By Guest Author
Posted March 26, 2012
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by Kira Lerner
The EpiGuide community for webseries and webfiction produces the EpiCast—a monthly podcast that launched in November 2011. Hosted by Kira Lerner, the co-founder and current administrator of the EpiGuide, and Michael, who’s both a longtime community member and the author of the webserial Footprints, these EpiCasts are monthly guides to the latest in the world of original online entertainment.
When 1889 kindly asked us for a guest post about these podcasts, we decided that the best way to introduce the EpiCasts to you all was to create a mini-version of a typical episode—basically, just a conversation between two webfiction creators and community members chatting away and hopefully imparting some enjoyment and info at the same time.
Here’s a transcript of our session, which was recorded just prior to recording our most recent EpiCast episode (#005, already posted by the time this blog entry is published).
* * * * *
Kira: Hi everyone. Well, I guess we should start talking about how the EpiCasts began, and why.
Michael: Makes sense. What made you decide to produce these podcasts?
Kira: Honestly, until August 2011 I’d never have considering doing a podcast as a participant, much less creating and producing one for the EpiGuide. Which, I should say, is an online community devoted to webfiction and webserials of all sorts. Anyway, as I said, podcasting seemed anathema to me, since I’m fairly… what’s the right word? Reticent? Reluctant?
Michael: Shy, probably.
Kira: Right, okay. So yeah, I’m pretty shy, and I know people over at the Eppy may laugh because I usually seem more self-assured in my online persona, but yeah, I’m totally not that person in real life. But then the good folks at the Webfiction World podcast invited me to talk about writing marathons generally and WeSeWriMo—
Michael: By which she means Web Series Writing Month.
Kira:—Yes, thanks. See, this is why we work well together as co-hosts. We can read each other’s minds and step in when the other host (usually me) is suddenly inarticulate, helping to provide le mot juste.
Michael: Yeah, it works well even though we don’t have exactly the same style. Like I don’t think I’d’ve gone with le mot juste.
Kira: Hey don’t ask me why I can’t think of words like ‘shy’ but le mot juste pops up! Anyway, so the Webfiction World podcast—which I’m sure everyone reading this will know is now hosted by A.M. Harte and Greg X. Graves and produced by the Webcast Beacon Network—last August they invited me to talk about the WeSeWriMo project and doing the interview was surprisingly fun and engaging. At least after the first ten minutes or so, I wasn’t as nervous as I’d thought I’d be, which I guess is thanks in large part to the hosts. Couple months later I got to thinking about ideas to liven up the Eppy community and came to the idea of creating a more specific podcast, by which I mean specific to our corner of the web, which is a bit different from the Webfiction World’s focus. I guess for me, I realized that a) I didn’t hate the process, and b) I wanted to spotlight the EpiGuide as a hub, to find a way to bring us… to create something for the community to think about from month to month. And c) I wanted to talk about serials with someone interesting, which is why I thought of you, Michael.
Michael: Thank you!
Kira: Also because we’ve been around the community the longest, at least of the people who are still active. But what led you to say yes?
Michael: I think it appealed to me because it seemed like a necessary breath of fresh air for the EpiGuide. Because we’d really stopped publishing regular content, and it seemed like a very current way to produce original content that would get people talking. And on a personal level I liked the idea of being “forced” to pay attention and engaging with the entire community. ‘Cause it’s easy to work on my series (Footprints) and get feedback on that, and read the few series that I’m interested in, and that my friends produce, or whatever. So it was appealing in that it both opened up my perspective and created a new venue for stimulating discussion and making the EpiGuide more of a destination. Instead of just purely for serial promotion, which I think it’s always in danger of becoming just by the nature of what it provides.
Kira: You’re absolutely right, and I think that’s especially true for me since I haven’t been actively producing my own serial (About Schuyler Falls) for the last year.
Michael: Yes you are!
