Tara Altebrando is a scripted audio creator and author who was part of the Harvard and Radcliffe class of 1992. She spoke to Will Bachman about her journey since graduation. As a senior, she had been the arts editor of The Independent and had interviewed various artists passing through Boston. She met the editor of a magazine based in Dublin at a New Music Seminar in New York and expressed her interest in working for him. After this conversation, Tara went to Dublin and was given an internship at a magazine called Hot Press. She also worked at a bar-restaurant, music venue called the Rock Garden and wrote a column for the magazine reviewing demos by unsigned Irish bands. After a few years, she decided to move back to New York and tried to pursue rock journalism, but ended up cobbling together a bunch of weird jobs in writing-adjacent fields. She eventually worked at the Museum of Television and Radio in New York, where she watched TV with a headset and summarized programs for their database. She went on to work as a proofreader and copy editor for Romantic Times Magazine. While there, she noticed one of her classmates was already writing novels, and this led to her trying her hand at writing a romance novel.
From Romance Writer to Published Author
Tara wrote two thirds of a contemporary romantic suspense novel, and a novel about a 20 something working at a music magazine, but neither were successful. She decided to take fiction workshops to learn the ropes as a fiction writer, and ended up finding a job in publishing houses as a proofreader, copy editor, and copywriter. She found the books she read varied in quality, and decided to write her own. She was working at Simon and Schuster at the time, and they published women’s fiction at a time when Chick Lit was popular. Will and Tara mention how 80% of literary fiction is bought by women, and more than 50% of paperbacks are romance novels.
From Copywriting to a Young Adult Author
She wrote a novel called Love, Love Will Tear Us Apart about a celebrity journalist hired to write the biography of a pair of conjoined twins. The book flopped in the market, but it led to her success as a novelist. However, when she was given an assignment to read a Young Adult novel, it inspired an idea for a Young Adult novel, and decided to explore writing in this genre. She had a book come out in June 2020, but due to the pandemic, it didn’t find an audience. This made her reevaluate what she wanted to do with her time and creativity and led her to explore the world of scripted audio dramas. This was a new direction for Tara, and it was exciting to explore the possibilities and potential of audio drama writing.
From YA Fiction to Scripted Radio Dramas
During the pandemic, there was an influx of interest in this kind of screen-free entertainment because families needed something to keep them occupied during quarantines and lockdowns. She pitched an idea for a series called Dream Breachers which was picked up and is now in its third season. Tara describes the process of creating a scripted drama, from scripting and finding actors to recording and producing. They discussed differences between writing for audio dramas and audiobooks. Tara noted that for audio dramas, the writer needs to convey everything through dialogue and sound effects, which can be a challenge. She revealed that she often plays a game with herself to figure out how to convey information without being too obvious. Tara also shared her pet peeves when it comes to audio dramas and talked about moving into producing her own show, and building an audience for these shows.
Chasing Creative Projects
Tara followed a pattern of chasing creative projects throughout her career. She explains how the creative process differs when writing for a series over writing for a novel and shares how writing for Dream Bleachers required going deeply into world building and setting rules which cannot be broken. When writing both YA and middle grade fiction, Tara draws upon her own life experiences and memories, and finds talking to her children a source of both information and inspiration when creating her stories. She also does research on topics relevant to her work, such as memory science for her YA book The Leaving and artificial intelligence for her most recent book.
Courses that resonated with Tara are Creative Writing with Verlyn Klinkenborg, The Sociology of Peace, EthnoMusicology with Graeme Boone, and a professor whom she particularly enjoyed listening to was John Stilgo.
Tara Altebrando, Will Bachman
Will Bachman 00:01
Hello, and welcome to the 90 T report conversations with members of the Harvard and Radcliffe class of 1992. I’m your host will Bachman and I am excited to be here today with Tara Lt. Brando, who is a scripted audio creator and a author. Tara, welcome to the show. Hi, well, thanks for having me. So why don’t we start with your journey since Harvard? Tell me about that. Okay, um, so right after I graduated, I basically packed my bags and moved to Dublin, Ireland.
