Support Big Gay Fiction Podcast on PatreonThe June Big Gay Fiction Book Club episode, featuring Heartache and Hoofbeats by Maz Maddox premieres on Tuesday, June 30. The guys also talk about the upcoming release of Heart2Heart Anthology Volume 4, featuring 18 authors including Jeff & Will.

The Netflix premieres of the documentary Disclosure and season two of The Politician are discussed along with Pose-A-Thon, a pride celebration from the cast and crew of Pose. Jeff reviews Finding Joy by Adriana Herrera.

Lauren Shippen talks with Jeff about the podcasts and novels that make up The Bright Sessions universe. They discuss the origins of the original audio drama podcast as well as how the show spun off additional podcasts and more recently novels. Lauren also shares a special reading from The Infinite Noise, the first Bright Sessions novel, and what Pride means to her.

Remember, you can listen and subscribe to the podcast anytime on Apple PodcastsGoogle Podcasts, SpotifyStitcherPlayerFMYouTube and audio file download.

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Show Notes

Here are the things we talk about in this episode. Please note, these links include affiliate links for which we may make a small commission at no extra cost to you should you make a purchase.

The excerpt from The Infinite Noise was used with permission from Macmillan Audio. Copyright (c) 2020 Lauren Shippen.

Jump to Book Reviews

Interview Transcript – Lauren Shippen

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Jeff: Lauren, thanks so much for being on the podcast. I’m very excited to get to talk to you.

Lauren: I’m so glad to be here. Thank you so much for having me.

Jeff: So I reviewed “Infinite Noise” on the show a few weeks ago, but I want to kind of go all the way back to where everything started with “The Bright Sessions,” which ran for about four seasons and I believe started in 2015. For those who aren’t familiar, tell us about the show and about Dr. Bright.

Lauren: Yeah. So the bright sessions is an audio fiction drama about Dr. Bright, who is a therapist, but she’s not just any therapist. All of her patients are atypicals to these people who have supernatural abilities.

And instead of being, you know, The X men, where these super powered people go off and fight crime and save the world. It’s really about their personal struggles with these things that make them different and how they’re learning to live and cope with their abilities, in therapy and with this doctor.

There’s some romance and some mystery and some action, all involved in that, but always very grounded in the emotional drama of people just trying to live their lives.

Jeff: And looking at Caleb from “The Infinite Noise” that we’ll obviously get to that in a minute. What I thought was interesting was he is this atypical who at least in that book is not a superhero. He’s not out saving the world. He’s trying to get through high school.

Lauren: Yeah, which you know high school is enough of a trial as it is.

Jeff: Exactly. What was the inspiration behind creating “The Bright Sessions?”

Lauren: One of the first inspirations for it was really just wanting to tell my own stories and to do it in a way that I can control every aspect of. And so I decided I wanted to do a fiction podcast because it was listening to “Welcome to Night Vale” and falling in love with the medium.

And as I was thinking about what story I would tell in podcast form, I kept thinking about this character that had been in my head for a little while. I have an anxiety disorder and I’ve been having panic attacks since I was a kid. And I had started to imagine what would happen if when I had panic attacks, I went somewhere else.

And out of that grew this character Sam Barnes, who I play on the podcast, who time travels involuntarily when she has panic attacks. I was trying to figure out exactly how to tell her story and how to tell a story about a woman who is isolated and anxious all the time, but also has this extraordinary ability that people would love to have, but for her is really a torture device. And thinking about putting her in conversation with someone and ultimately realizing like, Oh, this person really needs therapy. She has some stuff she needs to work out. Once that premise came to my head, it was like, wait a second, who is this therapist? Who are her other patients? And everything just kind of fell out from merit and it was like a flood gates opened.

Jeff: What was it about podcasting and audio fiction that made it the way to tell the story, instead of going more traditional in a novel, or even trying to spin it into a TV series or something like that.

Lauren: I really want a marriage of idea and a desire to be making something in the medium to begin with. I used to be an actor primarily. I still do a little bit of it now, but I’ve discovered that the thing I loved about acting is actually really just what writing and directing are. And so it’s been a good transition into those things.

But I was wanting to act something of my own and be able to edit it and actually produce it myself. But I knew nothing about, you know, film or anything. And then when I came to this idea and was starting to validate this character, there was something really appealing to me about listening in on people’s therapy sessions.

Eventually the podcast expands outside of the world of a therapy room, but the first two seasons are almost entirely in the therapist office and the session with her patients. There’s something about that that is just perfect for the podcast medium, because two people sitting in a therapist office talking is not particularly interesting for a TV show or a visual medium.

I mean, you know, there are shows that have made it work, but the thing I really liked about podcasts is that you can really suspend your disbelief and imagine that you’re actually listening into recorded tapes. And there’s something about it that’s really a halfway point between watching a TV show and reading a book where you’re actively engaged, but you also can kind of just let it wash over you and then let your imagination run wild because you don’t have the visual cues.

And that’s one of the things I really love about reading is not being given the visuals and just being given enough information to build on my own world in my head. And so that’s really what I wanted to create for listeners as well.

Jeff: And you mentioned this kind of draws off your own anxiety issues that you were having.

And I know mental health is important as a topic for you to explore it. It’s certainly an ongoing theme, obviously in “The Bright Sessions.” Was there a lot of research you needed to do to kind of get all these representations right for the show?

Lauren: Yeah, I definitely, especially in the beginning, I definitely leaned heavily on my own experiences and based a lot of certain characters and certain abilities off of my own mental health. I also did a lot of reading about different experiences about, you know, synesthesia and extreme empathy, which both factor into how Caleb experiences his ability. And then the most important thing was that I have a sister who is a professional psychologist who read all of the scripts and made sure that I wasn’t portraying therapy in a way that was going to be dangerous or hurtful to the audience. You know, there were definitely times when she said like, Oh, actually a therapist probably wouldn’t do this or do that. And then I would kind of say, well, okay, but it’s a sci-fi show and I kind of need the therapist to be like a little bit dodgy because of this plot thing that needs to happen.

But she really worked with me to make sure that even when I was going outside the bounds of what, you know, a good therapist would do that I was never saying that therapy was a bad thing to do. And that, you know, talking about your emotions and your problems is just always presented as a positive thing in the show.

Having her actual professional expertise was hugely helpful. And then just reading as many first person accounts of different experiences as possible. And building off of them because ultimately at the end of the day, for the most part, none of the characters in the podcast are officially diagnosed with specific real world mental health issues.

There are a couple of characters who – there’s a veteran character who has PTSD and doesn’t, he’s sort of halfway between an atypical and a regular human. But for the most part, they’re being diagnosed with these fake supernatural ability. I got to have a little bit of creative license in that, in terms of how I was approaching things and how I was portraying them, because ultimately they’re just coming from my imagination.

Jeff: And how convenient to have somebody in the family who can be your research.

Lauren: Oh yeah. Especially at the beginning, when we’re producing all my bedroom and everybody was acting for free. And, you know, there was no budget to hire like a sensitivity reader or, you know, have a acting doctor work on the show as a consultant. So it was very, I got very lucky.

Jeff: Was it all a matter of essentially just people getting together to do the scripts? Did you even get to record together in one room or was it just people doing their scripts and turning them in?

Lauren: So we recorded 98% of the original “Bright Sessions” in my bedroom, which I am currently sitting in and doing this interview from.

So it’s seen a lot of different podcasts and we would always record everybody all together. With a couple of like small exceptions, you know, if there was someone that had like a couple of lines and we would get one of our friends from New York or something to do it, even my sister appears, you know, as a little Easter egg as the receptionist for the therapist.

But we would basically be reading the scripts off of iPads and then doing them together and acting them out like scenes in a play. So just doing basically entire episodes in one take. It’s interesting because we were about to record our next spinoff podcasts, “The College Tapes,” which is about Caleb and Adam in college.

And because of the current state of the world, it’s, you know, May, 2020 as we record this, we are doing the entire podcast remotely, which we’ve never done before. And we’ve never had to have actors reading in different places and doing some things in their own time. And so, yeah, it’s a really interesting challenge, but the original one was all recorded together in a West Hollywood apartment.

Jeff: It’s really interesting. What we’re seeing happen with things being done remotely, whether it’s a bunch of actors getting together to do a play remotely and throw it up on YouTube and people just kind of making it work to keep the creativity going.

Lauren: Yeah, it’s really encouraging to see, and I’m definitely a little bit nervous to be directing people over Skype, but I’m excited about the new challenge and continue to make things, even though, you know, the world is what it is. It’s, it’s nice comfort.

