NUTS & BOLTS: INTERVIEW WITH LINDA GOULD, CREATOR OF KAIDANKAI PODCAST
By Tom Joyce
Linda Gould’s Kaidankai podcast, which she started as a project during the pandemic, is still going strong with 60,000 downloads. In this month’s edition of Nuts & Bolts, Linda talks about how she found an audience and the kinds of narratives that lend themselves to a storytelling format.
Q: Can you tell us a little bit about Kaidankai and how it got started?
A: What a long story this could be! I’ll give you a short answer.
When I started the Kaidankai podcast, I lived in Japan where it has become a tradition to tell ghost stories in August. There are two reasons: August celebrates Obon, one of the two major holidays in Japan, where people invite their ancestral spirits to visit them for three days. I always loved this connection to the deceased that the Japanese have. The second reason is to beat the mind-melting, soul-searing heat and humidity of Japanese summers. The idea is that bone-chilling stories offer a bit of respite from the heat while simultaneously providing entertainment.
One of the most famous parts of this story-telling tradition, which many of your readers may have heard of, is the hyakumonogatarikaidankai. It’s where pilgrims and travelers gathered at inns during the month of August. 100 people would sit in a room of 100 candles and tell ghost stories. After each story, a candle was blown out, so, as the night progressed, the stories and the room got darker and scarier. This was reminiscent of the campfire stories in my culture. So, during the pandemic, I thought people would enjoy such entertainment. I started a “100 days, 100 stories” project that ran through the month of August and would end on Halloween. It was so successful, with such a diversity of authors, stories, styles, and genres … I was so proud and happy to have created something that authors around the world engaged in.
As Halloween neared, so many people encouraged me not to end the podcast. And people kept sending in stories. The podcast changed from one story a day to once a week. The Kaidankai has just uploaded its 208th episode and will reach 60,000 downloads in the next couple of days.
Q: What are the advantages of using a podcast as a storytelling medium?
A: I can only talk about short stories. In my opinion, the short story particularly lends itself to podcasts because it is bite-sized. Many people have written to me that they listen on their drive/train ride to or from work. I especially think listening to short stories after work is a way to decompress from stress. With a novel, it’s sometimes easy to forget minor characters and plot points. But with a short story, it’s all contained. You can just let the story wash over you, let yourself relax into the story.
The popularity of audiobooks made me think there is also a market for short stories. Most podcasts that feature the supernatural are true stories. And, in my opinion, that is because when true stories are told, there is an authenticity in the telling that appeals to the listener — gives them chills. But, if read well, that same authenticity can come through in fiction. And that is what I try to do with my readings on the podcast.
Q: What are the limitations to telling a story via podcast, and how do you get around them?
A: I said I try to lend authenticity to the stories through my readings, but sometimes, that’s really hard. The hardest thing is dialogue among multiple speakers. I always have to wonder if I should change my voice (something I’m not really good at) or add tags when the writer didn’t include them in their story. But that means I end up with too many “he said, she saids” because when people are listening, it isn’t always clear who is speaking, so it’s really important to do something to distinguish between the participants.
Another difficulty is the change of perspective. With ghost stories in particular, you might have a living person’s perspective and then a change of scenery to be the ghost’s perspective. Speculative fiction has all kinds of situations, POV changes, and odd happenings that are really hard to get through on a podcast, especially one like mine where I don’t like to include a lot of bells and whistles and special effects. One story on the podcast, for example, “The House Always Wins” had a scene where a group of people went into a haunted house, three of them were functioning only in the real world, but one was physically in the real world, but mentally in a world of the house’s creation. And there was interaction among all the characters in both worlds. That was so hard to figure out!
How do I get around the problems? I just have to be creative. Every story has its own problems to figure out, so there is no one-size-fits-all answer.
Q: If somebody is interested in creating a podcast of their own, how would they get started?
