What does your magic sound like, and what does it really represent? How do writers live on in their characters? And just why is David Rheinstrom back in the host seat? Find out all that and more in this week’s interview with creators of VALENCE, Wil Williams and Katie Youmans.
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This episode of Radio Drama Revival was recorded in the unceded territory of the Kalapuya people, the Clatskanie Indian Tribe, the Cowlitz Indian Tribe, and the Atfalati tribe. Colonizers named this place Beaverton, Oregon.
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ELENA: What all can magic represent? Where do writers live on in their characters? And what about your old fanfiction? All these questions, and more, in our interview with the VALENCE team right here on Radio Drama Revival.
[theme music – a mellow, jazzy groove that gradually fades behind Elena’s voice]
Hello, and welcome to Radio Drama Revival, the podcast that showcases the diversity and vitality of modern audio fiction. I’m your host, Elena Fernandez Collins. Today, we’re interviewing Wil Williams and Katie Youmans, creators of VALENCE which we featured last week.
Since I am a voice actor on VALENCE, as well as the cultural consultant for Hug House Productions, our host emeritus David Rheinstrom has taken the helm for this interview. And you won’t just hear him in the recording; you’re hearing him in the background as well, because David also did the research and editing for this episode. A round of applause for the jack of all trades, please.
[sound of a few people clapping fades in and out]
Crucial to our decision to feature VALENCE is the reality that this is a story near and dear to our hearts. It’s a story about found family and queerness and all the messiness that involves, about surveillance and privacy and disability, and about fighting back against those who would constrain us into their boxes and erase us if we prove to be difficult about it. You can hear Wil — media critic and audio producer — and Katie — writer, editor, and transcriptionist — talk about the realities of PTSD, respectability politics, and government bureaucracy that went into this story.
In keeping with VALENCE’s goals, we would like to encourage you to donate to the Black Journalists Therapy Relief Fund. Newsrooms often do not provide the resources and support necessary for Black journalists when they are dealing with the trauma incurred during their work, especially as it relates to protests, racism, and police brutality. The International Women’s Media Foundation has a relief fund for this purpose. You can learn about the fund and donate at https://www.iwmf.org/programs/emergency-fund/. The link is also in our episode description.
ELENA: Radio Drama Revival has been showcasing fiction podcasts and elevating the voices of their creators for thirteen years. If you’ve enjoyed this show, if it’s helped you or healed you, or done the unforgivable and increased your episode queue, there are a couple of ways to support our continued existence.
First, you can join our Patreon, at patreon.com/radiodramarevival. We have a special Discord server for all our Patrons, where we organize monthly meet-ups with listening parties, silly and informative powerpoint presentations on podcasting, and more.
Second, remember that we have the Ticketapes! For a small fee, you can share a message with the rest of Radio Drama Revival’s audience. I’ll read the messages, and they can be a birthday card, a quick podcast advert, a casting announcement — whatever you have that needs an audience like this one. You can learn more at radiodramarevival.com/tickertape.
Please be aware that the following conversation contains discussions of trauma and PTSD; government and its role in the lives of disabled people, queer people, and international students; the packaging and commodification of queerness for cishet consumption; and discussion of the surveillance economy.
[begin interview audio]
DAVID: Katie, and Wil, it feels really weird to say this since I see you once a week for production meetings, but Welcome to Radio Drama Revival! How’s that for a caveat?
WIL: It’s good!
KATIE: Thank you for having us!
DAVID: Right at the top of the show.
KATIE: It’s so unexpected.
DAVID: So unexpected. Hello, welcome. Katie, I want to start with you.
KATIE: [softly] Oh, no.
DAVID: You’ve been working as a federal contractor for the NIH for a few years. And Wil, you used to work for ASU as an international student advisor. I want to ask you both: what have those experiences taught you about government or bureaucracies and translated those experiences into writing the Thaumaturgical Energy Association? Katie, let’s start with you.
KATIE: [sigh] Oh god. I — there’s literally a sound design note in season one — we have since taken it out. It was a comment — it was just for our eyes — that was me bitching about working in a moldy basement that hadn’t been touched since the 1970s and looked and smelled like it. Which was, in my mind, a lot of what I drew from for the TEA offices [laugh]
DAVID: Because that’s what your office was like. Katie. Right. The moldy basement?
KATIE: Yuuup! Absolutely. It — I mean, I presume it still is. I just haven’t been there since March of 2020.
DAVID: Right? And Wil, what about you?
