Interview with Jordan Cobb [Repost from Dec. 17, 2018]
What was the inspiration for Here Be Dragons?
I’ve always been a huge fan of audio dramas. I used to listen to a lot of books on tape and radio plays with my parents when I was growing up. The impetus to write one of my own has been with me almost as long as I can remember, but the idea for Here Be Dragons came to me in my senior year at NYU. I’d been listening to an audiobook of the collected stories of H.P. Lovecraft and watching a LOT of dinosaur documentaries. The weird and the wild was constantly on my mind. Originally, the concept was about a group of time travelers who became trapped in the Jurassic period and would be bouncing around through pre-history trying to find their way home. But the concept shifted when my family took our annual trip to Martha’s Vineyard for Thanksgiving. I’ve always been drawn to the ocean, and the idea of all the strange and wonderful things that could be lurking just below the surface was appealing, and the influence of Lovecraft’s own stories of the sea, and an upcoming deadline for my screenwriting class gave me the push I needed to sit down and write. And the rest is history.
Where did the name for Here Be Dragons come from?
It’s based on an old wives' tale about the early days of mapmaking. I believe it’s also connected somehow with the stories of The Devil’s Sea (or Dragon’s Triangle) near Japan…The story goes, that when people were going around the world adventuring, they would mark maps in places where they encountered sea monsters and other strange phenomena with the words “Here there be Dragons” or “HV SVNT DRACONES” to warn other people from venturing into those waters. As soon as the story shifted towards the Bermuda Triangle, the title just fell into place.
What is it about audio that is appealing as a medium for storytelling?
The idea is that absolutely anything can happen. There are no limits, besides your own creativity. The imagination is one of the most powerful, if not the most powerful tool a human being can possess. Telling a story through sound alone, though difficult, is incredibly rewarding because you’re not limited by budget or reality, only your own imagination and how well you can communicate an idea. If you want a monster, you can make one. Explosions? Vistas of space no one has ever seen? Castles at the bottom of the ocean? You’ve got it. Tell a story through sound, and not even the sky is the limit.
Why do you think it is important that the story’s main focus is on these four women?
I went to an all-girls school for most of my life, so I was indoctrinated into the feminist agenda almost as soon as I was out of the womb. And I have been lucky enough to be surrounded by people — like Cristina and Ellie — who know the power and importance of the stories and words and lives of women. When Cristina and I first lay awake in our dorm room, brainstorming what our story would be, one of the first things she said to me, was that the stories we told through Black Lace and Laser Beams would invariably be about women from all walks of life. After all, we were women who wanted a little more adventure in life, so why shouldn’t our characters be the same? Growing up, I couldn’t have named 10 female heroes for you, but I could have named at least a hundred phenomenal women. Sisterhood is something I understand, and it’s something I want to celebrate. Not to say that the characters of Here Be Dragons were all made women on purpose? It was another aspect of the story that just fell into place and felt unshakably, unquestionably right. I love seeing women in positions of leadership, of education, of building… It’s been the world I’ve seen and lived in all my life. Now I have the chance to put it into text when I build worlds of my own, so why shouldn’t I?
What sort of research do you do before writing an episode?
I mostly look up things about the sea creature the crew will be encountering. I have a very basic knowledge of submarines, which has increased greatly since the development of the show, but seeing as the technical aspects of the show are not the main focus, I tend to focus my energies on knowing as much as I can about the crew and the creatures. I read all the mythology I can get my hands on — which I admit, often isn’t much, and then fill in the gaps as necessary. I’ll also research non-mythological creatures if they’re in any way similar to the challenges the crew will be facing, so I can have an idea of how these creatures would behave. It’s been a fun zoological exploration.
How do you choose which sea monster the crew meets?
I am a MASSIVE nerd. I made a list. I spent days looking up sea monsters from all over the world, and I put them in a book so I have a great big store to choose from (and just for the record, I am ALWAYS open to suggestions). Then I just figure out what the general arc of the season is going to be, and choose monsters from there. This first season, I wanted a mix of the familiar stories and then some of the lesser-known creatures, so I could give the audience a sense of what they were in for. But I like to choose monsters that come with some truly weird mythology. The scarier or the stranger, the better! But all cryptids are welcome here.
Is there an endpoint for Here Be Dragons?
I have ideas for the next three big arcs of the Here Be Dragons storyline. I’m not sure if we’ll stop at season four or five, it entirely depends on whether or not the characters have reached a point by the end of season 3 where I feel that we can reasonably wrap up all of the storylines over the course of season 4. Most likely, we’ll end up having five seasons, and maybe a mini-season or two? But yes, I know how the story ends. Mostly, anyway. That’s half the fun, isn’t it?
What sort of struggles did you face when creating Here Be Dragons?
