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 #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 #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

Post #145: I Know a Writer Who Can Help With That

Editing Services, New Writing, The Writing Craft, writing news

Much like getting a golf ball to fly in the direction you intended it to go when you hit the damn thing, writing is way harder than it looks. That goes for whether you’re sweating your college admissions essay, or trying to get your novel’s opening to work a little better. And it’s why it helps to have an experienced guide along for the ride. Someone who can look at your writing from an honest distance, give you tips to hone your craft, and help you build confidence.

And, you’re in luck. I happen to know a guy.

I’m thrilled to be offering my services as a freelance editor, copywriter, writing coach, consultant, and spirit guide.

Why should you work with me?

With an MFA in creative writing from Lesley University, twelve years of teaching experience, five years as a professional copywriter, a debut novel on the way, and around a billion hours polishing manuscripts until they shimmer and shine, I can help you see what’s working in your writing—and what needs work. 

Are you applying to college and need that college essay to really pop? I got you.

Need a gut check on your novel’s opening pages? I got you.

Looking for big picture feedback on your completed manuscript? I got you.

Need to improve the copy on your website or in consumer facing materials? I got you.

Just getting started and not sure how to move your story from your brain to the page? I got you.

I’m professional. I’m punctual. I’m supportive. I’m honest. I promise not to waste your time.

But mostly, I think you should work with me because I love words and stories more than anything in the world, and I genuinely believe my experience can help you accomplish your writing goals.

Click HERE to get learn more about the writing services I offer.

Or, simply go to my CONTACT page and send me a message.

Let’s get to work.

Post #143: Cover Reveal

New Writing, The Writing Craft, Things You Should Be Reading, writing news

Friends, I’m so glad you’re here to see this. You’re looking at the cover of my debut novel, Blowin’ My Mind Like a Summer Breeze, which comes out on paperback, e-book, and audiobook on July22nd on Deep Hearts YA. I’m revealing the cover on social media later this week, but you’ve been with me from the beginning, so I wanted you to be the very first ones to see it.

I love it so much, and I hope you do too. It so perfectly captures the essence of this book, and my main character, Rainey Cobb, who I can’t wait for you to meet soon.

I plan to do a deep dive into the story behind the cover art and my amazing cover designer, Chloe White, in the days and weeks to come. But for now, I’m beyond thrilled to able to put it in front of your eyes.

Thank you for being here and supporting me. This is just the beginning of so much awesomeness to come. Stay tuned.

By the way, if you’d like to keep up with me on a more frequent basis, I have a new Instagram account for my writing life: @benjaminroeschwrites

Give me a follow!

Post #142: Control-F

The Writing Craft, Uncategorized, Writing Advice

I’ve been furiously editing my debut novel for publication this summer, and let me tell you, it’s a journey. Fraught with peaks and valleys, confirmations and surprises, tears and (near) laughter.

It’s also a supreme brain challenge, applying the editing skills you know you have to the words that you created, trying to erase the proximal distance between your analytical and creative brains so you can edit with clear-eyed clarity and polish your scenes and sentences to a spit shine.

I long ago developed a stomach for editing. They say to “kill your darlings” when you edit. No problem. What weapon shall I use? The machete? The butter knife? The rocket launcher? I’ve got them all and I’m not afraid to use them. Years ago, I wrote a very long (still unpublished) novel about a tennis player, and after a long walk during which I came to the conclusion that one of my sub-plots was totally not working, I sat back down at my desk and casually cut 200 pages from an 800 page manuscript.

Trimming excess fat, re-working scenes, saying goodbye to fluff. I can do that. It’s the blind spots that are starting to keep me up at night. The stuff I can’t see. The revelations that no amount of walks will unearth. Because I can only edit out the crap that I can identify as such. And before you bring it up, I’m not trying to do this alone. My publisher’s developmental editor has been through the manuscript, as have writing colleagues who know their stuff. Other eyes are deeply involved. But there are things that none of us can see with our bare eyes. I’m sure of it. And that knowledge is starting to make me a little crazy.

Luckily, our good friends who make word processing programs have invented tools to help uncover some of the crap you, and other knowledgeable, well-intentioned people can’t always find. I’m starting to believe that Control-F was invented for just such moments.

If you’re unfamiliar, which you probably aren’t, but just in case, Control-F is a word processing tool that allows you to search and find a word or phrase within a document without having to scroll through pages and pages trying to remember where it is. If you’ve never used it, I invite you to open up a document this very moment and try it out. Pick a word. A phrase. An image. Something you know is in there and type it into the Control-F box and watch your document magically race to that very spot. It’s truly amazing. It’s an especially helpful tool for those of us who write book length works where it can be very difficult to find what you’re looking for, no matter how well you think you know your book.

