Who: Erik Arneson & Scott Detrow – Title 18: Word Crimes podcast and audiobook
Where: Pennsylvania/Washington D.C.
What: Erik Arneson hosts the Title 18: Word Crimes podcast and free audiobook, and is an editor for Shotgun Honey. His crime fiction has appeared in the anthologies Kwik Krimes, Shotgun Honey Reloaded: Both Barrels Vol. 2 and Off the Record 2: At the Movies; in the magazines NEEDLE: A Magazine of Noir, GRIFT, and Mary Higgins Clark Mystery Magazine; and on the websites Shotgun Honey, Out of the Gutter Online, BEAT to a PULP, and Near to the Knuckle.
Scott Detrow is the voice of the Title 18: Word Crimes podcast and free audiobook. He is a Washington D.C.-based journalist currently covering energy issues for ClimateWire. He spent the bulk of his reporting career in public radio, working for WITF in Pennsylvania and KQED in California. Scott’s work has been heard on NPR programs like Morning Edition and All Things Considered.
Interview conducted by email. Some answers have been edited.
What was the inspiration for the Title 18: Word Crimes podcast? How did you two become partners on it?
Erik Arneson: Back in the early 1990s, I was a radio disc jockey, so I’ve always loved audio as a format. When I found Seth Harwood’s CrimeWAV podcast, a lightbulb turned on. I wanted to be on his show – where authors read their own work – but I wanted to do something a little different as well. I contacted Scott, whom I met when he was a reporter for WITF in Harrisburg (I work for a state Senator), and convinced him to record one of my stories.
Scott Detrow: We started by doing a couple stand-alone stories before Erik came up with the idea of launching a podcast. It was an exciting idea – I did a handful of plays in college, but my only broadcast experience has been doing straight news. So it was fun to try out different character voices and narrative approaches.
What is the submission process? Have any writers been resistant to participate?
Erik Arneson: We invite writers to be on Word Crimes. I reach out to writers I respect and whose work I enjoy. No one has resisted so far – and I think that’s because when I invite them to send a story, I always include a link to a previous episode so they can listen to Scott read.
Scott Detrow: Erik does all the hard work on that front. I just read what he emails me!
What has been the biggest challenge in creating a regular short crime podcast?
Erik Arneson: My major at Temple University was Radio-Television-Film. One of the things I learned there was how to splice reel-to-reel tape. Apparently, that’s not a necessary skill to create a podcast, so I had to learn a few new things in the technology arena. But the biggest challenge is probably just setting aside the time to make the podcast a regular thing.
Scott Detrow: Agreed. We spent the first few episodes figuring out what worked and what didn’t, and I think we’ve settled into a pattern of producing about one new podcast a month. It can be tough to carve out the time to not only voice the stories, but to edit them, as well. I typically read each piece at least two times before voicing it, in order to understand who the characters are, and what sort of pacing the story requires. That’s especially important given how many of our stories include surprise twists and unexpected reveals about the characters. And I’ll often settle on a better voice or inflection for a particular character about halfway through a recording session, and then start over again with the new approach.
What place do you think podcasting has in the current short story market? Where will it be in a year? Five years?
Erik Arneson: Podcasting and short stories are a perfect match. In the U.S., the average commute time is 25 minutes – basically, the ideal length to listen to a short story. Podcasts are exploding in popularity right now, with Serial being Exhibit A. I think that growth will continue over the next five years.
Scott Detrow: It’s been interesting to watch podcasts come back into style. I did a news podcast with a couple other political reporters several years ago, and at the time we all joked that it was a retro, throwback medium. (Actually, come to think of it, Erik was one of that podcast’s biggest fans, so maybe he disagrees!) But suddenly, they’re massively popular again. I think you have to credit apps that made it easier to deliver new episodes right to listeners.
