This is a transcription of ‘SSoP Podcast: A Mini-Episode About Survey Results & What We’re Reading.’
David: Hello. Welcome to Strong Sense of place. Hi, everybody. This is a special mini-episode. It’s one of two that we’re planning during our break between Season One and Season Two. As you will recall, we did a survey at the end of the first season, and we got hundreds of responses.
Melissa: You guys are awesome. Thank you.
David: You do that kind of thing, and you’re, like, ‘I don’t know, maybe two people,’ you know?
Melissa: Dave’s expectations are always very low: ‘I’ll be happy if we get eight…’
David: And then hundreds of people show up, and they take their time to tell you what you’re doing and how you could be doing it better. And a lot of very nice things, a lot of very nice things. And thank you so much. We read all of them, every single one. Your voice has been heard! In the middle of the break, we are planning on doing two shorter podcasts. - this is one of them — bout changes were planning to make to our podcast and our site based on your feedback. Today, we will also announce the winner of the fifty dollars in books from your favorite independent bookstore.
Melissa: Love giving away books.
David: Yep. And we’re going to announce the destinations for the first four episodes of Season Two.
Melissa: Many of which are by request from you.
David: The second mini-episode that we’re going to do, we’re going to answer specific questions we got from the survey. Questions like: How many books do you guys read for each episode? And how did we meet? And do we really love every book on our site?
Melissa: Spoiler, yes. More detail coming later.
David: So the number one response we got from the survey was: make more podcasts faster. Which is really sweet. [laughter] And yet…
Melissa: Boy, do we wish we could! That would be awesome.
David: It would be awesome sauce. And we’ve talked about it would take to do a weekly podcast like this. And the answer is: way more people than we have right now.
Melissa: More than the two of us.
David: Yeah. But it is something we’d like to work toward.
Melissa: And it was our original intent.
David: We started out thinking this would be weekly…
Melissa: Back before we actually made any podcasts. We thought we could do it weekly.
David: And then we educated ourselves by running into a wall repeatedly. And we learned.
Melissa: Anyway. We hear you. We wish it were so, as well. Perhaps someday.
David: I think the second thing that we got the most feedback on — so the most kind of divisive thing that we do on every episode is play the theme music.
David: Some people love that. Some people really don’t and were not afraid to tell us about it. I totally appreciate that. So let’s talk about that. Something you should know: I wrote that music. I wrote that music on my laptop. I produced it. I put it together. The first thing I was thinking was that the little airplane bell that happens at the beginning would indicate the adventure is now beginning. And then the music kind of rolls and builds to a point where you’re in a different place. And I think that works. I listened to it again super- critically recently because of all the feedback. And I’m, like, maybe I could re-orchestrate the drums and stuff to give it a little less in your ear-ness.
Melissa: Part of the challenge is that every time I give Dave feedback on the music, it’s the exact opposite of what he was thinking.
David: That’s true.
Melissa: Drums and the horns may be down to me because I really like them.
David: The horns were definitely inspired by Mel because I was kind of thinking something a little less in your face.
Melissa: And I loved it. [david laughs] I think you played the horn sound as a joke. And I was like, ‘Yes! That’s it.’ I loved it.
David: So anyway, one of the other things that we’re going to do is shorten up the intro, because when we made that intro, I think we were of the mind that we need to tell everybody everything all the time, each time. Because we were worried that people wouldn’t get it. And people get it. So I think we’re gonna shorten that down. I think we’re gonna change the music just a little bit. Certainly, make it shorter and tighten that whole thing up a little bit.
Melissa: And to the person who said they want the whole track released as its own: a) you’re awesome; and b) the music you guys hear is all of the music of that song that exists. It’s not an entire song. It’s just our intro. I love that it’s so divisive. That’s one of my favorite things about the survey. That’s cool.
David: So bottom line there, if you like the music. Thank you so much. If you don’t judiciously use the skip ahead button. And thanks for your patience.
David: Another thing that we got feedback on is the timing of the show. And this went both ways, right? Some parts are too long, or some parts are too short and people have different opinions about what was too long and what was too short. So… this is the year I started to learn how to edit a podcast.
Melissa: Well done, Dave.
David: Thanks. Thanks so much. I suspect the learning curve will be going on for a while. So thanks for bearing with me while I figure that out. We’re going to try to address that issue by making this show a little bit more uniform. So one section of the show will be, let’s say, five minutes in one episode and then the next episode, also five minutes, and then in the next episode, also five minutes, which hopefully will give a standardized sense to the show and make the rhythm feel a little bit better.
Melissa: Also, then, you know how much tea you have to make for while you’re listening. How many snacks do I need? This is a two cookie show.
David: We asked people about whether they would support us on Patreon. And a surprising number of you said you would.
Melissa: And my heart grew four sizes that day.
David: It’s true. It was very heartening…
Melissa: Reassuring and encouraging. Our focus for the next few months is going to be making a totally awesome Season Two. So we are not going to launch a Patreon immediately. But you saying that you would support a Patreon has put fresh wind in our sails.
