“The Answer” — Strangely Literal 075

I recently had the pleasure of reading the fan fiction story “The Answer” for the Strangely Literal podcast, Episode #075. It’s a beautifully written story based on the final episode of Dollhouse, Season One.

If you enjoy fan fiction, or simply like to have a story read to you, please drop by for a listen. If you like what you hear, you can subscribe to Strangely Literal in iTunes or the podcatcher of your choice.

ABtL: From Audition to Assignment, Pt. 2


[Return to Pt 1]

Once the thrill of being selected as a member of the general cast wore off a little, it was time to get to work. On the application that accompanied my audition recordings I had ticked the box that said I’d upgrade my microphone if I joined the team. For this I requested my son’s help, and he set me up with a Shure microphone on a heavy stand, an Edirol USB sound card for input and output, and he gave me a few tips on using the free sound software, Audacity.

Cast members are all required to assume more than an acting role and are offered various choices of areas they can help with, such as writing, sound mixing, special effects, artwork for the series, original music, podcasting about the series, and other forms of publicity. I chose writing and blogging. Not scripts for the show, but any small bits of writing I could contribute.

My first writing assignment was to write a radio commercial for Blue Sun Chinese Takeout, the food place that figures prominently in the first episode of Angel Between the Lines, “Curioser and Curioser.” So far it’s not been used, but I had fun writing it, and it made me feel part of the team. Next, several of us were given the group line, “To Lorne!” in Episode 1 — toasting Lorne with our drinks

The procedure is this: you record your line(s) three times, changing the delivery each time so the producers can pick the one that sounds best to them in the context of the story. There’s a specification for the type of MP3 file to create, and instructions on how to name it and where to ftp it. The producers and sound engineers then have the enormous job of putting it all together. I think I heard Tabz say once that there are over 100 people involved in a major episode, filling something like 200 roles. Some of the actors are also writers, producers, directors, or sound specialists.

The lead actors have a big show to record. Those of us in the general cast supply minor characters and crowds, where needed. In one of the episodes I play a dying demon. In another, a New York-raised “gansta.”

Some lines are recorded solo, and some are recorded in a group setting, via Skype. In the group sessions one member of the cast, always an experienced voice actor, is selected as director. The director listens for pacing, technical flaws such as poorly placed microphones, incorrectly delivered lines, and suggestions to specific actors on how they might improve their delivery. For novices like me, this is invaluable.

The whole operation works rather like an open-source software project. No one is paid, no one makes any money from the work, and Joss Whedon, who is aware of the series, has always been generous in allowing fans to write fictions based on his shows, as long as nothing commercial takes place that would violate copyright.

Angel Between the Lines will consist of 12 full episodes, plus extras. Extras include recorded feedback discussions about each episode, special smaller episodes, and some surprises. This season’s production, behind the scenes, has just passed the half-way mark, and, as mentioned, the first full episode, “Curioser and Curioser,” has been released. There is also a set of side stories called “Stories from Wolfram & Hart,” being written by some outstanding SF&F writers.

I hope, if you read this, that you’ll give the episode a try and, better yet, subscribe to the podcast, which will bring all the episodes and specials to your preferred audio device. As I said in Pt. 1, the young people who put this together are my heroes. It’s damned inspiring to see how they’ve taken fan fiction to such an incredibly sophisticated level, using the Internet to produce a new type of entertainment. Imaginative, creative, and wholly refreshing. Can you spell T-A-L-E-N-T? Kudos to the producers, writers, directors, actors, sound people, friends, supporters, and thanks to all of you who listen and provide feedback!

ABtL: From Audition to Assignment, Pt. 1


No one was more surprised than me when I became a voice actor. It’s not something I’d ever considered doing, though people have told me all my adult life that I had a good “radio voice” whatever that means.

What strange set of circumstances could lead a retired 64-year-old to become a voice actor?  A mix of curiosity, Joss Whedon, and the Internet. Plus my heroes: the young women and men who are using the Internet in creative, zestful, imaginative ways that could never have been foreseen when I was their age. It’s their story, really, but first I’ll trace how I found them.The tale begins with Buffy the Vampire Slayer. My son’s girlfriend, K, mentioned how good Buffy was, and how great Joss Whedon is as a writer, director, and general creative talent. “Joss who?” I asked. She looked at me dumbfounded. “You don’t know Joss Whedon?” She then rattled off a bunch of his works that I’d likewise never heard of.

