This month, I’m sitting down with Ian Humphrey, the creator and driving force behind the upcoming podcast Lunar State.
When I first met Ian and we began discussing our various projects, his writing style (which initially struck me as Cormac McCarthy meets Douglas Adams but I now think of more as Elmore Leonard meets Douglas Adams) immediately enchanted me.
Over the past few months, Ian has frantically channeled his rather prodigious energy into Lunar State. While I have no doubt he will eventually successfully turn back to written fiction, I am tremendously excited about his current project. While it is very “now” (witness the success of Welcome to Night Vale), Lunar State is infused with its creator’s quirky and distinctive vision.
In the interest of full disclosure, I have a reoccurring small role in Lunar State voicing Professor Garrison, a bumbling and absented-minded professor who occasionally gets it together and manages to save the universe.
Rather than trying to describe Lunar State as Welcome to Night Vale meets PCU, or Animal House meets the Illuminatus Trilogy, or Prairie Home Companion meets Dark Shadows, I wanted Ian to tell you about it in his own words.
Q: Previously, you focused on novels and short stories. What inspired the shift to a podcast?
A: I didn’t have a resume. Instead of spending my twenties writing and submitting and writing and submitting like a good author does, I spent them drinking and dreaming and drinking and dreaming and then there was the three years I was high on coke. Turning thirty put things in perspective. I narrowed my lens to writing hours every single day and burned out a novel in a year. When it came time to submit the upcoming international sensation, Of Lunatics and Degenerates, I quickly realized no one had reason to take my calls…
I wanted to tell weird stories and didn’t have the patience to wait for someone to notice. I grabbed the most accessible microphone.
Q: Tell us a little about the World of Lunar State and its main characters?
A: Lunar State is a liberal arts college with a supernatural prison hidden on campus. The bulk of the prisoners have been charged with varying degrees of humanity; that is, they have betrayed their barbaric, arcane, or otherwise supernatural nature and acted in a manner that is far too human. Their only hope of release is showing they can still be monstrous. The students, for their part, are supposed to grow into proper adults at a time when that definition is unreachable.
Our narrator is a were-rat named Cyrus Berkowitz, forced into the criminal informant trade by the Warden in exchange for his favorite meal, never more available in American History: the corpses of nazis and other bigots. Cyrus loves the outlaw life, everything from running guns in the goblin civil wars to smuggling harpy drugs.
To fill out our world, we have the bumbling and yet devoted campus police. Unaware they’re de facto prison guards, the cops struggle to rationalize the body count on campus and the canine unit who spontaneously learned speech and reeks of brimstone.
And of course the students and inmates struggling to grow up, while the threat of Martian abduction always hovers just over the skyline.
Q: Talk about some of your influences, both for Lunar State in specific and your writing more generally.
A: Obviously when you talk about fantasy, sci-fi, and horror podcasts one would be loathe to ignore Welcome to Night Vale. Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor blasted open a genre that I am proud to join. Their ingenuity is a constant inspiration.
However my real hero in this arena is the ever sober, ever comical, and true American Garrison Keillor. His stories… I could talk for days about Lake Wobegon and even light reminiscence literally brings me to tears as I type. The man stands for almost everything I parody. Civility. Humility. Reverence. Yet when I poke fun or outright blow these ideals apart with a figurative shotgun, I am always doing so in honor of Keillor.
There’s a long list of influences I could reference, but probably the most important idol of mine is John Darnielle of The Mountain Goats. He was the one who showed me that no matter how horrible your past, or how despicable your actions, you can find a kind of redemption in honest exaltation. I mean, the man is a devout Catholic and the lyric of his that rings truest in my ears is: “When you punish a person for dreaming his dream, don’t expect him to thank or forgive you. The best ever death metal band out of Denton will in time both out pace and out live you. Hail Satan, tonight. Hail Satan.”
Q: As a format, scripting has very different conventions and requirements than novels or short stories. What were some challenges you encountered in shifting from one format to another? What tips or advice would you offer to other authors considering such a switch?
A: Challenges? Brevity. You’ve got seconds to make a point, and I am far from mastering that efficiency of language. Writing always suffers from excess, but never more so than when spoken. That and the simple truth of the format: we’re looking for what I think of as the “Drive to Work” time frame. If it’s longer than thirty minutes, I might as well be selling pre-owned rugs outside the Four Seasons and yelling “Cum stains free of charge!”
In terms of advice, mine is this: List everything you can do well. Then list everything you can fake. And then do all of them. I’ve never edited audio before, but I’m figuring it out. I’ve never shot video before. I’m burning out video trailers as fast as I can.
If you want to tell stories, never let the keyboard hold you back. Tell every story you love from whatever soap box you can climb.
Q: How can people engage with Lunar State and track its progress in advance of its debut?
We launch September 9th. Lunar State lays embryonic and growing by the day. First off, check out our Patreon. Subscribe, get directly in touch with our process. Your subscription at a dollar a month puts us one step closer to recording a prequel episode exclusively for patrons in August, a month ahead of our September launch. If you don’t subscribe at first, check out the rewards, promises, and descriptions. You’ll get a solid feel for what we do.
Aside from that, we have an active Instagram account, @lunar_state. I post daily, with photos and videos from our trailer shoots featuring Cyrus Berkowitz himself. We also have promotional art that astounds me every day, developed by the brilliant mind of Tiffany Ray.
The YouTube Channel, Lunar State Podcast, trudges always forward with trailers and snippets of Lunar State’s little world.
Finally there’s the FaceBook account, that’s probably the place where I do the most posting.
Q: Tell me a little bit about your background?
A: My formative years were fostered on a feminist commune out in the Maryland forests. In high school I was an accomplished swordsman while working at a YWCA woman’s shelter. I attended Evergreen State College until a riot and a capsized patrol car put me on the run from the law. I learned about loyalty from genuine knights or as genuine as a renaissance festival can provide. I cannot return to my hometown of Baltimore because of the horrible things I’ve done. Four years ago I hopped a plane to Flagstaff and was homeless within twelve hours of getting off the flight.
Between perseverance and the reassurance of my mother, the modern deity Layne Humphrey, I’ve been able to piece together a life I bear with pride. At age thirty one, I wake up every morning with one question on my lips, “What’s next?”
I made it a point to see terror and iniquity, and now I have the opportunity and responsibility of redemption. I will not squander.
Q: Anything else you want to talk about that I haven’t asked?
[EDITOR’S NOTE: My Midwestern modesty left me sorely tempted to omit this from the post. But, upon additional reflection, it’s not really my place to censor Ian’s answer ;-).]
A: A year ago I got a job at a little coffee shop in Austin, TX. On the Epoch patio, 221 West North Loop Blvd, I met a man named Jon Black who made his living penning fantastical tales. He inspired me. And I could not possibly express the depth of my gratitude. I will try with simplicity.
Thank you Jon.