Busy Fitches: David Thompson and Anna Schwind

Anna Schwind and David Thompson are the co-editors of Podcastle, a weekly podcast of fantasy fiction. It’s one of a trio of podcasts produced by Escape Artists, the others being Escape Pod (for science fiction) and Pseudopod (for horror). They’ve stepped up to fill the editorial position recently vacated by Rachel Swirsky. I’ve very much enjoyed the stories that Rachel has chosen, but I’m excited to see what new editorial directions these two will steer the publication toward.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with these podcasts, you should check them out. My Best of Podcastle list would be a good place to start. They’ve carried stories by many of my favorite writers, including Tim Pratt, Greg Van Eekhout, Cat Rambo, and Edgar Allen Poe. Each podcast provides an audio story every week, free to download. They depend on donations to pay their authors, so if you like the story enough, you might want to consider dropping them a few bucks. I know both editors from the Escape Artists forums, where Dave and Anna are known as DKT and anarkey, respectively. If you like to discuss the good and bad qualities of stories, stop by.

When David Thompson isn’t editing, he’s also a writer, who wrote Last Respects (among other things) which made it on my Best of Pseudopod list. You can find him on LiveJournal as well where he talks about many things, including the new season of LOST.

Anna is also a writer who’s been published in Escape Pod and Every Day Fiction. You can find out more about her on her website.

David Steffen: How were you chosen to co-edit Podcastle? Had either of you expected it or was it completely out of the blue?

David Thompson: In August 2009, Rachel emailed us and asked us to come aboard and help with some of the details-oriented tasks at PodCastle like finding narrators for stories, scheduling introductions, manage the schedule, record feedback, those kinds of things. It was kind of hinted at that she might want to hand over the editorial reigns at some point, but then we got another email a little over a month later saying that time was now. We all kind of sat on it for a while, and convinced Rachel to stay until the end of the year, but that’s when we started reading slush and selecting stories. So it wasn’t completely out of the blue, but it all happened very fast. At least, that’s how I remember it.

Schwind: I remember it exactly the same way! Except with talking trains and a rotting orange and the secret message in a bottle from that werewolf guy.

Thompson: Ben Phillips is a werewolf? That explains so much.

Steffen: Can you give any hints about the stories you’ve bought? How do you think the stories you two choose will be different than Rachel’s?

Thompson: For the most part, I’d rather keep what we bought and what Rachel bought slightly ambiguous. I can tell you that we’ve run stories that Anna and I have selected, and we’re still running stories that Rachel selected, as well. I’m not entirely sure how our selection will differ from Rachel’s. That might be a question better suited to our listeners a year or so from now.

Schwind: I can give you the following hint: we’ve bought some great stories. Stories which Dave and I are really excited, I mean hand-rubbing and cackling excited, to share with listeners. Some of them will be stories Rachel never would have bought, and some of them will be stories that are exactly what she would have bought.

Steffen: Is editorial work what you expected?

Thompson: I’m not really sure what I expected, to be honest. It’s certainly very satisfying work – we’re doing something we believe in, telling stories to thousands of people. And since we were both longtime fans of the Escape Artists podcasts, it feels like we’re really giving back. But it’s definitely more complicated than I thought it’d be – it’s more than just reading stories. There’s also looking for narrators, recording introductions, recording other stuff like announcements or feedback, scheduling. It’s a big job. But I love it!

Schwind: Pretty much, yeah, what I expected. I knew it was too much work for one person, actually, which makes the extensive work Rachel put into PodCastle all the more remarkable. I’m really glad to have someone to share the responsibility (and the joy) with. Oh, wait, did I write that? Now my co-editor is going to think I like him or something.

Steffen: What’s the hardest thing of the job? The most rewarding?

Thompson: Okay, I’ll cop to one story that was our pick: Samantha Henderson’s “The Mermaid’s Tea Party.” I loved it when I first read it a couple years ago, and blogged about it, and shared it with a few friends. But when we ran it at PodCastle, we got to share a story we loved with over 10,000 people. For me, that’s the best part – sharing stories we love. That it was well-received by our listeners was also nice. As I said before, the details of everything else is the hard part, at least for me. There’s so much more than just finding a story you love that goes into the podcast.

Schwind: Fishy bitches!

Thompson: OMG. “Fishy bitches” should be the logo on the next PodCastle t-shirt.

Schwind: Ok, on a more serious note: the toughest thing for me is knowing there’s stories out there which I adore, but because of rights situations or inappropriateness to audio or wrong genre or no ability to contact the author or whatever, we just can’t bring to listeners. And let me just insert a PSA right here: PodCastle solicits stories sometimes, and we can’t solicit your story if you, as an author, have not included a way to be contacted on your webpage. You’d think that’d be totally basic, but alas, no. You, author, go put a contact me button on your webpage RIGHT NOW.

