An interview with Micah Hyatt

Andrew Leon Hudson

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Andrew Leon Hudson: Hi Micah! We at Mythaxis know you as a writer of tight, emotive flash fiction and distinctive sf poetry, but tell us a little more about yourself.

Micah Hyatt: I live in Corpus Christi, Texas, and I have four kids, all in Scouts. My wife works as a program director with the Boy Scouts, and we have six dogs: one shih-tzu, one shiuaua, two chihuahuas, one chorkie, and one white wolf. The wolf was a rescue.

ALH: How do you rescue a wolf?

Micah: About three years ago, a police car t-boned us and totaled our vehicle in the dead of winter and this very fluffy puppy came out to inspect the noise. I was still rattled from the wreck, but I picked her up and searched for an owner or a mother or other pups for about an hour. There was snow on the ground and I was worried she’d freeze. Eventually a police van took my family home, since the wreck was their fault, pup included. Later, when she got bigger, I was wondering what kind of dog she was, so I did a reverse image search. We were very surprised to find that she was a native Texan white wolf. She’s very smart and knows all kinds of tricks, but only obeys me. Her name is Calamity Jane.

ALH: A life with little going on then. How have you kept busy?

Micah: I’m a former train conductor and Iraq war veteran. After the war, I was diagnosed with several neurological issues. If you look at my cluster of symptoms, it’s basically Parkinson’s disease. However, I’m too young for that, so I’ve been categorized as having various functional neurological disorders and traumatic brain injury. I worked my job at the railroad as long as I could safely, but eventually I had to stop driving and quit working, and then went through vocational rehabilitation training with the Veterans Association.

Recreationally, I swim as much as possible. I like watching foreign movies. RRR is my most recent favorite, followed by The New King of Comedy by Stephen Chow. I also enjoy playing video games. Sekiro is the best game ever made. This is not up for discussion.

ALH: You must mean Knytt Underground. Anyway, as well as contributing fiction here you’ve participated in our brief flirtation with generative art, and now you’re providing us with audio! What led you to experiment with these different formats?

Micah: I received a master’s in English in the Writing Popular Fiction program at Seton Hill University in Pennsylvania. My thesis was a thousand-page military fantasy whalepunk novel. It was pretty good for a thesis novel, not good enough that I’d want to send it out. I’ve been working on another draft on and off since graduation. While I was at university there was a reading contest every semester, and I took first place every time. People said I had a nice voice. However, as my neurological disorders began to worsen I developed issues speaking, so I decided to start recording stories as a form of therapy to train myself how to speak properly again.

My first attempt was a new edition of the first Doctor Doolittle book. It has all kinds of crazy voices, talking ducks and pigs. But, as much as I loved it, the book is very dated with many racist scenes and jokes. These were taken out in a version edited in the 70s, but that version is terrible, it stripped all the humor too. Since the original is out of copyright, I re-edited it, wrote two new chapters, and recorded the whole thing. It was fun, but I think it took me about 6 months.

ALH: Tell us about your studio setup.

Micah: When I moved to Corpus Christi, I knew that I wanted to continue recording. My previous setup wasn’t great, and I wanted to improve recording quality. My upstairs hallway at the new house has a walk-in closet. It’s big for a closet, but too small to be a bedroom. I think it’s 6’x8'.

ALH: My love of Spinal Tapp informs me that’s pretty damn small. Oh, right: feet. So that’s about… 180cm by 250cm?

Micah: Sure, why not. I ordered foam panels from Amazon and covered the walls with them. I have a noise-canceling curtain that I slide behind me after I shut the door, and something called a draft blocker for the underside of the door. I drilled a hole in the wall between the closet and my daughter’s room, and fed all the cables into there. The only electronics I have in the room are silent running – a single widescreen monitor so that I can have the story on one side and the recording software on the other at the same time.

Reduction of unnecessary heat and sound sources are probably the most important thing, followed by comfort. One thing I quickly realized was that there was no air-conditioning or ventilation in the room at all. For the first year this meant, unless I wanted to be a sweat-drenched monster, I could only record in the winter or the spring. This year I finally had a ventilation duct put in.

ALH: That’s the DIY, now dazzle us with the tech.

Micah: For really good quality sound you don’t want one of those USB-to-PC microphones. I use a Focusrite Scarlit 2i2 pre-amp, which is the interface between my microphone and my computer and boosts the mic’s signal. My mic is an Audio-technica 5040, which is serious overkill. It’s much higher quality anyone getting into audio should buy, there are many other microphones that can deliver nearly equivalent performance for 1/8th the price. But I really wanted it.

As for software, initially I used Garageband. It was not ideal. I tried Pro tools, the professional version, but it isn’t really made for audiobook narration. I originally used a Mac laptop, but it would heat up so much that the fans in the room sounded like a 747 was coming in for a landing, so I switched to PC and Adobe Audition.