We had all kinds of problems trying to get Here Be Dragons to sail. We lost actors, our composer… The worst bump, though it felt more like getting hit by a meteor, was when we found out the studio where we were going to record had torn down their old sound booth and that the new one wouldn’t be arriving for several weeks. Those couple weeks turned into a couple of months. We wound up recording the first half of the season on my bedroom floor. There wasn’t a day of production where I wasn’t putting out fires. Cristina was getting daily messages from me as I tore out my hair and contemplated throwing in the towel and setting fire to all the scripts. She was my bedrock, from start to finish, and made sure I stayed sane enough to actually handle the 8 Billionth problem instead of imploding when we hit the 54th. There wouldn’t be a show without her.
How do you market Here Be Dragons?
We initially started marketing the show on Facebook, using a lot of the paid promotions they offered. Ellie and I jump back and forth on monitoring the social media and promoting there. Though it seems that a combination of Twitter, making friends with all the other amazing creators of audio drama, and word of mouth seem to be the biggest ways to grow the show’s listenership. And to be completely honest, our biggest jumps in listenership haven’t even directly correlated to the marketing we’ve spearheaded. Most of the time, when listenership has jumped, it’s because someone like Robert from Tunnels or Lisette from Kalila Stormfire’s Economical Magick Services has recommended the show to their listeners. Cross communication matters. Your listeners are… well… listening! But on our end, social media, social media, social media. ESPECIALLY on Twitter. #AudioDramaSunday and #ReviewOn22 are wonderful resources, and it’s never a bad thing to have days to celebrate your listeners…
Switching gears a little bit, I want to ask a few questions about Janus Descending. Why is the story being told from two perspectives at different starting points?
Janus Descending is my baby. I should preface: I’m not a horror fan. I can read scary stories, and that’s about it. I only got away with watching the Alien and Predator movies because: 1. There was absolutely no way it could ever possibly happen to me and 2. All the sequels were basically action movies.
Anthony and I knew we wanted to work on a project together, but because we live so far away from one another, it was impossible for us to record in the same room. So the story, by necessity, wound up being two single perspective narratives before anything was ever written down. I’m not sure how the idea initially came about to tell the story in crossing timelines. The entire story was written chronologically, and then once it was finished, I flipped Peter’s storyline and edited it so the stories flowed the way they needed to. There’s something to be said about the fact that every story can be told from multiple perspectives, no matter what I did, someone would see the story differently. And my natural overly ambitious and apparently masochistic self decided to take the next step. I love a good challenge. I wanted to see if I could. Could I tell a horror story? Could I play with the bounds of the genre? Would the story still work if I did? Why shouldn’t I try?
What are the benefits of working with a small cast?
It makes scheduling way simpler. It also, if you’re recording in person, or having any sort of rehearsals, it means you really get to bond with your cast, and that’s always one of my favorite parts of acting. With a small cast, especially one like ours, you get to be a bit of a family. It also gives the project, for me, a more tangible sense of scale. I can follow a hundred thousand different storylines, but the smaller the cast, the more I can focus on people as individuals instead of moving pieces, and really do my best to let everyone shine.
What sort of differences are there when writing about sea creatures vs. writing about space creatures?
I think it comes down to size. I like my sea monsters big. The ocean takes up something like 80% of our planet, and we technically know less about the ocean than we do about space. Have you seen the behemoths they’ve pulled out of the ocean? Alive and dead? Megalodons. Giant squid. The St. Augustine Monster. There are few things more terrifying and exhilarating than being in a tiny boat and seeing a massive shadow pass underneath you. Anything could be down there… And while the same thing is true of space, I tend to prefer my aliens, if not small, then roughly human-sized? I’m a massive fan of Star Trek and Doctor Who, and one of my favorite elements about both shows is that in the face of both beauty and danger, there’s something about having to face the whole awesome power of the universe that brings out the deepest and most human elements of us all. I like my space stories intimate, so my aliens tend to run small and the stories are more intimate.
What advice do you have for aspiring audio fiction creators?
Keep going. The thing about podcasting is that, from a distance, it looks deceptively easy. It is not. But it is incredibly worth it. If you have a story to tell, then please, for the love of literature and all that is wild and wonderful in this universe, tell it. Your voice is one worth hearing, your story is one worth telling. You will probably have to fight, long and hard uphill battles and it will be difficult. But I promise you, it is worth it. Every drop of blood, sweat, and tears. It is worth it. So keep going, and tell us a story.
If you were able to meet a mythical sea creature, what would it be?
Why would you ask me this?! It’s like trying to pick my favorite book, or asking what’s the one kind of chocolate I would eat for the rest of my life! I would like to point out that the issue with meeting any mythical creature is that like 99% of the time, you’re ALMOST CERTAINLY going to get eaten. I’d love to meet a sea creature that could talk. If the Kraken had a voice, I’d love to have a conversation, see what something that ancient and mysterious has to say. Even if it didn’t, I think I’d love to see one. But it’s so hard to choose just one.
If you haven’t checked out Janus Descending listen to the first episodes now!
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