Philippa J. Ballantine: How I do it!

Philippa J. Ballantine is the author of Weaver’s Web, Chasing the Bard, Digital Magic, Weather Child and the forthcoming Geist, being released by ACE books this fall, and it’s sequel Spectre. She has podcasted WW, CtB, WC and is currently podcasting DM. She can be found on Twitter as @philippajane.

General Writing Questions

1. Before you begin writing, do you script out the general outline of plot and characters, or do you let these situations evolve as you write?

I always start with characters. I have the main ones in my head, they have to be fresh, vibrant and real to me before I start. The rest of it evolves around the characters.

2. I’ve heard repetitively that writers should deal with writing as any other job. Do you have a scheduled or structured writing routine?

I try and get 1,000 words a day done when I am writing. If I can manage more that’s great- but at the very least I need this. My routine has to be flexible. I prefer to write at night, but because I write on a laptop I can write pretty much anywhere.

3. What is your writing environment like? (cats, music, computer etc.) How has this evolved/changed?

My preferred writing environment is on the couch, with a cat on each side and some music playing. I find I like ambient music for writing- something like Enigma- for most scenes. However I like to ramp it up for action scenes- usually a soundtrack from a movie. That being said I have been known to write pretty much anywhere. The bus. On the beach (but on a still day so I don’t get sand in my computer).

4. Do you write anything, or have you, that is solely for yourself? (no intention of sharing with a large audience)

Generally I write poetry only for myself. I’m not sure if that is because it is bad (which I suspect it might be) or if it is because I expose far more of myself there. Everything else is out there.

5. How has social media played a role in your writing? Podcasting Questions

Social media and podcasting has really enriched my life and my writing. I have met and communicated with some of the most creative people and they have inspired and challenged me to work harder, be better and generally get off my butt as far as writing goes. I really don’t know where my ‘career’ would be without it.

Podcasting Questions

1. What type of OS do you prefer? Linux? Mac? Win? What are your machine’s specs?

I have a three year old MacBook Pro. It has been a real workhorse and very reliable. I am running Snow Leopard on it and love the Time Machine backup ability. For a writer- nothing is more important than backup!!

2. Would you please describe your current studio? How has this changed? (What did you start with?)

My studio is pretty light weight. I have a library room with a small desk. I have my Rhode podcaster mic there on a mic stand. In front of the desk I have a duvet (comforter I guess Americans would call it) pinned up to the wall. And then I have a laptop cradle for my Mac.

3. If you were able to build your dream studio, what would it include? Be as specific as you wish.

It would involve a really soundproof room. (I hate having to stop when planes fly over head and neighbours start with loud music) It would have a producer behind a board and a really nice mic (OK I’d just steal Tee Morris’ one- I have profound mic envy)

4. Other than a computer, what piece of HARDWARE would you recommend to a new podcaster?

Sounds silly… but a dog clicker. Tee taught me this. When you flub a line, or there is maybe some external noise, stop, click the clicker into the mic. When you come to edit your audio it is sooooo much easier to spot the mistake.

5. What have you had to learn for yourself that you wish someone could have warned you about?

How addictive podcasting is! I started off expecting only to do one book and now I am up to my fourth! (But I do love it)

6. What would you consider a “beginner’s mistake” you’ve either experienced or hear others making?

Reading too fast. In fact you can hear it fairly regularly in first time readers. People don’t naturally love the sound of their own voice, so they tend to race to get the reading done. Yet if you read too fast you will stumble over your words, you will mis-pronounce them, and even more importantly you won’t be able to put any emotion into your voice. Sometimes even if you think you are reading slowly- you aren’t.

7. How much time does it take, once you have all the elements, for YOU to put together a 30 minute podcast? (please describe your production technique)

Once I have all the voicework done, the editing is where most time goes to. I would say mixing in voices can take about 3 hours for half an hour of audio. The sound effects and scoring probably takes another 3 hours. I find that I have got quicker at this over the years, and also that I have turned down how many sound effects I put in.

I use Garageband to put together the vocals- cutting out my vocals of specific characters and putting in the guest voices. I then mix that down to an aif file. I then create another GarageBand file, import that vocal track and do the scoring and sfx.

Casting Questions

1. What is the hardest part of putting together a casted podcast?

It’s just the extra time involved really. I generally love working with other peoples voices.

2. Do you provide the entire chapter to your talent, or just their lines?

I usually give them only the scenes they are in.

3. Is instruction given to your talent on how you prefer the line to be read?

No. I usually rely on their acting chops to see what they give me.

4. What do you do with all of that unused audio?

Luckily for some people I am not the type to put together blooper reels.

5. What is the hardest part of putting together a “straight read” podcast?

I would imagine it would be doing all the voices yourself (I have never done just a straight read).

6. As far as cast goes, what would you like to try, but haven’t so far?

I would love to try an audio drama with a full cast of podcast super stars 🙂

General Questions

1. If someone approached you with THEIR book, and asked you to podcast it for them for a fee, what would you consider a reasonable rate per episode? (The way YOU do it)

Oh gosh, I would have to value my time- and I value it pretty highly. I honestly don’t think I would do it. I am however open to narrating stories to others for pay. Something I am looking into at the moment.

2. Do you podcast as part of a larger plan, or because getting your content out in some manner IS your plan?

I tend to have some plan. Digital Magic for example, is timed so that it will come out just before my release of Geist with Ace books in November.

3. What is the nicest compliment you’ve been paid or what keeps you coming back?

OK… I love it when people tell me I made them cry. (Does that make me sound cruel?) Generally they tell me the end of Chasing the Bard makes them do that- and I know I have reached them. Also I must admit ‘sexiest voice in podcasting’ makes me giggle. I am sure my old Speech and Drama teacher would have giggled about that

4. How important are numbers of downloads/subscribers to you? Do you keep track?

Numbers are only important to me in that I can give them to my agent to present to New York publishing. So yes 🙂 I do keep track with a spreadsheet. But I try not to obsess about them

5. How important are reviews left on Podiobooks/iTunes/other venues to you?

They are important in that it lets me know what people are thinking- areas that I have succeeded at, and areas in which I need to improve. Also the more revues the more likely my podiobooks are going to turn up on the front page of Literature on itunes.

6. If not answered previously, how do you read your manuscript while recording (hard copy, teleprompter, etc)?

I usually have a printed copy of the book in front of me, unless like Weather Child it is not yet in print.

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