On Serial Box: Episodic Writing: The Golden Era of Podcasts

Writing a podcast is very different from writing a novel or short story, in fact I believe it’s more akin to writing for a TV series, but can’t confidently say since I have yet to be hired on to write the next episode of Game of Thrones. The big difference with this type of writing is that it’s episodic: you’re writing shorter pieces in each episode for a longer overarching story. You might think, well, this is pretty similar to writing a novel with individual chapters each telling a part of the longer story of the book. And yes, there are some similarities, but when you’re working on a novel you usually have a deadline in mind many months or sometimes even a year or more down the road. When it comes to a podcast, especially an ongoing one, the deadlines are a lot more . . . oncoming and perhaps seemingly never ending.

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“The Witch Who Came in From the Cold, Episode 8: Cover the Silence” by Cassandra Rose Clarke (Serial Box, 2016)


This is the eighth episode in the series; reviews for all other episodes can be found here.

The episode features an unexpected meeting between two unlikely characters: Sasha Komyetski, a high level operative in the KGB, and Zerena Pulnoc, wife to the Soviet ambassador, as they discuss the special radio that Sasha confiscated from Tatiana Morozova. As the reader and listener wonders what these two might be up, the next scene opens up with Jordan Rhemes once again having to deal with a couple of Flame operatives who would really like to take over everything at the Bar Vodnar. And then we get our first outright magical dueling scene, as the operatives work together casting spells, while Jordan uses charms and has her own tricks to combat them.

Meanwhile, Zerena is holding a mighty gala where every who’s who is there, including plenty of members of the KGB and CIA, as well as various other clandestine groups, all watching each other’s every move. The reader and listener gets to see all this through the ambassador’s wife’s eyes, as she pays a visit to the important members on each side, as well as a new arrival from the States, one Dominic Alvarez. We see all the facial expressions and nervous ticks that tell Zerena all she needs to know. The episode ends with the ambassador’s wife paying her own visit to Jordan for a specific item and an important fact is revealed about her.

What makes this episode so interesting is that it is a digression from the series so far, as readers and listeners get to see everything through secondary characters. The main characters who have been showing up in every episode so far may be seen in this episode but we don’t know what they’re thinking. It’s all about what the background people see and think. We also learn that this is important, for they have just as important a stake in the whole operation as do our lead protagonists and antagonists.

Originally written on March 5, 2016 ©Alex C. Telander.

To purchase a copy of The Witch Who Came in From the Cold, Episode 8: Cover the Silence from Amazon, and help support BookBanter, click HERE.

“The Witch Who Came in From the Cold, Episode 6: A Week Without Magic” by Michael Swanwick (Serial Box, 2016)


This is the sixth episode in the series; you can read reviews of the other episodes here.

After the magic fireworks bonanza of Episode 5 of The Witch Who Came in From the Cold, Episode 6 is well titled as there is no magic really going on in this episode of the story, and it is more a return to the Cold War clandestine espionage that the story is truly about at its heart. And its written by bestselling science fiction author Michael Swanwick. Having a variety of different authors writing the episodes is what makes this series so interesting, for while the characters remain the same, each episode has its own unique feel to it that is a product of that particular author’s thoughts and writing style.

It is a cold January in Prague and apparently in the spy world – much like the regular one – that means audit season. In this episode we get to see what that means from both sides of the Cold War. In the American side there are lots of accountants checking everything out and having agents filling out lots of seemingly needless paperwork. CIA agent Gabe Pritchard gets assigned an entire binder to complete that defend and quantify his every action over the last six months. So Gabe does what he does best and talks his way out of it with the accountant, proclaiming he would be committing treason is he were to complete the binder.

Meanwhile, on the Soviet side audit season has a slightly different feel to it, as everyone is on their best behavior and walking on eggshells around all these new people in the KGB who are checking into every file and detail. Tanya Morozova has a meeting with her boss Sasha Komyetski and one of the auditors from Moscow Center to spy on one of her coworkers. And then there is a washed out spy named Magnus know as the Norwegian who Gabe sends Tanya’s way and she decides to put him in touch with a recruiting member of the consortium of Ice.

