On Recording an Audiobook

Audiobooks have become a huge part of my life lately. First of all, as announced in my post back in April, I recently started working in audiobook marketing at Penguin Random House. As a result, I’m surrounded by audiobooks, and people obsessed with audiobooks, all day. But I never expected to have my own voice recorded in an audiobook—ever.

I always thought, in that egotistical way, that I have an authentic, young-sounding voice that would be a match for a story from the perspective of a teenager or young adult. Of course I never thought I’d actually get to narrate one. And well, you see where this is going…

Click here to listen to a sample of my recording. (And if you’d like to listen to the rest, be sure to buy the full THE END IS NOW audiobook).

Last month, I received the opportunity (through my boyfriend, science fiction author and podcast host of WIRED.com’s book podcast, The Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy, David Barr Kirtley) to narrate a short story in an apocalyptic anthology called THE END IS NOW.

THE END IS NOW is the middle title in a triptych of apocalypse anthologies, the first being THE END IS NIGH, and the third being THE END HAS COME. It’s edited by John Joseph Adams (the great science fiction editor of Lightspeed and Nightmare magazines, as well as a number of anthologies, including The Living Dead) and Hugh Howey (the famous author of the self-published phenomenon, Wool). THE END IS NOW features 20 original apocalypse-themed stories by authors like Tananarive Due, Jonathan Maberry, Elizabeth Bear, Scott Sigler, Ken Liu, and more big names in the science fiction and fantasy world.

The story I recorded was written by Desirina Boskovich. It’s called “To Wrestle Not Against Flesh and Blood,” and is the story of a fifteen-year-old girl whose family is fighting against an authoritarian regime that’s been built on the premise that aliens are planning to invade earth. Throughout the story, we really aren’t sure whether there are actually any aliens at all, and our protagonist has to make choices for herself despite that ambiguity.

For more information about the story, check out this interview with Boskovich over on the official Apocalypse Triptych website.

The Recording Process

I really enjoyed the story on the first read—and by the tenth read, I still enjoyed it. That says something. The actual recording process was rewarding too, though also grueling.

Before recording, I thought of myself as a pretty smooth reader. I thought I didn’t stutter much. I thought I didn’t have trouble saying any words. And I’m sure that’s usually the case. But once the recording studio door closes (or in my case, the ‘recording closet’ door), and that red light is lit, I can tell you it is very hard to read a sentence off perfectly. Sometimes I’d have to repeat a sentence up to 8-10 times before getting it right. Sometimes I had trouble saying words like “listened” and “away”—words I didn’t even know I could have trouble with. Sometimes I had trouble ending a sentence on a strong note, and instead my voice would trail off and get a little raspy. And sometimes I wouldn’t even mess up, but my boyfriend would give me the sign that I needed to start from the top (luckily that didn’t happen too often).

We also ran into the problem of background noise. Once we finished my first recording and were listening to the playback, we realized that the lamp next to me had been making random ticking noises throughout. So we had to re-record the entire thing. Though, re-recording wasn’t so bad, because I then got the chance to make some changes for the better, especially regarding the degree of emotion my voice was expressing in certain parts.

On a final note, I must say that I have a new respect for professional audiobook narrators. It took about 48 hours to record a 30 minute story. Most audiobook narrators are recording full length books that end up being 10+ hours (and that’s after all of the fancy editing). I really loved my audiobook narration experience, and hope to get the chance to try another one soon.

FYI, my favorite line from “To Wrestle Not Against Flesh and Blood” was:

“That’s fucked,” Nicole said. “Fucked up. Fucked in the head.”

I never messed up on that one.


Is it OK to Read YA?

Blog - Permission to Read YA 2
Credit: nwbooklovers.org

I hope it’s not too late to give my official reaction to the provocative “Against YA” article published in Slate a few weeks ago. It’s written by Ruth Graham and has a pretty offensive subtitle: “Read whatever you want, but you should feel embarrassed when what you’re reading was written for children.” Graham’s article not only shows her contempt for readers of YA, but also for readers of any type of fiction that she doesn’t consider “literary” (i.e. genre fiction).

