Thursday, November 26, 2009

A Feast for King Fans

Blackstone, in cooperation with Penguin Audio, will be producing ten Stephen King titles which have never before appeared in audio format. The titles are:

The Tommyknockers
The Dark Half
The Running Man
The Long Walk
The Eyes of the Dragon

Five will be released in April, and another five in May of 2010. Blackstone will offer the library editions, and Penguin the retail and download versions. There will be some delightful surprises in the casting, which I'll announce as soon as we have everything in place. Stay tuned!

Thursday, November 19, 2009

29 Gifts

Blackstone Audio has just released the audio version of this season's inspirational hit: the true story of Cami Walker, a young woman stricken with multiple sclerosis who rises above her depression and disability by giving away a gift every day for twenty-nine days. Each gift takes on a life of its own and becomes a wonderful story in and of itself.

There is a web site,, devoted to promoting a global gift-giving campaign, where you can join forums, read Cami's blog and view some of her media appearances.

Tavia Gilbert narrated this for us and sent along a wonderful note about the experience:

Once in a while, I'm given a book to narrate that I think the Universe wants me to pay attention to. 29 Gifts is one of those books. My story has some unique parallels with Cami Walker's story, and I found myself immediately resistant to trying her prescription of giving a gift a day for 29 days. There's some comfort in being habitual about behavior and attitude, but when I finally opened to mindful gift-giving of my own, I immediately felt positive shifts in my own sense of abundance and opportunity. I appreciate Cami's strength and determination to live her life to the fullest, and to share her gifts with the world.

29 Gifts: How a Month of Giving Can Change Your Life is available now from Blackstone and will be showing up on Amazon and Audible next week.

Friday, September 18, 2009

The Wild Things

October 1st is also the release date for Dave Eggers' much-anticipated novelization of the Maurice Sendak classic, Where the Wild Things Are. Blackstone is very excited to present the accompanying audio version. Dion Graham, who gave a magnificent rendering of What Is the What (currently the only other Eggers novel available in audio), narrates with a playful but ominous style that reflects the novel's exploration of pre-adolescent confusion and angst. The novel expands quite a bit on the Spike Jonze film version, digging deeper into the frustrated psyche of nine-year-old Max, whose yearning for untrammeled freedom takes him on an adventure to an uncharted island of giant, child-like creatures.

Twisted Tree

Four years ago Kent Meyer's penned The Work of Wolves, a much-admired novel about the epic conflicts found in the tiny town of Twisted Tree, South Dakota. His new novel returns to that setting to explore the tragic effects of a serial killer's visit to this dusty, forlorn locale. The narrative is divided into a dozen or more unique voices and we have accomodated that by bringing an all-star group into our Ashland and LA studios. Ray Porter and Dion Graham happened to be visiting town during the sessions, so we were able to add their contributions to those of Traci Svensgaard, Tai Sammons, Paul Michael Garcia, Malcolm Hillgartner, Anthony Heald, G. Valmont Thomas and myself. Mark Bramhall, Cassandra Campbell, Robertson Dean and Lorna Raver chimed in from LA. The writing is so compelling that every reader asked if he or she could record the whole thing! The release date is October 1st. If you love Raymond Carver, Cormac McCarthy and Andre Dubus, don't fail to pick this up.

Republican Gomorrah

Max Blumenthal's wry skewering of the Religious Right has shot up to #48 on Amazon and hit the New York Times' Bestseller List. We've just acquired the rights and will attempt to set a production record in hustling this out for download, retail and library distribution. William Hughes just wrapped up Andrew Sorkin's monumental Too Big Too Fail (a co-pub with Penguin Audio) but he won't get much of a break, since he'll be heading into the studios tonight to do this one. Bill is a poli-sci professor here in Ashland with a real gift for narrating (and probably the most amazing ear for accents and mimicry I've ever come across). He picked up an AudioFile Earphones Award for The Next 100 Years and turned out a stunning rendition of Steve Lopez's The Soloist. Between Blumenthal's pithy, hyper-observant exposé and Bill's knack for dry wit, this will be a fun listen.

The Amityville Horror

A whole generation of readers was kept up nights by this "true story" of a family's struggle against a ghastly series of hauntings in their "ideal" suburban home. (Remember Jody the Pig? Shudder!) Ray Porter, who brought a perfect blend of camp and creep to Richard Matheson's Hell House, will be narrating. We should be releasing this within a month or so on Audible, hard release to follow. Get ready to relive your nightmares!

