Saturday, December 4, 2010

Authors on Deck

An article by physicist Lawrence Krauss in today's Wall Street Journal ("The Lies of Science Writing") reminded me to post about some marvelous author reads coming up for Blackstone.

The idea of having authors read their own books is a controversial one in the audiobook business. Sometimes the effect can be splendid, as when T. C. Boyle (Tortilla Curtain, Wild Child and Other Stories), Rick Bragg (Ava's Man, The Most They Ever Had) and David Sedaris, among others, exceed expectations by bringing vividness and warmth to their own creations. In other cases, the results can be disappointing--or even downright disastrous. (I won't names names--all audio publishers have a few of these to their credit--but this unfortunate series of customer comments on Audible gives you an idea of how badly things can go.)

Whenever an agent or book publisher casually remarks, "Oh, by the way, the author is interested in narrating the book..." a lump forms in the pit of my stomach, and I immediately begin thinking of ways to discourage such folly. Writers often live in remote places, far from an appropriate recording venue. Generally a specialized director has be brought in at no small expense. And the process itself can be agonizing--I am familiar with at least one instance of a famous politician who required literally thousands of edits because he couldn't read a whole sentence (no, it wasn't "W") and another case in which a celebrity author didn't make it through her ghost-written autobiography because she couldn't pronounce most of the vocabulary and wasn't familiar with the events and people as related in the book!

When they go well, there are advantages to author reads. You don't have to struggle with research (at least most of the time); there's a natural connect between the text and the reader; and the absence of slickness and polish lends an unforced, authentic feel. In addition, retail outlets are more interested in carrying the audio version if the author reads the book, and you've got a better shot at a Grammy--all the Spoken Word nominations this year went to author reads!

Whatever the joys and hazards, Blackstone is fortunate to have several super author reads coming up, which brings me back to Lawrence Krauss, who will be coming to Blackstone's studios in Ashland later this month to narrate his new book, Quantum Man: Richard Feynman's Life in Science, to be released in March of next year. Professor Krauss narrated an abridged version of his book The Physics of Star Trek some years back. He is a gifted, engaging public speaker and a superstar in the world of physics. This will be a lively and authoritative experience for Feynman fans as well as anyone interested in popular science.

Ron Reagan has written a wonderful new book about his father, the former President. Entitled My Father at 100, it's an affectionate look at this remarkable and, in many ways, enigmatic man. Recording sessions were recently completed at Cedar House Audio in Seattle, where Ron lives, and the results are terrific. Regardless of your political persuasion, this will be a intriguing listen. The book hits the stores on January 18th.

Finally, Andre Dubus III arrives in Ashland next week to record Townie: A Memoir. Andre's latest book details his own youth in a small, violence-ridden Massachusetts town and explores the strange relationship with his father that eventually pushed him towards a career in writing and virtually saved his life. Most of you will be familiar with at least the movie version of his best-selling novel, The House of Sand and Fog. If you haven't heard Andre's recording of the book, performed in tandem with his wife, you owe it to yourself to give it a listen. It's a wonderful performance--what it lacks in ultimate polish it more than makes up for in utter conviction and total command of the story and characters. I expect that his approach to the story of his own life will be equally, if not more, compelling. Townie: A Memoir pubs at the end of February.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Chalmers Johnson

Chalmers Johnson, the brilliant and famously contrarian foreign policy expert, passed away on Saturday. Steve Clemons has written an interesting summary of his career for The Washington Note.

Johnson published Blowback: The Costs and Consequences of American Empire just prior to 9/11. After the tragedy, the book was so much in demand that the publisher ran out of stock and had to initiate several new print runs. An updated edition was published in 2004. His other major books--Nemesis, The Sorrows of Empire and Dismantling the Empire--variously explore the perils of a militaristic, imperialist foreign policy. All have been produced for audio by Blackstone and are available at our website or digitally at Audible, iTunes and other download venues.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Mr. Blah Blah Blah Visits Down Under

My cell phone rang last Friday evening. I didn't recognize the number and I almost didn't answer, thinking it was a robocall or something equally obnoxious. But curiosity got the better of me and I picked up. It was the Australian Broadcasting Company, of all things. They wanted to do a live interview with me the next day. One of their hosts, Tony Peacock, had decided to give audiobooks a try, and his first purchase was The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich by William Shirer, which I narrated earlier this year for Blackstone.

We arranged to talk the following day at 4 p.m. PST, which is 11 a.m. Canberra time. Of course, Saturday I was dithering around and almost missed the call, but we managed to connect and I did the interview, which lasted about 10 minutes. They sent me an audio copy, which I've posted so you can hear me blabbing away. The sound quality is poor, unfortunately, but if you listen carefully you can occasionally hear me say something interesting.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

The Captured

I was doing a vanity search on Audible tonight, typing in my own name to see how I'm doin' and what's sellin' or not sellin' (yes, I do this often; I'm not ashamed of it). I was surprised to see The Captured by Scott Zesch up there in the top ten. I recorded this back in 2005 for Blackstone and absolutely loved it. Booklist summed it up this way:

On New Year's Day, 1870, Adolph Korn, the author's ancestor and son of German immigrants, was captured by three Apaches near his family's cabin in central Texas. Adolph was traded to a band of Quahada Comanches, with whom he lived until November 1872, when the Comanches traded their captives for those held by the U.S. Army. Adolph was irrevocably changed. Considering himself Indian, he lived in a cave, and died alone in 1900. The author's search into Korn's sad life led him to the similar stories of eight other children captured in Texas between 1865 and 1871. Drawing on his tenacious research and interviews with the captives' descendants, Zesch compiles a gripping account of the lives of these children as they lived and traveled with their Indian captors. He delves into the reasons for their "Indianization," which for most of them lasted the rest of their lives, and discusses why they couldn't adjust to white society. A fascinating, meticulously documented chronicle of the often-painful confrontations between whites and Indians during the final years of Indian Territory.

If that sounds interesting, it is, and I was so fond of this book that I tracked it for some time following its release and was disappointed that it didn't get more attention. Now it seems to have re-emerged, I'm not sure why--perhaps a movie or TV series has sparked interest in the topic. Anyway I highly recommend it. The narrator is adequate but the book tells a fascinating story, and tells it very well.

UPDATE: It was part of a big half-price sale on Audible. Well, good, I'm glad it's getting a new audience.

Friday, November 5, 2010

There Never Was Such a Frantic Guy...

At the end of October, Blackstone Audio wrapped recording sessions for its audio adaptation of Hamlet, as originally presented by the Oregon Shakespeare Festival.

