Post #156: We’re Nominated!!

writing news

This just in from the good news bureau. Yesterday, I learned that my wonderful audiobook narrator, Nicola Fordwood, has been nominated for a Voice Arts award for her performance of my debut YA novel, Blowin’ My Mind Like a Summer Breeze. Bringing the audiobook to life was a true labor of love. Since my publisher doesn’t do much audio just yet, I knew that if I wanted an audiobook of my novel, I would need to do most of the up-front work. That meant finding a narrator, creating a schedule, fronting all the advance costs, and seeing the process through to the finish without any prior experience. But I couldn’t do it alone, of course. Someone had to read the damn thing.

Luckily, I found a home run collaborator in Nicola Fordwood, a Bay Area based voice actor who, lucky for me, fell in love with Rainey Cobb and Blowin’ My Mind Like a Summer Breeze. I knew going in that Nicola was a pro and that, once contracts were signed, would do a great job, submit her work on time, and all the rest. What I didn’t expect was the level of passion and dedication she would bring to the role, which went way beyond the paycheck. In her performance of Rainey Cobb, and all the book’s characters, Nicola went deep, getting to know the characters inside and out and putting every ounce of her talent into bringing them to life so that the listener could truly disappear into the world of the story. Audiobook narration is difficult, painstaking work that takes a powerful brew of artistry and stamina to pull off, and as I listened back to the final recording, I found myself so immersed that I almost forgot I was listening to a book that I wrote. I’m gushing, but Nicola is that good. And I’m so proud of her for this well-deserved nomination. The winners are announced in December, so keep your fingers crossed.

If you haven’t heard the audiobook yet, what are you waiting for? Click here to add it to your listening list. And if you’d like a teaser, click here to listen to the first chapter for free.

Post #155: Retreat!

Advice, Just For Fun, New Writing, The Writing Craft, Writing Advice

For the past two and a half days, I’ve been in the Northeast Kingdom, in the northernmost tip of Vermont, only a stone’s throw away from the Canadian border, on a writing retreat. As usual, I’ve been quite productive, accomplishing in only a few days what normally takes me weeks, or even months, to work through at home. None of it would be possible without the support of my wife, who 2-3 times a year, lets me leave home and completely unplug so I can get truly myopic and immerse myself in my writing with no boundaries or limitations. She’s pretty much my hero. I think she lets me go because she knows I’d be sort of miserable if I couldn’t, and because she loves me. And because we both know that, life, and also marriage, are at times like an airplane emergency. You should put on your own oxygen mask before assisting others. Caring properly for yourself makes you a better carer for others.

For creators, it’s hard to overestimate the value of creative retreat, which truly must happen away from home. It must happen away from work. Away from spouses. Away from children. Away from responsibility. Away from reality, really. For me, it must be done with a willingness to completely unplug and give myself over to and elevate the part of myself that is always a bit player in my normal life. That sidekick who wishes he had more stage time, but will always be seventh or eighth on the call sheet. If you’re a writer, musician, or any other kind of creative person, you know exactly what I’m talking about. At home, there’s never enough time. On retreat, there’s nothing but time.

What you come to realize, when you stop doing everything but writing is how much you actually DO in your day to day life. You realize that most days you spend in a blind frenzy, going from one thing to the other, deluding yourself into thinking you’re focused and present, when most of the time the sheer volume of tasks and requirements that each day hurls at your face has you in perpetual survival mode. This is especially true for people like me with school age children. When you strip everything away, when you stop measuring your minutes by how they connect to the next thing you have to do, your mind is freed to wander and dream in a way that’s hard to quantify, and truly rare. And it’s why I am always astounded by how much work I can get done in only a few days when there’s nothing else to do but put one word in front of the next.

