A Taste of the Podcast

So, I have to admit, when Ben and I started this podcast, we really didn’t know what it would end up as!

Every May, normally, Ben and I pile into my car, usually with Jed Hartman and Alex Gurevich, and sometimes others squeeze in, like Liz Gorinsky. It’s a 2.5 hour drive from Chicago to Madison. Usually, we leave around lunchtime on Thursday, planning to get to the Concourse Hotel in time to check in, settle in, and head over to A Room of One’s Own Bookstore (FABULOUS bookstore) for the WisCon Guest of Honor readings, which are always pretty splendid. (WisCon is my favorite convention, hands down.)

Once in the car, we talk. We talk and talk and talk. We talk over each other, loudly, and have to remember to make verbal space for Jed, who doesn’t have the same cultural willingness to interrupt that Ben and Alex and I do. Sometimes we talk about science fiction — I remember one year, I was kind of on a rant about how various writers I knew weren’t writing (in my opinion) to the best of their ability, and it frustrated me. I wanted them to take more time with their work. We had a good argument about it — if I remember right, Ben and Jed thought I was being a little hard on those writers, maybe a little unfair.

The funny thing is, in retrospect — and I TOTALLY did not figure this out during that particular conversation — I was actually more upset with myself than with anyone else on that front. I was feeling like I’d rushed work out the door, pursuing fame and fortune, when I should have held onto it longer, worked on it harder. It took that conversation + a bunch of thinking afterwards, to figure out what was going on in my own head.

I’ve been saying for years that WisCon is my therapy (and maybe part of why early summer was so hard for me emotionally, was because we lost WisCon this year; the online version only served a little of the same function). Coming together with colleagues — some peers, some more senior to you, some more junior — is immensely valuable to a writer. What we do is solitary most of the time; it’s easy to go in circles in your own head. I can’t tell you how much I looked forward to those car conversations, driving up, driving back down on Monday, along with a few other late-night conversations that inevitably occurred.

I wasn’t really a podcast person before the pandemic. I discovered them properly back in March, when I found myself listening to a bunch of podcasts that were surprisingly comforting & thought-provoking to me. The ones that have made it into regular rotation include:

• science fiction ones (Our Opinions Are Correct (by Annalee Newitz and Charlie Jane Anders), Coode Street Podcast (by Gary Wolfe and Jonathan Strahan)

• foodie ones (Milk Street, The Sporkful, Gastropod, and my favorite, Home Cooking with Samin Nosrat, I love her so much)

• gardening ones (Let’s Argue About Plants, Gardening with the RHS)

I tend to listen to them while doing physical chores — gardening, primarily, but also sewing, cleaning, organizing. They make the time just fly by, and somehow I usually feel better at the end of a podcast. Maybe that effect is strengthened during a pandemic, when this particular extrovert is feeling extra-isolated. I am lonely, and it just helps, hearing human voices. And when those voices are talking excitedly, passionately, about something that I’m deeply interested in, that’s even better.

Right now, I’m reading Kiese Laymon’s beautiful, heartbreaking memoir, _Heavy_, which I only know about because he was a guest on The Sporkful. It’s not actually a foodie memoir — it’s about eating and weight to some extent, but it’s centered on Black pain and trauma, sexual violence and other kinds of violence — it’s a heavy book, very well done, and I’d love to teach it someday in conversation with Roxane Gay’s _Hunger_. This is one of the things I love about podcasts, that it can extend my reading and thinking beyond what I might normally run across. Unexpected connections.

We’re hoping that when we talk enthusiastically about books like Cadwell Turnbull’s gorgeous The Lesson (aliens landing in and occupying the U.S. Virgin Islands), it’ll draw attention to work our listeners might not otherwise have run across. (And yes, Cadwell is going to be joining us as a podcast guest, so you can hear from him directly.)

As for me, when I’m talking to Ben, and I come into the conversation with one position and leave it with a completely different one — that’s amazing. It’s so valuable to me, having someone who pushes my thinking, but always in such a compassionate way. He challenges me without attacking me, which is a rare skill, I think. Maybe we could all use more of that right now.

I hope that the podcast isn’t all heavy and deep — we laugh a lot, so I hope it might be funny too. I honestly don’t know if other people will like it (though our audio engineer is a 20-something writer, and he seems to think it’s pretty interesting, which is reassuring). But it’s been an amazing project to work on, and as we recorded this summer, the scope of the podcast slowly became clear. Sometimes you only really learn a thing by doing it.

Our podcast isn’t purely science fiction focused, or writing focused, or really anthing focused. But certain topics have emerged, again and again. SF and writing, of course, since Ben and I are both immersed in those worlds, but also culture, community, social dynamics, family, parenting, politics, how we make the world a better place….well, if you’ve liked reading me talking about such things here, I hope you’ll love hearing more in the podcast. Ben makes me better.

Here’s a little clip to give you a taste — Ben is talking to me and our guest Jed about how he met his fabulous wife, but really, we’re talking about communication, about language, about how we are alien to each other, about sexuality and what women are or aren’t expected to talk about, about world building — all in about three minutes. 🙂 Plus some laughs.

Join the Kickstarter here and help us get it off the ground!

https://www.kickstarter.com/…/slf-podcast-mohanraj-and…

(Likes, comments, and shares help tremendously with visibility — we’d appreciate the signal boosting!)

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