Tea in the Sahara
Kev – Fiction Podcast Critic
In life, you come across folk that you instantly know are your type of people. Proving that you might wear pinstripe or perhaps even denim, but mutual respect & playful banter comes from all sources – and is also jolly good for the soul.
That person stepping into this week’s Tea in the Sahara Q&A booth is Casey Wells, esteemed writer of Outliers, Crooked River, and her latest podcast venture Green Man. Thank you so much Casey for giving up your time to put words to this indie podcast critics’ questions – stay classy CW!
If you missed my review of the straight-fire Outliers a few months back definitely check it out. Whilst there I also highly recommend downloading Crooked River & Green Man for good measure.
For those who haven’t read your novella Outliers yet, how did you effortlessly transition into podcasting?
Thank you, Kev, but I really didn’t transition into podcasting with Outliers—that the novella became a podcast is entirely due to the vision and efforts of the director/producer Dave Beazley. I wrote the novella, Dave saw its potential and set about to make it into an audiobook, and Realm added immersive sound to convert it into an audiopod podcast. That this all happened was a surprise to me. Luckily, the story was told in first-person, and Rory Culkin was able to so wonderfully encapsulate and express the persona of the narrator (Boy) in his reading so it worked.
As a talented writer do you knowingly write with the novel in mind or the audio drama format?
For me, it’s one or the other. The material “tells” me what it wants to be and I comply. Once I have whatever it is in its “origin” form, I’m free to adapt it into any medium I like. My preference these days, however, is to write audio drama series (podcasts) as audio drama series. These are very much like theatrical plays with a talented cast, only performed with all the lights off and with an unlimited access to sound effects and no limits whatsoever—other than one’s own imagination—regarding locations. Very much a unique auditory experience. Audio dramas celebrate words/language and human voices and all manner of imaginative sounds. I have a little sign over my desk to remind myself of what it means to write audio dramas. “In the darkness, the taciturn hold no sway for it is the loquacious who are kings.” I have to seek out talkative fictional characters for this medium. Luckily, chatterboxes—in life and in fiction—are not hard to find.
Where did you draw your inspiration for Outliers from?
I’ve spent time off-grid in isolated cabins in mountainous regions in the dead of winter and it always struck me that I really had no clue what was going on back in the civilized world. Sometimes I’d hear the crack of a tree branch breaking under the weight of snow and before I’d spin around to see what it was I always experienced that momentary frisson of fear that there might be something else there, something beyond the scope of my imagination or the limit of my comprehension, like an Outlier. That’s what I hoped to convey in the story. The “something is out there” sense of dread and wonder.
Top marks for landing Rory Culkin as the sole narrator for Outliers. How did you manage to get him on board with this project?
Producer/director Dave is completely responsible for that flash of inspiration. He thought Rory would be perfect as the narrator, Boy, and somehow he was able to contact Rory through his reps and Rory agreed to come onboard.
Within your writing, there seems to be a very outdoorsy theme within Outliers and Green Man. What’s your reason behind this?
Yes, the woods and the forest are my natural habitats. That’s where I feel most at home. In a way I think of myself as a creature of the forest in a children’s book: it is from the forest I have emerged, it is to the forest I will one day return. I like sleeping outside, under the stars, and being close, even one, with nature. I currently live in the Mojave Desert, which is a far cry from the forest but it has its own remarkable and devastating beauty. Luckily, I can still go walkabout where I live. I like to be able to walk out the front door and keep walking into whatever wilderness is beyond.
The dynamics between Da & Boy are fascinating – where did the motivating force behind this unique relationship come from?
I think there comes a time in everyone’s life, usually in their teen years, where blind acceptance gives way to questioning authority, even of those within one’s own family. Luckily for most of us, I think, a clear-eyed melding occurs. The stakes are different, however, if there are only two people in existence—when another person, as Da is to Boy, is another’s whole world. If that person turns out not to be what you believed them to be, how do you even process this? If someone you love turns out to be a monster, does that mean your love for them wasn’t real or was wrong or was untrue or misguided? We all have to come to terms with the complexities and disappointments of the human experience and compassion and forgiveness—for not just others but for ourselves—must be a part of this, even if acceptance is not.
