18th April 2019
The Saturday Interview: 'Girl in Space' podcast with Sarah Rhea Werner
NOTE: There's also a Podcast Recommendation for 'Girl in Space' on the blog here.
Thanks very much for your time. For anyone who hasn’t yet heard the awesomeness which is Girl in Space, could you briefly describe what it is about?
Haha! Thanks for saying we’re awesome. Girl In Space is about… a girl in space. Obviously. But beyond that, it’s the story of a researcher who’s apparently been abandoned on a space station. We’re not sure why she’s there, or what happened to the rest of the people aboard the station, and there’s a bright light slowly coming toward her… Plot aside, Girl In Space is about friendship, hope, science, lasers, dark matter, coffee, truth, beauty, and found family.
What was your inspiration to start Girl in Space? I can safely say that it’s not like any of podcasts I’ve heard before.
Thank you! I’ve always been a writer and storyteller, and when I started podcasting in 2014, I became really interested in audio as a storytelling tool I’d never considered before. I got really into producing my nonfiction podcast, Write Now, and began wondering what a fiction podcast could look like. I thought it could be as simple as me monologuing like I did in Write Now… but in space.
Otherwise, I’ve been deeply influenced and inspired by sci-fi, fantasy, and speculative fiction IPs like “LOST”, “Buffy the Vampire Slayer”, “Firefly”, “Mass Effect”, the Illuminae books, as well as “Star Wars” and (of course) “Jurassic Park”.
The main character, ‘X’, lives aboard a failing spaceship - the Cavatica - and one of her only sources of entertainment is the film ‘Jurassic Park’. Why that particular film?
Pop culture is important to me, and it can provide a fantastic (and often humorous) frame of reference for an audience. I struggled a bit with how to do this with the main character, X, since she has never really experienced ANY culture outside of what’s on the Cavatica. I wanted her character to feel a bit alien and naive, so I didn’t want her to have full cultural access, but I did want to give her at least one small touchpoint. “Jurassic Park” is one of my all-time favorite movies, and had a lot of great tie-ins with the themes I was working with in Girl In Space, so I went with it. :) Plus, it’s fun to think of WHY the people who created and programmed the Cavatica would have installed this (and only this) movie in the dash.
I’ve found ‘X’ to be one of the more centred characters in the story: little happens that completely floors her. It makes the times when she can’t cope all the more affecting, I felt. Did you think of the character first or the setting?
Thank you! I thought of the character first, actually, though she is a foil for the setting. I wanted to put someone nontraditional into a traditional sci-fi setting and watch her subvert people’s expectations. Interestingly, I get a lot of feedback about X’s character -- I get people who accuse me of not understanding how people work, when really I think she’s a lot more “real” and complex than many fictional heroes. People are hugely diverse and not everyone reacts the same way to the same stimuli. Not everyone is terrified of being alone. Not everyone cries at funerals. Not everyone laughs at the same jokes. And not everyone screams when they see a monster.
At the risk of sounding really naive, do people really take the time to complain about characterisation? I found X’s character intriguing because there are no other characters in fiction that I can immediately compare her to: she doesn’t fit a standard mould. How do you deal with popularity and the goods and bads that come with it?
Haha, people will complain about anything, as you can see in any podcaster’s one- and two-star reviews on iTunes and other platforms. In dealing with criticism, something that has helped me has been the realization that my show is not for everyone. When we create shows, we sometimes think, “Everyone’s gonna love this!” But not everyone likes dinosaurs and lasers and strong female characters, just like not everyone likes the taste of horseradish or the art of Mark Rothko. And that’s okay. As a creator, your job is not to create something everyone will love — your job is to create something beautiful and meaningful and honest and new for the people who need it. That’s your audience.
The mysteries in Girl in Space are well-constructed and gradually reveal themselves in stages over time. Did the plotting of the story take a long time before you began production?
I probably shouldn’t say this, but I’m not much of an outliner. When I write, I have an idea of where I want things to go, and once in a while I’ll write plot points I want to hit on index cards, but… for the most part, I simply sit down and write whatever I feel should happen next.
Without spoiling anything at all - please don’t! - does the podcast have a natural endpoint that you’re working towards? (Hopefully, no time soon)
The podcast will have a definite end. It always bothers me when shows drag on and on past their prime when they could/should have ended seasons ago — I don’t want that to happen to Girl In Space! Right now I’m wrapping up Season 1, with plot strings for Season 2 beginning to form… and after that, we’ll see how we feel! If X’s story is done at that time, I’ll move on to my next story idea (which I hope you’ll love). But if not, I’m happy extending it into however many seasons work best for the story.
Phew! No spoilers! What shows or podcasts have you watched that you think have overextended themselves?