Wil : So the thing about working at ASU with international students is that, it’s one of the least appealing jobs at a university I think. Because it’s not cushy, and it’s not easy. You’re working with two different — radically different infrastructures. You’re working with a university, and you’re working with the government. And for me, that meant a lot of direct communication with things like CEP, things like USCIS, things like ICE several times. I had to speak to ICE several times. And people who work in that job, your job is to protect international students from these government agencies.
So it takes a lot of passion, and a lot of emotional energy. It’s a very thankless job. And because it’s at a university, it’s also not a well paid job. And because it’s in the government, it’s also not a well paid job. [exhausted laugh]
But the problem is, what I have found in working with government agencies that are very politically motivated in very specific, very sociological, emotional ways is that the people who work directly with the people at risk are motivated and driven, and they have that emotional energy and they’re working in that job, not because, you know, not because it’s easy or fun, but because they care deeply. And everyone, as close as one step higher in the hierarchy, is working in that job likely because they started where we are, then they got a promotion. And now they get paid really well and they do not have to care. Then you get one step up above them. And it’s people who just see all of us as numbers. We were just constantly at odds with a government who didn’t give a shit about actually taking care of international people.
So all of that translated into a feeling with the TEA. And the government treatment of muses in the VALENCE world overall, having hostility unless something could increase revenue. That is genuinely how I see government offices.
KATIE: Yes, I would agree with this assessment.
WIL: Katie wrote this really beautiful semi-monologue for Grace in season two, about Grace’s experiences and history, in the government with the TEA, that I think about all the time. And I think it’s just a perfect encapsulation of how these offices work.
DAVID: As it relates to the themes of VALENCE, what do you all think government is for? And what isn’t it for?
WIL: [chuckle] What a question! Hi, David!! Good to have you back!
KATIE: Daaamn. I think what it’s for evolves dramatically from when it’s put in place to when — to when those ideals come up against reality. Oh, my goodness, it’s very easy to have these ideals and these goals. And I have a terrible feeling that the “ideas” people and the “putting things in motion” people do not often overlap. And maybe don’t even communicate.
DAVID: So concretize this for me, Katie, because when you say that, I’m thinking of Grace’s conversation with Liam in season one about the idea of the US government providing more resources for muses, and Liam says, what you’re describing sounds like a registry that is ripe for abuse. Is that what you’re talking about? Like the conflict between the ideas people and the execution people?
KATIE: I think that’s a large part of it. I — the people making the plans are very rarely those who are affected by the plans.
And so — reproductive health for people with uteruses, for example. Does it — the decisions do not often seem to be in the hands of the people with the uteruses. And so it’s just — it’s not a reflection of reality, what decisions are being made and the reasons given for those decisions.
WIL: When we wrote season one, one of the things that we talked about was the motto from disability activism of “nothing about us without us”. And to be totally clear, none of the people who are writing and actively creating VALENCE are without disabilities — we are all mentally ill on top of other things. So there’s this concept of, if you are not including us at every aspect of legislature, of decisions, it will not actually serve us. It is impossible to serve us in a way that is real if we’re not included. And that was one of the things that we came back to over and over and over again in that first season especially.
DAVID: Cool. Thank you both. So let’s pivot to talking about magic. Because magic in VALENCE, to me, seems to represent so many different things at once, but I don’t want to put words in y’all’s mouths. So I would like to ask, what does VALENCE’s magic represent to you? Why is it so precious? And why are some people so afraid of it?
WIL: So when I — when I first wrote the novel that VALENCE is based on, I thought of magic as a representation for mental illness, which is something that we see pretty commonly, especially in urban fantasy. As something that you can’t control, something that is a part of who you are, something that makes you see the world differently, but makes people terrified of you.
As somebody who was diagnosed with PTSD when I was 18, 19? And who has had side effects of mental illness that are really ugly, and really, you know — that make relationships really difficult — relationships of any kind, really difficult at times, especially when I was more or less untreated. The sort of dehumanization that comes with that, while also existing inside myself and knowing that, because of my PTSD — and I don’t want to glamorize it at all — if I could, if I could choose, I would never have to deal with the nightmare cocktail of mental illness I’ve got. It fucking sucks. But it also has made me, I think, much more self aware and made me much more analytical and much more critical in ways that I think other people who can live day to day without analysis don’t necessarily get.
So that was the first idea when I wrote it. And then as I kept writing it, especially when I was starting to make VALENCE proper, it became, for me, more a metaphor of queerness, of being queer of being, again, you know, dehumanized in these ways, but like, being queer is a lot more fun [laugh] than being mentally ill!
WIL: Yeah, I think I gained a lot more reverence for the magic there. You know, when I wrote — when I wrote STABL, the novel, the VALENCE is based off of, magic was cool, and it made you different in certain ways. But I don’t think that it was as precious and as beautiful, as we’ve made it in VALENCE, which feels a lot more like being queer to me.