Steffen: How do you split the duties? If one of you likes a story and the other doesn’t, how do you decide whether to buy it or not?

Thompson: We both read the stories that Ann Leckie, our incredible, tireless slush reader, forwards to us. If one of us likes a story and the other one doesn’t, we have a discussion on what’s working for us in the story and what isn’t and why. After that discussion, we’re usually on the same page. As for splitting the duties, I record intros once a month and record outros/feedback segments for every episode. I think that’s really the only thing that I do that Anna doesn’t.

Schwind: One thing I like about working with Dave is that we complement each other so well. Often he’s perfectly happy to do the aspects of running the podcast that I find tiresome. I believe he feels similarly, and he’ll ask me if I’d mind doing something that to him seems an onerous chore and I’m overjoyed to do it. Splitting duties has been relatively painless because of that. As to deciding on stories where we feel differently, it’s about – like Dave said – talking it through. We’ve not yet had a knockdown drag out fight over anything. I’m actually hopeful that we do, at some point, just to see what that’s like, but so far we’ve been able to make a case that sways the other or not about each individual story. That sounds civil and boring. I should probably have made something up, about a contest of wills or a platinum battle in the astral plane.

Thompson: I didn’t realize fights on the astral plane were an option. Now I’m going to have to go out of my way to pick a fight over a story.

Schwind: Eeeeexcellent, Thompson. We shall meet in the metaphysical arena of stars and infinite night, each wielding our ineffable auras as a finely honed weapon, and the first to fall shall give over the right to peddle one story.

Thompson: I’ve got dibs on the Possible Sword!!!

Steffen: What sort of stories have you seen too many, and what sort would you like to see more?

Thompson: We’ve seen a lot of stories featuring pirates. But I’m actually fine with that. I wouldn’t mind seeing more…weird stuff in general. New weird, I guess. I wouldn’t mind finding some Sword and Sorcery that really blew my mind, but I haven’t read it yet.

Schwind: Let’s see…we see a lot of stories where the implications of the worldbuilding aren’t acknowledged within the story and lots of stories where the author thought fantasy was an excuse to skip their research. We also see lots of run of the mill fantasy, with no distinguishing marks, whether it be urban or faux medieval or pre-columbian or whatever. On reflection, I’m considerably less interested in what I see too much of than in what I’d like to see more of. I’d generally agree with Dave that I have a strong attraction to stories that court the weird. Give me some Fortean phenomena, or some cockroach-shaped, lightning-emitting unicorn, or some vividly described but unusual setting and I’m there. I don’t think anyone’s sent us a story where the plot hinged on the outcome of a soccer game between centaurs, or one where their furniture is trying to murder them at the behest of an angel. We don’t get many stories set in Africa. It’d be nice to get a city story about Mumbai or SÃ’ o Paulo, instead of New York. We don’t get any fantasy set in the 1950s or the 1970s; it’s either current or in the far past. Cold war fae? Quetzalcoatl and the Sandinistas? I could get into that. Very few stories from the point of view of a bug have come to our inbox. In fact, since I’m on point of view, I will also say we don’t get many stories in omniscient POV. I like tight third and first person narrations as much as the next reader, but fantasy has a well-established tradition of omniscient POV and I really enjoy it, when it’s deftly executed. So, you know, there’s plenty of leeway for surprise and delight. There are innumerable situations I haven’t seen or read about, and those are the ones I want to see and read about.

Thompson: Come to think of it, I could go for more whimsy. I love the dark and gritty stuff. The fishy bitches and the goblin sweatshops. But we’ve got a story coming out by Merrie Haskell that’s very adult but at the same time completely charming. It’s not a kid’s story – it has some pretty mature stuff happening in it. But it’s permeated with whimsy, and we don’t see a lot of that in our slush.

Steffen: Besides the editorial change, are there any other changes in the works for Podcastle?

Thompson: Nothing major. We’re doing some smaller things, like running reviews. We have our first, full-length PodCastle original coming out soon. The other EA podcasts run originals regularly, but PodCastle’s run almost only reprints. So that’s kind of a new thing. But for the most part, getting out a feature-length story every week and a piece of flash fiction every third week keeps us pretty busy.

Schwind: Busy Fitches!

Steffen: When you’re not editing, writing, or reading, what do you like to do?

Thompson: Ha! I don’t think I have time to do too much else. Spend time with my family. I need to make more time to write – I haven’t had as much time to do that in the last six months as I’d like to.

Schwind: I’m strongly tempted to make something up here. I’ll tell you two lies and one truth: I like to watch TV, I like to fold origami, I like to bake cakes.

Steffen: Who do you admire most?

