Interview with Speculate!

Today I’ll be talking to Bradley P. Beaulieu and Gregory A. Wilson, fantasy authors and co-hosts of Speculate! The Podcast for Writers, Readers, and Fans.

SCy-Fy: Thanks to both of you for coming in. How do you prepare for a show?

BB: In our triptych model, our patented cycle of three shows, we read a work, whether that’s a novel or a collection of short stories, or an issue of a magazine, and then record a reader response show, an interview with the author(s), and a writing technique show. We have some one-offs as well, like roundtables, state-of-the-field shows, and artist or editor interviews.

We generally follow the same approach in terms of preparation for any of our shows. Greg and I both prepare a list of questions separately, and compare notes only when we come together for the show. We have a bit of overlap sometimes, but we generally find that asking about the things that interest us each the most leads to the most interesting shows, and that it’s better to go through that process without the influence of what the other person is thinking.

GW: I’ll add that we also spend time between recordings chatting via E-mail, occasional Skype and phone conversations and face to face conversations at conventions about both short and long term planning for the show – it’s important to be preparing not just for each individual set of episodes, but for the direction of the show over time. And of course, we’re always on the lookout for new material and new guests.

SCy-Fy: What are your future initiatives?

GW: At the moment we’re focusing quite a bit on growing our Patreon; we have a number of cool milestone goals, including a podcast addressing some of the questions you want to ask us today. And the more support we get, the more we’ll be able to add additional content and make other improvements (upgrading our website, for example).

We’re also continuing to try to build critical attention and (we hope) acclaim; we’d love to get a nomination for the Best Fancast Hugo this year, for instance, so we’ve reached out to folks on our website and elsewhere for that support. Otherwise, we’re going to continue to try to get great guests and provide interesting, thoughtful analysis of the works and authors in the speculative fiction field.

BB: We’re constantly talking about trying new approaches to the show as well. In our reader response episodes, for example, we’ve talked about having champions of the work join us for a discussion—maybe people that provided quotes for the book, or even the editors of the work. We haven’t yet recorded a poetry-only episode, but we’re planning on hosting one soon. We hope we can keep changing to try to bring our listeners content they can enjoy.

SCy-Fy: What do you think will be the major challenges for podcasts in future?

BB: I think the primary challenge will be the ever-shrinking bandwidth of our audience. With the continued creation of all sorts of new content, and new types of content, all of which competes for people’s attention, it’s hard to differentiate yourselves. Those that don’t, who fail to find their niche, will get lost in the shuffle. So I think the key is to do what you do well, and to find ways to stand above the crowd, whether that’s with the content, the guests, the style of the show, or some combination of all three.

GW: I agree entirely with this. As always, the key is to grow your audience by doing what you do well, and continuing to improve upon what that is, rather than trying to constantly reinvent yourselves. That, plus consistent quality over time, is the key to keeping a podcast relevant.

SCy-Fy: What advice would you give anyone presenting a podcast?

GW: Approach it as you would anything else you really care about: professionally. Bandwidth is cheap and access easy, but that means everyone else can produce stuff too, and that in turn means it’s hard to rise above the white noise unless you prove you’re better than the white noise.

Just as you would prepare for a face to face interview or live presentation by doing research, dressing the part and representing yourself in a professional manner, you need to do the same when it comes to something like a podcast: excellent audio quality, professional presentation – leave the profanity and crude jokes at home – and consistent content. If you want to be taken seriously as a professional, you need to represent yourself that way in everything you do, including on the internet.

BB: For those just starting out, just like you would prepare for a speech, I’d recommend not overpreparing. Gather your thoughts and jot down high-level notes, but then try to keep the conversation, well, conversational. Make sure it feels like a conversation and not a prepared speech. Your listeners will thank you for it.

SCy-Fy: What has been your most useful resource?

BB: Ha! I’m going to go with finding a competent audio editor. Greg and I were doing this ourselves for roughly the first 100 episodes. It’s a painstaking process if you’re particular about the final product – and we are – so we feel very fortunate to have found a good one to edit our shows from the raw audio we deliver to him.

GW: Amen to that, a thousand times. Our audio editor Eric has done a tremendous job, and the Patreon’s been worth it for that alone; if you can afford an audio editor, it makes the podcast work much easier. Beyond that, you could also look at other valuable podcasts which are SFF related – like SF Signal, or Writing Excuses. And certain forums, like Codex or Backspace, are useful resources for writers in speculative fiction as well.

SCy-Fy: Points to watch out for?

GW: I’ve mentioned it already, but it bears repeating: consistency, consistency, consistency. Nothing is worse than going dark for months at a time, succumbing to the dreaded “podfade”—your audience will abandon you in short order, not because they’re fickle but because they’ve been burned by podcasts which couldn’t be professional enough to stick to a reasonable schedule. 125 episodes and over four years in, we’re proud that we’ve been able to release good shows consistently over a significant period of time, and we think it helps build loyalty in our audience and encourages them to spread the word about the show to others.

