- Ostium podcast theme
3rd November 2018
Interview with Alex C Telander
Good morning Mr Telander - thanks for your time! Could you tell us a little about Ostium?
One day while playing a game of GeoGuessr, Jake finds this strange town in Northern California that proclaims to have a population of zero. Many hours and cups of coffee later he finds the town and discovers it to be true: there are no people. Over the ensuing days, he gets inside and discovers that there are many doors that lead to different places in space and time.
Those doors open to many mysterious locations - some fictional and some not. One, for example, is the Lost Colony of Roanoke. Are these locations that you already had an interest in or did you discover them as part of your research for the podcast?
I’ve always had an interest in mysterious places, and especially historical ones. Roanoke was my first “door” for Ostium because it’s a piece of American history that really is shrouded in mystery. Once I worked out the story I was starting to tell with Ostium, I began researching other locations and mysterious places.
I’m really proud with how Episode 12: Cultum Ossium came out, as it was a combination of ideas with a skull cult that was found in Turkey combined with a cave with very limited access in South Africa, and then I added the Ostium filter and made it a special “door.”
I have an interest in history, science and archaeology, and read a lot on these subjects, as well as listen to podcasts on them, and anything interesting that comes along I file away in my head or make a note about to see if I’ll one day use it somewhere in my writing.
Yeah, I liked that one too! Do you have a favourite moment so far? If you absolutely insist, it could be something from an episode that hasn’t aired yet.
I’m really proud of Episode 19: Home by the Sea. I knew I wanted to write a horror episode and I felt the writing style came out a little different, and the horror elements came out just how I wanted them. And I had a lot of fun adding in the sound effects.
You run a Patreon for people who want to support Ostium, which includes a mini-episode. Could you tell us about that?
Patreon is pivotal to Ostium. It helps pay for subscription fees and website fees and hosting fees and online storage fees, and now that we’ve gotten to a certain level, I’m able to pay our wonderful voice actors, guest voice actors, and our artist.
As a patron of Ostium, you get some real nifty perks for your support. At the $2 level, you get access to a bunch of mini-episodes, with side stories, plus The Ostium Files, which is a series of “what ifs” as people go through doors to unique places. Plus you get your very own door number and eventually a little story that is uniquely yours. At the $5 level, you get these same perks plus a free sticker! At the $10 level, you get all this plus access to the new episode a whole week before regular release. And there are some higher levels that give you extra bonuses. I also plan to start doing some “behind the scenes” episodes and videos about the making of Ostium and different aspects of the show.
Basically, the more support we get on Patreon the better we can make the show.
What are the inspirations behind Ostium? I’m sure that I’ve played it as a game/watched that film/binged that box set but, at the same time, it’s unlike any other fiction I’ve heard: it feels both familiar and mystifying simultaneously. I found it helped to suspend my disbelief very quickly.
Some people have compared it to the video game Myst, which I’m very honored to have Ostium compared to and totally agree with. When I started writing Ostium, I’d just gotten into audiodramas and was listening to Welcome to Night Vale, Black Tapes, and Limetown. So they had a little influence. I’d also been listening to Tanis but was unhappy with how the story didn’t really seem to be going anywhere but kept having weirder and crazier theories and happenings thrown in. It reminded me of Lost and how that just went off the deep end after setting up so much potential. With Ostium I promised myself this was never going to happen and it was always going to be a cohesive, ongoing story that wouldn’t get dragged out but would keep going in the direction the characters took it, and if they brought it to an end, then that would be the end. Fortunately, so far, none of the characters seems to be getting anywhere close to an end. I have hopes to have Ostium go past ten seasons!
With these examples (and the heartbreaking mess that was the end of Battlestar Galactica), do you think that the problem is that their creators don’t realise that the time has come to start drawing threads together or that they really don’t plan ahead that much or they’re intimidated by starting a new IP? Or something else?
I think in a number of these cases, the creators didn’t expect the shows to be as successful as they became and then when they had to make more and more of it, they were rushed and didn’t allow the story to develop fully and naturally. At least this is what I tell myself, so that I avoid making this mistake.