Tara Altebrando 00:40
In the summer, between junior and senior year, I had gone to an event in New York City called The New Music seminar. And I had probably also seen the commitments too many times and saw all these Irish bands performing in New York and got really kind of excited about the music scene that was happening in Dublin at the time. As a senior, I had been the arts editor of The Independent, and I had done a lot of record reviews and interviews with artists that were passing through the Boston area. So I had it in my head that I wanted to become a music journalist. So I had met the editor of a magazine, based in Dublin at this new music seminar in New York and told him that I really wanted to come over and work for him. And he basically just said, Well, let me know when you get there. So I got a work permit, which you could do when you graduated. And I just moved over to Dublin without a job, and showed up at this magazine and asked for a job. And he said that he would give me an internship. So I happily accepted. But I also needed to make money. So I got a job at a bar restaurant, rock venue in Dublin called the rock garden. So I started working there at the restaurant and add the magazine as an intern. And just quickly kind of settled into a really fun life over there, it was a really exciting time to be in Dublin, the cranberries were just starting to get popular. And there were a lot of just really cool bands out and about in the world. And I started writing a column for the new for the magazine, it was the magazine was called Hot Press. It was kind of like a Rolling Stone equivalent, like it had politics and culture. And I pitched them a column where I would review demos by unsigned Irish bands. And it just kind of gained a lot of momentum. And I was suddenly getting cassettes in the mail all the time at the offices of the magazine. And the scene over there were so vibrant, that there were big rock festivals in almost every city in Ireland. So I was sent around the country a lot to cover these festivals and go see bands. So it was a really fun time. The magazine was very old school because it was you know, like typesetting and cutting out pronouncing and pasting them up on dummies. So it was very, it feels very, makes me feel very old to have worked in a magazine that was produced that way.
Will Bachman 03:29
Reminds me of the days that the Crimson before the whole.
Tara Altebrando 03:33
Right, exactly. It was like they study the indie. It was like the Indiana larger scale. Yeah, they did get computers during my time there. I ended up staying about two years. And I ended up teaching like all these old Irish rock journalists how to use MAC, which was kind of funny. I think it was like the closest I ever came to working in technology. So I had a great time there and had a lot of, you know, fun assignments that came up. I eventually got hired as a staff writer for the magazine and kind of graduated to doing bigger features. So I ended up interviewing Rage Against the Machine when they were over there and the Lemonheads just had a really, really great time. But after a while, I started to miss my family and Miss New York. So I decided to move back here and try to pursue the kind of rock journalism thing but you know, there aren’t a lot of jobs out there for that kind of thing. So I ended up just kind of cobbling together a bunch of weird jobs for years that were all kind of writing adjacent but like I worked at the Museum of television and radio in New York for a while where I would just watch TV with a headset and summarize the programs for their database. I know it was so fun. You’re getting paid to watch like Friday. I’d revisited a 12 part miniseries.
Will Bachman 05:04
You were so you’re paid to watch TV?
Tara Altebrando 05:06
Yeah. And it was fun. I got to kind of you got to, if you got an early, you got to pick what you’ve watched. So I watched, I think like every episode of that music show hullabaloo. So there was still some music stuff happening there. And then I ended up getting a job at romantic Times Magazine as kind of a proof reader copy editor. And it’s funny, because when I was there, I noticed that one of our classmates writing is Julia Quinn was already publishing novels. And I was so impressed. I was like, Hmm, maybe I should try that. Which seems to be like how my career has gone?
Will Bachman 05:52
No, I’m sorry, romantic Times Magazine. I’m not. I’m not a subscriber. I don’t I’m not familiar with it
Tara Altebrando 05:57
could you know, nor was it, so it was a whole magazine about romance novels, okay. And I was basically a editor there. And then I started writing a feature that was called Lifestyles of the Rich and romantic, where I would interview Romance Writers about their homes. Which was funny, because some of the some of them were doing really well, it’s a very lucrative part of book publishing, and they have these amazing houses. But then sometimes you get like a set of photos and the, in the person’s house was just not very spectacular. So we tried to put a spin on it to make it sound a little bit more luxurious. But I thought I’d try my hand at writing a romance novel, which is something I hadn’t really ever considered that I would be a fiction writer. So I wrote like, two thirds of a contemporary romantic suspense novel that wasn’t very good. And I still have a print copy of it in a drawer somewhere. But I realized that to succeed in the romance genre, genre, you really have to kind of just know it really well and love it. And it wasn’t my chosen kind of area to work in. So I started writing a different kind of novel that was so embarrassingly autobiographical. It was about a 20 Something person working at a music magazine. And that novel also went nowhere. But I kept thinking, I needed to find a way to crack this. So I started taking fiction workshops, where you would bring in 25 pages of work, and your classmates would read it and give you criticism. So I felt like I started really learning the ropes like a couple of years after college. And I ended up leaving the job that romantic times to work and publishing houses as a proofreader, a copy editor. And then I became a copywriter, where my job was to read manuscripts and write the book jacket copy for them. So I was doing just a ton of reading. And you know, a lot of the books were amazing. Some of them weren’t so great. And I decided I wanted to really kind of double down and write something of my own.
