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.

 

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.

The Oscars Make Me Jealous

Photo Credit: FastCompany.com

My mom has told me to never be jealous. So I think of adjectives for the word “jealousy” just to feel better about expressing myself when I feel jealous from time to time. Maybe I’m envious, or desirous, or grabby (that’s a cute one). I don’t know what it is, but as I’m sitting here watching the Oscars right now, I just feel a yearning.

It’s not that I want to be involved in film specifically or write screenplays–although that would be incredible. But cinema and the Academy Awards are not just about movies. It’s all about story. Bringing stories to people, seeing how it engages them, seeing what they do with them. When we watch the Oscars, story becomes this grand thing again, because sometimes we forget just how huge it is for us each day of our lives.

Watching this now makes me want to be involved in that world of story we love. In a way, I know I am involved by writing. But I’m anxious to grab on and be more productive as a writer. To really feel involved in story. For now, I think the way I can feel involved is by remembering that I write, and also by forming opinions about other stories out there.

I love watching the full Oscars program, even seeing those obscure awards like sound editing. Each category has value–though I think we all know, the most important one is Best Picture. Every year, it seems, I have conversations with people about movies they don’t want to win.

Often peoples’ fears for Best Picture are about a film winning just because of one factor. I’ve heard people say they don’t want The Artist to win just because it’s a silent black and white film, or Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close to win just because it’s about 9/11.

Now, I really want Midnight in Paris to win–yet I’m sure it’s mostly because the film is about famous writers. It’s about a writer named Gill (Owen Wilson) who travels to Paris with his fiancee’s family, and in the process, accidentally finds himself going back in time at midnight each night and hanging out with the writers and artists from the 1920s–F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, Gertrude Stein, Pablo Picasso, and so on. So it shouldn’t win just because of that one factor that it features famous writers of the Lost Generation. Though what I also loved about Midnight in Paris was its theme–its common truth running throughout the film–about how we idealize the past, and that people from the past idealized the past before them. That no one ever realizes that they’re living in a time that others will one day have fantasies about and write stories about and make movies about. It’s something I’ve thought on before and so I was happy to see a movie embody that idea. I’m glad to see it won Best Original Screenplay.

My favorite movie I saw this year was Take Shelter, though. It’s about Curtis, a normal family man with a loving wife and one daughter (who is deaf). He all of a sudden starts to have disturbing, violent dreams and visions of a coming apocalyptic storm. It’s an eerie movie, but not necessarily scary, and the ending led me to continue thinking about this film days after I saw it. There was really something special about how Curtis’s daughter and sign language were used in the plot as well (I’m not telling!). Basically, Take Shelter‘s very original plot unraveled flawlessly. So I’m upset that this great film got snubbed by the Academy. It really should have been up for Best Picture.

Seeing that I took way too long to write this entry while watching the Oscars, I now know that The Artist has won Best Picture. What does one do after the movie you wanted to win, loses? Or even after the movie you wanted to win, wins? I think we move on to our next stories and, for me especially, try to be productive enough to offset the jealousy I may feel during next year’s awards.