I don’t want to call out any podcasts that have necessarily overextended themselves, though you can often tell that this is the case by a stalled storyline or meandering, pointless episodes. Sometimes (a.k.a. usually), endings are healthy and satisfying for stories. TV shows that in my opinion have “overstayed their welcome” are “The Simpsons”, seasons 4 and 5 of “Alias”, and seasons 8 and 9 of “The X-Files”. And I think “LOST” should have ended at Season 3, but… that was maybe tainted a bit by the writer’s strike.
I entirely agree. I was a big fan of Battlestar Galactica and was sorely let down by the ending: the ideas became overextended and unsatisfying. As a fiction author, how do you think that point can be recognised?
That’s a really tough question, because it’s often something only recognizable in hindsight, and by people not immediately involved in producing the work. I think in a way, you have to be willing to let your creation go when it’s time, and then be willing to move on to a new project. But it’s hard for us to let go — it involves risk and fear and discomfort and lots of other negative feelings that many of us would rather just avoid. So I definitely understand why it happens. But we have to keep our eyes open for a satisfying ending, reach it, be proud of it, and then gracefully move on.
How long does it take you to put together a single episode?
Oh gosh. From writing to voicing to producing and editing the episode… each episode of Girl In Space takes me between 60-80 hours total! I know that sounds daunting, but I do everything myself. So if you’re thinking about starting a podcast and you have a nice diverse team to rely on (e.g., a writer, sound designer, voice actor(s), editor, etc.), it shouldn’t be too bad!
Were the challenges similar to creating your non-fiction podcast?
I learned a lot about podcasting from creating a nonfiction podcast, so I had a whole new slew of challenges to face when creating a fictional show. From working with voice actors to using sound effects and designing soundscapes to even marketing a fictional show, a lot of it was new and different to me.
How were the voice actors for Girl in Space chosen? Were they people that you already knew or did you hold auditions?
Hahaha! Hilariously, I was the only original voice actor, and I’m not even a voice actor. Girl In Space started as an experiment, and I didn’t plan on it taking off like it did. And in fact, it was just going to be a one- or two-character show. But at that point, my friends and family members who were reading the initial scripts were like, “This might get boring with only one character and Charlotte,” so I added more. Initially, the actors were just friends and family — my mother-in-law plays Charlotte, and Chance, Chen, and Kai are all played by my brother-in-law’s roommates and friends. Thor is played by a friend and ex-coworker of mine, and Dani, Cyrus, and the Councillor are fellow podcast creators who I got to know online. The only characters I’ve held auditions for are Assistant Frost and another character who I’ve since changed.
I understand that you’ve launched a podcast masterclass through your website. Could you tell us about that? What skills do you feel that a novice podcaster needs to learn?
I have indeed launched a podcast masterclass! It’s called Podcast Now and it’s a step-by-step course in creating and launching a successful podcast. It has 52 video lessons, tons of worksheets, one-on-one coaching from yours truly, monthly livestreams, and more. I kind of went all out!
A novice podcaster needs to know a massive array of skills, unless they’re working with a team. There’s strategy, branding, writing, audio editing, sound design, production, graphic design, communication & coordination with actors, marketing, and tons more!
If people are interested in the Podcast Now Masterclass, they can sign up for the waitlist here: https://podcoach.lpages.co/pn-waitlist/
I’ve heard some opinions that podcasting is becoming oversaturated and others saying that it’s reaching maturation as a medium. What’s your take?
I got to hear KC Wayland, creator of “We’re Alive”, talk about podcasting at Podfest in February 2019, and he noted that we’re not yet in the golden age of audio yet — we’re still in the silver age that comes before it. And I really like that take. I think there’s still a ton of room for innovation and creation in the podcasting space. There are half a billion blogs out there, and thousands of books being published every day… and only about 600,000 total podcasts, many of which aren’t even currently active. The space may seem oversaturated because it’s difficult for many indie shows to get found, and because it seems like every day there’s a new celebrity starting their own show, but I don’t care much for the fearmongering and limited thinking that says we’ve hit saturation. I think there is still plenty of room for new shows, and especially new voices.
Do you have any favourite podcasts?
Oh gosh, I have a TON of favorite podcasts, especially audio dramas. Currently, I’m obsessed with Rose Drive, Mabel, The Big Loop, The Magnus Archives, Six Cold Feet, Dreamboy, The Infinite Now, What’s The Frequency?, SPINES, Palimpsest, The End of Time & Other Bothers, Point Mystic, Rabbits, and Great & Terrible. And probably a lot more that I’m not thinking of right now…
If people would like to interact with you online or support the podcast, what’s the best way of doing that?
Thank you for asking that! My central hub is https://www.sarahwerner.com/, but people can follow Girl In Space on Twitter at @girlinspacepod and support my work at on Patreon at https://www.patreon.com/girlinspace. Thank you again!!!
Thanks again for your time!