Will Bachman 08:14
Okay, I have a question about book jackets while we’re on the, okay, yeah. I’ve always wondered about this. So now’s my chance. I unbooked jackets, I like it when you actually have some kind of summary of the book or tells you something about the actual book, like on the inside cover, right? It always seems to be such a waste all the blurbs like from the New York Times, or some famous writer or whatever, because they’re not that informative about the book. And it seems like it takes up so much real estate, I would much rather just have like, you know, some paragraphs to tell you about the actual book.
Tara Altebrando 08:52
Yeah, no, I agree. Definitely.
Will Bachman 08:54
Tell me what’s what’s the what’s the argument? I mean, is that like a debate in the publishing world? Or? Oh, it is?
Tara Altebrando 09:01
Well, it really is. I, you know, this many years later in my writing career, I’m friends with a lot of writers. And it’s always the struggle because your editors want you to get blurbs. And everyone knows that what you’re doing is asking writer friends, to give you a blurb like it’s it’s this whole like back channel thing that happens that writers really resist. But for whatever reason, publishers still think that readers in bookstores want to see that they want some validation that someone maybe that they already know and respect likes the book that you’re looking at and considering buying, but yeah, a lot of people really hate asking for blurbs and giving blurbs because it seems just kind of done.
Will Bachman 09:49
Yeah. Well, I wish they would do some A B testing on that. Maybe I’m completely wrong, but it always seems like I’m not convinced at all. I’d much rather have like excerpt a key great passage from the book Right, just like put, you know, some Tinder hooks about the plot or something, but Right, right back to back back to her back to your story. Okay,
Tara Altebrando 10:08
yeah. So I was working at Simon and Schuster, and they had an imprint called Pocket Books, and they were publishing what they were calling women’s fiction. And it was at a time where the genre Chiclet was kind of a big thing. All you know, books written by women for women about dating and stuff.
Will Bachman 10:29
Now isn’t as true i, another guest on this show told me that something like, and I was blown away something like 80% of literary fiction today is bought by women. Does that resonate with you? Does that seem about right or?
Tara Altebrando 10:48
Yeah, that does sound right. I think that statistic has held and I also, the other crazy statistic is that like more than 50% of paperbacks sold are romance novel.
Will Bachman 10:59
I know. It’s that is nuts. I mean, it’s maybe not the most respectable genre, perhaps. But I mean, you don’t have the New York Times. They’re not on the New York Times bestseller list. But boy, it’s interesting how not like the most respectable, but this, like the bulk of the market, right? Yeah. Volume is it’s, that’s strange. I met but I wasn’t talking about just, you know, like romance novels, just literary fiction, sort of the Pulitzer Prize winner type books, those kinds of respected books, is my understanding is, you know, it’s 70 80% of women are buying those books. Which Yeah. And then when I heard that statistic and started looking at the books on the shelves, you’re like, Oh, okay. Sort of. There’s some feedback loop there. Yeah, yeah. Okay. Back to your story. I’m sorry. Yeah,
Tara Altebrando 11:46
no, that’s it’s interesting stuff. I ended up writing a novel called Love, love will tear us apart about a celebrity kind of journalist who ends up getting hired to write the biography of a pair of conjoined twin popstar.
Will Bachman 12:03
Tara Altebrando 12:07
I’ve had a long fascination with conjoined twins. And that was my first book, and I sold it. And it kind of flopped in the market. Which makes sense, because looking back now I’m like, Yeah, who was really going to buy that? There was a cluster of books about conjoined twins that came out around that time. Which is always funny. Like, you wonder, like, Why did a bunch of completely different kinds of novelists decide that it was time to write their conjoined twin book?
Will Bachman 12:37
I’ll complete that market and people want books on conjoined twins, right? Right.
Tara Altebrando 12:44
So that book came out and didn’t you know, immediately become a hit. So I didn’t get to retire from my copywriting jobs. And I had the assignment than to read this YA novel. And I hadn’t read much young adult fiction and didn’t really know that it was becoming kind of a whole other category. But I proof read young adult novel. And again, I had that thought, where I was like, Well, this is fun. Maybe I should be doing this. So I came up with an idea for a young adult novel, and decided to try my hand in that kind of sub genre. And ended up basically continuing to write young adults for the next for the bulk of my career. Just really enjoyed what was happening. That was when young adult was pretty new and exciting is his category. It wasn’t particularly overcrowded. There were a lot of great people. There was a big social scene in New York of people who were writing why so became a really fun thing. That then did allow me to quit the other proofreading and copywriting jobs and become a full time writer. Pretty early on, it was like 2005.