KATIE: Well, that I have a question for you, actually.
KATIE: How does Luis play into this?
WIL: I mean, so Luis is perhaps our only cishet character. [laugh] Um, but Luis is also, you know, like David! An honorary queer.
WIL: Luis is romantically involved with a non-binary polyam person, you know? They are primary partners for each other, which does not make Luis queer. I mean — depending — oh, lord, I don’t want to unpack that conversation about if you are queer if you’re in a quote, unquote, queer relationship, and what that means blah, blah, blah. But I also — I really like metaphors that aren’t one-to-one. So as David can attest, I really love, for instance, Beastars, which is a show about an animal world. But unlike Zootopia, which has a similar concept, there really, really is not a one-to-one allegory going on. You can’t look at Beastars, which discusses predators versus prey as an allegory for racism, which you could do in Zootopia. And it’s right there. Like, it’s right there. Beastars kind of shies away from any direct comparison. And I like that for magic in VALENCE, but also Katie, I would like to know about what magic represents to you in VALENCE.
DAVID: It’s like a self winding watch — this thing runs itself!
KATIE: So I actually asked myself this a lot. And I don’t have a good answer for it yet. I know that we made a personality quiz on, you know, what kind of magic would you have? But I don’t like thinking of it as a neat and tidy little representation of their personalities, because I think that’s very reductive. I think that does a disservice to the characters. And I admit on the first reading, the othering of muses — my initial mental jump was, oh, kind of like X-Men. And then I read more, and I got to know these characters better through the game. And I don’t know that I would make that same jump now.
DAVID: Through the — we should we should flag for the role playing game that eventually turned into the novel that turned into VALENCE.
And Wil — I think your comparison to Beastars is apt because I know that you’ve spoken this. I do feel like magic in VALENCE represents disability. I feel like it represents queerness, but also sometimes a cigar is a cigar and it is magic, right. And I — but I do want to tease out the distinction in the in-world terms Muse and Maven. Muses are magic users and Mavens are magic havers, that is Muses who choose not to exercise their powers. And to me, that feels like a rich vein of metaphor. Can you tell me about magic shame and magic pride?
WIL: Mmm. Yeah, um, man. So this is something that I can actually, at least for myself, dissect in both disability and queerness. When it comes — I have, I think, maybe opposite perspectives on this, for those two different things. So, when it comes to disability, there’s a lot of discussion about if we say, for instance, “a person with disabilities” or “a disabled person”. For a while, the quote, unquote, correct way of discussing somebody was a person with disabilities, where you center the person and not the disability, you’re going to put their personhood first.
And I believe that, again, going back to “nothing about us without us,” that that decision was largely made and publicized by people who aren’t actually disabled. Because, to my knowledge, the currently accepted, most empathetic way to discuss us is “a disabled person”. You just say it, you know, it’s no big deal — like, it’s fine.
And trying to — trying to separate the person from their disability is reductive and kind of insinuates that a person with a disability — you’re like, Oh, yeah, they’re a person, [switches to a dramatic whisper] but also they have a disability. [back to normal volume] You know, and when it comes down to it, like I know, personally, that I can’t be separated from my PTSD. I can’t be separated from my ADD, I can’t be separated from my depression or anxiety, which isn’t to say that I am my PTSD, but like, to put my PTSD as an asterisk in my identity is so hilariously misguided, because of how much my perspective is shaped by my PTSD.
On the opposite side, when it comes to queerness. You know, we have some camps who are very, very, very tied to their labels and their identities. And I used to be like this. I, for instance, I’m bisexual. And I did not realize this until my mid 20s. Because of all of the stigma that comes around the word bisexual. So when I first came to that identity, I was really married to specifically saying “I am bisexual”. And now, kind of like the queer, again — and this is obviously person to person — but I have much less of a tie to any specific identity label. I use them mostly for the ease of communicability versus like, any actual tie I have to things. I would much rather just say, yeah, I’m across the board queer. Like, I’m just — I’m just queer.
But when it comes to magic, you know, we have these discussions of, having magic is something that makes you scary, but something that we can make cute with marketing and with products. And part of that is this idea of like, Oh, I’m a magic haver, you know, I’m not — I am not someone who uses magic, I just happen to have it. It’s dormant! I have it, but it’s not who I am!