Originally written on March 3, 2016 ©Alex C. Telander.

To purchase a copy of The Witch Who Came in From the Cold, Episode 6: A Week Without Magic from Amazon, and help support BookBanter, click HERE.

“The Witch Who Came in From the Cold, Episode 7: Radio Free Trismegistus” by Ian Tregillis (Serial Box, 2016)


This is the seventh episode in the series; to read reviews for the first six episodes, go here.

In the latest audio episode of The Witch Who Came in From the Cold, Serial Box goes one step further employing the dramatic TV series feel opening with, “Previously on The Witch Who Came in From the Cold,” which does a great job of refreshing important recent events from the story for the reader.

After getting some info, CIA operative Gabe Pritchard is heading out into the Czechoslovakian countryside looking for a cut wife, better known as a witch, to see if he can get some help with his elemental hitchhiker. He learns the demon attached to his soul is not going to vacate his body easily, but also that its element is mercury, which then leads him to try some stupid stuff using all the mercury he can find in town and almost getting himself killed.

Meanwhile, Tanya’s boss Sasha Komyetski, after checking up on her, recently “liberated” her of her magical radio that she uses to communicate with her grandfather in Moscow. Readers and listeners get a detailed scene of Sasha creating a magical Faraday Cage to prevent anyone from knowing what he’s doing, as he takes the radio apart and studies its magical innards. He then gets it working and gets in touch with a certain someone in Moscow.

Tanya knows she has to get her radio back before Sasha finds out what it can actually do. Using Gabe’s help – as the two become closer and more comfortable with each other – they come up with a plan to switch the magical radio with a decoy without Tanya’s boss knowing. The question is whether he’ll fall for the ruse?

Originally written on March 4, 2016 ©Alex C. Telander.

To purchase a copy of The Witch Who Came in From the Cold, Episode 7: Radio Free Trismegistus from Amazon, and help support BookBanter, click HERE.

“The Witch Who Came in From the Cold, Episode 5: The Golem” by Ian Tregillis (Serial Box, 2016)


This is the fifth episode in a series, find the rest of the episodes here.

In the fifth episode of the Witch Who Came in From the Cold things all of a sudden get kicked into high gear. Up to this point, readers have been going (or listening) along with the story, following events as they happen, but in “The Golem” there’s a lot that happens and it’s all on-the-edge-of-your-seat-nail-biting stuff that keeps you hooked to the end of the episode. Plus, with “golem” in the title, you know there’s going to be a big nasty beastie in there somewhere.

The episode opens with CIA operative Gabe Pritchard on a cold, dark night digging up a grave in Prague’s Jewish cemetery where he believes there to be a golem, with the help of confidant and close friend Jordan Rhemes. Once he gets the box open, things go to hell real fast.

Readers then get to finally learn about what went down in Cairo and how Gabe got his mental magical hitchhiker. Told from Jordan’s viewpoint we learn of her infiltrating a special meeting of the Flame in Cairo and how Gabe showed up at exactly the wrong time.

Meanwhile, Tanya Morozova, an acolyte of the Ice, is finding it hard to accept the accusation that Gabe recently made, which is that there is a boat on the Vltava River which is part of the Ice’s operation and is a magical warehouse of sorts with numerous bodies encased in ice. Tanya believes it to be a vessel containing some magical devices and that is fall. She will need to get to the bottom of this herself and find out what happened to the magical host Andula Zlata who hasn’t been seen in some time.

Episode 5 is gripping from start to finish as the story switches back and forth between Gabe and Jordan in the cemetery, in Cairo together, and Tanya’s investigation. It is a series of surprises building one on top of the other, leaving the reader open-mouthed by the end of the episode.

And for those interested, the author of “The Golem,” Ian Tregillis, just put up a blog post about writing the episode.