For many years, I retreated alone. I’d book an AirBnB in the woods somewhere, or on the back part of somebody’s farm, and barely leave the house for three days on end. I’d be like a strange sort of word hermit, unshowered and talking to myself, delighted by my own strange company. But for the past couple years, I’ve been going on retreat with my writing group. At first, I worried that the distraction of others would compromise the purity of my retreat goals. I worried I wouldn’t be as productive. Amazingly this has not proven true. If you find the right company, people who want the same thing out of retreat as you do, which is mostly to be left the hell alone and wring the lemon out all the way, it can be wonderful. A lovely routine develops. We rise on the early side, meet up in the kitchen as we brew our coffee and tea, exchange a few morning greetings, then disappear to our individual hovels, mine always messy and strewn with books and piles of paper. Throughout the day, conversations might occasionally spring up, or we might have lunch together, but there’s an unspoken understanding that there’s no obligation to socialize or hang out. The work is everything, and not having to explain that to anyone, not having to justify your needs, is fabulously freeing. Then, in the evenings, there’s usually a shared meal and some beverages. Some retreats, when there’s 4-5 of us, we might play some music or read from what we’re working on and talk about it. Sometimes there’s none of that, and that’s fine too.

Life is difficult. Life is tiring. Life takes everything you have. It’s easy to fall into the habit of being a martyr. Of believing that always sublimating your own needs for whatever greater good (work, family, society) is akin to nobility and grace. And, of course, it’s important to be a good citizen, family member, etc. But I think that our society undervalues tending to one’s own garden. To nurturing one’s own health and spirit, which is strange because your own happiness literally depends on it. So, get out there and retreat in whatever form you can find it. Turn off your phone. Ignore social media. Sink gleefully and gluttonously and un-guiltily into whatever thing fills up your cup, and give yourself permission to stay there for a while.

You’ll come back better for it. At least, I always do.

Post #154: Upcoming Book Event

Just For Fun, publishing, The Writing Craft, Things you should be watching, Uncategorized, Writing Advice, writing news

Friends, readers, country-persons, lend me your (virtual) ears…and eyes! This coming Wednesday, Sept. 14th @ 7PM EST, I have a virtual book event hosted by Cambridge Common Writers, and you should check it out. I’ll be reading from my debut novel, Blowin’ My Mind Like a Summer Breeze, and talking to some writing friends about the stories behind the story.

Go to bit.ly/BlowinMyMind to register. Registration is FREE and easy, and since the event is virtual, you can watch in your sweatpants!

Hope to “see” you then!

Post #153: Back to School Book Giveaway

Giveaway, Just For Fun, writing news
Me, being ridiculous, while holding copies of my book. But I do it all for you.

Book GIVEAWAY time!!

As a back-to-school treat, I’m giving away THREE signed copies of Blowin’ My Mind Like a Summer Breeze. Just a fun way to help you celebrate a book loving TEEN, TEACHER, LIBRARIAN, or FRIEND in your life. I’ll inscribe it however you want and send it off to them. Everybody loves getting books as presents, and now you don’t have to do the hard work!

There are two easy ways to enter:

  1. Enter right here by sharing your favorite book read from this summer in the comments below. A comment = an entry. Easy.
  2. Go to the giveaway post on my Instagram page, and follow the instructions.

The giveaway ends Sept. 7th at midnight so enter now. Winners will be chosen at random. If you win, I’ll reach out directly with details.

This is going to be awesome. Ready…go!

**Must be willing to share your address with me
**U.S. residentws only

Post #152: Meet the Voice of Rainey Cobb

Advice, publishing, The Writing Craft
Voice Actor Nicola Fordwood

First off, have you gotten your copy of Blowin’ My Mind Like a Summer Breeze yet? Click HERE to order the paperback, e-book, or audiobook! Also remember to add it on Goodreads HERE.

Now…on with the program!

Collaborating with voice actor Nicola Fordwood to bring the audiobook for Blowin’ My Mind Like a Summer Breeze to life was one of the most joyful and surprising parts of the publishing process. I sat down with Nicola to talk about her journey into voice acting, what it’s really like to record an audiobook, and whether she would consider taking the plunge again.

How did you become a voice actor?

It was actually a friend who introduced me to the VO world. I was working a corporate job and kind of losing my mind because I wasn’t being creative. My friend thought doing voice acting would allow me to act again and release some of that creativity. I took one character class and I was hooked!