Kira: Well, okay, yes, now I am, in a behind-the-scenes sorta way, but I’ve been very off-and-on with my writing, and it’s very easy for me to detach due to my personality and various issues; very easy to pay less attention to the community even though I sort of run it, when I’m not actively producing my own serial. So even though I’m… I don’t have any episodes coming out currently, the podcast is re-acclimating me to the current scene—doing the recaps, focusing on the new serials coming out, and so on. Actually—well, this is kind of belated, but we should explain what our podcasts’ contents tend to be.
Michael: (laughs) Probably a good idea! We should’ve done that right from the start.
Kira: Yeah, my bad on that one. Okay, so first, after the intro, we recap installments of a bunch of different webserials—both ones whose writers submitted the recaps to us, which we always encourage, or serials we’ve made a point to find and recap on our own. Actually I think the latter’s been the case most of the time, isn’t it?
Michael: You mean having to search for new serials to recap? Yeah. I think that is true. I’d have to go back and look at our archives to see but my impression is that we’ve sought out serials specifically to find a wider selection, rather than just relying on the three or four people who submit materials each month.
Kira: Right, and this is probably to be expected since we’ve only just begun, really. In addition, we try not to recap the same series two EpiCasts in a row. We don’t want the listeners to be bored instead of getting introduced to a variety of serials. I mean, some people (very generously) send recaps each month but since time is limited—
Michael: We try to keep recaps to under twenty minutes or so, not always successfully.
Kira: Definitely not always successfully! So for that reason, we’ll usually give precedence to webseries or webserials—you know, we do both text and video series, by the way—that haven’t been in the spotlight yet. But if there’s room we’ll definitely try to include anyone who’s submitted material.
Michael: Yeah they should get rewarded for participating. Oh, we also should mention that even when we go looking for series to recap, we try mostly to find series whose writers have participated in the EpiGuide in some way. I mean, not just the series that get the most exposure…
Kira: By which, you’re talking about the series that have their message boards hosted with us, those are probably the most prominent at the Eppy.
Michael: Right, right. But though we do include those—
Kira: Actually as of this latest podcast (#005), we’ll have officially recapped all the series with EpiGuide-hosted forums.
Michael: No kidding, really? That’s a fun piece of trivia.
Kira: I should say, just the active series, obviously. The series on extended hiatuses are S.O.L., heh.
Michael: (laughs) So getting back to how we find series to recap, though we do include the more prominently placed serials, we also pay attention to the EpiGuide’s Site News area and the Web Buzz forum.
Kira: True. We want to encourage any writers or producers listening in to participate at the EpiGuide in some way. A serial has a better chance of being recapped or mentioned if you’re at least somewhat visible in our home turf.
Michael: But it’s not a necessity.
Kira: No, absolutely not. I know I’ve done news about MZP-TV shows, for example, and there’s also your recap of the webseries Husbands in the most recent episode. Which is definitely not promoting itself on the EpiGuide. Anyway, speaking of the different segments we do, it’d be interesting to see which ones are most or least popular. Probably the recaps aren’t hugely exciting, although maybe the fact that we add our commentaries to them adds some value.
Michael: I definitely think that keeps them from being just plain info that only appeals to the recapped series’ writers themselves. That’s why I like to keep them quick and add our commentary. We almost never read a submitted recap verbatim.
Kira: True, we’ll use those as guidelines, mostly, but—
Michael: —But we’ll always go back and read or watch the installments so we can come from a place of knowledge and add some relatively informed, um, commentary.
Kira: And also on the latest EpiCast that we just recorded, I did more of a review of one of the series along with recapping its recent storylines.
Michael: So getting back to our segments…
Kira: Okay, okay. Yet another reason Michael’s such a great co-host is that he sticks to the topic rather than letting me branch out into digressions too much.
Michael: In other words I never shut up and let you speak.