Saturday, August 1, 2009

A Happy Marriage

At one point during the Audiofile Lobsterbake, Ben Cheever came over to me and handed me a book by his friend, novelist Rafael Yglesias. He was very excited about it, hinted that some very solid reviews were forthcoming, and wondered if Blackstone would be interested in pursuing the audio rights. Sure enough, the next day's New York Times Book Review contained a glowing full-page review, and the daily review which followed was equally strong.

To make a long story short, we pursued it and got the rights (not without some competition--the book was selling at #265 on Amazon within a few days!). It's a wonderful story--I'll quote from the Publisher's Weekly review:

As the novel opens in 1975, 21-year-old Enrique Sabas, a high school–dropout literary wunderkind, has just met Margaret Cohen, a vivacious, beautiful budding graphic designer who will become the love of his life. Enrique and Margaret's romantic and sexual misadventures during the first awkward weeks of their courtship are interspersed with scenes from the couple's three decades together before Margaret succumbs to cancer: raising children, losing a parent, the temptation of an easy affair. Margaret's physical decline and Enrique's acknowledgment of guilt, inadequacy and a selfish desire to postpone his loss are described in blunt, heart-wrenching detail, and Enrique's ongoing struggles to define the nature of masculinity, the significance of art and the value of marriage add a philosophical layer to the domestic snapshots.
We are currently consulting with the author about the choice of narrator. We've got some very good ones in mind, so we're confident it will be an engrossing listen.

Update 9/7/09: I've been chosen to narrate (no, I didn't try to skew the submissions--we had several excellent ones and I frankly felt like a runner-up!) so I'll be getting to this later in the month.

Friday, July 31, 2009

Rick Bragg reads for Blackstone

My assistant and co-producer/director Andrew Barnes has just finished what had to have been an utterly enjoyable task--listening to Rick Bragg read his latest book, The Most They Ever Had. Rick is that rare animal, a masterful author-narrator who won an Audie Award for his 2004 performance of Ava's Man. The sessions, patched in from Mobile, Alabama, took all of two days and were a pleasure from start to finish. Those familiar with Rick's warm, spontaneous reading style and richly authentic sound will relish this tender, moving paean to the hard-working, hard-living residents of the Southern mill towns he grew up in. It's a heart-warming--and heart-breaking--experience. Blackstone is extremely proud of this "dual" acquisition--a great book and a great reader--and we're currently putting the finishing touches on the audio production in preparation for its October 1st release.

A Quiet Belief in Angels

R. J. Ellory is a British writer with a very unusual background and an admiration for Southern Gothic writers. His latest novel, A Quiet Belief in Angels, is a masterpiece--beautifully written and tensely plotted. The year is 1939, and a town in rural Georgia is plagued by a series of vicious killings. As one child after another disappears and the law stands helplessly by, young Joseph Vaughan and his friends form a group called "The Guardians" in an effort to protect themselves and the other children from the dreadful plague. The plan backfires badly, and Joseph goes on to live a life haunted by the past. Decades later he must confront the nightmare that has overshadowed his entire life.

In the tradition of Harper Lee, Truman Capote and Cormac McCarthy, this combination of coming-of-age memoir and hair-raising thriller is impossible to put down. I had to stop myself from reading it in one sitting. Mark Bramhall, one of my favorite narrators, will bring his warm, emotional approach to what I'm sure will be an unforgettable audio experience. We're pushing ahead on production and hope to get this out as close to the September 8th release date as possible.

Zombies and Vampires and Werewolves--Oh My!

In an effort to meet the seemingly endless demand for werewolf and vampire fare, Blackstone has taken the plunge with a host of new books that should go a good way toward satisfying the appetites of fans of this popular fantasy/action genre. For starters, we've licensed the beginning of a new series of werewolf novels by S. A. Swann. The first installment, Wolfbreed, is set in the late Middle Ages and centers around a pack of "wolf children" who become pawns in the battle between the early Christian church and the pagan tribes of northern Europe. Yours truly will narrate this September simultaneous release.

David Wellington is well known for his highly entertaining zombie and vampire gore-fests. 13 Bullets, 99 Coffins, Vampire Zero and 23 Hours all feature the indefatigable vampire-killer Laura Caxton. Frankly, I find these irresistible. Bernadette Dunne will have to stock up on garlic and crucifixes if she's going to make it through all four in one piece. With luck these will get to download before the end of the year.

Wellington will switch to werewolves in a new series, the first of which, Frostbite, premiers in October, followed by a second entry, Overwinter, early next year. I haven't seen a preview yet so I can't tell you which of our lucky narrators will be drenched in blood.