For years now, Blackstone narrator and OSF star Tony Heald has been encouraging a collaboration between the two companies, and his efforts have finally born fruit. Hamlet is the first of what will be an ongoing series of audio adaptations of OSF's distinctive, American-flavored Shakespeare. The current production incorporates some fascinating visual and interpretive touches. Stylistically speaking, the defining sequence is the "Players' scene," in which Hamlet engineers an entertainment designed to reveal his uncle's complicity in the murder of his father. In the OSF production, the hired troupe improvises a "hip-hop" version of the play-within-a-play, complete with wireless mics, electronic instruments and a scratch track, while the tonily-dressed members of the court look on in growing apprehension. The famous "nunnery" scene similarly references modern technology, Ophelia being fitted with a listening device, the better to capture Hamlet's presumed insanity; Hamlet discovers the "wire" mid-scene, adding fuel to his suspicious rage. The ghost of Hamlet's father is played by deaf actor Howie Seago, who signs his lines while the actor playing Hamlet (Dan Donahue) voices them for the benefit of the audience.

As you can guess, not all of these interpolations will translate effectively to audio. Working with OSF's artistic director, Bill Rauch, we've come up with alternative ideas that both reinforce and enhance the up-to-date concept.

Once in the studio, the actors adapted quickly and creatively to the challenges of working in a more intimate medium. It was fascinating to watch them adjust to their environment and discover things that were exciting and effective in the imagined world of audio.

The production is now in the mixing stage, which can take three weeks or more of intensive work to embed the voices in a convincing "soundscape." Blackstone plans to release the final product early next year. It's going to be a very exciting, uniquely American take on this most famous of Shakespeare's plays.

The title of this post comes from a Frank Loesser song written for the 1949 movie, Red, Hot and Blue featuring the inimitable Betty Hutton. Unfortunately, whenever I think of Hamlet I can't get the lyrics out of my head:

Was the prince of a spot called Denmark (mark my words!)
There never was such a frantic guy either before or since (he was a dreamboy)
And like a hole in the head, Denmark needed that prince!

'Cause he bumped off his uncle,
And he Mickey Finned his mother,
And he drove his gal to suicide,
And stabbed her big brother,

'Cause he didn't want nobody else but himself should live--
He was whatcha might call...uncooperative!

You can watch a video of it here. My apologies to purists.

Monday, November 1, 2010

What the...

Well, looky here. Harper Audio seems to have purchased another one of my ancient recordings from Books On Tape. Years ago they bought my performance of John Irving's The Cider House Rules, which is still doing service on Audible and seems to be quite popular. I still get emails about it. Now they've hijacked one of my Elmore Leonard recordings. I think I did all of Leonard's books for BOT, and they were all a blast (though my favorite is still Maximum Bob, but that is long o.o.p.). Looks like Harper did some picking and choosing between various publishers' versions of these warhorses. George Guidall's wonderful renderings were done for Recorded Books, for instance, while I was doing the same titles for BOT. Those were the days of non-exclusive rights and you actually had a choice of narrators for some of the more popular authors. And if you're wondering who "Alexander Adams" is, well, the fact is that a lot of us freelancers used to change our names to avoid trouble with competing publishers, who thought we ought to be working exclusively for them--without the benefit of a lucrative contract, of course. Those days are gone, happily. Not that we cared much. I mean, who would have thought you'd get famous doing audiobooks? Seems like Harper might have put my real name on it, it certainly has more cache these days than "Alexander Adams," for what it's worth.

Books On Tape has retired about 90 percent of the titles I did for them throughout the 1980's and 1990's. Not that I blame them, they were old things recorded on tape, most of them, and fashions have changed since then, when it was a point of pride to tally how many pages you could read without stopping. And to be sure the audio rights have expired and economics argues against renewing them. Still. Some of the top-tier stuff has been re-recorded, most of it by Ed Herrmann. People used to tell me I looked like Ed Herrmann, back when I wore wire-rim glasses. "You look like that guy that played FDR!" Ed and I don't look much alike these days, but he's doing all my old books now, and doing them beautifully--the David McCulloughs, the Scott Turows, the list goes on and on. But most of the others have disappeared into the ether. I particularly regret the John Gardners: October Light and The Sunlight Dialogues. I was awfully proud of those. Boy could that guy write. And Richard Rhodes' The Making of the Atomic Bomb, one of the best books I've ever read about anything.

I certainly talked at a good clip back then! I don't think I could do that now. I see from the cover there's a new series on TV featuring the main character. I hope it's better than that Maximum Bob series with Beau Bridges from a few years back. Eek.

Here's a sample I saved from Maximum Bob all those years ago. I still think it's funny, but then I'm biased.

Halloween in Ashland

Halloween in Ashland is a trip. Everybody--and I mean everybody--shows up in costume to parade down Main Street. The crowd starts to form around 2 p.m. in front of the public library. At 3 p.m. a drum corp thunders and the marching begins! It's more like strolling, actually, because it's so darn crowded, and everybody stops to chat with bystanders and admire everyone else's costumes. I find it wonderfully cheering and relaxing and could have sauntered along like this all the way to Portland.

We brought along our Vampire Queen (Alicia) who met up with her friends the Vampire Cheetah (Macy) and a Dragon (Owen).

Guess who I went as? (No, I'm not the mummy.)

Afterwards we had martinis and pot luck with some friends (guess who made the martinis?) and then took the kids trick-or-treating.

If you guessed from the big pumpkin that our friends own a fly-fishing shop, you guessed right.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Autobiography of Mark Twain

Well, it's done--proofed, edited, "in the can" and out in the world. I refer to Blackstone Audio's production of the first volume of the University of California Press's magnificent new edition of Mark Twain's complete, unexpurgated autobiographical dictations.

Twain struggled for years to find a suitable method of laying down a record of his life and thoughts. After numerous written attempts, none of which proved satisfactory, he hit upon the idea of dictation. In 1906 he began a series of oral reminiscences that continued on and off for the next three years and resulted in a full file drawer of typed manuscript. Apart from a few excerpts he prepared for magazine publication, Twain placed an embargo on this enormous project, to be observed until 100 years after his death. The knowledge that he--and anyone else concerned--would be safely in the grave by that time liberated Twain to speak frankly about any person or topic that struck his fancy.

Despite the prohibition, in the decades following his death various editions of the "autobiography" appeared in heavily edited form. The current venture represents the first complete release of this material in what is believed to be the form Twain actually wished it to take.

This first volume includes an introduction, various early materials that he contemplated including in the final manuscript, and the first series of dictations from 1906. Two subsequent volumes will be released over the next couple of years. The entire text can be viewed at, and additional material can be found at The explanatory notes, appendixes and other supporting materials are very interesting and worth a look. There's a fascinating explanation of how they decrypted the four different typescripts and managed to decipher Twain's actual intentions. It's a forensic tour de force and goes far to explain why the project was 20 years in the making.

Things get off to something of a slow start as the editors explain the scope and logic of the project, and we wend our way through the various abortive attempts and peripheral material. (Don't get me wrong, it'll all very interesting.) But when the actual dictations kick in, we are off and running. A coherent pattern begins to emerge, and it's illuminating.