Originally written on March 1, 2016 ©Alex C. Telander.

To purchase a copy of The Witch Who Came in From the Cold, Episode 5: The Golem from Amazon, and help support BookBanter, click HERE.

“The Witch Who Came in From the Cold, Episode 1: A Long, Cold Winter” by Lindsay Smith & Max Gladstone (Serial Box, 2016)


In the 1800s when you wanted to read Dickens, you didn’t simply get a copy of his completed book, but read his latest work in serialized form. Families would gather round and read aloud the latest “installment” of Dickens. In 1984, Tom Wolfe serialized Bonfire for the Vanities in Rolling Stone magazine. Stephen King serialized The Green Mile into six short books in 1996. Michael Chabon serialized Gentlemen of the Road in The New York Times Magazine in 2007.

And then there’s Serial Box, a new publishing concept looking to bring the dramatic tension and excitement of a weekly TV show to the written word. Readers can buy individual “episodes” or subscribe to the entire book and receive the next episode as it is released in their inbox or on their ereader. The serialized books are available in ebook or also on audio in approximate 90-minute episodes.

The year is 1970 and the Cold War is in full force as the USA and the USSR face off against once another and the world stands on the brink of all out war and possible annihilation. Our story begins in the bleak city of Prague, Czechoslovakia, on the edge of the iron curtain. A young student named Andula is being stalked by something not of this world, a magical construct, and she barely has any idea. An operative of the Consortium of Ice, Tanya Morozova, knows how important and powerful the girl is, as a host, and must do whatever she can to help her. The Consortium of Ice is in a long-standing battle against the Acolytes of Fire to harness elemental magic. Meanwhile, CIA agent Gabe Pritchard screws up a case in gaining a potential asset that has been six-months in the making, due to something that changed him in a previous mission in Cairo; now he needs to make good or face the consequences which will be more than losing his job.

The authors do a great job of setting the scene of this gloomy city in the heart of the cold war making it feel like a James Bond story of espionage, and then the magic comes into play in a subtle way, giving the story a whole new feel and dynamic. The readers do their part in giving the characters life and depth, using accents where necessary, and providing added tension to the dramatic story.

The first episode, “A Long, Cold Winter” does what it should: hooking the reader, answering a few questions, but also providing many more, wanting the reader (or listener) to continue with the next episode. This first episode is also free to read through the Serial Box site.

Originally written on February 10, 2016 ©Alex C. Telander.

To purchase a copy of The Witch Who Came in From the Cold, Episode 1: A Long, Cold Winter from Amazon, and help support BookBanter, click HERE.

The Witch Who Came in From The Cold

The serialized novel is back! A publishing company called Serial Box is bringing back the concept of enjoying a whole book in broken up installments. Their latest title is The Witch Who Came in From the Cold.

Through a haze of cigarettes and vodka there lies a version of Prague where spies practice sorcery in their games of intrigue. While the world watches the bitter rivalry between East and West fester along the Iron Curtain, the Consortium of Ice and the Acolytes of Flame continue waging their ancient war of magic. Kept to the shadows, this secret contest crosses the lines of politics and the borders of nations with impunity – the intrigues of spies may know clear sides but the battles of witches spill out over all. Tanya Morozova is a KGB officer and the latest in a long line of Ice witches and sorcerers; Gabe Pritchard is a CIA officer and reluctant Ice recruit. Enemies at one turn, suspicious allies at the next, their relationship is as explosive as the Cold War itself.

The fourth episode comes out February 17, but here’s the cover that was released today.

Spurred on by the mystic hitchhiker in his brain, Gabe decides to do a little digging of his own into the Host’s fate. But his interest in the missing student has not gone unremarked by agents of the Flame and the KGB alike . . . to say nothing of Tanya herself, who is determined to discourage this brash young American with a talent for dabbling in matters that don’t concern him.

There will be a total of thirteen episodes and is available in both ebook and audio. Check out the trailer for the series: