"There exists a town where all your worst nightmares are bound to come true." And that fictional town is Dead Oaks.
The quote above has become the tag line for Chris Waltz's horror podcast that originally began as a book idea. Waltz imagined a setting where anything terrible that could happen would, and it would be told through a series of short stories. When he was in Colorado at a horror convention (held in the hotel that inspired The Shining) he shared the idea with other writers and they fell in love. They immediately asked if they could write for it as well.
"So I decided to open it up to other people," says Waltz. "If they liked the same idea that I had they could write for it too. So it became more of a collaboration than just me working on it all by myself."
The stories poured in and after a while it became clear that they would be far more powerful heard than read. By October of 2015, the town of Dead Oaks could be found on the airwaves. Well, the digital ones at least.
NUVO: Where do you find storytellers?
I have been using a lot of social media. Websites like Reddit and getting it out there on Twitter. We have a website with our submission guidelines.
NUVO: When someone submits a story, what happens next?
They just send it in over email, and I read through it and kind of decide if it's what we are looking for. I don't like turning people's stories away, but every now and then we get one in that's overly explicit or it doesn't fit in with the theme of the whole podcast. Most of the time I just read it and as long as it's not completely outside the range of what we are looking for I will get in contact with them and make sure they are okay with us using it in the podcast. I have a couple of people who record the stories for us so I can edit it together. (He uses volunteers, horror fans and voice actors to read the stories.)
NUVO: What style of writing do you usually get? Short stories? Scripts?
The podcast flips every two weeks between scripted stories that I have been writing. Dead Oaks started as something I just wanted to write and get out there about a town where really bad things happened; It didn't matter what they were, if it was bad then it happened in this place. So I started doing the scripts myself. Then the people who were submitting stories were submitting short stories. So the episodes flipped back and forth (script, short story, script, etc.).
NUVO: How to do you ensure that a narrative that's written isn't lost in translation when it's heard audibly?
I really only listen to about two or three different podcasts ... a half hour is a long time for a podcast. So when I started taking in stories I kept the word limit lower and said if it goes too long it will probably be too long for us to record ... if it goes too long people start to lose interest.
NUVO: What kind of things are you turning away?
Right now I am wanting things that are scarier than they are gross. So if people are sending in stuff that's lots of blood and guts or anything that makes you uncomfortable for the wrong reasons, those are the ones I have to turn away and say, "hey, feel free to submit something else" but this is a little too gory or it has rape or things like that in it: things that are not even acceptable topics in horror a lot of the time. We want stories that are creepy and scary, not something people remember because it made them that uncomfortable to read. We want people to like it and not to be turned off from it.
NUVO: That's an interesting point: that some things, even in horror, are just too much. What is a good horror story to you? What are the elements of horror?
To me, horror is something that gets under your skin and maybe keeps you up at night. Even as an adult I will watch a scary movie or read a scary story and it will keep me awake or keep the lights on. It's having that story that hooks somebody in. For me that's relatable characters — you want something good to happen to them even though it's a horror story that don't have happy endings.
Dead Oaks Podcast
April 30, 7 p.m. – 8 p.m.
Indy Reads Books
911 Massachusetts Ave