I love On a Dark, Cold Night, I’ve written a recommendation for it and included it in my Best of 2018 list. (read them here and here.) I became enamored with the podcast shortly after stumbling upon it. Zaza’s hypnotic voice drags listeners into her world… though I suppose that drag is the wrong word, as there’s no form of resistance. I knew I had to try and get an interview with this siren of stories. And let’s just take a short moment to truly appreciate that description because I don’t think I’ll ever be able to top it. Now that I had a chance to praise myself, let’s mosey on through this introduction to get to the actual star of this article, Kristen Zaza the creator of On a Dark, Cold Night.
What is the inspiration behind On a Dark, Cold Night?
I have a particular penchant for Gothic, supernatural horror. I always have, I think. But the thing that I love about the genre is not necessarily the scare-factor, or the actual “horror” element, but rather the sort of melancholy that comes along with it. I find myself sympathizing with monsters, most likely because they’re so lonely. And loneliness is something we all know on a deep level, I think. Podcasts are a fantastic salve for loneliness. You listen to them, and there’s a friend in your ear. It’s very intimate. So, I wanted to explore that intimacy and camaraderie in an audio fiction. I guess you could say I wanted to create the monster friend that I would want to have in my ear. I love escaping into dark, beautiful worlds that are different from our own, more magical. So that’s where On a Dark, Cold Night was born from, you could say. I should also add that the writing of Angela Carter, Shirley Jackson, Emily Bronte, Anne Rice and Mary Shelley have also greatly influenced my idea of horror. I think I used to be very afraid of monsters and ghosts until I read their work…they showed me the beauty in the things we fear, and the seductive quality of the supernatural.
How do you come up with the stories the Narrator tells?
Thank you! That’s a hard question, because I’m not quite sure. I think they come from an image, first and foremost. I have an image in my mind that I find beautiful or intriguing. Then I spin off from there, and write a story around that image. The first episode, I wrote because I wondered what a ghost at the bottom of the sea would be like; how she got there, why she would stay there. And then there are episodes that revolve around the Narrator and her life and history. These stories are based off of cards in the Tarot Deck, the Major Arcana. One day, I couldn’t think of a stand-alone story, so I decided to delve into Her story . And then I decided I wanted to keep doing that. It’s very much a week-to-week thing, sort of a drawn-out stream-of-consciousness process, I think. I have a few rules that I set for myself in my writing, but outside of those, I just sort of see where I want to go with it every episode.
I have to know, is there a story behind “The Head of the Table” “Burning, Burning” and “In Plain Sight”? I would ask about every episode, but I think about those 3 constantly. How did they come about?
I can’t say that there are specific references or events – for the most part – that my stories stem from. Most of my protagonists, even if they don’t have anything else in common with me, are all very solitary. As I said, loneliness is the constant sun that my characters orbit around. I like being alone and I value my solitude, but it’s also a pretty terrible thing, too. When I was young, I was really into the paranormal and the supernatural, and I think it’s because I spent too much time alone. I would have loved to have a monster for a friend back then! I still would! But it’s not a bad thing. It’s okay, you know? Sometimes, you feel like you’re not a real person, if you don’t engage with real people on a regular basis. You can feel like you don’t exist if no one is there to witness you. I imagine that would be how ghosts and monsters feel, too…just, pointless. Not making an impact on anyone. Maybe that’s a very millennial fear – we were all told we should aspire to be world-famous, loved by millions, have a ton of followers, all that sort of thing. Make an impact on as many people as possible. So, I want to assert and explore the idea that there is peace in being a good person and just existing, and that you are worthwhile, even if you don’t have a million instagram followers or aren’t on tv, or anything like that. Surely, the meaning of life cannot involve being loved by as many people as possible. That doesn’t seem right. I think the meaning of life is in a dinner with friends, or a tiny cottage in the woods, or watching the moon on a lake. I guess that’s what I’m trying to write about. It’s a thought that makes me happy, anyway.
You sing in quite a few of the episodes, do the songs inspire the story or is it the other way?
I think it’s the other way around. I’ve studied music my whole life, I’ve written music for theatrical productions, and I love the idea of music supporting (or subverting) a narrative. My father is a film composer, so I think I took an interest in the idea of a soundtrack from a young age. We both seem to agree with the notion that Handel once brought up when he was composing an opera…I believe he said something about how the story should always come first and the music second.
While on the topic of songs and music, are we going to be able to buy a soundtrack soon?