Will Bachman 14:02
Now when you say that, there was a social scene of I always have this vision that writers hang out together and talk about, I don’t know, writing things. When you see there’s a social scene, tell me was there you know, what parties were dinner parties were right, why authors get together and hang out or what just pretty much
Tara Altebrando 14:24
I mean, it all started because an editor and writer at scholastic books, somehow started like a monthly teen author drinks night, okay. And once a once a month, he would just pick a bar and people would show up and you just yeah, you talk shop. So I still have people I’m in touch with kind of on a slack group on a daily basis who I met back into those kinds of settings. They continued right up until the pandemic honestly, the teen author drinks night was happening every month for many, many years. yours. It hasn’t been started up again. And I do kind of miss it. But yeah, it was just like a really fun industry to get into. I mean, I never imagined when I started writing fiction that I would end up knowing, you know, I probably know hundreds of authors personally now. Wow. So it’s,
Will Bachman 15:20
what would you say is distinctive about the personality? That becomes a why a writer? Is there something kind of common characteristic?
Tara Altebrando 15:33
I don’t know. I mean, people do say that. If you ask someone at our, our ripe old age, if you say like, What age are you in your head? The person who says 16, or 17, is more likely to be a YA writer. Like I don’t know, I don’t know if everyone feels that they’re still like a teenager. But I know that pretty much everyone writing ya feels that there was something about that time that was so fresh and informative to their personality, that is something that they like to go back to in mind for material over and over again,
Will Bachman 16:08
about research is important to stay in touch to have focus groups of 14 and 15 year olds that you’ve to make sure you understand the current lingo or is that your just your kids? Or how?
Tara Altebrando 16:22
Well, well, so this is an interesting question, how do you stay current and there have been a lot of writers kind of coming into the YA market, of course, in the last bunch of years, who are a lot younger, and I was a lot younger when I started out. And the last YA book that I wrote came out in June of 2020. And bookstores were closed. And the book kind of died on the vine. And it got great reviews from trade magazines, but it just really never found an audience. And I think like a lot of people during the pandemic, I started really, really like reevaluating. What am I doing with my time? What do I want the next however many years I have left on the planet to look like? And is it the best use of my time and creativity to just keep writing a YA book every year? And I kind of decided that, no, it wasn’t. And I’m lucky in that. In 2019, I started listening to some family podcasts that were scripted fiction kind of shows like radio dramas. And my family enjoyed it. It was really fun to listen to stuff in the car together. And again, I had that, hey, this is this is fun. Maybe I should be doing that kind of idea. So I started kind of networking, and looking for the people who were writing scripted audio dramas, and managed to get some meetings and pitched some ideas. And in 2019, I pitched the idea for a middle grade fantasy show called Dream breachers about a kid who can move between his dreams and reality and bring objects back and forth. And ended up selling that to a company called pinna. And it has become my main job for the last several years. This show is heading into a third season. Each season has 10 episodes that are about 30 minutes long. There’s a cast of actors that’s like there’s like 35 or 40 people involved at this point. And it’s just been a really fun pivot to write stories for a different format, you know, and there was a big kind of influx of interest and cash in that sector during the pandemic because more people needed different kinds of screen free entertainment for their families when everyone was kind of in quarantines and lockdowns. So, it’s been this whole new kind of fun career that I don’t know, the question, you know, the existential question for the 52 year old ya writer is like, Do I really have more to say about the teen experience? And I’m not sure so I’ve kind of slowed down the production of the YA novels to find other things to kind of put my creative energy into
Will Bachman 19:22
so I started listening to dream preachers before this discussion with you and it’s a super fun show. I had not really become wasn’t I was really not aware of the whole genre of these scripted radio dramas. And that I mean your show right now I guess the first season is free if you want to go other seasons you pay for it on on on the podcast app, which I wasn’t I wasn’t even aware of that. That was like a thing that they had like these paid subscription radio dramas tell us about this genre, which I was not even familiar with I mean, from the old days, you know, radio, lonesome rain arranger and stuff like you hear about that stuff from the eldest. But I wasn’t aware that that had come back as a as a scripted radio drama. Tell us about it.
Tara Altebrando 20:12
Yeah, I mean, it’s amazing. It’s been out there. I mean, when I discovered a couple of shows in 2019, I quickly realized that I was kind of already behind in terms of what people were doing and what was out there. But yeah, that’s a whole people are still it’s like the Wild West, a little bit podcasting and scripted stuff. Especially, there’s some models where stuff is behind a paywall, and you have to subscribe, then there’s other stuff that just gets, you know, independently produced and put out wherever you find your podcasts. So I’m still learning about a whole other industry myself. But yeah, there’s there’s incredible stuff out there. Not a ton of scripted audio in the family space, which is interesting. Because I thought that that’s like, there should be more of that, because families and cars, and, you know, family listening and stuff, but there’s incredible stuff being made for adults, as well, you know, and everyone drawing on the kind of War of the Worlds kind of model.