And then we have Nadya, a 1997 fantasy novel by Nebula Award-winner Pat Murphy that follows the adventures of its she-wolf heroine as she journeys from Poland to the American frontier of the 1860's. Kirsten Potter, who recently portrayed several old-time heroines for Blackstone (Gerald Koplan's Etta and Ann Parker's Leaden Skies) will take on this decidedly different twist on the legends of the Old West.

Hope these keep the demon-hunters happy for a while.

Monday, July 27, 2009

AudioFile Lobsterbake

Every year Robin Whitten, editor of AudioFile magazine, throws a Lobsterbake for members of the audiobook industry at her summer home in East Boothbay, Maine. This year it was packed, with over 80 attendees. Among the new faces this year were a bevy of narrators from Recorded Books in New York and a strong contingent from the West Coast who were putting in appearances for the first time.

Lobsters, clams and corn on the cob are roasted over a wood fire heaped with seaweed at water's edge, and the day-long event is capped with live performances by some of the most well-known names in the business. This year's readers included myself, Ralph Cosham, Barbara Rosenblat, Barbara Caruso, Jeff Woodman, Nick Sullivan, Stefan Rudnicki, Wanda McCadden, Steve Crossley, L. J. Ganser, Jeremy Gage, Alan Sklar, Ben Cheever, Hillary Huber, William Dufris, Suzanne Toren, and a host of others--twenty-four in all. It made for a lively and entertaining evening.

Bill Dufris gestures below...

Hillary Huber and Alan Colebank of Tantor Media make a toast...

Steven Crossley and Ralph Cosham exchange stories...

Janet Benson of Audio Editions, Mary Beth Roche of Macmillan Audio, and Robin Whitten offer smiles...

Jeff Woodman looks happy to be there...

Maya Thomas of Hachette Audio and Michelle Cobb of BBC America lead the charge into the chilly waters of the inlet...

Alicia loves a boat ride...

...and a visit to the Antique Railway Village.

Tanya and Alicia enjoy breakfast in Boothbay Harbor...

And finally a view from Lobsterman's Wharf in East Boothbay.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Wallace Stegner

Blackstone has acquired Wallace Stegner's major works:

Angle of Repose
Crossing to Safety (abridged only)
Beyond the Hundredth Meridian
The Spectator Bird
The Big Rock Candy Mountain
A Shooting Star
All the Little Live Things
Remember Laughter

The only hitch, as you can see, is that Crossing to Safety was only available to us in abridged format. The unabridged recording will be done by somebody else. But it's still an exciting acquisition. Pity that a part of my job is having to read all these great books in order to assign them... Tough job, but somebody's got to do it! I'm looking forward to getting these produced, though the releases will have to be stretched out over time. I'll post when I hear what the schedule will be.

Waiting for Columbus Part 2

Well, I didn't make it. At the critical moment I was pretty well overcome. I tried to go back and redo it, exercising a bit more control, but it just came off as phony. So we left it as is.

Anyway, a beautiful book. I hope the audio comes across as well as the book deserves.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Waiting for Columbus... Thomas Trofimuk. I am gaga about this book. Tanya, my SO, flagged it for Blackstone and we acquired it. I read the first page and knew I had to record it--for better or worse! The day I finished reading it at home Tanya found me on the patio sobbing. It's a beautifully written study of madness, loss, grief and the triumph of the mind.

A naked man is discovered drifting in the Strait of Gibraltar and is rescued by the Spanish coast guard. He claims to be Christopher Columbus and is sent to a mental institution in Seville. A nurse at the institute finds herself falling in love with "Columbus" and his weird tales of erotic adventure and frustrated genius. Behind his extraordinary ramblings lies a profound trauma, the nature of which must be unraveled if "Columbus" is ever to rejoin the modern world.

It's not often that a book brings me to a halt in the studio. I can recall a handful of occasions. Many years ago, while recording the final chapter of The Making of the Atomic Bomb by Richard Rhodes, I had to stop at every other paragraph and go outside for air. Some time later I had the good fortune to record The Autiobiography of Mark Twain for the Library of Congress' "Talking Book" program. The chapter on the death of his wife, Livy, turned both myself and the engineer into snivelling messes. Certain passages of Alec Wilkinson's A Violent Act, recording in the wake of an ugly separation, rendered me incapable of proceeding. (Now there's a loss to audiobook-dom. This and Moonshine have been retired from the Books on Tape catalog. He is a wonderful writer.)