Beyond that, you need to communicate to your listeners; if you are going to be “off-air” for a while, explaining (within reason) ahead of time why and for how long will help mitigate the fall-off in listeners.

BB: Since we’re a two-man show, I’ll comment on that by saying, I like that Greg and I don’t compare notes. I also like that we don’t talk to the author before we do our reader response show. It allows us to talk more freely about what came to us during the read, rather than just parrot each other, or worse, the author him- or herself.

SCy-Fy: Things that have kept you going in hard times?

BB: I think it’s the relationships we’re creating that keeps me going. We’re certainly not getting paid for this gig, and sometimes the constant search for new content is wearying, but on the flip side, it’s really fun talking to authors, sitting down with them for the better part of an hour to learn their secrets. It’s also fun to pick apart a story to see what makes it work. And I also like that the show keeps me reading. I’d probably not do as much as I am without it.

Plus, writing is a really lonely endeavor. Frankly, it’s just nice to have some time with Greg to sit and talk shop once in a while, to reach beyond the boundaries of my cold little office to talk to someone who loves this stuff as much as I do.

GW: The show’s growth has been slow but steady; on our bad days we worry about the slow, and on our best days we celebrate the steady! What keeps me going through it all is the knowledge that we’re putting out a good and valuable show, that we’re helping shape the discourse and discussion within our genre, and that we’re getting to meet a group of incredibly inspiring and creative people (and learn from them) and talk about their work with the listeners.

Beyond that, as Brad says, getting a chance to regularly chat with a friend and fellow writer who really gets this business is a continual pleasure. (I do suspect Brad’s office is a little colder than mine is most of the time, which is what he gets for living in Wisconsin.)

SCy-Fy: Any controversy so far?

GW: No, although there have certainly been strongly worded opinions which elicited reaction. Betsy Wollheim, Brad’s editor at DAW, had some strong things to say about self-publishing, and we certainly had some equally strong feedback for that show!

BB: Agreed. We’ve had a great run of guests, some of whom, as Greg mentioned, have had strong opinions, but that didn’t take away from their shows; it only added to them. And Greg and I don’t always agree on a work we’re reviewing, but we talk about those differences during the show, comparing and contrasting our opinions, and it works out pretty well in the end.

SCy-Fy: The most popular show you’ve presented? Your personal favourite?

BB: I think the most popular one we’ve had (Greg, correct me if I’m wrong), was Episode 24, our video interview of Pat Rothfuss a few years back. Looking at our guests lists, you might have been able to predict that…

Personal favorite? We’ve had a lot of fun shows, but if forced to pick one, I’d probably say Episode 102, where Peter V. Brett and Brent Weeks talk comics. It was a fun show because all four of us are into comics, and it was cool getting a behind-the-scenes look at some of the projects they had cooking.

GW: Yep, I think Episode 24 was the most popular, though there have been a host of others which got lots of attention—our interview with Jim Butcher, or the chats we had with Brent Weeks and Brandon Sanderson were particularly popular. As for my favorite, I think it might be a tie between Episodes 87-88, our interview with Scott Lynch (a really interesting, witty guy), Episode 81, our interview with Lauren Beukes (who had some really fascinating things to say about her identification with her characters and the search for justice in her fiction), and Episode 23.5, our video interview with Ed Greenwood (whose enthusiasm is infectious).

SCy-Fy: Which forthcoming books, films and TV shows are you most looking forward to reading or watching?

GW: I’m looking forward to reading some poetry next, actually, specifically the work of Bryan Thao Worra as we gear up for a show on SFF poetry. And I’m looking forward to re-reading The City and the City by China Miéville, a book which blew me away when I read it a couple of years ago and which we’ll be tackling on a future show. As for films, I’m pretty excited about the new Avengers movie; I was very impressed with the first one, and I think I’ve almost caught up on my superhero film watching now! I don’t watch much TV, but I actually have started watching a bit of The Flash and Arrow…I’m a bit behind the times, but that’s what Netflix is for!

BB: I just heard today about Ernest Cline’s Armada, his follow-up to Ready Player One, a book I enjoyed immensely. Armada seems to be written in the same nostalgic vein, so I’m really looking forward to this one.

I’m fearful that the new Star Wars films won’t do Eps. IV – VI justice, but I’m hopeful. I don’t have the same fears about J.J. Abrams as some do, but I also realize he may trip and bungle the new movies. Crossing fingers for some cool new films there.

I’m very curious to see how Paolo Bacigalupi’s The Water Knife does when it comes out in May. After the success of The Windup Girl, expectations are astronomically high, especially after the blockbuster deal he signed with Knopf to publish the book.

SCy-Fy: Anything to add?

BB: Only a quick appeal for people to give the podcast a listen, and if they like what they hear, to visit our Patreon page to see if they might be interested in supporting the show.

GW: Yes indeed—and thanks so much for the interview!

SCy-Fy: Thanks to both of you. And good luck with everything!

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