Those familiar with Twain will know that by the end of his life he was a disheartened and embittered man. A misplaced trust in others led to a series of disastrous financial endeavors that left him debt-ridden and cynical, and robbed him of any chance of a secure retirement. He was similarly robbed by Death, who took his wife and two of his daughters before their time. War and politics disgusted him, and the rising tide of American imperialism and religious sanctimony prompted responses that are, even to modern ears, startling in their savagery. Even passages that begin in a light-hearted manner are likely to conclude with a gloomy, "What's it all for?"

But by and large we are treated to exactly the sort of warmth, wit and insight we would expect from this great humorist and lion of American letters. His dazzling, fluid style and impeccable timing are on full display. When he approaches matters of the heart, he speaks with a direct simplicity that is extraordinarily moving.

I have narrated several of Twain's books for Blackstone--among them The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (the latter as "Tom Parker')--and am in the process of recording or re-recording the rest of the canonical works for them. Life on the Mississippi will be released in in December and A Tramp Abroad in January, with Innocents Abroad, Roughing It and others to follow through the year. I feel a strong affinity for Twain's style, and listeners, for the most part, seem to agree. That said, I was not a shoo-in for this project. The publishers wanted approval over the narrator, and I bit my nails for three weeks waiting to hear if they would allow me to do it. Good taste triumphed and I was selected.

Discussions ensued about what to include in the audio version and what to leave out. Notes and references were rightly considered too cumbersome, and the appended speeches and other material, while interesting, are a bit anti-climactic. We settled on the editorial introduction and the main body of Twain's writings and dictations. One significant piece had to be bypassed, which is unfortunate because it is published for the first time. It is an introduction Twain wrote to a translation of the transcripts of Joan of Arc's trial. An exuberant editor took it upon himself to brutally blue-line Twain's prose, regularizing the punctuation and smoothing out the syntax. Twain composed a savagely funny response (which he never mailed). This part is well-known and is included in the recording, but the edited introduction itself (which the clever UC Press typesetters have meticulously reconstructed) is full of strike-throughs, inserts and comments that would have been impossible to read with any fluency or coherence. As noted in the audio version, it can be viewed at

Finally, I was confronted with the question of how to voice Twain himself. As far as anyone knows, no recordings of Mark Twain have survived. In 1891, he attempted to dictate An American Claimant onto a series of wax cylinders, filling four dozen of them before giving up in frustration. These have never been found, though they reportedly contained a great deal of swearing at the machine itself. Thomas Edison made some recordings of Twain in 1909, but these were lost in a fire in 1914. The American actor William Gillette knew Twain well and mimicked him as part of a touring show he put together in the latter part of the 19th century. In 1934 he performed his imitation for a group of Harvard students, and a recording of the event can be heard at It's a fascinating document, but I have little doubt that 20 hours of this sort of delivery would drive even the most patient modern listener around the bend.

Hal Holbrook's impersonation is justly famous, and unlikely to be bettered in ours or any future generation. It's also sui generis and I, for one, wouldn't presume to improve upon its daft brilliance. After experimenting with different approaches, I decided to do what I've done before in Twain's works--speak more or less in my own voice, avoid any hint of caricature, and devote my energy to connecting with Twain's heart and mind. It was rewarding from my standpoint; I can only hope listeners agree.

Here's a sample from the first set of dictations, a little story that exemplifies the sort of self-deprecating charm that permeates the whole work:

Friday, October 29, 2010

I Get Mail...

This is the kind of mail that keeps you going on rough days:

Dear Sr. A few year's ago I heared a book and the voice has got to be yours. I've been to your web directory but just can't find it. I even went to my Indianapolis Library where I had gotten it. They can;t even find it. Your my last hope of ever finding my all time book. The book had on it's cover a young slim very tanned pilot of ww2 that flew off an aircraft carrier then lost his route then rain out of fuel. The pilot and 2 other planes that went down with him they servived apx 15 to 20 days on a life raft. My dad lost both legs on Iwo Jima, I've got photo's of him with Ira Hayes so a true story like this means a lot. Me and my wife are team truck drivers 30 books a month. I'm purchase several then put them on my ipod. I If you can please send me the name of that book.

Best regards David...

He's referring to The Raft by Robert Trumbull, one of my all-time favorite books, too--a beautifully written story of heroism and survival during WWII. It's always wonderful to hear that the stories we tell mean so much to people...

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Why I Love Narrators: Part 1

If I haven't mentioned before how often, in the course of casting 30 or more books a months, our narrators pull my sorry, inefficient b*tt out of the fire, now would be as good a time as any.

Here's this week's example:

When Bo Caldwell's City of Tranquil Light landed on my desk over a month ago, I took a couple of shots at reading it, but I always got interrupted by something urgent and never got a chance to delve into it as deeply as I wanted to. To judge by the opening chapter, it appeared straightforward enough: An old man reminisces about his life as a missionary in China--how he left his life as a midwestern farmer to pursue a calling, how he met his wife in China and how much they both loved their adopted homeland. But I knew there was more. Caldwell's previous novel, The Distant Land of Our Fathers, was based on family experiences and had profound spiritual aspects, and some research told me that she is considered a lyrical writer and masterful storyteller. I yearned to get a better handle on it so I could do it justice. But as the production deadline loomed and I started running out of time, I made a logical, if hasty, choice. I decided to send it to Bronson Pinchot.

If you aren't yet familiar with Bronson's narration work, you should be. He has an exceptional ability to adapt himself to just about any sort of book you can think of, from sardonic humor (The Learners) to vampire-laced thrillers (Blood Oath) to taut war dramas (Matterhorn). I've also been struck by the fact that each author he encounters (and he's not shy about contacting them) thinks that he's the PERFECT narrator for their book. Being an exceptionally well-read person, he's acutely sensitive to the style and tone of a book. And if you've seen his work on stage or in film, you know that he's preternaturally quick on his feet. It's not that his approach changes drastically from book to book--it's just that he puts all his energy into serving the text in detailed and nuanced ways.

So I figured if anyone could help me out here, it would be Bronson. Imagine my relief when I received this email:

"You mentioned being slightly on the fence about the is STUNNING. Takes her 90 pages to get going, which is, admittedly, a lot. Yesterday read the diary entries of a young couple slowly watching their baby die and wept through the whole thing, quite restrainedly of course, but it was perfect for the tone of the writing. The book is a watercolor masterpiece.


If anyone wants to know what I think audiobook narrating is about, this pretty well sums it up. Here's someone who's frankly assessing the mechanical challenges of the material, but completely giving himself over to the emotional and intellectual rewards found therein. And it's reassuring to hear him pat himself on the back a bit--it tells me he thought about his choices and likes what he's done.

Best of all, he's done a huge part of my job for me--the part I wish I had more time for! How grateful should I be for that?

Now I want to listen to it--don't you?

Bo Caldwell's City of Tranquil Light pubs September 28th.

Thursday, September 16, 2010


If you're a big Lois McMaster Bujold fan, you probably already know this.  If you're sort of a fan and haven't heard, you'll want to know.  If you've never heard or read her stuff--well, you really should.