Waiting for Columbus may well enter that tiny pantheon of books that I couldn't get through without being enormously affected. We'll see next week when I get to the end.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

2009 Audie Awards

The "truncated" ceremony the APA came up with this year worked out pretty well, in spite of the reservations of not a few participants. The Awards presentation itself was streamlined to ninety minutes instead of a lengthy dinner. Individual winners were not invited up to accept their awards, with the exception of four major categories, but were asked to stand in the audience and be acknowledged. Tony Roberts was a congenial host and the presenters did a nice job. The new format needs a bit more polish and pizazz but overall it seemed satisfactory. On the plus side, the awards were bracketed by cocktails and hor d'ouevres before and champagne and dessert after, so there was actually more time to visit, and people actually stuck around for a while instead of dashing out after an exhausting evening like they did last year. Playaway, makers of the "disposable" audiobook that's growing in popularity with travellers and libraries, held a little "after" party. I stayed out way too late for a middle-aged narrator who had trouble squeezing into his tux this year, and I somehow ended up in a strangely-lit disco that felt more like a scene from Jacob's Ladder than a post-Audie celebration. At that point I decided it was time to go home!

Blackstone did extremely well this year, tying Macmillan Audio for the most awards.

John Lee won Solo Male Narration for our production of The Count of Monte Cristo.

Elmer Gantry, read by Anthony Heald, took the Literary Fiction category.

The Mystery award went to The Voice of the Violin, narrated by yours truly. (By the way, I consider this my first "personal" Audie. My only previous win was as part of a multi-cast production for Listen and Live.)

Bronson Pinchot's narration of Chip Kidd's The Learners grabbed the Humor award, beating out David Sedaris--no mean feat!

All in all we had 20 nominations, so we were exceptionally pleased with our showing this year.

The APAC conference seemed to go well, though I skipped some of the workshops to talk with other people. I had a productive meeting with AFTRA. I have no idea if, in the end, we'll reach an agreement, but we came up with a proposal that has more chance of going over with my bosses at Blackstone, on the one hand, and the AFTRA board on the other, than anything that's been discussed before. Over the next few months we'll kick around some hard numbers and see if anything takes.

I had a 7 a.m. flight home from Newark Airport this morning. A car service picked me up in mid-town at 5 a.m. We were less than four blocks from the hotel when the radio announced that the Lincoln Tunnel and the Holland Tunnel were both closed. The driver said he didn't think we'd get to Newark in time for the flight, so what did I want to do? We pulled over and I spent a ridiculous twenty minutes on my cell trying to reschedule my flight. Eventually the driver took pity on me and said, "Aw, what the hell, we can make it." With that he threw the car into gear, plowed up the East Side, flew across the George Washington Bridge and Hail-Mary'd back down through New Jersey to Newark in time for the flight. So I'm home. New Yorkers are great.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Off to New York...

...for Book Expo America, the Audio Publishers Association conference and the Audie Awards. I have four nominations this year: one for The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, one for Andrea Camilleri's The Voice of the Violin, and two for Abraham Lincoln: A Man of Faith and Courage.

Blackstone has 20 nominations altogether. Wish us luck. I'll post again as soon as I get back on Sunday.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Sunday at Lithia Park

Gorgeous day. Spent the afternoon at Lithia Park, where we met this fellow at the Duck Pond.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Visit to Yreka, CA

Just an hour away, over the Siskiyou Pass and through the bone-dry mountains of Northern California. It was a bit of a ghost town, what with the holiday, I suppose. But we strolled around and saw what there was to see.

Among other things, there's a lovely 1888 church, and a wonderful little historical museum with an excellent collection of Indian and gold rush artifacts. Also a nice little bookstore and two antique shops.

I scored a nifty retro brass wall fixture at one...

...and a fantastic fiberglass planter at the other (perfect for our mid-century philodendron!).

The second shop also had two superb 50's atomic-style floor lamps, in beautiful condition, complete with gold-flecked parchment shades. Tanya wouldn't hear of it, though--they were a bit on the garish side, LOTS of chrome and black bakelite. But I was disappointed...

Then lunch at Brickhouse Pizza, which was excellent, and back home in time to do some gardening.

Ann Veronica and Moura Budberg

Ann Veronica is H. G. Wells' feminist novel, published in 1909. The other day Michelle Black, wife of Blackstone owner Craig Black, asked if we could record this and make it available for Blackstone listeners. I contacted Carolyn Seymour, a wonderful British narrator who lives in LA. Carolyn may be one of the best narrators you haven't heard enough of yet. She's recorded a new version of Wuthering Heights for us which has yet to be released. She also narrated The Rose Labyrinth, which has been released and received a very nice review from AudioFile. She also participated in our multi-voiced recording of The Canterbury Tales. Anyway, Carolyn said she would love to do it, and that she had a special connection to the book. Check this out: Her grandmother was Moura Budberg, mistress of both Maxim Gorky and H. G. Wells. Astonishing. I look forward to a very special reading!