Wednesday 22 March 2017
It’s been brewing for a long, long time, and it’s almost ready.
Since we released the first six episodes of Alba Salix, Royal Physician at the end of 2014(!), we’ve been watching the download numbers climb steadily. It’s been hugely gratifying to know that our little show is finding fans even though the most recent episode came out two years ago. Life, meanwhile, has gotten in the way time and time again, to the point where listeners wondered if the show was coming back.
We’ve been moving along on scripts all this time, but strangely enough, it’s only now that producer Sean and I are newly married and about to move house, for heaven’s sake, that we’re kicking off an all-new batch of stories from Alba’s world.
This week, after a hilarious night in the studio (read: Julian’s spare room) and a hectic day of editing, we’ve just released a three-and-a-half-minute mini-episode called “Krankel Abroad”. There’s a follow-up on the way, too, this one written by Sean. And this weekend we’re going into the studio for a day to record six episodes of the long-promised spinoff The Axe & Crown.
Alba is finally underway once more. Stay tuned for a big announcement regarding Season Two!
Thursday 1 October 2015
I’m not terribly good on boats.
I’m pretty sure my partner Sean still has my claw marks in his arm from the time we got stuck in a storm on a friend’s sailboat. I’ve been on ocean ferry rides where the pain and nausea sent me fleeing for the relief of a Gravol-induced stupor.
So when the hosts of my favourite writing podcast, Writing Excuses, announced that their Out Of Excuses Retreat was going to move to a cruise ship this year, I was just a little bit crushed.
I’ve listened to the show for years now, and I can’t think of a single show, book or website that’s taught me more about the craft of storytelling. The four hosts (Brandon Sanderson, Mary Robinette Kowal, Howard Tayler and Dan Wells) tackle pretty much every topic a speculative fiction writer could ever want, and all in concise, focused episodes — “fifteen minutes long,” as their tagline says, “because you’re in a hurry and we’re not that smart.”
I’d wanted to attend their retreat since its first year, but could I handle the water? I did a bit of research and heard a lot of reassurances about the smoothness and stability of cruise ships. The end to my dithering came swiftly as the guest instructors were announced: Nalo Hopkinson! Ellen Kushner and Delia Sherman! Daniel José Older! All right, twist my arm, I said, bracing myself as I put down my money.
Well, I’m back, and of course I needn’t have worried. The trip was awesome.
Sunday 18 May 2014
After three years of development, writing, recording and post-production, Alba Salix, Royal Physician is about to pull into the home stretch. Four of the six episodes are complete, and the two remaining ones are written and ready to record.
You can help! Spread the word, or contribute to our our Indiegogo campaign to help us cover studio and production costs.
The tiny kingdom of Farloria has an even tinier medicare system. There just aren’t enough hours in a day for head witch Alba Salix to tend to the Royal Family and the everyday citizens of the capital. But help is on the way — in the form of a troublesome young apprentice and an absent-minded fairy.
Season One of Alba Salix consists of six half-hour episodes, which we hope to launch via podcast and free download. If all goes well, we have plenty of ideas for Season Two.
Friday 25 October 2013
And just like that, the Most Beautiful Dog was gone.
Not only was Mikka beautiful, he was the Pointiest Dog: a smallish Karelian with a blaze of white running down his narrow muzzle and a peculiarly foxlike turned-up nose. His Spitz tail was a silly, spring-loaded curl that bobbed from side to side as he trotted along the street. His stare was hypnotic, and usually employed in winning treats from us or from friends or little old ladies at the park.
He was a Juggling Dog, too. When Sean and I first met the boy, we watched him fling a toy in the air, bounce it off his nose, then go bounding after, and we were ready to take him home right then and there. Mikka never saw the point of playing fetch (and let’s not even talk about agility games), but give him a good squeaky ball and he was hilariously happy on his own.
Saturday 31 March 2012
It’s almost time for another Script Frenzy, the worldwide writing challenge that goes on for the entire month of April. Last year, I “won” by hammering out over a hundred pages’ worth of first drafts for Alba Salix, a huge step in bringing the series to fruition.
