🎶 Marimba madness 🏄 an essential podcast is freed from a paywall 🧑💻 ransomware attacks 🍌 high-fiber diet ☠️
🍭 👂 You're in for a treat! 🌈 🤸♀️
Today is Monday, August 1. There are 65 days until I go on my next Disney Cruise. In case this email is too long, an essential podcast is freed from a paywall here, a juicy feud about a terrifying diet here, I talk about my cat here.
ps If you are pleased with Podcast The Newsletter, please spread the word.
👋q & a & q & a & q & a👋
Dawnie Walton and Deesha Philyaw
Dawnie Walton (The Final Revival of Opal & Nev) and Deesha Philyaw (The Secret Lives of Church Ladies) are the co-hosts of Ursa Short Fiction. Follow Dawnie on Twitter here, Deesha on Twitter here, and Ursa on Twitter here.
How would you describe the show in 10 words or less?
Deesha: Ursa celebrates the best short fiction writers and their work.
What’s your background in storytelling?
Deesha: I started writing about 20 years ago as a stay-at-home mom in need of mental stimulation and a break. I went from writing about 30 minutes a day to taking classes and workshops and reading everything I could find about the craft of writing. I tried my hand at novels, but have yet to finish one. Prior to the 2020 release of Church Ladies, I was a freelance writer for about 15 years. My personal essays during that time typically covered parenting, race, gender, and culture. In my short fiction, I’ve been writing about dissatisfied women––dissatisfied Black, Southern women––in some form or fashion from the very beginning. I don’t have an MFA; I like to share this to encourage aspiring writers and as a reminder that there are many paths and shapes a writing career can take.
Dawnie: I’ve been writing stories all my life but was pretty practical as a young person, so instead of pursuing fiction like I always dreamed, I got a degree in journalism (a viable option at the time, the mid-’90s). I spent more than 20 years climbing the media ladder, starting with newspapers and ending up at magazines, and the irony is I spent very little of that time writing (I got on the editing track early on). Occasionally I took fiction workshops on the side, but never really tried to do anything with my writing. Then in 2013 I had some major upheaval in my personal life, and I started reevaluating all my choices. That’s the year I started writing Opal & Nev, and the year my new career began.
What’s the history of your friendship?
Dawnie: In 2020, shortly after The Secret Lives of Church Ladies came out and before I’d had a chance to read it, I attended a Zoom event Deesha had with the wonderful Kiese Laymon for Greenlight Bookstore, because I’d just heard so many great things about this collection. And I think it was during that conversation I learned Deesha too was from Jacksonville. I got incredibly hype in the comments, haha, and afterward I DM’ed her on Twitter to say hello. Come to find out we’d even gone to the same high school, five years apart! For a while we tried to figure out who all might know each other in our families, and even though we never did piece that together, we had an instant familiarity, which only deepened when I devoured Church Ladies and recognized so much of my folks in her brilliant stories. So I was a fan first, and then I sent her a copy of my novel, which was still several months out from publication. She was so open and generous, giving me some career advice and putting the galley I sent her in a photo she took to promote an appearance on The Stacks, one of my favorite podcasts. It meant the world to me to have someone so talented, someone I admired so much from the literary community, give my work that kind of early boost. At some point we looped in Dantiel W. Moniz, author of Milk Blood Heat and another Jacksonville-reared writer, into our conversations, and the “Three D’s” finally met in person at the Miami Book Fair in November 2021.
I’m rambling but let me just say that it is rare, as I get older, to meet people I click with in the way that I do with Deesha. We laugh our heads off, we support each other, and now we dream together for this new podcast.
Deesha: I don’t believe in coincidences. Three of the hottest books from the early 2020s all written by Black women from Jacksonville, Florida!? That’s extra special. And I said as much in an offhand comment to an L.A. Times reporter who was writing a profile of me. I mentioned that not one publication, including our hometown newspaper, had covered the story of us. Well, the reporter made my little observation the lede in the profile, and when it hit social media, suddenly our story was a hot topic. And I’m so thankful. I’m glad that my book’s journey will forever be associated with Dawnie’s and Dantiel’s. Our books brought us together, we forged a connection, and for Dawnie and me, Ursa is one of the ways our friendship has blossomed.
Were there any surprises in making the show?
Deesha: I’ve been surprised by how much fun we’re having, how much we laugh. Dawnie and I have a natural rapport, and I look forward to every time we’re in the virtual studio together. This doesn’t feel like work!
Do you think not enough people read short stories? Why?