This was your first audiobook. What made you decide to take the plunge?

First, audiobooks have always scared me a bit because they are a big commitment. You also need to have great stamina to keep your energy up throughout the book. But when you step outside of your comfort zone and try the things that scare you or intimidate you, that is when the magic happens. Second, I got a small sample of the book to audition and when I read it, I could just feel it. I could feel Rainey. I know it sounds insanely cheesy. But I wanted to tell her story. I wanted to know more about her journey. I also LOVE the 90’s, thoroughly enjoy young adult/coming of age books and feel very strongly about the power of a mixtape.

How do you stay focused while recording for long periods?

I am an introvert. I love silencing the outside world and just concentrating on one thing. I think both of these things really help me with being in a small dark booth for hours by myself everyday. Once I am focused on something that I really enjoy, I get hyper-focused. I would do most of my recording in the morning to early afternoon and then I couldn’t stop thinking about anything but the book and the characters. I would fall asleep just wanting to wake up and continue working on it. It was kind of exhilarating. 

How did you approach creating the voices for the characters in Blowin’ My Mind Like a Summer Breeze?

Acting, even voice acting, is a very physical thing. So for me it was first talking with you (Benjamin) about the characters and then actually standing and playing with the voices. I stood how I thought the characters would stand. Do they lean back on one hip when they talk? Do they hunch over? Do they fidget with their hands? I would then write down any of those notes of how I was standing or the placement of my mouth or hands to help me get back into that character.

What surprised you the most about this process, both good and bad?

How emotional it was. How attached I got to Rainey and also how much I enjoyed it. I recorded this book every day over the course of 2.5 weeks and on the final day when I finished the last chapter, I cried. Not a sad cry, but almost that overwhelming, surprised cry when you finally complete something that has been your focus for so long.

How was voicing an audiobook different from other kinds of voice work?

Voicing an audiobook was like performing a play just instead of one role. I got to play all the parts/characters, including the director. It was the closest I have been to being in a play in a long time and it reminded me of why I love acting/performing. I love bringing a character’s soul to life and sharing that with an audience and hopefully making them feel something.

How did it affect your process to have access to me (Benjamin) to talk through things?

It was amazing! I have never had that opportunity before where I can ask the author about each of the characters: what are their dreams, what are their biggest fears, etc. For most character work I have to make a lot of it up if it isn’t obvious in the script, but instead I got to go to the source. It was so nice.

How did you consider the audience/listener while you were recording?

Audiobooks are so intimate. Most of the time you are literally sitting directly in someone’s ear telling the story. So as a narrator, you have to keep that in mind. That being said, I found this book to be very intimate. It is told in the first person through Rainey, so the listener is hearing her innermost personal thoughts. The listener is basically her daily diary entry. There is an emotional rawness to that and especially to Rainey herself that I really wanted the listener to hear and I hope comes through with my delivery.  

Rumor has it that a sequel to Blowin’ My Mind Like a Summer Breeze may be in the works. Would you consider voicing Rainey again?

My heart just jumped a bit when I thought about getting to see Rainey again and continuing on her journey with her. This book is one of those books that has just stuck with me. I still think about it a lot. About a lot of the characters, but especially Rainey. Yes, absolutely. I really would be honored to.

Click HERE to learn more about Nicola’s voice acting and hear samples of her work.

Post #151: Listen to a FREE Audiobook Sample

Music, New Writing, publishing, Things You Should Be Reading, writing news

Click HERE to listen to Track 1 of Blowin’ My Mind Like a Summer Breeze for FREE!

I love audiobooks. The immersive experience they provide, especially when in the company of a good narrator, creates a literary journey that’s second to none. I struggled for years to get through Moby Dick, that is, until I started listening to the audiobook narrated by the peerless Frank Muller, whose raspy voice sends the sea spray right into your eyes and makes the quarter deck slick with whale blubber. That’s what a good audiobook can do.

So, from the moment my debut novel was accepted for publication, even though my publisher doesn’t yet do much audio, I knew that an audiobook version of Blowin’ My Mind Like a Summer Breeze was a must, even if much of the legwork fell on me.

