Podcast Love: 2005-2006

Podcast Love: 2005-2006

I love podcasts, and have since I first started listening to them in 2005. Since then, they’ve always been a part of my life: company on long car rides, while walking the dogs, or just sitting at home knitting. Some podcasts, I can even remember exactly when and where I was when I listened to a specific episode. This is a multi-part series on podcasts I love, past and present.

Circa 2005-2006
I first discovered podcasts as a college student, when my mom sent me a magazine (Real Simple, maybe?) that happened to have a tiny 1/2 page feature about podcasts. I was intrigued, and started exploring. It took a bit of trial and error to find podcasts I really enjoyed, but back then, there were few enough podcasts that it was (almost) possible to listen to them all.

In 2005, you had to download a separate podcast aggregator, and then manually load them into iTunes (it was huge when iTunes opened up it’s podcast directory!), and from there, onto your iPod (at that time, I had one of the bulky early gen iPods with a click wheel). I was always running out of hard drive space in those days, and had to be careful to delete the files twice: once, after I copied them from the aggregator to iTunes, and then again after I listened to them.

The Dragon Page: Cover to Cover
News and interviews with sci-fi and fantasy authors–in 2005 when I discovered Cover to Cover, it was hosted by Michael R Mennenga and Evo Terra (who went on to create podiobooks.com). The Dragon Page spawned Farpoint Media, which of course is still known for the Parsec Awards. Several huge authors came to my attention because of Cover to Cover–in particular, I remember walking our family dog Rosie one night on a visit home from college and listening to an interview with an author who had just released his first book: Elantris. Of course, Cover to Cover also brought me to several Big Name Authors in the podcast fiction community such as Mur Lafferty, Scott Sigler, and JC Hutchins. In later years, Mike Mennenga was joined by Michael A Stackpole, and focus shifted to publishing trends and news, ebooks, and general writing advice.

I was going to put this one in the “sadly podfaded” category, (though there are over 400 archived episodes available) but actually, I just went to the Dragon Page site to see when the last episode was, and there are several new episodes in 2014. Re-added!

Cast On
One of the Big Momma podcasts of the now-expansive knitting podcast community. Cast On was one of the very first knitting podcasts, and I suspect a large reason why there is such a great community of knitting podcasts today. Hosted by Brenda Dayne, an expat American living in Wales, Cast On has great production values and really high quality content and essays. One great thing about Cast On is that early on, Brenda decided to structure Cast On into “series” (British use of the word) with a handful of episodes–often thematically linked–followed by a brief (or not) hiatus. Although she’s stepped away from podcasting several times, she never truly podfaded, and has picked up the mic again in 2014.

Of course, we all love the “Today’s Sweater” segment, which is a essentially the story of a single handknit sweater: the yarn, the pattern, the changes in plans and modifications that were made during the knitting of it, and the repairs made after. But one of my personal favorite episodes is one of the earliest: Pulling a Geographic. I remember listening to the episode on a cold, rainy Northampton day during my last semester of college, knowing that I was about to have to leave my beloved school and go into the real world. That feeling of pulling up your life and moving elsewhere, into the unknown, was terrifying and exciting all at once, and the timing of the episode was perfect.

Connect Learning
I found Connect Learning early on in my podcast explorations, (possibly even earlier than Cover to Cover or Cast On–I remember listening to it on one bus trip to New York during spring semester 2005) at a time that I was really falling in love with museum education. There weren’t really any museum ed podcasts at the time (though there were some museum-based podcasts, primarily ones that served as either formal or informal audio tours), but I found my way to several interesting education podcasts. Of those, Connect Learning is the one I remember as having the biggest influence on me, and in fact, remains a major influence in how I think about technology and learning in a 21st century world. It is very much podfaded, but several episodes remain archived by the Internet Archive.

Scott Sigler’s podcast novels: Earthcore, Ancestor, and Infected
Scott Sigler was probably the very first author to see potential in podcasting a full length work of fiction, and he did it brilliantly, starting with Earthcore in 2005. As mentioned above, I found out about him via Cover to Cover, and listened to these first three novels as he released them in real time. They’re all great horror novels, and I highly recommend them, but I think in some ways, his real legacy is the entire mini-genre of podcast novels (including several others which will make it onto this list of mine.)