What can I say? I quit watching TV years ago, except for the occasional BBC mystery, and I’m not a movie buff. Still, I’m curious about things and thought that since I knew next to nothing about the pop culture of the past thirty years, perhaps I could try watching some of it, to see if I could relate.

The thing about K — she’s really smart. And she loves Terry Pratchett’s Discworld novels as much as I do. She insisted that if I liked Terry Pratchett, I’d probably like Joss Whedon. That was the perfect sales pitch. I checked out Buffy Season One from the local library system (I didn’t want to pay for disappointment), and my wife and I watched the first couple of discs.

We were totally smitten. Totally grabbed by the concepts, relationships, snappy writing, excellent acting, and unfolding journey of growth and meaning. I returned Season One to the library and ordered the seven season box set from Amazon.

We tried to pace our viewing, but became so addicted we finished the entire seven seasons within a month.  Well, if Buffy was that good, perhaps we should check out Angel as well. Angel was a spin-off from the Buffy show and was also produced by Joss and his excellent core of writers and directors.

I purchased the box set of five seasons of Angel and we watched that too, in addition to watching all the way through Buffy a couple more times. At this point we had become entrenched in what fans refer to as the “Buffyverse” and, more broadly, the “Jossverse.”

Next, I heard a podcast — did I mention I love podcasts? — in which one of my favourite podcasters, Dr. Ginger Campbell (Brain Science Podcast, Books and Ideas Podcast), posted an interview with Tabatha Grace Smith. Tabatha Grace Smith (Tabz), along with Kim Butler, had created and founded an audio drama series called Buffy Between the Lines.

BBtL episodes are fan fiction (fanfic) dramas based on incidents that “might have happened” in the summers between the regular seasons of Buffy. Tabz, writer/producer, wrote the initial scripts for the series while Kim, co-producer, sought out the voice talent. Together they enlisted other writers, artists, actors, musicians, sound engineers, and directors who volunteered their time to create the episodes.

As Spike said on Halloween Night, “That’s just … neat!” so I immediately subscribed to the BBtL podcasts. I was amazed that a group of volunteers from around the world could use the Internet to create such good, imaginative, high-quality productions. I became a big fan of the podcast.

Another thing about the interview that stuck with me is that Dr. Campbell, a podcaster of very serious material, talked about the fun she’d had with a small role she’d acted in one of the episodes. I had an Oz “Huh!” moment. It never occurred to me that people without an acting background might voice some of the narrative.

Some time after that — last autumn in this universe — a BBtL season two podcast announced auditions for the next drama series: Angel Between the Lines. The announcement was friendly and encouraging and I wondered if I might be able to help out and participate in a bit-player kind of way.

After some reflection, I thought “Naw,” but when the deadline neared I changed my mind and thought “What the heck? Even auditioning would be kinda fun.” So I used a cheap headset mike to record the audition lines, trying out for “General Cast” which means crowd scenes, the odd dying demon, and such. I never expected to be selected.

Then the email arrived. I’d been selected as a member of the General Cast, and was given access to the schedule and the files. I was gobsmacked.

[Continue to Pt. 2]

Early Autumn Morning

Too Early for Suz

Autumn is a tricky season. It beguiles with its charms, its rich palette of earthy reds, yellows, maroons, and browns. A photographer’s dream. Crisp air for crisp walks — even dog owners speed up their pace.

But Autumn is beauty tinged with melancholy. An ending. A showy climax, then a long denouement  leading to winter, to sleep, to cold.

The best part of autumn, for me, is the delayed sunrise, that most special time of day that is too quick and early in the summer. In autumn I can rise before the sun and watch it break over the harbour.

Autumn light is different. More diffuse, less stark. Clouds build on the horizon, bunched in folded layers in the direction of Rochester, across the lake, and the sun has to lift itself over them before spreading its light.

The sun is mellow and in its glow I forget the melancholy.

Taking a Break

Ornamental Grasses

Constancy may be a virtue, but it’s a damned boring one

I stick to a daily routine because it makes me more efficient at getting things done, like walking, writing, and photography. Add to those the little projects I assign myself: re-learn some French, maybe pick up a little Spanish, read such and such novel and this other author’s short stories. Do some cooking and maybe explore a new recipe. Check out a TV series that’s new to me. Get the guitar out of the closet and work up some calluses. See some friends. Go to Toronto to visit some of the sites. Email friends and colleagues, and maybe post something on one of those social websites. Read some science and tech stuff. What about using LaTeX to typeset a book? How’s that working out? Does it embed fonts into its PDF. Oh yeah, a bunch of new podcasts came in and there’s that jazz album I haven’t listened to in a long time …

Like everyone else, I’m juggling this and that and occasionally (often, really), dropping pins. Most of the time it doesn’t matter much. But every so often I hit the wall. Bam!