In her article, Graham shuns “trash” like Divergent and Twilight from the get-go, and says she’s only interested in talking about realistic YA fiction. She says that when she read The Fault in Our Stars and Eleanor & Park, she couldn’t stop herself from rolling her eyes again and again in reaction to some of the narration and dialogue, and feels that when adults read YA, they are asked to “abandon the mature insights” they have gained over the years. But according to Graham, YA’s most unforgivable sin is its satisfying endings: “Most importantly, these books consistently indulge in the kind of endings that teenagers want to see, but which adult readers ought to reject as far too simple. YA endings are uniformly satisfying, whether that satisfaction comes through weeping or cheering.” She concludes that such endings are “emblematic of the fact that the emotional and moral ambiguity of adult fiction—of the real world—is nowhere in evidence in YA fiction. These endings are for readers who prefer things to be wrapped up neatly, our heroes married or dead or happily grasping hands, looking to the future.” Ultimately, though, Graham admits that there is space for  “pleasure, escapism, juicy plots, and satisfying endings on the shelves of the serious reader. And if people are reading Eleanor & Park instead of watching Nashville or reading detective novels, so be it, I suppose.”

My gut feeling is this article was published to drive traffic to Slate‘s website, much like Ann Coulter’s ridiculous article for The Clarion-Ledger on the moral decay of the U.S. as evidenced by soccer’s rising popularity. Putting that feeling aside though, I want to discuss Graham’s piece because it has many people thinking and talking about what they read and why they read, as well as whether we should regard all literature as equal. Almost every article I’ve seen in reaction to “Against YA,”—from Salon to The Atlantic to The Washington Post to Bookish, and more—lay out plenty of examples of great YA fiction and also state that YA can be just as complex, enriching, and eye-opening for adults as any work of great literature can be. Of course, I agree with those reactions, and feel strongly about them too. But I can see where Graham is coming from.

WAIT. Here’s why: I think her choice to pigeonhole YA was made in poor taste. Pigeonholing any genre as unsophisticated and cliché, especially one as broad as YA, is ridiculous. There’s always going to be exceptions and examples that counter such rigid classifications. I think the heart of Graham’s argument, though, is really about her disdain for bad writing, and her concern that people are forgetting what makes a story great and worth reading. But she’s using YA and genre fiction to explain her concerns, and that’s just not the way she should be looking at it.

For example, most of us hate murderers, but are there any populations made up entirely of murderers? Of course not. And like so, most of us hate shitty books, but are there any genres made up entirely of shitty books? No. Not YA, not Romance, not Western, not Mystery, not Science Fiction, not Fantasy, not Horror, not Erotica—not anything.

It seems that Graham suffers from literary pretentiousness and elitism—something that I’ve been struggling to overcome for a few years now. I’ll say it: I’m a recovering literary snob. It started in freshman year of college, when I declared my major in English literature and creative writing. At first, I was just reading a few classics, like Hamlet and The Odyssey. But then I started getting in deep with authors like Virginia Woolf, John Keats, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Toni Morrison, Ian McEwan, and others. I started to think that authors writing outside of the “literary” genre could never be as great as literary authors (romance got the worst of my bullying). At one point, I might have even agreed that adults shouldn’t be reading YA.

Stuck in my world of pretentiousness, I almost forgot that I was mesmerized by ghost and horror stories as a kid, that I grew up with Harry Potter, that reading the YA book Angus, Thongs, and Full-Frontal Snogging inspired me to keep a brutally honest journal, that Stephen King always fascinated me, and that I rented the animated versions of The Halloween Tree, by Ray Bradbury, and The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, by C.S. Lewis, from the Pathmark video section religiously. I’ve always gravitated toward genres like fantasy, horror, and YA, and I almost lost those interests when I descended into literary snobbery. I think that’s where Graham is right now—she’s still hooked on books packaged with the “Fiction – Literary” BISAC, and thinks nothing else is worth her time.

As I mentioned above, this argument is really about what makes a story good, and what kinds of books adults should be taking the time to read. First of all, anyone can and should read whatever they want. But if we’re talking about the best of the best, I do agree that great literature incorporates the literary sensibility.

I’m just going to take a moment here to define what I mean by literary: There’s a difference between the “literary genre” and the “literary sensibility.” The literary genre is made up of adult books that are usually set in the real world and emphasize character and language over plot. The literary sensibility, on the other hand, is the way in which a story is written. Stories written with a literary sensibility share some similarities with the literary genre (for example, the careful crafting of character and language), but literary sensibility is not limited to any one type of story. For a while, in my snooty little corner, I thought the literary sensibility was an exclusive component of straight up literary fiction, but that’s just not how it is in the real world.