David: Yeah. We’ve talked sort of at length about maybe doing a book club or something like that. And we don’t want to do that until it’s really good. So we’re going to take our time and figure that out and hopefully do it so that it’s fantastic when it launches.
David: And to be clear, there will always be a version of our podcast that is free to everybody. We’ll be free to everybody. We’re not going to charge or just regular listening adventures. I feel like some people might have been confused about that in some of the responses we got.
David: Right. We plan to keep doing what we’re doing currently.
Melissa: So no one really asked for changes to our website in the survey except for me. So, I’m going to talk about a couple of the changes we’re making to the website that were really important for me. So just to go back in time a little bit: When we initially conceived of this project, my idea was to have a massive website that had books for every country in the world. And my rule was there had to be at least five books for each country. And that when we launched, we had to have representation from every region of the globe. So, when I did my calculations, I thought we could launch the site with 47 countries and then add to it over time.
Melissa: But when we actually started doing the reading, we realized that just to read for 47 countries would take years.
David: And even if we did, there would come someday when we’re like, ‘OK… tada! Here’s this huge site that we made.’
Melissa: Hope you like it. [laughter]
Melissa: So one Saturday morning, we were having one of those talks, like you do, when you’re still in your pajamas and realized that we should do a podcast and build the website around the podcast. So podcasts would feed book reviews and other content into the site, which is how we ended up here. But I never let go of the idea that I wanted each place to have its own destination page. So that’s one of the things I’m working on right now.
Melissa: You will be able to come to the site and search for Scotland and get the Scotland page and it will have every piece of content related to Scotland. Every book recommendation, every blog post. And those will continue to grow over time.
David: We are also working on having a better mobile experience because 45-percent of our audience looks at our site through their phone. And so it’s super important to get that right. We’re working on making that a little bit better. There was also some confusion about the difference between our newsletter and the Endnotes. And I was wondering if you could address that. What’s the difference between the newsletter and the Endnotes?
Melissa: Ok, there are two newsletters, just to further confuse the issue. You can sign up on our site to get a short email newsletter every time I update the site, and you will get that two to three times a week, depending on how often I post that week. On Fridays, I send what I call the ‘big newsletter’ inside my head. It’s called the Big Newsletter. And that is the one where I write an essay or a letter about whatever happens to be on my mind that day. And it also highlights everything that has been added to the site that week. So it’s the way to get all of the info about what’s happening at Strong Sense of Place headquarters in one place. That’s the newsletter that goes out on Friday.
David: So the intent there is every Friday we send out an email like we’re writing a friend. And also, it talks about everything on the site.
Melissa: Correct. Also on Friday, I compile Endnotes, which is our collection of our favorite book- and travel- related links from other websites. That comes out on Fridays. And that is mentioned in the newsletter, but it is separate from the newsletter. This is the end of my presentation on our content.
David: I feel like there should have been a PowerPoint presentation with. Excellent. Thank you very much for that presentation.
David: One of the things we did with our survey was ask you about the destinations you would like us to talk about. I will now give you the top 10 destinations that you mentioned. And these are in reverse order. This is the countdown. Ten…
Melissa: Oh! I didn’t know this was a countdown. I just sat straight up my chair.
David: Here they are. Ten was Spain. Nine, Paris. Eight, India. Seven, Alaska. Six was the mountains, then Canada, Ireland, New Zealand, trains… And I think this is because you prompted people for trains.
Melissa: I may have answered the survey 100 times and said trains. [laughter]
David: And the number one most requested destination is Australia.
David: All of that influenced the destinations we’re going to cover in Season Two.
Melissa: Tell them what the first four of Season Two are.
David: The first four of Season Two — and these are in order — so we’re going to start with Paris.
Melissa: It’s always a good idea to visit Paris.
David: Two: Alaska.
Melissa: I’ve read a few books for Alaska, and I’ve loved all of them. There are great books set in Alaska. Iit’s gonna be such a fun episode.
David: Three — this is our first theme…
Melissa: My head’s exploding. I know what it is. It’s so good.
David: Library. We’re gonna go to the library.
David: Yeah. And then four — we weren’t going to cover — and then we got a whole bunch of response… We’re gonna cover New Zealand. I’m very excited about the books that I’ve chosen for New Zealand. So thank you for that.
Melissa: If any of you have suggestions about what we could read for Paris, Alaska, the library, or New Zealand, please do feel free to email us or talk to us on social media because we are gathering our reading lists right now. And if you read something that you absolutely loved, that you feel like has a very strong sense of that place, let us know.
David: Yeah, speak up. Now’s a good time.
Melissa: as a thank you for participating in the survey, you were invited to submit your email address to go into a drawing for 50 dollars of books from your favorite independent bookstore. And Dave has a winner.
David: I do. Pat from San Jose, California — Congratulations! You’re getting a lot of books.
Melissa: [singsong voice] Book mail is the best mail.
David: It’s true. We’ll be in touch with you, and we’ll find out your favorite independent bookstore, and we’ll set that up.
