Who Done It? and an update on Where Wolf
Over the last few months, I've been making my way through Shout Factory's ABBOTT & COSTELLO: THE COMPLETE UNIVERSAL PICTURES COLLECTION. This impressive set features 28 films on 15 discs - that's a lot of Abbott and Costello! I had only seen a handful of the comedy duo's films previous to this viewing project so it's been a real treat to make my way through their filmography.
Last night's film was WHO DONE IT?, a 1942 mystery comedy in which Abbott and Costello star as two soda jerks who dream of becoming mystery writers for the radio. When they find themselves in the middle of a real on-air murder in which a studio executive is killed during a radio play taping, the two decide to pretend to be cops and try and solve the case themselves. What follows is 70 minutes of physical comedy and wordplay-based hijinx as the two find themselves pursued by both the killer and the real cops.
WHO DONE IT? wasn't just another fun comedy from Abbott and Costello, it was a strange case of two of my recent interests intersecting. Over the last few months, in addition to watching a lot of Abbott and Costello comedies, I have also been trying to become a radio play writer myself. Well, the modern equivalent at least.
I'm a big podcast listener, consuming at least ten hours of podcasts each week while in the car or on my daily hikes. I listen to stuff like REPLY ALL, COVERVILLE, YOU MUST REMEMBER THIS, and THE KINGCAST. I have also experimented with several different narrative podcasts. While there are a few - like WELCOME TO NIGHT VALE - I really dig, I have barely begun to scratch the surface of all the stuff that's out there. From fantasy to horror to sci-fi to comedy, the narrative podcast business is beginning to boom.
I believe strongly in the potential of narrative podcasts. I think the format is a great one - it's also an exciting one because I don't think that potential has been fully unlocked. Audiobooks are huge, podcasts are huge, serialized storytelling is huge. I believe in the next ten years we will continue to see a boom in the development of serialized audio storytelling - and I want to be in on that!
Earlier this summer, I finished writing WHERE WOLF, a lycanthropic whodunit. The story follows Larry Chaney, a reporter in a small Texas town who goes undercover at a furry convention to try and uncover the identity of a serial killer who is targeting members of the local fetish community. What Larry doesn't realize, though, is that the serial killer is actually a werewolf!
I started the project back in February as a creative lark - writing a chapter every few days just to keep my brain active and off of other stuff that was giving me anxiety. And then March hit and my anxiety increased ten-fold as a worldwide pandemic set-in and I found myself furloughed, quarantined, and unsure of what the future looked like. I threw myself into WHERE WOLF in a big way and finished the first draft of the novel by the beginning of May.
For most of the summer, WHERE WOLF was available to read online. I had published the story daily in chapter format and I left it up there for people to read while I continued to make small revisions and copy edits. In July, though, I took the novel off the internet because I had grown embarrassed by the version that was publically available. I have done so many revisions on WHERE WOLF over the last few months that the chapters I published back in February through April lack little resemblance to the version I'm currently working on. For one, I have made the decision to turn WHERE WOLF into a podcast script.
Adapting WHERE WOLF into podcast format has been illuminating. The project was always designed to be an homage to the writing of Gregory McDonald, the author of FLETCH. It was dialogue-heavy, telling the majority of its story through fun quips shared by characters. In other words, it was perfect for translation to the audio medium. By stripping the story down to JUST the dialogue, though, I realized how much "fluff" I had inserted into the story along the way. For the last few months, I have been slowly and steadily chiseling away at my baby, stripping scenes and dialogue that aren't essential and don't drive the story forward in a comedic way.
This process has been an amazing learning opportunity. Through great notes from friends like Meredith Borders and Steve Bessette, I have really crystalized who the characters are and how the story should flow. Earlier this summer I did a table read of the first episode and, thanks to an amazing cast of volunteers, I began to further understand what the project should be. I have realized that I was treating the podcast iteration of WHERE WOLF too much like an audiobook cut into five parts instead of like a five-episode series. I needed to strengthen each individual episode's narrative structure and create a better flow of smaller story arcs. What has helped me a lot in this process is listening to audio from sitcoms.
I have taken the audio from some of my favorite television comedies, stripped it from its visuals, and will routinely listen to the dialogue. This process has given me a greater understanding of timing and pacing on an individual episode basis. There's a flow to great comedy that can actually be mapped out in a mathematical way. I know this sounds crazy and very much uncreative but it's true! The best comedy is structured in a very specific way and me beginning to understand that structure has helped make WHERE WOLF's scripts better. All the Abbott and Costello movies I've been watching haven't hurt either.
I am still quite busy developing the scripts for the audio version of WHERE WOLF. My goal is to finish the scripts for the first season by October. What happens then, I'm not sure. There are several companies that develop and produce narrative podcasts. Do they take open submissions? Do I need an agent? Should I just produce the episodes and self-release them myself? I'll figure all that stuff out after the scripts are done - no point putting the cart before the horse.
That said, if you are somebody who produces narrative podcasts and wants to read these scripts, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org!
In the meantime, I have begun writing some shorter one-off horror and comedy stories I want to record as podcast episodes. I want to experiment with shorter stuff while I continue to develop WHERE WOLF, to better understand what works and what doesn't in audio storytelling and to try and build a resume of my work that I can share. As of right now, I'm planning to self-release this stuff in the fall but if you have a podcast network or a show in which you already release short-form stories, please reach out and let me know!
The biggest thing this project has taught me is that I crave creative collaborators. I like listening to other people's ideas and I like bouncing my own ideas off other people. I dream of starting a writer's room for an audio narrative series. I want to be a part of a group of funny people who can help me tell great stories. In the end, I'm just a Costello looking for his Abbott(s).