Thompson: To be honest, I’d have to say I think I admire my children most right now. They’ve both had some difficult times this past year, and yet they’ve handled it all with far more grace than I would have. I appreciate their grounding me, and I admire how much joy and wonder they both radiate.

Schwind: Most? Seriously? I have no idea. I admire the way my cats can sleep in uncomfortable positions and the way the sun glints on the Atlantic and the way Obama speaks in public and the way Suzanne Vega sings and the way Darjeeling tea tastes in the morning.

Steffen: In exactly 6 words, what is the meaning of life?

Thompson: Love everyone. Do not be afraid.

Schwind: Inhale. This, too, shall pass. Exhale.

Steffen: What was the last book you read?

Thompson: I’m listening to Gene Wolfe’s Shadow of the Torturer right now. I’d read the entire Book of the New Sun series years ago, but I just found it online at Audible, and I’m having a great time listening to that on my commute and at work. It’s such a challenging, layered, weird book. I’m also reading Jim MacDonald’s The Apocalypse Door, which is fun. I’m crazy excited for Escape Artist authors who have books coming out: Greg van Eekhout, Tim Pratt (who is serializing Broken Mirrors online for free right now), M.K. Hobson, Samantha Henderson, N.K. Jemisin, and Mary Robinette Kowal – they all have novels coming out soon, and that makes me really happy, because I became a fan of all of them from listening to their stories at Escape Artists.

There’s always way too many things I want to read.

Schwind: The Book Thief by Mark Zusak.

Steffen: Your favorite book?

Thompson: Oh, there’s a few I love. I still remember just needing to take a few hours to think after reading Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 in high school. Alex Garland’s The Beach really channelled the GenXer in me. In college, I wanted to escape and live in Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere. I’m still kind of blown away by all the cool weirdness that China Mieville crammed into Perdido Street Station.

Schwind: I can’t fail but notice that all of these questions come in the singular. This makes me sad.

Steffen: Wait a minute… What do you mean “all of these questions”? It’s almost as if you know what questions are coming even before I ask them. But that’s impossible! What am I thinking of right now?

Thompson: Erm, who is your favorite author?

Steffen: I’m the one who asks the questions around here. Now, where was I? Ah yes, now I remember: who is your favorite author?

Steffen: Who is your favorite author?

Thompson: My favorite? That’s a difficult question for a short story editor to answer! Thinking more along novel-length stuff: Gaiman and Mieville, definitely – they’ve had the strongest influence on me.

Schwind: I am wallowing in sadness.

Steffen: What was the last movie you saw?

Thompson: Wow. The last one I saw in the theaters was the last Harry Potter, I think. The last DVD I watched was District 9. But it seems like lately, I’m watching a lot of TV on DVD like Veronica Mars, Pushing Daisies, and The Wire. And, of course, the final season of Lost.

Schwind: The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus. I love Terry Gilliam.

Steffen: What is your favorite movie?

Thompson: Empire Strikes Back, easily. I would love to carve out nine hours one day and rewatch all the Lord of the Rings movies. I also tend to quote Get Shorty randomly.

Schwind: Now I weep.

Thompson: You don’t like Empire Strikes Back? Or Get Shorty? I’m…not sure I can work with you anymore.

Schwind: As long as we agree that Han shot first, I may be able to stop crying over the tyranny of the singular favorite.

Thompson: Hrm. Guess we can keep working together, then.

Steffen: Incidentally, Anna, could you stop using my invisibility cloak as a hanky? Human tears make it all shimmery, and it costs a fortune to get it dry-cleaned. Now, do you have any upcoming publications you’d like to tell us about?

Thompson: Maaaaaaaaaaaaaaaybe? I’ll have to get back to you on this one.

Schwind: No. I’m trying to be better about submitting stories, but well.

Steffen: Do you have any writing works in progress you’d like to tell us about?

Thompson: Oh, some short stories, a couple novels. You know, the usual. But at this point, I’d feel more comfortable just saying enjoy PodCastle.

Schwind: All my writing consists of works in progress. Very little gets finished or revised. I feel badly for whomever has the task of going through my papers when I die. That said, I expect to be starting a new novel soon, perhaps before the year is out. If you want to read it you’ll need to join my crit group, though. 🙂

Steffen: Thanks to both of you for taking the time to answer a few questions. I know you’ll keep doing a great job in your new roles. I’ll be listening.

Schwind: Thanks for taking the time to interview us. I believe this may be the first time I’ve ever been interviewed.

Thompson: Yes, thank you! It’s a first for me too. Although I do feel kind of ripped off that there weren’t any cockroach-like unicorns to mark the occassion…

Steffen: You didn’t see them because they’re invisible. And pink. I know when they’re nearby because my nose hair tingles and I taste royal purple on my tongue at the same moment that I get a craving for garlic.

Thompson: Ah, yes. I see them now!