Melissa: Before we wrap this up. I feel like we can’t record ourselves and not talk about some books. So let’s talk about we’ve been reading lately without giving away too much.
David: Let’s see. Recently, I’ve been reading for our Alaska episode. I’ve been reading The Snow Child, which is a lovely kind of magical realism book set in the early 20s in Alaska. I also just finished reading 30 Days of Night, which I doubt I’m going to talk about because it is a violent vampire graphic novel story, but —
Melissa: It sounds like I would like it!
David: [laughs] If you like violent vampire graphic novels stories, it’s set in Barrow, Alaska, and the premise is that the sun goes down for 30 days between, I think mid-November and mid-December and a convention of vampires shows up to take over the town and basically have a huge party of blood and guts for 30 days.
Melissa: To be fair, if you were a vampire, that would be the ideal place to live.
David: It’s a great premise. For a horror premise, it’s fantastic. I’ve read that. Loved it. Probably not going to recommend it on the show.
Melissa: Maybe we’ll write it up for the website.
David: Maybe. What are you reading?
Melissa: Well, I should be reading for Season Two. But given how challenging the world outside our flat still is, I have also been doing some personal reading, and I thought it would talk about that a little bit.
Melissa: I’m reading The Labyrinth of the Spirits, which is the final book in The Cemetery of Forgotten Books series. And we are recording this just a few days after the author, Carlos Ruiz Zafón, died. It’s been especially poignant coming toward the end of this book. According to my Kindle, I only have two hours left. And it’s very bittersweet to know these are the last new words from this author. But he has a rich back catalog of Y.A. books that also seem to have the same blend of Gothic themes and mood and atmosphere, set in 20th-century Barcelona. So there’s a lot there to, like, really sink your teeth into. His writing is really beautiful. But his plots also have pretty decent amount of momentum, particularly this one. The Labyrinth of the Spirits is almost a detective procedural. The bones of it are a detective procedural and then layered over that is all of this Gothic atmosphere. And it’s just wonderful. I’m really enjoying it.
David: You’ve loved that whole series.
Melissa: I have. I really recommend it if you like stories within the stories. It reminds me a little bit of the way Erin Morgenstern’s The Starless Sea kind of imbeds stories within stories. Interlocking timelines and narratives. Love it, but it’s over eight hundred pages long. So last weekend when I was reading it, I was about halfway through, and I took a little break from it. And for 24 hours, I read The Way Men Act by Elinor Lipman, which is the exact opposite kind of book, for our audience who may or may not be familiar with Eleanor Lippman.
Melissa: She writes romantic comedies. They are not romance novels. They don’t follow the formula of a romance novel. They’re usually love stories, although sometimes it’s love among friends or love between family members, not necessarily romantic love. And they’re very light and frothy on the surface. But there’s some biting insight going on, too. So they’ve got some teeth to them. They’re really good. And this one in particular, I love because it’s set in a small college town. It’s about second chances and regret and kind of looking at yourself with honest eyes and liking yourself anyway. But it’s also really, really fun and funny. Do I have time to talk about one more?
David: Yes, sure, of course.
Melissa: I just want to give a plug for a book I have not read yet, but that I’m really excited about. It’s called Mexican Gothic by Sylvia Moreno Garcia. It comes out on June 30th. And I wouldn’t normally talk about a book I haven’t read, but I read two of her other books and I absolutely love them. I’m very excited about Mexican Gothic. Gods of Jade and Shadow is set in 1920s Mexico, and I have a full write up of that one on our website. That book made me ugly cry at the end. It was so good. It’s a fantasy historical novel. Very entertaining, but then it also punched me right in the solar plexus at the end. I think that was the one where I was finishing it in the morning, and you woke up and you were like, ‘Are you OK?’
Melissa: And I was, like, [crying voice], ‘I’m just finishing my book.’
Melissa: It was great. So that’s Mexican Gothic. It’s set in 1950s Mexico. It comes out on June 30th. If Gothic novels are your thing and you like moody, atmospheric writing and you want to read some own voices literature, that is a good pick.
David: Thank you again for answering our survey. We will be back in two weeks with another mini-episode. We’re going to answer the questions you have for us.
Melissa: Warts and all. Confessional.
David: Mel and Dave, like you’ve never seen them before.
Melissa: Like in the original series of The Real World where people went into the closet and got real on camera.
David: Wow. Yeah, that was a hard flashback. That was, like, 25 years ago.
Melissa: Buckle up, Buttercup.
David: We’re gonna find out what happens when things start getting real.
Melissa: What was it… when people stop being nice and start getting real. [laughing]
David: Thanks for listening. And we will talk to you soon.
Melissa: Happy reading.
The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey
30 Days of Night by Steve Niles & Ben Templesmith
The Labyrinth of the Spirits by Carlos Ruiz Zafón
The Way Men Act by Elinor Lipman
The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern
The Gods of Jade and Shadow by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
Top image courtesy of Matt Howard/Unsplash.
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