Cryoburn is the latest installment in Lois's wonderful series featuring Miles Vorkosigan, the frail, dashing, ever-resourceful and hopelessly romantic space-traveler who uses brains and charm to overcome severe physical handicaps as he flits around the universe in the service of his home planet's security force.  If you're not familiar with these books, I can barely attempt to sum them up.  Ms. Bujold has created a finely-textured, richly detailed, eminently logical--and deeply human--universe.  The first in the series, Shards of Honor, finds Miles's future parents on opposite sides of a planetary war.  Romance blossoms and in Barrayar they have married and are attempting to conceive in the midst of a fierce political battle that turns violent, with devastating effects on the child they finally manage to bring into the world.  With Warrior's Apprentice, we jump ahead sixteen years to pick up the story of Miles and his struggle to live up to his father's--and his own--high expectations.  And on we go from there--for ten (now eleven) terrific books, plus some short stories and spin-offs--following Miles as he learns the ropes of war and politics to become ever more respected--and powerful.

I've never been a big fan of sci-fi and fantasy stuff, but from the very first book in this series I was hooked.  The characters grow and mature and take on wonderful shadings and subtleties.  The dialogue is priceless, and Lois never misses an opportunity to mingle wry humor with taut action and a sprinkling of philosophical commentary. 

I think her fans assumed that with Diplomatic Immunity, she had pretty much wrapped up Miles's tale.  To our delight, she has sprung Cryoburn on us and I can safely say that it does not disappoint.  Miles, now married and with a growing family, and thoroughly enjoying his job as an Imperial Auditor (read: galactic trouble-shooter), is sent to Kibou-Daini (also known as "New Hope") to investigate peculiar goings-on in that planet's cryogenics industry.  Getting cryo-ed is now big business and virtually everyone, at some point, opts to be frozen alive, in the hope of awakening to a cure for disease or old age, or simply a more pleasant future.  But corporate shenanigans threaten to wreak havoc on millions of slumbering customers unless someone gets to the bottom of a burgeoning scandal.

The writing, plotting and character development are as sharp as ever, and the philosophical issues make for some hair-raising contemplation.  So cheers to Lois for giving us yet another Miles Vorkosigan novel.  I'm keeping my fingers crossed for more.

Cryoburn will be released October 19th.    

Why I Haven't Been Blogging

If you're wondering why I haven't blogged lately, I'll sum it up in two words:

Sixty.  Eight.

That's the number of titles we've been preparing to release for October.

Just for some perspective, twenty-five is a healthy average.  Thirty-five is a very busy month. Sixty-eight is insane.

What accounts for this madness?  Well, we've been making a big push into the library market and have been responding to requests.  Thus--eight Amish romances, eight English bodice-rippers, a smattering of young adult stuff...oh, and vampires, let's not forget vampires!  Half-dead, sort-of-dead, not-so-dead, really dead, nearly dead--you name it.

Also, a lot of topical material, mostly politics.  We won't delve into it too deeply, suffice it to say that there's a lot of anti-this and anti-that that's very hot right now and we'd be fools not to cash in on the various sentiments flying around this season.

Add to that a number of what we call "drop-ins"--hot titles that pop up out of nowhere that nobody's grabbed for audio, and which need to be rushed to market if we're going to catch the wave.

Anyway, I'll be blogging about these and other new stuff in the coming weeks.  I promise to be better!  In the meantime, picture me trotting back and forth between the copying machine and the shipping department, my arms loaded with stacks of manuscripts.  The narrator in me finds it thrilling.  The producer in me is exhausted!

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Our Summer Vacation

It's been a very busy three weeks and I haven't had time to really sit down and write something decent, but it's time to get caught up.

I'll start with our summer "vacation" at the end of July.  "Vacation" is in quotes because out of a two-week trip we actually end up with about three days to ourselves as a family.  We headed to Washington, DC on the 15th and spent five days with Tanya's parents.  Alicia was practically raised by her Grammy and Pop-Pop for her first three years when both of us worked in DC.  In addition she now has a four-year-old cousin to play with.  And I have to admit that the backyard pool is not bad, especially since it was ROASTING HOT on the East Coast.  A visit to the National Zoo was almost more than we could manage--even the two little ones wilted after a couple of hours.  Tanya wanted to see the Vermeers at the National Gallery, which she did while Alicia and I played a nifty little treasure hunt game that they print up for kids.  The we slogged through the ROASTING HEAT to the Museum of Natural History, which is only a block away but it felt like ten miles in the ROASTING HEAT.  Once you get used to the lovely dry heat here in Southern Oregon, the humidity back east is pretty draining.

Anyway, we headed up to Maine for the AudioFile Lobsterbake the following Wednesday, stopping overnight to visit our EVIL COMPETITOR friends Kevin and Laura Colebank of Tantor Media.  We had a lovely overnight stay there in Connecticut and I won't tell you what we gossiped about but it might well have been YOU!

Then on to Boothbay Harbor, ME and a cabin we rent every year in the Sprucewold community on the hill above town.  To our surprise and delight the owners had added a new kitchen which made all the difference in the world.  It was "cozy" before but now it was really comfortable.

Friday night the gang met up at McSeagull's on the waterfront and typically I had too much to drink.  But it was a great way to start the weekend.  Saturday everyone wandered over to Robin Whitten's lovely cottage on the water in East Boothbay for the traditional afternoon of steamed lobster, clams, sweet potatoes, boiled eggs and Robin's fantastic salsa mixes.  [Robin is editor of AudioFile magazine, the premier news and reviews magazine for the audiobook industry.]

Last year it was jammed.  Not only did the Audio Publishers Association hold their board meeting in Boothbay, but a whole crop of new faces showed up from New York and other points.  It was very festive, but the traditional round of evening readings got very long.  This year Robin cracked the whip and held us to five minutes.  I pleaded for TEN and suggested that everyone bring something they were currently working on or had recently completed.  This invariably peaks listener interest.  Well, it was an exemplary presentation this year.  Every reading was riveting and pertinent.  Too bad most of the publishers begged off this year!  But I met some new faces and got a refreshing take on some older ones.

Sunday featured brunch at Robin's--leftover lobster salad and other concoctions, and a nice group of folks who were able to arrange their schedules as to be able to stick around for another day.

Monday we were finally able to get some time to ourselves and luckily the weather was beautiful.  We spent some time at the beach and took a whale-watching cruise during which we actually saw some whales!  During the cruise my cellphone rang, which was shocking because AT&T in those parts is awful.  On a whim I decided to check the internet signal and got the best reception of the whole trip.  Do not be too hard on me when I tell you that I spent a portion of the four-hour boat ride catching up on my email.

Thursday we reluctantly left but headed down to Portland for a pleasant two-day visit with narrators Tavia Gilbert and Bill Dufris.  Tavia took us to one of the best restaurants I've ever experienced--and I've travelled all over the world.  It was Thai/fusion and just spectacular.  We ate there again the next night and it was even better than the first night.  [It's Boda on Congress Street in downtown Portland if you're ever in the area.]

