By Carl Slaughter: If you’re a podcast fan, you’ve probably heard Kate Baker’s voice. She is the narrator for Clarkesworld and has narrated for several other major podcast sites. If you’re a SFWA member, you’ve benefited from her behind the scenes work as director of operations
CARL SLAUGHTER: How did you get into podcasting?
KATE BAKER: I owe my start to luck and excellent friends.
I began podcasting in 2005. One of my best friends was beginning his writing career and I took it upon myself to narrate one of his short stories. We mainly communicated through TeamSpeak, a VoIP that allowed us to talk as we played video games 1700 miles apart. While I hoped his first response wouldn’t be, “Wow, I totally didn’t ask you to do that,” he actually loved it and told me I was missing my calling as a narrator.
I took his advice to heart and sent samples of my narration to Tony C. Smith at StarShipSofa who immediately asked when I could start. While I was reading for Tony, I started asking advice from established audio narrator Mary Robinette Kowal at that time and we became friends. She in turn gave my name to Neil Clarke. Neil hired me as Podcast Director after a few narrations in 2009. He says I’m the best hire he’s ever made in his professional career, I hope that it’s still true.
CS: What exactly is involved in being podcast director for a speculative magazine? Goals, process, challenges, benefits.
KB: With Neil Clarke and Sean Wallace picking the stories each month, the podcast direction is the easy part. Neil started with one podcast on the 21st issue of the magazine and roughly ten years later, we are up to 6-8 a month, depending on the word count. We grew as the audience did, appreciating all the support they gave us through word of mouth, Patreon, subscriptions, and other methods.
So after we set our schedule, I curse at both of them for long word counts. They laugh at me and play tiny violins and we get to work. I start recording the first story of the month for our initial release. Throughout the month, we release the rest, calling back attention to the printed stories through the audio.
As I am a huge Doctor Who fan, my brother built me a semi-soundproof TARDIS booth in which to record. So each time I go down to the closet-sized room, I grab my laptop and dive into each story. I’ve often been asked if the TARDIS is bigger on the inside and I often reply that because our authors take me to other worlds, it is!
Another thing that takes some people by surprise is that I go in “cold” to each narration. I don’t read the story beforehand. When you are listening to a Clarkesworld podcast, I’m experiencing that story right along with you. That revelation is sometimes met with outrage at my lack of preparation, and sometimes high-fives. Perhaps I like to remain genuine and because Neil picks such wonderful stories, they are often full of gut-punching emotion.
So after I either laugh, yell, cry, (or a little of all three) through a story, I take a break and then hop into editing the file in ProTools. I’ve come a long way from my tiny USB microphone and GarageBand to my Rode microphone and professional editing tools. The general rule of thumb is it will usually take 1 1/2 to 2 times as long to edit than the time you took to record.
Some of the challenges I’ve faced throughout the last eleven years have been really getting to know my equipment and what it can do. I am a quick study, but I am always eager to learn new things to help the podcast be and sound its best.
The benefits of this work are endless. Not only do I get to squee that I’m narrating some of the best authors and works our field has seen, but I get to experience that with the listeners who come back for each episode. Audio narration can be extremely intimate, and I just hope I’m wielding the gift that has been given me, appropriately and genuinely.
CS: Same question for being nonfiction editor.
KB: This one is a bit more involved. We have our nonfiction guidelines posted on our website and often do calls via social media for non-fiction pitches. Additionally, I solicit our main article and opinion pieces from new and established writers as well. If I run into an interesting expert at a conference, I’ll give them my card and invite a pitch.
Our lead article each month attempts to meld science with the fiction. We’ve examined celestial bodies in the universe to the music that has SFF ties right here on Earth. I’d love to see more pieces that really showcase how deeply interwoven our genre is with the physical world and how inspiration from those words on a page or in your ear is transformative.
CS: Give us some highlights of your time at Clarkesworld. Or better, lots of highlights.
KB: I almost lost the first job with Clarkesworld. As I mentioned, Mary Robinette Kowal gave my name to Neil and he in turn asked me how much I’d charge to turn around a podcast in 24 hours. I had no idea. I’d never been paid before. So I took a look a wild guess and sent it back. I believe Neil said something to the effect of, “no.”
Crushed, I thought I’d lost the opportunity and wrote back asking what number he’d prefer. He wrote back with a figure that was mutually beneficial and I accepted. But yes, this thing with Clarkesworld Magazine almost never was. I am terribly thankful to both Mary for the recommendation and for Neil for the second look.