Jeff: When you have a drop date yet for “The College Tapes?”

Lauren: Yes, it’ll be this fall. I can’t confirm exactly when, because, you know, obviously with everything that’s been happening, production’s been a moving target but it’ll be end of September, beginning of October of this year.

Jeff: That’s exciting. And that’s like having met Caleb and Adam in Infinite Noise, I’m excited to get more of their adventures as they move into college. So, yay.

Lauren: I’m really excited about it. It is very different from “The Infinite Noise” and “The Bright Sessions.” It’s much more of a spooky Scooby Doo-style mystery. So I think it’s going to be really fun.

Jeff: The first spinoff from “Bright Sessions” was the “AM Archives” as well. What prompted that to spin off instead of just continuing the story as it had been?

Lauren: It was a bunch of different factors , the biggest one was that I really always wanted “The Bright Sessions” to be this incredibly grounded, emotional story about relationships and about loneliness and finding lonely people, finding other lonely people and building something together and learning to love and heal together.

As a result of the show that is, you know, the plot is basically people talking about their feelings, which, you know, some people don’t like, and there have been people who have accused “The Bright Sessions” of not having very much a plot, but that was very intentional. I really wanted it to be this exploration of the human condition.

As the story progressed and as I was writing the beginning of season four, I was thinking about the whole season arc and the plot that I wanted to tie up and the places that I wanted these characters to go. And I just sort of realized they were coming to this really natural ending point in terms of the journeys that they had begun in episode one.

Where, you know, Caleb was getting to the end of his high school career. Sam had gotten a hold on her panic attacks. Dr. Bright had really opened up and become more vulnerable and kind of atoned for all of the mistakes she had made in her past and started to learn to forgive herself. I had this really interesting conflict inside of me where I realized I was coming to this really natural close, but that also is because of the way the plot was going there were all of these potential threads to spin out. And I thought about just then jumping in next season, you’ll get something totally fresh and new. And that the story I really wanted to tell would end up becoming “The AM Archives” was a story about justice and about, I mean, it’s kind of a like commentary on, you know, the prison industrial complex, really light stuff.

I really want it to tell a thriller and I just, that did not belong in the show that I had already created. And so I, in order to really keep “The Bright Sessions” as what ended up being, you know, comfort food for a lot of people, this 30 minute chunk where you can sit in on somebody’s therapy session and see these characters grow and talk about, you know, their problems.

I really wanted to maintain that and keep that kind of pristine… I didn’t want it to all of a sudden become something where there was like, you know, it’s like, Oh well, you’re listening to these nice sort of soft therapy sessions and yes, there’s drama and yes, there is violence sometimes, but like the stakes are always people’s emotions.

I didn’t want that the person listening to that to then listen to the new season and, you know, there’s murder and this cat and mouse game in a locked facility and all the stuff that we get into in “The AM Archives,” it’s like a much different show. So that was really a big, a big piece of it.

Another piece of it was that I was starting to get a lot of other work in different podcasts and was writing the book and was looking at the amount of time that “The Bright Sessions” was taking and how everybody involved with it was sort of outgrowing what it could be and realizing that, like, I couldn’t continue doing it for free. I couldn’t continue paying my actors the little stipend that I was paying them, and wanting to actually sell the spin off into a space that could actually give it a good budget. Thankfully we paired with Luminary, who have been such wonderful partners and have been able to us too really make it a job for people in a way that it always had just been a hobby.

So it was kind of that twofold decision.

Jeff: And it’s always wonderful when a creative bootstrapped sort of thing becomes the next level.

Lauren: Yeah, it was really thrilling and I think the thing that was the most thrilling about it was how it allowed us to expand creatively. Like I was able to hire on three writers and have a cast of 30 and pay my sound designer their full rate and have it fully scored by our incredible composer.

A big piece for me and in choosing to take this show elsewhere and expand it in a different place and have it exist behind a paywall because “The AM Archives” is on Luminary exclusively was that “The Bright Sessions,” the original series, would always have to remain free and available everywhere.

And that’s something that would never, ever change because I kind of in keeping it in this very grounded, emotional story, I wanted it to be there for people and so it, I really do feel like I got to have the best of both worlds.