Here’s what I think describes a story written with the literary sensibility:

  • It avoids clichés, flat protagonists, and formulaic plots.
  • The language is crafted, consistent, and engaging.
  • It’s character driven. The main character(s) undergo some kind of change—they’re not just observing their world, but also are taking action, and it’s affecting them.
  • It’s honest. It illustrates the human condition and embraces the complexity, uncertainty, and unpredictability that characterize real life. (This can be evident in the plot, in the characters themselves, or both).
  • It’s about more than itself. It makes a statement, even a subtle one.

Again, the above elements can be incorporated into any type of story—realistic stories, detective stories, memoirs, nonfiction, fantasy, science fiction, horror stories, mystery and romance, and of course, YA. It might be true that some genres have fewer examples of stories written with the literary sensibility, but great stories in those genres do exist, and adults read them.

It seems like Graham, and other people caught in the snobbery cycle, still have some growing up to do. Part of being a mature adult is understanding that just because you don’t like something or don’t understand something doesn’t mean it’s bad or stupid or beneath you. Real adults are open-minded, understanding, and empathetic. They can see things from another perspective, and they care about equality and diversity in their literature.

Real adults aren’t against YA.


Developing a Book Diet

Credit: Ex-Smith (via Flickr)
Credit: Ex-Smith (via Flickr)

I’ve discovered that I need lists and (some) rules in order to function.

I usually make a daily list of things I need to do, and also keep an ongoing list of things to do over the next few months—or at some point in my life. The lists are always growing, but they’ve been helpful as my schedule has become increasingly packed (Post-Its and Evernote are now my true loves). There’s something really gratifying about checking things off—sometimes I go back and write something else I did that day just so I can check it off.

The one list I find hardest to tackle, though, is my to-read list. And this is because I don’t really keep an official one. It would just always be incomplete. There are so many things I want to read, just based on my own interests or on recommendations from friends, librarians, podcasts, author interviews, book recommendation websites, and the multitude of other reader resources out there.

My current To-Read List is composed of the physical books sitting on my bookshelf and the books I’ve designated as “To-Read” on my Goodreads account. But even if this list were to be “complete,” it’s still difficult to decide what to read next.

Once I get past the existential angst it causes me, I wonder: Should I read that Best American Short Stories collection? Or how about A GAME OF THRONES and its sequels, or Donna Tartt’s new book so I can have timely discussions with people? Or maybe I should try a poetry collection, or that novel my former writing professor published, or that Malcolm Gladwell book on decision-making? Perhaps that Ernest Hemingway book my friend lent me, or that huge Amber Chronicles compilation my boyfriend bought and annotated for me, or that Stephen King book on horror stories I grabbed from the free bookshelf at Simon & Schuster two years ago? I have many more rhetorical questions about what to read next, but I’ll refrain from listing them all for you.

Upon figuring out that this is quite the reader dilemma, I came up with a book diet (a reading sequence) to rotate through and give myself some kind of direction. It’s based not on individual books themselves, but on genre (and other criteria). That way, I can slowly check off books on my list while also getting the well-rounded reading experience I crave.

Creating a reading sequence like this seems to be in line with some advice that George R.R. Martin has on his website for aspiring authors. On his FAQ page, he writes:

“The most important thing for any aspiring writer, I think, is to read! And not just the sort of thing you’re trying to write, be that fantasy, SF, comic books, whatever. You need to read everything. Read fiction, non-fiction, magazines, newspapers. Read history, historical fiction, biography. Read mystery novels, fantasy SF, horror, mainstream, literary classics, erotica, adventure, satire. Every writer has something to teach you, for good or ill. (And yes, you can learn from bad books as well as good ones—what not to do).”

It certainly helps to know that even crappy books can teach reading writers important lessons, so it doesn’t feel like a waste of time if one ends up reading something they don’t like. Anyway, here’s my reading sequence I’ve come up with—the book diet I will try to follow from now on.

My Book Diet

  • Contemporary Novel
  • Short Story Collection
  • Science Fiction/Fantasy/Horror
  • Experimental
  • Nonfiction – On Writing (or an author biography)
  • Mook (a book made into a movie. My friend Alyssa, over at Mookology, coined the term)
  • Classic
  • Written by an Author I’ve Read
  • Nonfiction – General (anything not on writing/authors)
  • Poetry
  • Modern Classic
  • Written by a friend/teacher
  • YA
  • Literary Magazine

What’s your book diet? Please share your literary recipes. Am I missing anything? (Based on Martin’s suggestions,  should consider adding erotica to the list?)


