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Saving Jemima: The Audiobook

Sunday, May 19, 2019

I spent most of three days last week recording the audiobook for Saving Jemima: Life and Love with a Hard-luck Jay. Normally, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt hires voice talent to record books. Not this time. Nope, it would be me or nobody! As I read, I chuckled to myself, thinking the following random thoughts:

1. Criminy this writer loves polysyllabic words!
2. This is HARD to READ
3. Who but me would even know how to pronounce this stuff?
4. Much less how to emphasize this sentence?
5. Uh-oh. Here comes a rough passage. Don't choke up. DON'T CHOKE UP.

It was certainly interesting to have to read my own writing aloud. Mostly, it was a blast! I was surprised how much fun it was. Reading an audiobook incorporates acting and emotion, timing, storytelling and some technical know-how (like what to do when you flub a line). But it also is a really good way to discern if you're telling the story well. 

5 1/2 years delivering commentaries for National Public Radio's afternoon show All Things Considered  was the best possible training for this gig. I felt completely comfortable and pre-adapted. And after all, these are my words, so I might as well own them and read them like they mean something.
I cut my teeth in radio, writing and performing the three-minute commentary form. This, though, was a slightly different animal. This was reading entire chapters at a time, ranging from 1,200 to more than 4,000 words. 
I found out I could read only about 3 1/2 hours total in a day, but I got almost half the book done in that amount of time. Gotta say I'm kind of a beast at this. I really, really dig it. I think it's going to change the way I write, to make it more conversational and easy. 

I really enjoyed working with Houghton's Executive Producer of Audiobooks, Tommy Harron. He was patched in via Skype from Park Avenue in New York CITY!! (thinking of the old salsa commercial). We worked with a local sound engineer named Joe Huck, and that was great, because I could just drive into town and set up in his studio and go with it. I was sad at first, because Bill and I had set up this beautiful soundproof booth in our basement in March, and we'd done a couple sound tests with Tommy,  using Bill's wonderful podcasting equipment. We were all ready to go, but it wasn't to be. If I could have gotten eight hours out of him in a few sessions, it would have been so lovely both to read my new book to him and have him engineer the recording. But in the end he just didn't have the strength to do it.

It's just one small thing in the pantheon of things that were taken away from us when he had to leave. 

Anyway. I was grateful to be recording my book with anyone, grateful to have the job, grateful that there seems to be a growing market for audio books again. It made me think about podcasting, which Bill was so damn good at, and kept urging me to dive into. Well, I have a lot of irons in the fire, and I never got to it while he was alive, but maybe I will when the dust settles and I can look around. 

Liam was newly home from school, and I hated to leave when he was home, but he's sleeping until almost noon, so I didn't miss all that much time with him.

Now, Curtis was another matter.  It hasn't taken this dog long to get utterly spoiled, assuming his Ma is going to be home 24/7. And I have been, mostly, and the only trip I've taken, I took him along! (New River Birding and Nature Festival in Fayetteville, WV).

This is the extreme stinkeye he fixed on me as I pulled away the first morning.

The weather was cold and kind of nasty, so that was fine. But oh, I hate to miss any spring skies, being indoors.

I hate to miss any spring light.

But I got to see Marietta in that light on my lunch breaks This is our awesome ca. 1904 courthouse! It's really marvelous inside, too. 

I saw this awesome Pontiac LeMans 350, ca. 1972, in its original paint (ya think?)

The rear view was even better. They knew how to design cars then. For looks. They weren't terribly functional, but man, they looked cool.

 This car was being driven, I surmised, apparently without preciousness or irony. It was strewn with the ordinary stuff of daily life, and there were no oversized fuzzy dice hanging from the rearview mirror. You don't see that very much.

I did a bit of dogspotting and found this young refugee from the Humane Society shelter, who was adopted with her brother. Her owner was lovely and we had a wonderful lively yak. This doggie is half Lab, half coonhound, and she had the most marvelous disposition and the slidy loose shiny skin of youth.  A delicious buttercream sundae of a dog.

On one lunch break I walked the railroad tracks behind the home recording studio in the Harmar section of old Marietta. I could have walked them all day, listening to the catbirds, orioles, tanagers and vireos singing.

And then I got to come home to my road and my Three Graces in spring afternoon light. Let me know if you ever get tired of seeing them dance, because I don't.

And when I got home, someone jumped right up into the driver's seat and told me I was not to leave without him again. Ever, ever, ever again.

Yes, this brilliant, empathetic, sleek, kind, clairvoyant tigerdog is wrapped tightly around my heart, wound in and out of the ventricles, and I'd have it no other way.


As someone who has taught expository writing a fair bit, I always told students to read their writing aloud--and that would help them with composing. Just one of the many "tricks" I tried to teach.
My main comment is the delight I take in reading this account. So many layers. So much depth of meaning.
And I am ever grateful to be one of your loyal reading fans.

Your writing style is so wonderful,Julie and I have heard your voice on NPR so it is a win-win either way. Is there going to be both an audio and paper and binding version of your Jemma book? I am looking forward to the release of it.

Are you going to be one of Houghton Mifflin's new voice talents? I should think it would be a lovely addition to your income stream! Even better if you could do it at home, and never leave your lovin' dogga again. :-D

I'm a huge audiobook fan, but...aren't there pictures and paintings?

The right reader can make an audiobook and I am sure you knock it out of the park! I listen to books whenever I am in the car, about 60 a year, and especially love a book read by its author.

Writers just know how to read their own words better. I love hearing Steven King's read his book The Gunslinger, I'm sure I will enjoy yours as much!!!

This is great news, beautifully told. Plus: a possible ZickePod!! I’m in favor, wow! Thank you for this poignant and yet emergent post. You are incredible. Looking forward to all possible versions of Jemima’s story.

Even E B White choked up in recording Charlotte's Web. Yours has to be you. And I hope you can do your backlist. As an audiobook reader in earnest since 1990, I am so looking forward to it.

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