The process wasn’t easy, but once I found my dream narrator in the amazing Nicola Fordwood, whose work ethic and friendship inspired and humbled me, I knew that we had a chance to create something special. A uniquely immersive way to experience the world of Rainey Cobb and her journey through being fifteen. Listening to the final audio files…well, let’s just say tears were shed. That’s how good Nicola is at making the words sing, at making you feel these characters all the way down to your tippy toes. It was almost like experiencing my book for the first time, or as if it had been written by someone else.

All this as a very long way of saying I’m beyond thrilled that the audiobook is now available and ready for your ears.

I’m so excited, in fact, that I want you to hear the first chapter right now. Click HERE to listen to Track 1 for FREE! Try not to get hooked.

Then, once you are hooked, click HERE to listen on Audible or purchase your copy today!

As always, thank you for being here and supporting me and my work.

Post #150: Blowin’ My Mind is now Available!!

New Writing, Things You Should Be Reading, writing news

Dear readers, this one is for you. My debut novel, Blowin’ My Mind Like a Summer Breeze, is out now in paperback, e-book, and audiobook. To illustrate my excitement, I’m sharing this cheesy, somewhat embarrassing picture of me holding my book for the first time.

Now, let’s get a book in your hands!

Click HERE to purchase from Amazon.

Click HERE to purchase from Indiebound

Blowin’ My Mind Like a Summer Breeze is about a girl named Rainey who’s like a lot of us, just trying to find her way through the chaos. Trying to figure out who she is. Where she fits. And why it’s sometimes so hard to know.

I can’t wait for you to meet her.

Thank you so much for being here and supporting what I do. As an independent artist on a small press, making meaningful connections matters so much. Word of mouth is my greatest asset in helping my work be seen, shared, and reviewed. So thank you, thank you for all the love. I’m so grateful.

Happy reading!

Post #149: Why is My Book Set in 1995?

Music

First off, have you pre-ordered Blowin’ My Mind Like a Summer Breeze yet? Click HERE to pre-order your copy now–thank you! Also remember to add it on Goodreads HERE!

Now, to the question around which today’s post circles: Why is my book about a teenage musician named Rainey Cobb set in 1995 instead of today?

It’s all about the music. The title of my book is actually the title of a mix tape that my protagonist is given by a girl she meets and falls for. The songs on that tape introduce Rainey to a musical world she’s never before imagined and, quite literally, change Rainey’s life. And they do so in a way that just wouldn’t happen if Rainey was a teen in 2022.

In the myriad ways that our world has changed since 1995, when Blowin’ My Mind Like a Summer Breeze takes place, one of the most profound is in our collective relationship to music. The circumstances, I mean. The way we purchase, consume, share, and even appreciate music has changed unutterably.

Here’s what I mean.

My fourteen-year-old son, an avid music listener, has never paid a nickel for the pleasure. 100% of his listening happens on Spotify. He has never purchased a CD, cassette, or LP with his own money. Has never flipped through the racks at his local record shop, pondering the cover art, reading the track listing on the back, wondering what sounds await him. He may become a vinyl-head like me one day, but for the moment, this is still true. Which means that he, like the bulk of his generation (I see you record-store kids), doesn’t understand something essential about the way that past generations, including my own, interacted with music. That we had to work for it. Study it. Stress over it. And when you work for something, it automatically changes your relationship to that thing.

When I was 14, I’m going to estimate that 75% of the money I had from all sources (allowance, bussing tables, gifts) went to buying CDs. And CDs were not cheap. In fact, they were expensive as hell. A brand new CD was often $15, and a double album in the jazz section at Borders could be $30 or more, which meant that every time you spent money at a record shop, you were forking over a considerable portion of your income on a bet. A bet that what you were about to buy was going to rock your world. You may have heard one or two songs on the radio, or gotten a thumbs up from your friend, but pre-streaming, pre-algorithm, pre because you enjoyed, your favorite bands’ new album was a dice roll, a calculated risk you were taking because you simply didn’t know what you were getting. Counting Crows second album was never going to be as good as their first. But how could you know until you paid for the pleasure of that inevitable disappointment? And there was an unbelievable thrill involved in that risk. You’d be there at the store, sweat forming on your brow, a dozen CDs stacked awkwardly in your arms, knowing you could only afford one or two. Which was the best? Most likely to light your soul on fire? You simply didn’t know, and you died a tiny death with each and every one you returned to the racks as you thinned the herd.