Deesha: I suspect it’s a chicken-or-the-egg type situation. “Short stories don’t sell,” is a common refrain from agents and publishers. Short story writers are often told to come back when they have a novel, either to accompany their short story collection for a two-book deal, or instead of their collection. Readers have told me that they never or rarely read short stories. But is that because publishers are more interested in publishing novels, so short stories aren’t on readers’ radars as much? Or do collections not sell because publishers don’t support the few they do publish, with marketing dollars?
If it’s truly a matter of customer taste and demand, I wonder if short stories are less popular because in high school, we read novels almost exclusively. I don’t remember reading a short story collection in high school. A third of U.S. high school graduates never read a book, period, after high school. So maybe the other two-thirds stick to what they know, which is novels.
Dawnie: I agree that the lack of support for short stories from large publishers has an effect — fewer collections get out there, and so fewer people have knowledge of or access to them. But I also should say that many people ARE reading short fiction collections and don’t realize it because those books may be marketed as novels. The Twelve Tribes of Hattie, Olive Kitteridge, Homegoing, A Visit From the Goon Squad — all bestsellers, and all technically books of linked short stories.
What do each of you bring to the show? How are you similar, how are you different?
Dawnie: Because I’m a novelist and feel like I’m still learning the mechanics of shorter forms, I’m always asking writers, in geeky and awestruck ways, about how they know what’s part of a story and what’s not. Probably my biggest curiosity has to do with how and where to end, because that’s my own struggle when I try to write short fiction. Both Deesha and I are interested in craft AND content, but sometimes I just like to go quiet and listen to her and our guests commiserate on their processes.
🚨If u only have time for 1 thing🚨
Emily Reeves sent me a pitch for an episode she produced for Queens Memory: Our Major Minor Voices that’s a look into the process of podcast composing. Queens Memory has a ten-episode season, Our Major Minor Voices, that shares stories from eight of Queens' diverse Asian American communities, each with its own producer and released in both English and the native language of that community. I listened to so many of the episodes, they are all wonderful windows into different worlds, but the one I recommend is I Thought I’d Won, about two Nepalis who now call Queens home—one domestic worker, and one who became a barber. The one about the barber really got me (my Grandpa was an immigrant from Italy who started a barbershop) and the pride he had for his work made me feel mushy inside, but it’s also heartbreaking to hear about the hard lives some of these people have left behind, their families still in Nepal, and the backbreaking work they’re doing to live in a place that undervalues them. Each of these pieces is its own treasure, Emily’s included. She interviewed Elias Ravin, the podcast's composer, and they talk about a lot of stuff like: why are podcasts so obsessed with marimbas? There’s a pretty good answer.
🎙️For Podcast Marketing Magic, I wrote about 14 people you should follow on Twitter to improve your podcast marketing game. I wish I could have listed 100 but there was a character limit. It made some* people angry—no hard feelings if you weren’t on the list. (*Although the only people who seemed to have an issue with the list were white men. Enter that rabbit hold if you dare.) Would love to hear if anyone else found it problematic! Please add other great podcast marketing tweeters in the comments. Read here.
🎙️You may have read that Love + Radio, which Nick Quah calls “an essential podcast” and “the longest continuously running narrative podcast in history,” is unlocking it’s vault. Van der Kolk released the show’s seventh and eighth seasons under Luminary, but now through Gumball is lifting the paywalled seasons for everyone. Before the Law is the story of Stanley Cohen, who is often considered “the world’s number one self-hating Jew” or “the most hated lawyer in New York” for having defended accused terrorists like Mousa Mohammad Abu Marzook for decades. Stanley is unapologetic and has a sense of justice that has put his life at risk. His story highlights America’s general distaste for Jews, New Yorkers, and East Coasters—he embodies it all. He talks about his hero Clarence Darrow, who forged the path of defending people considered indefensible. Clarence Darrow, who later regretted it. Stanley does not. There’s a fun lightning round of “terrorist or freedom fighter?” you won’t want to miss. Welcome back, Love + Radio. I know I say this a lot but for those of us who did not pay for Luminary, we are all in for a treat. Listen here.