Finally we flew out from Boston on Saturday wishing we had another week.  I'm usually glad to get back but this year I could have used a few more days at the beach.  But kudos to United Airlines for a flawless round trip.


Friday, July 16, 2010

I drew shocked stares... a Blackstone meeting yesterday.  We were scheduling upcoming releases, and one of our acquisitions people announced that she had acquired several series of--wait for it--Amish romances.

"Oh goody!" I exclaimed.

Now, between you and me, we audiobook folks can be a snobbish bunch.  It's about great literature, timeless books in a timeless format, high art preserved for the ages by the great actors of our time, yaddah yaddah.

And, me being the gatekeeper of this great art form, I guess everyone expected me to groan and roll my eyes.

Nothing of the sort!

I love mass market fiction.  It's fun, it's easy to cast, it's a breeze to record.  Any narrator with a sense of humor and a little perspective is going to have a blast romping across the moors tossing bodices this way and that, or creeping through the sagebrush to ambush the gol-darn rustlers, or even clopping along the country roads of Ohio while the seasons turn and life's little lessons are played out against a backdrop of barns and bundling boards.  You know there's an eager audience hanging on every syllable, breathlessly awaiting the next lusty (or wholesome) kiss and the inevitable meting out of just desserts.

One of the pleasantest times I ever spent behind the mic was recording a sunny little Christian teen romance novel.  The characters were colorful and lent themselves to creative "mental casting" (a little Judy Garland here, a touch of Walter Brennan there, and some Barbara Stanwick thrown in for good measure); no violence or grueling slasher scenes; NO boudoir stuff (most narrators dread graphic sex--it's embarrassing); and everything turns out ducky in the end.  What's not to like?

Even more fun is goading skeptical actors into treating this stuff like Tolstoy and breathing life into the cliches and recycled plots.  "I dare you to make this sound great!" I tell them.  It's the satisfaction of a B-movie director who, against the odds, turns out an engrossing little picture.  I love bursting the bubble of low expectations.

So all you secret romance fans--you know who you are--get ready!  Blackstone has a great cross-section of this ever-popular genre coming up this fall, and it's going to be fun to listen to.  We've got your lusty Scottish earls with rippling abs, your winsome Amish lasses who yearn for that perfect fellow, your cozy quilting shops where small-town troubles get "ironed out" (pun intended).  Stay tuned for specifics as the release dates approach.


Monday, July 12, 2010

I am Technology's...well, you know

Can I say how much I love my new iPad?  Sorry to boast, but this thing is a marvel.  I mainly got it for reading manuscripts--I get tired of printing out stacks of paper and dragging them home and into bed with me.

[Did I say "home"?  We had a colleague over for dinner a few weeks ago and caught her staring at the piles of manila folders on the dining room buffet.  "Is" she gasped.  Well, yes it is.  When else is it going to get done?]

Anyway, now I can load a bunch of PDFs on the iPad, crawl into bed and skim to my heart's content.

But even more than that, I love narrating from my iPad.  Yes, you read that right.  I take it into the booth, punch up the wondrous GoodReader app, load the PDF, turn off the light, adjust the brightness, crop the pages a bit to enlarge the type, and off I go.  I'm amazed at how much fumbling with page turns has slowed me down in the past.  I'm generally distracted about a paragraph before, when I see it coming and start searching around for a place to stop while trying to concentrate on what I'm reading.  Then the dang pages won't separate and I spend a few seconds grappling with them.  And after the turn, it's a sentence or two before I get back into the swing.

Now I just flip my finger--quickly if it's a period, more slowly if the sentence continues onto the next page.  

I'm still getting used to it and find myself reaching the bottom of the page and sitting there dumbly for a few seconds before realizing that I didn't have to stop.

Another thing is that there's no glare from a lamp in the corner of my eye, no annoying reflection off the paper, no blurry type from a bad print job.  And best of all, I can see the whole page clearly!  By that I mean, I wear progressive lenses, and with standard size pages there's always a struggle to get everything in focus.  I would strain and crane, raise and lower the stand, move it closer then further away.  Nothing really worked.  I guess I could have invested in a pair of reading glasses--but now I don't have to!  Everything is there, clear and bright on a compact screen.  My whole upper body is more relaxed, my head position is stable and the whole fatigue factor is reduced by magnitudes.  And I so far I'm not sensing any sort of eye strain from reading off the screen.

Oh, and did I mention the heat?  It stays cooler now that I don't need a lamp.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

How do you spell Mississippi?

I doubt anyone will be surprised when I admit that, in the course of casting thirty to forty titles a month, I am unable to read them all cover to cover. Some books are fairly self-explanatory--a glance at the dust jacket pretty much says it all. Some are part of a series, which means it automatically goes to the narrator who read the previous book in the series. Sometimes I have to spend a bit more time, "skimming slowly" to suss out the nature of the story and the characters. There are even books that require a good bit of slogging before they give up their secrets. And of course there are many, many books that I wish I could read all the way through, but I know I can't spare the time.

And then, every so often, I pick up a manuscript, start skimming the first few pages--and realize after a few minutes that I'm not going to be able to put it down.

Discipline flies out the window. Interruptions are a nuisance, emails and phone calls go unanswered. At home, the family is neglected, dinner gets cold. Sleep? Who needs that?

Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter by Tom Franklin is a riveting murder mystery set in modern-day rural Mississippi. (The title comes from an old children's spelling trick, " M, I, crooked letter, crooked letter, I...") The disappearance of a local girl causes two men, one black and one white, to revisit the painful circumstances that led to the disruption of their childhood friendship. The characters are richly drawn, the plot is full of surprising twists and turns and the writing is beautiful.

I think I know who's going to record it but I'm not going to reveal that yet. Suffice it to say I'm looking forward to seeing this one take shape in audio.

Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter pubs October 5. Keep your eye out for it, I don't think you'll be disappointed.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Inspector Montalbano

With the releases of The Paper Moon, August Heat and The Track of Sand coming up in August, September and October, respectively, I will have recorded twelve of Andrea Camilleri's charming Sicilian detective tales. Each is set in the fictional towns of Vigata and Montelusa, and each features the inimitable Inspector Salvo Montalbano, a moody, cynical middle-aged cop who, through a combination of plodding legwork, fumbling intuition and Javert-like persistence, always gets his man (or woman, as the case may be.)

The Voice of the Violin, the fourth in the series, won an Audie Award last year in the mystery category, which seems to have given the audio versions a long-overdue (in my opinion, anyway) bump. In Italy they are the basis for an enormously popular television series featuring actor Luca Zingaretti. Foreigners can sign up for an "Inspector Montalbano tour" that visits the actual locales depicted in the book (Porto Empedocle and Girgenti). Camilleri, a respected poet and novelist, freely admits that Montalbano has developed a life of his own, over which he no longer has much control, to the detriment of anything else he might try to write.

