Audio Drama: “Paths Not Taken”

Yesterday, I released the first of a seven part epic called “Paths Not Taken.” This epic, which has been a good two years in the making, is the centerpiece of the second season of The Gray Area, an ongoing audio drama that won the Parsec Award during the first season. The full tale involves time travel, parallel universes, lost love, identity, forgiveness, compassion, fate, fortune tellers, mysterious Englishmen, life choices, AI, revolutionaries who argue about breakfast, and a great deal more.

This is the most ambitious story I have ever told. It takes place in two parallel universes and follows numerous characters between 1994 and 2023. “Where Are the Lads of the Village Tonight?” — named after a pre-World War I novelty tune written and composed by R.P. Weston and Herman Datewski — is the first chapter. On one level, this is a very meticulous character study. The writing came after I spent a good six weeks doing field research and conducted numerous interviews with women to ensure accuracy, authenticity, love, and respect to the LGBTQ community. On another level, the entire epic is also a fun romp involving a winged intedimensional creature named Chester, a goofy alien obsessed with Tony Danza and hot dogs, and a lot of interdimensional travel.

You can listen to the first installment below:

We’re going to be releasing “Paths Not Taken” every two weeks between now through October. You can either wait for the next installment every two weeks or, for $20, you can purchase a Season 2 subscription pass to not only listen to all the episodes, but also access the scripts as well as a great deal of behind-the-scenes material.

There are many ways to keep tabs on The Gray Area. You can do so through the main website, subscribe through iTunes, Libsyn, Podchaser, Stitcher, or Spotify.

While all of the stories can be enjoyed on their own terms, there are numerous hidden connections between all the stories for the attentive listener. Feel free to consult this episode guide for the entire series to follow the entire narrative trajectory.

Here’s the synopsis for Chapter One:

Chelsea Needham was once among the foremost leaders in tech. But something happened involving a fire and a death. And it got in the papers. Rumor reared its ugly head and Chelsea lost everything she had, with only a few friends left. While recovering from alcoholism, self-destruction, and losing the love of her life, Chelsea meets an enigmatic gentleman from England and a strange fortune teller who may have the answers to how she can reclaim her identity.

(Image licensed through Getty)

The Bat Segundo Show: Toby Ball

Toby Ball appeared on The Bat Segundo Show #380. He is most recently the author of The Vaults.

Condition of Mr. Segundo: Spilling green ink all over the public records.

Author: Toby Ball

Subjects Discussed: The descriptive connection between sound and voice, Ball’s background in teaching, envisioning a scene before writing it, devising a 1935 parallel universe, alternative forms of photography, prethinking information technology, children who intrude upon the conversation and ask about the microphones, telling an old-fashioned pulp yarn, the Berlin Document Center, the Nora chapters as placeholders within The Vaults, the frantic qualities of pulp literature, characters locked in location, Hard Case Crime, Nicholson Baker’s Room Temperature, detecting another person’s typing from observing the strokes, keylogging, Suge Knight as inspiration, the Anti-Subversive Unit inspired by 9/11 propaganda, designing a three book arc, Philip K. Dick’s The Man in the High Castle, marijuana cigarettes, Hearst and the criminalization of marijuana, mentioning alternative countries (Poland, et al.) instead of the key players in World War II, the city as physical space, ideological information, character life that comes from specific limitations in vernacular, turning a preexisting rumor into narrative fodder, working at Congressional Quarterly, Red Henry’s mistress reading Nietzsche, and tight consequential corners.


Correspondent: It is interesting how the voice — somebody’s voice — tends to be imposing. More so than the bigness of Big Henry and the like. It’s very interesting to me that sound seems to be the linchpin. Particularly because the technology in this book is rather interesting. I mean, here we are roughly around 1935. A little parallel universe. And we don’t really have motion pictures. We have some possible version of photography with the replacement system that comes in the Vaults. And that’s why it is very interesting to me why sound is such an important quality. It’s almost as if sound in your world matters more than image to a large degree.

Ball: That’s an interesting idea. And I think a lot of the book is about information. Both the information that is overt and then there’s a certain amount of information that has to be gleaned from other pieces of information. And I think that the idea that people can assert powers in ways other than the physical or through violence or through having political power or whatever sometimes comes through. Certainly with your ability to dominate things vocally. Maybe not even verbally. You don’t have to necessarily have a great way with words. But if you can take up more space around you than the other person to serve as an alpha male thing, I guess.

Correspondent: Well, did you prethink any of the technology in the book? Or for that matter any of the history? We do have allusions to the Great War. We also have the Birthday Party Massacre, which is both a funny and a grisly idea. And it makes me wonder whether you had any masterplan for this alternative history or you were inventing things and filling in the gaps as you went along?

Ball: Well, what I was most interested in, I think, was how do you organize information. And because of that, it had to be before a certain period. Say the 1960s. And moving it back to the ’30s and combining it with these ideas we have about the ’20s and ’30s gangs, and things like that, I think that that was the first step in doing it. But I also wanted to create a complicated and…

[Two children walk up to the table and start staring intently at the microphones.]

Child #1: Where did you get that?

Correspondent: Well, hi.

Ball: Hi.

Correspondent: There’s a…

Ball: The microphones?

Correspondent: Yes, the microphones. You can get these microphones at just about any audio place. We have a child here who’s decided to…(laughs). Hi. What’s your name?

Child #2: (more aggressively) Where’d you get that?

Correspondent: Well, we got these through — I got these through an audio supplier. So.

Ball: Pretty cool.

Correspondent: But anyway, you were saying?

Ball: Well…

Correspondent: We have an audience. (laughs)

Ball: We have an audience of two. So from there, while I kind of wrote and sort of developed some more things I was interested in writing about, I think that’s where things kind of move on. What’s the importance of having accurate information? What’s the value of that? What can you get by taking discreet facts? And simply by organizing them, by insuring their purity, how does that in itself become information? And to try and combine that with — you know, I think there’s a certain fun aspect to the ’20s and ’30s. Where you can get this noir-y feel abut things. To a certain extent, the book has to be fun too. You have to want to read it, and the atmosphere, and things like that. Does that kind of answer your question?

Correspondent: It sort of does. I think what I’m also kind of curious about — since you are talking about information as a starting point, when did you drift off this focus on information and more into just telling a good old-fashioned pulp yarn?

Child #1: (still enraptured by microphones) Do those really work?

Correspondent: Yes, they do.

Ball: Yup, they work.

The Bat Segundo Show #380: Toby Ball (Download MP3)

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