And trying to distance yourself from the act of using magic, even if you have magic is, I think, a way of getting closer to quote unquote, normalcy. You know, like, even though any concept of normalcy is completely fake in any world. That’s not a thing. Trying to make yourself seem more like an average person is, I think, always really attractive, especially when there is capital involved. So one thing that you’ll notice in VALENCE is that the primary people we have saying Maven, instead of Muse are all like, influencers or public figures. It is directly tied to their income and their capital. And therefore, you know, we see them getting closer to this idea of normalcy. We can see this in queer celebrities who really play into a sort of, what is the term I’m looking for here?
DAVID: Like a commodified queerness? Is this like the Colton Underwood “How to Be Gay” series where it’s one handsome blonde gay guy being coached to be gay by another handsome blonde gay guy?
WIL: Exactly, yeah.
KATIE: And with the terminology itself, Muse versus Maven — when we were trying to think of what terms we would like to use. Muse made sense, because it’s just magic and user smushed together as people will normally do with language, whereas Maven, in my mind, did not come about organically. That was a manufactured term. That was — that was tested against audiences because it doesn’t — it’s not a perfect — you can’t see it coming smoothly out of “magic haver”. It doesn’t sound right.
DAVID: No, not at all.
WIL: And “magic haver” itself is like, such a clunky weird way of saying something!
KATIE: It’s a bizarre word combo, which is why, in my brain, that’s not — that’s not something that people used until they saw it on Instagram being used by their favorite celebrities who happen to have magic.
DAVID: I want to pivot — I think all the characters contain elements of both of your personalities, but Nico, and Liam-
WIL: Oh god [giggle]
DAVID: – especially seemed like windows into your id specifically, Wil, like what you would be if you gave free rein to the twin exaggerated extremes of your personality right now. Untrammeled, manic “keep up with me, loser” carnality in Nico and sweet, avoidant, and brilliant but doubt-stricken Liam. You said you said as much in your Inside Podcasting interview with Skye Pillsbury?
WIL: Oh, yeah.
DAVID: Which is why I want to start with Katie here. Katie!
KATIE: Oh no!
WIL: Yes! [cackling with delight]
DAVID: How do you — Oh, yes — how do you approach writing for these characters? What’s it like to write these exaggerated versions of one of your dearest friends?
KATIE: Oh, with Nico I just panic the whole time. I just panic the whole time. There’s no Gemini in my chart. [laugh] No, I — with Nico, I am leaning heavily on my experiences playing off of him in the tabletop game, honestly, like heavily playing off of that. With Liam, I think the moments in which he sounds most like me, are when he is sad and pining, which says some things. But I —
DAVID: We don’t have time to unpack that.
KATIE: We — and we won’t!
KATIE: And you can’t make me. I think sometimes I do take a first crack at it and then need to circle back around. There are moments in which — in season two, where in our initial script drafts, you can — you can tell that I had just recently watched Sense and Sensibility because that cadence sort of snuck into how I was writing Liam.
WIL: Which is, I mean, not wrong.
KATIE: It’s not wrong, but I don’t — I don’t ever want to go full Austen with him. So some of it is — some of it is trial and error. And I think that’s — there’s something valuable about having a writing partner where you’re comfortable taking a crack at it. And going, hey, I need help tweaking this to make it right.
DAVID: Where — Katie, where do you see yourself the most in the characters? How much of you is in Luis or Mahira, or am I just projecting what I know about you onto those characters in particular?
KATIE: Ooh . . . with Luis, I don’t know that there’s a ton of me?
WIL: Oh, I totally disagree. That’s so funny.
KATIE: What? I think the overlap is mostly that Luis and I are both very much caretaker oriented people. But that’s — Wil, that’s you as well.
WIL: [laugh] Yeah, but it’s not only me!
KATIE: Fair! With Mahira, I — she’s like me if I were cool.
DAVID: Katie, shut up, you are cool!
KATIE: Yeah, I know, but not in the — not in the derring do way. So Mahira was originally, in her very, very first iteration, a completely different character in a project that I had been working on when I was an undergrad. And so she’s kind of been rattling around in my head in one form or another since like, 2013, 2012? Somewhere in there. She has changed radically since then, obviously. But I think the big sister aspect and the wanting to help and not always knowing how to go about it, without kind of catching on someone else’s jagged edges? Is very much me. And I keep jumping back to Luis because you mentioned that — I’ve written a handful of — I jokingly call them fanfic — of little side stories.
DAVID: Oh, we’ll get to the fanfic, Katie.
KATIE: [plaintive] No, that’s actually not allowed. [laugh] Some little side story scenes for the characters to give to patrons. And one of them is Luis and Sol, back when Sol was still working on their PhD. And the way in which Luis looks after Sol when they’re too wrapped up in their work and kind of like — it’s a little bit flirty, and a little bit teasing, and a little bit, you do actually need to step away from the computer sometimes and breathe. I think that dynamic is very much me when I’m in a relationship.