Will Bachman 21:20
What are some? What are some of the breakout or hit shows in the radio drama world that? Or is that what they call like? scripted?
Tara Altebrando 21:28
Yeah, radio drama,
Will Bachman 21:30
radio dramas, even though they’re not really on the radio, right there. Yeah. What are some of the like the big ones that have done really well?
Tara Altebrando 21:36
Homecoming was a big one, because Julia Roberts and I just listened to an incredible one called case 63, with Julianne Moore. And just like really fun concepts, there’s, you know, things that have just like two voices and two actors that are really kind of insular and intense, but still managed to tell a great story. And then you have shows with, you know, larger casts on a more epic kind of scale.
Will Bachman 22:05
And so these are, I didn’t even know about this. And there are they’re typically, via podcast apps, mostly, that’s where you get them on your normal like,
Tara Altebrando 22:16
yeah, and a lot of like Audible. If you’re an audible subscriber, there’s a lot of stuff in there kind of podcast channels now.
Will Bachman 22:23
Okay. Tell us what’s involved in creating one of these scripted drama. It sounds like it’s a much bigger production with 3040 people involved. Yeah, it is a homemade podcast here. So tell us Yes. Like,
Tara Altebrando 22:39
I mean, it’s been incredible. I mean, I work with this company called panna on Dream breachers. And they hire a sound studio. So first, you know, it’s scripting. And I have like an editor and creative director that helps me finalize all the scripts, and then they go find actors, and I get to listen to like audition reels to help choose actors, which has been really fun. And then they go into the studio, I mean, the first season of or the second season of dream, breachers ended up having to be recorded kind of remotely, because they couldn’t bring people in safely into studios together. So that was a big learning curve for everyone on that production side of that. So yeah, it’s been really fun. Like, then I get to listen to the final mixes, I remember the first time that I got to a mix. In my inbox, it was, you know, the first episode, and I was hearing it for the first time. And I happened to be like, on my way to the subway. So I put my earplugs in and started listening to the show for the first time on the walk to the subway. And I just started laughing. Because I couldn’t believe that after so many years of just quietly sitting at my desk, writing novels alone, that there were these actors bringing a story that I had created to life and bringing their own skills and humor and improv a little bit to the scripts and stuff. And it was just really, really fun and exciting.
Will Bachman 24:09
How is it? And then what’s so you have all these actors, they record and then you you’re listening to the auditions to pick the actors, and they have some great actors on your show. You know, really? Yeah, that’s characters a lot of fun. Like, scary old man and yeah, and stuff and his friends and very distinct voices so you can kind of really tell who’s who. Yeah. How is it different from you listening to the audio for your show? Versus like an audiobook version of one of your books? How does it feel different?
Tara Altebrando 24:49
Well, it’s funny because the audio books of my books, you know, they’re just like a straight read every word on a bridge, unedited. I don’t think I’ve ever listened to Oh, whole audio book of my own, because I’ve read the book, you’ve been there. And a good Narrator can make or break an audiobook and you know, some audio books, the actors get a little bit more aggressive, and they try to not quite do voices, but they, when they’re doing dialogue, they do try to inflect in a different way for different characters. And that’s like a whole separate skill that I really respect when it’s done well. But the fun thing about the scripted audio dramas, is that it really is just, yeah, just it’s like listening to a play. You know, people are doing a lot of interesting things in the audiobook world now where they’re more heavily produced with music, and that kind of stuff. So like, I think there’s stuff that’s sitting in the middle now that’s kind of fun, too. But for me, the this the casting and the sound effects, like the guy who produced the first season of dream, breachers is a really old school Sound producer. So if I wrote like a goat into an episode, he would literally go find a goat, and record the goat.
Will Bachman 26:12
How was it different? Writing? Do you find yourself as you’re writing the new episodes, kind of hearing these voices in your head of the different actors so forth?
Tara Altebrando 26:22
Yeah, definitely. And, and of course, the biggest challenge is that everything needs to be conveyed through dialogue or sound effect. So that’s been a really fun challenge to figure out how to do that in a way that’s artful. I started listening to more content, once I started writing for audio. And I immediately found some real pet peeves. You know, people walk into a room and they’ll say, Oh, it’s so dark in here, I can’t see. And people don’t wouldn’t normally say that to someone else who has just walked into the dark room with them. Or you’ll have like, a kid saying, Oh, Gosh, darn it, and now I’ve stepped in mud. That kind of forced exposition is like really uncomfortable. And I hate it when characters say each other’s names too often, because people in real life don’t do that.