In two weeks: I pull a geographic of my own, move three times, and go through almost as many iPods.

This is one of those weird things about me that I never think to share when I have to tell people weird things about myself. I’m not triskadecaphobic, at all–I have nothing against Friday the Thirteenth. Nor do I particularly like it. But I really enjoy Thursday the Thirteenth, or as it was yesterday, Saturday the Thirteenth. I always think, “so close! But no…”

I’ve been reading Elizabeth Berg’s book, Escaping into the Open: The Art of Writing True the last couple of days. It was one of the books that I picked up with the other writing books from the library. But this one was different than the others. I picked it up on impulse right as I was leaving the section on writing… Something about the title or the cover just grabbed me. I chose the other books I did because they were specifically about the craft of putting together a novel. Books on plot, on structure, on character. 

This book is something different. It has a chapter on recipes. As in, food. Okay, so that’s not exactly something you look for in a book on writing, but I think it gets across the essence of this book. It’s part memoir, part writing advice, part conversation with someone you really want to have as a friend. 

It reminds me a bit of Natalie Goldberg’s books on writing, or perhaps Anne Lamott’s. It’s not so much about how to write, as it is about how to open your mind and live as a writer, how to see the world through writer’s eyes and to translate it to the written word.

I think this book is worth its price alone for the chapter on writing exercises. Page after page of writing exercises, randomly arranged, writing exercises that open the imagination. Here’s just a few of them: 

•Use these three words in a sentence or brief paragraph: dream, heart, gold. 

•Light through her lace curtains, _________ as _____________.

•If your bed could talk, how would it describe you?

•Your favorite cup

Her “homework” for that chapter is to make up ten exercises of your own. In another chapter, one on “writing myths,” she challenges her own assertion about one of the myths she mentions, and asks you to try it yourself, to prove her either right or wrong. 

I love this book. I’m inspired simply reading it. I find myself itching to try the writing exercises, to try the homework in the other chapters, even to cook one of the recipes she shares. I want to keep this book close to me, and though I’ve never read anything by her before, I requested two of her novels from the library.

Understanding the Three Act Structure

Okay… there have been times before that I’ve expressed my distaste for the three act structure, as I previously understood it. Basically, I didn’t understand what differentiated Act II and Act III… I got the crossing of the point-of-no-return from Act I to Act II, but I was under the impression that Act III was just the “wrapping up” of the story. 

A couple of nights ago, I listened to the Writing Excuses podcast, which I’ve newly discovered, and absolutely love, and specifically, Season 2, Episode 8, which is on the three act structure. One of them (I haven’t been listening long enough to tell them all apart easily, and since I was listening before falling asleep, I’m a bit hazy on the details anyway) said that if he defined Act II as “try and fail, try and fail, try and fail,” he defined the crossing point from Act II as “try, fail, and learn” in that the characters have still failed what they were trying to do, but that they learned some critical piece of information that prepared them to go into the final battle and win.

I highly recommend you go listen to the podcast now, because there’s a lot of good information, it’s only 15 minutes long, and it’s free and easily accessible. 

The other source of information that I’ve found on Three Act structure is one of the writing books I checked out of the library last week, Write Great Fiction: Plot & Structure, by James Scott Bell. I’ve only read the first few chapters so far… he definitely has a knack for naming and defining elements of writing. 

His chapter on the three-act structure is a great example of that… he describes it as “A Disturbance and Two Doors.” The idea is that the disturbance happens in Act I. Up until the Disturbance, your protagonist (or what he calls the Lead) has just been living his or her life. Then the disturbance happens, and at that point, a door presents itself. If the protagonist doesn’t go through that door (basically, chooses to walk away from the conflict) then the rest of the story doesn’t happen. But if he or she does go through that door, then you’re in Act II. (And later, the second door takes you into Act III.) 