WIL: I also think that Flynn’s version of that with Liam — you know, shit talking, very sibling energy, but like always rooted in taking care of somebody? Also very you.
KATIE: Oh, I — there is a scene in which Flynn uses for Liam a nickname that I sometimes fling at my sister. I will jokingly call her my little chicken nugget.
DAVID: That was one of my favorite line readings in season one.
WIL: It’s so good.
DAVID: It felt like I — you know, I’ve listened to the show a couple times. And like the last time that I — the most recent time that I listened to it, I bolted upright and laughed. Because it just felt it felt so real. It felt so true.
KATIE: And Caleb consistently kills it. So good!
WIL: Every line reading Caleb gets us is flawless and totally different. He’s amazing. He’s so amazing. And it all sounds completely natural. Like, every line he delivers sounds improvised.
DAVID: I thought it was.
WIL: Sounds completely natural. And that’s the thing is, I sometimes have trouble remembering what we wrote and what he did. Because his actual improv is equally good. And as cohesive with the story and the writing as our like actual script. It’s wild.
DAVID: What a gift! Caleb. Caleb, if you’re listening, you’re a gift.
DAVID: Wil, let’s pivot to you. What do you hope the audience comes to understand about themselves when they hear Liam and Nico stories?
WIL: Oooh. Wow, I’ve never considered that. I am so much in my own head, kind of exhuming my own shit when I write that I — and also this goes back to a lot of my own like imposter syndrome. I really, honestly forget that we ever have an audience when we write.
But thinking about it now, something that I think about a lot is the kind of discomfort that uncomfortable media can bring to you and what you do with it. So I think about this a lot when it comes to Liam’s inner monologue. And this guides how real and intense I want to get with it from scene to scene.
Depending on who you are, I really want things like Liam’s inner monologue or Nico’s self destruction or Liam’s different, quieter self destruction, or the way that they misunderstand each other, etc, etc. For some listeners, I want them to hear that, or to read it, etc, engage with it how they will. I want some listeners to be comforted by that and to realize that certain, you know, certain experiences, especially when you’re certain types of mentally ill are, to some degree, ubiquitous. I know that for a long time, you know, as cliche as this is going to sound, I really have felt like I’m the only one who thinks some of the awful things that I do about myself or the state of the world, or the purpose of being alive, etc, etc.
For others, I want them to be alarmed, and stressed out and to process that and to think about why they’re reacting that way to characters and then to, hopefully, gain a better understanding for those of us who do experience this day to day. And, you know, to think more critically about how they view mental illness or anything else that others us, and makes us introspect in these harmful ways.
DAVID: Wil, let’s continue with you. You said in your interview with Skye that, in the period, when you were writing the original novels, you didn’t have health insurance or access to a therapist. And so writing these characters constituted a cathartic or a therapeutic practice. And I think — I think you get from the show the extent to which these characters represent your deepest fears about yourself. But to what extent do they also represent your secret hopes for yourself?
WIL: [laugh] Ohhh!
DAVID: Um, right, because like I — yeah, the very structure of VALENCE, right from giving us this internal monologue that feeds us this direct line of all of Liam’s insecurities? Like that’s very evident to the audience, right. But there’s a way in which, you know, because these characters have access to magic, there’s like a power fantasy.
WIL: A bit — you know, it’s interesting. When I think of how these characters reflect my hopes for myself, I actually think much more on a self worth and relationship level. Magic is there, and it’s cute, and it’s fun. Don’t get me wrong — if I had the ability to teleport to somewhere. Yes, please.
DAVID: Especially in Arizona, right?
WIL: Yes, that’s the one magical ability that I’ve written where I’m like, I want that shit. But more so, arguably, other than the things that have happened to me in my life that have caused like, all these mental illnesses I talk about the other like most recurring angst in my life comes from a feeling of — and, again, this probably ties back to all that shit, but — being almost understood, but in certain ways, fundamentally misunderstood and perhaps not worthy of understanding fully. So when it comes to the relationships that Liam establishes, through the show, largely with the T-E-A-M, the TEAm, as we call them, and with Nico, there are a lot of conflicts around how people understand Liam, and how people underestimate Liam or overestimate Liam, especially when it comes to emotional security. And then, arguably, his ties to Nico and his attraction and draw to Nico is that, even when they misunderstand each other, in just words, they fundamentally understand who the other is as a person, and they do that tacitly, almost. They just get each other. And that is something that I have — I have found in certain people who I keep in my life, but it’s something that I’m constantly striving for and constantly in search of, and that, I think, is the most aspirational to me is finding these people, like Liam has, who either immediately understand him as a person, or have done the work to listen to him, and to pay attention to how he speaks and how he acts and how he reacts to gain that understanding. That is the most aspirational thing to me.
