The Ways of a Buffalo: An Interview with Hugh O’Donnell

Hugh O’Donnell is the host of the Way of the Buffalo, a podcast can be found online at wayofthebuffalopodcast.blogspot.com.  He blogs at hughjodonnell.wordpress.com, and his twitter handle is @hatchingphoenix.

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C. Derick Varn: Way of the Buffalo is nearly unique in that focuses on podcasting as a literary culture and art and not just a showcase of “radio plays” for a certain genre. How do you see podcasting affecting fiction?

Hugh O’Donnell: I think that podcasts, as a medium, are creating a lot of great opportunities, similar to ebooks and other new technologies.  These electronic media are still in their infancy, and we’re still beginning to see what they can do.  If they are willing to do the work, authors are able to reach their audiences, or find new audiences, more directly.  That puts a lot of power back in the hands of the listening audience, as well as creators.

I noticed there is a lot of overlap between nerd culture and literary culture on your show.  Do you see this two as more related in podcasting world than they often are treated in more traditional publishing venues?

I think being a nerd means being unashamedly enthusiastic about the things you love, and I really love podcasting.  As to the two being more linked, new media lets creators and audiences focus in on exactly the content they want, and still work.  A podcast doesn’t have to justify airtime, or please sponsors, necessarily, so content can be narrowly targeted and still be a success.  A broadcast channel can’t afford to cater to the sort of audience that a podcast network does.

What do you see as the limitations for the medium?

Well, the obvious limitation for creators is that it has a high cost in equipment, technical expertise, and time that writing just does not.  Most audio editing software is expensive, although there are low-cost and no-cost alternatives, such as Audacity.  Editing environments also have a high learning curve.  It takes a lot of time and patience to create high-quality audio.  Also, monetizing a podcast is a challenge for most creators.

There is a cost for audiences as well.  While cell phones are becoming more and more ubiquitous, there is still a very large audience that is excluded because they lack the funds to purchase listening devices, or the technological expertise to use them.  There is a bit of a paradox in that most podcasts are free to listen to, and can be accessed from anywhere in the world with an open internet connection, but require high-speed internet access.

Do you feel like you go more audience feedback due to working in podcast form?

Funding is what you make of it.  Clarkesworld and Escape Pod both offer pro rates for story sales.  As with any other potential market, it is the responsibility of the author to read (and follow) the guidelines when they submit their stories.  As far as the profitablility of podcasting itself, soem podcasts do better than others.  Some manage to fund themselves through donations or merchandising.  Others run Kickstarters or Indiegogo campaigns.  Patreon is another crowd-funding option that’s just on the horizon.  I personally have very few costs associated with my ‘cast, so even though I haven’t made money, I don’t see it as a problem.

What writing have you been most excited about promoting? 

I was certainly honored to read a short story by Hugo and Nebula winner Ken Liu.  I’m also a big fan of digital comics, so it’s always a thrill to interview folks like Brian Clevenger and Chris Roberson.  But I’d have to say the writing that I was most excited about was Sarah Diemer’s “The Dark Wife.”  Sarah is a member of the same writers group, and it has been a privilege to see her come into her own as a writer.  More than that, her writing, which she publishes herself in ebook and paperback, is a perfect example of how these technologies can be used to reach audiences who are overlooked by mainstream publishing but so desperately need stories, in this case LGBTQ stories for young adults.

Do you find that there is a overlap between what is considered weird and bizarro fiction and LGBTQ concerns?  I have noticed that you cater to both audiences on your podcast somewhat seamlessly.

There is an overlap in that I’m interested in both of them.  I try to cater to a wide variety of subjects and interests in the podcast, but my voice and preferences have a way of shining through.  Weird fiction is a bit of a fringe zone of SF.  There’s a lot of great work being done there, but it doesn’t occupy the same sort of spotlight that other subgenres do.  Similarly, while sexuality and gender identity are common themes in speculative fiction, SF isn’t a core subgenre of LGBTQ literature.  I think it is a part of the podcast’s mission to present topics and stories that the listening audience hasn’t necessarily heard before.

Do you get a more specific feedback on how successful these kinds of pairings are?

I don’t get a lot of feedback, but what I have gotten, particularly for “The Dark Wife” has been overwhelmingly positive.

Anything you would like to say in closing?

I think the most important lesson I’ve learned is ‘don’t chase an audience.’  Instead, create to your passions.  If you make good art, if it’s art that you care about, your audience will find you.

(originally published here)

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