During Yallwest 2019 which ran from May 3-4, I had the opportunity to interview podcast creator and debut author: Lauren Shippen!
Her upcoming novel The Infinite Noise is the first book in a trilogy, which will focus on different characters based on her science-fiction audio drama podcast, The Bright Sessions!
For those who don’t know, The Bright Sessions can best be described as people with superpowers going to therapy― however it goes much more beyond that, actively discussing/exploring mental health and featuring a diverse cast of characters.
The Infinite Noise is set to be released September 24 and as a big fan of TBS, I’m honored to have had the chance to chat with her all about her upcoming book and of course, podcasts (thanks Lauren💞)!
“It’s a dual-perspective story about two boys in high school who are grappling with different types of mental health issues. We have Adam who’s a run-of-the-mill kid in a a lot of ways…he’s a little bit nerdy, lonely, struggles with depression, he’s gay and feels a lot like an outcast from the world. Then on the other hand we have Caleb who seems like the sort of classic football jock, but he’s actually dealing with supernatural empathy. He has extreme empathy, which means he can feel the feelings of others around him at all times. [The Infinite Noise] is about the two of them meeting and learning more about each other and themselves…”
In the world of The Bright Sessions, there are everyday people with supernatural abilities called Atypicals. The series focuses on a unique group of therapy patients who are in-fact Atypical. Told via audio recordings (mainly therapy sessions), we learn more about their mysterious therapist Dr. Joan Bright and her patients, who are all trying to better understand themselves and their abilities.
An interesting fact Shippen shared as to why the story was framed that way, was that she was originally the one sound-designing. She felt it would make sense to give an in-world reason as to why the recordings would be “lo-fi.” That set up the narrative framing early on in the show, and added a good sense of mystery as to why Dr. Bright was recording these sessions. However, eventually Shippen broke off that format around the last few seasons and especially in her spin-off series, The AM Archives.
Its obvious that fans of the podcast are incredibly excited for the release of Shippen’s novel, however we delved into specifics when it came to those who maybe haven’t yet listened to The Bright Sessions and whether they can still get into The Infinite Noise as a standalone. She even went on to discuss a little bit more about the timeline of this novel (with the podcast having already been completed at this point):
“Definitely, yes! There are certain Easter eggs that listeners will find and enjoy, but it very much is intended to be an introduction into the world…”
Shippen also mentioned that the The Infinite Noise “starts a little bit before the podcast…” to build on that introduction for readers who haven’t heard of The Bright Sessions. While listeners will be familiar with the already established world-building, she hopes it’ll be done in a new way that doesn’t necessarily “[retread] old territory” for listeners looking to get into the book.
We even discussed more of the specifics when it came to the timeline of The Infinite Noise and how it compares to that of The Bright Sessions:
“The Infinite Noise is more true to about the first 26 episodes of the show…there are also scenes lifted directly from the podcast and expanded upon, however for future books there’ll definitely be a looser timeline…”
Within this trilogy, she will delve more into the head space of specific Atypicals and this first novel will focus on Caleb Michaels! I then asked what inspired her to delve more into his story and how she knew his story would kick-off the trilogy:
“I actually think that the reason this one was the first book and the one I wanted to tell, was that I wanted to get that non-Atypical side of the world through Adam’s story/perspective…”
Half of the novel (Adam’s perspective) is something listeners never really get to hear in the podcast and this was Lauren’s opportunity to delve more into his character!
Shippen mentioned that the early ideas of this novel actually began getting written in 2015 (when the podcast first aired). She discussed more about what writing this novel meant for her characters as the podcast was still on-going at this time:
“As I was working out Caleb’s story, [I knew] we only heard his voice in the podcast initially. Adam eventually became a character, but he was never intended to be a voiced character in the show. I wanted to do 2 things as an exercise: figure out how Caleb’s empath ability functions and get more into Adam’s head (because Caleb was spending so much of sessions talking about Adam and his connection with him).