When you raced home and threw on your new CD, you had no idea what was about to happen. You might be about to meet a new favorite, a lifelong friend, even. Or, you might be about to be let down mightily by a dud hiding behind a promising single.

And keep in mind, regardless of the outcome, you’re now out of money, so before you can get any new music in your life that’s not on the radio, you have to wait. For pay day, allowance day, for your goddamn birthday, which isn’t for a million years. And then when you’re flush with cash again, you race back to the record shop and the whole thrilling saga starts all over again.

Now, before you think I’m just going on some kind of “these kids today” or “back in my day” sort or tirade, I’m not necessarily trafficking in nostalgia here, but something more visceral. Because we chose our music by hand, took a chance on it, and paid for it with real money, and frankly, because we had so much less of it, there was something intensely personal about the way we listened. We coveted our CD collections, just as our parents had coveted their vinyl. We stacked them, organized them, cleaned and polished them. We bought metal towers to display them and expensive satchels so we could keep them in the car. We developed intense relationships to them linked to time and place, to the people we knew. Pearl Jam’s second album, Vs., came out my sophomore year in high school. How do I know? Because I remember sitting in a car with my friends outside of Best Buy on release day in 1993, waiting for the store to open so we could race inside and buy our copies before they sold out. I’ll never forget that that first edition of Vs. had a tri-fold cardboard cover instead of a jewel case. Cardboard, whoa! Or that I spilled Dr. Pepper on mine one day and it was forever stained. Our CDs were our babies. I long ago lost or threw out that copy, but when I listen to Vs. it will always-always-always be sophomore year.

I’m not trying to say that my son’s generation’s relationship to music is of less value, or less worthy, or that we like music more than they do. What I’m saying is that I do think that our relationship to music may be a bit less personal than it used to be. Less likely to inspire stories and bright-burning memories. And that music’s capacity to hit us over the head and re-arrange our programming has softened in the streaming age, in the age of Thank You, Next. In a lot of ways this is about quantity and the sheer fact that you can literally listen to anything, anytime. So why wouldn’t you? With those options, how do you stay loyal? When the new album by your favorite artist drops on Spotify, you stream it, love it, share it, but within days, or perhaps even hours, something else that’s awesome has come out, or come up on autoplay, and before long, you’ve forgotten all about that album. Or, at least, you can’t see it anymore. It drifts away.

But when you spend $15 on a new album, and you can’t buy another one for two weeks, that album will just sit there, staring at you, inviting re-listens. Inviting you to pick it up and hold it in your hands. To ask it questions. The object itself becomes your friend, right along with the music.

Now, back to Rainey Cobb. I made Rainey a teenager in 1995 because I wanted her to have that kind of relationship to music. When Juliet gives Rainey the mixtape that re-programs her brain, her sense of what music is and can be is struck by lighting. Forever changed. Juliet stayed up all night making that mix. Sweating it out. Making lists and curating an experience. Combing her CD collection, making a holy mess with crap strewn all over the flow, and constructing a masterpiece that she hopes might just be an arrow right through Rainey’s heart. Even Juliet doesn’t know how significant that mix will become. She doesn’t know, and will never know that later, when Rainey can’t see her anymore, the mix, the object, is still there in Rainey’s hands. Rainey still sees Juliet’s handwriting on the back, the place her hands touched, imagining her pen gliding across that glossy paper that was so hard to write on. The object itself takes on new meaning, becomes interwoven with the songs on it, the two braided together inexorably until they’re no longer two separate things.

Post #148: The Waiting is the…(say it with me!)

