So…. you wanted a third option… I see the way you’re playing the game Roomies. Always up for the unexpected huh. Well I can’t let you derail the project can I. Let me throw another story your way and see if you’re ready to take this one on!
This week we are sitting down with author Alex Gallegos, as we take a deep breath and explore the depths of space in his story “It’s the Little Things.”
GR: Welcome back to The Grey Rooms Alex, we got a little taste of your writing style last season with ‘Thank you for Calling’, but we’d love to know — how long have you been writing?
AG: In one form or another, I have been writing for as long as I can remember, really. Or maybe the better way to put it is that I have been telling stories for as long as I can remember. I have memories of being a little kid in elementary school, and a few friends and I would play on this enormous wooden play structure that was out in the playground that had multiple levels, slides, a bridge you could walk across, and metal tubes you could crawl through, and right up at the top it had a steering wheel like on an old sailing ship. Actually thinking back it was probably just a plastic car steering wheel but we decided it was a ship’s steering wheel.
It probably doesn’t require a great stretch of the imagination in the mind of a child to look at this wooden monstrosity and turn it into a three-masted schooner on the high seas, but our “ship” had a name, and a backstory, crew members below decks, we took damage in battle, and we spent a week adrift at sea on the brink of dying of thirst because we’d been attacked by pirates and had our sails burned. My classmates eventually grew bored of this and wanted to get back to swashbuckling but I said that didn’t make sense – we’d have to get the ship moving again, or hope someone came along to rescue us. My point is, stories have always spoken to me and I have always loved them, both as a reader and as a producer, whether or not I ever got around to putting pen to paper on some of them being, in some ways, immaterial.
GR: You remind me of my brother and the way he talks about world building in his own stories, I think that’s a great strength with authors, to be able to build a full environment around their story, not just the ‘here and now’. What was it that got you into writing?
AG: At the start, it was a desire I think anyone who does anything performative can understand, which is the desire to entertain. I’d write a story in school and people would not only tell me that it was good, but tell me the effect that it had on them – that it made them happy, or sad, or even was a little frightening.
I remember being intrigued by the idea but then I let it lapse for a bit, thinking I’d mostly be content to be a reader. Then in high school, I happened upon The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams, and it was (and still is) one of the best books I have ever read. Not just because the story was engaging – although it was – but also because Adams used the prose in a way I had never seen anyone use it before. In other books I had read, all the text between the dialogue was merely a tool, a way to move the story along and get from A to B, but in that series, the text in between scenes and describing the action was snarky and witty in such a way that it was almost a character in and of itself.
“The great ships hung motionless in the air, over every nation on Earth. Motionless they hung, huge, heavy, steady in the sky, a blasphemy against nature. Many people went straight into shock as their minds tried to encompass what they were looking at. The ships hung in the sky in much the same way that bricks don’t.” I mean, how perfect is that description? It was at that moment that I realized that storytelling could be more than plot structure and characters and outlines. The medium itself could be put to work to entertain the audience as well.
GR: It is a beautiful thing to see worlds come together in prose that way, prose that really sucks readers into the stories. (or forced into doors) How do your story ideas come to you?
AG: I have little ideas pop into my head all the time, in all sorts of areas. I am curious to see what other authors say in response to this question, but I would not be surprised to find that you get a lot of similar responses, which is that really, an idea can come from anywhere. I think – and this is based on no research or anything else other than my own intuition – that there are some people who are fundamentally predisposed to imaginative creativity. Daydreamers, jokesters, philosophers, people who not only like to observe the world as it is, but to imagine the world as it could be, or even whole new worlds as they could be.
So if you’re inclined to create and tell stories, then some part of your brain is always there, a passenger in your daily life, watching as you go about your business. And every now and again, something will happen and that little bit of your brain wakes up, just for a moment, and says, “Hold on a moment, did something interesting happen just there?” Sometimes it’s a line of dialogue that you think is really good and would fit somewhere nicely, sometimes it’s a really unique name, and sometimes it’s a scenario. In my office, they have TVs playing HGTV in the breakrooms. I was making a cup of coffee one day and one of those shows where they buy a run-down house, renovate it, and flip it was on. They found some bones buried in the backyard and had to stop work and call the police because if there’s even the possibility of them being human remains, they can’t just keep digging. Well, they weren’t, it was the remains of a family pet that had been buried in the yard if I remember correctly. But that little part of my brain perked up and said, “OK, but what if it were human remains?”
I haven’t done a thing with that, but I have it in a document somewhere – “people renovating home find remains of corpse on property.” Just that little note. Could be the start of a crime novel, or a haunted house horror story, or a mystery, or a thriller. Or it could sit there until the day I die and never be touched. I have no idea about any characters or anything. But the point is, a little thing came up, I paid attention to it, made note of it so I could draw on it later if I wanted, and then went about my day.
If you start doing that, you’ll quickly find that you’re overwhelmed by ideas – the vast majority of which never amount to anything, by the way. The vast majority of which never even get so much as a single word written about them. That’s OK. But the next time you’re listening to an interview with a celebrity and they say, “Could you imagine a world where…?” take a second and actually do imagine it, and what the implications of it might be, and then jot something down.
GR: I think that’s one of the great things about our show, and horror in general. It always begs the question “Could you imagine what it would be like if this (insert idea) were to happen, and see what craziness might come out of the other end of that question. You can spin quite a few scary stories that way.
AG: I’m a person who doesn’t scare very easily when it comes to horror, but don’t take that as any sort of bravado, because I assure you it isn’t. What I mean by it, rather, is that you can flash all sort of gore and monsters and carnage at me, and it doesn’t really phase me at all because of the inherent unreality of it all. But give me a story about everyday horrors that happen to people all the time – drownings and car accidents and murders and plane crashes and industrial accidents? Now you have my attention.
