While Serial may have cornered the market on true-crime audio, nobody owns serialized fiction podcasts like the paranormal horror-comedy Welcome to Night Vale.
Started in 2012 by writers Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor, Night Vale’s popularity has spawned cross-country tours, a best-selling novel, and Night Vale Presents, a network launched to support other new, independent podcasts from first-time podcasters.
This month, the first Night Vale Presents project, Alice Isn’t Dead, arrived to positive reviews. Penned by Fink, the strange, foreboding tale follows a woman in search of the wife she once presumed dead.
This week, I spoke to Fink about the podcast, which will post new episodes biweekly through July 12. In April and July, Fink and Cranor will tour the country with a new Night Vale live show.
1. How do you describe Alice Isn’t Dead to those who haven’t heard it—or Welcome to Night Vale, for that matter?
Fink: It’s a serial fiction podcast [about] a truck driver searching for her wife who she thought was dead. It uses real experiences of traveling through America; every drive she takes in each episode is a drive you could actually take, and a lot of what she sees is [what] I actually saw driving around the country. It mixes that with sort of weird fiction and horror elements.
2. This podcast kind of popped up without much warning. What kind of reaction to it have you gotten so far?
We had a nice amount of listeners for a brand new show, which is great. It’s been a little nerve-wracking, because, ultimately, this was just a little side project I was working on. But overwhelmingly, people seem to like it, [and] that’s the goal.
3. How long had the idea for Alice Isn’t Deadbeen cooking? And is the whole story complete, or are you still in the process of writing it?
It started up somewhere touring around the country with the Night Vale live show. I would guess that I’ve been playing around with the idea for at least a year.
Yeah, I’m still writing scripts. I have the whole story mapped out, but given the number of overlapping writing deadlines I have, I don’t tend to write stuff until I actually need to write it. [Laughs]
4. The podcast is performed by Jasika Nicole. How did you find her, and what made you think she was the right person for the job?
Kevin [R. Free], who is a voice on Night Vale, is good friends with her, and then Jeffrey [Cranor] has been friends with her for quite a while. Really early on in Night Vale, she did a show with us in L.A., and I wrote a monologue for her. As far as I know, she saw it for the first time right before the show, and then she walked out on stage and just really nailed it. It was a beautiful performance.
The moment I saw that happen, I knew I wanted to keep writing stuff for her. So even before this project had a title or even much of a plot outline, I knew I wanted Jasika to be the voice.
5. Will she be the only voice we hear on the series?
Yeah, I don’t want to comment on that yet.
6. I figured, but it couldn’t hurt to ask. As I’m sure you’ve been told, your work is very descriptive and cinematic. Have you been approached to adapt it for the screen, or do you have any interest in doing that?
When Night Vale first blew up, what we had then was “Popular Internet Thing.” And when you have Popular Internet Thing—it doesn’t really matter what it is—you will get approached by pretty much everyone being like, “Can I buy Popular Internet Thing from you?”
But from the start, we were interested in doing things that a) We can be involved in, because it’s our thing, and we’re not really interested in just selling off the name; and that b) We can do in a way that we feel is worthwhile to fans. We don’t want to put out stuff that we can’t stand behind.
So that’s why a book made a lot of sense, because we’re writers, and we can stand behind that book as something that is worth reading. We’re not entirely opposed to movie and television stuff, it’s just gonna take a lot longer to figure out how that would work and make sure that it’s something worth doing.
7. Are you working on any other side projects at the moment?
I mean, not that I want to tell you about, just because it’s never a good idea to start talking about stuff … There’s a reason that we didn’t announce Alice until it was pretty much completely ready to go. You’re never doing yourself a favor by announcing stuff that is still in the planning stages.
When you’re a writer, you constantly have ideas, and mostly you have to have the self-awareness to know you’re just not gonna have time to do most of them. There’s other stuff I’m vaguely working on, but … I have a lot of deadlines right now, so it could be quite a while before I have time to really devote any real energy to making other stuff come alive.
8. What are you reading these days?
I think I have it down to three books right now: I’m reading The Incarnations by Susan Barker. It’s about a cab driver in Beijing right before the Olympics who starts receiving letters from somebody who claims to have known him in many previous lives. I’m reading Blue Highways by William Least Heat-Moon. And before going to bed, I’m reading Pacific by Simon Winchester, which [has] essays about modern history in and around the Pacific Ocean.
9. Do you listen to any podcasts?
[Laughs] I listen to about 30 different podcasts. We got into Night Vale because we love podcasting. And [that’s] the reason we’re doing Alice Isn’t Dead and also launching Night Vale Presents, in which the idea is to keep launching new podcasts. Jeffrey [Cranor] is right now working on his own fiction serial podcast with the novelist Janina Matthewson that we’re hoping to launch in late spring, early summer.
We are also working with a number of artists who haven’t worked in podcasting before but who we think could do good things. A lot of what we’re doing is because we really love podcasting as a medium, and we want to keep seeing new things happen there.
10. What shows do you listen to? There are some podcasts now that seem very influenced by Night Vale.
In terms of fiction podcasts, really the only one I think I listen to is The Black Tapes. Other than that, I listen to a lot of 99% Invisible, You Must Remember This, The Worst Idea of All Time …. I love that one, because it’s on the border between a podcast and performance art.
11. Can you tease us about upcoming episodes of Alice Isn’t Dead?
I can tell you that there is a story planned out for the first year of the show—10 episodes have a very planned-out arc—but also that, hopefully, given listener interest and [our] time, there will be more years. I already have ideas of where the story would go.
12. Would you tour with Alice, similarly to what you’ve done with Night Vale?
We all come out of live theater, which is why putting together a live show is natural for us. So yeah, if we wanted to put together a live show, we could do it, but I don’t know if we’re going to. We have to keep an eye on making sure that we’re always leaving enough time [so] everything we’re trying to do is done right.
13. You work on so much at once. Do you have any tips for how to balance all of those deadlines without losing your mind?
There are a couple things: One is we’ve been told that we write very quickly. For years, we’ve either worked in theater that has a fast turnaround or on a podcast in which we have to put out two scripts a month, so we’ve just gotten very used to getting through the deadlines we have.
The other thing is, I spend most of my time working. I have this house in the country, and I don’t really take days off or go out much; I mostly just work. It’s not something I’m probably going to keep up forever, but at my age, it seems like, “Why not?”
To read more of Whitney Matheson’s podcast recommendations and interviews with notable podcasters, head to the archive.