New Writing, Parenting, publishing, Shaking My Head, Writing Advice

First off, have you pre-ordered Blowin’ My Mind Like a Summer Breeze yet? Click HERE to pre-order your copy now–thank you! Also remember to add it on Goodreads HERE!

Now, to business.

After years (and years) of trying, my debut novel finally comes out next month, and I’ve been thinking a lot about the nature of time, and how time gets soft and stretchy around moments of great expectation. Why is that? I hate to fly and in the days, hours, and minutes before I board an airplane, time seems to puff up, to press in on me. Minutes fall into quicksand and drag interminably. Similarly, as I await my book coming out, time has gotten labored and unreliable. I’m simultaneously wishing I could wind the clock forward to July 22nd and my moment of jubilation, but also trying with every shred of my being to savor the experience, to soak it up. To look around. Remember how I feel. But time has me in a strange grip as of late, and it won’t seem to let go.

Be in the moment, I tell myself. Be here now, I say. You’ll only publish your first book once, don’t try to race through it. But how exactly do you do that?

I have two sons, and when you’re a parent, you come to realize that parenting is a journey that makes one hyper aware of time. I remember when my first son, Felix, was perched in my lap, only a few days old, barely able to hold up his own head or make conscious facial expressions, totally unable to control his own bladder, and even then I was already thinking: won’t it be wonderful when he can walk? I was thinking: I can’t wait until he’s older and I can teach him to play tennis and take him to hear live music and share with him all of life’s wisdom. And then he’d smile quite by accident, the way babies do, and I’d be hurled back into the moment, feel his warm soft skin against mine and I’d kick myself for drifting, for not being as present as I would like to be. For not being right here, right now.

Does this happen to you? (Please say yes)

The strange thing is that it feels almost impossible to stop this from happening. Even if you gain momentary control over your sense of space and time, if you find yourself in a moment that you’re so deeply in that time ceases to exist, it’s fleeting. At least for me. Before long, I’m thrust back into the weigh station of anticipation. Thrown into a box with high walls and just enough air. Forced back into asking that perpetual question I will forever associate with The West Wing: What’s Next?

But still I try.

My book is currently in the hands of early readers and reviewers, some of whom I know but most of whom I do not. As a professional writer (my day job is as a copywriter), and soon to be published novelist, I dine out on feedback. Everything I write gets picked apart in one way or another. I’m used to it. I like it. My writing being critiqued is literally my life. And yet, awaiting the judgment of strangers on the relative quality of my novel is a uniquely out of body experience, the likes of which I’ve never known before. I’m genuinely proud of my book, and I know I did the best I could. My conscience is clear. I know even bad reviews won’t change that. Nor will good reviews. And yet…the goddamn waiting.

I hope you’re not over there rolling your eyes at me. I hope, at least in part, that you’re nodding your head just a little bit in understanding.

Time makes fools of us all.

Post #147: Book Trailer

New Writing, The Writing Craft, Things you should be watching, writing news

Before I share my book trailer, let me anticipate your question.

Yes, books have trailers. Well, some do. Okay, I’m not totally sure whether or not book trailers were ever a thing, are still a thing, will ever be a thing, or how they differ from the TikTok reels I see a lot of authors posting these days.

But my day job happens to be at a creative agency at which some amazingly talented people work, and when you have have access to world class talent that can help you create badass stuff for your debut, you better not waste it. Thus, I enlisted the help of my friend Sam Aprea, who’s an absolute wizard with video editing and animation, to put together this book trailer for Blowin’ My Mind Like a Summer Breeze.

Enjoy some teaser stills from the trailer below, then click here to check it out!

I love how it came out and I hope you do too. After you enjoy it, please share it wherever things are shared!

I also hope you’ll consider pre-ordering Blowin’ My Mind Like a Summer Breeze through one of the fine retailers below! Pre-orders help new books, especially those from small independent publishers, find more readers.

Phoenix Books (support indie!)

Barnes and Noble

Amazon (E-book)

Thanks for being along on this journey with me and supporting what I do. I’m so glad you’re here!

-Benjamin