Yes, Alba is now in production. We have a great cast, drawn from the friends and acquaintances I’ve made in community theatre over the past few years, and a couple of weeks ago they reunited to hear our pilot episode and read through the next two scripts. I’m incredibly grateful to them all for their time, versatility and enthusiasm for the project! We may even be able to record the rest of the episodes in a proper studio, rather than a dining room lined with mattresses and blankets.
Post-production on the pilot was lengthy but fun, and involved a good deal of me smashing and banging things in the basement in front of a microphone. I didn’t have a good gauge of how many words the episode should be, but I’m aiming for an even 28 minutes, which it turns out means about 5,200 words. We ran well over that mark, which meant having to trim pretty much everything that wasn’t essential or at least amusing, a really useful exercise in tightening up a script.
I can still hear holes, though: missed opportunities for jokes, dialogue that’s too on-the-nose, scenes that lack focus. Being able to recognize those is a big help in punching up the newer scripts. My rough estimate is that Episodes 2 and 3 are nearly 50% funnier as a result. And having listened to the piece literally dozens of times as I assembled the dialogue, music and effects, I can now hear all the main characters’ voices as I write further episodes.
All of which brings me back to Script Frenzy. I’ll be working on some new Alba stories this coming month, and possibly some sketch comedy if I feel like a change. There’s even a vague and nebulous show concept codenamed “Frequencies” or “the 1980s show” that’s been rolling around in my head for a long time. I don’t know where it’s going exactly, but it’s dawning on me that the best template for it is something like The Great Eastern, one of my favourite CBC shows, which aired in the late ’90s and purported to be from Newfoundland’s own public broadcaster, the BCN.
Along the way I’m hoping to get some blogging done too. This site has been pretty quiet for the past few years, but as I get time I’ll share some of my experiences and wild-eyed theories around the writing process. And I’m hoping to get to more Toronto-region Frenzy events too.
Time to tidy the house and get ready to buckle down. April is going to be fun.
Saturday 17 March 2012
Subject: Uh oh
I sort of fell in love with Mikka today…
So began the email from my partner Sean, who had been volunteering at the local Humane Society for less than a week.
Up until that point, I’d never been much of a dog person. I’ve always enjoyed the company of friends’ dogs, of course, but taking care of one seemed like far too much to handle. But with Sean’s new-found interest in dog behaviour and training (also the reason for his volunteering), as well as his freelance schedule, it seemed like we might be able to make it work.
And so, a few days later we brought home Mikka, the energetic young Karelian Bear Dog. (It’s a Finnish breed, and strictly speaking, his name should probably be Mika, roughly equivalent to Mike. I’m guessing the extra K is there to make it look “more Finnish”.) He was about a year and a half old, so I’m considering today, his six-month anniversary at our house, his birthday.
Wednesday 3 August 2011
Work on Alba Salix continues. We’ve had a couple of test readings so far, which have been really encouraging. Four episodes of the first six-episode “season” are awaiting rewrites, and I’m bashing away at the outline for a fifth. We’re aiming to record in September and launch some time over the winter. And there are enough storylines in my head for a second season.
Along the way I’ve been learning a lot, like the art of intertwining various subplots. Not only does it add interest, but it’s practically essential to provide something to “cut away to” when it’s time to jump ahead to the next plot point. Otherwise, you’ve got to either add a music cue, or indicate through dialogue or narration that time has passed, or some combination of these. The result usually feels a bit sluggish and old-fashioned.
Another lesson: the first moments of a series should give a good idea of what the show’s going to be like as a whole. The first draft of the Alba pilot originally opened with a “once upon a time” intro that gave Alba’s backstory. As a twist, it intertwined three different tellings of the same story, but 1) it was slow, 2) it wasn’t anything like the rest of the episode and 3) it was confusing as all get-out, especially since all these characters were unfamiliar. Furthermore, Lila, one of the main characters in the fairy tale, didn’t appear anywhere in the rest of the episode, leaving the listener to wonder when she would return.
Much better to start with the action – specifically, an actual medical case. Here are the original opening and the new one.
Sunday 5 June 2011
It’s been about 12 years since I was last on the radio, but I still have dreams about it from time to time.
