"To Find Grace in Speaking Shadows" a personal essay by Matt Wallace
When I heard my first story richly narrated on an episode of Pseudopod, I was still the kind of young accompanied by awareness as dim as a radio tube light bulb flickering in the disused corridor of a state prison and the kind of willful ignorance that feels roguish and devil-may-dare in practice, as long as you never have to view it in retrospect.
This is also known as being in your mid-twenties.
Pseudopod was like my broke-ass writer’s ATM back in the day, and I am ashamed to lament now that’s how I viewed this wondrous and singular market bazaar of spoken shadows. The half-dozen stories I sold to Pseudopod before my fiction hiatus began in 2009 represent credit card payments, cell phone reactivations, and countless late-night fast food meals I would not otherwise have afforded on my own at the time. I wasn’t “fun” enough for Escape Pod or young and innocent enough for PodCastle, but Pseudopod was always the wee bear’s bed to my fiction’s gothed-up, bloodshot-eyed, tip-of-the-knife-blade-picking-her-teeth Goldilocks; it fit just right.
And yes, there is a kind of grace in eking out your existence on pennies a word, especially in this age, when the proliferation of short fiction markets has all but completely prolapsed, an age when Harlan Ellison never could’ve afforded to move to New York City in the first place, and once there would’ve surely starved to death staring at the former lobbies of magazine publishing powerhouses that are now all Starbucks.
I wish, however, I’d appreciated wonders like Pseudopod more when we were both fresh and unspoiled by the world around us.
I dropped out of fiction publishing for a good five years (which is another essay entirely). I came out to Los Angeles and had my heart, ass, and bank account simultaneously broken by the film and television industry (another essay unto itself). When I started publishing short stories again in 2013, returning to the Escape Artists family of podcasts was as natural as calling up an old friend when you hit their town after a long absence. I finally heard a piece of mine play on Escape Pod (a definite stretch for them, called “Knowing,” featuring demons with Tourette’s and a Pope with paraphilic infantilism), PodCastle recorded “Sundae” [and later reprinted in Cast of Wonders with a different narration] arguably my first kid-friendly story and the first story I ever self-published, and I made my return to Pseudopod with a weird body horror cyberpunk love story/fairy tale called “Anasazi Skin” that would never have found a home otherwise.
It was just like back in the day.
Except now I am no longer young and unaware and inattentive. I can see the publishing landscape clearly now, and one of the things easy to perceive with that aged clarity is that Pseudopod is a hell of a lot more than an ATM for writers of weird, too-dark stories. Pseudopod has not only survived, still speaking shadows in richly amber tones, it has matured into a lone sentinel of the medium. Pseudopod is using audio fiction to literally keep the horror short story market alive. With the exception of John Joseph Adams’ Nightmare Magazine, Pseudopod is standing alone in the pitch darkness of the genre, offering professional rates exclusively to writers of horror and dark fantasy and giving them a quality home and a large audience for their works.
There’s more grace in that than any pseudo-romantic thing I’ve ever attempted, let alone accomplished. I find myself now, writing on the occasion of their tenth anniversary (a ten years that might as well have been eons in both the publishing industry and genre fiction), humbled and privileged to be part of both their past and their present, and if I am to be part of horror and dark fantasy’s future, I know I’ll exist in the grooves of that future because they were carved by the steadfast and tireless folks behind markets like Pseudopod.
Matt Wallace is the author of The Next Fix, The Failed Cities, and the Sin du Jour series. He's also penned over one hundred short stories, a few of which have won awards and been nominated for others, in addition to writing for film and television. In his youth he traveled the world as a professional wrestler and unarmed combat and self-defense instructor before retiring to write full-time. He now resides in Los Angeles with the love of his life, Nikki.