Tonia Ransom is the founder of award-winning horror podcast Nightlight, and took some time out to give us a look at how episodes are made and what’s on the horizon for Ransom.
S: “Playthings” by Samantha Frye is one of my husband’s favorites from your catalog. For anyone who might be new to the Nightlight podcast, What are a couple of good stories to start with?
T: Our first full episode, “Letters From Home” by Justina Ireland remains our most popular episode. It’s based on the world from her bestselling novel, Dread Nation. My personal favorites are episode 3 from season 1, Lamar Giles’ “Wilson’s Pawn and Loan”, and “Last Stop on Route Nine” by Tananarive Due (Season 3, Episode 7).
S: Tell me about some of the great Black authors and narrators that you’ve worked with.
T: Cherrae Stuart and Devanté Johnson are my two favorite narrators to work with. They are always professional, are incredibly talented, and just good people. I love all my NIGHTLIGHT authors, but I think Alexis Brooks de Vita was one of my favorites. She’s so brilliant, and does great work in the community outside being a writer. If we lived closer, I could see us hanging out and chatting about Black horror over great food and drink. Zin E. Rocklyn is also fantastic as well.
S: Does it take a lot of takes to tell a whole story?
T: OMG, yes. Some days, it may take me 2 hours to narrate 45 minutes worth of story, and another 1-2 hours to edit it. Others, I can bang out a 45-minute story in an hour, and edit the narration in another hour. It just depends on how much my brain wants to cooperate with me! If I find myself getting tongue-tied often, I’ll usually just quit and try again later to make my editing life easier 🙂
S: Who adds the effects and music and does the sound mixing?
T: My sound designers, Jen Zink and Davis Walden, do most of the effects, music, and mixing. I’ve got a pretty bad elbow injury that limits my computer use, so I almost never sound design episodes. I’ll sometimes suggest effects or music for them to use, but I generally trust them to create their art.
S: How do you choose narrators for each story?
T: When I’m reading a story to decide whether or not to accept it, I’m usually starting to hear a voice in my head by the second or third reading. From that point, I just pay attention to that voice. Is it smooth or gritty? Masculine, feminine, or androgynous? After I have an idea what I want, I go to my spreadsheet of narrators and start dropping in filters to remove any narrators that don’t fit. Then, I listen to what’s left until someone sounds very similar to what I imagined.
S: You’ve done some of the narration yourself. How has that experience been and have you learned anything from narrating that you’ve been able to apply to your own fiction?
T: I love it. I had no idea I’d like voice acting until I started the podcast, and now it’s another stream of income for me. I didn’t realize how complex it was when I first started. I had no idea such a thing as “mic technique” even existed. I didn’t know you shouldn’t run your A/C when recording. It was definitely a learning experience, but I think one of the biggest things I’ve learned is how all writers tend to repeat certain words or phrases. It’s definitely made me more conscious in my writing—keeping an eye out for repetitive words, thinking more about alliteration and other turns of phrase to make my writing more musical, and thinking more about differentiating characters in their dialogue.
S: What is it about audio stories that appeals to you? Why did you choose audio over print?
T: For me, audio allows me to use my imagination like a book would, but also gives me pieces of the puzzle in audio like TV would. I think audio is perfectly suited for horror because the things we imagine are far scarier than anything we can build, and it’s the best of both analog and digital worlds. That said, I discovered all that on accident! I chose audio over print because the barrier to entry was lower at the time. Very practical 🙂
S: Do you look for different qualities in a story that will be for an audio production compared to a story for a print publication?
T: Yes, in audio, stories need to have faster pacing than they might in print. You also don’t have as much room for exposition because people just have shorter attention spans when listening vs reading. Listeners also can’t effectively skim like readers can when they encounter a paragraph of description. I look for suspenseful stories with solid tension to make sure we’re holding the listener’s interest throughout the story.
S: You’re just raised funds for Afflicted, an audio horror series. How does this differ from what you’re doing with Nightlight? Will there be a large cast?
T: I did and I couldn’t be more excited! Afflicted will be a full-cast audio drama, whereas NIGHTLIGHT is more of a single-narrator audio drama. The sound design will also be a bit more involved in Afflicted as sound will help tell the story there, but with NIGHTLIGHT, the sound is designed to simply enhance the story rather than help tell it. Afflicted has about 15 characters in the first season, so I’ll be managing about the same number of actors/narrators in a season as I do with NIGHTLIGHT.
S: There’s been lots of social media chatter lately about piracy. You stuck to your guns with Afflicted to raise enough to pay people a living wage. How do you impress on your audience the need to value art and artists?
T: I think putting people behind the art is what’s most important. When people pirate a book, they aren’t thinking about the artist. They don’t think they’re stealing from a person. It’s easy to pretend art doesn’t have an artist. It’s easy to consume content and skip ads. It’s not easy to look someone in the eyes and say they don’t deserve to be paid for their labor. By putting a face to the art, I believe people are more likely to purchase content if they have the money. For smaller creators, people support artists, not just the art. Some absolutely do support art for art’s sake, but the people that will contribute to your crowdfund or Patreon as much as they can as often as they can…they do so because they like YOU and your art.
S: How can people support your projects?
T: Patreon is the best way to support me! If you want to support me personally, patreon.com/toniaransom is great. You can also support NIGHTLIGHT at patreon.com/nightlightpod or Afflicted at patreon.com/afflicted. Aside from that, you can buy my novella, Risen, on Amazon.
Tonia Ransom is the creator and executive producer of NIGHTLIGHT, an award-winning horror podcast featuring creepy tales written by Black writers. Tonia has been scaring people since the second grade, when she wrote her first story based on Michael Myers. She lives in Austin, Texas, and is set to premiere her second audio drama, Afflicted, on Halloween of 2022. You can follow Tonia @missdefying on Twitter, TikTok, and Instagram.
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