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This is the story of how Mike Walters (Dylan Griggs, Nine II Midnight) joins a mysterious and violent game and goes searching for the powers that make it possible — he finds them soon enough, but understanding them is another thing entirely. This is a long-form fiction podcast by a Queer author that updates every Wednesday and has new soundtracks every week. This is a mystery horror science-fiction thriller. This is cutting your left arm off at the shoulder. This is 132 episodes and counting. This is the time travel murder show. This is WOE.BEGONE.
With its first episode premiering late November 2020, this serial fiction podcast has just completed its 11th season. During this long run, it joined the Rusty Quill Network, gained additional voice actors and branched off into its sister podcast, The Diary Of Eliza Schultz. At its center is Dylan Griggs: show-runner, creator, lead actor, writer, editor and composer. Near the conclusion of its previous season, I sat down with him to discuss his workflow, inspirations and philosophies.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
The Michigan Daily: Over the course of 10 seasons, the show’s stakes, Mike’s involvement with them and the characters have evolved. How have you envisioned these changes? Did they come as they were happening or have you always had a greater overarching plan?
Dylan Griggs: When I started the show, I pictured it being 12 episodes long. After that, I had to envision it because the show grew and I decided I was going to keep doing it every week, forever. Once you realize there’s going to be a 12-episode arc after this 12-episode arc, you have to start establishing what’s going to happen and how big the stakes are. And you have things like “Supernatural” where by the end you’re killing Super Satan and going to Super Hell, so you have to keep a level and you have to understand it. You find ways to raise the stakes in a way that still feels important but doesn’t get cosmic and involve killing God.
TMD: Every season kind of has a different theme: season seven introduces a second voice actor (Harlan Guthrie, Malevolent), season 10 has a second podcast within the fiction and this new season puts us back in Latvia. How do you come up with theming for seasons?
DG: Theming helps keep the seasons dynamic and having seasonal arcs makes everything feel like there might not be a payoff about X mystery right now, but by (the season’s finale), you’re going to have a bunch of little things tied up.
A lot of people misunderstand my approach because season nine ended on a very harsh moment, so at the end of season 10 they were like, “What’s going to go wrong? How is this all going to unravel for them?” No, they have to get everything — they have to strengthen before more hardship can hit them or else they’d all die. And the rest of the podcast would be silent. And your interview would be like, “So, season 11 is 30 minutes of silence once a week on Wednesdays, what’s that like?”
TMD: How do you structure an episode?
DG: I’m super into conflict right now, (like) every writer, and I should have been a long time ago. I had this thought while writing (the season 10 premiere): “Wow, I’m considering the things that a normal author always considers.” When I structure an episode now — because of the (Twitch) streams — I’ve been writing the soundtrack first. But if I’m working with people, I have a script done and out on Fridays.
TMD: How would you describe your workflow on an episode where you’re working alone?
DG: Today I’m thinking about what I want to happen to the characters — then it’s a lot of freewriting. Something that I do when I have a lot of time is I’ll freewrite a script and then put it on one side of my monitor and I’ll rewrite it on the other. Every time I rewrite, my scripts get longer, so that’s why some of the episodes with (the season 10 deuteragonist (Rae Lundberg, The Night Post)) are so long.
TMD: How do you grow your podcast as a creator?
DG: Now that I’m on the Rusty Quill Network, they run ads and being part of the network is a huge advertisement in itself. (It’s) like having a seat at the cool kids’ table. Other than that, I rely very heavily on word of mouth, especially because I don’t post on Reddit anymore. Once you have a listenership, Reddit is more interested in airing frustrations about you than they are about promoting you or recommending you to others. I’ve been on both sides of this. I was part of the Pacific Northwest Stories subreddit, which is a subreddit for airing grievances about The Black Tapes and TANIS.
TMD: Isn’t RABBITS also by Pacific Northwest Stories?
DG: Yeah. I listened to RABBITS and talked about it with people as it aired. And I remember thinking, “I have all these cool ideas, I hope they incorporate them,” and then they didn’t, so I put them into a podcast called WOE.BEGONE. You can definitely hear that in episode one, it’s me doing some things I wish I had seen in RABBITS and other podcasts, like ars Paradoxica. I love ars Paradoxica but they are so stingy with their time travel, and that was something that I thought about a lot in (WOE.BEGONE’s) early seasons. For my show, we’re not going to do this whole “everything needs to be so careful and we’re gonna get to see such a little corner of it.” No, we’re gonna bust it wide open because that’s what I want, trying to see myself as a listener.
TMD: What advice do you have for people interested in this medium or storytelling in general?
DG: My advice would be to make things and upload them to the internet, which is something that I’ve been doing for 20 years, really. I was doing it as a little kid, just making things and uploading them to the internet and then getting probably unhelpful feedback. Because when you’re small and no one’s listening to you, the people that do listen are sort of just looking for a comment back on their thing. But you’ve got to make things.
There’s an Ira Glass quote (that goes), “All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. … The most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story.”
My version — the Millennial version — of that is “upload shit to the internet, get in the DMs.” It’s pretty easy to get added to the audio drama DMs. And then your friends name-drop you in the Reddit audio drama of the year poll, and from there, you get picked up by Rusty Quill Network; I’m pretty sure that’s how it is for everyone.
TMD: Speaking of what Glass said about “a story a week,” that’s the exact format you’re doing.
DG: Yeah, I didn’t remember that part until I looked it up. (Joking) Quote by Ira Glass: “Make WOE.BEGONE. Just do WOE.BEGONE.” And I did it and it worked.
TMD: Regarding the audio drama community and fan interactions, you’re very connected with your audience. You have a Discord you interact with often, post frequently to Patreon and stream on Twitch every Sunday. Has this connection with your listenership affected the way you look at the show?