The English translations by Stephen Sartarelli are crisp and colorful, preserving as much as possible the comic energy, satirical edge and blunt violence that drive the originals. Montalbano comes across as a wonderfully complex character--alternately sensitive, bullying, manipulative and confused. Outwardly he rules his fiefdom with an iron fist, tempered by a malicious sense of humor and a fondness for practical jokes. Inwardly he quails at personal relationships and struggles with the eternally demoralizing nature of his job. He's not above acting as judge and jury, bringing a Sicilian sense of justice to cases that not only should never have happened, but perhaps should never be solved, given the moral complexities involved. He maintains an uneasy truce with the local Mafia, who, interestingly, rarely figure directly in the crimes at hand but instead operate at some level beyond Montalbano's (or anyone else's) grasp.

Then, of course, there's his unquenchable appetite. Unlike American cops and their donuts, Montalbano possesses a finicky palate which only the most exquisitely prepared dishes will satisfy. No Camilleri novel is complete without a dozen or more mouth-watering descriptions of the simple but elegant fare served up at a series of off-the-beaten-path, mom-and-pop-style trattorias--or prepared by Montalbano's doughty housekeeper and left in the fridge for his eventual enjoyment at the end of another maddening day.

The supporting cast are memorable as well, consisting of crafty stool-pigeons, loquacious witnesses, exasperating superiors, and endearing, alluring females (who almost always get the better of the men.) Montalbano's staff frequently lapse into a level of bumbling that brings the Keystone Cops to mind--Mimi, his womanizing assistant, disappears for days at a time; Gallo, who serves as Montalbano's chauffer, is a frightful driver who inevitably involves them in a wreck; Detective Fazio's obsession with administrative detail drives his boss to distraction; and the linguistically-challenged switchboard operator, Catarella, threatens to reduce each case to chaos with his garbled messages and crossed wires--but through native wit and loyalty to their beloved chief, they always manage to come through.

Some of the plots are stronger than others--The Snack Thief and The Terra Cotta Dog are particularly gratifying in this respect. Sometimes they are topical in nature (like the human trafficking in The Wings of the Sphinx), and occasionally they are simple frames for advancing the arc of the main character. Camilleri always manages to slip in some pungent political commentary (he's clearly no fan of Italy's current Prime Minister). Sicily's chronic woes permeate every book, and touches of discomfiting despair creep in whenever Montalbano rages inwardly against the hopelessness of politics and "the system." If you're looking for strenuous action, look elsewhere. But if you enjoy foreign police procedurals that are long on atmosphere, character and congenial wit, then these are for you.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Ross Macdonald

AudioFile Magazine awarded an Earphones today to my recording of Ross Macdonald's The Wycherly Woman. That's great news for me, of course, but even better news for Ross Macdonald, whose reputation seems to have languished in recent years. This August will see the release of my sixteenth Lew Archer recording, The Ivory Grin. Few things have brought me greater pleasure over the years than to revisit, every so often, the voluble, eccentric characters who populate a typical Archer tale--from hare-brained beatniks to domineering, jewel-encrusted matriarchs.

Mystery aficionados have deemed Macdonald the heir to Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler. At a recent book club gathering here in Ashland, author Christopher Rice spoke of his indebtedness to Macdonald's mastery of character and psychological detail. And I get the occasional fan letter thanking me (and Blackstone) for devoting the time and effort to publishing his works in audio. But the general public seems to prefer racier fare these days--slashers and serial killers--to Macdonald's moody, sardonic forays into the human condition. Thus it's gratifying to see the audio versions garnering consistent praise in the audiobook press--not just for the performances, which is flattering, but for the quality of the writing. Black Money was even nominated for an Audie Award in the contemporary mystery category this year. Not bad for a fifty-year-old detective story...

Macdonald, whose real name was Kenneth Millar, was a complicated man who lived a complicated life that is reflected in the shifting moral sands charted in his novels. His wife, Margaret Millar, achieved early fame as the author of a series of taut psychological crime dramas, and is generally considered to be the better writer of the two. Macdonald himself struggled to find his niche, but when he did, with the first Lew Archer novel, The Moving Target, in 1949, he settled into a groove that earned him a reputation that has outlasted that of his wife. Their only child, Linda, died at the age of 31 after struggling with alcohol and depression.

I think it could fairly be said that most mystery writers don't lead lives that warrant lengthy, in-depth examination. Tom Nolan's 1999 biography of Macdonald, however, is well worth reading, not only for his crisp analysis of Macdonald's work but for his even-handed, if often painful, exploration of the closely-guarded inner life of this brilliant and troubled man.


I'll conclude with what I hope will be viewed not as self-promotion, but rather as a personal tribute to one of my favorite authors--an audio excerpt from the final pages of The Moving Target. It's also a whopper of a spoiler, for which I apologize, but of the many wonderful examples of dialogue in Macdonald's novels, this one has always stood out in my mind. It's a classic confession scene, but with a twist: Archer and the killer, who is an acquaintance from law enforcement days and has just married the victim's daughter, have driven together to the dead man's mansion. As they sit parked in the driveway, Archer confronts his old friend with his suspicions. It's not the typical, lame "I'll-explain-everything-before-I-blow-your-head-off" device, but a bleak conversation about a necessary parting of ways. It's characteristic of the moral stickiness that pervades Macdonald's work. My favorite line is, "I shot Taggart in good faith!"

Monday, June 7, 2010

Occupied City

Occupied City, by David Peace, is the second in a trilogy of disturbing crime novels set in occupied Japan immediately following World War II. (The first is Tokyo Year Zero and the third, to be published later this year, is currently titled Tokyo Regained.) To say that this a challenging, densely-textured book would be an understatement. The story is based on an actual event that took place in occupied Japan in 1948: A man posing as a health official entered a Tokyo bank shortly after closing, informed the employees that a customer with dysentery may have made a deposit that day, and suggested that as a precaution they all drink an antidote he had brought with him. What he served them was actually a deadly poison, and twelve people, including the custodian, his wife and two children, died agonizing deaths. Four people survived and were discovered crawling in the street outside the bank. The case set off something close to hysteria. The hunt for the killer was complicated by the fact that none of the survivors could agree on a description of the man. In addition, US authorities got involved to the extent that newspapers and police were manipulated and sidetracked for "security reasons." A middle-aged painter was eventually convicted of the crime on flimsy evidence. He maintained his innocence until the day he died, at the age of 95, in 1987. His family continues a campaign to have him exonerated. The "real" killer has ostensibly never been identified. An added twist was a possible link to Unit 731, the notorious facility wherein the Japanese performed biological, chemical and surgical experiments on live humans. The unit was discovered in the aftermath of the war, and US authorities hurried to cover up its existence, sensing that the "research," for all it's hideousness, was valuable and that it might fall into Russian hands.