Erik Arneson: There are a lot of great short fiction podcasts. Some of my favorites are CrimeWAV, the Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine podcast, The New Yorker Fiction podcast, and The Truth. I’m a little behind on this one, but I just discovered Welcome to Night Vale, which is quite different but fascinating.
How do you record the podcast and audiobook?
Scott Detrow: I’ll hope my old bosses aren’t reading here, and admit that I usually took advantage of the professional facilities I had at my disposal! I primarily edited on Adobe Audition, which I used for my news reports. But now that I’m not in radio anymore, I’m experimenting with putting together a home recording setup and am hoping to use the experience as a way to learn more about all the great apps that are available to record and edit on.
Erik Arneson: When Scott emails me an MP3 file, I record my parts on my home desktop computer with a Blue Nessie microphone. To put the whole thing together, I use Audacity audio editing software. When an episode’s ready, I upload it to Libsyn. From there, it’s automatically pulled into the iTunes and Stitcher feeds.
Why did you make the decision to have Scott do the reading versus the authors themselves?
Erik Arneson: I wanted Scott to read the stories because I knew he’d be fantastic. He’s been even better than I thought. Scott’s voice also gives Word Crimes a consistent feel and is a huge part of the show’s personality. (I’d say the biggest part, but I don’t want him to ask for a raise.) Besides, CrimeWAV already does a great job having authors read their own stories.
Scott Detrow: I appreciate that! And I’ll add that I’ve been consistently surprised how much different it is to read and record a piece of fiction, compared to a news story. I think each piece has gotten better… to the point that I would encourage new listeners to begin with some of our LATER episodes!
What advice do you have for writers interested in creating their own short fiction audio?
Erik Arneson: Read the story slowly, and then do it again even slower. We all tend to read our work too quickly. Graphic designers are often told not to fear white space, and the concept’s the same: Pausing at appropriate spots really helps the listener connect with the story. Let it breathe.
Scott Detrow: Yeah, pauses are key. I always tell people who are going on the radio for the first time to talk at half speed. And as I mentioned earlier, practice makes perfect. Work with the story a couple times before you hit record. Print out the text and underline the words you want to stress, mark where different characters are speaking, and leave other notes to yourself.
As a short fiction writer and podcaster, do you find that you tailor certain pieces to be read out loud?
Erik Arneson: I’ve always read my stories out loud as part of the editing process. I can’t really say that recording the podcast has changed anything related to writing.
Scott Detrow: This experience has made me want to start giving fiction writing a try. (So I’ll get back to you on that question once I’ve got a couple stories under my belt!)
How did you select the stories included in the Title 18 Word Crimes Audiobook?
Erik Arneson: That was simple – the audiobook includes every story that Scott had recorded at that point. Hopefully the new format will attract new listeners and introduce them to the podcast.
Do you have plans to release more audiobooks in the future?
Erik Arneson: No current plans, but I’d love to do more. Maybe we can make Criminal Words an annual holiday gift to our listeners. And when I have a novel that’s ready to go, I’m sure I’ll try to convince Scott to read that.
Erik Arneson: It’s so easy to listen to them all, that’s probably the best way to go. And Scott’s right, starting with later episodes makes good sense. But if forced to pick just one episode, I’d say to try Episode 5: “Vacation Package” by Christopher Irvin. It’s the most-downloaded episode, and who am I to disagree with the listeners?
Scott Detrow: I’d go with “Episode 11: “Pretty Little Things” by Chris Holm. This is a fun, suspenseful story with several surprises. It also has a wide range of different characters I enjoyed getting into.
Find Scott Detrow on Twitter
Previous Interrogation: Mike Monson
S.W. Lauden is a writer and drummer living in Los Angeles. His short fiction has been accepted for publication by Out of the Gutter, Akashic Books, QuarterReads and Crimespree Magazine. He is currently working on the novella, CROSSWISE, and his debut novel, BAD CITIZEN CORPORATION. You can read one of his recent short stories right HERE.