🎙️Russian ransomware attacks almost doubled last year, and on dot com: The Hacking, Katie Puckrik is telling the story of the new Cold War taking place on the internet, and trying to track down the who, how, and why. Episode one tells the story of the world’s oldest maternity hospital in Dublin that was victim to a vicious cyber attack that forced it to go completely analog. It’s a terrifying image, picturing doctors in the middle of saving people’s lives having to shut down their computers and lose all of their information. At the end, the hospital director is in tears, remembering the patients who were impacted by the breach. It’s a tech true-crime story that couldn’t be more human. I can see a world where this podcast would be overly techy or stiff, but Katie is a great host. She has a sense of humor and is able to describe things so that dummies like me are uncomfortable with what they’re learning—so thanks, Katie. Now I have a new fear to add to my growing anxiety-list of things to mull over while I’m trying to fall asleep. Listen here.
🎙️The very funny Casey Wilson (Bitch Sesh!) is the host Fed Up, that explores the $500K lawsuit F-Factor Diet founder Tanya Zuckerbrot filed against Emily Gellis, an Instagram influencer who used her platform to give voice to (the alarmingly-high number of) women who experienced intestinal damage, heart attacks, and worse (there have been deaths) by adhering to Tanya’s high-fiber diet. This is the scam story that we’re still in the middle of—Tanya and Emily are still warring, Tanya is still selling, and women (mostly) are still using a strange high-fiber powder to replace flour in their waffles that could kill them. If you think it strange that Casey is getting into this, think again. It sounds like the plot of a Real Housewife season. This show is rich (as in, it’s plentiful when it comes to story and all of the characters are rich.) Listen here.
🎙️When I was listening to the Hot Take episode Climate Behind Bars, I took more than a dozen screenshots of my phone so that I could go and return to notable moments but then after thirteen screenshots I was like, fuck it, I just need to listen to the whole thing again. It connects the dots between climate change and incarceration—how extreme heat funnels people into the system and makes incarcerations even more cruel and unusual in so many ways, and how this is the last thing our government cares about addressing. (To quote Amy Westervelt, it’s “a depressing knot of things that collide.” Decarceration should be a huge part of the global warming conversation. Listen here.
🎙️Rumble Strip’s Makeup for Special Occasion is nine minutes of a woman named Tiana telling Erica about preparing for her 1-year anniversary dinner with her boyfriend. It started when Erica saw a vulnerable posting on a community bulletin board at a local grocery store about asking if anyone could help her with hair and makeup for the big event. The conversation is laced with moments that have stuck in my mind, like Tiana hoping her boyfriend would say she looks pretty but knowing he probably won’t. It drives me nuts that celebrity interview podcasts are so popular when an interview with Tiana is much more honest, revealing, and human. Listen here.
🎙️I am the daughter of a Barbie Influencer so I felt obligated to listen to Build For Tomorrow’s episode: To Save Barbie, They Had to Change Her, but surely I would have listened, anyway. I love this show. It’s both weird history slash life advice and philosophy—episode by episode, it will change the way you think about teddy bears, forks and mirrors, and eventually, everything in the universe. (Pre-order Jason’s book, Build for Tomorrow here.) The Barbie episode was a delight. First of all there were things that I, the daughter of a Barbie influencer, did not know. (Earring Magic Ken, some of Barbie’s dumbest sayings…) The story of Barbie is the story of our culture, and for this episode Jason shares Matel’s blueprint for reinventing yourself and a lesson on how to be better by asking yourself the question: what is the difference between what I do and why I do it? Listen here.
🎙️I have written about My Cat’s Tale, a show where Ewan Spence talks to cat owners about their cats, and was lucky enough to be a guest to talk about my cat, Monty. It’s about Monty, but more about me and what an unhinged/obsessive cat owner I am. Listen here.
🎙️Liza Powel O’Brien (who happens to be married to Conan O’Brien) has started a Team Coco show Significant Others, that encourages us to widen our gaze when we look at the giants of history to see who else was standing by when they made it. (Their partners.) I wonder what she’s trying to tell us. Episode one tells about the very weird weird weird relationship between Tolstoy (voiced by Nick Offerman) and Countess Sophia Tolstoy (voiced by Megan Mullally,) which makes Tolstoy seem like a Homer Simpson-esque bad sitcom husband from the 90s. Another episode gets into the hidden history of The Ghandis. This is an interesting project, though not that funny. (Liza sneaks in a Mean Girls quote, which is supposed to make us laugh, I think.) I imagine that after sitting in the back seat of Conan’s wild ride for years, it could take a few episodes for Liza to find her voice. So I’m listening (and will continue to listen) with a furrowed brow. I want it, but I want it to be better. Listen here.
🎙️English Rose is the story of a woman who comes to New York City to be the nanny for a rich baby (and secretive family) on the Upper East Side. I don’t want to give anything away, but let’s just say that when Rose says baby Gilly is so adorable she wants to eat him up, she’s not really joking. But it’s more complicated than that—she’s protecting him, too. It’s part horror part comedy, and truly brings in the life of New York City. Listen here.
