FWG Interview: Khaki on The Voice of Dog and Recording Stories

Welcome back to another FWG interview. Today we’re featuring Khaki from the Voice of Dog. Don’t know the Voice of Dog is? Ever wanted to learn a bit about recording your own stories? Then read on and enjoy the interview!

FWG: For those that may not know you, tell our readers a bit about yourself.

Khaki: Hey! I’m Khaki. I used to go by “Alex Vance”, and I’ve done a lot of things in this here fandom, except Fursuiting and Con Staff.

I founded Bad Dog Books, FANG and ROAR, wrote and produced the graphic novel series Heathen City (and won an Ursa Major for it!), guested on the Furry Basketball Association and Bad Dog Book Club podcasts, and was privileged to be asked as Guest of Honour to Rusfurence in Moscow, JFTW in Bristol and CesFur in the Czech Republic.

Nowadays I’m a professional photographer, and at furry cons you’ll always find me with my trusty camera and a big dumb grin.

FWG: What do you think makes a good story?

Khaki: Oh dear. What makes a good meal? Not the wine or the dessert, though they can diminish or lessen the experience!

I think the thing that a story is most dependent on is its characters. They don’t have to be “people”, but they have to be interesting, comprehensible, and real — which is to say, as a reader, you can feel when a character only exists to further the plot, and isn’t fueled by internally consistent motivations, even if you don’t yet know what those motivations are.

Now, if only it was that easy to recognize while you were writing them…

FWG: From your introduction, it’s clear you’ve been involved in the world of furry literature for a long time. Can you tell our readers about The Voice of Dog and what inspired you to start the project?

Khaki: I retired from writing some years ago — nothing dramatic, I just fell out of love with writing. I still missed it in the years that followed, but I realized it wasn’t the writing itself I missed, but rather the furry writing community. And I’d also enjoyed doing story readings for the Bad Dog Book Club, but when that podfaded, I didn’t really have an outlet or impetus any more.

The Voice of Dog was, however, born from the COVID-19 pandemic. Early March, we were all feeling uncertain, and powerless, and stuck at home and isolated, and I knew some folks were feeling that much more than I did, and I felt powerless to help them.

It was rather spontaneous, honestly. I told my friend Rob Baird “Hey, I want to Make Something today. Can you give me a story to read?”

I was looking for something to do with the extra time I got now I didn’t have to commute every day, and specifically to do something that could give people a sense of hope, community and courage, however small.

I shared my reading of Rob’s Story, which was “Bad Dog!”, and an excellent story about defiance and courage in the face of systematic oppression. And I wanted more. I asked other writers for stories, anything they wanted to share, as long as they ended on a high note.

I picked the cheapest, easiest podcast host I could find to spend more time making it and less on overhead, and started releasing stories every day. I wanted my fellow furries to have something to enjoy, or to look forward to, or at the very least, to know that someone out there cared enough about them to make something every single day.

Of course, it was also a great way to give furry writers a boost and broaden their audience, so even after two months of 7-days-a-week podcast episodes, and the New Normal started to become clearer, I knew I wanted to continue.

Now there’s three stories a week, but they’re still passionate, excellent, diverse and, crucially, there’s no bummers.

FWG: Can you tell us a bit about the organizational process needed to put out multiple episodes a week?

Khaki: Certainly! Obviously I care about gear, like a good microphone and pop filter, but the challenge for this project wasn’t just cleanliness or even narration quality. I had to be able to produce multiple episodes a week, so comfort and convenience were also high priorities.

I’ve made submission templates, which authors fill out when they submit a story to The Voice of Dog, which includes stuff like their introduction, links to their credits, pronunciation guides and character voice descriptions, which saves a lot of overhead.

I have my recording set-up refined so that I can speak into my microphone while reading comfortably from my screen, with good posture to aid breathing.

FWG: Recording so many episodes must take a lot of editing. Do you have any techniques to help reduce the time it takes?

Khaki: I make a lot of errors! Mispronunciations, or losing my place in the sentence, a wee catch in my throat or the eternal struggle to do character voices consistently and authentically.

To save myself from the overhead of editing each recording afterward, I do the editing while I record; a technique called punch-and-roll recording. When I make a flub, I move the playhead in my recording software back to the beginning of the sentence. When I hit record, it first plays back the last five seconds of audio, so I can mouth along, and remember my intonation and breathing rhythm, and then immediately start speaking.

