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Artisan Spotlight: Tales to Terrify

Artisan Spotlight: Tales to Terrify

Featuring Drew Sebesteny

We here at Dark Matter Magazine appreciate many things about the fall besides just Halloween: October baseball, Iowa Hawkeyes football, a warm slab of ribs from the famous Twin Anchors restaurant (located on N. Sedgwick in Chicago, open from 4–10 p.m., Tuesdays–Fridays, and Noon–10 p.m. on weekends),[1] but nothing hits the spot this time of year quite like a good spooky story, especially if that story is in audio. So, in the spirit of the season, we sat down for some ribs (extra zesty sauce, please) and an interview with one of the best horror fiction podcasts around: the one, the only, Tales to Terrify.

DMM: We hate to do this—we really do—but care to press pause on this life-changing barbecue for a moment so that you can introduce your podcast to our readers?

Tales to Terrify: [Licks fingers and obliges.] Tales to Terrify is a weekly horror fiction podcast, specializing in short stories authored by emerging and established writers, and narrated by a variety of talented voices. Episodes range from 45–75 minutes each, depending on the story length and the runtime of additional content. We can be found at talestoterrify.com, as well as on all podcatcher apps, and via our RSS feed.

DMM: And you are?

Drew Sebesteny: I am Drew Sebesteny, the owner, producer, and host of Tales to Terrify.

Drew Sebesteny
Pictured: Drew Sebesteny

DMM: Which means what exactly?

DS: As producer and host, I write and record the intro for each episode, edit the audio files from our volunteer narrators, edit and master the episode, then upload, post, etc. I also do my best to be a face for the show, but I’m not really a social media kind of guy, so it’s not my greatest strength.

As the owner, I deal with all the fun administrative things like paying bills, writing and editing contracts, maintaining the website, etc.

DMM: We agree. Administrative things are fun. Who doesn’t like filling out boring forms? Anyway…Tales to Terrify just completed its 500th episode. This is a tremendous accomplishment, and let us just say for the record, “Bravo.” But 500 episodes also means that the podcast has been around for quite awhile, probably longer than many know. Care to give us a quick history lesson?

DS: Tales to Terrify is one of just a handful of surviving podcasts from the prehistoric podcast boom of the early 2010s. At the time, it was the first off-shoot from the popular StarShipSofa podcast, which spawned a network called the District of Wonders. Tony Smith, the host of StarShipSofa and owner of the District of Wonders, got together with horror writer, Lawrence Santoro, to launch the show.

Larry’s personality was a big part of the show in the early years. He was well-known in horror literary circles, especially around Chicago, where he lived. He hosted the show for about two and a half years, bringing his unique gravelly voice and quirky Vincent Price style to both the hosting role and the story selection.

Larry sadly passed away in 2014, and the torch was picked up by then editor and narrator, Stephen Kilpatrick. Stephen carried the show for more than four years and really made it into what it is today. It was fairly early during Stephen’s time at the helm that our current managing editor, Seth Williams, and myself came on board as narrators.

Eventually, Stephen chose to move on to other things, and I picked up the mic as the host. A few months later, Tony put the podcast up for sale. I remember the email clearly. He asked if I’d be interested in buying. I didn’t   immediately take him up on the offer, but the moment he posted the sale publicly, I knew it was something I had to do. I cared too much about the podcast, and I had invested too much in its production to let someone else come in and take the reins. In the spring of 2019, Tales to Terrify undocked from the mothership that was the District of Wonders and set out on a solo journey with me at the helm.

DMM: Considering the changes in leadership that you just described, would you say that the current iteration of the podcast is more similar or more different from the iteration created during inception?

DS: The core of the podcast has remained the same since its inception— short horror fiction narrated by volunteer voices—but the content that frames the narrated fiction has evolved quite a bit over the years.

In the beginning, Larry incorporated a wide range of other content for the show, including segments called “Lights Out,” which broadcasted audio recordings of on-location ghost hunts, “A Tour of the Abattoir,” which was a horror review and literary theory segment, and “The Nook,” which was the audio version of a cup of hot cocoa and a story by the fire.
Larry’s hosting segments were always steeped in his own personality and vast knowledge of horror writing and authors, and he was all about mood. Stephen’s segments focused more on current news in the horror community, or brief perspectives and thoughts on the genre and its influences.

Since taking over, I’ve tried to bring my own style to the show. I want to do more than just introduce stories. For instance, after being inspired by a similar segment from Stephen, I now incorporate stories of real horror into the program. These tales add great variety to the broadcast, and have become the perfect complements to our fiction offerings. So far, we’ve dug up dark history throughout most of the U.S. and Canada. The segment has proven to be surprisingly popular.

DMM: Why horror?

DS: Horror has been one of my favorite genres since before it was appropriate for me to read. As a kid, I cut my teeth on works like Stephen King’s Night Shift, and Clive Barker’s Weaveworld. I’ve always just loved that feeling in my gut when something strikes me as truly terrifying. I think horror’s real power lies within its ability to connect with raw emotion.

DMM: Why audio?

DS: Audio is my favorite way to experience fiction. When I was a kid, I’d go to the library and check out those big plastic cases full of cassettes. Stephen King’s The Dark Tower series had like two dozen cassettes in total. I’d lay in bed late at night, listening until I fell asleep…or didn’t.

DMM: What kind of stories best translate to audio?

DS: Stories with these three attributes usually make for the best audio:

A strong, clear narrative, especially in short fiction. Novels can afford to jump around between different perspectives and times and places, and the story will still make sense because of the time afforded to the narrative development. But if a short piece attempts a similar narrative complexity in a much shorter time frame, it can be tough for the audience to follow—at least in audio format.

Good dialogue. Flat characters tend to feel extra flat in audio. Audio benefits greatly from characters who are larger than life, and who have distinguishing and memorable characteristics, and clear motivations.

Proper structure. You have to understand the rules of writing before you can start to break them.

DMM: Creative trends have always intrigued us. What trends in style or content or theme have you noticed creep into contemporary horror?

DS: Horror tends to reflect upon what’s happening in real life. For that reason, I don’t think anyone’s surprised that plague horror has been on the rise lately. But the one theme that I find most interesting right now is the increased focus on “the other.” Otherness has always been prevalent in the genre, but the idea that you don’t really know your neighbors or coworkers or even loved ones is more real now than ever. Skepticism and distrust is a big part of our current culture.

DMM: Any tips for aspiring horror writers who may have an eye on submitting a story to Tales to Terrify?

DS: Write what you’re scared of. Find something that terrifies you and dive in. Make yourself uncomfortable.

DMM: What can we expect from Tales to Terrify going forward?

DS: I’m making a push to produce more stories, and to beef up our offerings for our paid supporters, such as more bonus content and extra episodes. Besides that, we’re always working to expand our listenership and reach as many ears as possible. I want Tales to Terrify to continue haunting people for many more years to come.

To learn more about Tales to Terrify, visit their website at talestoterrify.com. Or scan the QR code below.

The Tales to Terrify team consists of Drew Sebesteny, Seth Williams as Managing Editor, Pete Morsellino as Associate Editor, Meredith Morgenstern as Fiction Editor, and Brian Rollins as Narration Editor.

[1]. This is not an advertisement. We just really love Twin Anchors ribs.

To learn more about Tales to Terrify, visit their website at talestoterrify.com.

The Tales to Terrify team consists of Drew Sebesteny, Seth Williams as Managing Editor, Pete Morsellino as Associate Editor, Meredith Morgenstern as Fiction Editor, and Brian Rollins as Narration Editor.

About the Artist

© 2021, Drew Sebesteny, Tales to Terrify

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