What I like about this view of it, is that walking through the door is something that the protagonist deliberately has to do… she has to make a choice.

One of the things I realized in writing my first draft of Dexter Moon is that far too often, Dexter and Marie seem to be just along for the ride… This bit of explanation cements that in my mind, and one of the things I’ll be focusing on in my revision is finding a way for Dexter to literally make that choice to walk through that doorway early on in the story.

When a character walks into a store…

Have you ever seen one of your characters in person?

I did, today.

I’m currently working in a toy store part time. Today, one of our customers was a woman, late thirties, with a young daughter, about three or so. She was checking out, and stayed, talking, for quite a while. I wasn’t actually helping her, I was doing something else while someone else helped her, but I was participating in the conversation, and as I looked at her, I thought… ‘you know, she looks a lot like Dexter Moon.’

It was a random thought, out of nowhere, but as soon as I thought it, I realized it was true… She had dark red hair, just past shoulder length, parted in the middle, and wore a simple black sweater with jeans and high-heeled (and I mean, stilletto spike heels) boots). It wasn’t so much what she was wearing (I can’t imagine Dex in those boots on her day off) but her whole attitude…professional-turned-mommy.

And then, just as I thought that, she leaned forward, and said, “you know, if I had known how much fun it is to have children, I would have had my daughter earlier.”

And that’s what blew my mind. Because fast-forward Dexter about 10 years, and I could perfectly imagine her there, in that woman’s spot, telling us all about how much she was looking forward to Christmas now that she had a child. There was nothing that woman said that couldn’t have equally well have come out of Dexter’s mouth. Again, in about ten years.

And it’s not something I’d ever thought about consciously… What Dexter would be like when she had kids, or where she would be ten years down the line. And I probably wouldn’t have realized the connection, in terms of her outlook, except that she had already reminded me slightly of Dexter physically. 

Crazy. And very cool.

The Emily Books

Well, rather than editing, I finished Emily’s Quest, by Lucy Maud Montgomery, tonight. 

I, like so many other women, grew up with the Anne of Green Gables series of books. Or rather, they grew up with me. I’ve read them all, most of them multiple times. As I grew up, different books spoke to me, as I empathized with different times in Anne’s life.

The only other book I’d ever read by Montgomery was Emily Climbs. Again, I’m not sure how that particular book made it into my own personal library, but I loved it–possibly more so than the Anne books–and read it over and over. 

It’s the middle book of three: Emily of New Moon, Emily Climbs, and Emily’s Quest. You can tell, when you read it. Many of the characters and relationships are not explained fully, and there are countless references to events in Emily of New Moon. It ends on a questioning note… the stories are not tied up completely, though there is a sense of where they are going. 

But mostly, it’s the story of a young writer. In the very first chapter of Emily Climbs, Emily sits in her room, “writing herself out” in her diary. In Emily of New Moon, the story is about Emily adjusting to her mother’s side of the family, whom she must go live with after her father passes away. The first chapter starts with a description of the home she shared with her father. 

But in Emily Climbs, the central conflict of the story is in Emily learning to be a writer. The phrase, “Emily Climbs” is a reference to a poem that Emily (As well as Montgomery herself) finds inspiration in… it tells of climbing an “Alpine path” to fame. The quoted lines:

Then whisper, blossom, in thy sleep
  How I may upward climb
The Alpine path, so hard, so steep,
  That leads to heights sublime;
How I may reach that far-off goal
  Of true and honoured fame,
And write upon its shining scroll
  A woman’s humble name.”

Emily is sent to Shrewsbury to attend High School with her friends… but in exchange must promise not to write “anything untrue” while she is there. She thinks it will be a very difficult thing, though her teacher and mentor thinks it will be very good for her writing. She is still able to write poetry, and character sketches, and essays, and almost everything that happens to her in the novel turns into fodder for her writing somehow. (Or it is not, which has its own significance.) She starts to gain some success as a writer, though it is not an easy path for her. 

I devoured Emily Climbs (which I greeted like the old friend it is) and Emily’s Quest, the third book in the series tonight. I have to admit that I don’t much like Emily’s Quest–it focuses far more on her romances, than on her experience as a writer. But there was a moment I did like, quite a bit. Montgomery clearly did quite a bit of planning for Emily’s Quest, because it follows through several throwaway references from Emily Climbs (at least, I’d thought they were throwaways). One of which was a letter from herself at 14 to herself at 24. In Emily Climbs, the contents of that letter are never revealed… she just mentions writing it in her diary. But in Emily’s Quest, when she turns 24, she reads it. It’s full of hope and dreams for her future self, a vision of herself married and a famous author, with everything she wanted at her feet. Emily at twenty-four, is none of those things, and had a rather bad year beside, and reads it, feeling very cynical about the letter, and her naive self who wrote it. And then something wonderful happens.

I’m 24 now, and at 14 I might have written exactly that sort of letter to myself. That moment in the story rang very true to me. 

Montgomery apparently saw much more of herself in Emily than in Anne, and in fact, apparently many of Emily’s experiences were taken from her own life. There’s sort of an interesting quality to the books, in that often the narrator addresses us as if we were reading the biography of, say, an author, and many of the stories are told as excerpts from Emily’s diaries.

A couple of links to finish us off… First, the text of Montgomery’s The Alpine Path: The Story of My Career, which I haven’t had a chance yet to read fully, but want to at some point. Second, though Emily Climbs was first published in 1925, meaning it’s not in the public domain yet in the U.S., it is in the public domain in places like Australia, meaning you can find the text online at Project Gutenberg Australia. (Most of the Anne books, by the way, can be found at the U.S.-based Project Gutenberg, if you’ve never stopped by.) Of course, if you’re not in Australia, or if you’d rather read the books on paper, you can probably find them just as easily at your local library, like I did.

Frustrations with Twilight and “The Girl in the dark alleyway.”

So, I’m reading, or rather listening to, Twilight very slowly, at least by my standards. If I’d had the book in my hand, I’m sure I’d have finished it the first night. It is engaging. As it is, I’m not quite halfway through, and starting to get frustrated with Bella, in part because she actually reminds me of me, but it’s like a reading about a funhouse caricature of me. I mean, really, can anyone be as clumsy as Bella is? I’m a klutz myself, and tend to trip a lot, but I don’t live my life in fear like she does. And speaking of, way to tell and not show, Stephenie Meyer. 

Also, I’m at the part of the book in which Edward is following Bella around and making sure that she doesn’t get killed, which is fine as far as it goes, but it reads a bit like Meyer was just trying to figure out different ways to put Bella in danger so that Edward could save her. The car on ice bit, that was fine. That worked very well in the story. But I groaned as Bella started walking around the wrong part of Port Angeles, because I knew exactly what was going to happen, and it did. No surprises there. I mean, honestly, if I had a dollar every time I got lost alone someplace, or had an uncomfortable encounter with a strange group of guys on the street, I’d have a nice little bundle of money. Enough to go buy a sweater, or something (keeping in mind that I buy the majority of my clothes at Target). But I’ve never needed to be saved by a vampire in a silver Volvo. Which, considering I don’t know any, is probably a good thing.

Look, Joss Whedon created Buffy the Vampire Slayer exactly because of these kind of situations in horror movies. Girl wanders around by herself, girl gets lost, then, depending on the kind of movie, girl gets killed, or girl gets saved from certain doom by the romantic hero in the nick of time. They’re so overused, they’re cliché, and the readers know, going into them, exactly what’s going to happen.

Can’t we all take a vow, as writers, right now, never to let that scene play out in our writing. I think that if we do, we just might save a future generation of readers from having to throw our books against the wall.

A day off…

Yesterday was a long, long day. And it came after a string of long days. Meh. This morning, therefore, I spent my time doing absolutely nothing on my “to do” list, and instead, sat and read and snuggled with Skittles.

Am feeling somewhat more refreshed now, but I still seem to not want to do anything. My mind is all jumbled. Hence, a post full of digressions and asides:

So, anyway, I went to the library, because I had a couple of books on hold waiting for me… Continue reading