DAVID: Sure, and the most powerful magic of all, maybe.
WIL: [fondly] Yeah.
DAVID: [chuckle] I realized that sounds kind of flip. I’m like, Oh, so friendship is magic! You know, but like-
WIL: It is, though! Yeah, to truly understand somebody. I think, especially in an age where we have to commodify ourselves. Like, you know, a lot of this is probably shaped by the fact that I am somebody whose livelihood largely comes from a social media identity, which I hate, like, I hate that! I hate everything about it. And that has also obviously contributed to this angst. It’s powerful to know somebody. It’s powerful, and it’s terrifying, and beautiful and important.
DAVID: Thank you, Wil.
Katie, it’s time to turn the dread gaze of this interview back on you once again. One of the things, Katie, when — that I came across when I was researching y’all for this interview, was your old AO3 page, your fanfiction archive? And something that I really appreciated about your fanfic was how agile It was. Like how your writing style –
KATIE: Oh god, you read it?
DAVID: Yeah, of course, I’ve read it!
KATIE: [softly] Oh nooo
DAVID: -how your writing style changed across different canons. And so I’m asking here, How has your experience with fanfic prepared you to write in and share ownership of a world that initially belonged to Wil?
KATIE: A large part of having been involved in fanfiction since I was 14 is that I have sort of forced myself to develop this ability to mimic other writing styles and mimic voices of characters. Because we — being told that I nailed the characterization was like the highest praise. I would be floating for a day or two when I would get comments about that. When you write fic for something like, you know, a Marvel property, the writers, odds are, will never know you exist. And so the stakes are fairly low. Because if Joe Nobody from Wisconsin is like, well, you didn’t do Hawkeye correctly. I’m like, okay, that’s your opinion. Bye. But if Wil says You didn’t do Nico properly, I die inside.
KATIE: At no point has Wil ever actually said this. But I have anxiety. And so I come up with these worst case scenarios, none of which have played out so far.
DAVID: We’ve talked about this a little bit so far. But I want to — I want to dive deeper into it. I know it was important to both of you to have queer characters in VALENCE who are complex and who frankly, kind of suck sometimes and hurt each other and themselves and learn and develop and sometimes, agonizingly, refuse to learn. Tell me about why this was important to you from a story perspective, but also from like a political perspective.
WIL: I mean, so, identity politics, and respectability politics are things that are pretty much constantly on my mind. Especially as I’ve discovered more facets of my queerness over and over consistently being like, what, what else? What else? Can I dig up? How is there more? There always is, somehow.
So like, there’s this — there’s this idea of “bad representation”, of showing queer people in a negative light as complex and fucked up characters. And sometimes people, like you said, who refuse to grow as people, who are messes, who are bad people, sometimes. There’s this idea that showing queer people like this gives cishet people more reasons to hate us.
And I understand that. I absolutely do. I’ve been of that philosophy for big chunks of my life. And who is to say that I won’t return to that way of thinking for whatever reasons as I grow, and as I learn. But where I am right now, my philosophy is, cishet people will always hate us. They’ll always find reasons to think that we’re abhorrent even if we’re the most morally upright person in their eyes, regardless of being queer. As soon as you add that, we’re fucked as soon as you add that, they hate us anyway.
I don’t — I — because I’m a mess, and because I’m a queer person, and because I have huge monumental flaws as a person, I really struggle to feel represented by most things — my favorite depictions of PTSD are horror films. I feel very represented by the Babadook and Hereditary. I don’t feel very represented by, you know, TV, typical TV dramas that try to depict trauma. Because they usually feel very very distant from me. The way that my brain feels is much closer to awful horror movies than anything else. So when I think of the media that matters to me, and makes me feel seen, and gives me catharsis, and makes me feel represented as specifically a queer person, I always think of really fucked up, messed up queer characters-
WIL: – that other people might point to and be like, this is bad representation. I just don’t think that there’s any such thing as good representation. I think I’ve gotten very far away from your question.
DAVID: No, that was exactly the question.
WIL: [laugh] Well, good. Yeah. I just, I think, I think if I made something where there were queer characters who existed without a lot of the kinds of fucked up that being queer person, in a very cishet world, like, I think I can only feel represented and proud of my work if it represents the ways that I’ve been fucked up by a society that hates me.
KATIE: And you put this directly in Liam’s mouth at one point, you –
WIL: [laugh] True!
KATIE: -had him say that he never had representation of queer folks who weren’t a sterile, sanitized, palatable version.