The other day, I was reading my book for the four hundredth time and I thought to myself, “man, is it me or is the word ‘like’ is in here a lot?” My book is 1st person YA, so on some level, it makes sense there would be an extra like or two, but still, I was feeling that from dialogue to similes, ‘like’ was everywhere. So, I typed “like” into the Control-F box. Then held my breath.

Sweet Jesus.

# of uses of the word “like” in my 70,000 word manuscript? 597. That’s less than 1% but still! The word was literally everywhere I looked. After my initial shock and terror subsided, I found myself incredibly grateful, wishing I could buy the creators of Control-F a drink or six. They’d helped me notice what was staring me in the face but I still couldn’t see.

I edited those pesky uses of “like” down to less than 400, and genuinely think I improved the manuscript in a very short amount of time.

Then, fearing I had a similar problem, I did Control-F for the word “just” and did the same thing.

As I was reading, I’d also noticed a proliferation of metaphors and similes involving birds in there so I did Control-F for “bird” and trimmed. Similarly, I’d noticed the same thing with puzzle-themed metaphors. Took care of that. Who’s next?

My teenage protagonist’s parents feature prominently, so there are approximately a billion instances of “mom” and “dad” in the book, but those words are either capitalized or not depending on the situation. Had I deployed the correct usage every time? I think you know what happened next.

I guess my point is that editing a manuscript takes you to some strange places, comes in a variety of forms, and that technology can occasionally be a useful friend along the way.

Thanks, Control-F.

Love, your pal Benjamin

Post #141: In Light of Recent Events

Book Reviews, New Writing, The Writing Craft, writing news

One of the best things about being friends with other writers is celebrating their successes, and I’m so here to celebrate. My good friend Amy Klinger recently published her debut novel In Light of Recent Events, and it’s such a likable, lovable book. I can’t wait for you to read it. Here’s what it’s about (from the back cover):

In the 1990s American workplace, survival of the fittest is sometimes less about clawing your way to the top than developing good camouflage. And Audrey Rohmer is doing her very best to blend in as an undistinguished middle manager. Uninspired by her job and uneasy about her father’s new marriage, Audrey coasts through the work week leaning on her “partner in apathy” – an admin assistant named Pooter – to keep her relationship with the married head of her department from becoming water cooler gossip.

But when an old family friend-turned-Hollywood-superstar crashes on her doorstep in the midst of a publicity crisis, Audrey’s under-the-radar status quo gets upended, and the writing may literally be on the bathroom wall that secrets will find a way out.

Sounds fun, doesn’t it? Like the kind of book you really want to read? It is.

Amy’s prose is airy, witty, and packed with observations so crystalline they make you want to read them again and again.

Did I mention this book is funny? Like, laugh out loud funny. Amy also is fantastic at set pieces and situational comedy making for some fantastically awkward moments.

Perhaps my favorite thing is the way Amy is willing to gently upend our expectations, making this book more surprising than you expect it will be.

It’s also quietly a book about grieving and loss, about the very blurry line drawn in our lives between childhood and adulthood, and about how hard it is to be a good person, even when it seems like it should be the easiest thing in the world.

This book has a huge heart and it will make you giggle. What’s not to love?

Friends, put this one on your to-read list. You can pre-oder it here and help support local bookstores.

Then register HERE for Amy’s virtual book launch on March 22nd at 7pm EST. I’ll be playing MC and helping facilitate some Q & A with the author.

Post #140: A Book of Magical Sentences

The Writing Craft, Things You Should Be Reading, Writing Advice

I recently finished Joan Didion’s National Book Award winning memoir The Year of Magical Thinking, and I can’t stop thinking about it. If you’ve never read it, it’s an account of the heartbreaking death of her husband John at the same time her daughter is battling a life-threatening illness. It’s brutally honest about grief, mourning, and loss. It’s as raw emotionally as anything I’ve read in a long time. Didion splits herself open, and you right along with her. It’s unforgettable. And rightfully on its way to becoming a classic.

But that’s not why I can’t stop thinking about it. Not solely why anyway. Of course, it’s Didion’s emotional candor and bravery in laying her grief bare that’s most noteworthy, most humbling, most nourishing. And I was deeply moved by this book. But it’s actually Didion’s language, and her sentences, I can’t stop thinking about. The way she varies short and long. Declarative and interrogative. The lack of modifiers. The strong, muscular verbs. The repetition. The unusual constructions.