The edits aren’t always perfect, but they’re quick; I can record a single story in a single one-hour session, and that’s important when you have to produce several a week, every week.

FWG: What is one of the biggest challenges when trying to record the podcast?

Khaki: The biggest challenge is… quiet. Outside my room there’s a street, where there are often children playing, or adults talking, or cars driving past. Most of my recordings are early in the day, before it gets busy.

FWG: Can you offer any advice to someone interested in recording stories?

Khaki: When people ask me for advice, as a photographer, on which camera they should buy, I usually advise “one that you’ll have with you every day” and that’s the same for anyone who wants to learn to do this. If you have a budget, don’t spend all your money on the most expensive microphone; consider investments that make your life easier. An extension cable for your headphones, a desk arm so you can easily position the mic. A riser to put your computer’s screen higher, so you can read it more comfortably while recording.

All those things are sources of stress, and the listener can feel those in the recording, even if they can’t hear them explicitly. When I record a story, I’ve made sure I’m physically and mentally comfortable, and ready to enjoy the story. I’m in a headspace where I’m genuinely eager to talk to the listener again, and I’m excited to see how the story will go.

I believe that makes story readings enjoyable to listen to. Just like music, as a listener we’re empathetic to the experience that the narrator or musician conveys, both through their performance and through their actual emotions. When I sit down to record, I do so with genuine love in my heart, for the story I’m reading and the listener who’s going to enjoy it.

FWG: So do you think anyone reading this, with a little effort and research, could record their own audiobook or story if they wanted to engage that way with readers?

Khaki: Certainly! I know several writers who’ve done just that — of course Mary E. Lowd, who reads short pieces on her Deep Sky Anchor podcast and recently Madison Scott-Clary started her podcast Makyo Writes, for the same purpose. Oh, and Huskyteer, Altivo Overo and Rob MacWolf have all read their own stories on The Voice Of Dog.

I know some people are uncomfortable with the sound of their own voice, or worry about speech impediments (I have a slight stammer myself), or that they don’t think they’re good enough actors to do character voices and accents.

It takes practice and exercise and a love of learning — much like writing itself! But I’m pretty sure that anyone reading this can make great readings of their stories that are a delight to listen to, if they’re willing to put a little time into refining and practicing.

Nobody starts out great, but as writers, we know that all too well. But it’s fun to do, and very rewarding.

FWG: Would you consider doing voice work for any authors who might still feel too intimidated to record for themselves?

Khaki: That’s one of the purposed for The Voice of Dog! That’s my baby, so I’m selective about the stories I accept; their length and tone in particular.

But I’m in talks with at least one writer, to do an audiobook version of their in-progress novel later this year. And I made an open offer on Twitter regarding the upcoming Oxfurred Comma furry writing convention: if there are writers who want to do a panel that includes a reading of their work, but they’re uncomfortable or uncertain about doing it themselves, I’m happy to do the narration for them, either live or pre-recorded, depending on when their panel is.

I always want consider stories before I narrate them of course, even outside of my podcast. It is, after all, my voice speaking those words, and I wouldn’t want my voice associated with something I don’t stand for. This goes for professional voice-over work I’ve done as well, for commercials and training resources. I’ve turned down paying jobs because there were things in the script that I didn’t want to say.

But I’ve done some 120 episodes of The Voice of Dog now, and I’ve never rejected a story for being “objectionable”. I’ve been amazed at the furry writing scene’s maturity and responsibility, and the breathtaking diversity of perspectives and stories, it’s truly wonderful.

But yes, to your question — yes, I’d certainly consider doing voice work for other authors.

FWG: Any last things you’d like to tell the readers?

Khaki: Getting back in touch with the furry writing community after a decade or so has been so wonderful, and I want to thank you all for being part of that. The young folks and the old folks, the patient and the passionate, the carefree and the contemplative, I’m proud to be among you and make another modest contribution to furry fiction.

I can tell it’s been too long since I retired from writing, because I struggle to find the right words to convey just what you all mean to me. So I’ll take advice I’ve given often myself, and steal someone else’s. In the words of Michael, the angel from The Good Place:

I’ll say this to you, my friend,
with all the love in my heart
and all the wisdom of the universe:
Take it sleazy

We would like to thank Khaki once again for the interview! Be sure to check out The Voice of Dog and if you’d like to hear more of Khaki’s wonderful voice you can check out Cover My Ass where Khaki and his friend K pretend to review a book they haven’t read every week. Until next time, may your words flow like water.