Almost all of us here at MIE have had our stories published as audio books. I am bringing up this topic in the hopes of starting a discussion on how we and other writers feel about the experience of listening to our own work coming out of someone else’s mouth. And how readers of this blog feel about “reading” with their ears.
The only MIE author I ever heard from on this subject was Leighton Gage, who advised me about this, as he did about so many other things that a published author needs to know. He told me that mid-list authors like me almost never have any input whatsoever on who and how the books are recorded. He complained that the man who read his stories screwed up the pronunciations of the Brazilian names—people’s and places. But all in all he thought it was better to have the book recorded than not. As in almost all things, I agree with his assessment.
I am a book addict. I take them any way I can, and that includes listening. I prefer to sit and read, but like most New Yorkers I walk as a means of transportation. Getting from one place to another gives me time to tune in to great stories on my phone, increasing the number of books I can “read.” I particularly like doing this with books I have already read, as I did recently with the brilliant John Fowles’s The French Lieutenant’s Woman. I could not have taken the time to reread it while sitting in a chair, but I was mightily glad to experience the work again while plowing my way through the throngs of tourists in midtown or strolling back and forth to the grocery store.
When I was reading Lisa Brackmann’s brilliant Rock, Paper, Tiger, I was in a particularly difficult and busy period of my life. The book was a wonderful escape for me, and once I got into the story it made me want to stay in it, but I just couldn’t put together enough time to satisfy the intensity of my curiosity about how it would turn out. So I downloaded it from Audible and read part of it and listened to part. I really liked it in both formats. Now her Hour of the Rat has been nominated for an Anthony for Best Audio Book. I have read it sitting down but now am in the process of listening to it too. My take: the narrator does a wonderful job of portraying the edginess of the story and of communicating Lisa’s riveting combination of wonder, wry commentary, and anxiety. I hope Lisa will weigh in on her reactions to this. Ditto for my other blogmates.
I was not able to find audio versions of Caro’s stories. That might be a blessing for her as a writer. Because there is that chance, as Leighton warned me, that one’s story will be mangled. The first two Audible versions of mine—Invisible Country and Blood Tango—were less than successful from my point of view. With Invisible Country, the first of my recorded books, I did not expect to find the Guarani names pronounced correctly. I tried to keep my expectations low. They were not low enough.
The voice-over artist is a man, an understandable choice since it is an anti-war novel and is certainly as much a man’s story as a woman’s. My difficulty was in the voices the reader gave to my characters. The Paraguayan townswomen all speak in breathy whispers. Even the ultra-religiously devout Maria Claudia sounds like a bad imitation of Marilyn Monroe. The lector gives a foreign-language accent to only one character: Tomas Pereira da Graça, an aristocratic Brazilian. The text says he has an accent. He speaks Spanish with an upper class Portuguese accent. In the audio version, he speaks in English, of course, but with a cheesy, comical Spanish accent. Think “My name Jose Jimenez.” UGHHH!
The reader of Blood Tango is a woman with a Spanish accent. She does a good job, except for the fact that she almost invariably puts the greatest emphasis on prepositions. (In my mind, I was saying, “TROUBLE was closing in on Buenos Aires.” She read: “Trouble was closing in ON Buenos Aires.”) I am not sure a non-Spanish speaking listener would even understand that she is saying “Buenos Aires.” She speaks the names of the places and people in the story very quickly in Spanish. An American person experiencing the story only audibly will not have the advantage of the seeing, for instance “Campo de Mayo” spelled out. If she had pronounced it distinctly—Cahm-po day Maio, it would not have been a problem, but she slurs it. Imagine the FedEx commercial guy trying to say this: cmodmyo. I imagine that the sense of place pretty much disappears from the audio version of that book since there would be no way for people not intimately familiar with the landscape to get what I am talking about. Can people listening in English even identify the characters’ names clearly enough to distinguish them from one another? Hard to tell. Ah well.
BUT NOW: the audio version of Strange Gods came out last week along with the book. I am delighted to say that the voice-over artist does a wonderful job. He’s a South African named Dennis Kleinman. I looked him up. He was easy to find.
He speaks the narration with a more or less neutral British accent, in which I picked up a tiny note of the South Africa here and there. He absolutely aces the dialog, doing upper class English, Scots, and tribes people. Sometimes the cadence of the narrative is not exactly how it sounds in my own head, but all in all his reading is quite wonderful. My characters sound so real in his voice. One of them is a bombastic District Commissioner, whom the narrator makes every bit as authoritarian, patronizing, and obnoxious as I imagined him to be. My story was safe with Dennis Kleinman.
So what about you? Do you listen to books? Do you listen to your own work? If so, what’s your take on hearing your words read aloud by a stranger? If you listen to audio books, how do you feel about the skill of the people who read them? Let’s talk.
Annamaria - Monday