In particular, there’s this one sentence from p. 213 that I’m pretty much obsessed with:

“In August and September, after the Democratic and Republican conventions but before the election, I wrote, for the first time since John died, a piece.”

It’s an odd sentence. Meandering. A bit of a mess, and yet utterly distinct, and because of that, deeply personal. Its confident style is what makes it feel personal. I read and re-read this sentence, thinking: I would never write that. Why wouldn’t I write that? Who would write that? Most interesting are those two words “a piece” dropped in there at the end. They feel like an afterthought, shipwrecked and abandoned, oddly disconnected from the rest of the sentence. And yet, the sentence still makes sense, still does the job it’s supposed to do. And maybe even something far more than that.

Let me try to explain what Didion does here in grammatical terms, and why it keeps catching my eye. Let’s take another sentence. How about this: For the first time in over a week, Jimmy walked his dog. Just a boring old sentence, right? Nothing special. It’s a sentence virtually any of us could imagine writing, or at least its equivalent.

But here, let me Didion-ize it for you.

Jimmy walked, for the first time in over a week, his dog.

Feels different, doesn’t it? Strange, maybe? Even a little confusing? Kind of. It uses the exact same words as the first one, and yet, I’d venture to bet that that’s not a sentence that many of us could imagine writing. I’m guessing it’s a small collection of people who would come up with that second version, or leave it that way upon re-reading.

Here’s why, maybe.

In this sentence, we have a subject (Jimmy) doing an action (walked) to someone/something (his dog). The someone/something is called a direct object. A direct object receives the action in a sentence.

I read the book.

I loved Pedro.

Emile cooked an omelet.

Bethany drove her daughter to school.

Typically direct objects are kept close to the subjects acting upon them so that their relationship is clear. Clarity is the soul of effective writing. So why, we might ask, would a writer of Didion’s caliber make the choice to put her direct object “a piece” so far away from the person (“I”) doing the action (“wrote”)? Did she do it on purpose? Is that just the way it came out? Did she fight with her editor about it?

Let’s go back to the two versions of Jimmy’s sentence for a second.

  1. For the first time in over a week, Jimmy walked his dog.
  2. Jimmy walked, for the first time in over a week, his dog.

Which sentence do you prefer? Which feels clearer? I’m going to boldly assume many of us would choose the first one, or at least say it’s clearer.

Now, which has more style? Which feels more personal? Which is more memorable? The answers to these questions feel harder to predict. And therein lies my fascination with Didion’s choice.

Of course, this is all totally subjective, and yet, that’s not to say that we can’t base our opinion on something. I taught high school English for 12 years, and I taught my students to prize clarity in their writing. To keep their direct objects within reach of their subjects so that their meaning would be understood. Writing with clarity doesn’t come that naturally. It’s actually something that most of us have to learn, and then learn again, and keep learning. Students often write long, meandering, messes of sentences, and part of what teachers can do is help them understand how sentences work so they can make more informed choices. To use language more purposefully, and with greater force.

It’s not so much about right and wrong. It’s about intent and communication.

What bothers me a bit is that if Didion was my student, say a freshman in my 9th grade Elements of Literature survey, her sentence would likely get the serious red-pen treatment. I’d likely write “awk” or “not clear” in the margin. I’d likely circle the words “a piece” and draw an arrow back over to the subject and verb.

I write a regular column about music for KIDS VT and I feel confident my editor would also flag this sentence for the many reasons outlined above.

Further, I’m also a graduate of a strong MFA program where I studied creative writing, and I have a hunch this sentence would get mauled in workshop. With good intent, of course. Those arguing that it’s meandering and should just say what it means and keep ideas together would be right, in a way. And yet, they’d all be wrong too. Why? Because if we all wrote to the workshop ideal, or limited our use of language to what would or would not flag a teacher’s red pen, or please an editor, people like Joan Didion may not have been able to develop such unique, indelible styles. When I read Didion, like when I’m reading Toni Morrison or David Foster Wallace or Haruki Murakami, I’m constantly thinking that she doesn’t sound like anybody else. There’s not much higher praise for a writer. And yet, as teachers and editors, despite our best intentions, it’s often our instinct to push back against what defies convention, what makes us think differently. But to what end, and at what cost?

Let’s take another look at Didion’s sentence.

“In August and September, after the Democratic and Republican conventions but before the election, I wrote, for the first time since John died, a piece.”