Then, instead of pressing forward, I want to withdraw. No, amend that. I need to withdraw. And I do. I recently posted an image on Flickr that said “Time for a Break, Be back soon” and instead of posting new daily images, I’ve simply dropped photography for awhile. I’ve dropped seeing friends for awhile too. Not because I don’t enjoy seeing them, but because I’m overwhelmed. The world is with me too much, too soon.

I have to step back, relax, and simplify. I deliberately slow down in everything except writing. Except for immediate family, I become a hermit to the world. It doesn’t bother me to do this because I have built-in hermit tendencies anyway. Essentially I’m a hermit who likes people. How weird is that?

So, call these withdrawal states what? Hermit attacks? The way other people have panic attacks?

I can always tell when they’re approaching. My photography goes stale. When I’m on, I can walk the same paths I always do and always, every day, see new things to photograph. It’s possibly my one photographic gift, to see the new in the familiar. When I’m on, the world around me resonates with images, and I pick and choose a few from them.

Then I start going through periods where I don’t see much to photograph. It gets worse. I reach the point where I don’t even care if I see anything or not, and quit carrying a camera around. Hermit alert! Downtime required.

And that’s where I am right now. Hermit mode, waiting for a reboot. However, looking out the window of Starbucks today, I’m starting to see some interesting images. And I brought along a camera. The pendulum may be swinging back.

Some people are manic-depressive. I’m expansive-contractive. Like a subatomic element that one moment is a wave, the next a particle, existing in two contradictory states, depending on the observer. Like a photon. The stuff photography is made from.

Living in Heisenberg Uncertainty. The universe is a strange place. But it photographs well.

Self-publishing a Book with LyX


I write 1000 words in my journal nearly every day. Some days I miss, and other days I write up to 2500 words or more.  The result is that I produce between 25,000-30,00 words a month of personal observations, notes, story ideas, rants, and records of what’s going on with the family — a hodgepodge of private material where I feel free to write anything I want. Material never intended for anyone else to read. My writing compost heap, as it were.

A year’s worth of this journalling produces the equivalent of a novel in terms of length. It recently occurred to me that there was nothing to prevent me from turning this into a privately printed paperback, through a self-publishing site such as Lulu.com. I can think of a few reasons for doing this: it’s easier for me to dig out material I’ve written if I can see it on the printed page, it can become part of my family legacy after my demise, and it’s a good exercise in book creation. Above all, it’s a reward for my efforts. I can have three or four copies printed so I can mark up one of them and keep the others from getting dog-eared.

Once I’d decided to proceed, the next decision was what software to use. I’m not a fan of Microsoft Word for long documents. It’s feature rich, but sometimes unstable. Open Office Writer is a better choice. But better than either is LyX, a graphical front end to the LaTeX publishing system. The typeset ouput from LaTeX is superb, with exceptionally fine font kerning, and there are several well-defined book classes to select from. I’m working with Book (Memoir), a newer class that’s highly adjustable.

My Dell Mini 10V netbook is a dual-boot Windows/Linux computer and I prefer to work with LyX in Linux because it’s easy to set up all the LaTeX components. In Ubuntu you simply select and install LyX from a menu of installable programs, and everything else you need gets installed along with it.

LyX uses several LaTeX utilities in the background to create final output, including excellent PDF, the format preferred by Lulu. I’ve set my book size at 6×9″ and have re-learned how to create master-child documents so I can work on each month in a separate LyX file. LaTeX has a strong indexing module, so I intend to index my journal fairly extensively. Things like family events, camera equipment notes, writing ideas, health notes — things I want to locate easily.

So far I’ve set and edited January and February 2009 but I’ve not yet started the indexing. Is all this effort worth it? For me, yes, though I can understand how others might prefer to access their journals electronically. I like having a physical book in hand. I’ll post updates on this project as it progresses.

Addendum, 5 Oct 2009

I realized that my journal might make too fat a book for the binding at 6×9″, especially after indexing, so I’m beginning to think 8.5×11″ and double-columned.