Will Bachman 27:14
Do they? Will, Tara I totally agree.
Tara Altebrando 27:17
So you have to really try to figure out workarounds, which I find really interesting, as a writer to just be working in a format that’s entirely different. And you kind of have to rewrite the rules for yourself.
Will Bachman 27:30
Tell us about a couple things you’ve solved. like that where you had, you know, normally you could have done exposition, but tell us how you’ve solved them with with dialogue.
Tara Altebrando 27:41
Oh, gosh, I play a game with myself that’s based on like a popular meme, I guess kind of thing where, for example, it’s like, I’ll say, well tell me it’s dark without telling me it’s dark. So really just trying to, you know, force things into the characters that are more true to them, where you could have huge sense that the characters have walked into a dark room, and one of them can say to the other one, please tell me you didn’t forget the flashlight. So you’re infusing a little bit of character dynamics to your dialogue, while also make it clear that it’s darkened space, that kind of thing, like really trying to just look for clever, clever workarounds.
Will Bachman 28:29
And kind of forthcoming plans, is it continue with Dream features for the foreseeable future? Do you have other scripted audio kind of in mind other different, you know, shows you might work on?
Tara Altebrando 28:44
Well, it’s funny, because with the experience of casting and then listening to mixes of dream preachers, I got kind of interested in what the producer folks were doing. And again, it was that kind of like, oh, their job seems fun. Maybe I’d like doing that. So I ended up producing a show of my own. Also for the company penna where I was the delivered finished audio to them. So I wrote a very simple show called interview with a plushie. And it’s kind of a hard hitting interview with a stuffed animal. Okay. And I’ve made 20 episodes of that show. So I cast everyone I cast all the plushies I bought, got the studio time went into the studio with actors hired a friend of mine who’s a sound engineer, and actually, you know, he wrote some intro music so I made a show.
Will Bachman 29:31
That’s yeah, so
Tara Altebrando 29:33
now I can technically also say that I’m the producer, even though this show is very simple, because it’s just two voices in there, like three minutes long.
Will Bachman 29:40
Okay. And is this a subscription type show or?
Tara Altebrando 29:45
Yeah, that’s also behind the paywall. Sorry.
Will Bachman 29:52
How do you work on you know, building an audience for these things and kind of getting the word out?
Tara Altebrando 29:59
Well, what’s interesting With pinna, which is where my two shows have been is that that’s kind of their job. You know, they have a whole marketing department. And they, since they’re a subscriber base, my show is kind of funneled in with all of their content. You know, my shows are often on the homepage, which my daughter is always delighted, I think she opens up the app every once in a while just to make sure that dream breachers is so one of the top shows. So it kind of took the pressure off me. A lot of independent podcast, producers really have to work that harder and really try to figure out whether they need to buy ads on other shows to get their audience to grow. But I’ve luckily sidestepped that. For now,
Will Bachman 30:47
how is the creative process different when in an ongoing series that doesn’t have a definite end? versus writing a book? Like, is it Yeah, it’s
Tara Altebrando 31:02
so different. And it’s amazing because when I first pitched the idea for Dream braziers, I sold it to them on basically a two paragraph pitch. They were looking for like kind of a flagship kind of audio drama. And I think everyone really saw the potential for a show that was an audio show that was based around dreams, because if you can, you can dream any soundscape. So it kind of gave the show a limitless kind of audio scape soundscape. So when I wrote the first season, you know, you, you want to kind of wrap it up, but also leave the door open for another one. And I was never a series writer, as a novelist, like, I always felt like I would have a concept, I would execute on it, and then I was ready to move on. So it is adapt, definitely a completely different skill set. And the world of dream breaching, you know, in season one, it’s pretty much just about this one kid, trying to figure out what his powers are. But then he discovers this whole underworld of dream creatures that have existed in the world for, you know, centuries. So the world building part was new for me, because that was mostly in why writing contemporary realistic stuff. So I had to go deeper into like the world building aspect of writing, which I’d never done before. And I really enjoyed it.
Will Bachman 32:26
What are some of the aspects of that, like, world building? Tell me like what are if you’re talking to someone gets getting into that? What are some of the tips that you’d give them?
Tara Altebrando 32:36
Oh, I don’t know. Just you have to kind of set rules for yourself. Like, I introduced the concept of this power of dream, breaching, and it’s like, well, what are the limits to it, I created factions of drain breachers, where some are more aggressive, and greedy. And other dream breakers are more kind of do gooders. And they kind of try to police the people who are more extravagant and greedy in what they’re doing with their powers. So yeah, and then I decided, like, this can’t just be a new thing. So I created other eras in history where there were kind of known incidents of dream breaching, that impacted history in small ways. Just really fun. It’s more, you know, it feels like it’s more the kind of science fiction world in a way, where you just have to set rules and make sure you don’t break them, because you will get an email or a letter from somebody who says, you know, you said that dream. breachers kind of do this, but then in episode two of season two. So I just wanted to make sure that I kind of knew the basics before I could build out future seasons.
