Monday, September 21, 2020

Wait - Who Is That?

 Q: Heard any good books lately? What are your thoughts on audiobooks?

-from Susan C Shea


My answer is offered sheepishly. No, I haven’t listened to any audiobooks recently. Not even my own. The audio rights to several of my books were purchased and the books made. I received copies and keep meaning to listen. But the first two were produced without any input from me and the voices and interpretations of character in the first few pages startled me so much I turned them off in a kind of panic. 


Silly of me, really. They weren’t bad, just not quite right, or at least not what I had in my head as the voices of my protagonists. For example, Dani O’Rourke was born in New York City but not with the voice that would say “Long Giland.” At least, I wouldn’t pronounce it that way, and I was born in New York City. My reading of Dani would be my voice. I have a hunch that a lot of us hear our own voices when we write our protagonists, maybe in all of our characters to a degree. 


The first book in my French village series was voiced by a fine actress, but her Katherine had a whiskey voice and a cynical way of speaking. No, no, no!  My Katherine tries so hard to please people, struggles with insecurities, doesn’t smoke. I respect the actress who was working to find a character, but it disappointed me so much I couldn’t get past the first page. And I wondered if people listening would understand why Katherine made the choices she did with that persona.


Interestingly, I had a new agent when the second French village mystery was also sold to audio and when I told her how rattled I was about the first reader, she said we could fix that in negotiations. Not only did she win me the right to audition the actress, but when I selected someone whose voice and French accent was perfect, the actress asked me for notes, ideas about how Katherine’s personality would reveal itself in her speech. I was amazed and grateful. They sent me a few minutes of recording to see if I approved and I was so appreciative I almost cried!


But have I listened to the whole book? This is where sheepish comes in. I’m afraid I’ll hear all the flaws in my writing, that I will want to rewrite the book because her excellent reading will point out – at least to me – all the places where I could have written better. 


For six years, I commuted an hour each way every day to my job and audiobooks (then on tape) were a lifesaver. I tended to go for long books – classic literature, history – because I liked having something to look forward to as I dealt with the typical Bay Area rush hour commute. Years later, I commuted an even longer distance to a different job in Silicon Valley. By then, it was CDs and the job was so intense that I needed to unwind at the end of the day. David Sedaris for humor, John McPhee for escape into environments I had no idea I would be fascinated by until I ‘read’ them, science…topics I didn’t have to deal with during the day.


For some reason, mysteries don’t work for me as audiobooks. Not sure why except that I like to stop and think about the puzzle or the possible red herring the author just dangled, or to take a break from the deranged mind of a killer. I read crime fiction all the time, but it doesn’t appeal to me to be read it by someone else. 


And now, I don’t commute at all. Maybe now I’ll listen to DRESSED FOR DEATH IN BURGUNDY and enjoy the experience that wonderful actress created.




Paul D. Marks said...

Susan, I think it's sometimes hard to go back and read -- or in this case listen to -- our work. We do always tend to find the one fly in the ointment and want to rewrite.

Catriona McPherson said...

I don't listen to mine either, Susan. So you're not alone. Cx

Dietrich Kalteis said...

Good post, Susan. I think we get the characters' voices in our minds, and we know the rhythm of the story, so we we know when we hear it on audiobook and it's not quite right. But, when it is, it's like magic.

Susan C Shea said...

Paul - one fly..if only!

Susan C Shea said...

Catriona, I'm glad to hear I'm not the only one. I wonder if your actors have Scottish or British accents?

Susan C Shea said...

Dietrich, Thanks. I have decided it's a pandemic promise to myself that I will listen to the one that had such a sensitive actor reading it.

James W. Ziskin said...

Interesting to hear about your audiobooks. And, yes, I think, we all dread looking back at our work.