In my head, I’m not writing a TV series, or movie sequels, I’m writing a book series, where each season is a single book that can stand alone in its own right, but is also part of the overall ongoing story. This is what I set out to do with the first episode, and it’s what I’ll continue to do with each season.
That’s an interesting perspective on it.
I’ve felt that one of the strengths of Ostium is that you always change things around just before a plot thread gets tired. How can you tell so precisely when that point is?
Honestly, I don’t really intentionally think this with each plot thread. As a writer of novels and stories, to me it’s pretty much always about letting the characters lead the story. You can have an outline, but if the characters take you in a new direction, then that’s the way you go with it. I’m experiencing the story along the way as I write, just as the listener does when the episodes go up. I know I’m also writing what I’d like to read and listen to, so I want it to be good and gripping and engrossing.
Who are your favourite authors?
I don’t like to read. Just kidding! Stephen King is number one. Whenever I read him, he makes me want to write. Neil Gaiman. Bernard Cornwell. Haruki Murakami. Ursula LeGuin. Seanan McGuire/Mira Grant. One of my favorite stories is Beowulf. There are so many and I have a very wide reading range.
Recently, I’ve been enjoying the Expanse series by James S. A. Corey, as well as the TV series adaptation.
Do you feel like any of these authors influenced your writing of Ostium?
I think they all have, as well as many other authors I’ve read. It’s like listening to new podcasts, which as creators we all love to do, because we love a good story, but we’re also interested in seeing what other creators are doing in pushing the audiodrama envelope.
Could you describe the process you went through casting your two protagonists - Jake and Monica?
Jake is voiced by my very good friend, Chris Fletcher (who also composes the music). Amusingly, Chris actually came first before I’d even come up with Jake! We’re former Borders employees and have a lot in common and have worked together before when he ran an online zine called the Late Late Show about a million years ago. He did an interview with me and read my story.
As I started getting into audiodramas, I wanted to give it a shot and see what I could come up, but I didn’t want to voice the main character myself but knew I needed someone with a great voice for audio. Enter Chris, and voila! The character of Jake was born! I started with Jake, gave him some background and went from there.
As I was about three or four episodes in (and at this point was listening to a lot more audiodramas), I knew I wanted to add a new character. It couldn’t just be Jake all the time, that was boring. And I really wanted to add a female character and for them to be a person of color. Enter another good friend, Georgia Mckenzie. She’s a fellow writer and we’ve done writing groups before, AND she’s also a former Borders employee as well. I knew she has a great voice for audio and is also a great person, which I was certain would come across in the character; plus she’s a great actor!
Did the characters of Jake and Monica evolve over time to be more like Chris and Georgia or are they still as you originally envisaged them?
I think . . . actually, I know Jake is a little bit me and a little bit Chris and this was how I envisaged him from the beginning. Monica is her own character, and I think her only similarity to Georgia is that they are both strong women, and Georgia has really done an incredible job of making Monica a fully-developed, living, breathing character beyond the words I give her to read. Without Georgia, Monica would be a very different character, and probably very boring and uninteresting.
Do Chris and Georgia ad lib at all or do they stick to the script as written?
At the beginning everyone pretty much stuck to the script, but as the season progressed and we did more recording, they started getting freer, using a different word or phrasing either intentionally or unintentionally, and more often than not I’ve kept the newer version, as I feel it’s the character coming out through the recording. Also sometimes they’ll give me a couple of different takes and let me choose what I prefer.
One of the cores of Ostium is the relationship between Jake and Monica. How did you go about making that relationship believable?
I think the key was just letting the characters tell their respective stories, get to know each other and become close. It was a little further along the way I thought it would be cool if Jake and Monica got together, but never planned for it to happen from the beginning. I also made sure to have the actors do their dialogue together in the same room which I think definitely helped give the characters (and actors) a good rapport with each other.
Do you record all of the episodes for a season in one go or do the three of you meet together regularly? What does a recording session look like?
