Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Interview with Shawn Garrett, Editor of Pseudopod

Welcome to our first interview of audio month here at W1S1! This week I'm talking with Shawn Garrett, the editor of Pseudopod. Shawn gives us some great advice about submitting to Pseudopod, as well as podcasts and the horror genre in general.

From the Pseudopod website:
Pseudopod is the premier horror podcast magazine. Every week we bring you chilling short stories from some of today’s best horror authors, in convenient audio format for your computer or MP3 player.
Without further ado, on with the interview!

W1S1: What attracts you to the horror genre in general and Pseudopod's offerings in specific?

I read many genres as a youngster but found that I gravitated towards Horror/Weird/Supernatural as it had the strongest effect on me. I like that "horror" is something of a meta-genre in that almost any kind of story can become a horror story depending on the focus/intent of the author and what they choose to emphasize and I also like that horror as a genre encompasses so many approaches and styles: it can be quiet or loud, subtle or brash, highly emotional or coldly unfeeling, progressive or reactionary, realistic or fantastic.

With Pseudopod, my intent is to showcase as wide a variety of horror as is possible - I have my tastes just like anyone, and there are things I'm not fond of, but my general rule is that the story be "horror" - which as I've said can mean many things (and to many people) but to me means that the story's specific intent is to scare or disturb, regardless of whatever else it is trying to do, and that the author know that and direct or control their writing towards those ends.

W1S1: Are there things in a submission you look for specifically for a podcast that you might not look for in a print publication?

Yes - none of these is engraved in stone and we do violate these suggestions from time to time BUT people "listen" to fiction in a different way than they "read" fiction (a short example - the listener can't dawdle over a sentence and re-read it or consider it in depth - unless they want to stop or reverse the recording) so there are some general considerations we do look at (as I said, though, not set in stone):

plot driven stories work best in audio - too much description or flowery language, or something that's an overall mood piece, or even just dense, literary writing, may be harder for the listener to "track"

first person narration is a plus (or, if not first person, try to keep the number of important characters down to 3-4 tops - again, too many characters are hard to "track")

our word limit is almost totally sacrosanct - we pride ourselves on delivering a weekly story that runs no longer than 40 odd minutes at the most (many episodes are considerably less) - one way to think of it is this - our imagined standard listener is a commuter who wants to listen to something on their way home or to work and be able to finish it in that sitting.

In general if your story is told in a specific, distinctive voice, this is good, but if it's told in a specific distinctive voice/accent that is obscure or hard for us to fill (for example it *has* to be read in English with an Innuit accent and all Innuit words must be pronounced exactly for the desired effect) than there's a good chance we may pass.

Also, please keep in mind that Pseudopod *reads fiction*, we do not produce audio dramas and so we're not looking for audioplays or stories with sound effects, etc. Sometimes, if a story suggests some sound production, this may be attempted, but this is a decision made by the editors.

Also, please keep in mind that we, as a rule, do not have authors read their own work.

W1S1: How would you describe the submissions for Pseudopod? Are there trends that seem to be the major causes of rejection?

Well, there are cliches of the genre (that are too broad and long-lasting to be called "trends") and then there are faddish trends. On the one hand, I actually enjoy standard horror types and tropes and don't need *constant invention* to entertain me, but generally if we see something with a vampire or werewolf, it should either be approaching the topic from a very different direction than we're used to, or be written so well and focused on some generally underused aspect that I don't mind that it's basically a "vampire"/etc. story.

Standard cliches we get lots and lots of: "Narrator is the ghost/dead" and the related "Hunter is the Hunted" in which a monster or madman is unsuspectingly the prey of the "innocent victim". In general, I'd warn most young writers, and writers in general, away from the ironic surprise or riddle story unless you have a simply amazing one and are an accomplished enough writer to pull it off (or if it's written as a flash, which we're more forgiving of), simply because people are a lot more savvy nowadays and constantly on the lookout for hints. Not a big fan of "oh woe is me", long-suffering vampires (or soap-opera vampire clans) or sexy/young tween monsters or fights monsters. Also, serial killers/slashers are a hard sell to me. Also, please no fan fic or fan fic in disguise.