DG: I didn’t realize that wasn’t normal until I was talking to my “handlers” at Rusty Quill Network about how my Patreon does so well, telling them advice they could give other people. And they said, “But you’re not just WOE.BEGONE, you’re Dylan. And your personal brand is very valuable to what you do because of how you interact with your community,” which to me just feels like normal social media stuff.
And one thing is it’s incredibly monetizable, and people are leaving money on the table by not doing director’s commentaries because people really want to hear those. I think part of it is some people get burned; they have a bad interaction and shut their Discord down. Every YouTuber with 100,000 subscribers makes a video about why they had to shut their Discord down. I’m not at that level, we’re still years away. That would kill me, I think because that’s the way to talk. But a lot of people aren’t from here, here being the internet. But that’s how I’m wired; I have a show and people want to talk about it. Well, I’m going to talk about it with them.
I definitely want to give people what they want. But also, I’m sure you’ve heard the quote about how if Henry Ford gave people what they wanted, he would have given them faster horses instead of cars. And Henry Ford was a monster, so I feel bad giving him any credit. And so I try to give people cars instead of faster horses. And it’s helpful to know what faster horses look like; I can hop on the Discord server’s “Predictions” thread and look at all the faster horses. And then it’s like, “I know what they want, but what’s good?” And that’s what I’m supposed to be, the person with the taste to know what’s good and interesting, and to give it. Like, I think that’s actually my entire job.
TMD: A lot of the magic of audio dramas is their accessibility because their content and creators are easily reachable through the internet.
DG: Everything about it is the internet, from the idea that you can gain an audience all the way to “I used a tomato for gore sounds in this episode and I want to talk about it.” I feel I’m even an extreme point on the internet medium version of this, which is possible because we keep calling me a big podcast, but the community isn’t runaway-large. There are 575 people in the Discord right now, which is enough people that if they aren’t all talking to me at once, I can talk to them.
And like I said, (Rusty Quill Network) told me that people are buying into the idea of me. There’s a skateboarding and juggling Discord channel because I have disparate hobbies: I play music, I juggle, I speak Russian. It’s very helpful when you’re trying to write a show about diverse characters, but it’s also nice to have people think that my disparate interests are interesting because they’re filtered through me. People call Mike a self-insert sometimes but everyone gets a healthy dose of self-insert because it’s really, really easy. It’s like, “Oh, I need a thing here” — just put something from your own life directly into it. And that’s true of all the characters.
TMD: And it’s also hard to separate you because you’re such a core part of the show. You voice Mike Walters but you also write Mike Walters, score Mike Walters and edit Mike Walters. How do you see collaboration when working with other actors when a lot of the podcast began as a solitary affair?
DG: Well, I’m a very DIY guy. If you dig into my music history you’ll find hundreds of songs that I’ve written every part for myself. A lot of that is because I don’t have deadlines to impose on myself, I can make a whole thing and not have to worry about anybody else’s whims or needs. So branching out was very slow. I reached out to Harlan because he made a joke on Twitter about wanting to be a cowboy. And if Harlan’s involved then (David Ault, Shadows at the Door) should be involved because he keeps saying “I want to be on your show.” And it was very slow, getting to work with people that I knew were dependable, and season 10 was only possible because Rae was so willing and able to get things done the way they did. It’s been a lot of figuring out who can do my very difficult schedule and finding people who can understand I’m going to send you a script on Friday, I really need it back by Monday if it’s perfect. If you need notes, I need it back by Sunday. Finding those people has been completely instrumental in fleshing out characters.
When you’re working with yourself, it’s more stretchy, and it’s hard because a lot of it is thinking. If I were to make an hours list, do I count the hour that I sat on my porch drinking coffee thinking about what should happen to Mike? Because it’s very important since I write in a big burst. Normally that’s Thursday-Friday if there are other (actors) and Sunday-Monday if it’s just me. And that makes it sound like I don’t do a lot of work, but (through the week) I’m mentally grappling with all the ideas. I never stop thinking about WOE.BEGONE. I live inside of WOE.BEGONE — the concept, not the game, which would be a hell beyond imagining. It’s sort of like immersing yourself in a language, but instead, you’ve immersed yourself in a weird podcast.
TMD: Do you think that this immersion could potentially be negative as, although fun, it is also your work?
DG: So this is sort of a sideways question about burnout, right? Because the downside is burnout. Part of that is listening to my body, listening to my brain, ignoring that — I’m kidding. The show has intermissions every six episodes for that reason. At the very least, every 12 weeks, I’m taking a break — a capital B break. And there’s a downside to being immersed, with work and play being identical to each other, which I think a lot of people grappled with because work from home really took off after the pandemic; people worked from home and then felt terrible because they went home to where they work, and it’s panic-inducing. The room that I’m in right now, and by room I do mean walk-in closet, is a room that I don’t enter unless I am working, which I think has been very healthy for me.
Every break, depending on how seriously I take it, I go live in the woods for a while. So I think as long as I can disengage I can prevent the sort of burnout that would require me to change what I do because I do it every week. I sometimes think, “Would the show be better if I took a break, or would I take a break and then spend the same amount of time on the episode?” I don’t feel like I would spend longer on episodes with longer breaks; if episodes came out every two weeks, I would wait a week and then do what I do now.
There’s this John Darnielle (The Mountain Goats) quote that I think is real that’s from like 10 years ago and I would not be able to find it if you asked, but in it, people are like, “You put out an album every year, what’s up with that?” And he was like, “That’s less than a song a week, dude, like that’s literally my job. How could you not?” And that’s sort of how I feel.
Daily Arts Writer Cecilia Ledezma can be reached at email@example.com.