Jeff: And of course you mentioned working on the book, which is a great segue into “The Infinite Noise,” which features Caleb and Adam. How did you decide to jump to a book and with these particular characters?

Lauren: So this book actually started semi simultaneously with a podcast, which is kind of funny, cause it just sort of sat in my computer for a couple of years before I built it out more and eventually partnered with TorTeen, which has been amazing. I’ve always loved books. They were my first love. YA is still a huge love of mine. It’s like the bulk of what I read, because I think it’s where a lot of the most interesting stuff is happening.

Like YA and romance I feel like are the genres that like really break the mold of what books are doing and provide these worlds that feel so real and grounded, but also open up your imagination in a really wonderful way. And as I was writing Caleb’s journey in the first season of the podcast, there’s only nine episodes.

He’s only in three of them. So it was really just like the beginning of the beginning of his story. I knew I wanted to tell a story about a kind of seemingly macho jock football player who had an ability that was completely antithetical to that appearance, which is extreme empathy and kind of toxic masculinity it’s something that is endlessly fascinating to me, and that affects every single person on the planet because it’s, you know, the patriarchy etc. and it’s something that I think affects young men in a way that we don’t really talk about that much. You know, we talk so much and thankfully we were talking more and more about the way that toxic masculinity and, you know, rape culture and all of these things affect women.

But, as you know, that conversation is incredibly important and obviously I’m incredibly invested in it and I want it to continue to happen. But at the same time, I want to make sure that when we have those conversations, we are also talking about how these toxic masculine ideals affect men as well and how, you know, toxic masculinity is as buzzword, but there is good masculinity too. You know, being masculine is not bad and it shouldn’t be demonized. And then all the complexities that lie within that. And so I was like, all right, there’s going to be a high school football player who can feel everybody’s feelings.

That’s the way for me to explore this idea that I’m having and as I was first writing his first episode and he was talking about this kid, Adam in his class who was, whose feelings were really, really strongly. Adam was initially just like an avatar of me that I was putting into the, into the podcast as like a total offscreen secondary character.

This kind of a loner kid who was sharp edged and suffered from depression. And, you know, didn’t feel understood by anybody. And I just kind of wanted him to be a foil to Caleb. And as I was writing the first episode and writing Caleb expressing what it’s like to feel this guy’s feelings, I realized like, Oh, they’re going to fall in love.

That’s where this is going. And so I started to build out the character of Adam a little bit more and build out their story. And as I was doing that, I was really getting stuck on how the empath ability works and how exactly when Caleb was like getting distracted by these feelings that Adam was feeling.

If Adam was noticing anything and, you know, in the way the Caleb was behaving. And so I started to write this dual perspective, essentially, it just like a writing exercise in prose about the two of them in class, having like the same experience, like experiencing the same emotions at the same time, because of Caleb’s empath ability, but being worlds apart because they weren’t communicating yet.

And I wrote maybe like two chapters of what became, I think it ended up becoming like chapters five and six of “Infinite Noise” and I sent them to the actors is just like a little, like, here’s how their internal monologues function when they’re going through this thing that we don’t actually see in the podcasts.

We’re only hearing about it after the fact. And then I just kind of sat on the shelf for awhile and I was a year or so later was talking to my book agent Matthew, who has been such a guiding light in my career about what a “Bright Sessions” novel would look like. And we were talking a lot about like what an adult contemporary novel would look like.

And there were lots of ideas that I was excited about, but I also ended up bringing up like, Oh, Hey, I actually have this beginning of a YA novel. And I asked him would you want to read it? And he did. And he told me to write more and you know, a year later “The Infinite Noise” existed.

Jeff: I really loved Adam and Caleb because there’s so much there that even if you take out Caleb’s abilities, it’s still high school. Empath or not, high school crashes in on you all the time.

Lauren: Absolutely.

Jeff: And then amongst all the turmoil, there’s this super sweet love story that sits at the core of these two guys. It’s truly an opposites attract love story at the same time.

Lauren: Yeah. Yeah. And that’s like, ultimately I love and all that I ever want to write his love story. Whether it’s a love story between two romantic partners or two friends or family members just love being the core of the story is always where I, I find myself gravitating towards.

Jeff: And I read it without having listened to “The Bright Sessions.” So it works totally as a standalone within “The Bright Sessions” universe and the podcast. Where does it kind of fit in the timeline?