Kira: No, no, it’s a pleasure that you’re so energetic, and the words seem to come so easily for you. I feel like I’m constantly searching for things to say even when I know what I want to say. Anyway, back to the segments. In addition to “The Story So Far…” which is our recaps section, we usually have a news section focusing on new, returning or ending series announcements, interesting articles we’ve read, topics of interest we’ve come across, and so on.
Michael: And then we finish up with a discussion.
Kira: Right. So far we’ve found it very easy to yammer on about a specific topic, for example, awards, or our favorite/least favorite serial endings, or … what else am I forgetting?
Michael: We did a talk about platforms… you know, the HTML versus WordPress or blogging software discussion. What works for us as readers/audience members, and what works for us as writers, and so on.
Kira: Oh yeah, gosh I forgot about that already and that was just like an episode ago. Scary.
Michael: Speaking of what works for writers, getting back to what you were talking about earlier, the fact that you’re more invested in the writing world since doing these ‘casts… do you find that doing these ‘casts, having the responsibility of being involved, motivates you to work on your series?
Kira: Yes, definitely. Because sometimes I do think “Gee it’d be nice to be mentioned on one of these damn things!”
Kira: Even though we’d be sure to treat it like Footprints—not highlighted more than any other serial, just every few months. But it’d be great to at least have the opportunity, and the EpiCast definitely feels like a kind of golden prize. Which is either a big compliment to the EpiCasts or proof that I’m kind of pathetic. By the way, before you got involved with the EpiCast, did you, or do you, listen to any other podcasts?
Michael: I really don’t. I think it’s because I listen to music or audiobooks, so I haven’t discovered stuff and the podcast thing is sort of a new world for me.
Kira: There are just so freakin’ many!
Michael: Yeah, exactly, I think—similar to webseries in a way—there’s so many things to look at and so many are of… um… poor or sort of unpolished quality, that I get a little overwhelmed. I know I’ve listened to soap-related ones, but while they’re fine, I feel like I’ve spent time on something that wasn’t illuminating anything for me. So I don’t really have a ton of experience with podcasts, and I didn’t have much experience getting into this.
Kira: Of course I assume you listened to the episode of Webfiction World where I was on, right? Right?
Michael: Yes, I definitely did.
Kira: Now those podcasts are really well done.
Michael: They do a nice job of them. They’re structured, they’re clear…
Kira: That’s what I aspire to, whereas our own show kind of feels like an amateur hour compared to them. I think it helps that they have a separate producer. Doing everything from planning to recording to editing and adding music cues… that’s quite a major process. The Webfiction World podcast sounds impeccable compared to the EpiCast, I think. Though maybe there’s some, I don’t know, charm? –in how casual and, um, nonprofessional our ‘casts seem. At least that’s what I tell myself. Technically speaking, I know from when I was on the WeSeWriMo show, they had a lot of breaks, and I think they record things on different days. For example, in the middle of our episode—they always have a reading of someone’s serial—
Michael: Oh wow.
Kira: I know! But anyway in our episode there was a break where they’d insert the reading, which obviously wasn’t recorded at the same time as my interview. And by the way, that’s something I’d like to do, finding a good excerpt of a serial to read out loud. The segments we have now that we’ve mentioned—the recaps, news, then discussion—they’re great but we want to add more. Such as a reading.
Michael: Yes, or to spotlight a single serial in-depth.
Kira: Precisely, that’s one of the things we’d talked about for the future as we start to get more into the groove of things here. We’re still feeling our way around a bit.
Michael: Ideally it would be great to combine interviews and readings. To have someone on as a guest, and then have them do a reading from their work—or we would do it—and then use that as a sort of jumping-off point of discussion. So instead of just reading something without it having any context, or any connection to what we’re discussing, the reading would maybe be specifically chosen to fit in with what we want to talk about.
Kira: I’d love that. The context thing is especially important because I think readings by themselves might not offer enough of a… a sense of what the serial’s about, or what the author is thinking, and so on. Your idea would let listeners really get a good feel for the series itself. Also, just having a third voice to listen to would probably be a relief after hearing both of us chatting in their ear for an hour!
