Today we have with us Lisette Alvarez, creator of the audio fiction podcast Kalila Stormfire’s Economical Magick Services. We discussed the future direction of Kalila’s story, advice for aspiring audio fiction creators, and so much more.
Hello and welcome to the Inn! First of all, how are you and how have you been?
I am doing pretty well. I am trying to be the type of person to stay human despite the world burning. Trying to balance self-care with season two production work with my day job.
Could you tell us a bit about yourself, your journey, and how you became Lisette Alvarez: writer, producer, director, and voice actor?
I hope “Becoming Lisette Alvarez” won’t be the title of my memoir. I’d prefer something poetic and completely audacious. I’ll have to think on it.
Anyway, I have a slightly labyrinthine background when it comes to my path as a storyteller. I consider myself a third-culture-kid, which means a majority of my formative experience was spent in cultures outside of the one I was born into. I’m a military child of a Cuban-American and a Canadian, I’ve lived on three continents and visited about 20 countries in my life so far. I fell into dancing, singing, writing, and acting from a young age. Performing (theatre, choir, etc) in particular was a way for me to find my social groups as I grew up. Fiction writing, though, was a personal endeavour that stayed personal until recently.
I initially studied theatre during my undergraduate degree, but due to some unfortunate personal circumstances I drifted away from acting. I turned towards getting both my B.A. and M.A. in international affairs and didn’t get back on stage for seven years. I still wrote, mostly poetry and fanfiction, on and off during that time. I moved from Florida to Washington, DC about six years ago to pursue a career in foreign policy.
During that time I enrolled in an esoteric training program called Reflections Mystery School. It is a personal development program with a focus on finding your personal vocation, what one of my fellow students called “witch graduate school”. During that time, I was encouraged to explore what my true talents, skills, and “callings” were. One of my challenges was to get back onstage, which I did and immediately was overcome with emotion. I felt I had finally found something in me that I had thought I had to give up. It is also one of the reasons I am so protective of other people’s burgeoning skills in performing arts. I never want anyone to feel the loss of creative power and expression that I had to go through.
I wrote a fantasy novel during that time, tried to pitch it, failed, and moved on. Then I gave up on joining the Foreign Service, got a new job in a digital agency in 2016, drafted my father’s survivor memoir, and started listening to audio dramas. As more and more podcasts lined up in my feed, I finally started to think “I can do this.” For NaNoWriMo 2017, I decided to write an entire single-narrator story based off of my lessons from Reflections Mystery School and to flex my old acting and writing muscles. That story became “Kalila Stormfire’s Economical Magick Services”. I taught myself how to edit with Audacity, set up a Patreon, and began to record. I did not think to include anyone else because, for me, I wanted to finally combine all my skills as a writer, performer, witch, digital strategist, and full-spectrum storyteller into one singular experience.
2018 exploded for me and my story. I was stunned with the surge of support and community that seemed to appear out of nowhere. A number of people, including Alex Hensley from AudioDramaRama and Elena Fernández-Collins from Bello Collective, were central to introducing me to the rest of the small but passionate audio drama community on Twitter.
Based off of additional support (both creatively and financially), I added new voices near the end of the first season and incidentally had to turn into a director as well. With season two, I’m lucky to be in the position to hire a sound designer so I don’t have to wear THAT hat on top of everything else again.
I’ve also just recently started my own company; Stormfire Productions, LLC. So things are getting pretty serious between me and my art. Finally.
TLDR; I’ve become who I am today because I managed to take all the lessons I’ve learned so far and turned it into a creative engine. I’m a storyteller because I don’t think I want to be anything less.
How would you describe Kalila Stormfire to new listeners?
Kalila Stormfire’s Economical Magick Services is an urban fantasy audio drama. It’s formatted in case files of a witch for hire who has to juggle all the nuances of a new business as well as confronting a mysterious saboteur hellbent on destroying her business. It is also about how we deal with failure and how sometimes our shadows don’t quite take the shape we expect.
I love the focus on characters in Kalila Stormfire. They have deep, meaningful relationships with each other and the conflict is more often internal than fast-paced external action.
Every episode theme was constructed from a hard lesson I’ve learned while discovering my own personal vocation. For example, Episode Five: Embodiment deals with paying attention to and caring about the physical body, which I’ve struggled with and at the same time is crucial to my skills as a performer. It’s also crucial to being human, to be honest.
Maybe it’s just me, but my worst personal struggles have always been internal rather than external. That’s one reason why it was important that the magick in Kalila was subtle rather than “Harry Potter”-esque. I did not want the fantasy to override the reflection of reality. Well, that and I wanted to reflect my own experience with magick as a subtle and almost psychological tool.
The world of Kalila Stormfire feels like this vast, living thing full of intricate detail, and yet its scope is mostly just hinted at in the first season. Will we be seeing more of this world in upcoming seasons?