If this sounds like it would make for a gruesomely thrilling tale--it does. But Peace couches it in unusual literary terms. He relates the story in Rashoman-like fashion, presenting conflicting points of view and resurrecting the ghosts of the dead along with the troubled spirits of the living. In Occupied City a terrified writer is haunted by twelve "voices": the twelve murdered victims, two police detectives, a survivor of the massacre, an American scientist, an amateur "occult" detective, a journalist, a gangster-turned-politician, a Soviet investigator, the convicted man, the relatives of the dead, and "the Killer"--whoever that may be.

As if this weren't complex enough, he employs numerous typographical devices to indicate, for example, a man documenting his own approaching madness in diary form (huge chunks of text are typed, then crossed out), or the three simultaneous thought processes of a young journalist riddled with jealousy when he suspects his wife is having an affair with an American soldier. To top it all off, a virtual encyclopedia of Japanese names and places is closely woven into the text.


As excited as I was at the prospect of recording something already considered to be a minor literary masterpiece, a first glance at the book had me scratching my head. A second, closer reading had me in despair. A third go-round found me ready to pick up the phone and tell the acquisitions department that they had wasted their money. Seriously. For the first time in a thirty-year audiobook career, I was pretty sure I had an unrecordable text on my hands.

Look, I'm not easily daunted. The Story of Civilization in eleven volumes? Been there, done that. Jonathan Littell's The Kindly Ones? Piece of cake. The novels of Roberto Bolano? Yeah, we pulled those off pretty well, if I do say so myself. But this?

Leave it to my wife and fellow Blackstonian Tanya Perez, herself a voracious consumer of audiobooks, to pick it up where it lay rudely discarded on the coffee table, read it in one day and declare, "We can do this."

"I can't," I said.

"Well, I will," she replied.

So, for the past two months she's been analyzing, organizing, collating and casting. I got the "easy" part--directing. Various sections were farmed out to various narrators with explicit instructions on how to handle certain aspects of the text, among them: Justine Eyre, an Audie Award-winning narrator who happens to speak fluent Japanese; audiobook veteran Stefan Rudnicki, who lucked into the role of the mad Russian investigator with the crossed-out passages; actor Bronson Pinchot, who voices the frustrated American official in charge of ferreting out the secrets of Unit 731; and Daisuke Tsuji, an actor with the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. The anchor of the project is Japanese-American storyteller Alton Chung, who brings a unique sense of dramatic characterization and poetry to various roles, including the Writer, the Convicted Man and the Killer.

The project has come together magnificently, though we still have another week of recording and a fierce editing job ahead of us. You probably won't see Tanya's name on the package, but she deserves the lion's share of the credit for rescuing this unforgettable book from the "unrecordable" bin and bringing it to life in audio.

Occupied City and the first book in the series, Tokyo Year Zero, will be available in audio from Blackstone on August 1st.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Paul Is Undead

How can you resist a book that begins:

For some, the most indelible memory of their television-viewing lives was the moment Jack Ruby assassinated Lee Harvey Oswald in 1963. For others, it was Neil Armstrong’s 1969 moon landing. For today’s generation, it might have be fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, or the coverage of the World Trade Center attacks on September 11, 2001.

I realized television was more than sitcoms and sporting events on December 8, 1980, the night Mark David Chapman tried to lop off John Lennon’s head with a silver scythe.

Alan Goldsher's illustrated novel is more than your typical mash-up. It's a wide-ranging cultural satire that makes fun of the rock-n-roll "oral history" genre. In his quest to ferret out the real story behind The Beatles zombie-tude, the "author" interviews historians, psychologists, Liverpudlian nightclub owners, John Lennon's mom, and of course The Fab Four themselves, who reminisce together about such hilarious events as the time Ringo's arm flew across the stage during a concert, or George Harrison's fingers dropped off during a key recording session.

I myself haven't indulged much in the mash-up genre, but this one was so sharp and entertaining that I found it hard to put down.

The question was, since the book travels back and forth across the Atlantic, which way to go with the casting? Should we have an American spoof the Brits, or a Brit spoof the Americans? In the end I figured the Fab Four themselves had to be the key, so I sent the title to British narrator Simon Vance. Simon is a self-professed rock-n-roll history buff, and he recently recorded When Giants Walked the Earth, a biography of Led Zeppelin, for Blackstone. I figured this would be the perfect follow-up. And by all reports he has had a gleeful time with it. He tells me that, in order to preserve the integrity of the voice characterizations in the four-way interviews, he recorded each Beatle's lines separately, then edited them all together. That's above and beyond the call!

Word is that the book has been optioned for a movie, which ought to be even more fun.

Paul Is Undead: The British Zombie Invasion pubs in book form and audio on June 22.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Blackstone Cover Art

Sometimes we purchase cover art from the book publisher, or a film studio if it's a movie tie in. But for the most part we create all our own graphics here at Blackstone. Occasionally I pass through the graphics department and get hung up looking at the computer screens. It's fascinating to watch them build layers and manipulate images and fonts.

Unless you're a library customer, you probably haven't had a chance to see what these folks can really do, apart from the thumbnails on Audible or in our catalog. So today I thought I'd feature a few recent covers that caught my eye. (You can click on the photo for a larger version.)

This is Aaron Hoppe's cover for Tony Heald's recording of Elmer Gantry, which won an Audie Award in 2009:

The shabby marquee displaying the title is genius.

This is James Egan's design for The Man With the Golden Arm. We always think of the Sinatra film, but the book was written in the 40's and the cover reflects that:

Daniel Smith created this nice graphic for The Devil Knows How to Ride:

Andrew Farris's work for a gory murder-fest really pops:

Addie Black, who is also an accomplished painter, did this atmospheric work for the re-release of a stylish thriller:

And finally, a very cool design for Stephen King's IT. This was a co-publication with Penguin and we could have used their cover, but when Matthew Marley came up with this, it was too good not to use:

Tuesday, June 1, 2010


I've been noting with no small amount of gratification the positive comments on Audible for Steven Weber's reading of Stephen King's IT. We took a bit of a risk on this one--Weber only had two audiobooks to his credit (albeit very good ones), and our co-publishers at Penguin Audio were a bit skeptical, but it turned out to be a big win for everyone. Weber approached the thousand-page project with a gusto that was infectious throughout the entire process. Yuri Rasovsky, who directed the production, noted after the first session how impressed he was with Steven's preparation, commitment and sense of humor, which never flagged during the fifteen-day schedule. I'm told that after one particularly long and grueling day, Steven flung open the door of the booth and staggered into the control room, shouting, "Blood! I'm covered with...BLOOD!"

Weber's reading is an object-lesson in successful risk-taking. His depiction of the Denbrough family's collapse into silence and grief is heart-rending, particularly the scene in which young Bill tries to lighten the mood by telling a joke--an attempt that falls achingly flat. (Bill's pronounced stutter, which could become tedious in the hands of a lesser narrator, is marvelously rendered.) By contrast, the scenes with Pennywise in his various incarnations are ratcheted up to a level that has to be heard to be believed--and they work.

