Scott Thrower writes beautiful, compelling fairy tales for 21st century ears. I highly recommend listening to his podcast when you’re all snuggled up in bed. Let him take you to his dark little dream world. Read my full interview with this very talented writer below!
I’m with Scott Thrower at Church Street Espresso Bar. I’m so excited to talk to you.
Let’s jump in! Tell me about your podcast, Fairy Tales for Unwanted Children.
Fairy Tales for Unwanted Children is a podcast of mostly-weekly brand new fairy tales that I write and produce myself. Usually they’re 5 to 12 minutes long and, since they’re for unwanted children, they pretty much never have a happy ending. It’s not that sort of fairy tale. It’s not Disney.
How did it start?
I started it after my first podcast ended. That one was called Periodically and it was a bi-weekly show where we took an old magazine from some time in the last 150 years and myself and some Toronto comedians would talk about issues that were brought up in that magazine. But, eventually, the bloom wore off that rose and I had to think of what I wanted to do next that was going to be more sustainable, that I’d find more enjoyable.
And that was Fairy Tales for Unwanted Children.
Yes. I come from a creative writing background. That was my major at York University. After I graduated, I didn’t really have the opportunity to do much writing. Well, the opportunity was there; I just didn’t take it. It’s hard to write when you have nothing to write towards. And so I decided to give myself the challenge of having to write a new story every single week.
Yeah, I’ve heard that from writers. That once you have a deadline or a limit, it helps to bring the creativity out of you.
Yup. That goes back through history. People used to write poems in very set formats because I think we thrive with structure. So, a one week limitation and keeping to 5-12 minutes is enough structure for my creativity to take off. Now that I’m close to 60 episodes, the original well of ideas is not as full. So, I’m having to find new ways of bringing out those ideas. And it’s getting a little trickier as time goes on.
Your fairy tales are for “unwanted children”. What does that mean?
Well, interestingly, it now means my fan base. They call themselves unwanted children. But, originally, it came from the idea that Disney fairy tales offer happy endings to everyone. Every princess gets her prince and gets a “happily ever after”. And that’s just not realistic to me. I think there are more sad endings out there than there are happy ones. And I think we need these cathartic moments of sadness in our lives. We seem to like that. So, the podcast is designed to provide those moments.
I really loved one of your recent episodes, “Feathers”. It’s about a man transforming into a bird and about how he and his husband are dealing with that. I think it’s important to tell fairy tales that are inclusive in that way.
I grew up as a gay kid and I remember how important it was for me seeing gay people in movies and television. CityTV would sometimes put gay movies on in the middle of the night when no one would be watching. That was a very important moment for me: when sitcoms started having gay characters. I can remember where I was sitting when I watched Ellen’s coming out episode because that was so important to me. So, I just want to be able to put that out in the world as well.
You also play with gender roles. There’s an episode where a boy mermaid (merboy?) gets caught in a fishing net and the captain of the ship is a woman. You don’t see that very often.
I don’t like to constrain by gender. The first time I wrote a blacksmith, it was a man. And I thought, “Wait, why did I, by default, make it a man?” Ever since then, every blacksmith I’ve written has been a woman. You’ve got to challenge yourself sometimes because otherwise you sink into these stereotypes. Also, a lot of my audience is women. They want to see women in different roles and I’m happy to give them that. I have one episode where all of the tropes that normally happen to a princess were happening to a prince. He just found himself in this weird situation where all of these familiar tropes were happening to him as if he was the other gender. And that was my first experience of writing a trans character.
Do you have a lot of young listeners? Would you say the podcast is for kids?
As soon as you say “fairy tales”, people think it’s a kids’ podcast. And, in a way, it is. But, in other ways, it’s not quite for children. I think the youngest I’ve heard from fans is that I have a couple of 5-year-olds listening. For most of the episodes, that’s fine. But, some of them get a little too horror-y in the descriptions. There’s sometimes a blood and gore aspect or a scary side. The one I’m writing for the next release involves heavy drinking and I don’t necessarily think that one’s for kids. But, I generally say the age range is 12 and up, so that’s a little more in line with what they’re used to seeing in media already.
What’s a good episode for a new listener to start with?