🎙️Another show capturing New York City with a mixture of darkness and comedy, this time my neighborhood, is Power Trip, the story of a recipient of a black-market kidney donation that gave her special powers—she can force people to do whatever she wants with her mind. In episode two, Jane joins a society of people with super powers and seems to be about to learn the danger of this magical kidney. Jane is sarcastic and entertaining, her dialogue is great, and the show feels so real I keep looking out my window to see if I can find her manipulating my neighbors on the street below. Or maybe Jane is hanging out with Rose from English Rose above. It seems plausible. Listen here.
🎙️At Mammoth Pool Reservoir over Labor Day weekend 2020, the Creek Fire, one of the fastest-moving, most intense wildfires in California history, closed in on the campground at Mammoth Pool Reservoir. Escape from Mammoth Pool feels like a real-time account of the events, and how 242 people and 16 dogs survived. It’s a short series that doesn’t waste a second, dropping you straight into the flames. I think these kinds of projects will be more and more important to show the real impacts of climate change. (And maybe what we should do in the event we are faced with the impacts of extreme weather.) Listen here.
🎙️I wish I could bottle up Sam Sanders’ energy and take him home with me, and his old podcast, NPR’s It’s Been a Minute, was kind of that. He’s moved to Vulture for a new show Into It with Sam Sanders—similar energy, but since this isn’t public radio, we can expect to hear Sam Sanders a little more off-the-leash. The first episode, centered around the business of Beyonce, had all the hits—news, smart pop culture takes, in-studio games, and calls from listeners which will pump life and engagement into the whole thing, which like It’s Been a Minute, feels like it’s an extension of Sam Sanders’ brain.
🎙️I love you!
This week we’re getting to peek into the listening life of Bri M (pronouns: ze/zir,) a political agitator and podcaster with a fierce desire to change the way disabled people are seen in mass media. Ze is the host, producer, editor and sound engineer of POWER NOT PITY, a podcast about the lived experiences of disabled people of color. Bri's episodes serve as a vehicle for amplifying, preserving, and delighting in the voices of disabled people of color. Ze is committed to interjecting disability justice in any conversation ze has and loves to cultivate collaborative energy with writers, artists and storytellers within zir community. Bri was the 2019 Stitcher Breakthrough Fellow, a 2019 Werk It! Presenter, featured at the 2020 Afros and Audio Festival and a virtual presenter at Podcast Movement 2021. Zir work has been featured in Forbes Magazine, Colorlines, and Disability Visibility Project to name a few. Bri is and will always be a proud Jamaican-American, queer, trans non-binary, disabled alien-prince from The Bronx. Follow zir on Twitter here and Instagram here.
The app you use to listen: Unfortunately I use Spotify. There were a few (RadioPublic, Goodpods, Apple Podcasts) I've used in the past, but Spotitfy is the most accessible one for me.
What speed do you listen to podcasts? 1x, I want to experience it the way the producer(s) intended!
How do you discover new shows? Right now, I'm committed to giving my energy to other Black podcasters. I find my people and their work through the Black Podcasters Association. If you're Black and passionate about podcasting or you're just starting out, The Black Podcasters Association is a great place to learn and connect with the culture!
One show you love that everybody loves. Levar Burton Reads, do I need to offer an explanation?! Levar is like a whole course that I study whenever I listen to his episodes. I love this man so much I purchased a MasterClass account to take his class. Don't tell my partner though, I told her it was a gift for her.
One show you love that most people don't know about. Reid My Mind Radio, produced by my dear comrade in the struggle: Thomas Reid. He talks to people who are blind or new to becoming blind and accepting their disabilities. It is just so refreshing and familiar when I listen to his show and I definitely learn something new when I listen. Thomas is such a dope storyteller and producer and sound engineer (you know how it is when you are a solo podcaster!). Also, he's from the Bronx so you know I gotta hype him up BIG! ;-)
Anything else you want to say…Yes! POWER NOT PITY is coming back from hiatus in the very near future! It will be centering Black trans and nonbinary disabled people and so far my interviews have been amazing! I can't wait for people to listen, cheer, howl and laugh with these stories. They've been really feeding my soul and I hope that they'll do that for my audience as well. Find the show wherever you listen to podcasts and of course find all the rest of my catalogue at www.powernotpity.com. I'm @powernotpity on all social media handles.