Here’s how we might edit this.

After I attended the Democratic and Republican conventions in August and September, I wrote a piece for the first time since John died.

With my editor’s hat on, I removed “but before the election” because thinking like an editor, I could argue that the sentence expresses the same idea without it, and therefore it isn’t needed. I know I shouldn’t edit Didion, but bear with me. It’s just a thought experiment.

Is this edited version clearer in its expression? Maybe a little. But is it consequently less personal? Somewhat. Less stylized? Absolutely. Less memorable? No question. By distancing herself (“I wrote”) from the thing she’s writing (“a piece”), she’s showing us how separated she felt from her life beyond the bonds of her grief. And by inserting her husbands’s death (“for the first time since John died”) in between the two, she’s reminding us, and herself, of the painful bridge she has to cross to re-claim her identity and live a life without her husband, who was also a writer.

What is style? And how is it caught up in other paradigms and inevitably burdened by larger political forces like the patriarchy and Western bias and sexism?

Why do some writers develop such memorable relationships to language, whereas most of us tend to listen to our editors perhaps a little more than we should? I don’t know exactly, but I have a hunch courage and conviction plays a larger role than we might at first imagine. Didion is a writer of tremendous courage and conviction.

David Foster Wallace’s editor wrote at length about the exchanges they would have where Wallace would defend his stylistic choices down to the very last syllable. Wallace went to war for every word. And this is a guy who wrote long. To invest that kind of time not only in the making of the language itself, but then in the defending of it makes me tired just thinking about it. The energy burns in his prose. I feel something similar in Didion. And though I have no idea, I’ll bet she was a pain in the ass to edit.

Here’s something Joan Didion said once about grammar:

“Grammar is a piano I play by ear, since I seem to have been out of school the year the rules were mentioned. All I know about grammar is its infinite power. To shift the structure of a sentence alters the meaning of that sentence, as definitely and inflexibly as the position of a camera alters the meaning of the object photographed. Many people know about camera angles now, but not so many know about sentences. The arrangement of the words matters, and the arrangement you want can be found in the picture in your mind.”

When you read Didion’s thinking, you can begin to understand the way she thought about language. How deeply personal it was to her. You can begin to imagine the mind of the writer that would write:

“In August and September, after the Democratic and Republican conventions but before the election, I wrote, for the first time since John died, a piece.”

Instead of:

After I attended the Democratic and Republican conventions in August and September, I wrote a piece for the first time since John died.

And thank God that she did. The Year of Magical Thinking is full of wondrous, unexpected, sometimes strange but always true sentences, and I’m grateful for every single one of them.

This is the part where I say Rest in Peace to Joan Didion, who died December 23rd, 2021 at the age of 87. Thanks for arranging your words so carefully and challenging this writer to be more courageous.

Post #139: Ambitious Attainability

New Writing, The Writing Craft, Uncategorized, Writing Advice

I love some good goal setting just as much as the next guy. After all, setting goals + achieving goals = happier self. And who doesn’t want to be happier? But I’ve also developed a bit of an algorithm for my own goals, whether they be for my writing life or just my life in general.

I believe in setting goals that are ambitious, but still attainable. Ambitious so that I’m properly motivated and know that I’m pushing myself out of my comfort zone. Attainable so that I have something to celebrate because celebrating feels good and is a really important part of the process. Most goal setting happens privately, and when it’s just you and you, small victories really matter. In the age of social media, it feels like everything is for public consumption, but deep down, most of us still know that we have to make ourselves happy first.

Now, I know that the notion of attainability sort of flies in the face of all the “yay-me!” feelings that are supposed to accompany goal setting in the greeting-card sense of the phrase. We’re always telling ourselves to “dream big” and “be our best selves.” To “reach for the stars” and be “the person we were always born to be.” But you show me a person who spends a little too much time dreaming big and reaching for the stars and I’ll show you a person who regularly doesn’t meet his goals and doesn’t get to celebrate success as often as he’d like.

Let’s get specific. At the top of this page, you’ll see a picture. Now, I’m not in this picture, but what you’re looking at is me celebrating successfully meeting a goal in about the least sexy way possible: by writing numbers on a page, and then writing more numbers beneath those numbers, and then more numbers beneath those. That’s my daily word count for last week.

I was off for a week over the holiday, and I knew I wanted to make some progress on my novel-in-progress, which I’d been struggling to make traction with as of late. But when you’ve got children dominating your life and schedule, Christmas to plan, not to mention food to eat and classic films to watch, days full of free time–the thing we all want more of–can whisk by in surprisingly brisk fashion.