My favourite episode is still Episode 11: “The Mother Crab”. It was the first one that audiences really responded too. I got texts from people saying “Your podcast just made me cry” and things like that. It was a very nice twist on a story. It’s about a fisherman who goes out and catches crabs and this huge crab keeps climbing onto his ship and asking for her children back. It’s all about what you would do as a parent, tough decisions you have to make, etc. It hit some dark, deep themes and I just find it really beautiful.
You have such a soothing voice for storytelling. When I listen to your podcast, it’s usually in bed right before I sleep. It’s like someone tucking me in. It brings me back.
Thank you very much! I hear that a lot. Enjoying stories is something we never get over. We originally, historically, told stories to each other, before they were written down. And, in a way, podcasts take us back to that place.
I love that. Is that why you chose podcasting as the medium for your fairy tales, as opposed to writing?
I like the use of the audio medium. I write for the words to be spoken. It’s just the way my writing naturally happens. As I’m typing, I’m also saying it out loud in my head to hear how it sounds. I also have a long theatre background so I like that production level. I find editing pretty soothing. I’ve just always enjoyed it.
Also, audio drama in podcasting is growing hugely right now. Audible has sunk millions of dollars into it in the last year. There are special awards just for audio dramas. It’s a growing world and there’s some great programming happening there. There are even movie deals going to podcasts. Marvel has just released Wolverine as a podcast. It’s amazing to see these big players come into this space. It makes me a little worried because when big players come in, the little guys sort of get pushed aside. But, podcasting is great because there’s such an easy barrier of entry. Anyone can make a podcast and get it up.
Fairy Tales won an award recently, right?
Yes! It won the Canadian Podcast Award for Best Dramatic Show. That was just before I joined The Sonar Network. Sonar really swept those awards.
Yeah, they’re great.
Okay, I have some unrelated questions now. When was the last time you couldn’t stop laughing?
Kimmy Schmidt. New episodes of Kimmy Schmidt came out and that’s my favourite comedy show. It’s so good.
Oh, it’s such a good show. I haven’t watched the new season yet, but I’m very excited.
Well, I will spoil absolutely nothing for you, but I will say: it is still top notch. It has gone into the area of sexual harassment and other things you wouldn’t expect it to go into and it did it in such a beautiful, funny way. I love it. They’re approaching very dark topics in … “woke”… ways. I hate saying “woke” [Laughs]. But yeah, they skirt that line very nicely.
If I tell you to close your eyes and go to your happy place, where do you go?
I go to my family’s cottage. We go there every single summer. There’s nothing between us and the beach. Very relaxed. Actually, I hate going in the water and I have this weird aversion to sand, but I love the environment.
[Laughs] Those are the two main parts of the beach.
I know! You would think it would be horrifying for me! I just can’t stand certain textures and sand is one of them. But, I love being across the street from a beach with a stack of books, hearing the waves.
If you could wade through a pool of something that isn’t water, what would you choose?
[Laughs] I’m not sure I can trust anyone who doesn’t say pudding. Because pudding is just the world’s best thing and to be in that much of it would be amazing.
A lot of people say Jell-O.
That doesn’t make sense to me because Jell-O turns to water so easily. Just body heat alone, I think, melts Jell-O. Plus, as a vegetarian, Jell-O is just out of the question. Whereas pudding is just decadent and beautiful and smooth and creamy.
Beautiful. Ok, my last question is: If you had one question for me, what would it be? (It’s a fun way of making this all about me).
[Laughs] Hm, what is your ideal podcast? In general. Not just naming a podcast you listen to.
It’s so hard not to name a podcast. Can I name a person who I’d want to do this podcast?
I would love a podcast of Paul F Tompkins just rambling. My favourite thing is the few minutes of rambling at the beginning of his Spontaneanation podcast. I could listen to his rambling for hours. That would be a perfect podcast.
I think that’s it. That was so much fun. Thank you!
What would you like to plug?
Fairy Tales for Unwanted Children. You can find it on The Sonar Network or at www.unwantedchildren.ca, where there’s also fan art that people have submitted, which is my favourite thing of all time.
You can find me on Twitter at @periodicallypod
And instagram at @fairytales4unwantedchildren
And Facebook at Fairy Tales for Unwanted Children
Amazing! I can’t wait to hear more stories.