Current trends - zombies/zombie apocalypse (sorry, but now that seemingly everyone has imbibed Romero's basic zombie symbolism, everyone seems to think they can place a new spin on it without realizing that hundreds if not thousands of others are trying the same thing. We have podcast zombie stories on Pseudopod but generally they are singular takes on a specific approach and, once done, won't be repeated), apocalypse in general (a little more open to these but apocalypse stories have a tendency to just assume the horror of the situation and end up not aggressively emphasizing the horror as the point of the story, instead focusing on social commentary, etc.), lazy Bizarro (sorry, but an overly florid and "crazy" description of your lone acid trip where you ended up having sex with Super Mario is not "horror" - please go read some classic Surrealist/Dada or Absurdist fiction and figure out how to use those elements in a story - it may not be easy!) and, yes, Lovecraft pastiches (please realize that just because you've recently discovered Lovecraft does not mean that people haven't been discovering him for decades - many great writers like Ramsey Campbell and Thomas Ligotti grew their love of Lovecraft into their own distinct voices and styles. We can and do publish stories on Pseudopod that touch on Lovecraft but please try to make your Lovecraft story an exploration of his tone, themes or larger ideas and not a checklist of his creature and book names). I can also say that I'm not a big fan of "urban fantasy" or "paranormal romance" - the latter just seems to me to be romance writing with Dark Fantasy trappings (which is fine, but not horror) and the former seems to me more of an outgrowth of Dark Fantasy with a modern setting and "monsters" who serve the purpose of video game opponents. I'm not very hot on horror comedy.

In general, I'd say listen to any random, recent 4 episodes of Pseudopod (thus, a month's worth) to get an idea what we're buying.

W1S1: What do you like best about editing for PseudoPod?

I love the variety of stories that get submitted and I love being able to present new, established and classic authors to a wide audience and being able to present said variety of authors juxtaposed with each other. I love reading a submission and discovering a writer with a strong control of their material, strong style and voice and story conception. I love reading straight-up scary horror-comic-book yarns, subtle psychological or emotional explorations and thoughtful social commentary all presented in the horror story form.

W1S1: Do you have a wishlist for submissions you'd like to see more of? Or fresh ideas/themes you're drawn to?

We're open to podcast horror-noir or horror-crime stories and we don't get many of those (again, though, they must emphasize the "horror" - human or supernatural - and not just be tough guy mysteries) and we also have a penchant for grim and grisly survival tales (Men's adventure, like ARGOSY magazine used to publish, but with a dark edge - think Jack London). I would like to have more monster stories on Pseudopod but a good monster story (by my definition) is hard to write. I very much enjoy stories where the source of the weird is treated as something awful, unknown and unknowable, and marvelous and not looked at through a jaded, ironic, deconstructed or blase lens. I also very much prefer stories that grow out of normal human situations (think Matheson's "Duel") and feature settings of the real world as lived in ("write what you know") - I'm more likely to engage with a story set in a tenement district, hard-scrabble small-town or general suburbia than a fantasy setting or the realms of the super rich- and have hooks in real human emotion (but no too maudlin, please). I do like the occasional shot of over the top violence, gore or blasphemy but they generally have to be extremely well-written and conceived to get me to buy them.

In a sense, there's nothing we won't look at, as long as it's horror (and my assistant editors' teeth are grinding now, I'm sure) but please send us your A-game material. In general, we do try to give some critique to all rejections, so expect feedback even under the worst of circumstances.

A big thank you to Shawn for joining us and happy submitting to all the W1S1 participants!


  1. What a wonderful interview, Shawn and Stephanie. Tons of vaulable information. I especially liked the question and answer about the specific needs of a podcast journal versus a print journal--good to know. Thanks so much.

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