Lauren: I’m always so happy to hear that it works as a standalone cause it’s like impossible for me to really see, you know, because it’s really tied into “The Bright Sessions” as a podcast actually.

Basically it starts about a month before the podcast does and ends at the beginning of season three. So it tracks over the first two seasons of the podcast. What was so fun for me about writing this book there’s, you know, some therapy sessions in it and there’s some scenes that directly happened in the podcast that are in the book.

But what was so fun is that in the podcast, because of the way that the narrative is framed as therapy sessions, Caleb was telling dr. Bright about all of these things that he’s experiencing and, you know, kind of realizing that he has a crush on this guy, not knowing what to do, because how do you tell your crush that you’re also were a superhero, you know, all of these things he’s worried about. The thing that we don’t get is we don’t get Adam’s side of the story and we also don’t get their scenes together outside of the therapy room. It’s kind of an extension sideways from the podcast–tracks the same timeline, but it goes deeper on these two particular characters and especially getting to tell the story from Adam’s perspective, and getting to write their first kiss was like such a joy as someone who’d been living in their story for a couple of years, not getting to do any of that stuff.

Jeff: And I mentioned in my reviews, something that you do just so extraordinarily is putting emotion on the page. And certainly you’ve done some of that in the podcast because Caleb has to tell Dr. Bright how he’s feeling and what it’s like. But then there are other sections in the book where you’re either in Adam’s head discussing kind of how he feels at these, like, you know, dropping into the depression that he goes into. And Caleb’s in his own head, you know, talking about all of it. And it’s so rich and vibrant. How did you do that? Give me the masterclass in like two minutes on how you did that.

Lauren: Definitely writing the first couple of chapters as an exercise. When I was writing the podcast was a huge help, like just immediately diving into their heads and then using that at the launch pad to have Caleb try and explain these emotions to Dr. Bright was enormous help, but really it was just about, I mean, it is just trial and error. So much of it, especially with Caleb and his empath ability, I read about extreme empathy and synesthesia, the experience of your senses kind of being crosswired. So, you know, seeing sounds and hearing colors and it’s a real neurological condition. Especially mirror touch synesthesia, where you actually can feel the physical sensations of someone that you’re looking at, which is again, a real neurological condition, all these things that exist in the real world and understanding how people who’ve experienced them firsthand describe them was it was a great jumping off point.

Then it was really just about sitting with those emotions myself and thinking about like, okay, well, how does jealousy fit inside of me? And if I were this kind of a person, how would it fit inside of me differently? I mean, so much of it was really an acting exercise. I studied Stanislavski in acting school. “An Actor’s Work” by Stanislavski is a wonderful read, you know, it’s 1880s, Russian acting techniques, so it’s not necessarily the most relevant but it’s really interesting. The most important thing was keeping track of what each emotion felt like.

So I have like a dictionary on my computer of like, here’s what pride feels like. Here’s what jealousy feels like. Here’s what anger feels like. Is that when Caleb experience that emotion again, I could look at it and say, okay, well, You know, disappointment in yourself is usually black sludge, but he’s feeling it from this person, so is it going to be slightly different because of this or it’s mixed in with this? And so what’s the combination of, you know, black sludge and orange concern, like what does that combine into, Yeah, just having that, having that dictionary as a reference point throughout writing was very helpful.

Jeff: Again, it was just so good.

Your second “Bright Sessions” novel is coming out in September with “The Neon Darkness,” which features Damian, who has a brief cameo in “The Infinite Noise.” And frankly, I find him scary–more than a little bit. Tell us what we get to look forward to in this book.

Lauren: “The Neon Darkness” is like photo negative of “Infinite Noise.” It’s very, very different. Damien is the primary antagonist and or one of the primary antagonists in “The Bright Sessions” podcast.

He has an ability that is in a lot of ways, actually the reverse or mirror image of Caleb’s. It is essentially emotional manipulation, but more succinctly it is imposing his wants onto other people. He likes to call it mind control, but really what it is is that he wants something, he projects that want outwards and other people want that thing too.

So if he really wants someone to tell him the truth about something, they’re going to tell him the truth. He was a character who I introduced for a similar reason why I came up with Caleb for an examination of a different side of male identity, masculinity, and sort of being the very sort of simplified personification of white straight cis male privilege – and then in writing him and working with the actor, Charlie Ian, who plays him in the podcast, he became much more interesting and layered than that, and much more complicated. And I kind of fell in love with writing him a little bit. He’s still a terrible person 90% of the time and you should be scared of him cause he doesn’t make good choices, but I really started to see his, you know, his humanity.