WIL: Yeah. I mean, like, how can we learn how to grow? And how to not cause other people harm? When we’re a fucking mess? If nobody talks about how to do those things when you’re a fucking mess? You know, like, it really bothers me when when conversation about being a queer person who sometimes does harm because you’re a mess — I hate when that’s stifled. Our history is kept from us. Conversation is kept from us at every step of our being. We have no models. And I don’t think that I can write without attempting to give some kind of a model even just for myself.
KATIE: If the only representation we have is squeaky-clean, perfect, shining paragon, how must it feel when you fuck up? And you don’t have an example of — you feel like you don’t measure up to the only scraps of quasi representation you have? And that makes you feel even more erased, even more unacceptable.
DAVID: Okay, so, so related to the complexity of representation in the show, the show also introduces narrative complexity, right. Liam’s family is complicit in the harms perpetrated by Reilley and Halo, and it makes it more tangley than a straightforward “bad guy is bad” narrative, right? They can’t just blow up the facility. Liam’s sister is in there. What can you tell me about the desire to complicate the narrative in that way?
WIL: So this is something that I had to think about a lot when I worked at ASU, you know, is — how complicit am I in immigration policy, that I have to find ways to work within to protect these students in a way that doesn’t completely ethically compromise me. And I got about —
[hushed, mischievous tone] I got around that in a lot of ways. None of which I’ll be discussing here, for a lot of reasons. [laugh]
[normal tone] I think it’s really important to understand that there are so few issues that are black and white, you know, like, we can say — so, for instance, we can say, ableism bad. Yes, absolutely. Absolutely. How we go about actually, actually fixing that is a whole different issue.
And this is going back to what Katie said about like, the ideas versus the reality. So something I think about a lot is how this ties to things like abolition, you know, where we see abolitionists or people who talk about abolition, also talking about things, you know, where like, Oh, we should be locking up all of the people who do this crime, where our philosophies are at odds with what we think is practical, or what we think that we’re capable of, et cetera, et cetera. I think that it’s very easy and very — the word coming to mind is tasty! So that’s what we’re gonna go with!!
WIL: That’s probably the better one, but I’m gonna stick with tasty.
I think it’s very easy and tasty, to have very clear morals and philosophies based on the things that we think are equitable, and the things that we see as Justice. And to have those be really tested and confronted when it comes to the realities of how we go about getting to an ideal situation. Especially because the way that society works under structures like capitalism, and like a carceral state means that sometimes people will need to do their jobs. So when it comes to Halo, for instance, or you know, we can see this in discussions about blowing up the Death Star in Star Wars is like, what about the fucking janitor dude? What about — what about the janitor and the janitor’s family? You know, like, what do we do about things like that? I think that it’s really important to — if you’re writing media, where you have these big philosophical concepts, like “discrimination bad”, you actually break down the nuances of what that looks like in a real society with real people. And granted, VALENCE is very much fictional, in so many ways, but like, we tried to make it reflect real life. And I think that it’s vital to bring up these discussions about what that means in practical application.
DAVID: Right on. The music — so this question comes from Ely. The music in season one is by Raul Vega, but season two’s composer is Travis Reeves. And both of these folks are extremely impressive musicians. But Ely wanted to know why y’all made the decision to have a new theme tune for season two, because that’s not something that fiction podcasts commonly do — a new theme for each season.
WIL: I think part of it is that we thought it would be sick as hell. [laugh]
KATIE: I mean, yes. But part of it is that Liam has changed dramatically from the beginning to the end of season one. And I think he continues to change, which is why, spoiler, season three will also have different music. But –
WIL: We also sort of do like, capsule concepts for each season.
WIL: So we really like having each season have a very distinct feel, and a very distinct concept. So if Season One was a sort of like, Avengers Assemble. Season Two is a deep cover spy story. And season three . . .
KATIE: -is neither of those.
WIL: . . . will have, yes, another — it will follow the vibe of another common story structure. So we like having the themes reflect those fields as well.
DAVID: Cool. So I want to — I want to end tonight by asking you. How did y’all feel when Amazon one of several real life analogues for –
[Katie and Wil gradually realize where the question is going and crack up in horrified laughter]
DAVID: – Reilley industries released a wearable dystopian health tracking device called a Halo?
KATIE: Oh my god, Jeff Bezos owes us money!! This is IP theft!!
WIL: I have this awful curse, where I am a modern day Cassandra.
DAVID: I hate it!
WIL: Oh, it’s really bad. Like, for instance, I called — I wrote pitches about Bon Appetit milkshake ducking to several publications a few months before Bon Appetit milkshake ducked. I did this with Jenna Marbles leaving YouTube. I did this with big changes in beauty YouTube. I’ve done this with media so often. And this one — this one’s the most annoying because it’s not just media! It’s some real horseshit! I really hate it. I’m very tired. I wish — oh!