Oh yes. The first season is all about Kalila’s internal conflicts. Also the scope of season one was limited based on my own initial expectations that I would be the only voice in it. Season two forces Kalila into the conflicts of the external world, specifically what is going on between the Grand Coven and the Fae, and she has to decide how involved she wants to be.
Where did the idea for the crossover episodes come from, and what’s it like collaborating with other audio fiction creators?
I am a complete nerd and I have always loved crossovers of my favorite media. Also, I wanted to do something for my fan episodes that weren’t just boring Q&A’s. I started out just wanted to do tarot readings for other characters, as a cute little side thing in the episodes. And then, when I reached out to A. R. Olivieri of 2298 to ask permission to do his character 24, he said he’d be open to actually record for it.
After that, all of the other artists I collaborated with were thrilled to record for their crossover. I usually write the scripts and they edit to align the voice with their writing, and then I produce and share it out. Because it is usually pretty short and meant to be fun, I try to make it as easy as possible for my collaborators. So far I’ve had a lot of fun and I’m super grateful to play around in other people’s worlds.
I notice you include picture collages to go with each episode of Kalila Stormfire. What inspired this?
I’ve spent, uh, a LOT of time on Tumblr and I’ve always loved aesthetic fan posts for characters and shows. I didn’t want to wait for my own fandom (and fanart) to develop so I decided to make some inspirational art of my own. It was also a way for me to market and get people excited about an episode, as well as to put a little bit of visual art in an audio-only medium.
What’s your experience as a voice actor been like? How has acting in your own show differed from playing roles in other shows?
I’ve always loved acting. Playing Kalila has been very rewarding and also very energy-intensive. Kalila is a hyper-realistic version of myself, so the things she talks about also tend to strike something in me. It can be exhausting sometimes but at the same time I don’t have to deal with taking direction because I know how I want it to sound.
Playing other roles, like in MAGIC KING DOM and CARAVAN, is a bit more fun for me. I love those shows in particular because they are experimental and just a blast to perform. I feel, in some way, that I get to take more risks because the characters are more distant from my actual personality.
I heard you’ve taught an audio drama crash course workshop at DC Podfest last year. What was that like, and is there one thing in particular you’d recommend aspiring audio drama creators pay attention to?
I loved that people actually wanted to listen to me talk about something I was passionate about. It was nearly a full room, which of course makes me happy, but it was also so inspiring to see people in a largely industry/marketing conference be interested in more of the fiction and art of storytelling.
The crash course was mainly the technical side of writing and producing audio dramas; how to notate scripts and what tools to use. I’ll reiterate what I emphasized in that workshop which is focus on making the audio drama you can make RIGHT NOW. We all have to deal with constraints; financial, technology, skills, time, etc. But audio drama is a great medium to experiment. Use those constraints to fuel your creativity and find a solution and a story that fits what you can feasible accomplish right now.
I understand you’ve taken your love for storytelling and the audio medium into your day job. Can you tell us a bit about your new digital industry podcast, The Feedback?
I am very fortunate to work with a company that’s open to trying things out, especially utilizing our skills and passions for new projects. THE FEEDBACK is a digital industry podcast featuring expert voices from WDG, a DC-area digital strategy, design, and development agency. The podcast will features topics ranging from sneak peeks into agency life to the latest trends in analytics and digital design.
I wanted to make sure the podcast wasn’t a boring interview podcast. I was inspired to follow more experimental and narrative sound design of shows like those produced by Radiotopia and PRX. I’m really excited to keep digging into ways to sharpen my storytelling skills both in fiction and non-fiction.
What are you reading or listening to these days?
In terms of audio dramas, I always have a massive backlog but I just finished JANUS DESCENDING by the wonderful Jordan Cobb. It is a horror sci-fi story reminiscent of the ALIEN series. The soundscape is terrifying and the acting is superb. I highly recommend.
Also just watched “Spider-Man: Into the Spiderverse” which is just a masterpiece. I love movies that capture all of my senses.
Thanks for visiting the Inn and chatting with us! Anything you’d like to say to our readers to close off?
Thank you so much for chatting with me!
To sign off, I would like to call back to my note about making the show you can make right now. If you are trying to make something, whether it is a novel or an audio drama or a painting or a film or a knit sweater, I hope you do! And I hope you find that despite any limitations you think you may have, they are nothing compared to trusting and finding joy in your own creativity. Good luck to all the other journeying artists out there.
About Lisette Alvarez
Lisette is a podcaster, storyteller, witch, digital strategist, and globetrotter. They are the writer, producer, and main character of the fantasy audio drama “Kalila Stormfire’s Economical Magick Services”. They also play Dom in the dystopic audio drama “Magic King Dom” and Banshee in the weird west audio drama CARAVAN.
A third culture kid with 20 countries under their belt, Lisette is also a queer, witchy Latinx creator who wants more stories that reflect their reality. You can follow them on Twitter @lisettewalking or learn more about them at lisettealvarez.com.
You can support Lisette’s work through Patreon: patreon.com/kalilastormfire