A: There are several free platforms to get started with. My advice would be to practice your podcast for a month or so before going public. Most podcasts have a team working together — a host, a tech person, maybe a producer for talent — and it’s good to see where the glitches will be, where each team member’s strengths and weaknesses are, and then practice a few times producing the podcast. Test different kinds of mics, different sound effects, how the music works with the podcast, etc. There is a surprising amount that goes into making a podcast. When I started, I thought it was just “get a mic, read a story”. And by practicing first, you get the on-mic jitters out of the way. You can see such a big difference between my first podcast (episodes) and those produced recently.
Listen to other podcasts. Learn what you like and don’t like. Me, for instance? There are things that many people do on their podcasts that drive me crazy and I won’t listen more than a few minutes if I hear those things. Some people hate to hear the host’s breathing on a podcast. I don’t mind it — it makes me feel more connected, like I’m listening to a real person. By listening to a host of different podcasts, someone starting out can organize their podcast exactly how they want it. You learn about intros and outros, how to talk to people, how you want to introduce your guests (if you have them) how long to talk, etc. There is so much to learn.
Q: Can you recommend any good sources of information about establishing a podcast?
A: There is so much, so much, out there that a general search will give you more than you could possibly use.
If it is technical information someone is looking for, I can’t help there (I rely on my husband because I hate reading about tech and equipment. My mind just goes blank). As for making the podcast, and setting it up, I find the videos and blog posts associated with the hosting platforms are really helpful because they are targeted for a product that I’m using. I use Spreaker, for example, and get regular emails guiding me and offering advice for things to do to improve and market the podcast.
Q: Once you created Kaidankai, how did you find listeners?
A: This is a never-ending process. I’m still looking for listeners (please, if you are reading this, listen to the Kaidankai podcast). I use social media (although, now that Musk took over Twitter, that is less effective) to promote each podcast episode. For the first month of the Kaidankai, I just wrote every author I knew to tell them about the project and asked them to forward it to their writer friends. They did, and once it started to grow, it kept growing, although that growth has slowed down a bit. It comes in peaks and valleys. I have to keep my mind open, though, to any possibility to promote an episode. That means advertising, talking with other podcasters and promoting each other’s work, asking authors to promote the podcast within their network, and reaching out to people to be interviewed. The pandemic and my life in Japan make it challenging, but I hope this year will be a little better as the pandemic ends, and more events and activities will be happening.
Q: What makes a story well-suited for an audio format such as a podcast?
A: Referring to my previous answer, it can’t be too dialogue heavy, for starters.
I think modern writing is much better suited for podcasting than more classical ghost stories. Why? Modern writing is more straightforward, with clarity of purpose and ideas front and center. Classics are full of clauses and circuitous ideas, and it’s hard to read and follow. But I also love how the classic writers took their time with an idea and developed it. I can’t speak for any podcast but the Kaidankai, but for me, I love stories that find a balance between creating atmosphere and character, the slow burn of plot development, but also that have a style that is clear and straightforward.
Q: Do you have any projects you would like HWA members to know about?
A: August is an important month for the Kaidankai. The first month was the “100 days, 100 stories” project. Last August, the writers created stories about the fictional town of Unpleasantville (based on the idea of Spoon River Anthology where the ghosts tell their stories). Again, we had one story a day.
This year for August, the Kaidankai had a contest and the four winning stories will be read. They are really interesting, imaginative, and varied, even though they are all written around the theme of haunted houses.
Q: Where can people follow you online?
A: On my website
Linda Gould is an American and long-time resident of Japan. Her fiction and non-fiction have been published in media outlets around the world. Linda is the editor of White Enso, an online journal of creative work inspired by Japan, and host of Kaidankai, a podcast of supernatural stories.
ABOUT NUTS & BOLTS
Watch for more Nuts & Bolts interviews on the craft and business of writing horror, along with instructive videos on the HWA’s social media platforms. In upcoming installments, indie film director Chris LaMartina (WNUF Halloween Special) talks about balancing horror and humor; and novelist Jan-Andrew Henderson discusses tactics a haunted walking tour he owns in Edinburgh uses to keep visitors on edge. Please contact me at TomJHWA@gmail.com if you have any suggestions for future interviews. For more about what I’m looking for, see here – Tom Joyce