Are there plans for a second season of Outliers?
No, there’s not. At least not as a podcast.
What are your thoughts if Outliers were to be converted into a film or NetFlix series?
That’s the plan! It was written both to exist as a novella and as a TV or streamer series.
If a screen version of Outliers was possible with an endless acting budget, who would you like to see cast as Boy within a screen adaptation?
As Boy is only 15, I don’t know of a young actor who might play him, but I’m sure he’s out there. He might be only twelve right now and more interested in sports or helping out on the family farm, or whatever than acting right now, but I’m sure he’ll be up to the task when the time comes. My mind goes to someone who would be like a young Timothèe Chalamet—he has that thoughtful, observant quality that Boy has. And, like Boy, he seems comfortable outdoors, or at least he did in Dune.
What podcasts are you currently listening to?
I’ve never actually listened to a podcast, not even my own, though a couple of directors have played scenes for me over the telephone. I don’t have the technical capacity on my computer or my phone to do anything but send emails and answer calls. When I set about writing audio dramas, I read scripts for over 100 series to see how other writers approached this solely audible medium, and to see what kind of format they were using for writing their scripts. One day, however, I will be able to listen to them, I hope, and then it will be one long auditory binge for me.
What advice would you like to give to would-be podcast writers/creators?
I’m not a big fan of the blanket “write for yourself” advice, not when you’re working in a commercial venue. If you want to write for yourself, keep a diary or journal. From my perspective, audio drama writers need to write with their listeners foremost in mind. If listeners are willing to spend some of their precious time listening to what you’ve written, make it worth their while.
I believe most people are smart, really smart, and they’re fully capable of processing even complex auditory information, vaulting vocabulary and challenging themes. This means you must write the very best stories you can, at the outer limits of your abilities. The minute you start writing for the lowest common denominator, you’ve betrayed your listeners and insulted their intelligence. Trust me, I try to say. Take my hand; we’ll be on this journey together, and I’ll be by your side every step of the way. I promise not to betray your trust if you come along. And I mean that. I’m standing on a slender bridge over a chasm waving to them to come across, to the side where the characters and the story reside. If they start across that bridge at my behest, but I deceive them by talking down to them or by letting them down story-wise, even only one time, they rightly won’t trust me again. My position as their guide is one of privilege and I take my role very seriously. I know I can’t please everyone but at least I won’t betray them.
Final Q, I wouldn’t be doing my job very well if I didn’t ask you if there are any other projects on the horizon that you could share with us.
Well, besides Outliers and Green Man, I also wrote the (exciting!) fictionalized true crime series, Crooked River. Besides those three, I’ve written several new audio drama series and audiopods—two of which have been produced and will be released very soon. Several others are in production or pre-production as well. I’ve fallen in love with this medium—it truly is a writer’s medium—and unless I’m evicted by the listening audience’s adverse opinion, I don’t plan to leave anytime soon. I’ll keep writing audio drama podcasts until I note a discernible drop in my ability, or until I return to the forest from whence I came. Until then, it’s all about beautiful words, captivating voices, mind-blowing sound effects and elevated stories that capture the imagination and, hopefully, touch the listener’s heart.
And one last important note: thank you, listeners. Ours is a collaboration. Thank you for allowing me to send words swirling around in your head for you to create the unique full-blown images you alone see in your mind’s eye. The Outliers, and the world they inhabit, are alive as much because of you as because of me. It’s an honour to be able to provide you with stories to listen to. –CW
Again a massive thank you to Cassie Wells for agreeing to this Q&A session, and for kindly sending me the striking artwork used for this Q&A.
If like Casey you would like your podcast reviewed please get in touch via my socials or firstname.lastname@example.org