A family-friendly podcast tells science fiction stories with an Appalachian twist.
In Jonathan Joy’s fictional town of Splendid, you’ll find time-traveling teenagers, kid superheroes, and giant bugs. And, if you listen closely to the podcaster’s stories, you may also find that Splendid sounds a lot like home.
The Huntington writer is the creator of Professor Theo’s Mystery Lab, a kids’ science fiction story podcast set in an imaginary West Virginia town. Joy started the podcast last fall with the help of his friend Justin McElroy, a fellow Huntington native and co-host of the popular My Brother, My Brother and Me podcast.
The episodes are based on short stories Joy has published in an Ashland, Kentucky, newspaper for the last three years. “Justin suggested that I put those in podcast form as a way of preserving them, and to kind of help get them out to more people,” Joy says.
Joy, 44, is an English professor at Ashland Community and Technical College in Kentucky. For the last 20 years, he was primarily a playwright. He says writing short stories for children is different because the audience and their attention spans are different. “With a play that’s written for adults, you can kind of hang out with the characters before you get to the conflict. Children’s attention spans are pretty short—you need to get in and kind of get their attention, make an impact right away.”
Joy has a secret weapon when it comes to capturing kids’ attention: his son, Levi, who helps him produce the podcast. “He’s 8, and he feeds me lots of ideas for story characters and villains that kid superheroes can battle,” he says.
In addition to these fantastical elements, Joy’s stories are filled with references to West Virginia landmarks. A January episode featured Barboursville icon Billy Bob’s Wonderland and its animatronic band, the Rockafire Explosion. “Most of the characters in my plays live in this Tri-State area, so it makes sense that you get a lot of local references in there.