Will Bachman 33:48
Yeah, tell me about reader feedback a little bit with a book. It’s bam, it’s out there. And it’s kind of etched in stone with a series, to what degree of feedback that you’ve received, people saying they really loved apart what affected, you know, future episodes? have you incorporated any feedback into to kind of what people know, people really liked this kind of aspect of the show? have you incorporated that at all?
Tara Altebrando 34:19
I wouldn’t say we incorporated like any kind of criticism or feedback. But we did have in the in the first season, there is a hotline for a place called The Dream Academy. And it’s a recurring thing where you hear people fictional people calling in with, you know, talking about dreams that they had. The idea is that this place is researching dreams and looking for incidence of dream breaching. So we put a call out to listeners to send in their own dreams. And we incorporated a couple of those into the upcoming season. That’s awesome. Yeah, so it’s kids like rambling on about their crazy dreams. And we worked it in to a couple of scenes, so that’s super fun
Will Bachman 35:02
of and that’s really cool. Like a real one 800 Number, that’s exactly what a great way to engage gauge the audience is amazing. I love the way that, you know, as you tell your story, your whole career since Harvard has been this ongoing, truly, like, entrepreneurial, initiative and effort, like just, Oh, I’m just gonna go to Ireland and just show up at this magazine and offer to be a writer and then start create your own column and build that. And then same thing, you know, multiple times with your writing career and just deciding to create, you know, scripted show. Reflect on that a little bit for me.
Tara Altebrando 35:48
Yeah, it is interesting. It’s, it’s funny, it’s a pattern that I didn’t really realize I was following. For so long, I kind of thought it was like a new, you know, when I pivoted into audio in the last couple of years, I was like, oh, good for me, starting something new in middle age. But it is true that I’ve just always just been, I don’t know chasing things that are creatively fun. I know there are a lot of very successful writers who know how to do a certain kind of book and do it really well. And they do it over and over again, with great success, and are able to build big audiences, because all of their books are kind of the same, even if the premise is different. And I’ve never been good at that I’ve always wanted to write, I’ve always said like, I never want to write the same book twice. So I think that that kind of forces you to look for different ideas, different audiences, different ways to get stories out.
Will Bachman 36:53
I asked you before about research, I want to return to that other than your own kids and your memories of your own childhood? Do you kind of try to spend time with that middle aged middle age, I mean, middle middle grade kind of audience to understand their you know, speech patterns and topics that they care about? Or is it more just sort of drawing on your intuition of what would be compelling?
Tara Altebrando 37:22
I think the character aspect of this of the YA stuff for me is still drawn from myself. And also, you know, from watching, I have a 15 year old now. So she’s finally in the, in the exact sweet spot of why. For me, the research really has been like, my most popular young adult book is a book called The leaving. And it’s about a group of six kids who disappear when they’re in kindergarten. And when they come back, 15 years later, only five of them come back, and they don’t remember where they’ve been. And for that book, I did a deep dive on memory science. And just really learned a lot about false memories and how memory works. And you know, crazy, I forget, I forget what the percentage is. But you only actually remember something like a third of your life or less. So I just started, it was funny. I was at the point where my kids were just starting school. My daughter actually was in kindergarten. And I was putting her to bed one night, and she said, I’m going on a trip tomorrow. And I knew she wasn’t going on a trip. But I was like, Where are you going? And she said, I’m going to the leaving. We’re all going. And I was like, What the hell is that? That’s the creepiest thing that you have ever said. And then she said, The man on the playground said, we’re all going,
Will Bachman 38:52
Oh my God.
Tara Altebrando 38:53
I know. So that was idea number one from my five year old. I couldn’t stop thinking about it. So that’s what became the book The leaving. So that was my memory science book, which was a lot of fun. And then the most recent book I wrote is about four teenagers who get a text message that tells them to go to a certain classroom in their high school. And when they get there, there’s this cube sitting on the teacher’s desk and the cube starts lighting up with rules and instructions for them. So it’s my kind of creepy AI novel. So I did a lot of research about robots and artificial intelligence. So for me, yeah, the research is usually stuff that’s more in the in the plot, not so much the characters.
Will Bachman 39:44
And have you been in New York the whole time since you got back from Ireland?