Other highlights include being at Worldcon both times when we won our second and third Hugo Awards for Best Semiprozine. Particularly in 2013, when I think we all got emotional on stage after hearing our names. Neil worked his way back from a devastating heart attack the prior year, and to be there, getting validation from all who voted, was truly humbling. I will never forget that, ever.
Clarkesworld crew accept Best Semiprozine Hugo at LoneStarCon in 2013.
I hope now that we’re ineligible for that category, our authors continue to get recognized like Naomi Kritzer with “Cat Pictures Please.” I was so chuffed when they called her name and still get excited knowing that she brought home a rocket. What I want to see the most though, is Neil bring home an award for Best Editor – Short Form. The field is full of giants, and Neil is my favorite.
I also love meeting the authors for whom I’ve narrated. I hope I get things right and it’s both surreal and amazing to hear that I did. I mentioned in a recent panel discussion that today is an awesome time to be a writer and a reader. I meant every word.
The fans of the podcast are amazing as well. I’ve met a few in my travels to various conventions, but a lot of the interaction happens online and through email. When life is hitting particularly hard, words of encouragement or someone noting that the podcast has helped keep them company on long drives or in getting to sleep, or in other ways, is such a driving force.
The last highlight I’d like to mention is the friendships. Working for both SFWA and Clarkesworld have given me access to the best and brightest our genre have to offer. I am thrilled that I get to call some of those people friends. If you had asked a younger me if I ever thought I’d land here, I’d say I was too busy trying to be an astronaut or a pediatrician. There isn’t a day that goes by that I’m not thankful for everything that’s happened.
CS: How extensive is your podcasting for other sites?
KB: A list of my narrations can be found at http://katebaker.net/narrations/ and while it’s a cheap ploy to get you to go to my website, there are a ton there. Everything from a few audiobooks that I’ve done and am currently working on, to the long list of stories for Clarkesworld. I’ve listed work I’ve done with The Dark Magazine, Mash Stories, Cast of Wonders, a few different independent authors, The Drabblecast, EscapePod, and Mythic Delirium. Eleven years of narrations on that page, and I’m still updating it with each new issue.
The best thing though — I learn how to be better with each story or poem that I record.
CS: Exactly what’s involved with being operations director of the SFWA?
KB: What started as an offer of a part time office manager position has grown so much in the last five years. I handle the day to day administrivia that keeps the organization running. From membership queries and applications to making sure the SFWA Board of Directors has everything they need to do their jobs. I manage a team of hard-working and dedicated contractors that help with everything from our IT infrastructure to our publications. I am involved in budgetary prep and planning. I help organize our programs and presences at conferences and conventions with our amazing events team, Steven H Silver and Terra LeMay. We make sure that whether you attend the SFWA Nebula Conference (May 2017 in Pittsburgh, PA next year), enjoy the suite at Worldcon, or walk the exhibit floors of ALA, that you are getting the most out of what that event has to offer. I also work closely with other committees, and help with communications and outreach.
We do a lot of things in this organization that may not garner a lot of public attention, but we are constantly working for our members and the entire SFF community. It’s why I love this job.
CS: What’s new at the SFWA?
KB: In the last few years, SFWA has really expanded its member offerings. We are now a 501(c)3, which means that we are considered a public charity. Our mission has expanded to provide support for all genre writers. With the help of the professionals in our industry, we can continue to make this ever-changing landscape less scary and more inviting.
We’re expanding our presence at places like the American Library Association (ALA) Annual Meetings, inviting librarians to check out our new SFWA Speaker’s Bureau. Our goal there is to connect on how we can all work together to get more genre fiction in the hands of library patrons.
We recently invited game writers to join us as well and with community feedback are revisiting those qualifications to make the organization even more inclusive.
We’re giving grants to deserving organizations that are working to promote, educate, and support the field through our Giver’s Fund and tailoring programs to help everyone from the new writer to the established professional. There are always things to learn and SFWA is honoring those commitments.
I know you have a lot of readers who have been members or who are thinking of joining. We are growing, evolving, and moving forward and we sure would love to have you on board.
CS: What’s on the horizon for Kate Baker?
KB: More Clarkesworld and more SFWA. SFWA just got me for another few years, and I think I’m stuck with Neil until he gets sick of me. In terms of other things, I’ve recently been writing and submitting. I would love to crack the professional side of writing and join SFWA as an author one day! How ironic is that? #amwriting
I would also love to break into video game narration. As a gamer, I am consistently impressed by the levels of storytelling within that media and I would be so excited to lend my voice. Additional points if I can work with voice actors like Nathan Fillion, Gina Torres, Bill Nighy and Jennifer Hale. What? I can dream!
Other than that, taking breaks when needed, hanging out with family and friends, and being thankful for all this community has offered.