Oh, also, also, there — I mean, there have been a few things from VALENCE that have come true, quote, unquote. Another is that STABL, which was written without the “e” — it was “Stabl”. That’s the name of the first novel, and there is some kind of podcast company that I don’t understand with the exact same name. [laugh] Yeah, so my reaction was just like, of fucking course. And of course they’re gonna profit off of this. Ugh!
KATIE: Ooh, there’s audio somewhere of you showing it to . . . Zach?
WIL: Yeah, probably.
KATIE: – and him being like, wow, this has Reilley stink all over — I mean, in Zach words but yes.
WIL: [laughing] Yeah! Probably not far off from “Reilley Stink”.
The thing about writing a piece of fiction that largely discusses data privacy, where you try to make things — everything as hyperbolically nightmarish as you can, is that unfortunately, it always comes true.
DAVID: You just get scooped.
KATIE: You just get scooped. By Amazon! The indignity!!
DAVID: I hate that. But I love — I love this. This is very good. Those are all of my questions. there’s anything you want, you want to talk about that I didn’t cover.
WIL: I do want to say one thing that I think is really important to Hug House and to VALENCE is that — you know, Katie and I are the head writers of the show. But I want to talk up the fact that so much of VALENCE is informed by our cast. So when it comes to writing aspects of ourselves in Liam, I think that we can both say that we now also include parts of Josh in Liam, because his performance is important. So we talked about Caleb and his incredible improvisation and line deliveries, but I think it’s also important to talk about how he adds to the world sometimes in very tangible ways. Like in season two, we brought him on to do story consulting. Katie Chin has named so many things in the show. Um, literally all of our cast, in some way, has contributed to the world and the writing. So I think it’s just really important to prop them up and say that VALENCE wouldn’t be written the way that it is without them, and they are instrumental in how the show works on like, every level. Our cast is really fucking great.
KATIE: Yeah, I’m seconding that. They are very dear to us. And also just shockingly good at what they do.
WIL: Yes, consistently.
DAVID: Well, thank you both so much for submitting to be interviewed.
WIL: Thank you for having us.
DAVID: Of course! I’ll see you on Monday.
WIL: “See you on Monday!”
DAVID: Well, what am I supposed to say? Like, come back anytime like you know, we work together.
[overlapping talking and laughing]
WIL: We’ll come back any time!
KATIE: [a jokingly threatening tone] I’ll see you in the Slack, punk!
DAVID: Oh, boy. I’ll do it again.
[exaggerated Southern drawl] Y’all come back now, ya hear?
Was that good?
KATIE: I . . .
KATIE: . . . yes.
ELENA: If you liked what you heard, you can support VALENCE and the rest of Hug House Productions by joining their Patreon, www.patreon.com/hughousepods.
Radio Drama Revival runs on very little sleep and the microphone whispering back in the middle of the night. If you’d like to help keep us afloat and featuring new, diverse, unique fiction podcasts and their creators, you can support us on Patreon, at patreon.com/radiodramarevival.
And now we bring you our Moment of Anne.
ELENA: And that means it’s time for the credits.
This episode was recorded in the unceded territory of the Kalapuya people, the Clatskanie Indian Tribe, the Cowlitz Indian Tribe, and the Atfalati tribe. Colonizers named this place Beaverton, Oregon.
If you are looking for ways to support or donate to Native communities, Nicholas Galanin and First Light Alaska are running a fundraiser to benefit the LandBack movement. All funds raised go to Acquisition and Land Management Funds of the Native American Land Conservancy, to repatriate land back to Indigenous communities. This is not about removing people from the land; this is about recognition and respect for Indiegnous sovereignty and knowledge about ecosystems, climate, and caretaking of the land. You can donate to this initiative at https://www.gofundme.com/f/landback.
Our theme music is Reunion of the Spaceducks by the band KieLoKaz. You can find their music on Free Music Archive.
Our audio producer is Wil Williams.
Our marketing manager and line producer is Anne Baird.
Our researcher is Heather Cohen.
Our submissions editor is Rashika Rao.
Our associate marketing manager is Jillian Schraeger.
Our transcriptionist is Katie Youmans.
Our audio consultant is Eli Hamada McIlveen
Our associate producer is Sean Howard.
Our executive producers are Fred Greenhalgh and David Rheinstrom.
Our mascot is Tickertape, the goat.
I’m your host, Elena Fernandez Collins. This has been Radio Drama Revival: all storytellers welcome.