It's refreshing to encounter a narrator who doesn't seem aware of the "rules." It's not a tidy, pre-packaged read. It's a wild ride, full of unanticipated line readings and emotional about-faces. That's not to say it isn't faithful to the text--he is very observant of King's stage directions and character cues. But he never shies away from the larger-than-life (one is tempted to say, outlandish) quality of the whole enterprise. And while there's never any question that he grasps the size and scope of the story, Weber never gets ahead of himself. Every scene is given it's full value. Nothing is rushed or glossed over for the sake of efficiency. This "in-the-moment" quality, rather than slowing the book down, actually makes it feel shorter. Even King's notoriously digressive passages take on an absorbing quality in Weber's rendition. Everything about this performance--the vivid delineation of each and every character, the near-improvisational approach to the text, and above all, the drive and consistency he brings to this most unwieldy of King's novels--makes this a recording that every narrator could learn from. I know I have.

Monday, May 31, 2010

Memorial Day

Saturday we drove 30 minutes north to Grant's Pass to visit the Grower's Market and buy some plants for the vegetable garden. I picked up some heirloom tomatos, celery, eggplant and basil. The garden got a head start two weeks ago with lettuce, snow peas, peppers and corn. (I think the birds got the carrot seeds so we'll have to try a different tack on that.) It didn't even occur to us that, being Memorial Day and all, we would run into an enormous parade that had most of the downtown area closed to traffic. After our visit to the market, we stopped and enjoyed the show for a while. The whole city seemed to be participating, to the extent that it's a wonder anyone was left to watch. There was a Volkswagon club comprising every sort of Beetle you can imagine, a huge children's string orchestra (the bass fiddles were on wheels and the cellos ran alongside carrying chairs), the local jet-boat organization, all sorts of floats and semi trailers, athletic groups, Boy Scout troops--it just went on and on. It lasted for about three hours, though after twenty minutes we felt overwhelmed and headed back to the car. Maybe people watch for a while then run back and join the parade, I don't know. At any rate, it was very festive.

Medford is about 75% retirees, most of them veterans of one sort or another, so the cemeteries are packed with visitors laden with flowers and American flags. The neighbors are playing horseshoes and barbecuing. The roads are crowded with campers, boats and every kind of recreational vehicle you can imagine. People head up to the mountain lakes, out to the rivers, or down to northern California. Spring was long, cold and wet this year (sleet in May!) so the abrupt change to clear skies and sunny warmth has propelled everyone outside to enjoy it.

We stayed home and cleaned. Not very exciting but relaxing all the same. The back yard needs a major overhaul, and the patio is stuffed with all the junk you throw out there during the winter and figure to deal with when it gets warm. Well, here we are.

On another Memorial Day note, I am overwhelmed by the response to Matterhorn, Karl Marlantes' superb novel about a troop of Marines trapped in an ambush during the Vietnam War. Just reading the comments on Audible, many of them from Vietnam vets, is a moving experience. Karl recently emailed our narrator, Bronson Pinchot, to let him know how much he liked the recording. Bronson is a talented, multi-faceted reader, and I've yet to find a book he can't pull off. But Matterhorn posed a unique challenge, with its huge cast of characters and authentic military tone. He spent a lot of time on the phone with Karl and they became very friendly. He even confessed to me that he had a bit of a breakdown at the end of the book. So it it meant a lot to him to get a nod from the author.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

APAC and the Audies

The Audio Publishers Association Conference was held Monday, May 24th in NYC. I decided to keep the trip short and left Medford Sunday afternoon, arriving at JFK around midnight. Got to the Hotel Belvedere near Times Square at 2 a.m. Had to be at APAC bright and early that morning and was looking forward to a few hours of deep, restful sleep. Well, forget it--I was stark, staring, wide awake. Finally passed out for an hour or two and staggered over to the Westin at 8 a.m. for the conference.

I was pretty much running on adrenaline all day, which was okay because there was a lot to go around. The conference was extremely well-organized this year and the narrator constituency was large and lively. I started at 9 a.m. with a training session explaining the concept of visualization, which is fundamental to good narration. At 9:30 I dashed over to the "Dos and Don'ts of Home Narration" panel moderated by Sean Runnette, and expounded for an hour along with home narrator Renee Raudman, Harper Audio's Michael Conroy and Sue Zizza of SueMedia.

At 11 a.m. I switched to the publisher track for another Home Narration panel geared toward publishers and producers, moderated by John Goodwin of Galaxy Press and featuring myself, Cory Verner of Christian Audio and Bob Deyan of Deyan Audio. Attendance looked to be scanty but shortly after we got started people began filtering in and it ended up fairly packed. I thought we all did a pretty good job of laying out the pros and cons of using home narrators. Basically, you have to have a support structure for research, quality control and fielding technical queries. In Blackstone's case, since we have studios in Ashland and LA, it's not so much a money-saving thing as it is a way to broaden our talent pool. For the big publishers, considering what they've traditionally paid for recording, it's a huge savings. Some of them are doing it and don't mind saying so, others are doing it and don't want to talk about it, and some are very leery of the idea. For many, it's still the "dirty little secret" of the audiobook industry. But the need to bring down costs has everyone looking at it one way or the other.

I took a break for a while and did some visiting, then geared back up for a live ProTools software demonstration in the afternoon. Disaster lurked in the wings when we realized we were missing a ProTools hardware interface, but a local producer kindly snagged one from his studio and we were able to proceed after some vamping on my part. The purpose was to demonstrate how easy ProTools is for home recording once you get over the hump of setting up a template recording session. I think the point was made very well. I put together a PDF version of the demonstration, complete with screenshots, which I'm told is available to member narrators at the APA web site.

Tuesday I breakfasted with narrator Simon Vance, lunched with some of my Blackstone colleagues, shared a cocktail with a dear friend from DC days, Carol Monda (now also in the audiobook biz), then got ready for the Audie Award ceremony that evening, held at the Museum of the City of New York. Tragedy had struck over the weekend in Medford when I realized that my trusty tuxedo was full of holes, courtesy the variegated wildlife of Oregon. A quick shopping trip turned up a white linen jacket, black trousers and bow tie. I looked very Ocean's Eleven if I do say so myself. I certainly stood out, since no one else dared to break the fashion code by wearing a dinner jacket before Memorial Day.

The trip uptown was very exciting because my cabby got into a running shouting match with a bus driver as we careened up Madison Avenue. This went on for about ten blocks. But I arrived in one piece and set about searching for our guests.

The ceremony was a huge success, with an outdoor cocktail party followed by a lightning-fast award ceremony and more partying and shmoozing into the wee hours. Blackstone netted four awards. I was so tired that I introduced Ed Herrmann to a group of Blackstone consultants twice in the space of ten minutes. Ed tweaked me mightily and made a show of taking my wine glass away.

Next morning I had breakfast with my old friends Jennifer Mendenhall and Michael Kramer (pictured above with me at the Audies, photo courtesy of Jennifer), then headed to the airport for my return flight.