Initially, I even shared the first couple of chapters with the actors who play Caleb and Adam (Briggon Snow & Alex Gallner) and since the book tracked closely with the first few seasons of the podcast, it didn’t feel like too much of a departure…”
Next, I asked her what delving more into both Caleb and Adam was like and what she wanted to focus on in this first book. Additionally, how being a big fan of love stories offered her inspiration on how to explore The Infinite Noise:
“The realities of having someone close to you who can feel all your feelings, [what would that be like?] I wanted to explore both the struggles and vulnerabilities in that.
I suppose this isn’t really a spoiler, but I love love stories and reading them! So, being able to tell those 2 sides, their clumsy romance through their perspectives to see what the other is thinking, making assumptions, and all that miscommunication seemed like something super fun to dig into…”
Shippen then discussed her writing process and how she approached this change when going from a script format to prose:
“It was certainly very different! I did find myself getting lost in the prose at times, because when compared to a script format, its all dialogue―for the audio medium you don’t have to worry about setting up visuals. Though I don’t think its actually changed how I approach writing scripts, because in the back of my mind I’d always been thinking about what becomes the prose in a book: how the characters are sitting, standing, looking at one another― I always think about those things when getting into scripts anyways.
I think I became more specific in my imaginings, but I don’t think it actually shifted my script writing too much.
I then asked her how exactly the timeline of The Bright Sessions influenced how she plotted this first book:
“Because this was a meet-cute story in a lot of ways, it had to take place in a specific part of the podcast…”
Shippen really wanted to focus on the Caleb and Adam relationship and through that she knew she wanted to tell the story of them getting to know each other and getting together!
I then asked her about the canon in that of the novel vs. podcast and it was fascinating to hear her discuss them both:
“I would say the “book canon” is sort of separate from that of the official podcast canon, which I would consider the true Bright Sessions universe…”
It was interesting to hear because in reality, through an audio drama (unless its stated within the audio), specifics such as appearance are never defined. So, Shippen discussed what it was like comparing the canons of both stories:
“There are certain elements being defined, like appearance. We’ve never really defined what anyone looks like in the show and I love that―giving people the freedom to imagine what they want to imagine. The fanart that’s come out of this series has been amazing. But, even as the show progressed I had this vision of what these characters look like, their backgrounds, etc.
Getting more into these specifics was something I could only ever do in the books, because in the show its not something that can be done through dialogue.
However, because people already have established headcanons for what these characters look like, I don’t want people to think “oh, now knowing Caleb’s eyes are this color, I can’t make fan-art of him looking this way anymore”―No, I still want you to do that, you can still imagine however you want to imagine. So, with that I can say that the podcast is the truest form…”
The Bright Sessions podcast is known for its focus on mental health and delving into psychology (which is one of my many favorite aspects). So, I then asked Shippen if she found herself focusing on that in the novel or if she found the specifics in that translation from podcast to book as challenging:
“It’s actually a lot of the novel because throughout it, Caleb is in therapy, but its less of focus I would say. You know, so much of the conflict takes place in the therapy room and Dr. Bright having all these patients. Where for Caleb, its really much is just an element of his life, which is my intention. Because in the show (therapy) is such a driving force, within the novel I explore the idea that “Yes! This can be a part of your life, while you still have all these other things going on.” So, its something you can use to check on things and figure something out…”
It was important for her to show this positive representation of therapy. Because it can be such an intrinsic part of our lives, she wanted it to be showcased in a different way, but still highlighting that its as much a part of the book as it is the podcast!
I then asked her if she ever found herself re-listening to the show or rereading scripts to get back into the headspace for the novel:
“It’s funny! I actually haven’t relistened to any Bright Sessions episodes since they were released, because by the time their released I’ve listened to hours and hours of them. I don’t sound-design them, but I do edit all the dialogue so I’m listening to the same lines I’ve recorded over and over again.