Tara Altebrando 39:48
I have been. I spent 10 years in Brooklyn. And then when I met my now husband, he was living in Queens and if you know New York, really stayed at all. I was priced out of my neighborhood in Brooklyn very dramatically over the 10 years that I was there. So we started looking at places in Queens to live. And I’ve been in Queens for like 17 years now.
Will Bachman 40:17
Big shout out for Queens. I’m in Astoria. Where are you?
Tara Altebrando 40:20
I know, I can’t believe we’re really practically neighbors. Right.
Will Bachman 40:23
Tara? Let’s go back and to let’s change topics here. Go back to Harvard. What were some of the courses or professors that continue to resonate with you?
Tara Altebrando 40:36
Okay, I’m, strangely, I was a gov major. I was a gov doc, which was a total misfire, bad decision. As a freshman. I decided by junior year that I wasn’t going to write a thesis or go for the honours degree in that. So for me, the most memorable courses ended up being electives that I took later. Mostly, I think, senior year, I took finally I took a writing class at Harvard, I took creative nonfiction with Verlyn Klinkenborg
Will Bachman 41:06
Oh, you took Maryland.
Tara Altebrando 41:08
Man, that class was like, That class was amazing. So that still looms large. And I’m always, you know, whenever I see his byline, or anything pop up somewhere in the world, I’m always excited. I took a really cool class called the sociology of taste. I don’t remember the professor’s name. But it was really fun. You learned about like how people chose baby names and cars and stuff. And I remember I still have a copy of a paper I wrote in that class where I did all this research to prove that Well, I set out to prove and I thought I did that the more money you invested in stereo equipment, and music purchases, the more out of the mainstream your tastes, tended to be. So people who really kind of double down on music as being a part of their life were more likely to have the eclectic tastes and people who just listened to top 40 radio. So that was a fun class that I got to write stuff like that. I took an amazing ethnomusicology class. With Graham Boone was the professor and I remember I would like compare this song structure of you know, British indie hits with whatever was on the top of the top 40 charts and prove that the song structure of the charlatans UK was more advanced than I don’t know Britney Spears. And then I remember the stilgoe class. I don’t even remember what John still goes class was about
Will Bachman 42:40
Tara Altebrando 42:45
Yeah. And I remember going to that class and just being riveted by the stories he was telling. And then I’d look down at my notebook. And I wouldn’t have taken any notes because it was like impossible to know what you were even supposed to be paying attention to.
Will Bachman 42:57
How many of you have been to Michigan, Wisconsin?
Tara Altebrando 43:01
I remember he told his story about how he was testing out the postal system by sending himself letters with less and less information on them. To see how far he could go that the letter would still get to him. And he got down to like, you know, the red house off of Route 60. That so yeah. Those are the ones that stick with me, the ones that were you know, just kind of fun things that I decided to do after I’ve kind of given up on my my honours degree. I should have written a thesis because I ended up reading and proofreading and editing three of them from my roommate, which is probably more work.
Will Bachman 43:41
You should get partial credit for that. I know. I know. She get like partial thesis honors, credit. Copy that and the knowledge mat honors. Yes. What’s it I’m curious, any other still go memories that you
Tara Altebrando 43:58
have? No, that’s really the main one
Will Bachman 44:01
postal system testing that. Yeah. You can try this at home listeners. You can send yourself a letter and see if it gets to you. My My dad actually tells a story about his father. And someone who wants is like nephew of my grandfather, one sent a note and it just was Uncle Bill. That was my grandfather’s name, Uncle Bill Shenandoah, Pennsylvania, and that was my gosh, Uncle Bill and I got to him. So no, that’s crazy. smaller town. smaller town
Tara Altebrando 44:35
right day. Well, you know, Queens is its own kind of postal nightmare. With all the numbers, so I wouldn’t want to mess too much with the Queens
Will Bachman 44:44
listeners who aren’t in Queens. We have 21st Avenue 21st Road 21st Street 21st drive. Yeah, and people sometimes get confused. Yeah.
Tara Altebrando 44:56
Yeah. Like I live on 28th Street. and sometimes like we were doing renovations in our house and there would be a contractor who’s like I’m standing outside and we’re like, we’re on the street. You’re not here and they’d be on 28th Avenue. It’s the struggle is real.
Will Bachman 45:12
That has happened to us as well. Yes. checks get, you know, sent to the wrong place and Ubers and delivery. Yeah, yeah. overs not so much because it has the GPS but everything else. Tara, it’s been fantastic speaking with you. With you so much fun. We will include your links in the show notes. We will include links to your Amazon page will include links to Pinna for your show, and for listeners that want to listen to the latest go there. Thank you so much for joining.
Tara Altebrando 45:49
Thank you have a great day.