I learned a lot in my five years at CKMS-FM, the campus radio station at the University of Waterloo: how to salvage old, disintegrating reel-to-reel tapes; how to make musical sounds by feeding back the output of DAT machines; and how not to conduct an interview. I hosted a regular music show, assembled audio art pieces for Frequent Mutilations, and co-produced Philler (an “experiment in audio landfill”) with Adam Thornton.
I miss it sometimes. I discovered a lot of music browsing through the dusty vinyl in the library and puttering around in the back studio. And assembling each show, whether it was a late night music program or a weird mishmash of sketch comedy and sound collage, was a new puzzle to solve.
It’s been nice, then, to get into podcasting at last. Since late February I’ve been producing Attention Surplus, a half-hour chat about purpose, passion and action hosted by my partner, Sean Howard, and his colleague Eric Portelance. And of course, I’ve been writing radio plays.
I’ve posted here previously about Niagara, the science-fiction comedy I’ve been working on. A few months ago I realized it might be a bit of an ambitious project to start out on, and accordingly I came up with what I thought would be a much simpler series to produce – shorter episodes, smaller cast, episodic rather than a serial format. Of course, it’s turning out to be very nearly as complicated, but it’s been great fun to write all the same.
In April, I heard about Script Frenzy, a sister event to National Novel Writing Month, and gave it a go. By month’s end, I’d written 119 pages, comfortably exceeding the 100-pages required to “win”. Having a purely numeric goal turned out to be quite freeing – a great exercise in letting first drafts suck as much as they need to. The episodic format has been a great help too, freeing me of the need to maintain a carefully plotted arc through the whole thing, but also allowing me to compare the dramatic structure of several self-contained stories.
The series will be called Alba Salix, Royal Physician – kind of Scrubs meets Shrek, if you will. Or Gregory House as a witch. So far, three of the half-hour episodes are at the second draft stage, and several more exist as outlines and partial scripts. Our first reading a couple of weeks ago went splendidly, and I’m hoping to cast and record a “season” of roughly 6 episodes over the summer. Stay tuned!
Sunday 16 January 2011
Still working at those scripts. Episodes 1–3 are in their second drafts, and I’m at work outlining the next few.
Just as a very oblique teaser, here are a few topics I’ve been looking up online as research, either for fact checking or inspiration:
- Plumbing how-to videos
- Niagara Falls daredevils
- List of nearest stars
- The House of Commons schedule
- Michael Cowpland (founder of Corel)
- The ROM galleries
- Niagara Parks Police Service
- Dramatic Arts at Brock University
- The Canadian Top 40 from 1982
Some will make it in as background details, some were dead ends.
And below are some of the notes I’ve made for the series. I like to have some rules to go by, so I’ve chosen a fairly strict structure, and jotted down a bunch of parameters and reminders to myself, based on all the things I’ve found enjoyable or frustrating in other audios over the years.
Thursday 25 November 2010
Meet Petra and her family.
Petra was a singer back in the ’70s and ’80s, but these days she works at a bed and breakfast near Niagara Falls. This weekend her kids are dropping by: quietly neurotic Emma and bratty, flamboyant Dayle, as well as Emma’s boyfriend Bruce. And she’s got a couple other guests who might be giant bugs from outer space.
I’ve had a bunch of stories simmering on the back burner for a long while, mostly in the science fiction-comedy vein. As I’ve alluded to in previous years, I’ve been flirting with presenting them different forms, mostly radio plays, online video, and comics. As they’ve percolated, I’ve discovered I don’t have the patience for prose – I’m all about the dialogue. I can draw well enough that I don’t cringe at my own work, but I’m too slow at it to do more than a couple pages. And video – let’s not even go there.
So it’s back to audio plays, delivered via podcast or download. I’ve always loved the form, and had the chance to produce some during my time in campus radio, but until recently I really didn’t have a clue how to use it to tell a story – or to tell a story in any medium, for that matter. And now, it’s all starting to come together at last: plots, background, character arcs, dialogue. The first three-episode story is plotted out and this week some friends came by for a read-through of the first two draft episodes. The thought of actually recording and producing them is a bit daunting at this stage, but we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.