usually along the fantasy vein of things, but they’ll run the rare other genre as well.
  • Clarkesworld Magazine
    • This is a speculative fiction magazine that tends toward the softer sci-fi, but they’ll run a good hard sci-fi story as well.
  • Escape Pod
    • The all-around best science fiction podcast out there. It’s also one of (if not THE) oldest, still active, science fiction podcasts out there. It was this one that got me into listening to podcasts, and I haven’t looked back.
  • Fear the Boot
    • A roundtable discussion about various role playing topics (and a bit more) happens on this podcast. There’s a “usual cast” of folks, but they usually bring in someone new or rare to the table as well. The wide variety of opinions and ideas coming out of the speakers make this a great one.
  • The Functional Nerds
    • This is Patrick’s and John’s podcast where they will sometimes (very rarely these days) talk between themselves about various topics of the day, news in genre fiction, technology and the like. For most shows, they have an author, musician (rare), or other creative type on the podcast to interview and have a casual conversation with.
  • The Geek Side of Life
    • This is a rare hit on my RSS feeds, but I leave it in there because the episodes are usually interesting to me in some geekly manner.
  • Hide and Create
    • This is a four-way roundtable discussion about writing. The “claim to fame” for this podcast is that they have an indie author, a traditionally published author, an editor, and a a tie-in writer on the podcast. This gives four very interesting points of view when it comes to writing, publishing, craft, business, and execution.
  • I Should Be Writing
    • Ahh… Mur… What to say about her? She’s GREAT! When I’m feeling down in the dumps about my writing, I’ll listen to Mur’s voice tell me that she’s feeling the same way despite her amazing success as a podcaster and author. The advice she gives (especially during the feedback shows) is invaluable.
  • Ken and Robin Talk About Stuff
    • Kenneth Hite and Robin D. Laws get together and pump out a four-segment show each week. These segments are a broad range of topics, but they’ll always be of interest to any writer, gamer, history buff, or conspiracy theorist out there. I happen to be all four, so this podcast is right up my alley.
  • Lightspeed Magazine
    • These are some great short stories (usually science fiction, but not always), put out by the Lightspeed crew.
  • NPC Cast
    • NPC Cast is a role playing podcast in which Del, Chris, and Aaron sit around talk (almost always in a positive manner) about various aspects of face-to-face gaming. It doesn’t matter if it’s board games, role playing, or cards. They’ll cover it.
  • Odyssey SF/F Writing Workshop Podcasts
    • These are rare to hit the RSS feed, but they’re well worth the wait. These are usually 15, 30, or 60 minutes in length and are excerpts from the Odyssey Writing Workshops. If you need a quick in-and-out bit of information from a master on that topic, check these out!
  • PodCastle
    • PodCastle is the #1 place to go for wonderful fantasy short stories. They’ll sometimes run a “giant” episode of longer works, but they are always great to listen to.
  • Pseudopod
    • If I need the chill of a spectral finger running down my spine, I’ll turn up some Pseudopod. The horror they present ranges across the spectrum of the genre. You never know what flavor of fright you’ll be getting from week-to-week.
  • RoleplayDNA
    • This is another rarity in the RSS feeds, but the roundtable discussions on role playing cover a great deal of topics, and helps keep me up-to-date on the local news in the role playing community. These guys are based out of Broomfield, CO, and that’s about 2 hours away from my house. They tend to cover news in the Boulder/Broomfield/Denver area, but if an event is large enough, I’ll make the drive to check things out.
  • The Roundtable Podcast
    • Dave is back! He took a long hiatus from podcasting while tending to his ailing mother, but has returned to the airways of the Internet with his rockin’ good podcast. On The Roundtable Podcast, he does interviews with authors, then takes those authors and critiques a story idea by an up-and-coming writer. The intros he gives the authors are legendary!
  • SF Signal
    • Patrick Hester does a great job in interviewing people, running “online panels,” and herding the monkeys into a semblance of hilarious order while covering topics in the speculative fiction fields. He and his guests cover huge tracts of land (see what I did there?) in great detail. The podcast is always insightful, usually entertaining, and well worth your time.
  • The Shared Desk
    • Tee and Pip do a great job of talking about the nitty-gritty of the life of a professional author. They should know. They’ve been doing it for a while now.
  • Slate’s Stranger Than Fiction (This is a link to the latest episode.)
    • I thought this one had podfaded, but as I was about to drop it from my list, another episode came out. These podcasts are usually centered around the “what if” of life and how it’s coming true.
  • Speculate!
    • This is a good podcast in which Greg and Brad review a book, tear down (not in a malicious way, but in a constructive way) the book, and then interview the author of the book. Between their triptychs, they’ll do interviews as well. Always great stuff for any writer or reader out there.
  • Writing Excuses
    • This is one of my top podcasts! In this one, Brandon, Mary, Dan, and Howard get together (with a rare guest as well) and talk about some aspect of writing for 15 minutes. They cover craft, business, life, health, art, ideas, critiques, etc.. You name some aspect of the writing life, and they’ll cover it.

If you’re paying attention, you’ll notice that I linked to each one of the podcast’s website. You can also find all of these in iTunes (which is how I slurp them off the Internet, shove them onto my iPod, and inject them into my ears.) I’m sure other audio marketplaces (Stitcher comes to mind) probably carries some of these as well.