But, I did go back and re-read some of the scripts, especially since I needed to reference them for certain moments in the book. There’s been an instance where I would go back and listen to Briggon’s character on the podcast (or even call him) to get back into Caleb’s voice. Adam was someone who was very much like me in high school, so his voice was an easy one to hop into. Caleb overtime, has become a little different and increasingly overtime became a blend of Briggon and I…”
Then within the second part of our interview, I chatted with Lauren more about her background as a podcast creator. She’d been listening to 2 audio fiction shows, Welcome To Nightvale (which she mentioned has been many people’s entrance to the audio fiction world) and a BBC Radio For Comedy called Cabin Pressure:
“I was really enjoying both of these shows a lot and thinking about stories that I wanted to tell, also making something I could have completely my own. So I thought “okay, here’s this [wide] spectrum of different ways of doing audio fiction…” I began thinking about characters, then the idea of including therapy came to me. It made sense for me to have it be 2-person conversations and go from there…”
There was also this one quote that really stuck with me throughout our interview when I asked if she started out wanting to have certain messages or ideas get across through her podcast of The Bright Sessions:
“I more think about the human stories I want to tell and telling them in a way that is interesting and authentic to me…”
Shippen then shared that if there was a message she wanted to get across as she developed the show, it was this:
“I think if there is one thing I wanted to communicate because this was the intention I had in making it is helping people feel less alone. That’s both from a character and audience perspective, what The Bright Sessions is really about is these people who feel very isolated, feel very different, and alone, then finding themselves, others, and realizing they don’t have to lonely…”
I then asked Shippen if there were any episodes in particular that we’re personal or memorable for her:
“Every episode is personal to me in some way, maybe not necessarily because I personally experienced it, but because of the way I approach in writing those scripts is coming from a genuine place.
As for memorable, we did a musical episode for our 50th episode which was hugely memorable. The writing process was incredibly different for that and I worked with my composer Evan Cunningham on the songs. I also think the Season 3 Finale episodes 39 & 40 were hugely memorable because that was the first time we ever recorded in a professional studio (we’d be moving as the characters would and did 10 hours of straight recording).
Those remain as my favorite episodes of all time because everyone just knocked it out of the park!”
I then asked Shippen who her favorite characters in The Bright Sessions were, if she had to pick:
“That’s so hard, I really do love all of them because they’ve all surprised me in different ways. I think Mark is one of my favorites (& easiest) to write because he’s snarky and charming, very much in the same way that Damien is― and I loved writing their dynamic specifically.
Andrew Nowak and Charlie Ian who play Mark and Damien had such amazing chemistry that it went in directions none of us were expecting and it was wonderful!
Similarly, Julia Morizawa and Ian McQuown who play Dr. Bright and Agent Green, have brought layers and depth to their characters in ways I didn’t expect, so exploring their characters and dynamic (which is a huge part of The AM Archives) has been so fun!
In the end though, I really do love them all!”
Next we talked a bit more about any difficulties when it came to developing any part of The Bright Sessions world in particular and Shippen said that the hardest character to write from a mechanical perspective has been Chloe (the mind reader, voiced by Anna Lore):
“Your always writing two conversations on top of each other. She’d be having a conversation with someone she’s talking to, but then she’s hearing their thoughts and responding to their thoughts.”
“When it comes to the mechanics of writing someone who’s reading everyone’s thoughts, that was very challenging…”
We then got into theorizing where podcasts would be headed in the future and Shippen shared that this is something the community and creators are often discussing:
“We’re definitely going to see more large studios getting into the medium…”
With the audience of podcasting growing, she shared that it wouldn’t be surprising to see these companies begin to create more of their own original content.
Shippen then explained that what you often see in television or film, can (and already is) finding its way to podcasting, for instance through subscriptions. The most recent example is that of Luminary, a podcast subscription app where listeners can find her continuation to The Bright Sessions world, The AM Archives!
“I’m sure we’ll also see a diversification in the way podcast and their creators are supported from listener support, ads, touring, merchandise because, not any one way is sustainable for all creators…”
I’m thrilled to have had the chance to chat with Lauren about The Infinite Noise, her wonderful podcast The Bright Sessions and delve more into her work as a podcast creator! Its exciting to see this podcast coming to life in book form and I hope readers will check out her debut!
If you haven’t listened to The Bright Sessions, what are you waiting for? Do you love relatable and complex character-driven stories? An ensemble cast you’ll fall in love with? Superpowers? Then check out Lauren Shippen’s podcast! ❤
If you are a fan of TBS, also keep an eye out this week for a special giveaway of The Infinite Noise! 💡🎙✨
Are you looking forward to reading The Infinite Noise? Have you listened to The Bright Sessions podcast? 🎙📚❤