ALH: What is your process for audio production?

Micah: If anyone wants to get into reading, I think you should seek out other readers you like to listen to and see what their process is. Jeff Hays – an amazing reader who reads the Dungeon Crawler Carl series by Matt Dinniman – has a YouTube channel called Soundbooth Theater Live. I’ve learned more from a few of his videos than months of suffering on my own.

Firstly, I just read the story. I note down all the characters with speaking roles and try to get a sense of who they are. Sometimes, especially in short fiction, there’s not a lot to go on. Next, I get my booth set up. New file. Test recording. Make sure all the dogs and children in my house know that it’s time to be quiet for a while. Then I read the story aloud. I use a multitrack layout in Audition so that I can put individual characters on their own tracks. This is important for consistency, and so I can easily do re-takes on their lines after the first read. So I’ll read through, keeping the narration on a single track, and separate out the character voices.

ALH: The variety of voice was one of the first things that stood out in your read of Nightshade Memory, the robotic effect was really striking.

Micah: My own accent is middle to upper class, middle American, pretty close to what you’d expect from a white male reporter on the local news channel in a place like Kansas City or New York. For narration, I use something close to my natural speaking voice, but a little more chesty. This is important, because I don’t trigger the neurological stutter if I speak in a false voice or an accent, or if I sing. I try to be clear and add meaningful inflection and emphasis on words in a way that I wouldn’t normally do when just speaking conversationally.

Sentences have a sort of shape with peaks and valleys, and it varies from culture to culture and accent to accent. For character voices, there’s a bunch of little things you can do – speaking from the front of your mouth, the back, the throat, volume control, raspiness, syllable harshness, etc. I’m still a newbie. I’m learning. Female voices, especially when there are multiple characters that need differentiation, are difficult.

After the recording is done, post-production involves taking out breaths and background noise. There are automated tools for this, but they have drawbacks. Room noise is easy, as it’s minimal for me and just a slight hum on a consistent frequency, the hum of the air conditioning and electrical cables. Breathing, though, and mouth smacks and clicks, are a little more difficult. You can run a filter on them, but I’ve found that filter will often degrade the quality of the actual speaking a little, so I tend to manually subtract the breaths and clicks as I Iisten back to the story the first time.

I have a series of enhancements I apply over the audio with software. I’ve manually tuned it to my voice to boost the meaningful frequencies. It also changes equalization levels and prevents audio from getting too loud. For characters that I want to add special effects to, like robots, I record the lines and then use filters and such to modify the pitch, the reverb, the distortion. All old-school, 00’s tech. No AI.

ALH: So, what projects do you have your eye on for the future?

Micah: I’m still working on the aforementioned military fantasy whalepunk novel. It’s called Lightswallower. It got too big, and I had to take about a year to restructure and re-outline it. I’ve been writing the first book, tentatively called The Penitent Bone. It’s about Galan, an exiled scrimshander priest, who is summoned back to the temple at the Leviathan’s Throat. The high priest, Galan’s mentor, has died under mysterious circumstances. In a last will and testament carved in whalebone, Galan is absolved of heresy and appointed as the new high priest. Meanwhile, the city comes under siege by a steamwork army whose goal seems to be not as simple as conquest – they want to destroy the secret knowledge hidden in the Leviathan’s Throat.

I’ve also gotten into writing lyrics and poetry, mainly anti-war and anti-military industrial complex in theme. I use AI to turn it into music. This is more of a therapy thing for me. Long writing sessions can be difficult when I have migraines or other issues, but I still want to be creative, and I love music. I can write an intro or a verse and then workshop it with the AI and hear the results right away. I love being able to play “producer” with a full band and singers at my fingertips. I go by Leidenfrost Diver and you can find tracks on Spotify and YouTube. It’s extremely pleasant and entertaining, and I dearly hope the AI scene gets the ethics issues solved, because I love the process and the experimentation of it.


Many thanks again to Micah for taking the time to chat. If you haven’t already, check out his reading of Interlocking Grains of Light by LM Zaerr (which, incidentally, features original harp music performed by the author’s sister!), and recordings of the other stories of the issue will be released over the coming weeks.

Andrew Leon Hudson

Author image of Andrew Leon Hudson Andrew is a technical writer by day, and is technically a writer by night as well. In addition to editing Mythaxis he has been published in a small handful of quality zines, and co-authored a serialised alternate history adventure novel. He lives in Barcelona, Spain, and doesn’t do things online often enough to count.

© Andrew Leon Hudson 2024 All Rights Reserved

The title picture was created using Micah Hyatt’s headshot and a Creative Commons image by OpenClipart-Vectors - many thanks!

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