Updating Podcast List

A while back, I put out a call for new podcasts. Thanks to the generosity of some kind folks on the Internet, I found a few more right up my alley. Good stuff out there. I’m sure there are more podcasts that are of high quality, but here’s what I’m listening to these days. These are in the order they live in my Feedly feed, so they’re really in no particular order.

Looking back on the list, I could have maybe broken them up via topic. I hope the labels I put out to the sides work for you.

As you can tell, I love listening to certain types of things while on the road.

Huh. I just realized that I’ll be “losing” my (approximately) 25 hours of drive time to/from work/home each week. I wonder when I’ll be able to listen to all of the wonderful podcasts out there? I hope I can keep up! I don’t want to drop anyone from my list.

I Almost Stopped Listening To Podcasts

A little over a month ago, I wrecked my car. It wasn’t horrible, but it wasn’t great, either. I came out a little sore in the neck/shoulder area, but the car was a mess (and in the shop) for a little over a month. When I finally got my own car back, I plugged my handy (yet ancient) Nokia N800 into the aux port in my VW Jetta. I got decent sound for about 10 minutes, and then I took a hard left turn and all sound cut out.

Ugh.

I checked everything. The N800 was still playing properly. I rebooted it in case it had a weird software glitch, but that didn’t fix the problem. I replaced the audio cable with no luck. I unplugged and replugged the new audio cable a few times while the N800 played an mp3. That’s when I realized I had sound with my holding the cable at an angle, but not when I released it. Since the aux port is in the glove box (who the F’k decided on that design?) I couldn’t exactly drive while leaning way over to hold the cable at the right angle to listen to podcasts.

Ugh.

With the car in this condition, I couldn’t listen to my beloved podcasts. The only time I have to listen to them is in the car on my massive commute to and from work. Yeah. The N800 has built-in speakers, but they’re so tiny and weak, I couldn’t hear the podcasts over the road noise. I was really concerned about having to give up on my podcasts until I could figure something out.

Ugh.

This led me to dismantle my dashboard on the passenger side to get the glove box out. The female plug for the aux port in the glove box was built into a tiny little PCB (printed circuit board) that was about 0.5 inches by 1 inch. That had come loose from its moorings (probably due to the wreck). There were three leads sticking out the side that another cable plugged into it. That cable was also loose from the extruding prongs. It took me come weird yoga-style contortions to get my hands, arms, the PCB, the cable, the aux port mount points, my flashlight in my mouth and  my eyes to all line up just right. Once I got everything aligned, the PCB, cable and mountings snapped back together quite well. Before I reassembled everything, I tested the connections with the audio cable and such. Crystal clear sound poured from my speakers.

I was ecstatic! I had my podcasts back!

Now I get to cruise down the road and listen to my favorite people talk about my favorite topics.

J.T. is a happy podcast fan again.

PS: I reached out to Twitter a while back asking for podcast suggestions. I want to thank everyone that suggested something new for me to listen to. I’ll be posting a new “What I’m Listening To” post near the end of the week in case other folks out there are looking for podcast suggestions and share tastes similar to my own.

Podcasts I Listen To

I have a huge commute (75 miles one-way) to get to work. Of course, I have the same return trip each day to get back home. This means I listen to quite a few podcasts. Here’s my current list, in alphabetical order:

I have plenty of audio to listen to, but I never seem to have enough to last me a week. I usually get 2-3 “commute days” of good audio from the above podcasts, which leaves me with 2-3 days in the car without the beloved voices in my head.

Any suggestions from anyone out there on a good podcast I can add to my list? Please leave a comment if you have a suggestion.

I Hate Getting Out Of My Car

For those of you that don’t know, I’ve have a long drive (about 90 minutes with good traffic) to get from the garage in my house to the parking garage near work. I fill this time with podcasts like EscapePod, PodCastle and PseudoPod. However, they don’t nearly come close to filling up my drive time each week (3 hours a day x 5 days == 15 hours a week.) One of the members of the CSFWG is the Hugo nominated producer of SF Signal Podcast, Patrick Hester. I daresay that he’s more than just “a member” of my group, but also a good friend (and not just because he’s Hugo nominated, and I want some of that goodness to rub off on me.)

I’ve been listening to lots of SF Signal Podcast lately, and I have lots of backlog to listen to. Patrick just released episode 141, and I’m right in the middle of the fantastic episode 108. I must say that in the 4-ish hours that I’ve listened to SF Signal, I’ve learned quite a bit about writing, the current state of the publishing industry, the history of various genres and had quite a few laughs along with it.

While listening to EscapePod, PodCastle and PseudoPod, I can usually (but not always!) find a decent place to pause the podcast and get out of my car to go to work or stumble inside my house after a long day. This is not the case with SF Signal. I hate hitting pause while getting out of my care because someone is always in the middle of some great commentary, witty remark or producing some form of wonderful insight that I care about. This is not to say that the storytelling of EscapePod, PodCastle and PseudoPod are flawed. It’s just that I can pause a story at a logical point and remember what was going on when I pick it back up again a little while later. The problem with pausing SF Signal is that there is so much to learn and so much going on with the podcast that I’m afraid I’ll lose out on some wonderful tidbit.

Also, one last “complaint” about SF Signal (the website/blog and the podcast.) It’s adding tons of items to my backlog for my reading list. My bank account and time reserves are quickly being overwhelmed by the loads of fantastic recommendations from all different angles. If you’re in need of some good science fiction or fantasy, I highly recommend the website and podcast.

Happy reading!

PS: If anyone has any recommendations on good podcasts, I’d love to hear about it in the comments section.