Michael: Yup. So eventually we want to mix things up so each show’s not too predictable, with the same segments over and over. Fortunately we haven’t run out of topics, but we should put in a plug to ask people what they’d like to hear us talk about?
Kira: Great idea. If anyone reading this has an idea for a topic, let us know! Same thing with questions. Actually that’s another segment we’ve added, listener questions. For example, one of our listeners asked us about awards, and so that’s how we came up with discussing that particular topic.
Michael: Also on another episode we were asked about our most-missed serials, which led into that discussion about serials from years ago.
Kira: Holy crap, I forgot about that one too. Old age is a terrible thing. So yes, we get a lot of ideas from our listeners. I’d definitely like more precipitation—
Kira: (laughs) Participation. I mean yeah, it’d be great to have some rain in here, maybe some snow… No but seriously, another one of our ideas is to have an entire a call-in episode. Though we’d need to learn how to handle that, technically speaking.
Michael: There’d be a learning curve for sure. Speaking of which, what do you think we’ve learned along the way? What’s the difference from the first EpiCast to the fifth one?
Kira: Well first of all we’ve gotten smoother as a team, I’m almost certain of that. I think we’ve found a good rhythm.
Michael: Yes. We’ve meshed with each other and feel way more comfortable than in that first episode.
Kira: Totally. I mean, it’s weird because we’ve known each other for like..
Michael: Fifteen years!
Kira: Oh my God. And yet we’d only spoken once or twice before, when…
Michael: …when we briefly worked for a lunatic. Long story.
Kira: Ha! So in addition to the improved interactions between us, and probably getting through segments more quickly, another thing we’ve learned is how to add some constructive criticism. Not that we’ve done a huge amount, other than little bits of snark that we add to the recaps of the more ridiculous plots—now I’m saying that with affection, everyone—in many of the serials. That said, advice and critiques aren’t a huge part of the podcast but we’re trying to integrate them a little more, from the vantage point of readers or audience members as well as writers. I mean, as we said, between the two of us we have thirty years of experience—
Michael: Oh God, that is literally longer than I’ve been alive!
Kira: Oy. I wish I could say the same thing. So we will get more into critiques and tutorials and advice, that sort of stuff. As long as we don’t sound like we’re sitting on some mountaintop making proclamations from on high…
Michael: I think the best way to come at that, particularly about critiques, is exactly what you said—that we’re speaking about this from the perspective of a reader or audience member. This’d be a respectful way of offering feedback without sounding too superior. Just sort of, “you’re putting out something that has an impediment to my enjoying your serial, here’s a possible solution.”
Kira: That’s very very true. We want to avoid sounding snobby but we do have a lot of experience following online entertainment, so why not share our thoughts that might help someone, right?
Michael: Yeah, I think we’ll be getting into that soon.
Kira: Another thing I’ve learned, personally, is the technical side of putting these ‘casts together. Using the various software programs, picking music that’s podcast-safe (easy enough to do since I’m going exclusively with Jonathan Coulton, whose music is all Creative Commons), dealing with levels, updating the various feeds and so on. But … okay, so what else have we learned?
Michael: We’ve learned how to end instead of going on and on.
Kira: (laughs) And speaking of which, let’s wrap up. In summary, we hope everyone reading will listen in and give us a try. There’s something for everyone whether you’re a reader, viewer, writer or producer. Also since we want to be representative of the whole world of webfiction and webseries and so on, it’d be great to have a more interactive feel. People should feel free to submit stuff to us, either questions or topics or even your feedback about a recent installment of a serial you’re reading or watching.
Michael: The best part of that is, the more you guys submit, the less work we have to do.
Kira: Always our Machiavellian goal. Anyway, thanks very much to 1889 Labs for providing us the opportunity to spread the word about the EpiCast! Hope you’ll all check us out.
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