Tapes from the Crawlspace: An Audio Project

This October, I will be releasing Tapes from the Crawlspace, a series of short stories over YouTube, one story for each day leading up to Halloween. To give you an idea what this series will be like, I’ve written a self-interview, which I’m providing for blog followers and anyone else who may be interested:

How did this project come about?

During my senior year at Taylor University, the student newspaper, The Echo, held a “Spooktacular Short Story” contest where students could submit 150-word fiction stories for publication in the issue before Halloween.

I wrote five or six stories, and two of them got accepted. That was great, but it also meant I had four stories I wanted to see published and had to find a different home for them. I submitted them to various magazines, but didn’t get much luck. I realized that half the problem was that the stories were so short that even places that publish “microfiction” weren’t likely to be interested in them.

About a year later, I was out of college and staying at L’Abri Fellowship in Switzerland. Students had a weekly talent show night, so I started writing more 150-word stories, all of them either spooky or funny in an Addams Family kind of way, and read the stories aloud once a week. I got good feedback, and it occurred to me that if I wrote enough of these super-short stories, I could narrate them and release them online as a series. That led to the idea of doing a short story a day for the month of Halloween.

When did you write these stories?

I wrote about half of them from July-October 2019, while I was studying at L’Abri. The others were written whenever I got the chance over the next year or so, in between other projects. I read about 9 books a month as a book reviewer for the Evangelical Church Library Association, so my time for creative projects was a bit limited at times.

What was the recording process like?

Very minimal. I knew that I didn’t have the money for lots of recording equipment, so I read a few tutorials online, and sought the advice of Chris Herron, who hosts the short story channel Tall Tale TV. Chris had narrated a couple of short stories I had written – most recently an adventure story called “Grigori’s Remains” – so he seemed like a good person to ask. He gave me a rundown on what equipment I would need, what factors to consider if I wanted to record short stories on a tiny budget.

Ultimately, I recorded the stories in my closet, since clothing provides good insulation from sound. Since the stories are only 150 words each, they didn’t take as much time to record as I expected.

Each episode in the series has an opening and ending narration that sounds like someone from an old Vincent Price film or one of those classic horror radio shows (Suspense, Lights Out, Inner Sanctum). What inspired you to do that?

Partly just the fact I had discovered some of Orson Welles’ radio work on YouTube the month before I started recording. I found those interesting and thought it might be fun to play off that kind of melodramatic tone, especially the kind used in Suspense.

It also created a level of satire, which seemed important since I knew not everyone enjoys scary stories. Some of the stories are silly, others are rather dark. Adding deliberately corny narrations as a bookend to each episode would make the scary elements more palatable.

In the introduction to each episode, you describe the stories as if you’re just the editor and narrator, and they were written by a mysterious other writer, someone named R.E. Helmen who ” disappeared two years ago but is believed to be living in the St. Athos monastery off the coast of Greece.” Why did you do that?

I knew that even with my best efforts, the fact I didn’t have the cash for high quality sound equipment meant the recordings would sound a little rough. Then I realized if I built a fictitious story around why the recordings sounded the way they did, that would turn the weakness into a strength. That led to the idea, “what if a fellow writer asked me to record the stories on the fly, and the only place we could find to do it was in his crawlspace while his parents were away?”

From there, I had to invent information about Helmen – where he went to college, how I met him, why he wrote the stories and why he disappeared. It was an interesting challenge, making Helmen’s backstory plausible but also absurd so you could see the joke.

Did you look at anything for inspiration while you were creating the Helmen material?

I watched Orson Welles’ mockumentary The Other Side of the Wind multiple times, and the documentary about that film’s production titled They’ll Love Me When I’m Dead. Since both films are about a long-gone artist who’s somewhat mysterious, it fit the Helmen material very well.

Your YouTube channel which is releasing the audio series is named Experiment Llama Productions. Where in the world did that come from?

I actually got that phrase from Alyssa Roat, who’s one of the funniest writers I’ve ever met. When I decided to create the YouTube channel, I wanted something memorable and absurd, like Bad Hat Harry Productions. Fortunately, Alyssa let me use the phrase for free.

Where can people hear more about the series?

I will be releasing early content, including some video content created by R.E. Helmen which I’ve been fortunate enough to acquire, to people who express interest in hearing about the series before it premieres. You can join that list of people by sending a direct message to my Twitter page or messaging me via my Facebook business page.

One thought on “Tapes from the Crawlspace: An Audio Project

  1. Pingback: In which I made a strange film… – G. Connor Salter

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