When I was thinking about what books I wanted to write in this world, I really wanted to tell his story about how he became the villain that we meet. “Neon Darkness” takes place 10 years before the beginning of the podcast and it’s him as an 18 year old in Los Angeles. Really discovering his, the extent of his abilities and meeting some people who he connects with, and making a lot of mistakes and it’s kind of a LA noir, mystery, and it’s pretty dark and I’m really excited people to read it.

Jeff: That’s really cool. I like how you moved it back in time. So it’s still a young adult novel that’s when he’s 18.

Lauren: Yeah. Yeah. It was really fun to explore this person that I knew so well, who was so cagey about his past in the podcast. And it was really a really nice blank slate to work with and to think back to like, okay, who would this person have been at 18? How would he have been different? How would they have been softer? And you know, it’s before sort of the world caves in on him. And it was really fun to write that journey.

Jeff: And a different exercise completely from “The Infinite Noise” where you were kind of working in the existing podcast timeline.

Lauren: Yeah. It was really fun to get to just run rampant and create a bunch of new characters and a totally new world and just have a totally blank slate. It was, it was a blast.

Jeff: Do you see more bright sessions, novels after “Neon Darkness?”

Lauren: I’m actually working on my third right now. It’s about a character, Rose who, you don’t meet in “Infinite Noise,” but you do meet in season three of the podcast.

Like all my novels, there’s a degree of queer romance involved. Damien says a little bit less than that. Cause there’s, there’s not a ton of romance in it, but, definitely has some of that identity in there. Rose is a 19 year old who discovers that she can walk into people’s dreams and it’s about her really exploring that power and kind of becoming addicted to it.

And the fact that living in dream world, they can control is pretty enticing. So why stay awake? It’s been such a different journey than the other two and almost like a different world that still shares the same characters.

And it’s a real challenge to write dreams. I eventually got the writing the emotions down with “The Infinite Noise.” Writing the weirdness and the reality that exists in dreaming is really hard.

Jeff: Interesting. I can’t wait to read that now, too. So through Pride month, we’ve been having authors and narrators read a little bit of their work for us, and TorTeen has been awesome and given us a little excerpt from the audiobook of “The Infinite Noise,” can you set up a little bit for us? What we’re going to get?

Lauren: Yes. So this is chapter one, which is read by Briggon Snow, who plays Caleb in the podcast.

So he knows him very, very well. And it’s really just a drop into the middle of Caleb experiencing high school as an empath.

The excerpt from “The Infinite Noise” is not available in this transcript.

Jeff: I’m so glad that that was picked for this excerpt, because it just, in that little clip you hear exactly how some of those emotions play out for Caleb, but already how we heard that Adam is kind of like this cool breeze that’s coming in from somewhere else. So it perfectly sets up everything that goes on in that book for the most part.

Yeah. A good teaser.

And also as we were in Pride month, we’re actually wrapping up Pride month with this particular episode. Tell me what pride means to you.

Lauren: Pride to me just means being comfortable in your skin and in who you are. And I think one of the things I’ve really loved about seeing how Pride has expanded and shifted over the past five, 10, 15, 20 years is that it really can be whatever you want it to be, you know? And you can go to the parades and be on a float and go to the parties and the bars and be loud and colorful.

Or you can do – I have some friends who do a queer book club, and you know, you can have a movie night with your friends and it can kind of be as big or as small as you want. And it’s just about being at home with yourself and with their community.

Jeff: Well said, and I think we’ll be seeing this year, how pride expands, what it means for people cause it’s be so much more difficult to be together in, in large groups.

So we’ve talked a little bit about bits and pieces of what’s coming up with “The College Tapes” and with the third book and in the bright sessions novels. Is there anything else you can tease for us that might be coming up in the, in the next year or so?

Lauren: Yeah, I’m trying to think of what I can say that is public or public-ish.

So we’re currently working, I have a podcast company, Atypical Artists, and we are currently in pre-production on not only “The College Tapes,” but on a show that we did not write, but that was an outside trio of incredible creators, called “In Strange Woods.” And it is a musical . It is just such a wonderful piece of writing and music.