I Want to Get Creeped Out

Credit: duke.edu
Credit: duke.edu

Well, it’s Halloween. Ever since I was a kid, Halloween has been my favorite holiday (though I seem to recall thinking that every upcoming holiday was my ‘favorite’ holiday).

As I got older, Halloween became less about trick-or-treating, candy, and creepy things, and more about partying, booze, and scantily clad costumes. I’m sure many of you can relate.

This year, though, Halloween is going to be pretty quiet for me. And I’m actually looking forward to it. Though part of me is nagging at myself to actually DO something on my favorite holiday, another part of me is relieved to just be antisocial. By being antisocial, I plan to actually get into the creepy, scary spirit of the holiday, rather than the sex-driven, drinking-way-too-many-spirits spirit. Having a night to myself on my favorite holiday will give me the chance to sit down by myself and watch a scary movie. Or read a scary story. These are things I always want to do to celebrate Halloween, but hardly get the alone time to actually do them. Now I have the chance.

In the creepy spirit of Halloween, I want to share a story that I read back in senior year of high school: The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman. This story was written in 1899, so its copyright is definitely expired, which means you can find it all over the internet (but click the link I provided for a good PDF version).

On top of the story showing how the protagonist goes insane in an attic due to her experience of oppression as a woman in the 1800s (which is creepy enough–yet another ‘mad woman in the attic’ in Victorian literature), the way she descends into insanity and obsession with this ugly yellow wallpaper surrounding her is so unsettling. I think what creeps me out the most about this story is the way Gilman uses the word “creep.” I never realized how creepy the idea of “creeping” and feeling “creepy” could be until reading The Yellow Wallpaper. If you are having a quiet Halloween too, you should take a look at this.

And with that, I must ask: What is the creepiest story you’ve ever read? I’d love some recommendations. I want to creep myself out this Halloween.

Existentialism in Bookstores

Book and Hour Glass

I’ve hit a point in my life where I now have an existential crisis every time I walk into a bookstore.

Years ago, bookstores (and libraries) were places of solace for me. I couldn’t wait until I was older so I could go to a bookstore on my own and spend the day browsing and sitting cross-legged on the floor between the shelves, reading ten books at a time and daydreaming. Now I’m old enough to do just that, but it doesn’t go so well when I try it.

Now my adrenalin rushes when I walk into a bookstore. Just by glancing at the shelves, lined with thousands of book spines facing out at me, I’m reminded that there are too many books out there. I’m reminded that I don’t have the money to buy however many books I want because I want them all (besides the crappy ones). I’m reminded that even if I do have the money, I will quickly run out of places to put these books. I then start to think that I would be better off utilizing my Kindle, or checking a book out of the library for free instead, and that I’ve made a terrible mistake by walking through the bookstore’s doors. I’m reminded about all of the books I bought on a whim that are still sitting on my shelf unread. I’m reminded that I don’t have the time to read all of the (not crappy) books in the world, not only because my free time is limited, but because my lifetime as a human is limited. Death will prevent me from reading everything I want to read. There are too many darn books.

A few months ago, a couple of friends of mine and I exchanged thoughts on why we each want live forever. One said that he wants to live forever so he can become a sort of vigilante and save people. The other said she would use her immortality to have sex constantly. I said I would use mine to read every book in the world.

Thus, when I walk into a bookstore, knowing that I can never be immortal, I feel uneasy and start to question my life and the choices I’ve made along the way. I start to question why I want to read in the first place, or why I care that much about being a writer. Which then spirals into questioning how a writer can ever feel satisfied, or how humans can ever be happy in general—because the one thing  that once gave me so much pleasure (browsing through bookstores) now makes me feel overwhelmed, inadequate, and on a terrifying personal deadline.

Moments of existential angst, of course, can be prompted by anything—not just by visiting a bookstore. Bookstores just tend to be my trigger for the life-is-too-short feeling that (I think) is universal. Sometimes I wonder how we can even stand to contemplate existence and meaning without imploding. But even though I feel pressure to measure my life by how many books I read, I also hate rushing. Rushing makes the process less enjoyable.

Maybe of all types of people, readers have the right to slow down, because we live a new life with every book or story we finish. Maybe reading makes us exist more.

Have you ever had a life crisis in a bookstore? Am I alone in this?