There’s something about being grabbed by the lapels and being forced to remember just how fragile your meatsuit is and how just one or two things going wrong can lead to a horrific outcome that evokes a reaction from me that no ghost or demon or kaiju ever will. There’s this YouTube channel that is nothing but true stories about real things that happened to people, presented in a very matter-of-fact tone, and it’s some of the most chilling content I’ve ever seen. Those are the things that stay with me. So even if fantastical elements are mixed in for plot purposes, when the core of the thing that makes a story scary is something primal and real, I’ll remember it for a long time.
GR: Watching episodes like that, I think you get sucked in too because it’s such an immersive atmosphere/topic. You can’t help but feel like you’re in the room with them, dealing with the situation with them- and to parallel I think our show, the new season especially, has had that same effect with listeners where there are moments of just being sucked into the scene. What has it been like for you hearing your story produced as a podcast episode?
AG: It’s an absolute treat! Especially hearing it done with such high production values as The Grey Rooms does. There are professional audiobooks that don’t do a good job with their soundscaping so to hear something I wrote come to life in this way in Season 2 was incredible, and I can’t wait to hear how Season 3 turns out. Part of the reason I got really interested in podcasts – as a listener first, an actor second, and now as an author – was because of my love of Old Time Radio.
No disrespect to Jason, let there be no question that his audio engineering is top notch and he creates beautiful mental landscapes for the listener to paint the picture of the action in their mind. But the key difference is that a podcast has the benefit of being prerecorded, so there’s time to fiddle with and fine-tune the audio, to find just the right sound effect to get just exactly the feel the editor wants, and adjust the levels and the reverb until everything is just right. Conversely, watch back to some of the videos of those early days of radio, though, and it is astounding to see what those people could do with a little box of gravel, a few balloons, a slab of wood, some jars, etcetera. Basically, they just raided their hardware stores and set things up near the microphones, because they had to do it all live in the studio. There’s a photo somewhere of Orson Welles delivering narration while also marching in place in a gravel box to give footstep noises and it’s just delightful.
So I have been in love with the audio drama format for as long as I have known that it existed, listening to cassette tapes of old shows that had been broadcast in the 60s like Suspense! and X-Minus One and, of course, The Mercury Theatre on the Air, and I thought it was a great tragedy that the art form had been all but lost to time as movies and TV took over. There were still some independent producers online in the 90s and early 2000s as well as some companies like Big Finish, but very few. But then in the last few years there has been this explosion in popularity of the format, which I think is just absolutely wonderful, and for a production like The Grey Rooms to come along, and not only to do more great storytelling, but to blow so many of the others out of the water right from the start with their audio production capabilities was absolutely astounding.
All of this is my very long way of saying that I’ve been in love with audio drama for a very long time, and I have been in love with The Grey Rooms since Bob and Raymond first started verbally sparring, so when it came time to actually hear my own piece plopped into that world, it was almost surreal. I very much felt like an ascended fan getting a walk-on role on their favorite TV show.
GR: lol So you’re a Roomie just like the rest of us. I know even with the crew we have here at The Grey Rooms, there are times I find myself fan-girling over episodes. Jabbering on about our favorite moments, or how stories sound. It’s such a unique way to tell stories vs. traditional audiobooks. What advice would you give to other writers who might be interested in submitting a story to The Grey Rooms.
AG: Do it! Seriously, you will never work with a nicer group of people in your life. It’s the weirdest juxtaposition I can imagine, that the people who produce the goriest, darkest, most torturous podcast on the internet are also the coolest folks I’ve ever worked on anything with, but it’s true. And those things I said above, about finding ideas and working on the story out of order? They kind of go double for a Grey Rooms submission because you know before you start the story, before you even have an idea, that you’re offing your main character by the end. That might seem like a really restrictive restraint that is hard to work around but really it just requires a change in thinking. Everybody dies. All of us will and so will everyone else who has ever lived, or ever will. You might think about telling the story of the very last day of someone’s life as if it were any other day in their existence, or, if you’re searching for an idea, start thinking about how your own death. If you got to choose, are there ways you absolutely for sure would want to go? Any ways you wouldn’t wish on your worst enemy? Like I said when I was talking about idea, maybe only one of those is an idea you can work with, or none of them are, but they give you inspiration for something else. That’s an angle to consider.
GR: You’re absolutely right. So tell us Alex, what projects are you working on now?
AG: I’ve actually been inspired through my two submissions to The Grey Rooms to search for more places where I can find something meaningful to say and do so with my voice, instead of trying to create something that disappears into the void forever. So I’m only in the very early stages but I am looking at some literary journals and possibly some other podcasts with open submissions that I might want to contribute something to. Very early stages at this point, so nothing to announce, but watch my social media. I’ll make an announcement there if anything comes to fruition.
Beyond that, I am a cast member in Superstition Podcast, which you can find on Twitter @PodSuperstition (we took a bit of a hiatus while the world was on fire but hopefully we’ll be back soon… sending e-hugs to my friend Sarah if you’re reading this!) as well as having a small part in the Safeguards Audio Drama Series, which is on Twitter as well @SafeguardsP and deserves more attention than it got. If you like dark family secrets and creepy settings, either of these podcasts will make you very happy indeed. Oh, and the second one has robots in it.
GR: Let me just note these down in my podcatcher…Thank you again Alex for taking the time to sit down and chat with us, and I know Jason had an amazing time chatting with you in person.
If you’d like to hear more stories from Alex Gallegos, you can take a peek behind the door and check out his episode from Season 2: Thank you for calling