In an ideal world where cost is not an option, we would all meet in a studio together and record. Chris and Georgia live relatively close to each other, but I’m about 90 minutes from them, so it is a bit of drive. I have each of them record their respective narrative parts. For season one, we got together a couple times and recorded all the episodes between the two of them. For season two, we got together and recorded all the dialog for the whole season in one go, which was an experience. For season three . . . oh wait, I can’t really go into detail since season three is currently airing and I don’t want to give anything away. Nice try!
One of our recording sessions:
Rats! So, once the dialogue has been recorded, how do you go about editing it into an episode?
Through sheer hard work. Usually, I’ll listen to the recording first and make minor edits. Then I’ll add in the dialogue where it goes and mix that. Then I add in the sound effects. Then the music. Although, at this point, I’ve gotten pretty adept at this, and now will often do all these things at the same time. Then I plug it into Auphonic, which is this cool free online software that normalizes the sound, takes out any humming, and makes it all sound even and great. Then I give it a listen at work with headphones to make sure it sounds right. And that’s when I decide if the episode is completely ready or not.
There’s now an Ostium novel as well. What inspired you to move your story into a new medium?
I wanted to have Ostium be available in book form for two reasons: 1) for people who don’t listen to podcasts, 2) for people who want to have a book as well as a podcast to enjoy! It’s a sort of neat collector’s item and features all Sara Warren’s artwork and full-color covers which are just stunning. It’s available in paperback, ebook, and a special pricey full-color edition. I do plan to do a book for each subsequent season, once I get more time!
What’s really interesting is hearing feedback from people who’ve read the book vs. people who listen to the podcast. With a podcast, you hear the characters’ voices, how they act, what they’re like, and it solidifies them in your head. With the book, it’s just words on the page, and the reader’s imagination creates the character in their head, and you get their interpretation and therefore a different story.
Do you think Ostium would work in any other formats? I could easily see it being a computer game akin to something like Bioshock (without all of the murder with a mining drill and swarms of telepathic insects, of course). Unless that’s spoilers for a future episode...
I’ve noticed something a little weird happening as I continue to write Ostium: it’s becoming my “Dark Tower.” What I mean by this is how the Dark Tower series for Stephen King became the lynchpin world that linked a lot of his other books and worlds together. As I write more Ostium, I’ve started pulling ideas and concepts from some of my unpublished work and making it part of the world and so far it’s fitted in very easily and correctly, as if it’s the right shaped piece to this puzzle called Ostium. I’ve also developed the world in my head a lot more and have the potential to go in many directions. There’s an epic science fiction book series that I’ve been playing around with that I realize now slots right into the Ostium world. I’ve started writing a spin-off short story series that has a very different feel but is still within the Ostium universe. Part of the Ostium Network, if you will. There’s potential for a TV series and movies and video games. While I didn’t originally plan to have Ostium become this big, it’s starting to feel like our universe, which is constantly expanding and seems to be never-ending.
What do you wish that you’d known before you started producing a podcast?
The basic dos and don’ts, like eating or chewing or drinking sounds. That there’s an amazing place called freesound.org. And just the little tricks I’ve picked up along the way that’ve made editing and producing a lot . . . not necessarily easier, because it’s always a lot of work, but it’s made me more efficient and competent. When I started Ostium, I was a writer and, other than being a big music fan, didn’t know that much about sound design. I feel I’ve come a long way.
If people want to engage with you online, what’s the best way to do that?
Leave a coded message on the Guardian classifieds page and I’ll . . . nah, only kidding. On Twitter you can find me @bookbanter. Or you can email me at email@example.com. And for all things Ostium, be sure to go ostiumpodcast.com.
And one last thing: when you’re about to listen to a podcast, first see if it’s on RadioPublic. This is a free podcast app that works great and you can even listen through a browser, but the big deal is they pay creators for each episode that is listened to. So basically when you’re listening to your shows through RadioPublic, you’re literally helping to pay for the show and it makes such a difference.
Thanks again for your time!