I needed a goal. So, I set one. I decided that during break I would try to write 1,000 words a day. Now, I tend to write fast, and so 1,000 words doesn’t feel like an overly-huge haul, but I also knew that I’d be more likely to reach my daily goal if I set it for an attainable quantity. If I’m properly focused, I can usually write 1,000 story words in 2-3 hours. However, to reach this goal, I knew I’d have to wake up early and get my pages in before the family was up and the day swept me away so that I could properly focus. I’d have to skip morning time chatting with my wife and reading the Beatles biography I’ve been working my way through. I’d have to sacrifice. And sacrifice takes ambition. As does consistency, which was part of my goal. 1,000 words a day, every day. No excuses.

And that un-sexy photo at the top of the page? It’s proof. It’s my reward for a job well done. The first two days waking up at 6:30 when I wanted to sleep in kind of sucked. But with each passing day, I wrote down my current word count before getting to work, and as the numbers grew, I felt successful knowing I’d not only reached the prior day’s goal, I was proving to myself that I could reach today’s as well. And tomorrow’s. With each day, getting up early and getting my pages in felt just a little bit easier, and a little more satisfying.

It’s easy to get romantic about writing, especially fiction. But the dirty little secret is that writing, almost more than anything, is about showing up. And then showing up again. And again. You could write for twelve hours straight and bang out 7,500 words in a marathon Kerouac-style session, but you’re more likely to do it in small chunks. A little bit each day adds up to a lot.

This year, let’s practice ambitious attainability. Let me know how it goes. Very un-sexy pictures of celebration highly encouraged.

Post #138: You Know it When You Hear It

New Writing, The Writing Craft, Uncategorized, Writing Advice, writing news

Since my publisher, Deep Hearts YA, does not do much with audiobooks just yet, one of the tasks I’ve given myself in anticipation of my debut novel coming out next year is independently producing an audiobook of my book to accompany the paperback and e-book release. Why? Mostly because I love audiobooks. Secondly, because it sounded like fun. I know, I know. My version of fun isn’t exactly normal. But I’ve hosted my own podcast, know a little bit about recording and editing quality audio. How hard could it be?

The truth is that before I even got going, I confronted a serious problem. Who would narrate it? Initially, I had planned to narrate it myself. I have a background in acting and teaching and podcasting, which means I trusted myself to deliver a solid performance, and hey, I’m on a budget here. But when I mentioned this plan to my wife, she scrunched up her face in that way she does, the one that lets me know I’m a complete idiot.

You see, I’m a middle aged guy, and my protagonist is, well, not. In fact, my protagonist is a 15-year old girl. My wife gently explained that audiences would probably warm more to the story if the voice narrating the story was closer to that of its main character. She also pointed out that this was especially important given that the novel is in 1st person. But…But…But…

I had some serious Buts because this flew in the face of my plan, and my budget, and my selfish desire to read it myself. And, after all, how the hell do you find someone great to narrate an audiobook?

While I have some additional feelings on the topic of whether a narrator’s gender needs to always match up with that of a main character, my wife was right on this one. She usually is.

So, I thought about it: who do I know that could do this? I sent some emails to local theater organizations. I asked friends. I thought some more. I sent some more emails. Not surprisingly, not much came of this. So, I did what any sensible person would do. I quietly panicked.

And then I discovered ACX, which, as many people know is Amazon’s giant portal for authors and narrators to produce and publish audiobooks. It’s a place where narrators can post samples of themselves and where authors can discover the perfect narrator. I filtered for “YA” and “female” and no fewer that a billion or so narrators and their samples came up. I began clicking and listening. Clicking and listening. Some were fine. Some were not so fine. Some were excellent. Some were professional. Some were decidedly not professional. Some were clearly recorded on a quality microphone. Some seemed accidentally recorded by a phone’s voice memo function. I just kept listening, not quite sure what I was looking for, but hoping that I would know it when I heard it.

And then I heard H’s voice. Everything about her delivery and timbre, her ability to sound vulnerable and real, felt like it would fit perfectly with Rainey, my main character.

From there, things clicked together with a kind of serendipity that is truly unusual. I reached out to H, told her about my project, sent her some sample pages, and asked if she was interested in doing an audition. She was.

A few weeks later, she sent her audition through, and I got goosebumps when I listened to it again and again while walking around my neighborhood with a goofy smile on my face.

I’m happy to report this story has a happy ending, and that I’ve found my narrator. You’re going to love her.