Newsletter Special Interview
Veronica Belmont and Tom Merritt of the Sword and Laser Podcast
Interviewed by Wanda Kurtcu and Chris Castro, May 26, 2012
Download the audio of this interview [MP3, 14.7MB]
Newsletter: How did you get started in the media industry?
Veronica Belmont: I was an intern at CNET Networks in 2004 and I started producing some of their podcasts such as Buzz Outloud, which my Sword and Laser co-host, Tom, was the host of, along with Molly Wood. To make a long story short, eventually I began talking on the show, editing and hosting video content for CNET TV.
NL: What sparked your interest in podcasting?
VB: I was a podcasting fan before I actually started working in it. Podcasting had just started kicking off around that time. This was pre-iTunes podcasting. It was a lot more niche because you had to really know where to look to find them. There were early directories but nothing as comprehensive as we have now with iTunes. I was listening to shows like Geek Central, The MacCast, Coverville, The Adam Curie Show, Daily Source Code and the Chris Brillo Show. A lot of those guys were very early into the podcasting scene. This is what made me feel comfortable to offer my services to Buzz Outloud. I knew about this podcasting thing. I could handle that. It's just audio editing. That's what I went to school for. I can make that work. Podcasting was a compilation of my school learning which was audio and radio production and new media studies.
NL: Why did you start up Sword and Laser as a podcast "book club?"
Tom Merritt: It actually started as a book club first. Veronica and I wanted to do something together after she left CNET. We're still trying to figure out if we started planning this before she left or after she left.
VB: I think it was before.
TM: But we started it on Ning.com as just a group where people could talk about science fiction and fantasy together. We knew eventually we'd do a podcast around it and we did. But that was sort of the second step to say let's take the book club onto a show and try to bring in as many members of the community as possible to talk with each other. We've been expanding that for a long time. But the focus has always been on having a place where science fiction and fantasy fans can all get together and talk and expose each other to the different genres. Veronica knows a lot more about fantasy than I do and I am way more into science fiction.
NL: You just produced your 100th episode. How do you feel about that?
VB: I feel like after four years it should be more! We were pretty good in the beginning at producing a show once a month and now it's twice a month. It's getting a lot more regular. It's a great milestone. We're super excited about it.
TM: I think that's one of the cool things about producing the 100th episode is that episodes are really easy. We don't have to think about transitions. We've got all of that easy stuff down. Now it's more about content and that's the fun part.
VB: Audio podcasts are almost second nature for us. The video show is now the real challenge because there's a lot more that goes into it and a lot more planning involved. So when we do an audio podcast it's almost like a vacation. It's like, "Yay, we've done this a million times! We know what we're doing!" It's not easy but it's like putting on a comfortable pair of jeans. You just know what to do.
TM: I'm waiting for the video show to start feeling like that. We're responsible for everything.
NL: What is the most challenging aspect of producing the show?
VB: Getting over the technical hurdles has been the biggest thing so far. We knew what we wanted the show to be but making it look the way we want has been a little more challenging. We also need to include all of the elements that we want. We have a very short editing cycle. We shoot the show on Tuesday, edit on Wednesday, final edits and all the meta-data go in on Thursday and it airs first thing on Friday morning.
TM: The best thing about this is that the people we work with are just as enthusiastic as we are.
NL: What is most rewarding?
VB: It's actually exposing a whole new audience to our content because the podcast is pretty well known. But our space is pretty small compared to the other juggernauts that are out there. The video show has the fortune of being on the Geek and Sundry Channel, which has 250,000 subscribers. That's just so thrilling because we know new eyes are going to get on it and that's bringing a lot of new people to the audio podcast. It's great synergy.
TM: It's also a great thing to see people say that they are reading more because of the show and finding out about books and authors they didn't know about. That's why we're doing it for ourselves.
NL: Is it difficult to interact with your "fans" in the book talks?
VB: The fans are such a huge portion of the show itself that they are like the co-producers, co-hosts, etcetera that we know many of them by name. We reference many of them by things they think are funny or knowledgeable about. For instance there may be a German word and we know that Ann knows German and she can translate this for us. When we get Japanese stuff, we know that Sean speaks Japanese and he can translate for us. Our fans are an integral part of the show and what we do. They present things for discussion and having different points of view is really great. They make the show dynamic. Their ideas and their posts are what keep it going.
NL: What three books would you recommend right now?
VB: Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss, The Blade Itself by Joe Abercrombie, and Ready Player One by Earnest Cline. It's such a quick and fun read and accessible. What about you?
TM: The first two, definitely, and Empire State [by Adam Christopher].
VB: Yeah, I liked Empire State, but you liked it a lot more than I did. No offense to Adam.
NL: So, what are you reading right now?
VB: Right now I am reading Fall of Hyperion, and I'm also reading Tigana, which is our current book pick for Sword and Laser.
TM: That's the same thing I'm reading...
VB (Laughs): But of course that's the same thing your reading. We just used Hyperion and so now both of us are reading the follow up, the Fall of Hyperion by Dan Simmons... because we want to know what happened because it was a cliff-hanger ending. Tigana, by Guy Gavriel Kay, is our current book pick. I'm also reading Gabrielle's Ghost for another the other book club I do.
TM: And also, I haven't gotten into it, but Red Shirts by John Scalzi. It's about a member of an Enterprise-like crew who realizes that. "Wait a minute..."
VB: "I'm a Red Shirt?!"
TM: What happens to people who wear red shirts...? and I don't like this...
NL: Do you guys find that independently you'll pick up a book and then find that the other one has picked up the same book?
VB: We usually find that out in the podcasts. I think we save most book discussions for the show, just to have it kind of fresh. It's that discussion magic that happens.
NL: Last and final question: If you could be a superhero who would you be? What kind of powers would you have?
VB: I would like to have selective memory... Like, I wish I could remember whatever I wanted to, but not all of the things. So if there was one particular thing I wanted to remember I could be like, "store that." But it didn't always happen... like a Sherlock-style file cabinet...
TM: I don't know how to answer that question. I want the super power that lets me have all the other powers.
VB: This is not the genie question, you can't ask for all the wishes...
TM: Yeah, I want three more wishes. But, I always end up saying "flying" because I just think that would be awesome...
VB: Those are always good, but they've got so many negative sides of those that I don't want to even deal with them. I just want something that no one knows I have or I don't become stigmatized for. Like, if you are just the one dude in the world flying around, your life is going to be pretty miserable.
TM: But then I start looking at things that are like... really trolly... like making people agree with you. That would be horrible.