Well, thank you so much for asking! And thanks for putting this idea in my head – I have to say before you asked me about this over a month ago, I didn’t think there was any interest in such a thing, but now lots of other people have spoken up and encouraged me to do this. So thank you. I’m currently working out the logistics, but I have made a playlist of the soundtrack available to my patrons on Patreon
Is it fair to say that you are showing the softer side to beings usually portrayed as evil?
Absolutely. I think I say outright in a few episodes that our notions of “good” and “evil” don’t really apply in the worlds in my podcast. I just don’t think they’re useful concepts. And I find them boring. Though, I do enjoy examining them under a microscope. As I said before, my favourite authors are ones who aren’t afraid to find beauty and humanity in horrible things. I think I want to make people fall in love with dark, feared, misunderstood creatures because they need love most.
Do you have a favorite story?
I think my favorite story is “Midnight”. I’m a sucker for fairy tales, and this one is a clear homage to the Cinderella trope, with a twist. I like the structure of fairy tales, especially that one. There’s a symmetry to fairy tales that I find very pleasing. And the music was inspired by the tale of Cinderella, too. When I want to listen to one of my episodes, I usually go to that one. I also have a soft spot for “Come Away, Death”, because I wrote that one when someone I love very much had to go away. It’s about goodbyes. And “If I were a Book” was a big revelation for me, because I introduced the character of “Kristen”. And – this is going to sound very cheesy – I should love her as much as my other characters, you know? She isn’t going away, whether or not my listeners like her.
On a Dark, Cold Night is a one-woman podcast, is it going to stay that way?
It is. At the risk of sounding pretentious, because it is an exploration in solitude and loneliness, it sort of necessitates only my involvement. I like working by myself. I like maintaining complete control over the show. I write, compose music for, perform, edit, produce, and market it. It’s a lot of work but I wouldn’t have it any other way. I do alter my voice sometimes in editing to lower or raise it, so it sounds like I have other actors at times, but it’s all me. It’s important to me that it’s all me. Sounds self-centered, but I don’t care!
How do you feel that many people listen to your podcast before they fall asleep?
I love it! That’s why I created it. I hope that there are lots of things someone could get from my podcast…but it was primarily made to provide listeners with “bedtime ghost stories” – soothing, creepy tales. It seems like an oxymoron, but apparently it’s not. It was a challenge I gave myself, and the fact that people do find it relaxing enough to fall asleep to makes me happy. I have a lot of difficulty with sleep, myself, so hey, anything you can find that helps you, you go for it. Other people are more easily scared and need to listen while they’re wide-awake. The product is what it is; whatever way you use it is fine with me.
What is the hardest part about creating On a Dark, Cold Night? What is your favorite part?
The hardest part is talking to people about it in real-life, face-to-face. When friends, family, or co-workers come up to me and say “I listened to your podcast!” I start freaking out…I want to run away and hide. It’s a very intimate thing that I find easier to share with strangers than people who know me, or think they know me! I think the podcast is more “me” than anything else I’ve ever created, so it puts me in a really vulnerable position. In reality, I’m a pretty silly, goofy person…so it may be surprising that I love eerie, beautiful things. I’m very serious and dark when it comes to my writing. So I think people who know me are surprised to hear that side of me. And that scares me!
My favourite part is writing the stories. Sitting down to a blank document and trying to think of where my mind and heart is that week. What do I want to share? What do I want to make people feel? I used to write a lot in high school, then I stopped for a long time. Only this year, I started again, and I have to say that I love it more than anything. I love sharing my words with people.
How have you marketed the podcast?
I suppose that’s something I’m constantly working on. At the moment, I market mostly through social media…but I have worked with other podcasters and am interested in creating a sense of community and cross-promotion wherever possible. Appearing as a guest on other podcasts has been a lot of fun. I also went to my first horror convention this year to hopefully gain more of a Toronto-based listenership, which was great. I think the most important thing is to keep your eyes and ears open for people who are doing similar things, and to work together, not in competition. We can all be better at getting out of our own boxes and looking at people around us, and what they’re working on.
Finally, my favorite part. The fun question! The Narrator has explored many different places so I have an adventure question for you. Out of the following options, which place would you choose to investigate?
- A lone cabin in the woods where the surrounding area falls completely silent upon approach.
- A crystal clear lake that has a
drop offpoint in the very center where the water turns to an inky black.
- An old mine where you can hear the faintest whimpers coming from deep within.
I’m going to go
Be sure to check out her website at Kristenzaza.com. You can find her on Twitter at @Kristen_Zaza and @ADarkColdNight. Support On a Dark, Cold Night on Patreon. And as always, don’t forget to listen and subscribe on your podcatcher of choice.
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