And our cast is starting to come together and they are incredible. And I’m just so, so excited about that – fingers crossed that will be out later this year. I also have begun some development work on a couple of shows that I’ll be writing later this summer probably that I’m super excited about that.

I think any fans of “Infinite Noise” or “The Bright Sessions” are really going to enjoy. Unfortunately, I can’t say anything about them yet. But definitely stay tuned.

Jeff: Excellent. Look forward to all that and a musical. I’m all for that. Cause I do love a good musical, so

Lauren: it’s so good. I’m just, I’m so excited people to hear it.

Jeff: What’s the best way for everyone to keep up with you online so they can keep track of all this as it starts to come out.

Lauren: Yeah, you can follow me at laurenshippen on Twitter, Instagram, and then You also can go to and that will show you all of the shows that we have currently out.

And there’s also a newsletter that you can sign up for. That is honestly the best way to keep track of me. I know newsletters are like not necessarily the most 2020 hip thing in the world. But, we really said just every month, so it’s not going to flood your inbox. And I usually put in a little bit, a little personal note about what I’m working on as on top of all of the podcasts stuff that we like to share. So it’s and for all of your updates.

Jeff: Fantastic. We’ll link up to all of that along with everything that we talked about in our show notes, Lauren, thank you again for coming and sharing “The Bright Sessions” world with us. I’m so glad that I found it, and I really hope that our listeners enjoy any journeys they take there.

Lauren: Thank you so much for having me. This was so much fun.

Book Reviews

Here’s the text of this week’s reviews:

Finding Joy by Adriana Herrera. Reviewed by Jeff.
Desta Walker has returned to Ethiopia, a place he spent time as a child while his parents did aid work. He’s there now to follow in their footsteps, even though he’s not sure it’s exactly the work he wants to do. He’s still excited to be back in Addis and quickly feels at home there in a way that he doesn’t in many places. The work he’s doing isn’t easy as he travels the country completing survey work in towns and villages.

His driver on the expedition is another aid worker, Elias. Desta and Elias quickly enter into a zone of becoming friends (you can hear that for yourself in Adriana’s reading of one of their earliest interactions in her Pride month bonus episode). From the beginning, there’s an easy camaraderie here, even as Desta hides that he may be truly attracted to Elias since homosexuality is illegal in Ethiopia.

As Desta and Elias travel, the talk a lot and ever so slowly exposes layers about each other. Even before either of them is out to the other, Desta experiments by playing the audiobook of Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe. Turns out Elias quite enjoyed that story.

Desta uses the trip to really think about what he wants–not just in regard to his future work. Although it’s this train of thought that is the most poignant as he considers how his mom might react to him giving up the family business since he feels its one of the few connections to his dad that she has left. He also considers the disastrous relationship he had with his ex and what it might be like to somehow have one with Elias.

As Elias opens up more we find that he’s trying to sort his future too and if it might take him away from Addis and his family. He’s torn over leaving them to go to school in the U.S.

And it’s so sweet when the two men admit their feelings to each other and begin to romance each other, albeit carefully.

Adriana showed me in her Dreamer series how expert she has at letting characters reveal themselves on the page–both through internal monologue and external dialogue and she does it again here. I fell so in love with Desta and Elias and how they navigated the tricky road of a relationship. Beyond what it meant to start it in Addis but also in terms of what they wanted for their futures. It’s an absolutely beautiful, compelling and heartfelt story.

Adriana also made Ethiopia come alive. My knowledge of the country is limited to what’s often on the news and that’s its poverty. While that’s part of the story, since it’s why Elias and Desta are doing the work they do, Adriana shows the beauty there too–the landscape, the people. She gave me a trip to the country without ever having to leave my house and now I have a better understanding of it.

Some tremendous side characters help round this out. Tsehay is a friend and colleague, first to Elias and then Desta too. She’s an ally. She’s a rockstar (literally) and I loved it when she was in scenes as she was so awesome. She needs a book of her own! Also, Desta’s aunt Saba was also a great figure. Such a positive influence for Desta to talk to. I adored her. Everyone needs an aunt like that.

As with all of Adriana’s work, I’m so glad I read Finding Joy. It lives up to its title because you can’t help but feel joy throughout this book and especially in its beautiful HEA. I very much recommend it and can’t wait to see what she brings us next.